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On therapy and leather.

Published July 27, 2017 by mandileighbean

I took just a smidge more than a week off because my three nephews were visiting, and they are considerably more than a handful. The oldest just turned 9, the middle one is 6, and the youngest is 3. My sister is something of a saint, no? I foolishly thought I’d have time to update during their visit, but I’m happy to report that I was SO wrong and spent every moment I could with my three favorite gentlemen.

I am also super happy to report that The Charlotte Gusay Literary Agency requested a full manuscript. I shared the news on my Facebook page, and someone commented, “No. They sent me the same letter. They want money,” or something to that effect. I did some research and it seems they do ask for $35, which is not something literary agents typically do. However, the latest incident reported was five years ago and $35 seems a small fee if the agency likes my manuscript and wishes to work with me. I wonder how much of the online reporting is reliable, and how much of it is colored by pissed off people who never made it.

No reward without the risk, right? That being said, I sent an email – which I now regret – inquiring about the “fee.” I hope they don’t think I’m a jerk, unprofessional, or unwilling to pursue this offer. I act impulsively most of the time, which has mostly proved problematic and left me with more than a handful regrets. But that’s not an invitation to a pity party; only a smooth segue to this week’s blog post.

Enjoy! Read. Comment. Share.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #4.2017: “He’s attractive, he’s funny, he’s rich. Why am I not interested?”

The leather couch looked fancy as hell. It was made of brown tufted leather, the upholstery buttons had a warm golden finish, and the actual shape of the couch was kind of urban and retro. It did not scream comfort so much as it did elegance, so it was exactly the kind of couch one would picture being in a reputable yet chic therapist’s office. The couch perfectly matched the mahogany desk and bookshelves and everything was just so bourgeois and it made Gemma feel worse.

When she had stretched out along the sofa, the leather groaned and drew more attention to itself than Gemma had wanted. She knew, just knew, that Dr. Hoffmann was appraising her cheap cotton shirts and plain cotton tee-shirt, sizing her up to be something worse than what she was (if that was even possible). Gemma should have dressed for the occasion, but what does one wear to their second therapist appointment? She didn’t know; she didn’t know anything, really. And the only instruction Dr. Hoffmann had given was to talk. But what should she talk about? She had chewed her bottom lip for a minute or two in agonizing silence before Dr. Hoffmann finally offered some direction: “How’s the love life?”

Gemma barked a laugh, a masculine guffaw that she immediately regretted, that embarrassed her. She covered her burning face with her hands and apologized. Gently, Dr. Hoffmann reminded her that she had nothing to apologize for and asked about that interesting, swift response. “It’s been complicated,” Gemma said. She slid her hands down her face, stretching the skin and smearing her makeup. “I had my heart broken or whatever – I mean, I guess it was pretty traumatic – but there’s this new guy now. He’s attractive, he’s funny, he’s rich.” Gemma groaned. “Why am I not interested?”

“Well, I think the answer to that question is fairly obvious, don’t you?”

Gemma bolted upright. It wasn’t Dr. Hoffmann’s voice that had asked the question, but someone else. It was someone she had never ever wanted to see again, and someone she hoped she bumped into randomly every day. It was strong but melodic, unremarkable but wonderful, full of contradictions just like its owner, who had been so beautiful and awful all at once. Slowly, like a B-actress in the climax of a fairly predictable horror movie, she turned her neck to the side and saw him sitting in the chair, looking as handsome and smug as ever. It was the heart breaker himself, Jax.

His real name was Ajax; his terribly pretentious parents had actually named him after a Greek god, and its meaning was “powerful eagle,” or something equally as absurd when not living in Ancient Greece. Maybe it wasn’t Jax’s fault he was a complete and total douche bag but more a fulfillment of destiny. How could a guy be anything but a twat waffle with a name like that? His future of seersucker pants and canvas boat shoes had been inescapable. And Gemma had fallen for it, had fallen for it hard.

Gemma was furious and wanted nothing more than to leap to her feet in a manner that exuded that anger and some confidence and she wanted to be intimidating. But her thighs ripping from the leather and the way the leather groaned whenever she made the slightest movement made the whole thing unimpressive and lame. “You can’t be here. This isn’t possible.”

“And yet here I am,” Jax grinned, showing a quick flash of teeth before he smoothed his countenance into something so forced and serious it was comical. “Now, I’d really like to discuss this lack of interest in a suitable partner.” He wasn’t in his usual attire. He was wearing a tailored three-piece suit and looked every bit the medical professional. He even crossed one leg over the other, mindful of the fabric and of creating any unseemly creases.

“Go to hell,” Gemma said. “That’s none of your business. You need to leave.” She surveyed the room quickly. “How’d you even get in here?”

Jax rolled his eyes and his tone was impatient. “You brought me, obviously.”

Gemma shut her eyes tight and shook her head. This didn’t make sense, couldn’t actually be happening, and she had to come back to reality. “I need to find Dr. Hoffmann.” She opened her eyes and headed towards the door. Gracefully, Jax moved to block her exit.

“Then what? You get someone to come in here and find that I’m gone? Or that Dr. Hoffmann’s been here the whole time? They’ll send you to a psychiatrist and you’ll spend most of your remaining days heavily sedated.” Jax smiled sadly. “Imagine the damper that’ll put on your social life.”

“So what is this? Why are you here?”

“You tell me.”

Gemma gritted her teeth. “Don’t act like you’re a therapist and just tell -”

“No, no, I’m serious,” Jax interrupted. “Believe me; I am not here of my own free will. You brought me here to deal with me.”

“Deal with you? I’m so done with you, Jax,” Gemma growled. She pushed past him and returned to the couch. She also returned to her prostrate position and returned to the idea that if she closed her eyes real tight and then opened them, this would all go away.

