Prompt

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On collisions.

Published October 25, 2016 by mandileighbean

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

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

 

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

He never even saw the other car coming.

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

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

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

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

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

But his partner had already knocked.

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

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

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

Officer Bobby Gillis let his partner do all the talking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In her absence, Phil found himself able to cry.

death_in_the_hood

On hearing and personal normalcy.

Published September 28, 2016 by mandileighbean

Round of applause, please; I’m actually posting weekly! Granted this is the first time it has happened, but it’s all about the baby steps, right? It’s all about doing the work.

So without further self-aggrandizing glory, or further do, here’s this week’s writing prompt. I’d like to thank Cristina Hartmann who wrote a beautiful, poignant article on her deaf experience. Her willingness to be so honest and so personal helped me through writer’s block and taught me to be open-minded through validating the idea that there is a common human experience no matter the extenuating circumstances.

Enjoy.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #29: A deaf woman undergoes a surgical procedure that enables her to hear for the first time.

The surgery had been an absolute success, one worthy of being documented in some elite medical journal that was never actually read but given a prestigious place on a bookshelf of some pretentious professional. But Monica had no idea that she was a medical marvel; not yet, anyway. She was still floating somewhere in the dark ether of anesthesia, blissfully unaware of the momentous, tragic changes in her life that had occurred while she was sleeping peacefully.

Monica had been born deaf, an innocent victim of her mother’s sins. Monica’s mom had been a pretty heavy drug user in the very beginning of her pregnancy and though her daughter had been the reason she finally got clean, it was too little too late. The damage was done and in her youngest years, Monica was constantly shushed so that the toddler wouldn’t make noise at inappropriate times. How was Monica to know she was even making sounds, let alone when she was being shushed? The kid couldn’t hear, couldn’t hear a damn thing, and so Monica struggled to learn American Sign Language. Doing so allowed Monica to meet many, many different people and in her important, formative years, she signed with adults, and that early exposure to maturity and a cynic sort of wisdom only vaguely hidden behind smiles that didn’t quite meet the eyes (because she was still a child after all) indelibly shaped Monica’s personality. She had always been an old soul – polite, conservative and comfortable even in the strange solitude that came with being unable to hear.

Being comfortable wasn’t always synonymous with being complacent, so when Monica had been referred to the Cochlear Implant Center, she continued on that journey to meet with an audiologist, and when her medical history had been sufficiently reviewed and all the necessary medical tests had been conducted, Monica willingly moved on to the last phase, which involved a psychiatric evaluation. In the end, all had been golden and she was approved for cochlear implant surgery.

Monica remembered her hands twitching nervously as the surgeon explained the procedure. She thought it was nice he wanted her to be informed, but Monica was letting most of it simply fall away. She was too nervous to concern herself with the details of the surgery because it wasn’t the impending incision that troubled her; it was the aftermath. She had been relieved to discover that she would still be unable to hear like a hearing person, and that the implant could be turned off so that Monica could effectively be deaf again. The thing Monica hated most about being deaf was that it was not her choice; taking a wide view of the thing, Monica supposed you could say it had been her mother’s choice, but unwittingly so. Either way, Monica liked the idea that being able to hear was her choice, very much her choice. If she longed for the familiar soothing and peaceful silence she had lived in for so long, Monica could go there any time she liked. That thought had calmed her enough to go ahead with the procedure.

Surprisingly, the surgery was no big deal; Monica learned that the majority of patients go home the same day, and that the surgery only lasted between two to three hours. After minimal hair shaving and a small incision (the aerated bone behind her ear had to be removed so the device could be implanted), she’d go home and remove the dressings the next day, standing in front of her bathroom mirror, breathing deeply and listening hard for anything, anything at all.

What a change it would be; good or bad, it would certainly be different.

So as far as anyone was concerned, Monica should have been on her way home. But her shit luck reared its ugly head once more, and there had been a minor complication. The procedure had caused facial nerve stimulation, and they wanted to keep Monica longer (overnight) for observation, to make sure the damage wasn’t permanent. The surgeon would tell her, with an overly enthusiastic smile and tone to let her know her optimism should not in any way shape or form be deterred, when she woke from the anesthesia but even that was taking longer than it should. A surgeon couldn’t be expected to wait around all day, could he? Certainly not; time to wait around was not a luxury in the business of saving lives.

Monica was therefore all alone when she began to stir. Well, all alone if one discounted her roommate, which it seemed most people did. He was a young man essentially being kept comfortable until he inevitably kicked the bucket. The car accident had ravaged his insides; so much vital stuff had been bruised and was bleeding and it was just a God awful mess. The next of kin had been alerted, but there wasn’t enough time (was there ever) and that poor young man was going to die alone and he was going to do so in a matter of moments.

