Friday, March 30, 2012

The Waitress

            Karen spent hours getting ready for tonight. She washed her hair twice to make sure the smell of French fries was gone. The dress she had worn to her cousin’s wedding last year wasn’t the height of style, but it flattered her figure. Henry said the color made her eyes look like sapphires. She was happy to be on Henry’s arm, but wished they were somewhere else.
            “Excuse me Henry, where is the rest room?” she asked, interrupting a conversation he was having with one of his fraternity brothers. They were talking about someplace called Vietnam. They might have been speaking Latin and she wouldn’t have understood them any better.
            “Do you see that doorway across the room? Go down that hallway and it will be on the left. I can show you if you want.”
            “I’m sure I can find it. I’ll be right back.”
            She weaved her way through the roomful of students toward the doorway Henry had mentioned. A blond girl stopped her.
            “Are you Henry’s girlfriend?” she asked, pronouncing the word girlfriend like it was something unpleasant she had stepped in.
            “I’m his date,” Karen said. “And you would be?”
            “Just another one of his conquests I guess,” she said as her eyes filled with tears. “Maybe you’ll have better luck with him than I did.”
            “What’s going on dollface?” a large guy said. “You look upset.”
            “No. I was just introducing myself to Henry’s date Karen.”
            “I know you. You’re that waitress that Henry was stuck on.”
            “A waitress? Henry dumped me for a waitress?”  Her expression intensified. Whatever was stuck to the bottom of her shoe was even fouler than she realized.
            “Settle down Joni. Waitresses are vital members of society, right Karen? For instance, you could run along and fetch me a beer.”
            From across the room, Henry spotted Karen talking to a girl he had spent a hot and heavy evening with a few months back. Karen’s face was vivid red and her lips were clamped shut as if she were trying not to say what was on her mind. Henry abruptly ended the conversation he was having and headed her way.
            “Everything okay Karen?”
            “I was just asking Karen to get me a beer, since she’s a professional,” Mickey said.
            Henry pulled his arm back to punch Mickey and Karen stepped between them.
            “Whatever you’re going to do, you’ll do it without me. I’m going home,” she said. She turned and walked away leaving Henry with his conquest, his Neanderthal friend, and their opinions.

            I’m linking up with Write On Edge this week with another scene from Karen’s life. This week’s topic is to write about a moment when someone crosses a line legally or ethically. Click here if you want to read more about Karen.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

Don't Bug Me

            I’m a Cub Scout Den Leader. The better you know me, the funnier that is. I’m not outdoorsy. I did grow up in an outdoorsy family and have had fun adventures hiking and camping throughout my life. But those kinds of activities don’t come second nature to me. They’re like a pair of jeans that fit, but are never quite comfortable.
            I’ve gotten by pretty well with my scouts. I lead the second graders or “Wolves”. We follow the handbook and discuss hygiene, the environment, fire safety, and stranger danger. No problem. We do crafts—lots and lots of crafts. Also, not a problem. I even got out my trusty exacto knife and created a Cub Scout bingo game for us to play.
            As the weather turned unseasonably warm last week, I realized I had to get the boys outside for our meeting. The other dens were probably doing outside activities and if I decided to have them learn how to do paper mache, we’d have an uprising of seven-year-old boys on our hands. One of the recent issues of Boy’s Life Magazine had a feature about marbles and I thought that would be a great tie-in to our meeting. Of course, I had this thought two nights before and had little time to act on it. I managed to get to five different stores and come away with no marbles. Before you write in to tell me where to get them I have since located these elusive wee beasties.
            On Wednesday afternoon I was at Target, not finding the marbles (they’re in the party favor section if you find yourself in the market) and I came upon bug collecting kits in the dollar section. They’re little clear plastic boxes with magnifying lenses built into them. Ding! Ding! Ding! What seven-year-old boy doesn’t like bugs? When the meeting started I gave the boys their kits along with pencils and inexpensive notebooks, which I called their nature journals. Then I sprayed them all with Deep Woods off. It was a great segue into a discussion of bugs. What’s the difference between insects and arachnids? Why are bugs important to the environment?  We talked about pollination and the food chain. My little explorers had a wealth of knowledge to share with each other.
            Then we set out to explore. We overturned every rock and fallen log. We examined every crack in the concrete. We picked up bugs in our collection boxes to make notes about them. Then we set them free. There were centipedes, rolly pollies, beetles, and loads of ants and spiders. We even found some worms—they aren’t bugs but they sure are cool to a seven-year-old boy. The Cubs were captivated the whole time and were only distracted once in a while by the other Dens who were also outside doing activities.
            When James (my seven year old son) learned that one of the older groups had spent their meeting setting off rockets powered by air pressure he said, “Man, you’re lucky.”
            “Did you like what we did tonight James?” I asked.
            “Yeah! It was awesome!” he replied.
            So this not-so-outdoorsy girl managed to keep the boys entertained with nature. And it was almost as cool as rockets. Mission accomplished. Just don’t tell the boys I’m terrified of spiders.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

