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Deeper Treasures (part one)

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Fate was cruel.  But then, she didn’t believe in fate.  She’d always maintained that a person’s destiny lay within their own hands.  At least, that’d been her conviction before the curse was pronounced upon her.

It started in very subtle ways.  She remembered the first day clearly. She’d been having a light conversation with a dear friend when she stopped mid-sentence because the words which had just come out of her mouth did not match the words in her head.  She corrected herself quickly enough and put it down to exhaustion.

She was teaching full time and shouldering the job of principal.  Up every morning before five, on campus for twelve hours, home to cook for family and then mark papers and prep for the next day.  She usually got to bed between eleven and midnight.

Then one day, while surfing the web for story starters for her students, she’d come across a writers’ blog.  Aspiring authors were encouraged to participate in challenges designed to improve their writing skills.  They would post their pieces on the site where others would then read them and pass comments.  She’d always harboured a dream of being an author.  Words were precious and beautiful to her and she delighted in painting pictures with them.

It took her three days to deliberate and then she clicked “join.”  She was welcomed into a fraternity of word enthusiasts and began using the hours between eleven and one for writing.  As she flexed and exercised her literary skills, so her works became tighter and more profound.  She delighted in the encouragement offered to her by others and it spurred her on to more ambitious projects.

For five years she continued at this hectic pace, catching up on sleep during the weekends.  She compiled a collection of her best short stories and submitted them to a large publishing firm.  She was buoyed up by her writing fellowship when she received her first rejection slip.

“Now you truly are a writer,” inscribed @metaphoraphile.  “You have joined the ranks of Dr Seuss, James Joyce, Isaac Asimov, William Faulkner.  The list is endless!  Why, Marcel Proust was rejected so much he decided to pay for publication himself!”

“Ha!” she’d written back.  “Like I would be able to afford to do that!”  But she was so hungry for  publication, she made enquiries and did sums.  It wasn’t at all feasible, so she followed the advise of her blogging buddies and continued submitting her manuscript to every publisher she could find.

The letter appeared in her post box on the same day she had a mighty tumble. The envelope was different from all the rest.  It was a C5-pocket, white with a blue-stamped return of address.  Her breath got caught in her chest.  “Badger Publishing Company.”  She forced herself to breathe and walk to the car.  She placed the envelope on the passenger seat and drove home as if she were transporting a box of rare China.

She let herself into the house, put down her bags and carefully placed the envelope on the dining room table.  She went into the kitchen and made herself a cup of chamomile tea, trying to act nonchalant.  Then she walked back to the table and sat down, her eyes never leaving the epistle.  Slowly she reached for the envelope and peeled back the flap, pulling out six A4 pages, each folded neatly in half.

She took a deep breath, closed her eyes and opened the papers. When she looked again her heart did a super flutter.  “Dear Ms Marston,  We take great pleasure in informing you that we would be most happy to publish . . .”  She couldn’t read any more.  With shaking hands she carefully reinserted the pages into the envelope.  She’d open it again when Mark came home from work.  How proud her husband would be of her!

With a generous smile on her face and a heart that felt as though it was skipping beats, she filled her lungs to capacity and rose to her feet.  Picking up her cup of tea, she stood up and started walking toward the bedroom.  She never made it.

 

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Apologies for posting half of a story.  Hopefully part two will follow soon.

A Letter

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Dear LL

I know you love to put pen to paper (or more recently, “fingers to keyboard”). And I know you long to wield words the way in which your husband releases a shutter and your friend applies paint to the canvas. There are many songs in your soul that are trapped inside, flying about like so many caged birds. There are stories lining your brain like the newspaper you used to use to line the rubbish bin. And I see the pain in your heart and the tears you shed for want of expression.

I also know you are afraid. You want nothing less than to create in words a perfect replica of that which lies inside. You want the world to see this beauty, to feel this pain, to share this desire. And every time you drag the words onto the page they fall short. And so you are afraid — afraid to open your heart to anything less than holy. You are afraid of rejection, but even more afraid of being invisible.

I want to tell you how glad I am that you have begun. No journey is possible without the first step. You have started, like a flower slowly opening to the sun, one petal at a time, and that is good. You have left anonymous and taken a pseudonym.

Now know that the destination is only reached through slow, methodical steps. Sometimes you will feel as though you are standing still, or worse, going backwards. At these times, lift your feet and trod on. Other times you will feel as if you are soaring, like gravity has released you from his lifelong chains. Whether in joy or sorrow, freedom or fear, march on.

Occasionally take the time to stop and reflect. Look back at where you have been and gaze forward to your goal. Perspective can quite easily be lost when focused on your feet. Quiet meditation will bring you back to reality and then inspire you to continue pursuing stars.

And last — acknowledge that you are not alone on this pilgrimage. Many are before you, many come behind and many surround you. Celebrate the fellowship. Read and encourage. Read and challenge. Read and honour. As you reach out your hand, so you will find hands extended, and your steps will be lighter. And you will journey in joy.