“I’m so scared,” he breathed. It took a lot, to make noise, to push enough air through his throat to vibrate his vocal chords. It was a lot of work, a lot of effort, but it had to be done. Everyone deserves to have a final say, and he was going to have him, goddammit.

Monica’s eyes shot open. She heard it; she heard it. It startled her awake, the husky voice wracked with pain and despair, but it was the only voice she had ever heard. She was hearing. She was smiling and tears were freely pouring. She hadn’t processed what the voice said exactly, but for now, it was enough that it had been audible.

“It’s not fair,” the voice croaked. “I didn’t do anything wrong, man. I was wearing my seatbelt. I was sober.” There was a deep, shuddering breath. “How can there be nothing that they can do? How can this be it?” The voice broke near the end, cracked into a million desperate shards that had nowhere to land, nothing to shatter against.

The voice asked questions Monica was unable to answer, not only because she didn’t know how to intellectually, but because she didn’t know how to physically. She had years of speech therapy to go before she’d be able to effectively communicate without using her hands. Any sound she attempted now would be unsettling at best, impossible for the man suffering beside her to discern. Her smile had faded, had done so quickly, and something akin to indescribable sorrow had contorted her features to something decidedly less than beautiful.

“It’s karma,” the man said. He waited a moment, for an absolution perhaps. Maybe he was waiting for a kind soul to argue otherwise, but there was nothing. “It has to be karma,” he continued. “I knew she was drunk but she was smiling and laughing and I never heard no.” There was sharp intake of breath. “I swear to God, she never told me no. She never asked me to stop. I was young and…” his voice trailed off. Monica didn’t think he would speak again, and she was okay with that. She didn’t like playing priest in this warped confessional. How could the first voice she ever heard belong to a dying man, a dying man that felt the need to confess the worst thing he’d ever done? If he wanted to talk about what was unfair, Monica was game.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” he sobbed. “I don’t want to die.”

Monica shut her eyes tight, letting the tears roll freely. What else could she do?

 

deafness

On nasty surprises.

Published September 5, 2012 by mandileighbean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mikey screamed and screamed and screamed.

On home defense.

Published June 26, 2012 by mandileighbean

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

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

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

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

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

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

PIECE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Talk to him?  Dad, are you-“

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another pause; she was on the phone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris shook his head.  “Not at all.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Such as?” Chris asked, gulping.

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

“I have.”

“Well?  What have you done about it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Chris,” she breathed, terrified.

 

On promises for swing voters.

Published May 9, 2012 by mandileighbean

I am totally ready for the summer. I enjoy teaching – I think – and I thoroughly enjoy my students, but lately, I’ve been feeling dramatically uninspired. I haven’t always been the consummate professional I need to be. I worry the students don’t respect me, or take me seriously. I am anxious about whether or not I’m performing my job to the best of my abilities and become increasingly frustrated at the lack of feedback. I am paranoid, and over analyze every single passing glance in the hallways. I am unsure of what my future holds in a way that I never have been before. And then, I stuff all of this uncertainty down and away from me because I claim it doesn’t even matter; I’m going to be a famous writer. I try to shift my focus and my priorities, but I’m scared. I’m also lazy. It’s almost like I want to wake, make tea and write all day without putting in the work to be able to do so. I know that there’s a prevailing sense of entitlement that could very well doom me. What I don’t know is how I’m going to deal with it, or any of the heartaches and shocks thrown my way.

That being said, I hope you enjoy tonight’s writing prompt. I think it’s silly, and I’m not sure I did it right. But still, enjoy.

🙂

 

PROMPT: Promises for Swing Voters
  You are running for president of the writing community. What promises do you make to swing voters in your direction?

Authors! Writers! Wordsmiths! Lend me your ears!

Seriously though, I have a few ideas which I believe will benefit the entirety of our close-knit writing community. Admittedly, our community is fairly awesome as is, but there are always areas for improvement. That being said, I propose that any member of the writing community that continuously confuses there, their and they’re shall have their membership immediately and permanently revoked. Is it not a safe assumption that vast majority of the writers within the community are educated, at least well enough that spelling errors should be few and far between?

I am not a tyrant, friends – mistakes are bound to happen! All will not be punished severely. However, those not in favor of the Oxford comma will be upset because it will be mandatory; that particular writing tool makes perfect sense and should be used. Conversely, those who comma splice will find company among those who confuse they’re, there and their. Writing is a craft which must be practiced daily, so while mistakes will be numerous, the quality of such mistakes will be noted and judged.

