Friday Flash – Verge

I constantly find myself on the edge of things. Of moments. Decisions. Some of them are important, crucial, but most aren’t.  Paper or plastic? Cookie or apple? Book or television? Everyday decisions that move life by tiny steps in either good directions, or bad ones. How often do I make the good choices? More than I once did. But nobody’s perfect.

When we write, we get to step back as observers and move the chess pieces. Strategically choose the direction we want our characters to take, help them grow, and engage our readers. When we write, we create pivotal moments. We build the cliff to teeter on the edge of, we invent the dilemma that changes the course of events, we show the mental break that makes the story so much more enthralling.

The rules: Write a short story of 55 to 1000 words, containing all the components of a longer work of fiction, antagonist, protagonist, conflict and resolution, or a poem that is 20 lines or less. Leave the link in the comments below so that I am sure to see it, and link back to me on your page so others might stumble across us. The challenge is open through the weekend, and on Monday, I will choose my favorite and reblog it here, for that added bit of exposure. I should also add that I take the time to share each of your works on Twitter, as well.

Prompt: Verge –  Create that moment that leaves people wondering, what next?  A crossroads, a choice, a physical jump.

Challenge: What are you on the verge of? I know this is a flash fiction exercise – but what if it’s not fictional? How personal are you willing to get, and in what ways can that help the writing you’re doing?

In addition, in keeping with this week’s theme, erotic works will get bonus points – that is, I will stand over here and point. Yay! But, no work will be discounted, whatever theme you choose! Have fun with it, always.
Good luck, guys, I can’t wait to read what you come up with.

Love,

Felicity

Cliches


We met in a bar. No. That’s cliché. We met in the produce department. No. Too 1990’s. We met on-line. Wow. No.

The physical meeting place was inconsequential. Where we met was a place thoughts collide and meld and ricochet, the battlefield of the mind.

When she said, “I routinely put my foot in my mouth,” my brain spat out about ten zippy comebacks like a slot machine spits out quarters. They lay in a heap at my feet, and I chuckled instead. I decided that I was probably too lame for someone as beautiful as her.

I saw the ring. But I fell into her eyes. I thought she wanted a friend, and I knew I could be that for her. When you find a soul-mate you want to keep them forever, in whatever capacity necessary. I could be her friend. I already was, I had been since the beginning of time. Talk about cliché, but sometimes that kernel of truth shines out of those over-worked phrases like a diamond in a turd.

We talked for hours over the first few months. I learned about the life she lived and the way she thought. I learned about the beauty of her marriage and felt the darkest jealousy I’d ever known. But I pushed it down and kept her close.

The first time we kissed was earth-shattering. Another cliché. She was feeling low and I don’t know who made the first move. But our lips touched and the chemistry was undeniable. It was at once the most beautiful and most heart-breaking moment of my life. We kissed tenderly for a long time, there in the bright sunlight, ignored by harried passers-by, anonymous in a city that didn’t give shit. I wanted to hold her forever.

Afterwards, we walked without speaking. I held her hand pressed against my thigh and she didn’t resist.

After all, the heart wants what the heart wants, and you can’t help who you fall in love with, and maybe one wrong can make a right, even if two can’t.

Above all, hope springs eternal.

I Love Yous

She said I love you twice a day every day for 22 years. She said it in the morning as I left for work. She said it back to me before we fell asleep at night.

When I found the texts on her phone, there were hundreds of I love yous. To a number that wasn’t mine. I didn’t find them on purpose. She asked me to find a number for her, and I hit the wrong fucking button.

I didn’t tell her. We had 22 years behind us. We had something comfortable. If she could still say those I love yous to me, I would take them. And if she needed something from someone else that I couldn’t give her, if that’s what it took for me to make her happy, to keep her, I could live with that.

I thought I could live with that.

Cookie Monster

We have a saying around here. You can’t get blood from a turnip. That’s one of them, anyway, and the one that popped into my head as I looked at the little girl in front of me. She was cute, in her brown jumper and sash covered with embroidered badges. And I sure did like those ones with peanut butter creme in the middle.

