Children

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On physical impossibilities.

Published July 12, 2017 by mandileighbean

I’m going to save the apology for the lapse in posting and refrain from the typical slew of empty promises and resolutions. You know the drill; sometimes I post, sometimes I don’t, but please believe me when I say I always want to. Writing fulfills me in a way that nothing else really does (except maybe Popeye’s chicken), and it needs to be more of a priority. Also, they’re building a Popeye’s near me, so how’s that for a sign from the universe?

I’m proud of this week’s writing prompt for a couple of different reasons. First, it’s the beginning of a better writing schedule (last empty promise I make, I swear (well, other than that last one)). Second, I use first-person point of view, which is something I never do. Using first-person point of view feels like a confession or admission, like it’s too personal to build a character that isn’t just me with a different name. All my writing might be like that, now that I think about it. Third, it is personal and I think I tackle a very real fear for woman of a certain age without being melodramatic. This voice I use could be fleshed out into a very real and very endearing character were I to pursue and develop this idea further.

Hope you enjoy! Please comment and let me know what you think, and please share.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #3.2017: The day before helping her best friend give birth, a woman of thirty learns that she will never have children of her own.

These days, you can’t fucking smoke anywhere.

I mean, the hospital I get; no one should be smoking there for obvious reasons I don’t have to enumerate to make my case. But walking across the street from the hospital – and then ten more yards for good measure – seems closer to ridiculous than anything else. And doing so in ninety-degree weather isn’t helping my mood. It’s incredibly hard to be rational when I’m sweaty and uncomfortable and in desperate, desperate need of a cigarette. I’m filling up with something awful as I halt at the end of the hospital property, teetering on the curb before the busy highway in cheap flip flops. I look left and then right and then right again, because my mom raised me right, and then dart across.

All things considered, getting mowed down by a truck doesn’t seem like the end of the world. I should have lingered just a few moments more, maybe. But that kind of thinking is irrational and morbid and goddamn, I just don’t want to think anymore. I just want a cigarette.

It’s easy to find the other smokers, huddled shamefully beneath a weak-looking tree at the far end of a parking lot for a quaint plaza. The weak-looking tree is the only source of shade and as I approach, I realize everyone beneath the tree is dressed in scrubs and smiling and laughing; they’re all hospital staff and they’re all friends. I think I’ll stand just a few feet away. I’m in no mood to make new friends or yuck it up, but I don’t want to be a bitch.

Scratch that; I don’t know what I want.

Wait, that’s wrong. I know what I want. I want a cigarette. And in this poor, poor excuse for Shangri La, I will have one.

As I light up, I consider the irony of doctors and nurses who smoke. Why anyone willingly inhales carcinogens, myself included, is beyond me, but it seems especially asinine for people who spend their lives saving lives to engage in a wildly unnecessary and risky behavior such as smoking. But fuck me, right? Here I am, puffing away. I might as well enjoy the irony, like an extra in a film who gets casts as an Oscar winner. That kind of irony is less dangerous and more humorous, kind of like how I always thought I’d never have kids because I’d never find a good man. But after thirty long and lonely years, I found a good man – the best man – and he’ll never be a father because my fallopian tubes are too narrow.

I’ll never be a mother. Thinking it aloud in my head forces me to acknowledge the idea with a fatal finality, and I take a seat on the grass beneath the three. I want to take up as little space as possible, curl all up around myself, and shrink into nonexistence; the ultimate Irish exit.

Taking a long drag, I know I’m bordering on morbidity and irrationality again, but there’s definitely something crushing about finding out you physically cannot have children. It wasn’t a choice I made, part of some chic, progressive lifestyle (I’m not being judgmental; to each his own, man. Live and let live, I say). I knew I was lucky to meet Frank; for a while there I thought I’d die alone, like really and truly alone, where the only people at my funeral are friends who have outlived me and cemetery staff. I wanted love and to be loved so badly I was on the verge of doing something reckless and desperate, like online dating (that’s a joke; I don’t judge). Enter Frank, the knight in shining armor; a decent-looking man with a great sense of humor, steady income, and a tolerance for feminine bullshit that is otherworldly. He’s been so patient and forgiving, and I don’t deserve him; I really don’t.

But he deserves children. He wants them; we’ve talked about it. And I can’t give that to him.

I know there’s adoption and fostering and surrogates and a seemingly endless list of possibilities. I know, somewhere deep down inside that this doesn’t have to be the end of the discussion, but it’s different and anyone who says different is selling something.

So maybe I should amend my earlier assertion: I’ll never be a mother on my own terms.

I suppose that sounds kind of selfish and twisted and grotesque, but hey; that’s me all over. Like right now, I’m smoking this cigarette in the July heat when I’m supposed to be at Kathleen’s side, holding her hand and feeding her ice chips, the whole delivery shebang. I snuck out because I needed a cigarette because those roles will never be reversed. I can’t have kids.

