Safe Passage

My entry for the Yeah Write Super Challenge #2. The prompt was envy and a funeral. I made it to Round 2!


The bus shrugs to the curb as Evan dives for an oil-slick rainbow oozing on the asphalt.

“Get up from there.” I tug his wrist and we shuffle up the trio of steps onto the bus. I fuss with the Ventra.

“Can I do it, Mommy?”

I let him. The driver frowns as he lurches back into traffic.

Evan finds a seat behind a girl about his age, her pretty auburn hair done in braids twisted into buns. The man she’s with could be either her father or her grandfather. He’s got silver hair, a crisp white beard, and a black three-piece suit. I sink into the plastic seat behind him.

Evan leans forward between them and cranks right up.

“I’m five,” he tells her. “It’s my birthday.” The girl turns and I see she’s been crying; twin streaks run down her face. Evan doesn’t notice. “We’re going to the aquarium to see the sharks.”

“Happy birthday,” she says.

The gentleman aims his granite glare at Evan.

“I’m going to a funeral.” She’s almost whispering.

The gentleman lays a hand on her shoulder. “Quiet, Sophia.”

I make my voice oil-slick bright. “Evan, sit back please.” He wails when I yank his bony wrist. Then, softer, to the gentleman. “I’m so sorry.”

Our window is splattered with grime.

Across the aisle, a young man shoots daggers at me through his shaggy hair.

Evan fidgets with the broken emergency release lever dangling from our windowsill. The sky is a sack of rocks.

“Sit still.” My fingers leave rosy prints on his arm. I can feel the young man’s hot eyes on my hand.

“Mommy, what’s a funeral?”


I watch the girl, graceful and still as a Degas. Did the gentleman braid her hair? Her part looks cut with a cleaver. I imagine him spiraling her buns, pinning them into place, all the while she’s weeping. Not because it hurts. Evan won’t let me get a comb through his unruly curls.

I wonder who died.

The gentleman reaches over her perfect head and draws the sagging cord to signal a stop, and they rise, his fingers gently intertwined with hers. She looks back longingly at Evan as she trudges to the exit, the hem of a black dress sticking out beneath her pink coat. The gentleman takes the angel’s elbow as they descend the three steps to the street.

The driver lurches into motion and the two of them vanish.

The young man across the aisle pulls my sleeve.

“Ma’am. Your son.” His voice trails off as he leans forward. Evan’s seat is empty. The man holds Evan’s wrist lightly as he helps him off the floor and back to me.

“Evan—” I don’t recognize my voice. “You’ve gotten yourself all dirty.” His knees are filthy and he’s clutching a man’s leather satchel. Black.

“Look what I found.” He hands it to me, the leather creamy soft and worn, much older than it looks. He climbs over me into his seat. “It’s my birthday,” he announces to the young man.

“Happy birthday, then.” The man grins and reaches over to ruffle Evan’s curls.

I turn the gold latch on the bag.

“We’re gonna see the sharks.”

“That sounds great. I wish I could come with you.”

“You can!” Evan nearly leaps over me, but I press him back down with my palm on his chest.

“Stay in your seat.”

The young man shakes his head, more at me than at Evan. “I have to get to work. Have fun, though.” He retreats into his phone.

“Look, Mommy. He has a phone.” Evan kneels on the seat, rocking back and forth.

“You’ll have one too, when you’re an adult.”

“How long will it be til I’m an adult?”

“A long time.”

I lift the flap on the satchel as the driver’s bass travels the cavern of the bus. “Museum campus, next stop.”

Evan is smiling again. “That’s our stop, Mommy.”

“Go ahead and ring the bell.”

Inside the bag, nestled among a ream of files and slips of paper, is a girl’s diary. The sort with a padlock and a bit of poetry on the cover. I tuck it back in and close the satchel. It fits perfectly under my arm.

The bus driver nods at us as Evan drags me by two fingers to the exit.

“We’re gonna see the sharks!” Evan beams up at the driver.

“Have fun now, you hear?” His chocolate brown eyes have an unmistakable glister.

“Thank you, sir.” My smile is sudden and wide. Evan’s wrist bones jut into my fingers as we descend. Outside, the sky has brightened. I give his hand a little squeeze as we wait for the light to change. “Happy birthday, Ev.” The bag under my arm has a comforting weight.





