Long-time Companion

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I met him for the first time when I was six years old. I had no front teeth  and wore my hair in pigtails. He was the strong, silent type. It sounds scandalous, I know, but really, it wasn’t much different for any girl my age.

At first our relationship was tenuous. I wasn’t sure where to put my hands, how much pressure to use. Sometimes my hand would slip, or I’d lift the wrong leg, and my foot would make abrupt contact. It hurt me far more than it did him.

Over time, I grew to count on him. I learned that he would always be my supporter, that I could lean on him with all my weight, and he would be unfazed. I eased my grip and found that he responded in kind, vibrating slightly against my palm.

As I grew older, our relationship changed. By the time I was twelve, thirteen, fourteen, we were spending long hours together. I would lie on the floor with my ankles resting against him, and he never complained that my feet were smelly, or that I was putting too much pressure on him. His support helped ensure that I never had lower back pain as I grew older.

As so often with young love, we eventually drifted apart. I found new hobbies, new interests, new partners, and didn’t visit as often as I should. In fact, I left him for years, and while I gave him a fleeting thought now and then, usually if a television show or film prompted a memory, I told myself it was for the best, and that I’d done the right thing.

And then it happened.

I rediscovered him as an adult.

No longer as flexible or supple as I was once was, I hesitated to return to his side, but he never judged, never complained. He just let me wrap my hands around him and use his strength to rebuild my own. With his assistance I retrained my muscles, improved the strength in my toes, perfected my posture. In his presence, I became my best self.

I’ve had to leave him from time to time. I’ve spent time with other partners, and gained new experiences, but he is my long-time companion, my other half, my strongest supporter, and the one who helps me maintain my balance.

I am a dancer.

And he is my barre.

Written for Brief #6 of Like the Prose 2021: Non-traditional Romance

 

Brass Rings

It’s not what you think. The art deco building that houses the old carousel still stands, but the painted ponies on their pneumatic poles are gone.

History would tell you that the carousel was dismantled because it was old, because Asbury Park was sinking into decrepitude, because maintaining the wooden horses was too expensive.

History would be wrong.

There’s a little known secret about that vintage carousel. It was actually a portal. Or, a collective of portals.

The kids knew. Oh, not all of them, but the geeky kids knew: the bookworms, the dreamers, and the sci-fi enthusiasts knew. If a kid caught the brass ring and made a wish, the ride would speed up and the pony would leap from the platform.

There wasn’t any specific location the ponies went to. It was assumed the destination was tailored to each kid. But they’d be back less then a moment after they’d left – though they always returned talking of adventures that lasted for days.

By the time the news of the carousel’s closure became public, most of the kids who knew its secret had grown too old to go on adventures. But they had a plan.

They identified kids in their communities who needed to escape. Homeless kids. Abused kids. Kids unlikely to be missed.

24 children. Twelve painted ponies. They were put two to a horse and told what to do, how to wish.

The carousel was started. The calliope music blared out, filling the empty building, echoing over the boardwalk.

And one by one, the ponies pranced into oblivion, carrying their charges to permanent safety.

The media reported on the missing carousel horses, but not on the missing children. The rest of the ride was torn apart.

No one ever spoke of the magic carousel again. But the kids who’d grown up around it remembered. And sometimes, they still dreamed of reaching up, catching the brass ring, and going on an infinite ride.

Written for Brief #5 of Like the Prose 2021:Alternate History

Causeway Considerations

 

 

Howard Beach

No matter how many times I drove out to Howard Beach, the moment where the pine woods give way to the causeway, stretching a mile across the Gulf of Mexico, would never fail to take my breath away.

That drive, which begins as a meandering trip through the waterfront neighborhoods of Tarpon Springs before you enter the outer park and it’s canopies of trees, multitudes of squirrels, and the occasional turtle (there are turtle crossing signs at several places along the road), is beautiful enough. But when you exit the dark woods into the bright light of the sun, and its reflection on the water, it’s as if you’ve set foot on the Yellow Brick Road and are approaching the Emerald City.

The beach isn’t just a beach, of course. One side of it, tucked in next to the causeway’s terminus, is dedicated to aquatic sports. Athletes, and those inclined to think they’re athletes, can rent kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, or water bikes. For slightly more sedentary folks, there are also paddleboats.

