Alabama

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On being random, dismantling and finally updating.

Published June 27, 2016 by mandileighbean

It’s been over two months since the last time I posted, and there’s nothing I want more than to tell you I’ve been doing wonderfully interesting things, that I’ve been really and truly living. But that would be a hyperbole. I’ve been alive, yes, and I’ve done some fun things, yes, but nothing that should keep me from writing.

So let’s catch up, shall we?

I haven’t lost any weight, but I have gained some. I haven’t really been trying, as I’ve felt mostly unmotivated and uninspired lately. Is this summertime sadness? Is this some looming emotional, existential crisis that has finally landed? Am I just melodramatic? Rather than answer these questions, I usually eat a bag of potato chips (the ones that say “Family Size”) and fall asleep on my couch.

I think I’ve identified one behavior that needs to change.

I wish I had a camera that could take quality pictures of the moon and do its beauty justice.

“A heart that hurts is heart that works.”

I don’t fantasize about sex. I fantasize about intimacy; how sad is that?

I think a duck must have a perfect life. They just float on, no matter if the water is calm or choppy. They can take off and fly whenever they want. If the only dunk their heads in the water, they have food. It’s simple and free, and I am envious.

I am done romanticizing broken men, as if loving them adds something noble to my character.

“I don’t hold grudges. I believe that’s the shit that leads to cancer.”

The school year ended on a high note. The senior events I was charged with helping to plan (Mr. Manchester, Senior Prom, graduation) all went off without a hitch. I am proud of the work I’ve done.

“Nothing is ever over.”

I really need to use my upstairs more. I don’t have central air though, so during the summer, the temperature is almost unbearable up there. So I’m in pretentiously self-proclaimed “office,” but it’s dark in here. It’s really dark in my house. I’ll say it’s to keep it cool, since I don’t have central air, but in all honesty, it’s because I’ve been too broke to afford light bulbs and now that I do have money, I’m simply too lazy to buy some and replaced the old ones.

“I know what I want, and I don’t mind being alone.”

It’s really dark in my house. I’ll say it’s to keep it cool, since I don’t have central air, but in all honesty, it’s because I’ve been too broke to afford light bulbs and now that I do have money, I’m simply too lazy to buy some and replaced the old ones.

This is what a successful adult looks like, no?

The literary agent who requested the first fifty pages rejected me, but my original publisher is still thinking about it. What’s that saying, when God closes a door, He opens a window? I’m feeling ambivalent to everything, mostly because I’m sunburned and it hurts so I’m cranky.

I like collecting little, seemingly unimportant details of the people in my life to better craft my characters.

When school was in session, I realized that the worst thing about leaving my house each weekday morning wasn’t having to bid adieu to my comfortable bed and its cozy covers, but that I miss the early sunlight streaming through the windows and lighting the wooden floors. It’s beautiful, and I was sad I could never just sit and admire it. But now I can. I think that’s how life is supposed to work.

I do this thing sometimes where I just sit in my car. I might leave the engine running, or I might shut it off, but either way, I sit in the driver’s seat, scrolling through the social media garbage on my phone or playing Tetris. It’s wasting time, one of the most precious gifts, and I hate it. I don’t know why I do it. Is it exhaustion? Is it moodiness? I abhor how lazy I am. I had an idea for a scene for my third novel, but the details have faded. I remember it had something to do with a modest, upstairs library and someone watching on anxiously as someone else carefully surveyed the titles. I wanted to throw in visiting a favorite author’s grave, but there was definitely more to it, like dancing or something? I need to write things down more often … obviously.

“Wanting it doesn’t make you the monster, taking it does.”

Some days, I just waste the hours until I can go back to sleep.

“You can fail at what you don’t want to do, so you might as well do what you love.”

I’ve been in a miserable sort of funk, so I’m endeavoring to change my life. My friend thinks I need to be comfortable alone before I can be comfortable with someone. She recommended hiking, picnicking, wine on the beach, seeing movies, and getting coffee. I also think I should leave the state. I’ve been dying to go to Key West in Florida. This summer, I’ve decided to dismantle myself from the inside out, rebuilding to be more carefree, more creative, more in love with myself and less dependent on others. Some days, I have to talk myself into getting out of the shower, and even then, I change into pajamas.

But I’m trying to be positive, I swear. I’ve begun keeping a running list of things that make me happy to be alive (in no particular order).

  • fireworks on a summer night
  • driving my Jeep without its roof and doors
  • sunburn (as long as it turns tan)
  • books (even the shitty ones because they’re non-examples for my career)
  • clean sheets
  • hot showers
  • food, glorious food!
  • running and being sweaty after a run because it helps me to love my body
  • good movies
  • laughing
  • the national pride fearlessly displayed by soccer fans

“The effect you have on others is the greatest currency you’ll ever have.”

I recently lost a banana for 24 hours.

“I’m ripe with things to say. The words rot and fall away.”

So, here’s an excerpt from the novel I’m working on. You should hit “play” on the video that follows now, so you can have a soundtrack. Ironically, the song playing is not the one I quote in the paragraph that follows. I wish I knew why I do the things that I do.

“The thing about things is that they can start meaning things nobody actually said, and if he couldn’t make something mean something for me, I had to make up what it meant.”
– Amanda Palmer

Kelly dropped the box filled with odds and ends concerning the kitchen with an exaggerated, dramatic sigh of relief. The box landed on Charlotte’s tiny, cheaply and poorly made kitchen table, a piece of furniture she had salvaged from her grandmother’s home, a piece that had likely been in the home for forty years – a horrible blend of Formica and putrid pastels. For a moment, Charlotte had been hopeful the weight of the box would crush the table and put the ugly thing out of its misery, but she had no such luck. She watched Kelly similarly drop herself into a chair, sweaty and tired from a day spent moving, a day of manual labor. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” she whined.

