Summer

All posts tagged Summer

On summer bummer.

Published September 5, 2017 by mandileighbean

Good afternoon, all. It’s absolutely gorgeous in the Great Garden State; a little warmer than most would like for September, especially after a cool spell of a couple of days, but even though it’s a bummer, summer is winding down. I reported back to work on Friday, and was back in the building today. Truth be told, I’m excited to be back and I’m more than ready for fall. This summer has been a rough one for me, and even though I haven’t been updating regularly (it’s been over a month since the last time I posted), I’m back and ready to take my life back from whatever gross apathy and complacency has settled upon me. And I’m going to start with this blog.

Some thoughts for today: as I was walking the boardwalk (trying to get my weight under control), a sweet old man stopped me to tell me about a turtle he saw. I listened patiently, nodded encouragingly, and then simply kept on keeping on. It made me think about how all anyone needs is a little compassion, a little effort on the part of someone else to make them feel like they matter. I’m going to do my best to do more of that.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #6.2017: Months after receiving a gunshot wound to the head, a patient is discharged from the hospital. She wears a pendant made from the bullet that was embedded in her skull.

Luna stared deep into her own reflection and she was trembling. She was in the ladies’ room of a fancy Italian restaurant that required patrons bring their own alcohol. She was dressed in an emerald green dress that glimmered like the scales of a fish – or a mermaid’s tale, if she was feeling especially fanciful – when the light caught it in just the right way. Her best girlfriends had insisted the color did wonders for her complexion and for her eyes. Luna assumed that same would be said of her hair, as it was the same shade of brown as her eyes, but her hair was gone. Her head was shaved. And although it had had about four months to grow back, her hair was taking its sweet time to return. The imperfections of the shape of her skull were exposed for all to see, and she felt so vulnerable. Her trembling hand moved to the side of her head, and trembling fingers traced the scar that ran from the front of her skull all the way to the back. It was ugly and purple and bloated, and it separated her hair in an unfashionable line.

The bullet entering and exiting her skull had done the same, had separated her life by an unfashionable, hard line. There was life before the bullet, and then there was life after the bullet.

Luna had been walking her overweight, long-haired Chihuahua named Teddy in the park just a block or two from her apartment building. It had been a marvel of a September day; warm enough to forego a coat beneath an unblemished blue sky. She saw the kids playing basketball and heard their raucous shouts and laughter. They added to the atmosphere, became ambient sound, and so she paid them no special attention. If she had, she might have dropped to the pavement when everyone else had.

In the shot of a lifetime, a stray bullet from an attempted drive-by shooting traveled through a chain link fence, across a blazing blacktop, and through another chain link fence before coming to halt inside the skull of Luna. She collapsed to the ground, falling at the same rate as the blood that spurted from the wound and splattered the fence. It made a neat pool on the ground around her, but Luna didn’t really remember all of that. She didn’t remember anything. It was all a black void until she woke up in the hospital about a month later.

When Luna was released, the doctors presented her with the bullet they had extracted from her skull during surgery. She had it melted down and molded into a neat oval, and she wore it around her neck. Her mother said she was morbid, and her friends never talked about it, but all of them had encouraged her to move on, to keep living, to be happy for her second chance. And Luna supposed she was.

But it was hard. It was hard looking like some oddly feminine monster of Dr. Frankenstein’s while trying to date. And it was hard to keep from crying when someone asked about the pendant she was wearing. And it was hard to escape to be confronted by a mirror.

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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 being random, dismantling and finally updating.

Published June 27, 2016 by mandileighbean

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

So let’s catch up, shall we?

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

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

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

“A heart that hurts is heart that works.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Nothing is ever over.”

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

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

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

This is what a successful adult looks like, no?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I recently lost a banana for 24 hours.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

On nasty surprises.

Published July 12, 2014 by mandileighbean

It has been just about two months since I last posted.  I am ashamed to admit that I let life get in the way.  The school year got the best of me – a clear indication my priorities were shuffled and rearranged about a thousand times.  I thought I fell in love, but thinking about it only makes me feel small, sad, and stupid, so I’ve now come to the realization that it wasn’t love.  I have yet to determine what it was, but it’s over now, and I don’t think I’m a better person because of it.