Across the causeway the other leeward quarter of the island (okay, it’s only an island when the tide is extremely high) is marked by a palm grove, and it’s usually occupied by a few people who want solitude, and don’t really swim. There is no lifeguard on either if the leeward beaches.

The windward coast of the island slopes gently toward the warm water of the gulf. The bottom there isn’t clear, as there is sea grass covering most of it, but it’s short, and unlike seaweed and kelp, it doesn’t wrap itself around your ankles.

This is the swimming beach, and it’s typically filled with happy families. On a recent trip I ran into a young woman with vivid blue hair, spending the day on the sand with her pink-haired partner, and their toddler-aged daughter, and a Greek mother with three kids, though none were under her umbrella. Rather, they were out in the water with their father while she caught some sun.

It’s worth mentioning that the water here is warm and shallow. An average-sized woman can touch the bottom with her feet while keeping her head above water most of the way out to the channel markers. It’s deceptively calm, though, there is a serious riptide if you get caught in the wrong current.

Howard Beach, like most of the beaches in the Florida State Park system has a lifeguard on duty. It also has clean bathrooms, outdoor showers, and a small walking trail to an overlook with a bench. Parking is ample, and costs five dollars a day, though locals and long-term visitors can buy passes. Handicapped parking is free with a placard, and also ample. There is no concession stand, but the town of Tarpon Springs has many restaurants and cafes. Greek food is most plentiful as the town was originally a Greek fishing village, but there’s a whole range.

After a day at Howard Beach driving back across the causeway feels a little like leaving technicolored Oz and returning to black-and-white Kansas. What helps is watching the fishermen along the road, asking them if they caught anything.

What also helps is the knowledge that this little piece of sand will still be there, welcoming the next families, the next laughing children, the next people to cross the causeway looking for fun in the sun.

Written for Brief #4 of Like the Prose 2021: Literary Travel

A Thread on Thread

(A Twitter Story)

https://twitter.com/Melysse/status/1400651144440041473

Thread

1) This story is true… mostly.

2) I’m visiting my mom for a month or two while storm damage is finally fixed in my house in Texas. The damage is from the February Freeze, but that’s another story…

3) So, my mom is a self-described “sewist,” and that comes with certain hazards. Like, I cannot count the number of stray straight pins I’ve found embedded in my feet over my lifetime (which is one of the reasons I wear shoes in the house, but I digress).

4) But this story isn’t about pins; it’s about thread. Sewing thread. It’s insidious stuff. Gets everywhere. Sometimes it floats through Mom’s living room like a weird, skinny, insect.

5) It’s bad enough that I have to keep pulling stray thread off my clothes every time I get up from the couch or the bed or any chair. But lately… lately the thread has been following me.

6) Specifically, there is this one piece of turquoise thread – and none of the clothing I bought here is turquoise – that was moving from the living room toward my bedroom.

7) The first day, it was in the hallway leading to the front door, as if it was planning an escape… or maybe just heading out to take over the world. Either is possible. But then…

8) …then the thread got to the entry-way and instead of taking advantage of the open doors and making its escape into the wider world, it turned toward the guest room and guest bathroom. AKA MY bedroom and bathroom. I swept it away, but it came back…

9) I was in the bathroom, when it returned. I had just finished my “paperwork” and I looked down and the turquoise thread was wrapped around my foot! I unwound it and dropped it into the trash can.

10) The next day I saw the same thread, but it was drying to enter my bedroom. Of course, I closed the door, but I was worried. Maybe this wasn’t just fiber. Maybe it was a sentient being bent on world domination…

11)… or at least on the murder of an innocent writer who hadn’t yet reached her full potential. What would my dogs do without me? How would my husband cope? Who would inherit my mother’s art when the thread eventually turned on her???? The mind had to boggle.

12) Things improved the next day. Somehow, the turquoise thread wound up in the bathtub while I was taking a shower. (There isn’t a rule about getting them wet or respooling them after midnight, is there?)

