Drama

All posts in the Drama category

On 3,000 words.

Published November 20, 2019 by mandileighbean

womantyping

Leave it to me to finally complete a “Writer Wednesday” post on an actual Wednesday  the week before Thanksgiving, one of the busiest times of the year! This is likely only happening because I’m not hosting (but I am cooking … a little) and because what I want to share with you lovely, lovely readers is something I already wrote.

I’m B E Y O N D excited about studying abroad at the University of Limerick in Ireland, starting in September of 2020. In my last post, I shared some reservations about my next steps, but I’d be a big, fat liar if I didn’t admit that the first step was nerve wracking. I had to apply – no big deal, I’ve done that before – but I also had to submit 3,000 words of original writing as it’s a creative writing program. I haven’t published anything since 2010 despite my best efforts, and I worried my writing wouldn’t be good enough. I was terrified I’d face another rejection.

But my 3,000 words worked; I got in! And so, I’d like to share them with you. Please read them and please let me know what you think! How’s the characterization? Does Duke actually sound like a guy, or does Duke sound like me trying to sound like a guy? Is it too melodramatic? Please, please, please let me know!

Suffice it to say that Duke was a troubled man. Without getting into everything right away, without immediately investigating all of the tragic elements that composed his character, let it be known that simply put, Duke had a shit ton of emotional baggage. Quiet rage constantly bubbled just beneath his surface and whenever it boiled over, the damage was swift and devastating. Duke was cognizant of all that, and so he did his very best to stay calm. He practiced yoga in the early morning hours, before coffee and cigarettes. He quoted Buddha’s teachings when he needed to remind himself to be peaceful. Duke would do anything and everything to maintain an even keel, and that is why he found himself on the beach in February.
It was too cold to be on the beach, but Duke didn’t care. The sky was gray and miserable. The clouds were so thick in their misery that the sun had no real chance of poking through. Still, Duke sat in the frozen sand, his ass becoming numb. His heels were firmly sunk in with his toes pointing upward and slightly outward in opposite directions. His knees were bent, and his long arms curled around his knees with his chest resting against them. He was compact, trying to take up as little space as possible to keep warm. Duke wasn’t an idiot, though he certainly couldn’t be called a scholar, so he dressed appropriately for the weather. His wool beanie cap and long, corduroy jacket with the fleece lining did the best they could, but the wind whipping onto the shore from the bay was fierce and freezing. It unapologetically stung at the exposed bits of Duke’s skin and his jeans suddenly felt thin and worn.
But truth be told, he didn’t even mind the wind coming off the water in rowdy gusts. He breathed it all in deeply and with squinted eyes, Duke surveyed the flat landscape before him. He was reminded of that one poem from high school, the one with the famous line about water being everywhere but there not being a single drop to quench thirst. Duke was not a scholar, not by any stretch of even the kindest imagination, but he knew that poem was talking about saltwater; the stuff Duke’s chalice of salvation would be filled with. He had journeyed to the bay in the middle of February, trampled across frozen sand, just to be near his beloved mineral. Duke was cold, and knew he wouldn’t last out there much longer. But Duke also knew that he needed the sea; it calmed him.
The dark hair that escaped his beanie whipped around his face (he always kept his hair longer than what was considered fashionable) but Duke did his best to keep his eyes that were like drops of milk chocolate open, and his gaze steady. He watched the rolling waves with slightly parted lips, hoping to taste the salt in the air on his tongue. He firmly believed in the beneficial uses of sea salt and he knew that it calmed him when nothing else could. Aurora, his best friend, had once explained the romanticism of his beliefs, of the irony of it all, but that seemed like forever ago. It was lost on him then, and it was lost on him now; nothing changed. There was something futile and defeating in that train of thought, so Duke steered clear of it. He took a deep breath, breathed in all the salty air he could to completely fill his lungs, and closed his eyes.
He wanted so desperately to clear his mind.
He wanted so desperately to be at peace.
A single tear rolled down Duke’s cheek, reddened and raw from the incessant, frigid wind. He knew this wasn’t working and popped his eyes open. His muscles had tightened from the cold and the frigid weather seemed to stiffen his joints. Plus, he had been all curled up on the sand for the past half-hour, so it took him longer than he liked to get up and get moving. He needed to be Zen, to be calm, and if the sea proved disappointing, if sea salt let him down, Duke only knew of only one other place he could go.

