Written for Brief #17 of Like the Prose 2021: 49 Words
Written for Brief #17 of Like the Prose 2021: 49 Words
Picture it, I dare ya, out there in the Jungle
Of India, a place so old it makes you humble
There’s no roads and the trees are close together
So the way to get around is very clever
See the way that we’re rolling is ridin on a creature
And if he were a movie he’d be a double feature.
We’re riding high over terra-ferm’
On TuPac the two-pack-a-day pachyderm.
Now, this is the truth, and I ain’t jokin’
This elephant is addicted to tokin’
He’s hooked on the bud, and it makes him kinda mellow
Pretty useful for a beast that’s such a big fellow.
He can be super stubborn, so you gotta treat him firm.
He’s TuPac the two-pack-a-day pachyderm.
Elephants are super good at sucking cigs
Their prehensile trunks are build for holding twigs
But the problem is that smoking is just awful
What it does to lungs that big – imagine them all coughful
So even though TuPac was babied all his life
Cancer turned his end days into strife.
In the middle of the jungle though, nestled in some ferns…
Is a statue of TuPac, the two-pack pachyderm.
Written for Brief #16 of Like the Prose 2021: Tu-Pac
Thunder murmurs in the distance, and the sky brightens in response. Both are soft at first, but in wee increments, they increase in intensity.
The murmur grows into a conversation, and then an argument, two gods boxing in the heavens, it seems, or perhaps it’s humans moving heavy furniture. No matter, the sound is now percussive, shaking windows and making entire houses shiver.
Again and again, streaks of incandescent amber divide the night sky, white-hot and singing with static.
The night air is thick with bruising energy that expands and expands waiting for when, with one great burst of white fire, the skies divide and rain descends.
The wind whips the water in different directions.
The precipitation spreads into every nook and cranny of the street, the pavement, the grass. Temporary ponds form.
As if someone turned off a tap, the rain ceases.
The booming and hissing in the sky fade away.
The night sky returns to its former state, with a mere hint of remaining humidity.
The storm is over.
The chorus of geckos, frogs, and crickets serenades the neighborhood.
Written for Brief #15 of Like the Prose 2021: Lipogram
(The omitted letter is ‘l.’)
You can tell everything about a person by their feet. And for dancers, you can tell our histories.
That scar on my heel? It’s from my first time playing Marie in The Nutcracker. I had thrown one of my slippers at the Mouse King and spent the rest of Act I in only one ballet shoe. I bet you didn’t know you could get sliced by stepping on a sequin, but you can.
That red V between my toes and my instep? That’s where I was permanently marked by a pair of pointe shoes that were fitted too tightly at the toe and too wide at the heel. A professional fitter changed my life, and probably prolonged my career, by introducing me to two words: wing blocks. If you have wide feet, with tapered toes remember those words.
Blisters over healed blisters.
Swollen bunions over swollen bunions.
A dancer’s feet – my feet – are ever changing.
See that second toe that isn’t quite straight? That’s where I rolled over in a dead shoe and broke the toe. See the lumpy bit on my right big toe? That’s a bunion that never quite heals.
And see how my toes are all slightly crooked now, and how my metatarsals are extremely prominent? That’s arthritis. It’s what dooms us all. I started feeling the telltale pain when I was twenty-six but managed three more years on stage.
Twenty-nine is ancient for a ballerina.
But when my ankle collapsed during a performance of Coppelia, I knew it was time to move on. I went to the doctors.
“So, it’s time for me to turn in my pointe shoes?” I asked, even though I knew the answer.
“I’m afraid so.”
I had the surgery, of course. I might not perform again, but I could still teach if I took the time to recover correctly.
The first day out of the cast, I had a pedicure.
I let them scrub away the last of my callouses. I let them soothe my bunions and shape my toenails. And I chose a bright red color to paint them with: Glove You So Much by OPI.
You can tell everything about a person from their feet. Mine? Mine used to be bloody and pussy from hours in pointe shoes. But now? Now I can wear flipflops without embarrassment.
I used to be a dancer. My feet still show the signs (you would die if you saw my arch). But my toes… my toes tell another story now.
Written for Brief #14 of Like the Prose 2021: Acceptance
Her head hurts.
And there’s this weird choking feeling in the back of her throat as if she stuffed grief whole into her mouth but can’t swallow it down where it won’t hurt anymore.