13) I have to confess: I was smug as I watched that evil blue strand slither down the drain. I thought it was over, but the next night as we were watching that awesome @AmyTan documentary on  @Netflix a red strand attached itself to my leggings.

14) I pulled it off in much the same way one removes a tick and cast it away. “Are you alright?” My mother was looking at me as if she wanted to know which meds I wasn’t taking and should have been.

15) “No,” I complained. “Loose thread is following me everywhere. I think it’s revenge.”

16) “Revenge?” my mother asked. “For what?”

17) “I don’t know… maybe for all the times when I was a kid that I bitched about it when you made me stand in line at the fabric store with an extra coupon so you could buy more fabric. And more thread.”

18) “Oh,” Mom said. “Thread would never care about that.” She took a beat. An ominous beat. “But mothers do…”

19) I laughed at her, of course, but I was still worried. And when I returned to my room that night, I knew my concern was not unfounded… because red threat was wrapped around and around the handle of the window…

20) I knew then that you CAN go home again… you just never get to leave once you do.

 

Written for Brief #3 of Like the Prose 2021: Write a Twitter story.

 

Final Scoop

Ice Cream Parlor

Forget your troubles, c’mon get happy
You better chase all your cares away
Shout “hallelujah”, c’mon get happy
Get ready for the judgement day

 

The smell of sugar was nauseating, the air conditioning was turned too low, and no matter how many times Dave had cleaned them, the inside tables were still sticky, and the outside tables were still clammy with the thick Florida humidity that hovered over everything on summer evenings. If he were lucky, it would rain, and break the monotony.

Dave was never that lucky.

He glanced at the Elvis clock on the wall above the menu board. Both hands were pointing downward from the King’s crotch.  Six-thirty. Ninety minutes to go.

The song changed from a Jan & Dean surf tune to an older piece. Judy Garland crooning about forgetting your troubles. Funny, he thought, how even when she was urging people to get happy, she still sounded sad.

The stand-up poster of James Dean, standing guard over the freezer case full of ice cream cakes and six-packs of Dixie cups – the old-fashioned kind with the wooden paddles that tasted like tongue depressors when you sucked the ice cream off them – seemed to reflect Dave’s mood. The movie star looked even flatter than a cardboard cutout had any right to.

The penultimate hour of his shift was typical of the beachfront ice cream parlor. A group of teenagers came in giggling and asking to taste five different flavors apiece before choosing their single-scoop cones. A tired-looking mother entered with two children in tow, got them each a single-scoop sundae and took them out to the brightly lit patio to eat them. “…so you won’t mess up the floor if you spill…” She got an espresso, affogato style, for herself.

Dave didn’t have the heart to tell her that he had to clean the patio floor, too, before he could go home.

It was eight-forty-five when She appeared: a large woman on an electric scooter. The door rattled open, and the bell attached to it seemed to shiver rather than ring, and she bumped it several times as she lined up her mobility device with the entryway that was just barely ADA-compliant.

“Ma’am,” Dave offered. “If it’s easier for you, I can serve you from the window.” The walk-up window was a remnant from the days when the parlor had been more of a shack, and kids had been encouraged to remain outside.

“No need.” She maneuvered the scooter inside with a sort of metaphysical pop. “Might need your help getting out though.”

“Sure, happy to…” He wasn’t, really, but what was he supposed to say. “Do you know what you want?”

“You,” she said, and while she was smiling, Dave wasn’t entirely certain that she was kidding.

“Aw, thanks, but my girlfriend might have a problem with that.” He didn’t have a girlfriend, but weird customers hit on him a lot, and it was his stock response.

“Mmm. Then I need a minute.”

“Sure. Take your time.” Dave busied himself with the beginning of closing prep while he watched the woman on the scooter. She wasn’t overweight, exactly. She was just… big. Thick ankles, thick wrists, a more-than-ample bosom that her sports bra and tank top barely contained… even her hair, which desperately needed a brush run through it, was big.

“Mint chocolate chip. The green kind. In a cup, with hot fudge.”

“Do you want whipped cream, nuts, and a cherry – the whole sundae experience?”

“No,” she said. “Just the hot fudge.” Her eyes, when they met his, were nearly black. “A lot of hot fudge.”

