Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Egg

Happy Flash Fiction Friday! I'm back, and feeling much better than I was this time last week. I hope you enjoy this week's story. :-)

“Mom, have you looked at the egg today?”
I’m barefoot and sweaty, scrubbing the dickens out of the hard water stains in our cramped shower stall. Ronnie is supposed to be washing dishes, but she has the highly developed procrastination skills of a fourteen-year-old.
 I will not yell, I will not yell, I will not yell. I try to push my bangs out of my eyes with my forearm and repeat my mantra instead of responding to Ronnie’s question. It’s only 10a.m. and it’s already been one of those days.
“Mom!?” Through the Plexiglas shower door, I see Ronnie’s distorted image, but it’s the tremor in her voice that makes me pause. I blow my bangs away from my eyes and step out of the shower.
“What happened to washing the dishes, Veronica?”
“I think you should see this, Mom. The egg is doing something.”
Ronnie has gone pale around the mouth and her eyes are wide so, instead of giving her the this’d better be good look, I rinse my hands off, and follow her to the living room.
Ronnie discovered the mottled, rust-red egg three weeks ago when she offered to make omelets for breakfast. It was sitting right in the carton next to the regular eggs, and its mere presence was proof that, not only had my daughter failed to check for cracked eggs when she picked the carton up, but she’d lied about it when she met me in the dairy section and I asked her if she’d done the check. I’m not the strictest mom on the block, but lying is the one thing that Ronnie knows will get her instantly grounded. I restricted her for a week over that little incident, but something about the egg had captured Ronnie’s imagination and she hardly bothered to pout over a missed slumber party and being banned from social media.
While the egg was the size and shape of a chicken egg, it weighed much less. We’d both assumed that it was a beautifully dyed, blown egg, but even with a magnifying glass, we hadn’t found any holes. So, we’d been entertaining ourselves, and each other, the past few weeks by making up stories about our mystery egg. Ronnie’s stories had mostly revolved around baby dinosaurs, dragons, and the occasional snake hatching out of it, while mine featured a pysanka artist who had lost, or given away, the egg which had subsequently been on numerous adventures leading up to its arrival in our shopping cart.
As Ronnie and I approach the end table where we’ve been keeping the egg, I see what has alarmed my daughter. The egg is vibrating, making a rattling sound against the decorative glass plate it’s sitting on. Earthquake, is my first thought. I glance around our home, but nothing else is moving. The wind chimes on the window ledge are still and silent, and the sun catcher hanging above them is motionless. I turn my eyes back to the egg, and gulp as it begins to glow. All of my maternal instincts kick in, and in a heartbeat, I am between my daughter and the glowing egg, forcing her backwards, towards the door.
“Out, Veronica! Now!”
“I think it’s hatching, Mom,” Ronnie squeals and tries to pull us back towards the egg.
“It’s a bomb! Outside! Go!” I’m dragging my resisting daughter, now, and I feel like I’m in a dream. The kind of dream where the air is as sticky and viscous as syrup, and I can’t get my arms and legs to move fast enough. I lean back and manage to pull Ronnie slowly towards the door. I know we don’t have much time. I am expecting a blast at any moment, but I won’t leave my kid behind.
The egg glows brighter, like a spot light, illuminating even the usually dim nooks and corners of our house.  We inch closer to the door, each second lasting an excruciating eternity in which I struggle against my daughter, terrified that we’ll both be killed. Now, I’m close enough to open the door. Ronnie is crying and I can see the tears running down her cheeks. I dare to let go of Ronnie’s arm with one hand, and reach for the knob. Impossibly, the egg glows even brighter, and as I turn the doorknob, Ronnie wrenches her arm from my grasp. Time speeds up, now, and Ronnie leaps towards the glowing egg as I fall backwards into the door, my arms wind-milling. The last thing I see before I hit my head and black out, is the egg cracking open while something, with massive wings like strobe lights, bursts out of it.
I wake to Ronnie shaking my arm. “Mom? Are you okay? Mom?” The walls crowded close around us are snowy white, and I blink at my daughter, still dazed, and wonder if we’ve both died. I’m laying half on my back, half on my side, with my knees up in a fetal position. Ronnie is leaning over me and, as I clear my throat and mumble her name, she starts to cry so that her tears fall down on my face like rain.  
“Shhhhh. It’s okay, honey,” I say in a hoarse voice.
“Are you hurt Mom? Should I call 911?”
We’re not dead, I decide, and push myself into a sitting position. My back and shoulders hurt, like I’ve strained some muscles, but nothing worth calling EMS over, so I shake my head. “No, don’t call 911.” I remember the egg, the brightness, and the wings. “What happened?”
Ronnie wipes her nose with the back of her hand and takes a deep, shuddering breath before answering. “I heard this big thump and when I came in, you were just laying here.” She wipes her nose again, and I glance around, trying to figure out where “here” is.
“Are we…are we in the shower?”
Ronnie nods.
“Do you think you passed out from the fumes, Mom? From cleaning?” Ronnie is sliding, backwards out of the shower, holding the door open as she goes.
“Cleaning?” I echo.
“You were cleaning the bathroom. Don’t you remember?” Ronnie holds her hands out to me, but I wave her back as I climb to my feet.
“Wasn’t there some kind of explosion? Something with the egg, the way it was vibrating and glowing?” My back hurts more, now that I’m standing up, and I roll my shoulders trying to loosen the muscles.
“What? Did you hit your head, Mom? Are you really okay, or should I call someone?”
My head doesn’t hurt at all, but I’m dizzy. “Maybe I should sit down for a minute.” I let Ronnie help me to the toilet to sit down, before I ask her again. “So, there wasn’t any kind of explosion…with an egg?”
“Nooo.” Ronnie looks at me warily. “Why are you asking about eggs?” I can see her wondering if she should call for an ambulance after all.
“Let me just sit for a moment and collect myself,” I say and pat my daughter’s hand.
I take some deep breaths and roll my shoulders again while Ronnie goes to the kitchen to get me a glass of water. By the time she returns, I’ve decided that I’ve had some kind of hallucination, so I drink my water and decide that I won’t mention any of this again. Who knows, maybe it was caused by fumes.
I send Ronnie for another glass of water, drink it down, then stand up to follow her out of the bathroom. As I pass the bathroom mirror, though, I see bright, flashing lights from the corner of my eye. I turn and face my reflection with a gasp.
“Mom?” Ronnie turns back towards me, her face filled with questions.
I move my shoulders back and forth and examine myself in the mirror for a long moment, then crook my finger at Ronnie. She comes to stand beside me and we lock eyes with each other’s reflections.
“I need you to tell me the truth, Veronica.” She nods, not breaking our eye contact. “Do I look different to you? In any way?”
My daughter steps back from me, and gives me a long assessing look, the way only a teenage girl can. “I think you look exactly the same, Mom. Unless, maybe, you trimmed your bangs a little and I didn’t notice?”
“No, I didn’t trim my bangs.” I look at my reflection again, then flex a muscle in my back that I’ve never flexed before. I watch my reflection; watch my wings flutter as they shoot brilliant flashes around our tiny bathroom.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Void

