Road Trip

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On fountains.

Published July 7, 2016 by mandileighbean

It’s sweltering in my house. I was dripping sweat earlier. I went outside earlier, to try and benefit from the meager breeze coming from the bay, and my outdoor furniture was wet from a storm that had passed by earlier but I didn’t even care. That’s how hot it is.

I’m not telling you this for sympathy. I think I’m building character.

My life is quiet and small and plain. Again, I’m not telling you this for sympathy or vague reassurance that my life is not the way I perceive it (that just makes someone feel crazy, doesn’t it?). I’m telling you this to illuminate my character, because this realization makes me restless. I always feel like I’m wasting my time and my youth, that I should be doing more, more, more. So I’m taking baby steps to do just that.

On Wednesday, I went to Princeton with one of my best friends. We strolled the campus like we belonged there, despite me being clad in clothes purchased from Old Navy and not J. Crew or Ann Taylor or anywhere else equally as impressive and expensive. Not only that, but an intrusive coffee stain that was too large to be ignored assaulted the lower-half of my shirt in a way that simply screamed I didn’t belong, that I was totally and completely faking it. But I didn’t let my general sloppiness ruin the trip – I’m not that dramatic.

I dragged my patient and impossibly too kind friend to the university to peruse the F. Scott Fitzgerald archives. I anticipated manuscripts and pictures kept under class in a far and quiet corner of the library. I assumed the public had free and easy access to the most personal belongings of a literary genius, but I was so wrong. We had to register, received photo identification cards to enter a restricted part of the library, wash our hands, lock away our belongings, and specifically select which aspects of Fitzgerald’s life we wanted to access. We did this without complaint (which is saying something considering the heat of the day was blistering and my dear, dear friend never intended to spend 150 minutes looking at the personal affects of some dead author), and were shown into a reading room. There, I made plans to visit Great Neck, Long Island for a long weekend (the setting that inspired The Great Gatsby) and to travel to Hackensack, New Jersey (specifically to see the Newman School, which Fitzgerald attended). My friend and I both flipped through a sort of combined scrapbook of Scott and Zelda, compiled by Matthew J. Bruccoli (the only Fitzgerald biographer that matters) and Scottie, Scott and Zelda’s daughter.

Scott’s drama teacher wrote, “Good God, save the soul of the man with the spark!” in reference to Fitzgerald. What a tragedy; what a shame.

We were presented with a facsimile of the manuscript of The Great Gatsby, complete with edits and revisions in Fitzgerald’s own handwriting, not to mention the entire manuscript was handwritten. I nearly cried.

We read letters from Zelda to Scott, which chronicled the beginnings of their relationship, as well as the more tumultuous aspects of the courtship and marriage. I compiled a list of Zelda’s best quotes.

  • … it’s so easy, and believing is much more intelligent
  • And still I’m so mighty happy — It’s just sort of a “thankful” feeling — that I’m alive and that people are glad I am
  • There’s nothing to say — you know everything about me, and that’s mostly what I think about. I seem always curiously interested in myself, and it’s so much fun to stand off and look at me …
  • … something always makes things the way they ought to be …
  • I love you sad tenderness — when I’ve hurt you — That’s one of the reasons I could never be sorry for our quarrels — and they bothered you so — Those dear, dear little fusses, when I always tried so hard to make you kiss and forget
  • … It seems as if there’s no new wisdom — and surely people haven’t stopped thinking — I guess morality has relinquished its claim on the intellect — and the thinkers think dollars and wars and politics — I don’t know whether it’s evolution or degeneration
  • To be afraid, a person has either to be a coward or very great and big
  • … free to sit in the sun and choose the things I like about people and not have to take the whole person
  • It is odd that the heart is one of the organs that does repair itself

I loved the eccentric, charming and dangerous and alarming details I learned about their love, like how Zelda consulted a Ouija board, and how she blamed Scott for her mental illness but firmly believed he could cure her.

We read Scott’s letters with a painstaking clarity, as we knew of the end he didn’t see coming. It was heartbreaking, really.