“You can pay over there.” He gestured to the cash register counter, where the spoons were hidden. It was the way they guaranteed no one would walk out without paying. Spoons weren’t provided until after cash had exchanged hands.

ice-cream-2194062_1920She rolled up to the other counter and met his eyes again, passing him a ten-dollar bill and asking, “You enjoy working here?”

“Truth?” he asked.

“Always tell the truth, so you’re ready for the judgement day,” she said, her tone ominous.

“There are worse jobs,” Dave answered honestly. “But sometimes I swear the smell of ice cream will never wash out of my hair or clothes. Like, it feels like that sickly-sweet sugary sent will linger on my skin forever.”

“Not forever, Dave…” she reached for the ice cream cup, and he flinched when their fingers touched.

He forced a smile. “I sure hope not.”

She rolled over to one of the tables by the window and he finished the closing process while she ate, then held the door when she indicated she was ready to leave.

“It’s coming soon, Dave,” she said. “Get ready for the judgement day. The ice cream was good. Be careful when you leave; rain’s coming and the roads will be slippery.”

He didn’t ask how she knew his name. Probably, he’d actually remembered to wear his nametag. Or maybe she’d been in before, but you’d think he’d remember. “Uh, thanks for the advice.”

Dave couldn’t lock the door fast enough.

The rain came as he was leaving, one of those torrential summer storms that pops up for an hour and leaves no trace. He watched the lightning for a while from inside the door, then locked it behind him and headed home.

He never saw the truck that swerved on the rain-slick pavement and hit him. The next thing Dave knew was the soft squishiness of the large scooter-woman’s breasts against his back. “Am I dead?” he asked. “Is this heaven?”

“You already lived through hell, Dave.” Her voice vibrated through him. “You’re not in heaven yet, though. It’s down the road a way.”

He accepted that. It was easier to just agree.

She changed a setting on her scooter, and they glided down the road to a place where he’d never have to scoop ice cream again.

Forget your troubles, c’mon get happy
You better chase all your cares away
Shout “hallelujah”, c’mon get happy
Get ready for the judgement day!

 

“Get Happy” was composed by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Ted Koehler.

Written for Brief #2 of Like the Prose 2021: Heaven and/or Hell.

 

 

Wait and Hope (A Basil and Zoe Story)

“How much longer?” I asked, feeling like all the time in the universe had passed at the same time that none of it had.

My partner’s response was patient. “Three minutes, twenty-six seconds.”

I sighed. “That long?”

But Basil, always imperturbable, didn’t react to my mood. Instead, he went to the other end of our quarters and replicated a single cup of chamomile tea with honey. “Sit,” he said, gesturing to the couch. “Drink,” he continued, once I’d followed his first instruction. “By the time you finish this tea, the required time for the test will have elapsed and we will know if our most recent insemination attempt was successful.

I could have argued with him, but when organics attempted to argue with synthetic life forms, it was never pretty. Especially when said synthetic life form had known you since you were seventeen.

“Do you think it worked?” I asked, after making a show of sipping from the cup.

“I prefer not to speculate. But I sincerely hope our change of venue was helpful. Certainly you were more relaxed during the process this last time.”

“Babies shouldn’t be created in antiseptic surroundings,” I said. “I’m glad that you agreed to try again after we lost…” I trailed off. The infant son we’d lost eight months before had barely lived long enough to breathe. It might have been caused by the extreme levels of radiation in the region of space we’d been in during his conception and the early months of my pregnancy, but Dr. Ogillvie had told us that sometimes “things just happen,” even in the twenty-fourth century, and even when you live on a spaceship. “I’m sorry.”

“Do not apologize,” Basil requested. “Zoe, I could remind you that my studies of human emotional states have shown that feeling grief months, or even years, after such a loss is normal. I could also remind you that you did nothing wrong while you were pregnant. Instead, let me remind you that I also feel that loss, and I believe we will eventually have a child.”

“How much longer?” I asked again.

“One minute, seventeen seconds.”

I nodded, sipped more tea, and thought about how our most recent insemination attempt had been private and low-key. Dr. Ogilvie had expressed her concern over not doing the procedure in med-bay, but Basil and I had prevailed. We’d taken the vial of donor sperm back to our cabin, piled pillows on the bed, and made it a romantic event. We would never be able to make a baby the way two organic beings of compatible species could, but we could  – and did – at least remove the clinical element.

