Category Archives: creative non-fiction

Of the Great White North

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Merv moved south from a meager beginning outside Lake Huron. He’d grown crestfallen from eating nothing more than corn in Farmville, Iowa, after an upbringing of butter tarts.

She who rescued him named the stone figure after a pervert destined for prison. His legacy followed suit, a life, albeit a still one, in the Midwest much like incarceration?

Only the path through Chicago, a few drinks and a smoke along the way, quelled his sentence, a future with a pipe smoker and frog sidekick. He’d rather live with a spotted blue skink. It would be better company than elfin kind.
100-word challenge: lizard

100-word-challenge

 

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Un-mending the wall

“I thought you died, stupid cur,” Marie muttered as she walked Woody past the house next door. She hated and cursed it since the bulldog mix attacked her Lab. He’d simply tried to make friends, invisible fence or not. Its instinct taught Woody canine manners and territory.

Just like his owner.

Another neighbor said Tom wasn’t such a bad guy. Marie couldn’t deny what Robert Frost claimed about fences and neighbors.

“I’d sure hate to beat you both with a plastic bag of shit …” She flashed them the side-eye and brought Woody to heel.

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Abandonment Issues, part 842

“Great, here we go again,” Anna lamented, kicking at the dirt with her sneaker toe. She unfailingly let Louise get under her skin, with disappointment seeming to seep from her. “Why do I allow that jackdaw to get a rise out of me?”

The woman glanced to her right, where Ken and Francie both cast her a sidelong glance. “Holy shit, did I say that out loud? Sometimes I don’t realize when I talk to myself,” Anna chuckled, embarrassed, as her cheeks became crimson.

“No worries,” said Francie, shrugging. “We just wondered if we might see that old crow somewhere.”  

100 Word Challenge – holy

photo by abaicus via Flickr

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Guilt

“Owww, dammit!” Glenda howled, hopping on one foot and landing to limp on the other. “I’m gonna feel that later.”

Kicking that cedar stump was one way to take out frustration felt for Don. “It ain’t hurtin’ him none, though,” she told it. Controlling his behavior came as easily as conquering invasive plant infestation. Chopping at it soothed her feelings little though.

“I may never forget what he said, but I better get over it or cut him out of my life. Just like this non-deciduous crap I’m fighting here.

Except the Kudzu of her heart she fought even harder.

100 Word Challenge – guilt

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Working out the demons

“The most bitter irony of my situation,” Kelly told the intake counselor at the homeless teen shelter, “is that Roderick broke up with me. Now I’ll have to live on what strangers give me.”

The social worker’s face seemed genuinely compassionate, as far as she could tell, doubting her instincts now. Her father supposedly loved her but sent the girl packing after finding her ex-boyfriend’s text message.

Dad knew his family though they were from the other side of town. “My daughter will not mix with blacks,” he’d said. “You’re no longer my child.”

Love did her wrong twice.

100-word challenge give

Image: Raphael Brasileiro via Pexels

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Prolonged Perch

Pain in her toes grew the longer Casey remained hidden in that secret spot up her favorite climbing tree. Wintertime made sitting on its fork all the more arduous a wait for the time-sensitive inevitability of another sibling getting in trouble inside to make her transgressions be forgotten.

Her skin went from a healthy pink to a near-frostbitten red there in the elements.

Mother demanded, “Go out and pluck your own switch. I’m gonna to blister your behind.” That whole matter of finding a birch branch in the snow only added insult to injury.

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Mixed Metaphors

Eastwood Eagles, 1977

The group was cobbled by parental geography of the mainly blue collar side of town, kids from the nicer eponymous street and others who lived in the surrounding neighborhood or north-side farms. All blank slates awaiting life stories’ unfolding and hoping for legacies of greatness any parent would want for their child.

The nest’s small-town nucleus kept its diverse congress circling into adulthood.

Even if drawn elsewhere by aspirations for more, many of those lives became fraught with attempts to fly away. Both externally and internally. Mother Nature is now trimming her aerie until she finally comes for us all.    

100 Word Challenge writing prompt – blank

(Thanks to Kim for the pic.)

Goodbye, Bruce. You were one of the good ones.

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The Chosen Ones

“Why is this jerk hanging around here?” Timmy wondered aloud. He realized the inevitable certainty his sisters would become interested in boys but still eyed their neighbor with suspicion when he showed up at the door. The visitor didn’t suit him one bit.

