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All posts for the month June, 2012

On pop culture connections and voodoo.

Published June 30, 2012 by mandileighbean

I’ve decided that I get my best thinking done in the shower, especially when the water is searing hot.  If I open the bathroom door after such a shower and the fire alarm rings out loud from the steam, you can safely bet I’ve developed a real gem of an idea.  I took one such shower today because I was feeling particularly grimy; I went out with friends last night, drank way too much and awoke with the word “fancy” stamped twice upon my forearm.  Scattered across my bedroom floor were clothes, Hawaiian leis and Mardi Gras beads.  Clearly I enjoyed myself, but at a cost; my stomach was feeling funny and my head was pounding fit to split.  The intense heat didn’t help matters, either.  I had resolved myself to eating greasy food and watching sitcoms that cause me to feel bad about myself because I am broke, single, unemployed, still living at home and feeling particularly unfulfilled.  To be specific, I was watching “New Girl” with Zooey Deschanel.  I absolutely adore this show – the writing is humorous, clever and heartfelt, the characters are genuine and authentic, the plots are entertaining but not outlandish – and realized with not a small amount of trepidation that I am in love with Nick Miller, the lead male protagonist.  While all of my significant romantic relationships have been with fictional males, this one is the most promising because I’m learning a lot about myself and why I engage in such pathetic behavior.  For example, Nick and Jess taught me that “backsliding” is always a bad idea; if a relationship didn’t pan out, it is for a good reason and revisiting what is lost only serves to make things messy and disappointing.  Just last night, I was debating about reconnecting with Navy Guy – a guy I “dated” (I use that term loosely – we went out twice) briefly.  To do so would no doubt seem weird since it’s been months since we last talked.  I debated whether I wanted to initiate contact because I was lonely and bored, or if because I genuinely believe I missed an opportunity.  After watching “New Girl” and analyzing the episode’s thematic development, I realize that I did not miss an opportunity.  The Navy Guy was somewhat shady, only texted me randomly when he was lonely and bored and I deserve better.  Thank you, Nick Miller.

I was thinking about these episodes and how I felt compelled to have a romantic interest in a fictional character when an advertisement for the movie “Magic Mike” aired.  Like most women, I am eager to see this movie because it has gorgeous, half-naked men in it.  Does that mean I am objectifying males, behaving below my level of intelligence and participating in a double standard?  Maybe, but I honestly find my reaction to the movie interesting.  I want to see it, as I want to finally read Fifty Shades of Grey.  Women rave about both of these artistic endeavors and while some claim that the movie and the book are nothing more than pornography, others hail both as tools to which women can break down sexual barriers.  Whichever it may be, I find it fascinating that audiences are always interested in sex and sometimes by extension, romance.  What does that say about society, that we’re starved for sex or for affection?  Are we desperate for human contact or human connections?  Are the two invariably linked?

Look at the Twilight andTrue Blood phenomenons; in both series, inhuman creatures – monsters, quite literally – are romanticized.  What is the deeper meaning here, that being loved by a monster is better than being lonely?  Why is it better to be with a vampire or a werewolf or some supernatural being than to be with a normal human being?  Is it a love or interest in the melodramatic?  Is it just entertainment?  When you step back and study popular culture from a sociological perspective, it is quite fascinating.  I’m eager to apply such a lens to my own writing and reading habits.  I believe everything I write involves romance because I am starved for affection – we have already discussed this.  I make my male characters brooding or damaged because either they are a reflection of how I see myself, or because it adds suspense to a typically humdrum circumstance.  That being said, I would much rather have my writing been driven by character development rather than plot development.  I could craft the most exciting plot with explosions, intrigue and murder – but if there is not a single character to provide the emotional buy-in, then what is the point?

I think that’s why “Magic Mike” and Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight and True Blood are all so popular; they explore human relations in various ways.  Though their plots are different – significantly different in some ways – all involve men and women and what they mean to each other.  That will always fascinate audiences because we will never be able to figure such relationships out.  There is always some kind of mystery and that is both alluring and entertaining – even in this digital age where everything about everyone is made known.  Glued to the boob tube as I was today, I saw an advertisement for the new HBO show “Newsroom” and one of the lead actresses, I believe it was Olivia Munn, who said the definition of newsworthy has changed; it now encompasses whatever people want to know about and it seems that what people want to know about most is other people; i.e., celebrities and people of note.  That makes sense to me – you see it everyday when “Jersey Shore” has more viewers than a documentary on the environment.  Are our priorities skewed, or are we just being honest with ourselves and indulging what we truly are fascinated by?

This is what I was ruminating on in the long, hot shower I took this evening, cleansing myself of the grime from the night before.  I decided that I like mystery- I am thrilled by a handsome stranger on a train who doesn’t give me a second glance with his sunglasses and headphones on.  He is elusive and I have a myriad of imagined possibilities of who he is and why he’s listening to headphones and wearing sunglasses.  I spent Wednesday evening in New York City with my friend Dominick, and we watched beautiful men in Central Park.  Some ran, some playfully tackled their girlfriends, some lovingly held hands with their boyfriends and it really drove my point home; this life is all about the connections we make, and so is the best art.

That being said, tonight’s prompt is not romantic. Enjoy.

PROMPT: “During his third night out of town, a traveling business man discovers a voodoo doll in his hotel room.”

PIECE:

Bill had been enjoying his time out of town.  Even though it was for business and he had spent the majority of his time attending boring, long-winded conferences and being hunched over yellow legal pads, scrawling notes with a tired, cramping hand, Bill was happy to be away; it offered the opportunity of gaining some perspective.  The town was tiny and cramped – everyone knew everyone, and everyone liked to talk.  Indeed, it seemed that Mrs. Marshall, the cashier at the local convenient store that operated at all hours and sold cigarettes at the lowest price allowed by law, knew Carol was going to divorce Bill’s sorry ass long before he did.  She had, in fact, told her husband all about it.  Mr. Marshall just so happened to work in Bill’s office and walked into Bill’s cubicle to offer his condolences on the failed marriage.  Bill had met Mr. Marshall’s mumbled sentiments with genuine surprise; aside from a lack of communication and a lack of sex, he had assumed things were fine, rolling right along.  Couples had dry spells, no?  Every marriage hit a rough spot, right?  Bill arrived home that afternoon seeking both clarification and reassurance, but Carol had only sucked in air between her teeth and shook her head slowly.  Bill had lost his drive, she said.  Where was the passion and the aspiration?  Bill was old and tired, she had complained.  She was moving up and on and out – all in one fell swoop.