And it’s obviously jacking me up real bad, but I can never ever say anything to Kathleen about this, especially not today, which is ironic because it’s the one day it’s dismantling my psyche. Kathleen’s my best friend – another love I don’t really deserve – and she’d be the most supportive person in the world. Seriously, if I told her right now about all of this, she’d Google solutions on her phone from her hospital bed, shouting search results to me as they move her into the delivery room. But it’s her day and I just need to handle my shit.

If I had a daughter, that’s a lesson I’d teach her, that being a strong woman means that sometimes, you just have to handle it. You can break later but in the moment, step up.

I could teach my son that lesson too, because really, strength transcends gender.

Great; I’m crying. I’m sweaty, smell like smoke, and mascara’s running down my cheeks. I’m a mess, and everyone will know and everyone will ask, and we all know that only makes things worse.

Fuck. Shit. Balls.

I haven’t told Frank yet either. Think he’ll leave? He won’t, like I said he’s a good man, but he’ll think about it. And who could blame him?

I take one last drag and stub the cigarette out on the curb behind me. I have to stretch to the point of almost laying down, so fuck it. I lay down in the grass with my head uncomfortably on the curb to watch the sky through the leaves of the weak tree.

What a world.Generic-smoking

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 connections.

Published January 6, 2014 by mandileighbean

I am a writer, in part, because I believe that life is all about making connections with other human beings. Love is what matters, in all its varying forms and intensities. Writing, for me at least, offers an opportunity to explore those connections and to invent such connections. When lives become entwined with others, it is a beautiful, brilliant, terrifying and almost surreal realization. We matter to others, and others matter to us. How can that relationship ever be ignored or dismissed? I don’t think it can, and I think a lot of my writing expresses that. That theme becomes a constant in my writings, and I apologize if it becomes redundant, but I think the importance of love bears repeating.

Enjoy this week’s writing prompt.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #9: “An air force pilot is ordered to destroy a public building in a major metropolitan city.”

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Michael Ryan loved to fly. It was the only reason that he joined the air force and became a pilot. It hadn’t been so much about patriotism, or a fervid desire to destroy any enemy, or even the way ladies reacted to a young man in uniform. For Michael, it had always been about the sky. Riding high and knowing there were others looking up and wondering about whom you were and where you were headed was an amazing sort of ego trip. There was something completely self-indulgent and simultaneously totally freeing about being alone in the clouds with just your thoughts and instincts. Michael Ryan truly loved to fly. The opportunity to do so, coupled with the benefits of working for the government, made the career choice a no brainer.

He was flying high when word came over the radio that he was to destroy the Geysler building. Momentarily, Michael had been shocked. The peace and privacy of the cockpit had caused him to temporarily forget the absolute madness and chaos ensuing below, back on the ground. Enemy forces had surprisingly invaded from the shores. Ships had landed and once boots were on the ground, blood ran in the streets of so-called important shore towns. It had been an impressive, coordinated, and alarmingly secretive attack that, from Michael’s point of view, was remarkably successful. Smoke billowed from burning buildings and flames shot toward the sky. Michael was able to observe the certain carnage occurring below with a cool detachment because of his position; he was literally looking down on everyone else. His mind had eventually drifted to other things – whether or not those things were more important was fodder for a different story, for a different day – but the order over the radio brought him back into the present moment and current conditions.

Apparently, the government had ample reason to believe that the Geysler building was a base of operations for enemy sympathizers. Being that the building offered numerous amenities and was a safe haven for the enemy where there should be nothing of the sort, the government decided it needed to be neutralized and removed. Made sense as far as Michael could tell, and he radioed back in the affirmative, that he was on his way and would destroy the Geysler building.

A few minutes later, Michael had positioned himself appropriately and was resting his finger on the trigger, waiting for approval to fire. Through the windshield, he could see into the windows of the building. He was fairly close and was beginning to wonder if he was too close and if he should alter his position – after all, he was still green around the gills and hadn’t destroyed anything outside of practice targets and the like – when something caught his eye. In a window to the bottom left of his vision, was a young woman. She had blonde hair pulled back in an effortless ponytail and a full face. She was wearing a green sweater and on her lap, she held a toddler. The toddler had blonde hair as well, and that shared genetic trait made Michael assume the two were related, even though he was too far away to discern their facial features in any kind of conclusive analysis. As Michael watched, the woman smiled as the toddler stretched out a pudgy hand with splayed fingers and placed it, in a gesture that could only be described as lovingly, upon the woman’s swollen-looking cheek.

