Poetry: Thanksgiving

I forgive myself for idealizations of holidays past
For quick crying between wishes
For wiping tears on my pumpkin apron
For missing the harvest moon 
For yelling at myself for falling short
For taking too many or not enough pictures
For missing the sweetness of giggly formality
For not savoring the warmth of deep red wine
For demanding you write on the thankful chalkboard tree
For unrealistic expectations and not asking for help
For not seeing paper-thin leaves on the carpet as beautiful
For forgetting the windowsill wishbone
For making cranberry sauce when you just want canned
For not snuggling under warm blankets
For playing martyr music to myself

I am grateful it’s never too late to learn hard lessons
For pretty glass pumpkins bought 20 years ago
For delicious pies from Apple Hill
For crochet leaf coasters and sparkling cider refills
For round crackers and salty meat
For the mystic splendor of deer on the ridge
For marching bands and behemoth balloons
For bad jokes and big laughter
For pink cheeks and crackling firelight
For making you write on the thankful chalkboard tree
For the perfect turkey placemats for four
For forgiveness and second chances
For squirrel salt & pepper shakers
For snuggles and holding hands
For midnight sandwiches and full bellies
For every moment we’ve had together


*Thank you for supporting my blog this year. Your kindness keeps me going. May your Thanksgiving, if you celebrate, be worry-free and wonderful.

Photography: Monochrome Nature

“Well, we all make mistakes, dear, so just put it behind you. We should regret our mistakes and learn from them, but never carry them forward into the future with us.” -L.M. Montgomery

Yesterday I took family photographs of a dear friend and her beautiful family. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to stretch my photography skills and offer this service to people I love. What I learned was…I need to learn a lot more. Although it went well, as far as flow and everyone staying in wonderful moods, I didn’t do great with lighting or poses. While some of the photos were beautiful, others fell short. Ultimately, I failed in a lot of big ways.

When I woke up this morning I felt defeated and upset. I wanted to do so much better. While I could let this setback derail me, after coffee and a long hot shower, I’ve decided to keep going. I think after the new year I’ll enroll in some photography classes, invest in some new software, and keep trying. Everything is a learning experience and the only way to get better is to keep going.

My photos this week were all taken before the family shots and were edited to be black-and-white. I hope you enjoy them and have a wonderful week.


  • Photos were taken with an Olympus OM-D and edited with ON1 Photo RAW

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Late Night Visitor | A Short Story

A light touch on the bottom of my left foot drags me instantly from the rainbow haziness of the dream world to the very real darkness of my bedroom. I’m not alone. With a jerk, I retuck my legs into the safety and warmth of my colorful blanket cocoon and look around.

A wild wind outside my window batters the branches of the big oak tree casting wispy skeletal shadows along my purple walls. Everything else looks still and normal. Through the lacy curtains, the moon appears as a tiny crescent in a sea of black. When will this end?

Wiping tears from my eyes with the sleeve of my plaid nightgown, I realize I’m crying. My cheeks burn hot. I’m tired of feeling sad and scared. It’s not fair!

Burrowing my nose into the worn calico fur of my stuffed kitty Butterscotch, I breathe in the familiar sweet and musty smell. Snuggles by the fire. Hide-and-seek. Christmas morning.

As I’ve done the last ten nights in a row, I grab the red plastic flashlight from inside my pillowcase. I don’t expect to see anything but I make myself look just in case. I hold Butterscotch tight as I move the yellowish beam around the room.

Starting with my bookshelf, I scan my collection of rocks and figurines, moving along the floor past several mounds of dirty and clean clothes to the huge pile of stuffed animals. All fine. Unicorn poster. Tiny fake plant. Corkboard of Polaroids. Three empty cans of sparkling water and two empty Frito bags on the desk. Hello Kitty backpack spilling its contents out on the chair. Everything is where I left it.

My foot feels tingly and weird as if the imprint of the mystery touch lingers. Pulling the covers over my head, I sit under the blankets and use the flashlight to search every inch of my foot for clues—a fingerprint, scratch mark, or some tiny speck of goo. Nothing. It’s my normal foot.

For a moment I consider turning on the desk lamp and working on an essay for English class about the Giver, but my rumbling stomach has other ideas. I wish when I turned 12 last week my parents gifted me my future job instead of an event planner and a plain gold watch. I don’t want to make checklists, set goals, or make decisions. I know free will and emotions are supposed to be blessings, but I’m tired of them.

Tucking Butterscotch into the top of my nightgown, I tiptoe through the hallway toward my parent’s bedroom. I’m forced to pass the tall grandfather clock with its dark mahogany wood, sharp spiky top, and creepy drawing of the moon with a baby face. Its eerie ticking sound echoes in the silent house and I sneak a quick peek at the time before rushing by. The two ornate black hands point at the gleaming golden 12 and 2. Whatever keeps waking me is pretty punctual.

My parents sleep with the door slightly open and I peek in to see them both in their light brown wooden sleigh bed. They’re snuggled against each other under a purple and green checkered quilt and my dad’s snoring lightly. I watch them for a few minutes, seeing if they might be pretending to sleep, but they’re breathing deeply and don’t stir.

The first night I felt the touch on my foot I screamed with surprise and terror. My parents came rushing in, mother throwing on the light and father scooping me into his arms. When I told them what happened, dad checked the entire house for signs of anyone and mom gave me a cup of warm milk. I didn’t fall back to sleep that night or any night since. It’s almost becoming routine, which explains why I’m extra tired and hungry.

I rush down the stairs and take a quick peek into the living room for any signs of my foot toucher and, finding none, I head for the refrigerator. A small white bowl of leftover rice pudding sits on the middle shelf. Although mom will yell, I take it anyway. Pulling off the plastic wrap, I grab a spoon and head to my favorite squashy chair by the front window.

Snuggling under mom’s grey, wooly blanket and setting Butterscotch on my lap, I eat the sugary pudding and scan our quiet street. A tall silverish lamppost sits at the edge of our lawn casting a bright yellow glow around it. Cars sit quietly on driveways and grey garbage cans line the curb. Nobody is watering their lawn or jogging and I see no birds. It’s too early for much of anything.