Bill supposed none of it mattered anymore, seeing as how the marriage was over, Carol was a bitch and he was coping in his own way.  He was thinking about all of this perched on the end of the bed in his motel room.  It was an oppressive dry heat in early July, so he had the door kept wide open.  The air conditioner was busted and besides, he liked watching the flickering streetlamps and the imitations of life that passed by, with intimate conversations – not a single passerby knew that he or she was being observed and therefore, exhibited genuine and authentic behavior which Bill found fascinating.  Carol had never been genuine with him, not until the end of everything and that kind of betrayal and disappointment kept Bill from being genuine with anyone.  Instead, he was a stranger – a kind, pleasant, smiling face at all the right places, but still a stranger.

He was taking a deep swig from the amber bottle in his right hand, allowing his eyes free range, when they fell upon an odd-looking doll behind the door which was propped open.  Bill hadn’t seen it before, though he had been in the same room for three nights, and that was decidedly strange.  It sent goosebumps along his arms and spine.  Bill set the bottle on the floor beside his feet and then carefully rose, employing slow and halting steps as he visually examined the doll.  The details were exquisite; it was a balding man in his late thirties, with worried eyes and a downturned mouth.  He was wearing a business suit and could have been anyone of the numerous men Bill called colleagues.  More fascinated than frightened, Bill stooped to pick the doll up when he had reached it and taking it into his hands, Bill realized what it was.

It was a voodoo doll, and it had a single pin in its back.

Bill should have gasped and dropped the doll to the floor.  Bill should have removed the pin delicately and called the police.  Bill should have placed the doll somewhere safe from abuse and misuse, and inquired about the proper way of destroying said voodoo doll.

Bill didn’t do what he should have; matter of fact, he rarely did.  It was something Carol constantly complained about.

Bill looked at the doll and thought about the year he had had.  He had been Carol’s doll, hadn’t he?  She had left him bruised and broken, lying about erectile dysfunction and telling anyone who would listen that Bill was no longer vibrant and had lost the will to live.  Old and tired?  Bill?  She was harsh and cruel.  Bill would have given her everything, and had given her all that she had asked for.  Not to say he was blameless in the dissolution of the marriage but hell, didn’t a man get points for trying?  He had never hit her, cheated on her or lied to her.  So what if he wanted to take it easy when he got home from work?  Was that a crime?

Bill was sick and tired of feeling the proverbial pins people stuck in him – Carol, his boss riding Bill all the time and sending Bill to the conferences he didn’t want to go to with no monetary compensation, growing older and being afraid of what it meant to do so.  Why couldn’t he be the one to stick it to someone, at least once?  Bill removed the pin from the back of the doll and stuck it in the doll’s leg, after a barely noticeable moment of hesitation.

Somewhere, a complete stranger howled in pain.

Bill breathed easier.

On wine and whine.

Published June 27, 2012 by mandileighbean

 

Having lunch with two beautiful, engaged young woman does not appear to be an arduous task.  It does, however, become difficult for the “third wheel,” the young woman not engaged or even dating, the young woman with no romantic prospects whatsoever.  It becomes increasingly difficult to keep the smile radiant and the eyes dry as the conversation continues and the loneliness creeps closer, like some kind of pickpocket on a packed, commuter train.

I suppose that’s all melodramatic, isn’t it?  Sorry – occupational hazard.  Then again, maybe it has nothing to do with my emotional state as a writer; maybe I’ve had too much wine, or maybe I’m so pensive and lonely because I’m currently experiencing “womanly issues” (don’t want to offend or alienate any male readers – you’re welcome).  Or maybe it’s because I was watching the recent film adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre.  I’m fairly certain I’ve sung the praises of this film in another blog entry, but I have no qualms about doing so again because it is fantastic.  I was sobbing as Mr. Rochester raised Jane in his strong arms at the foot of the stairs, spinning around and kissing her mouth in sheer joy as a result of their upcoming nuptials.  We should all be so lucky, no?  Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald wrote, “… youth does not need friends – it needs only crowds ….”  Is it more important to be loved, or to have people know that you’re loved, especially considering the digital age in which we are living?

Where’s the romance, the drama?  “Expectations are such a drag,” says Ida Maria in her song “We’re All Going to Hell.”  I couldn’t agree more; life is hard – way harder than I ever thought or expected it could be.  To quote Rob Thomas, “I barely started and now I’m falling apart.”  I’ll be twenty-four in September and that number scares the living hell out of me because I feel as if I have nothing to show for it.  We all feel that way at times, don’t we?  When does it get better?  Mumford and Sons seem to answer this quandry: “You’re not as brave as you were at the start.”

Maybe I should stop listening to sad songs.

On a sad note, R.I.P. Nora Ephron: thank you and damn you for providing me with unrealistic expectations and fantastical notions about romance. You will be missed.

PROMPT: “He’s the cutest little boy.  Makes it that much sadder, doesn’t it?”

PIECE:

“He’s the cutest little boy.  Makes it that much sadder, doesn’t it?”