“That’s obviously inaccurate. If it were true, you could have talked about me to Dr. Hoffmann no problem, but you tried to gloss it over and now here I am,” Jax said. “And you won’t look at me. And you can’t date anyone else.”

“That’s not true,” Gemma shouted. Her eyes popped open and she turned to look at Jax. “I didn’t avoid discussing you, I just didn’t know what to talk about. And I think it’s perfectly normal for me to not relive every single disappointment with you.”

“I was disappointing?” Jax asked, surprised.

Gemma rolled her eyes and looked at the ceiling. “What would you call it when you think you’re going to spend the rest of your life with someone and they just slowly phase you out? You stopped hanging out, you stopped calling and texting; it just ended.”

“You wanted to spend the rest of your life with me?” Jax asked, touched.

Gemma didn’t answer. She continued staring at the ceiling.

“If that’s true, you didn’t fight very hard.”

“Seriously?” Gemma challenged. She sat up. “Danielle always says that if a guy wants to spend time with you, he will.”

“Oh, and Danielle knows me really well, does she? She knows all the intricacies of our relationship?”

Gemma faltered. “No, but -”

“It can’t be all on me all the time, Gemma. Was I an asshole? Absolutely. You knew I was an asshole from the beginning though, to be fair.” Gemma was about to protest but Jax continued. “But you kept me from being an asshole and I helped you be a little bit more of an asshole. That’s why we worked. You made me a more thoughtful man and I helped you be less of a doormat.”

“Why did we stop working?”

Jax looked away and shrugged. “I don’t know. That’s probably a conversation we should have though, isn’t it?”

“Yes, definitely,” Gemma said.

And Jax was gone. She was looking at a terribly confused Dr. Hoffmann. “Excuse me, Gemma? I asked you why you laughed.”

Slowly, Gemma sat up. “What?”

Patiently, Dr. Hoffmann leaned forward and said, “When I asked you about your love life, you laughed. And then I asked you why you laughed, and you told me, ‘Yes, definitely.’ I’m just confused.”

Gemma laughed. “Me too, Doc. Or at least I was.” She looked around the room. “Do you think I could step out a moment? I just need to make a quick phone call.”

On the persistence of the Universe

Published April 3, 2016 by mandileighbean

badbeauty

Some situations in life are unavoidably awkward. Indeed, some moments are socially awkward by definition. For women, I believe this includes any and all visits to beauty salons. Just the other day, I had an appointment for a manicure and pedicure and right off the bat, I was uncomfortable. There’s something inherently unsettling about the setup, about the implied hierarchy. Who am I to show up and demand some other woman (more often than not) try and make me beautiful or more appealing? I’m much too lazy and impatient to paint my own nails so I’m willing to pay someone else to do it, so I’m not passing any sort of judgement. I’m just saying it’s a little weird; feels a little medieval in our modern, wildly progressive world. No? Am I thinking too much about it?

Anyway, I immediately apologized to the manicurist for my gnarly feet. While it is true that my feet resemble men’s feet from the prehistoric era (think “Flintstones”), I’m not actually sorry about it. I’m totally okay with my feet, but I apologized and made a joke about my physical appearance because it’s my comfort zone. Self-deprecating humor helps me to break the ice, chip away at some of the awkwardness of having a stranger rub your gross feet, and lets the other person know I’m not some high-maintenance chick; I’m a commoner, one of the people, I swear! I’m just too lazy to maintain a beauty regimen is all.

For dealing with a self-righteous, pseudo-intellectual, the manicurist couldn’t have been nicer and she did a wonderful job. I love my nails and my toes; perfect shade, elegantly done. I have no complaints and will absolutely go back without hesitation (shout out to Lee Nails in Bayville). You would think such a positive experience would ease my social anxiety about going to beauty salons, but you would be wrong. My neuroses know no bounds, apparently. Upon getting my nails done, I called a hair salon I was familiar with (I’d only been there once, to be fair, and it was months ago) to schedule an appointment to retouch my highlights in an effort to transition to becoming a blonde (which is something else I’m stupidly struggling with, but I’ll save that for another hilarious, highly entertaining, self-indulgent post; I know those are your favorite). I was excited, eager for the appointment, but the receptionist on the other end couldn’t have cared less. Her responses were short and repetitive, like she was offended by making this appointment, as if it were a personal insult or something. I persevered though (because I’m a masochist?) and she asked which stylist I’d prefer. When I mentioned the woman who styled my hair the last time, when I asked if that person was available, the receptionist only tersely replied, “No.” I guess some uncomfortable, tense situation had gone down and everyone was still feeling a type of way about it, but how was I supposed to know? I felt guilty and quickly replied that it was fine, that anyone would do, but the receptionist kept telling me they had nothing opened, that they were straight booked … but offered me three different appointment slots. I picked an outrageously early time on Sunday and hung up. I had a bad feeling and based on my last blog post, I wondered if maybe it wasn’t some kind of sign from the universe, telling me to abort, to abandon ship. So when my mom kindly cut my hair later that day, I called another salon and made another appointment.

From the get go, I felt much better about the whole thing. The woman unknowingly eased all of my social anxiety simply by being nice. She said she was excited I was coming in and offered me all sorts of time slots and asked questions about what I wanted done. Even if such personal interest was inauthentic and all in the name of consumerism, at least it was there. I mean, it worked and I made the appointment.

When I showed up, I was a little uneasy. Obvious and aforementioned social anxieties aside, I always feel like a fraud walking into salons. I always think of that scene from “Pretty Woman” where prostitute Julia Roberts walks into that high-end clothing store and gets treated horribly. And to think she was beautiful! I’ve had bad acne lately, have gained weight and have just been really down on myself lately about my physical appearance (hence all the salon appointments) and I suddenly didn’t want to go. I forced myself inside though, and was immediately charmed. What ambiance! And the friendly receptionist from over the phone was behind the desk and just as friendly as ever. She offered me coffee and water, and the water I requested came in a trendy, fashionable mason jar with an adorable paper straw, decorated with illustrations of branches from dogwoods. I was charmed and felt better … until I had to sit and allowed myself to get trapped inside my own head.