I decided the goal is to  write the last chapter of my next book in the Nassau Inn, to truly channel the passion and vibrancy and tragedy of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I found some places I’d like to visit in France, places Fitzgerald went to and found some kind of inspiration, whether for writing or living large.

We wandered around campus for a while longer, sneaking into classrooms, disrupting tour groups, and feeling – even if for just a little while – that grand things were still possible for us.

We ventured into the cathedral on campus and a Starbucks and a book store to beat the heat.

We traveled to Asbury Park for some live music and great company. It was a great day, the kind summers are made of. I intend to have more like them.

I was inspired to write the following short story. Enjoy!

FOUNTAINS
by Mandi Bean

Carlos knew that the equator separated the globe into northern and southern hemispheres, and Carlos also knew that the farther south a person traveled, the hotter the weather became. However, Carlos could testify to the fact, and possibly even prove, that the farther west a person traveled, the same phenomenon occurred. He had lived on the eastern shore of New Jersey his entire life and could say without hesitation, could say with near absolute certainty, that the middle of the state was a burning, boiling wasteland in July – the most uncomfortable Summer month to begin with – and that it served no real purpose. Carlos had traveled west at the request of his fashionable, trendy girlfriend and now regretted it something fierce.

They were traipsing about the campus of Princeton University so that his girlfriend could admire the rich history and breathtaking architecture and blah, blah, blah. It was ninety-three degrees and Carlos was miserable. He felt damp and disgusting in places he didn’t even know could sweat. Still, he took it all in stride, trying to keep his girlfriend happy and blissfully unaware of his discomfort. He said nothing as they walked innumerable staircases to gawk at old buildings and open fields that meant something to someone somewhere, sure, but that person was not Carlos. His mood dangled precariously between “thoughtfully quiet” and “crankily homicidal,” and he offered his girlfriend only interested smiles as she prattled on and on about tradition and excellence and whatever.

Carlos only perked up as they neared the center of the sprawling campus. There was a pool, six inches deep at the most, with a fountain at its center, an impressive, enigmatic modern sort of structure spouting water. Carlos took his girlfriend’s hand and rushed towards it, the way someone might rush towards a miraculous pool while stranded in a desert. But this pool and fountain was no mirage; children splashed here and there, supervised by patient adults who smiled and nodded with a calculated, weary sort of encouragement. Carlos reached the pool’s edge, where wide, flat stone steps led down to the water. He was smiling wide, with a youthful exuberance, and he turned to his girlfriend. “I’m going in,” he stated and sat down to remove his shoes and socks.

His girlfriend offered a sweet smile, totally enchanted by Carlos’ juvenile need to cool and comfortable, by his childish ambitions. He was a beautiful young man with dark features that made him appear to be super intellectual, but in reality, he was nothing of the sort. But his girlfriend, equally as beautiful, was not disturbed by Carlos’ lack of desire for education and all things brainy. It kept her in check, kept a balance in the relationship. “Go right ahead,” she smiled. “I’ll wait here.”

Carlos paused and looked up at her. “You’re not coming in? This heat is brutal.”

She shook her head and seated herself beside Carlos. “It’s hot, but I’m okay. You go in, though. I can’t tell you’re dying to.” She leaned against him for a moment to kiss his cheek. That was all the permission Carlos needed, and he took off, splashing with reckless abandon to reach the fountain at the center. That spewing, falling water was the most efficient way to get cool. He passed the laughing, shrieking children and paused at the base of the fountain. The water fell on him in the most refreshing way and he was content to simply exist, it simply be in a world where water was free to fall where it may. What a time to be alive, what with fountains and pools to keep the intense summer heat at bay. He closed his eyes and attempted to wash away the sweat and sourness of the July sun.

