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 popsci.com

Photo via popsci.com

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.

Deal with it

My daughter idolizes you, Donald Trump. You’re the star of her comics, and she does a killer impression of you. You’ve infiltrated her ten-year-old psyche. You’re rich, and she has a thing for money. You’re powerful, and she craves power. Plus, you’re funny, and she has a great sense of humor.

Not to disappoint you, Mr. Trump, but Hillary has my vote. Still, I pay attention to my kids, so my daughter’s infatuation with you has given me pause. I’ll admit it, I’ve given your candidacy some consideration.

Every time my daughter tells her brothers to DEAL with it, I think of you.

You’re scrappy, Mr. Trump. You started out small, with only a $1M investment from your father. Everyone deserves an investment, if not in money then in time and attention. I hope my kids make the most of my investment in them, same as you. You’ve worked your way up, worked tirelessly to put your mark on the world.

My daughter knows exactly where to find your tower on the Chicago skyline.

I hear you’ve got a concealed carry permit, Mr. Trump, and I like knowing that you want to defend yourself. Like I teach my kids, you’ve got all the tools you need within yourself.

Good, honest people should feel safe inside and out.

I like how much you want to protect us Americans, Mr. Trump. When you say you want to build a great wall on the Mexican border, I know how much you want to keep us safe. Trust me, I wish I could put a layer of cement between my kids and the rest of the world. Sometimes I even want to protect them from one another.

But one thing I’ve learned is that once you start putting up walls, parts of you die.

I know you care about the world, Mr. Trump. I’ve been to Vegas, I’ve seen what wonders you’re capable of producing with a bit of money and raw materials. And I know you’ve got to tear down the old before you can build the new. So when you suggest bombing the hell out of ISIS, part of me gets where you’re coming from, Mr. Trump.

Like I tell my kids, when you’re mad it feels really good to punch someone, anyone. But it’s funny, when you hurt someone else, you’re always hurting yourself, too.

When you suggest deporting Muslims from the U.S., Mr. Trump, I think you’re just scared. Everyone has their fears, but be careful, Mr. Trump. Fear can make you reductive, and even worse, reactive. I’m not proud to admit the relief I felt when a bully was removed from my daughter’s class a few years ago, never mind that the bully was just one child in a class of twenty, acting out, making a desperate plea for help. Never mind that all children act out at some time or another.

It’s simpler to shut down in the face of adversity than to face our fears head-on.

I like how you want to invest in mental healthcare for veterans, to treat the invisible wounds of war. It’s introspective of you, Mr. Trump. Everyone has those subconscious wounds, you know. I know I do. I often wonder what scars my kids will bear by the time they escape their childhoods, what damage I’m inflicting on them, or they are, to each other.

Mr. Trump, I see how you want to send all kinds of trouble packing, to lock it up somewhere so we Americans can find the solitude to consider the best course of action to ensure a safe future for ourselves. Trouble is, Mr. Trump, solitude is a luxury that even most Americans can’t afford, and silence is virtually unattainable these days. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about with three kids at home.

If you can manage to calm your thoughts though, you’ll find the quietest place on Earth right inside your own head. It doesn’t matter what’s raging outside.

I believe you really want to be a nice guy, Mr. Trump, and I have an idea for you, a gentle suggestion. Take your own advice: Deal with it. In fact, let’s all try it, regardless of race, orientation, or belief. Deal, as in cope, rather than confront or bargain. Be still. Look inward, be honest. Acknowledge your emotions. It’s difficult to weather the storm, I know.

You’ll probably find that you remember things that you haven’t thought of in years. You’ll recall what your life was like before you became a success. You’ll remember hurts, fears, and doubts that you’ll probably wish had remained buried. But it’s never all bad: You’ll also recall loves, and joys, all the small things that have lit you up inside over the years. And that’s when you’ll know what you’re made of.

It’s hard to admit that we really are all made of the same stuff.

Like I tell my kids, eventually the storm will pass. Your emotions will settle down, and you’ll be able to build something new from all the rubble.

Photo via wsj.com

Photo via wsj.com

Firsts

Photo copyright Bruce Carver.

Photo copyright Bruce Carver

“Welcome to womanhood,” she grinned. At the mall we bought a flowered maxi (“Consolation prize!”) and a clutch (“To hide the evidence!”)
Flick, flash. “Want one?” She tossed the pack.