Grace and peace

LL

 

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Over at The Hub our first challenge is to write a letter to ourselves.  “Dear Me”
We are meant to reflect on who we are as a writer.

One day, a month ago, someone commented on a little piece I left on my blog, and they referred to me as a “writer.”  This was the first time in my life that anyone labeled me a “writer.”  Since then, through Writing 101, I have had so much encouragement, I almost believe I am a writer.

This letter is a letter to myself that is, in a funny way, giving me permission to call myself a writer.  I am not there yet.  But I have begun, and many of these baby steps were possible through the fellowship I found in this little corner of the internet.  Thank you, fellow writers!

Broken and Repairing . . . A Different Story

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Passing through the oversized revolving door, he danced on the precipice of bad decisions. He glanced down at the tear in his sneaker – a battle scar from a skirmish that reflected no aggression. It had been playful. Fun with a hidden element of danger not yet apparent. His head was just beginning to display early signs of imbalance – like a bobble head. Except the almost imperceptible bobbling was happening on the inside. It was a time when darkness loomed.

He’d always been full of jitters.

“Noah finds it difficult to sit still.”
“Noah has trouble focusing on the work at hand.”
“Noah is in constant motion.”

He found it gruelling to keep his head in the classroom.  Alone in the forest, surrounded by trees, Noah found peace.

His parents despaired.  They’d planned on their only son following their footsteps through university.  But by the time Noah was in Grade 10 they’d given up that dream.  Mostly they worried about what the boy would do with his life.

Noah followed his heart.  He took outdoor wilderness survival courses.  He studied animal behaviour with a internationally recognised wildlife photographer.  And then he landed his first job at a private game reserve catering to overseas visitors.

At first Noah did grunt work.  Fetch this, fix this, secure that.  But most of his labours were outdoor chores, so Noah thrived.  It wasn’t long before management gave him a shot at guiding.  Noah turned out to be the best safari leader in the pack.  He could hold a jeep full of paying guests spell-bound for hours with stories of animals in the bush.

In Noah’s third year of work, a two-week-old male lion cub was brought to the reserve from a neighbouring resort.  The cub’s mother had died and the baby needed urgent care.  Noah asked for the job.  As the survival rate in such circumstances was dismal at best, no one else volunteered.

Noah fed the cub, whom he affectionately named “Phila” (meaning “life”), five times in every 24-hour period.  Each feed took nearly two hours.  In order to keep the cub from imprinting on him, he would pick Phila up by the scruff of the neck to move him. Noah would brush him with a course brush to simulate his mother’s tongue.  Noah spent all his time with Phila and rejoiced when the little cub made it to ten weeks old and began to feed on meat.

Phila thought of Noah as his mother.  He would playfully swipe at Noah’s head, but as he got larger and gained a significant amount of weight, his spirited swings would send Noah rolling.  Once Phila caught Noah’s sneaker with his claw and tore through the shoe, nicking the toe.

Over the next four years Phila was successfully released into the sanctuary and established his own territory in the 14 000 hectare game reserve.  Often when we was out with guests Noah would see Phila and relate the story of his successful rearing.

But then without warning the park was sold.  Lock, stock and barrel.  Employees were assured they would not lose their jobs.  New management seemed pleasant enough and everyone relaxed.

It was in the third month of new ownership that Noah found out the proprietor’s intensions.  A party of three men flew in from the States.  Noah saw their rifles and queried this with his superior.  “Gotta turn a profit, Noah.  Trophy hunting.  That’s where the money’s at.”

Noah’s head reeled.  Hunting!  Canned hunting!  The fences which once protected them from the outside world, would now trap the animals and bring death.  Noah’s stomach turned, his breathing became rapid and his arms lost all strength.  He stood, it seemed, for an eternity while his mind tried to grasp this horrible turn.  Then he turned and retreated to his small staff bedroom.

He could not keep his body from shaking.  Images of Phila and the men’s rifles kept flashing through his head.  He had to do something.  He had to!

He ran to the tool shed and grabbed a pair of wire cutters.  He jumped into one of the jeeps behind the office block (thankful that the keys were kept in the ignition during daylight hours) and sped off toward the south fence.  Phila lived here.  this was his territory, his home.

Noah drove straight up to the fence and killed the jeep’s engine.  He hopped out, wire cutters in hand.  He strode right up to the barrier and raised the cutters to the metal links. He was breathing hard.  He tried to cut the fence, but he couldn’t.

Noah knew what lay on the other side.  Homes.  Thousands of them.  Traditional rural homes.  If he cut the fence and allowed the animals to escape, he’d be endangering the lives of the villagers AND the animals.  He dropped the cutters, turned around to look into the park and slumped up against the fence.  Tears poured from his eyes as he sobbed.