After a few moments, he opened his eyes and leveled his gaze. He was surprised to find another adult, another wanderer about campus, engaging in the same activity. She was gorgeous, and Carlos also noted the way the woman had been equally as daring, had strode in the same way Carlos had, not caring for the onlookers or any kind of judgments. There was only the oppressive heat, and the refreshing relief of the water, roaring down from the fountain and tinkling as it reached the pool surface. They both appreciated the opportunity, had seized it, and now stood breathless, together in their choices and ideology, but separate in their strangeness to the other.

Carlos breathed a simple “hey.”

The woman nodded, and kicked water up at Carlos. That was her greeting; that was it. Aside from the playful smile, she had offered nothing, not even her name. But Carlos was game. He returned the splash. In a matter of moments, Carlos and the woman were doing their best to drown each other. Their raucous laughter and innocent challenges drowned out that of the children and even the most dutiful of supervising parent stole a glance at the two grown adults making complete asses of themselves in the fountain on the campus of Princeton University.

But, as do all things in life, the splashing lost its appeal and became old and tired. Carlos looked back to his girlfriend and found her reading (there was always a book in her over sized bag). He waved goodbye to the gorgeous, wild and free woman he had spent the last ten minutes with. Without really thinking about it, Carlos returned to the studious, safe and responsible woman waiting for him out of the water. He supposed that was the way it was supposed to be, that for every soul willing to get lost at sea, there had to be another anxiously waiting on shore.

As he came nearer, dripping wet and breathless and smiling, Carlos’ girlfriend looked up and barked a laugh. “Am I glad you drove,” she teased, “because you would never ever get into my car like that.”

Carlos bent to swiftly kiss her before she could protest or squirm away.

fountains

 

On near misses.

Published March 31, 2016 by mandileighbean

wakeupcall

For someone who believes in, and more often than not relies on signs from the universe, I’m constantly missing those signs. I’m frequently guilty of missing the point, as it were. It is usually only in hindsight that I am appreciative and finally realize that the Universe was trying to alert me to something.

I left Busco Beach ATV Park in Goldsboro, North Carolina around 9:30 yesterday morning. On the main highway in town, I was stuck in a line of cars waiting for the longest freight train I’ve ever seen in my life. I was patient and waited. Now I wonder if those ten minutes that felt like an hour made any difference, if those ten minutes affected my journey in a crucial way.

About 45 minutes later, I was merging onto I-95 and nearly had to swerve to avoid hitting a giant vulture and some other small bird feasting on a carcass in the middle of the interstate. I’d never seen vultures feeding in real life, only in the movies and on television, and it seemed especially stranger the birds would land and feed on such a busy road. It was a gruesome reminder of mortality, regardless if the location seemed unrealistic.

Some time later, I ran over a blown tire. The sound was loud and startling, but the collision was harmless. Another sign, perhaps, but of what?

The trip was mostly uneventful after the aforementioned incidents, aside from irritating pockets of traffic, until I reached Baltimore, Maryland. I was traveling over the bridge that ended in tunnels near the Port of Baltimore. I was being attentive, wasn’t distracted by my cell phone or iPod, but none of that positive, defensive driving seems to matter. Somehow, an orange construction cone (one of the big ones, shaped more like a tube and reminiscent of a garbage can) was left behind. There was no obvious construction, no other cones or material left behind – just the one thing. The car in front of the truck in front of me decimated the cone, smashed it all to bits. The truck in front of me slammed on its brakes, and I had no other choice but to do the same. I also swerved to the left, into the shoulder.

For a few terrifying moments, I was convinced I was going to crash into the concrete barrier, wedging my jeep between that median and the back end of the truck in front of me. I saw it all happen like some lame scene from one of those “Final Destination” movies. I’d slam against the steering wheel (would the air bag go off?) and there’d be blood gushing from my nose and mouth. My teeth, after thousands of dollars spent at the orthodontist, would be broken and shattered more likely than not. Would the windows bust from pressure of being squished between the concrete and the truck? I had my seat belt fastened, but what would that have really prevented?

But I’m okay. There was no crash, no sickening crunch of glass and metal, no screech of a scrape against concrete. The whole awful mess was avoided and I kept on driving, kept on going. There was no time to stop and investigate the accident that had almost happened, no time to figure out how it had been avoided. Pieces of the orange and white plastic flew by, circling end over end along the shoulder. The sound of my squealing tires reverberated in the air but only for a moment. Life kept moving.