Though my appointment was at 11:30, I didn’t get into a chair until around noon, which I’m not even mad about. I understand that sometimes styling takes longer than anticipated, and I don’t understand complaining about having to be patient in salons when it’s all luxury, a luxury to have time and money to spend on something as superficial and fleeting as appearance. I’m not judging; here I am on a personal appearance improvement tour. I’m just saying I wasn’t annoyed and that would never be something to annoy me. I know that’s just me, so I’ll move on.

What did annoy me was that when my stylist went to pull my hair back from my face, she poked me in the eye. She didn’t apologize, and we both acted like it didn’t happen even though my left eye was fluttering and watering. Both her and I kept right on talking like my one eye wasn’t shut and like I wasn’t in obvious discomfort. In her defense, she probably didn’t know she had done it. I could have said something, but I didn’t, and so I was still incredibly awkward and anxious, and now I was in pain (that’s dramatic, I know). Suddenly, the whole experience seemed like a punishment for my vanity, for my sudden focus on not only my appearance but on myself. I thought, this is where being selfish gets you, with a poke in the eye. All my earlier misgivings seemed to be confirmed and I was on the verge of misery. It didn’t help that my stylist resembled an antagonist from one of those “Hostel” movies, all decked out in a black apron with black latex gloves. I gulped; would she be coming for my eye again?

But then I actually started talking to my stylist. Her name is Dana and she’s from Asbury Park. Not only is she a remarkably talented stylist, she is also full of sage advice. As we spoke, I began to consider the possibility that maybe her poking my eye was a symbolic gesture of how my mind’s eye needed to be poked. The conversation we had was one of the most eye-opening (are you sensing a theme yet?), self-affirming conversations I’ve ever had. We skipped over the small talk, the shallow pleasantries, and went right for the intellectual and philosophical concerns of life. She flat out asked me about my stance on the whole “nature versus nurture” debate. She believed it was nurture all the way, that humans are irrevocably shaped by experience and that explains everything. I agreed to a point, but also revealed that I believe it’s more nature that determines who we are as human beings. I offered up the example of my twin sister and me. Both came from the same nurturing environment and have arrived at completely different results. Dana countered, explaining that my twin sister had life experiences without me that shaped her and molded her differently, encouraging me to be empathetic, sympathetic and open-minded. I’ve refused to do so as of late when it comes to my sister. Rage is simple; it’s so much easier to be angry and infantile, but is it fair? Is it right? Why should the focus switch to me the second time around? Shouldn’t I still be concerned with Sammy’s well-being and recovery? Isn’t there a happy medium, some sort of balance between caring for my other half and myself?

During this discussion, a charity for recovering addicts came into the salon, handing out flyers and asking for donations. Dana asked for a flyer and donated a dollar. I was touched. Rather than ignore and dismiss these men who intruded upon her place of business, she was encouraging and kind. She never dismissed anyone. She was so kind, a truly remarkable woman. And she was so humble, paying as many compliments as she received and then some. This woman restored my faith in humanity in the most unlikely of places.

As our conversation continued (I was in the chair for like three hours; I have a lot of hair), I learned that she also has aspirations to be writer, that she has plans for a memoir and a children’s book. I told her all about my struggles and successes, and we discussed talent and how we both believe that if someone – anyone – is blessed with talent, that it becomes necessary to pay it forward, to use whatever blessings (specifically monetary) come from that gift to better the world. A lot of big ideas fell into place and connected with one another as she spoke so that I began to understand and believe that I was given this writing talent – or ability, depending on how you feel about my writing – for a reason, and that because I am not distracted by a love interest or a family, now is the time for me to hone my talent, to focus on becoming published and getting my work out there. What a positive outlook, to give my loneliness a purpose, a reason, a meaning. She confided with me she’d been with her boyfriend for seven years and while she’s in love and it’s all wonderful, it is still limiting. She can’t just do whatever whenever because she has someone else to consider, from the small sacrifices (like eating at Chipotle because she’s gluten free when they’d rather eat elsewhere) to the major ones (time, money, energy, etc.). I’m not a lonely loser unless I choose to be; this time alone is an opportunity to fulfill a destiny and should not be wasted wallowing in some self-created despair.

Dana told me I was an amazing person, and told me she could figure that out after only an hour of conversation.

At one point, she said, “You can’t control your heart, but you can – and you have to – control your mind.” She encouraged me to choose to be happy. What else can we do?

Needless to say, it was the best experience I’ve ever had at a hair salon. Ever. My sincerest gratitude to Dana at Shear Glamour.

newhairnewme

 

On bad days and good days, and how they can come one right after the other.

Published February 13, 2015 by mandileighbean

Today is Friday the 13th, a notoriously unlucky day.  A coworker was married and kissed his new wife for the first time during the ceremony.  I realized that I’ve been chasing the ghost of a good thing and that it is finally time to give up the ghost.

It all started with candy hearts, the chalky kind that no one really enjoys to eat but that everyone loves to read.  I put them absolutely everywhere I could, almost as if I thought they were cleverly symbolic of all the real love I had to give.  But they ended up in the trash and I was followed the metaphor, I would conclude it was pretty much accurate.

I am going to eat chocolate and drink and sleep until I feel better, or at least become numb to what should be familiar disappointment and terrifying assumptions.

Please excuse the pity party; I am a single woman on Valentine’s Eve.  I’m entitled, I believe.  And give me some credit for not going to see “Fifty Shades of Grey.”  In that sense, I am trying to retain my dignity.  But in all sincerity, I suppose that makes me as original and genuine as a cop in a donut shop.

