Thursday, August 17, 2017

A to Z Flash Fiction: Catharsis

C: Catharsis

I walk two blocks west from my hotel and spot the wooden sign for The Griffin. When I asked the front desk attendant for a recommendation of both the best Reuben sandwich and the best whiskey old fashioned, this was his immediate answer.

As I push open the door, I loosen my tie and undo the top button of my white oxford shirt. I scan the
room. It’s large. Dark, polished wood, red accents, and brass hardware under dim, golden light create a weighty ambiance. There are about a dozen patrons inside, each silent or conversing in their lowest voices. The mahogany bar runs the full width of the front of the room. I pick a stool near no one and order my first round from an indifferent bartender. He keeps his eyes on a muted flat screen television on the adjacent wall. It’s a re-broadcast of this afternoon’s Dodgers-Giants game. While I sip my drink and peruse the kitchen’s menu, a man sits on the stool to my left.

The bartender immediately hands him a Budweiser without a word from either of them. He’s about my age, I discern from a sideways glance. His hands look older. Their calluses and knobby knuckles remind me of my father’s hands. My father was a union man in an iron foundry for forty-two years. I wonder briefly what this man does for a living, but the curiosity passes. There’s only one thing that occupies my mind tonight. One person.

My food order taken, the bartender brings me a second cocktail. I turn the glass in my hand. The slick condensation transfers from the glass to my fingers.

“Ricky?”

My neighbor on the next stool is peering at me with bloodshot eyes.

“Ricky! What’s it been?” he slurs. “A few years, I’d say. How you been, man?”

“I’m not Ricky, sir.”

His raspy laugh turns into a cough. “What are you going on about, Ricky? I’d know you anywhere.”

“My name is David. I’m not Ricky.”

“Aw, don’t be like that, man. It’s good to see you.” He swats my shoulder and almost slips off his stool.

I decide to ignore him. My brain returns to the same questions plaguing me since I flew to this city on Monday. It’s Thursday now. How’s it going to be when I get home? More of this? What do I want it to be like when I get home? That last question is the one I know I need to answer.

“You heard what happened, I’ll bet.” The man is teetering on that thin line between thoroughly intoxicated and sloppy drunk.

I stare into my glass after taking another swig.

“Yeah, of course you heard what happened to my Jenny.”

He doesn’t seem to care that I’m not responding. I look toward the bartender for aid but his eyes are on the already played ballgame.

“Can I confess the truth?” The man leans in as if he’s whispering, though he is not. “Sure, sure, I can. You’re an old friend. You won’t tell.”

I shake my head, wishing I’d stayed in and order overpriced room service.

“I think I killed her.”

My fingers stop tracing the rim of my glass. I turn my head a little and meet his eyes. They’re wide and bleary. He waits and I find my voice. “Listen, sir. I’m not Ricky. Maybe you need to have a water, or a soda, and sober up a little.”

It’s as if I didn’t even speak. “Geez, it feels good to admit that. Really good. I mean, don’t call the cops or nothing. I didn’t kill her.”

I raise my eyebrows.

“But still, I think I killed her.”

He goes silent for more than a minute and I hope it’s over. It’s not.

The man downs the last of his beer. “She only took drives like that when I made her mad. Fast. Old roads. Curves and hills.” His voice fades out. There are fat tears on his cheeks. I doubt he even knows they’re there. “‘You’ll kill yourself, driving like that, woman!’ That’s what I used to tell her. ‘Good,’ she’d say. ‘I have a way to do it then when you make me want to.’”

I shudder at the darkness of this exchange he had, more than once, with Jenny, whom I assume was his wife. It sounds outrageous. Even as I think this, I am flashing back to the bitter words that filled the air of our living room Sunday night, and the cold indifference Josie and I maintained on Monday morning until I left for the airport. No calls, no texts. None, this whole week, and tomorrow I fly home.

“I made her so mad that night. Madder than I’d ever seen.” He pounds on the bar and the bartender looks our way. “Another, ya’ lazy barkeep!” he chortles.

The bartender shakes his head. “No can do, McNeil. I already called your cab. I warned you that bottle was your last for tonight.”

McNeil scowls. Then his expression clears and his focus is back on me. “Do you think she meant to do it, Ricky?”

My mouth is dry. My drink is empty.

“Do you think she meant to hit that tree? Maybe, man, maybe. Either way, it’s on me. I knew what I was doing to her. I knew. I killed her.”

“Cab’s here,” the bartender interrupts.

“I could’ve stopped her, Ricky. I could’ve made it good.”

He stands and wobbles in his steel-toed boots. I see the grief, the self-loathing, in the lines of his face and the drop of his broad shoulders. He’s a large, muscular man, but he walks like a weaker, older version of himself.


After I watch him go, I rest my elbows on the bar and my head in my hands. Josie’s face fills my vision. The bartender slides my plate in front of me, but I stand up and mumble that I’ll be back in a minute. I reach for the phone in my pocket. “I have to call my wife.”


*****
Let's get back to basics, my friends. Specifically, the alphabet. I'll be writing a series of flash fiction pieces off of one word prompts, from A to Z. Enjoy! And if a word comes to mind for any upcoming letter, please make your suggestion and I'll consider it for a prompt.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Because the Saints Said So: Find a Friend (St. Thomas Aquinas)


Friendship is the source of the greatest pleasures, and without friends even the most agreeable pursuits become tedious. (St. Thomas Aquinas)

"Even the most agreeable pursuits become tedious." Isn't that the truth? What is your agreeable, tedious pursuit? That aspect of life that is rich with worth, a source of joy, yet as days pass there is an element of the mundane. For me, it is motherhood and writing. Both endeavors are reservoirs of goodness in my life, but, boy oh boy, can they become tedious. The nitty gritty becomes a nuisance. The repetitive details become boring. The depth to which I must dig to find my motivation becomes deeper.