Jane, standing beside her mother and studying the same flyer, nodded soundlessly in agreement.  The soft-looking brown hair that fell shamelessly across his brow was more likely than not lovingly tousled by a doting father, from whom the little boy had inherited his sharp chin.  The dimple in the center of it, though – Jane surmised that came from the mother who had given her son everything she had and then some, only to be repaid for a momentary lapse in supervision with an incredibly harsh and severe punishment.  With a horrifying kind of sadness that ached and pulsed, Jane could see the mother kneeling before her son, smiling sweetly.  The mother had just praised her son for good behavior – or maybe she had stooped to kiss and heal a boo-boo.  Regardless, the mother most certainly would have ended the encounter by planting a simple kiss upon her pointer finger and then transplanting it on the dimple of her son’s strong chin.  It would have been a gestured she performed thoughtlessly time and time again, and which she would have contributed no special significance to save for the fact that she may never be able to do it again.  The boy’s bright eyes made of paper though they currently were, twinkled with a contradictory air of innocent mischief.  His mouth was open and laughing in the picture scanned for the flyer and it was grainy, but did not diminish the vibrancy and the life of the adorable little boy.  Someone else had done that, whoever it was that stole him from the comfort and safety from his family.  That was Jane’s assumption, that someone had seen the little boy and snatched him up.  It happened all the time.  Monsters were real and they looked just like everyone else; it was getting harder and harder to stay safe and to stay human.  Luckily for Jane, the tears pricking at the backs of her eyes as she surveyed the poster of the missing boy reminded her of her empathy and humanness.  It made her sick that it came at the expense of a missing child.

“I hope they find him,” Jane’s mother said, turning away from the poster.  She pushed the rattling, rusted shopping cart through the automatic sliding doors on their left.

Jane did not follow.  She remained where she stood, transfixed by the misery calmly and plainly emanating from the flyer.  This poor boy was missing and his family was begging, sobbing and pleading for information, for assistance.  No one else stood beside Jane to wonder and grieve.  Her own mother had walked inside, resuming her life as if there had been no disruption, as if everything was going according to some greater plan.  Jane couldn’t stand it.  It made her want to scream and tear her hair out by the roots.  Where was the sense of community?  Where was the fabled brotherhood of man?  Wasn’t everyone all in this together?

She stood crying silently and alone.

On home defense.

Published June 26, 2012 by mandileighbean

I’ve always had a vague idea of what my life is supposed to be like – a vague idea heavily influenced by books and movies, but a vague idea treated and treasured as a promise, nonetheless.  This treatment of a romanticized, cinematic and literary notion as fact has led to inevitable disappointment and near constant heartbreak.  To be a hopeless romantic but forever lonely is torture, a personal hell I would not wish on even my worst enemy.  Every spare moment, every other breath and every meandering thought is spent waiting, wishing, hoping and praying that I will finally meet the man to set my soul on fire.  Essentially, all of those moments are wasted becayse nothing comes to fruition and as of late, I am grappling with the very real and very intense fear that it never will.

When my friends or loved ones become engaged, regardless of the gender of the friend, I am assualted with mixed emotions.  While I do my best to realize the engagement has most likely been a long time coming and while I do my best to be truly happy for a newly engaged couple, I am sad, pathetic and lonely.  Sometimes, I even get angry.  I am utterly ashamed that my joy is tainted by heavy bitterness.

There have been times when I have watched a new couple continually display their affection for one another publicly.  Both would be young, beautiful and blissfully happy.  I will usually only have just met the young woman, but the man I will have known for some time, maybe even years.  I will have watched him move and breathe and smile and grow stern with adoration – I will not say that I have loved or currently love a man in this position, but I will have always cared for him – whoever he may be – deeply, and will only have wanted him to be happy and loved, even if none of those amazing feelings come from shared experiences with me.

Honestly, I have no idea why the hell I am divulging all of this information.  I rewrote the previous paragraph to protect the names of the innocent.  Maybe all of this is a feeble attempt at creating an incredibly intimate relationship with my readers; that’s a nice idea, but in reality, these revelations are meant to serve as an explanatiopn for why nearly every piece I compose revolves around romance … or at least an imagined idea of it.

That being said, enjoy my latest prompt.  It is most assuredly something Sammy Thogode, the heroine of my novel, would write.

PROMPT: “A woman buys a gun for home defense, but two days later, she can’t find it.”

PIECE:

There had been a rash of break-ins within the typically subdued residential neighborhood.  Thankfully no one had been injured and no big ticket items had been taken, but still – a robbery was an awful invasion of privacy, a damaging breach of one’s sense of security, and a robbery leaves lasting marks upon its victim.  Mr. MacBain had explained all of this to his young, innocent, sweet and only daughter, Courtney.  As her father, it was his responsibility – nay, his duty – to make sure she was safe and living up to his paternal duty, he convinced Courtney to purchase a gun for home defense.

They had obtained the necessary permits and paperwork, ensuring they operated with utmost concern for legality.  Courtney decided on a .38 snub nose Smith and Wesson.  Really, her father had picked it out because it was small and thereby easy for Courtney to handle and operate.  However, its smaller size did not mean the gun did not have enough power to do its job and stop an intruder – it most certainly did.  Driving home from the gun emporium clear on the other side of the state, Mr. MacBain’s peppered moustache twitched almost imperceptibly as he readied himself for a likely uncomfortable conversation.  “Courtney,” he began from behind the wheel of his excessive Dodge Ram 1500 truck, “I don’t think you ought to tell Chris about the gun.”

Courtney turned sharply to the impressively masculine man beside her.  He was balding but hid the fact by wearing a myriad of baseball caps, the majority of which displayed camouflage colors and proudly proclaimed the head which the cap adorned belonged to that of a veteran of the New Jersey National Guard.  He was rotund – a result of being over fifty-years-old and an avid pasta eater – but powerful.  His personal heroes were John Wayne and Elvis Presley.  A transplant from the heart of Alabama, Mr. MacBain still believed in chivalry, in love and loyalty to God and country and in the South’s ability to rise and do it again.  He was old-fashioned and nowhere near politically correct – in fact, Courtney had often described her father as “wildly inappropriate”- but he was a good man and only ever had the best of intentions.  Mr. MacBain was Courtney’s personal hero and she did her best to behave accordingly, but it was hard to do so when they discussed Chris, her fiancé.  “Why shouldn’t I tell Chris, Daddy?  I am bringing a gun into the home we share.  Surely that’s information he should be privy to.”

“I gave you the money for that gun for your protection; something Chris should have done for you.  Apparently, he’s decided it’s every man for himself in your home, so he can get his own damn gun.”  Silently, Mr. MacBain added that such an event was highly unlikely because Chris was a far cry from what he considered a man in full.