100 Word Song: Sick Girl

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog

            I’m linking up with the 100 Word Song prompt at My Blog Can Beat up Your Blog. This week’s inspiration was the song “Sick Girl” by Social Distortion. I sat down to write a fictionalized piece based something that happened last January when my aunt was losing her battle with lung cancer. In the end, I just wanted to tell the story. The only thing fictional about the following piece is the gender of the nurse, which I changed to reflect the prompt.



            “Let me know if you need anything else,” the nurse said handing me the ice chips.

            I wondered what my aunt thought of her piercings and vibrant sleeve tattoos.

            “Thank you,” I said spooning the ice chips into my aunt’s mouth. She had fought for longer than anyone expected, but now the cancer was winning. She was thin and frail.

            The nurse paused on her way out and looked at my aunt. Her eyes were prominent in her withered face. “You have the most beautiful brown eyes,” she said.

            “Thank you,” she whispered ignoring the tattoos and seeing only kindness.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Behind the Door

            Karen had heard stories of the holy terror waiting behind that heavy oak door—stories of forced confessions, crushed spirits, and ruler-rapped knuckles. But she had never been inside the principal’s office before and didn’t know why she had been called today.
Waiting in the hallway on a hard wooden bench, Karen smoothed the worn green and blue plaid skirt over her knees. It was shorter than the school’s dress code stipulated. Mum had let it down as far as it would go, hoping she could wear it for one more year. Karen prayed silently that it wasn’t the length of her skirt that earned her a trip to Sister Mary Michael’s office. One more expense and her time at St. Cecelia’s would be over.
            “I don’t know how much longer I can afford to send you to that school,” her mother had said the night before. “You’ll be going to public school if things don’t get better.”
            Her parents were still together when Karen first enrolled. Back then, no one ever mentioned money. Now her mother talked about nothing else. Food cost too much and work didn’t pay enough. Mr. Goldman went from being their nice old neighbor who gave Karen lemon drops to “that bastard landlord”.
            When her parents started fighting, school was Karen’s refuge. Many of the girls despised the strictness, but Karen thrived. She knew what to expect and what was expected of her. Behind these brick walls, order reigned. Every morning, the smell of book dust, incense, and floor wax calmed Karen’s nerves. Today that perfume only increased her anxiety. What if today was her last day?
            Karen nodded and forced a smile when a cluster of girls interrupted her vigil. As they passed her, she swallowed the envy she felt seeing their perfectly pressed uniforms falling just below their knees. When the girls grew, their uniforms would be replaced and donated to girls like Karen. Their mothers picked them up from school each day in gleaming Packards and Lincolns to take them to riding lessons or dance classes. They looked like movie stars playing mothers with their beauty salon hair-dos and Revlon lipstick.
            Five minutes had gone by, but it seemed like hours. Karen’s behind was growing numb from sitting. She stared at the door wishing it would open yet willing it to stay closed. Finally, the brass hinges creaked and Sister Mary Michael stepped out.
            “You may come in now Miss O’Brien.”

            According to Dante, the gates of hell are inscribed “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” This week, Cam from Write on Edge challenged us to be inspired by such a warning, in 500 words or less. I decided to go into Karen’s adolescence for this one. If you want to know more about Karen, click here.