With friends, though, what a difference there can be.

Friendship is indeed a source of great pleasure. Genuine friendship is life-giving. It builds up. It highlights and enhances your strengths, while meeting you in your weaknesses. Friendship finds common ground in the agreeable, yet tedious bits of life. Besides that, friendship is just plain fun! It offers laughter, smiles, mutually loved activities. Friends are shoulders for leaning, hands for holding, minds for collaborating. "Iron sharpens iron; one man sharpens another" (Proverbs 27:17).

I don't think I need to expound on this much further. It rings too true for us all to require a lot of explanation. I'll only add, say thank you to a friend today. Or two, or three. Love them, and be grateful.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Hello There, August


You guys, it's August. In case you haven't checked your calendar, now you know. It's August. When it arrived yesterday, I thought all my usual start-of-a-new-month thoughts: How did this happen? Where did last month go? This year is disappearing! Those bounced rapidly through my head, then cleared out for a new thought:

We are a full month closer to the release of my debut novel. Yes, that's right. It's getting so close that I have a small fit of nerves followed by giddy smiles each time I think about it.

The manuscript has been with my editor for a month now. In another 1 to 2 months, I'll begin the work of reviewing changes suggested or requested. It's been even harder than I expected to keep my hands off the manuscript in the meantime. When you're accustomed to working on something that you love, it doesn't come all that naturally to suddenly label it off-limits. The silver lining is how much I'm looking forward to collaborating with the editor on final changes. Based on experiences of fellow authors, that process can be a bit painful, so I'm glad to go into it with anticipation rather than dread.

Until the book comes in December, I'll do my best to provide other sources of reading pleasure. Keep coming back here for flash fiction pieces and attempted insights into the mystery that we call life. In one form or another, I do hope to share a short story with you soon, and you can always find me by following my Facebook author page.

August is full of heat, sun, thunderstorms, beaches, and reluctant preparation for autumn. It is a month of vigorous tug-of-war between lingering in one season while tipping toward the next. Thank you for spending a bit of these days, heady and sweet, with me on my rambling written excursions.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Do Not Laugh - Thoughts on Compliments, Selfies, and Psalm 139:14

My three and a half year old son walked into my bedroom as I finished combing my hair. Mentally, I was running through what remained of readying ourselves for the day. I was distracted and about to send him back out with instructions to brush his teeth so we could leave on time.
 
He cut me off with his words, "Mommy, you look beautiful. You should take a picture."
 
Immediately, a voice spoke in my head, "Do not laugh."
 
I had to close my mouth because that was the exact response I was about to make. I looked my son in the eye and smiled. I said, "thank you, peanut," and put my comb away.
 
He remained at my side, waiting. "Take a picture."
 
The voice was there again. "Do not laugh."
 
Don't laugh at his admiration for you. Don't dismiss the clarity with which he sees you; clarity that is fogged up in you by years of insecurities. I didn't laugh. Instead, I took the picture. He asked to see it. Satisfied, he gave me one more heart-stealing smile, then bounded away to see what his sister was up to elsewhere.
 
Honestly, I almost deleted the photo. What did I need it for? I saw the roundness of the belly where I'd love for it to be flatter; the softness of the arms where I wish they were toned. I saw the gray hairs I don't pull out anymore. I saw the migraine behind my eyes, and the thick glasses because I didn't feel like putting in my contacts when I could barely stand to have my eyes open in the daylight. I saw the awkward half-smile because selfies seem meant for younger, perkier people.
 
Why didn't I delete the photo? I didn't delete it because of a hunch that every mom ever caught off guard by their child's admiration could relate to the thoughts filling my head. I even had a feeling that the dads out there can relate to it all, perhaps when their children look at them with unwavering confidence in their strength and capabilities. I didn't delete the photo because, while the things I saw in it are real and true, the things my son sees are real and true as well.
 
I not only saved the photo, but decided to share it here because of Psalm 139:14, "I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are your works, and my soul knows it well."
 
Years aged.
Extra pounds carried.
Hair grayed and thinned.
Body tired.
Pains and illnesses endured.
Patience lost.
Voice raised.
Mistakes made.
Weaknesses experienced.
 
None of these eliminate the truth my child sees and accepts about me, or your child about you: that I am, and you are, "fearfully and wonderfully made."
 
The next time you encounter that truth, whatever the source, don't laugh it off. Don't dismiss it or argue against it, mentally or aloud. Hear it. Be grateful for it. Let it sink in until you can say, "my soul knows it well."

Friday, July 21, 2017

Under Time's Thumb

We are perched on the peak of summertime. It is the start of the weeks of heaviest heat, with air that wets your skin when you exit the air conditioning. It is now, at the height, that the signals of summer's temporary condition begin appearing. The longest hours of daylight undetectably recede. The hayfields are cut and rolled into buffalo-sized bales. Cornstalks reach shoulder height and store's stock harvests of school supplies.

This time of year always, always brings restlessness. My spirit is swirled up in a mixture of urgency to savor now, and serene anticipation of the transition that is ahead. I hesitate to admit that autumn will be welcome on my doorstep, not wanting summer to think I wish it gone.

Is that the way of all things? All the things under time's thumb?

Maybe I play the comparison game too readily. When it's something so entirely out of my control as the movement of the seasons, does it matter which is better? Or which I prefer? All that matters is what is.