It's late Friday evening as I write this, and by now, you've probably noticed that this is not a flash fiction installment. My apologies for the interruption in routine, and I assure you that our regularly scheduled programming will resume in time for next week's Flash Fiction Friday.

Here's an oddity: the last time I read extensively about writer's block was in the mid-80s. I wasn't even a teenager yet. Since that time, I really haven't given writer's block much thought. What did I learn about writer's block when I studied it as a pre-teen? Mostly that it's a malady best solved by carefully applied self-discipline. I seem to recall that the prevailing theory in whatever it was I was reading (I have no memory of the title or author(s) of this material) was that insecurity and low self-esteem were the primary causes of writer's block. That's probably why I never bothered to read anything else about this topic. I have plenty of human flaws and frailties, but insecurity and low self-esteem, especially in regard to my writing, just aren't really my style.
I've always envisioned writer's block as a kind of wall, or even a gate, that once removed, blown through, or opened, led a return to writing. I realized today that I periodically have writer's block and it isn't at all a blockage the way I've always imagined it. Instead, it's like a void. A black hole. A vast vacuum into which my words and inspiration are sucked. It's not that I can't come up with ideas, I have a zillion of those. It's not as though I can't write down words. As you see, I'm doing that right now. Instead, it's as though the magical force in my brain that squirts out stories just goes out for a long walk. Or a holiday. Or a sabbatical. I am what is known as a "pantser". I enjoy a bit of planning when it comes to novels, but my best writing comes to me in dreams and other messages from my subconscious mind. When those sudden bursts of "AHA" dry up, I'm not left with much to work with. It's not like I have a clever outline with all the twists and turns mapped out for me. Oh, my subconscious might have that outline, but it does not share that sort of information with my conscious mind. Where would the fun be in that?
Today, I decided that all of this feels very neurological. It really doesn't feel like a self-discipline problem, and it certainly doesn't feel like a self-esteem problem. It feels like a non-cooperative brain. In fact, prior to even recognizing that I might have an output problem this week, I was aware that I was swimming in the shallow end of the pool called depression. Whoops! That's no good. I have extensive experience with this and a host of cognitive, behavioral, environmental, and supplement strategies that I immediately began to implement, and I'm confident that I'll be out of the pool and drying off within a week. Meanwhile, I did a little internet research and discovered that, nowadays, writer's block is considered a neurological event. Apparently, my limbic system has given my cerebral cortex the boot and dear old lizard brain is running the ship while my fore brain has a lovely time-out. I'm determined to be back to my usual neurological activity soon, however, and promise that there will be a new flash fiction morsel here next week.