And I was okay.

I think that’s the message from the Universe: Mandi, life changes and keeps going despite your personal dramas, and you’re okay. You’re going to be okay.

So I’m listening very seriously to my mom when she advises me to work on myself, to be happy with me. She seems convinced that once that happens, everything else will fall into place. I’m starting to agree. The ideology makes sense, but it’s also exhausting feeling guilty for absolutely everything that happens in my life. If friends hang out without me, I immediately wonder what I did wrong and try to figure out why they would launch an offensive to alienate me. If I was happy with myself, truly happy, I’d be able to realize that not everything is about me and how horrible I am. That realization makes me feel guilty, like I’m wrong for thinking badly about anyone ever when there’s so much wrong with me. Well, that’s an incredibly depressing attitude and I don’t want to be apart of it anymore.

Today, I got a manicure and a pedicure. Tomorrow, I’m trimming my hair and on Sunday, I’m coloring my hair. These may seem vain and shallow attempts at becoming okay with myself, but we all have to start somewhere, no? And truth be told, I’m happy with who I am on the inside. Sure, I’ve got some crippling insecurities and some awfully bad habits to work through, but don’t we all? I’m going to work on myself in the best way I see fit because I trust myself and I love myself.

There is a difference between narcissism and introspection.

I’m not missing any more signs.

vacation

On time.

Published November 5, 2015 by mandileighbean

I have a REAL problem with procrastination, and not just with work. Let’s face it; few people actually enjoy completing work in the proper setting. There’s a sad, small thrill in doing something other than assigned tasks in the workplace. Am I wrong?

I’m upset because I procrastinate in life – in general. I put off adventures and impassioned conversations and daring risks because I have erroneously convinced myself that there will indeed be time. I have erroneously convinced myself that things are permanent and everlasting. This is most likely because I absolutely despise, even abhor, change. Rather than deal with this phobia and its fairly obvious implications regarding my mental health, I simply ignore change. I deny its existence. This is not only unhealthy, but ineffective. I am left unsatisfied and heartbroken, often times disappointed.

To further illustrate this point, let me offer you an example. There was a fashionable eatery located just before the on-ramp for 195 called the Java Moon Cafe. It always seemed so cool, for lack of a better term, and each time I passed, I always made a resolution to stop in and check it out. It was the inspiration of a myriad of possibilities and opportunities, the perfect setting for my ceaseless coming-of-age tale. Traveling to Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida – whenever access to I-95 was required – I would always watch the building emerge and fade from my window, also catching glimpses in the rearview and side mirrors. There it always was, and I assumed there was where it would always be.

But coming home from Virginia last night, I was saddened to discover that the lights were out. The entire property was encased by a chain link fence. It was being sold to be repurposed and reimagined. The Java Moon Cafe was no more, and lost were the opportunities my overly active imagination had fancied. I could not sit at a table, cup of coffee cooling beside me, typing away on some riveting work of fiction. No handsome stranger would ask what I was working on. No conversation would necessitate more cups of coffee as the sun sank and faded, welcoming twilight to spread its inky black net of stars across the sky. The smell of the pine and cedar – or whatever wood it was made of – would never linger in my nostrils. I would never witness the charm of the imitation log cabin. It was gone, closed off from me forever because I always thought there’d be time.

I felt this way about the original Yankee Stadium, tore down and renovated despite the historical, sentimental significance. Progress for progress’ sake. I felt this way about the Twin Towers, never being able to step inside a landmark prominently featured in the famous New York City skyline. It is a selfish comment to make concerning a tragedy of that magnitude, but it is nevertheless true.

My New Years’ resolution will be not to wait. When something strikes me, I will venture out. I will entertain whims because life is short. Moments are fleeting.

In other news, the BookCon went very well. I am endeavouring to sign and sell more books in different locations to expand my audience, to be more inclusive. No more waiting around to do something; the time is now. There is no later.