“It’s for a good cause, mister,” she said brightly.

“Yeah? What’s that?”

“We’re going to the beach this summer, if we raise enough money.”

I snorted inside my head. That didn’t fall anywhere on my list of ‘good causes.’ Sending a bunch of little girls to the beach when odds were good their folks could afford to send them without whoring them out for cookies. I wanted to kick her parents’ asses. I looked around the front porch we were stood on. It was as fallen in as the two room house it was hooked onto. The car in the drive way didn’t run, either. And the lights didn’t work, because I hadn’t been able to make good with the power company this month. On top of all that, I was just on my way out the door to check my traps. If I was lucky, there would be some dinner in one of them. However, I usually wasn’t. “How much you sellin’ ‘em for?”

She hopped from one foot to the other. “Five dollars,” she said. “And eight dollars will buy you two boxes and one of these stickers.” She waved some sort of Howdy Kitty shit in my face.

“Five for a box of cookies?” I was incredulous. Last time I bought them, they’d been two and a quarter. How long had I been stuck back in these woods? “Did the banks crash again?”

“Sir?”

“Honey, I’m sorry, but I don’t have three dollars to my name right now.”

“But, mister, they’re really yummy! Can’t you just check inside and see? Like, in your couch cushions?”

“My couch been harvested long ago. Now you run on.” I turned her around and pointed her back toward the shiny late model car idling at the end of the drive. She protested, but I pushed her gently on. I still had the urge to walk out to the car and kick the ass of whichever parent was waiting.

“But-”

I shushed her and told her she’d have better luck at the next place.

I picked up the ax and started splitting some kindling for the wood stove, since that was going to be the only way I cooked anything today. I heard the car door close, but was startled when an adult voice behind me said, “Mr. Bowman?”

“Yeah?” I turned to see an attractive, well-dressed woman approaching middle age. She had two boxes of cookies in her hands. “I done told your little girl-”

She smiled warmly and stopped me. “I know,” she said. “She asked me if I could give you these as a present from her.”

I took them reflexively when she thrust them at me. “I don’t understand.”

“She says she feels really bad that you don’t have money for cookies. I hope you don’t take offense, but it’ll break her heart if you don’t take them.”

I nodded. “She yours?”

She smiled and said, “Yes. One of them,” and winked a little.

“Well tell her thank you for me, would d you? And I hope she has fun on that beach trip.”

“Thank you, Mr. Bowman. I will. You have a really nice evening.”

She walked back down to her car, and I waved as it pulled out. I looked at the peanut butter cremes and kitty stickers and felt a lot less like kicking anyone’s asses.

Lean

“No, honey, not that one,” Mama said, lightly slapping my hand away from the shiny yellow-green leaf. “That’s no good, see? Three leaves. And look, see the baby leaves?” She held me back with one arm and pointed them out carefully, not touching. “They’re red. It’s poison ivy, and it’ll make you itch like crazy!” She pulled me up into her arms and buried her face against my neck and blew, and a I squirmed and giggled.

“Let me down, Mama!”

“Silly goose,” she smiled. She smoothed her thin hands down the ratty apron covering rattier blue jeans. “Look, pick these.” She showed me the ones I knew were plantain leaves. I didn’t like them. They were tough and bitter, even cooked with salt and fresh butter from Elsa.

“I don’t like them, though,” I told her.

She put her hand on my head, stroked my hair. It was yellow, like hers. “I know honey, but it’s what we’ve got. Tell you what. If you find any wild strawberries under there, you can have them with a little sugar tonight. If you eat your greens.”

I nodded. I hoped there would be some strawberries. The tiny wild ones hid under the grass. I looked for the telltale white star flowers with the fuzzy yellow middles while I filled my plastic Hy-Vee bag with plantain.

The sun was hot on my back. I squatted in the dusty yard, and when I finished one spot, I’d move to the next one. I heard Mama talking to Joey, telling him not to eat anything before she washed it. “Why not?” He asked. He was my little brother, and he was always asking that.

