Writing Prompts

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On obligatory new year resolutions and the value of introspection.

Published January 4, 2018 by mandileighbean

MAN_ON_A_LISBON_BUS

Hypocrisy, in my opinion, is one of the worst human flaws. I understand this sentiment is ironic because just about a year ago, I wrote a post which discussed hitting rock bottom and how I was going to change myself into the woman I have the potential of being, the woman I so desperately want to be. However, the year came and went and nothing changed. If anything, I got worse; the weight has ballooned into an unhealthy, unattractive number; creative writing has all but ceased; I still spend more nights than I care to admit to publically eating bad food and re-watching romantic comedies at home … alone.

But recently, I was forced to think about the last five years of my life. With the clarity hindsight provides, I was able to understand that I had been through several tumultuous periods and had tried to blindly just trudge ahead. The spirit is commendable, but in doing so, I developed many unhealthy coping mechanisms that have since cost me my health and happiness and, to a point, my sanity.

So that is my resolution for 2018: to get back to good, and to take my life back. To do that, I am going to spend more time doing what I love. I’ll read more and I will update this blog once a week (every Wednesday for Writer Wednesday … get it? I’m a sucker for alliteration). Granted they start on a Thursday this week, but I had snowmageddon to contend with. And would it really be me if I did something right the first time around?

I will progress my literary career in 2018.

I will start taking classes for my Masters degree.

I will diet and exercise and the goal is to lose at least 30 pounds by May 16th (when I see Bruce Springsteen on Broadway!). I want to go hiking at least once a month and really spend more time in nature. This, plus starting therapy, will help me regain mental health and stability.

I will begin making improvements to my home to make it cozier and to become more independent.

Putting all this in writing helps me to formulate a plan and in my attempt to avoid hypocrisy at all costs, helps me to stick to these resolutions.

And now for some creative writing; stay golden, readers. And be excellent to each other.

WRITING PROMPT #01.2018: After falling asleep on a twenty-hour bus ride to his mother’s house, a college student wakes up to discover that he’s been on the wrong bus the entire time.

I stood in the bus station, looking out at a deserted Main Street that was slowly but surely filling with snow. The winter wind was whipping itself into a frenzy; I could feel it slipping through the door in front of me, and it was enough to make me shiver in my jeans and tee shirt. I was woefully unprepared for the wintry mix outside because I had fully anticipated waking up as the bus came to a stop in Atlanta, Georgia. Yet here I was in Liberty, Indiana.

I couldn’t understand how it happened. Obviously, I boarded the wrong bus, but how could that have happened? How could I have made such a stupid, stupid mistake? I rubbed my cheek, felt the stubble that needed to be shaved. It was bristly against my palm and helped me come back to myself. Staring out the door would do no good. I needed a plan. I needed to think of some course of action, so I walked back to the uncomfortable bench that was no more than a piece of curved steel. It was cold against my lower back, as the thin cotton of my shirt was powerless against the cold that seemed to pervade everywhere. It helped me to prioritize; I would get myself some boots, a heavy coat, some gloves, a scarf, and a hat. If I was going to be lost, I could at least be comfortable doing it.

Behind the counter was an elderly, grizzled-looking man who just wanted to get home. He watched me approach without interest, with a cold detachment that I took as a bad sign. I had heard that people in the Midwest, although weird, were incredibly friendly. This guy looked like I could have walked up to him on fire, burning alive, and he would have yawned and apathetically watched me turn to ash. I did my best to smile, and as polite as humanly possible, I said, “Good evening, sir.”

He said nothing in reply. He only blinked back at me.

I swallowed hard and pressed on. “Could you tell me where the nearest clothing store is? I didn’t know it’d be- “

“There’s the Liberty Mall right next door. You might have some luck there.”

I nodded, mumbling my thanks as I pulled the straps of my duffle bag higher up on my shoulder. He nodded in return and turned away.

I was on my own.

Outside the bus station, the cold was overwhelming. I imagined my fingers and toes turning blue, then black, then falling off. I’d leave a trail of them the cops could follow to the doors of the Liberty Mall, where they’d find me all frozen and stiff and dead.

I didn’t used to be this dramatic.

I hurried over to the mall, walking close against the sides of the buildings to avoid all snow as best as I could. I wrenched the door open against the wind that was really starting to pick up, and the first thing I saw was a little, sad-looking department store that appeared to have ignore the turn of the last century. My feeling of disorientation was growing; what time was it? Had I traveled not only in the wrong direction for twenty hours, but had I also gone back in time?  The yellow lights that burned overhead burned low, so that everything was washed in a depressing shade of yellow and looked older than it was and sickly. There was a young woman who came from around the counter and walked to the very edge of the store’s boundary. She hadn’t noticed me, and she reached high up over head. I realized she meant to close the metal gate that rolled down, so I sprinted over to her.

“Miss, please! Don’t close that gate!”

She looked at me in alarm, scrambling back a few steps and wrapping her arms around herself. I felt bad but was grateful she’d backed away from the gate. “I’m sorry, sir,” she said, “but we’re closing.” She looked at me from the sides of her eyes, turning her head mostly away from me.