And the storm clouds are overhead, and thickening.
If only it would rain.
She goes through the motions… She meets friends for pedicures, but the colors seem overbright. She makes nice meals for herself, but the food all tastes like sand.
And the sky is black above her, no sun to be found.
Sundays are the worst.
Any other day, she could go up the street to see Sissy or Gina and share a frosted glass of iced tea on the porch or call across the fence to Becca and accept the invitation for a dip in her pool.
But Sundays are family days.
And her family is far away.
And her partner is further away than just “away,” because he’s dead, and she can’t wrap her brain around it, quite.
And the sky is getting thicker and she can feel it in her brain pressing harder and harder.
She considers traveling, but she’s not ready to leave the house they built together, the things they so lovingly collected (trinkets from a myriad of planets) the bathtub he had installed just for her, because it echoed the one he’d installed in their cabin on the ship.
She considers going back to work, but she’s not ready to face auditions, and she’s spent enough time away that she no longer gets straight-up offers. Or at least, none that don’t repel her.
Her daughter tries to make her smile, asks her to play, demands beach days… and she does her best to be present in those moments, but inside all she feels is numbness, blackness, a void deeper than a black hole.
And the thunder is unceasing.
If only it would rain.
Written for Brief #13 of Like the Prose 2021: Depression
“Five more minutes?”
“You have school tomorrow.”
“I’ll get up on time, I promise.”
“It’s very late.”
“But I’m almost done with this chapter.”
“Is it for school?”
“Five more minutes…”
“Five more minutes from the time you close the door?”
“Well, you used my first five minutes asking me why I needed five more minutes. So really, I should get ten. More.”
“Or, maybe since the original five minutes expired, you should turn out the light now.”
“That’s not fair!”
“Life’s not fair.”
“Do you want the five more minutes, or not?”
“And you’ll get yourself up on time?”
“You were that sure I’d agree.”
“No. But I was that sure you’d get tired of arguing with me, and send Dad in, which would have given me at least fifteen more minutes.”
“Ten more minutes.”
“Goodnight, my little bookworm.”
Written for Brief #12 of Like the Prose 2021: Bargaining
It’s a ritual we’ve been through ever since the Cousteau’s mission had changed from exploration to war. Except no one called it “war.” They called it, “defending the Coalition of Aligned Worlds.” Basil and I knew the truth though. The Kastellian Hegemony had been attacking planets on the fringes, and now there was an incursion into Coalition space that threatened the lives of no fewer than six colonies and eight systems.
“Come home to me,” I said, accepting the data solid from him. I knew what it contained. His final message to me. His final wishes. Nine times he had returned from one of these missions and I’d given the solid back to him, without ever scanning it. I wasn’t religious, but I prayed there would be a tenth.
“I promise to try.”
Five days later, Captain Rousseau came to my quarters in the middle of the dog watch. I invited her in and offered her tea. Tea made everything better… Almost everything. But I knew – I knew – she wouldn’t have come at that hour just for a chat.
“Zoe, I’m so sorry. As you know, Basil’s mission was to rescue a team of scientists from Beta Capella. The Kastellians were waiting. There were no survivors.”
“No.” I said. “You’re wrong.”
“Zoe… as his captain… as your friend… I’m not wrong.”
“No!” I said again, louder, more emphatically.
“Zoe, I’m sorry. His shuttle was destroyed.”
“NO!” I shouted the word that time. “Damn it, Cecile… he never should have gone on that mission. He’d already done back-to-back away assignments. He wasn’t supposed to be in the rotation.”
“He had special abilities that I felt were required.”
“You mean, you sent him because a machine who doesn’t get tired or burnt out.”
The captain – Cecile – was quiet for a long moment. “I’m sorry, Zoe. I made the best decision I could.”
“Fuck your decision,” I hurled the epithet at her. “Fuck your decision. Fuck this ship. Fuck this war. Fuck YOU.” Tears flooded my eyes and spilled down my cheeks. Cecile stepped closer to me, probably meaning to offer comfort but I wasn’t thinking clearly. I raised my hand, and without any conscious plan, struck her on the cheek.
She let me do it.
And the slap of flesh on flesh snapped me out of my blind rage.
“Oh, gods,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”
“No, you’re not.” Her words were grave. I got the feeling she understood me. I also got the impression she felt she deserved it. “I’m going to go now, Zoe. I hope we can talk again in a few days. I’ll have our mental health department contact you.”