The house next door has a huge maple tree and its reddish leaves dance in the wind as if alive. Dad and mom’s song plays in my head, spinning like the old record they bring out after they’ve shared a bottle of wine. Dad slips his hand around her waist and she puts her head on his shoulder.

Everybody’s feelin’ warm and right/It’s such a fine and natural sight/everybody’s dancin’ in the moonlight.

Across the street, our new neighbors have added a giant blow-up turkey to their yard for Thanksgiving. The wind has blown it sideways and its butt wiggles in the air. Abby would know the perfect joke. The thought makes the pudding no longer taste good. Don’t think about her, Brin. Just don’t.

Setting the bowl on the floor, I pull Butterscotch up to my face again. I don’t know why this is happening to me. I’ve googled “something touched my foot while sleeping” several times and it’s led me down some strange and winding paths. I could be suffering from any number of ailments from sleep paralysis to periodic limb movement disorder to restless leg syndrome.

One website said it could either be a bad omen or mean you were experiencing a spiritual awakening. Another said it’s a ghost or spirit and it’s important to cleanse your house with sage. I downloaded several ghost detector apps on my iPad but they proved useless and confusing. My parents have proved useless as well.

On the way to school a few days ago I told mom about my research, but she cut me off after a few minutes and pulled the car over. Clutching the steering wheel so hard her knuckles turned white, she stared intensely at me. It’s the look she uses when she means business. Her voice went all tense and low.

“Listen to me, Brin. Nothing touched your foot. You were dreaming. No, I won’t buy you sage or take you to the doctor. No, I won’t keep talking about this and if you keep googling stuff on your iPad I’ll take it away. Do you understand?”

I told her I do, but what choice do I have? For over a year now I’ve begged for a cellphone and if I have any hope of ever getting one, I know I have to drop it with her. She’s practical and has no patience for anything unexplained. Plus, she thinks I’m making it up for attention. She hasn’t said it directly, but I can tell.

Dad’s equally useless. He works all the time and dozes off after dinner, but I managed to catch him alone yesterday when he took the garbage can out to the curb. Without my mother around, I tell him about my research and ask him for his help. He grabs my shoulder and smiles.

“You just have an overactive imagination is all. It can trick your senses into believing anything. It can feel real, but I assure you it is not. Remember your imaginary friend…what was his name?”

Why does he have to bring him up? I whisper his name as if he’ll hear us talking about him.

“Mr. Croaky.”

“Right! You were convinced you saw him jumping around and hiding in the bushes. Now you are getting older and your brain does the pretending while you sleep instead of during the day. It’s part of growing up. It’s normal, kiddo. You aren’t little anymore. It’s good. You’ll see.”

It all comes back to me growing up. It’s all my parents seem to talk about these days. Last week my mother gave me a box and asked me to fill it for a children’s charity her work is sponsoring. When I filled it with old clothes she scowled at me.

“What about all these toys you have laying around? Barbies? Dolls? This mound of stuffed animals? You are a teenager now. It’s time to let stuff go.”

I cried and locked myself in the bathroom until she dropped it, but I know she’ll bring it up again. I don’t want to stop playing with my toys. I love them. They don’t get it. Abby was the person who did, but I was wrong about her. She’s the worst. The absolute worst.

Balling my hands into fists, I fight the memory but it’s like throwing up with the flu. It comes at me in a wave of ugliness and I don’t have the strength to fight it off. I press my nose to Butterscotch’s pink plastic one and feel the pain come roaring in.

It’s the 8th-grade science field trip and we stand on a wooden pier looking at the seals in the water. They roll around and bark at each other. Most of the other girls are trying to get the attention of either Cameron or Dylon by posing with their sunglasses and giggling like idiots. Not us. Abby and I are above such nonsense. I grab her arm and sing into her ear.

“Rolling, rolling, rolling, keep those seals rolling. Fisheye!”

Abby laughs but looks over at the students on the trip and blushes. She inches a little away from me, as she has done all day. Stepping closer and grabbing her arm, I create exaggerated British voices for the seals. Her body feels tense beside me. Stiff. Unmoving. Frozen.

“Oh, hi Cheryl, I didn’t see you rolling over there. Fancy a cuppa, mate?”

“Oh, hi Carol. Yes, I’d love one. I’m simply knackered. A cheeky fish kept me awake all night with its chittering.”

“What a bugger! Hey, did you change your whiskers, darling?”

“Yes, I waxed them with fish oil. It’s all the rage in Paris these days. Tip-top posh and all.”

“Oh, bloody brilliant!”

Abby doesn’t laugh. My British voice always makes her laugh. Instead, her cheeks turn bright red and she spins from me. My arm falls limply to my side as she walks over to the three most popular girls in our grade, Tracy, Stacy, and Pam. We’ve nicknamed them STP—Stupid Tall Pretty. She doesn’t look back.

For a brief moment, I think she’s gone to play a prank on them, but I know it’s not true. I saw it coming but tried to ignore it. Abby pulls a pair of round blue sunglasses out of her backpack. She didn’t tell me about those and we don’t have secrets. We didn’t have secrets.

The glasses are an expensive name-brand kind. Abby’s talking fast and running her fingers through her curly blonde hair. They all take turns trying the glasses on and taking selfies.

“Oh, Abby,” Tracy says, touching my best friend’s cheek with a bright red fake nail. “I never realized the perfect shape of your lips. You have to try this!”

She hands Abby a tube of pink lip gloss and she puts it on. The bubblegum smell is strong and sickly sweet. Stacy links arms with Abby and coos beside her in a stupid baby voice.

“Do you have Instagram?”

“Not yet, but I got a new cell phone last week and haven’t had a chance to download it yet.”

Another secret she didn’t tell me about. She pulls a bright pink phone out of her backpack and they all examine it. Apparently, it’s cool from the sounds they are making. I clench my fists tighter to resist the urge to rush over, grab it, and throw it into the ocean.

