Friday, June 25, 2010

WALKING CLOSET

So this week, I'm watching The Ellen Degeneres Show and she does a feature called "Really Real Real Estate" and one of the laughs involved a "walking" closet.  That stayed with me for the remainder of the week.  Thank you Ellen for my #fridayflash inspiration.

WALKING CLOSET


Rose giggled at the typo, then swiped at her sudden tears. "Walking closet" reminded her of Papa, his gruff voice reading C.S. Lewis then taking her on an explore; his rough hand grasping her small one, his other hand navigating with a debarked branch, pipe smoke mingling with autumn fresh on their long walks. She substituted "walk-in" in her head. Lung cancer took Papa long ago; benevolent lions did not live in closets; and thanks to an overworked trucker cranked up on amphetamines, Rose did not walk.

She reread the listing. One level living at its finest. That phrase alone sold her, but the four bedrooms, three and a half baths, seventeen acres, mountain views and great privacy for less than $300,000 clinched it. Almost. For that price they probably moved the headstones, not the bodies. Still, privacy and a fresh start tantalized. A walk-in closet meant a wheel-in closet, and that meant independence. She reached into a side pouch for her phone and dialed her real estate agent, wishing a "walking closet" could be.

###

"The sellers are extremely motivated, though I'm not supposed to divulge that tidbit." Liz Quincy winked at Rose as she held open the door to the master bedroom. Rose wheeled herself into the room.

Liz's gaze darted from Rose's face to the chair's wheels, her expression passive as she said, "I think you'll find every room a perfect fit. And you can't beat the views!" Rose glanced toward the slider, murmured it was a nice view of Mt. Kinsey and rolled straight to the closet doors. "Oh, let me get those!" Rose heard. She tried not to giggle as her agent's heel caught on the threshold.

Shelves filled with walking shoes flanked the doorway. Rose wheeled past the shoes, swept aside garment bags to touch the back wall. Solid, nothing more than a closet. Rose snorted, angry at herself for expecting a fairy tale. "Is everything okay?" Liz asked.

"'Walk-in' closet doesn't mean a 'wheel-in and spin around' closet," Rose said as she backed her chair out of the space. Flannel brushed her cheek. A plaid hunting jacket, similar to her Papa's hung askew. "How motivated are the sellers?" Rose asked.

###

The Carvers looked exhausted as they entered the lawyer's office. Rose endured both of their wide-eyed gazes.

"A wheelchair, of course!" Mr. Carver said as he limped to a chair.

"Yes, Ms. Taylor is perfect," Mrs. Carver said as she fell into her seat.

Rose smiled, noting both Carvers bloodshot eyes. "Ms. Taylor is too formal. Call me Rose." The Carvers murmured "Joan" and "Steven." Ms. Quincy offered her hand and said, "Call me Liz." The lawyer passed out pens, Attorney James Nadeau emblazoned in gold.

Mr. Nadeau addressed Liz as he presented documents for Rose. "And your client's initials go here... and here... sign this one, and now, the funds?" The sellers seemed to hold their breaths. Rose signed a personal check; Mr. Nadeau raised his eyebrows.

"My injury lawyer was a tiger," she said and touched an atrophied leg. He shrugged as he presented a receipt for the Carvers. "Just this... and this." Rose noticed Steven's hand trembled as he signed the final document.

Mr. Nadeau slid the deed across the table. "Congratulations Ms. Taylor, you are a homeowner." Both Carvers sighed, their shoulders relaxed.

"Now that it's a done deal, may I ask why you sold your home at such a 'motivated' price?" Rose asked. Their lawyer shook his head at his clients.

The Carvers exchanged a knowing look. Steven cleared his throat.  A red-faced Joan stammered, "We are tired of walking."

