Beautiful

Like the Prose: Challenge #25 – Write a contemporary YA piece.

Beautiful banner

“Did you get the tickets?” I asked my mother as I dropped into the seat opposite hers in our favorite café. Friday afternoon mochas had been a ritual of ours practically since I’d been weaned. Well, it hadn’t always been mochas. Originally, it had been a spoonful of her coffee mixed into my milk, but, the Friday afternoon thing was sacrosanct.

Through her first marriage, her divorce, her brief dating life, and her marriage to my stepfather (which seemed like it would last), we met for coffee after school on Fridays. I’d tell her about my day, she’d tell me about hers. Then I’d go off to music lessons or community theater rehearsals, or, more recently, a date of my own, and she’d go back to work for a couple of hours, or head home, or go out with my stepfather for a date of their own.

“I did.”

“In the zone?” As a theatre brat I was kind of a snob about seats. The zone meant that the seats were between rows six and sixteen, inclusive.

“Center section, row G, on the aisle. Sweetie, you didn’t have to use your savings on these.”

“Mom, please. It’s the Carole King musical. I grew up with her music. You grew up with her music. How else could we celebrate our last Mothers’ Day with me still living in your house?” My high school graduation was only a few weeks away. I’d already signed on to be resident ingenue in a summer stock theatre company in some cutesy rural town for most of the summer, and then I’d be home long enough to do laundry and pack before I headed off to theatre school. My path was set. “There are some ground rules, though.”

“Ground rules? You’re going to tell me what I can or can’t wear.”

“I don’t care what you wear, as long you don’t feel the need to demonstrate that your underwear matches your outfit while you’re driving.”

“We were stopped at a red light.”

“All my friends were in the car.”

“It was all girls.”

“Daniel isn’t a girl.”

“True. But he’s gay. Also, Veronica is bi.”

“Is she?”

“She announced it last week in the leadership meeting. Brought cupcakes and everything. They were a little dry.”

My mother rolled her eyes at me. “Fine. What else are you going to restrict? Am I allowed to speak? Should I walk three paces behind you? Are you sure you even want to be sitting together?”

Mom!” I filled the word with my exasperation. “Don’t you think you’re overreacting?”

“Don’t you think you’re over-controlling?”

“I call it ‘having strong leadership skills,’ and where do you think I got them from?”

“Fine.”

“Okay, so… Mom, the thing is… I know you know all the lyrics, but… this is a musical. Not a concert.”

“And…?” her tone was dark. Like, one step away from straightening her glasses at me dark.

“It’s totally okay to sing along with the music at a concert, but you don’t do that at a musical. Except during the curtain call, when they invite it.”

“I can sing if I want to.”

“Mom, do you really think that’s….”

“What?”

“Well, it’s just that your singing is…”

She actually did straighten her glasses. “What about my singing?”

In an almost robotic tone I said, “You sing with great joy and enthusiasm.” Mentally, I added, “and absolutely no sense of pitch, whatsoever.”

“That’s what I thought.”

“Mom – ”

“Yes?”

“Never mind.”

We finished our mochas in silence. Maybe when I was older, I’d be better at picking my battles. Maybe I’d never win with her. Or, maybe, there would come a time when I’d realize that as tone deaf as she was, the fact that my mother would never stop singing along with musicals, with the radio, with the stupid sound system at the grocery store, was somehow beautiful.

Then again… maybe not.

 

 

Tockless

Like the Prose: Challenge #24 – Write a descriptive piece about an object in your home/room.

 

It stands a silent sentinel just to the left of the front door. Tall. Brown. Regal. Its curved headpiece provides a warm welcome to all who enter, and its gold-inlaid face serves as a gentle reminder of the graciousness of an earlier age.

The carved corners and straight lines of the main case are petite for such a figure, lending a feminine cant to the piece. Inside the central glass, shiny brass weights rest, frozen outside of time, unused, unusable, but somehow conveying a sense of willingness.

“Fix me,” the timepiece seems to whisper, as the daylight turns to night and the shadows lengthen on the wooden floor. “Make me useful again.”

And if the twilight deepens to just the right shade, if the evening is quiet enough, the air almost seems to echo on the hour: the four bars of the Westminster Chimes followed by the resonant bongs that mark the specific time.

But then the magic is gone.

The hands, behind their glass, are still unmoving.

The chains don’t carry the weights up or down.

