Thursday, August 26, 2010

I'm Really Not a Good Person

This week's [Fiction] Friday prompt:

Step 1. Go to a busy locale—a cafe or coffee shop would be easiest. Sit down with a notebook, and make sure you look busy, so people don’t know you’re listening. Now write down random soundbites of conversations.Try to get at least 10 lines or snippets.
Step 2. Now use all ten in a cohesive scene of dialogue or as dialogue in a story
Step 3. Leave a list of the lines plucked from real life at the end of the story for people to see.

I’m Really Not a Good Person

It was finally raining. A warm, sad drizzle. Dan stood up. Abby followed his lead, scraping the metal chair across the concrete as she pushed back from the table. He led her down the two steps and into the parking lot. When he saw the slick pavement he almost put his hand on the small of her back, but something stopped him. Maybe he knew it was too personal, too intimate a touch.

They had purposefully met in a public place and her husband was one of his closest friends. He would call her on Monday and apologize. He knew it would be better if they didn’t see each other again. He couldn’t imagine the two of them confined to the small adjoining offices for eight hours a day. I’m really not a good person, Dan reminded himself, even if I am apologetic when I screw up.

“One more question, Abby.”
“Do you think it’s a conflict of interest that Eric and I are friends?”
“That did cross my mind, but we’re all grown-ups here. Right?”
“So I’ll hear from you on Monday?”

Dan watched Abby climb into her black Tahoe. She had to use the side step and the effort made her black skirt hike up the back of her legs, exposing her knees as she twisted to slide into the driver seat. Standing with one arm propped on the door and the other against the side of the vehicle, he realized that he was boxing her in, staking his territory. She looked at him expectantly and he finally pushed the door shut. He gave her an awkward wave and turned around before she could reciprocate.

As he walked across the lot, he tried to replay the highlights of the interview in his head. He couldn’t stop picturing her soft smile, her wavy amber hair, her pale skin. Just a few freckles marred her china doll complexion. They were charming, beautiful. In a silky red button-up shirt and a black pencil skirt, she was the epitome of secretary. The kind of woman he could fantasize about between conference calls and meetings with clients.

Dan got into his hot car, started the ignition, and flipped on the air conditioner. He was hoping this rain would cool things off, but instead it just made the heat worse. Now there was a clingy wetness to it. He felt like it was seeping into his pores. He loosened his tie and ran his hands through his short, black hair. Come on, Dan. You’re bigger than this. What if something were to happen? I don’t even know what would happen, he tried to talk himself out of calling her right then and there. Think it over man. Is she even qualified?

Dan tried again to recall the important details, her answers to his questions. He remembered one answer that had made him laugh.

“Are you an organized person?”
“Yes, but I don’t type well. I don’t spell well,” Abby had said.
“Well, there are classes for that,” Dan had said before they both broke into laughter. She had just taken a drink of her espresso, and a tiny dot of whipped cream clung to her upper lip. Before he could reach across the table to wipe it clean, she had licked her lips. A seductive act that she couldn’t possibly have meant. Now he wondered.

Dan tried again to talk himself out of it, but it didn’t take. He dug his cell out of his pocket and dialed Abby’s number. He knew she was expecting his call Monday, but he couldn’t wait. He tapped his fingers on the warm steering wheel. After the third ring, she answered.

“Hello,” Abby’s sultry voice came across the line.
“Hi, Abby. It’s Dan.”
“Did you forget something?”
“No, no. I just didn’t want to wait until Monday. The job’s yours if you want it.”

Dan could here the excitement in Abby’s voice. He couldn’t help smiling.

“When do I start?”
“Tonight. Sometimes there’s this on-the-fly stuff. There’s a special event at the Adolphus in Dallas. Not everyone’s eligible to go to these things and I don’t want to waste the opportunity. If you’re taking the job, I’d like to have you at my side, my right arm so to speak.”
“Well what would I be doing?”
“I have to warn you, you’re coming into a desperate situation. I have a terrible memory and I need you to stay close and remember things. You know names and titles. All the little details.”
“Okay. I can’t wait to tell Eric the good news.”
“It’s formal dress. I’ll pick you up at six. Oh and don’t worry about the drive. If it turns into a late night, we can always just get a room. The company will pick up the tab.”