But I have been writing.  I am three chapters into the new novel.  I have a short story to share with you all as part of my “weekly” writing prompts.  My contract with Martin Sisters Publishing will expire next year, so I have begun the search for a literary agent.

I am hoping to close on a home of my own at the end of this month.

There is good, and there has been bad, and in this exact moment, I find it difficult to describe exactly how I feel, but maybe that’s okay.  We’re all entitled to feel numb and completely apathetic now and again, aren’t we?  I think it’s a coping mechanism or, even worse, a defense mechanism of sorts.  I don’t know why I’m feeling so pensive or cynical.  Maybe I’m simply hormonal?  Maybe it has something to do with the heartache I alluded to?  Maybe it’s the dark direction I steered my short story in?  Maybe I simply spend too much time alone?  Whatever the reason, I apologize.  And I also sincerely hope you enjoy this week’s writing prompt.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #15: “A mother discovers a feminine collection while cleaning her son’s bedroom.”

serialkiller1

            “What an idiot!  How could that not have sent up a red flag?” Kelly McCarthy asked no one in particular.  The question had to be rhetorical since she was sitting alone on the slightly worn – but still perfectly comfortable – couch in the living room of the home she shared with her small, loving family.  She was mindlessly eating some low fat, low calorie, low carb potato chips (but all the health benefits meant nothing when she was likely to eat the whole damn bag in one sitting) while watching her favorite true crime documentary channel.  Currently, the channel was airing some cleverly named show – with an alliterative title, most likely – about handsome boyfriends and husbands who were not who they said they were.  This lady had married this good-looking fella after only a few months and found herself bruised and abandoned and robbed.  Sympathy was hard to come by, however, because if this female had thought clearly and not been blinded by a strong jawline, she would have seen through the obvious fabrications and been alarmed by some universally troubling behavior.  These women were not like the sudden rash of young girls that were missing – some had been found but all who had been found were already dead – in a city farther north than the one she called home.  Those girls were too young to be anything other than naïve and innocent.  How could someone who had not even graduated high school know better, let alone really know anything about anything?  No, these women, these suckers, had no one but themselves to blame.  Kelly was shaking her head, feeling pity but mostly disbelief and borderline disdain, when the dryer’s buzzer sounded loudly throughout the one-story, ranch-style home.

            Reluctantly, Kelly peeled herself from the overstuffed cushions and shuffled her slipper-covered feet through the kitchen and into the cramped laundry room.  She listened to the textured bottom of the slippers scuff against the vinyl tiles that floored the kitchen, and she listened to the buzzing of the dryer now only a step away, but other than the low and constant humming of the television, there were no other sounds.  Kelly found herself home alone, as she usually did in the middle of the day throughout the week.  Her husband, Charlie, battled a sizeable commute to the northern part of the state and her son, Joey, was a sophomore at the high school, and though he was scheduled to come home early in the afternoons, around 2:00 PM, Joey never usually showed up until dinner time.  He was always busy with some kind of extracurricular activity and Kelly couldn’t be any prouder.  He was so popular and studious.  Over dinner, Joey always regaled his parents with stories of the humorous antics of juveniles and how Joey was truly an asset to the school community.  A smile formed on Kelly’s lips of her own accord as she thought of her son, her only child, her pride and joy.

            It was a load of his clothes that had just been dried and were now patiently waiting to be folded and placed back in the drawers, or hung in the closet.  Typically, Kelly did not do her son’s laundry – he was nearly sixteen years old – but she had felt particularly generous this idle, random day and for no reason that she would ever be able to articulate.  Later on, Kelly would wish she hadn’t felt so – she would even raise red-rimmed eyes to heaven and demand of whatever God resided beyond the clouds why He had blindsided her with such terror and tragedy.  But before that moment, everything was normal and just as it should be. 