Charlotte offered a grin of commiseration. “I know, me neither.” She moved a few steps closer, resting against the back of a chair.

“Then let’s call it quits and do something better.”

“Like what? As you can tell, I haven’t got much of anything.”

Kelly thought for a moment. “You got playing cards?”

“I think so,” Charlotte said. She knew damn well that she did, but she was playing it cool for no other reason than it was a habit turned instinct. It was irrational – there was no way Kelly would give a shit about how those cards came to be in Charlotte’s possession, or how seeing those cards made Charlotte’s dumb heart skip a beat even now, even though she was nearly 1,000 miles away.

Kelly’s face of thoughtful concentration broke into a youthful smile of excitement. “Well, shoot – I’ve got beer and some of them crisps. How’s ’bout you and me play us a few rounds of cards?”

“Sure,” Charlotte smiled. Kelly scurried back to her neighboring apartment to scrounge up some beer and some snacks, and Charlotte headed to her bedroom. At the foot of her bed, upon the creaky floor, sat a box labeled, “PERSONAL.” It had been the only box Charlotte had personally moved, had tucked discreetly in her car and carried hurriedly across the threshold of her new apartment, lest anyone should see and ask about the contents, most of which meant absolutely nothing to anyone except Charlotte (hence the label). It wasn’t filled with lingerie or vibrators or dirty pictures or anything like that. The contents only embarrassed Charlotte because of their innocence, because only a prude would cling to a random assortment of objects that reminded her of people who had long since removed themselves from her life, or had been removed for any number of offenses. The items in the box would mean nothing to a passerby and that embarrassed Charlotte, like there was something shameful and almost juvenile about being anything but obvious.

She squatted somewhat uncomfortably to delicately open the box, lovingly unfold the flaps so that she had complete access to some of her memories, so that the majority of the contents were visible. Charlotte only needed to scan the contents for a few seconds before she found the deck of cards, quaintly contained in cardboard, beaten up from a few years of handling. A smile splayed itself unabashedly upon her lips as she reached into the box the same way a heart surgeon would reach into her patient’s chest cavity. With the same kind of epic patience, she removed the playing cards from the box and began walking back to the kitchen. The youthful, exuberant smile quickly became nostalgic and sad.

The playing cards were white with silver, loopy hearts decorating their backs. The hearts were cute, sure, but there was nothing remarkable about their appearance. They were a treasured item for Charlotte only because of the way the cards came to be in her possession. A few years ago, Charlotte had fallen in love with a beautiful, brilliant, and broken man. As a result, she had developed a constant need to be around him, to be close to him, and so, she invited him everywhere.

One night, she invited him back to her hotel room after a work conference. She and her colleagues had all been drinking for quite some time, right up until the lights came up for last call. The beautiful, broken man had joined them at the bar, at Charlotte’s request, of course. Charlotte had always envied the sort of effortless grace that surrounded him, the way he could suddenly appear anywhere at anytime and be welcomed and accepted. When he strolled into the bar without fanfare or pomp and circumstance, without having attended any of the conference because of a prior commitment, Charlotte was breathless with awe. It was like something of a horribly cheesy and romantic movie made for network television; he could have been walking in slow motion beneath a burning spotlight towards a strategically placed wind machine. The fact that he was walking towards Charlotte smiling was wonderful and she was so happy she could burst apart. She never ever wanted her time with him to end, and her colleagues and friends didn’t want to stop drinking, so a select few decided to buy some beer and return to Charlotte’s room. She turned to her beautiful, broken man and invited him. He played it cool – he was always so goddamn cool – and didn’t really answer one way of the other. Even when they were walking back to the hotel, just across the street, he wouldn’t accept or outright reject the invitation. When he climbed into his car, a lump formed in Charlotte’s throat. She would let him go and hide her disappointment, try and play it cool, so her parting words asked that if he did come, to bring playing cards. He waved somewhat dismissively and drove away. The copious amounts of alcohol she had consumed kept Charlotte’s mood from dipping too low and she scampered back to the hotel among friends, arm in arm, with high spirits.

He sent her a text later saying he couldn’t find playing cards and was just going home. Charlotte sighed heavily and thought her best recourse was to just keep drinking.

About twenty minutes later, there was a booming knock at the hotel room door. It sounded particularly authoritative and Charlotte was worried it was the cops. Were they being too loud? Her one friend raced to the bathroom to hide while the other pressed herself further into the bed, as if the mattress could swallow her whole and conceal her. They had left Charlotte to answer the door and so she did, despite feeling suddenly and incredibly nauseous. She opened it and saw no one. No one was there.

She whipped her head to the right and gazed down an empty hallway.

Looking to the left revealed her beautiful, broken man. He was leaning against the hallway wall like some leading man from Hollywood. His arm was bent at the elbow so he had one hand behind his head and rested his weight against the wall through the point of that bent elbow. His right leg was crossed behind the left one and the toes were pointed down at the plush carpet. In his other hand, he twirled a pack of playing cards. He was smiling, quite pleased with himself and the effect it all had on Charlotte. There was certainly something gorgeous about him, something more than his appearance. His demeanor drove her wild – she would never able to pull off such an entrance, but he had.

And it had been for her. What more could a girl possibly ask for?