Dan slid his phone closed. He put the car into reverse and pressed on the accelerator. He shook his head. I’m not a good person, Dan thought, not good at all.

Lines plucked from real life:

Not everyone’s eligible to go to these things.
If something were to happen? I don’t even know what would happen.
It didn’t take.
There’s this on-the-fly stuff.
Apologetic when I screw up.
I don’t type well. I don’t spell well.
I’m really not a good person.
You’re coming into a desperate situation.
Are you an organized person?
We’re all grown-ups here.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


This week's [fiction] friday prompt: The note taped to the door said: See you at Wild Notes Karaoke Bar.

Janice was tired. She’d been running around campus all day in the August heat, going from office to office on what seemed like a goose chase.

“Why do they make this so hard?” she asked her new roommate, Amy. “You’d think they could put everything in one place instead of making us run from building to building to register.”
“It’s not so bad, Janice. I’m almost finished. I just need to find the registrar and I’m done. How about you?”
“I’ve got financial aid, my advisor, and then the registrar. You need McAllister Hall. That’s just across the quad.” Janice pointed out the old, brick building. “Why don’t you go ahead and I’ll meet you back at the room.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, there’s no reason for you to keep traipsing around in this heat. It must be 100 degrees out here.”
“Okay. If you insist.”

Amy flashed a big smile at her friend and pulled her long, black hair into a pony tail at the base of her neck. As she turned to walk away, Janice noticed the sweat dripping down her neck and wetting the back of her tie-dyed tank top.  She watched Amy walk across the quad, admiring the sway of her hips and the way her flared jeans hugged her tight butt.

When Amy finally disappeared in a crowd of new students, Janice looked down at her map. Locating the Office of Financial Affairs in the Huckabee Center, she started out across campus in the oppressive heat.

Janice marveled that those last three tasks had taken almost two hours. She was glad she had sent Amy back to the room instead of forcing her to waist away her whole afternoon. She climbed the three steps and opened the door to Willow Hall.  The blast of cool air blew her short, blonde hair back off her face. A chill ran down her spine as the cool air turned the sweat covering her body into an icy bath.

Janice took the elevator to the sixth floor and walked down the crowded hall to their room. She fished her key out of her pocket, but stopped before opening the door. Next to the bright green poster advertising the various welcome week functions was a new note. Janice read the words “See you at Wild Notes Karaoke Bar.” She peeled the tape off the door, folded the note, and stuffed it into the pocket of her jean shorts. She opened the door and went inside.

Janice put her stack of papers down on her desk and started shedding her sweaty shorts and tee. She kicked her tennis shoes under the bed and sat down atop her plush new comforter. She grabbed her shorts and pulled the note out of the damp pocket. She carefully unfolded it and read the words. Even though she had only known Amy for three short days, she already recognized her stylish handwriting. The purple notebook paper had come from Amy’s journal. The side was lined with little chads of paper where she had yanked it from the notebook.

Janice brought the paper to her face and inhaled the scent. She let herself fall back on her pillow and laid the note on her bare stomach. She closed her eyes for a moment and let the cool air coming from the window unit flow across her body.

She wondered how Amy’s small voice would sound belting out a tune like “I Will Survive” or Aretha’s “Respect.” She knew Amy was here on a choir scholarship, but she had yet to hear her sing. She imagined it would be mesmerizing. Amy at the center of the stage, her long hair falling in soft curls across her shoulders. The spotlight creating little glints in her green eyes. Her soft pink lips caressing the microphone.

Janice opened her eyes and got out of bed. She opened her desk drawer and put the note inside. She put on her bathrobe, grabbed her shower caddy, and slipped on her flipflops. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed that Amy’s top dresser drawer was slightly open.

Janice took her hand off the doorknob and crossed the room. She peeked inside the open drawer. She could see Amy’s undergarments through the small sliver. She lid the drawer open, careful not to upset the jewelry box or any of the trinkets sitting atop the dresser.

Janice sorted through the contents: lacy bikinis, cotton thongs, elaborate bras, bows, flowers, stripes, polka dots, and the occasional cartoon character. She picked up a pair of silky red panties. They were bikini cut with the letters “xoxo” spelled out across the back in tiny faux crystals. Janice held them up in the dwindling light. She looked over her shoulder before shoving them into the large square pocket at the side of her robe.