There is no ticking or tocking from this Grandmother Clock.

Switching Gears

Like the Prose: Challenge #23 – Include your personal philosophy in your story. (I didn’t. My story is completely off-brief because I’ve had my Mom visiting from Mexico, and I’ve been spending time with her. So you get a Basil-Zoe story instead.)

Robot head looking front on camera isolated on a black background

The thing about spaceships is that when you’ve lived on one long enough, you learn the places you can go when you want to be alone, but also be able to be found. And when you’ve become friends with a line officer who also happens to be both prone to brooding and a synthetic lifeform, you learn where they are likely to go in similar situations.

Which is why I found myself climbing a ladder inside an maintenance crawlway in heels on the night of my eighteenth birthday, in order to access a little-known observation alcove where said synthetic lifeform  had often brought me to practice music “… because the acoustics here are quite excellent, Zoe.”

He turned when I stepped off the ladder, and the starlight on his pale-silver features made my breathe catch. I’d been reacting that way a lot lately. “Had a feeling I’d find you here,” I said by way of a greeting. “You didn’t come to my party.”

“I did not wish to intrude upon the fun you and your friends were no doubt having.”

Basil,” I made his name into something like an admonishment. “You’re my friend, too, aren’t you? I wouldn’t have invited you if I didn’t want you there.” I moved closer to the tiny bench he was occupying. “Move over a little.”

He did as I asked, making room for me. “I had planned to contact you once I had returned to my quarters. I came here to determine what I wished to say.”

“Well, ‘Happy Birthday’ is the typically used phrase, but if you had something more original, I’m sure I wouldn’t object.” I could tell he meant something more. I was keeping my tone light on purpose.

“You are human.”

“Kinda knew that.”

“I was not finished. You are human and you are now eighteen. In all of the aligned worlds, achieving that age marks you as an adult.”

“Is this the part where you remind me that when I complete this semester, I’m no longer considered my mother’s dependent and lose my residency eligibility?”

“No,” he said quietly. “It is not.” He changed his position on the bench, angling his body so that he was facing me. “It is the part where I tell you that I have enjoyed the friendship we have forged in the past few months. It is the part where I share that while playing music with you has enhanced my emotional and intellectual growth, so has the time we have spent ‘just talking.'” His eyes flashed ruby, then gold, then back to the cool sapphire they usually were. “It is the part where I ask if you would consider altering the paradigm of our relationship from friendship to romance.”

I reached for his left hand and wrapped my right one around it. “You skipped my birthday party because you wanted to ask me on a date?” I was only half teasing. The truth was that we’d been having regular lunches and dinners together, and even movie night, when mom’s duty shift kept her busy, for weeks. I was pretty sure his friends among the crew assumed we were dating already. I knew mine did.

“No, Zoe. While we never named it thusly, by any definition, we have already been dating. I skipped your birthday because, as I said, I did not wish to intrude upon your celebration. But also, because I wished a more private assignation with the woman I hope is my… girlfriend.”

“Girlfriend?”

“If you are amena – ”

I interrupted him the way I’d wanted to interrupt so many conversations over the past few weeks: I kissed him. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Metal? Plastic? But… kissing Basil didn’t feel physically different than kissing any other humanoid-shaped person. His mouth was warm. His lips were soft against mine, then firmer as he joined the kiss, becoming a participant. His tongue met mine, and I tasted something faintly sweet, but nothing I could put a name to. It was just… just him.

I broke away when I had to breathe.

“May I assume that was a ‘yes?'”

“You may.” I realized I was still holding his hand. I let it go and scooted closer to him. “You know I’m going to have some questions… and I don’t want… I don’t want to seem invasive or rude when I ask.”

“You have the right to ask me anything, Zoe.”

“Oh, Basil… then I guess… how far can we go? Is sex on the table? Is this only until I leave for university or work or whatever I do at the end of the school year? Are we – we don’t have to hide this do we?”

“We do not have to ‘hide’ anything, Zoe, though as a line officer, a certain level of decorum is expected. I do not believe we should define a schedule… it may be that we are not as compatible as lovers than we are as friends. It may be that when you leave our relationship ends naturally.”

“That’s fair.”

“And you would be welcome to visit, should you wish to. Even if your mother were to transfer.”

“And sex?”

“Anatomically, Zoe, I am little different than a human male. You know this.”

“I know it intellectually.”

“And you wish… first-hand experience?”

