Buzz

Like the Prose: Challenge #7 – Write about a culture you know nothing about and give your protagonist a profession you’re unfamiliar with. (I confess: I cheated a bit and invented both the culture and the profession.) Photo courtesy of the Facebook FlashPrompt group.

carrier bees

The truth is, Fenella resented that she was required to carry the blade with her. She had never believed the horned buzzers would revolt; she knew they enjoyed the service they provided to their humanoid companions.

And it wasn’t as though they were enslaved.

When her ancestors had come to this world, decades before, fleeing the polluted environment and equally polluted governments of Old Earth, they had taken with them only positive ideals.

Equality. Unity. Socialism where it was necessary, but capitalism where that was more beneficial. A two-tiered financial structure where people bartered where they could and only used credits when bartering wasn’t practical.

You couldn’t really barter a bushel of apples for a new roof, for example; it wasn’t practical.

But you could trade those apples and an equal number of yams, and maybe a monthly supply of field greens for a side of beef.

It wasn’t a perfect system, but it was working so far.

A blend of old and new.

Just like the professions.

Fenella’s parents had wanted her to go into a Traditional Profession. Her mother was a surgeon and her father enjoyed being a greengrocer.

But she was a child of this world and she insisted she wanted to be entirely of it. And when she had met one of the Wranglers outside her school one day, she’d fallen in love. Not with him – he was far too old for her – but his buzzer had let her touch his furred side and, and she’d felt herself in harmony with the great winged creature.

They had smaller buzzers on this world too. The ones bred from Old Earth honeybees. They were pollinators.

But the horned buzzers… they were bred up from carpenter bees, and their mass made them able to carry baskets capable of transporting goods or people across the great continents, or even the oceans (though it required stopovers on small islands en route).

They weren’t entirely sentient. More than a dog or a horse. Less than a human. Easily directed. And they could work in, well, swarms, if a job dictated it.

Still, every so often, they said, a horned buzzer would go rogue. It was pheromones. Or resentment. Or exhaustion. No one was sure. And for that reason, the Wranglers carried the blades.

The first step was to make the blade vibrate and touch it to the buzzer’s horn. It would sort of… reboot its nervous system.

And if that didn’t work, well, there was a reason the blades were sharp.

As a catch-and-release Wrangler, Fenella wasn’t assigned to just one buzzer, and she was glad of it, because if she had a hard time just carrying the blade, how much harder to consider having to put down a creature you worked with every day?

Not that she believed it would happen.

A voice came over her headset. “Five buzzers, income.”

“Catch and release station six, ready,” she responded.

Fenella stood on the cliff watching for the impending arrival. She felt it before she could see it. She could feel their buzz.

 

 

Playing House

Like the Prose: Challenge #6 – Write about a deep secret.

maria-victoria-heredia-reyes-20882-unsplash

Sometimes, she thinks, the writers should have given her better lines. Like when they had that stupid argument about the kids’ beds. She wanted paired captain’s beds with desks at the ends, and he insisted stack up bunk beds were better because they’d have more floor space.

“But they’ll fight over who which of them gets the top bunk.”

“No, they won’t,” he’d argued, pointing out that their older son liked to stay up later, reading, and having the bottom bunk meant he could have a clip-on reading light, and the younger boy was a marathon sleeper, never got up in the night, so putting him up top wouldn’t disrupt anything.

She’d wanted to counter that he was a marathon sleeper now, but she’d ended up just yelling that since he knew so much more about their boys he should do whatever he thought was best.

It wasn’t the first such argument.

And it wasn’t that she didn’t love their boys, wasn’t madly, scandalously in love with her husband, but sometimes it felt like she was just playing house. Like this wasn’t really her life, that she was an actress playing a part and she’d wake up and walk into her real life as a foreign correspondent or a famous chef or… something.

She’d gone through all the counseling after Zachary was born and then again when the arrival of Jordan had sent her into an emotional tailspin, but post-partum depression couldn’t still be a thing after nine years, could it?

Could it?