When I close my eyes and envision the perfect writing world, everyone with talent – real talent – has an agent and thereby a fighting chance. It perturbs me that successful writing is more a vicious cycle than anything else. Publishers look favorably upon writers with agents, but a writer can only easily attain the services of an agent if a writer has been published. If an aspiring author asks someone how to get published, I think the answer would be: “Be published” and I ask you, what kind of answer is that? That’s not to say getting published is impossible, but many promising writers are discouraged, so let’s end the vicious cycle and the exclusivity which is based on mere opportunity rather than more appropriate standards such as talent and tenacity.

That’s the kind of writing community – nay, the kind of world – I’d like to live in.

On wondering where the good goes.

Published March 31, 2012 by mandileighbean

I would like to begin this entry with an apology; this time, for my absence. My computer broke Wednesday night – something about the power switch being worn down to nothing – and I could not get it to turn back on. I had tried to update this blog from my iPad, but was unsuccessful. I was so stressed and just sat on my bed and cried, and cried, and cried. It was silly, and most certainly foolish, but I felt so helpless and frustrated.

I updated the blog with a pity party; a post that just ranted about how sad I was, and how woeful I am, and so on and so forth. But that is not why I started this blog, and that is not who I want to be. There was nothing creative or entertaining about the post; it was only self-indulgent and annoying, so I deleted it. I realized that I hadn’t lost as much weight as I should have, that I wasn’t being a creative writer, and that I was being weak again. I was letting myself down, and it was time to knock it off. It was time to start fresh.

So, it’s a new day, and I’m typing away on a new computer. I also discovered a new set of prompts by Writer’s Digest that are perfectly tailored to a writer suffering from a creative slump. Let’s give this another shot, shall we?

THE PROMPT: “The Song that Changed Everything”
You walked into the emergency room. This simply couldn’t be happening. Just a few hours ago you were playing cards with your friend, listening to your favorite song on the radio – the song that defined your friendship. But now, as you make your way to the nurses’ station, that song was playing again. Only this time, it felt different.

THE PIECE:

Amanda’s hair flew out behind her as she ran through the parking lot. Her flip flops slapped haphazardly against the pavement and she knew she was one bad step from a bad spill, but it didn’t really matter – nothing did, except for Allison. Amanda had been in the classroom, idly checking her work e-mail while the students worked on their expository essays, when her cell phone had lit up beside the mouse. She had done her best to discreetly place her phone so that she could see it, but no one else could. Teachers weren’t allowed to have them because the students weren’t allowed to have them, and it was all about solidarity or some nonsense, but she had hers close anyway, just in case there was an emergency or something.

                And there was an emergency, wasn’t there? Amanda hadn’t answered her cell phone because one, it would be unprofessional and two, the call was coming from a number she didn’t recognize. She ignored the call and took a cursory glance at the students, all of whom were bent over their desks and writing furiously. Things were momentarily interrupted but were quickly on their way back to normal, until the phone in the classroom rang; the generic phone that hung beside the desk in every classroom. Twenty heads popped up, snapping their necks to the phone like an abnormally large pack of deer trying to cross a four-lane highway flooded by headlights. With a rueful smile, Amanda told them all to keep working and she answered the phone, never thinking that anything could be wrong. Or hell, if something was wrong, that didn’t mean it couldn’t be easily remedied. Amanda prided herself on being able to handle issues. Her classroom management was exemplary – the principle had even said so – and she did her best to never rattle. Other teachers came to her to vent because they knew Amanda would be blunt and put everything into perspective.

But Ms. Taylor, the secretary in the office with the short blond hair and lust for high heels, told Amanda that the hospital had called, and that the hospital said Amanda should hurry down there because something had happened to Allison; there had been an incident. Ms. Taylor mentioned something about a Hall Duty teacher reporting to the classroom, and about not worrying, about it being okay to leave, but Amanda was already gathering her purse with the keys – everything else could stay, could wait until the world righted itself. Some of the students called out to her, asked if everything was okay, but she barked at them to just keep working. What else could they do? What else could anyone do? What was she supposed to say? She was frazzled.

                Using the crazy energy coursing through her, Amanda didn’t stop to talk to anyone, but just ran – ran through the front doors of the school to the parking lot, ran through the parking lot to her Ford Explorer. She fumbled with the key s at the door, simultaneously struggling to calm her shaking hands and to regulate her haggard breathing. When she sat in the driver’s seat and slid behind the wheel, she shut the door behind her and it was silent. For a moment, Amanda thought she might cry. It was a tempting idea, to just sit there and cry, and just be totally consumed by the fear and the helplessness of the situation. Why not? What else was there to do? Would driving like a madwoman to the emergency room and demanding entry to Allison’s room help things any? It wouldn’t and crying in her car alone wouldn’t help either, but so what? If neither was beneficial, why couldn’t she choose how to spend her moment of weakness?