“You are too pretty to not be on Insta,” Pam says. “Let’s do a photo shoot for your first post!”

“You can use my scarf,” Tracy adds. “It matches your eyes.”

The entire time this unfolds I feel tears welling in my eyes, but I wipe them away and straighten my back. I won’t give up on my best friend without a fight. Okay, she suddenly cares what they think. I can play along.

Tucking my wild brown hair behind my ears, I walk to where they are all standing in a semicircle. Nobody looks at me but I flash the brightest smile I can muster. Abby looks miserable like she might be sick. I want to hold her hand and pull her away. You don’t have to do this, I want to say. Instead, I pull off my charm bracelet and hold it out in front of me.

“I’ll contribute my bracelet for the photos.”

A gift from Abby on my 10h birthday, she’s added new charms to the bracelet each Christmas and birthday since. The charms represent special memories we have; a pair of roller skates, two stars, a mermaid, bunnies, ice cream cones, and daisies. The girls all stare at it in silence while Abby looks at her blue converse. I see the sharpie heart I drew yesterday on the left toe is smeared.

“Uh, no thanks,” Tracy says. “What is it…iron?”

“I don’t think cheap metal is the look we’re going for,” Stacy says. “Plus, it’s kind of babyish.”

“It’s silver…”

My voice sounds tiny and they laugh. It’s the kind of laugh you can’t escape from, high and lifting and fake. I search Abby’s face looking for recognition, a hint at the girl I’ve loved since kindergarten. She looks away.

“The light’s better over here,” Pam says.

They walk away and I don’t follow. Returning to the spot where we stood moments before, I stare at the seals trying to make sense of what happened. It feels as if my heart broke in half and my face lit on fire.

I don’t know how I manage to keep the tears in, but I do until sitting alone on the bus ride home in the back row. While Abby rests her blonde hair on the shoulder of someone other than me, I let go and sob. Nobody notices.

The last ten days without Abby have been the worst of my life. She doesn’t look at me at school and won’t return my emails or phone calls. She missed my birthday. Dad says learning to cope with change is a requirement of growing. Mom says heartache gets easier with time and I’ll make new friends. It’s not getting easier, I don’t want new friends and I don’t want to grow up.

Tears come. I hate Abby for what she did to me. I hate getting older. Why must my life change? I liked the way it was. I’m sobbing now pressing my face into my stuffed kittie. A horrible pain stabs at my stomach and chest. Broken-hearted. Crushed. Gutted. When will it stop hurting this bad?

A familiar touch on my foot makes me jump and I pull my legs to my chest. A small man stands exactly where my foot sat a moment ago. He’s frozen in place with his hand still extended out in front of him. We stare at each other and his tiny dark brown eyes grow wider and wider. Neither of us blinks.

The size of a mouse, he’s dressed in dark green overalls with a light green shirt underneath. He’s chubby and smells of dirt and moss, like the logs by the creek behind our house. His cheeks are puffy and pinkish. I whisper quietly hoping to not startle him away.

“Are you real?”

“Are you?”

His voice isn’t squeaky, but deep, almost a croak. He lets his hand fall to his side and shuffles his dirty little bare feet. His toes are the size of a grain of sand.

“I think so. Why do you keep grabbing my foot?”

“You keep making a horrible sound and I want you to stop.”

What kind of sound do I make in my sleep? He points to the tears on my face and I suddenly understand.

“My crying?”

“I don’t know what you call it, but I don’t like it. You keep doing it. Stop it!”

He stomps his little foot as if to emphasis his point. It makes the tiniest of slapping sounds on the wood floor.

“Oh! Well…I’m sad and when I’m sad, I cry.”

“Well, get un-sad then.”

He stomps his foot again and I can’t help but smile.

“It’s not that easy.”

“Yes, it is.”

With a quick movement, he half hops and half climbs the blanket onto the arm of the chair. Looking at him closer I realize he’s much younger than I first thought, like a small, hairy child. He has freckles on his nose, long eyelashes, and bright pink smiling lips.

“See, you aren’t doing the loud sound now. You stopped.”

“Well, you distracted me.”

He claps and jumps up and down. Flecks of gold sparkle in his big brown eyes.

“See. Easy!”

“Well….the next time I’m not distracted, I will start crying again. I can’t stop it.”

“Why?”

“My heart is broken.”

Frowning, he hops forward and grabs onto my pointer finger with both hands, and closes his eyes. A faint tingling radiates from his touch and I close my eyes too. The sensation grows and grows, moving from my finger to my hand. It travels up my arm and across my body until soon every part of me feels warm and alive.

I’m standing on the banks of a wide gentle river that sings as it flows over hundreds of stones in shades of grey and white. Sunlight dances off the surface as tadpoles and minnows dart in and out of shadowy hiding places. Colorful ducks drift past and several round turtles scuttle off logs disappearing under the rippling water. A frog sits on my foot blinking up at me with wide, watery eyes.

My body feels as if all the sadness has been squeezed out. It flows away from me with the water. In its place, happiness bursts and blooms. I feel as I did when I was four years old. Free and silly. I splash into the water as a faint humming sound surrounds me. I open my eyes.

Sitting on the armrest of the chair is the creature I drew hundreds of times as a child. A wide green frog with kind watery eyes and a huge smiling mouth. He ribbits and sticks out his tongue. The little man has transformed into his real form. I laugh so hard I nearly knock him off the chair.

“Mr. Croaky! You’ve come back!”

He blinks but says nothing. I found him by the creek one day hiding in an old log. Mother told me she didn’t see him, but I knew he was real. When scary dogs barked at me on walks in the neighborhood, he’d hop onto my head to distract me. If nobody else could play, Mr. Croaky would show up and we’d go on adventures in the backyard. He came with me on my first day of school. He helped me meet Abby on the playground, hopping into her backpack and croaking until I came over and talked to her. I’ve missed my old friend.

The tingly feeling is fading from my body and I fear all my sadness will return when it does. I reach out to touch Mr. Croaky and he hops across me toward the other armrest. I hear a faint splash as something round and hard falls into my lap. A stone.

