Creative Writing Prompt

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On the problem with remembering things.

Published August 3, 2017 by mandileighbean

If you’ve been reading this blog, or even if it’s your first time ever reading this blog (let me be brutally honest here), you’re probably able to tell that I’m a bit of an idiot. Luckily, I’m a loveable idiot who does no real harm and my friends only feign impatience for comedic effect. For example, I thought today was Tuesday but it’s Wednesday. I’ve been posting on my social media outlets about my upcoming Writer’s Wednesday, trying to hype it up which has obviously been quite ineffective because today is Wednesday. Today is Writer’s Wednesday. It’s 11:51 pm on Writer’s Wednesday, and I am now just sitting down to write.

But at least I have interesting things to share (which may or may not be thinly veiled excuses as to why I am late in updating this beloved blog AGAIN).

Yesterday was an AWESOME day. I received TWO requests for more material (the first three chapters of my completed manuscript and the entire completed manuscript) from two literary agencies! It feels SO GOOD not to be rejected outright, regardless of whether or not something comes from these requests. It’s also nice to know my query letter is effective. Oh, The Charlotte Gusay Literary Agency (that I think I mentioned last time) wrote me to tell me they received my sample chapters, so hopefully I hear something from them soon. AND a perfect stranger commented on my blog with the sweetest, most inspirational, and wonderfully kind message about my writing and what it meant to her. What writer could ask for anything more?

I met some of the neighborhood kids yesterday. I was reading and writing on my back porch, and they were friendly. They kept stopping to say hello once they’d reached the top of these large mounds of dirt on their bikes right behind my house (they appeared out of nowhere, but I think there’s plans to build a house on the vacant lot behind mine) and could see me properly. I went inside to eat dinner, and the kids knocked on my door. They asked for water, but I didn’t have any water bottles, so I gave them cans of soda (at least they were diet, right? Unless that’s worse; it’s impossible to tell anymore). They were very polite and gracious and kept telling me how nice I was. From the mouths of babes, right? They came back for a third can of soda for another friend, and the one kid really wanted to ask me for a band aid – weird – but the supposedly injured kid was decidedly against it, either because he wasn’t cut or he was embarrassed. Either way, it felt good to be a good person. I remember reading on Facebook one time that it’s important to smile at and be kind to children because it helps them keep their faith in humanity.

I kept the good deeds rolling today; I spent five hours cleaning my grandma’s house from top to bottom. She passed away on the last Monday in June, and it really knocked me on my ass. I know death and grief has that effect on most people, but I really thought I was prepared. She had Alzheimer’s, so we all knew what was coming, but it’s still so … sad. It’s just sad. We have to liquidate all her assets to start executing the will, so we have to sell her house. All the furniture’s been emptied out and given to family in need, and gone are all her personal effects. My entrance into her home was marked by a melancholy echo. Everything reverberated in the empty space and I needed a few moments to catch my breath, to blink back tears. It was so surreal to see it vacant and unlived in, like all my memories of that house could be as easily removed from existence. I dusted and wiped and vacuumed and scrubbed and swept and scoured in that small, dark space for hours, literally eliminating any trace that my grandma – or anyone for that matter – had ever been there. What a strange concept.

My grandma’s home is in an adult retirement community. I feel like I should mention that to better explain why her house was small. Also, it’s dark because since her death, no one’s been in the home and bulbs burn out unnoticed. That’s all well and good, but while I was cleaning, a wicked thunder storm rolled through and made everything darker, my mood included.

At one point, I halted what I was doing and stood to stretch. My back and arms were sore from more cleaning than I’d ever done in my life. I looked out the window in the former dining room and saw sunlight streaming in my grandma’s backyard. There were splashes of sun on the formidable hill directly behind her house, visible through the window, but it was raining and I could hear the thunder in the distance as it crept closer, its growl low and menacing.

