I’m sitting at my favorite coffee shop with avocado toast and an oat milk latte. Low-fi beats play in my rose gold headphones and I’m lost in the art of storytelling. People rush around me, blurring on the edge of my vision, but I’ve fallen into the words and barely register the ticking of the clock or the feel of my body in the chair.
It feels like magic.
I’m an archaeologist uncovering the bones of an ancient beast buried deep within myself. I’m a wizard casting a spell upon the page. I’m the heroine discovering the power to change the world was inside me the whole time.
I’m a writer.
I’ve had this realization before, but something this time feels different. It’s not simply an identity adopted, but a feeling deep inside my bones I’m doing the thing I’m supposed to be doing.
It feels a lot like purpose.
Thank you 52-week writing challenge.
When my writing partner Anna and I sat down late last year and envisioned the challenge, we were seeking more accountability. We wanted to continue the momentum we’d experienced doing NaNoWriMo—harnessing our creative energy more consistently. We figured the more we wrote, the more energy we’d have to work on our manuscripts and the closer we’d be to following our dreams of being published.
Twelve weeks in is the perfect time to reflect on what I’ve learned so far:
I’ve started to see a clear pattern in the way I approach a story idea. I read the prompt over and over until a character begins to speak to me. I journal each morning, playing with possible story ideas for the character and feeling them out with many starts and stops. When I hit on the story it feels like something clicks and then, and only then, can I begin to write. If I start before that moment it will be rambling and I’ll have to start over.
I need the accountability of writing on deadline. My week has a definite rhythm now and it revolves around publishing on my blog and my photography. It feels comfortable and is getting easier. The first few weeks I waited until the last minute to begin and it resulted in a lot of late nights. Now, I publish on Saturday, rest on Sunday, and begin planning and thinking of the next story on Monday.
I find story ideas and photo opportunities everywhere. I sit still and feel the energy of the words inside me. I craft sentences in the shower, while I’m driving, and when I’m folding laundry. It feels like managed chaos—the energy has a place to go.
I’m making my writing a priority. I used to “try and write” around my schedule. I’d let things get in the way all the time, often seeking and finding ways to sabotage my writing time by doing things for others, cleaning my house, or playing games on my phone. I felt like I wasn’t a “real writer” and therefore I couldn’t take the time away from my family or my friends for a “hobby.” These short stories have shifted that. I write now because I must, and it is a priority.
My anxiety has lessened. The beauty of the weekly challenge is you have to post on a deadline so there isn’t time to short-circuit and collapse under the weight of self-doubt. I don’t have time to think too much about if what I’m writing is “good” or “good enough.” Time chases me and doesn’t allow me the space to think too long and hard about any of it. I can’t let Anna down. I can’t let myself down. I have to keep going.
It’s completely reframed the way I look at writing and my goals for the future. While I don’t have the time I thought I would for working on my manuscripts, I feel my writing style shifting and my skills improving with each short story. It feels like these words are necessary to keep growing my skills so when I return to my manuscripts it will be with fresh eyes and new skills. I still dream of being a published author, but I’m aware of the fact I’m not ready yet. I have more work to do.
I’m investing in myself. I’ve grown my readership on my blog and I’ve signed up for writing classes and workshops. I paid extra to have the ads taken off my website. I’ve not been this committed in the past, and I’m excited to see where it’s going.
The overall feeling is one of potential and growth. I don’t know why this project feels important, but it does. I’m going to keep moving forward and trust this is leading somewhere.
I’d like to thank my writing partner Anna for constantly pushing me, inspiring me, and blowing me away with her artwork and incredibly beautiful writing. I’m so happy to be on this journey with her. It’s fun to see how different we both interpret the prompt and I’m looking forward to a huge party with her at the end of the year.
Also, thank you to everyone who likes or comments on my blog. I value each and every one of you. Your support feels like a warm blanket I can slip into when the negative self-talk becomes too loud. It’s encouraging and appreciated.
See you on Saturday with my take on a haunted house story.
Write with us
If you find yourself in a rut or could use a framework for your chaotic creativity, consider joining us on this journey. We’d love to have you! There’s no commitment, and you can start and stop whenever you like. You make the rules for yourself. The prompt for the next week is at the bottom of our stories each week. Let me know if you write one of the prompts and I’ll link to your blog.
Bright orange flames lick the glass sides of the fireplace and I wonder who made the fire, him or me? I press my hot, sticky hands over my ears and rock back and forth on the dirty wooden floor.
He took me here, away from any sense of community or family or love. He wanted me for himself and then he didn’t want me anymore. Aftershocks of anger ripple through my body causing me to shiver and shake, despite dripping with sweat.
There’s a crashing sound in the next room and I roll on my side to watch the doorway. We’d left the radio on in the bedroom and I can hear the drawling sound of Dwight Yoakam through the wall.
I’m a thousand miles from nowhere
Time don’t matter to me
‘Cause I’m a thousand miles from nowhere
And there’s no place I want to be
I grab his pistol from the floor and pull myself to a sitting position, scooting until my back rests against the leather couch. I lay the cold black metal across my naked legs and wipe my hands across the wooden floor leaving long, dark smears.
The sunrise beginning outside the bay window feels remarkably tame compared to the sunset I’d photographed with my Nikon last night. I remember him coming up behind me, grabbing my hips, and forcefully pulling me into him.
“Can’t beat the view,” he’d said.