It was a touching image, poignant though brief, and it gave Michael pause. Were they the enemy? How could a child and his mother be the enemy of anyone? What sort of tactical maneuvers could those two possibly be planning? What other sort of children and family were in the building? For the first time in his career, Michael was putting real thought behind he was doing.

As he watched and thought, the woman turned to the window and for just a second, Michael thought he knew who she was. The woman bore an uncanny resemblance to someone Michael had known in college; a beautiful and brilliant girl who had lived on the same floor as him junior year. He remembered that she liked to paint and usually had it all over her hands in all sorts of shades. Either because she didn’t know or didn’t care about her filthy, multi-colored hands, she would constantly use them to pull her hair back, only to let it fall freely about her face. She was beautiful in a careless, dangerous way. Michael had called her Bohemia before he learned her real name at a party, because of her predilection to wear printed tunics over yoga pants or leggings. As a matter of fact, he had announced loudly that Bohemia was alive and well once he had noticed her presence at the party. She had smirked – she never really smiled, like smiling was thoughtless and too easy of an expression to offer to the world – and walked over to challenge him and ask him what he thought he knew about bohemia.

They talked for a while about all sorts of things, things Michael had not discussed with anyone since, and ended up in her dorm room, where they had passionate and amazing sex on a gross futon Bohemia had saved from the curb. In the morning, she had made him tea in a cool, antique-looking teapot and after some awkward pleasantries, they parted ways. He saw her occasionally in dining halls and in the quad in the warmer weather, but the most they would exchange was a small nod or tiny wave; nothing more. What if that was Bohemia in that window? What if that was her son? What if, after college, she had fallen in love with a beautiful man and had a traditional wedding and started a family? What if that family was in that building? How could he blow that to smithereens?

Michael did not think he could eliminate Bohemia. As a matter of fact, he had decided that he wanted to find Bohemia and see how she was, to find out what had happened to her. That had been a real connection Michael had made, no matter how short lived, and as he hovered above life exploding and imploding beneath him, he felt depressed. He felt no connection. There had been no tether composed of love or brotherhood or anything so noble to keep him grounded, and so he had found isolation and alienation – not solace – away from the Earth in the air. He was missing so much.

He didn’t listen for the approval. He didn’t wait for an order. He turned around. Michael Ryan was heading home.

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On Boston.

Published September 30, 2013 by mandileighbean

One of the facets of my personality of which I am most proud is my predilection to travel, to throw caution to the wind and simply drive.  Last weekend, I traveled to Boston with Raina.  Originally, I was attending an author event for Stephen King and then Raina and I were going to meet up with Liz.  Unfortunately, traffic and random construction prevented me from spending the evening with Stephen King, my literary idol.  Fortunately, I was with amazing friends and we had a wonderful time.  I was captivated by our conversation, by the scenery and the understated beauty of Boston.  Our hotel room overlooked the harbor and I knew it was exactly where I was supposed to be at that moment.  If only I felt so certain more often in life.

WEEKLY PROMPT #2: “A young mother is told that her children have been killed in a drive-by shooting.”

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“Alright, you lazy piece of shit, have it your way!” Brenda screamed out into the absolutely frigid night air.  Her breath hung before her as puffy vapor, and she hoped her words hung there just the same, regardless of their vulgarity or of the volume at which they had been shouted.  As a matter of fact, Brenda was damn near ready to pray that her degradations echoed in the still winter air, bouncing back to her nightmare of an ex-boyfriend from any number of surfaces, all coated in snow and ice.  She muttered more slurs and curses as she worked to shut her window against the cold, revolving the crank as fast and as hard as she could to see the glass barely inch along.  Much like her ex-boyfriend, her car was total piece of shit and she focused on the lack of power windows to black out the frustrated and terrified wailings of the children only barely buckled in the backseat.  They were her daughters, ages two and five and both had been fathered by the piece of shit who wanted nothing to do with any of them, and who had just stormed back inside his trailer, evidenced by the screen door in extreme disrepair banging against an already battered frame.  “Fucking asshole,” Brenda screamed to release the fury, but with the window finally rolled up, the space seemed cramped and lethal and the words seemed especially cruel as they settled heavily onto the girls like ash from some great disaster, eruption, or explosion.  If Brenda really stopped to think about it, she would realize her daughters were constantly covered in such debris, but she didn’t want to do that because guilt was an ugly and messy thing.  Thinking was half the problem, anyway; Brenda spent most of her time pondering and contemplating, and what had it gotten her?  Where had it brought her?  Here, to this absolute train wreck of a life?  Well, fuck you very much; Brenda did not want to be here any longer, so she slammed the shifter into reverse and peeled out of the tiny drive, letting the gravel fly.  She was going to speed towards relief, towards her apartment and her couch and a large tumbler filled with vodka.