                Despite her cerebral struggle, Amanda’s body seemed to act accordingly; the keys were turned in the ignition, the gear was changed so she could back out of the parking space and before she could really understand what was happening, she was on the highway and speeding towards the hospital. She didn’t hit any red lights, and she gently touched the rosary beads hanging from the rear view mirror. It was like God knew that if Amanda stopped, even for just a minute or two, she would not be able to start again. When she parked in the crowded parking lot of the hospital, it was all she could do to keep one foot moving in front of the other. Her mind was racing, sprinting from worst case scenario to who she should call to who would probably already be there. She was taking in deep breaths, constantly smoothing her hair back away from her dampened eyes. Her movements had slowed, probably because her mind was using all her energy and she almost stumbled through the sliding doors and into the hospital.

                Everything was white, bright and smelled like disinfectant. Amanda instantly wanted to be somewhere else. Her stomach turned over unpleasantly and she shut her eyes against it for a moment, not wanting to be sick or cause a scene, but how could she help it? Her best friend was in the hospital, in a coma from an apparent overdose, and how do these things happen? Just last night, they had been at Allison’s house, playing Drug Dealer with a battered pack of cards, laughing loud and hard. The case of beer had been nearly gone, and it was getting late, but then “Where Does the Good Go?” by Tegan and Sara came on the iPod. Both women had screeched in delight and slammed their palms upon the table, demanding the song be turned up as loud as it could go, and promptly be started over from the beginning. Mike, who was always there with them, got up to do just what they had asked, and Amanda seized the moment to be nostalgic. She leaned closer to Allison and whispered, “Do you remember how we used to listen to that song over and over?”

                Smiling, Allison drank from the can of beer and wiped the corners of her pale lips before adding, “Absolutely! We did that one time, on the way to the wrestling match, because you were so obsessed with Billy!”

                Blushing slightly, she covered her face with her hands and collapsed onto the top of the table. It had been years since she thought of Billy and senior year. She popped her head up to see Allison looking victorious and particularly smug. Amanda couldn’t have that, so she said, “Wait a second; you were obsessed with Nick, so that makes us even Steven!”

                Allison burst out laughing, and both women doubled over in laughter. It wasn’t that hilarious – Billy and Nick had both been wrestlers, had both been attractive and had thereby been out of their league, so to speak. She supposed it was somewhat humorous that both girls had heard the song that night, on the way to the match, and had deemed it appropriate to relate to their unrequited love. Maybe the women laughed because they were embarrassed at how juvenile and foolish they had been just a few short years ago, and weren’t sure what else to do. It was silly, high school romance, and wasn’t meant to be picked apart and brutally scrutinized. But when the heart was running out of beats, and a friend was running out of time, everything was rehashed and analyzed, and relived.

                When Amanda came back to the present, Mike was there. He was always there and he was helping her to a chair, talking fast and low. She wanted him to start over, to speak louder and more clearly, but she couldn’t speak – she had just seen Allison last night! They had reminisced about the boys that filled their notebooks and adolescent daydreams and everything had been fine. They had been drinking and having a good time, making plans for the weekend. How could Allison be dying? How could things not look good? When she had left Allison’s house last night, Amanda hadn’t kissed Allison or hugged Allison; they weren’t particularly affectionate friends. But as she followed Mike through the front door, Amanda had turned to see Allison. Her long hair was hanging in her face, and she was still sitting at the table, staring at the can of beer that had to be close to empty. She wasn’t looking at it so much as through it, and Amanda felt as if she had to break her concentration. “Are you going to go to sleep soon?”

                Allison looked at her friend like she just remembered she was there. Allison shrugged, offered a half-smile and said, “I don’t know; maybe I’ll stay up and play some NHL.”

                Amanda smiled and said, “Alright; just text me later.”

                “Will do,” Allison promised with a tiny wave of her hand.

                Allison had never sent that text message, and Amanda hadn’t bothered to text or call, and now where were they? They were in a waiting room, waiting for what? Were they waiting for news, for death, for absolution, for recovery? Did she really have that kind of time?

                Mike was calling her name, getting loud, and so she turned to him. He was asking if she was okay, and if she had heard anything that he had said. She had every intention of answering Mike, of shaking her head slowly from side to side, but the song playing over the crappy, muted speakers was asking a question she had heard before, and desperately wanted answered now, before it was too late.

Where does the good go?

 

As always, please feel free to comment, to critique, and to share.

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