###

With the Carvers clothing gone, the master bedroom's closet appeared roomier. Rose unpacked her Papa's red-plaid hunting jacket, buried her face into the flannel, caught the fading whiff of pipe smoke and cherry cough drops. He would have loved living in the shadow of a mountain. As she hung the jacket, she noticed a slight jog to the closet. She snorted; secrets weren't always at the back of closets; she should have known. Her chair just fit.

The space opened into a slightly curved corridor. Rose's heart raced, thrilled to find a secret passageway. "Walking closet" was not a typo after all. Her chair rolled faster, momentum helping the descent. She almost smashed into a door.

The brass knob turned easily. The open door revealed a small workshop, sunlight spilling in between wide planks. Canes and staffs and walking sticks leaned against every rustic wall. Rose pushed herself across the room, touched a knotty staff, oiled and smoothed to natural beauty. Goosebumps prickled her skin. Not her papa's walking branch, but he would have approved. Rose grabbed the staff and tucked it between her knees. She wheeled around, wanting to bring the treasure back with her.

A tool-filled shelf commanded the space where the door had stood. Rose spun her chair, looking for an exit. Claustrophobia threatened. She swept aside canes and staffs, the clatter deafening in the small space. One wide plank leaned outward, a hook and eye-latch keeping it in place. Rose yanked the hook, pushed herself forward into a meadow, gasping for air. A gradual slope led to a distant house, Mt. Kinsey filling the skyline. The looming presence reassured her.

Rose could understand the Carvers tiring of the ascent; the mere thought of rolling uphill almost daunted her. Once her breathing slowed to normal, she seated the walking stick firmly against her shoulder and aimed the wheels to her dream home. The prickly sensation washed over her again; from her scalp to her waist, from her waist to her thighs, from her thighs to her toes.

Tingling was a start. Rose dared to believe in magic.

Friday, June 18, 2010

TO TRICK A MOCKINGBIRD

Friday Flash. Done.

TO TRICK A MOCKINGBIRD


Brett waited to take a deep breath until after he crossed the manicured lawn and entered the tree-lined walkway. Green-scented air filled his lungs. Before he passed Nurse Riann wheeling a patient back to the facility, he ducked onto a footpath. Whether her contempt included all orderlies or just him, he didn't know; but he did not want to confront her scorn on his lunch break. Birdsong led him to the pond.

Brett ate his sandwich on a rock by the water. Goldfinches danced atop a broken fir as a bullfrog pinged its lazy song while long-legged insects skated across the surface. Brett savored his refuge.

A string of song burst from a nearby tree. Brett recognized a towhee-trill, as well as that of an oriole, a chickadee and a blue jay. He also identified a cat's meow and a warbled alarm. The mockingbird sang through its repertoire several times, enough for Brett to pick up the pattern. He mimicked the song as he returned to the footpath.

Dull silver glinted between leaves. White-patched wings bolted into the sky then swooped close, just clearing Brett's head. The bird's blue eyes flashed at Brett before he stumbled, falling through the undergrowth onto a crutch. Greenbriar marked the aluminum. He wondered how crutches landed so far from the nursing home. He brushed off his scrubs and scanned the upper branches for his blue-eyed attacker. The trees were silent.

###

Brett glided the mop into room 214. Less than two weeks ago, Mrs. Wilson had sat up in bed and complained to him about everything from food to dust bunnies. She'd given him her blue-eyed stare, waited for his, "May I do anything else for you Mrs. Wilson?" She demanded her crutches and he helped her hobble to her chair by the window. "Freedom," she had whispered, then stared outside.

He peered at her wizened face, her gaping mouth, her still body, willing her to complain instead of lying there catatonic. He wished her chart was wrong. Stroke victims rarely recovered a second time. He whistled softly as he passed the mop under her bed, then opened the blinds before he left the room.

A faint chirp stopped him. Brett glanced out the window. Distant tree tops swayed in a breeze, but nothing else moved. He heard the chirp again, faced the bed.  Mrs. Wilson opened her eyes and closed her mouth.

"Mrs. Wilson?"

Nurse Riann appeared at his side. "Other rooms need your attention, Mr. Norwood."