            She shoveled the random assortment of shirts and pants and socks and underwear into an empty laundry basket and trudged down the long hallway to her son’s bedroom.  It was the last bedroom on the right and its door was marked by a single poster, perfectly centered.  The poster advertised a poetry festival in a metropolis near her husband’s work in the northern part of the state.  Joey was such an intelligent, well-mannered boy.  He wasn’t like all those other boys his age, who were loud and aggressive and obnoxious and obsessed with their penises.  He was quiet and patient and obedient and enjoyed females, but not to the point where it consumed him.  He was balanced and healthy and beautiful and whole.  Again, Kelly caught herself nearly beaming when thinking of her baby boy.  She balanced the laundry basket on her particularly bony hip and turned the doorknob.

            The door was locked.  That was odd.  Joey’s door was never locked.

            Kelly placed the laundry basket on the floor and ran her hand along the molding that ran along the top of the doorway.  She was waiting to feel cool metal beneath her fingertips; the key to her son’s room.  She found it and unlocked the door, and pushed it wide open so she could traverse through the doorway with the laundry basket.  Her slippers shushed against the plush carpet and she gladly tossed the laundry basket on the bed, careful not to upend it of its contents.  It bounced jovially once or twice before rocking itself right.  Kelly walked to the dresser directly opposite the meticulously made bed.  She had developed the tactical plan of putting away the socks and underwear first because that would be easiest – Joey just tossed them in the top drawer of the dresser.  The pants and shirts would be decidedly more difficult as Joey had a system in place that Kelly had yet to decode.  A giggle tumbled from her mouth; how funny for Joey to be so organized.  She wondered where in his lineage she could attribute the trait, as both her and Charlie were both hopelessly sloppy.

            When she pulled open the uppermost drawer, a sound she had not been expecting met her ears.  Kelly distinctly heard something substantial sliding forward with the movement of the drawer.  It wasn’t the soft whisper of fabric, but something heavier.  Kelly pulled the drawer out as far as it could go without making it tumble to floor.  She looked within and she found a rather extensive collection of jewelry.  There were necklaces and bracelets and long, dangling earrings that younger girls would wear – colorful, gaudy, attention-getting.  Icy apprehension flooded Kelly’s stomach like the waters would a sinking ship because Joey did not have a girlfriend – not one that he ever mentioned, anyway.  Besides, there were too many pieces for one girl and there was no consistency in taste or style.  Kelly was under the impression that the jewelry had belonged to many different girls with unique and wonderful personalities, just as varied as the necklaces and bracelets and earrings.  Why would Joey have such things hidden among his undergarments?  And why was his door locked?  And if he had a girlfriend, why didn’t she know anything about it?  Why would Joey be keeping secrets?

            Whoa – Kelly stopped herself.  She stepped back from the drawer and shook her head, but still, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong, terribly wrong.  Maybe it was all the reality crime television she had been ingesting lately.  That was all – she had simply seen too many shows about serial killers who were meticulous, guarded, and kept mementos of their poor, tortured victims, such as jewelry.  She brought a trembling hand to her mouth and slowly shook her head back and forth again.  Joey wouldn’t do anything wrong.  Joey wouldn’t harm a fly, not Joey, no, no, no.

            Her eyes slipped to the closet.  Snooping would only end in heartbreak and pain, as did it for all mothers who found more than they bargained for in the bedrooms of their children (pornography, cigarettes, marijuana, naked selfies, etc.).  But Kelly now needed to snoop for exoneration.  She needed to clear her son whom she had already condemned.  She moved to the closet door and slide the nearest door open.  It creaked unsteadily along the track, and Kelly’s eyes fell to the floor.  Joey’s shoes – so clean, so clean – were in neat and even rows.  Sneakers, boots, shoes for church; there was a place for everything and everything was in its place.