WRITING PROMPT #21: A police detective is assigned to a case involving arson at several Krispy Kreme donut shops.

Mark sat in the cruiser with the blue and red light whirling and twirling above, but the sirens were silent.  He had a clipboard perched on his lap with tedious paperwork that he had retreated to fill out.  Mark had finished the paperwork some time ago, nearly thirty minutes, but had been extremely hesitant to leave the car.

Walking into any donut shop in a uniform was difficult enough.  The trite jokes, snide comments, and sniggers of laughter were irritating and overplayed.  However, walking into a donut shop when the uniform was stretched tight around an ever-expanding, rotund middle was proof that God was insensitive and cruel.  It didn’t seem to matter that the shop was only so much ash and rubble, the unfortunate victim of an impressively vindictive and awfully clever arsonist.  It didn’t matter that Mark was there to investigate and bring about justice in whatever form was most appropriate.  All that mattered was that he was a fat cop walking into a donut shop.  That kind of material practically wrote itself.

Sighing heavily, Mark tossed the clipboard onto the front passenger seat.  He turned his head to look at the scene, milling with onlookers – only a very few were witnesses and even less were helpful – and firefighters and employees.  He had absolutely no desire to face any of them.  He looked away, across the street to the stores that lined the street.  They were still standing, and he caught the reflections of the lights in the storefront windows.  He watched the blue and red chase each other round and round for a few moments before his eyes lit on his own reflection.

Sighing heavily, Mark tossed the clipboard onto the front passenger seat.  He turned his head to look at the scene, milling with onlookers – only a very few were witnesses and even less were helpful – and firefighters and employees.  He had absolutely no desire to face any of them.  He looked away, across the street to the stores that lined the street.  They were still standing, and he caught the reflections of the lights in the storefront windows.  He watched the blue and red chase each other round and round for a few moments before his eyes lit on his own reflection.

An obtuse officer; a portly policeman – Mark could think of a million and one clever ways to describe himself, but such self-deprecating declarations did little to change or even mask the reality.  He was unhealthy.  He wasn’t appealing.  It had been years since any woman had even talked to him, let alone offered him a second glance (even out of sheer pity).  He was a living, breathing travesty; he was an awkward and atrocious version of himself that he had never envisioned, never aimed for.

Life was funny that way, he supposed.  His bottom lip quivered, threatening tears and wouldn’t that just be the icing on fat boy’s cake if he started sobbing like a little girl in the squad car.  He pushed his pudgy fists against his eyes and waited for the tumultuous moment to pass.

A knock on the window snapped Mark out of it.  His hands dropped to his lap and there was his partner, bent at the waist to better peer into the cruiser.  Mark rolled the window down.  “What’s up?” he asked in what he hoped was a casual tone.  Would his partner know he had been about to cry, that he was so weak as all that?

“Some guy says he saw some crack head running from the flames with a gas can.  Sounds like a promising lead.”

Mark nodded.  “Sure does, I’ll be right out.”

His partner nodded and walked away.  Mark rolled up the window again.

He wondered how much longer he could stay just where he was without raising suspicion.

On changing names.

Published August 5, 2014 by mandileighbean

I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately. I wonder if I’ve been struck with that “Summertime Sadness.” It is now August, and my dreams have included school more and more, so maybe it is simply anxiety stemming from the upcoming school year. I should try and refocus it into excitement, into positive energy.

There are so many things I’ll never tell the object of my affection so this person will never know, like how many chocolate donuts I’ve devoured to compensate for his absence. I think he’s the kind of man who never has to drink alone.

I love how, in movies, you can always tell which couples are going to form based on who watches who walk away, especially after a seemingly irrelevant conversation.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #17: “I love the way she says words that begin with ‘cr,’ like ‘crisp’ and ‘crunchy.’ How bizarre is that?”

supermarketromance

Ally had the shopping list in hand and was intently focused on securing the various items. She was expertly maneuvering her way down the aisles with Michelle in tow. Michelle had only agreed to come because she was sick of sitting at home alone with a severe case of writer’s block. She thought getting out and about among people would be inspirational, and she thought bouncing ideas off of Ally, her best friend, would be beneficial. After the supermarket, they would go back to Ally’s apartment, drink some wine, devour some pasta, watch some bad television, and have themselves a relatively unproductive but enjoyable weekday. They tried to do this every so often to maintain the friendship among differing schedules and ambitions and so far, it had been a success.

Part of the success, or most of the success actually, could be attributed to the level of comfort between the two women. For example, Michelle knew Ally was only half listening as she scoured the shelves for what she needed, and Michelle kept talking anyway. She was eager to work out some tricky dialogue between the romantic leads in her latest literary endeavor. “So,” Michelle began, resting her elbows on the handle of the shopping cart and propelling it forward in the laziest of ways, “I wanted him to say something super specific but still adorable to show how much he likes her. Only he wouldn’t be talking to her, he’d be talking a friend.”

“Uh huh,” Ally said. She wasn’t listening. She was trying to decide between vermicelli and angel hair pasta.

“Like, he’ll say … I don’t know, something like, ‘I love the way she says words that begin with “cr,” like “crisp” and “crunchy.” How bizarre is that?’”

“Very bizarre,” Ally answered.

Michelle sighed. “No, you’re not supposed to answer. That’s the dialogue.”

Ally turned to her friend, a box of pasta in each hand. “But that’s stupid.”

“Well, don’t hold back, Ally. Tell me how you really feel.”

Rolling her eyes, Ally turned back to the many, many boxes of pasta neatly stacked on the shelves before her. “A guy would never say that. A guy would never notice that.” She put one of the boxes back on the shelf, and stooped to examine another. “Unless she just got braces or something. Does she have braces?” She turned to her friend, suspicion and skepticism obvious in her expression. “Are you writing about yourself again?”

