Her Beautiful Monster

All posts tagged Her Beautiful Monster

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 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 life-changing events.

Published March 20, 2017 by mandileighbean

I know it’s been a while since the last time I wrote, which is a phrase I use much too often to begin these posts. I promised myself I would make writing a priority and I haven’t. To paraphrase William Wordsworth, the world is too much with me. I let work and friends and television and social media and solitaire and invented melodramas take up much too much of my time, but that is all changing, slowly but surely. After all, they say you need to acknowledge and admit to having a problem before you can even begin to solve it.

It is a REAL tragedy writing hasn’t moved more into the forefront of my thoughts and ambitions and desires because that conference/workshop was truly life changing. It was a whirlwind of emotions, but I left feeling validated and prepared and motivated and determined. I mustn’t lose sight of that, or it will all be for nothing.

So today, I kicked my own ass running along the Barnegat Bay (good for body and soul) and am sitting down to properly update you all on that amazing, life-changing, soul-affirming trip to St. Augustine. The trip to Florida was relatively unremarkable; I left my parents house at about midnight (after only shutting my eyes for three hours before the 15-hour drive; I was too anxious, too excited, too eager) and essentially took I-95 all the way down. I passed A LOT of accidents, which I worried might be a bad omen, but I also drove by the Capitol Building, the Washington Monument, and the Pentagon, which I don’t think I’ve ever done despite my many years traveling up and down the Eastern seaboard. Once I arrived in St. Augustine and made it to the hotel, all of my fears were assuaged. I made it, and I had never felt so blessed in my life. It was stunning – absolutely breathtaking – gorgeous! There were so many boats out on the water – the weather was pretty much perfect the entire time I was in St. Augustine – and I could see the boats in the bay from the balcony outside my hotel room. It was impossible (well, almost) to tell the residents from the tourists because everyone was walking along the water in the sunshine. Handsome men were running shirtless, couples were taking leisurely strolls with cool beverages in hand. Such clichéd phrases don’t even do it justice, but they’re all I seem able to muster. I was – and still am – SO grateful, SO thrilled for the opportunity. It was AMAZING and I was continuously in AWE.

How did I ever come back to Jersey?

People in St. Augustine seemed – to me, anyway – to have MONEY – like Gatsby money, and I didn’t bring a laptop to a flipping writers’ workshop/conference (because I didn’t have one; couldn’t afford one). I momentarily felt like an utter moron, but I was okay. And the first thing I purchased with my tax return money was a laptop so I feel like EVEN MORE of a writer now.

Anyway, the first night in St. Augustine was marked by an informal, get-to-know-everyone-dinner. It was … interesting, tp say the VERY least. I went down to the hotel lobby around 7pm and sat outside and waited. Naturally, the others had gathered inside so when I awkwardly meandered in after creeping about the greenery, I met everyone.

Greg is a retired firefighter from the Midwest. Joanna published two novels twenty years ago, and has a house in Palm Beach and a house in the Hamptons. Paula was in medical communications but now she lives in Houston and I think she’s writing full time. Add me to the crew and we were the writers all staying at the hotel.

I instinctively liked Michael Neff, the editor. I hoped I made a good impression and toyed the line between desperate and casual, if such a line even exists. During dinner, I sat between Joanna and Noreene, who just flew in from the Grand Cayman Islands; completely chic and fabulous. I sat across from Doug from Cincinnati; he was hard to read at first, but shortly became one of my favorite people from the whole experience (he used to be a stand-up comedian and the last few days in St. Augustine, he made me laugh so hard, I cried and on top of that, he really is a phenomenal writer, so whatever. Maybe I’m mostly jealous; favorite might be too positive a word. But I’m just kidding. Maybe). Greg was across from me as was Literary Agent Paula (who I’m only referring to as such to differentiate her from Paula from Houston; don’t worry, I didn’t call her that or anything).

I LOVED Literary Agent Paula and on the first night, she gave me GREAT advice. I’ve subscribed to Publisher’s Marketplace, have decided to really focus on finding an agent, am endeavoring to attend more “pitch” conferences, and have decided to break away from Martin Sisters Publishing (the separation ended up being mutual … more on that later). But from listening to everyone talk about the conferences they’d been to and the important people they knew, I felt overwhelmed and realized I was greener than I thought. I was the youngest person there by decades. I knew I had the talent and the passion, but quickly began to understand that I needed the wisdom.

Cris is an author from California and Lunka is an aspiring writer with a full-time job (so we had a somewhat instant connection) from Denver; so cool.