Duke’s heavy boots caused the wooden floorboards of the deserted outdoor patio to creak loudly in the wintry silence. The Anchor Inn was open all year round, but did its best business in the summer when thirsty tourists were a dime a dozen. As the season progressed, the neon lights downtown became familiar and lost their appeal so that even the least adventurous made their way to the Anchor Inn in search of authentic local flavor. However, during the middle of the day (a day in the middle of the offseason), the local dive was empty except for town drunks needing a certain level of alcohol in the bloodstream to function normally, and those battling or embracing the kind of existential crisis that always seems to blindside the blissfully unaware on a random weekday afternoon. And it was in this very establishment, this very environment, where Duke could find his one other source of solace – as long as she was working.
The lighting was terrible and dim, as it usually is in such dive bars, and it took Duke’s eyes a moment to adjust and see the surroundings clearly. No one looked over when he walked in; despite being clean for three years, Duke was still considered a regular. So no one noticed Duke stroll over to the main bar and take his usual seat on a rickety, uncomfortable stool made of wood. The whole place was that way; rickety and uncomfortable and made of wood. The bar shrank and expanded with the seasons so that now it seemed small and cramped and cold, despite it being empty of clientele and in spite of the fireplaces roaring in opposite corners at the far end of the building. Duke was unaware of the less than appealing aspect of the place, felt comfortable enough for a prolonged stay, because he found what he was looking for. With a small smile, Duke enviously watched Aurora lose herself in some paperback novel. She had folded the cover back and was chewing her bottom lip as she read. She was leaning on her forearms that were resting on the bar top, and her one leg was just a few inches in front of the other and slightly bent at the knee so that her whole posture could be described as bent. Duke wondered not only how Aurora could possibly be at ease in that position but how long she could endure such a position. Duke observed his friend for just a minute more, still smiling in a muted way, tracing his mouth and chin by moving his thumb and pointer finger along his thin mustache in opposite directions, down along the laugh lines that formed parentheses around his mouth, and reuniting his fingers below his pointed chin in the short hair of his trimmed beard. Musing complete, he let his hands come together and folded them on top of the bar. “Hey Aurora,” he greeted in his low, sturdy growl.
Startled, she looked up quickly but once she realized who spoke, she relaxed. Aurora, whom everyone else affectionately called Rory, straightened her posture after closing the book and slipping it onto a shelf beneath the bar. Smiling wide, she said, “Well hey there, Duke. What are you doin’ classin’ this place up?”
“It’s my day off – thought I’d stop by and see you.”
Aurora was pouring Duke a tumbler full of ginger ale, already knowing to hold the whiskey. She was eyeing him cautiously but her playful smile hung around her lips. “Oh yeah? You need money or something?” She shot Duke a wink and slid the glass over to him.
Duke was relaxing. “Can’t your best friend say ‘hi’ for no other reason than to be friendly?”
“Best friend,” Aurora repeated in mock skepticism. She was leaning her weight on the bar top with her palms splayed wide. “Laying it on kind of thick, aren’t you? Must be after a small fortune from me; use and abuse, that’s you all over.”
“Fuck off,” Duke said with a soft laugh. He brought the glass to his lips and sipped.
Aurora’s smiled faltered nearly imperceptibly and she leaned closer to Duke. “You okay though? Seriously?”
Duke shrugged and dropped his gaze. “Yeah, I’m okay. Just –” he was about to use the word “needed,” but didn’t like how it would likely ring in Aurora’s ears later, so he decided against it – “just wanted to see you.”
Aurora paused to think for a moment, but her expression remained the same. She squeezed Duke’s hand that was free of the glass and said, “I’ll be right back with some pretzels for you.” She moved somewhere to the right, off into some room Duke couldn’t see and in her absence, Duke released a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding in. He shook his head from side to side once, telling himself “no” in response to a question no one asked.
To announce her return, Aurora chucked the bag of pretzels at Duke. “Day off, huh? Must be nice.”
“First one in a long time; you know I never take time off.”
“Maybe you should,” Aurora advised.
“Are you working all day?”
“Kid cancelled tutoring, so I picked up another shift here.” Aurora busied herself with wiping glasses she’d already wiped clean. “Why? Did you want to do something?”
“No, but,” Duke paused to breathe, “do you care if I hang out here today?”
“Of course not,” Aurora laughed, “even though I can’t figure out why. Nothing’s going on here, man. I’ve cleaned these same glasses six times and,” she turned to look at the handful of customers scattered along the bar and raised her voice, “no one’s tipped me yet!” The patrons all knew Aurora, all liked Aurora – everyone liked Aurora – and so they only smiled, raised their glasses to her, and promptly returned to ignoring her. She rolled her eyes to Duke in exaggerated disdain for her beloved locals.
Duke wasn’t as comfortable as Aurora was around people in the town so small it was actually claustrophobic. He knew exactly what people thought of him. Duke did his best to avoid undue attention, whispers so loud they were intended to be overheard, and knowing, disapproving glances. So he lowered his voice and changed the conversation, asking, “What were you reading?”
Aurora snorted dismissively. “Some book I found in my basement. There’s lots of gun play and forced characterization and no real depth, but it’s entertaining as hell.” She shrugged. “You can borrow it when I’m done if you want.”
“Thanks anyway. I don’t really read.”
Aurora nodded. “Yeah, I remember doing your English homework for four years.”
“Don’t get mad at me because you were a nerd desperate for attention from a really cool, really hot guy.”
“You called me your best friend when you walked in here, dick,” Aurora laughed as she swatted Duke’s arm. She moved down the bar to check on her other customers, still looking for tips. Duke watched her go and felt himself fill with appreciation. She never asked for anything and saved the lectures but was always willing to kick his ass if he ever needed it. She loved him, was unfortunately in love with him, and Duke loved her but was not in love with her. He wondered how long such a relationship could last. It had been over ten years. Duke worried he might be pushing his luck.
Aurora sauntered back to Duke. “It’s dead here, and George is in the back. I’m going out for a smoke. Wanna come?”
Duke nodded. He slid off the stool and followed Aurora out the rear exit. She pushed the heavy door open with her hip, slipping her coat on as she moved outside. “Fuck, it’s cold,” she complained through gritted teeth.
“The wind’s picked up some since I came in,” Duke said.
“Shit,” was all Aurora replied. She didn’t have gloves so to save her fingers, she pulled her sleeves past her fingers and used her hands as claws to hold and open the pack of cigarettes she retrieved from the back pocket of her jeans. To continue to avoid using her fingers, Aurora bit down on a cigarette and pulled it from the pack using her teeth. Duke watched with real amusement and Aurora winked. “Give me a light, fucker.”
Duke stepped forward and flicked the lighter. Aurora puffed and pulled until a thin tendril of smoke circled to the sky. “You could have said ‘please,’” Duke admonished.
Aurora removed the cigarette from between her lips. “Yeah, and I could have said ‘thank you,’ but you know that’s not how this friendship works.”
“Yeah, right,” Duke laughed.
Aurora took a few steps closer to Duke and pursed her lips to exhale the smoke away from Duke. She looked up into his face very seriously. “So now that we’re alone and you’re more comfortable and more likely to tell me things, tell me what’s going on with you.”
Duke looked back at Aurora just as seriously. “What makes you think something’s up with me? Why can’t I just spend time with my best friend?”
“I’m touched, Duke, but you know that I know that you’re full of shit. So talk to me, okay?”
He lowered his face closer to Aurora’s. They were just inches apart. “Leave it alone, Aurora, please. I’ll come to you when I’m ready. I always do, so don’t push the issue.”
Duke was confident Aurora would oblige him, and she changed the topic of conversation. She tried to play it off like she didn’t just do whatever he asked and pretended to be suddenly distracted. She acted like she hadn’t even heard what Duke said, but Duke knew better than to believe her sudden change in interest when she asked, “What’s that around your neck?” Aurora reached out and touched the vial that hung closely around Duke’s neck.
Duke looked down. “What do you mean?”
“What’s in there?” Aurora asked as she gingerly handled the vial with one of her sleeve-covered claws. “It’s beautiful, really awesome, so I feel like it’s too pretty to be cocaine or something like that. What’s it filled with?”
Duke rolled his eyes. “It’s sea salt.”
Aurora was so surprised she didn’t know what to do, so she laughed. “Why sea salt?”
“It calms me,” Duke said. “Maybe all your hippie bullshit swayed me. I was inspired by that lamp you bought me when I came home from the hospital.” He laughed softly through his nose. “Just trying to keep the inner peace.”
Aurora nodded, taking a drag of her cigarette. Smoke curled above her head as she answered. “Matt and Eric told me you’ve started to really get into yoga lately.”
Duke momentarily clenched his jaw. “Yeah, so?”
Aurora smiled, shaking her head. “Don’t let them give you shit for it. If you’re happy, I’m happy.” She quickly kissed his cheek.
“You know, I guess it started way before that, though.” Duke was becoming nostalgic, so his tone wasn’t exactly filled with humor and his shoulders shifted awkwardly, like the conversation had become uncomfortable and he wanted nothing more than to get away from Aurora. “Do you remember when I went to the beach with Uncle Rick when I was in elementary school? And I was out for a couple of weeks?”
Aurora nodded. “You guys had a bad car accident or something.”
“Well,” Duke began hesitantly, “Uncle Rick and I loved looking for fulgurites. Rick liked it more than I did, but I was happy to tag along, so- “
“Wait,” Aurora interrupted, smirking. “What’s a fulcrum thing?”
“Fulgurite,” Duke corrected. “It’s petrified lightning.” Aurora’s face was still blank. “It’s what happens when lightning strikes sand. Uncle Rick said it was like a permanent record of the path of lightning on earth, and the fulgurites are hollow, glass-lined tubes with sand stuck to the outside. We went to the beach for that specific reason all the time, but this time, we misjudged when the storm was going to hit and we were on the sand when the lightning struck.” He looked away from Aurora. “There was no car accident. I was struck by lightning.”
Laughter erupted from Aurora. “No way,” she argued. “There is  no way you got fucking struck by lightning.” She shook her head and took a drag of her cigarette. “We would have known about it.”
“I made Uncle Rick promise to keep it quiet. I was embarrassed and so was he, and we were afraid my deadbeat dad would hear about it and try to get custody or money or both. I went for all these tests on my brain after and I was afraid you’d think I was crazy or weird.”
Aurora was sad. “I would never think anything like that about you.”
“You might have when you were seven.”
Aurora tossed her cigarette and stepped closer to Duke. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, it was like twenty years ago.”
“No lasting side effects?”
Duke shrugged. “They were monitoring my moods and sleep pattern for a while, but then they stopped. All I have to prove it even happened are some really light but crazy scars on my back that sort of loop to my chest.”
“How come I’ve never seen them?”
“They’re really light, like I said. You have to get pretty close to see them.” He cleared his throat and didn’t particularly care for the way Aurora was looking at him, like she’d never really ever seen him before. He wondered if she was changing her mind about him. Duke decided he didn’t want to know, so he decided to change the topic of conversation. “What are you doing Friday night?” Duke asked.
Aurora blinked twice and refocused.

3000duke

On new projects and begging for feedback.

Published March 28, 2019 by mandileighbean

Good morning readers and writers and internet users! Hope all is well ❤

While I’m working to get my second manuscript, titled Moody Blue, published, I am also working on a new book! I’m sharing the prologue with you below, and I am DESPERATELY BEGGING for feedback! PLEASE let me know what you think!

Prologue

The only people who ever really cared about Duke, the only people who ever honestly gave a shit, were gone – one of them forever, a recent member of the dearly departed. The other was away, becoming a better human being who’d have no time for addicts who couldn’t stand to see their own faces in cracked bathroom mirrors. Duke was currently studying his own reflection in just such a mirror and recognized himself, but he hated it, hated the reflection. His hair was too long and his eyes were too red, and he wasn’t fucking high enough. He turned away from his face, sick of looking at his stupid, fucking face. There wasn’t much to like about Duke, and Duke knew that, but he didn’t want to have to face it day in and day out. He needed relief, which was why he self-medicated. He’d used all the heroin he’d had in the house, which was impressively more than usual, but now it was gone and he had to rely on alcohol.