And really, Facebook is to blame.

Oklahoma? Her college editor had responded when she’d made the “friend request” a few days earlier. You’re living on a ranch in Oklahoma? And you’re married? I expected you to end up in New York, London, Paris. I thought you’d have published seven novels by now. But as long as you’re happy…

And that’s the thing. Feminism teaches that her life is her choice. That staying home and writing cooking blogs and raising two boys who are free thinkers and respectful of women is as valid as anything she might have done before (and there was a novel, actually, before she traded that life for this one).

And, really, that’s the secret she doesn’t share: that she’s happy. She’s so goddamned happy, and she feels fucking guilty for enjoying her life. Like she’s some horrible failure for not living up to other people’s expectations of what she should have been.

And so, she goes through periods where she wishes she had better writers handling her day-to-day dialogue.

And sometimes, she feels like she’s playing house.

Free Falling

Like the Prose: Challenge #5 – Have a friend tell you a true story. Use it to inspire a piece of fiction.

amphitheater

She’s never liked smoking the stuff. The taste, the smell, the way it makes her lungs feel tight and takes away her ability to draw breath – these are the things she associates with smoking pot. But she’s not a prude, and when the couple on the next blanket offers them some… enhanced… brownies she’s happy to take one in exchange for the beer her husband is offering in return.

She doesn’t tell them that she’s worried about her kids, but her husband knows. He’s been assuring her all day that they’re fine at home with her mother, that it’s okay to do something for herself for a change, that date night is important.

And he was so happy when he surprised her this morning with the tickets. His big grin had never been wider or more natural. He’d picked her up and swung her around giggling like a loon and kept spinning her in circles until she was giggling with him.

He was good at that.

At making her laugh so the anxiety stayed away.

That’s why it had to be a surprise.

* * *

“Maybe we should call home,” she says for the fifteenth time on their way to the arena. It’s only a ninety-minute drive, but they just don’t leave the kids that often. Mostly, they don’t have the opportunity. Sure, they can say that it’s because money’s tight – but honestly, when is it not? When is it ever not, for everyone, everywhere?

No, the real reason is that he’s working shifts and she’s working furiously on her novel, and there are four kids and her parents and his parents and church and social obligations, and all of that adds up and means that couple-time is relegated to those precious few moments when all four kids are asleep at the same time, and they’re lying in bed together in the dark.

Or, better, when they’re lying in bed together in the soft light of not-quite-dawn. She thinks of that time as their magic time, because the kids are still in bed, and they’re just them. Her hand drops to her belly, as she thinks of the way they spent that magic time a few mornings ago, and of the fact that in all the stress of having four kids she’s missed a pill here and there, and while she isn’t exactly trying for another kid – Jesus, but four is a lot to cope with – if it happens, it happens. They roll with the punches, she and her husband, her lover, her soulmate. It’s what they do.

* * *

The parking lot feels like it’s in orbit around the moon, for as far as they have to walk to get to the gates, and then they’re told they can’t bring chairs.

For a moment, she’s worried he’ll press the point. “Since when can you not have lawn chairs on the lawn?” he asks the guard.

But she notices the shake of his head and the dimpling of his cheeks that mean a smile is forthcoming. He’s being ironic.

All chivalry, he buys her a bottled water and tells her to wait while he treks back to their van to swap the chairs for a sleeping bag. He’s taller, he reminds her, and can walk faster.

She lets him do it.

The stench of other people’s pot makes the hike up the hillside to the top of the amphitheater feel more like she’s scaling Everest, and when she tells him that he says he’s way handsomer than any Sherpa and she agrees and tells him he has a nicer ass, too.

Laughing, they make it to where they’re supposed to be, glad they remembered to bring the binoculars. There are speakers, so they can hear everything. But without the binocs they might as well be at an ants’ concert.

They spread the sleeping bag on the soft grass, grateful that it’s been a cool, dry spring and there aren’t any mosquitoes. But they’ve forgotten how slick the material can be. They end up having to hunt down rocks to keep everything still.