Noah handed in his resignation that very day.  He flew back to Cape Town to be with his parents until he figured out what he was going to do next.  His mind was never far from Phila and his heart ached for the cub he’d raised.

Now, many months later, the light has beaten back the dark in a war that was anything but playful. The lurking danger that had pounced on the back of fun has retreated. The bobbling has ceased. His head has reclaimed its stability and clings to it for dear life. His toe has healed, but the tear in his sneaker remains. As does the one on his heart.

 

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The first and last paragraphs of this story (in italics) were written by @whisper2scream and entitled “Broken and Repairing” and can be found here.
@pricelessjoy then took those paragraphs and continued the story beautifully and it can be found here.
I jumped on the band-wagon and wrote this story using whisper2scream’s piece as inspiration.
Anybody else want to play?  ;)

Remembering the Piano Man

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We were moving.  There were five of us, young college folk, moving into an old house in the Sunset which was in probate.
Most of the stuff we could move ourselves, back and forth in our cars.  But there were some rather large items: a couch, an oversized desk, a bookcase and a piano.  For those items we asked an acquaintance with a small pick-up truck to help.

Our buddy Scott, always a helpful soul, skipped a class and added his muscle to the tasks that day.

The last item to go was the piano. Carefully, so carefully, it was raised and lowered gently into the pick-up bed.

Scott sat down in front of the old upright on the edge of the truck and placed his hands on the keys.  He didn’t know how to play.  But he was a great actor.  He mimed playing the instrument and sang at the top of his lungs while the truck backed out of our old drive-way and entered the traffic.

It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday
The regular crowd shuffles in
There’s an old man sitting next to me
Making love to his tonic and gin

He says, “Son can you play me a memory
I’m not really sure how it goes
But it’s sad and it’s sweet
And I knew it complete
When I wore a younger man’s clothes”

Sing us a song you’re the piano man
Sing us a song tonight
Well we’re all in the mood for a melody
And you’ve got us feeling alright

Scott’s hands were pumping up and down.  Every now and again they would hit a key and make a funny off-key noise.  But nothing stopped Scott.

Now John at the bar is a friend of mine
He gets me my drinks for free
And he’s quick with a joke or to light up your smoke
But there’s someplace that he’d rather be

He says, “Bill, I believe this is killing me”
As a smile ran away from his face
“Well, I’m sure that I could be a movie star
If I could get out of this place”

Now we were half-way to our new home.  People stared and laughed as we drove by.  Motorists gaped.  I will always remember the look on the face of a #29 — Sunset bus driver.  His bushy black eyebrows gathered in the middle of his forehead and a slight frown brought the corners of his mouth south.  But then Scott smiled at him, waved and sang louder:

Now Paul is a real estate novelist
Who never had time for a wife
And he’s talking with Davy, who’s still in the Navy
And probably will be for life

And the waitress is practicing politics
As the businessmen slowly get stoned
Yes they’re sharing a drink they call loneliness
But it’s better than drinking alone

Sing us a song you’re the piano man
Sing us a song tonight
Well we’re all in the mood for a melody
And you’ve got us feeling alright

Now we were turning off Sunset onto Noriega.  Residents returning home from work, looking a little grumpy would glance up and catch Scott singing his heart out (not necessarily well) and grin.  

It’s a pretty good crowd for a Saturday
And the manager gives me a smile
‘Cause he knows that it’s me they’ve been coming to see
To forget about life for a while

Now Scott let everything in him out as he tore into the last stanza:

And the piano sounds like a carnival
And the microphone smells like a beer
And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar
And say “Man what are you doing here?”

Now we were pulling into our new driveway.  We stopped but Scott was still belting out the words.  We all gathered round to join in the celebration.  All 12 of us were singing with gusto:

Sing us a song you’re the piano man
Sing us a song tonight
Well we’re all in the mood for a melody
And you’ve got us feeling alright

We all clapped till our palms ached while Scott bowed, pretending he was wearing a tux and tails.

“Thank you, thank you!” Scott waved from the back of the pick-up.  “Ah!  There’s nothing like a little Joel to get the blood and furniture moving.”

 

España

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It was one of those teenage desires.

I had long walked in the 1950’s pattern my family had set for me:  Be a nice girl. Smart, but not too smart.  Neat and tidy.  Clean, crisp haircut.  Fresh perky smile.  White bobby socks and Oxfords.  White blouse and skirt.  Beautiful curly handwriting.  Polite, well-mannered, speak-only-when-spoken-to young lady.

One day in eighth grade I suddenly woke up from my state of unconsciousness and realised I bore no resemblance to any of my contemporaries.  They were wearing their hair long, their skirts short.  Knee-high socks and platform heels.  Tight jeans with wide, flared bottoms. I was suddenly and profoundly embarrassed to the core.