Duke didn’t want to rely on anything anymore; or anyone, for that matter. Come to think of it, Duke didn’t think he even wanted to be in the house anymore, either. Bottle of whiskey clenched tight in his fist, Duke stumbled over to the small coffee table by the front door. His keys were laying there and he reached to grab them. The world seemed to tilt as he did so, and the wooden table went crashing to the floor, taking two picture frames with it. Duke grabbed the corner of the wall to keep from falling completely. Had his other hand been free, he might have been successful, but that damn bottle wouldn’t let go of his hand. Whiskey splashed all over him as he went down hard on his ass. Cursing loudly, he threw the bottle at the nearest wall. Duke watched the glass shatter, seemingly from the inside out, and he saw the tiny shards explode into the light and catch it. The glass metamorphosed into stars and Duke watched, transfixed. The cuts the stars inflicted on his cheeks went unnoticed, were inconsequential. Duke watched the glass fall until it all lay on the floor.

His discarded, cold, metallic keys winked at him. Duke suddenly remembered he had to leave. He crawled to gather his keys, cutting his palms on the fallen stars from just moments before. Scooping up the keys, Duke rose shakily to his feet and made his way out through his front door. He left the door open behind him so that it resembled a large, gaping mouth, howling in pain and protest. Duke also left a bloody palm print on its face, cackling wildly and falling three times before he was sitting behind the wheel of his yellow Cadillac Seville from 1987. He’d bought it cheap off Matt to replace Uncle Rick’s rusted Ford because Duke couldn’t bear to drive it. Duke couldn’t bear to sell it, either. He didn’t want it but he couldn’t let go, and that, ladies and germs, was the story of his life.

The engine came to life loudly, but the radio was louder. It was Bruce Springsteen, singing “Atlantic City” with a supreme kind of melancholy that just fit the moment. Duke’s face fell and became serious as he thought hard, carefully considering everything making up the moment. He suddenly had a destination in mind: Aurora’s dorm, and he’d have to get there fast, or it’d be too late. He’d have to race the devils brewing within him to reach Aurora before she realized she was not only better than Duke, but better off without him as well. He backed out onto Broadway Boulevard, neatly knocking his mailbox to the ground. Duke was indifferent to it, sped down the quiet residential streets until he hit the highway. It was when he was pulling onto the ramp for the Garden State Parkway, heading north, when it happened: the accident. Duke took the ramp too fast, at seventy miles an hour, and the car rolled over and over, leaving the pavement to tumble down a grassy hill before slamming into the trees.

Duke lay bleeding, inside and out, for a devastating ten minutes before someone finally saw the mess and called the proper authorities. The Boss was still growling through the speakers to no one in particular. “Everything dies, baby; that’s a fact. But maybe everything that dies someday comes back.”


Aurora had just drifted to sleep after a late night of paper writing. It had been interesting at least, discussing what it means to be human through the novels Ingenious Pain by Andrew Miller and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. Aurora thought college was pretty cool. She was happy in college. Even sleeping, she was happy. It all felt right and Aurora had discovered she was right where she was supposed to be.

She awoke with a start from Bruce Springsteen suddenly proclaiming triumphantly that tramps were born to run from her cell phone. She scrambled to answer it, not wanting to wake her cranky roommate, so she didn’t even pause to see who was calling. “Hello?” she croaked.

“It’s Matt. You’ve got to come home. I’ll come get you if you want, but you gotta get back here.”

Aurora sat up in bed. “Matt, what is it? What’s wrong?”

“Duke’s had an accident with my car and it’s not looking good. Christ.” Matt paused. “He’s dying.”

The tears came surprisingly fast, before Aurora could even really understand all that Matt was saying. “Matt, I … um, I’ll come home right now. I’ll call you when I’m close.”

“Are you okay to drive? I shouldn’t be telling you like this, I’m sorry. I didn’t know who else to call. He doesn’t have anyone else,” Matt said. His voice cracked at the end and Aurora heard him swallow, likely to keep from crying. There was another pause. “I can –“

“I’ll be there soon, Matt. I’m on my way. Just call me if anything changes, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, of course.”

“Okay, I’m on my way.” Aurora hung up before Matt could say goodbye. Throwing the covers back, she got moving, had to keep moving to keep her mind occupied. Aurora tossed clothes thoughtlessly into a duffel bag, not pausing to think about Duke being dead, not being around, not being Duke anymore. The thought of him scarred and bloody, and slowly becoming pale and cold, was enough to render her useless, but goddammit, she didn’t have time for hysterics. Aurora couldn’t curl up into a ball on the floor and sob like she wanted to. Slipping flip flops onto her frantic feet, Aurora threw open the door to her room, hurried down the hallway and bolted down the stairs. Her duffel bag and purse swung heavily as she ran to her car, so she was thankful she had forgotten her book bag. There wasn’t time for stupid, fucking homework. She had to have enough time to say goodbye.

Normally, it’d take Aurora over an hour to travel back home from the college. That night, it barely took her forty-five minutes.


Matt met Aurora in the parking garage of the hospital and escorted her inside, explaining to her in hushed tones that Duke’s condition was improving, miraculously so, and that they needed to remain cautious but could afford to be optimistic. They seated themselves in terribly uncomfortable vinyl-covered chairs and waited.

And waited.

Matt stood and walked a few paces to stretch his legs and ease his aching back. “He’s been in surgery for two and a half hours now.” Matt leaned against the cool glass framing the operating room. He hadn’t really looked at Aurora since she’d arrived.

“What happened?” Aurora asked. She was trembling.

“He was high as fuck and tried to get on the parkway.” Matt was silent after that, listening to Aurora sob softly behind him. He did not reach out to her, did not offer to hold her or console her or anything. Aurora wasn’t mad about it. She knew they were both drowning in misery and that neither of them was strong enough to hold the other one up, at least not yet.

Two crippling hours went by, during which Duke emerged from his surgery and all his friends could do was wait until he woke up. When he did wake up, the doctor came and told Aurora and Matt, but the doctor also said that Duke was not out of the woods yet and that it would be some time before he could see visitors.

Matt yawned and stretched, and turned towards Aurora. “You gonna go home?”

Aurora shook her head and rubbed her eyes. Mascara was smeared all underneath her eyes and she knew she must have looked awful. “I don’t want to be too far, just in case …” Her voice trailed off as her mind traveled to horrendous possibilities, just the worst of the worst. She cleared her throat to find her voice and said, “You know, just in case something happens. I guess.” She swallowed hard.

“I get that, but you look like shit,” Matt said with a laugh that was more forced than anything else. “You need to sleep, and if you won’t do that, then you need to eat.” Matt studied her for a moment. “Let me take you to get some food.”

“I don’t want to go too far, you know, in case-“

“There’s a diner right down the road,” Matt interrupted. “We won’t be too far and we won’t be too long. You can just guzzle some coffee or something. Let’s go.”

Aurora sighed heavily. There was no real reason for her not to go, so she acquiesced and didn’t even protest when Matt bent to retrieve her purse.

In the few minutes it took for Matt to drive them to the local diner, Aurora fell asleep. She thought she knew what it was to be exhausted, but she was wrong. Matt reached over, gently grabbed Aurora’s shoulder and shook her awake. Aurora was momentarily confused and simply sat, staring at Matt with bleary eyes until she blinked slowly, stupidly. Matt laughed and it was a pleasant, genuine sound. It felt good to be out of the hospital, removed from the sterile, suffocating tragedy. “We’re here,” Matt smiled. “Need a minute? I can go in and get a table.”

Aurora nodded after she yawned loudly, somewhat obnoxiously, and stretched and rubbed her eyes, mascara be damned. “Yeah, sure.” She looked at Matt seriously. “Can I bum a cigarette?”

Matt snorted. “Since when do you smoke?”

“I’ve become quite cultured since I’ve been away at college, I’ll have you know,” Aurora said. She rolled her eyes but smiled partly to let Matt know she wasn’t really annoyed, and partly because she was pleased to have surprised her longtime friend, happy to have actually changed something about herself. Aurora didn’t want to waste her “college experience” by adhering to a behavioral code that had suited her in her small hometown, in a comfortable environment void of any really challenges and thereby void of any real personal growth. Aurora couldn’t elaborate, couldn’t say any of this to Matt, because he was born in Ocean Gate, still lived in Ocean Gate, and would most likely die in Ocean Gate without ever feeling stuck or disappointed or unfulfilled. So Aurora just looked at him expectantly.