Courtney pushed out her full bottom lip in a childish pout.  “I’m going to marry Chris.  I care about his protection, so I feel like he should know that –“

“He’s not going to like it Courtney, and you know it.  Chris is going to fight you hard on this.  He thinks his college education and ‘enlightened state’ will get him out of any situation but he is going to be sadly mistaken when –“

“Don’t you dare finish that sentence!” Courtney interrupted, shrilly.  “I’m beginning to suspect that all of this is less and less about my safety, and more and more about you getting into some kind of pissing match with Chris.”

Mr. MacBain was hurt and disappointed that his golden child would think his priorities were so egregiously out of order.  It was true that he wasn’t Chris’s biggest fan – he read too much, didn’t drink enough Southern Comfort and was as useless as tits on a bull when it came to fixing the car and house repairs – but Mr. MacBain did not doubt that Chris sincerely loved his daughter.  But he did have serious doubts about Chris’s abilities to provide for and protect Courtney.  “Look, darling- just promise me that you won’t mention anything about the gun to Chris, okay?  Just hold off until I’m able to talk to him, all right?”

“Talk to him?  Dad, are you-“

“Just calm down, sweetie.  This man is going to marry my little girl; we are going to have to have an adult discussion about it.  There is nothing crazy or out of control about that.”

Courtney sighed loudly with exasperation and flattened herself against the seat.  With her thin arms crossed over her chest and with pouting lips, she looked decidedly juvenile.  Her father always reduced her to such- she couldn’t exactly pinpoint why he was able to do so and as a result, she could do nothing to stop it.

Later that evening, in the small starter home of Chris and Courtney, she found herself teetering precariously on the edge of a wooden footstool inside the closet of their master bedroom.  She was acquiescing to her father’s request and concealing the gun.  Her father intended on admitting to the purchase and explaining things to her husband-to-be during dinner tomorrow night.

“Hey, babe!” Chris called cheerfully.  His narrow tie had been loosened and the first few buttons of his white collared shirt had been undone.  His jacket hung over his left arm, the hand of which clutched a tattered and battered briefcase.  Despite his mature, office-appropriate attire, Chris’s boyish and uninhibited glee made him seem young, vibrant and damn near immortal.  That essence attracted Courtney to Chris from the start, and she felt her lips stretch to wide, genuine smile as she shoved to lockbox to the very back of the shelf in the closet.  Chris saw this last action and with his countenance dimmed by confusion, he asked, “Whatcha up to?”

Courtney’s face fell dramatically.  Clumsily, she hopped down from the stool and quickly pulled the metallic chain that extinguished the bare bulb that lighted the closet.  Her palms were suddenly slick with sweat and when she replaced her smile, it was with an easily-spotted replica- clearly a fake.  “Oh, nothing, nothing at all.  I wasn’t doing anything in here at all, whatsoever.  I’m not- it’s done, over, whatever.”  Courtney grimaced.

“Why are you lying to me, babe?” Chris asked.  He knew the question held the potential of being rather heavy, so he did his best to water down the implications with an intimate moniker and a jovial tone.  He wanted to show her it was no big deal.

“I’m not lying,” Courtney responded through bared teeth.  Like all liars caught in the act, she preferred to be angry rather than to confess.  “Why are you in such a bad mood?”  Courtney deflected her erratic behavior as best she could by becoming defensive.

Only more confused, Chris asked for clarification.  “Courtney, is everything okay?”  After dropping his briefcase and jacket beside him onto the carpeted floor, Chris took a few cautious, hesitating steps toward his bride-to-be.

Courtney had been blessed with looks and grace, but possessed no gift for quick-thinking.  Pushing past Chris to leave the bedroom, she called out in misplaced frustration, “Gosh, leave me alone!  You’re suffocating me!”

Chris was left perplexed, looking with growing suspicion and dread at the bedroom closet.

Courtney had headed down the hall to the kitchen to slowly and meticulously begin making dinner.  If she stayed busy and removed, Chris wouldn’t dare ask questions and she could still feign anger.  As she rifled through the fridge, she contemplated about whether she could blame the bizarre reaction to a relatively harmless question on her menstrual cycle.  She wondered, though, if she should instead claim that the outburst was triggered by anxiety from Chris’s pending dinner date with her father.  Why not?  It really was all his fault anyway, even if only by extension.

As Courtney occupied herself in the kitchen, Chris showered and changed.  His beloved’s unexplained behavior was still very much in the forefront of his mind as he padded softly on bare soles towards the kitchen.  He had every intention of continuing is inquiry especially now that Courtney had a chance to cool, but her voice came floating to him from around the corner.  “Sometimes,” she whined, “I think that I really could kill him.”

Chris halted.  There was a pause.  “Yes,” she continued, “he is smothering me!  He’s always involving himself in my life and in my business.  I can’t stand much more or else I’ll do something … I don’t know, crazy.”

Another pause; she was on the phone.

“I know, but I honestly think that if he were gone – completely removed – I’d be much happier.”

There was a response from an unknown conversational companion.  “True, but I’ve got to go.  He’ll be down for dinner any second.  I’ll call you after tomorrow and let you all know how it goes, okay?  Okay, bye, talk to you later.”  He could hear the resounding click of the plastic handset being placed upon the laminate of a kitchen counter.  She had to have been talking about him, right?  Hadn’t she called him suffocating in the bedroom?  What did she mean by completely removed?  Gulping hard, Chris took a brave step into the kitchen.

“Hey, who were you talking to?”  He was trying to be as nonchalant as possible, something akin to walking on eggshells.

Courtney smiled.  “Oh, Christine from the office called.  We were just chatting.  Dinner will be done in just a couple of minutes if you want to set the table.”

Chris nodded congenially and headed toward the cabinets.  As he did so, he asked, “Is everything okay?”

“Oh, yeah, of course; couldn’t be better.”  Courtney looked to him from over her should as she scraped white rice into a blue china serving bowl that had been Chris’ mother’s.

Chris nodded, offering a smile that didn’t quite meet his eyes.  “That’s good because you seemed … well, you seemed angry before.”

“Oh,” Courtney paled, “that was because my father wants to have dinner with you – just you – tomorrow night and I didn’t know how to break the news to you.”