So the next day (February 25th) marked the first REAL day of the conference/workshop. I was SCARED; I worked on my pitch for the novel I was currently working on (the title was stupid, so I’ll just call it The Duke Story [even though that’s also stupid]) the night before but still felt mostly nauseous. We met at a beautiful house right on the beach, and it was like something out of a movie or, even better, out of a dream. We sat in a circle and everyone read their pitches. It was so cool and interesting to see how everyone’s pitch matched their personality. I was really impressed with a couple of the stories, and everyone had something awesome to share … except me. At least that’s what it felt like, because my mood went from nauseated to dead when both Literary Agent Paula and Michael told me The Duke Story wasn’t marketable and encouraged me to work on “Don’t Drink the Water” (but that title is different now, too).

I felt deflated and was too wrapped up in my own shit to enjoy lunch at The Reef, but I did get to know Cris. When we returned to the house to wrap up the day’s session, Literary Agent Paula advised me to ask Hallie Ephron (ARE YOU KIDDING ME?) about the possibility of working on Her Beautiful Monster; Michael loved the title and wanted me to re-work it, but Literary Agent Paula was nervous because it had been published, has an ISBN number, and can easily be looked up … even though the publisher is so small it’s obscure. I felt lost and was happy to return to the hotel. Joanna drove Greg, Paula and me back to the hotel, but we stopped at Publix and the liquor store first. Paula and I needed some grocery items and we all needed booze after the first day. I happily joined them for the free happy hour at the hotel, and got to know Paula better. We sat on the porch swing outside of her room and talked a little bit about everything in our lives. Then I got to work on our assigned homework (identify five things that make our protagonist sympathetic, interesting, unique, etc. by showing, not telling). I used Charlotte from “Don’t Drink the Water” and did okay.

The second day (February 26th) was MUCH better for my ego, my soul, my passion. When I pitched “Don’t Drink the Water,” both Michael and Literary Agent Paula liked it. Then I went on to meet Robert Olen Butler and HE CHANGED MY LIFE. Throughout the course of our conversation, he validated my dream. He understood The Duke Story and my intention; he took the words right out of my mouth, the words I wished I had when I first pitched the story in front of everyone, and he told me he believed I could do it. I cried and hugged him. He is an amazing man and I will forever be indebted to him, no matter what comes of my so-called writing career.

After the conversation, I reworked my pitch and befriended Lunka. We had a spiritual connection as we were both really moved by our conversations with Robert and we exchanged numbers. I have a new writer friend 🙂 After the day’s schedule, Greg and I got dinner in downtown St. Augustine, and I drank and bonded with Joanna at the hotel’s happy hour. While we were there, we met HALLIE EPHRON. I tried to play it cool, but I was sweaty and I’m almost certain I mumbled and drooled instead of actually forming words. She couldn’t have been nicer. Michael brought her there to check her in and he stopped to say hello and encouraged me to do his online course after the workshop/conference. Spoiler alert: I definitely am.

The third day (February 27th) was INTENSE. The morning was actually low-key; we re-worked our pitches and shared our character traits of our protagonists. We all broke for lunch after, and I ate Chinese with Joanna, Paula and Greg. We shared a bottle of wine to calm ourselves because the second half of the day, we pitched our stories to Executive Editor Lyssa Keusch of HarperCollins Publishers (WHAT?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!), Brendan Deneen of Macmillan Entertainment (IS THIS REAL LIFE?!), and Hallie Ephron, the New York Times Best Selling Author (SERIOUSLY?!?!). It was a whirlwind and while I didn’t feel 100% about the experience, it was SO informational and beneficial.

To commemorate our last full day together in St. Augustine, we had dinner together and it was AMAZING, GREAT, WONDERFUL! Joanna and I became as thick as thieves, Doug made me laugh, and Noreene was as sweet as she was fabulous. Joanna and Greg and I drank together back at the hotel and Joanna convinced Lyssa to join us. SO EPIC. SO AWESOME.

All that was scheduled for our very last day (February 28th) were individual consults with Michael Neff. After each consult, the writer left amidst heartfelt goodbyes. My consult was GREAT; Michael was so helpful and encouraging. I left the conference/workshop with a definite purpose and direction and really, what more can a writer ask for? I am in the middle of research, of signing up for the novel development online course, and am beginning writing very soon.

So when I returned to Jersey all fired up, I emailed Martin Sisters Publishing to inquire about my second novel, MOODY BLUE. I had signed a contract and sent it back, but that was back in the final month of 2016 and had heard nothing back. As it turns out, they had no intention of publishing my novel (said they “…couldn’t give it the attention it deserves”) and offered to send it to an even smaller online publisher.

I told them not to bother, but thanked them for everything. I emailed Literary Agent Paula, Michael, and have begun to query agents once again.