“I guess so,” Matt smiled, but eyed Aurora warily. He reached for his pack of cigarettes in his coat pocket. “I wonder what other morals Little Miss Perfect has let fall to the wayside.” Matt was half-serious and hesitated just a moment more before suddenly pressing the pack close against his chest. “Tell you what; a real gentleman never lets a lady smoke alone.” He offered her a wink before a cigarette, and she was definitely more interested in the cigarette. She slid one delicately from the crowded pack (it was brand new; Matt had stopped on his way to the hospital, correctly figuring that the combination of caffeine, nicotine, prayers and Aurora was the only combination to get him through whatever lay ahead) and thanked Matt graciously. He did the same, lit Aurora’s and then his own with the green lighter he stole from Duke at a house party a month earlier. The pair of lifelong friends both took long, deep drags and exhaled slowly, just breathing and thinking in the silence, which is really all most humans are capable of in times of crisis; the normal ones, anyway, very much unlike the heroes that make the paper or the evening news.

“Where was he going?” Aurora asked.

“What?”

She took another drag of her cigarette, realizing too late the question was better suited for being posed after sleep, after a shower and over alcohol. Ironically, she was too tired to care and continued. “Where was Duke going?”

Matt paused. He too pulled on his cigarette before he spoke. “Damned if I know,” Matt said without looking at her.

Aurora’s shoulders were heavy with skepticism. “You didn’t talk to him at all that day? Seriously? You expect me to believe that?”

“He was fucked up,” Matt said. He was rubbing his forehead and continuing to avoid making eye contact. “We talked, maybe, but he was high as hell. What he was saying probably didn’t even make sense, you know?”

“But he was saying something wasn’t he? Isn’t that what you just said?”

Matt groaned. “He was upset by the same old things he always complains about, drank too much and God knows what else, and decided he was finally going to get out of town.”

“But –“

“Jesus Christ, Rory! What do you want me to say? Do you really need me to point out the obvious, that you’re the only person he’d ever visit off the parkway? What could- I mean, how could that possibly matter? Fuck off if you’re going to make this about you,” Matt said. He had exploded and been unfair, cruel even. Somewhere deep down inside, Rory knew Matt could blame his exhaustion, his stress and heartbreak, but none of it could excuse the way he had attacked her, using her nickname and reminding her of how personal everything was. The car was filling with a shocked silence.

Rory grabbed her oversized purse and gracelessly climbed out of Matt’s car. She slammed the door behind her to truly emphasize the exit and it echoed in the silence of the early morning. She marched angrily down the sidewalk outside the front of the diner. She stopped at the bottom of the concrete stairs that led to the entrance, an entrance marked by ever glowing neon lights and double glass doors. She had yet to flick away the cigarette burning slowly between two fingers and her free hand pushed her wild hair from her eyes. She turned away from the diner’s entrance, turning towards the parking lot, slowly realizing there really wasn’t any other place for her to go. She was suffering from the same exhaustion and stress and heartbreak Matt felt, but there was something more, something like confusion and a little bit like guilt since she knew Duke had been trying to get to her. Rory started crying, crying really hard, alone in a parking lot in the gray light before dawn. It was a pitiful sight, especially when Rory wrapped her arms around herself to keep from completely going to pieces. Forgotten, the cigarette was still burning down between her two fingers.

Matt climbed from the car, slipping his keys in his pocket and nudging his door shut with his hip. He called Rory’s name, but she turned away as he jogged over to her. All she offered Matt was her back. “Rory, I’m sorry,” he said. “I was an asshole.”

“Leave me alone.” Her response was cold and clipped.

“I’m mean when I’m stressed,” Matt explained as he halted a few paces behind Rory. “I’m tired and sad and didn’t want to answer your questions.”

“I don’t care.”

“Oh, come on, Rory,” Matt pleaded. He grabbed her shoulder and spun her around to face him. “I didn’t mean it, okay?”

“I feel so bad,” she sobbed. “I feel so goddam guilty because I left him. His uncle was murdered and I just went back to school, back to my own little world, like he didn’t just lose everything he had.” The tears gushed uncontrollably and made her nearly impossible to understand. “I’m supposed to be his best friend and I abandoned him. And I am selfish and I do make everything about me, but he still wanted to see me.” Shuddering, shivering, she said, “As messed up as he was, he still wanted to see me.” The cigarette finally fell from her fingers and she broke. Rory brought her hands to her face, sad and shamed and tired, and Matt took her into his arms.

Matt shushed her. “You can’t feel guilty. I know it’s easy for me to say that, but you didn’t put those keys in his hand or that bottle in his mouth.” He pushed her away from him so he could see her face, but still held her by the shoulders. “You can’t- I mean, you just can’t beat yourself up over this. You’re his friend and you love him, and that’s enough, okay? That’s enough.”

“I do love him,” Rory sobbed, collapsing back into Matt’s arms. “I love him so much, and he’s such a fucking idiot.”

Matt laughed softly and tried to soothe her further by gently rubbing her back. They stayed like that for some time, not saying anything, happy just to be held until the sky turned rosy gold. They headed inside the diner, and over coffee and pancakes, they talked about anything and everything but Duke.


They returned to the hospital a few hours later. Duke was awake but wouldn’t be allowed visitors until the evening. Matt used the time to sleep and shower, but Rory stayed put, dozing across a few chairs for 30 minutes at a time, pacing up and down the hallway, and chugging coffee incessantly. When the doctor came to find her and tell her she could see Duke for just a few minutes, Rory did her best to patiently listen to the doctor; he advised her to speak softly and stay calm. Rory did her best to follow him to Duke’s room as normally as she could but it was a struggle. She wanted to sprint to Duke’s bedside and hold him, and if she broke down yet again, then so be it. But she already felt responsible for Duke’s current physical state. If she were to make it worse, she would not be able to live with herself Rory found herself panicked into silence as the doctor excused himself and shut the door softly behind him. Rory’s breath caught in her throat.

“Aurora,” Duke breathed. He was the only one to use her full name, not even her parents did, and the sound of it nearly caused her to collapse. “You look like shit,” Duke added, soft and low, after using only his eyes to survey Rory. He laughed but it was almost inaudible.

Rory stepped forward, trying to stay composed. She remembered herself after a moment and offered a disappointing smile. “Like you’re one to talk.” The impending silence made the air heavy between them. “I only have a few minutes, but he said I could come back tomorrow.”

Duke nodded, breathed in and out. “I know,” he said.

Rory moved to the side of the bed and delicately took Duke’s hand in both of her own. “But I’ll stay for as long as you need me, for as long as it takes to get you well.” She bent forward and kissed his forehead, then she lovingly kissed his cheek. Trying not to start crying, she let her cheek lay against Duke’s for a few silent, precious moments. “I love you,” she said.

Duke stared straight ahead, blinking furiously. He wanted to say it back and even felt he needed to say it back, but he didn’t trust himself to speak at the moment. He was grateful to be alive and grateful to be loved, especially by someone like Rory, but he was ashamed he’d been willing to throw it all away. He was also terrified of what lay ahead, that he might make such mistakes again. He was sure he didn’t deserve this precious moment with a beautiful woman, this miraculous second chance. Everything he felt and believed he had to consider was overwhelming and he knew his voice would be affected as a result, and sound shaky and overcome with emotion. Duke didn’t want that, not anymore. He wanted to be strong. He didn’t want to be a burden. Duke took a few deep, steadying breaths before he finally said, “I love you too.”

Rory straightened up and looked down at Duke with a soft, sad smile that Duke suddenly wanted to violently smash. He didn’t want to be pitied – that idea had not flown once sobriety arrived. Duke knew that wasn’t fair, but he didn’t have the energy or the knowledge to fix it, so he shut his eyes tight against it and lazily allowed his head to roll to the side.

Poor Rory didn’t know what to make of it. So she said, “I’ll let you rest and come back later with Matt. We’ll get Eric over here, too.” Duke said nothing nor did he move. “Bye Duke,” was Rory’s lame response to his silence before she hurried from the room.

Duke lay there, absolutely loathing himself until he fell asleep.


Rory and Matt returned the next day, sometime in the early afternoon. Rory had smuggled in one of those milkshakes you mix yourself from the local convenience store and she was thrilled to find Duke in much better spirits. She gave the milkshake most of the credit.