But nothing had come of it. He was with some woman with a checkered past and too much makeup. Charlotte’s grandma was worsening, and so she had left it all, run away. But she kept the playing cards to remind herself that for one night, she had gotten exactly what she had wanted, that she had been perfectly happy. The cards symbolized possibility – if it happened once, couldn’t it happen again?

 

On new material.

Published April 17, 2016 by mandileighbean

Last week was seemingly the longest week of my life. I could list all the challenges, frustrations, and disappointments and create a self-serving litany of complaints, but what good would that honestly do anyone? What kind of energy is that to offer up to the Universe? Instead, here’s an excerpt from the novel I am currently working on. I hope you enjoy it! Please comment with any comments or suggestions you may have – everything is greatly appreciated! 🙂

 

James’ eyes were bloodshot, whether from lack of sleep or too much drink Charlotte couldn’t tell. His eyes were also wide and vacant as he stood beside the coffee maker, staring into some void that only he could see. James seemed mesmerized, entranced, and it was creepy, terribly unsettling the way he could be present and a million miles away all at the same time. Charlotte wanted to call out to him and break that awful concentration, but she was too sick, too tired. She just continued shuffling by, too exhausted to even pick her feet up off the ground. It could have been her oh-so-clever subconscious, discreetly forcing her to make noise to call James to attention, but Charlotte was too sick to think. And truth be told, Charlotte had never really been all that clever, certainly not clever enough to figure out her own subconscious. And so, she shuffled outside.

The sun was hot and bright, but Charlotte didn’t remove any of her excessive layers of clothing. She was too tired, simply too tired, and besides, maybe she’d sweat the fever out – wasn’t that how it worked? She couldn’t remember. She was too tired.

Charlotte breathed heavily through her mouth, as her nose was congested enough to be rendered useless. She stared across the quiet street, too exhausted to turn her head, and her squinting, bleary eyes fell upon one of the only kids inhabiting the whole apartment complex. The kids belonged to the wonderfully nice family who had moved in a month ago much to Charlotte’s delight. The young girl currently in Charlotte’s view was a little sister to a big brother, both under ten years old. The last time Charlotte had seen them, they were yelling with youthful abandon, chasing one another in twisting, ever-widening circles across the dry lawns of their adjacent neighbors. What a beautiful sight! What joyous noise! Charlotte had been absolutely thrilled to encounter signs of life – FINALLY – at her new home. Once poor Kelly left, the remaining inhabitants had all been so odd, frighteningly so, and they had all been dying, or so it seemed.

Charlotte could certainly understand that now.

And apparently so could the kids Charlotte had affectionately begun to think of as Jem and Scout. She was looking at Scout now, and Scout was sitting at the start of her squat driveway, crying. Huge, mournful-looking tears leaked from her eyes and rolled down her round cheeks as if they were trying to be discreet, trying to avoid a scene. Her soft whimpers cut the silence and they sounded so pitiful. Had it not been so tired, Charlotte was sure her heart would have simply shattered. The little girl sat cross-legged on the hot asphalt, just crying. What was wrong? Where was Jem? Despite her extreme exhaustion and growing concern that any kind of movement would kill her, Charlotte turned her head to the left and moved it slowly to the right, endeavoring to scan the landscape to find the brother.

Charlotte didn’t have to look far.

Jem was standing in the middle of his lawn, just a few diagonal paces forward from his sister, standing and sweating in the sun, and staring, staring at Charlotte.

Their eyes locked.

Charlotte gasped and stumbled back a pace or two, unnerved to recognize the look in the little boy’s eyes. James was somewhere behind her in the house, presumably still in the kitchen, with an identical expression. But Jem was much too young to be lost in his own thoughts in such an unsettling way. What ghosts could he possibly have to gawk at? What horrors from his past could he possibly have recalled to the surface to relive in some masochistic ploy? The stare remained intact, unbroken, as Charlotte lost herself in her questions, in imagined possibilities of Jem’s infant traumas, each one more horrible and devastating than the next.

So when James appeared beside her, Charlotte screamed and lost her balance, falling into one of the cheap patio chairs. The plastic was unforgiving and her teeth clacked together as she landed hard on her ass. She could taste blood in her mouth.

“Jesus Christ, Charlotte,” James growled, closing his eyes against her shrill tones. “Do you always have to be so goddamn loud? I told you I’ve been battlin’ a headache for days. Or do you not give a shit about no one but yourself?” He looked down at Charlotte. The vacant expression was gone. James was clearly present in the moment, and him and his eyes were all impatience and contempt.

“I’m s-sorry, James. I-I w-was -” Charlotte stuttered. She wanted to apologize, but she was just so fucking tired.

“I brought you out some coffee because all do is think about you,” James sneered. He thrust the mug at her. The kind and thoughtful gesture was anything but considering his hostile, impatient tone and the muted violence in his actions. Charlotte flinched, but took the mug. She mumbled gratitude, but either James didn’t hear or didn’t care. “I’m going to work even though I feel like shit because one of us should do something.” James roughly dragged his hands along the edges of his face. “I feel god awful,” he groaned. He was wallowing in his misery until he snapped his gaze back to Charlotte. “Ain’t you gonna drink that coffee? I went through the trouble of making it so you’d enjoy it, not let it sit there and cool!”

Charlotte nodded slowly and lowered her gaze like a shameful child. “I will, I promise.”

She was so tired.

James looked at her for just another moment before storming to his truck. Charlotte listened to his boots thud heavily against the grass and then crunch against the gravel, making his progress. She didn’t want to look at him – he was being so cruel. He was especially cruel in the mornings lately. But Charlotte didn’t hear the expected opening and slamming of the truck door, or the expected and familiar roar of the engine coming to life, so she looked to James, to see of everything was alright in the thick heat, in the muggy silence broken only by buzzing insects and the soft whimpers of the little girl. When Charlotte looked, James was staring at her. This time, there was something dangerously close to pure hatred in his eyes. He was glaring at her. “Drink the goddamn coffee, woman!” James barked the order.