Here we go.

Below are links to Joanna’s website and Doug’s website.
JoannaElm.com
DougSpakWrites.com

And I’m sharing some pictures below.

Prompts start again next week … I promise!

On dead bodies in trunks.

Published January 28, 2017 by mandileighbean

Despite the incredibly morbid and possibly pessimistic title of this post, I’m doing okay. Personal gains and disappointments amidst family drama and social networking have kept me from posting sooner, but here I am, better late than never, which is quickly becoming the best phrase to describe how I operate on this spinning globe.

I am happy to report that my Go Fund Me reached its goal and I am on my way to St. Augustine, Florida at the end of February! Not only is my trip paid for by generous and supportive friends and family and colleagues and former students, but I’ve been granted the time off from work. It feels like something might finally be coming together for me in a big way. I’ll be sure to keep you all updated, posting video blogs from my hotel room.

For now, enjoy the following writing prompt, which inspired the macabre title of the post.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #2.2017: A young woman discovers a dead body in the trunk of her car. The body in question appears to be the president of the United States.

Laura hated running late and despite her best efforts, it seemed as if she was always just five minutes behind schedule, always just a little delayed. It was so frustrating to be so close to punctuality and yet so far. How could she make up just 300 seconds? What part of her morning routine could be eliminated so the she didn’t find herself breathless, sprinting across a filled parking lot and praying no supervisor would see her in such a state?

This morning, Laura was running later than usual, much later. She woke up with a dull, consistent throb at the base of her skull. Her normally wide eyes squinted against the pain in a futile effort to combat it, and as she lay against her pillows with the impatient buzzing of her alarm clock doing nothing to help her aching head, she rubbed her temples slowly, willing it all to just go away. Laura must have stayed in that position for longer than she realized, longer than she wanted, because when she slowly and reluctantly rolled over to face the angry-looking, red numbers of the alarm clock, she had wasted nearly half-an-hour.

Panicked now, she threw the blanket and sheet far from her, cursing constantly. She stripped as quickly as she could and hurried into the shower. She was cranky, angry she couldn’t just stand beneath the nearly scalding water cascading from the showerhead to try and soothe her aching head. Laura almost felt hungover, but that was impossible; she hadn’t had any alcohol since last Friday, which was a good three days ago. As a matter of fact, the last liquid she remembered swallowing was from a sealed water bottle her supervisor had tossed to her as she was leaving for the day yesterday. Laura had considered it a peace offering from the strong, intimidating man with the dark features and serious face. She had been called into his office earlier that day to be reprimanded for simply asking too many questions; that’s how Laura interpreted it, anyway.

On more than one occasion, she had asked about the whereabouts of President Holster, had asked to see him. She worked in DC as some sort of distant assistant to the White House press secretary, but had been fortunate enough to come to know and admire President Holster on a personal level. One night, they had talked at length about everything and anything from immigration reform to their favorite teams in the NFL to their extended relatives. President Holster had made his beliefs and opinions clear, and Laura’s eyes had shone with admiration when he confidently stated he didn’t care that those opinions and beliefs were unpopular among his colleagues, his cabinet, and congress. He had been elected by the good people of a great nation, and everyone would simply have to get on board or get out. It was a daring ultimatum, but one that spoke of bravery and even though Laura had not agreed with all of President Holster’s ideas for the nation, she had faith in his hoped and dreams and aspirations. She truly believed he wanted to make the nation a better place, a much better place.

After the conversation, President Holster had altogether disappeared from the White House. When he finally resurfaced, it was a televised interview from an undisclosed location, during which he went against everything he had told Laura and the good people of the great nation. He spoke of new policies and executive orders and scheduling meetings that pleased the majority of the politicians working in DC, but everything he said directly contradicted everything he had said just a week before. Such a reversal was troubling, and Laura wanted to ask President Holster about it.

So she started to ask for a meeting. Laura was stonewalled; she was told time and time again that he was busy and unavailable even though there was nothing on the Presidential agenda. Confused, Laura changed tactics and just asked where the president currently was, scheming to engineer a casual, surprise encounter. But no one could answer the question to her satisfaction. Things were decidedly weird, and she continued to ask her questions and began to vocalize her concerns. President Holster continued to make televised appearances from more undisclosed locations, but something was wrong. Laura found it harder and harder to believe that she was the only one who noticed the oddities stacking up. She asked colleagues, brought it up at happy hour, but everyone just turned away, stone-faced and quiet.

