Flash Fiction

What To Do About Her?

Every Friday writers from near and far are challenged to create a 100 word fiction story from a photo prompt. If you’d like to join in the fun, get all the details here: Friday Fictioneers. Click the frog at the end of my post to see other stories from this week’s challenge and to add your own.

 

courtyard

He had lived on their periphery long enough and they were well aware that he required starkness, sameness. Neutrality kept his mind quiet and them safe. They knew this. It must have been her, in 1B. The one who greeted him with bigger volume and enthusiasm everytime they passed in the hall, convincing herself that he just hadn’t heard her the last 10 times. It had to be her. Her blood red buds were creating a cacophony in his head, just like she did, and they tore a hole in the beautiful gray tapestry of his courtyard. What to do about her?

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Kid Memories

I’ve Been Grounded For 33 Years

It was like a scene from the Breakfast Club. I was Bender who just couldn’t shut up and my Dad was Vernon doling out more and more weeks of restriction.  I couldn’t control my emotions.  To be fair, I was only 13 so things were a bit precarious in the hormone department at that time. I loved to be right and I refused to lose an argument. If getting the last word in were an Olympic event, I’d have more gold medals than Michael Phelps.  This particular battle of wills took place while bowling. Yeah..bowling.

My dad had taken me to practice one weekday afternoon. The fact that this was a weekday afternoon is probably the only reason that the events were able to unfold as they did.  The center was empty except for Dad and me.  I would rarely lose my shit in front of others. My mom taught me that you never air your dirty laundry with an audience, you hang it all out on your loved ones instead and in private. We had managed to get a couple of games in before things went south. I started missing the pocket and exhibiting other such signs of adjustments needing to be made. As should have been expected my Dad, who was a coach, started to coach me. I was having none of that on this particular day.  Every piece of advice he offered was met with a grimace and an “I know!”. It didn’t take long for my snarky responses to evolve into a full blown tantrum. Complete with me kicking the ball return following a bad shot and a tossing in a few coveted bad words at opportune times. My Dad, bless him, kept it together much longer than anyone should. He finally told me to sit my ass down in one of the hard plastic swivel seats and shut the fuck up.  I didn’t.  “You’re grounded for a month” he said through clenched teeth.  “So!” I yelled back. He anted up “2 months then!”. “I don’t care” accented with a dramatic eye roll.  “3 months.  Do you want to keep going?” he asked with exasperation.  “Yep!” I’m no quitter. “6 months then. Now pack up your shit and let’s get out of here”.

As we drove home, Dad tried to counsel me on the events of the day with topics as wide ranging as my form and delivery while bowling to my horrible bargaining skills. I think he was actually trying to find a way to give me an out from the punishment.  If I could have just brought myself to listen and apologize, things would have probably ended much differently. But I didn’t. I sat silently without looking at him, feeling victimized. When we pulled into the driveway at our house, I wordlessly jumped out of the car and stormed inside heading immediately for my bedroom.  He appeared in the doorway shortly afterwards.  “I have a proposal for you.  Come upstairs and talk to me when you’re ready”. Still not wanting to give an inch I made him wait for at least 15 minutes before I followed the instructions. “I’ll erase the grounding if you take a spanking instead.”  My parents weren’t spankers, so I really had no concept of what the process would entail and, again, due to lack of bargaining skills, I jumped at this offer without establishing any ground rules.

Back in my room waiting for Dad to arrive and deliver the replacement form of punishment, I felt giddy about my victory. A little pain for a brief time or being a hostage for 6 months? No brainer! The bliss faded and my stomach clenched as soon as he entered the room. The “paddle” in his hand looked like a cross between a cutting board and one of those trays that brew pubs use for delivering their sampler platters.  It was equipped with a handy leather wrist strap, holes down the middle for maximum sting, and a cute little title scrolled on it in a beautiful flowery font “Mom’s little helper”.  In that split second of terror, I racked my brain to remember where I had seen that hateful piece of wood. Then it came to me.  For years it had hung next to the wall phone with the 25 foot curly cord in the kitchen.  Although our house was always super clean, the paddle was dusty.  We had all looked at it every day as we grabbed the box of Honey Nut Cheerios from the kitchen cabinet or spun the reel 7 times to connect with friends or family, but never really saw it.