“I can appreciate that, but I don’t have any winter clothes and I’ll freeze to death outside.” I stopped just inside the store. “I’m supposed to be in Atlanta. I got on the wrong bus and I have no winter clothes packed. Can I buy some clothes?”

She slightly turned her head towards me and looked me up and down. “But I’ve already shut down the register.”

“I’ll pay cash. We’ll cut the tags off and you can ring everything up first thing tomorrow.” She didn’t move. “Or you can turn it back on while I look around. Please, miss. Please … what’s your name?”

“Caroline.”

“Please, Caroline. My name’s Dillon and I just rode a bus from Philadelphia for twenty hours. I’m embarrassed, I’m cold, I’m tired, and I’m hungry. Help me fix one of those things, please.”

Caroline’s hands dropped to her sides. Her eyes were big and brown and nice to look at it now that they were no longer narrowed with suspicion. “Be quick,” she said before she turned and went behind the counter. I thanked her again and again, what seemed like a thousand times over, and she only got me to shut up by pointing me in the direction of the outer wear – first right off the main aisle. As I turned, I could see the bulky jackets crudely stuffed against one another, hanging from circular racks. I breathed a little easier and slowed my pace, figuring I could take a second to enjoy the tiny victory. I passed a t-shaped rack filled with coats for infants, the sizes ran from 0-3 months, and I came to a complete stop.

Later, when I called my mom from a bar with a steak and a mound of mashed potatoes both smothered in gravy in front of me, she harassed me, berated me until I could explain how I managed to be so stupid. What kind of jackass gets on the wrong bus? I tried the empty, obvious answers; that the bus station was crowded and overwhelmed with holiday travelers. I lied and said I was half-listening when the man who sold me my ticket talked about transfers, so I fell asleep and forgot. She wasn’t satisfied. She knew I was lying even though she couldn’t see my face in the way that only mothers can. I did the only thing I could do; I broke and told my mother the God’s honest truth about the last 48 hours.

Staring at the infant jackets reminded me of Alicia. I had met her in college, after I had gone to the north and broken my mother’s heart. Alicia was an art major who didn’t give a damn about plans or responsibilities. I was intoxicated by her freedom and her wildness, and she helped me to let my guard down and to get into a little bit of trouble. It wasn’t anything serious; no legal troubles, but a few stories to tell with a big smile. I loved her. And I’d tell her all the time. I told her I loved her constantly. She never said it back, just took me into her arms, into her bedroom, into the nearest place that offered any kind of privacy and she’d let me show her how much I loved her. I never thought much of it; I was happy and it made me stupid, I guess.

I invited Alicia home to meet my mom. She was supposed to be on the bus with me.

But she sat me down in the kitchen of her on-campus apartment and explained that she wasn’t looking for anything serious. She said going home to meet a guy’s family was pretty serious, the way having a baby was serious. Alicia usually talked in long, winding paths that eventually got to some point. And I could usually anticipate the destination of her dialogue and patiently wait for her to get there. But this time, I was confused. “Who said anything about having a baby? No one said anything about a baby.”

Alicia looked at her hands between her knees. “I didn’t want to tell you because I saw this coming. I knew you were getting caught up.”

I stood up. “Tell me what?”

“I was pregnant.”

There was a moment of stunned silence. She told me she was on the pill, so how this could have happened seemed the obvious question to ask next, but her phrasing troubled me more. “What do you mean was?”

“Don’t worry, I took care of it.”

It was hard for me to swallow. My face felt hot, but I knew I was cold all over. “What do you mean you took care of it?”

“Don’t be stupid,” Alicia said. She rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean, Dillon. Don’t make me say the obvious.”

“You didn’t tell me?”

“I knew this was going to happen,” Alicia said. “You always take things too seriously. You get too invested. You’re gonna break your heart a million times over doing that.” She went to walk past me, to leave me standing there alone. As she passed, I grabbed her nearest arm and wrenched her back. She stumbled back to stand in front of me. Her face was pale, her eyes were wide, and her breathing had quickened. She was scared but I didn’t give a shit.

“You’re a fucking bitch.”

Alicia brought her hands to her face like I slapped her, like I was bringing my hand back to do it again. I still didn’t give a shit. “I love you! We’ve been sleeping together for two years, and you don’t tell me you’re pregnant? You don’t tell me you’re gonna get rid of it? That’s fucking weird, Alicia.”

Alicia came back to herself. “It’s my body, my decision. And I don’t have to explain myself to you! Just because I don’t buy into some Judeo-Christian definition of woman-“

“Oh, fuck off! This isn’t political! This is personal!”

Alicia pushed me hard. I moved back a step or two. She wasn’t strong, but she surprised me. “Don’t you tell me to fuck off, you petulant man child! I knew you’d be hypersensitive about this. Grow up, Dillon! You’re so pathetic, I-“

I shoved her. Hard. Hard enough so she fell back onto the carpeted floor of the living room, just a few steps away. I was losing control, and an apology rose to my lips, but I kept them shut tight. I had never laid a hand on anybody my entire life. I was a father, then I wasn’t. I was a gentleman, then I wasn’t.