Charlotte flinched again, but did as she was told. Once she started drinking from the mug, James got moving again. He climbed into his truck, started the engine, backed out of the driveway, and drove away. Only then did Charlotte stop drinking and pull the mug from her lips. It had been quite the gulp, a few gulps really, and so Charlotte went to lick her lips clean, first the bottom then the top.

As her tongue swept her top lip, Charlotte froze. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. There was a bitter and metallic taste, something that reminded Charlotte of the feel of aluminum foil. It was a bad taste, a yucky taste. Something was wrong with the coffee. Coffee should never ever taste like metal.

The mug fell from her hands. It shattered against the concrete, exploding into sharp shards at her bare feet. Later, Charlotte would discover tiny cuts on her feet and wonder how they got there, where they came from. But currently, Charlotte was experiencing one hell of a moment of clarity. For that moment, she didn’t feel sick or tired or sweaty or scared. She didn’t feel anything. The sudden knowledge was expansive and it filled her completely.

Charlotte knew the coffee was poisoned.

Charlotte knew James wanted her dead.

In the distance, Scout was still crying.

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Be sure to let me know what you thought! xoxo

On the struggle with technology.

Published March 5, 2016 by mandileighbean

I absolutely loathe my dependence on technology.

I know this may seem like quite the hypocritical statement as I am using my computer and the internet and social media to update my narcissistic, self-indulgent blog, but hear me out. I want to be a writer, so in this digital age of selfies and tweets and whatnot, I’m going to have to adapt and get on board or die (metaphorically speaking, of course). If people take to Google and social media for book recommendations, I have to be on Google and social media. It’s a concession I can live with to help build my writing career. It’s almost unavoidable.

So let me rephrase my earlier statement: I absolutely loathe my dependence on technology in my personal life.

My phone is nearly always in my hand. If I’m not texting (but hardly anyone ever messages me because I physically interact with those who matter most, which is certainly a good thing) or checking e-mail (does anything important ever really come via email?), then I’m using Safari to check Facebook (I deleted the app to make a statement, but I found a way to be on the social media site constantly anyway). I’m scrolling and scrolling and scrolling on Instagram and Twitter, looking for likes, re-tweets, mentions, whatever. When there’s nothing satisfying there, I play Bubble Mania, Candy Crush or Tetris. I’m always looking down, disengaged and only pretending to listen to the authentic life happening all around me because I’m obsessed with this piece of technology and all the artificiality that goes along with it.

It’s my greatest weakness, and what I dislike about myself the most.

In my opinion (so please only take it for whatever it may be worth), social media only reinforces the crippling need for outside validation that seems to plague the human race. I recently traveled to Philadelphia to see David Cook in concert with my sister, and I took pictures. That in itself would be harmless if the intention had been true, if I had honestly taken pictures to create memories. However, creating and saving and storing memories was only part of my motivation. I wanted to take those pictures so I could upload them to Instagram and Facebook so I could count the likes and comments so I could feel cool and hip and modern, so I could feel like I belonged at the metaphorical watering hole of this super progressive, hyper intellectual, digital age. How stupid. How vain. Why do I need everyone to know where I am and what I am doing at all times? Why do I think everyone wants to know where I am and what I am doing at all times? If I put everything out there all the time, there’s no mystery left. I’m essentially robbing people the opportunity of getting to know me because I’ve created this false persona using technology and social media which could easily satisfy anyone even remotely curious. I’ve created an alternate version of myself for the masses and have rendered myself lonelier than ever. What kind of masochistic nonsense is that?

A wonderful colleague recently told me she’d read a few of my blog entries. She complimented me on my writing (yay!), but said I broke her heart (oh no!). She told me I was too hard on myself, and I know this to be true. Self-deprecation is usually the only humor I can handle, and I am constantly screaming at myself for all of the awkward, dumb, harmful, and lazy behaviors I engage in on a daily basis. Reaching for my phone and idling instead of reaching for a book to expand my mind fulfills all of those categories. It’s awkward to sit in a room – any room at anytime, anywhere – full of wonderfully interesting humans and ignore all of them to go on a phone. It’s dumb to not expand one’s mind and perception through reading, writing or conversation and instead retreat to multicolored candies that need crushing. It’s harmful because it perpetuates the idea that self-love is indulgent and ugly, and that worth is truly determined by society and the media and this new social media. We are all forced to become our own PR people and it’s weird and gross, and I dislike it more and more the more I think about it. It’s lazy because all I need is my thumb and a pair of glazed-over eyes.

Now, I’m not saying I’ll go completely off the grid by any means. Family and friends and loved ones can be scattered from one end of the globe to the other, so it is important to stay connected. I love that my aunt in Pennsylvania likes the memes I share about weight loss, and I love that she likes the sexy pictures of Elvis I find and post from time to time. I love that my cousins in Alabama can be brought up to speed with my life by a few pictures here and there, and vice versa. My coworker is going to the Big Apple today to see “The Crucible” on Broadway, and I’m looking forward to pictures and her review. My cousin is currently overseas serving his country, so we need the social media to keep in touch, to share messages of love and support. These are harmless human connections that are beautiful and wonderful.

But it’s all about moderation, right? It’s all about keeping our minds right and prioritizing.