“Oh, well, I suppose that explains it,” Chris said.  He turned to his fiancée with his hands full with plates and cups and silverware.  “Is there anything else you wanted to tell me, anything at all?”

Courtney paused a moment to consider the question.  Her blue eyes closed ever so slightly, and her head tilted to the right so that her long, blonde hair swayed like a single blade of grass in a gentle breeze.  She was beautiful, and she was everything, but she was lying.  “Nope,” she smiled with full, pink lips.  “Why?  Is there something you want to tell me?

Chris shook his head.  “Not at all.”

Dinner was pleasant.  Afterwards, with the table cleared and this dishwasher running, the couple cuddled on the loveseat opposite the television.  Courtney yawned loudly and then announced that she was calling it a night and heading to bed.  Chris nodded.  “I’ll be in in a little bit.  I just want to numb the mind some more,” he said, lightly tapping the center of his forehead with the remote.

“Okay,” Courtney said.  She kissed his forehead gently and then straightened back up.  “There’s supposed to be a really intriguing news special one of the major channels tonight.  You should check it out and let me know how it is,” she called as she disappeared down the long hallway.  Chris stared through the remote, debating Courtney’s viewing advice.  There wasn’t shit on any of the other channels, so he decided what the hell; he’d go for it.

It was a special on an incredibly true story, about a wife who hired a hit man to kill her husband for the life insurance money.  There was nothing to distinguish the story from the plethora of other true crime profiles that make it onto network news and Chris was rather curious as to why Courtney had offered it as a suggestion.

What had she meant earlier, when she said “completely removed, gone”?

The next day was uneventful for Chris until dinner with his future father-in-law.  The older man had just begun pontificating about the pussifying  of American men when his cell phone rang.  He left the table to answer it and some thirty minutes later, he returned.  “Sorry; work call, had to answer it.”

Chris nodded to show he was understanding and compassionate.  Smiling feebly, he said, “Sir, I hope you know that I sincerely love your daughter.  I would do anything for Courtney and as the wedding date nears, I want to assuage any fears you may have.”  He licked his dry lips.  “That’s why you invited me to dinner, right?  You wanted to discuss the wedding.”

Mr. MacBain grunted and tossed back a shot of Jack Daniels.  He leveled his gaze at Chris and confessed, “I believe that you love Courtney and I know that she is going to marry you no matter what because she is crazy about you.  But I need you to know that I have expectations for you as a son-in-law, and as a husband worthy of my daughter.”

“Such as?” Chris asked, gulping.

“She needs to be cherished and protected.”  He paused for effect.  “Have you heard about these break-ins occurring in your neighborhood, son?”

“I have.”

“Well?  What have you done about it?”

Chris’s brows furrowed as he tried to work out exactly what it was Mr. MacBain was trying to convey.  “Done about it?  What do you mean, sir?”

“It would be a shame if you were the victim of a home-invasion robbery.  What if you were murdered?”

Chris paled.  “Murdered?  But no one was murdered in Lake City.  The break-ins were non-violent.”

Sighing, Mr. MacBain slowly shook his head from side to side.  “I worry about you, boy.  I’m awfully worried you’re going to be a victim of some terrible crime because you spend your time thinking and rationalizing instead of acting.”

“Sir, I’m afraid I don’t –“ Chris’s attempt at protest was interrupted by a ringing cell phone.  Again, Mr. MacBain excused himself from the table and again, some thirty minutes later, he returned.  This time, he told Chris that he was terribly sorry but that he had to leave – he had to head into work.  He left Chris, dazed and confused, and with the bill.

When Chris returned home for the evening with his fiancée already in bed, he looked at the closet in the bedroom.  He made a decision.

Courtney awoke late the next morning.  It was her day off from the diner, and she used the time to her advantage by sleeping in.  When she did finally rise, stretching her arms outwards, she screamed.  Chris was standing at the edge of the bed with wide, wild eyes that were red-rimmed from a lack of sleep.  His hair was all askew and standing up at impossible angles.  The lockbox she had tried to hide was busted open; bits of metal strewn the bed and the carpeted floor, as did bits of skin and blood.  Had Chris opened the metal box with his bare hands?  That was physically impossible, wasn’t it?  The gun was in Chris’s right hand.  His finger was not on the trigger, but with the cold way he was staring at Courtney made her think it might as well have been.

“Chris,” she breathed, terrified.

 

On being loved by men.

Published June 23, 2012 by mandileighbean

PROMPT: A flight attendant learns that one of the passengers has brought a weapon on board.

PIECE: Moriah loved being a flight attendant.  She was always meeting new people, travelling to new places and completely enjoying herself.  Currently, she was aboard 6606 – domestic to West Palm Beach, Florida.  It was a trip she had made a million and one times and thus far, everything had been going smoothly and just as expected.  The seatbelt light had just turned off and passengers were now free to move about the cabin.  Her own voice had made the announcement and contrary to the societal norm, she loved the way her voice sounded as it was reproduced over the PA system.  She liked its cool edge and authoratative undertones that were masked by an extreme and liberal application of politeness.  Moriah thought her voice would sound just as delightful on the radio, or even floating to one from television speakers.  Moriah was convinced she had the look to go along with the voice as well; she could feel men’s eyes rove over her and she obviously saw the way women’s eyes squinted with distaste fueled by jealousy.

Women were not fond of Moriah, and they never had been.  She had breathed a loud sigh of relief when she realized this small flight would be comissioned by herself and two gentleman, one of which she had already slept with about a year ago, and one who was a fabulous as the day was long.  The flight promised to be easy; and there was a young gentleman near the front of plane, seated on the end of the aisle, who had given her the eye in a way which was anything but discreet.  Moriah liked to imagine that the gentleman was flying for business and she would be regaled with dinner and dancing and wild, seemingly endless romps between satin sheets of the four star hotel he’d most likely be staying at.  Then, she’d never see him again.  Yes, Moriah got along much better with men, just as she preferred to live her life in a ceaseless state of transition.  She could fly from place to place just as she could move from bed to bed.  Nothing was permanent, and Moriah thought that freeing and beautiful.