Janice straightened the undergarments left in the drawer. She was sure Amy wouldn’t miss this one pair. She slid the drawer closed, remembering to leave it slightly ajar. As Janice walked back across the room, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror above the small sink. She stopped and turned to look at her reflection. Her brown eyes were wide. They glowed in the orange light of dusk filtering through the window. She smiled and relished in the thought of having something of Amy’s, something so private, so intimate.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The First Day in a New Place is Always Hard

This week's [fiction] friday prompt:  The conversation took off when Louise mentioned Bruce Willis.

The first day in a new place is always hard, Cecile told herself.  

Despite her reluctance she knew she’d have to leave the room eventually.  She looked at her new outfit in the full length mirror attached to the closet door.  It was a going-away present from Trina, or rather a peace offering, a lame attempt to atone for her guilt.  Either way it was a nice outfit, the latest fashion.

Cecile shuffled through the paperwork on the sterile desk.  She crossed the small room and fluffed the pillows on her twin bed. She ran a hand across the calico bedspread, smoothing the nonexistent wrinkles.

“Enough, CeCe.  Stop stalling,” she said aloud.

Cecile checked her hair in the mirror hanging next to the door, placed her hand on the stainless steel handle, and slowly turned.  She had to squint her eyes against the harsh fluorescent lighting in the hallway.  She stepped out and was a little surprised to find the hall devoid of other residents. 

As she walked toward the lobby she noticed the myriad of decorations adorning the doors that lined the cinder block walls:  miniature white boards with colored markers attached, silly posters of cats bearing a variety of clichés, the odd handmade charm or beaded hanging, to name a few. 

When Cecile entered the lobby she finally began to hear the noises that let her know that there was some sort of life going on in this place.  Stationed at the front desk was a squat woman, glasses perched on the tip of her nose and head titled to hold the phone receiver.  As she crossed the plush carpeting, a bone-thin older lady came rushing up to meet her.  The zealous lady was holding a small wicker basket, but Cecile couldn’t quite make out what was inside.

“Hello, hello” the woman said. 

Cecile took a step back, but the woman just kept coming closer.

“Here, have one.  I made them myself this morning,” the woman said.  She reached into the basket and pulled out something white.  She shoved it in Cecile’s direction and Cecile was obliged to receive the gift.

“Thank you,” Cecile said.  She looked into her open hand and saw a wadded up Kleenex.  Instinctively, she let the used wad fall to the floor.  By this time the fluttering old lady had moved on to her next victim.

Cecile hurried out of the lobby and into the commons.  Here the round tables were filled with residents, some staring blankly at the food before them, others greedily clearing their plates.  She looked out across the crowded room and noticed a gray-haired woman waving extravagantly in her direction.  Cecile looked around her, but there was no one near that the woman could be waving down.  Despite her misgivings, she made her way through the tables to the waving woman.

“Oh, you’re the new girl.  I’m Hattie and this here old bag is Louise.”
“I’m Cecile, but you can call me CeCe.”
“My Lord, she has a nickname.  Isn’t that exciting, Louise.”

Louise looked up from her scrambled eggs just long enough to see there was someone blocking her view of the TV and then motioned for Cecile to move.  Cecile took the hint and sat in the empty chair next to Hattie.

“What are you in for?” Louise said.
“Oh you knock that off, you crazy old coot.  Louise doesn’t mean any harm.  She’s just cantankerous.”
“I see,” Cecile said.

The hum of a motorized wheelchair caught Cecile’s attention. 

“Oh Lord, we’re in for it now.  Here comes Mrs. Westin.  Just don’t respond and everything will be okay,” Hattie warned.

Mrs. Westin’s wheelchair stopped right next to Cecile’s chair.  She started to scoot her chair sideways to get a little breathing room, but Mrs. Westin put her arm out and grabbed hold of her wrist.  She was quite a bit stronger than she looked Cecile thought. The woman had already begun talking so Cecile thought it best to just remain still.

“Did I ever tell you about my great grandson?  When he finally came out, he had the biggest head I ever seen.  I said to them kids ‘that ain’t normal,’ but they weren’t gonna listen to me.  Well his head just kept gettin’ bigger and bigger.  One day that big ole head just exploded.  I tell you what. Arms and legs went everywhere.”