I’d wanted to argue with him, but I couldn’t while staring at the painted clouds, almost a reverse rainbow of arching light with golden tinged shades of purple and pink. It reminded me of a Monet painting I’d seen as a child with my grandfather in Paris, although I think it was called “Sunrise.”
I’d snapped picture after picture until the sky turned black and the stars winked at me from a thousand points. He’d been kissing my neck and pulling my hips toward him, and I did my best to ignore the way my body reacted to his touch.
“I hate the desert,” I’d said.
He’d pressed himself harder against me and slid his hands around to grab my aching breasts and pinch my nipples. The endless sight of the rolling brown sand in all directions intensified my feeling of anxiety, of feeling abandoned and tiny. I tried to make out the reddish-brown mountains I knew were off in the distance, but the moon had disappeared and I couldn’t find them. He spun me around and kissed me hard, knocking the camera from my hands. I left it in the sand.
A plaintive high-pitch screech sounds from the bedroom, followed by another crash; my stack of books falling off the nightstand. It’s coming for me, the shadow creature, the death bringer, he’s come to drag me to the underworld. I look at the gun wearily and wonder how many bullets are left and if they’d do me any good.
I fold my arms across my naked chest and think about my first-grade classroom, the last place I remember feeling truly safe. It was a warm yellow room with tiny windows high up near the ceiling and a huge green chalkboard. Our teacher, Miss Elle, wrote in swirling cursive handwriting across the board, ”I meant what I said and I said what I meant.” It was a Dr. Seuss quote and it was supposed to encourage honesty, but I’d read it over and over and wondered what it meant to not say what you mean and not mean what you say because that’s what I knew.
It’s what he knew too.
I met him when I’d fallen off my horse riding in the fields behind our farm and broke my ankle. The horse, a young gelding I was training for a rich kid at school, ran back to the farm without me. He came from nowhere and lifted me from the mud as if I weighed no more than a feather. The fairytale knight in jeans and a cowboy hat, and me the broken damsel in muddy distress.
From the start, his words were honey, and I was a mere ant. He used them to patch the holes my parents had punched into me, making me into a patchwork girl he could love and control. Oh, how I wish I’d been a bee and could create my own honey.
“It’s the end of democracy,” he’d told me one morning at a truck stop.
He was eating pancakes, the fork stopped in mid-air with syrup dripping down in little dark droplets. I couldn’t eat, but I sipped lukewarm black coffee and tried not to let my apathy look like disrespect or disinterest. He hates when I “space out.”
“The statistics don’t lie Jolene. It’s a matter of time before civil war breaks out and then where will you be? We gotta go. You know I’m right and I’ll protect you,” he said. “You trust me, right?”
He’d been trying these lines out on me for weeks, but it wasn’t until I thought I might be pregnant I’d started to listen. The farm had gone into foreclosure and the few friends I’d managed to hold onto had grown weary of trying to break through the walls he’d placed around me. I felt stuck; an ant trapped in the honey. I agreed to go with him.
“We aren’t running because of cowardice or because we are criminals, but rather as an act of brave defiance,” he said as we loaded his rusted red pickup truck with our few possessions and his stockpile of food, guns, and ammunition. “We refuse to be a part of it. You and I are above such things. We know the truth.”
I felt no such feelings, but I made no comment. I’d felt the words inside me shriveling more and more as we drove; as if I’d left them buried in the old rice field behind the farm. I didn’t like the change in myself, but he’d slip his hand between my legs and I’d stop caring. It didn’t matter. Nothing did.
There’s a rustling in the hallway and I grab the pistol and aim it in front of me with shaking hands. I expect to see a shadow monster slink out of the darkness toward me like liquid death, but instead, it’s an enormous bird. Bright amber eyes, a hooked beak outlined in yellow, and layers of soft, brown feathers meet my eyes as it hops into the room and screeches a short, piercing cry.
We stare at each other for a moment, its head jerking from side to side as if evaluating my threat level or sizing me up as possible prey. I lower the gun and it shakes its head and scuttles across the floor dragging something silver in its huge talons.
It reaches the shut bay window and stares at the early morning sunrise, the golden peak of color on the horizon illuminating the jagged mountains far off in the distance. It screeches again, stretches out its wings, and spins in a circle revealing a patch of dark reddish feathers jutting out below the light brown ones.
It’s a red-tailed hawk, one of the few birds we see in the desert. He liked to tell me hawks are the warriors of truth, a sign we’d made the right decision to leave everything behind and come here. He’d point them out and expect me to share in his revelations or visions. I don’t. I see a scared and smelly old bird.
The bird screeches again, jumps into the air, and attempts to fly. Its wings are too wide for the small space and it knocks into the walls falling with a pitiful cry into a heap by the fireplace. It clicks its beak, turns its head back and forth, and stares at me. I feel sorry for it, trapped in these walls.
Grabbing the gun, I walk in tiny sideways steps toward the hallway. The hawk jumps onto the rocking chair in the corner and, when the chair moves, tumbles in a heap onto the floor. It seems unharmed, but more frantic. I rush down the hallway and into the darkness of our room.
I pull on a dirty yellow sundress and a pair of black lace underwear from the floor and try not to look at anything of his. I step on tip-toes through broken glass and splinters of wood to grab my Anne of Green Gables book. He’d tried to rip it, to hurt the one thing I’d taken from my childhood home, but I’d flung it toward the wall and out of his reach. I inspect it for damage and find the cover torn, but the pages inside are unharmed. I breathe in the musty smell of old paper and tuck it under my arm.