Luck brought the trio together by chance, finding a forever family within the foster care system never a guarantee. Timmy being younger than the twins didn’t keep him from feeling protective of their little nest of a home and hovered near them from the next room just like a mother bird.

The guy wouldn’t have a chance.

100-word challenge prompt – nest

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“Now I lay me down to sleep” (re-posted in consideration of everyone without the luxury of warmth)

via Maureen Sill on Flickr
via Maureen Sill on Flickr

Walking the dog was never so harrowing before. An unseasonably cold chill in the air that morning sent my hands directly into my coat pockets for warmth. Finding no comfortable gloves there meant my hands stayed put and my canine companion ran off-leash. His sharp Setter nose zoned in on a smell that led us into a landfill and on an adventure like no other we’d had or hope to experience again.

Max barked to signal he’d found his prize. It was one for which there was no requital. Only the dog’s olfactories had paid off, but the much-sought-after scent offered little reward. Except perhaps to friends of the person discovered there if he’d been missing. A middle-aged homeless man’s remains lay amidst the rubbish. He met his final demise in a mound of debris, and his perfectly still body was unmistakably that of someone long-perished from this life. Maybe his family hadn’t known where he was and longed to see his face again, its features weathered and worn since the last time they’d visited each other.

An immediate call to the authorities didn’t erase the image from my mind or lift the weight off my heart. Their investigation revealed he was apparently crushed in a garbage truck before being dumped at the trash transfer station. No detail of the circumstances could possibly bring closure to the guy’s family.

I wonder where he was resting to preserve body heat. It bothers me to imagine having nowhere else to go under those unbearable conditions. The bitter, miserable cold that could cause someone to sleep in a dumpster for warmth or what other dire conditions might have driven him there. Such utter desperation.

My hands didn’t feel so cold after all.

Odd, how all of humankind’s refuse ends up in a landfill somewhere. A person isn’t trash, though. I can think of no one who deserves such a place as their burial plot.

Everything seems so disposable. Except people. We pollute the planet with both the items we discard and the beings we ignore. So much is discarded that it may build up enough one day to ultimately destroy this place, our home.

Earth is an interesting place. I’ll hate to leave it one day.

–for Steven, a man I didn’t know, who lived but 44 years on this planet

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*This fictional post is based on a true story in the newspaper. writing prompt: planet

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Mother’s Helper

north lincoln

She hit the t.v. remote volume button thinking she heard a faint sound from the hallway and jumped up from the couch. Her instinct proved true.

“Hey, Tea! Tea, come here!” Her father sat atop the toilet, bluejeans pooled around his ankles, his right arm in a sling. His voice was low-pitched and barely audible, so she was glad she had heard it.  

Marty lived on her own but stayed overnight on weekends at her parents’ home to help keep an eye on things when her mom had to work. Make sure he didn’t burn the house down with an errant cigarette, a lit match on short-shag kindling. Smoking had started it all, so his lungs were the impetus but inoperable by that point.

Phillip called her “Tea Bag” ever since she was a baby with tiny drooping eyelids he claimed looked like saturated linen packets. Her father’s pet name for the youngest girl seemed to fit, so the moniker stuck.

Her birth certificate read Martha in honor of her paternal grandmother, but it was days before they settled on calling the baby Marty instead. By age 13 her mother insisted he use the diminutive instead of Phil’s pet name for her. “Come on, Phil. Other kids are going to tease her about it at school if they hear that. I’m surprised they haven’t already done it,” Mom practically begged.  

“I can’t reach the holder there. Grab me some t.p., would ya kid?” Phillip scratched out the question and jerked his head sideways to point toward the wall. Its close proximity meant nothing without a working appendage, the ulna vulnerable from a childhood break and recent radiation that rendered the arm useless. It hung limp without support, the now brown skin turned to leather, as if burned by 1000 suns.

His voice sounded like it dragged through gravel. Doctors blamed an electrolyte imbalance, so she almost hadn’t heard his weak call from the other room. Guilt feelings rose up from Marty’s imagined shirking of duties. Mother counted on her diligence. Somebody had to pay the bills. Dad’s early retirement sprang out of disability and employer insistence. He’d never work again.

“No problem, Daddy,” Marty answered and tore a strip of tissue from the roll dispenser while looking elsewhere. “That had to be embarrassing,” she thought. “Adds insult to injury, as if everything else wasn’t enough.”