Alicia was this smart, beautiful firecracker I tried to keep held securely in my hand. But firecrackers explode, go off, and the result was injury.

I left her lying on the floor. Confused, depressed, and desperate, I went back to my dorm room and drank until I fell asleep. When I woke, I only had thirty minutes to pack and get to the bus station. I blindly followed the crowds onto the wrong bus, going unnoticed because of the thronging crowds of holiday travelers, and then I slept.

“Dillon? Sir? Are you finding everything okay?”

I blinked and silent tears rolled down my cheeks. Caroline had caught me hundreds of miles away, in a different time and place. She found me vulnerable, crying in an outdated department store in a small town in Indiana.

On collisions.

Published October 25, 2016 by mandileighbean

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

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

 

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

He never even saw the other car coming.

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

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

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

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

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

But his partner had already knocked.

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

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

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

Officer Bobby Gillis let his partner do all the talking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In her absence, Phil found himself able to cry.

death_in_the_hood

On making things better … or worse.

Published October 6, 2016 by mandileighbean

About three weeks ago, I went on a date with some guy I met online. We met on the boardwalk, which I liked. He looked only a little bit like his picture, but I’m sure the same could be said for me – I’ve definitely gained weight since the pictures I posted were taken. None of the mattered, really, because he was INCREDIBLY smart – knew more than a little bit about nearly everything. The conversation was great – enthralling, interesting. We talked for four hours, until the restaurants closed. At one point, he was explaining the scientific reasoning behind why men tend to react with violence while women are more emotional and tend to react with malicious manipulation. He posed a hypothetical question, asking me what I would do if a woman I hated, like really hated, keyed my car. I told him I’d go to the police, and he had to alter the scenario and tell me that wasn’t an option. I think he wanted to prove that eventually I would become violent (although in retrospect, I don’t see how that helps his argument at all, so maybe I misunderstood because he was SO much smarter than me). That inspired the short story below.

But some more about the date: he said “you see” a lot and removed his glasses to pinch and massage the bridge of his nose and pushed air through his nose awkwardly, almost like snorting but not exactly. In hindsight, it seems pretentious and textbook intellectual, but in the moment, it wasn’t so bad. There were even a few moments where I nearly convinced myself he was handsome, sitting on a bench overlooking the beach, calmly explaining the cosmos to the young woman beside him as a chilly wind whipped the finer strands of hair about his face.

But I think it was just the moonlight and me endeavoring to force a fairy tale where there wasn’t one. I haven’t heard from him.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #30: “Let’s just agree that we both hate her, okay?”

“Let’s just agree that we both hate her, okay?” Ashley pleaded. She was sitting in her Chrysler Sebring convertible with her best friend. The engine was running to keep the heat going; it was unseasonably cold, and tiny tremors assaulted Ashley’s body. The cloth top did little to keep the icy wind from seeping in and making the interior cold and uncomfortable. She watched her breath escape her lips in tiny, white puffs, disappearing as soon as they appeared. Despite the heat blasting from the vents, Ashley was shivering. For a moment, but only a moment, Ashley wondered how her best friend was faring, if she was as cold. But Ashley’s concern was fleeting. She wasn’t looking at Danielle, but stayed focus on the lone break in the curbing that served as both the entrance and exit of the parking lot. Neon lights and halogen bulbs lit up the night sky around them, and Ashley used the glare of the harsh and unflattering lights to peer into windshields and survey the colors of incoming cars. Oncoming headlights would blind her momentarily, but she would shut her eyes tight against them for a just a few seconds, all she could spare, and then she’d stare hard and long to make out the figures in the cars, to determine the exact shade of the paint of the exteriors of the cars. Ashley’s eyes shifted restlessly from side to side, scanning and searching for one driver in particular, one woman that was scheduled to meet a man in the diver bar that owned the parking lot. The man in question happened to be the love of Ashley’s life (at the very least, Ashley had convinced herself that was the case), and the woman in question was the current topic of conversation.

“I’m not going to do that,” Danielle refused. She crossed her arms over her chest and stared through the windshield. She forced her breath out of her lungs in short bursts, emphasizing her displeasure. Not unlike Ashley, Danielle wasn’t so eager to make eye contact. Everything had gone too far, much too far, and Danielle was having trouble comprehending that the woman gripping the steering wheel in tight, pulsating waves was the same woman she’d known for years and years, and had claimed as her best friend. Ashley was unrecognizable to Danielle. Sure, she looked the same, but the jealousy and ager that consumed Ashley and simmered somewhere just beneath the surface of her skin had caused her to mutate into something ugly, something horrible.

“Then why are you even here?” Ashley asked. She finally turned to face Danielle. Her tone was sharp so that the question was more of a piercing challenge. In her juvenile rage, Ashley wanted Danielle to leave so that Ashley could feel abandoned and awful, and thereby rationalize her unnerving desire to cause destruction and excuse her cowardly and dastardly behavior.

