Gladiolas

Trashed Flowers via Flash PromptHe would bring them home in buckets. Roses, sunflowers, peonies, mums – whatever flowers were pretty and seasonable.

They were metal buckets. Garden pails, really. He would drop them near the door and call out that he was home, and I’d follow the sound to the foyer, running to his solid embrace.

I didn’t mind the roses, and I liked the tulips and irises and sunflowers.

But it was the gladiolas that I loved.

The first time he gave me glads, it was the night before his first deployment, and they were yellow.

“No ribbons, babe,” he insisted. “You’re allowed to be reasonably worried. But no ribbons. No signs. If you must keep a vigil, do it quietly.”

Well, I really wasn’t the ribbon type.

But before he left, I buried myself in his arms and breathed in his scent – fresh flowers, speed stick deodorant, Old Spice aftershave. I memorized that smell.

The next bunch of gladiolas were pink, brought to the hospital the day our daughter was born.

I asked if he would have preferred a son. “Nawp. Girl or boy, it’s much the same. We’ll raise her and love her, and she’ll know about writing and cooking and embroidery from you, and tools and gardening from me, and none of those pink screwdrivers, either. This baby will grow up knowing the difference between Philips and flathead.”

I laughed at that. “Don’t forget Allen wrenches,” I said. “She has to be the queen of flat-pack furniture by the time she heads to college.”

“And so, she will.”

And so, she was.

And the gladiolas kept coming, their tall green stalks and delicate pastel flowers witnessing every holiday and birthday and sometimes just because it was a day that ended in ‘y.’

And then they stopped.

He stopped.

At his funeral, I tore away the lilies and roses, and laid the gladiolas on his coffin. They looked me, our family, our friends, like I was crazy, but I did it anyway. And our daughter understood. She wrapped her arm around me and said, “Yes, Mom. That’s what he would have wanted.”

I couldn’t be around glads for a long after that.

When I turned fifty, a well-meaning friend sent a bouquet that had gladiolas in it. I gave her my brittle smile and thanked her politely. I also stuffed the whole god-damned bunch of flowers into the trash can outside the restaurant as soon as her leased BMW had pulled away from the curb.

A few days later, the bucket appeared near the front door. Metal. Galvanized. Full of yellow glads. I stared at them, convinced they were a mirage, but when they remained after several hours, I brought them all the way inside.

I caught a whiff of speed stick as I moved them through the house.

Being in a relationship with a ghost is a tricky thing. Sometimes, he can be corporeal enough to engage in sexual intimacy, but other times even a simply hug requires more substance than he can offer.

I can hear him speak, but no one else can, though our dog always follows the direction of his out-of-tune singing.

I don’t ask him Why or How or How Long.

He doesn’t push me to remarry.

Our daughter never questions my out-of-the-blue happiness, either. She never suggests I seek therapy, or find a new lover – one who has both presence and a pulse.

She sees the buckets of gladiolas in every possible color.

And she knows.

The Tree

Fire Womb via Flash Prompt“The Tree is the heart of the Forest,” they told me. All of them, the old Mothers, the old Wives, spun me their tales of loyalty and devotion, betrayal and desolation, love and loss, and time.

“The Tree is the heart of the Forest and the Mother is the heart of the Family,” they elaborated as the years went by and my marriage remained a barren one.

Despite my long years of adulthood, they spoke to me as though I were a child. They never say it outright, but their tones all imply the same thing. I, who have never carried a growing fetus within my womb, who have never pushed a mewling infant into this cold world, am somehow less.

Less of an adult. Less of a wife. Less of a person.

At home, sitting in front of the fire, I rail and rant and cry, and my husband wraps his solid arms around me, and assures me I am not less, but that I am actually enough.

He kisses away my tears and fury and we make love by firelight, our bodies coming together with no less of a thrill despite the familiarity of decades.

When he brings me to completion, I let my exultation resound, willing the Others, the Old Ones, the Grandmothers and Great-Grandmothers with their brooding eyes and clucking teeth, to hear it.

“Listen,” I think. “Hear this. I am full of Warmth and Joy and Love.

“The Tree is the Heart of the Forest, and the Mother is the heart of the Family.” I hear them chanting it in my head, and I banish their wavering voices and frowning mouths. I cast away their sorrowful faces etched with ancient worry lines.

They’re right, though.

The Tree is the heart of the Forest.

But its roots and branches dwell within me.

I will never be the Mother.

I am the Tree.

Accidental

Bloody Glasses via Flash Prompt“So, what exactly were you doing with the dremel?” Detective Bloom had seen a lot of murder scenes before, but he’d before witnessed anything that was so gory and so pathetic at the same time.