I just nodded.
The captain left, and I collapsed on the couch. I was thankful, in that moment, that Elizabeth was on Centaurus with my father. Safe. Sheltered. I tried to do the time conversion in my head and couldn’t. I’d call her later. In the morning – evening – whatever.
Except, of course, he couldn’t.
I wanted to scream more, but my energy was rapidly draining. Sleep. I needed to sleep. I took the data solid into our bedroom. Holding it in the palm of my hand, I sat down on the bed. “You promised me forever,” I said into the room. My words were directed to my absent partner, and to the computer chip I held.
Written for Brief #11 of Like the Prose 2021: Anger
But she doesn’t want to.
She’s tired. She’s sore. She’s had a bad day that began at three AM when her last insulin pen slipped out of her fingers and landed on the dining room floor. Miraculously, the glass hadn’t shattered, but the end of the pen, the bit that controls the dose-dialer, broke off and disappeared. So, she now has a full vial of insulin she can’t use, and a three day wait for more.
At least she’s type 2. She’ll be fine for a few days. Really.
God, she’s so tired.
She’s tired of being at her mother’s, tired of being away from home, away from her own schedule, away from her husband and dogs. She’s tired of hearing that the contractors haven’t started, tired of picking colors of paint and types of tiles she has no faith will be installed, and tired of feeling so disconnected.
But mostly, she’s also physically and mentally exhausted. She’s working more hours than she wanted to while away. She can’t cope with her mother’s fear of air conditioning. Everything hurts. Everything feels off.
She misses her dog, the one who went to Heaven in March.
She hasn’t slept without the help of medication since the storm in February, and it’s starting not to work so well anymore. It’s only meant for two months of use. She’s on month four.
She’s losing weight, but not in a healthy way.
But when people ask…
She smiles brightly and lies to their faces, using the two words every woman knows and every woman uses:
Except… she’s not.
Written for Brief #10 of Like the Prose 2021: Denial
I knew that voice. It was the scratchy tone of a faerie – almost more white noise than actual speech. But I knew what to listen for. And I knew it wasn’t just dated slang. It was a curse.
“Why me?” I whispered into the darkness, already feeling the temperature start to drop. “I haven’t wronged you.”
“Haven’t you? So many stories about the fae, the djinn, the fanged ones… so many begun, none finished. A book promised and not executed. Your lack of attention to your avocation over the last year has caused harm to the creatures you used to write about.”
“How can you be a tale-spinner still be such a nitwit,” the faerie snorted. “Dim bulbs, the lot of you humans, but you… you should know better… why do you always have to finish reading a scary story?”
“Closure,” I answered.
“Wrong!” The temperature in my house dropped again. “Peter would be so disappointed in you.”
Peter… oh, Peter… my first love! Before my husband. Before my dogs. Before my friends and family… there was Peter. “He… he would?”
“‘He… he would?'” The faerie mimicked my voice and my tone. “Of course, he would you idiot bird. When’s the last time you clapped your hands in glee? When’s the last time you created a working plot? When’s the last time you finished a story?”
“You mean… my writing gives you power? I didn’t know.”
The room grew even colder. “You didn’t know? YOU DIDN’T KNOW!” A blast of cold came with her – I knew it was a female faerie now and was certain of her name, as well. “Our existence in this world depends on the belief of humans. Try thinking with your brain instead of your tits, girlfriend, and you might understand. Without belief, we don’t exist. Without stories, there’s no belief. We’re dying… all of us… and it’s all. Your. FAULT!”
“I’m not the only writer…”
“No, but you’re one of the few who still retains that hint of childhood possibility. Why do you think you have so many nightmares? Why haven’t you been able to sleep well for a year?”
I mentioned things like stress and a global pandemic.
She didn’t buy it.
“Look, Chica, writers write. You’re failing yourself. You’re failing us. What do I have to do, bust a pipe and let water flood this idleness out of you?”
“No!” I scooted back against the pillows of my bed. “I mean, please don’t. I’ll try. I’ll try tonight… only… please turn off the cold first? I can’t feel my fingers.” I held out my hands. They were rapidly turning blue.
“Twenty-four hours, wordwench, or I come back and turn you to an icicle.”
I looked at the place in the room where I thought she was and smiled softly. I knew what I’d write. “Sure, Tink…” I said. “Give Peter my love, won’t you?”