I slowly began a metamorphosis.  The next time Mom went clothes shopping I went with her.  As she only patronised thrift stores, my sisters and I always opted out when she invited us on one of her sprees.  We’d wear the clothes she bought, but we hated the damp, dirty shops they came from. Delighted to have company Mom agreed to buy a pair of jeans I found.  “But not for school!”  she firmly stated.  I agreed, knowing that the purchase was the first hurdle.  Besides, mom left for work before we left for school, and we got home before she did.

By the time I was in tenth grade I finally looked like a child of the seventies. Mom had given up trying to get me to wear what she’d selected and we’d come to a satisfactory truce.  I could easily blend in with my peers, but I kept my outfits simple and tasteful. As long as I could find what I wanted at the secondhand outlet and we could afford it, she would purchase it for me.

But then, just before my sixteenth birthday, I discovered something I couldn’t live without.  Every time I saw someone else with one, I nearly cried with envy.  I mentioned it to Mom, suggesting that it would be a fine gift for a sweet sixteen.  Mom chortled.  “Unless we find it at Goodwill, there’s no way we can manage that!”  I knew it.  I knew it was true.  We had such a difficult time making ends meet that I had started working weekends at the nearby McDonald’s to help bring in extra cash.  “Besides,” she continued, “something worth having is worth waiting for.  If you still want it in a year, well, maybe we can make a plan.  But right now, it ain’t gonna happen.”

In my senior year I signed on to work on the school yearbook.  The entire team was comprised of kids who’d been compiling the annuals since they were sophomores.  When everyone had chosen the sections of the yearbook they wanted to assemble, I was left with the advertising chapter.  This meant I had to visit local businesses and ask them to sponsor our yearbook.  If they gave us $50 they’d get a quarter-page sized ad in the book.  $100 got them a half-page and $200 for a full-page.  We needed to raise a minimum of $2 000.  Then, once I had the sponsors, I would liaise with them in terms of what they wanted to see in their ad.  Some wanted photos, others just text.  All of them had logos.  This was back in the days when computers were the size of rooms and  only NASA used them, so each layout was an arduous work of art created by hand.

After screwing up my courage with twenty mental “You can do this!  You can do this!” phrases, I pulled open the door to McDonald’s and asked for the manager.  As I thought, Mr Hansen (my weekend boss) was more than willing to take out a page.  He signed the contract and we chatted about the basic layout of the ad.  With that achievement behind me, I marched to the next little shop.  And the next.  And the next.  No one else in the little mall seemed to value advertising in a high school yearbook.  I took a deep breathe and soldiered on.

I entered the next shop without really bothering to look at what they sold.  As soon as I glanced around I stopped dead in my tracks.  The yearbook went out of my mind.  The contract forms I held were forgotten.  Here was the object of my desires.  I walked across the room in a daze.  There, hanging by their necks from pegs in the wall, was a row of beautifully crafted acoustic guitars.  Their gorgeous wood grain lacquered to perfection, they seemed to call me.  I reached out my hand to stroke one . . .

“Beautiful, aren’t they?”  a deep voice behind me shook me out of my dream.  I turned to look at the speaker, a man in his early thirties with dark shoulder-length hair and a moustache.  He smiled.  “Hi!  I’m Skip.  What can I do for you?”

“Um, I, uh,” for some stupid reason my brain didn’t seem to be linked to my tongue.

“Do you play,” Skip queried, gesturing to the guitars.

“Uh, no,” I replied.  Then, suddenly finding my voice, “but I want to.  I really want to learn.”

Skip put his hands on one of the guitars and lowered it down from its peg on the wall.  “It’s a great instrument to learn.  You can strum chords to accompany vocals or you can play classical.  There are some serious pieces written for this baby!”  As he spoke he drew the instrument to himself and sat down on a piano bench and began to play.  I stood transfixed watching his fingers fly around the frets.  The rich, mellow sound of this guitar was so soothing.  The ache to own a guitar grew into a sharp pain.

Skip stopped playing. He smiled up at me and then rose to put the guitar back.  NO!  I wanted to shout.  Please keep playing.  Skip turned to me, looked at the papers in my hand and observed, “But you didn’t come here to listen to me play.  What can I do for you?”

I explained to Skip about the yearbook and the sponsorship and asked if he’d be interested in taking out an ad.  I expected him to brush me off, but he didn’t.  He started by apologising. He’d just moved into the mall, rent was sky-high and he hadn’t made many sales.  He’d love to take out  a whole-page, but would it be okay if he just did a half-page?  “Wow!” I exclaimed, having expected another sorry-no. “A half-page is fantastic!”  I bubbled.  “Are you sure, though?  Will it be okay.”

Skip smiled and chortled.  “Are you trying to talk me out of it?” he quipped.

“No, I mean, it’s a lot of money.”

“I can manage. And I’d like to do it.  Who knows, maybe your entire senior class will come buy guitars!”