Her supervisor caught wind of her inquiry and roared her down, screaming with an alarming amount of intensity and rage that her job was to support the president and not question or challenge him. He told her she needed to fall in line or seriously think about the future of her career in politics because if he chose to, he could ruin her. It was threatening and scary, and she had been ashamed of the way she had wilted and scurried back to her desk with her tail between her legs. When she collapsed into her desk chair, the leather cracked and worn, she noticed she had a message. The tiny red light on her answering machine was blinking. She hit play and to her astonishment, President Holster came on the line.

“I hear you’ve been trying to get in touch with me, Laura,” the president began in his slow, Southern drawl. “I’m sorry I haven’t been able to talk to you. I’ve been mighty busy running a country,” he said lamely with a forced laugh. “I just wanted to assuage your fears and concerns. I am fine and doing everything I possibly can to make this great nation of ours even greater. I appreciate the concern and support, and hope you have a wonderful day.” That was it; that was the entire message. It was bizarre and controlled and suddenly, Laura felt like crying.

She hadn’t been able to focus on much for the rest of the work day, was decidedly useless, and she felt woefully defeated. Her shoulders felt heavy as she shut down her computer, turned off her desk lamp, and slipped her messenger bag over her head so that the strap rested across her body. She was walking – though it felt more like limping – to the elevator when her supervisor had called to her. She turned back with wide, scared eyes.

He apologized for being so aggressive, tried to call it being passionate, and claimed he understood Laura to be passionate too. He told her that was a good thing, a great thing even, but that she needed to channel her passion into being supportive rather than divisive. Laura nodded like she understood, but she didn’t really, and just wanted him and the whole day to go away. He tossed her a water bottle and told her to drive safe, and then he turned away. Laura slinked to the elevator, drove home, had dinner and went to bed.

Now here she was, scrambling out of the shower to get dressed and down some breakfast in fifteen minutes. It seemed a Herculean task and she wasn’t sure she was up for it. Her head still throbbed and the memory of yesterday’s events made her feel nauseous and anxious and just plain awful. The nausea coupled with the lump in her throat from the mounting anxiety reduced breakfast to buttered toast and coffee, and she only felt worse when she finally climbed behind the wheel of her jeep; the digital clock in the dashboard read 9:15am. She was going to be over an hour late. Nearly screaming and feeling like crying, Laura pulled out of her driveway and rode through residential streets behind impossibly slow drivers that seemed to conspire to make her as late as possible before making it to the highway.

After the on ramp, Laura was checking her side view mirror, eager to slide into the fast lane and gun it for as far she could, speed limit be damned, but a truly atrocious odor had filled her car. It was sickeningly sweet but unlike anything Laura had ever smelled before, what she imagined a piece of rotting meat doused in cheap perfume must smell like. Her already tumultuous stomach took a dangerous turn and she just didn’t think she could handle puking on herself, so Laura allowed her car to drift into the soft dirt beyond the shoulder. She parked and exited the car, gratefully taking in lungful after lungful of air.

What was that godawful smell? And where was it coming from? Laura walked around the outside of the car, sniffing cautiously for traces of the rank and pungent odor. Her nostrils flared in disgust near her trunk and Laura stopped there. Had she accidentally left a bag of groceries back there or something? Did she forget to remove and clean the cooler she had used when visiting her friends at the beach a couple of weeks ago? Laura could swear the cooler was sitting clean and empty in her garage. She decided the only way to figure things out was to open the trunk, and so she did.

And she screamed, and screamed, and screamed.

Gracelessly shoved into the trunk of Laura’s car was the dead and decaying body of President Holster. Laura collapsed to her knees.

spookywhitehouse

 

On new optimism.

Published January 7, 2017 by mandileighbean

“The future’s just a fucking concept meant to keep us from being alive today.”
– “Six Feet Under”

“New Year’s is so weird, the way it makes you think about time. I think that’s why people put so much pressure on themselves to have fun.”
– “Modern Family”

Two posts in the same week from me? It’s been a while; my apologies. I know multiple new posts from me are unheard of (despite my many resolutions); something great must be happening.

And I can assure you that it is.

But let’s be real and start from the very beginning of this year.

Suffice it to say that on December 31, 2016, I let myself hit rock bottom (which is somewhat appropriate, bottoming out on the very last day of the year). I was the fattest I’d ever been and was utterly alone aside from the cat, which does little if anything to make the situation better. It was the first New Year’s Eve I remember ever being alone, and as a result, I went to bed well before midnight and completely missed the dawn of the new year. I mean, I was struggling to keep my eyes open at 9 pm.