But it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter at all, because the music starts, and he’s got his arms around her and the stars are coming out overhead.

And when she’s eaten the brownies from the couple next to them, she stops worrying about the kids, at least for a while.

But in between songs, people are moving about, and at one point they get up to dance, and the rocks get kicked away. Clumsy, she falls to the ground, caught by her husband and the sleeping bag, but the impact sets the thing in motion.

They’re sliding, and people around them are glaring, but she’s not worried about what they think, because he’s laughing and she’s laughing with them, and their laughter only gets louder when the song being played reaches its chorus:

And I’m free
Free fallin’
Yeah I’m free
Free fallin’

 

She sings along with Tom Petty for a few verses, and she realizes free-falling isn’t so bad when you’re doing it hand-in-hand with the man you love.

 

 

 

 

Oranges and Anamnesis

Like the Prose: Challenge #4 – What do we think the world will be like in 2091? And as dystopias are so passé, don’t make this a dystopia. Is there any hope for the world? Where can we be in 72 years? Let’s make it a happy tale.

Curiosity Colony, Mars, 2091

It’s the scent of oranges that wakes her. Oranges and coffee; her two favorite aromas on this or any world. Resisting the urge to bury her head under the covers, Marin addresses the person she knows is responsible for at least one of the delightful smells.

“Doug?” she asks.

“Mmhmm?”

“Do I really smell oranges?”

“Mmhmm.”

“How?”

“Shuttle from Earth arrived this morning. Ten cases offloaded into the café’s stasis-storage. Signed for by yours truly.”

“Ten cases?”

“Well, ten cases, minus two. Figured you deserved a treat, it being your anniversary and all. Sit up, I’ll bring breakfast in bed.”

“Best boyfriend ever,” she says. She rolls to a sitting position and watches as he moves around their shared living space, arranging mugs and plates on a tray. “You’re overdressed though.”

“Someone had to be up to meet the shuttle. Governor Jones isn’t due back from Luna Colony until next month, so that someone was me. Besides, you’re gonna want to be up pretty soon anyway.”

“True enough.” She adjusts her position on the bed, making room for her partner and his tray. “Can you believe a year ago I was yelling at you about water rations?”

“And I was yelling back that a coffee bar was an unnecessary luxury on Mars.”

“And today Red Sands is the center of the colony’s social scene,” Marin said, picking up a section of orange and popping it in her mouth. “God, I’ve missed fresh fruit.”

“You gonna make orange juice with them?”

“I don’t know… it takes a lot of oranges to do that. They’ll go farther if I use them another way. Maybe a chocolate-orange mousse for a treat today.”

“Sounds complicated.”

“Not really. The Santander’s chickens are providing me with enough eggs that I can do it, and the Derry’s dairy has more than enough cream and… ”

“Okay, okay, do you need me to help?”

“Well…”

“What?”

“You could refill my coffee cup?”

“I could do that, but there’s a price.”

“What’s that?”

“After hours tonight… come for a ride with me. I have a surprise for you.”

“A surprise?”

“Mmhmm.”

“There you go being all nonverbal again.”

* * *

The party had gone well, Marin thought as she and her green-haired teenaged helper finished cleaning the café at the end of the day. “Krista,” she said to the younger woman. “A year ago when your family arrived here – ”

“You mean when they dragged me here against my will?” Krista interrupted.

” – yes that,” she couldn’t help but lace her tone with amusement. “I took you on mostly because I knew there was very little else you could do here.”

“Mars isn’t exactly the land of opportunity if you’re not into agriculture, social planning, or scientific research,” the other agreed.

“No. No, it’s not.”

“But since then, you’ve really become an asset. So I was wondering if you’d like to start hosting a teen night, now that there actually are other teenagers here? We don’t have to decide today… but… I think you’d be good at running it, and I trust you to do it.”

“You’d help me though, at least to get started?”

“As much as you want.”

“I… I’ll think about it. Thanks. Especially if you teach me how to make that mousse.”