Slipping on my dusty brown boots, I grab his keys and walk to his ugly red truck. I stare at the logo on the side, the ridiculous painting of an eagle holding an American flag. He spent our first weeks here in white coveralls painting the hideous display of his supposed patriotism, while I scoured and scrubbed the abandoned house and tried to make it look like a home. I’d never felt safe here, despite his constant patrolling and the large green machine gun mounted in the bed of the truck.
To me, his patriotism looks a lot like cowardice and selfishness, running when things got hard instead of helping or being part of some kind of progress or change. I grab a large porous rock and scrape off the paint, scratching out his careful brushstrokes, erasing his masterpiece from the Earth. When I’m done, covered in sweat, I slip down onto the rocky driveway to catch my breath. My hands and body ache.
The hawk walks out the back door in a sort of hesitant wobble, keeping its bright eyes on me. I point at the truck.
“Looks better doesn’t it?” I say.
The hawk says nothing but takes flight circling around and around me as if inspecting the scene from all angles. I hear other hawks and it swoops toward them, toward the sun fully risen above the mountains casting its golden rays of light upon the desert and me.
There’s a glint of silver by the front door, the hawk’s treasure it dragged through the house sits stuck in the thickly woven doormat. I’m terrified to retrieve it. I imagine him standing there waiting just inside the dark doorway smoking and pacing in his black boots. I think I can hear him in the shadows, smell his sweat, but I crawl forward through the gravel anyway. Ignoring the pain of tiny pebbles piercing the flesh of my hands and knees, I keep my eyes on the ground. I refuse to look up. I refuse to look for him.
It’s his lighter, a small tarnished silver square with his initials carved into the side. It belonged to his grandfather, a man he admired for his strength and his war medals. A framed black-and-white photo of him sits on the bookshelf in the living room and I’d been struck by how much their jaws, cheekbones, and eyes were unmistakably the same. I wondered what happened to his grandmother.
I flick open the lighter and stare at the bright orange flame, so much like him. A rush of cold wind swirls sand around me stinging my skin and forcing me to close my eyes. I use the doorframe to pull myself to my feet and run toward the truck. He’s right behind me in the sand calling my name. Jolene. Jolene.
Tucking his gun between my legs, I press down the clutch and turn the key in the ignition. The old truck roars to life sputtering and thundering.
“Take me far from here,” I say, patting the dusty dashboard.
Rocks fly and hit the sides of the truck as it rumbles down the long driveway. I stop at the wooden cross marking the turn and roll down my window. I take a final glance behind me, toss the lighter into the sand and turn onto the main road.
Author’s note: I had lots of fun ideas for this week’s prompt, but with all that’s happening in the world my brain would not write playful or silly. I can’t say exactly what sparked this idea, but it may have something to do with a house we pass each day on the drive to my children’s school with a huge green piece of wood covered in strange conspiracy theory rhetoric. As it often does, the story took its own meandering path from there. I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below. Thank you for reading.
“What a waste of time,” Bruce says to nobody in particular. “I knew it wouldn’t fit any of those twelve silly sisters. I feel bad for their poor father with all of them talking at once and dancing everywhere. Such a nightmare.”
Prince Charming nods but says nothing. He holds his head high, mounts his pure white stallion, and kicks him forward with boots of shiny black leather. Bruce watches him for a moment, taking in his blonde curls, his golden crown of ivy, his white riding pants, and his blue velvet jacket. He looks like a boy playing a game, not a grown man who will be crowned King.
Bruce has been the valet and personal assistant to Prince Charming since he was seven. When he’d met the small, pale boy, his nanny had quit and his father wanted him to have a male attendant. Bruce thought it would be an easy job. He was happy to move out of his rundown shack, wear nice clothes, eat three meals a day, and live in the gleaming white palace.
He had no idea how difficult the job would be. At first, the young boy would run from him and hide all over the palace. He’d jump out and scare the maids, break things and run, or leave the palace grounds and roam the nearby villages. Each time the prince got into trouble, it was Bruce who faced the consequences. He soon learned his real job was covering up the prince’s actions and hiding them from the King. Not an easy job at all.
When he was 8, Prince Charming became obsessed with a white lamb in the stables. He named it Weatherby and spent all his time carrying it around. The King had a strict no-animal policy in the palace, but the prince insisted on sneaking it inside and feeding it food he swiped from the cook. Each night, Bruce would remove the lamb from the prince’s arms and return it to the stables, and each morning he’d find it curled up sleeping on the prince’s pillow. Bruce would smuggle it back outside in his jacket before it could be discovered, leaving him smelling like an animal for the rest of the day.
When he was 10, Prince Charming decided he wanted to become a knight. Bruce would find him pulling a heavy sword down a hallway or practicing archery by shooting the King’s prized pumpkins. Once he snuck out at night and tried to join the watchmen, wearing one of their uniforms he’d swiped from the laundress. Bruce had to follow him everywhere, making sure he didn’t hurt himself or others.
As the prince grew, he showed less and less interest in playing games or sneaking around. Instead, he grew sullen and serious. He’d walk around the gardens with his head hung low, refusing to do his lessons or practice his swordsmanship. Bruce became more of a friend and mentor, encouraging the young prince to prepare himself for the day he would become King. They’d spend hours together reading, talking and Bruce grew quite fond of the prince.