“Pull your pants down” he said quietly.  “What? Really?” I asked with a quivering half laugh.  “Yes and then lay facedown on the bed” he responded.  Even though this was a whole new thing to me, Dad seemed to be pretty familiar with the process.  I did what I was told and without any argument for the first time all day.  “I’m going to start now” he warned.  I could hear him breath a sigh as he prepared to level the first blow. I quickly turned my head to face in his direction and could see the paddle raised above him nearly touching the ceiling and his face clenched in a fierce scowl. And then…FIRE!  The searing pain radiated into my feet.  I buried my face in the bedspread hoping it would be over quickly. After 5 more cracks, it was. Quiet.  I lay motionless, my face still pressing deeply into the mattress. My Dad tried to comfort me by placing his hand on my back and saying “I’m sorry”, his voice shaking.  I violently shook his hand away and pulled up my pants.  I didn’t cry. I wanted to more than I ever had before and not because of the physical pain, even though it was significant, but because I couldn’t believe my Dad had just done this to me.  How could my Dad who was the most gentle and lovey dovey guy I knew, want to hurt me? I snarled “Go away!” and he did.

As quickly as my submission had arrived, it was gone again.  I lay plotting my revenge for the next 30 minutes.  What could I do to get back at him for this indignity?  No matter how disrespectful I had been at the bowling alley, I didn’t deserve to be hit right?  Already forgotten was the fact that I had chosen this option.  Already swept under the  rug was the fact that I had epitomized “spoiled fucking brat” for a good portion of that day. I could have said “nope, I’m good with my 6 month sentence”, but I didn’t.  I searched for some way to hurt him and I found it.  It was at that moment that I began to cry.  I don’t know if it was me just preparing to make him feel as shitty as possible so tears were needed to that end, or if I was feeling sorry for myself and really getting into victim mode.  Either way, the tears set the stage for the horrible closing scene that day.

My dad was sitting at the kitchen table, head in his hands and looking shaken.  I remember that now.  At the time, all I could see was someone I wanted to hurt. I walked right up to him with my right hand clenched.  As he turned to look at me, I extended my arm and opened my hand to reveal the orange single blade pocket knife he had given me several years prior.  It was one of my most beloved possessions and he knew that.  “I don’t want this anymore.  I don’t want anything from you” I said.  As my Dad’s face scrunched up and he burst into tears, I turned and walked away. In that moment I felt as if I had just conquered childhood. I would become the patron saint of spanking victims for centuries to come. Heralded as the foremost “get backer” ever known to man.  What I know now, after years of this memory invading my thoughts, is that I’ve actually been grounded for 33 years.

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Uncategorized

She’s Got A Mouthful of Piranhas

He referred to her as his wife this morning while on the phone confirming her appointment with the doctor. My throat involuntarily convulsed and my head swirled with the beginnings and endings of various stories. Are they really married? My aunt told me that she thought they had wed on one of the many cruises they take into foreign waters. Does that count? Are they really married or was it just one of the “purely for entertainment purposes only” excursions made readily available on those massive floating over indulgence factories?


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I plan to ask him if it is true, that is if I ever get a moment alone with him. Why don’t I just ask in front of her? Continue reading

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Flash Fiction

Unthink and Begin

Every Friday writers from near and far are challenged to create a 100 word fiction story from a photo prompt. If you’d like to join in the fun, get all the details here: Friday Fictioneers. Click the frog at the end of my post to see other stories from this week’s challenge and to add your own.

route 66

Copyright – Jean L. Hays

“Ha!” He didn’t know where that had come from really. It escaped his lungs the way air from the hose at a gas station does when making the PSI just right, sounding as if the H should have been replaced by a P, or, at the very least, preceded by one. The signs made him do it and now they couldn’t be unseen. How many times had he come to a crossroads only to turn and look behind him for guidance? Countless. No more. These signs couldn’t be ignored. They were begging him to begin. Start anew. Unthink what’s been.