The three friends avoided speaking of the past at all costs and focused on the future, on Duke’s next move. Rory offered to clean out Duke’s house, which he had inherited from his recently departed uncle. So one day while Duke was still recovering in the hospital, she emptied and disposed of all the liquor bottles and syringes, moving from room to room, carefully inspecting each for hiding places both clever and obvious. Matt helped, dutifully following Rory from room to room as an extra pair of eyes and as an extra pair of strong and sturdy hands. Rory changed the sheets on Duke’s bed and turned up the heat so it’d be warm and cozy upon his return.

Rory vacuumed the broken glass, removed the wooden shards, and cleaned the bloody palm print from beside the front door. It was almost as if Duke had never left that night, but only almost.

Duke saw the results of Rory and Matt’s efforts just a few days later when he was finally released from the hospital and able to come home. His breath moved in and out in shuddery spasms as Rory pushed his wheelchair over the threshold of his home. It was the same, but it was also entirely different.

Once inside, Duke opted to wheel himself around. He moved from room to room in the same way Matt and Rory had, but it was unclear what it was Duke was searching for. His face was immoveable and his expression was impossible to read. Matt and Rory contented themselves with following just a few paces behind. They were intrinsically and inexplicably cautious, anticipating some kind of outburst from their stormily silent friend. Both assumed his stoicism was only temporary, but Duke kept on keeping on. When he wheeled himself into his bedroom, all Duke said was, “New sheets.”

“Yeah,” Rory lamely ventured. She paused to clear her throat. “They’re a higher thread count and I got you a heavy comforter.” She smiled but it was nervous and queasy. “You need to be able to relax in here if nowhere else.”

Duke raised his chin to indicate a bizarre looking light upon the end table on the left side of the bed. “Is that what that’s for?”

Rory stepped forward, a dull, pulsing heat rising in her cheeks. “That’s a sea-salt lamp,” she explained. “They’re supposed to reduce stress and anxiety. They’re very trendy.” Again, she tried to smile, tried to be light and natural and normal. But again, all she managed was awkward and forced and lame.

“Oh,” was Duke’s response. He looked around the room once more before deciding to leave.

Matt stepped to the side to allow Duke to roll past, but then he lingered where he was. He waited until Duke was out of earshot before he asked Rory what the fuck Duke’s problem was. Matt explained that Duke was being an epic kind of douche bag and had been that way since they’d left the hospital, and Matt was willing to chalk it up to a million different reasons, but if it was something as simple as sober Duke was an asshole and nothing more, then Matt wasn’t entirely sure what he’d do. When Rory offered nothing in response, Matt asked in a harsh, hissing whisper, “What the hell is his problem?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Matt,” Rory hissed back, functioning at an extreme level of sarcasm. “Maybe he’s pissed he’s stuck in a wheelchair and maybe he feels useless and worthless because he’s going to be out of work for a long time.”

“Eric will hold his job-“

“Maybe there’s no money coming in and all kinds of money going out and he’s worried. There’s medical bills and court fees and prescriptions and regular bills and groceries-“

“The inheritance will keep him comfortable for at least-“

“ –all of that on top of severe physical pain, not to mention what extreme mental and emotional-“

“Okay, okay!” Matt exploded, no longer whispering. “I get it, alright?” He sighed heavily and turned, prepared to finally follow Duke down the hallway. Before he was out of reach, before he was too many steps ahead, Rory reached forward and gave Matt’s hand a reassuring, encouraging squeeze. They were all Duke had, so they could only be sympathetic; or at the very least, that was Rory’s understanding of the situation.

So once Duke was on the road to recovery and absolutely all of the damage could be assessed, Matt stopped dropping by everyday (though he did check in on a daily basis). Rory was more devoted, as she always had been and always would be; she went food shopping, drove Duke to all of his appointments and anywhere else he needed to be, cooked dinners at least once a week, stayed on top of the bills and let Duke know which money was due when. She took care of her best friend until he was able to get around without assistance and was cleared to drive, which was well after the spring semester had ended and well into the beginning of the following fall semester. Rory never registered for classes and much to the chagrin of those who knew and loved her (Duke included), she never returned to school.

Rory moved back in with her parents because the rent was free and she was only blocks away from Duke, so when he needed pain relief in the dead of night or when he woke sweating and screaming from god awful nightmares, she could be on her way before Duke even hung up the phone. It was a perfect situation until her parents started to get pushy about school, until her parents asked her pointed questions about exactly what she was sacrificing and for whom, until she could no longer ignore the valid points her parents raised during difficult discussions that rapidly increased in frequency. Rory had to run away, to shove it all down and away, because that was easiest even if it wasn’t best. With the last of her student loan money, she paid the first and last month’s rent for a quaint, absolutely adorable apartment less than two blocks from the bay. And since she was well-known, and more importantly well-liked, Rory had no trouble getting hired at the local tavern and in the two years that followed, she was able to work her way from hostess to bartender. Between the tips from the regular customers who adored her and the tutoring jobs she scheduled on the side, she made ends meet. It was a quiet, simple kind of life.

And Duke never asked her about it.

He knew that if he thought about it too hard for too long, or if he thought about it at all, he’d begin to feel responsible for nearly all of Rory’s wasted talent and potential. If he thought about it, he’d begin to develop a very real fear of Rory’s eventual and inevitable resentment once she realized Duke was quite content to keep her trapped, regardless of how content Rory might be to be trapped. In Duke’s defense, Rory never said anything about any of it; she just let the situation be what it was. So the all-important conversation about what it all meant for both parties involved never came up. In all the hours spent nursing Duke back to health, spent helping Duke regain mobility and independence and a sense of identity, neither him or Rory talked about the constantly advancing September or points beyond.

It was what it was.

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On older but not wiser.

Published January 31, 2019 by mandileighbean

As people age, we’re supposed to get smarter – or at least jaded by life experiences, which are assumed to be universally disappointing. The weird thing is that no one wants to grow up. No one really wants knowledge or to face consequences or be responsible. I guess I’m aiming for a happy medium. Last night, I wrote in my journal that I wanted to be Carrie Bradshaw from “Sex and the City.” I think she’s an appropriate role model for a woman of 30. She’s fiscally irresponsible and endearingly stupid when it comes to men, but she respects deadlines and is a writer. So maybe I’m just validating her picture on my fridge, but it’s interesting to think about, isn’t? There’s this pressure from social media to be altruistic and to be who you needed when you were younger, but just because we’re older, do we stop needing people? Shouldn’t we just be the type of people we think we need?

Do we even know what we need?

Being a human being is hard at any age. I don’t think it gets easier as we get older, but I think we develop a better perspective and that can change our attitude towards growing up.

I’m about a third of the way through final revisions for my manuscript, MOODY BLUE. The goal is to send it to agents I spoke with at the conference in June next week. Wish me luck!

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#2.2019: Hidden Away on the Inside of a Jacket

The sky was an uninteresting shade of gray. Michelle eyed it warily through the kitchen window as she let the faucet run, waiting for the water to get warm before she started the dishes. She had removed her rings, her engagement ring, her wedding ring, and the blue sapphire with the gold band she had inherited from her grandmother, and placed them carefully on the window ledge above the sink. The windows looked out over the backyard, an especially desolate scene at the end of a bitterly cold January. Thinking of warmer and greener climates, she sighed as the front door was swung open.
Michelle spun to see William entering the home, closing the front door firmly behind him against the rising wind. On the television earlier that day, the meteorologist had looked very serious indeed, with his shirtsleeves rolled above the elbows, as he warned of the impending squall. Michelle Googled the definition on her phone and was glad she had taken the day off. Her fever had been mild and her cough had not returned, but a day spent mostly beneath the covers had done her a world of good. She hurried to William, smiling, and offering to take his coat. “Is it bad out there?” she asked.
William nodded, blowing on his hands as he rubbed them together. “Yeah, and it’s getting worse.” He kissed her forehead. “How are you feeling?”
Michelle kissed his lips. “Much better. I probably would have survived a day at the office, but traveling in this cold also could have knocked me right back on my ass, you know?”
“You never take days off anyway. You deserved it,” William said and squeezed her shoulders gently as he passed into the living room. He sat to take off his shoes and Michelle turned to the closet to hang his coat up for him. “Is there beer in the fridge?” William asked as his voice sounded farther away. Michelle assumed he was on his way to the fridge.
“Of course,” Michelle called. She hung his coat and smoothed it lovingly with her palms. It was a stylish, expensive coat Michelle had bought William for his 35th birthday. He looked absolutely perfect in it, and she was glad she had married a handsome man. She thought about his strong body and full head of hair, but as her hands passed over the coat, she felt a lump. Michelle was worried William had left his car keys in his pocket, but digging her hands in the soft fabric revealed nothing. His pockets were empty.
Determined to find whatever it was, Michelle dug her hands into the pockets on the inside of the coat and on the left side, she retrieved a small, velvet-covered box. A box that held jewelry, specifically rings. Ecstatic that William had thought of her, had purchased her a special gift because he knew that she wasn’t feeling well, Michelle bounded into the kitchen. “And who is this for?” she asked in a playful singsong.
William had been standing in front of the fridge, guzzling a bottle of beer. When Michelle walked in with the box, the color fled from his face and he sputtered beer across the kitchen. He looked terribly guilty and Michelle felt terribly stupid once she began to understand. When William didn’t answer, Michelle asked the question again but she employed a very different tone. “Who is this for, William?”
William’s posture crumpled and all he said was her name in a pathetic kind of whimper.
Michelle chucked the little box at William’s fat head and moved to the front closet. She grabbed her boots and slid them on, and she shoved herself into her winter coat. She was digging through the bowl that kept their keys by the front door when she heard footsteps.
“Where are you going? It’s supposed to squall,” William said.
“Like you give a shit,” Michelle spat. She found her keys and was out the door before William could say another word. Michelle started driving to her mother’s house but didn’t get very far before the wild, winter winds and snow began to pile up. She had to pull over because she couldn’t see where she was going. Whether it was the inclement weather or the tears in her eyes, Michelle waited for the squall to pass before she continued away from the home she shared with William.