On the prince’s 16th birthday, a caravan arrived from the Eastern Kingdom bringing with it an auburn-haired girl wearing a flowing dress of bight pink. Her name was Princess Papillon and she was presented to the prince as his betrothed, an arrangement made when he was a baby to brokerage peace. He knew nothing about the deal, and neither did Bruce. It felt like a cruel birthday joke, and the prince was furious. He refused to have anything to do with her, even if she was incredibly beautiful.
“She’s a pink pampered poodle of a person,” he’d screamed loud enough for the entire palace to hear.
Bruce knew the prince’s anger was about being told who he had to marry, rather than towards the girl herself. However, the statement caused a great rift between the two kingdoms. It almost ended in war. Lucky for all involved, the King was a powerful negotiator and, after many days of heated discussion, he was able to negotiate a peace treaty involving trade benefits in the Eastern Kingdom’s favor.
The moment the delegation left, the King rounded on Prince Charming. They had a terrible fight, and the prince said he would rather give up his title than marry any woman his father chose for him. As the prince is the sole heir to the throne, a compromise had to be found.
The “Who Wants to be the Queen?” ball held last night was the compromise. The King invited every girl in the kingdom, including princesses from far and wide, and the prince agreed to pick one to be his future queen. It was an elaborate evening with the finest of everything; food, clothing, decorations, and musicians. Bruce got quite drunk and figured the evening would end with the prince happy and content, but things got strange.
The mysterious girl the prince spent the evening dancing with, a stunning girl with golden hair and sparkling bright eyes, suddenly dashed out of the palace at midnight leaving behind her glass slipper on the grand staircase. Prince Charming, devastated and heartsick, organized a quest at once. Bruce, as his right-hand man, had spent the last six hours knocking on doors and shoving the slipper on the sweaty foot of more girls than he can count. It’s been exhausting, demeaning and rather depressing to see the Prince acting so lovesick.
It takes several soldiers to hoist Bruce back on his horse, a brown filly with a gut as round as his own. Both Bruce and the horse grunt, the horse from carrying his weight, and Bruce weary from lack of sleep and a night of excess food and drink, even for Bruce. A soldier hands him the golden basket containing the slipper, and he considers, for about the hundredth time, dropping it on the forest floor and watching it shatter. Instead, he kicks his horse forward until he’s beside Prince Charming.
“Sire,” Bruce tries. “I know I’ve said this already, but I wish you’d reconsider. This girl should be coming to you, not the other way around. You should not have to track her down. You are going to be King. It’s unbecoming.”
Prince Charming’s hand rests on the hilt of his sword, but he says nothing. Bruce pulls on the reins, and his horse slows. They ride in silence, surrounded by a dozen soldiers and pages, toward the next house on the search. Bruce knows when the prince has his mindset and there’s nothing he can say or do to change it.
Everyone at the ball agreed, the girl had the glow of magic about her. Bruce worries she may have been an enchantress who has bewitched the young prince. Her quick disappearance, the one glass slipper, and his complete and utter obsession with her all points to sorcery. He’d tried to get an audience with the King to share this opinion, but he would not grant one. As usual, the King wants results and doesn’t care how they happen. While the King’s focused on securing his legacy by having the prince married, Bruce wants the prince to be happy.
A family of rabbits dart from the underbrush, scaring the horses who whinny and jerk to a stop. Bruce loses his grip on the basket, and it tumbles from his hands. A freckled-face young page dives off his horse and catches the basket before it hits the ground. He stands, several fresh cuts on his cheek and arm, and bows before Bruce.
“I saved it,” he says.
“So you did,” says Bruce.
Prince Charming gives the young boy a nod, and he beams. He will be telling this story to his family for years to come, the day he saved the glass slipper for the prince. He limps over to his small horse and remounts. The other pages give him encouraging smiles, but Bruce scowls. This was so close to being over.
They’ve been riding in the direct sunlight for an hour and Bruce feels weak and light-headed. He clutches the basket with one hand and wipes sweat from his eyes with the other. He sighs with relief when they turn off the main road and enter a dense grove of tall redwood trees.
The path here’s a bit overgrown, and he considers catching up to Prince Charming to suggest they return to the road when a small two-story cottage comes into view. It’s made of wood and thatch, with a pattern like a stacked deck of cards, boards of varying dark and white wood. There’s a kind of wildness about the place, and it makes the hairs on Bruce’s arms stand on end.
Prince Charming dismounts and waits with his hands on his hips for Bruce. It’s a bit of a process to get the chubby man off his horse, and it involves several guards and a fair amount of moaning. Stiffly, he carries the basket and meets the prince at the door.
“This could be the place,” the prince says. “I can feel it. We are getting nearer to her.”
“Sure,” Bruce says.
Prince Charming grabs him by his shoulders and spins him so they are facing each other. There’s a look of manic love in those baby blue eyes, a sort of desperate hopefulness Bruce can’t ignore. For a moment he forgets his pains and wishes happiness for the young prince.
“We will find her,” he says.
“Your friendship means the world to me. I can’t imagine doing this without you.”
“There’s no place I’d rather be.”
He’s surprised he means it and hopes the owner of the slipper loves Prince Charming and isn’t an evil enchantress. He gestures for the royal horns to be blown and knocks on the door. It’s a few minutes before a high voice can be heard through the heavy wood.