But what about the girls?  Easy; she’d drop them off at her mom’s place.  She never said no and besides, didn’t Ma owe Brenda a great deal for essentially dismantling her formative years by providing no central male figure, and being a hot mess of a role model?  Brenda thought so, or at least she thought she read something like that somewhere important.  With a plan in mind, Brenda felt calm and steady.  She took a deep breath in and let a deep breath out, not surprised by the accompanying smoke because it was freezing in the vehicle.  The heater only rattled to prove it was on but not necessarily that it was working, offering only superficial and minimal relief from the extreme temperatures.  Brenda shivered, but gave no thought whatsoever to the two darling girls in the back, clad only in thin, stained nightgowns with matching backpacks – soiled and practically empty – strewn across the floor of the vehicle.  The crying had slightly subsided, perhaps because the girls had realized, at even so young an age, that their parents were radically unstable and simply could not care for them.  Maybe they were finally becoming accustomed to shuttling between filthy, cheap apartments littered with bottles, syringes, pipes, and burns in the ugly, itchy carpets.  It was possible the girls quieted their sobs because the preternaturally knew it would all be over soon, either because one of their two sets of grandparents would finally adopt – rescue – them, or they would die.  Having no sort of concept whatsoever about the latter, the girls may have been consoling themselves with thoughts of their grandparents, but it is far more likely and certainly plausible that the girls were too physically exhausted – hungry, malnourished, and in desperate need of a bath – and mentally drained to even cry.

Brenda, on the other hand, was still simply pissed.  Not only did that douche bag not keep the kids like he was fucking supposed to – like he had agreed to – but she was out of cigarettes, too.  There was sincerely no way in hell she could survive the remainder of the ride to her mother’s home, let alone the lecture she’d certainly receive upon arrival, without some menthols.  Brenda also firmly believed that vodka is best served from embarrassingly cheap glassware, that is truly only thick plastic, alongside a nice, long drag of a cigarette.  And therein lay her plan for the evening, sitting her tired and frankly unappreciated ass on the couch, and drinking and smoking until both her vision and hearing were drastically impaired.  She owned the sofa and ignored its repulsive condition; she had plenty of vodka because she always made damn sure she would never run out.  All she needed were the smokes.

For the first time on the drive, Brenda seriously considered her surroundings (it was nothing short of a miracle that there hadn’t been an accident).  They were in an awfully shady and decidedly dangerous part of town.  She had only been this far east once, and that had been because the douche bag extraordinaire had needed a fix.  Brenda figured she now needed a fix herself, but her craving was not illegal nor did it incite theft or murder.  She certainly had her misgivings, but pulled into the essentially deserted parking lot of the Cumberland Farms on the corner.  It was well lit and practically empty, so Brenda assumed the chances of danger were lowered.  Or had her need for self-medication risen to an alarming new level?  Fuck it – she was tired of thinking.  She put the car in park and made to kill the engine and remove the key from the ignition, but she stopped.  She whipped her head back to the girls, who simply sat and stared stupidly back at their wrecked, crumbling mother.  Their eyes were red and swollen, as were their thin, tiny lips and the whole of their faces glistened from tears and spit and sweat.  They had finally gone quiet.  Brenda cleared her throat.  “Mama’s just got to run inside the store, okay?  Mama will leave the car running so you don’t freeze, alright?”

There was no response, not that Brenda thought there would be, and so she hurried from the car.  Her slipper-covered soles fell softly onto the sidewalk and scurried closer to the light and warmth of the interior of the convenience store.  Just to the left of the entrance were two formidable-looking men, hooded and avoiding any unnecessary and undue attention.  They were certainly suspicious and inexplicably made Brenda slow her pace, feeling the tiny hairs on the back of her neck stand at attention.  Shrugging it off, Brenda slipped inside and strolled to the counter, doing her best to display a winning smile.  The clerk behind the counter was a male and attractive, so Brenda made a concerted effort to bat her eyelashes and laugh breathlessly for no apparent reason.  “Hey there,” she crooned.  “Do you have Pall Malls?”

There was the sound of screeching tires, but no one seemed to notice; not the two men dressed and ready for danger outside, or the two inside the store.

“Uh,” the clerk turned to face the massive wall of nicotine behind him.  His eyes roamed over the rows and rows of packs, all different colors.  He turned around after a moment.  “Yes, yes we do.”

“Do you have 100s in the orange pack?” Brenda asked, leaning over the counter so that her small breasts squished together to look bigger.  They were nearly falling out of her tank top, but her shame had departed with her pride and her figure some time ago.