Michelle self-consciously placed her hand over her mouth. The braces had ceramic brackets so it was nearly impossible to tell Michelle had braces until the onlooker got really close, like all up in her grill as it were, but she still blushed whenever they were mentioned. “No,” she proclaimed defensively. “I think you’re being close-minded. I, for one, think a guy would totally say that.”

“How often does one even use ‘crisp’ and ‘crunchy’ in regular conversation?” Ally asked. She paused to think for a moment. “Great; now I want potato chips.” She completed an about face and headed toward the aisle with all the snacks; the chips, the crackers, and the cookies. Michelle hurried after her, nearly running over some small, silver-haired ladies mulling over the canned soups.

“That’s the point, though. I want it to be singular and memorable. This will be the romantic quote my female audience will swoon over, you know?”

Ally threw two bags of potato chips into the basket of the shopping cart. “I don’t know if it’s authentic. I think you should ask someone.”

“What?”

“Let’s find a dude, and you can ask him if he would ever say that.”

Michelle paled. She was definitely more of an introvert than an extrovert, and the thought of stopping some stranger and asking him if he could possibly emulate a character seemed absurd. The man who they stopped would probably be a Neanderthal of sorts, nothing like the wonderful invention of a man Michelle had imagined. She would lose undoubtedly. “That’s a dumb idea.”

“You’re just afraid of talking to people.” Ally was abrasive and logical, which was completely unlike her best friend and most likely why they got along so well. She looked up and down the aisle and smiled. There was a handsome employee about their age at the far end, mindlessly stocking twelve packs of soda cans. His muscular arms moved gracefully, and Ally took note of that, as well as his dark hair. “C’mon; we’ll ask tall, dark and handsome over there.”

Michelle tried to discreetly sneak a peek. He was definitely handsome, but he really wasn’t all that tall, and his hair was dark but truth be told, his skin was actually pale. Michelle leaned close to Ally. “No, no way. He doesn’t read. He’s not a good person to ask. Let’s just go.”

“Oh, stop it,” Ally commanded and grabbed Michelle’s hand. She literally pulled her down the aisle while Michelle mumbled a million different protestations. They all fell on deaf ears and Michelle clammed up once they halted behind the employee, their backs against rows of pretzels. “Excuse me,” Ally called politely.

The employee turned and upon seeing it was two young women instead of the usual seniors who argued about coupons and prices with him even though he was not a cashier, he smiled brightly. “Hello; can I help you?”

“Yes,” Ally smiled. “My name is Ally, and this is my friend, Michelle. What’s your name?”

“I’m Justin,” he said. He held out his hand. Michelle and Ally shook his hand in turn, and everyone agreed that it was a pleasure to meet. “What can I help you with?”

“My friend Michelle here is a writer –“

“Really?” Justin interrupted.

“Really, really,” Ally confirmed and was incredibly proud of her friend. Michelle blushed and looked down at her feet. “She had a book published about two years ago and is currently working on her second.”

“Oh, yeah?” Justin leaned back against the shelves he had been working to fill and crossed his muscular arms over his firm chest. He was interested and was settling in to enjoy the conversation. “What’s this book about?”

“Well, here’s the thing – she doesn’t want to give too much away because the project is still in development and whatnot, but she’s trying to work out some dialogue. She ran an idea by me but really, it needs a masculine touch.”

Justin smiled. “Okay; shoot.”

Ally turned to Michelle, who was still not looking up and who was still not talking. She waited for her friend to man up, to say something – anything – but the silence was becoming awkward and Michelle was making an absolute fool of herself, so Ally intervened. “Well, she wants this male character to say something unique and romantic, something totally quotable. She came up with a line about how he likes the way she says words like ‘crisp’ and ‘crunchy.’ Would a guy ever notice that?”

Justin looked off to the side, thinking the question over seriously. Ally watched him with patient eyes, while Michelle only stole furtive glances spasmodically and sporadically. Michelle thought him handsome and despite thinking Ally was full of shit and only liked to torture her, she was still interested in his response. When Justin turned back to the pair, he caught Michelle looking at him. They made eye contact and he grinned. “I think it’s possible, sure, if the guy’s name starts with the same sound, like if it’s a Chris. Is his name Chris?”
Ally turned expectantly to Michelle. She shook her head.

“Oh,” Justin said and he seemed disappointed. “Well, maybe you should change the words, then, to match the guy’s name. I think every guy loves the way his girl says his name, and not just while they’re doing it. Guys like the way their girls laugh, too.”

Ally smiled. “Well, thank you, Justin. You’ve been very helpful.”

“You’re welcome,” Justin said. He turned from Ally to Michelle. He was smiling. Michelle was only staring. The awkwardness was building and fast.

“Well, okay then. We’ve got to get going,” Ally said, leading Michelle back to the shopping cart the same way she had dragged her to Justin. Justin watched them go.

supermarketromance1

On looking for bruises and blood.

Published January 22, 2014 by mandileighbean

This is going to seem like an incredibly odd way to begin this post, but I was honestly shocked by how difficult it is to find a picture of men and women dressed in fancy clothes while displaying bruises and blood. I know that is a terribly creepy image to search for, but when you read this week’s writing prompt, I’m hopeful you will understand.

That being said, I have a favor to ask. If you enjoy these weekly prompts, or read and enjoyed HER BEAUTIFUL MONSTER, please review my work! Add something to Amazon, or Goodreads, or even just leave a post on my Facebook page. The best way for a writer to be successful is to be known, so pretty, pretty please with sugar on top, spread the word if you enjoy my writing! And if you don’t, that’s cool, too! Please feel free to add critiques and tell me how I can get better. Both praise and constructive criticism are always welcome.

lonelybridesmaid

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #11: “Yes, and that’s why she broke the plate over his head.”