I couldn’t have invented a better metaphor. I guess that admission doesn’t bode well for this week’s blog post, eh? Well, it’s been a disaster from the start, honestly; I don’t even know what day it is. I hope you read and comment and share and enjoy anyway. I should mention that this week’s writing prompt proved very challenging. It tackles an exceedingly sensitive subject, and I did my best to keep that in mind throughout my writing.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #5.2017: A woman is raped by her husband.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that humans do their best thinking in the shower. More than that, it’s scientific; being engaged in a mindless task (like shampooing and conditioning and sudsing up) in a relaxed environment (what’s more relaxing than a steamy shower?) sort of shuts down the brain’s prefrontal cortex, thus allowing the brain to consider creative and unconventional solutions to problems. Unfortunately for Chloe, her fingers were grossly wrinkled and the water was turning cold, but she still hadn’t been able to figure out why she was crying or why her stomach kept flipping over. She was seated on the shower floor directly under the showerhead with her knees pulled up to her chin and with her arms wrapped around her legs.

Chloe was trying to hold herself together.

She had started falling apart, had sunk into the pathetic posture of her current state, once she noticed the pinkish hue of the water circling the drain; blood. It was evidence something bad had happened last night.

It wasn’t the only evidence, either. The uneasy feeling exacerbated by the tiny rivers of previously dried blood that briefly streamed down her legs and arms had manifested when Chloe climbed from the bed exceedingly sore – even in places she didn’t know could ache – and undressed to find bruises. Dark, brutal-looking spots marred the skin on her thighs, upper arms, and chest. She ran trembling fingers over them, pressing to feel the pain, to make sure they were just what she thought they were.

Something bad had happened. The question was what.

Chloe’s reflection had given nothing away. Smeared makeup and puffy, swollen eyes were par for the course when she drank, and she had gotten loaded last night. She and Paul both had gotten loaded to celebrate … celebrate something Chloe couldn’t exactly recall, which meant it had been Paul’s affair, Paul’s idea. Had he been promoted? It was something predictable and clichéd like that, but they had gone overboard, partying like the newly rich, like they were young and dumb.

Chloe remembered stumbling into a blessedly empty ladies’ room in the thick of things. She staggered over to the sink, slow and stupid, and caught a glimpse of herself. She knew she needed to slow down, maybe something of a premonition of the bad thing to come. Naturally Chloe’s resolve completely dissipated when she returned to Paul, to their private party.

But she remembered saying no, and doing so firmly, loudly. Chloe remembered wanting to stop. Was that at the restaurant? At any one of the many bars that followed? In the car?

Chloe gasped. She remembered a fight in the bedroom. They had been fooling around on the bed, half in the bag and half undressed, and Chloe wanted to stop. It was like that when she drank. She’d suddenly have to put herself to bed or else the room would spin and she’s vomit. Chloe had tried to explain this to Paul, which was weird because her husband knew her inside and out and should be familiar with her warning signs, but Paul wouldn’t listen. Paul just wanted to keep feeling good and wasn’t taking no for an answer.

But that couldn’t be right. With the shuddering sobs passing through her bruised body, Chloe was trying to be rational. They were drunk and things got out of hand. Paul loved her and she loved Paul, and they were husband and wife, happily married.

People don’t rape the people they love. Husbands can’t rape their wives.

How could Chloe even think of the r-word? That wasn’t Paul; he was a good man and an amazing husband. He only got a little “handsy” when he drank.

But there was blood. And there were bruises. And Chloe had said no.

Chloe had been raped by her husband. And she was going to stay in the shower until she knew what that really meant or she drowned.

She was hoping for the latter.

11800-Crying-In-The-Shower

 

OH! And you should read A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby if you need to get out of an emotional funk or want to cry happy tears or both. The movie is just as fantastic.

 

On therapy and leather.

Published July 27, 2017 by mandileighbean

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

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

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

Enjoy! Read. Comment. Share.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So what is this? Why are you here?”

“You tell me.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I was disappointing?” Jax asked, surprised.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gemma faltered. “No, but -”

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

“Why did we stop working?”

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

“Yes, definitely,” Gemma said.

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

Slowly, Gemma sat up. “What?”

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

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

On collisions.