In an instant, I know things have shifted. Mr. Croaky has disappeared again and this time it’s forever. It doesn’t hurt like I thought it would, but it feels as if a part of me has left too. In its place though, I feel a spark of something new forming. A kind of hope which wasn’t there before. I think I’m going to be okay.

Picking up the stone I find the river still there when I close my eyes. It will be there for me whenever I need it. The sun outside rises slowly, painting the sky shades of gold and pink. Butterscotch falls to the ground as my mother comes in to tell me it’s time to go to school. I pick her up and gently place her back in the chair.

Author’s note: I rewrote the ending of this story for three days trying to find it. I kept having her whisked off to Neverland-type places so she wouldn’t have to face pain anymore. I wanted her to stay a little child so badly, but it’s not the truth. Although this ending broke my heart a bit, I know it’s the right one. I hope you enjoyed my story and I’d love to know if you remember your last moment of childhood. Did you have one? Have a wonderful week.


Short Story Challenge | Week 46

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story about the last moment of childhood. We had to include the words Thanksgiving, refrigerator, surprise, contribute, pier, bird, strength, iron, voices, and requirement.


Write With Us

Prompt: Chasing the enemy
Include: demon, bystander, escaped, parakeet, destiny, hammer, singing, ash, cathedral, heels


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

Poetry: The Mall Santa in November

Long before the first whiff of candy canes rise
A bauble-covered evergreen, enormous in size
Arrives in the mall for all the holiday-hooked
While fat turkey waits to be basted and cooked

Sitting center stage on a velvet couch of green
Glad tidings brought forth before casserole of bean
Dear Father Christmas, old Santa Claus himself
Precedes eggnog, gingerbread, or elf on the shelf

November’s mall Santa has quite an easy gig
Before shopping gets desperate, pushy, and big
Fur-lined coat, hair of white, smiling with ease
He waves at the shoppers, aiming only to please

So if you like your Saint Nicholas full of glee
Don’t wait until the line snakes around the tree
November’s the time to gather up all the holly
And visit the mall for your dose of the Big Jolly

Photography: Effie Yeaw Nature Center

“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.’”―Sylvia Plath

This morning my daughter and I visited the beautiful trails around Effie Yeaw Nature Center in Carmichael. A lot of uncertainty circles us right now and being in nature provided a much-needed respite. We saw five baby deer leap across the trail. Two large bucks slam their antlers into each other until one relented and ran off. Squirrels scampering up and down the trees. Salmon jumping out of the river. It felt magical to have this time together.

I hope you enjoy this selection of images and may it bring you a moment of peace.


  • Photos were taken with an Olympus OM-D and edited with ON1 Photo RAW

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A Night at the Carnival | A Short Story

“You can’t tell me what to do!”

Her long red nails flash in the streetlight as she shoves me off of the curb and into the filthy gutter with a splash. My ankle bends at an unnatural angle, sending spikes of pain through my leg, I drop my cigarette. This night is turning to shit.

The roar of the traffic and my splitting headache drowns out the rest of what she’s yelling, but I get the gist of it. She’s pissed and I’m wrong. Story of my life. People crowd around us putting an end to any chance I had of defending myself. She got her big scene.

Leaning sideways, a sign behind her catches my eye—The Sassafras Carnival. It’s dingy with half the bulbs on the sign blinking and the other half burned out. Cigarette butts and beer cans press against the blacked-out window. A seedy dive. My kind of place.

I stand up and step onto the curb, trying to shake off the sickening smell of gasoline and garbage from my pants and shoes. She slaps my face hard and stomps away in shiny black heels. The crowd weighs in as they disperse with not-so-quiet whispers.

“Jerk.”

“Serves him right.”

“What a loser!”

My eyes are still on her. Her red dress trails on the ground, soaking up the wetness from the recent downpour and turning the bottom dark crimson. Her hair falls from its high perch, the wind blowing the red curls into a dancing frenzy. I want to go after her, or at least call to her, but my ankle hurts and I’m thirsty.

The double doors open easily, clearly greased, and I walk into the smoke-filled room. It’s deep and dark, the shape you’d expect from a place like this. Everything’s a shade of maroon or gold with lots of tassels and animal prints. It’s a mix of the Moulin Rouge and those safari-themed restaurants you find near big amusement parks. The faint sound of music can be heard far inside, but it’s mostly drowned out by the sound of people talking and laughing. I can disappear here. It’s perfect.

A waitress wearing a sparkling gold cocktail dress and balancing a tray full of empty glasses stops in front of me. Her hair is tucked inside an elaborate hat with feathers, but a few loose strands of auburn stick to her cheeks. What’s with all the redheads, I almost say out loud, but the look on her face isn’t welcoming so I shut my mouth instead.

“You want to sit at the bar or by the stage?”

She’s got the deep voice of a cigarette smoker and dull hazel eyes. I can’t guess her age behind the thick makeup but she has a no-nonsense way about her, suggesting she’s close to my age. No time for anybody’s shit. My kind of gal.

“Stage,” I say. “Who’s performing tonight?”

I hope my voice sounds like I’m a regular or like I know stuff about music. She doesn’t answer, striding away all gold sequined hips and shiny black shoes. I follow, limping slightly.

In another life, she’d like me. We’d link arms and she’d steer me to the best seat in the house. She’d know my drink order and have it to me in a flash with a playful wink. A lipstick kiss would be on my napkin. But this ain’t that kind of life. I’m a loser nobody and she’s really not interested.

The further we go into the place, the darker and hazier with smoke it gets. A long bar sits on the right side of the room, with crowds of people all trying to get the attention of a stunning young bartender with a low-cut leopard-print shirt and bright red lipstick. She’s laughing and moving fast.

Rows of colored bottles and stacks of glasses line the shelves behind her. Bright gold mirrors and blurry out-of-focus landscape pictures cover the rest of the wall, giving the impression that the bar is larger than it is. I catch sight of my face in a mirror and look away in disgust. The faint smell of bourbon makes me swallow hard. I need a drink.