“As you pointed out earlier, I am human. But, I don’t… I don’t want to go there if it’s something you’re doing only for me. Either it’s for both of us, or it doesn’t happen.”

“I would have it no other way.”

“Good.” We sat in silence for a few moments, though Basil put his arm around my shoulders, drawing me closer to his body. The warm solidity of him was something I’d always noticed in friendly hugs. Now it was mine to experience in a whole new way. “Basil?”

“Yes, Zoe?”

“Is sex even something you’re interested in?”

“With you?”

Basil.”

“Forgive me, Zoe. Perhaps it was inappropriate to attempt humor at such a moment.”

“Only a little.”

“Then let me be clear… I am interested in exploring whatever you wish to explore, Zoe Harris.”

“You know this doesn’t get you out of giving me an actual birthday present.”

“I have a gift for you in my quarters. We can go retrieve it whenever you are ready.”

“We can go to your quarters in a bit,” I agreed, “but it’s late so I think my present might have to wait til after breakfast.” I caught his reaction to the real meaning of my sentence and smiled slightly. “For now, staying here is good. Especially if you kiss me again.”

“I am happy to comply,” Basil answered, and he did.

As his lips met mine for another delicious kiss, I considered whether it was too soon to sleep with him. I might have just turned eighteen, but I wasn’t innocent. I also knew that if Basil was declaring himself in this way, he meant it.

This wasn’t an impulsive hookup.

This was just us… switching gears.

Spooning

Like the Prose: Challenge #22 – Write something nonsensical. (I did not succeed. I merely managed to be silly.)

lizardmug

Morning comes too early. I’m pulled from sleep in the middle of REM sleep. I stumble to the kitchen in that half-aware state between sleeping and waking.

The dogs are barking at nothing.

Or something.

Maybe they see things I don’t.

Maybe the leaves three blocks away really are a threat.

Coffee.

Coffee won’t listen and understand but it will make the morning feel less like razor blades and more like something merely annoying, like when I get a hair caught in my eyelash but I can’t quite grab it, and it keeps irritating me until I’m ready to gouge my eyes out with rusty spoons.

Dull ones.

Because fruit spoons would make it too easy.

I’ve been using that line for years and I’ve never revealed that I actually stole it from Swoosie Kurt’s character in a filmed-for-tv production of The House of Blue Leaves where she threatens to commit suicide by slitting her wrists with spoons.

Except that’s not quite right.

Spoons.

Coffee.

Milk.

I pour the milk into the cup first and the coffee on top, because I’m lazy and don’t want to have to wash an extra spoon. I watch the abstract patterns form and I have the line from that Carly Simon song riffing in my head, “I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee,” and suddenly I’m on a sailboat on a coffee sea and the sails are cocktail napkins held up by masts made of balsa-wood stirrer-stick masts.

A wave of café au lait washes over the boat, and I pick up a teaspoon oar and try to beat it back, but it drenches me.

But even worse… it’s decaf.

* * *

Beeping. I hear beeping. Maybe it’s the emergency beacon and someone is floating me a stack of shortbread to float home on.

Or.

Maybe it’s the alarm, and my REM sleep was never interrupted.

And it was all a dream within a dream.

And the only spooning I’m doing is being the inside one in the stack formed with me and my husband.

Who is snoring like foghorns, loud enough to wake the dead.

And the dogs bark.

And he rolls on his back.

And I pull him back to me.

“You have to stay on your side,” I say, “because there are lizards coming to scoop out your brains. And they drink decaf and it’s awful.”

He holds me tighter.

I go back to sleep.

And in the morning, he brings me caffeinated coffee in a mug with dinosaurs on it.

 

Tea

Like the Prose: Challenge #21 – Today was about doing the opposite of what you usually do. I typically write in bed and work in a horror or sci-fi twist. I wrote this in the living room and it’s completely human and earthbound.

matcha tea

The teabag arrived in a pink envelope on a gray day. The sender had wrapped it in a page of lined notepaper and scrawled a brief message, but it had gotten wet, and she couldn’t really read the signature. The message was clear, however: it was Penelope’s turn for the tea exchange,  that she should sip the tea and think of someone she loved and then send a bag of her own favorite tea to the address on the note.

The address was surprisingly clear.