“To talk sense, Ashley; I need to convince you that this is really dumb, not to mention illegal. We need to leave before you do something stupid.”

There was a beat of silence. It was the calm before the storm; after just a moment more, Ashley slammed her palms against the dashboard and growled. It was a subdued scream that turned animalistic and cold and hard. Danielle felt uneasy but turned toward Ashley, willing to make eye contact and survey if Ashley was even present in the conversation, if she was even listening. “Go to hell,” Ashley sneered. “You don’t know what this feels like, okay? Save your self-righteous bullshit for your students.”

“If you weren’t acting like a child, I wouldn’t have to treat you like one, or talk to you like one,” Danielle retorted. “What is keying her car going to do, honestly?”

Ashley thought for a moment. “It’ll make me feel better.”

Danielle rolled her eyes. “Yeah, maybe, but then what? Will it make Russ suddenly realize he’s been a douche? How will it prove you were the right choice?”

Silence settled upon the pair. The truth was that Ashley couldn’t answer Danielle’s questions because Danielle was right. It was stupid, completely asinine, but for the moment, Ashley didn’t care. She wanted to feel satisfied and to feel justified – she wanted to feel better about the whole messed up situation between her and Russ and their feelings (or lack thereof). “Why can’t you just let me have this?” Ashley demanded of her best friend. Her voice cracked and allowed the tears to finally spring up.

“What kind of friend would I be if I let you be a stupid, awful, petty bitch?” Danielle asked. She extended her arm to rub Ashley’s back as she sat behind the wheel and cried. “You’re better than all of this, and you deserve better than Russ.” Danielle spoke in softened tone, doing her best to soothe Ashley and her broken heart. “Let’s get out of here, okay? We’ll get milkshakes and fries and talk shit.” Danielle laughed to show Ashley that she honestly believed there was a light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. Danielle needed Ashley to know that eventually, things did get better.

“Fine,” Ashley growled. She wanted to hold onto her anger because she wanted to be in control of something. She couldn’t change how Russ felt and she couldn’t deny Danielle’s logic, but she could decide how she felt, dammit, and she was going to be angry, downright furious. Without giving it much thought, Ashley abruptly changed gears and had every intention of peeling out of the parking lot and leaving the whole aborted revenge plot behind her – in more ways than one – and Ashley would have done just that.

Unfortunately, a young, beautiful woman with bouncy hair, tits that were a cause of envy, and a smile that belonged in toothpaste commercials, came walking up between Ashley’s car and the car beside it. The young, beautiful woman was not paying attention to anything other than her phone, busily composing a text message to let a popular man named Russ that she was walking into the bar, and that she had just parked. Her green Hyundai had pulled in just as Ashley had started crying, and were it not for the tears in her contemptuous eyes, Ashley might have seen the vehicle, recognized it, and done something else, anything else. As fate would have it, neither Ashley nor Danielle saw the young, beautiful woman’s car enter the parking lot, and so neither woman knew she was even there, where she was supposed to be, where they had anticipated and expected her to be. The young, beautiful woman walking between Ashley’s car and another was busy envisioning the entrance she would make and entertaining the endless romantic possibilities her rendezvous offered. She didn’t see Ashley’s car turning and accelerating fast enough to make the tires squeal, so hell bent was Ashley on making an exit the same way the young, beautiful woman was intent on making an entrance that would impress the entire bar. The young, beautiful woman never saw the impact coming.

The left headlight rammed against the young, beautiful woman’s shin, hard enough to break it and hard enough to knock her to the ground. The collision happened just outside of Danielle’s window, just outside of the front passenger door. She thought she saw bouncy hair pass by her field of vision on its way to the pavement, but she couldn’t be sure. It was dark and her attention was elsewhere. But Danielle and Ashley heard flesh and bone smash sickeningly against metal and plastic and rubber. They knew they’d hit something, but the enormity of the tragedy had not landed home yet. The front tires ran up and over the young woman’s body before Ashley could slam on the brakes and screech to a halt. “What the hell was that?” Ashley asked.

Danielle had a sinking, awful, terrible suspicion, but how could she say it aloud? How could she tell Ashley that in trying to avoid a misdemeanor, they had committed a felony? How could she explain that in trying to do the right thing, they had made everything worse, much worse? Pale and trembling, Danielle could only state the obvious. “You hit something,” she said.

“Yeah, but what?” Ashley asked. Danielle shrugged, was too shocked and too stupid to articulate anything meaningful or useful. Ashley threw the car in reverse, unknowingly rolling her tires over the young, beautiful woman a second time. The car jostled its occupants from side to side as it traversed speedily over the body. Ashley thought returning to the parking spot and surveying the scene from that vantage point was the best way to assess the damage and understand what had happened. It wasn’t until the sickening thud of the tires rolling over something soft and alive reached her ears a second time that Ashley understood that it was bad and wrong, all bad and all wrong. She put the car in park and battling nausea, Ashley threw her door open and climbed out of the car and onto legs that were wobbly and weak, and didn’t quite support her weight. Hobbling as if she were the victim instead of the perpetrator, Ashley stumbled to the front of the car, using the vehicle to support her weight. She crossed the front of the vehicle, placing palm over palm as she desperately tried to steady herself and walk, and when the body came into view, she promptly vomited.

pedestrian-accident

On seeking salvation from loneliness.