At the end of the bar we curve right and the music, which I’ve heard faintly since walking in, now is unavoidable. I reach into my pocket for earplugs, a habit I’d taken to in the years I used to come to places like this, but realize I don’t have them anymore. Why is it so loud? My teeth feel the vibration and my head pounds more. This was a bad idea.

My brain finally registers the sound as piano music and I groan. A piano bar. Shit. Before I can stop it, a vision of my mother sitting straight-backed at our family piano rushes forward. I’m holding my sister’s hands and we are dancing around the room to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Sunlight reflects off the dozens of prisms hanging in the window, casting rainbows all around us. We are smiling like idiots. Like innocents actually, but what’s the difference?

I try to focus on the throbbing pain in my ankle, but more images roll forward with the music. The old stuffed dog on my childhood bed. The collection of seashells in the glass bowl on the coffee table from our many family beach trips. Mother’s dark green garden gloves hanging on a hook by the back door. The silly controversy over who ate all the candy mom hid in the pantry. The pang of the loss of my old life hits me and adds to the waves of pain I’m feeling. I stumble and grab the arm of the waitress.

“What’s the matter with you?”

She yanks her arm from mine and scowls.

“Sprained ankle.”

She looks at my soaked pant legs, sighs, and walks on weaving in and out of a sea of small, round tables in a complicated manner I find irritating and unnecessary. The tables are filled with couples laughing, talking, smoking, and touching each other. Anger erupts prickly and red, an apple with spikes in it. I bite my lip and clench my fists.

We stop at a table in the center of the room made of oxidized metal, orange in the dim light, covered with tiny scratch marks. I sit in one of the two chairs, high-backed and made of soft dark velvet. The waitress speaks directly into my ear sending shivers through my body.

“What will it be?”

The words don’t make sense because the piano music has reached a thundering crescendo and the memory of my mom on her deathbed stabs my chest. I bite back tears and look at the stage trying to calm myself. Get it together.

Two large black pianos sit on opposite sides illuminated by bright white spotlights. Both are played exuberantly by performers in cheap plastic masks covering only part of their faces. A zebra and giraffe in matching black tuxedos. What kind of place is this?

The zebra’s got a dark brown fluffy beard sticking out the bottom of its mask, thick bulging arms, and fingers covered in shiny silver rings. The giraffe isn’t wearing a shirt under the tuxedo jacket, but a bright red bra barely containing two perfectly round breasts. Her black curly hair sparkles with silver glitter. The waitress grabs my face and turns it toward hers. Her fingers are icy cold.

“What will it be?”

She speaks slowly as if I’m hard of hearing or stupid. At the moment I feel I’m both.

“Bourbon,” I say. “Neat.”

She’s gone in a flash as the animal players stand and bow. Applause crashes around me; smashing cymbals, screeching monkeys, juvenile catcalls, and relentless banging. My head falls onto the cool metal table and I squeeze my eyes shut waiting for the applause to end. It doesn’t. It increases and transforms into a strange repetitive rhythm. I raise my head and open my eyes.

A spotlight shines center stage on a new masked figure, a tall woman dressed in a sapphire floor-length gown with a slit ending at her hip. Curly red hair peeks out around an oversized peacock mask, colorful feathers fanning out from her face in all directions. Crazed morning glory in the moonlight.

She sways and twirls in time to the clapping, eyes closed, and arms outstretched with her palms facing up. I find my body reacting to her movements, wanting to move with her. When she drops her hands suddenly, the place falls eerily silent. My body turns to stone and I stop breathing.

It’s not until she’s seated behind one of the shiny black pianos that I find my breath return. I suck in the smoky air as she pounds on the black and white keys with an awkward and clumsy style, lacking any melody or form I’ve heard before. I expect people to laugh or jeer, but nobody does.

Everyone, including me, leans forward in their chairs transfixed by this peacock woman. Her feet and legs are bare, white as porcelain. She throws her head back and closes her eyes. Perfect pink lips hum a quiet melody in contrast to the piano playing. I find myself going limp.

A drink slides toward me and I lift it to my lips without taking my eyes off the peacock woman. I feel dizzy and light-headed. I take another long gulp of bourbon, draining my glass, and another slides in front of me almost immediately.

I look over to find a man sitting in the velvet chair to my right. He’s practically my twin with the same dark rings under his eyes, the same unshaven face, and the same black hair in bad need of a haircut. His clothes are different though, while I’m dressed in navy blue pants and a matching suit jacket, he’s wearing faded jeans and a grey t-shirt. He leans forward and I follow his lead. He smells of exhaust and diesel.

“Ya know her?”

It’s a gruff voice, but one I know as my own. Shaking my head no, I take out a cigarette from my coat pocket and my twin leans forward to light it. I take a long drag, feeling the realness of the tobacco burn my lungs.

“Look harder.”

I’m not sure if he means at him or the woman. Both are familiar but I’m not a fan of games or riddles. I drain another glass of bourbon from the several on the table and take another drag of my cigarette. Have I chased a white rabbit? Did I swallow the red pill?

“I don’t like this game.”

The second the words leave my lips the music ends. People leap to their feet in applause and my twin joins them. I watch his movements, my movements, and I wonder if I’m still laying in the gutter outside. Maybe I was hit by a car or hit my head on the curb. I’m in a coma or some shit.

“You’re not.”

He’s back in his chair staring at me with my own eyes. I reach for another drink and find the table empty. The show’s over and people are talking loudly all around us, the spell of the peacock broken. My twin grabs my hand under the table and squeezes it hard.

“You have to let her find her own way.”

I touch the spot on my cheek she slapped and blink away hot tears. Mother told me to look after her, but she doesn’t listen to me. She’s going to get hurt. He squeezes my hand a second time, much harder.

“If you don’t, she’ll never speak to you again. She’ll be fine either way, but you won’t. The choice is yours.”