“Open the door,” Bruce yells. “Prince Charming has arrived and demands an audience with you at once.”
“Seems a bit harsh,” the prince whispers.
Bruce agrees, but it’s the first time he’s had to answer such a question. Each house before had thrown open its doors when they heard the horse hooves on the road. All had laid out elaborate settings of food and wine. Bruce had eaten and drank more than he could handle, but he was taken back by this house’s lack of pomp.
The door opens with a creak, and they are face to face with a young girl dressed in a strange costume. She’s wearing large round glasses, far too big for her face, making her eyes appear as two giant saucers of blueberry jam. An oversized pink-flowered bonnet covers her hair, ears, and forehead. Wrapped around her body, held closed by a rather dirty hand, is a tattered quilt of brown and green squares with a noticeable amount of brown fur clinging to it.
She blinks and yawns. It’s clear they have woken her up, even though it’s getting close to lunchtime. She shifts and it looks like she might close the door in their faces.
“What’s going on?” she says.
There’s no mistaking the grumpiness in her voice, and the prince takes a step back. She scowls and for a second, Bruce worries she may attack them. Perhaps she’s a wild child living alone in the woods. He takes a protective step in front of the prince.
“Are you the only one home?” Bruce asks.
He tries to peer behind the girl, but she’s blocking the doorway. She lowers the glasses from her nose and gives them a good look, up and down. Her gaze stops on the prince’s crown, and her face transforms. She gives them a huge smile of brilliantly white teeth, and her voice becomes sugary sweet.
“Wait a second. Did you say he was a prince? Like The Prince Charming?”
“Yes,” Bruce says.
The girl giggles, her cheeks turning instantly pink. She bows, bending her body so her nose touches the floor. The pink bonnet falls from her head revealing an abundance of shiny blonde ringlets. She stands and removes the oversized glasses, but her blue eyes remain large and bright. She throws the quilt to the floor and bounces on her heels.
“A prince has come to see me,” she says. “It’s my lucky day!”
She does a sort of elaborate curtsey, with one knee almost touching the floor and one leg pulled far behind her. Her dress, soft blue checkered with a fluffy white petticoat underneath, has splotches of porridge all down the front. She doesn’t seem to notice though, beaming at the prince.
“Oh, you’ve caught me at a bad time,” she says, grabbing his hand and pulling him forward. “I’m usually much more bubbly. Please, come in and join me by the fireplace.”
The prince doesn’t move, so she yanks his arm. The guards press forward, but he waves them away.
“Come on,” she says.
He allows her to pull him into the dark cottage. Letting go of his hand, she chucks large pieces of wood in the direction of the fireplace but misses terribly. She knocks over a table, a beautiful yellow-flowered lamp smashes onto the floor.
“Oops!“ she says.
The cottage has the look of a bar after a huge fight. The kitchen table has one empty wooden bowl set in the center, but two others sit on the floor, the sticky contents of uneaten porridge pooling around them. By the fireplace, a large and medium-sized chair are knocked over and covered with dirty shoe marks. A small wooden chair has been smashed to pieces. The girl picks up a splintered leg, breaking it free with a loud snapping sound, and adds it to the wood she’s stacked in and around the fireplace.
“We don’t need a fire,” Bruce says.
“Oh,” the girl says.
“What’s your name?” the prince says.
“Oh, silly me. I didn’t tell you! Why I’m Goldilocks! You know, the girl with the beautiful hair. Everyone knows me.”
“I don’t know you,” Bruce says.
“Don’t be silly,” the prince says and gives Bruce a reproaching look. “Goldilocks. Of course, we know you. It’s a pleasure to see you again.”
He holds out his hand and she shakes it up and down so vigorously the crown on his head slips to the side. He removes his hand, wiping the sticky remnants of dried porridge on the back of Bruce’s shirt, and straightens his crown.
“We are sorry to intrude,” Bruce says. “Thanks for letting us in, but we better get moving.”
Bruce thought, for sure, the prince would agree to skip the foot of this very odd child, but the prince scowls at Bruce, and returns his attention to Goldilocks. He gives her a little bow, which causes her to giggle madly and blush.
“We are traveling throughout the kingdom today in search of a girl who was at the ball last night,” the prince says. “She left her glass slipper and we are trying to return it.”
Goldilocks smiles and, for the first time, she notices the basket in Bruce’s hands. She reaches forward to stroke it, but he steps back before she can. Her hands twitch, and for a moment, he can see a bit of anger in her blue eyes. She composes herself and walks into the kitchen.
“There’s a chair in here,” she calls.
Bruce sees her grab an object off the counter and slip it behind her back. He sighs. He didn’t know how many young ladies in this land could be sneaky and dishonest. Many, including this young girl, didn’t even attend the ball. Yet, he knows how important this quest and the ritual have become to the prince.
“I’m waiting,” Goldilocks calls in a sing-song voice.
Bruce and the prince follow Goldilocks to the kitchen. She’s sitting on a large wooden chair, her small bare feet dangling in front of her. Bruce hands the basket to the prince and lowers himself into a kneeling position. His joints creak and he feels a sharp stabbing pain in his lower back. He’s too old and too fat for this nonsense. He clears his throat, and begins the ceremony, exactly as he’s done each time.
“Goldilocks, please present your foot,” he says.
The girl wiggles her toes and giggles. He grabs the foot in his hand, it’s warm, covered in dirt, and smells faintly of bread.