Which is completely unlike me; hence, it was – and still is – time for a change. I made a list of everything I hope to accomplish in 2017 (lose 40 pounds, market my new book, learn how to paint, learn how to play piano, learn how to ride a motorcycle, update this blog every Wednesday [while getting back on schedule this upcoming Wednesday … some habits are REALLY hard to break], attend writing conferences to jump start my creative career, create a book trailer for my upcoming release) and so far, I have followed my schedule accordingly.

But to what end?

My newly optimistic (like the throwback to the title of the post? I’m clever in 2017!) foundation was rocked severely when a tragedy struck my workplace just as we all welcomed the new year; a sixteen-year-old revolutionary, a young woman who was as brave and confident and smart as anyone I have ever had the privilege of meeting, passed away suddenly, unexpectedly. The death of someone so young is tragic for so many reasons; it feels like the death of hope, and it’s a stark reminder that the future’s never promised or guaranteed. And this young lady in particular is a most grievous loss because she personified promise and potential. She was never hesitant to give her opinion, which was most definitely a good thing, because she was fucking smart. She had purple hair, she was enrolled in the AP Language course as a junior, she participated in Drama Club in such a delightful, enthralling way, and she just really lived – she gave life a run for its money in her brief time on this spinning globe in a way most of us never will.

Now, the old me (sorry for the seemingly cheesy and inauthentic avalanche of bullshit you may be anticipating now that I’ve used that phrase; but PLEASE stay with me because I’ve never been more REAL in my ENTIRE life) would have eaten my feelings and grotesquely used personal tragedy as an excuse to stuff my face and not move. I would have stayed as I am because it’s easy to simplistically label the world a cruel place and want nothing more to do with anything of it. It’s a defense mechanism to disengage and not try, and my juvenile and unhealthy tendency to revert to dramatics when shocked or rattled has always enabled me to return to this defensive mindset.

Sure, shitty things happen; that’s life. But that’s not all there is, so I embraced the future. I reminded myself that life isn’t as simple as good or bad. A life can’t truly be measured until it’s over, so I planned on continuing to try new things and make changes because my life isn’t over.

So I applied to the St. Augustine Mentor-Author Workshop. It’s pretty exclusive; you have to apply before you can register, and it’s a small-group atmosphere with the specific intention of helping accepted authors get published by a commercial publishing houses. The cost to attend and participate is nearly $3,000 (which I certainly don’t have) but I thought I’d apply anyway so I could say I tried and, obviously, I didn’t think I’d be accepted.

But then I was; I fucking was!

The ONLY problem is the cost, so I became really ballsy and started a GoFundMe campaign. Now, I hate asking ANYONE for ANYTHING (especially money; people get weird about money) but I had WONDERFUL SUPPORT from so many friends, and I currently have 3,649 people who have “Liked” my Author page on Facebook – if each individual gave just $1.00, I’d more than make my goal. And I need to say I tried; if I fail, fine – but I have to try. So I made the GoFundMe page on January 5th, around 5 pm. Making the campaign was surprisingly quick and easy. I also e-mailed Michael Neff from the St. Augustine Author-Mentor Workshop to ask about the last day to register so I could develop a calendar, a timeline (the actual event is at the very end of February). I’m still waiting for a response, but I am ENTHRALLED to announce that my campaign TOOK OFF! Before I went to bed that night – THE FIRST NIGHT – I was nearly one-third of the way to my goal! Friends, family, former students, people I’ve lost touch with have ALL donated in amounts from $5.00 to $300.00! I am COMPLETELY OVERWHELMED by the generosity. love and support from so many different people. The love is UNREAL. I feel like George Bailey from “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

I’m really starting to believe this could be the beginning of something NEW and AMAZING and BETTER. I NEVER thought the GoFundMe idea would work as well as it has so far. At the time of this post, I currently have $1,870.00 of $3,000.00. And it’s all because I took a risk and asked the universe. And I’m thinking it’s also because of Mollie Belasco, the young lady who passed, and her inspiring, wondrous, and all too brief life.

So here’s the link to donate: https://www.gofundme.com/expanding-my-writing-career

And here’s a writing prompt for you sit back and enjoy – the first of the new year!

 WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #1.2017: A company representative returns from a sales trip claiming to have met the devil.

 Frank Turner was already loosening his tie as he slowly trudged back to his desk after having been out of the office for five days on a business trip. He’d been out of the state as well, far out on the Western coast. He threw his briefcase thoughtlessly, almost recklessly, onto his desk, not giving a good shit about the papers or mug or the entire cornucopia of supplies that made up office living; no, office survival. Assorted supplies and a picture frame went tumbling to the carpeted floor, making enough of a commotion that most of the co-workers within ear shot turned and looked with shocked, anxious expressions.