Published October 25, 2016 by mandileighbean

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #31: Ben Jackson, husband and father of three, is killed on a car accident. Write about this event and how it affects the lives of the following characters:

  • Ben’s wife
  • Ben’s business partner
  • a police officer who was at the scene of the accident
  • Ben’s youngest child

 

By all accounts, Ben Jackson was a good man. He loved his family very much, and he showed up to work with a smile everyday. Ben never complained; he had nothing to complain about, really, and he knew it was all wasted breath. Ben Jackson had never intended to waste any breath as he fully understood how precious such breaths were. So when Ben breathed his last, when his breaths were brutally cut short, it was certainly not of his own volition.

He never even saw the other car coming.

But why would he? No one ever really looks for the car speeding through a red light; the car just comes, as careless and reckless as any harbinger of death would be. That might be melodramatic – it was no sullen, hooded figure gliding just above the pavement  with a sickle clutched in a bony hand. It had been a kid; a simple, pimply kid who was too busy sending text messages in the group chat and making plans for a Friday night he was certain would come to look up. So confident in his immortality as only the young are, he assumed the car in front of him had disappeared from his stolen glances at the road because the traffic light had changed color from red to green. In reality, the car had made a legal right on red, but the teen driver wasn’t really paying attention. He accelerated forward the way young, inexperienced drivers are apt to do – in sudden, scary bursts – and in just a moment more, he slammed into the side of Ben Jackson’s car, right into the driver’s door.

Ben’s affordable Kia Rio folded like a cheap suit and a jagged piece of metal from the poorly constructed door (later, no one would mention the recall at the service because to do so would be impertinent) severed his femoral artery. He bled out in just four minutes, just before the paramedics arrived.

Officer Bobby Gillis, responding to the scene, was unnerved by the lack of carnage for a crash with a fatality. The teen’s car had managed to travel unscathed to the far side of the relatively busy intersection before he collided with the deceased, a Mr. Ben Jackson. Officer Bobby Gillis was slightly bent at the waist, looking in through an open window at Ben Jackson’s face. The face was peaceful, like the man could be sleeping instead of being dead. Office Bobby Gillis released a deep breath and straightened up, looking across the way for his partner. Once he showed up, the pair would travel to the deceased’s home and notify the next of kin. Officer Bobby Gillis swallowed hard and ran a trembling hand across the back of his neck a few times. He needed to get his mind right, to focus on the task at hand, which in essence was to break someone’s heart, some undeserving stranger who as of yet had no idea a loved one was gone, dead and gone. His face felt tingly and he knew he must be pale, and he shut his eyes tight against the vision of the peaceful dead man that would haunt him at night for months to come.

Imagine if Officer Bobby Gillis knew what a great guy Ben Jackson was. How harder would the tragedy have landed on the officer if he knew Ben Jackson was on the road during the workday to pick up lunch for his colleagues, his treat? No good deed goes unpunished, and for a generous lunch, Ben Jackson had paid with his life. What a sick joke.

But neither Officer Bobby Gillis nor his partner knew the intimate details of Ben Jackson’s life and as such, both were better composed as they climbed wooden, creaking steps to a front door of a home that looked like every other home in the neighborhood. There was nothing remarkable about it, nothing to alert anyone to the fact that someone inside had been marked for death. Officer Bobby Gillis continued to grapple with his existential crisis until he noticed the toys in the yard and the small bikes in the driveway. His stomach flipped over and for a moment, just a moment, he debated running back to the cruiser and locking the doors. He’d rather avoid the whole, ugly mess.

But his partner had already knocked.

When the door opened, a gorgeous blonde with legs for miles answered the door. She was smiling, but it didn’t quite meet her big, baby doll eyes. Officer Bobby Gillis chalked it up to being uncomfortable and confused, which was how most pedestrians felt when the law came knocking on their door. Officer Bobby Gillis’ partner asked if the children were home.

“Just my youngest,” said the beautiful woman. “Jimmy and Josie are at school.” Her face paled considerably but somehow remained radiant. Officer Bobby Gillis credited contoured makeup. “Is everything okay? Did something happen to my children?”