Shots rang out; many, many shots, too many shots to count, just one pop after another.  The glass windows shattered and instinctively, Brenda dropped to her knees.  She couldn’t see anything, clapped her palms across her eyes and screamed.  She tried to curl up as small as she could to try and stay safe and alive.  The clerk had done much the same on the other side of the counter, and both stayed hidden until they heard tires peel away and could smell rubber burning against pavement.  They rose to face one another.  An odd, eerie silence followed immediately after the shots, where Brenda and the clerk were both frozen – rooted to the spot – and it had nothing to do with the weather.  Brenda locked eyes with the clerk, as if doing so made everything else go dark and become nonexistent.  She had a feeling, a horrible and inexplicable feeling that something terrible had happened, that the shots had been pointed pebbles carelessly launched at her fragile life and now it was shattering and splintering and cracking.  The clerk was the first to break the eye contact, turning away and leaning low and to the right to use the telephone.  He was calling 911.  Brenda didn’t know how she knew that, only that she did, because her ears were fuzzy, like they had been plugged with cotton.  She felt nauseous and overwhelmed and alone, so very alone.  She turned and thought she might stumble to the door, but to her surprise, she was running.  She burst through the door and found the two men dead at her feet, blood splashed and spattered this way and that.  Her eyes darted between them to her car.  The vehicle could only have been a few feet away, but Brenda believed the distance to be the greatest she had ever crossed in all her life.  She was screaming, trying to scream their names but she knew it was unintelligible and more guttural than anything else.  She collapsed against the rear passenger door and worked for a moment before she wrenched it open.

Both the girls were slumped over, bleeding steadily.

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On nasty surprises.

Published September 5, 2012 by mandileighbean

Today was the Staff Orientation at the high school for the entire district and man, it was a long day.  When I walked out of my classroom at 5:30PM, the lights in the hallway were literally off.  I practically shut the place down.  I’m proud of all that I got done today, but it was really unnecessary to be there so late.  I wasted some time lollygagging with colleagues, but I managed to work some good karma, helping others shuffle textbooks in and out of their rooms and find their portfolios.

I came home and ran.  It felt good; it helped me to work out some of my stress and I had forgotten how good it felt to be sore, to have blisters and to have tangible evidence that you are making a difference.  I weigh in on September 16th.  The goal is at least five pounds lost.  Hopefully, I’ll have good news.

I heard back from my editor.  My gallery pages are scheduled to be completed this week.  I am so excited!

I’m trying to keep this short and sweet because tomorrow is the first day of school and while I feel prepared, I am confident it will be a restless night.

PROMPT: While digging in a cereal box for the toy surprise, a child makes a grizzly discovery.

PIECE: Mikey had his father teach him how to set the alarm on his wristwatch the night before.  Thankfully, Dad didn’t ask too many questions or wonder at Mikey’s sudden interest in the somewhat more complicated features of his watch.  Mikey set his alarm for 6:00AM, a whole hour before he had to be up and getting ready for school.  He figured that sixty minutes would be more than enough time to slink out of bed, to pad noiselessly in bare feet down the hallway and down the stairs, to creep into the kitchen, to hunch before a low-mounted cabinet and open it slowly so the joint didn’t creak too loudly, to retrieve the new cereal box and the surprise toy within.

He had seen Mom removed the box of cereal from one of the yellow, plastic shopping bags after returning home from the grocery store.  He had been irritated by the way she handled it so carelessly, just tossing it into the cabinet, not seeming to care if it tilted and fell against the others.  Did Mom not know about the prize inside or the intense satisfaction of being the first to find said prize?  Immediately, his eyes flicked to his older brother, Jimmy.  Jimmy was currently elbow-deep in a bag of Doritos and Mikey didn’t think he’d seen the cereal box, but he couldn’t be sure.  Jimmy was sneaky.  Jimmy thought that because he was older, everything was his.  Those two inclinations proved to make life difficult for Mikey.  But this time, just this one time, he would be hailed the victor.

The alarm clocked beeped at a truly annoying high pitch three times before Mikey slammed down on a small, metal button on the side of the clock face.  His eyes shot to Jimmy, who seemed to be asleep.  Was he faking?  Mikey hypothesized that if Jimmy were feigning slumber, then Jimmy would move when Mikey moved.  As soon as Mikey’s feet hit the floor and the board creaked beneath his weight, Jimmy would sit up and demand to know what he was doing.  Then again, Jimmy might really be fast asleep and besides, Mikey hadn’t woken up so early for nothing.

He pulled the covers back very, very slowly – inch by inch – so as not to make a sound and so he was able to make his movements as slow as possible.  After what seemed like an eternity, Mikey was free of the burdensome covers.  Keeping his movements lethargic, he sat up in bed like a zombie from one of the movies he wasn’t allowed to watch but that Jimmy could.  Jimmy would tell him all about the gruesome, violent parts and then tease Mikey when he asked for the light to be left on.  He didn’t need light now – it would definitely wake Jimmy up.  Barely breathing, Mikey twisted his body around, swinging his legs softly against the sheets.  Though the mattress creaked as he slid for his feet to touch the floor, Jimmy remained motionless.  Mikey said a little prayer and tiptoed across the room, nimbly avoiding the toy cars and playing cards left out from a few nights before.  The moonlight that stole in through the window illuminated the landscape just enough for Mikey to make out dangerous shadows.