“Because, I said so, Joey,” Mama answered. “Don’t be disrespectful.”

“Okay.”

I looked over at him. He was brown from the sun, and had dirt on his face. He didn’t have nearly as much in his bag as I did. It took a lot of weeds to feed six people. That’s what Daddy said. Mama said Joey was busy. She said I picked more because I was older, and that Joey would pick more when he was older.

“Joey!” Mama scolded. “Get it out of your mouth!”

He spat. “Sorry, Mama. I forgot.”

When the babies slept in the clapboard house in the afternoons, and it was just me and Mama and Joey finding supper in the yard, Mama seemed happier. But at night, after we went to bed, I could hear Mama and Daddy talking on the other side of the faded gingham curtain. Sometimes I heard her crying, and it scared me. I tried not to listen, because it made me want to cry too.They always talked about money, and the bank, and talked about where we could go next if they took the land.

I didn’t mind eating greens for supper every night. There was always a glass of cold milk to wash away the bitter taste. And sometimes in the summer, there were strawberries or blackberries with sugar and cream.

But I didn’t like it when Mama cried.

Blame

I drink. A lot. Not that much, but enough, enough to numb the bad feelings. Too many bad feelings, watching you leave. It’s your fault, you’re the reason I’m here, feet dangling over the edge. I watch them below, like ants crawling across the sidewalk, and I drink some more. I drink tonight at sunset with pigeons as partners, cooing their disapproval and shitting on my ledge.

It’s your fault that I’m here. Ultimatums are for people who don’t trust. I thought you trusted me. Trusted that I wouldn’t hurt, or take advantage. So I drink. You cheat. Cheating hurts. You cheat and then give this fucking ultimatum, you think you can bargain your way back in, you think what I do is justification for your bad behavior.

I drink in hopes the decision will be made for me. And that I won’t feel the landing. I’m not sure this bottle is big enough for the scope of my problems, it hasn’t yet erased you from my mind. I know this is a ‘no return’ moment, the second one this week. The first was finding you buried in another pussy. I could have possibly come back from that. But not from the dead look when you met my eyes. Your lack of shame, of regret, of remorse. If you knew me like you say you do, you’d have known the word to turn it around then.

Yeah, I drink. But this? This is my last one.

Consequence

There was blood everywhere.

He wiped his hands down the fronts of his thighs, and cringed. He didn’t know there would be so much of it, and that it would be so sticky, and cling to his hands like it was trying to soak through his skin and become a part of him, become his.

Her breath rasped. Her knees were jutting in the air and tears streamed down her face. “Is there supposed to be this much?” he asked.

Her hair was dark and ropey with sweat. “How the fuck should I know, Remy?” she gasped. And then her eyes closed and she sat up; it was like the sound in her throat was doubling her over. He watched her and took her hand when she reached, frantic, panicked, and the room grew thicker with the metallic odor of the blood and sweat they were now sharing.

“We should go to the hospital.”

She shook her head, and she said, he’s coming, and he was. Black purple matted mess that he was emerged between her thighs, and involuntarily Remy reached down to catch him. The slippery head filled his palm and he stayed there while she breathed. His heart pounded between his ears. This was a view of her he’d never had, never expected to have. It was frightening, and overwhelming. Beautiful. Important.

Then she grabbed his shirt on top of his shoulders and pulled up and didn’t scream; she never screamed. She growled. And the infant slipped out and he caught him between his hands like a football. He was still. Quiet. She said, “Do like they do in the movies, hold his feet and smack his back to make him breathe!” Her eyes were huge and full of fear.

He did. And the thready cry filled the Airstream from one end to the other. She grabbed the yellow blanket beside her and took him, wiped him, cradled him, and kissed his purple head.

And the blood flowed.

Coffee and Thrift Shops

I told him he smells of coffee and thrift shops. He said, “Is that a good thing?”

