Saturday, January 29, 2011

These Words

These words battle on the frontline,
No fear of injury or death.
They clamber forward mindlessly
Wanting their message sent.
No care, no worries, no responsibilities,
Aim, shoot, fire!
Armed with wit and equipped with power,
They kill without regret.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

May Day

          Jeremy collapsed into his chair and let the calm of his study peck away at his tension. The rich oak furniture left a musk that permeated his nostrils, mixing with the faint essence of the old books that lined the shelves to his right. His desk lamp radiated just enough light so he could read the various titles, glimmering in their faded silver typeface. Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, Rhetoric, Voltaire. What would these classical, great writers have to say about the events of this week? They never could have imagined such a terrible, horrible tragedy. Of course, throughout history people had died. Wars, genocide, disease. Murder. Government ordered murder. But distance, through space and time, had always made history just that—history. This seemed so far removed from all of that, nearly incomprehensible.
So Jeremy retreated here, to his study, to let the oak and paper smells wash away his memory, to let the keys on the typewriter rewrite his history. To escape to a place that made sense and was right. A place where he could live.
            The first keystroke hit the paper. Tap. The first word. Tap, tap, tap…tap. tap. From there, the musky cloud of the oak furniture and the flapping, old yellowed pages carried Jeremy, one keystroke at a time, to a place where he could see his son again.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Going Home

This is my first short story for my fiction writing workshop I'm taking this semester. The prompt was to write a story where the main character had the same name as us. I'm going to be working on a revision soon but wanted to put this up anyway. 