Brett stared at the bed as Nurse Riann injected medicine into the IV tube. Mrs. Wilson's lids fluttered. "MR. NORWOOD!"

"Yes ma'am," Brett mumbled and left the room. Mrs. Wilson's eyes were brown.

###

Brett entered Room 214 with his linen cart. Mrs. Wilson's mouth gaped open, her eyelids shut, her chest rising and falling with her shallow breaths. Brett whistled as he changed her sheets.

Mrs. Wilson's eyes fluttered open, revealing brown eyes. Brett wondered if he had imagined her with blue eyes. Her mouth pursed closed. Brett tucked a clean sheet over her and continued whistling. She chirped.

"Mrs. Wilson?"

She chirped an oriole's sound. Brett mimicked her. Mrs. Wilson whistled a jay. He mimicked again. They both whistled through the mockingbird's repertoire, matching sound for sound. She turned towards the window.

Brett opened the blinds to a flash of gray and white. A bird perched on the outside ledge, answering Mrs. Wilson's songs. The outside bird expanded the pattern; Mrs. Wilson repeated. The bird had brown eyes.

Chuckling to himself, Brett wondered what he was thinking. Whistling ability was not a stroke side-effect, as far as he knew.

The bird added a groan, closely mimicked by Mrs. Wilson, which resembled her former voice.  Brett rushed to the bed. The mockingbird on the ledge became agitated, then bolted into the sky. Brett rushed to the window in time to see the bird swoop at a person below. Nurse Riann swatted at the bird as her gaze swept the second floor.  Brett locked stares with her. She hurried into the nursing home.

Within minutes Brett heard the squeak of rubber soles against tiles. Nurse Riann entered the room.

"Mrs. Wilson didn't have a stroke," Brett said.  Nurse Riann stared at the patient. "Well?" Brett asked.

"Since when does an orderly demand?" The mockingbird returned to the window ledge, shrilled a piercing high-low call, then flew away. Mrs. Wilson's mouth opened and closed, soundless. "Get a wheelchair, Mr. Norwood."

Brett obeyed, hurrying back to the room.  He caught Nurse Riann cooing as she gently stroked the old woman's wispy hair. "Only a few days of freedom, she broke the rules. We'll get you back." Brett cleared his throat as he approached the bed.

Once outside, the mockingbird swooped close to the trio before it disappeared.  "That was the male," Nurse Riann said. "Mockingbirds are fearless, sometimes even attacking hawks. They are truly free."

She led them in the bird's direction towards the pond. Two mockingbirds landed on a close branch, one chattering, the other glaring.  "And they are monogamous." The glaring bird's eyes were blue. The old woman struggled in the chair. 

"Mrs. Wilson did not have a stroke," Brett said. Nurse Riann gave him a taut smile. "She's not Mrs. Wilson," she said.

Nurse Riann raised her hands, returned the blue-eyed mockingbird's glare. "Time to return, Mrs. Wilson." Nurse Riann began the repertoire of sounds, waved her hands, seeming to mesmerize the blue-eyed bird. It trembled, then alit onto the nurse's outstretched arm. In unison, the male bird, the woman in the chair and the nurse mimicked a human groan. The blue-eyed bird collapsed; the patient slumped under Brett's grip.

The old woman in the chair moaned, staring at them with blue eyes. "Freedom," she whispered. "Freedom," Nurse Riann whispered to the mockingbirds. Brett followed the birds flight over the pond.

Friday, June 11, 2010

CHARITY CASE

My #fridayflash came through after all.


CHARITY CASE


Gina stared at Max's armpits. The black curly hair looked damp. “I saw a beggar today,” she said.

Max got the remote off his nightstand, resettled against the headboard. "The one-legged guy?” he asked.

"Which one-legged guy?"

"The one at the Hudson bridge. He's out there every day."

"Do you give him money?"