She was at the attendants’ station, preparing the drink cart for its casual stroll down the narrow aisle when Mitch, the attendant whom she had bedded, marched to her.  His fists were clenched at his sides and his lips were pinched shut.  His eyes looked tragic and desperate and Moriah instantly became alarmed.  She took a moment to send up a silent prayer that Mitch’s poor attempt at casualness had been believed by the passengers.  “What’s wrong?” she asked, swallowing down her rising fear.

“There’s a man in the third row, on the end, that brought a knife on the plane.  The marshal’s just about to subdue -”

There was screaming and shouts to the Lord.  Moriah’s stomach fell out through her bottom, but her weakened knees were able to carry her past Mitch, just a few steps, to peer out the corner.  The air marshal was twitching on the floor, blood spilling out from the slice across his neck and pooling around his soon-to-be lifeless body.  Moriah screamed and clapped her hands to her cheeks.  What should she do? Her mind was frantic and she couldn’t remember what was expected of her.  Turning back to Mitch, she discovered him barracading the cabin door, protecting the pilots and the passengers by extension.  That was good, that was good; Mitch was brave and strong, and he was a man, so he would make everything okay.  Moriah believed that.

She turned back to the mayhem before her.  Passengers whose faces were all just pale, sweaty blurs of human features were cowering in their seats.  Allan, the other flight attendant, was calmly speaking to the armed man, the man Moriah had been wanting to sleep with just a few moments ago.  The armed man’s dark eyes flitted from Moriah to Allan.  He seemed to be listening to Allan but as sudden as a striking snake, he had grabbed Moriah, pulled her close against him, and Moriah assumed the pointy pressure at her throat was a result of the knife.  Her assumption was confirmed by the way Allan seemed to deflate.  Allan was still speaking, but Moriah wasn’t listening.  She was terrified.

How could this be happening? Men loved her.

On the evil in the world.

Published June 22, 2012 by mandileighbean

I had the worst timing today.  I went for my usual four-mile walk and was really looking forward to a relaxing swim in the pool when vicious thunderstorms roll through.  Exiting the pool, I hop in the shower and the lights flicker and dim.  My mom always tells me I’m bad at planning and I have a sinking suspicion that she may be ont0 something.

Like tonight, for example: one of my closest friends and one of the most influential people in my life is moving to Boston in a week.  I wanted to send her off in style – with a big, sobbing crowd of friends at her favorite bar.  It’s not going to happen; everyone has an excuse as to why they cannot attend and it infuriates me.  I know my friend impacted their lives just as much, if not more so, than she impacted mine and yet I am the only one willing to travel to spend time with her.  I feel like this situation happens to me time and time again, and it’s disheartening because I’m really starting to believe that I never get back as much as I put in regarding any of the relationships I have, which at the current moment, are restricted to friends and family.

I would punch a toddler for a romantic relationship, by the way.  I’d be a catch … for the most part.  I know I’m dramatic, juvenile and stunted, but I also know that I’m passionate, fiercely loyal and a decent person.  Maybe it’s my physical appearance; I’m working on getting my teeth fixed so I don’t look like Sloth from that movie, “The Goonies.”  I’m working on slimming down, too.  Other than that, though, I think I’m sitting pretty – pun intended.  I think men find me attractive, but know that they shouldn’t.  Is that weird?

I just want to love – which I do freely, to the point where it breaks my own stupid heart – and to be loved in return; really loved with equal force.

By the way, I tried to sketch today. I’m really terrible at it, and thereby have no patience for it. Hopefully this attitude can be altered or improved by Tuesday.

PROMPT: “Well, if you could accuse anybody of being downright evil, it would be him.”

PIECE:  “Well, if you could accuse anybody of being downright evil, it would be him.”  Kelly placed his amber bottle of chilled beer back onto the wooden bar, sighing contemplatively as she did so.  She understood she had just released a heavy statement into the atmosphere and wondered if it would just fall flat and leave only silence, or if Isaac would help it along by adding more words and more breath, keeping it afloat in the intimate space between the two.

Isaac’s eyes were swollen and red around the rims from intense bouts of both drinking and crying.  His fiancee had been murdered about six months ago and the trail was finally underway.  The perpetrator of the crime was his own brother, Eliot, who claimed self-defense.  Eliot wanted the jury to believe that Cassandra had a violent, manic fit and attacked Eliot out of the blue, leaving him with no choice but to shoot her in the back.  Eliot only disposed of the body improperly to save his brother from the pain of discovering his fiancee’s outburst and dead body – clearly, he was not trying to cover up the crime.  He swore!  He had to be telling the truth.

But he wasn’t; Isaac’s brother had been having an affair with Cassandra and when she had wanted to come clean to Isaac, Eliot had killed her.  Eliot was the emotionally unstable individual who had a sudden outburst with devastating consequences.  Both sides had been presented in the opening arguments, and testimony was to begin the next day, as the prosecution called their first witness – the medical examiner.  Today had been hard enough for Isaac.  He didn’t think he had it in him to sit through a meticulous and cold description of how his beloved had died, and what her watery grave had done to her beautiful, graceful body.

Kelly was Isaac’s cousin.  She had sat patiently by his side, holding his hand and turning a blind eye to his decidedly emasculating sobs and open displays of weakness.  It had been her idea to come to the local watering hole to handle it like men; to drink and grunt and feel better in the morning.  She had offered the assessment of Eliot’s character as comfort.  She didn’t want Isaac feeling guilty for being emotional.  There was only one person who should feel guilty and that was the monster that was Eliot.  She had wanted to convey all of this to her favorite cousin, but as she cleared her throat to speak and Isaac rolled his red, dead eyes to her, she lost her confidence.  The planned speech that was tender and inspirational was reduced to a single sentence.

As if that single sentence could change anything.  As if that single sentence could bring Cassandra back.  As if that single sentence could bring Eliot back.  As if that single sentence could bring Isaac back.

It did none of those things.  It did nothing.  Isaac nodded, released a broken sob, sniffed and drank deeply from his own bottle.

On chance encounters.