Monday, March 19, 2012

100 Word Song: Satisfaction

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog

             I’m linking up once again with the 100 Word Song Prompt created by Lance of My Blog Can Beat up Your Blog. This week, I managed to stick to one hundred words. Our challenge this time was to write a story inspired by Ashley Monroe’s song “Ain’t Nobody Satisfied”.

What he Needs

            He opened the door slightly to make sure no one was in the hallway. At three AM the hotel was quiet. He shut the door behind him and crept away from his conquest. One night with that perfect woman was what he thought he needed. Her confidence made her sexy. Her looks made her irresistible—flawless skin, soft blond hair, perfect breasts and miles of leg.  He didn’t regret betraying the mother of his children. But it left him empty. Cheating had become like popcorn. It only filled him for the moment. Maybe what he needed was still out there.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Have a Little Faith

            My friend Lance over at My Blog Can Beat up Your Blog has a weekly feature called 100 Word Song. We’re given a song and are challenged to come up with a story inspired by it that is only one-hundred words long. Last week’s song was the gorgeous ballad by John Hiatt called “Have a Little Faith in Me”. As I was listening to the song, I immediately thought about Henry reaching out to Karen after her mother’s drunken anniversary scene that I posted last week. I started typing and in a very short time I was over 700 words. It was clear that I didn’t meet the 100 word limit, but I really liked the story. So I give you a 100 Word Story…times ten.
Have a Little Faith
            “Goodnight Mum,” Karen whispered as she pulled the blankets up over Peggy’s unconscious body.
            Weary from her day at work and worn out from her mother’s drunken stagger down memory lane, Karen cleaned up the kitchen. She washed the glasses and picked up the whiskey bottle. It was almost empty. She nearly threw it away but it seemed like a waste. For a moment she thought about pouring it for herself, but Peggy’s ragged snore from the other room convinced her to just put it away.
            She desperately wanted to get into bed but she knew the smell of bacon and French fries would be on the sheets in the morning if she did. She climbed into a bath as hot as she could stand with a new romance novel. It was a splurge that she couldn’t afford so she only let herself read two chapters at a time.
            When her allotted words were read and she was pruny from the bath, she dried off thinking about the hero of the novel. He was handsome and wealthy but untrustworthy and irresistible—like Henry. That wasn’t fair, she chided herself. He had done nothing to be thought of as untrustworthy. His words echoed in her mind, “You judging my parents without knowing them is no different than my fraternity brothers thinking a woman is easy just because she’s a waitress.”
            He was right of course. Karen wondered what he would have thought of her mother’s performance tonight. She would love to talk to him—or anyone about it. But she wore the shame of her parent’s parting like a hair shirt. It had already scratched her raw growing up. She had no desire to show off her scars.
            She couldn’t sleep. It was hot and still. The open windows didn’t let anything in besides the sound of crickets and the distant noise of a freight train. She thought about allowing herself one more chapter of her novel but knew she’d never stop at one. The softest glow of sunrise began to appear in her bedroom window.
            “Close enough to morning,” she said. She pulled on clothes and left a note on the kitchen table that read, “Gone for a walk.”
“Not that you’ll be awake before I get back,” she said.
            She tied on her white canvas tennis shoes and headed out the door. It was cooler outside—a little. Karen headed toward the city park. When she was a child, Karen snuck there when her parents fought. Late at night she would swing and count the stars and pretend the world was perfect. Once in a while they would notice she was missing and find her on the playground. More often, would come home after the flames of their whiskey soaked anger died out and climb into her bed.
            It was almost daylight when she reached the park. She found her favorite red swing. She pumped her legs so the swing went as high as it could go and then jumped off—flying for a moment before landing. A part of her wanted to keep swinging, but it would be light soon and she didn’t want to be seen acting like a child.
            Karen continued to meander through the park, when she heard a thunder of footsteps behind her. She stepped to the side of the path as a group of runners from the University came jogging along. She saw Henry in the middle of the pack. She thought for a moment about hiding in the bushes but realized how foolish that was. He caught her eye as they passed. He smiled and waved. Curiosity was etched on his face but he kept pace with his team.
            She felt the blush rise in her cheeks and continued walking slowly through the park when the team had gone by. He must think I’m nuts out walking at the crack of dawn, she thought. But he had smiled at her. He most definitely smiled.
            At the end of the loop she started walking back towards her house. She heard someone calling for her.
            “Karen! Karen!”
            Henry, apart from the team was running back toward her. His face was red and his shirt was soaked with sweat.
            “Henry,” she said. “Why did you come back?”
            “The team was almost done and you had this look on your face. I don’t know. Is something wrong?”
            She just shook her head. How could he possibly understand?
            “It’s nothing Henry. I just couldn’t sleep, so when the sun came up I went for a walk.”
            “Why couldn’t you sleep?”
            “I just had something on my mind. It’s really nothing Henry.”
            “Can you sit for a minute?” he asked gesturing to a bench.
            Karen nodded and sat down. She was beginning to wish he hadn’t seen her in the park.
            “Look, I don’t know why you’re out walking at this time of day and maybe it’s none of my business. But you really look like you needed someone to talk to. I know you think our worlds are so different, but everyone has problems whether they’re rich or poor. Everyone has secrets. You can trust me with yours.”
            Karen took Henry’s hand. She noticed it was softer than her own. Maybe he was tougher inside than she realized.
“I don’t know. I don’t like to talk about my family. What if you think differently about me once you hear?”
            “If I think any less of you because of anything you have to tell me, you’re better off without me. Have a little faith in me.”
She took a deep breath and began to tell him the stories. Stories that shamed her, stories that saddened her, stories that had created her. 