” Yeah, maybe!” I answered.  Then I got a bit brave.  “How much is that guitar you were playing?”

Skip went over and touched it again.  “It isn’t one of our more expensive ones, but I like it because it has such a rich tone.” He took it down and handed it to me.  I took it with great trepidation and reverence.  “It’s an España.  Made in Finland.  Everybody is going for Yamahas and Ovations.  But you’re paying for the name.  This little España has class and half the price.”

He didn’t tell me how much it cost.  I saw the tag.  $300.  $300!  My heart sank and my eyes welled with tears.  There was no way I could ever afford this treasure.  I brought home $32.60 each week from McDonald’s.  And $30 of that I gave to Mom.  In the fifteen months I had been working there I managed to save $50.  At that rate I would have to work five more years before I could even hope to have enough money to buy this guitar.  I handed it back to Skip and tried to smile.  “Thank you.” I said.

Four months went by.  I’d managed to sell ten pages of advertising and was nearly finished with all the layouts.  It was time to work on the divider page, the double-spread that would introduce the section of the yearbook.  We’d decided to use a banner of photographs across each divider page, and my spread would be filled with pictures of students shopping at the establishments of the biggest supporters.  I booked Alex the yearbook photographer (who also conveniently had a car) on a Friday and asked several of my friends to be at the various locations for a photo-shoot.

First up, McDonald’s. This was easy.  Half of the student body went to the burger place after school anyway, so we got some nice shots of the manager and kids laughing and enjoying themselves.  The next location was a car wash.  We also had a blast here as we had several students drive their cars through the twirling foam cylinders coming out with bright cars and bright faces.

Near the end of the day as we were walking down the mall I asked Alex to stop with me at Skip’s Music.  I hadn’t actually planned on putting Skip on the divider page, just the full-page sponsors.  I’d been in the shop several time since our first meeting, the last time about a week before, to get his approval on the galley proof.  Skip was always by himself in the shop.  I thought maybe he couldn’t afford to hire anyone to help.  Each time I went in I tried to avoid looking at the brilliant row of guitars, but the sweet España seemed to draw my attention like a fly to honey.  It was no different this day.  But to my horror, there was a space where the España usually hung.

Skip welcomed me with tremendous enthusiasm as he always did.  I introduced him to Alex and told him that I wanted to put a picture of his shop on the divider page.  “Wow!  Well, what did you have in mind?   Want an outside shot of the sign?”

“No, I’d like a picture of you playing guitar.  Just like the first time I came in here.  You and a guitar.”

“This ugly mug?” he joked, pointing to his face.

“Yeah,” I smiled.  “That ugly mug.  And I wanted you to be playing the España, but I see it’s gone.”  I looked up at the huge gap.  I thought that if I got a picture of Skip and the España that I could carry a piece of it with me, and maybe some day I could afford one of my own.

“Oh!” he said. “It isn’t gone.  I’ve got it in the back room.  Let me go get it.”

We took the picture, the warmth of Skip’s smile with the España in his hands made it the best pic on the divider page.  I was pleased with the page and hoped Skip would be pleased too.  One Friday afternoon in late May I took his complimentary copy of the yearbook to him.  Again my eyes flew to the España the moment I came through the tinkling door.

“Hey, Skip!  I brought you the final copy!”  I told him as he came out from the back chewing on the other half of the sandwich in his hand. He held up a finger while he swallowed, put the rest of the sandwich on some papers on the counter and wiped his hands on his jeans.

“Let’s see it,” he intoned eagerly.  He skipped the pages and pages of mug shots and pictures of spirit rallies and club photos and flipped straight to the back.  He found the divider page for the advertising and grinned at himself.  He pointed and said, “And the España!”

“Yup!  And the España,” I repeated.

“Well, this deserves a celebration,” he said.  “Stay there!” and he pushed me onto a piano bench and disappeared into the back with the yearbook.  He reappeared a minute later with two cans of Coke.  “Sorry,” he said as he handed me the one can, “no glasses.  BUT,” he pulled something from his back pocket with a flourish, “I do have straws!”  We laughed and talked and drank our celebratory Cokes.  He asked about the next year and I told him that I was going to SF State on a scholarship to study to become a teacher.  He told me that business had picked up and that it looked like he was going to make it, although his financial advisor (his brother-in-law) warned him that no small business ever broke even in the first three years.

Then he got very serious.  “Loreen,” he began, “I want you to listen to me.  I have been thinking about something since the first time I met you.  I see the way you look at that España and I know you can’t afford it.”  I started getting a bit of a panicked feeling in my stomach.  “If I could I would give it to you.  I really would!”

My eyes got misty.  “Oh, wow, Skip . . .”

“Wait, let me finish.  I’ve thought about it and I’ve thought about it, and I came up with a plan.  What if you gave me what you could now, whatever, it doesn’t matter, and then paid me whatever you can over the next year or so?”