“What’s the deal, Frank?” hissed Nicole through gritted teeth. She raised her eyebrows for emphasis, to impress upon Frank that a cool, calm and collected demeanor was highly valued in the work environment and currently, he was none of those things. She was going to continue scolding, but one look at Frank’s pale, contorted face was enough to shut her up.

“I’m sick,” Frank moaned. “I’m real sick. I think I might die.” His last words came out as a half-strangled sob. His emotions and all of the thoughts raging inside him overcame him, and Frank slumped into his chair and let his head fall to the desk cradled only by his thin, trembling arms. He was sobbing unabashedly, weeping like a woman.

Nicole was horrified.

“What do you mean, ‘dying’? Frank, what’s going on?”

He offered no reply, but cried and cried, big heaving sobs. The shocked, anxious faces of their coworkers were creeping closer now, crowding in around them like morbid looky loos at a car accident. Nicole felt the uncomfortable pressure of their presence and immediately resented it. She sprang into action and collected the garbage pail beside her desk before quickly moving to Frank’s side and dropping to one knee. She rubbed his lower back and said, “Frank, please, you’ve got to talk to me. Calm down and let me help you, if I can.”

“I’m beyond help. I’m a dead man,” Frank choked.

“What do you mean? What are you talking about?” Nicole was panicked by Frank’s desperation.

“I’m gonna be sick,” Frank bellowed. Abruptly, he fled from his chair and left it spinning as he hurried to the men’s room. Nicole rose to a standing position slowly, using most of her energy for thinking. With Frank’s physical presence removed, the uproar began to die down and the small space was soon filled with keyboard clicks, murmured conversations and ringing telephones. Nicole had been waiting for just such a return to normalcy and once it arrived, she discreetly strolled to the men’s room. She looked to her left and right to see if anyone was watching – no one was – and then ducked inside.

Frank’s ravaging sobs echoed loudly against the tiled walls and tiled floor. Nicole turned to lock the heavy pneumatic door to make sure no one intruded and then hesitantly called out, “Frank?”

There was a moment of stunned violence. Then Frank’s heavy, subdued voice said, “This is the men’s room, Nicole. You can’t be in here.”

Nicole smiled weakly but Frank didn’t see; he was locked in the farthest stall opposite the farthest urinal. She took two steps forward, emboldened by his rationality. “Frank, it’s okay. I’m just here to talk to you and check on you. What is going on, man? You’re acting…,” she paused, searching for the right word while trying to be delicate, but all she came up with was, “crazy. You’re acting crazy.”

“Maybe I am crazy,” Frank sighed. He offered no elaboration, and Nicole was growing impatient.

With a little bit of an edge, she said, “You have to let me know what’s going on, Frank. You can’t just barge into the office all hysterical and expect me not to want to know why, or expect to not try to help you.” Nicole took a breath and softened. “I’ve been sitting across from you for six years, Frank. You can talk to me.”

There was only silence and Nicole was afraid all was lost. She slapped her open palm on the wall of the stall nearest her and turned, ready to walk out and leave the little shit to figure out whatever was ailing him on his own. She stopped and turned back when she heard the click of shoes on tile. Rounding the corner of the line of stalls, Nicole saw Frank emerge from the last stall. He was sweaty and pale and entirely disheveled. He looked like he was in agony, in absolute misery, and Nicole’s heart hurt at the pitiful sight. His eyes were red-rimmed and his eyebrows were furrowed. The lines of his face were hard and sharp; whatever it was plaguing Frank Turner, he was in it. He looked to Nicole. “You’ll think I’m crazy.”

Nicole smiled in a small way, this time so Frank could see. She hoped it would diffuse some of the tension. “Try me,” she encouraged.

“I met the Devil.”

Nicole was shocked into laughter. Not wanting to be insensitive, she quickly recovered and covered her mouth. She leveled her gaze at Frank with a very serious expression. “You’re going to have to explain.”

Frank’s immediate response was to turn and retreat into the bathroom stall he had so recently exited. Nicole thought he was crazy, Nicole had laughed him, and so would everyone else. He had never felt more alone, and therefore more terrified, in his entire life. He collapsed onto the porcelain throne without an ounce of royalty about him, and then allowed his body to fall to the left, resting against the stall wall. He started crying again; what else was there to do?

Nicole knew she had fucked up, so she walked slowly but with purpose towards Frank’s stall. She paused just before the open door and only poked her head into the stall. “I’m sorry, Frank. Your response wasn’t anything I was expecting, that’s all. I didn’t know what else to do, so I laughed. I’m an asshole, I know.” Frank stared at her in complete agony and misery, and Nicole’s brain became fixated on the phrase “man on fire.” Frank looked like he was burning alive and in a grim way she would never admit aloud, Nicole thought that might be fitting given what he had just confessed to her. Frank only stared, he said nothing, so Nicole took a few more steps into the stall. She kneeled before Frank. “Please tell me what happened.”