Friday, January 15, 2016


Hi folks, and happy Flash Fiction Friday! 
If you haven't already, I want to encourage you to sign up to read this blog via e-mail. There's a handy sign-up box over on the right and once you do, you never have to worry about missing a single story!
I also want to mention again, that within the next week or two, I'm going to begin taking down my oldest stories on this blog, so that I can submit them elsewhere for publication. If you'd like to read (or reread) them, now is a good time. ;-)

I’ve come to the beach again. The white caps smash and foam against the rocks while I think.
The beach has always been my haven, the place where I do my best thinking. Today, I’m thinking about retirement. It’s not the first time I’ve thought about this, but it’s the most serious. I’m getting pressure, again, from management. They haven’t said so, but I can tell that my wrinkled skin and snow-white hair frighten them. They’re afraid I’ll fall and break a hip at work, or worse yet, keel over and die. I frighten them and so they don’t want me around. My clients would understand how I feel.
I arrange rocks, mussel shells, and bits of lichen against a backdrop of pungent fucus rockweed at the high tide line. I can’t be still. Never have been able to. Underlying all the other rationalizations, this need to move is the reason I didn’t retire five or ten years ago when my peers did. This need to move, and my fear of becoming meaningless and invisible. Retirement, I’ve always thought, is a kind of death.
Everywhere I go, I carry my oversized purse, stuffed until the seams split. Stuffed with needlework, sketchpad, origami paper, and even a bit of wood, and my whittling knife. The latter is top secret, of course. If anyone at work found out I had a knife in my bag, they’d probably call the cops. Or fire me on the spot. Or both.
 I can’t be still. Even now, I complete my spontaneous still-life assemblage and, without pause, begin a small cairn. I sift through the rocks around my feet, selecting and stacking.
When I meet with clients, I am always drawing out what I wish them to understand. I send them away with lists and diagrams. I build things for them, too. I used to keep a set of brightly painted blocks at my desk until some young thing, straight out of graduate school, informed me that baby toys have no place in the treatment of mentally ill adults. “Let me show you how I use them,” I’d said, but she didn’t have time. The blocks were to be removed, or she would write me up for insubordination. After that, I hoarded office supplies. Rectangular pencil erasers, paperclips, small paper cups from the nurse’s office, and tall stacks of sticky notes became my building blocks.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see two seals bobbing just off shore. Their whiskered faces and rounded heads make them look like enormous puppies, still slick with amniotic fluid.
I move a rock off my cairn-in-progress and root around for a good replacement. When I glance back up, I think that I see one of the seals pulled out near the large black boulder down the beach. Then, the seal seems to unfold, and I realize that I’m seeing a woman stand up and unbend from where she’s been crouching. I shake my head and chuckle to myself at the trick my eyes have played on me. I can almost convince myself that I’ve just seen a selkie. I chuckle again and pick up a flat oval rock, and place it on my cairn, then scan the bay. The seals have disappeared. I turn back to my rocks.
She approaches me from downwind and I’m so absorbed in what I’m doing that I don’t see her until she’s at my elbow. I stand up and take a step sideways, a step away from her.
She contemplates the cairn for a while in silence, and I have time to admire the shiny luxuriousness of her brown hair streaked with tinsel bright silver hairs. She looks about my age, but her skin is smoother than mine, and almost shiny with moisture.
“You are an artist,” the woman says and points her chin at my cairn.
I don’t deny it, I just shrug.
“You know it will all be destroyed when the tide comes in, don’t you?”
“Destroyed? Nah,” I say. “Just rearranged.”
“The ingredients will remain, but your vision, your art, those will be erased. As though you were never here.”
I stare into the woman’s dark brown eyes while I think about what she’s said.
“I guess that’s true. I never thought about it that way before.”
“Why do you do it? Why do you make something beautiful that will be gone so soon?”
“Umm?” I reply and massage the back of my neck.
We breathe together, this strange woman and me, until the words come to me.
“I don’t do it for someone else to see it and think that it’s beautiful, or to see it and know I was here. I just do it for the pleasure of doing it. Besides, it’s still beautiful once the tide dismantles it.”
“Is it really still beautiful? What if I were to tell you that once you leave this beach, no human will ever look, really look, at this rock ever again?” She touches the edge of the rock at the top of the stack.
“People don’t have to see something in order for it to be beautiful,” I say, with something very much like scorn in my tone. “Every rock on this planet is beautiful, whether a human ever sees it or not.”
The woman smiles a tiny smile and nods. “Good. So you are saying that beauty is innate, even when it is unseen or invisible.”
I’m lost again, in this strange conversation. I push my bifocals up my nose and make a face, squinting my eyes as I think. “I guess I am.”
The woman nods again, her smile growing wider.
“We’re all invisible, you know.”
“Maybe” I say. I don't know where she's going with this.
“People don’t see what confuses and upsets them. People don’t see what they look at when it doesn’t follow the rules they know. We’re all invisible.”
I nod in silence and think about the rules I don't follow.
“We are all beautiful and invisible.” She gives me a look full of meaning, and then turns on her heel and heads back down the beach to that big black boulder.
This time, I’m paying attention when it happens. I’m watching for it. The woman bends over and crouches down, all in one movement. Then, a seal waddles a few feet away from the rock and slides into the tumultuous waves.