They leave the picture window open for the honey light. She endures his torment, fingers in her folds, there, and there, there again, almost painful. Even after so long, she loves his attention. She moans for his concerted effort. A volcano rises under his fingertips and she writhes with the eruption. Through the window a flock takes flight off the water. Here one instant, gone the next. Forever.

After, they lay intertwined, saying the things they say until she rises, naked, for water. The man through the window jolts her and the shock charges the track of her recent orgasm. He’s in a shirt and tie, older than he looks, older than her. She lets out a silent “Oh” and lifts her lighter instead of the water. She pulls a cigarette from the pack and slips it between her smiling lips as she steps to the window. The lighter waivers in her hand, the phone in his does not. (Ah, a video, then.) She takes a drag, holds the heat in a moment, exhales. She walks through the cloud back to bed.

Close call

corvetteOver the ridge, the yellow went red so fast Bud had to jam the brakes full force to stop the rig from smashing the sweet tail of a ruby ‘Vette. He squinted through his cracked, muddy windshield at its Yoda bumper sticker and personalized plates, and wondered how big a CORUSCANT was.


52 words, including force and coruscant, for the Shapeshifters. 

Trixie’s strike

bowlingMr. Big lounged on the vinyl and watched Trixie’s lazy wind-up.

Tiny peck on the dome, seismic butt wiggle. Skitter, swing, release.

Lucky persimmon shot like hot lava down the slick alley.

Her shriek shrill over the clatter of pins.

“Yeah, Trixie baby.” Damn, he loved his wife’s strike.

He was up.

A true story in 52 words for the Shapeshifting 13 over at Grammar Ghoul Press.

Be careful with scissors

2173-300x199-BlackbarbershearsHave I ever mentioned Matt, my hair stylist? He’s been cutting my hair for almost ten years. Aside from working magic with scissors, he’s intuitive. We have these great conversations that always go deeper, like there’s a trapdoor under his styling chair and he can just push a button and flip me down into his own personal underworld. He’s into reiki and healing stones, self-improvement and energy drinks. Sometimes he’s a little out there, but every single time I get out of his chair, I leave feeling more like myself on the outside and the inside.

Matt’s salon closed in January. He promised to get in touch when he found a new salon, but in the meantime, I decided to try out this cute little place near the coffee shop where I write. It’s got bookcases and art on the walls, and it’s adorable. I was psyched.

But everything went wrong: The stylist ran late, really late. She had bedraggled brown, shoulder-length hair and she wore an outfit that should have sent me running. She hesitated to start cutting my hair, then got carried away and cut it too short. She mumbled incoherent cutting rules to herself as she worked, Swedish chef–fashion. She took cell phone calls while I was in her chair. I left feeling glad to get away.

My haircut wasn’t truly horrible, but when I looked in the mirror I could see the new stylist’s unkempt hair sort of superimposed over mine like a hologram. It’s freaky, but it’s almost as if she spilled some of herself out onto my hair.

Fast forward three weeks. Time has worked wonders. I can look in the mirror without seeing her and I can almost pull my hair back into a ponytail again. And it turns out that Matt found a new space just down the street. But I’m still wondering whether this happens in all of our relationships. Do we hijack each other and glom on our own preferences, just to further our own interests? Or do we adopt each other’s traits without even realizing it? And if so, what happens to our true selves in the process?

Can you tell I’m still reeling from a shocking citique?

Notes on a dream

bleachersI’m late to the game. The basketball court is gloomy, almost dark. You’re already there, alone, slunk against the wall on the top row of a worn set of wooden bleachers, a beer bottle in your hand even though it’s a school game.

I sit with my kids at the far end of the bleachers and keep my eyes on the court. The space between us is empty. You and I feel each other’s presence but don’t acknowledge it.

It’s warm and I’m squirmy, unfocused. You get up to leave before the game ends, come over, and take two of my fingers with your bottle hand. You could be sharing your beer but you’re not; the bottle is a decoy. You look at my fingers – index and middle, with a potent mix of joy, concern, and regret. It’s an intense look, but then it passes, replaced by a grin at the kids. You leave me holding your beer.

I’ve met the devil

He’s a train conductor.

Dad and Mom stood over my hospital bed, hugging each other, their eyes wet with tears. The day we’d dreamed of had finally arrived. They kept the details vague: A dental student had been hit by a train out in the suburbs, but his heart was feasible. The EMTs already had it on a Medevac. Mom and Dad talked like we had just won a sweepstakes.

Photo via

Photo via

The nurses whisked me off to pre-op faster than a bullet train.