            So what was the deal with the duffle bag thrown carelessly into the corner and out of sight?  Unless, of course, someone was looking for just such a suspicious detail as Kelly was.  Slowly, shaking, she dropped to her knees and reached into the dark recess of the closet.  She pulled the bag, scratching the vinyl with her nails and sending chills up and down her spine.  Breath moved in and out of its own volition, but it did not seem to be all that willing.  The necessary oxygen came in jerky spurts and Kelly feared she would hyperventilate and pass out.  What if Joey came home and found her like this?  What would he think?  What would she say?  Kelly inhaled, exhaled, and unzipped the bag.

            There were dark colored sweatpants with a dark colored sweatshirt, rope, gloves, and the light reflecting off of something metallic and sharp – a knife.  Kelly screamed and threw the bag from her.  She scrambled back against the bed and slumped into a seated position.  This didn’t make sense, couldn’t add up to what she was assuming.  No, those girls were missing from up north, from where Charlie worked.  Why would Joey ….

            Joey had taken an interest lately, hadn’t he?  Joey traveled up to work with his father whenever he could, whenever Charlie offered.  That wasn’t often enough, though.  Not to commit murder – surely not!  Joey would have to go up after school, take public transportation, and he couldn’t.  Well, Kelly supposed he could, but he wouldn’t.  After all, he had all those obligations which he never gave specific details about and which never culminated into something tangible, even something as simple as a telephone call from a club advisor or certificate of participation with the principal’s rubber stamp.

            What the hell was going on here?

serialkiller2

On storms and stories.

Published July 19, 2012 by mandileighbean

Currently, I am anxiously awating the arrival of what is supposed to be one hell of a summer storm. I can hear thunder rumbling low in the distance, like the growl of a frightened dog that begins back in its throat as it backs up and straightens the hair on its haunches to stand at attention. The skies are gray, but the dying sunlight is somehow still managing to poke through here and there so that above looks more like a worn, thin sheet with a bald light bulb shining behind it, like the side of a child’s hand-crafted fort. The oppressive heat that plagued us yesterday and for the vast majority of today has finally started to abate and I am considering taking Jane Eyre out onto the back porch so I can simultaneously read one of my favorite books of all time, and have a front row seat for the storm.

Normally, I like to read one book at a time, but there is so little time and so much to be read, that I’ve decided I can manage two books at a time. I read a chapter a day from Glenn Beck’s Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust, Truth and Treasure and as much as I want from Jane Eyre. This way, I can broaden my literary repetoire and still adhere to my beloved favorites. A major benefit will be feeling inspired – reading other creative work to fuel the dying fire of my own.

Let’s hope it works and I can break free of my slump.

PROMPT: “Time out!  Time out!  We can call that, right?”

PIECE: Jacob bounced the quarter against the laminate countertop of the bar which jutted out from the wall, but despite all his athleticism and silent prayers, the coin did not go into the shot glass.  Instead, it bounced wildly away from him, rolled off the other side and just beneath the humming fridge.  The fridge was surrounded by a crowd of partygoers who seemed to quite enjoy their prime location – near the drinking games and the fun times while having liquor and beer close at hand and easily accessible.  It could take Jacob quite some time to maneuver through the bodies to the coin, and then return and get the quarter into the glass.  During that retrieval time, his adversary across the bar could easily get his quarter into the shot glass and play would continue on, and Jacob’s team would lose and it would be all his fault.  He would have to endure friendly teasing that would, in time, become annoying and he’d be forced to chug beers as a consequence and normally he wouldn’t mind one bit, but at the present moment, he was already quite intoxicated and vomiting was a possibility.  He couldn’t puke, not tonight, not when Rebecca was standing by the window, making idle chatter with a female companion who seemed utterly bored and boring.  Trying to think quick but the alcohol did slow him down some, Jacob called out, “Time out!  Time out!  We can call that, right?”