Once he was out of the bedroom and in the hallway, he could breathe easier.  Mikey kept an even pace – to break into a run would be foolish and loud – and took the stairs one at a time, placing his weight as evenly as possible.  He was proud for the amount of physical restraint he was displaying, but it completely dissipated when he reached the landing.  Jubilation filling his veins, Mikey tore through an archway to his left and slid to a seat before the cabinet, his pajama bottoms navigating easily across the linoleum floor.  He wrenched the cabinet open, retrieved the cereal box, and slid a slightly shaking finger beneath the cardboard flap.  Eagerly, he slid his finger across the edge of the box – a paper cut be damned – and crudely ripped at the other flap.  He never thought he’d be so thankful for cheap glue.

Mikey lifted the plastic bag containing the sugar-coated corn flakes and struggled for a moment or two before the thicker plastic gave way and ripped satisfactorily.  His fingers were sweaty and had trouble gripping the edge but once they did – boy; that was all she wrote.  Mikey let the plastic bag fall back into the box and he plunged his innocent, little fist inside, feeling around for the prize.  His fingers brushed against something that was firmer than corn flakes, and he seized it.  He brought it triumphantly out from the box, a few corn flakes falling to the floor.

It was a human toe, bloodied around the end from which it was removed from the body it, until recently, belonged to.

Mikey screamed and screamed and screamed.

On bowling … seriously?

Published July 27, 2012 by mandileighbean

When I woke up late this morning, my migraine was still present, but not as intense.  It returned full force when I ventured to the mailbox.  I had filed for unemployment insurance on the advice of my father and sister because I haven’t been working this summer and thought some extra money in the bank wouldn’t hurt if I relocate.  However, I did not realize that the Board of Education in Manchester has me on file for the remainder of the maternity leave, which runs through October.  I freaked out because I didn’t want anyone to think I was trying to make a fraudulent claim or cheat the system or anything like that.  Truthfully, it was an oversight that I tried to rectify by calling the office but I was put on hold, transferred, put on hold again and was then informed it would take two hours for my call to be answered.  I just sent in the requested document and will try to call again tomorrow.  It stressed me out so much; the pain was in the back of my head, my neck and the small of my back.  My hands felt swollen and numb, and for the life of me, I could not breathe at a normal pace.  I thought I was going to make myself pass out.  My mom kept telling me to relax, to help myself and I couldn’t, and then I thought she was mad at me, so I started crying.  I went and retreated to my bed and resigned myself to just watching the ceiling fan revolving slowly, around and around.  I don’t know why I get so wrapped up in my own head and delude myself into think I am responsible for and thus have control over everything.  It’s kind of narcissistic – I’m so self-involved that it’s killing me; taking a substantial, physical toll on my body.  Or maybe it isn’t as bad as all that, and I’m romanticizing everything like I always do because the haunting reality is that me and my life are mediocre at best, and that scares me because more than anything else, I want to believe that I am unique and deserving of special recognition.

I’m doing it again, aren’t I?  I’m thinking too much and am about to trap myself in my own head, right?  Damnit; I’m a glutton for punishment, dude.

The picture to the right accurately illustrates what my migraines feel like.  Unfortunately, it does not accurately depict my features.  My teeth are far from straight and my eyes are a muddy kind of brown, a shade that would make a domestic goddess hurl if it were plastered against a new, white carpet (which is my subtle way of hinting that my eyes look like poop).

Tonight’s prompt is about bowling.  Now, I have nothing against the sport or the people who participate, but I do not play it.  I have no desire to bowl, really.  That’s somewhat amusing because the last two times I’ve gone bowling, I’ve done really, really well.  I defeated someone who was in a league and a boy who was trying to impress me.  Figures, right?

Enjoy it if you can, but I won’t blame you if you don’t.

PROMPT: A man aspiring to be a pro bowler loses to his young daughter.

VERSUS

PIECE: Bob was sitting at the end of the designated lane in a grotesquely-colored and wildly uncomfortable, plastic chair.  The chair was one half of a pair and sat before the dated computer monitor and accompanying keypad that allowed bowlers to enter their names and, if need be, adjust their scores.  The scoreboard had been expertly composed by Bob, who was not putting on the required bowling shoes, which always felt too large, smelled bad and looked clownish.  Despite the obvious drawbacks, Bob loved bowling.  He had recently gotten it into his head that he not only could but should become a pro bowler.  He had been getting closer and closer to bowling a perfect game during league nights, and was making quite the name for himself on the local circuit.  Enjoying a day off, he decided to bring little Melanie down to the lanes with him for some practice.  It’d be beneficial for the dream he was embarking on, and it would be nice to spend some time with his youngest daughter.  Melanie had trotted off to find a pink, perfectly-sized bowling ball and now she was returning, sweating and panting from the effort.  “It’s heavy,” she complained, cautiously stepping down the two steps.  Bob went rushing over.