After I’d waited the proscribed amount of time after the technical part of the act, we’d made love, talking softly as we moved against each other, and making it as natural a process as possible.

Basil joined me on the couch, and I leaned up to kiss him. “Zoe?”

“I love you,” I told him. “I’m not sure I say it often enough.”

“I will never tire of hearing it, Dearest. I love you, also.”

I set the tea down – chamomile was my least favorite herbal brew – and kissed him again, turning our waiting period into a make-out session. We were just getting to the point when relocating to the bed would typically occur when Basil held me away from him.

“Basil… ?”

“It is time, Zoe.”

“Oh.”

We went to the bathroom to read the result on our test-kit, and once I saw it, I buried my face in Basil’s solid chest, letting the thrum of his internal systems move through me as I cried happy tears onto his uniform jacket.

“Zoe…? Dearest…? Are you alright?”

“No,” I said. “I’m happy and scared and nervous and excited… but I have a feeling it’ll stick this time.”

Basil held me close, stroking my hair. “We can only hope,” he said softly. “We can only wait and hope.”

 

Written for Brief #1 of Like the Prose 2021: Waiting.

SwimTime

I’m participating in the Summer Love Notes project this summer. (If you’d like to contribute, feel free to drop me a line.) Here’s an excerpt from my piece “SwimTime,” which ran on June 8th.

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She drapes her pink and white striped beach towel across the arms of one of the patio chairs and leaves her flip-flops underneath it. Her sunglasses, she leaves on as she descends the steps into the pool. They’re a little too tall for her, so her movements aren’t graceful, like a reverse Aphrodite slipping back into the water, but more half-way between a step and a hop.

Read the rest of this piece here: SwimTime at SummerLoveNotes

(De)Caffeinated

This was supposed to be for Day 8 of Like the Prose – Heroes and Villains / Good and Evil  – but I had to twist it.

clay-banks-_wkd7XBRfU4-unsplashHe is her hero.

Dark. Silent. Slightly broody.

But he’s also reassuring.

When she needs a boost he’s always there for her, in a stance that even Superman couldn’t imitate.

When a migraine threatens, when she has a thousand tasks and only time for ten, when sleep is threatening to steal her senses – he comes to the rescue.

But…

He has an evil twin.

Equally dark, equally silent.

Possibly a bit less broody (villains always are; their evil deeds instill delight.)

When he shows up, she trembles in fear, because she knows – she knows – that her energy will not be enhanced, her tasks will not get done, her drowsiness will not be swept away.

But she’ll enjoy the experience, even so, because he’ll lure her in with assurances that he’ll treat her the same, that her lips won’t know the difference.

Yet, every morning, every evening, she must choose:

Hero or Villain?

Regular… or Decaf?

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Deception Betwixt R and T

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a lipogram

 

It had begun, like much did, at a bar. There hadn’t been a band that night. Rather, the entertainer had been a magician, of a kind.

The title he’d claimed had been “Mental Deceiver,” but I remain certain that he were better called a charlatan or conniver.

The food and liquor had flowed like – well, like food and liquor tend to flow in a place where the barkeep let you run a tab and the final check never actually arrived. Gourmet, all of it, or high-end where gourmet didn’t apply.

The blue drink offered by the Deceiver, we imbibed by the tumbler, one after another after another.

And then the he began to… nudge.

Not out loud, but with a piercing look, a tiny hand movement, a voice in your head.

To me, the order came mentally: For a fiveday, no longer will be, that letter betwixt the ‘r’ and ‘t’.

I laughed… anyone would. The Deceiver couldn’t really eliminate a letter. Could he?

But come morning, I found to my horror that he could.

Annoyance!

Anger!

The feeling of being completely tongue-tied and fighting it.

For a week, I could neither greet my lover by name nor utter my own.

I could not even affix it to a legal document.

The initial two of the fiveday were extremely difficult.

After that, I learned to be mindful of my thinking, I learned to hear the tweeting and chirping of the flying and the feathered. I appreciated the din of a downpour and let ever-whirring electrical hum be my lullaby at night.