I said yes, very. Or better than smelling of cheese and ammonia.

“Who smells of cheese and ammonia?”

This lady I work with. And not good cheese, either. Roquefort, that’s been sitting on the dash of a car on a 100 degree day.

“Why do you suppose the ammonia?”

I assume that she cleans with it.

“Oh my God,” he said. “Who cleans with ammonia? Unless she’s getting rid of evidence?” He cocked an eyebrow.

And who smells of cheese if they clean with ammonia, is what I want to know. I tell him I can never eat stinky cheese again, but that being near him always makes me want a coffee, badly.

“What do thrift shops smell like?”

Antiques.

“Oh great.”

I ask him if he’s ever been into a thrift shop.

“I don’t think so. Old bookstores. I love those. Is that close?”

I thought about that. Yes, yes that was close. Old books smelled organic, and a little musty, somewhat mysterious. I tell him I should take him into a thrift shop. I am in need of a new sweater.

“Why don’t you just let me go to the super center and get you a sweater?”

And pay five times more for something that will look ratty after one trip through the wash? I think not.

“You’re the anti-snob.”

He made me laugh out-right. I have never been accused of that before. I ask if it is a positive personality trait.

“I think so. It makes me want to kiss you again, if you like kissing guys who smell old and previously worn.” He paused. “It also makes me feel sad.”

One day, I tell him. I’ll get out of here and we can go home. I put my hand against the plastic sheeting that drapes me and the bed. I try to recall the smells of coffee and thrift shops on him, over the smells of rubbing alcohol and latex, and I try to smile away the sadness in his eyes. I tell him we can’t waste time. I want to remember him smiling.

Split

I didn’t know what to do for her. Or to her. Or with her. She cried, a lot. She thought I didn’t know, didn’t notice, or maybe just didn’t care.

I saw her dancing in the rain one Saturday afternoon, nude. Not a stitch on her, and dancing by the creek, red welts rising on her skin from the biting mosquitoes. She never danced. I watched, and marveled that she could dance and still look sad.

When the rain let up, she stopped and stared at the creek flowing and bubbling over big flat mossy rocks. I called her name without using my voice, and she turned, but then looked away again. I wondered where she was in her head, that she could stand there and ignore the itchy bites and not worry that she was naked.

I envied her lack of self-consciousness. I pulled my heavy cardigan around my shoulders, even though it was hot and muggy out. I hid in its folds like a turtle hides inside its mobile home.

Sometimes I could feel her tugging at me, begging. I was stubborn though. And while she cried openly and danced naked in the rain, I kept what I felt a secret, no matter what it was. Like when mama passed last month. She threw herself on mama’s bed, on top of her lifeless body, and screamed. But no one saw her. They saw me, stood in the doorway, afraid to go in. I felt my heart crumble into dust. People brushed by me, and said excuse me, and asked if I wasn’t going to go in and say goodbye… but I was frozen to that spot, and unable to show that I felt anything.

My brother said, “You never did love her anyways.” His tone smacked with accusation.

Maybe he was right.

I finally went in and pulled her off, because no one else was going to. I didn’t look at mama though. Just took hold of her thin shoulders and took her out, through the little crowd of empty-faced relatives, back to our room. We sat together on the side of the bed and I held her while she cried.

Of course I cared. She was a part of me. Maybe the only part of me that was real.

Runner

She watched him sometimes, watched him run down the shoulder of the dirt track that passed for a road. He never saw her, never took his concentration from the path in front of him. Never looked left, nor right.

He was young and strong, with a swimmer’s lithe build and close dark hair. Broad shoulders tapered to narrow hips, and his legs pumped like pistons firing on some inner bottomless reserve of energy. It was too far from her kitchen window to see his features, but the contours of his face were smooth, unmarred, subtly shadowed along jaw and chin.

When he ran past, she would stop what she was doing and watch, hidden behind the glass, behind too many years of sterility and ordinariness. Ordinariness. That was a new word. But it was what stretched out behind her. Days of rising at the same time, walking quietly through the same moments, over and over. Of chaste kisses and sleeping back-to-back, of cleaning and cooking and balancing the checkbook.