If you'd like to read more of Karen's story, click here.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Seven O'clock

            The clock on my computer reads 6:38 AM. The sky outside my window is beginning to glow as the sun rises. My workroom door is closed, but I can hear the sounds of waking from the boys’ room. Their door open and the elephant like thudding takes them to the bathroom and back. I can hear their discussion as they get dressed.
“Is it time yet?”
“You go in.”
            “No. You.”
            It’s nearly seven. My morning writing time is over. I ask myself for one more paragraph. One more sentence. One more word. It’s like the negotiation I had with my alarm clock an hour ago. Ten more minutes? Five? But then I was only stealing the time from myself. This time belongs to all of us.
            Finally, Owen has talked James into opening my door.
            “Mama!” he says in his babyish way when he wants something. He throws his skinny arms around me. “It’s snuggle time!”
            Back in September, the idea of snuggle time before school would have been absurd. Mornings were a constant state of chaos. The boys are in two different elementary schools this year. Their buses arrive at the same time in two different places. The two schools would be in different towns if they were any farther apart. After months of trying different combinations of buses and dropping off and picking up, we found a routine that works—most of the time.
            One morning this winter, Owen came into my workroom at 7:00. His eyes were sleepy and a little red. He loves his new school, but the work is harder and there is a lot more of it. Fourth grade is a big jump from third. There isn’t always time to just play and that really eats away at him. A nine-year-old boy needs to play as much as his forty-year-old mom needs time alone behind a closed door.
            “Mom, do you have time to snuggle with me before breakfast?”
            In all honesty, I didn’t see how we had time for one more thing in our morning routine. But he definitely needed some snuggle time, so I shut down my computer and we cuddled under an old wool afghan on the sofa to watch the first few minutes of Arthur on PBS.  We haven’t missed a day since. My mother used to say, “You have time for what you make time for.” and I’ve always found this to be true. My boys are growing up and before long I know the last thing in the world they’ll want to do is snuggle up with me and watch PBS. But for now they do. And so do I.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Till the End of Time

            As she pushed her way into the apartment, Karen heard the crackle and hiss of a needle hitting a well-worn vinyl record. When she heard the familiar melody, she swore quietly to herself. It must be August 31st. Peggy was sitting at the kitchen table lighting one cigarette from another.
            “Hey Mum,” she said. “You okay?”
            “There’s my sweet girl,” Peggy slurred. “Come sit with your mother.”
            Karen slipped her aching feet out of her shoes, rested her bag on the counter, and sat at the round maple table.
            “You look hot,” Peggy said. “You want a coke?”
            “Yeah Mum. I’ll get it in a second.”
            “This song was playing the night I met your father.”
            “I know Mum.”
            “I’m gonna get you that coke.”
            “I’ll get it Mum. I just want to get off my feet for a minute.”
            “Of course you do Sweetie. You work so hard.”
            Peggy rose from her chair and crossed the kitchen, humming as she went.
            “It was a USO dance,” she began. “The boys were all so handsome in their uniforms. Of course, I was nothing to sneeze at myself. Oh! The figure I had in those days! I wore red a dress. My mother thought it looked cheap. But I thought I looked glamorous.”
            She poured more whiskey into her glass and forgot about Karen’s coke. Peggy was lost in the sound of Perry Como’s rich baritone voice.
So, take my heart in sweet surrender,
and tenderly say that I’m,
the one you love and live for,
till the end of time.