Published June 30, 2015 by mandileighbean

I know I need to update this blog more than once a month. My writing is becoming stale; my literary muscle is in a state of atrophy due to lack of use. I have no excuse.

I wonder how many writers believed themselves to be prophetic. I don’t mean in the pretentious sense, but in a way that can be validated, where predictions are not obvious or bluntly stated, but hidden beneath authentic literary merit. I mean in the way where plot and reality align too much to be mere coincidence. This topic has piqued my interest as of late because the ending of my second novel Moody Blue – which has yet to find either a literary agent or publisher for representation – ends in nearly the exact same way the real life source of inspiration is ending. It knocked me on my ass, to be sure, and I’m sure this post, with its assertion that I’m some kind of prophet, that all of this is a way to make it romantically tragic instead of just melodramatic and sad. Rather than admit I was fooled and manipulated, it’s grander to say I knew someone so well that I saw what was coming and used it in my writing to heal the wounds. I suppose it was more like seeing the approach of headlights and stepping into the middle of the street anyway because a beautiful, brooding man is on the other side, smiling seductively. As I stepped into the road, I knew that I was never, ever going to reach my desired destination, that I’d end up alone and as so much carnage that others will drive over without much notice, but I did it anyway because that smile made me believe things were changing, and that I just might make it. That smile became an all-purpose excuse for all the stupid, selfish, asinine things I did.

“This is my least favorite life, the one where I am out of my mind. The one where you’re just out of reach. The one where I stay and you fly.” 

But I suppose I’ll be okay.  

“I’m never alone. I’m alone all the time.”

I lead a very lonely life. I used to be ashamed to admit it, but I once heard that some are meant to be happy, while others are mean to be great. Thus, my only means of survival, of staying both sane and optimistic, are believing that everything happens for a reason, and that this is my path, for better or for worse. I must entertain the possibility that where I am destined to end up may not be warm and bright with smiling faces. I might have to be cold and alone to be great, to fulfill my potential. Maybe all the tragedy I’ve spent romanticizing for so long is all mine to keep.

Hell, even Gatsby knew he could only climb alone.

Writing Prompt #23: The figure in a famous painting begins communicating with an art museum patron.

The museum was clearing out. The few presumably pretentious patrons were shuffling towards the exits in shiny, expensive shoes that reflected their pinched faces of their respective owners. They all looked so important, raising the collars of impressive and fashionable coats against the cold, sharp February winds raging outside. The ladies adjusted their gloves to better cover and protect their delicate wrists against the bitter cold, while the gentlemen held the doors open, allowing the ladies to pass through with strong and protective hands on the smalls of their backs. Once outside, facing the elements, these fine, cultured gentlemen enveloped their classy, educated ladies in their arms and together, the pairs scurried to remarkably expensive vehicles, a Lexus there, a Mercedes Benz here, and a few BMWs for good measure. It seemed that everyone at the art gallery was impossibly intelligent, filthy rich, and happily in love. They did not rage against the dying of the light as the sun’s last rays burned bright and fierce through the large picture windows that surrounded the art gallery. It seemed that all were perfectly content to go gentle into the good night because they were not alone. They loved and were loved, and that was all that mattered.

Or maybe that’s just how it seemed to Olivia because she was alone – single and bitter – on Valentine’s Day. After all, wasn’t there some saying about everything looking like a nail when one feels like a hammer?

It had been foolish to venture out into public on the absolute worst of manufactured holidays. Olivia knew her day would be one long and agonizing observation of all kinds of public displays of affection, ranging from sweet (the elderly man who did his best to straighten his fingers gnarled with arthritis only to entwine them with his wife’s as they rode the bus to the city) to obnoxious (the sweaty, nervous-looking man who coordinated a lame, disappointing flash mob as means of proposing to a doughy woman too stupid to know any better and readily accepted) to grotesque (the teenage couple mauling each other while waiting in line at the local coffee shop, covering themselves in each other’s DNA in the disgusting way that only adolescents can). Begrudgingly, Olivia would admit it was the masochist within her that encouraged and eventually convinced her to journey to the art gallery. Later, when the pain began to subside and she was safe in her home, in sweatpants with wine and Chinese food that had been delivered some time ago, she could realize that being surrounded by affection was a good thing, nearly tangible evidence of its existence, that it was real and could happen to anyone at any time; she only needed to be patient. But in all honesty, her reason for going to the art gallery was not so romantic or noble, but just desperate and obvious. She only went there because there was a chance – a good chance, a fighting chance – that Scott would be there.

He had taken her there on several occasions, holding doors open and bundling her against the cold.