Marin laughed and pushed a stray strand of her hair out of her face, “I’ll think about it.”

* * *

The problem with taking a romantic drive on Mars was that it wasn’t really romantic. You had to wear an e-suit, which did nothing for your figure, and made any makeup melt right off. You could sort of hold hands, but you couldn’t kiss, and if you didn’t remember to pick a secure channel, anyone on comms could eavesdrop on your conversation.

Fortunately, Marin thought as she climbed into Doug’s tricked out Mars-buggy (ever the optimist, he had a surfboard strapped to the back), the former Base Commander, and now Lieutenant Governor of Curiosity Colony was good at the details.

“Okay, Marin said, peering through her helmet at the man next to her. “What’s this surprise you’ve got planned.”

“You’ll see.”

Doug drove them outside of the colony’s perimeter, and down to where the ‘viners (short for diviners – the nickname given to the team hunting for water) had been working most recently. Usually, there was a small dome where they could spend time outside of e-suits and a derrick or two. In this case, there was a deep excavation going on, right at the base of a mountain.

“We found a cave system, earlier, but hadn’t had a chance to explore it,” Doug explained. “The ‘viners chose it as their next target, and magic happened.” He steered the buggy into the mouth of the cave.

“Magic?” Marin asked.

“Magic.”

The buggy kept going, inward, downward. Marin lost track of how far into the dark they’d gone, though, she noticed there were glow-markers every so often. Eventually the tunnel opened into a cavern. And the cavern, she realized was no longer rock, but…

“Sand. We’re on sand.”

“Mmhmm…” Doug said. He flipped a switch on the buggy’s controls, and the worklights in the cavern came on, illuminating lapping water.

“Oh, my god! You found it. You really found it!”

“The underground Martian sea. Mmhmm.”

“So when do you surf it?”

“Not for a while but… Listen, Marin, do you know what ‘anamnesis’ means?”

“Remembrance, I think? It’s why we take communion during Mass. In remembrance of Christ.”

“Right, but outside of religion, it’s… it’s remembrance of a meaningful, beloved thing. Surfing… surfing was freedom for me. My mother died when I was young. My dad was deployed a lot. I mean, he loved me, but he wasn’t around. So the ocean… the ocean was my family.”

“So you carry that board around to remember?”

“Mmhmm. Same way you brought your grandmother’s demitasse. You and me, Marin, we are FROM Earth but we’re OF Mars now. But our kids? They’ll be Martian kids. They’ll be FROM Mars and OF it.”

Marin reached her thickly-gloved hand out to cover his. “Our kids?”

“Well, don’t you think we’d make good looking children?”

Marin considered it. Doug was a good fifteen years older than she was – nearly fifty – but he was fit and she loved the way his blue eyes crinkled when he smiled. She hadn’t really considered having a family, but… why not?

“Yeah,” she said. “Yeah, I think we would.”

Dough leaned his head closer, until his faceplate was touching hers, and then he cut the comms, letting the touching glass transmit his voice. “I wouldn’t have yelled at you if I hadn’t been attracted, then. I’m in love with you now. Marry me, Marin.”

“You gonna teach me how to surf?”

“You gonna give me free coffee?”

“Yes.”

“Yes to coffee?”

“Yes to marrying you. The coffee you pay for.”

It would have been the perfect moment for a kiss, Marin thought. Or a ring. Or both. But watching the gentle waves of the underground sea… that was pretty perfect, too.

 

 

 

Little Fears

Like the Prose: Challenge #3 – The most important short story the world requires. Or failing that, just write about the most important thing in your life.

Robot head looking front on camera isolated on a black background

“Aren’t you afraid he’ll turn on you?” they ask, when they find out she’s in a relationship with a synthetic lifeform. “I mean, can you really trust one of them?”

It doesn’t matter that Basil is an officer in the Space Fleet, or that he actually went through the space academy and earned his two degrees, rather than merely having the information uploaded into his neural net. It doesn’t matter that he plays the acoustic guitar, the violin, the piano, the French horn, and the Gemellian flute. It doesn’t matter that he’s published three volumes of poetry (under a pen name, of course) that were critically acclaimed and popularly adored.