Karen sat back in her chair. Her mother relived the story twice a year—the anniversaries of the beginning and ending of her marriage. When she was fifteen, Karen tried to stop her mother from telling the story. Peggy went from nostalgic drunk to bitter rage in a matter of seconds. Since then, Karen just sat and listened. Each year the story grew. The dance was longer. The men more handsome. The dress more glamorous. But the ending to the story didn’t change much. There was love. There was heartbreak. There was a dance ended too soon.

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood
This week, the prompt from The Red Dress Club asked us to go to This Day In Music, and discover what was number 1 on the charts in the United States, England or Australia the day you or your character was born, or any other special day in your/their life. I chose a random day in the forties when I thought Karen’s parents might have met. I came up with Perry Como’s first hit, “Till the End of Time.” If you'd like to read more about Karen, click here.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mama Kat's Writing Workshop: The Rose Goes to...

Mama’s Losin’ It

            I’m linking up with Mama Kat’s writing workshop today. Today’s topic was influenced by the reality TV show, The Bachelor. I’ve never actually watched the show myself. I don’t get reality shows—reality has no place in entertainment for me. I’d much rather watch something about aliens or time travel or ancient civilizations. But I digress… “On The Bachelor a rose is given to the women he could really see himself spending the rest of his life with. What six things in your life would you like to give a rose to and why?”

Things I’d Like to Give a Rose to

My GPS I have a terrible sense of direction. I hate to tell you how much gas I have wasted driving around unfamiliar towns getting more and more lost. In fact, I get lost in familiar places too. So, last Christmas my husband gave me a Tom Tom. It’s the best electronic gadget EVER. I am perpetually lost and this baby gets me back on track every time.

L'Oreal's EverPure Shampoo I was never very loyal to one brand of shampoo or another. Truth be told, I’m kind of inept when it comes to hair. I keep it just long enough to pull it into a ponytail and that’s the extent of my hair styling skilz. However, I inherited a charming trait of prematurely gray hair silver highlights. So I’ve been coloring this mop for as long as I can remember. As a result, my hair gets really dry. I discovered L’Oreal’s Ever Pure line. It is the only shampoo I’ve ever used that didn’t make my hair feel dry as soon as I washed it. I won’t use anything else. By the way, I was not paid to say nice things about this product. But if anyone from L'Oreal is reading this, I'd be happy to endorse your product!

My Crockpot I know, I know. Sexy, right? But seriously, this thing has saved my sanity this year—not to mention lots of dough. One of my favorites is a whole chicken that tastes just like the rotisserie roasted from the supermarket. Check it our here. Easy, delicious and cheap. Even my picky eater likes it. We also do lots of bean recipes—super economical and much cheaper than take-out. What more could a mom ask for?

My Pashminas My mother has given me three of these fine wool scarves over the past couple of years. They are elegant and warm at the same time. I can’t tell you how often people have looked past my ratty black ski jacket and said, “Oh! I love your scarf!” It’s fun to say, “Thanks. My mom picked it up for me in Florence.” Not as much fun as saying, “I picked it up in Florence.” But still fun. It’s much more acceptable to wrap one around yourself inside someone’s chilly house than an afghan.

Smart Wool Socks (are you noticing a trend?) This is New England and even though we’ve had a blessedly mild winter it’s still cold. We’re very frugal in my house so the heat stays low and we have lots of blankets and snuggling. But sometimes you have to get off the couch or out of bed. A bad day starts for me when none of my wool socks are clean.