Gerard walked over slowly, limping ever so slightly, with one bottle of beer in each hand. Cold and wet from a cooler, the dripping water exploded against the searing pavement and made Gerard’s movements incredibly easy to trace. Kristen watched him advance with a bemused, bright smile, raising her hand to shield her squinting eyes from the sweltering sun. He offered a boyish, mischievous grin in return and Kristen knew she had to be careful now, because falling in love with someone like Gerard would be foolish, and her mother would be right, and she would most likely end up weird and alone. She shoved all that down and unnecessarily moved over on the second to last stone step of the church. Gerard took a seat and handed Kristen one of the amber-colored bottles. She took it and said thanks. Another moment was all she could stand before she just had to ask, “Why is it that you have cold beer in your car?”

Gerard threw his head back and laughed, not caring who was in ear shot or what those who gazed upon him might think of him, sitting in a tuxedo on the front steps of a church beside a beautiful, young woman in an incredibly expensive dress, drinking a beer. Kristen envied the total freedom he exuded, regardless of whether or not it was authentic. He clanked his bottle against hers, drank from it greedily, and then said, “Weddings are brutal, man. One must always be prepared.”

“Isn’t that the motto for the Boy Scouts?” Kristen asked,

Gerard nodded, taking another long drink. “Indeed it is, but my intentions were never so honorable or innocent.” He shot her a playful wink and she blushed appropriately, playing the game and being as coquettish as anyone would expect. Inside, though, it was murdering her and humiliating her. She wanted it to be more, to be substantial, to be the beginning of everything important, but she was terrified it meant nothing more than sharing a beer to Gerard, and all the conflicting thoughts and emotions and desires only served to make her nauseous. So she turned away. Gerard noticed and asked, “Is it that bad? Am I that hard to look at?”

Kristen turned back towards him. She understood that he was referring to his swelling bottom lip and left eye. The skin was puffed and quickly discoloring, turning from a normal kind of cream color to a gross, rough-looking black and blue. Blood was dried and flaking at the corner of his mouth, and it trailed down to his chin. She ran her fingers along the outside of her bottle, ensuring they were wet, and gently rubbed Gerard’s chin clean of blood. She let her fingers trail the lines of his jaw for just a second before coming back to herself and reality. She shrugged. “It’s not so bad. You definitely have a black eye, but girls are into that, especially if you make up a really cool, heroic story. Say you beat someone up because they said the kitten you rescued from a tree was stupid.” She gulped at the alcohol in the bottle, hating herself just a little more each time she opened her dumb mouth.

Gerard laughed. “Oh yeah, because that’s totally cool. You’ve always had your finger on the pulse of incoming trends, Kristen; that’s you all over.” Coming from anyone else, the sarcasm would have stung. But when it came from Gerard, it felt safe and warm, like belonging somewhere or being accepted. Kristen should have been happy, but she was never one to leave well enough alone.

“So what did happen? Why did Mark start swinging on you?”

Gerard immediately dropped his gaze, suddenly unwilling to look Kristen in the eye. He cleared his throat and swallowed hard, depending on his body to stall for time. He shifted in his seat and readjusted his grip on his bottle, so that the thumb of his right hand covered the circular opening. “Well,” Gerard began but wet his lips to pause, “it’s complicated. I’ll tell you everything later, especially if we’re drunk, but for now, let’s just say I was trying to encourage Mark to behave in a certain way, and he literally fought me on it.”

Kristen nodded and then dropped her gaze as well. What was that supposed to mean? If it was vague enough to be infuriating, but she supposed that was Gerard all over. He was enigmatic, but it was now at the point where it was no longer exciting. It was tiring and confusing. She rolled her eyes and drank. Gerard had seen. He had, in fact, been watching Kristen’s reaction very closely, eager for the blind loyalty she had always displayed, but expecting and dreading a negative judgment. He knew it was only a matter of time before she caught on to his bullshit and faded him out. “What the hell was that?” he asked, hurt and unable to keep it from his tone.

“What?” Kristen asked, honestly surprised.

“You just rolled your eyes at me. What gives?”

“Oh shit,” Kristen groaned. She covered her face with her hands, still holding the bottle. “I didn’t think you were looking.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” Gerard’s voice became higher the more offended he became.

“No,” Kristen said, sounding miserable. “I just wish you would just tell me the truth, you know? I don’t need the games or intrigue, man. Just tell me what happened to your face.”

Gerard stared at Kristen, open-mouthed, while she stayed as she was, eyes closed and face covered. He was about to answer when one of a pair of bridesmaids, wearing dresses identical to Kristen’s dress, said, “Yes, and that’s when she broke the plate over his head!” The women laughed and continued on, apparently oblivious to the fact that they had just passed the topic of their conversation. Gerard shrunk as if the blows had been physical rather than of the verbal variety. Kristen let her hands drop and she turned back to Gerard, watching him suffering. A smile that honestly lacked amusement draped itself across her mouth.

“Gina did that to you? Not Mark?”

Gerard nodded.

“Oh my God,” Kristen laughed. “Why? And why did you lie?”

Gerard took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and spoke very quickly, as if rushing through it would minimize the consequences of revealing what had transpired. “I told Mark about how Gina had been sending me crazy text messages and how she had been trying to get me to meet her alone, but he didn’t believe me, so when he asked Gina about it, she flipped and attacked me, and said I was the crazy one, that I was stalking her, and what a mistake it had been to ever invite me.”

Kristen dropped the bottle she had been holding. It did not shatter, but rolled away quickly, leaking suds and foam and alcohol as it went. Kristen used her newly free hands to cover her mouth and stifle the inappropriate gales of shocked laughter that were threatening to overcome her. Gerard popped one eye open and chanced a glance at Kristen. When she didn’t seem completely disgusted, he relaxed. “Do you believe me?”

