Glove You So Much

 

Ballerina

You can tell everything about a person by their feet. And for dancers, you can tell our histories.

Dancer FeetThat 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.

“You tore your Achilles,” the company ortho told me. “Which is bad enough and will kPedicureeep you out of dance up to a year, but this ankle is deformed from arthritis, as well.”

“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.

Polished toes

Written for Brief #14 of Like the Prose 2021: Acceptance

If Only It Would Rain (a Basil and Zoe story)

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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

Bookworm (a story in dialogue only)

Reading in Bed

“It’s bedtime.”

“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?”

Well, no.”

“Five more minutes…”

“Five more minutes from the time you close the door?”

“You’re pushing…”

“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?”

“Ten.”

“And you’ll get yourself up on time?”

Reading in Bed with Flashlight“I’ve already got the alarm set.”

“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, Mom.”

“Goodnight, my little bookworm.”

Written for Brief #12 of Like the Prose 2021: Bargaining

 

The Tenth Time (A Basil and Zoe story)

Anger“Take this,” he said as we approached the shuttle bay. “In case I do not return.”

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.

Robot head looking front on camera isolated on a black backgroundI went to Basil’s desk and removed the data solid. I knew I should play it, but it was too soon. And maybe, maybe if I didn’t play it, he would come back.

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.

“You lied.”

Written for Brief #11 of Like the Prose 2021: Anger

Fine.

Denial - hidingShe knows she should be writing tonight. She has a deadline. Sure, it’s voluntary, but it’s still a deadline.

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.

Denial - windowShe jumps every time a television screen fades to black for commercials, checking to see if the rest of the power is still on.

But when people ask…

She smiles brightly and lies to their faces, using the two words every woman knows and every woman uses:

I’m Fine.

Except… she’s not.

Written for Brief #10 of Like the Prose 2021: Denial

Words Have Power

 Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_kladyk'>kladyk</a>

“Chill out!”

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.”

“Harm? How?”

“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?”

“Bitch!”

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

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.