I didn’t know what to say.  I think my mouth must have been open, but nothing was coming out.

“Please.  I want you to have it, probably as much as you want it.  It’d really make me happy to know where that little España is!”

I can’t remember any more of the details of that conversation.  I must have agreed because I was walking out of the shop 30 minutes later with a guitar case (which Skip threw in for free) in my hands and tears streaming down my face.

I managed to pay off the España in ten months.  My family helped by giving me monetary gifts at Christmas and for my birthday.  I visited Skip every university break, bringing the España with me, and the two of us would sit and play together.

That was 38 years ago.  I now live on the other side of the planet, teaching eager young children how to read, write and do ‘rithmatic.  And I teach them how to sing.  The España and I teach them how to sing.

 

 

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For our final assignment, tell the tale of your most-prized possession.

If you’re up for a twist, go long — experiment with longform and push yourself to write more than usual.

Therapeutic Imagination

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I’ve really got too many balls to juggle all at once.  Keeping them all in the air was easy when there were two.  Three wasn’t too much more difficult.  Four was a bit tricky.  Five made me a bit anxious.  Six gave me heart palpitations.  And I can see you there, holding that seventh ball with an evil sort of grin on your face.  Don’t you dare throw it.  Don’t you dare.  Balls fall.  I fall. We all fall down.

Now I am sitting on the floor — balls all around me.  They seem to keep multiplying.  It is almost like I am in one of those funny playrooms at McDonald’s.  I AM in one of those funny playrooms.  And the balls keep on multiplying.  They are rather pretty. Blue. Red. Green. Yellow.  Lots of pretty plastic balls. Up to my chin.  Over my head.  I am covered in balls — drowning in balls.

The floor dissolves and the balls begin to shrink.  They lose their colour and all go white.  I reach out my arms and my body tips so that I am lying on my belly on little white balls.  They are made out of styrofoam and they continue to shrivel up, smaller and smaller and smaller.  They support my weight brilliantly and I feel lighter than air.  But they are getting too small.  I have to close my eyes and I am breathing them up into my nostrils.  No.  I can’t inhale.  I can’t.  They’ll fill my lungs.  But the need to breathe is too powerful and I suck them in.  In they go like so much cotton wool.

It actually isn’t too bad.  I can breathe them in and breathe them out.  They aren’t styrofoam any longer.  It’s water vapour.  Water vapour. I open my eyes and I am in a cloud.  I am part of a big white fluffy floating-above-the-earth cloud.  I roll over onto my back and gaze at the blue sky above me.  Deep rich royal brilliant blue. Blue floods my eyes and makes them water.  Tears pour forth from my eyes, roll tickling into my ears, then down toward the earth.  The tears turn into rivers and water flows down raining upon the dark hard dusty earth.

I slowly shrivel up, wrung out like an old cloth.   I am thin, so thin I am transparent.  A breeze comes up and gently blows me through the air, across the sky, tossing me this way according to its whim.  I am dandelion fluff.  One small seed, one tiny speck of wild potential being carried on the wind, hanging on to a wispy white piece of fuzz.

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Today’s assignment:  Free writing day.
Write at least four-hundred words, and once you start typing, don’t stop.
No self-editing, no trash-talking, and no second guessing: just go.
Four-hundred words. One at a time. Go.
Bonus points if you tackle an idea you’ve been playing with but think is too silly to post about.

Mrs. Pauley

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I’ve never known Roosevelt Circle without Mrs. Pauley.  She was here ‘fore me.  I was born here twelve years ago.  Well, not here ‘xactly.  The family was livin’ here and Momma brought me home fresh from the Wellstar Hospital.  After that Mamma couldn’t have no more kids, so she called me “Li’l One.”  Still calls me that, even though I told her to stop.  “Mamma, I’m nearly the tallest in the seventh grade.” But she says it gives her great comfort to call me that, so I stopped moaning at her.

She needs all the comfort she can get.  Ain’t been easy for her, tryin’ to raise four hon’ry boys and then me, after our daddy left.  Said he heard there was good jobs goin’ out Montgomery way.  But he ain’t never come back.  An’ Mamma says she don’t care.  She said he never did a lick of work anyways and was just a bum sitting around drinking up all her hard earned money that she makes from the Tip Top Poultry.  I don’t ‘member him much cuz he done left when I was jus’ a baby.  But I heard plenty about him from Mamma and the boys to know I don’t ever want him to come back.

Sometimes I imagine him walking up our drive like some peacock puttin’ on airs.  I’d be sittin’ here on the front porch readin’ my latest library book  like I usually do and he’d come struttin’ up like he owned the place.  I’d be all cool and collected.  And when he stopped there in front of me I’d just look up at him from that book into his cock-eyed smile.  “Whatch you want?” I’d say and then I’d spit. Right on his shoes.  Mamma says spittin’ is not lady-like and she’s forbade me from doin’ it, but I think in that case she’d approve. My fantasy never went no farther than that, so I don’t rightly know what would happen next.  I don’t wanna waste my time thinkin’ ’bout it.