“It’s a weird thing to lie about,” Kristen said. “And it was kind of a dick move to wait until the wedding day, don’t you think?”

“It just started happening!” Gerard retorted defensively. “I thought it would be laughed off, chalked up to cold feet! I didn’t know I’d get roughed up and kicked out!” He ran a hand across his wearied face, but then stopped suddenly, as if something had just occurred to him. “Why did you follow me out of the church, by the way? No one was mad at you; no one was kicking you out. Why disgrace yourself by aligning with me?”

Kristen shrugged nervously wiped her palms against her dress, which was spread smooth across her thighs. “Well, it’s complicated. I’ll tell you everything later, especially if we’re drunk, but for now, let’s just say I was sending a message to everyone, you especially, but naturally, you missed it.” She stood and began walking away.

Gerard panicked. “What? Where are you going? You’re coming back, right?”

“I’m getting another beer,” Kristen called over her shoulder. Gerard asked her to bring back two and patiently waited.

lonelybestman

On art and crime.

Published January 12, 2014 by mandileighbean

It has been a week since the last time I wrote anything substantial, and I am incredibly pleased to say it is because I have been busy, and not just with work and other ordinary, expected responsibilities. As of late, I have been noticing more and more that an important and integral part of being a writer is striking a healthy balance between living and working, especially because the two are inextricably linked. That symbiotic relationship can prove to be a vicious kind of cycle if that healthy balance is not struck. Writing, at its heart, is a terribly lonely profession. When a writer is hunched over a keyboard or a notebook, fervently typing or scribbling, that writer is utterly alone. He has created a world he can only enter until the work is complete and, if he is any good at what he does, becomes accessible to readers. The process varies in time and intensity, but no one can argue that writing is not time consuming. And writers write what they know, meaning that life experiences serve as inspiration and fodder for creation. Time must be spent away from the writing desk among others, being social and being daring. But then time must be spent recording and manipulating these observations and events into art. Both exercises must be constantly, consistently, and congruently adhered to. This past week I’ve been away from my desk and consequently, I firmly believe I’ve learned quite a bit.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #10: “The owner of a puppet theater goes on a crime spree with an inanimate accomplice.”

ventriloquist

Charles sat in the back of the police car with his knees rammed up against the divider. There wasn’t much room and he was terribly uncomfortable. He realized this should have been expected, but then again, he honestly had not believed he’d be caught. Charles had assumed that when the call came over the radio that a man with a dummy had robbed four banks in four hours, the attentive officers would laugh, shake their heads, and tell a joke or two at the rookie dispatcher’s expense. What else could a story like that be other than good-natured, old-fashioned hazing? Charles figured the disbelief and incredulity would buy him time and by the time a squad car reluctantly arrived on scene to assess the comedic situation, he’d be long gone with enough money to live comfortably for quite a while. Unfortunately, poor Charles had been wrong, just as he had been wrong about so many other things in his life. The cool, metallic cuffs suddenly felt tighter against his thin wrists, and they were pointedly digging into his lower back, so he leaned forward for relief. Charles was only afforded a few inches and the new posturing only served to complete the appearance of complete and utter defeat.

The rear door on the opposite side of the car clicked open and a jovial-sounded cop carelessly threw Buster in beside Charles, and then slammed the door shut again. Buster was splayed out and resembled a chalk outline, the accomplice made victim. His left arm stretched out and over his head towards Charles, as if he were asking for assistance in shallow gasps as the air or blood rushed out. His other arm lay uselessly by his side, and his legs were twisted around themselves. What bothered Charles the most about Buster’s inadvertent positioning were the eyes. Painted on, they were soulless and only stared. Currently, they were staring up at Charles and the manufactured grin, meant to be welcoming and disarming and friendly, looked cruel and like it lacked compassion. The dummy lacked all empathy and sympathy, and his cold eyes were locked on Charles.

Charles hadn’t meant for Buster to get wrapped up in any of this. When the bookings stopped – hell, had they ever really started? – and the savings dried up, Charles knew he and Buster were in for a rough patch. But when Myrtle had kicked them to the curb, hollering something about Charles needing a real job and always picking a wooden boy over her, Charles finally grasped just how desperate his situation was. Walking the rain-dampened pavement in the twilight, with Buster cradled carefully in his arms, Charles knew he needed a fresh start. It would be best if he was somewhere else, where his art would be appreciated, where ventriloquists were in high demand and often admired.

Charles needed to get to Las Vegas. Charles also needed money. He had no way of doing that; his mother had cut him off and Myrtle had very recently done the same. He might catch a gig in the next month, but that time frame wouldn’t cut it. He needed dollars fast. Hence the robberies with a fake gun Buster had as a prop for when they did their cowboy and Indian routine, which upon reflection, Charles realized was incredibly dated and most likely not funny. Well, he certainly had all the material he could handle now, didn’t he?

Charles hung his head and cried.

ventriloquist1

On life … and how titles can be vague.

Published November 25, 2013 by mandileighbean

Life is a fleeting, funny thing- I think we can all agree on that.  Last night, I enjoyed some drinks and some nostalgia with wonderful friends.  As the night ended at a diner, the way nights in Jersey so often do, a waitress who had seated herself at the table beside ours went into some kind of diabetic shock.  My friend Raina is a nurse, and without hesitation, she rushed to the woman’s side and did all she could to keep her alert and comfortable until the paramedics arrived.  I watched her with a serious sense of awe, of how cool, calm, collected, and confident she was.  I was amazed that such a wonderful and beautiful human being could friends with someone like me, who did contributed nothing to the situation other than stunned silence and stares.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #7: “A woman gets the opportunity of a lifetime when she gets hired to sing backup for a famous musician.”

microphone

Emily was ten years too old – was there really a logical reason for someone to roam this Earth for ninety years?  What could there possibly be left to see or hear or do?  She had laughed until she cried, cried until she had to laugh, been heartbroken, believed herself to be infinite and immortal, believed everything to be meaningless, and then believed everything to be poignantly meaningful.  She had run the gamut from wildly and recklessly passionate to dangerously and stubbornly apathetic.  Had she not lived through some serious shit?  Had she not also merrily sailed through years of calm?  What could possibly be left?  Emily was ready for death.