She looked at the green envelope. “Pukka,” she read. “Supreme Matcha Green.” She’d had matcha before, when visiting her college roommate’s family for the holidays. Though Emi had been born in America her parents had left Asia shortly after their marriage – her mother was from Taiwan and her father from mainland China – and they’d had packets of instant matcha powder in a basket on the counter.

Penelope had fallen in love with the stuff, searched all over it, finally told her friend she loved it, and asked how to get it. Beginning that Christmas, and every year in the decade since, she’d received a box of the stuff every December and she measured it out over the next year until the next box came.

But this wasn’t her treasured matcha powder; this was a bag of green tea with matcha in it. Still, it seemed like a lovely rainy-day sort of tea. She filled the kettle and turned it on, took her favorite mug from the cabinet, and sliced an apple and some cheese to nibble with her cup.

Never a patient person, Penelope forced herself to follow the directions on the bag and let the tea steep the required length of time. She took deep breaths of the deepening brew, absorbing the herbal scent. She appreciated the deep emerald color.

Finally, she pulled the bag from the water and discarded it.

Taking tea and snack to the dining room table, she sat facing the window and watched the rain on the street. Think about someone you love; the note had said. There were so many people! Her husband, obviously, her parents, her local friends. But afternoon tea with Emi had become a ritual in college that continued through their grad school days.

They’d rented their first apartment together – a horrible sixth-floor walkup with a toilet that whistled for three full minutes after every flush and a clawfoot bathtub that rocked back and forth when you stepped over the side to get in it.

Both sets of their parents had been mortified by the choice, but despite the apartment’s quirks, it was in a safe building in a decent neighborhood, and they had a small balcony that held two chairs and a bistro table they’d found free on the sidewalk.

On days when it wasn’t raining, they’d bring glasses (okay, bottles) of wine out there, and trade their boyfriend woes, complain about classes, share fears about work and life after graduation…

And on days when it was…

That’s when they’d sit in the bay window and drink tea.

Penelope finished the last wedge of apple, the last square of cheese, and the last swallow of the tea.

Then she picked up the phone and punched in the number she knew almost as well as her husband’s.

“Hello?” It was as if ten years had dropped away when she heard that voice.

“Hey, Em? It’s Pen. It’s raining here, and I was just sipping tea, and thinking of you. Do you have a free weekend anytime soon? It’s been too long. We should get together.”

 

Ione

Like the Prose: Challenge #20 – Write smut. (Well, really, write erotica. But I didn’t, quite.)

ernesto-bruschi-1443811-unsplash

There’s a subtle secret about violets. Their scent contains a chemical that turns off the human sense of smell. For this reason, you never perceive them as a constant presence, like roses or lilies. Rather, they flirt with you, tickling your awareness in subtle bursts.

The girl on the train reminds you of violets.

At first, you aren’t certain you’re seeing the same girl every day. You catch a glimpse of her calf above the top of a scuffed boot, her delicate hand holding her commuter pass to be punched, the wisp of an errant curl against her cold-reddened cheek.

You know you shouldn’t be looking. Because this girl – and she is a girl – likely sixteen, seventeen at the oldest – is a student at your school. Because she’s underage, untouchable, unspoiled. And you are none of those things.

But once you give in, once you do look, you realize, it’s not only the same girl on the train, it’s the girl in the third row of the biology class you teach.

And your interest becomes an obsession.

You study her in class, watching her when her eyes are not on you. You note the way she holds her pencil close to the tip, which cramps her fingers. You memorize the particular way she loops the letter ‘y’ in the word ‘biology.’ You make a mental catalogue of her facial expressions – happy, sad, frustrated, confused – her fresh, young face is so emotive.

You alter your schedule to ensure that you are on the train one stop before her in the morning. You watch her laughing with her friends when she boards. You bristle when she bends her head close to the black-haired boy’s on the journey home in the afternoon. You observe her sadness when he discards her for her blonde friend and then her return to joy when the handsome-but-geeky brown-haired math whiz expresses an interest.

And through all this, you consider that she is like the aroma of the violet. Something to be appreciated in fits and starts, but never in long moments.

Something to long for, but never quite have.

Alley Cat

Like the  Prose: Challenge #19 – Use an obituary to inspire a ghost story. (I used the obit of a random veteran who happened to share my birthday (8/17) about thirty years prior to my birth.)

Bugler silhouette via 123rf.com

If there was one thing that Catfish hated it was “Taps.”  He’d been a bugler in the army drum and bugle corps and switched to drums just to avoid ever having to play “Taps” again. He couldn’t help it. Every single time those first three notes rang out, every woman in a three-klick radius dissolved into tears.