On talking to the dead.

Published April 14, 2015 by mandileighbean

Friday, April 10, 2015 marked 90 years since the publication of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the novel that essentially changed my life by confirming the kind of woman – the kind of human being – I wanted to be.

I couldn’t let such an occasion, such an anniversary; pass without some kind of commemoration.

So I drove three hours and 40 minutes to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rockville, Maryland.  I drove down I-95, which I have become so accustomed to that traversing that interstate is painfully boring.  I had my iPod blaring, but my mind was essentially blank, other than lingering upon the object of my affection and then Gatsby and then back again.  The object of my affection tried countless times to convince me of similarities between him and Jay Gatsby, of which there are admittedly a few.  We sent each other text messages late into the night while watching the film adaptation of the novel, discussing themes and characterization and life.  I only knew the novel was published on April 10th because of this man.  Gatsby was (is?) our thing.  So now, perhaps unfortunately, the fictional world of Jay Gatsby and my first heartbreak are inextricably linked forever and ever, amen.

Maybe that realization, that my favorite book is forever tainted by the inevitable disappointment of romance, made me somber and weird inside, but I was certainly reserved as I pulled into the church’s parking lot.  I parked in the further possible spot, closer to the adjacent school than the actual cemetery, but did so for no discernible reason.  In hindsight, I supposed I wanted to be ignored and inconspicuous, didn’t want to be a nuisance of any kind.  That notion seems laughable though, especially when I consider how absurd I must have looked, emerging from a piece of shit car – part of my front bumper is missing – in a fancy black dress too elegant and too formal for the impromptu graveside visit, with a fancy black coat that made me sweat but offered respite from the persistent mist.  I was alone, as always, and walking around aimlessly.  I’m sure I looked out of place and had anyone been around, I’m sure they would have chalked me up to some kind of weirdo.  To be fair, I guess that’s exactly what I am.

The entrance to the cemetery is across from a sign that reads, “BEAN BLVD.”  That cannot be coincidence; I don’t care what kind of logic is thrown at me.

I saw a gate, but it was small and unremarkable, so I assumed there must be a main gate somewhere, adorned with ironwork and a plaque or a sign – something.  Looking around furtively, worried I might just be trespassing, I followed the low, wrought iron fence around the perimeter of the cemetery but found no other entrance.  I traced my way back, which maybe took all of two minutes as the cemetery is rather small, to that first gate.  The latch, with its peeling paint, was worn enough to almost be rendered ineffective.  I considered it a particularly cruel kind of irony that this humble, rather shabby cemetery serves as the final resting place of the man who imagined Gatsby and the extravagant, opulent world in which that character existed.  I sighed and opened the gate, gingerly lifting the decrepit latch and gently shutting the gate behind me.

The grave was incredibly easy to find, partly because the cemetery is so small and partly because his marker is so large.  It’s off to the right of the short, winding path that just ends through the tiny, enclosed area.  I followed it, careful not to tread on the hallowed ground of those resting eternally, but had to leave the path eventually.  My heels sank into the soggy ground and I berated myself for my inconvenient melodramatics.  But then I faced Fitzgerald’s grave.

It’s a simple headstone.  It has his name, the years in which he lived and breathed and made the literary world a far better place.  His wife’s name is below, as are her years of existence.  Perpendicular and impressive is a stone slab that bears the last lines of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, the work that is often considered the great American novel.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

I was the only one mourning and paying homage to a brilliant and destructive man, but I hadn’t been the only one.  There was evidence of other grievers.  There was a bloated, yellowed with the age, rain-soaked paperback copy of The Great Gatsby.  I leaned close and found it was open to pages 116 and 117, where Nick warns Jay that the past cannot be repeated, but Jay is deaf and insistent.  “Can’t repeat the past?  Why, of course you can.  Of course you can.”

There was a sodden bouquet of roses, decimated by the rain, soaked and scattered, looking especially tragic and mournful.  Perhaps the passage and gray skies and the cemetery added to that impression.