Frank swallowed hard and then gasped for air. Was he burning or drowning? Did it matter? So long as there was pain, did the intensity of that pain validate or nullify its own existence? Frank didn’t want to think, so he decided to talk and to occupy himself with the explanation, the wondrous, fantastical explanation that was simultaneously horrifying and terrifying so that Nicole wouldn’t even believe him. But what else was there to do? Just cry? Frank closed his eyes, stayed slumped against the stall’s wall and said, “The first night there, after some bullshit ice-breaker workshop, they served a really nice dinner. I’m talking lobster and baked potatoes and hors d’oeuvres I can’t pronounce. I was looking to chow down, but I wasn’t really looking to make friends, so I claimed a table in a far corner and was perfectly content to be alone. It was an open bar, too. I was gonna stuff my face, drink until I was dizzy, and then stumble back to the room and call it a successful first night. I had a plan,” Frank insisted as his voice shook. He used his sleeve to wipe his eyes and nose. He sniffed loudly before continuing his story.

“But this guy, this fucking guy, comes and sits right next to me. I mean, goddam, he was practically on my lap. And he’s all smiley and greasy in a three-piece suit that was more than my monthly mortgage payment, and he was so good-looking. I know it’s weird that I noticed that, but think about how physically perfect this guy had to be for me to notice and to fucking be impressed.” He sobbed loudly. “I admit it, I was impressed. As creeped out as I was by his obvious lack of concern for personal space, I was so impressed. His teeth were white and straight, and his hair was elegantly and fashionably disheveled, like he used a fucking ruler to determine what strand fell where. Looking back, I realize how precise and calculated it all was, how awfully manipulative, but in the moment, it was all effortless and … and,” he struggled momentarily for just the right word but finally decided on “cool. He was just cool.”

Suddenly, Frank rocketed forward and let his forearms rest on his thighs. His posture was still all tight and jerky, and his expression was grotesque in its suffering. “I wanted to be him, you know? When he started talking, I wanted to just nod politely and blow him off, not encourage him in anyway. But within five minutes, I was fucking captivated, man. I was laughing and he was laughing, and then he was slapping me on the back and we just kept drinking and laughing and drinking and laughing.” He covered his face with his hands and cried. Nicole was wide-eyed and confused. Was Frank about to come out to her? He had a wife and kids, and Nicole wasn’t sure if she was worthy or responsible enough for the burden of such a weighty secret. She was about to just walk out and let fate take its course, whatever course that may be, but Frank inhaled sharply and kept talking.

“So the place is emptying out, like really clearing out, but him and I are still there, still yucking it up. I think I was even wiping my goddam eyes from crying from laughing so hard when he turns to me, serious as a heart attack, and asks, ‘What is it that you want from life, Frank?’

“I laughed and told him I was too drunk for introspection, but he persisted, he was insistent. So I told him I’d love to make a million bucks. I’d pay off the house and credit card bills, set Dennis and Jenny up for college at least a little bit, and take Michele somewhere really nice that she’d never been before, like Paris or Rome or something. He asked to see pictures of my family and like a goddam fool I handed them over without a second thought. He looked at them, and this was the first time I noticed something was off because he didn’t just look at them, but he really fucking studied them. He brought the pictures up real close to his face and tried to bore into their souls. I kind of snatched the picture back and was all determined to bid adieu when he tells me he can make it happen. He told me he could give me a million dollars, no questions asked.”

Nicole squinted her eyes skeptically. “You believed him?” She was starting to believe that Frank was in some real financial trouble now, maybe he got robbed blind in some kind of scheme, and she was in no position to help. She’d had Ramen noodles for dinner the past month.

“I was drunk!” Frank roared defensively. “I didn’t know what to think, so I entertained the idea and I kept talking. He said there was only one catch, that I only had to do one thing once I had the money.”

“What was that?” Nicole asked.

Frank swallowed hard again and finally met Nicole’s gaze. He was white as a ghost with a green tinge around his edges, like he could spew vomit any moment. “I’d have to kill someone I loved,” Frank said. His voice was cold and without tone or rhythm; it was mechanic and robotic, like he was saying something he’d rehearsed. “And if I didn’t, he would. He said he would kill someone I loved. Then he started laughing like a fucking lunatic and promised I could keep the money either way. All I had to do was shake his hand.” Frank broke down again and Nicole moved to rub his back. She tried to hush him, tried to soothe him, but it seemed futile. His wracking sobs caused his body to heave and Nicole thought he might just pass out from the effort.