"Damn straight I do! He's a veteran, lost his leg defending America." Max raked his fingers through this unkempt hair. "I admire him. He's at his spot every day, standing there with his sign. Society fucked-him over, but he found a way to say 'fuck-you' back. Made it his job. I'm proud to support him every day."

"Every day? You give a total stranger money every day?"

"What of it? He lost a leg defending me!" Max increased the television volume. "We owe him, Gina. He deserves our support."

"I wasn't in Hudson." Gina entered the bathroom. She shouted, "The one I saw had two legs."

She opened the medicine cabinet for her night cream. The new Right Guard Sport still had the plastic top. The Quattro razors were still sealed. So was the purple Trojan box. She slammed shut the mirrored door.

The opening music to Leno blared from the bedroom. “So where'd you see your beggar?" Max shouted back.

Gina went to the doorway, ignored the pile of dirty clothes on the carpet. "Trust me, he's not my beggar."

Max shifted to make room for her on the bed, then returned his gaze to the television. She breathed through her mouth as he crossed his arms behind his head.

"He was at the traffic light out of the Whole Foods' plaza. You know, catching all the shoppers, trying to make 'em feel guilty after spending too much money on grass-fed beef and organic chocolate chips."

"Is that where you shop? At Whole Foods? No wonder you always complain about money."

"No, that's where my dry cleaner is and Home Depot and Border's and, anyhow; I was doing my errands and I saw the this guy in an overcoat, sitting on the stone near the traffic light. The light changed to green and the SUV in front didn't move. I beeped and then saw the guy go to her window."

Max asked, "Did you give him money?"

"I didn't have to; the SUV in front of me did. The light changed to red and green again before she handed him a bill. She caused a back-up."

Max muted the television. Gina watched black bars bounce on a wild girl's chest. "While she was fumbling, someone yelled 'get a job fatso,' but the beggar didn't flinch. He just stood patiently as soccer-mom fumbled for her money."

"You mean someone heckled a homeless guy? That's low."

Gina winced. "I know! But, this guy sort of deserved it. His open coat framed a pot belly—a huge one. His cardboard sign read 'Hungry, Please Help.' My first thought was, 'how hungry can you be with a gut like that?'"

"How non-judgmental of you," Max said. The Tonight Show logo filled the screen. Max un-muted the television.

Gina fluffed her pillow, settled under the covers. "Today was the first day over 60 degrees and almost everyone walked around in shirt sleeves. People were all giddy and friendly and commenting that summer had finally arrived and then I see this guy, just sitting under the bright sun in a bulky gray overcoat. He stared at everyone with this expression... Max!"

"What?" He turned his head to her, but his eyes still focused on the screen. "You saw a homeless guy today, and had no empathy. You don't get the Nobel Peace Prize this year, big deal."

Gina reached across him for the remote. His once hard abs felt spongy under her forearm. She muted Jay's and an aging actor's repartee. "Why should I feel empathy for a guy with a beer gut holding a 'Hungry' sign? 'Liar,' that's what the sign should have read! He should have been job hunting instead of sponging off strangers."

Max frowned at her. "Don't tell me; you're the heckler?"

She stared pointedly at Max. "Well, instead of looking for work, he was looking for charity."

Max returned her stare. His stubble accented his clenched jaw-line. "Is that what you think I am? A charity case?"

"Come on Max, that's not what I said."

Max got out of bed, put on the jeans from a pile on the floor. "But that's what you think."

She didn't look at him. "Well, I am the only one supporting this household. I mean, you're out of work, but you could be doing more." She pointed to the clothes pile. "You could be helping with the household chores. Shaving. Showering. Doing something to say 'thank you.'"

Max held her stare, his resentment battering her. "Thank you," he said through his still clenched teeth.

"Max. I... I'm sorry."

"I am too." He left the room. She heard the screen door slam.