They see Machine, and they’re afraid.

And the truth is, she’s afraid, too.

But not of him.

Never of him.

Outside their relationship, she’s afraid she isn’t really talented. That her latent telepathy is somehow making audiences think she’s a better actor than she really is.

She worries that the dark characters she tends to play, these evil dictators, serial killers, and literal madwomen, will affect her psyche. With every one, it gets a little harder to find her footing after the run of the play is over, and normal life has resumed.

Then, too, she isn’t always certain she’s cut out for normal life. She’s never really learned how to live in one place all the time, and even when she was on the ship with Basil, he was going on remote missions. Their time together is counted in days and hours, not in weeks, months, years, and she can’t imagine what it would be like if she… stopped.

But now she’s pregnant.

And okay, they used donor sperm, because Basil literally can’t sire children, but he’s the one who used the turkey baster and made her pregnant. They’d turned the lights down and played soft music in their quarters and tried to keep the clinical, technical aspects of artificial insemination to a bare minimum.

But she’s worried that their child will face bullying or bigotry because her father not only isn’t human, he isn’t even organic. And she’s afraid that same child will, one day, reject Basil and demand to know who the sperm donor is.

And she can’t bear to imagine the hurt on either face, either the one she hasn’t seen yet, or the one she sees every day.

Basil. Basil isn’t the most important thing in her life, but he’s the most important person other than her own self, and he knows her better than herself most of the time, and she doesn’t know how she’d survive in the universe without his calm rationality, or gentle guidance.

And that brings up a host of other fears.

She’s afraid she’ll never love him with the same devotion he offers her, that her fickle human heart can never be quite as steadfast.

She’s afraid she’ll lose his interest when he’s heard all her stories and learned all her secrets.

She’s afraid that when her age begins to show, and he retains his youthful appearance he won’t want to remain in their relationship, or she won’t. And she’s afraid he won’t be willing to let her go when it’s time for her life to end…

And she loves, him, she does. She’s loved him for more than half her life, and honestly can’t imagine sharing a life with anyone else.

But…

Sometimes…

She hears people whispering about how she’s got a taste for the exotic because her high school boyfriends (all two of them) were both aliens, and now she’s with a synthetic lifeform… and she wonders if maybe it’s true that she’s with him because she doesn’t know how to be with a normal human.

The Christian Bible has over three hundred variations of the phrase “Fear not,” in it. Parents and teachers and counselors are constantly telling us not to be afraid.

But she knows better.

She knows that her fear is what keeps her going. It keeps her motivated. It keeps her accountable. It’s her best friend, her worst enemy, her constant companion.

She’s afraid…

She’s afraid of what might happen if she stopped being afraid.

 

Butterflies are Free

Like the Prose: Challenge #2 – Write the stupidest, dumbest, worstest story possible. Something even a 4-year-old would be like “dude… no! Just… no!”

Fisher Cat

Once upon a time there was a big little kitten who loved to chase butterflies. He wasn’t particularly good at it because he was overlarge for his young age, which made him kind of clumsy. This was great for the butterflies, because they always got away, but frustrating for the kitten, because he wanted to bring one of the pretty flying insects home to his mother. She loved pretty things. His brothers and sisters were always presenting her with birds and flowers and sometimes even field mice!

Imagine the kitten’s shock, then, when one day, a butterfly landed on his pink nose, and stayed there. It stayed there until the kitten nearly went cross-eyed from staring at it, except that his grandmother’s warning to him about making faces (“Your face’ll get stuck that way!”) rang through his wee furry head and made him blink and then reach up oh, so carefully with his front paws.

Boom!

Well, more like…

Smoosh!

And the butterfly was trapped between his paws.

He trotted home to his mother on three legs, holding the butterfly in one paw. The older cat would be so proud of her youngest kitten! Finally, he had a gift for her! Finally, he had done something grown up!