Closing my eyes, I picture what letting go of her would look like. I’ve followed her around for the last ten years, barely doing much of anything else. She’s not a child anymore and neither am I. What if I decided to let her go? Would it give me permission to live my own life? I barely remember my dreams anymore.

“You okay?”

Lifting my head I find the waitress standing beside me. No sign of my twin. Wiping off tears with the sleeve of my jacket, I notice golden and amber flecks in her hazel eyes. They aren’t dull at all. I nod as she sets another drink on the table with a small white napkin. She smiles before walking away and I feel warmth explode inside me.

My sister will be okay. I drink in those words. She’s a peacock in a sea of pigeons. I need to get out of her way.

Sipping the bourbon I see a faint kiss mark on my napkin. Flipping it over I find a phone number scrawled in light blue ink. Maybe we both can be okay.

Author’s note: This week as I’m swamped with NaNoWriMo, I decided to cheat a little. During the start of quarantine, I created a FB writing group with the intention of working through all the prompts in “Write the Story.” It didn’t really take off and it was mostly me writing with zero likes or comments. I quit at prompt 14. I decided to resurrect the first one I wrote to see how far my storytelling chops have developed. The draft written back then was sloppy and about half this length, more a silly mashup of the words and less an actual story. It was fun to rewrite it and give it structure and I’m pleased with how it turned out. Let me know in the comments what you think and have a wonderful week.


Short Story Challenge | Week 45

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story about a strange request at a piano bar. We had to include the words carnival, apple, sprained, mask, juvenile, controversy, oxidation, twirl, awkward, and sassafras


Write With Us

Prompt: The last moment of childhood

Include: Thanksgiving, refrigerator, surprise, contribute, pier, bird, strength, iron, voices, and requirement


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

Poetry: Current Mood

Crawl out of mismatched blankets to shiver write, heater broken again.

Cracked heels bleed in fuzzy grey socks, add self-care to today’s to-do list.

Must hold breath another week for mental health help, therapists get sick.

Tears fall fast in upstairs bathroom, moms know the art of hidden sadness.

Can’t take another hit, cold sore erupts fat, ugly on bottom lip.

Coffee in my cup is ice already, but what I need is some warmth.

Write, write, write all my crisp inside words, but does anybody want them?


Inspired by Brandon Ellrich, I used the format of the American Sentence this week to explore some of my current feelings. If you are unfamiliar with this poetic form, it was Allen Ginsberg’s effort to make American the haiku. It must be seventeen syllables and it comes from the notion, “poets are people who notice what they notice.” Thank you for reading my first attempt at these.

Photography: Feijoa Jam

We lived in our house for many years before discovering the fruit of the feijoa tree in the far right corner. I always appreciated its interesting pink and red flowers, but it wasn’t until my young son picked one of the fruits off the ground and took a bite I got really interested.

It’s a South American fruit, also known as a guavasteen or pineapple guava, and it’s got a mild and interesting flavor. The last few years I’ve harvested them and made them into muffins, but this year I decided to make jam to give away as Christmas presents.

If you are interested, the recipe I used is from a wonderful blog called The Fabulous Feijoa. You can also learn more about the history of the fruit in California and the world.


  • Photos were taken with an Olympus OM-D and edited with ON1 Photo RAW

What to see more?

Let’s Go to the Ocean | A Short Story

“What you need is luck,” Gemma says.

We’re hiding out in the storage room, pretending to move things from one spot to another. Although she’s wearing the same ugly blue vest as me, it doesn’t look bad on her. She pulls up the mesh sleeve of her striped undershirt and taps a tattoo of a magic eight ball on the inside of her wrist with a pointed black fingernail. One of her silver rings clinks against the other.

A moment of silence sits between us. I’m wondering if she means I need her, but I’m terrified to think such a thing. Last night after work we hung out by her beat-up brown car. She offered me a clove cigarette from her huge black purse and we stood shoulder to shoulder smoking. She talked nonstop, hilarious shit about her roommates. I laughed like an idiot.

I grab a bag of expired bread rolls and toss them at her. She catches them and sticks her tongue out at me. Her green eyes sparkle and dance like sunlight bouncing off the river. I’m in trouble. I force a laugh and look away.

“No shit I need luck. There’s no way I’m paying my rent this month. Whatever. It’s a crappy place anyway…”

My voice trails off because it sounds like I’m asking for a place to stay and I know her two roommates are assholes. I’m fucking this up. She gives me a reassuring look and I feel unsteady. My words come out in an outtake of breath as if they’d been sitting in my mouth waiting for me to let my guard down.

“Let’s go to the ocean.”

The image of her sitting beside me in the sand at sunset makes my face burn and I turn away from her. What am I doing? I haven’t had a car in two years let alone funds for gas or food. All I do is complain to her about being poor. She’s got to think I want to use her. I’m such an idiot.

“How about dinner tonight?”

She’s beside me now holding my hand. I look at her and it’s as if kindness has taken human form—all soft edges and gentle warmth. Flecks of gold dance in the green of her eyes. I’m drowning.

“Would you go out to dinner with me tonight, Eloise? My treat. I want to show you something.”

I nod as one of the night bosses, Mr. Parker, walks in the door. His brick-red puffy face looks at us standing close together and he frowns. I catch a glimpse of a golden cross in his chest hair and I brace myself for whatever nonsense he’s about to throw our way. His voice is fast and breathy.

“Eloise, go outside and break down the boxes to be recycled. Gemma, I’m moving you to books. Let’s go girls! I don’t pay you to stand around smiling all day.”

My shift ends a half hour before Gemma’s and I spot her standing in the book section holding a dictionary in her hand as some sweaty overweight man yells at her. He’s inches from her face. I want to punch him and rescue her, but Mr. Parker’s lurking nearby. I can smell his cheap cologne. I don’t want to get her into trouble and I need my stupid job. My feet drag as I walk away.

I wash myself up in the bathroom and go outside to stand next to her car. She comes out ten minutes after her shift ends with tears in her eyes. Instinctively I hug her close and she lets me hold her while she sobs. The customers at our store can be brutal. The bosses aren’t much better. I wish I could take her away from this place.