The perp, Chaz French, pushed his blood-spattered spectacles further up his nose. His eyes were dilated, and his face was pale. Shock at what he’d done, no doubt. The M.E. would be done soon, though, and they’d be able to wrap the poor guy in a shock blanket and take him somewhere cleaner. Somewhere more secure. Somewhere without any power tools.

“Samantha has always had terrible sinus problems,” the man answered in a shaky voice. “But this last month with the high ragweed count and all, she’s been miserable. She wakes up choking on mucus, her head is constantly throbbing. She can’t eat or sleep or think. Miserable.”

Bloom noticed that the perp was still speaking of his dead wife in present tense. He hadn’t realized he’d murdered her. That happened a lot, with Accidentals. Eventually, the reality would set in, and they’d relive their violent act, but right now, French was as much a victim as his late spouse.

“Yeah, sinusitis can be rough. My girlfriend takes Benadryl every night, just to breathe.”

“Sam does that too,” French said. “It used to be just one – half a dose – but lately it’s been two, or even four – a second dose around six in the morning.”

“I hear ya,” Bloom said. “But tell me about the dremel?”

“Well, tonight, Sam starts begging with me, crying that she’s in so much pain, and she can’t breathe and she just wants to tear her head open to relieve the pressure. ‘Just do something, Chazzy’ – Sam always calls me Chazzy – ‘Please just make it stop.'”

“And you decided to drill a hole in her head?”

“Well, yes and no. See, we’re both history buffs and we’ve been reading this novel where a doctor recommends trepanning to fix a mental disorder.” Bloom gave the guy a pointed look, and French elaborated, “I know, acute sinusitis isn’t a mental disorder, but she’s my wife and she’s begging me for help, and what am I supposed to do? I wanted to use the power drill, but Sam suggested the dremel because it’s not as powerful, and would be easier to control.”

“Except it wasn’t?”

“Oh, it was. And I’d downloaded instructions from the Internet, so I had a guide, but… but, see, the vibrations, they started a kind of… well, Sam said it was a tickle.”

“A tickle?”

“And then she sneezed, and her head went forward and then the dremel was buried in her brain and still spinning, and oh, God! SAM! Samantha!!! I’m so SORRY.”

Spattered blood mixed with tears as Chaz French broke apart in front of Bloom.

The psych consultant arrived then, and wrapped the poor son of a bitch in a warm jacket before guiding him to the white van.

The medical examiner returned from the other room, then, her expression grim and her ashy color betraying her exhaustion. “Accidental,” she said to Bloom.

He nodded. “I figured. Anything else?”

“Yeah. We have got to get this home trepanation instructions off the web. This is the fourth one this week.”

I Am Scared

I Am Scared via Flash PromptI am scared.

I am scared.

I am scared.

Mandy writes the lines in the spiral notebook she uses for a journal, and smiles at the way her jet-black printing looks on the faintly cream-colored paper with its crisp green college-ruled lines. She’s using one of Mommy’s special Onyx roller-ball pens and the ink shines wetly for almost a minute, and she must be Very Careful not to smear it before it’s completely dry.

(Mandy stopped using pencils when she was six, except for math. She moved beyond wide-ruled paper when she was seven, and they sent her to Special Education to learn cursive because the Advanced Reading workbook had bits of cursive in it. She likes writing in cursive, but some things have to be printed.)

I am scared the sun won’t come back.

I am scared the world will stop spinning.

I am scared that the spiders and snakes will come out of the shadows.

I am scared that Daddy won’t come – No! Dr. Morrison says she mustn’t think of such things.

She looks behind her to where Ferguson is sprawled on her bed. His tail is twitching and his big paws are paddling and that means he’s Dreaming, and she isn’t supposed to wake up a Dreaming dog, but she really wants to feel his warm doggy breath on the back of her hand, and see in his big brown eyes how much he loves her.

Dr. Morrison is the one who told Mandy to write it out when she was afraid or angry. To put it in print so she could see it was only words and feelings.

Sometimes it helped.

In school on Friday, Mandy’s teacher promised the class that when the sun went dark tomorrow, it wasn’t Magic. It was only Science that made the moon move in front of the sun and turn day into night for a few minutes.

But on the bus on the way home, Billy kept teasing her that werewolves could come out during Eclipses, just like they could on Full Moons, and Siobhan kept taunting her about how her Daddy must be one of the Dark Ones because they only ever saw him on Skype or Facetime,  and that when Noon turned to Midnight they could walk on the earth and come back to claim their kin.

The thing is… Billy lies a lot.