Thursday, January 7, 2016


Happy Flash Friday!
Stories can come from obvious places, like people and events in our lives, but they can also come from mysterious places, deep in the strange,dark crevices and folds of an author's brain. Today's story did, indeed, come from a strange and mysterious place in my brain. It was inspired by the photo above, which was inspired by the lovely organic oranges that came in our housemate's produce box. Why did the oranges end up in the blender with the prescription bottles? I don't know, but it tickled my funny bone. At any rate, grab an orange to snack on and settle in for a strange little story that I hope tickles your funny bone.

Gerald opened his eyes and yawned. Mahina was still fast asleep, her lips parted as she breathed in long, low, whuffling lung-fulls of air. Gerald resisted the urge to wipe a smear of drying saliva from her cheek. She didn’t even smell like her old self, anymore. Where her perspiration and morning breath had once been a warm, almost musky scent, now it was as sweet and tangy as marmalade. Gerald swallowed back bile and glanced at the narrow gap where the drapes let in a sliver of morning light. It was still snowing outside.
Mahina had gotten sick a month ago when the first snow fell. It had started like an ordinary head cold, then progressed to nausea, chills, and a persistent, hacking cough. Day after day, Mahina’s breathing had grown more labored and her cough had deepened until it was a bone-rattling roar.
At first, the cravings seemed like a good sign. Oranges were supposed to be full of vitamin C, so Gerald figured eating a few a day would help boost his wife’s immune system. When Mahina devoured twenty oranges in three days, Gerald suggested she make an appointment with the family doctor. She didn’t, though, and when she stopped eating other food, he grew genuinely worried. When Mahina refused water, drinking only orange juice, Gerald took her to the emergency room.
It was a bad winter flu with a secondary lung infection, the E.R. doctor told them. Antibiotics and rest would have Mahina feeling better in no time. Gerald mentioned the oranges and the doctor shrugged.
“It’s the only thing she’ll eat or drink,” Gerald persisted, earning a sharp jab from Mahina’s elbow.
“I’m sure you’ll feel like resuming a normal diet in a couple of days,” the doctor said to Mahina, who shivered and zipped up her coat. “This antibiotic should do the trick, though you’ll want to eat some yogurt.”
“She’s never had any particular interest in oranges before. Do you think it’s a symptom of some kind of deficiency?”
“Hmm. Any chance you could be pregnant?” Mahina shook her head and shivered again. “Well, she certainly doesn’t have scurvy.” Gerald scowled at the doctor’s jocular tone.
A few days later, Mahina stopped coughing, though her voice remained low and raspy. She continued to eat oranges. Gerald was afraid to stop buying them. Afraid of what would happen if she didn’t eat at all.
The bedside clock read 6:04. Time to get ready for work. Gerald sighed and yawned again, then pushed a damp tendril of hair back from Mahina’s forehead. What was this? Alarmed, he peered more closely at her face, then her bare arms. Even in the dim light of the bedroom, he could see that her skin had grown rough and dimpled. Did she have some kind of rash? Hives?
Gerald drew a shaky breath. “Wake up, sweetie. I think we need to take you back to the doctor.”
Mahina smiled, then opened eyes that glowed like twin orange suns.
“We’re not going to the doctor, Gerald.”
“We’re not?” Gerald whispered.
“No. Not the doctor. We’re going to Florida.”
The old man rubbed an aching knee and nodded at the eldest of the children gathered around the fire with him. The youngster added another stick to the fire and sparks shot into the dusky sky.
“And that…that is how the orange zombie apocalypse began,” Gerald said, glad the darkness of the evening hid his tears.