There were many pens, an obvious but touching nonetheless tribute to an insanely talented author.

There were many pennies, what I mistakenly assumed was an Irish tradition until I took to Google.  Coins are left on graves for many reasons, but there are three reasons that appear to be the most common.  One reason dates back to Greek mythology, and coins are left as payment for the ferryman that transported souls across the river Styx.  The second is related to the military and dictates that leaving certain coins is evidence of a particular relationship.  For example, pennies are left by any living soldier visiting a veteran’s grave while nickels are left only by those who attended boot camp with the deceased.  The third reason is to simply leave evidence that one visited and was there.  How narcissistic is that, having to leave proof of our existence at the proof of another’s existence?

My favorite token was a small bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey with an accompanying shot glass.  Next year when I make the trip, I plan on bringing daisies – though I despise the fictional Daisy Buchanan I completely understand what it is she represents, as despicable as it is – and a bottle of gin or some other antiquated kind of alcohol.  I plan on having some shots and hanging out for a decent amount of time, telling Fitzgerald how much I admire him, how much many admire him, and that I hope heaven allows for him to see how important he has become.

Much like the title character of his greatest literary achievement, Fitzgerald died alone and in obscurity.  Apparently the priest who presided over his funeral services did not even know who Fitzgerald was.  Fitzgerald considered himself a failure, and drank himself to death, falling dead in the apartment of his girlfriend, some tabloid reporter that he may have shacked up with to aid his dwindling screenwriting career in cruel, unforgiving Hollywood.

I devoured Gatsby when I was fourteen years old.  I have read it at least once a year since, and have convinced myself that I am Gatsby.  And as I stood at Fitzgerald’s grave, pondering the possible autobiographical content of his greatest novel, I realized that therein lies the magic of the novel; we are all Gatsby.  We all want too much and at times, we can want to reclaim some version of our former selves, tirelessly and obsessively chasing after some enchanted object that we think will fix everything.  We are continuously disappointed, but we keep right on chasing, reaching in everlasting desperation.

I thought Philip Roth had it right, that the real human tragedy is that we are all woefully unprepared for tragedy.  Now I think Fitzgerald was right, that the real human tragedy is that we are never satisfied.  We want too much.

I said a few prayers, thanked him, and empathized with the dead author.  I explained that I was a writer and that I feared my talent – if I may be so arrogant in insisting that I have some – would go undiscovered.  I told him I was afraid of dying alone, of having absolutely no one to mourn at my graveside, let alone any fans.  I delicately turned the pages of the soaked novel, carefully turning pages made nearly transparent by the rain and other elements.  I turned to the part where Nick pays Gatsby the sole compliment of their friendship, when he tells Gatsby that Daisy and Tom and Jordan are a rotten crowd, and that Gatsby is worth the whole damn bunch put together.  Nick is glad he said that, even though he disapproved of Gatsby from the beginning to the end.  It is a beautiful sort of sentiment, and I wondered if Fitzgerald, like Gatsby, had a friend in the end who got someone for him.  I softly kissed my fingertips and let them trail along the cold stone as I began the brief walk out of the cemetery, back to my piece of shit car, parked suspiciously outside the adjacent Catholic school like some kind of inappropriate joke made in poor taste.

I drove back home, traveling for four hours, stopping to eat at McDonald’s and then almost immediately wanting to die as the food upset my stomach terribly.

Despite the bizarre and spontaneous nature of the trip, the irritating traffic and uncomfortable way the greasy, cheap food sank in my stomach, the trip was inspiring.  I began to develop an idea for a third novel.

And it’s all thanks to F. Scott Fitzgerald.  So I will return again and again to give thanks and pay homage because he communicated universal truths without restraint.  He was unashamedly who he was, embracing his genius and his insecurities and his worth and his faults all simultaneously.  Fitzgerald was wonderfully and beautifully human and wrote to be inclusive, to help everyone understand that we are all guilty, that we are all beautiful and deserving of love, that we can all be great.  We all reach out, trembling, for the green light.