And the thing is, he couldn’t hit on a woman at a funeral.

He just couldn’t.

Even if he knew she was single, and kinda into him (because he heard his buddy Frankie mention that her best friend was his girlfriend’s sister and they’d mentioned his name in the powder room at that dance o.c. the other weekend (not that he was attending the dance – oh, no! – he was enlisted – but the band was short a drummer and they knew he was good with the sticks as well as the horn so he was there).

And Pamela was the kind of woman that would make even a champion bowler like him throw all gutter balls just to make her look good, or just because she looked so good, he couldn’t concentrate.

He’d never been sure which it was. That first time.

But she’d laughed at him.

Laughed and called him Alley Cat, riffing on the nickname his buddies in the unit had given him. A nickname based on a nickname. Why not?

Of course, after the laughter came the kissing part and Catfish  – Alley Cat to his Pamela (and only to his Pamela, and god, she was gonna be so pissed at him for leaving her alone this way. So pissed. So lonely. So… STOP IT!)

The kissing part had been amazing. Forty-seven years of her kisses. Slightly fewer years of weekly trips to the Ocean View Lanes for bowling with their usual group. The group was just couples at first… then it was couples and kids, then the kids grew out of it, then they came back… then it was them and the grandkids and lately… well, lately the group had dwindled. These youngsters didn’t like bowling, The Lanes were gonna close next year, probably. Not enough business.

But that was the way of the world. Popular pastimes peaked when people needed them the most and then they waned in popularity and then maybe they spiked again, or maybe they didn’t. Roller rinks. Stick ball. Bowling. All the things he’d grown up with… they were fading.

He was fading.

He just wanted to make sure they didn’t play it. Cuz Pamela knew, but oh, god, there was the bugler standing by his grave.

And there was his Pamela, his Pammy. Her brilliant blonde hair was silvery gray now, but still as soft and silky as the first time he’d stroked it, just like the skin of her cheek,  and her skin, he knew still smelled like rose petals. God, Pam. How am I supposed to find peace without you? he wondered.

He didn’t precisely have ears anymore, but he remembered what they felt like, so he craned them to listen.

“If there was one thing Catfish hated it was ‘Taps.’  He made me promise, military funeral or not, that we wouldn’t play it for him. Said if we did, he’d haunt us all forever. As much as I might like the notion of my Alley Cat lingering nearby until I’m ready to join him, I can’t let him have unfinished business. So, my darling, wherever you are, this is for you…”

And the bugle played.

And Catfish laughed.

Well, he would’ve if he had a body that could laugh.

Because the guy with the horn played the opening from “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”

No, Catfish couldn’t laugh, because he was done with earthly things.

But everyone standing near his grave, everyone listening to the horn player… they would have sworn they heard his laughter anyway.

 

 

 

 

Allez-vous En (Go Away)

Like the Prose: Challenge #17 – Begin your story with the first line of a famous novel or short story. (I used the first line of The Awakening, by Kate Chopin).

Pedro Parrot

A green and yellow parrot, which hung in a cage outside the door, kept repeating over and over: “Allez-vous en! Allez-vous en! Sapristi! That’s all right!”

It was rare to see an old Earth animal in a place like this, rarer still to encounter one that spoke French – and obscure French at that – but I chose not to heed its advice to ‘go away.’ Instead, I reached for the bright new keypad set into the peeling blue paint of the ancient door and entered the code I’d been provided.

For several seconds I was convinced the code was a dud, that the door would remain shut, but finally there was a deep thud from within, followed by a series of clicks and whirrs and then it swung open.

Inside, I found a lively café. The scents of coffee, spices and just a hint of smoke from clove cigarettes perfumed the room and the buzz of conversation was at the perfect level for anything from a discrete affair or clandestine business – loud enough to dissuade eavesdroppers but not so loud that a quiet conversation was impossible.

Scanning the room, I found an empty table against a wall with a view of the door. Claiming it, I sat down and perused the menu. Basic Terran bistro fare mixed with more exotic offerings including pub food from about seven of the non-aligned worlds. Impressive. A server came to take my order. “Just espresso for now,” I said. “I’m waiting for someone.”

I knew I should eat, but I also knew that if I waited for my… appointment… to arrive, there was a good chance the bill would come out of his credit account rather than mine.