And Mandy is pretty sure Daddy isn’t ACTUALLY a Dark One. A Creature of the Night could never look so handsome in his uniform with all the fruit salad on his chest. (Except it doesn’t look like fruit salad. It looks like ribbons.)

After all, Mommy says that it’s normal for Mommies and Daddies to do bitey things sometimes. (She says it was the way grown-up people kiss.) And Daddy isn’t dead or anything; he was on the Other Side of the World doing his job in a place they call the Sandbox. And that time she’d seen him looking all foamy and frothy coming out of the steamy bathroom, he’d smelled nice, like mint.

So… maybe Billy and Siobhan were just trying to scare her because they were Stupid Idiots who didn’t know any better.

Mommy will be there to hold her hand when the sun went away. And Ferguson will always be her protector.

And Daddy’s deployment will end before Christmas.

Mandy looks at the sentences she’d written at the top of her page. Then she trades her black pen for a red Magic Marker and draws bold lines through them all.

She isn’t scared anymore.

Itchy

Dragon via Flash Prompt“There, just… a little to the left… now a tad to the right… oh, yes! Aahhhhhh!”

The boy with the pitchfork had finally managed to reach that infernal dry spot right between her primary wings.

It seemed almost a pity to eat him. But, Tradition, and all that.

She’d roast him first, of course. Dragon-fire killed the pain and added a crispy outer shell that was just so… She was distracted from her search for the perfect word by another irritating itch. This time it was just above her left ear-slit.

“Boy,” she growled, as sweetly as she could. “I need your assistance again.”

He went to work, raking the tines of his fork up and down the specified quadrant of her body.

She knew it was bad form to play with her food for this long, but she couldn’t help it!

Ever since Blood of Bathory had switched to GMO virgin’s blood in their moisturizer, it had been SO much less effective.

Alas, Poor King George III

Photo via Flash Prompt

 

Fifty years after its initial run, HAMILTON was still going strong.

Of course, they’d made some minor changes to keep things fresh and appeal to the Post-Apocalyptical generation.

Still, having one of the Previously Living (‘undead’ wasn’t PC) playing King George III had been an inspired choice.

Critics even said his performance of “You’ll Be Back,” rivaled that of Jonathan Groff.

Checking the Locks

Eagle Cane via Flash PromptTap. Tap. Tap.

Every night, at precisely twelve minutes past ten, the rhythmic tapping begins.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.

It starts at the back of the house, at the kitchen door. Three taps, then a pause. Sometimes the doorknob rattles slightly, but most nights it’s only the tapping we hear. The quiet lasts for the space of four deep breaths, and then it continues down the hall to the French doors in the living room.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.

These doors don’t have the kind of locks that rattle, but if we’re sitting in the living room, just reading by the fire or maybe watching television (I admit, we watch far too much television) we sometimes feel a faint breeze, as if the seal between the two doors has been tested and found to be slightly lacking.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.

Five times we hear the sound, until it reaches the laundry room door –  the mud room, really, that leads to the garage. That pause is longer. We used to think it was because it was a double door, but one night when I was changing laundry loads so we’d have clean underwear the next morning, I thought I heard the tapping continuing across the garage floor. I even opened the door to look, but all I saw was our cars and piles of boxes that haven’t been opened since we moved into this house, five years ago.

Tap. Tap. Tap… Tap.

There’s always a pause when the noises approach the front door. I’m not sure why. My husband says it’s because the foyer of our house was remodeled about a decade before we bought it, and clearly Charles – that’s the name we’ve given to our tapping ghost – is a bit confused.

I see no reason to argue the point.

Tap, tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap Tap. Tap… Tap… Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.

The sound recedes, as if someone’s ascending the stairs… and if we strain to listen we can hear it continue beyond the second floor, up the final five steps that lead to the attic.

And then they stop.

We’ve explored the attic, of course. There’s nothing up there except our Christmas decorations, the box that holds our plastic tree, and a few odds and ends we unpacked, but never found places for.

In any case, the tapping always ends at ten-thirty exactly.

We live with it for a year, then two, then ten.

At some point, it morphs from being a curiosity into an annoyance, and finally, it becomes one of those ‘house noises’ that you learn to ignore, like the refrigerator hum you only really notice when it’s absent because of a power outage or something.

Years later, we’re participating in the neighborhood garage sale, when a young man comes up to me carrying a black cane with an eagle for a handle. “Excuse me, ma’am,” he asks, “how much do you want for this?”

“Oh… I don’t know,” I begin.

My husband interrupts. “That’s not actually for sale,” he says gently. “It’s a family heirloom.”

We don’t tell him neither of us has ever seen the thing before.