And it’s okay.

fitzgrave

On invites to pity parties.

Published January 19, 2015 by mandileighbean

I know that the above song is by Sam Smith, but I feel the need to share my belief that Lana Del Rey is my power animal.

I have a sore on the inside of my left cheek, right near the corner of my lips.  The sensitive area keeps getting pierced by my braces and pinched by the rubber bands.  Whenever I have a sore in my mouth, I am always reminded of one of my favorite lines from the novel FIGHT CLUB.  The narrator compares the character Marla Singer to a small but irritating cut on the roof of one’s mouth that would go away if only he could stop tonguing it.  I love that analogy; it’s so original.  That’s the kind of woman I aspire to be.

I want to drive west and race the sun, perpetuate daylight and keep the night at bay, to meet the far coast victorious.

I’m on chapter nine of the first draft of my new novel, MOODY BLUE.  I should finish before the school year ends.  I would love to have some advanced readers to offer some constructive criticism.  Anyone interested?  Feel free to comment.

I just finished teaching PRIDE & PREJUDICE.  I’ve decided that I’m going to learn to play the piano.  But then again, maybe it’d be easier to stop being so easily and heavily influenced by historical romances.

WRITING PROMPT #20: “‘Weird little things remind me of her.  I don’t even know why.  Cabbage, for instance.'”

Danielle dropped her gaze and flicked the cap of the lid on her Styrofoam cup filled with coffee open and shut, open and shut.  She was fishing, seeming preoccupied with troubling thoughts and consumed with an overall air of sadness because she wanted Ellen to ask what was wrong.  Danielle wanted Ellen to engage her in a discussion about everything that was bothering her in her mediocre life because, in Danielle’s mind, accepting an invitation to a pity party was better than accepting one, no matter how contrived said invitation may be.  Ellen understood this about her best friend, and accepted this about her best friend.  She took a hearty bite of her blueberry muffin for sustenance and strength, and then she asked, “What’s wrong?”

Danielle shrugged, half-halfheartedly battling against her friend’s inquisition.  She still didn’t look up, but refrained from flicking the lid.  She said, “Weird little things remind me of her.  I don’t even know why.  Cabbage, for instance.”

“Bullshit,” Ellen immediately countered, a small smile upon her lips.

Danielle looked scandalized and somewhat offended.  “What?”

“I call bullshit,” Ellen patiently repeated.  “There’s no way cabbage reminds you of her.  Frankie doesn’t even like cabbage.  You’re lying because you want to talk about her, but don’t want to admit it because you’re afraid of being label obsessed.”

“Of course I’m not obsessed.  Frankie’s my sister, Ellen.”

“I know,” Ellen agreed, “but that doesn’t mean you can’t be obsessed with her.  You haven’t been able to speak with her for months.  You have all this unresolved anger, unanswered questions and unavoidable guilt for how everything happened and how everything went down.  You need to talk about it, but she’s not here, so anyone else will do.”  Ellen reached out and tenderly squeezed her friend’s hand.  “It’s nothing to be ashamed of.  If you want to talk about Frankie, let’s talk about Frankie.”

Danielle colored, blushing with embarrassment from being so easily read.  “But aren’t you bored with it?  Talking about it gets me nowhere.  At least, it hasn’t helped so far.”

“You’re not here to entertain me.  Besides, it doesn’t bore me because it matters to you, and that’s all that matters.”

Gratefully, Danielle smiled and rehashed the story about Frankie, her younger sister who was currently in rehab for a number of reasons.  She listed all of her sister’s offenses, blindly defended her parents’ actions but openly criticized her own.  She was worried, feeling guilty, missing her sister, and all of that was emotionally messy and certainly draining, but it was also all normal.  Ellen patiently listened, marveling at how human beings could be so preoccupied with the perception of others that they would deny themselves what they need.

On Boston.

Published September 30, 2013 by mandileighbean

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

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

 driveby1COLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both the girls were slumped over, bleeding steadily.

driveby

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