Mamma says I think too much.  She says I spend too much time with my head in the clouds.  She says I always got my nose in a book, which is true.  But I think she likes it, cuz she says it kinda braggin’ like. “Oh, my Maybell!  You know she just ’bout read up every book in that library.”  My teacher says I’m the best reader in our whole middle school.  I think she’s exaggeratin’ a bit.  She says I could be a writer myself someday, cuz I can tell a mean story.  She says it comes from all the stories I done read.

I could tell you some stories about Roosevelt Circle.  First of all, it is not a circle.  I would love to know who named it that, cuz it’s shaped more like a capital C.  It is stretched out between Cole Street and the Parkway.  We live on the Cole side.  Second, it is named after the second president to have that name.  I know he was the second one, cuz last year for my class project I memorized every president we ever had — from Washington right down to Obama.  Mrs. Pauley helped me learn them all. The first Roosevelt was named Teddy. Our street is named after Franklin Delano.

Used to be, Mrs. Pauley told me, families filled the houses on Roosevelt. She said the houses were built in 1958.  They were mostly all the same – three-bedrooms, one bathroom, and two porches, a big one in front and a smaller one in back.  She and Mr. Pauley done lived in number 309 for forty years.  They moved to Marietta with their six sons when Mr. Pauley got a new job in Atlanta.   By the time we moved across the street into 312 the Pauleys had already been there for 25 years.  As a matter of fact, ‘fore I was even born, all their boys had moved out.

I only ever met one of them.  Named Jasper.  He came to visit his folks once at Thanksgivin’ when I was about eight.  He’d come to tell them that he was gettin’ married (for the third time) to an Australian girl he met on some internet chat room. Said he didn’t know when he’d ever be able to come back to call.  Said he’d keep in touch.  The rest of them boys were scattered all over the place.  One was in California. One was in prison. And one had been lost in a car accident.  Momma said the Pauleys had a hard time of it.  She said boys were mostly like that.  They grew up and they went off to have themselves a good time.  She said girls were mostly different. They are homebodies.  Then she gave me a big hug and called me “Li’l One” again.

I got to know Mrs. Pauley pretty well.  Started when I was just five years old.  Mrs. Pauley has the finest garden in the whole neighborhood.  All the houses on our block are rentals and mean ol’  Mr. Granger the landlord won’t ever let us forget it.  So most of the people who live here don’t take good care of the places.  Yards are full of weeds.  Windows are broken.  Gutters falling off.  Maybe if Mr. Granger were a bit nicer.  Nobody can whack Mr. Granger, so they whack his houses instead.  Except for Mrs. Pauley.  She takes care of 309 like it belongs to her.  She plants lots of pretty flowers.  Her speciality is roses.  She told me that they are the most delicate things and need to be spoiled like a baby.

On the Friday before Mother’s Day I walked home from kindergarten with nothin’ for Mamma.  I’d been punished for pushin’ a girl at recess, so I’d sat in the corner while everybody else made cards.  I was feelin’ right sorry for myself as I dragged my feet along, until I saw Mrs. Pauley’s roses.  Right then a great idea came to me.  I didn’t need no stinkin’ card!  I could give Mamma pretty flowers!  I walked right into the Pauley’s garden and started tearin’ into a rose bush.  It was harder than I thought to pick those flowers and I had quite a few scratches on my arms for my effort.

Mrs. Pauley saw me and came runnin’ out of her house.  I knew right then that I’d done something wrong.  I froze.  But Mrs. Pauley didn’t yell at me or nothin’.  She smiled a funny smile on that wrinkly old face of hers and told me to wait right there.  She went back into her house and got some special flower scissors.  She showed me how to cut the roses off the bush and then told me how to put them in water with an aspirin to make them last longer.  We were friends from that day on.

Mamma works late shift at the chicken factory.  When I was five my oldest brother had already graduated and moved out.  Not one of the rest was interested in spendin’ time with the “Li’l One,” so I was bored out of my mind every afternoon.  Mrs. Pauley must’ve been lonely too, because she started invitin’ me over to her house.  She told me stories about growin’ up in depression and about wars and presidents and roses.  She made me cookies and gave me milk to dunk them in.  She helped me learn to read and then when I got better at it I started readin’ stories to her and Mr. Pauley.  She taught me how to crochet and we made a blanket for my bed in all colors of the rainbow.

One mornin’ about three months ago, a few days after Mrs. Pauley and I’d put on a special birthday party for Mr. Pauley’s 80th, he didn’t wake up.  I’d just walked out the door on my way to school and I saw the ambulance.  It drove away and there was Mrs. Pauley standin’ in her front door way, both fists up to her mouth and tears runnin’ down her face.  She was watchin’ the ambulance go down the street and didn’t see me.  I went right over and spent the day with her.  In fact I didn’t go to school the rest of that week until after the funeral.  “Oh, Maybell,” she said.  “What am I gonna do without him?  What am I gonna do?”  I didn’t know what to say.