I was halfway through my second cup when he sat down opposite me with no greeting whatsoever.

“You’re late,” I observed.

“You were early.”

“What makes you say that?”

“You’re always early.”

I bristled as much because he was right as because he knew me well enough to point it out. Unsurprising, really. He’d been my handler for half a decade longer than he’d been my lover, and another two years since we’d ended that aspect of our association. I pasted a fake smile on my face. “Are we eating?”

We called the server back over. He ordered a burger, fries, a beer. Earth food. I chose a baked fish dish from Pacifica and replaced my espresso with a glass of firefruit cider from an obscure planet I didn’t think anyone else had ever been to.

As was our habit, we didn’t talk business until we had our food, and then it was conducted between bites.

“The gunrunners out of Aldebaran?” he asked.

“Hancho Alliance is behind it,” I said. “Authorities nabbed them this morning, local time, and you’ll find that Orzo wired payment to your account.”

“The arranged marriage between…”

“The princess from Betelgeuse and the prince from Hattaras Six? They’ve agreed to move forward for the good of their planets. The trade agreement that was part of the marriage contract was crucial in order to maintain peace in the space lanes.”

“Doesn’t it bug you the way we talk about space lanes as if they’re narrow corridors we have to stick to instead of huge expanses of vast nothingness?” He often diverged into philosophic questions.

“It does,” I agreed. “But language isn’t mine to change.”

“True enough.”

We went over several more cases I’d handled for him, and then I reached into my pocked and handed over a data solid.

“What’s this?”

“My final expense report. My notes on everything else. There are one or two long-term projects that haven’t been resolved. You’ll need a new field agent.”

I saw his eyes, his face, change as they registered what I was really telling him.

“Sasha – no.”

“Martigan – ” I matched his tone. “- yes.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s time. Because the ‘negotiation’ between the Betelgeusians and Hattarians nearly got me killed. Again. Because…”

“Because you met someone.”

“That, too.”

“Who is he? Jonas? Noah? Benjaril?”

I shook my head. “No one you know. No one in the business. He’s… normal.”

“Human?”

I smirked. “As much as any of us are, these days.” Pure humans didn’t really exist anymore. All the species of humanoid had been intermixing for centuries.

“Fair point.”

“You won’t be able to stay out of it,” he said. “Normal life… it’ll kill you. You’re built for adventure and intrigue, Sasha.”

I was silent for a long moment. In a slow voice I suggested, “Maybe… adventure and intrigue are what you make them. Maybe… learning to be in once place and discovering all the secrets of one person… maybe that’s its own form.”  I pushed away my plate, drained my glass, wiped the corners of my mouth with my napkin. “I should go,” I said, rising.

“But… Sasha…”

“No, Martigan. It’s time.”

He met my eyes and held my gaze with his for several seconds. Then he nodded. “Okay. Yeah. Okay.” He took a beat, and then favored me with the insouciant grin that had made me fall for him in the first place. “I’ll be seeing you.”

I kissed his cheek. “No, you won’t.”

The voices of the other patrons drowned out the clicking of my heels on the floor of the café as I walked out the way I’d come in. I felt Martigan watching me, but I didn’t give him the satisfaction of looking back.

The parrot in the cage squawked at me as I passed it and repeated its earlier admonition: “Allez-vous en! Allez-vous en! Sapristi! That’s all right!”

But the words didn’t ward me away so much as remind me of a song I once heard in an ancient film, and I sang it to myself as I headed toward the transport station that would take me to the man I was going to build a new – normal – life with:

“Allez-vous-en, allez-vous-en, monsieur
Allez-vous-en, go away
Allez-vous-en, allez-vous-en, monsieur
I have no time for you today.”

 

“Allez-vous En” was written by Kate & Anna McGarrigle.

 

 

 

Old Friends

Like the Prose: Challenge #15 – Write a story with all four narrative styles used in the previous week. (Mine is actually a sequel to Sincerely, Megan)

nathan-anderson-98354-unsplash

I held the postcard in my hand. Like those I’d been receiving since I was in high school, it was a vintage card, postmarked from somewhere in central Iowa, but I knew it had actually originated somewhere much, much further away.

Dear Megan.