The two teams broke out into riotous laughter, but seemed to acquiesce to Jacob’s request.  The metallic dings of the coins against the counter were silenced and the volume level of conversation increased.  Pleased with himself and smiling, Jacob scrambled over to the fridge and dropped down to his hands and knees.  He turned his head to peer underneath the fridge and his coin should have been right there at the end, bisected by the fridge, half concealed and half revealed.  It was not there, however, and Jacob was baffled.  Where could it have gone?  Did some tightwad, some poor college student, pick it up, not realizing it was a vital component for the intense and competitive game underway?  Jacob rose to kneeling and rested on his heels.  He looked around again, but found neither coin nor culprit.  Sighing heavily, Jacob called out, “Does anyone have a quarter?”

“I do,” called Rebecca from the window.  Mouth agape, Jacob slowly turned his head, so slowly he was sure those around him could hear it creaking.  He turned his head as if he were in a horror movie, turning slowly to try and comprehend the illogical and all too real monster behind him, waiting and ready to pounce.  That’s not what Rebecca was; she was a dream, a beauty, an intellect, a vision.  Hurriedly, he rose to his feet and did his best to walk over to her without weaving and swerving, and thereby revealing just how intoxicated he really was.  Jacob assumed he pulled it off because Rebecca’s smile did not fade as he neared.

“Hey Rebecca, thanks, “ Jacob said as he took the quarter from her outstretched hand and halted to stand beside her.  “Why don’t you come on over and join in the fun?”

“Jake, have you seen these lights?” Rebecca asked, sounding distracted and far away.

Moving closer to the window, Jacob paused a moment to gaze out of the window and into the night sky.  He saw few stars, their brilliance muted by the city lights, but nothing out of the ordinary.  Then suddenly, there was a giant orange flash across the middle of the sky.  It happened again shortly thereafter, and Jacob was near breathless when he said, “I saw that just now.  That’s crazy; how long has that been going on?”

“Since I got here,” Rebecca answered.  “I think they’re getting closer.”

Together, Jacob and Rebecca watched open-mouthed.  The lights were indeed getting closer.  They did not speak, but only stared.

In the morning, both were dead.

P.S. – That storm I was waiting on never arrived; such is life.

On the evil in the world.

Published June 22, 2012 by mandileighbean

I had the worst timing today.  I went for my usual four-mile walk and was really looking forward to a relaxing swim in the pool when vicious thunderstorms roll through.  Exiting the pool, I hop in the shower and the lights flicker and dim.  My mom always tells me I’m bad at planning and I have a sinking suspicion that she may be ont0 something.

Like tonight, for example: one of my closest friends and one of the most influential people in my life is moving to Boston in a week.  I wanted to send her off in style – with a big, sobbing crowd of friends at her favorite bar.  It’s not going to happen; everyone has an excuse as to why they cannot attend and it infuriates me.  I know my friend impacted their lives just as much, if not more so, than she impacted mine and yet I am the only one willing to travel to spend time with her.  I feel like this situation happens to me time and time again, and it’s disheartening because I’m really starting to believe that I never get back as much as I put in regarding any of the relationships I have, which at the current moment, are restricted to friends and family.

I would punch a toddler for a romantic relationship, by the way.  I’d be a catch … for the most part.  I know I’m dramatic, juvenile and stunted, but I also know that I’m passionate, fiercely loyal and a decent person.  Maybe it’s my physical appearance; I’m working on getting my teeth fixed so I don’t look like Sloth from that movie, “The Goonies.”  I’m working on slimming down, too.  Other than that, though, I think I’m sitting pretty – pun intended.  I think men find me attractive, but know that they shouldn’t.  Is that weird?

I just want to love – which I do freely, to the point where it breaks my own stupid heart – and to be loved in return; really loved with equal force.

By the way, I tried to sketch today. I’m really terrible at it, and thereby have no patience for it. Hopefully this attitude can be altered or improved by Tuesday.

PROMPT: “Well, if you could accuse anybody of being downright evil, it would be him.”

PIECE:  “Well, if you could accuse anybody of being downright evil, it would be him.”  Kelly placed his amber bottle of chilled beer back onto the wooden bar, sighing contemplatively as she did so.  She understood she had just released a heavy statement into the atmosphere and wondered if it would just fall flat and leave only silence, or if Isaac would help it along by adding more words and more breath, keeping it afloat in the intimate space between the two.