But his mother wasn’t happy or proud.

“Oh, Tommy,” she gurgled, “I know you meant well, son, but this butterfly is a rare creature, and nearly extinct. Didn’t you know?”

“No,” he purred back softly. “How could I? I’m just a little kitten.”

“Sometimes I forget how young you are, despite your size. Well, we have to call the Authorities, and make it right.”

The Authorities came – two big, brown, Rottweilers – and took the remains of the butterfly to be examined. “You’ll be called for a court date,” they said. “But it’s your first offense. The judge won’t be too harsh on you.”

For three days the big little kitten trembled and shivered, afraid to go outside. His mother tried to be supportive, but she was nervous, too. After all, she’d never had a child who was a criminal before!

Finally, they went to court. It wasn’t a full trial, just a hearing, where the kitten and his mother would speak in front of a judge.

“This doesn’t bode well,” Mama Cat said. “This is a kangaroo court.”

She wasn’t kidding; the judge was an actual kangaroo.

Before the judge could bang the gavel a woman with a briefcase came waltzing in. Well, not a woman. A Siamese cat. “Sorry, sorry,” she said. “I’m Matilda. I’m representing you. It’s my understanding that you’re a child and didn’t know the butterfly you killed was endangered?”

“Yes, that’s true,” Tommy’s mother said.

“That mitigates things. This judge may be a kangaroo, but she’s fair. Really. She never jumps to conclusions.”

“I’m not going to the pound, am I?” The big little kitten asked in a tiny voice.

“No, sweetie, that won’t happen,” his mother assured.

“It really won’t,” Matilda agreed. “Massive fine. Community service.  But not the pound.”

The judge asked her bailiff – who happened to be her joey – to call the court to order – and then asked Matilda to present the kitten’s case.

Just as the Siamese was finishing her heartfelt plea for lenience, a Kookaburra burst into the courtrooms, feathers flying everywhere, and a butterfly net in his talons. He dropped the net in front of the judge.

“Stop! Stop! Don’t sent the puss to the pound.”

“Listen here, bird brain,” the judge said, “this is juvenile court. No one’s going to be locked up here.”

“Good because no one killed an endangered creature. Just a normal butterfly.”

“Oh?” asked the judge, her ears standing straight up.

“Oh?” asked Mama Cat and Matilda, both their hackles rising.

“Oh?” mewed the big little kitten, his tone hopeful.

“Oh, no. The species you killed was a nuisance variety. Blue wings with red speckles. The species that’s endangered has blue wings with red speckles and yellow stripes. No stripes, no crime. Just an accident. Actually, a favor. Let this kitten go!”

The judge banged her gavel and called for order.

“As there was no crime, I declare this hearing ended. Tommy Kitten be more careful about what you chase. Perhaps you should meet Little Rabbit FooFoo and hop through the forest instead of stalking innocents. You could do with a friend. Dismissed.”

“Whoop-de-doo!” shouted the Kookaburra. “Tie me kangaroo down, Jack!” He bowed to the two female cats and winked at the kitten before leaving with as much flutter as he arrived.

Mama cat ushered her kitten toward home.

And Matilda?

As her services were now complete, she took the money and ran to Venezuela.

 

Eclipse

Like the Prose: Challenge #1 – So today we write about birth. Perhaps write an autobiographical story about a memorable birthday party? Or a funny anecdote that happened to a friend at a birthday? Perhaps a surreal story about someone being born?

 

christian-bowen-1392682-unsplash

It’s hot. It’s hot and it’s humid and the only thing that makes this hot-and-humid different from the hot-and-humid he was in a week ago is that a week ago there was blood in his boots from marching through the jungle in the dark and now he’s not wearing boots; his feet are wrapped in cotton gauze and there are blue cloth booties over that.

There’s gauze around his right bicep, too, and bandages over that, and he can’t tell if the wetness seeping through the layers of cotton and gauze is sweat or blood or both, and he wants to look but he also doesn’t.