“Mel, if it’s too heavy, you can’t bowl with it,” Bob said, smiling.

“But it’s the only pink one I could find, Dad! Please let me use it!  Please!”  Her brows were gathering at the center of her forehead and her bottom lip was slowly sticking out further and further.  Bob was no fool; he knew a storm was fast-approaching.

“Okay, okay, you can use it,” Bob soothed.

“Yay!” Melanie erupted, now beaming.  She dumped the ball onto the contraption in the middle of the lane and looked expectantly up at her father.

“You’re going to go first, okay kiddo?  We just have to wait for the bumpers.”  Bob looked around anxiously, searching for an attendant he could flag down.  Upon requesting and paying for the lane, he had mentioned that he needed the bumpers for his young daughter.  That had been some time ago, at least ten minutes, and there were no padded rubber bumpers on the lane.

“Why do we have to wait, Daddy?  I don’t need bumpers, and you definitely don’t need bumpers.”

Bob’s smile returned, wider than before.  “Are you sure you don’t need bumpers?  You liked playing with them last time.”

“I’m a big girl now, Daddy.  I don’t need them, I promise.”  Melanie was at her cutest when she was pleading and Bob understood it was dangerous.  It was okay now, when she was seven and Bob was the only man in her tiny universe, but one day, all that would change and he’d be in a world of trouble.

“Okay,” Bob acquiesced as he always did and probably always would.  “Go ahead then, little darling.  It’s your turn.”

Melanie stepped up to the start of the slick, wooden floor.  She held the pink bowling ball in both hands and though she was clearly struggling, she stuck out her bottom lip and attacked the line at something of a gallop, sliding to roll the ball down the lane after swinging it back between her legs for momentum.

The boll rolled dead center, crashed into the pins and knocked them down – every last one.

When all was said and done, Bob had scored an 80.  Melanie had scored a whopping 152.

Next week, Bob wasn’t at the league games.  Instead, he had stopped at a department store on the drive home from work, and purchased a chess set.  He thought maybe he could be the next Bobby Fisher.

On absence making the heart grow fonder.

Published May 31, 2012 by mandileighbean

It’s been quite some time since I posted anything; I know, and I’m sorry.

My oldest sister, Missy, and her husband – we call him Wags – moved to Virginia yesterday. Jack, their youngest – just about to be one year old – went with them. Jimmy drove down with my mom today. I am devastated. Jimmy is my whole world. I love him something awful, and I am honored and blessed to call him my godson. He was sleeping when I left for work this morning, and I desperately wanted to wake him up, to make him give me a hug and a kiss and to tell me he loved me, to promise he would miss me and force him to smile. I didn’t do anything like that. I acted responsibly, maturely, and drove off to the high school.

But then I came home and found his little, white tee shirt on my cold, wooden floor. The brightness had dulled considerably because of the wash and wear, and because of the various activities a nearly four-year-old will find for himself to get into. Delicately, I lifted the shirt to my cheek. The fabric was soft but worn and I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. I just released a single, guttural sob and that was all.

I am anxious for the school year to end. I am miserable. I worry that the students are not taking away anything of value, that they don’t respect me and view me as a peer rather than an educator. I also worry that the administration sees me in the same light. I’d like to believe I’m doing the best I can, but I don’t think that’s true. I’m going through a rough time – maybe it’s depression – and that makes me lazy, selfish, weak and complacent. I don’t know how to break the cycle.

I went away for Memorial Day. A handsome, young man named Isaac danced with me at a bar. I think he wanted to kiss me, or for me to kiss him, but I panicked and left, seeking out another beer rather than intimate contact. The rest of the time spent in Ocean City, Maryland was absolutely horrible and I’ve relived it so many times that it feels silly and extreme to put it in writing.

I need summer. I need an escape.

One of my students wrote an absolutely stellar short story for Creative Writing. It inspired me to write more and to write better. I cannot wait to talk with her tomorrow and tell her how talented she is, how that talent cannot be wasted and how I’ll do anything to help her. I really do believe she could be published.

I need to lose weight. It’s always been a struggle and the events of the holiday weekend prove I need a change and my weight is the best place to start because I can control my body – as a matter of fact, it’s the only thing in my life I have control over. The helpless feeling that constantly plagues me needs to stop.