Cecile wrenched her wrist from the crazy lady’s hand and pulled back so hard she almost toppled out of her chair.  Hattie started laughing, which started Louise to laughing.  Mrs. Westin put her nose up in the air, turned her chair around, and motored away. 

“I told you we were in for it, didn’t I?” Hattie laughed.
“You did warn me. That you did.” Cecile answered.

Cecile wasn’t sure what to make of her new home, but she was pleasantly surprised by Hattie and her outgoing demeanor.  She secretly hoped that they might become fast friends.  After her breakfast was delivered to the table and Louise’s program finished, the three began to get to know each other.  The conversation took off when Louise mentioned Bruce Willis.     

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

People Who Have Changed as much as if They had been Reborn

This Pillow Book entry is inspired by The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon, translated and edited by Ivan Morris. Sei Shōnagon was a courtesan in 10th century Japan who kept a diary of the goings-on at court and concealed it in her wooden pillow. She made lists under various categories of specific, often quirky things.

People who have changed as much as if they had been reborn . . .
Not like watching your family grow each day together. No one notices the subtle changes: hair darkens, feet outgrow their shoes, bones lengthen, waists widen, and facial features become more distinct. 

One day a cousin visits. You haven't seen her in two long years. She is new. You wonder if it's really her, she has changed so much. She also sees what two long years have done to your appearance. 

She's grown taller, three inches in the last year alone. Her awkward limbs have grown fuller. Thighs have taken on a subtle bulge and her hips have grown into an alluring curve. Her waist cinches in at just the right spot and her budding breasts have become full. Held up by a demi-cup, each one threatens to spill over, forming cleavage at the v-neck of a pink tee. Low-rise vintage jeans hug a rounded bottom, widening as they encase her legs, flaring at the ankle.  The hem graces the top of patent leather mary janes. White socks with a turned down lace ruffle: a vestige of childhood.

Long, brown hair falls over thin shoulders. Soft curls twist themselves around her milky upper arms. The sun-kissed locks frame a heart-shaped face. Skin as smooth and white as a china doll. A rosy tint highlights high cheekbones, and big brown eyes peek out from long, full lashes. 

When she rests her chin on the cup of her palm and lets her eyes close for just a moment, the hues of brown across the eyelids catch the midday sun and glisten. Her nose is petite, a narrow ridge that turns up slightly at the end. Below it, her lips are parted, tinted with a berry gloss, they pucker into a coy smile.

She sees a group of boys entering the park. Lifting her chin from her hand, she swings her legs around on the picnic table bench. She stretches her arms out placing her hands behind her on the bench. She locks her elbows and arches her back. She sucks in a breath and watches her breasts lift. She notices the flat plane of her stomach as she sits up straight. 

She slowly exhales and tosses her hair slightly, making the strands around her face fall toward her eyes. Her long bangs are pulled from a part at the right side of her head. They sweep down across her face to obscure her left eye. 

Peeking from beneath her mane, she watches the boys near her as the follow the path between the merry-go-round and the swings. They are a mass of gangly arms and legs, feet shuffling, a shove here and there. One flutters about the group with an unpent energy- skipping, hopping, smacking the back of a shaggy-headed friend, slipping a sneakered foot out to trip the red-haired runt of the group.

She watches the group and her heart begins to race. She picks the male at the center of the pack. All the other boys seem to revolve around him. She notes his thick blonde hair, tumbling down in rough strands around his face.  His blue eyes are piercing under his heavy brow. Pink-tinted lips move slowly as he laughs, and the surface of his square chin is broken by a small cleft.  

She closes her eyes and his is there. Wrapping his arms around her waist, rubbing the small of her back in a gentle circle. His hot breath is on her neck and her legs melt. 

He whispers "I love you."
She smiles.

He pulls his mouth away from her ear and follows her jaw line to her mouth, pausing for an eternal moment before touching his lips to hers. 

She opens her eyes and the noises of the crowded park rush in. She finds him across the field and smiles.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


This Week's [fiction] friday prompt:  Strains of Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry Be Happy" floated into the room.

Strains of Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy” floated into the room. Ruby opened her eyes. It took a few minutes for her vision to focus and for her to recognize the room as her own den. The light creeping through the lace curtains had faded and the shadows of her plastic-coated furniture stretched out across the beige carpeting.