It’s early morning, the time when choppers usually come out of the night… or the planes come to blanket the jungle with strafing fire. Ignoring his arm, he turns his head to look out the window. There’s a partial lunar eclipse, they told him, but he’s not sure he wants to see the moon in shadow.

The moon has always been his friend.

He closes his eyes, but he swears he can hear the blades of the whirlybirds circling closer and closer and feel the breeze from their spinning blades….

The smell of bacon – bacon? – and antiseptic take him out of the war-torn jungle and put him back in the here-and-now.

He’s Private Miller. Gregory Miller. Drafted. Taught to shoot at people he never had an issue with. People who were shooting at him for reasons he’s still not sure of. And they didn’t miss, but they also didn’t kill him, so he’s back stateside in New Jersey, in August, in a hospital with no a/c and a rickety fan that sounds like an incoming helicopter… at least to someone like him.

A corpsman comes with a breakfast tray and he asks about the heat.

Energy crisis, he’s told. Only the surgical theaters, ICU, and maternity wards have cooling, per orders of the commander-in-chief.

He’s been taught to respect the office, if not the man, but he can’t help but wonder if Tricky Dick is doing this to punish the military for not crushing the VC and ousting Ho Chi Minh.

He eats his breakfast. The bacon and eggs are real, not rations, and the coffee is amazing, despite the hot-and-humid that’s settled into his bones, even here, in the clean, bright, hospital.

When the corpsman comes for the tray, he asks for help to use the bathroom, and then he goes back to bed and loses himself in sleep. He isn’t really sleepy, but at the same time, he’s exhausted.

* * *

The light has changed when he wakes again, in time for lunch. A burger, fries, a salad, an icy cold Coke in a glass bottle. Vintage. He’d kill for a beer, but the cola is almost as good right now. It’s proof he’s really home. Or close to it, anyway.

After lunch another corpsman comes to help him to the bathroom. He’s shaky. His feet are tender, but he’s grateful to have them. He was half-convinced he’d wake up to find stumps – he remembers the line of infection starting up his leg. Luck. It’s all just fucking luck.

The corpsman has a wheelchair waiting when he leaves the bathroom, but he doesn’t take him back to the ward.

“Am I being kidnapped?” he asks, only half-kidding.

“Nope. Rescued.”

The corpsman is the size of a linebacker, black, with dark eyes that are difficult to read. His looks make him more likely to be on a football field or at the door of a disreputable bar than in a military hospital. But Miller feels like the bigger man can be trusted.

“Thought I already was.”

“Rescue,” the corpsman says, “is an ongoing process.”

He accepts the statement as they leave the general ward and enter the maternity ward. Cool air wraps around him almost immediately, and he sighs, sinking into it. “Ohhh, that’s nice.”

“Yup, it is. But ya gotta earn it.”

“Oh?”

“Yup.”

“How?”

They enter a room full of bassinets. About half aren’t in use. Some hold sleeping babies. The rest… he realizes that while some of the people in the rockers are new mothers, new fathers, some are wounded vets, like him.

“I don’t have a kid here,” he says.

“I know.” The corpsman stops him near a bassinet with a baby girl in it (he knows it’s a girl because she’s got a pink bow taped to her bassinet. There’s no name yet.) “Did you know that human contact in the first few hours after birth is crucial for newborns? This little girl just joined us today. Her mother’s asthmatic. It was a rough delivery. She’s exhausted. It’d be a big help if you could hold her for a while.”

“I’ve never held a baby.”

“I’ll teach you.”

“But… I… won’t her father be pissed…?”

“He’s – ah – not in the picture.”

He moves to the rocker, lets the corpsman place the tiny baby in his hands. She’s not even as long as his arm, from elbow to wrist. And she smells clean and new… Ivory soap and new beginnings wrapped in a cotton blanket.

The rocking begins unconsciously. He’s in a rocker. It’s what you do. The singing. Well. Probably no one’s ever tried to turn “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” into a lullaby before, but the baby doesn’t seem to care about the lyrics.