The partner answered that no, nothing happened to the children and that they were safe. Then he asked if they could come in. Though the woman gave no response, she opened the front door wider and stepped back, which was as good an invitation as any. The officers crossed the threshold, softly shutting the door behind them, and followed the beautiful woman into the kitchen. She shakily sat in a chair, watching with impossibly wide eyes as the officers seated themselves opposite her.

Officer Bobby Gillis let his partner do all the talking.

And as the partner explained the tragedy, the beautiful woman didn’t make a sound. She blinked those big, baby doll eyes a lot, blinked them until a few tears rolled down her cheeks. Officer Bobby Gillis credited shock for the muted reaction, and considered that quite possibly, this woman was doing her best to keep it together for the little one that was somewhere inside the home. Officer Bobby Gillis and his partner offered expected but genuine condolences and then excused themselves. Once outside, Officer Bobby Gillis said, “Well, that sucked.” His partner agreed and Officer Bobby Gillis said, “That’s the absolute worst part of this job, man.”

Inside, the beautiful woman was still sitting at the table. Her name was Lisa and she had been married to Ben Jackson for ten years. They had known each other in high school, but waited a few years after they graduated college to get serious. It was a safe bet for Lisa, a sure thing; he was making money as a financial adviser and Lisa had never been any good at anything, not skilled enough to have a career. She also was never any good with money, so she had been content to be taken care of (financially, at the very least). That is, she had been content.

Phil Evans, Ben’s business partner, came walking out of the bedroom from down the hallway, tucking his expensive button-down shirt into his equally expensive pants. “Who was that?” he asked.

“The police,” Lisa said. Her voice was flat. “Ben’s dead. There was a car accident.” She blinked. “He didn’t make it. He’s dead.” She blinked again. In a moment more, those big, baby doll eyes landed on Phil.

Phil collapsed into the chair recently vacated by Officer Bobby Gillis. His eyebrows were scrunched up, like he was confused and trying to solve some exceedingly frustrating problem. “What?” he asked, even though he had heard Lisa perfectly. He didn’t know what else to say – what was there to say? – and he was buying time, time to think and figure it out.

“Ben’s dead,” Lisa repeated. Her voice cracked and tears came easier now. “Ben’s dead.”

Phil covered his face with his hands. “Shit,” he breathed. His breath was tremulous, speeding up and slowing down in a jerky kind of pattern that typically signaled tears. He didn’t want to cry in front of Lisa, didn’t feel he had the right to mourn Ben’s passing in Ben’s house. Phil’s recent sense of decency was odd and ill-timed, as he had just slept with Ben’s wife and had been doing so for months. “Lisa, I-”

Down the hall, Jeremy was softly crying. He was just waking up from his afternoon nap and rather than sit across from Phil and face the physical manifestation of everything that was wrong with her, Lisa hurried down the hall.

In her absence, Phil found himself able to cry.

death_in_the_hood

On being dumb and holding on.

Published July 2, 2012 by mandileighbean

“You must know life to see decay, but I won’t rot. I won’t rot – not this mind and not this heart. I won’t rot.”

“After the Storm,” Mumford & Sons

 

A parking lot filled with cars but decidedly lacking in people is not the best place for an existential, religious crisis, especially not after having too many drinks and engaging in decidedly trashy behavior.  Every nice girl is allowed one night of debauchery, right?  I wanted to cry and run and hide.  I felt as if all of my desperation was put on display for everyone to see, and it was.  I did not conduct myself as I normally do.  I am ashamed by my embarrassingly public displays of affection with a stranger.  He told me his name, but I couldn’t really hear anything he was saying over the bass; my ears still feel fuzzy.  I wish my recollection of my behavior was fuzzy, but it is painfully clear.