On coming back.

Published January 24, 2019 by mandileighbean

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It’s been a year since my last blog post. I want to say I’ve been busy, and I have, but not in the romantic, adventurous ways I’d like. I was struggling with depression and losing the battle for a while. I had no inspiration, no motivation, no real reason to get up in the morning. There were some really awful nights where I sobbed until I couldn’t breathe, where I gorged myself until I couldn’t move, where I didn’t even leave my house to check the mail. I hated my existence and hated who I was – only the worst sort of person could allow herself to be such a fucking loser, I thought.

And the problem with writing, I realized, is that it is solitary and sedentary, making it NOT conducive to the my goals of being social and beautiful, but it remained vital to my survival; I have to write. So instead of blogging, I filled journals with scribbled self-loathing and only a few blips of creative expression.

But therapy helped; it really did. And so did attending The Writer’s Hotel writing conference in New York City in June of last year. I was inspired, invigorated! I met some truly amazing and talented people whom I still talk to. I got some much needed perspective and validation. As a result, I’m healthier than I’ve been in a long time, and I only have one more chapter to revise on my manuscript.

So I’m back, bitches! Here’s a prompt for your enjoyment.

01.2019: Stealing Sentences
     I opened up to a random page in Nic Pizzolatto’s collection of short stories, “Between Here and the Yellow Sea.” I chose the first sentence I saw, and wrote this little ditty.

She looked briefly at his art. “I don’t get it.”
Jay blinked. “What do you mean?” he asked in an accusatory tone, offended because he believed she was being intentionally obtuse.
Alison cocked her head to the left, trying to study the sculpture from a different angle. She narrowed her eyes and Jay remained breathless. When Alison sighed, Jay did too, disappointed and deflated. “What is it?” Alison asked.
“I can’t believe you can’t tell,” Jay growled. He gathered his sculpture delicately in his arms and headed for the door.
“Oh come on, Jay, it’s not that serious,” Alison pleaded as she followed close behind. As soon as the words escaped her mouth, she knew she had just made everything worse. Jay took his art super seriously and Alison knew that.
“I wasn’t looking for an in-depth critique or anything,” Jay said. He was struggling to open the door with his sculpture simultaneously nestled in his hands. “A little enthusiasm would have been nice, that’s all.”
Jay was avoiding eye contact, so Alison used the opportunity to roll her eyes. “I am always enthusiastic about everything you do. You just caught me on a bad day. I had an awful morning. I tried to make coffee without closing the lid on the coffee maker.”
“Fascinating,” Jay spat. His hand slipped against the doorknob. Alison reached over and opened the door for Jay. Neither moved for half a minute. Then Jay said, “I spent hours making this today. I was so proud of this sculpture and the first person I thought of to share my joy with was you. And you couldn’t even humor me.” With a wounded look that irritated Alison to no end, Jay marched himself out of Alison’s apartment and into the hallway. She slammed the door behind him, pissed at Jay for making her feel guilty. She didn’t really think he wanted to share joy with her. He wanted to praised for his artistic endeavor like some elementary school kid. He was a grown ass man who should be confident in his abilities and shouldn’t need any validation.
All the same, Alison supposed she could have asked questions and feigned interest, even if only for a few minutes, or until his excitement waned. She’d call later and apologize when she had more energy.
It really had been an awful morning."His work hovers between neo-realism, post-modernism and crap."

On obligatory new year resolutions and the value of introspection.

Published January 4, 2018 by mandileighbean

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Hypocrisy, in my opinion, is one of the worst human flaws. I understand this sentiment is ironic because just about a year ago, I wrote a post which discussed hitting rock bottom and how I was going to change myself into the woman I have the potential of being, the woman I so desperately want to be. However, the year came and went and nothing changed. If anything, I got worse; the weight has ballooned into an unhealthy, unattractive number; creative writing has all but ceased; I still spend more nights than I care to admit to publically eating bad food and re-watching romantic comedies at home … alone.

But recently, I was forced to think about the last five years of my life. With the clarity hindsight provides, I was able to understand that I had been through several tumultuous periods and had tried to blindly just trudge ahead. The spirit is commendable, but in doing so, I developed many unhealthy coping mechanisms that have since cost me my health and happiness and, to a point, my sanity.

So that is my resolution for 2018: to get back to good, and to take my life back. To do that, I am going to spend more time doing what I love. I’ll read more and I will update this blog once a week (every Wednesday for Writer Wednesday … get it? I’m a sucker for alliteration). Granted they start on a Thursday this week, but I had snowmageddon to contend with. And would it really be me if I did something right the first time around?

I will progress my literary career in 2018.

I will start taking classes for my Masters degree.

I will diet and exercise and the goal is to lose at least 30 pounds by May 16th (when I see Bruce Springsteen on Broadway!). I want to go hiking at least once a month and really spend more time in nature. This, plus starting therapy, will help me regain mental health and stability.

I will begin making improvements to my home to make it cozier and to become more independent.

Putting all this in writing helps me to formulate a plan and in my attempt to avoid hypocrisy at all costs, helps me to stick to these resolutions.

And now for some creative writing; stay golden, readers. And be excellent to each other.

WRITING PROMPT #01.2018: After falling asleep on a twenty-hour bus ride to his mother’s house, a college student wakes up to discover that he’s been on the wrong bus the entire time.

I stood in the bus station, looking out at a deserted Main Street that was slowly but surely filling with snow. The winter wind was whipping itself into a frenzy; I could feel it slipping through the door in front of me, and it was enough to make me shiver in my jeans and tee shirt. I was woefully unprepared for the wintry mix outside because I had fully anticipated waking up as the bus came to a stop in Atlanta, Georgia. Yet here I was in Liberty, Indiana.

I couldn’t understand how it happened. Obviously, I boarded the wrong bus, but how could that have happened? How could I have made such a stupid, stupid mistake? I rubbed my cheek, felt the stubble that needed to be shaved. It was bristly against my palm and helped me come back to myself. Staring out the door would do no good. I needed a plan. I needed to think of some course of action, so I walked back to the uncomfortable bench that was no more than a piece of curved steel. It was cold against my lower back, as the thin cotton of my shirt was powerless against the cold that seemed to pervade everywhere. It helped me to prioritize; I would get myself some boots, a heavy coat, some gloves, a scarf, and a hat. If I was going to be lost, I could at least be comfortable doing it.

Behind the counter was an elderly, grizzled-looking man who just wanted to get home. He watched me approach without interest, with a cold detachment that I took as a bad sign. I had heard that people in the Midwest, although weird, were incredibly friendly. This guy looked like I could have walked up to him on fire, burning alive, and he would have yawned and apathetically watched me turn to ash. I did my best to smile, and as polite as humanly possible, I said, “Good evening, sir.”

He said nothing in reply. He only blinked back at me.