“Frank, did you shake his hand?” Nicole asked tentatively, thinking some confession might help Frank, might be cathartic in some way.

“Yes!” Frank exploded. “Isn’t it fucking obvious that I did?” He screamed in desperation, in fear, just a guttural, animal noise. “When I looked into his eyes to see if he was for real, something happened to me, Nicole. So I tried to look somewhere else, and I did, but only for a second. There was this odd birthmark on his wrist that caught my attention. It was all red and lumpy but kind of small. It was circular but had lines inside it. It might have made sense and been decipherable but I felt like I had to look in his eyes. I looked back up and … I can’t explain it and you wouldn’t believe me even if I could explain it, but something happened to me. It was my body that shook his hand, but it wasn’t me. Does that make sense? How could I agree to something like that? It wasn’t me.” Frank was pleading his case, desperate for Nicole to believe him. He needed some kind of validation.

But Nicole was becomingly increasingly suspicious and terrified. Had Frank killed someone? Was that where the extreme emotional display was coming from, some sort of unimaginable guilt? The only thing keeping her in the stall was the very plausible possibility that Frank was confused or wrong. What in the hell kind of a story was he telling, anyway? She leaned away from him, but she asked, “So what happened next, Frank?”

He had collapsed his chest onto his thighs. “I shook his hand and he laughed but it was scary. I knew I had to leave so I high-tailed it back to my room and just collapsed into bed. I slept in my suit and everything.” He looked up at Nicole. “The next morning, when I was sober, I showered and dressed and drank about a gallon of strong coffee, and I found the guy responsible for registration. He had a whole list of names of everyone who was there from every firm. I told him the guy propositioned me to kill someone for him, that the guy was dangerous. He asked me the guy’s name, and I told him, and he checked his list. He checked his list over and over with me standing right there and there was no Lou Sever on the list. He even let me check. When I couldn’t find anything, he said it was probably someone just fucking around and went about his business like nothing was wrong.”

“Did you call the cops or anything?” Nicole asked, striving to be rational and logical.

“I couldn’t, Nicole; I wasn’t even sure if the guy existed,” Frank said with disgust. He was unsure at the moment if he was disgusted with himself or Nicole. He supposed it could have been both. “So I went to the workshops that day, every single one even if I wasn’t technically signed up, and I looked for this guy. I searched high and low, talked to people and asked questions. I hung around the hotel bar like some pathetic loser, just waiting and watching for him to reappear. But he never did, Nicole. I never saw him again.”

“Isn’t that a good thing?” she asked slowly, cautiously.

Frank laughed but without humor. “You would think so, especially when there was over a million dollars in my checking account. There were no recent transactions listed in my account summary and when I went to the bank, they all acted like I was insane, like the money had always been there. Michele called me and she was ecstatic. I tried to explain to her what kind of money this was, dangerous money with no sort of trail, but she was already on the way to spending it. And the worst part, the absolute worst part, is that she kept thanking me, like I had worked hard, or done something noble and righteous for this sudden windfall, but I didn’t, Nicole. I didn’t do anything good for that money.” His head fell into his hands.

“You didn’t do anything at all, Frank,” Nicole said. “You just shook some sick fuck’s hand while you were drunk. You tried to give the money back, or at least investigated, but everything was working in your favor.” Nicole grinned. “Maybe it’s a reward.”

“Not from a guy like that,” Frank protested with a deep pout pulling his lips down. “There’s no reward. For a few days, I thought like you, like maybe it was all gonna come up roses or something, I don’t know. I was almost happy flying home, and I let myself think about the future and how easy life would be. It was gonna be so nice,” Frank sobbed. He wiped at his eyes furiously. “But when I got home, Nicole, nothing was easy or nice. It was all completely fucked.”

“What’s wrong, Frank?”

“Michele took Dennis to the hospital because he was real sick. It was sudden and devastating and they’re saying he won’t make it. And he has a new fucking birthmark on his wrist,” Frank said, looking to Nicole with dead, empty eyes. “He has it, Jenny has it, Michele has it, I have it. We’re all going to die.”

Nicole jumped to her feet. She started to slowly back out of the stall. “Frank, I-“

Frank slowly stood. “I only came to work today to do the one thing to stop all of this. I have to kill someone I love.”

“Frank, be serious,” Nicole pleaded. Her voice quivered in its weakness and she kept backing up until her back slammed against the cool, tiled wall of the men’s room. “You just … we need-“

“I love you, Nicole,” Frank said and it was at that moment Nicole saw the blade in his hand as it just so happened to wink in the harsh fluorescent lights.

devil

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

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