Ah, but that was horse shit and she knew it.  The thought of going to sleep and never waking up still terrified her in a way that was inexplicable.  It was a sweeping, overwhelming kind of horror that could not be sufficiently articulated.  So, Emily reasoned, if it could not be explained, then what good was there in thinking about it?  Emily looked for something else to occupy her mind and she settled on the weather.  The snow outside was falling steadily and despite feeling hellishly cranky, Emily thought it beautiful to look at.  She watched the weather silently and calmly with her head turned to the side on the large but thin pillow.  She allowed herself to wonder, but only for a moment, how many more snowfalls she’d see, but she shut her eyes against the thought of her inevitable and impending passing.  She prayed for some kind of relief, for some kind of distraction, and in walked the nurse.

The nurse had spent many nights with Emily, perhaps pulling the short straw and getting stuck with the cranky old woman through horrendous hours, hours where the human body was meant to be soundly sleeping.  The nurse was always obnoxiously cheerful and pleasant, which annoyed Emily who only pretended to be crotchety enough to pray for death.  Emily was also annoyed because the nurse was a young man.  Men, in Emily’s learned and wise and venerable opinion, were meant for manual labor and hard work, not for soothing and caring and all that womanly business.  Emily never exchanged more than a few words with the young man, and she only relented and did so because of his eyes.

The young man had absolutely phenomenal eyes.  There were a unique shade of emerald that a human being is blessed to see only once in a lifetime.  They shone brightly, as if chips of a broken Heineken bottle were stuck in the orbs to catch and reflect light.  Emily knew it was a piss poor analogy, and a disturbing rather than beautiful image, but she was dying.  She could do as she pleased.  She gave him a sneer that was slightly less repellent than usual as he came in, and then turned to continue to watch the accumulating powder.  He smiled merrily at her.  “Good evening, Emily.  How are you feeling?”

She grunted.

“Emily, my favorite part of our time together is the scintillating conversations we share.  Honestly, I’ve never been so emotionally and intellectually engrossed before.”  He was being scathingly sarcastic, but he gave her a quick wink to show it was all in fun.  Emily did her best to hide her grin in her hands as she pretended to cough.  The young man had traversed over to the machines that beeped endlessly and flashed all kinds of numbers and statistics that meant nothing to Emily.  She watched him and had the urge to ask him a question.  Despite it being completely out of character, Emily asked, “Did you always want to be a nurse, son?”

The young man was taken aback, clearly not anticipating any kind of conversation other than the usual nods and unintelligible moans and groans.  “What?” he responded, his decorum completely leaving him in favor of shock.

“Men usually aren’t nurses.  What brought you to this line of work?”

He laughed softly.  “You know, you’re right, but no one’s ever actually asked me that before.”  With the grin lingering about his lips, he took a few moments to give the question some serious thought.  Then he said, “I’ve always wanted to be a writer.”

Emily was disappointed.  Writing was not work by any stretch of the imagination.  She had wanted him to say rancher, or laborer, or soldier, something exceedingly masculine and handsome and wonderful she could think about later.  In essence, he had given her nothing to work with, and so she became bored with the conversation and turned her face away, back to the snow.

“What about you, Emily?  What was your dream?”

There was no thinking; her response was instinctual, as effortless as breathing.  “I wanted to be a singer.”

“Really?” the young man was amused by the answer.  “I’ve got to be honest; you don’t strike me as a singer, Emily.”

She turned to him with cold eyes.  “And why not?  What the hell is that supposed to mean, anyway?  I could sing as good as any of them!  I could move and put on one hell of a show, I’ll have you know!”

The young man crossed his arms over his chest and gazed upon Emily with real interest.  “So what happened?  Why are you here instead of up on the stage?”

“Because I’m ninety years old and knocking on death’s door.”

He smiled ruefully.  “You know what I mean, Emily.  Why didn’t you ever become a singer?”

She sighed.  “Well, I was making a name for myself at the local dive bars.  I was packing places to capacity, causing fire hazards and whatnot.  A couple of stories ran in the papers and this big shot from Los Angeles came to see me.  He was impressed by what he saw and offered me a shot.  I was to go to Los Angeles and become a backup singer for Frank Sinatra for a gig or two.”

“Frank Sinatra, really?” the young man asked.  She had his full attention now as he sat on the edge of her bed, open-mouthed.

“Oh, sure,” she smiled.  “I didn’t get to meet him or nothin’, because during my audition, I was nervous as hell.  So I downed some whiskey to calm the nerves and pull it together.  I must have overdone it, though, because I moseyed on up there and soon as I opened my pie hole, I vomited all over the mic.”  Emily started chuckling.  “Everyone was so disgusted.  I was escorted out by these burley guys who didn’t even want to touch me.  I didn’t even get a chance to collect my things.”  Her chuckles had turned into hearty guffaws.  She brought her wrinkled hands up to her wrinkled cheeks as her eyes wrinkled with merriment.  She was genuinely laughing, something she hadn’t done since Lord knows how long.  It was an infectious, melodious and beautiful sound and for a fleeting moment, the young man heard how Emily must have sounded when she sang and it was tremendous.  His smile stretched wider and he joined in the laughter.

Elderly woman's hand

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