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On therapy and leather.

Published July 27, 2017 by mandileighbean

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

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

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

Enjoy! Read. Comment. Share.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So what is this? Why are you here?”

“You tell me.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I was disappointing?” Jax asked, surprised.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gemma faltered. “No, but -”

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

“Why did we stop working?”

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

“Yes, definitely,” Gemma said.

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

Slowly, Gemma sat up. “What?”

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

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

On 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 being random, dismantling and finally updating.

Published June 27, 2016 by mandileighbean

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

So let’s catch up, shall we?

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

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

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

“A heart that hurts is heart that works.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Nothing is ever over.”

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

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

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

This is what a successful adult looks like, no?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I recently lost a banana for 24 hours.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

On the persistence of the Universe

Published April 3, 2016 by mandileighbean

badbeauty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

newhairnewme

 

On the point being to keep trying.

Published March 21, 2016 by mandileighbean

nevergiveup

“In the stories, though, it’s worth it. Always worth it to have tried, even if you fail, even if you fall like a meteor forever. Better to have flamed in the darkness, to have inspired others, to have lived, than to have sat in the darkness, cursing the people who borrowed, but did not return, your candle.”
– Neil Gaiman, The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a terrible adult. It seems that I never fold laundry, I owe everyone money, I always forgot to check the mail, and I’m constantly drinking spoiled milk. On good days, I am able to convince myself that these minor defeats give me character and make me interesting; they give me something to write about.

And I keep trying, because that’s the point, right? The point is to keep trying.

My author page on Facebook has been experiencing more activity than usual, and I want to capitalize by composing a riveting, engaging blog post, but I’ve been lacking inspiration. I’ve also been lacking motivation. I haven’t written anything. I haven’t graded anything.

Last week was rough.

My twin sister returned to rehab a week ago today. I try to remind myself that relapse, whether or not anyone likes it, is a part of recovery. I force myself to consider the alternative, about where else she’d be if she wasn’t trying to get help. Neither scenario does much to lessen the disappointment, the frustration, the anger, or the sadness. It’s a gross, turbulent mess of emotions that I’m trying to compartmentalize and shrink so that they can be better processed and dealt with appropriately. But it’s hard; it’s so hard.

But I keep trying, because that’s the point, right? The point is to keep trying.

“Because, perhaps, if this works, they will remember him. All of them will remember him. His name will … become synonymous with … love. And my name will be forgotten. I am willing to pay that price ….”
– Neil Gaiman, The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury

That wasn’t entirely true, what I said earlier, about not having written anything. I’ve written some things, but nothing I’ve been thrilled with or necessarily proud of. I worry my writing – the themes, the characters, the dialogue – is repetitive. I worry I’ve written all of this before, and that might be because the object of my affection is every character I’ve ever written, is the epitome of every romantic fantasy I’ve ever had, and so it all comes back to him in one way or another. What’s especially troubling, and simultaneously amazing about being a writer, is that I invented this man before he appeared before me in the flesh (talk about a god complex, huh?). In college, before I had ever met this man, I started a novel and wrote, “He couldn’t watch her fawn over another man, couldn’t tell her how he felt because it was too late and he’d ruin it for her.” Swap the genders of the pronouns and I am my own prophet. It’s crazy; I said everything I should have said to him years before I met him. How depressing.

I wrote a poem, too.

I put the kettle on for tea
and pulled my leggings from the dryer
I hope there’s time for breakfast
before I go about setting the world on fire

Burning devastation – turn it all to heat and ash
There’s something freeing about going mad
To face the world with wild, reckless abandon
To give in, to be selfish, to be ignorant and bad

Consequences will come swift and sure
Rolling quickly like so many rocks downhill
But it could absolutely all be worth it
For the liberation that accompanies the kill

What does being so reserved get you,
maybe a curtsy and a smile?
None of the mystery, intrigue and danger
that can go along with being vile

But I don’t think I’d really go so dark. It’s easy to not consider anyone or anything else other than my own wants and desires, but that doesn’t make it right. It’s difficult to do what is right, at least sometimes.

But I keep trying, because that’s the point, right? The point is to keep trying.

On the inability to stop questioning.

Published August 11, 2015 by mandileighbean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On art and crime.

Published January 12, 2014 by mandileighbean

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

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

ventriloquist

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

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

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

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

Charles hung his head and cried.

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