That had ended some weeks ago, but Olivia was a fool, the worst kind of fool who believes chance encounters could be manufactured, who believes hope comes from an ever-replenished spring and who believes chances are unlimited. She had convinced herself that if Scott saw her again, he’d believe it was fate and he’d give her a few precious moments to make her case as to why they belonged together. Olivia flat-out refused to believe Scott could feel or think any way other than the way she wanted – needed? – him to and on her best days, she could claim a romantic optimism, but more often than not, she knew better. It was pathetic and desperate.

Olivia had arrived at the gallery upon opening. She made herself comfortable, draping her coat over her arms crossed casually over her chest and meandering through the aisles slowly, languidly, always thinking, thinking, thinking. She had purchased lunch in their adjoining cafe, unwilling to leave the premises because she knew with a supernatural certainty that the moment she did, Scott would arrive and her last chance would be blown. Olivia didn’t eat much, but thoroughly enjoyed the complimentary wine and cheese despite the glowering looks from the supervising employee who quickly realized Olivia was only loitering and taking more than her fair share. The employee was able to remain smug because he rightly assumed that Olivia was a fraud, a dopey woman who probably couldn’t name a single artists featured in the gallery’s collection, let alone the title of one of the masterpieces.

And that was all true; Olivia didn’t know anything about art. So there she was, alone in an art gallery five minutes before closing, standing before some oil painting with tears in her eyes. Scott had not appeared, had not wrapped her in his arms, had not made everything okay. “Oh my God,” she said to no one at all. “I am so, so stupid.” Her voice cracked, broke, and the tears began to fall freely. “He doesn’t miss me, does he?” she asked, but there was no one there to answer, especially not Scott.

The painting before Olivia was of a young man in riding clothes, posing in some wild-looking garden. He had dark features and a very serious expression. The painting was generic and unremarkable, and Olivia found it all so fitting. What better place for her to have an emotional breakdown than in front of a random painting? Only truly great women could sob before the Mona Lisa.

Olivia released a shuddering breath. “I loved him. I loved him very much, and I should have made sure he knew that.” She wiped at her nose. “I just tried so hard to be cool, to not cling to him, to finally be the one who wasn’t so obviously at the mercy of the other person in the relationship. I wanted power and control more than I wanted him.” She sobbed. “But that was wrong, and I was wrong. I guess he mistook all that for indifference, thought I didn’t care, and now he’s gone.” She rubbed her eyes, smearing mascara and eyeliner without so much as a passing thought to her appearance. “I just wanted things to work out this time, this one time. I wanted it to be different. But here I am!” she exclaimed, clapping her hands before her and allowing her coat to fall to the marble floor. Her tone was now cold, sarcastic. “I’m alone on Valentine’s Day and I’ll probably die this way.” Ashamed and suddenly overwhelmed by self-pity, Olivia covered her face with her hands. She cried against her palms, unintelligibly begging for some divine intervention, for salvation from loneliness. She cursed Scott and his new girlfriend (which Olivia assumed he must have – what else kept someone busy on Valentine’s Day?) and then cursed herself for cursing Scott, for being petty and stupid. She berated herself into some state of composure, then allowed her hands to fall to her sides. Once more, she faced the painting.

A guttural scream exploded from her lips and reverberated back to her from the empty aisles as a terrifying sound, so Olivia knew she had to make it stop lest she scared anyone else. She clasped her hands over her mouth and stared with wide, petrified eyes at the painting that had changed, that had most certainly changed, that had definitely changed. The young man featured front and center had turned, had somehow shifted to directly face Olivia. His expression had drastically softened, like he was sympathetic to her pathetic whimpering. In his right hand was a dark red rose. Olivia could easily and readily identify which bush it had come from.

Olivia looked about wildly, curious if her outburst had attracted any attention at all. No one appeared to be rushing over. There were no strangers nearby to validate the impossible event she had just witnessed. Should she call someone over? Would she be believed? Would anyone else see what she was seeing? She returned her gaze to the painting.

Olivia thought she was going to vomit and then pass out, simply keel over. The painting had changed again.

The young man was smiling kindly, very kindly, in a way that almost calmed Olivia, who was on the verge of becoming hysterical. His arms were spread wide, as if he were offering her something. Guided by an unfamiliar instinct, Olivia looked at the floor beneath the painting. There lay the dark red rose the young man had been holding.

Slowly, breathing deeply, Olivia bent to retrieve the rose. The stem was covered in thorns, real enough that Olivia pricked her pointer finger and it began to bleed. The petals were soft and the fragrance was strong. It made Olivia smile. In spite of the lunacy, the sheer insanity of it all, Olivia smiled. She looked to the young man in the painting to thank him, but the expression of gratitude died on her lips. The painting was as it was before, as it should be. Olivia gasped. It was so bizarre that she was transfixed, unable to look away. She reached out her free hands, the one not holding the rose, to touch the painting, to ascertain if it was real, or if there might be some technological trickery at work.

A throat cleared itself behind her.

Nearly screaming aloud again, Olivia wheeled around to find the employee who had been so stingy with the wine and cheese standing behind her. “Ma’am, don’t touch the paintings,” he instructed in a bored tone of voice. “Also, we’re closing now. You’re going to have to leave.”