I swallowed hard and pressed on. “Could you tell me where the nearest clothing store is? I didn’t know it’d be- “

“There’s the Liberty Mall right next door. You might have some luck there.”

I nodded, mumbling my thanks as I pulled the straps of my duffle bag higher up on my shoulder. He nodded in return and turned away.

I was on my own.

Outside the bus station, the cold was overwhelming. I imagined my fingers and toes turning blue, then black, then falling off. I’d leave a trail of them the cops could follow to the doors of the Liberty Mall, where they’d find me all frozen and stiff and dead.

I didn’t used to be this dramatic.

I hurried over to the mall, walking close against the sides of the buildings to avoid all snow as best as I could. I wrenched the door open against the wind that was really starting to pick up, and the first thing I saw was a little, sad-looking department store that appeared to have ignore the turn of the last century. My feeling of disorientation was growing; what time was it? Had I traveled not only in the wrong direction for twenty hours, but had I also gone back in time?  The yellow lights that burned overhead burned low, so that everything was washed in a depressing shade of yellow and looked older than it was and sickly. There was a young woman who came from around the counter and walked to the very edge of the store’s boundary. She hadn’t noticed me, and she reached high up over head. I realized she meant to close the metal gate that rolled down, so I sprinted over to her.

“Miss, please! Don’t close that gate!”

She looked at me in alarm, scrambling back a few steps and wrapping her arms around herself. I felt bad but was grateful she’d backed away from the gate. “I’m sorry, sir,” she said, “but we’re closing.” She looked at me from the sides of her eyes, turning her head mostly away from me.

“I can appreciate that, but I don’t have any winter clothes and I’ll freeze to death outside.” I stopped just inside the store. “I’m supposed to be in Atlanta. I got on the wrong bus and I have no winter clothes packed. Can I buy some clothes?”

She slightly turned her head towards me and looked me up and down. “But I’ve already shut down the register.”

“I’ll pay cash. We’ll cut the tags off and you can ring everything up first thing tomorrow.” She didn’t move. “Or you can turn it back on while I look around. Please, miss. Please … what’s your name?”

“Caroline.”

“Please, Caroline. My name’s Dillon and I just rode a bus from Philadelphia for twenty hours. I’m embarrassed, I’m cold, I’m tired, and I’m hungry. Help me fix one of those things, please.”

Caroline’s hands dropped to her sides. Her eyes were big and brown and nice to look at it now that they were no longer narrowed with suspicion. “Be quick,” she said before she turned and went behind the counter. I thanked her again and again, what seemed like a thousand times over, and she only got me to shut up by pointing me in the direction of the outer wear – first right off the main aisle. As I turned, I could see the bulky jackets crudely stuffed against one another, hanging from circular racks. I breathed a little easier and slowed my pace, figuring I could take a second to enjoy the tiny victory. I passed a t-shaped rack filled with coats for infants, the sizes ran from 0-3 months, and I came to a complete stop.

Later, when I called my mom from a bar with a steak and a mound of mashed potatoes both smothered in gravy in front of me, she harassed me, berated me until I could explain how I managed to be so stupid. What kind of jackass gets on the wrong bus? I tried the empty, obvious answers; that the bus station was crowded and overwhelmed with holiday travelers. I lied and said I was half-listening when the man who sold me my ticket talked about transfers, so I fell asleep and forgot. She wasn’t satisfied. She knew I was lying even though she couldn’t see my face in the way that only mothers can. I did the only thing I could do; I broke and told my mother the God’s honest truth about the last 48 hours.

Staring at the infant jackets reminded me of Alicia. I had met her in college, after I had gone to the north and broken my mother’s heart. Alicia was an art major who didn’t give a damn about plans or responsibilities. I was intoxicated by her freedom and her wildness, and she helped me to let my guard down and to get into a little bit of trouble. It wasn’t anything serious; no legal troubles, but a few stories to tell with a big smile. I loved her. And I’d tell her all the time. I told her I loved her constantly. She never said it back, just took me into her arms, into her bedroom, into the nearest place that offered any kind of privacy and she’d let me show her how much I loved her. I never thought much of it; I was happy and it made me stupid, I guess.

I invited Alicia home to meet my mom. She was supposed to be on the bus with me.

But she sat me down in the kitchen of her on-campus apartment and explained that she wasn’t looking for anything serious. She said going home to meet a guy’s family was pretty serious, the way having a baby was serious. Alicia usually talked in long, winding paths that eventually got to some point. And I could usually anticipate the destination of her dialogue and patiently wait for her to get there. But this time, I was confused. “Who said anything about having a baby? No one said anything about a baby.”

Alicia looked at her hands between her knees. “I didn’t want to tell you because I saw this coming. I knew you were getting caught up.”

I stood up. “Tell me what?”

“I was pregnant.”

There was a moment of stunned silence. She told me she was on the pill, so how this could have happened seemed the obvious question to ask next, but her phrasing troubled me more. “What do you mean was?”

“Don’t worry, I took care of it.”

It was hard for me to swallow. My face felt hot, but I knew I was cold all over. “What do you mean you took care of it?”

“Don’t be stupid,” Alicia said. She rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean, Dillon. Don’t make me say the obvious.”

“You didn’t tell me?”

“I knew this was going to happen,” Alicia said. “You always take things too seriously. You get too invested. You’re gonna break your heart a million times over doing that.” She went to walk past me, to leave me standing there alone. As she passed, I grabbed her nearest arm and wrenched her back. She stumbled back to stand in front of me. Her face was pale, her eyes were wide, and her breathing had quickened. She was scared but I didn’t give a shit.

“You’re a fucking bitch.”

Alicia brought her hands to her face like I slapped her, like I was bringing my hand back to do it again. I still didn’t give a shit. “I love you! We’ve been sleeping together for two years, and you don’t tell me you’re pregnant? You don’t tell me you’re gonna get rid of it? That’s fucking weird, Alicia.”

Alicia came back to herself. “It’s my body, my decision. And I don’t have to explain myself to you! Just because I don’t buy into some Judeo-Christian definition of woman-“

“Oh, fuck off! This isn’t political! This is personal!”

Alicia pushed me hard. I moved back a step or two. She wasn’t strong, but she surprised me. “Don’t you tell me to fuck off, you petulant man child! I knew you’d be hypersensitive about this. Grow up, Dillon! You’re so pathetic, I-“

I shoved her. Hard. Hard enough so she fell back onto the carpeted floor of the living room, just a few steps away. I was losing control, and an apology rose to my lips, but I kept them shut tight. I had never laid a hand on anybody my entire life. I was a father, then I wasn’t. I was a gentleman, then I wasn’t.

Alicia was this smart, beautiful firecracker I tried to keep held securely in my hand. But firecrackers explode, go off, and the result was injury.

I left her lying on the floor. Confused, depressed, and desperate, I went back to my dorm room and drank until I fell asleep. When I woke, I only had thirty minutes to pack and get to the bus station. I blindly followed the crowds onto the wrong bus, going unnoticed because of the thronging crowds of holiday travelers, and then I slept.

“Dillon? Sir? Are you finding everything okay?”

I blinked and silent tears rolled down my cheeks. Caroline had caught me hundreds of miles away, in a different time and place. She found me vulnerable, crying in an outdated department store in a small town in Indiana.

On still insisting to see the ghosts.

Published September 13, 2017 by mandileighbean

Hello all! Welcome to another edition of Writers’ Wednesdays!

And boy, do I have a story for you. It’s quite the story; so much so that I have decided to forego the weekly writing prompt to share this story.

School started up a week ago, so I’ve been busy. Mostly, I feel overwhelmed and exhausted just trying to keep up with all the demands, but I also know this is partly because I’m hormonal and partly because I’m recovering from the extreme lethargy of summer break. It appears that more than my muscles entered a nearly lethal state of atrophy. To escape all of that ugliness, I was really looking forward to seeing “IT,” the new adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name. Well, for all of those reasons and because it would be a welcome return to familiar territory.