The door slammed in her face, and Stacie stood there a few moments in shock. She knew that asking a complete stranger to step into their home and look around was a long shot, but she truly believed it was what she needed to come out of her rut. She turned slowly on the old wooden porch, the one her father had built with his own hammer and saw, and walked down the narrow sidewalk to the street. The ice cracked and gave under the weight of her black pumps, and if it weren’t for the bits of gravel she knew she would have slipped and fell.
            She stopped at the end of the sidewalk and turned to look at the house once more. The windows were just as she had remembered them, painted white with shutters, although when her family had lived there the shutters had always been opened, even during the harsh winters. She remembered the way the cold ice weaved an intricate pattern across her bedroom window on the coldest of nights. She would sit on her bed and stare at the different crystals, wondering how anything so random could ever appear to be so organized. The house was now painted a dull beige color, and she could not quite figure out why anyone would have changed it from its original navy blue.
If it were summer, the tulips would be blooming in the flowerbed beside the front porch, and she remembered all the times she sipped iced tea while sitting on the porch swing. Her mother had insisted on the swing as soon as the porch had been built. Stacie remembered her saying, “Ain’t no reason to have a porch without a porch swing. That’s just damn near ridiculous.” Her father sighed at the comment, feigning exasperation at the request, but he turned toward his shop with a smile on his face and chirped back, “Well alright, can’t have any damn ridiculous things going on in this house.”
            Stacie smiled at the memory. Her parents would hate the new look of their home, and the thought chased the smile from her face. She took one last look at the house that was no longer her home, and as she turned to leave her eyes rested on the place in the driveway where her 8-year-old self had dipped her hands in wet cement. Her handprint was gone, and her heart dropped even more. Stacie turned to walk back to the bus stop.
She took in the neighborhood. So much had remained the same, yet somehow so much of it had changed. She sighed heavily and came to the realization that the place she came looking for no longer existed. The place she grew up in was a place of unlocked doors and friendly neighbors, a place of yesteryear. A place where a mother would gladly let a young woman into their home because it had once been her home. No, her hometown, her neighborhood, the place she grew up in was gone. It took having the door of her childhood home so ardently slammed in her face for her to even begin to comprehend such a notion. But there it was, in black and white. The signs in the lawns proclaiming security systems inside, the locked gates and fences, even the people who passed by hurriedly with their heads down all pointed to a place she was so unfamiliar with that she felt like a complete stranger in these once familiar streets.
            She approached the bus stop and was relieved to see that no one was there. Another surprising, yet not surprising, scene. Growing up, nearly everyone took the bus. Now, it seemed as if each household had a car both in the garage and in the driveway. Yes, things had changed. Were changing. She sat on the bench and took comfort in the cold. The piercing cold of a Nebraska winter. The wind was still, a rarity on these plains. She closed her eyes and smelled the sugar beet refinery she knew was a couple miles away. The sweet, peanut buttery smell relaxed her; the familiarity of it in all this unfamiliarity calmed her in a way she didn’t think was possible. The disappointment of not seeing her old home from the inside faded from her mind, and she wondered instead why she had come here in the first place.
            She had always thought “home” was a place she could come back to. A place where there would always be someone familiar, some comfort that would recharge her heart and soul, powering her to move on to her next big challenge. But now, after this visit, she didn’t even know where home was. Was it in her small one-bedroom apartment in L.A.? Was it here, on this street? Was it in her parents’ new retirement center in Arizona? Nothing seemed to fit, and this only doubled her feelings of loneliness and despair that had brought her here in the first place.           
            The bus pulled up and let out a small puff of air as the driver pulled the brakes. Stacie grabbed her purse and placed fifty cents in the box at the top of the steps, nodding at the driver and receiving a stern nod in return. Whatever happened to smiling? she wondered. Only a few patrons filled the bus, and she chose an empty row so she could continue to be lost in her thoughts. A few moments later she felt a pair of eyes on her. Glancing to her left, she noticed an elderly woman looking at her, not trying to hide it at all.
            “Hello, can I help you with something?” Stacie asked, hesitantly.
            “Why, yes, perhaps you can,” the woman started, but suddenly an air of familiarity struck Stacie, much like the crisp, cold air outside.
            “Mrs. Douglas? Is that you?” she asked, and without receiving an answer a smile spread across her face. Her high school English teacher, one of her favorite instructors, was sitting a row behind her to her left. She couldn’t believe it.
            “Oh, please, darling, I was Mrs. Douglas to you years and years ago. Call me Judy,” she said, smiling. “What brings you back to town dear? If I remember correctly your folks moved down to a warmer climate?”
            “Yes, that they did. And can you blame them with a day like today?” This was it, Stacie thought, the familiar face, the familiar talk that she had needed to jolt her back into life. “I came to see some old friends,” she paused, wondering if she could divulge the deeper meaning behind her visit. She looked into the comforting eyes of her once-mentor, and decided that not only she could, but she should. “And, well, to see if this was still the town I grew up in. It hasn’t taken me long to see that it’s not.”
            Judy Douglas’s face looked surprised. She tilted her head slightly and Stacie could see that she was choosing her words carefully, something Judy had always done as her teacher before answering a student’s question about a grade or about homework or about anything, really. After a moment, she answered.
            “Is that so? Tell me, Stacie, what about it has changed so much?” she asked. Stacie smiled to herself, recognizing the teacherly question-answer.
            “Well, the old grocery store is gone. And TC’s, that little diner? It’s closed. We used to go there after football games on Friday’s. And just this neighborhood, it’s so different. People aren’t nearly as friendly,” she explained. She noticed the rise in her tone of voice but chose to ignore it. “And I went to my old house, thinking I could have a look around. The lady slammed the door in my face, can you believe that?” It wasn’t until she verbalized the changes she noticed that she realized how much they really did bother her.