“Oh, oh, okay,” Olivia mumbled, pale and confused. The employee, seemingly oblivious to Olivia’s distress, turned away. He trotted down the hall, and Olivia scooped up her coat, careful not to lay eyes on the painting in case it changed again, in which chase she would have a heart attack and die. She hurried to the exit, but not before she mumbled a hurried and terribly confused, “thank you.”

The young man in the painting smiled but there was no one there to see it.

hc single valentine's day

On making resolutions halfway through the year.

Published June 3, 2012 by mandileighbean

We are nearly halfway through 2012.  I am truthfully dismayed to discover that I have not fulfilled a single resolution that I made the first day of the year.  Luckily, there is still time.

During what is left of 2012, I will:

  • lose 30 pounds
  • get two (2) tattoos
  • go to the dentist
  • not use my credit card
  • go to Barnes and Noble once a week
  • write everyday
  • practic French
  • learn more math
  • start painting
  • drink more tea
  • get my nails done regularly
  • take up yoga
  • take my GREs
  • read everyday
  • get hired as a full-time teacher
  • meet someone and fall in love
  • go to Alabama and see family
  • visit Jimmy at least once a month
  • be honest
  • dye my hair
  • look nice everyday
  • get my lip pierced
  • take a road trip
  • buy a car
  • go skydiving
  • see “50/50” and “Midnight in Paris,” and other independent films
  • go to the theater and poetry readings – be cultured

What are you going to do?

On gaining confidence.

Published June 1, 2012 by mandileighbean

PROMPT: Interviewer’s Phone
You have a job interview and meet the interviewer.  When you leave the interview, you realize you’ve mistakenly taken the interviewer’s phone and he’s taken yours.  The new phone rings and the caller ID reveals it’s someone you know.

 

The economy had taken quite the dive as of late, and Jeremy had been feeling particularly discouraged.  He had been comfortable as a senior manager at an accounting firm, but some bad investments and shady business dealings had rendered the company bankrupt and defunct, so he had been pounding the pavement in desperate search of any kind of job.  Jeremy had been able to land a few interviews here and there, but had not been successful in starting a new career.  Hell, the poor bastard couldn’t even get himself hired as a bus boy, let alone as a waiter.  He was steadily losing hope and had actually begun entertaining the idea that he would have to move back home – temporarily, of course – to try and save some money.  Broke and desperate, with no romance prospects either, Jeremy decided to have lunch with his mother at her home and delicately approach the subject of his return.  He would do his best to hide his utter disgust at the very thought of moving back home to avoid offending Ma, but he wouldn’t appear too eager either.  It was a fine line to navigate and Jeremy, with his confidence at an all-time low, wasn’t sure he could pull it off.

“Things are bad out there, Ma,” Jeremy confessed.  He sighed and left his grilled cheese sandwich untouched.  A steaming bowl of tomato soup also remained in pristine condition to the right of his plate.  Though he had been with his mother for nearly two hours, he hadn’t eaten a thing.  Ma’s eyebrows contracted with concern, forcing her forehead into deep wrinkles that ran parallel to the tiny lines radiating from the corners of her wide, oval eyes.  They were dark, as was her thinning hair.  Ma was certain that she would be bald by the time lunch was over because Jeremy was stressing her out to an extreme level.  She sat across from him, leaning back in an uncomfortable chair, with her thin arms crossed over her ample chest.  With a piercing gaze, she had been watching Jeremy carefully.  He was distressed, and had come to Ma for a solution – temporary or otherwise.  “You know I’ve been trying to find a job.  I roam the streets all day, popping in whenever I see a ‘Help Wanted’ sign, and asking around if there’s a work.”  He allowed his lungs to deflate, but his shoulders remained high, near his ears.  He covered his face with hands.  Jeremy did feel ashamed, but the physical manifestation of it also allowed him to avoid eye contact with his mother and to mumble his request.  Between twitching fingers and beneath sweating palms, Jeremy confessed, “I don’t know what else to do, Ma.  My checking account is looking pretty bare, and I think I should move back in.”  He rushed the words, treating them as one would the removal of a band aid – best to do it fast and just get it over with.

“Whatever you need Jeremy, you’ve got it,” Ma said.  She spoke simply, crisply – she was so sure of what she was saying.  “Why don’t you eat something, though?  I think we’d both feel better if you at least ate a little something.”  She was still studying him, still worried.

“I’m not all that hungry, Ma.”  Jeremy leaned back further in his chair.  He was looking anywhere but his loving, compassionate and patient mother.

“Alright,” Ma conceded.  “I’ve got to call and check in with Margie.  She fell this past winter, remember?  Fell and broke her hip, the poor thing.  I’m just going to step in the other room for a second; I’ll be right back.”

Jeremy was already regretting his decision immensely.  Ma kept looking at him with those aged, sad and knowing eyes, like if she left him alone for even a second, he would fashion a noose from his belt and call it a day, right then and there.  He didn’t say much else and went to bed fairly early, doing his best to keep to himself.