Isaac’s eyes were swollen and red around the rims from intense bouts of both drinking and crying.  His fiancee had been murdered about six months ago and the trail was finally underway.  The perpetrator of the crime was his own brother, Eliot, who claimed self-defense.  Eliot wanted the jury to believe that Cassandra had a violent, manic fit and attacked Eliot out of the blue, leaving him with no choice but to shoot her in the back.  Eliot only disposed of the body improperly to save his brother from the pain of discovering his fiancee’s outburst and dead body – clearly, he was not trying to cover up the crime.  He swore!  He had to be telling the truth.

But he wasn’t; Isaac’s brother had been having an affair with Cassandra and when she had wanted to come clean to Isaac, Eliot had killed her.  Eliot was the emotionally unstable individual who had a sudden outburst with devastating consequences.  Both sides had been presented in the opening arguments, and testimony was to begin the next day, as the prosecution called their first witness – the medical examiner.  Today had been hard enough for Isaac.  He didn’t think he had it in him to sit through a meticulous and cold description of how his beloved had died, and what her watery grave had done to her beautiful, graceful body.

Kelly was Isaac’s cousin.  She had sat patiently by his side, holding his hand and turning a blind eye to his decidedly emasculating sobs and open displays of weakness.  It had been her idea to come to the local watering hole to handle it like men; to drink and grunt and feel better in the morning.  She had offered the assessment of Eliot’s character as comfort.  She didn’t want Isaac feeling guilty for being emotional.  There was only one person who should feel guilty and that was the monster that was Eliot.  She had wanted to convey all of this to her favorite cousin, but as she cleared her throat to speak and Isaac rolled his red, dead eyes to her, she lost her confidence.  The planned speech that was tender and inspirational was reduced to a single sentence.

As if that single sentence could change anything.  As if that single sentence could bring Cassandra back.  As if that single sentence could bring Eliot back.  As if that single sentence could bring Isaac back.

It did none of those things.  It did nothing.  Isaac nodded, released a broken sob, sniffed and drank deeply from his own bottle.

On chance encounters.

Published June 22, 2012 by mandileighbean

I love how I write an empassioned entry about my new and strong resolve to update regularly, and then miss a day.  That’s me in a nutshell: weak, but full of rationalizations for said weakness.  I must be incredibly difficult to love.

Wednesday was a great day, though.  I went to Barnes and Noble and though I spent more than I would have liked, it was well worth it.  I purchased a trendy bookbag that perfectly fits the Bohemian – and let’s be honest, sometimes pretentious – style I am currently going for.  I also purchased the complete works of Edgar Allen Poe, a set of sketching graphite pencils and a sketchbook.  One of my summer resolutions is to take up painting.  That is a somewhat daunting feat, so I’ve broken the goal into baby steps: I’ll start with sketching.  My good friend and college roomie is an artist in every sense of the word, and on Tuesday, she’s going to take me sketching with her.  Hopefully she’ll be able to show me the ropes so I can create something decent.  Purchases in hand, I went to the cafe to have an iced coffee because it was hot as hell and to get some reading and writing done.  I did read “The Offshore Pirate” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and wrote a little bit, but nothing I’m immensely proud of.  I’m still working through a dry patch and feeling decidedly uninspired.  I have ideas that have potential, but currently, I am failing exceptionally at executing them.