I was wantin’ to spend more time with Mrs. Pauley, but  she kept tellin’ me that she was just so tired she couldn’t think straight.  “I hope you don’t mind, Maybell.  I’ll just lay down for a little while.  You come back over in a few hours, okay?”  So I’d find myself on the porch readin’ by myself.  I’d think a lot.  I’d think about Mamma and how she always has a smile no matter how hard life gets.  I’d think about Mrs. Pauley and all them boys who disappeared and never came back.  I’d think about how long she’d lived at 309 and all the stories and stuff she’d told me.

Then yesterday, as I was half-readin’ and half-thinkin’ on our front porch, one of them big yellow Hummers came drivin’ down the road.  We don’t get much through-traffic and nobody ’round here drives that kinda car, so it caught my attention.  It pulled up outside of Mrs. Pauley’s house.  Right behind it was a small black car, blue lights on top and “COBB COUNTY POLICE” written across the doors.  I stood up as men got out of the cars.  I watched them take the steps up to Mrs. Pauley’s porch two at a time, one guy from the Hummer and two policemen.  The Hummer guy was first.  He banged on Mrs. Pauley’s door and yelled her name.  “Cynthia Pauley!  Cynthia Pauley!”

I dropped my book and ran across the street.  “Whatch you want?”  I asked.  “Mrs. Pauley’s sleepin’.  She’s tired.”

The guy at the door turned and looked at me.  He had greasy dark hair and was wearing RayBans.  “Go away, little girl.  This doesn’t concern you.”  He banged on the door again and yelled.

The policemen looked at each other, one standin’ with his arms crossed, the other with his thumbs hooked in his pockets.  The taller one said, “Listen, Mr. Granger, it doesn’t appear that Mrs. Pauley is able to receive us now.  Let’s come back in an hour or so.”

Mr. Granger!  The landlord.  “No, dammit,” Mr Granger said.  “I came all this way and I’m here now.  I’m getting my money or she’s getting out!”  Mr. Granger banged on the door again.  But no one answered.  “Okay,” he said.  “If that’s how she wants it, we’ll just go in and get her!” and he stuck his hand in his pocket and took out a key.

“Wait,” I yelled.  “You just can’t go bargin’ in to someone else’s house.  She’s sleepin”!”

Mr. Granger turned around to face me.  “I told you to go away.  This is none of your business!”

“Let me go wake her up,” I said.  “I’ll tell her you’re here.”

“That’s a good idea, Mr. Granger,” the other cop said.  “It’ll give you a chance to calm down.”

“I don’t need to calm down!” he yelled, but he handed me the key.

I opened the door and walked softly to Mrs. Pauley’s room.  I was shakin’.  I didn’t know if it was cuz I was angry or afraid.  Maybe both.  I knocked quietly on her door.  “Mrs. Pauley,” I called.  “There are some people here to see you.  Mrs. Pauley?”  Her door opened a crack.  I saw her laying on her bed.  Her arms were wrapped around her body, like she was huggin’ herself.  There was a smile on her face.  I walked over to the bed and touched one of her hands.  It was ice cold.  “Mrs. Pauley?”  My voice was kinda shaky.  “Mrs Pauley?”

“Mrs. Pauley!” a hard voice, Mr. Granger’s voice, sounded behind me.  They’d followed me in.

I turned and glared at Mr. Granger.  “She’s gone.”  Tears started comin’ down my cheeks.

He pushed past me and shook Mrs. Pauley’s body.  “Where’s my money?” he yelled.  Both cops rushed up and grabbed Mr Granger away from the bed.  He shook himself loose.  “Dying in MY house.”

“Let’s go, Mr. Granger.  We’ll call Emergency Services and they’ll come take care of the body. There’s nothing you can do here now.”  One policeman walked out the door and the other pulled Mr. Granger by his arm.

“Stupid old woman!” Mr Granger mumbled.

I filled my mouth with spit and let it fly.

 

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The neighbourhood has seen better days, but Mrs. Pauley has lived there since before anyone can remember. She raised a family of six boys, who’ve all grown up and moved away. Since Mr. Pauley died three months ago, she’d had no income. She’s fallen behind in the rent. The landlord, accompanied by the police, have come to evict Mrs. Pauley from the house she’s lived in for forty years.

Today’s assignment:  Write this story in first person, told by the twelve-year-old sitting on the stoop across the street.
Today’s twist: For those of you who want an extra challenge, think about more than simply writing in first-person point of view — build this twelve-year-old as a character. Reveal at least one personality quirk, for example, either through spoken dialogue or inner monologue.

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