The potential buyer is polite. He even ends up buying an antique metal milk can we bought at a flea market and never found a use for.

Later that night, at twelve past ten precisely, we hear it begin in the kitchen. Tap. Tap. Tap. And we look at each other and smile, because somehow we know it’s just Charles, checking the locks.

The New Age of Plastics

Fish via Flash PromptIt was inevitable, Dr. Lopez thought, that life would find a way. Humans were too late to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Oh, they’d managed, finally, to skim away all the floating crap – the bottles and the used bath toys and such – but the molecular plastic – the microscopic bits of polymers that formed the Pacific Cloud – they couldn’t do anything about that.

She scooped the transparent fish out of the water, expecting it to gasp in desperation, but it seemed completely tranquil, suspended between her hands as content as it had seemed in the tide pool where she’d found it.

Jelly-fish had more mass, even the thinnest, palest of them. And yet this creature managed to retain its structure.

She’d have to take it back to the lab to be certain, but she was pretty sure it was made of water, held together by a polymer membrane.

Gently, Ana transferred the fish into a container of water for the trip back to the mainland. She was excited – looking forward to being the first to claim ‘discovery’ of this being.

She was also trepidatious. With this fish’s existence, a new Age of Plastics had begun.

Wakanda the Great

Wakanda via Flash PromptThe difference between being a real seer and a convincing fake wasn’t that great, she thought. Opaque contact lenses, jewelry collected from sales at head shops and garage sales, and an exotic accent were the most important ingredients, but it was a confident stance that really sold it.

She would step into the street and block someone’s path, and then, holding her hand in front of her belly as if there were something tugging at her navel, she would address her selected target:

“I’m Wakanda, and I have a message for you from Beyond. Will you come with me and hear it?”

Drama school had really paid off, Wendy thought, as she led her newest client (expensive hat, no wedding ring) into her tiny, candle-lit storefront. And this was certainly more fun than waiting tables.

Unwanted Roses

Bloody Rose via Flash PromptWe stand there, both of us, staring at the too-small mound of fresh earth, and the stone that shows birth and death on the same day, in the same year.

“Dearest, it is growing dark; are you certain you wish to remain here?”

“Just a little longer,” I tell my husband. “Please?”

It wasn’t usual anymore, the burying of bodies, but I had insisted. “I want to bring him home. I want to bury him next to his grandfather.”

And so, even though we live in an age when the dead are cremated and the ashes mixed into the gardens, or, if you had the resources, consigned to the heart of a star, we put the body of our stillborn son in stasis and carted him half way across the quadrant for an old-fashioned funeral.

Our friends had returned to the spaceship that had brought us here, but we’d be staying on, in our jungle bungalow, on the privately-owned planet that was sometimes a retreat, sometimes a refuge, sometimes a vacation destination, and always – always –  the place we both considered home, even more than the silvery ship in orbit, where my husband worked.

I don’t know where the roses had come from. Obviously, someone had sent them, as you do. We’d received all kinds of flowers and cards. My uncle, the rock star, had even planted a grove of trees on one of the colony worlds where he was donating performances and music lessons – part of his image restructuring, I knew – but a nice gesture, even so.

I do know that the sharp thorns were the only thing I could feel, biting through the gloves my husband had insisted I wear, and drawing blood that is dripping steadily to the ground, sinking into the soil – a part of me, left with my child who will never grow up.

“Dearest, you are shivering and you are bleeding. Please allow me to escort you back inside.”

I turn to look into his face, etched with sorrow and grief that matches mine, and worry lines that are all his own. “I don’t want to – I’m not ready to leave him.”

“And we shall not leave him, beloved. We will only be inside, a few meters away. We will not leave him until you are ready.” His tone is gentle. Patient. Careful.

I answer with a nod. I allow my husband to pry the rose from my hand. He stares at it for a moment, my blood staining his skin, and then he drops it and leads me inside.

The rest of the bouquet is waiting there, on the counter, the card unopened. I wait to read it until after I’ve changed into an old t-shirt and sweatpants and allowed the thorn-picks in my hand to be treated.

My reaction to the words is immediate and violent. I sweep my hand across the counter knocking the vase to the floor. It shatters on the tile, water and broken glass spraying everywhere.

My husband shouts my name, filling the syllables with alarm and concern. “What is wrong?” he asks me, leading me away from the mess.

I hand him the card, see his expression change as he reads the simple message addressed solely to me. “I’m so sorry for your loss, Pigeon.” There is no signature, but it doesn’t matter, we both know who sent the flowers.

“I should have recognized that these were not sent from a close friend,” my husband says, taking the blame for my upset as his own. “You have never cared for roses.”