The best part about the David Cook concert was not the blurry pictures I posted on Instagram a few hours later. It was spending time with my sister. It was shouting out the word “bipartisan” when David was struggling to find it, him thanking me for doing so, and my sister rolling her eyes because I’m “such an English teacher.” What a beautiful moment to feel validated about my passion and career. I did all of that without my phone. When my former phone was destroyed last month and I was without a phone for a few days, I survived. The world did not end. I was okay.

I did lose thousands of pictures, though. That was my own fault because I never backed them up using my computer. I assumed those treasured images would always be on that phone, because I tricked myself into believing technology is infallible and perfect and the answer to every question I ever had. That is simply not true, and I just feel that if I remind myself of that, I’ll regain faith in nature and people and all that surrounds me.

I fell in love with a great friend, but he didn’t feel the same way, and the friendship has since changed and is beginning to fade. Some of the pictures I lost were of the absolute greatest day we ever spent together. This makes me sad for many valid reasons. However, I was inspired to write this post (but really, it’s become a rant, hasn’t it? My bad) because in mourning the loss of the digital images that I never printed (what a metaphor for the relationship, huh? I’ll save that for my next novel), I realized that I felt I needed the pictures because I didn’t trust myself, didn’t trust my own memories and feelings. Those pictures became a kind of talisman that helped me pretend the friendship wasn’t fading, that I was right about everything, so look, look everyone! Look how we’re smiling with our arms around each other! I’m not crazy! There was something there, and I can prove it!

Why should I have to? I don’t have to, and that’s my point. I want to reduce my dependence on technology and social media in my personal life because I need to love myself and my life in reality. I don’t need the approval of others, and I don’t need to know everything about everyone because then what will our conversations be made of? What will I discover in intimate moments?

When I’m at the dentist’s office, or waiting for friends at a bar, I’ll pull out my journal or a book, but never my phone. That’s a new resolution. That’s a promise to myself.

I’ll post to promote my writing and my writing career, but not to start some drama or for attention or to start a pity party. That’s a new resolution. That’s a promise to myself.

And now, I’ll post those pictures of me and my sister and David Cook, since I invited you in.

Enjoy the weekend. xoxo

 

 

On the inability to stop questioning.

Published August 11, 2015 by mandileighbean

I’ve just finished Harper Lee’s GO SET A WATCHMAN.
WARNING: Spoilers abound.

I was determined to hate this book. I didn’t agree with how the novel started, what with Jem dead and gone. I was treating it as a sequel rather than its own masterpiece, which it assuredly is, and was being stupid and small. I was behaving much in the same way Jean Louise was, confident in a supreme intelligence that nothing and no one could surprise me because I know it all inside out. But Jean Louise did not know her father as a human, did not know all the delicate intricacies of her hometown. She needed to see Atticus as a human being, with flaws (which boil down to opinions other than her own), just as the reader did. Lee is a masterful storyteller because she discreetly forces you along Jean Louise’s journey and does so flawlessly. Her revelations become the readers’ revelations and another invaluable lesson is imparted to a generation; that you can love someone and disagree with them, that parents are still people, and that we never, ever stop learning or growing. Beautifully written, perfectly executed; well done.

I cursed myself for starting the novel, firmly believing that there is information not worth knowing. I lumped this novel in with such information, but the pain that comes from realizations and revelations is how human beings grow. Though knowledge can come with a terrible cost at times, I suppose it’s up to each individual to decide when enough is enough. There is no hard and fast rule for when ignorance becomes bliss. Furthermore, I think that’s a lesson we all learn in time, in our own terribly painful way.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #26: “While at a family reunion, a teenage brother and sister find an old suitcase filled with money under their uncle’s bed.”

The car slowly rolled to a halt at the end of the long, meandering driveway. The gravel crunched beneath the tires in a finite, satisfying way. David didn’t move. In no way did he acknowledge the end of the journey. He left his ear buds in, music blaring, and his forehead remained against the cool glass of the car window. His eyes were wide open but unfocused so that his vision was blurred and doubled in a disorienting way. David could have stayed that way for hours and hours, long after the sun sank down and disappeared, but his twin sister gave his arm an affectionate pinch. It didn’t hurt or anything, but it was enough to snap him out of it and bring him back to reality. He carelessly yanked his ear buds out and turned to face Savannah. “C’mon bud,” she said. She was smiling, but it was small and too sad to be sweet. David decided it was horrible and would have preferred Savannah to frown, or wail, or scream – anything else. “We’re here. We’ve got to get our stuff from the back,” she instructed. She turned away and climbed down from the family SUV. He mumbled “okay” pointlessly – no one was listening – and climbed down himself.
David hopped down and looked at his feet, comfortably clad in athletic slides and tube socks. Savannah was always giving him grief for that particular fashion choice, but David didn’t understand her frustration or her condemnation. He didn’t dress any differently than anyone else on the baseball team. Now that he thought about it, he realized his conformity was most likely the point of contention concerning his wardrobe. Currently, one side of Savannah’s head was shaved and the remaining locks were long and pink, a bright pink. As David moved to stand beside his twin sister, he surveyed her torn, black leggings, stained shirt featuring some band that had called it quits long before the Newbury twins were born, and the silver hoop stuck through her right nostril. Savannah was a rebel without a cause, to be sure. The hand that reached for a pink backpack of imitation leather featured fingernails adorned with chipped, black nail polish. David had never bothered to observe his other half, had never bothered to ask what it all was for. Death, he supposed, had that effect on some people.
Savannah felt David’s eyes upon her. Belongings secured in her grasp, she turned to face. “Why don’t you take a picture? It’ll last longer,” she said in a husky, laboring tone in her best imitation of a dumb, schoolyard bully. As she passed to enter her aunt’s massive and impressive log cabin with wonderfully modern and convenient amenities, she playfully slammed her shoulder into David’s. It caused him to rock back on his heels and he started to chase after Savannah, which caused her to shriek and scurry inside.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” David called after her. He offered the world a satisfied smile as he reached in for his own black duffle bag.