“The glass slipper,” Bruce says.
The prince takes it out with two hands and closes his eyes.
“Oh, sweet giver of the beautiful slipper, I will find thee,” he thinks. “I won’t rest until you are in my arms again.”
He can feel her energy attached to the glass slipper, and while he knows it’s not the girl before him now, he feels a certain reverence for the process. It’s practice for when he finds her. He wants the moment to be perfect.
“Last night the most…”
Goldilocks doesn’t wait for the prince’s speech, but instead yanks the slipper from his hand and spins around in the large chair with it held to her chest. The prince screams and lunges for her, knocking Bruce from his kneeled position to his butt. Goldilocks hops onto the table, turns her back to them, and slips it onto her left foot.
“It fits!” she yells. “Look at me! I’m the Princess! I’m the Princess!”
She dances across the table, the glass slipper tapping, her barefoot slapping. Tap. Slap. Tap. Slap. The prince feels light-headed and staggers back until he’s leaning against the kitchen sink. Bruce tries to get up but falls onto his back like a turtle. The soldiers look confused, and sort of shuffle around the room.
The front door swings open with a growl, and a family of three bears stomp in; a father bear, a mother bear, and a wee baby bear. They are dressed in fine clothing and holding baskets of fresh-picked blueberries. They scan the room with wide eyes, taking in the terrible mess, the dancing girl, the prince, Bruce, and the soldiers.
They all three growl, a low rumbling sound, and the soldiers move toward the prince.
“My bonnet,” Mother bear says.
“My glasses,” Father bear says.
“My blankie,” Baby bear says.
Goldilocks continues her slap, tap dance on the table, oblivious to the scene unfolding around her. The soldiers help Bruce to his feet and form a huddle around him and the prince. They watch as the bears walk around the room, pointing out broken items to each other, getting more and more upset.
“My chair’s covered in shoe prints,” father bear says.
“My chair’s torn and filthy,” mother bear says.
“My chair’s broken,” baby bear wails.
Father bear growls. Mother bear growls. Baby bear wails. They stalk toward the prince and Bruce, the soldiers form an even tighter circle around them. The bears look from the group of men to the dancing girl, and back.
“Who did this?” Father bear growls.
The hair on the back of his neck stands on end as he notices the spilled bowls of porridge on the ground. The prince peeks through the wall of soldiers and points at Goldilocks.
“She stole my glass slipper too,” he says.
Father bear growls. Mother bear growls. Baby bear growls.
The prince, Bruce, and the soldiers turn away.
Slap. Tap. Slap. Tap.
“I’m the princess!”
There’s a loud roaring, followed by ripping and tearing. The men cover their ears and inch as one group across the room and out the front door. A few moments later the door opens behind them and the three bears emerge.
Father bears mouth drips red.
Mother bears mouth drips red.
Baby bears mouth drips red.
“Here,” baby bear says in a wee voice.
He holds the now ruby red glass slipper in his small paws. It’s unbroken, and they can see a large piece of bread shoved in the toe. The prince takes the slipper with shaking hands.
“Thank you,” the prince says.
The bears say nothing, returning to the house and slamming the heavy door behind them. A page removes the bread and uses water and a cloth to clean the glass slipper, polishing it and polishing it until it’s returned to its former beauty. It’s placed back into the golden basket, everyone mounts their horses, and they continue on their quest.
Not one of them, not even the freckled-faced page, pauses to mourn the death of Goldilocks.
Author’s note: My favorite part of motherhood has been reading to my children. I’ve read them all the classic fairy tales, as well as hundreds of picture books and chapter books. This prompt had me spinning in lots of directions for several days, until I happened to be eating oatmeal for breakfast and the image of Prince Charming and a bloody shoe came to me. I had so much fun writing this short story, and I sure hope you enjoyed reading it.
I scurry quickly to the mailbox. By the time I turn around with several days worth of junk in my hands, he is standing outside waiting for me.
I really thought he’d gone out. Guess that was his wife’s car leaving a few minutes ago. My mistake.
I quicken my pace and keep my eyes cast down, pretending an advertisement for pizza is the most interesting thing I’ve ever read.
“Hey neighbor,” he calls out. “How are you?”
I consider pretending I didn’t hear him. I don’t look up for a few beats and foolishly think maybe he won’t try again.
“The kids sure are getting big,” he says.
He has mastered the art of starting a conversation before the other person can get away, a black belt of verbal assault.
“When do they start back to school?” he continues and takes a step toward me as I try to sneak past his perfectly green lawn.
Despite brown grass in every other lawn, he stubbornly refuses to allow his oasis to be thwarted by the government. He believes the drought is some conspiracy and he refuses to acknowledge it. Somehow Obama is behind it.
“We have about a month left of summer,” I say in a rush. “The kids are waiting on their lunch. I better hurry back. They get all cranky when they are hungry.”
“The girls are good,” he starts and I brace myself.
He stands squarely in the middle of the sidewalk and there is no polite way to leave now. I’m trapped in the social obligation of good neighbor.
I remember when we moved in. His sweet face all smiles and welcoming. Polished, handsome and always working in his perfect lawn and doting on his beautiful French wife. They seemed the ideal representation of the American dream.
Over the last 12 years, I’ve seem him age dramatically. He looks tired and unkempt today in a thin white t-shirt and sweatpants. He stands stooped and looks frail. There is a slight odor of aftershave mixed with something else that I can’t put my finger on.