“Some people are so mean, you know?” she says into my shoulder.

I do know. My entire life has been filled with mean people, but it won’t help her to compare pain. She hands me a clove cigarette and we smoke again, standing with our backs against the cool metal of her car. A flock of geese flies past honking loudly. The sky darkens. She flicks her cigarette on the ground and grinds it out with the toe of her black Doc Martin boot.

“Okay, let’s get away from this place.”

We drive to a Chinese restaurant called “Lucky Day” and she orders us both rice bowls with extra chicken to-go. She plays old Britney Spears music and we sing along at the top of our lungs. We watch the sunset turn the sky orange and purple.

After about 20 minutes she pulls onto a dirt road. It’s bumpy and uneven so she slows the car. We drive through tall arching trees and a narrow twisting road going up and up. I hold onto the door handle and she laughs at me. When we reach the top she turns off the car and smiles.

“Get out.”

A tiny part of me wonders if this is where I die. It’s a ridiculous thought because I’m not scared of her, but it’s the middle of nowhere and we barely know each other. She seems to sense my discomfort and laughs again.

She pulls out a flashlight, a blanket, and two black hoodies which we quickly put on. She hands me the bag of food and I follow her through a densely wooded area until we reach a pile of boulders. Without hesitation, she scrambles to the top and I follow as best I can. She drops the blanket and clicks off the flashlight.

“What do you think?”

At first, my eyes see nothing but blackness, but soon I’m able to recognize a vast field of trees and grasses spreading out below us for what looks like forever. A tiny patch of glittery water catches the pale moonlight—a river or stream. She tilts my head up and I gasp. Without any streetlights or homes, the sky above us has exploded with more stars than I’ve ever seen. It’s what poets write about and artists paint. It’s breathtaking.

“Wow.”

“Right?”

We stand for a long time saying nothing until her stomach rumbles loudly eliciting giggles from both of us. Spreading out the blanket, we eat the rice bowls in silence. I’ve never been able to recognize a meaningful moment when I’m in it, but this time I do. This isn’t any old place and she’s not any old person. It feels like fate. Like destiny. Like an origin story of happiness.

Eventually, it gets cold and we decide to walk back to the car. She blasts the heater but leaves off the lights. We sit in silence for a long time. It’s as if neither one of us wants to break the spell cast by the night sky. I finally speak and my voice sounds small.

“Thank you.”

“It’s my favorite place. I found it a few years ago when I was looking for a place to…well…I didn’t really want to live anymore. This place sort of healed me. I’m glad you liked it.”

“I loved it.”

A loud crinkling sound fills the car as she reaches into the front pocket of her hoodie and pulls out our fortune cookies. She turns on the overhead light and we both crack them open.

“The real kindness comes from within you,” she reads. “Ugh. These things are getting more and more generic. That’s not a fortune. Maybe you will have better luck. Read yours.”

“A golden egg of opportunity falls into your lap this month.”

We both burst out laughing. I know a joke is there somewhere about her on my lap, but I don’t try to get it out. Instead, I fold up the fortune and put it into my pocket. Who knows? Maybe my luck is about to change. With her, it feels like anything is possible.

“It’s 11:11.”

She’s pointing at the small clock and I nod. I can tell I’m missing something. She squeezes my hand.

“Do you know what it means?”

“You turn into a pumpkin? I wake up and it’s all a dream? Your clock is broken?”

“11 in numerology is a master number. It’s extra powerful. It takes the energy of 1 and amplifies it. To see 11:11 means you are on the right path.”

She squeezes my hand again and when our eyes lock the car tilts sideways.

***

My studio apartment has an old-fashioned landline with a chocolate brown phone attached to the kitchen wall beside an electric stove with one working burner. The back left. The dirty tan spirling cord stretches long enough to reach every room. I find myself sitting on the wobbly toilet staring at the torn flowered wallpaper with the phone still pressed to my ear.

The person on the other end of the line, Jimmy something, has hung up. Boop. Boop. Boop. It’s a faded electric sound and for a moment I think it’s someone mimicking or mocking the noise. I listen harder and realize I’m wrong. Nobody is there. I’m alone.

You’d think finding out your only relative has died would be terribly sad, but I’ve not seen my grandpa for a long time. He left me with a family for the weekend when I was five and never came back. I don’t blame him.

Holding the phone out in front of me as if the booping sound might be a countdown to an explosion, I walk through the narrow hallway to the kitchen. With a click of plastic sliding into plastic, it’s quiet again. I sit on the cold linoleum floor in my underwear and bra. Crumbs stick to the back of my thighs. All I can think about is the phone call.

I didn’t know the landline worked until it rang. A British man speaks to me in a soft tone, as if he’s speaking to a small child or a furry animal, not someone who will be 20 years old in a few weeks. I suppose it’s meant to be soothing, but it feels condescending.

“I’ve been trying to reach you for days but apparently your cell number has been disconnected. I got this number from your work. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Miss Lewis, but your grandfather has passed away. He died in a car crash on Friday night after attending a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. It’s a tragedy. He was a good man. A fine man.”

He pauses. I’m not sure why. Perhaps he’s waiting for me to cry or ask follow-up questions. I don’t do either. Eventually, he clears his throat and speaks again, this time he sounds happier. Almost gleeful.

“He left you a considerable sum of money, Miss Lewis. Property too. I’ll need you to come into my office in LA. to sign the paperwork. It’s pretty straightforward. Check your email for the details. You are about to be a very wealthy woman. Congratulations.”

Another pause. I probably mumble “okay” or “yes” but I don’t remember. His voice transforms back to soothing—the sound equivalent of backing away slowly. He knows it’s a lot for anyone to process, especially someone clearly not doing great in her life.

“Sorry for your loss, Miss Lewis. See you soon. Goodbye.”

Magic eight ball. Golden egg. 11:11. Gemma.

A dripping sound from the sink brings me back to where I am—sitting on my dirty kitchen floor shivering. The faucet’s been leaking for the past three months, but right now the sound feels like an urgent alarm. I’ve got to get moving. Things to do. I don’t know how to do any of them.