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pasta roni
Kid Memories

Why I Dream About Pasta Roni and Porksteak

Pasta Roni and pork steak.  Certainly a forgettable pairing but they made for a memorable meal. Well, there was the lovely iceberg lettuce salad sprinkled with slices of spicy red radishes and the diced up green part of a scallion, adding some health and color to our plates. I don’t recall the date or even the day of the week, but that greasy, “sort of” meat and side dish of sodium won’t leave my head.  The Pasta Roni was being particularly stubborn as it clung like glue to the side of the pan. At 18, after years of indoctrination, Mom’s standards for dishwashing had become my own.  “Why can’t we just put the dishes in the dishwasher Mom, isn’t it supposed to clean them?”  “Yuck! The dishwasher is only for sanitizing”. This had always been her opinion of the machine with the misleading name living under our kitchen counter. So, I scrubbed.  I would have undoubtedly scrubbed that pan until I was out of breath and my arms weak, ensuring every bit of those tenacious carbs were gone before daring to find it a place amongst the other already clean dinnerware, but my sister appeared next to me at the sink just shortly into the battle.  “Mom got on the phone while I was on it and told me to get off” she said.  Remember the days of lifting the handset from it’s cradle, hoping you’d get a dial tone instead of the yammering of another conversation holding the line hostage?. “So?!” I snapped. Sisterly love and compassion poured from me.  I looked up and realized my sister was worried.  She sensed more was going on than just the need to make a call that led to our mom’s phone line piracy.

“What do you think is wrong?” I asked.  “She just sounded weird” is all that she could tell me. I decided to investigate and headed to my parent’s bedroom. The door was closed which was definitely weird. The only time that door was closed was when they were settled in for the night. All of our doors had to be closed at bedtime becasue a closed door was vital to creating a fire barrier in the event of an overnight blaze. (Learn more about Dad’s fire safety manifesto here) I knocked lightly and when no acknowledgement came, I slowly opened the door. She wasn’t on the phone as I expected to find or even anywhere I could see in the small master bedroom. I took the few steps needed to cross the room and came to the doorway of the adjoining bathroom with its avocado countertop, vanity mirror outlined in “fuzzy balls” she had attached herself in a moment of creative inspiration (each of our other bathrooms had this feature as well. If you’re going to do something, do it 100%), and plush carpet in a brown and white swirling pattern. There she was half knealing and half sitting in front of the toilet with her arms hugging the top of the bowl where the seat usually rests. “Mom, are you ok?”.  She looked at me sideways with her cheek resting on the white porcelain and mumbled through the foamy remnants of our meal, “Get out.”  Good enough. I have a pot to scrub. No need to be a spectator.

Once back at the sink though, it hit me. There was something really wrong.  Why had she barged in on my sister’s call just minutes before expelling the Pastroni and porksteak?  The timing wasn’t right. I mean, you don’t just decide to make a phone call if you are on the verge of losing your dinner unless there is some urgent need.  What was with the call?  I was going to find out even if she didn’t want me to, so I returned to the bedroom.  She was curled up on the bed hugging her knees. “I called your dad. The ambulance is on the way. Go open the front door”.  Calm leadership from a woman in the middle of a medical emergency.

As I sat at Mom’s feet in the ambulance, watching the paramedics stick her with needles and cover her face with an oxygen mask, questions were racing through my brain. Was the Pasta Roni and porksteak to blame? Would we all soon be clutching the toilet and making phone calls? Would I ever get that pan clean? Was…she…going…to die? It wouldn’t be that night. That night she would escape. We all would escape. That night it was just her first one. The one they called the mild heart attack.

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Flash Fiction

The Unbeliever

This story is in response to the Sunday Photo Fiction challenge. Writers submit a 200 word story inspired by the photo prompt provided each Sunday. Click the blue frog at the bottom of the post to view all stories for this week and submit your own.

angel quartz

“You know that’s rose quartz AND an angel don’t you?”. With one eyebrow hiked up nearly into her hairline and her mouth scrunched in a smirky slant on the side of her face, it felt more like a test than a simple request for confirmation. When I didn’t immediately respond, she followed up with “Well, you better be careful. If you get that too close to your cold, dark, atheist heart, it may explode into a million tiny shards and blind us both!”. We laughed, probably too hard, but her question and concern were well-founded. What was a lifelong unbeliever doing clutching that tiny idol? How had that “hippie dippy” store, wedged between the coffee shop and self-serve dog grooming facility, finally lured me in to peruse it’s mystic wares? I had been able to successfully navigate past it for years, unaffected by the wafting tendrils of frankincense, sage, and patchouli that, at times, could tickle the senses from more than a block away. I don’t even know what it means to smudge, this place had nothing to offer me! Why had today been different then? How did I end up with her cool, smooth wings resting in my palm?