Later, David stood in the doorway of a bedroom on the third floor, the top floor of the cabin without counting the attic. He was to sleep in this room while his family stayed with Aunt Cheryl, who had just lost her husband. Uncle Doug had been killed in a rare attempted carjacking in town, a small town that was half an hour from the cabin, a small town whose name was only known, and not even cherished, by the locals. It was bizarre and tragic set of events, of circumstances, but wasn’t that always the way with death? If its patterns were readily, easily identifiable and thereby predictable, then the problem of the lack of longevity in humans would be solved. But David was not one for deep, philosophical thoughts, nor was he prone to entertaining existential crises. He shook his head and stepped into the room.
It felt weird, like the air was heavier or something equally irrational and beyond explanation or articulation. Savannah’s fashionable backpack rested atop the twin bed farthest from the door and nearest to the adjoining bathroom. The other bed straight ahead and against the breathtaking, full length windows, would be his. It had always been that way; all the innumerable visits to Cheryl and Doug’s cabin had begun in this exact same way. It was familiar yet not. The room was decidedly different, but not in any way that would make sense to anyone but David. He sighed.
It was nearly eight o’clock, but it was mid-July, so the room was filled with glorious, burning natural light courtesy of the giant windows. It should have been beautiful, but David only blinked once and turned away. He returned to the dark, cool, carpeted hallway and threw his duffle bag carelessly. It landed in the center of the room. David left it, hurrying downstairs to the muted sounds of idle conversation passed among grieving family members.
David moved to stand behind his mother, his sister, and his aunt. They were standing in a peculiarly straight row, looking out the tall, wide, sliding glass doors. David fell in line, took his place beside his sister, and tried to match their gaze. Though the lawn was a massive series of rolling hills, there was nothing of particular interest, nothing he hadn’t seen before. There were the cows and goats and donkeys and horses, moving slowly, grazing calmly, like this was a day like any other, as if the human who brought out the hay three times a day wasn’t dead and cold and gone. David thought it was a curse to be a sentient being. “What are we looking at?” David asked Savannah discreetly through the corner of a clenched jaw.
“Dad,” she answered, in the same discreet fashion. “He’s just been standing out there, staring. He’s been like this for at least ten minutes.”
David turned to his sister, concerned. “Shouldn’t someone go out there and check on him?”
“I’ll go out there in a minute or two,” answered Mom. Both David and Savannah whipped their heads in their mother’s direction, surprised she had overheard, had eavesdropped and then given herself away by responding. She had not turned to face her children but had remained stoic and still with her eyes locked on her husband. “He’s grieving for his brother, guys. There’s no right or wrong way to do that.” It wasn’t an admonishment or anything, it was just a statement, a fact there was no arguing with. In the same cool, matter-of-fact fashion with which she spoke, Mom slid the doors open, stepped out and slid them shut behind her. For a few moments, the remaining family members watched her progress, felt their breath catch in their throats when Mom stepped a few feet behind her husband and called out to him. He didn’t turn, though. He didn’t respond in any sort of fashion they could readily observe. The husband and wife stayed like that for endless, unbearable minutes. Eventually, Mom moved towards Dad and slipped an arm around his shoulders. It was seconds before he crumbled into her embrace. He was sobbing openly, and it seemed indecent to watch, so his children turned away. They showed their backs to the windows and doors, to all the glass.
Savannah wiped at her eyes soundlessly. David nudged her shoulder with his. “It’ll be okay,” David said. He sounded lame. Savannah was the one who gave comfort, handled situations and convinced David he’d survive. Though they were twins, separated by mere minutes, Savannah had always seemed older, wiser. But now, in the face of seeing her father cry for the first time, she was speechless. She had nothing to offer. Savannah could only nod.
Suddenly, Aunt Cheryl spoke. She said, “I didn’t think it was possible to miss someone so much like that. Huh.” Aunt Cheryl seemed thoughtful, genuinely intrigued by the extravagant, dramatic display of human emotion going on just outside her doors. She busied herself in the kitchen, presumably preparing for a late, supplementary dinner, a second evening meal. David and Savannah exchanged perplexed looks. David didn’t know what was worse, watching his dad weep like a woman outside, or watching his aunt be cold and distant inside, seemingly unmoved by the passing of her husband. David tugged on Savannah’s sleeve and jerked his head to the side, indicating that they should leave and go upstairs. She nodded and followed her brother.

The next day dawned clear and bright. When David padded downstairs in bare feet, he discovered the adults showered, dressed, and heading out.