What I remember most about my time spent at Barnes and Noble was a beautiful man who seemed to sketching out designs on graph paper.  He was using one of those multi-colored pens that changes color when you click it – either red, green, blue or black.  When he sneezed, I said, “God bless you.”  He thanked me and offered me a warm smile, and I gushed as I tried to focus on sweetening my iced coffee (which I completely blotched.  It was disgusting and I threw it out before I was halfway finished. I don’t blame the barista, though. I don’t think I was drinking it fast enough because the ice melted and made it watery).  I stirred in the sugar and made note of his shaved, dirty blonde hair and dark green eyes.  He was of a thin yet athletic build and his skin was tanned from being in the sun.  He was dressed in earth tones and wore a thick, leather bracelet on his right wrist.  He had a trendy knapsack with what looked like a sleeping mat rolled up and stuck underneath the top flap.  I wondered if he had taken a bus to the shopping center.  I doubted he had a car; he would never condescend to such consumerism, or be so ignorant of the adverse effects of automobiles on the environment.  Then again, if he were taking a bus, that’d make him a hypocrite and wonderfully complex.  I had fallen in love with him in the 27 seconds it took me to prepare my coffee with half-and-half and sugar, but turned away from him to find a seat at the bar against the full-length windows.  I could have engaged him in charming conversation prehaps, or at least asked his name.  I wanted him to ask me what I was reading or what I was writing, but I did nothing.  When I saw him exit the store and cross before the windows once or twice, I smiled but remained still, flicking my eyes back to my book or the screen of my iPad.

I’m a chickenshit, is what it is.

Later, an old friend of mine from childhood invited me out for drinks for happy hour and a great hole in the wall in Seaside Heights.  I accepted but with a strong sense of caution because this friend only reaches out when something heavy is going on.  She, regretably, is kind of a hot mess and things have not changed.  I had fun and it was nice to escape from the mundane quality my life is so reluctant to relinquish, but I could not do that every night like she can.  I came home so drunk that I ate rancid spaghetti sauce that had been left out on the counter since before lunchtime.  I awoke with a dry mouth, a pounding headache and a palpable sense of shame.  It was a gross feeling.

Today was better.  I had lunch with my artist friend – she’s also a spectacular musician – and also ran into a very good friend who’s been missing in action as of late.  She’s married, domesticated and wonderfully mature.  She wears elegant dresses and goes out for cocktails with her husband and their friends like a real adult.

This weekend should be just as entertaining.  Hopefully I’ll remember to update as it happens.

The writing prompt I’ve been working on has been giving me real problems.  I don’t particularly think the prompt is all that great, so I am continually and readily disengaging in the creative process.  That ends tonight, though.  I will finish the damned thing if it’s the last thing I do.

PROMPT: Unusual Phobia.
  Create a character with an unusual phobia.  Write a scene in which the character faces the phobia.

The most common fear among human beings is death, followed closely by public speaking.  Then again, it might be the other way around but regardless of the accuracy of the aforementioned statistic, Melissa Grander feared neither death nor public speaking.  The activity which caused her body to seize, her palms to sweat and her mind to waver between insanity and unconsciousness was dinner conversation.  It was not a common fear by any means, and Melissa made peace with the fact with the rationalization that she was not a common young woman.  Exactly what made her so uncommon eluded Melissa and at night, when she lay awake watching the dusty ceiling fan in her bedroom slowly rotate around and around, she worried that she wasn’t uncommon or unique and that she was just weird; simply bizarre.  After all, who can’t hold a simple conversation over a meal?  Who can’t engage in a dialogue over dinner?

The answer is Melissa Grander.  She could not be charming, witty or even responsive while eating.  It was effort enough to make sure nothing spilled and stained her blouse, that her teeth were clear of debris.  To add the societal pressure of being interesting was more than she could comprehend.  Her need for silence at mealtimes left her lonely and alone.  Other than her family who were supportive and understanding, Melissa did not have many friends.  Having to decline every single dinner and lunch invitation led to a notable drop in those invitations, to the point where Melissa was left off the list because everyone knew she wouldn’t come out anyway.  Melissa also knew she could never join in the group brunches, lunches and dinners and could never do so with a romantic prospect, so she stopped dating altogether.  When the occasional male interest made his intentions known, Melissa panicked and aborted the whole thing, assuming that once the young man found out how abnormal she was, he’d be completely turned off.  Who wanted to be a lover and a savior and a doctor and a therapist?  Wasn’t that too much pressure?