~~

Gina drove to Whole Foods' plaza, stopped at the traffic light. The sedan behind her beeped its horn. She rolled down her window, waved at the man in the dirty gray overcoat. He gazed at her, his expression still. "This is for you," she said, waving a wad of bills. The man put down his cardboard sign, braced his palms on his knees to rise. The car horn behind Gina beeped again. The homeless man limped to her window, his reek overpowering. She pushed the bills into his hand, held his stare, waited for acknowledgement.

The light changed to red. "Thank you, ma'am," he said, accepting the money. She tried not to flinch as his fingers brushed hers. Gina watched the light instead of the beggar, wanting to feel anything but his resentment.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

American Week

Cathy Olliffe of Canada has been featuring American writers at her blog, Life on the Muskoka River, including moi.  She made me feel special, and writer-special, which is extra spec... well, you get the idea.  Thank you Cathy.

Of course, the link I provided gets you to my interview and story.  Feel free to scroll around her site and find other great authors such as Carrie Clevenger, Mike Solender, Anthony Venutolo, Shannon Esposito, Eric J. Krause and the wanna-be-American, Alan W. Davidson.  More will be featured after I post this, and I am so looking forward to not only what they are offering, but what Cathy will ask them and how they'll answer.  Cathy is as much an expert interviewer as she is a stellar fiction writer.  (If Dave from my writer's group were here, he would get me for all the missing hyphens--but I will just go with it and say, hey! it's Wednesday!) 

I met someone through Cathy's features that somehow, despite me trying to get to everyone on #fridayflash, I missed his name and works.  When I say missed, I mean I never stumbled across his stories and by missing that, missed reading some extraordinarly touching, interesting, haunting, imaginative, artistic, honest prose.  I thank Cathy for featuring Mark Kerstetter, because now I've been exposed to someone and something wonderful, and look forward to the adventure of discovering more, whether from Mark or the other incredibly talented authors that Cathy featured, or maybe someone that none of us have met yet, but will participate in #fridayflash.  (#fridayflash is the brainchild of J. M. Strother--check him out too.)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

SOLEMN'S VENTURE

I love Cathy Olliffe! If you haven't stopped by yet, do yourself a favor and check out her friends from her version of "down under" for American Week. The stories are great, but Cathy's interviews and chatty style of writing is stupendous!

For #fridayflash another visit to Mars for Chapter 2 of "Venture" (just a reference title for now). Check out Timothy P. Remp for another #fridayflash based on the same world. If you missed the first chapter "Repetetive Patterns", go here.


SOLEMN'S VENTURE

Keith arrived in sector forty-two. Norman Solemn's residence was located on the outer edge of the lowest tier. A sign announced Econo Bio-Domes, but Keith saw no evidence of the construction outfit. Before he could engage the security panel, the door lifted. A stout man with a greasy complexion clutched his chest.

"Jeez Floyd! You scared the piss outta me. What the hell're you doing here?"

"Hi Solemn. Good to see you too. Just thought we'd chat, catch up. You know."

"Yeah? About what?"

"You building Econo-domes anymore?"

Solemn squinted. "Outta business, thanks to you and that insurance bitch."

Keith raised his hands in the "surrender" pose. "No, not me. I was only the hired help."

Solemn's eyes gleamed. "Maybe I believe you, maybe I don't. Why don't you try persuading me over a beverage."

Keith took the hint. "How 'bout I buy a round or two, no hard feelings?"

Solemn winked. "Least you could do."

Keith followed the fat man through an alley, into a dim passageway. After a few more turns, Keith felt lost. He'd never been this deep into the lower sector. He looked up to get his bearings.

For the first time since settling in Venture, Keith couldn't see the dome. The city's upper tiers bridged over this sector, blocking the view of the Martian skies. He checked between buildings for any view. Even buried under a sandstorm in his hovercraft, he hadn't experienced such an acute sense of claustrophobia.

Solemn stopped before a flashing neon sign of a woman opening and closing a robe, conical breasts the same bright purple as "The Iron Queen." A statuesque redhead writhed on stage. Other tall women—mostly topless—mingled with customers. Keith found two empty stools at the bar. Hell-hole, Keith thought as he shoved an arm off his shoulder. He preferred his women without adam's apples.