Even only an occasional reader of this blog knows that I’m something of a Stephen King fanatic. I think he’s absolutely brilliant. I’ve read most of his work – even the writing under his pseudonym of Richard Bachman – and I’ve seen all of the adaptations; the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’ve seen him at readings at least three times and have traveled out of state to do so. Next to F. Scott Fitzgerald, he’s my favorite author. And of all his works, IT has a special place in my heart and has affected me in a very profound way. I remember finishing the monster of a novel (pun very much intended) with a stunning clarity. I remember I was on the way to one of my twin sister’s many athletic competitions at our local high school, practically dragged kicking and screaming to help watch our little brother who is ten years our junior. I was sitting in the last seat of this monstrosity of a vehicle (last pun, I promise), this huge, black van that I absolutely despised. It was roomy, it was comfortable, it was a logical purchase, but it had a television. That’s not a bad thing, unless you were like me: a fifteen-year-old girl who considered herself rather literary and therefore superior. In a silent, pointless protest, I would bring books in the van to avoid the television, which often blared to entertain the other passengers.

I was the worst fifteen-year-old.

On a particularly dreary day, on my way back to the high school against my will, I was in the van and I was reading. I was going to finish IT, and I did so sobbing. The story is so beautiful, and I wept with a palpable, pulsating kind of ache because I wanted so desperately to be an integral part of a team on an important mission. I wanted so badly to have a shared purpose who loved me so much they would die for me, people who weren’t family so loving me would be a choice, more of a conscious decision. I wanted a Losers Club. I wanted to make and keep a promise to be a hero. I wanted to be an adult who was still a child. In short, I wanted everything that was in the novel. I needed it to be real.

Until September 8th of this year, the best I could was re-watch a badly outdated miniseries (that I still cherish, just to be clear).

I was so excited for the new adaptation, I made plans with a friend to purchase tickets early for a fancy theater with reclining leather seats, massive screens, and speakers that boomed so loud you can feel their vibrations inside your chest. I was going to travel to a movie theater in Howell that I’d never been to, that had only opened a few years ago. I posted about the adaptation and my plans on social media for months. I can’t remember the last time I was so excited for a movie (if I had to guess, it’d be the last “Harry Potter” movie).

And the film did not disappoint. At the time of this post, I’ve already seen it twice. If you haven’t seen the movie, do yourself a favor and make plans to go and see the movie. Whether or not you’ve read the massive novel, the story is brilliantly told with great care. That being said, the movie is also incredibly disturbing. It effortlessly gets underneath your skin and catches you at random moments throughout the day. It stays with you, changes you.

When I left the theater, my stomach hurt from the anxiety. My muscles were sore from cramping and my mind was reeling. All I wanted to do was talk about what I had seen, purge the myriad of my emotions onto my companions, relive the film’s best moments. But once we left the theater, we were told we could not enter the lobby and could not even go past the podium where tickets were ripped for admission. We saw a line of employees, a kind of human barricade. It was unsettling and unnerving, even more so because we stumbled , blinking into the lights of reality from a nightmare of a film. We weren’t told why we couldn’t leave, but rumor among the large number of people leaving theaters and filling the hallway was that something was going on in the parking. We nervously shifted for about ten minutes before deciding to go the bathroom. The females in my group pressed through the tense crowd, doing our best to politely make a path, and happened to pass a female police officer. She was busily making her way through the crowd and was being asked for information at every turn. We heard her say that we were safe inside the building, and that if we wanted to be extra safe, we would move further down the hallway and away from the glass windows.

I swallowed hard. I could tell the other women in my group were nervous and upset, so I did my best to stay calm and lighthearted. All the same, we moved down the hallway.

We were inside the theater for about forty minutes. People were making themselves comfortable, plugging phone chargers into available outfits, sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall. People were preparing for a long haul, and why shouldn’t they? There was lack of information and our phones were dying one by one. Finally, an intimidatingly muscular police office got the crowd’s attention and said we could leave as long as we stayed behind him, proceeded in an orderly fashion, and kept our voice down.

My stomach flipped over.

We did as instructed, my friends and I holding onto each other as we followed the officer. He led us to the far end of the hallway and through a rear exit out the side of the building. We left the doors, trampled over gravel along a chain link fence and ended up in an adjacent parking lot. We were not allowed to go to our cars; the parking lot was being searched and the police had established a perimeter. We waited for another twenty minutes in the chilly night air, rehashing everything that had happened so far and asking for any news. I called my father just before my phone died and asked him to pick us up; we weren’t sure when we’d be allowed back in the cars.

We saw cop cars go speeding by.

My dad arrived just as the police began to let people return to their cars and leave. I still went home with my dad, still seeking some familiar comfort and not wanting to be alone (I never really want to be alone). Saying goodbye to my friends, I smiled and agreed that we’d have a hell of a story to share.

But when I got in my dad’s truck, I cried. I cried really hard because I had been so scared. There was the movie and then there was the reality, and I was scared of both, and I was scared that they could never be distinguished between, and I was tired.

The employee who ripped our tickets, who guided us to the theater, who I bantered with for a few brief moments, was arrested because he had an inert hand grenade, two handguns – one of which was loaded – and hollow-point ammunition in his car. A fellow employee told the manager something was wrong, and the manager called the police. One of the theaters had an off-duty cop just trying to relax and catch a flick.

Thank God for the police, and thank God no one was hurt.

Leave it to Stephen King to scar me in unpredictable ways.

 

On summer bummer.

Published September 5, 2017 by mandileighbean

Good afternoon, all. It’s absolutely gorgeous in the Great Garden State; a little warmer than most would like for September, especially after a cool spell of a couple of days, but even though it’s a bummer, summer is winding down. I reported back to work on Friday, and was back in the building today. Truth be told, I’m excited to be back and I’m more than ready for fall. This summer has been a rough one for me, and even though I haven’t been updating regularly (it’s been over a month since the last time I posted), I’m back and ready to take my life back from whatever gross apathy and complacency has settled upon me. And I’m going to start with this blog.

Some thoughts for today: as I was walking the boardwalk (trying to get my weight under control), a sweet old man stopped me to tell me about a turtle he saw. I listened patiently, nodded encouragingly, and then simply kept on keeping on. It made me think about how all anyone needs is a little compassion, a little effort on the part of someone else to make them feel like they matter. I’m going to do my best to do more of that.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #6.2017: Months after receiving a gunshot wound to the head, a patient is discharged from the hospital. She wears a pendant made from the bullet that was embedded in her skull.

Luna stared deep into her own reflection and she was trembling. She was in the ladies’ room of a fancy Italian restaurant that required patrons bring their own alcohol. She was dressed in an emerald green dress that glimmered like the scales of a fish – or a mermaid’s tale, if she was feeling especially fanciful – when the light caught it in just the right way. Her best girlfriends had insisted the color did wonders for her complexion and for her eyes. Luna assumed that same would be said of her hair, as it was the same shade of brown as her eyes, but her hair was gone. Her head was shaved. And although it had had about four months to grow back, her hair was taking its sweet time to return. The imperfections of the shape of her skull were exposed for all to see, and she felt so vulnerable. Her trembling hand moved to the side of her head, and trembling fingers traced the scar that ran from the front of her skull all the way to the back. It was ugly and purple and bloated, and it separated her hair in an unfashionable line.

The bullet entering and exiting her skull had done the same, had separated her life by an unfashionable, hard line. There was life before the bullet, and then there was life after the bullet.

Luna had been walking her overweight, long-haired Chihuahua named Teddy in the park just a block or two from her apartment building. It had been a marvel of a September day; warm enough to forego a coat beneath an unblemished blue sky. She saw the kids playing basketball and heard their raucous shouts and laughter. They added to the atmosphere, became ambient sound, and so she paid them no special attention. If she had, she might have dropped to the pavement when everyone else had.

In the shot of a lifetime, a stray bullet from an attempted drive-by shooting traveled through a chain link fence, across a blazing blacktop, and through another chain link fence before coming to halt inside the skull of Luna. She collapsed to the ground, falling at the same rate as the blood that spurted from the wound and splattered the fence. It made a neat pool on the ground around her, but Luna didn’t really remember all of that. She didn’t remember anything. It was all a black void until she woke up in the hospital about a month later.

When Luna was released, the doctors presented her with the bullet they had extracted from her skull during surgery. She had it melted down and molded into a neat oval, and she wore it around her neck. Her mother said she was morbid, and her friends never talked about it, but all of them had encouraged her to move on, to keep living, to be happy for her second chance. And Luna supposed she was.

But it was hard. It was hard looking like some oddly feminine monster of Dr. Frankenstein’s while trying to date. And it was hard to keep from crying when someone asked about the pendant she was wearing. And it was hard to escape to be confronted by a mirror.

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