The doctors said I was officially dead for four minutes. Four minutes. Minute one, the head surgeon severed my sick, sluggish heart, with a silver scalpel, carefully so as to leave the aorta intact, the vena cava repairable.

Hell was a high-speed Amtrack. I was standing in the vestibule waiting for my stop, and a conductor snuck up behind me.

“Ticket, Miss,” he said without inflection. He was tall, black, and very handsome except for his flat New York accent.

I held out my one-way and he lifted it up to the light and paused with his hole-punch in midair. “You’re on the wrong train.” He had perfect teeth, so good they looked fake.

“No, I’m not.”

Minute two, the kind-eyed nurse lifted my old heart carefully from my gaping chest cavity into a sparkling stainless steel bowl held by the gangly assistant whose Afro strained his sky blue cap. He whisked it away and squirreled it in a jar of formaldehyde. My trophy.

“You wanted Union, how’d you get way out here in Aurora, girl?” The conductor butchered Aurora. “You don’t wanta be here. Next train ain’t for three hours.”

“I’m not. I need to get to class,” I said.

“You’re going ta be late ‘less your classroom’s in a cornfield.” He laughed a long time like he’d said something funny, but I didn’t get it.

I stared at the passing farms, then I turned back and tried to snatch my ticket out of his hand.

He held it up too high for me to reach. “Nah, this old thing won’t get you nowhere you need to be,” he said, shaking his head from side to side and reaching into his navy blue jacket pocket with his hole-punch hand. “Lemme getchya a new one.”

Minute three, nursing assistant number two, an older woman with serious blue eyes, held my pristine and glistening dental student’s heart at the ready and passed it delicately to the surgeon, who took a long look at the organ, holy grail of the surgery chamber, and deciphered its tubes and cavities.

“You tryin’ a get downtown, right. Ya need the Loop.” The conductor didn’t ask. This wasn’t a conversation. He was in charge, the fucker. The train was barreling down the tracks, probably over a hundred miles an hour now, too fast. Faster than trains could ever possibly go. The fields were reduced to black and white lines.

“I can help ya out, girl,” he said and pulled his hand out of his jacket. Instead of a hole punch, he held a silver pistol.

And minute four, my time with the devil winding down, the head surgeon laid my new heart inside my chest and six pairs of hands went to work at once, aligning, whip stitching, stapling, glomming on the hunk of muscle that would pull me back from the dark side.

“This’ll getchya right.” The conductor pointed the gun at my head.

I added this character twist to my new MC, inspired by a piece by author Patrick W. Gibson. Thanks for the inspiration, Patrick!

I met a guy

I met a guy at a party last weekend, at a writing conference in Michigan. He was hot, but don’t worry, he’s married with kids, and plus, he’s a pastor. Still, I was attracted to him, in that way that I can’t explain except to say that we didn’t arrive together, but within minutes, we were. We met over a table of stickers with adjectives on them, where we decorated our name tags with descriptions of our writing. He chose dark, I chose twisted. Five minutes into our conversation, he told me how he watched his ex-fiancée spiral into drug addiction in L.A.

Here’s what’s bugging me. There I was, at a party, excited to be mingling with a room full of writers, ready for anything to happen. Five minutes in, almost without any effort, a hot guy opened up to me about what was probably the most difficult experience of his life. It could have been just what I’d hoped for, a deep connection. But in the moment, I thought only about a dear friend of mine who lost her husband to the underworld of drugs. Still a connection, but without any emotional risk of my own. I don’t think I even mentioned my friend. In the moment, I laughed and made a joke. To make him feel better, I thought.

In the moment, I forgot all about my own, very similar story, about how my big sister went on crack when I was sixteen. Standing next to that guy at the party, Kim never even crossed my mind. It was like I couldn’t access my own memories, or worse, like I didn’t even know the memories existed.

The guy and I chatted for a bit, then we drifted apart. The next morning, he sat several rows ahead of me in the auditorium. The collar of his sport coat was sticking up, and I imagined folding it down for him. We bumped into each other before lunch, and he almost but didn’t quite ask me to eat with him.

That’s it. We didn’t get a chance to talk again. He cut out of the conference early; I saw him walk out of the auditorium but didn’t say goodbye. I didn’t think much of it until my drive home. In the privacy of the car, my memories came rushing back to me: the time I begged Kim to stay with us (she left anyway, and never came back), the insomnia that plagued me through my twenties (lying awake at night, wondering if she was dead), that feeling of utter helplessness (at the pain of losing someone I loved).