That phrase “the girls are good” is always what he starts with. Those words have a physical effect on me. My blood pressure goes up and I get agitated because I know what follows: story after story about his three perfect granddaughters. His love for them is both beautiful and incredibly nauseating.
“Did I tell you that Samantha got straight A’s?”
“Hey did you hear that Celeste’s volleyball team made it to nationals?”
“We are sending Teresa to France for her senior trip. She is so excited!”
His love and dedication to them has been the topic of thousands of sidewalk conversations with rarely a chance to get a word in. I always smile and tell him that he must be proud.
“You know I have to take care of them,” he always says. “I have to be everything I know their father would have been.”
I remember the first time I was invited into his immaculate home, everything white and gleaming. In the living room is an enormous photo of his son. He is standing in a park somewhere, a handsome blond with tan skin. He has one daughter in a pack on his back, one attached to his leg looking up at him and the third he is pushing on a swing.
His son died shortly after the picture was taken. Brain tumor. Sudden. Tragic.
There have been many tears over the years on the sidewalk between our houses, as he would recount memories of the boy he lost. He and his wife put flowers on his grave every Sunday after church. Every spring they use a special cleaner to polish the gravestone.
His son’s death broke his heart and set him on this course of obsessively caring for the three young girls that were left behind.
I’ve watched as they’ve grown up with voice lessons, private school, yearly Hawaiian vacations, clothes, cell phones and anything else they could ask for. I’ve watched as he bought them each matching brand-new white Cadillac’s when they turned 16. I’ve listened to the stories of their trips and accomplishments.
I have watched these girls grow up and I’m not going to lie, I’ve been jealous. The ugly kind of jealousy that makes me loathe the sight of their privileged little blond heads in their matching Caddies as they park in front of my house to pick up cash from their loving grandparents.
I never had grandparents who thought everything I did was brilliant, perfect and worth bragging about. Never went on exotic vacations or had someone to ask for help paying for school. My legacy was mental illness and emotional distance. I was given bibles, prayed for and made to feel never enough.
Basically, I began feeling all kinds of sorry for myself. That turned into hatred of the girls for the “perfect life” that I observed from my place next door. I have spent over a decade developing my distaste of anything to do with them.
“The girls are good,” he says again and starts in.
The oldest is studying at an Ivy League college and is traveling through Europe for the summer. She is planning on being a doctor and studying the kind of tumor that killed her father. I have heard him tell me that for years now and have often wondered if it is her dream or her grandfather’s for her.
The middle girl is in Tennessee following her music career goals and he is certain she will be the next Taylor Swift. She has a boyfriend that is famous and has hired her to sing backup on his next album.
“Voice of an angel,” he says and trails off.
He stands there and kind of sways a little. I could see there was something he wasn’t saying. I was worried his cancer was back, or his wife was sick or something had happened to his daughter.
“It’s heroin,” he finally says, spitting out the words with a mixture of anger and pain. “I just don’t think I can save her. How did it happen?”
His youngest granddaughter, the athlete with the promising volleyball career, is a drug addict.
With a shaky voice he tells me how he keeps trying to get her to rehab, but she keeps leaving.
He tells me about picking her up at a filthy motel, the guys she was with wanted money and he had to call the police. He had borrowed a friend’s gun and was prepared to protect her, but realized he was over his head.
“I’m 74-years-old,” he says. “I can’t put myself in that position again. I could have been killed.”
The tears fall down his face and I hug him as hard as I can. We stand there for a few minutes and I cry into his shoulder. His sobs keep coming and I worry he might fall. He finally stops, steps back and looks at me.
“Pray for her,” he asks weakly. “Will you?”
“Of course,” I say.
He turns around and walks up the driveway without looking back. Wiping my face, I head inside to make lunch.
I have no idea why this young girl has turned to drugs. Abuse. Mental illness. Depression. Loneliness. I really have no idea.
All I know is that she is broken, her grandfather is being torn apart and I’m feeling guilt for all the bad things I’ve thought about her and her beautiful sisters.
I felt her hand on my chest. Her fingers found the soft spot she has always loved. The spot she has been caressing since her baby hands could reach it. She once told me she loves it because it’s squishy, warm and love. I love it as much as she does.
I caress her head and she cuddles in closer to me.
“Tell me about when I was born,” she coos. I have told her this story hundreds of times, but it never gets old for her. Or me. We love this story. The story of how she came into the world and I caught her myself. How I loved her little face the second I saw it. The big tub, her brother leaning over, grandma’s tears, how little she was, her ballet feet.
It’s our story.
She knows it so well that it is almost like a memory to her now.
That’s the power of storytelling.
Memory has always fascinated me. Some things I can recall crystal clear, yet others are slippery and elusive. It’s often in the telling and retelling that a story takes it’s permanent place in my memory bank. How close it is to the actual truth, I am uncertain.
I have so many stories I tell my children about themselves. Each one is selected purposefully. Stories that show how much they are loved, how strong they are and how they have overcome obstacles.
The story of how my son got stitches at age two is a favorite one. He was running to help a friend that had fallen. He hit his face on a park bench. All our friends rallied around us. Both kids love the part about how the nurse wrapped him up like a burrito and he asked for sour cream and avocado. Even in pain he made everyone laugh. I remember that he stared right into my eyes as they stitched him up. He didn’t move an inch. He was brave and in good spirits through the entire thing.