Published June 22, 2012 by mandileighbean

I love how I write an empassioned entry about my new and strong resolve to update regularly, and then miss a day.  That’s me in a nutshell: weak, but full of rationalizations for said weakness.  I must be incredibly difficult to love.

Wednesday was a great day, though.  I went to Barnes and Noble and though I spent more than I would have liked, it was well worth it.  I purchased a trendy bookbag that perfectly fits the Bohemian – and let’s be honest, sometimes pretentious – style I am currently going for.  I also purchased the complete works of Edgar Allen Poe, a set of sketching graphite pencils and a sketchbook.  One of my summer resolutions is to take up painting.  That is a somewhat daunting feat, so I’ve broken the goal into baby steps: I’ll start with sketching.  My good friend and college roomie is an artist in every sense of the word, and on Tuesday, she’s going to take me sketching with her.  Hopefully she’ll be able to show me the ropes so I can create something decent.  Purchases in hand, I went to the cafe to have an iced coffee because it was hot as hell and to get some reading and writing done.  I did read “The Offshore Pirate” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and wrote a little bit, but nothing I’m immensely proud of.  I’m still working through a dry patch and feeling decidedly uninspired.  I have ideas that have potential, but currently, I am failing exceptionally at executing them.

What I remember most about my time spent at Barnes and Noble was a beautiful man who seemed to sketching out designs on graph paper.  He was using one of those multi-colored pens that changes color when you click it – either red, green, blue or black.  When he sneezed, I said, “God bless you.”  He thanked me and offered me a warm smile, and I gushed as I tried to focus on sweetening my iced coffee (which I completely blotched.  It was disgusting and I threw it out before I was halfway finished. I don’t blame the barista, though. I don’t think I was drinking it fast enough because the ice melted and made it watery).  I stirred in the sugar and made note of his shaved, dirty blonde hair and dark green eyes.  He was of a thin yet athletic build and his skin was tanned from being in the sun.  He was dressed in earth tones and wore a thick, leather bracelet on his right wrist.  He had a trendy knapsack with what looked like a sleeping mat rolled up and stuck underneath the top flap.  I wondered if he had taken a bus to the shopping center.  I doubted he had a car; he would never condescend to such consumerism, or be so ignorant of the adverse effects of automobiles on the environment.  Then again, if he were taking a bus, that’d make him a hypocrite and wonderfully complex.  I had fallen in love with him in the 27 seconds it took me to prepare my coffee with half-and-half and sugar, but turned away from him to find a seat at the bar against the full-length windows.  I could have engaged him in charming conversation prehaps, or at least asked his name.  I wanted him to ask me what I was reading or what I was writing, but I did nothing.  When I saw him exit the store and cross before the windows once or twice, I smiled but remained still, flicking my eyes back to my book or the screen of my iPad.

I’m a chickenshit, is what it is.

Later, an old friend of mine from childhood invited me out for drinks for happy hour and a great hole in the wall in Seaside Heights.  I accepted but with a strong sense of caution because this friend only reaches out when something heavy is going on.  She, regretably, is kind of a hot mess and things have not changed.  I had fun and it was nice to escape from the mundane quality my life is so reluctant to relinquish, but I could not do that every night like she can.  I came home so drunk that I ate rancid spaghetti sauce that had been left out on the counter since before lunchtime.  I awoke with a dry mouth, a pounding headache and a palpable sense of shame.  It was a gross feeling.

Today was better.  I had lunch with my artist friend – she’s also a spectacular musician – and also ran into a very good friend who’s been missing in action as of late.  She’s married, domesticated and wonderfully mature.  She wears elegant dresses and goes out for cocktails with her husband and their friends like a real adult.

This weekend should be just as entertaining.  Hopefully I’ll remember to update as it happens.

The writing prompt I’ve been working on has been giving me real problems.  I don’t particularly think the prompt is all that great, so I am continually and readily disengaging in the creative process.  That ends tonight, though.  I will finish the damned thing if it’s the last thing I do.

PROMPT: Unusual Phobia.
  Create a character with an unusual phobia.  Write a scene in which the character faces the phobia.

The most common fear among human beings is death, followed closely by public speaking.  Then again, it might be the other way around but regardless of the accuracy of the aforementioned statistic, Melissa Grander feared neither death nor public speaking.  The activity which caused her body to seize, her palms to sweat and her mind to waver between insanity and unconsciousness was dinner conversation.  It was not a common fear by any means, and Melissa made peace with the fact with the rationalization that she was not a common young woman.  Exactly what made her so uncommon eluded Melissa and at night, when she lay awake watching the dusty ceiling fan in her bedroom slowly rotate around and around, she worried that she wasn’t uncommon or unique and that she was just weird; simply bizarre.  After all, who can’t hold a simple conversation over a meal?  Who can’t engage in a dialogue over dinner?

The answer is Melissa Grander.  She could not be charming, witty or even responsive while eating.  It was effort enough to make sure nothing spilled and stained her blouse, that her teeth were clear of debris.  To add the societal pressure of being interesting was more than she could comprehend.  Her need for silence at mealtimes left her lonely and alone.  Other than her family who were supportive and understanding, Melissa did not have many friends.  Having to decline every single dinner and lunch invitation led to a notable drop in those invitations, to the point where Melissa was left off the list because everyone knew she wouldn’t come out anyway.  Melissa also knew she could never join in the group brunches, lunches and dinners and could never do so with a romantic prospect, so she stopped dating altogether.  When the occasional male interest made his intentions known, Melissa panicked and aborted the whole thing, assuming that once the young man found out how abnormal she was, he’d be completely turned off.  Who wanted to be a lover and a savior and a doctor and a therapist?  Wasn’t that too much pressure?

All of Melissa’s social interactions stemmed from her weekly trips to the mall.  She didn’t necessarily make purchases, but she flitted around like a regular social butterfly from kiosk to kiosk and department to department, making small talk with various employees who all found her to be pleasant, compassionate and most importantly, normal.  She could eat alone at the food court without anyone thinking twice, and satisfy her need for human interaction in the small, superficial doses she could handle.  It was kind of ideal, albeit sad and temporary.  Would these workers come to her funeral?  Would they send her cards if she was sick in the hospital?  Melissa knew that they wouldn’t, but the fear did not outweigh her fear of conversation during meals.