I don’t know what troubles me most; the fact that I became someone else last night, someone who I am far from proud of, or the fact that I made out with a stranger in a bar and still feel unfulfilled and lonely.  I have built romance into an overwhelming, all-consuming absence that needs to be rectified on point of death.  I thought a messy, impromptu make-out session would open my eyes and that it would mean more.  But it doesn’t mean anything, and I am no closer to feeling loved and needed in a unique and singular way than I was yesterday.  If anything, I feel like I’ve taken two giant steps backwards.  I feel gross and disposable and dumb.  There was no point to what I did.  I wasn’t that drunk, so I can’t blame it on the alcohol.  Was I really so lonely?  Did I succumb to everything that I judged and feared for a few moments of – of what?  It wasn’t even enjoyable.  I did it to do it, and to be able to say that I had done it; a notch on the belt, something to cross of the bucket list.

But that’s not me! I love love!  I believe that love is awesome and worth living for and worthy dying for and I believe that love is something sacred and I ignored everything I’ve held dear for so long for what?  I don’t understand, and that scares me.  After all this time, how can I not know myself? How can I be so weak and selfish and irrational?

At least I learned that romance and the physicality of romance are two very separate and distinct aspects – for some, they can be easily severed.  I learned what I don’t want – I do not want to be a serial PDA.  I do not want to be that girl at the bar that strangers take pictures of because she’s being that trashy.  It is definitely better being the lonely-looking girl at the end of the bar than it is to be the one making a spectacle of herself – at least it is for me, anyway – to each his own, I guess.  I am going to hold tight to my belief that love is real and something special is going to happen to me.  I can’t rush it or look for it in dark, desperate places.

PROMPT: “A priest is attacked for being a pedophile.  He is innocent of the crime but guilty of something far worse.”

PIECE: Father Brian sat alone in the rectory in his favorite armchair.  It was worn in all the right spots so that it fit his tired body like a familiar lover.  He knew the analogy was somewhat odd to be thought of by a priest – a man of the cloth, as it were – but at this moment, he didn’t care.  Parishioners and clergymen would think what they wanted, all evidence to the contrary be damned.  Father Brian was well aware there had been whispers and subtle suggestions that he was a pedophile.  The mere thought of it turned his stomach and he wanted to rally against his accusers – blacken eyes, loosen teeth and draw blood.  But Father Brian was a holy man – he was not animalistic or base in nature, and was a sentient being.  He could almost understand how the implications started; after all, he was very affectionate with the altar servers.  He tousled hair, squeezed shoulders, hugged freely, but he only did so to show love and support.  His intentions were honorable.

But, Father Brian sighed deeply, let them think what they want because the truth – the real truth – was worse.  He was not an honorable or holy man.  He was a fraud, a louse and weak, so weak.  He was supposed to be righteous and pure.  He was supposed to be leading the way in salvation.  Instead, he valued the dark places of his soul where he refused the light of the Lord and instead lighted the labyrinthine paths with lascivious desires.  Why, just last night after hearing Saturday night confessions, he had gone out to the bar in civilian clothes.  He hadn’t mentioned his occupation to anyone.  Father Brian – just Brian now; as if it even worked that way – took a seat on a rickety, abused bar stool and ordered a beer.  Then he waited.  For the past couple of weeks or so, Brian kept meeting this beautiful woman.  She found him to be a good listener and they would talk until last call and then Brian would see her home.  It seemed harmless enough, but his overly affectionate behavior towards the altar servers made him nervous.  Was his affection misplaced?  Was he treating the servers like his own children because that’s really what he wanted, a wife and a family?  Did he want it with this woman?  Why hadn’t he told her the truth?

Because last night she had kissed him and he hadn’t stopped her.  He was still a virgin, but was that his choice, or simply because she hadn’t invited him inside?

He was losing his faith – he could feel it shrivelling and crippling away from him.  He wasn’t bothering to cradle it in his arms and nestle it in his arms.  Father Brian was giving up.  The parishioners could sense this, but leveled terrible accusations against him.  This he considered his own fault though, because he was using the servers to mask his feelings.  He was working so hard to be the Light, to exude love and joy that it seemed false and sinister.

What was to become of him?

He threw the tumbler of whiskey he had been nursing against the opposite wall and watched the glass shatter, tears streaming.  It was all very fitting, very fucking fitting.

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.

 

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