Her word hung in the air where she no longer was, but my house was warm again.
Written for Brief #9 of Like the Prose 2021: Faeries and Folklore
The mask was broken into three large pieces, laying on the tile floor.
Muzzy from sex, she murmured to her partner, “Are you ever going to show me your face?”
“Does it matter so much? A face to put with the body you’ve been touching, caressing?”
“What you look like doesn’t matter, no. But we just made love – ”
“No, we didn’t,” her partner countered. “We had sex. Amazing sex, but we just met… it’s not love.”
A hand tapped her shoulder, and she whirled around, coming face to face with a person wearing a painted mask. It was a deep pink, almost magenta, and a green iguana, done in bas relief, was draped across the top edge. Her own mask, made of cloth and feathers, suddenly seemed inadequate.
“Sorry, did I bump into you?”
“No… would you like to?”
“Bump into you?”
“I think most people call it ‘dancing.'”
“Sure.” She took the Iguana’s hand and led the way to the dance floor.
They’d been dancing for hours, it seemed. Masked faces – ceramic, cloth, even latex – surrounded them, and the tables were few and far between, but they found a two-top in the corner by the window, overlooking the surf below.
“Beer or cocktail?” The Iguana asked.
“Cocktail,” she said. “Something with rum in it.”
“Do you trust me?”
Hell no, but I don’t trust myself either.
“To order, sure.”
Iguana ordered two combinations of rum and fruit juice then leaned back in the chair, rocking it so the back rested against the wall. “You’re a good dancer.”
“You’re not bad yourself.”
“I teach ballroom sometimes, as a side gig.”
“What’s your main gig?”
She nodded. It wasn’t surprising; half the population of the tiny beach town painted. Or sculpted. Or sketched.
“I write,” she said.
“Have I read your writing?”
“Maybe. You read much horror?”
The drinks came, sweet with that warming rush of alcohol. They both used straws, but Iguana gave away their gender when they tilted their head back and revealed the Adam’s apple bobbing there. “Would I know your work?”
“You’re looking at it.”
They’d closed out the party, and moved to her house. They’d exchanged names by then. But he’d requested, “Let’s keep our masks on. If we get along, we’ll see each other again… and then we’ll take them off.”
She’d agreed. Why not? It sounded like a fun game.
The masks had come off in the morning. She’d been relieved… her skin needed to breathe. He’d seemed tentative. “I’m not so good looking,” he admitted.
“I’m sure you’re fine,” she told him. He removed the mask, and he was right. He wasn’t much to look at, but he wasn’t horribly disfigured either. His nose had a lump, as if it had been broken at some point. She reached out to caress his stubbled cheek. “Kiss me.”
They’d had sex, but they hadn’t yet kissed.
His lips tasted faintly of mango and rum, and a little like almonds.
“Are you sorry?”
“Not a bit.”
They were in and out of each other’s houses for days, weeks, after their first encounter. They made love in the afternoons and cooked eggs at midnight. She wrote, naked, in his bed, or hers. He painted masks in her living room and came to bed with splattered skin.
“I have to tell you something…” he said. “I had a wife… a kid… they died in a car accident on the way to my gallery opening. It’s ten years tomorrow.”
“I’m so sorry.”
He came to her, drunk, the next night. She knew he was using alcohol to soothe his grief, but it also brought out a rougher part of him. Their joining wasn’t tender, but primal.
Afterwards, she asked him to tell her the whole story.
“I can’t,” he said. “I can’t…” and he cried.
Six months of mostly good times, but his story niggled at her brain. She googled and googled again. She found a seed, a trail, the truth.
They’d died in a car wreck alright, but he’d been the driver.
“You could have trusted me with this,” she said, confronting him.
“I wanted to escape it,” he said. “I should go.”
The sky was barely pinkening into dawn, but she woke up anyway, sensing a change. His side of the bed was cold. She pulled on a long t-shirt and padded through the house. His paints, his easels, his splattered shoes – all gone.
She heard a noise and moved toward the front door. He was leaving in the dark, carrying a box. As she watched, something fell from the box and fell to the floor. But he didn’t stop. The door banged shut behind him.
She turned on the light and saw it.
The iguana mask was the one that had fallen.
The mask was broken into three large pieces, laying on the tile floor.
Written for Brief #8 of Like the Prose 2021: Begin at the end.