“What’s up?” David asked.
“We have to head out for a while to handle arrangements,” Mom answered delicately. “There’s cereal and milk for breakfast.”
David nodded. “Anything we can do to help, Ma?”
She smiled warmly and grabbed her only son by his shoulders. “Just make sure you don’t make a mess, okay? Help your aunt out and clean up a little.”
David nodded again. Mom kissed him on the cheek and the adults headed out the door. David set about pouring himself some cereal and was joined by his sister some time later.
The pair cleaned the kitchen, hung around outside, traversed back inside, and watched mindless television. Savannah chucked the remote without warning onto the opposite couch, only narrowly missing David. “We should be celebrating Uncle Doug’s memory, not just sitting here.”
David sighed. “How?” He was used to Savannah’s penchant for sentimentality and dramatics. He’d entertain her today, seeing as how they really was nothing else to do.
“I don’t know,” Savannah admitted with an air of defeat. She thought for a few moments in silence and then said, “We could watch home movies.”
The nostalgia appealed to David and he smiled. “That’s not a bad idea.” He climbed to his feet. “Where do you think Aunt Cheryl keeps them?”
Savannah climbed to her feet and shrugged. “No clue, but let’s look around.”
David hesitated. “Mom told me not to make a mess.”
“We’ll clean up after ourselves,” Savannah laughed. She shook her head at her brother’s momentary lapse in common sense. She hurried upstairs and David followed close behind. She explained that something personal, like home movies, would most likely be in a personal space, like a shared bedroom. David tried to explain his trepidation, how it was weird for him to be in his aunt’s bedroom for many different reasons (including but not limited to relation, gender, age and so on and so forth), but Savannah dismissed her brother’s misgivings with her presence. She assured him it was fine, and advised him to look in the closet and on shelves but not in drawers or cabinets; she’d handle that. The pair commenced searching, coming up with nothing interesting until Savannah released an excited shout.
David turned to his sister, who was spread on her stomach on the floor, peering and reaching underneath the bed. “What are you doing?” he hissed, as if there was anyone home who could hear them. He felt like this was a violation. Why would she look under the bed, anyway? Who kept home movies there? But Savannah was insistent and in just a moment more, she was sliding an antique-looking suitcase out from under the bed.
“How cool is this? It looks like it’s from the 1800s!”
“You should put it back,” David warned. It was cool, for sure, but he was positive there was some reason it was hidden beneath the bed, and David firmly believed ignorance is bliss.
“Why would she keep something this great where no one could see it or appreciate it? Maybe it’s got something awesome in it!”
“Grow up,” David sneered. “The home movies aren’t in there, so put it back, and let’s go up to the attic.”
But Savannah wasn’t listening. She was opening the suitcase and when she did, she screamed. David dropped to his knees. The young siblings were looking at thousands of dollars. Neither had seen so much in person. Both longed to reach out and touch it, to hold it and pretend it was theirs, all theirs. Savannah looked at David with wide eyes. “Why the hell would Aunt Cheryl have all this cash under her bed? Why isn’t it in a bank?”
David shrugged. “Maybe the crash of ’29 left her rattled.”
“She’s not that old, stupid,” Savannah snorted. Her amusement faded. “This is weird. Something doesn’t feel right.”
“Then put it back and let’s look in the attic, like I said,” David offered, climbing to his feet. Savannah carefully closed the suitcase and slid it under the bed. In the attic, they found a couple of dusty shoeboxes with ancient VHS tapes. They hurried down stairs, hoping they’d be able to find a VCR. They were just about to resume their earlier positions on the couches when the doorbell rang. David hurried to answer the door, Savannah in tow.
The opened door revealed two intimidating-looking men in expensive suits. They wore identical, humorless expressions. The one on the left grunted and asked, “Is Cheryl Paton home?”
David frowned. “I’m afraid she’s not. She’s at the funeral home with my parents, making some last arrangements for my uncle. Can I help you?”
The man dug in his coat pocket. “Just tell her we stopped by and give her this card, okay? We want to talk to her about her husband.” He handed over an average-looking business card and looked at David from over his mirror sunglasses. “Have a good day, kid.”
“Thanks,” David said. “You too,” he called as he shut the door. With Savannah breathing down his neck, the pair read the name on the card. Detective Joseph Stanton, it said. What did the cops want with Aunt Cheryl? Maybe they’d made some progress on the case, found the assholes who tried to take his car?
“Think this has anything to do with the money upstairs?” Savannah asked.
Inexplicable chills ran along David’s spine. “Shut up,” he growled, shoving the card in his back pocket. “Help me find a VCR.”

Over another dinner that evening, David handed his aunt the business card. “Some detectives stopped by the house today, Aunt Cheryl. He asked me to give you this card and tell you he wanted to talk to you about your husband.”
Cheryl snatched the card from David’s hand. It surprised David, the urgency of it, and he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. She didn’t say thank you or anything. Cheryl got up and left the room. The extended family was left to its own devices. “That was weird,” David said.
“Yeah, and we found an old suitcase filled with tons of money under her bed while we were looking for the home movies,” Savannah whispered excitedly, looking from Dad to Mom and back again. “What’s that about, huh?”
Dad slammed his fists on the table, eliciting a shriek from Savannah and stunned silence from Dad. He pushed his chair back and away from the table, wood sliding against wood, and stormed from the room. Mom calmly wiped her mouth with her napkin and followed. Savannah turned to David.
“What the hell?” he mouthed.

The next day dawned clear and bright. David awoke to screaming and shouting. He bolted up in bed, flung the bedclothes far from him, and took off. He ran towards the source of all the noise, ran downstairs to find his mom and dad and sister pacing in the kitchen.
“What’s going on? What’s wrong?” David was panicked.
“Cheryl’s gone,” Savannah said. “So is the money. So are her clothes. She just up and vanished.”
David was in disbelief. He asked Savannah to repeat what she had said when Detective Joseph Stanton strolled in. “What money?” he asked.
David looked to Savannah, terror-stricken.

On Sleepy Hollow.