It seems impossible that this day would ever arrive, but our worldship is close enough to your Earth that we can engage in a brief visit, if you wish.  We have, of course, been exchanging photographs of one another for several decades by now. My antennae are no longer proudly erect, but are beginning to wilt from age, and you have complained that your facial epidermis bears wrinkles. And yet, I hope that you will be brave, my long-distance friend, and allow me to set foot in your back yard one the evening of your summer solstice. It will be a brief visit. Only fifteen of your minutes. But I do not wish to waste the opportunity.

Your friend,

Xplo!kka’t

I took the card into the house. The summer solstice was a week away. Jasmine, my daughter, was away at a songwriting camp with her partner Noreen. They’d met at college the previous September. Separately, they were each talent, together, they were electric, in songwriting and in love. It was lovely to see.

My husband Jeff was off on Luna Colony for three months. We hated the separations that took me to different parts of the Earth and him to the Moon and Mars, but the saying about absence making the heart grow fonder? Totally true.

I pulled a postcard from the antique secretary my grandmother had willed to me. My first summer of correspondence with my alien friend had turned me into a habitual letter writer, and my grandparents had only encouraged the tendency.

Dear Xplo!kka’t

Of course, you may visit. Fifteen minutes, fifteen seconds, fifteen hours. I’m so excited to meet the person who has been one of my dearest friends for so many years. Be welcome.

Sincerely, Megan.

* * *

“You aren’t really meeting him, are you?” Jeff asked his wife when the call from Luna Colony to New Jersey finally went through.

“Of course, I am,” Megan replied, her voice firm with her decision. “Xplo!kka’t inspired me to become a science journalist, and then to turn my experience into books. Without his encouragement Earth would never have corrected our pollution problem, and we’d likely be dead.”

She didn’t tell him that her spacefaring friend had once confessed that his race was seeking a new homeworld, and that their interest in Earth was not initially friendly, but rather, they looked at the green and blue world as a place to invade, to reform, to claim as their new home. It was only because Megan continued her strange correspondence with the person she’d thought was her husband (though of course they were only schoolmates at the time) that Sol III had been given protected status. Now, her friend was coming to visit. Not his whole worldship, she knew. That wouldn’t be close enough for another several decades. This was a dart pod. Sort of like a super-fast shuttle. And okay, fifteen minutes wasn’t a lot, especially given the span of years and the vastness of space, but it was fifteen minutes more than zero. And until now, zero was all they’d had.

“Do you want me to see if I can come home early? Be there with you?” Jeff asked.

“Can you?” Megan responded, hope lighting up her face.

“I can ask…”

But they both knew it wasn’t likely. Transport was expensive. And slow.

“What if we made sure you Facetimed while he was here?” Megan suggested. “I’d love for you to meet him. As much as you can.”

Slowly, Jeff nodded. “I can do that.” They chatted for a bit more. “I love you, Babe. To the moon and back.” And he grinned at her the way her always did when he made that horrible, horrible joke.

“Love you, too. Around the world.”

And they cut the connection.

* * *

You look in the mirror. You are no longer the teenaged girl who sent a postcard into space and actually got a reply. You’re a grown woman. A wife, a mother, an accomplished journalist. A bestselling author.

You have wrinkles in your face – your husband calls them ‘laugh lines’ and thinks they give you character, and you smile when he says it, just they way he smiles when you tell him you don’t mind that he’s a little paunchy because you find him sexy as much because he’s familiar as for any number of other reasons.

It’s just after twilight on the summer solstice and you’ve moved all the lawn furniture out the way. You hear a whooshing sound in the back yard, and open the back door, iPad in hand, and pause on the threshold.

From this moment on, alien life isn’t just a fantasy, and even though you sort of knew that, you couldn’t quite accept it until now. Because now it’s not just postcards. It’s real.

You step out the door, and down the two steps.

A figure about a third of a meter taller than you, not including the slightly wilted antennae, is descending a ramp.

His voice, when he speaks, is warm and mellifluous, even though the English comes a few seconds after his own language. (But you’re accustomed to that, from your occasional video chats).

“Megan,” he greets. “I am Xplo!kka’t. It is good to meet you, my friend.”

He extends a hand, six digits including an opposable thumb, because you’ve told him a handshake is an appropriate greeting, but you step closer, and push it away.

“I meant to tell you,” you say. “Handshakes are for strangers. Friends hug.” And you gently embrace him.

Because he is bright and adaptive, he follows suit.

When Jeff calls a few minutes later, you are at ease with one another. As old friends should be.