A line of ants marches across the floor toward a stray light-brown generic toasted O piece from the last of the cereal I ate dry for dinner last night. I trace the line as it marches up my scratched brown cupboards to the small curtainless kitchen window. My thoughts wander as I watch them, backward instead of forward.

Both my parents died when I was a baby in a horrific accident on the highway. They’d gone dancing at the Elk Lodge as their first outing since I was born. The headline in the newspaper read “Swing Dance Champions Killed in Two-Car Crash” with the subhead “Alcohol Involved.” I printed out a copy of the article from the library when I was a teenager and remembered the words “quick” and “instant.”

Framed in my bedroom is a photo the babysitter took before they left. We are standing in front of a glittery silver Christmas tree. Mom’s dressed in deep purple and dad in dark green. He’s got his lean arms around her tiny waist and they are both staring at me smiling. I’m wrapped in a pale pink blanket and my red hair and blue eyes are the brightest things in the photo. We look deliriously happy. I wish I could remember.

My grandpa did his best but he wasn’t cut out to care for a small child. A music producer with contracts with some of the biggest names in the business, his lifestyle wasn’t exactly family-friendly. His LA office walls were covered in shiny gold and platinum album covers. He talked fast, always clicked a pen, and smiled a lot. He chewed gum. I don’t remember if he ever hugged me.

I do remember his secretary. She wore cat-eye glasses, and bright red lipstick, and smelled of vanilla. I spent a lot of time hiding under her desk and eating chocolate. Her name was Valerie. Will she be at the funeral? She’s got to be in her 80s.

I need to make plans. Take out the garbage. Spray the ants. Get time off from work. A bus ticket. I’ll need something black to wear to the funeral. Will Gemma miss me?

“You are about to be a very wealthy woman.”

I can’t think about it too much or maybe it won’t happen. Bad things always follow when I get my hopes up. Fortune cookies are nonsense. I look at the clock and see it’s 11:11.

***

The last few weeks have been a blur of technicolor LA opulence. Jimmy, the fancy British lawyer who called me, is a pretty decent guy with his silk Italian suits, well-manicured hands, and rich warm laugh. I know he’s paid to help me, but I couldn’t survive without the services he provides—a strict and steady Hollywood regime of valium, alcohol, and expensive dresses. I’m Alice in Wonderland and it’s all curiouser and curiouser.

I stay in grandpa’s posh LA apartment, one of three properties he left me in his will. Most of the place is chrome, absurdly clean, and lacking any personal artifacts. The one exception is a photograph of me on his nightstand. I am 4 or 5, the age when he left me, laughing in candy cane pajamas. When I tilt my head in the dim light faint fingerprints appear on the silver frame. I stare at them for hours wondering why he never tried to find me.

Jimmy said grandpa paid a “nice family” to raise me in the suburbs. He thought they’d give me a better home. “Safe from the LA crazies.” He didn’t come to visit because he wanted me to have a normal life. It’s probably good he didn’t. I’m not sure what would have happened if he knew the truth about how they treated me. The abuse. I’m sure it would have broken his heart.

Grandpa’s funeral is a who’s-who of the music scene and I meet more famous people and Hollywood stars than I can name. Each one says “your grandfather was a hell of a man.” I say “thanks” as if I’d been a part of it.

Grandpa left a lot of unfinished business, personal and professional. I sit through dozens of wildly uncomfortable meetings where people glare at me and say “who is this again?” They want to be sure I know I am a nobody. Unfortunately for them, I am the nobody who gets the money they think is theirs.

Apparently, grandpa led a very active social life. I have more than one drink thrown in my face. One woman even calls me a “charlatan.” For some reason I like it. I might have it tattooed on my arm. I can afford it.

Besides the apartment in LA, I now own a penthouse in New York and a beach house along the Northern California coast. I also have a car. It’s not just any car. It’s a shiny black 1956 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz. I polish it myself with super expensive wax. I name it Ben.

After kissing Jimmy goodbye and promising to come back soon, I kick off my shoes and drive barefooted the six hours back home. I eat sunflower seeds throwing the shells out the window while wearing a flowing white dress with tiny daisies embroidered on the sleeves. My red hair tangles in the wind and I sing at the top of my lungs to the Grateful Dead.

“Walk out any doorway. Feel your way, feel your way like the day before. Maybe you’ll find direction around some corner where it’s been waiting to meet you.”

Pulling into the parking lot of my old work, I’m thrilled to see Gemma’s old brown car parked along the side entrance. I park beside it, run my fingers through my hair, and apply pink lip gloss. It’s a little over three hours before she comes out. I’ve been dozing off and on, but at the sight of her, I’m wide awake.

She’s wearing a black hoodie and she stops beside her car, digs through her big black bag, and pulls out a clove cigarette. Her makeup has smeared and it’s clear she’s been crying. I don’t want to startle her, so I wait.

After a few minutes, her eyes find mine. Recognition takes a moment but it’s worth it. Her face transforms. Light returns to her eyes and her cheeks pinken.

“Your golden egg, huh?”

Smiling, I nod slowly and pat the leather seat beside me.

“Let’s go to the ocean.”

Author’s note: It’s the first week of NaNoWriMo and so far I’m on track! Last night I ventured across town to read my poetry in person at an amazing bookstore. I’m leaning more and more into this writing life. It’s scary and beautiful. My story this week features the character who wanted me to write her last week, Eloise Lewis. She didn’t want to meet the devil, but she did want to run away to the ocean. It felt nice to give her a happy ending. I hope you enjoyed it.


Short Story Challenge | Week 44

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story where a fortune cookie comes true. We had to include the words numerology, hilarious, dictionary, recycled, brick, ocean, meaningful, garbage, star, and origin.


Write With Us

Prompt: A Strange Request at a Piano Bar

Include: carnival, apple, sprained, mask, juvenile, controversy, oxidation, twirl, awkward, sassafras


My 52-Week Challenge Journey