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Communion Dress
Kid Memories

Losing Her Religion

Mom was raised a Catholic. She was the only child born to Hilda and Clementine Pfau, coming into the world when my grandmother had already reached her 40th birthday. I don’t know if my grandparents were just really strict in their beliefs and abstained until they were ready to procreate, or if there was some biological problem that had kept their family at bay until mom came along. Most of the photos that still exist of my mom from childhood show her sporting some ceremonial white dress or another, announcing her baptism, first taste of Christ’s blood, or commitment, as much as one can commit when they are just 13, to Catholicism. If she wasn’t posing in her special dresses, then she could be seen in the typical garb that every Catholic school girl was required to wear at that time. The navy blue cardigan sweater, covering the heavily starched white shirt buttoned all the way to the top, and the thick, woolly, plaid skirt with it’s hem hanging just the proper distance from the ground where pointy, two toned saddle shoes let the lacey fold of brightly bleached socks create a sort of table cloth over the top of their leather. Mom attended private, church affiliated schools all the way through her senior year of high school. She would have most likely gone on to the University of Portland, if circumstances would have been different. The death of her father when she was only in grammar school forced Mom to fill all of her spare time with work to help support she and her mother, so higher education just wasn’t an option. One of her biggest regrets was not attending college. For her it wasn’t about the prestige or perception of holding a degree. She was an avid learner. She just loved to know things. I think that thirst for knowledge and openness to new ideas may have been partly what compelled her to stray from the church. Maybe she was ready to strike out on her own path rather than that of her parents. Or maybe she was just sick of spending every Sunday with her ass planted on an uncomfortable, wooden bench. Either way, she didn’t raise us in the church.

Despite all those years spent immersed in religion, Mom rarely even talked about it. But, when she did it was memorable. Like that one time when the Mormons came to our house. After sneaking silently to the front door and checking the peep hole, she immediately went into action so as not to miss the opportunity. She quickly handed me a can of beer and a lit cigarette as she gave me my lines and stuffed a pillow from the couch under my shirt, creating the illusion that I was about to become a mother at 13. “Fucking bible bangers. We’ll give them something to save!” she said through a half crazed laugh. I was “all in” whenever my mom got creative, so I gave my best performance. “We’re not interested” I sneered at the guys dressed like identical twins standing on our porch. I dramatically took a sip of that icy Stroh’s Light, stroked my pillow baby with the hand that held the Pall Mall menthol burning between its fingers and then shut the door in their stunned faces. All the while, Mom hid around the corner in the living room doing her best to keep from bursting out in laughter and spoiling the scene. She never told me why she was so adamant about chasing those boys away. I just assumed she didn’t like strangers showing up uninvited and trying to tell us how to live. That made pefect sense to me.