 

PROMPT: Eggnog Regret
  After drinking a few too many eggnogs at your annual holiday party, you wake up the next morning realizing you did some things you now regret. Write an e-mail to your boss that will ensure you get a raise next year.

Dear Mr. Jones:

First, let me begin by sincerely hoping that this message finds both you and yours doing well, and enjoying the holiday season.

Second, let me profusely apologize for my behavior at the annual holiday party. I would like it to be known that I was highly intoxicated and while that knowledge does not, in any way, shape or form, excuse my behavior, I hope that it serves as an explanation. Had I not foolishly ingested so much eggnog, I would not have been so forthcoming with private information, so lax about the dress code and appropriate behavior, and I most certainly would not have vomited on anyone, especially not your beautiful, intelligent and doting wife.

Speaking of, Catherine is truly a remarkable woman and I do admire her greatly. It is always a pleasure to see her and speak with her, and that makes what I did all the more appalling. I promise that it was never my attention to publicly humiliate your wife or call your character into question, and I assure you that I honestly and truly believed everyone knew that her breasts were fake. I also assumed you had paid for them because when we were issued our bonuses, you were walking around the office with a wide and goofy smile and somehow, your slacks seemed tighter. Thus when I saw the three of her appear at the party, I believed the augmentation to be common knowledge. With all due respect, her breasts do not look at all real. I’m sure others noticed but unfortunately, I was the only one drunk enough to say so. And by “say,” I mean scream an awkward question across a crowded room filled with mixed company.

I would ask you not to think badly of Matt. He pulled me aside to keep me quiet; he tried, as a valiant gentleman would, to salvage some of my dignity. We retreated to a corner where I could compose myself and leave quietly, but his brown eyes were shining and his lips were slackened with mischievous, adolescent glee and I mistakenly took us as co-conspirators. I was hurriedly whispering to him about something inconsequential and trivial, and he was beginning to laugh. I took this as an indication that I was being charming and casually leaned in closer, casually doubled over. I was sitting in Martha’s computer chair – worth the money, by the way, because it is absurdly comfortable; I have no idea how she gets any work done at all; I’m impressed she just doesn’t fall right asleep – and Matt was kneeling before me so when I doubled over, our mouths were closer than they had been previously and I was drunk and he was handsome. I don’t really know what else to say other than I’m sorry. I know it was wildly inappropriate to have a raucous make-out session in the middle of all the festivities and there is absolutely no professional occasion where my shirt should be removed, but it happened. I think we would all benefit from putting this episode behind us and moving forward.

I particularly think that Keri would be most advantageously served by my aforementioned sentiment. To be honest, I have no idea why it was necessary for her to scream the way she did, attracting all sorts of attention towards Matt and myself. Personally, I think she acted out of spite and jealously. She’s always been a bit of a bitch – sorry, but I can think of no other word – and she’s had it out for me since day one. Remember when she filed that report with HR, claiming I only sharpened my pencils when she happened to be on the phone? I only started doing that after the report and the others in the nearby cubicles think it’s a real riot, so all I’m really doing is fostering community and how could that possibly be a negative thing? Furthermore, Keri’s screaming and pointing and shouting and crying is what made me nauseous – on top of all the eggnog – and had she acted like a professional and not been so “high school” about everything, I wouldn’t have vomited. It was out of sheer embarrassment I left Matt sprawled on the carpeted floor, grasping for my hand, and walked over to your wife. I think I was going to ask her to borrow a shirt but then I saw those two melons – they’re not real breasts anyway, so I can call them what I want – staring at me, almost daring me to make a move.

So I was standing there in my bra, looking down at my own melons, and compared to Catherine’s, they were inadequate. They were smaller than most men would like and could hardly be described as perky. My left one is definitely bigger than my right. I thought about these things, and Keri was still screaming, and Matt was still grinning and I wanted to grin like Matt, but Keri wouldn’t stop. I was becoming angry – incensed with anger – and I wanted to rip my shirt off like the Hulk, but Matt had already discarded it, so I decided to puke right then and there, all over the very melons that had started the whole thing.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I started writing this e-mail, truthfully, in an attempt to keep my job. I realize now my previously stated goal is nearly impossible and I also realize now that I am perfectly okay with that. Did you know Matt called me today? He apologized to me; can you believe it? He wants to get coffee and talk. That’s practically a date, right? I mean, wouldn’t you say so? Then again, you probably wouldn’t know because it’s been years since you’ve been in the dating pool and you had to resort to filling your wife with silicone to keep her interesting. I think that’s kind of sad, and I’m sorry.

I also realize that I don’t want to work in a place where Keri works, or where people like Keri work. She’s mean to me and I’ve never done anything to her, and that’s the worst kind of meanness that there is in this world.

So, I quit.

Tell Catherine I really am sorry.

Hugs and Kisses,

Joan

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