Ruby slowly let her body wake up, allowing her back time to work out its kinks before she rose and began to cross the den to the dining room.  Each step required much effort and she admonished herself for stashing her walker in the hall closet earlier in the afternoon. While her body seemed to grow weaker each year, her pride grew with all the gusto of a weed in a bed of wildflowers.

Holding onto the door frame, Ruby felt along the wall for the switch, flipped it, and frowned at the sight before her. The decorated table in the center of the room lay untouched. She circled the table, carefully gripping the back of the thick, mahogani chairs until she reached the portable CD player on the sideboard.

The electronic device was oddly out of place in this room full of antiques. Her granddaughter, Sophie, had brought it as a gift a few years ago. Ruby had pulled it out of the bedroom closet this morning, determined to modernize the event a little by playing the CD she had found at the party store. Now, she hit the stop button on the player, pressed down on the latch, and watched the CD spin until it came to a stop. She picked it up and carefully returned it to the brightly-colored case marked “Party Tunes.”

Ruby turned back to the table. In the center set a lively bouquet of red poppies. Each place setting was carefully set with her heirloom white china. She had pulled the set from the curio in the corner of the room and washed each dish carefully before placing the settings. The embroidered tablecloth was speckled with a modest sprinkling of confetti.  At the far end of the table her crystal punch bowl was dripping with condensation, creating a wet ring on the fine cloth. The raspberry sherbet had completely melted into the ginger ale, leaving a pink foam that clotted across the surface.

At the head of the table, the cake set on an ornate glass stand.  Ruby had ordered it from Romano’s  Bakery a week ago and was ecstatic when it had been delivered that morning. The white fondant created a beautifully smooth surface for the pink pearls of sugar, airy wisps of ribbon, and perfectly-sculpted roses. Ruby picked up the serving set and slid the knife into the cake. She felt of a wave of satisfaction watching the knife glide smoothly through the scrolling number 80. She expertly worked the server under the piece and pulled out a perfect triangle.

With the slice missing she had a clear view of the layers of spongy cake, frosting, and fruit paste at the heart of the convection. Her spirit saddened at the thought of marring such a work of art. She thought for a moment that had she not sliced into the lovely creation it might have remained there, undisturbed, amid the dressings of her untouched table for many years:  A monument of undiluted perfection.

Ruby worked to pull one of the chairs away from the table. She managed to move it a few inches, just enough to slide her dwindling frame between the edge of the table and the back of the chair.  She reached for the plated piece of cake and set it gently atop the dinner plate before her.  She picked up the silver dessert fork and used it to cut a small bite from the tip of the triangle of cake.  Ruby lifted the sugary treat to her mouth and slid the fork in, letting her lips close around the cool metal. She closed her eyes and reveled in the sensations that came flooding through her, like a wild river rushing at the walls of its dam, unrestrained, bursting through, shattering the bindings that would hold it back.    


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

I Remember a Clear Morning

This Pillow Book entry is inspired by The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon, translated and edited by Ivan Morris. Sei Shōnagon was a courtesan in 10th century Japan who kept a diary of the goings-on at court and concealed it in her wooden pillow. She made lists under various categories of specific, often quirky things.

I remember a clear morning, before the heat of the day comes crashing down, a weight on my chest making each hot breath a struggle. The sun has yet to rise. The sky is all pink swirls of feathery clouds.

A blue jay lands in the branches of a redbud tree. It twists its head, surveying the area, assessing his safety. A twig breaks in the forest and he flutters away. I peer into the darkness beyond the tree line and try to determine a shape within the shadows.

A soft wind rustles the leaves of the redbud and carries the fuchsia blooms of a crape myrtle:  a waterfall of petals that flow through the air across the waking dawn to land in the sun-singed grass.

The smell of freshly-brewed coffee wafts through the open window. Soon the sun will poke its round head above the tree-lined horizon. I will close the window, barring the overwhelming heat. The mechanical whirl of the fan will replace the sounds of a cicada buzzing, a mockingbird's song, a squirrel complaining in the branches of a maple. The stale air will begin to circulate through the dust-filled vents and the scent of summer blooms will dissipate.

I will draw the thick curtains against the bright heat of mid-morning and see which stories have gained the status "newsworthy."