Having cancer must be humbling.

Marty left him to finish business with tissue in his non-dominant hand in private. She stared out the living room window at dried Johnson grass rimming an adjacent field in a singular row that a mower must’ve missed. Its pale yellow hue resembled her father’s skin color, his liver affected among sundry body parts. The row, lit by a bright full moon, waved lazily in an early Spring breeze. Its motion lulled Marty’s anxiety. She couldn’t help mentally ruminating. “I’m glad Grandma doesn’t have to see her son like this.”

His mother came to see Phillip a day before he passed when his body resembled that of an Auschwitz prisoner, cheeks sunken and sallow, the disease having ravaged his body. When a mother outlives her child, an image of her beloved on his deathbed stays emblazoned on her mind’s eye until she reaches her own. The figurative retina remains forever scarred.

Noisy static and the television test pattern buzz disturbed Marty’s reverie. She followed the breaking story all night of a terrorist car bombing in an underground parking garage at the World Trade Center, what seemed millions of miles away from their farm but with damage relatively close to her aching heart. That national catastrophe seemed to parallel Daddy’s medical tragedy, personal calamity mirroring a relatively bigger catastrophe. The news day’s end meant she had to finally shut off the set and resolve herself to restless slumber on the couch.   

When the Twin Towers’ fell in 2011, longer after he was gone, she’d reminisce how that night spent with her father seemed so prescient in retrospect. The two NYC events co-mingled in a way that almost felt identical. She’d even later muse, “Was that in ‘93 or the “9-11” bombings?” Memory blurred by then.

Days later, loud barking outside startled Marty back to reality. Their beagle usually warned if someone pulled in the driveway, but she found no one there upon inspection. “Hush, Tyrone,” she admonished. “Daddy’s asleep. He needs his rest.” An epiphany later convinced her that had been when Phillip’s spirit took a last tour of his beloved farm and said goodbye to his dogs as he left. They bellowed in reply, bidding their master, “Salut … we’ll see you over the rainbow bridge, friend.”

All his kids called Phillip “Daddy,” at the risk of their peers thinking it weird and razzing them about it. Maybe it was a southern endearment or simple country slang. Marty thought how pride over the likes of that seemed so unimportant when her father asked for help with such an intimate task that night.

But the previous undertaking paled in comparison to a chore Mother demanded she assist with doing later when Phillip became comatose. A dying person’s body expels its last bit of waste before the lungs perform final functions.

“I can’t do it,” Marty begged her through tears and sniffed-back snot. “Don’t make me. His pants … I don’t want to see him that way.” The smell didn’t bother her as much as seeing her father’s nakedness.

Mother replied, “Well, we can’t clean him with his pajamas on. You don’t have to look. Just get over here and help me lift. Brace up, girl!” Daddy would’ve been mortified to know Marty helped with that job.

Tough love is a bitch. Dying is worse. Being there when to witness her father takes his last breath proved more personal than either of those duties.

He’d wanted to die at home, though, on the farm for which he still owed the bank, but in the house he’d helped build. His home, nonetheless. He died the next day on a hospital bed hospice workers set up in the dining room. A nurse warned it was just a matter of time, maybe hours.

Marty remembered the raspy, “Hey, Tea. Come here  a minute.” But Daddy wasn’t in the bathroom any more, and he’d never call for her help again. He’d never again sleep in front of the VCR tape’s 100th-plus “Smokey and The Bandit” viewing with “Eastbound and Down” lyrics blasting but never rousing him.  

Sometime prior she recalled learning about a “death rattle,” but had never heard one before. The nurse informed her, “That’s just his last breath being expelled, honey.” The elucidation didn’t soothe her.

The prognosis had been six months, but Phillip lived for only six weeks. His son was on one coast following in Phillip’s military footsteps while the oldest daughter lived on the opposite coast when he slipped into death. All his children had visited as he rested in that makeshift hospital room in the last month, though. They spent very few family meals in that room except at a birthday or Christmastime. The kids staged a dance party for him with James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” trying to coax the lyrical into becoming truth. A self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.

“Turn that off, girls. You’re making him nervous,” Mother admonished.

They kissed him as he lay on those sterile sheets where he’d withered away to nothing, cancer having eaten away at his already slim frame. He died in that house as he’d wished, the hospital bed soon afterward removed from the dining room.

Phillip’s family never ate in there again.

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