Solemn gulped his first beer and insisted on a second before Keith received an answer to his question about the defunct business.

"Couldn't build the econo-homes without the bots. Your insurance-bitch ruined me." He drained his second beer and gestured for a third. The bartender shook his head. "I got to see your credit chits Solemn, you know that."

Keith nodded at the bartender and laid a stack of credit chits on the bar. "Get us clean glasses this time."

"You heard him dickwad, fill it up!" Solemn turned his stool to watch the stage. "Yeah, that bitch told Stella Insurance that I 'tampered with the hive master-mind.' She reported I 'caused irreparable damage' by vacuuming inside the Boyar's brain cavity." Solemn leaned in close enough for Keith to get a whiff of sour breath. "And if I didn't clean out the goddamn iron grit, the insurance would've said I didn't follow a 'proper maintenance schedule.'" Solemn's gesturing air quotes hit Keith in the face. Solemn mumbled an apology.

"She should've paid. Geez, I insured those bots to the hilt. If she'd paid—" Solemn finished his beer and wiped his mouth with his dirty sleeve. "I wouldn't be depending on the kindness of friends."

Keith asked, "So why'd you get the Boyar in the first place? That's an expensive investment for any construction outfit."

Solemn took one of Keith's chit off the bar, waved it in the general direction of a topless body. "Don't I know it! A human can't remain in that hostile environment. Come on Floyd! You know what it's like out there! Between the sandstorms and dust devils and tremors, only an artificial being can maintain any sort of schedule to get things done."

"Still, a Boyar with labor bots? I thought only scientists used Boyar's. Your basic A.I. could've done a construction job."

Solemn gave Keith a self-satisfied grin. "Your pal Norman here is just as smart as scientists. You see," Norman said, tapping his own temple, "it's called a 'master-mind' because the Boyar can control other bots by its artificial intelligence."

Keith frowned. "I don't get it."

Solemn sighed. Keith assumed his drinking buddy was implying he was teaching a slow student. Keith ignored the insult and only raised an eyebrow.

Solemn explained, "Okay, they call it hive-intelligence because the Boyar can control other bots by its brain powers, if you will. Telepathy. It sends commands and the labor bots tune in. Like bees to a queen bee. But there's a trick to it."

"What's the trick?"

Solemn pantomimed zipping his lips, then threw the imaginary key. He let his hand fall on Keith's credit chits. Keith smirked even as he slammed his hand on top of the fat man's greasy one. He admired Solemn's style, even if he abhorred the guy. Keith gestured the bartender for refills.

"Imprinting."

Keith kept his expression still, though his heart raced. He felt he was close. "And what is imprinting?" He released his grip on Solemn's hand. Solemn grinned, revealing a blackened incisor and helped himself to several chits.

"Okay. You get a Boyar and as many labor bots as you can afford. New ones, never used. It won't work with repurposed bots. Anyhow, I got myself twelve, hooked 'em all up to the Boyar's brain before I turned 'em on. Once connected, I gave the Boyar my programming, and it uploaded to the labor bots. Then the Boyar turned them all on." Solemn popped open his hands. "And poof! The Boyar is their 'mommy'. Imprinting. Those bots would've followed that Boyar into a volcano."

"Is that what happened?" Keith asked.

Solemn winked. "Was supposed to. My Boyar was the queen bee and was going to make me a king." Solemn waved the chits at a dancer. "It woulda worked too, if that insurance bitch hadn't recovered the goddamn event module. Who the hell knew Boyar's came equipped with little black boxes?"

"So Econo Bio-Domes was a scam?"

"Everyone knows the Arcadian Plains are unstable. Too many dust devils." Solemn grabbed the dancer by the crotch. The impersonator feigned surprise. "Speaking about queens—we done here Floyd?"