My only real exposure to religion during my childhood was when I spent a year of Sundays attending the HazelDell Evangelic Free Church with my gradeschool friend and softball teammate Leanne. My mom didn’t object to my going with Leann and her family at first. I had no clue what an Evangelical was, but I did know that I loved singing along to the hymns with Leanne’s parents as they led the choir in their long white robes accented with vibrant kelly green sashes, sipping the grape punch and munching the oyster crackers as I pondered who this Jesus person was and why anyone would want to eat him, and going out to lunch with Leanne’s family after the service. I thought of religion as a way to hang out with my friend, so whenever Leanne invited me to go with her to some church event, I always said yes. That’s how I ended up getting accidentally baptized at one of their evening revival-esque sessions. I remember sitting through a sermon delivered by the guest pastor, a guy that was much younger and better looking than the man who stood at the pulpit on Sundays. He shouted all kinds of things about saving, accepting, forgiving, and surrendering in the room that felt about 15 degrees warmer than normal. The next thing I knew I was whisked off to a small room behind the altar where I was guided into a straight backed chair, sitting knee to knee with the young, loud pastor, but he wasn’t loud any longer. He took my hands and as I looked up at his red, sweaty face he nearly whispered “Are you ready to accept Jesus Christ as your savior?”. I laughed uncomfortably and said yes, not having any clue what in the world he was talking about. He asked again, knowing that I had just given a half-assed affirmation. My followup response, in my memory, wasn’t any more convincing, but the pastor put the rubber stamp on it and sent me off to the kiddy pool to get my head wet, moving onto the next convert as quickly as possible since the line behind me had started to build. I couldn’t wait to get home that night I tell my mom that I had been baptized. I was positive she would think that was neat. The look of shock and anger on her face materialized immediately. “What!?” she screamed. Before I could explain that all baptized meant was that I said yes to the pastor’s question about Jesus and got dunked in the kiddy pool like everyone else, she reminded me, even though I never knew it in the first place, that I had been baptized a Catholic when I was a newborn. I never went to the HazelDell Evangelical Free Church again after that night, but I did join the Catholic Youth Organization basketball league at the church near our house which would push more buttons for my mom.

There wasn’t a big enough population of Catholics in Vancouver, Washington where we lived to support a league, so most of our season was comprised of games that pitted us against talented teams from the many parishes across the Columbia River in Portland. We never talked about religion, never prayed before games or otherwise had to prove our spiritual worthiness to be on the team. We just played really competitive basketball. The league exposed me to all kinds of great athletes who were bound for the preeminent high school for both academics and athletics in our area, St. Mary’s Academy, which also happened to be Mom’s alma mater. The friends I made during the season I played CYO urged me to join them at the all-girls school starting in my upcoming Freshman year. When I approached my Mom with the idea I was sure she would be ecstatic that I wanted to follow in her footsteps, but all she could say initially was “Really?” with an incredulous look on her face. I was able to convince Mom that I was serious, so she and my dad made the arrangements for me to attend St. Mary’s. What came next was Mom’s concession to teaching me at least a little bit about the religion she had abandoned long ago. “I can’t have you looking like an idiot the first time they make you attend mass” was how she introduced a training session on the recitation of both the Hail Mary and Lord’s Prayer. “I’m sure the nuns will tell you this too, but don’t ever go up to the altar when they give the Eucharist. You never had First Communion, so you aren’t allowed to take it” was how she further ensured I would look like less of an asshole as the outsider I was sure to be. Suprisingly, Mom was actually excited to hear all about my first days and weeks at St Mary’s. She became less and less resistant to talking about the rites, rituals and rules of Cathlocism and even appeared to take some pride in being able to shed light and clarity to concepts that were totally new to me. She never did attend church again, and neither did I, with the exception of the mandated masses that were part of the educational experience at St. Marys, but I think my aimless wading into spiritual waters may have helped her find some middle ground between the overwhelming desire to terrorize the door-to-door religion sales people that dared come calling and the years of devotion to the beliefs of her mother.

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Mom's Brain

Tomorrow Will Be Better

As rough as the daytime tour of duty was, the night shift made up for it. I don’t know if she was just exhausted from the earlier battle or if the transition from day to night had some sort of reverse Sundowners effect on Mom. She would go from fighting every little thing to being more lucid and docile the moment that artificial light filled the room and the curtains covered the windows. As we’d sit in the family room half watching the tv, me in the recliner and her in the hospital bed that filled most of the small space, I could feel the change. I could feel her presence. I’d turn to look at her and find her watching me, her clear blue eyes warm and focused no longer angry and confused. “I’m sorry” she’d say. “Why are you sorry Mom?” I’d ask. “I’m sorry that I’m like this. I’m sorry that you have to take care of me”. As I stood and moved to her bedside, I could feel my chest begin to heave with overwhelming emotion. “I would do anything for you and I’m sorry that you have to go through this.” I’d then hug her tightly, feeling our tears mingle as our cheeks touched, and she would whisper in my ear. “I love you. Tomorrow will be better.”

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