            “I see,” Judy replied. That was all she said, but Stacie noticed her looking her over, noticing her black designer pumps, her black pencil skirt and her black blazer, covered by her black winter coat. The only piece of color visible was the top of the collar of her burgundy button down blouse. Stacie sat up a little straighter, completely aware that she was being analyzed by her professional, stern appearance. She took in Judy’s appearance and noticed the stark contrast. She was dressed in faded dark jeans with a flannel top, tucked skillfully under her hearty Colombia coat, necessary for the winters here. But mostly she noticed her relaxed body, her friendly smile that may have compounded the wrinkles around her eyes and mouth but made her face a comforting one. Her silver-gray hair was cut short but not overdone, and everything about her looked very, well, small town. Quite different from her own L.A. businesswoman appearance. Stacie became very aware of how different she must appear to everyone she encountered, how oddly misplaced she must have looked in this small Nebraska town.
            “What are you doing with yourself these days, Stacie?” Judy sensed the realization overcoming her and changed the subject.
            “Oh, well, I’m working for a large business firm in Los Angeles. I handle transactions between our clients and the advertising. You know, setting up meetings and making sure everyone gets along. A lot of diplomat work, I guess you could call it.” Talking about her career set her at ease; she was one of the few that made it out of the small town and had a successful career in the “big city,” as many referred to any place with a population larger than 50,000. “All in all, I’m your typical business woman,” Stacie finished with a prominent smile of accomplishment.
            “Oh, well good for you dear,” Judy said, as she reached over and patted Stacie’s shoulder, then leaned back in her seat and looked out the window. The tone of Judy’s voice did not fool Stacie, and her smile of accomplishment quickly faded. She may have not seen her old teacher for several years, but that tone of disappointment was still recognizable. She remembered hearing it when her best friend had told Mrs. Douglas she wasn’t attending college after high school the day of graduation. The pseudo congratulations her friend received was much different from the genuine one Stacie had received. She planned on attending a liberal arts college in Denver.
            She sat there for a few seconds, and then moved closer to Judy.
            “What do you mean by that?” she prodded.
            “I’m sorry? What do you mean?” Judy asked, feigning ignorance as to the reason behind the question.
            “The way you said that, you don’t mean it. I don’t understand why. I’ve been one of the most successful people not just in my graduating class but in this entire town, and all you have to say is ‘good for you, dear’?” Stacie knew she might be crossing the line, but she wasn’t about to let this slide. Not when she herself was in the midst of questioning her life.
            Judy sighed, and then removed her glasses from her face. Her smile was gone, and she now looked at Stacie with sorrow.
            “I apologize. I do not mean to undermine your success, Stacie. But you say this town has changed, and I’ll have to disagree with you. Yes, the old grocery store has closed, and the kids go to Sonic for their shakes now. But we still have football on Friday nights, people still say hello to each other in the street, and the farmers still have coffee at the bakery every morning,” Judy paused, then asked, “Were you not an art major in college?”
            “Oh. Well, yes, I was my freshman and sophomore years,” Stacie answered, perplexed. “But obviously that was a silly choice. Who makes a living on art?” Stacie furrowed her brow and wondered why Judy was bringing up her art. Yes, she had once had aspirations of being a famous artist, but then, she conceded, she simply grew up and reality set it.
            “It is often not the living we make which defines us, but the essence of who we are which defines the living we make,” Judy said.  “You know, I barely recognized you, sitting there in your business attire, with your stiff posture and no smile on your face. You’re much different from the unique young lady I had in class, the standout writer and a very talented artist. I really did think you would go far.” The bus slowed, and Judy gathered her things. “This is my stop. It really was a pleasure to see you Stacie, and I wish you the best in all your future endeavors, whatever they may be.”
            Stacie mustered a weak smile as a goodbye, but sat very still, nearly paralyzed by the piercing words she had just heard. I really did think you would go far. She looked out the window, seeing a group of kids building a snowman in the park. One threw a snowball, and the predictable fight ensued. She saw a young woman jog by the park, waving to her neighbor across the street who was walking his dog. She then saw this young man help an elderly couple into their house with some groceries. The familiar scenes outside blurred and she realized she was crying. She wiped the salty wetness from her eyes, and took a deep breath.
            She had once loved art. It was her passion. Her pride and her joy. She remembered wanting to make a career out of it, had wanted to own her own gallery and do her work on the side. Maybe even have a studio and teach classes. Yes, that had been her dream. What had happened? Life, she had always assumed. But now, being here showed her that simply wasn’t true. She was as far from her own roots as she was from the roots of her hometown. Along the way, she lost the girl in faded blue jeans with bits of paint spattered on them, her hair falling loosely over her shoulders as she used the brush strokes to paint the world as she saw it. It had been her release, her escape. She ached for that escape again.
            The bus pulled to a stop in the old downtown area—a narrow street with small Mom and Pop stores on either side. She had hoped that the old studio was one place that had not been shut down and closed, and when she finally reached the door of the building she was relieved to see it was still there. She entered the art studio and was greeted by the cashier, a young girl with dark brown hair and a shirt covered in paint and chalk and pencil dust. Stacie smiled at her, suddenly reminded of how disheveled she herself had always looked in high school. The girl told her to help herself and find a place and whatever materials she needed. Stacie gathered a canvas and a set of oil paints, finding a quiet corner near a window. She took the brush in her hand and found comfort in it, and dipped the soft bristles into the wet paint. Slowly and surely, she began to paint a picture, and in doing so did not create a piece of art, but instead unveiled and discovered within the canvas the woman who had been screaming to get out ever since she put away her brush so many years ago. She painted, not bothering to put on an apron, and let the colors splatter across her neat, black business suit.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I'll miss something I never had

I’ll miss something I never had
Reach desperately at the disappearing strands
Nothing’s certain, nothing’s true
I’ll claw and tear to the depths of the sea blue
Grasping for a ghost, a shadow, a whisper
Something that never really existed at all.

These late nights they make me think, often more than I can
To keep me sane

And just when I think from the depths I’ve escaped
And I can see the sun glinting on the surface of redemption
Something pulls me and plunges me deeper into these icy waters
This spell, this enchantment—this curse—
Has damned me in a watery, dark hell
Everything’s muted and blurred
I can never see straight
But I swim toward the light
Even though your current is stronger than my stroke