Every time they ask for a story about them, I am happy to tell it.
These are the stories they will remember and tell their children someday.
These stories are the foundation of how they think about themselves and how they fit into the world.
They are so much more than just stories.
I was reminded of this in a painful way this week.
I have a childhood friend that I love. Adore, really. Our history is long and we have lots of stories. Silly ones like swimming in the gutters and ruining our swimsuits. Sad ones like when she moved to England and I thought my heart would never recover from the break. Happy ones like when we used to squirt hoses across the street at each other.
For some reason, she keeps sharing a particular story that really doesn’t capture the “us” I remember. In this story, I am a bratty kid with a very bad attitude. Apparently, when I was about my boy’s age, I wrote her a letter in which I tell her that her mother is a bitch. Her mom kept this letter and they have brought it up several times now. They think it is funny. Maybe it is. But it doesn’t feel funny to me.
It actually hurts.
I didn’t say anything about it for awhile, because it is their story. But every time it is told, it makes my heart sink. It is embarrassing and I don’t remember writing it or feeling that emotion. I must have been really angry, upset or confused. It must have been hard for me to write such an emotionally charged word.
Memories are funny like that.
They remember me as this kid that wrote that letter. They also remember me as being mean and making fun of her for not being smart and knowing math.
I have no memory of either of those truths. I know those things happened…I just don’t remember it. Not even a tiny bit.
My image of myself at that age is a positive one. I loved school and was very good at it. The teachers loved me and I made friends easy. I have such vivid memories of being joyful, playing in the yard and riding bikes.
Maybe that is because those are the stories my mom told me about myself.
Maybe we just choose to remember the good about ourselves; because that is the truth we want to remember.
I have no idea.
What I do know is that storytelling is powerful stuff.
As a parent I need to keep that in mind. Always.
My son loves to hear and tell stories about the massive fits he used to throw. I would sit in his room with my back against the door while he raged and raged. He remembers feeling out of control. Kicking. Hitting. Sometimes even trying to bite me.
He is embarrassed now thinking about it, but I remind him that he was little and was having strong emotions he didn’t know how to express. I tell him that I loved him even in those moments, especially in those moments. That’s what parental love is.
These stories I tell and retell are helping my kids to write their own life story. It is shaping who they are and will become.
It’s an awesome responsibility and one that I don’t take lightly.
He was sitting on the top step of the porch. He had no shirt on and his tan skin stood out in contrast to the stark white house. His jeans were dirty and he held a cigarette in one hand. His arms were crossed and he was leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. His blonde hair was sticking up in spots. His bare feet were on the step below him.
The light turned green and I stepped on the gas pedal. I took one last look at him and he lifted his face. Our eyes locked. It was just a second. Just one breath. I could feel tears in my eyes and I suddenly found it hard to breathe. The intensity and sadness of those blue eyes. The pain. The distress. I fought the urge to turn around and go to him.
“Mommy,” my girl said from the backseat.
“What?” I said swallowing hard and trying to concentrate on driving. Just a few more blocks and we would be to school.
“Did you see that man?” she said.
It was then that I looked back at her in the rearview mirror. She was clutching Panda, her protector bear, very tight. Her knees were drawn up and her eyes were wide.
“I did,” I replied trying to sound calm.
“That was so sad,” she said. I could hear the tears threatening to come.
“What man?” my son chimed up cheerfully. He had a bag of his sisters hair bands on his lap and was busy making bracelets for his friends.
“The sad man with no shirt,” my girl answered. “I hope he will be OK.”
“He will,” I told her.
“Good,” she said loosening her grip on Panda. Her head slumped to the side of her car seat.
“I’m tired now,” she said and yawned.
“Me too,” I said and reached for my coffee cup.
“What man?” my son said again and strained his neck to try to look behind us. Of course we were several blocks away now and almost to school.
“He’s gone,” my daughter replied. “But he will be OK.”
The rest of the ride to school was silent. We parked on the street and walked brother to class. After saying our good-byes and giving kisses we walked back to the car. Her kindergarten is at another school a few minutes drive away.
“Why do you think that man was sad?” my daughter asked as I started to drive.
“I have no idea,” I said.
“I think someone died,” she said. “But it will be OK. That person is in heaven and he will see them again.”
“Yes, that’s true,” I said.
“I love you mommy,” she said.
“I love you.”
We parked at her school and held hands as we walked to the play structure. She ran around happily showing Panda all the things she can do now.
Her teacher played the flute and she ran off. Panda and I both waved good-bye.
Once upon a time there was a mother who wanted to do something other than dishes and laundry. Oh how she longed for adventure. She would sometimes throw a hot pink sock in with the whites… but she needed more.
This mother loved her sweet children to the point of obsession. She made sure they were bathed at least once a week. She made homemade bread, tucked them in at night and told them how beautiful they were. She drove miles and miles every day so the prince and princess would be taught by the finest teachers in the land. But she still craved something.
Then one day she was told about something called “blogs.” Such a strange word, she thought, as she neatly folded her husbands underwear and tucked it into his drawer.
The next morning she started reading these “blogs” and was amazed. These women were just like her! They also toiled in the daily grind of motherhood, wifehood, sisterhood. They too craved something more. Could this be her something?
And so, she took the plunge. She put it out there. Would people read? Would they care? Would they even notice?
It involved a bravery that she didn’t know if she had. She took a deep breath and just went for it.