Then this beautiful boy started running down her excuse for a road. While she never saw deeper than the suggestion of him, he stirred a memory buried within all that ordinariness. It tore a rift in the transparent tulle that draped and clouded what passion there once was.

He ran right through it. Like a lion jumping through the paper hoop at the circus.

On this day, the fog almost hid the road from her. On this day, she stood in the yard in plain view but camouflaged by her drab clothing, by the fog and the misty rain that both was and wasn’t there. He’d run by a long time ago, and she waited at the window for him to return, but too much time passed. The quiet dread that gripped her was confusing. It wasn’t her place to be concerned. But it was there anyway, a whisper that something wasn’t right.

A truck rattled down the road. Old and colorless in the fog, its muffler loose and banging over the ruts. It cut through the cathedral-like silence. She waited.

The fog thickened and dropped, hiding the road completely. She was following her feet toward it, and the pounding in her chest and in her ears was like a heartbeat, but too intangible. A whooshing sound, like when water closes over your head and blocks out the world above.

When the toes of her shoes touched the line of loose gravel marking the road’s edge, she stopped. There were foot prints in the mud, his, and he’d been moving fast. The stride was long, each indentation gouged at the toe. Why did he run? Was his motivation the joy of the movement, the exhilaration of speed, or did he run to forget? To flee?

Without conscious decision she followed him. She walked beside his path and that pounding, whooshing inside escalated.

His stride, so measured before, suddenly shortened. The heels dug in as he shifted his weight back, coming to a full stop, both prints side by side and flat in the soft ground. Then a step forward. Then circling. She imagined he’d rested for a moment, hands on knees, then walked in a circle, checking his pulse, easing back, shaking out, keeping loose.

She tried to get her bearings in the fog. The only sound was the soft chatter of an unseen bird in the nearby grasses. And the water-whoosh. Her chest tightened. She hugged her arms around herself, beneath her breasts, and studied the tracks. The fog lifted enough that she picked them up again. They led across the road, disappearing over the hard-packed center, resuming in the soft shoulder on the other side, and they doubled back. The stride lengthened again, but now he moved more slowly, more evenly. These were fresher. Fresh enough that they should have passed one another back on the road as she walked out. Her own pace quickened, and she found her feet landing squarely beside each of his, running in tandem with an invisible partner.

Her lungs began to expand, sucking in the wet, heavy air, and her body lightened. Her footfalls became the rhythm pushing her forward, sending a heady rush of adrenaline coursing through her muscles. She remembered this feeling. It had been life when she was a child. Freedom. It came with joy and release. Later it came with sex. Then it stopped coming at all.

Until now.

A sound foreign in the quietness of the gray day joined her. Anxiety replaced exhilaration. At first she thought it was only an echo of her own foot steps. But it was off-beat. Perhaps she was catching up to him. He could have taken a detour off the road so they’d not met. She slowed. She didn’t want him to know she’d followed him, how did one explain that? To tell him that she’d worried after him, a stranger, how odd.

When her steps slowed, so did those others. She picked up speed. So did they. But now she was confused- it seemed the sound was behind her. She’d lost track of the prints, and she looked, but there were none. Only her own trail stretched behind her. She’d gone much farther than she thought. There were no turns off this stretch. Unless he’d lain in wait for her, there was no where for him to go.

Her lungs collapsed in on themselves in a heavy exhalation, forcing the air out of her body. She stopped and leaned down, fighting for breath that wasn’t there. The pounding behind her drew closer, thrumming off her eardrums like a plucked guitar string. It was beside her, close enough to touch; then it quickly faded into pregnant silence. Something slammed into her subconscious, jarring the breath back into her body.

Her eyes flew open. The tile was cool and hard beneath her bare feet. She watched as the bright smear of yellow, the little goldfinch with staring, empty eyes, slipped down, down against the glass of the kitchen window.