The sun beat in hot and furious through his small bedroom windows, set up high beside one another in the far wall opposite his twin-sized bed.  Everything was uncomfortable; the greenhouse-like heat, the cramped bed and the very situation.  Jeremy could have easily slept through the heat, groggily waking for a moment to turn the fan on and increase the speed of the spinning blades to as fast as they could go.  His mother’s incessant knocking, however, prevented him from rolling over and giving up.  He rose and answered the door.

“Jeremy,” she began, seemingly breathless, “I just heard that a new firm is hiring downtown.  I went ahead and called for information.  They’re doing an open house from 11:00AM to 1:00PM. You should get down there!”

Suddenly wide awake, Jeremy asked, “What time is?”

“Just past 10:00AM,” Ma answered.  “Hurry and get in the shower!”

An hour later, Jeremy was in a suit and taking the bus downtown.  As it was midday on a weekday, the bus was blessedly empty and Jeremy had room to stretch out and expel some nervous energy.  He considered the sudden opportunity a serendipitous sign that things were finally turning around for him.  He pulled the wire and the bus rolled to a stop before a large office building.  It was impressive with its metallic-looking surface and wide, expansive windows.  There was a “FOR RENT” sign in the window, beside another sign which read, “Sullivan & Son Accounting Interviews on Second Floor.”  Beaming, Jeremy used his reflection to straighten his tie and headed inside.  He bounded up the stairs and found the second floor wide open.  He could easily imagine neat, long rows of cubicles with a supervisor office in the rear.  Yes, this would be an acceptable setting for renewal, rebirth and success.  A rotund man in a fancy suit sat in a folding chair at a long folding table.  As Jeremy approached, he looked up but did not smile.  “Can I help you, young man?” he asked in a gruff voice.

For just a moment, Jeremy faltered.  The man was intimidating to be sure, and Jeremy felt the surge of optimism dissipate.  How could he perform under such cold scrutiny?  He cleared his throat to pull himself together, and seated himself in another folding chair opposite the interviewer.  Able to flash a winning smile, Jeremy introduced himself.

 

Jeremy returned to the street below some thirty minutes later, all smiles.  That was easily the best interview he’d ever sat for, and he felt confident the position would be his.  Every question was answered with the right amount of hesitation and humility.  His personal anecdotes were funny and engaging, and the two men discovered they had the same cell phone.  The interviewer, Mr. Sullivan himself, had failed to silence the ringer of his phone.  Mumbling apologies, he pulled the phone from his breast pocket and Jeremy eagerly announced he had the same mobile device and removed it from his own pocket as proof.  Speaking of mobile devices, Jeremy was eager to call his mother.  He wanted to tell her how well he had done, and he wanted – no, needed – her to praise him and admit she was proud of him.  Retrieving the phone from his pocket, Jeremy began to dial but stopped.

It wasn’t his phone – a beaming grandchild stared vacantly out of the screen.  Jeremy’s background was simply red and did not contain an image.  He must have grabbed Mr. Sullivan’s phone by mistake; after all, both had lain their phones on the table and in the midst of the absorbing task at hand, both had forgotten which was which.  Jeremy looked around, wondering if Mr. Sullivan would be inside, or was he coming out for a lunch break?  He turned around to head back inside and inquire when the phone rang.

It was his mother’s home number.

The color drained from his face.  He slid his thumb along the screen’s edge, answering the call.  He brought the phone to his ear.  “Hello?” he called in a husky voice that was remarkably unlike his own.

“Hello, Barry?  It’s Vanessa.  How did it go?  Did Jeremy do well?  Did he think it was real?”

Jeremy’s mouth went dry.  How could he have been so gullible, so blind?  It had not been serendipitous; it had been designed.  “Ma, this is Jeremy.  I took Barry’s phone by accident, I guess.”

On the other side of the line, Ma’s face went ashen.  “Oh, Jeremy ….”

On limitations.

Published May 22, 2012 by mandileighbean

I have never felt so lost. I am unsure as to who I really am, what I really want and what that all means. However, I’m not questioning everything or abandoning anyone. I’m confident being a writer is my dream and the fulfillment of that dream would make me deliriously happy, but is that it? Is that all there is? What about falling in love? What about having money? I don’t need millions upon millions of dollars, but I would like just enough to be comfortable, and to be able to pursue my passions. I’d love to be rid of all of these useless anxieties that continuously plague me. I would love to be able to breathe normally, as I’m tired of gasping for breath underneath the crushing weight of uncertainity that keeps my lungs from expanding properly. I would love to walk into a crowded room and scream – just scream and scream until I had the undivided attention of all the eyes in the room. Sometimes, I dream about admitting defeat, of throwing in the towel and not giving a damn anymore. I am a basketcase.

PROMPT:Alphabet Story
Write a 26-word story where every word begins with a different letter of the alphabet.

Amanda became confused; properly observed yet misunderstood, under Xanax, vilified zealot.  Despite everything, fear had gotten in James’ way. Quiet regret stunted the jokes, nullifying kinship.

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