Published October 7, 2012 by mandileighbean

This weekend was enjoyable, productive, and – most of all – much needed.  Yesterday, I ventured to Sleepy Hollow with my good friends Dom and Raina, and Raina’s parents, and Raina’s parents friends.  I met everyone at Raina’s house, which was an adventure in and of itself.  I was pulled over on the parkway by a State Trooper for speeding, but he was understanding, and patient, and because my driving record is close to impeccable, he cut me a huge break.  Still, the experience was somewhat nerve-rattling because I had never been pulled over before and I was anxious just to get to Raina’s house and out from behind the wheel.  The issuing of the ticket made me late, as did generally leaving my house later than I would have liked, but I did arrive.  Dom showed up after I did, so my lateness was forgiven, and then the seven of us piled into two cars and hit the road.

The scenery was absolutely beautiful.  The leaves were all different shades of flaming red, burning orange, and resilient green and the mountains and hills we passed were covered in trees and seemed to go on for miles.  Dom frequently mentioned that it had been quite some time since he had smelled grass and he swore the sky was different in that part of the country.  We rode over bridges that provided safe travel over beautiful, dark water.  Dom, Raina and I caught up, shared snacks and were anticipating spending the evening in a historically creepy geographical location such as Sleepy Hollow, New York. 

The town caught us all by surprise.  We thought it would be … well, sleepier.  It was a “blue collar” town that was diverse in population as far as wealth and ethnicity.  We parked at Phillipsburg Manor, but traveled into the heart of Sleepy Hollow for dinner.  The meal was good and we survived the perilous task of parallel parking, and the gift shop had several interesting items for purchase.  I bought two books (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving and The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter) and a witch hat with a celestial theme.  I enjoyed hot chocolate and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the company and the scenery.  The walking path from the parking lots to the manor was lit by candles encased in glass lanterns.  It would have been romantic had we not been able to hear the blood-curdling screams of tourists venturing through “Horseman’s Hollow,” the very attraction we had purchased tickets for.

Dom has a talent for conversation; he is one of the most eloquent people I have ever had the distinct, intellectual pleasure of meeting.  When we were waiting for our turn to line up for the haunted walk, he engaged one of the security guards in conversation and we learned interesting tidbits about the history of the town, the attractions, and the origin of the commercialism surrounding Sleepy Hollow and its legend penned by Irving.  He mentioned Irving’s estate, named Sunnyside, and I made a mental note to visit it as soon as possible.  I also hope to make it to the cemetery, which is purported to be an entertaining, interesting tourist trap.  Dom also engaged the young man checking tickets at the entrance and he was a writer, working on a fantasy/adventure piece for about six years – since he was in high school.  For the first time in a few months, I introduced myself as a writer instead of as a teacher and it felt right.  I felt fulfilled and – for lack of a better term – cool.

The walk itself was definitely creepy and I did scream through most of it and maintain a quickened pace.  The costumed and makeup were remarkable, nearly everything seemed authentic, and we laughed as much as we shrieked.  Our biggest disappointment was that there was not more to do; we had hoped the town would fully and enthusiastically embrace its place in spooky folklore but as it turns out, this is only the third year they had done something to recognize Sleepy Hollow and its legend on a grand scale.  In particular, Dom had wanted to be immersed in history and after talking about that, we decided to make a try for Salem, Massachusetts.  The festivities there do have a historical authenticity and the three of us have yet to travel there and have yet to hear someone speak ill of Salem around Halloween (except for some strangers behind us on line, who claimed Sleepy Hollow was more entertaining than Salem, and that surprised us).

I really hope Salem works out, but I do not want to miss my cousin Cory’s visit.  One day last week, he quit his job because his boss was unkind.  He walked right off the job and embarked on one hell of a road trip.  He has kept me updated through messages, pictures, and Facebook statuses, and I am incredibly jealous.  I would love to be able to just leave, to shirk all responsibility and do exactly what I want.  I would love to get behind the wheel and see the country.  Cory explained that he only has one life and he will not waste it, will not let days go by without having seen and experienced “cool shit.”  I could not agree with him more.  I am so glad I went to Sleepy Hollow.

It was not just for the Halloween fun and atmosphere; it was to travel with friends.  Dom, Raina and I ended up at the Bridge View Tavern at the end of Beekman Avenue.  While the restaurant was all out of appetizers, the view of the Hudson River and the Tappan Zee Bridge was breathtaking.  The beer and wine were cold and tasty and the fries hit the spot.  We talked of people we know, some we still know and others we wish we could forget.  We were appreciative of the gorgeous night and the seasonal radiance particular to fall in October.

If I am to be perfectly honest, the ride home was my favorite part of the night.  Raina drove and to help keep her awake, Dom and I took turns reading from The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter.  The short stories were disturbing and entrancing, but I think the coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts takes the most credit for keeping us up.  Although, when we returned to Raina’s house, we all stayed up to hear the end of the longer story and I cannot even begin to express what that meant and still means to me.  Picture it; three twenty-somethings lounged on couches, attentively listening to a story being read aloud.  The television was not on.  We were not wearing ear buds to hear iPods.  There was an occasional perusal of the iPhone, but for the most part, we were totally engaged by the written word.  That is how I want every night to end.

On home defense.

Published June 26, 2012 by mandileighbean

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

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

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

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

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

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

PIECE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Talk to him?  Dad, are you-“

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another pause; she was on the phone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris shook his head.  “Not at all.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Such as?” Chris asked, gulping.

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

“I have.”

“Well?  What have you done about it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Chris,” she breathed, terrified.

 

On being one and done.

Published May 18, 2012 by mandileighbean

“…I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Harper Lee published one novel and my oh my – what a novel it was. This selected bit comes at the end of part one of one of the greatest American novels of all time. I cannot praise Lee’s work enough, nor properly explain how much this quote means to me.

 

I hope you enjoy it too.

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