At midnight on the final day, I heard the Deceiver announce in my head “Challenge Completed.”

I let my mouth curl up in glee and gave in to my dreaming  knowing that in the morning, all would be like before.

Mainly.

Photo by Markos Mant on Unsplash

Cognitive Dissonance

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A Basil and Zoe story

“Basil… ” I hesitated because I know this is going to be a sensitive subject. “Why do you always hide your laser gun the second you come home?”

My partner regarded me with his sapphire eyes, and answered in his usual well-modulated tone. “I am not hiding it, Zoe. I am simply stowing it in a safe place until I require it for another away mission.”

“You’re not Security.”

“No, I am not. You are well aware my specialties are science and research, as well as navigation and – ”

“Basil!”

“You have more to say.” It was not a question. We’d been dating for two years… not that you can really date on a spaceship, especially when half the couple is away at a music conservatory a good chunk of the time.

“It’s not just for show, though, right? You’ve used it.”

“Yes, I have”

“And, when you’ve been on the bridge, there’ve been times when you’ve had to fire torpedoes or lasers or order someone else to do so?”

“That is also true.”

“But you’re not a killer.”

“I… do not believe so. My core programming includes a strong prohibition against committing violent acts of any kind, and the beliefs I have acquired since my activation support that belief.  Is there something specific troubling you, beloved?”

I sat on the couch, not in the corner as I often did when we were sharing tea, or watching an entertainment program, but in the center, cross-legged. Basil remained standing, directly across the coffee table from me. “The mission you just returned from… resettling the Seluvians… it made the news-nets. You… they showed you shooting at someone.”

“I did ‘shoot at someone,'” Basil confirmed. “But it was only after they shot at our team. It was self-defense, and we were careful to minimize the…” he paused before using the technical term. “… collateral damage.”

“I’ve never seen you fire a weapon before.”

“And it bothers you that I have?”

“No. Yes.  I don’t know. I think of you as a poet and a scientist, and then watching video clips of you being all ruthless and soldiery…”

“Soldiery?”

“You know. Military… scary.”

“You are having trouble incorporating the person you know me to be with the officer you saw on the news?”

“Yeah. Pretty much. I mean… I didn’t like seeing you firing the laser.”

“And I disliked that I had to. It was a last resort, Zoe. It is not a first choice, ever.”

“I guess it’s… there are people who think I’m with you because you’re somehow safe. Not a threat. And it that moment I realized how scary, how dangerous you could be. And it bothered me, and then it bothered me that it bothered me, because I know you’re not a killer. It was part of your job and…”

“The experience you are having is called cognitive dissonance,” Basil interrupted. “It is a typical response to  seemingly opposing information, ideas, or observations.”

“So, how do I get past it?” I asked.

“Perhaps begin by asking yourself if you are afraid of me.”

He had a point.

“I’m not,” I said. “I’m truly not. I know you’d never hurt me, and it’s not just because of your programming. It’s because you’re just not that kind of person.”

“Perhaps it would also be beneficial for you to allow me to explain our missions to you, before we leave.”

“Can you?” I asked. “I mean… wasn’t it classified?”

“Officers are allowed to share sensitive information with their spouses, Zoe.”

“But we’re not married.”

“No, but we are in a committed relationship, are we not?”

“Well, yes.”

“And we share a home,” Basil added.

“We do when I’m not at the conservatory, yes.”

“Then if it will help you to be less ‘bothered’ by the more unsavory aspects of my ‘job,’ I see no reason to withhold information from you.”

I nodded. “Okay.” Then I moved from my cross-legged position. “Could we start now? Would you explain the background of the Seluvian conflict?”

“I will be happy to do so. Would you care for some tea while we talk?”

“I’d love some,” I said, and then I added. “Thank you for putting up with me.”

But Basil didn’t accept that. “There is no thanks needed, Zoe. You are my partner, and you are troubled. It is my duty to assist you in easing that state, if I can. Just as you have done for me.”

I laughed. “Okay, fine. But…”

Basil favored me with the slight smile that was just between us. “You are welcome, Zoe. Always.”