My IPhone Yes. I’ve drunk the Kool Aide and gotten a smart phone. The phone I had before was an old clunky flip phone. When I was helping out at Vacation Bible School last summer, I let one of the teenaged volunteers borrow it to call home for a ride. She said, “Hey! My grandma has this phone.” Ouch. Now I can text, tweet, e-mail and bribe my children with Angry Birds. I love technology!
            So what are your favorite things these days?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

100 Word Song: The Dimming of the Day

            Peggy snuffed out her cigarette. Her feet ached from standing all day at the hospital laundry and she missed Karen. For the last twelve years, this time of day was when she and Karen talked—about school, boys, their ambitions. Sometimes they fought—mothers and daughters do. Karen was all she had since Edmond walked out. A few days after graduation, Karen announced that she’d gotten a job at the diner. She was so proud to be able to help Peggy with the rent now. Peggy was proud too. But she had wanted so much more for her baby girl.

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog
            Lance over at My Blog Can Beat up Your Blog has contrived this great link-up called The 100 Word Song. Write a story in one hundred words, based on a song. This week’s song is The Dimming of the Day by one of my favorite musicians, Bonnie Raitt. I’ve been using various prompts to explore my character Karen. At this point it’s more character sketch, than story. The more I write, the more she and her acquaintances tell me about themselves. You can read more here.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Write on Edge: Dusseldorf

            “It was a rainy night in Düsseldorf…” Henry began.
            “Düsseldorf? You’re kidding. Why were you in Düsseldorf?” Karen asked.
            “My dad had to go there on business. He thought it would be a good chance for me to see the world. When he went to Paris he took my sister Katherine.”
            “Wow. Imagine going to Europe for business,” Karen said as she sipped her Coke. She had finally agreed to go out with Henry. But there were conditions—she wouldn’t go with him in a car and she wouldn’t go after dark. So they met for lunch at the nearest burger joint.
            Henry still couldn’t figure her out. Most of the girls he knew wanted to go to nice restaurants. They expected him to open doors and stand when they entered the room. Karen seemed surprised—almost flustered to be treated like a lady.
            “Doesn’t your dad travel on business?”  he asked.
            Karen fiddled with her straw for a moment, took a deep breath, looked Henry in the eye and said, “No. I’m pretty sure you have to have a job before you can take a business trip.”
            Henry looked away first. Karen sat up straight, indifferent to Henry’s discomfort. Perhaps even happy about it.
            “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I… I didn’t mean to offend you.”
            “I’m not offended,” she said. “I’ve never spent the rent money at the dog track. I didn’t run out when my kid was ten. I have a job and I work hard. I help my mother pay the rent and I’m proud of that. Some day I’m going to save enough money and learn how to be a secretary so I don’t have to wait tables in a greasy diner for a living.”
            Karen’s eyes looked wild as she spoke, like the blue center of a flame. Henry wasn’t sure what to say next.
            “I think that’s great,” he tried.
            “I haven’t had anything handed to me. The idea of flying off to Europe on business is completely exotic to me. I might as well say flew to Mars.”
            “Maybe I can take you there someday,” he said taking her hand.
            She shook her head and pulled her hand away.
            “It would never happen. We come from two different worlds.”
            “What do you think your parents would say if you took a waitress home?”
            “You’ve never met my parents. You don’t know what they’d say.”
            “Right. I’m sure I’m the girl they’ve always dreamed of for you.”
            “You know, we may come from two different worlds, but you don’t know any more about mine than I do about yours.”
            “What’s that supposed to mean?”
            “It means, you judging my parents without knowing them is no different than my fraternity brothers thinking a woman is easy just because she’s a waitress.”
            For a moment, Henry thought she was going to lash out again. But the fire in her eyes cooled off.
            “Maybe you’re right,” she said. “Tell me about Düsseldorf. Are there castles?”

            I loved this week’s prompt for Write on Edge. We were asked to begin a story with the words, “It was a rainy night in Düsseldorf…” I can’t wait to read what everyone’s written this week. If you’re interested in reading Karen’s previous stories, click here.

 I don't normally include a soundtrack with my posts, but this song came on while I was writing this story. I imagine it might be playing on the jukebox during Henry and Karen's date.