And the air conditioning is bliss.

* * *

He comes to rock the little girl every day that week, always in the late afternoon. On Friday, they wheel in a woman wearing a yellow nightgown under her hospital-issue robe and slippers. “I think you’re in my spot,” she says, her tone wry.

“You’re her mother?”

“Yes.”

“She’s beautiful.” He gives up the rocker, and hands over the baby, asking, “Have you picked a name yet?”

“I was going to name her after my brother, but he insisted that I can’t burden a child with a name like his.”  She shares the name with him, and he agrees it’s awful.

“Is your brother a soldier?”

The woman looks away. “Not exactly.”

AWOL then, he’s guessing, or something else. “I’m sorry. I’m just – ”

Yellow-nightgown woman is quick to assure him, “No, it’s fine. My father’s career Army. He’ll fix it, but it hurt him, and… it’s just hard.” She pauses. Her tone is softer when she asks, “Were you at Ripcord?”

He is surprised she knows the name. Most people just know “Vietnam” and nothing else. Most people don’t care about the details. “Yeah. It was… ”

“You don’t have to tell me,” she says. “I’m glad you got out.”

“Thank you,” he answers, because he doesn’t know what else to say. The corpsman comes to take him back to his bed, then, but he offers, as he leaves, “Maybe you could use the first letter of your brother’s name. And… if it helps? I usually find inspiration in the shower.”

She smiles at his suggestion then turns her entire focus on her tiny daughter.

He goes back to bed. Someone in the ward has found a radio, and he finds himself listening to the Phillies play Houston in a double header. They win one and lose won, and he chuckles as he eats his dinner, because the results seem a perfect metaphor for his life, the war, the world.

* * *

On Saturday, when the corpsman wheels him to the nursery, the little girl is gone, and a baby boy with tight black curls is waiting to be held. Mark is his name, and his skin isn’t as dark now as it one day will be, he is told, but a baby is a baby is a baby and there’s something cleansing in holding these new lives.

Still, he is pleased to find that the charge nurse has a message for him: “The captain’s daughter says to tell you that the shower helped, and the baby’s name is Melissa.”

He is Private Miller, comma, Gregory, and he served three years in Vietnam, and made it home wounded, but alive. He will never tell anyone – not his priest, not his best friends, not even the woman he will one day marry – about the children his unit killed, or the children his unit left parentless and homeless, or the families whose homes  were burned, or any of the other horrible things he saw. He  will wrap those memories inside a piece of olive drab canvas and hide them in the deepest part of his heart.

But he will also hold onto a better memory: On the day after the eclipse, on a hot and humid day in the middle of August, he met a brand new baby and was reminded that hope still exists in the world.

He will continue to be reminded of that every time one of his own children is born, and his grandchildren as well.

And he will often volunteer to rock them.

Waiting for Fedex

So, the folks at The Literal Challenge are doing a short story challenge in the month of June. As if 28 plays in 28 days wasn’t hard enough, we’re now being asked to write 30 stories in 30 days. Today, we were asked to submit “something” to test their fancy new submission engine – no more manually emailing Sebastian the moment we’ve typed “CURTAIN.”  So I wrote a thing. It’s small. It’s silly. But I haven’t posted here since February so I thought I should also  do a test to make sure everything still functioned. Oh, and, stay tuned, because my stories will be posted here. 

Waiting for FedEx

Waiting for FedEx is like waiting for Godot, except the writing isn’t as good and everyone is carrying boxes that represent their personal issues… childhood trauma, relationship woes, body images – whatever.

The FedEx guy has been elevated to mythological proportions. He’s a superhero now. He doesn’t just sport a purple shirt, he’s got shiny tight pants and a cape, and he comes to take away the boxes of horrible, ugly, truths.

And if you’re lucky.

Supremely lucky.

He brings you something pretty and shiny in exchange. True love. A new attitude. Awesome abs.

Or, maybe it’s just this week’s HomeChef delivery.

Better than nothing.

We’re having salmon and asparagus tonight, honey.