Melissa was solitary, and as a result, she enjoyed solitary activities.  During her social visits to the mall, she would bring along a book to read near the fountain in the center.  The bubbling and tumbling of the water into the stone basin provided the perfect white noise to drown out the buzz of consumerism around her, so she could afford to become lost in a literary world where she could live vicariously.  She, Melissa Grander, was the young female protagonist with the painted nails and nasty habit of chain smoking, who moved from bed to bed every night and searched for the solution to her looming but not named existential crisis in seedy bars in a big city.  Melissa could be hunting ghosts in an old, Victorian manor, foiling an assassination attempt against some world leader, or falling in love barefoot and breathless while caught in the middle of a surprise summer storm.  Anything was possible for Melissa while she was reading.

Her favorite author was James Prince, a master of the paranormal thriller.  His characters were so authentic and painfully human, despite their supernatural abilities and/or origins.  While the setting and circumstances of the plot were extreme, the themes were perfectly applicable to her humdrum life and Prince’s writing became universal.  She had a large intellectual crush on him and filled idle time with daydreams about chance encounters and resulting romances with Prince.  It was childish and juvenile and at the back of her mind, Melissa realized she was stunted emotionally.  Sighing, she’d close the book and head toward the exit.

One random Tuesday, Melissa was heading out the automatic doors near the salon.  She paused to warily observe the gray, swirling skies and the thick raindrops beginning to pound the pavement.  Her umbrella was shoved beneath her backseat and she hesitated, not wanting to become drenched and uncomfortable.  Her feet shifted in thought, as did her dark, expressive eyes, which widened when they fell upon a cardboard cutout to her right.  It was James Prince, in the most scholarly of poses with his strong, calloused right hand curled about his strong, impressive chin.  His eyes were kind but a million miles away, and a deep shade of brown.  A small smile hung about his lips without actually landing.  It was a beautiful picture and she took a step or two towards it, like she was physically compelled to do so and could not resist.  Underneath the torso of the author was a slit, and beneath that was an entrance form.  There was a contest being held; one lucky winner would be chosen to have dinner with the author, and win a signed copy of his newest book, yet to be released.

Melissa’s breath caught in her throat.  This was incredible; this was serendipitous!  If she entered and if she won, she would have to face her fear!  She could be normal with his assistance; she’d have to shape up for James Prince.
Melissa hurried over and filled out about thirty cards, shoving them mercilessly into the slot, crumpling corners in her haste to get as many forms as she could into the cardboard cutout.  The winner would be announced in one month.

Melissa went to the mall every day and entered again and again.  She stopped making her social visits, completely forgot about her uncommon phobia and was graced with that proverbial eye of the tiger.  She was focused only on winning and the opportunity of being healthy.  The irony that her behavior to do so was unhealthy was lost on her.

A month later, the winner was announced.  Melissa Grander would indeed be having dinner with James Prince.

The big night came and she sat upon a bench on her front porch.  Her hands twitched in her lap and she was barely breathing.  Every pair of headlights that washed over her made her nauseous; the limousine would be arriving to pick her up at any minute.  She had index cards in her tiny bag, each with vague responses to typical questions one might ask over dinner.  Melissa hoped she’d be able to keep it together.  She’d honestly rather die than mortify herself before James Prince, the love of her sad, delusional life.  Sighing sadly, Melissa automatically rose as headlights flooded the drive.  Her moment had come at last.  She gathered her wits and her bag and trotted over to the rear door of the limousine when it was opened from the inside.  There sat James Prince.

“Oh my God,” Melissa breathed.

On road tripping.

Published June 20, 2012 by mandileighbean

I am more and more troubled by the fact that a large majority of my blog entries begin with ” … it’s been a while ….”  I made a pledge to create and maintain a blog to not only promote my forthcoming novel, but to simultaneously hone my writing skills.  Entertaining the masses would be an added bonus, but I fall short of all of these marks if I do not update regularly.  I’m a big fan of the saying, “If you don’t use it, you lose it” and I am petrified of losing my talent and being resigned to a life of mediocrity.  I have a dream and I will forever chase that dream, even if it breaks my heart everytime.

I have acquired an awesome sense of motivation since viewing Midnight in Paris, the Woody Allen film.  According to Wikipedia, it “… is a 2011 romantic comedy fantasy film written and directed by Woody Allen.[3] Taking place in Paris, the film follows Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a screenwriter, who is forced to confront the shortcomings of his relationship with his fiancée and their divergent goals, which become increasingly exaggerated as he travels back in time the city beginning each night at midnight.[4] The movie explores themes of nostalgia and modernism .”  I enjoyed it thoroughly and plan on watching it again and again.  The film hit close to home in the struggles faced by the main character and more than anything else, it inspired me to write and not be afraid to fail.  If I want to be a writer, then I need to be a writer.

That being said, I am continuing with the daily writing prompts tomorrow.  Truth be told, I’m rather exhausted tonight.  I spent the weekend with my oldest sister Melissa and her family in Emporia, Virginia.  Her husband’s mother and father own a campground there called Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp – Resorts.  It’s an absolutely beautiful campground and an awesome family destination.  There’s a pool and a playground and various activities throughout the day.  My nephews, Jimmy and Jack, kept me busy.

This is my nephew and godson, Jimmy.  I love him more than I ever thought possible, so his moving to Virginia was quite a blow for me.  He saved my life the summer after I graduated from college; I was broke, unemployed, without a car and incredibly lonely.  Essentially, I felt completely useless and hopeless, but Jimmy gave me a reason to wake up in the morning, to smile and to feel blessed.  Now that visiting him has become a reality instead of just a placating idea, I cannot wait to see him again.

This is my nephew, Jack.  As the above picture clearly indicates, he is hysterical.  He’ll be a year in just a few days.  He’s walking, but without bending his knees, making him seem more like Godzilla than anything else.  I really became attached to him this past weekend because his personality is shining through and he is just remarkable.  The beautiful young woman holding Jack is my twin sister, Sammy.  I named the main character in my novel after her.

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