All of Melissa’s social interactions stemmed from her weekly trips to the mall.  She didn’t necessarily make purchases, but she flitted around like a regular social butterfly from kiosk to kiosk and department to department, making small talk with various employees who all found her to be pleasant, compassionate and most importantly, normal.  She could eat alone at the food court without anyone thinking twice, and satisfy her need for human interaction in the small, superficial doses she could handle.  It was kind of ideal, albeit sad and temporary.  Would these workers come to her funeral?  Would they send her cards if she was sick in the hospital?  Melissa knew that they wouldn’t, but the fear did not outweigh her fear of conversation during meals.

Melissa was solitary, and as a result, she enjoyed solitary activities.  During her social visits to the mall, she would bring along a book to read near the fountain in the center.  The bubbling and tumbling of the water into the stone basin provided the perfect white noise to drown out the buzz of consumerism around her, so she could afford to become lost in a literary world where she could live vicariously.  She, Melissa Grander, was the young female protagonist with the painted nails and nasty habit of chain smoking, who moved from bed to bed every night and searched for the solution to her looming but not named existential crisis in seedy bars in a big city.  Melissa could be hunting ghosts in an old, Victorian manor, foiling an assassination attempt against some world leader, or falling in love barefoot and breathless while caught in the middle of a surprise summer storm.  Anything was possible for Melissa while she was reading.

Her favorite author was James Prince, a master of the paranormal thriller.  His characters were so authentic and painfully human, despite their supernatural abilities and/or origins.  While the setting and circumstances of the plot were extreme, the themes were perfectly applicable to her humdrum life and Prince’s writing became universal.  She had a large intellectual crush on him and filled idle time with daydreams about chance encounters and resulting romances with Prince.  It was childish and juvenile and at the back of her mind, Melissa realized she was stunted emotionally.  Sighing, she’d close the book and head toward the exit.

One random Tuesday, Melissa was heading out the automatic doors near the salon.  She paused to warily observe the gray, swirling skies and the thick raindrops beginning to pound the pavement.  Her umbrella was shoved beneath her backseat and she hesitated, not wanting to become drenched and uncomfortable.  Her feet shifted in thought, as did her dark, expressive eyes, which widened when they fell upon a cardboard cutout to her right.  It was James Prince, in the most scholarly of poses with his strong, calloused right hand curled about his strong, impressive chin.  His eyes were kind but a million miles away, and a deep shade of brown.  A small smile hung about his lips without actually landing.  It was a beautiful picture and she took a step or two towards it, like she was physically compelled to do so and could not resist.  Underneath the torso of the author was a slit, and beneath that was an entrance form.  There was a contest being held; one lucky winner would be chosen to have dinner with the author, and win a signed copy of his newest book, yet to be released.

Melissa’s breath caught in her throat.  This was incredible; this was serendipitous!  If she entered and if she won, she would have to face her fear!  She could be normal with his assistance; she’d have to shape up for James Prince.
Melissa hurried over and filled out about thirty cards, shoving them mercilessly into the slot, crumpling corners in her haste to get as many forms as she could into the cardboard cutout.  The winner would be announced in one month.

Melissa went to the mall every day and entered again and again.  She stopped making her social visits, completely forgot about her uncommon phobia and was graced with that proverbial eye of the tiger.  She was focused only on winning and the opportunity of being healthy.  The irony that her behavior to do so was unhealthy was lost on her.

A month later, the winner was announced.  Melissa Grander would indeed be having dinner with James Prince.

The big night came and she sat upon a bench on her front porch.  Her hands twitched in her lap and she was barely breathing.  Every pair of headlights that washed over her made her nauseous; the limousine would be arriving to pick her up at any minute.  She had index cards in her tiny bag, each with vague responses to typical questions one might ask over dinner.  Melissa hoped she’d be able to keep it together.  She’d honestly rather die than mortify herself before James Prince, the love of her sad, delusional life.  Sighing sadly, Melissa automatically rose as headlights flooded the drive.  Her moment had come at last.  She gathered her wits and her bag and trotted over to the rear door of the limousine when it was opened from the inside.  There sat James Prince.

“Oh my God,” Melissa breathed.

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