When I think of Kim, all these years later, I’m left still asking the same questions I asked back when I was little, long before she became a crack addict. How can someone whom you’ve poured your love into choose to waste that love, and instead head down a path to ruin?

Now I realize that we all make mistakes. We go through life on the surface, moment by moment, sometimes without access to our deepest memories. We choose what makes us feel good instead of what helps us grow. We miss connections that might make all the difference in our lives, simply because we don’t risk our emotions.

I haven’t spoken to Kim since our mom died almost a decade ago. Yesterday, she popped up on Facebook and asked to tag a photo of mine. It was a shock to see her, but I said yes.


Two posts in one week, guys. This is huge!

’16 Cosmic Gray Mica

16 CamryChad came into my office wearing his full-length down coat that made him look like a walking sleeping bag. He pulled off his fur-trimmed hood to reveal movie-star hair.

“Shift change,” he boomed, laying his snow-caked shovel on my desk.

“Watch it, man!” I yelled as I removed the shovel from the Johnsons’ paperwork. “Do you know how fucking long it took me to work up that sale?” I asked, but I must have sounded rhetorical ‘cause Chad just sloshed past.

“Let me play you a sonata, Jimmy,” he said. “Get your boots on. I did the Prius row. You take the Camrys. You pass the torch to old man Zeke at 7. That gives you two hours. Spend it with your head up your ass for all I care, just don’t mess with my tits.”

“Your what?”

“Tits,” he signaled crudely with his hands to indicate a large pair of jugs. “You’ll see,” he winked.

I hated Chad.

“Anyhoo, leave the tits for the transport dudes. Give those poor slugs a laugh.”

“Right, Chad.”

He disappeared into his office across the hall. Ours were absolutely identical, same breast-cancer awareness sticker on the soulless windows, same Formica desk, same dot matrix printer, even the same photograph of an old-time steam train on the wall. Somebody had a sense of humor around here, but I was still too new to know who.

I pulled my boots out from under the desk and slipped off my Italian leather loafers. Most ridiculous footwear on the planet, those loafers. Cost me more than a whole paycheck, and worst part was they weren’t my only pair. Selling cars is half looks and half lies and the two are interchangeable. I pulled my coat out from behind the door, put it on, and grabbed the dripping shovel. It left a trail as I headed outside.

“Enjoy yourself, Jimmy boy,” Chad called from his office. He raised his Styrofoam cup as I passed. What a jackass.

Outside, Chad had shoveled a straight path to the Prius row, no mistake I’m sure. He’d left a perfect set of double-Ds on the first hood in the row, and one on the next, and the next, all the way down to the end. Nice.

I hadn’t always wanted to sell Japanese cars at a dealership in the burbs, no way. I’d majored in finance thinking I’d get a job at a bank downtown, but my parents’ house had the gravity of a neodymium magnet. I couldn’t escape the place. Downtown may as well have been Johannesburg. At least I was saving, and whenever I did manage to get out, I’d have a killer shoe collection. Mom and Dad wouldn’t live forever, would they?

I shoveled between two Camrys and went to work cleaning the first hood, careful not to scratch the Blue Streak Metallic paint. Bastards would dock my pay for that. I worked my way around with the brush, then came back to scrape the hood. I moved on down the line to a Ruby Flare Pearl and a Midnight Black. I would have gone for the Blue Streak, but I don’t drive Japanese. The old folks were crazy for the Parisian Night Pearl, and I worked my way through five of those. My fingers were popsicles by then, and I wanted to get back inside so I gave up on the scraping.

I cleared the hood of a Cosmic Gray Mica and I was working on the driver’s side window when I saw something in the driver’s seat. Something that looked suspiciously like someone. I finished cleaning the window and stuck my face up to the glass to get a better look. What I saw threw me back a few feet and I hopped around from foot to foot, hollering.

I breathed deep and tried the door. Course it popped open, no trouble. Old man Zeke was slumped against the black leather-trimmed seat, clearly departed. Worst part was his pants down around his knees. Whole thing undid me, and I turned away to puke in the snow.

I cleaned myself up and turned back to the Camry. Old Zeke had a lipstick print on his neck that filled in a lot of the blanks.

“You kidding me, Zeke? A Camry? You should have gone for the Blue Streak, old man.”


If you know me, then you know just how much I love car dealers.