Unraveled

The scribe took possession of his grandmother’s knitting. Needles, yarn, and projects in progress. All impeccably, impossibly ordered in the bag. Brightly colored balls tightly wound and thin off-white in ovals ready to be wound, tags keeping it from chaos.
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High School Ultimatum

“Were you sitting next Shelby on the bus?”

“Yeah.”

“Why would you want to sit next to her? You know they suspended her for smoking pot, right? She’s not the kind of friend you should have.”

I can’t stop my eyes from rolling, and I gotta speak before Mom starts in on me about that. “I wanted to get her side of the story. I’ve only heard rumors about it.”

“And?”

“Yeah, she did it.” Mom makes her I-told-you-so face. “But everyone’s treating her like she murdered someone. That’s just stupid.” I grab my backpack from the floor, deciding homework will got a lot faster in my room than in the kitchen.

“I don’t want you hanging out with her.”

“I don’t do drugs, Mom.” I’m out of the kitchen and heading up the stairs. Mom isn’t following me, which is a little surprising. This is the kind of thing she usually digs her teeth into. I pass the framed homecoming picture of Dad and her, not King and Queen but part of the court.

In my room, I slough off my grey hoodie and notice a ketchup stain on my left boob right over Darth Vader’s face. Great. That was probably there when I shoved that football player into the lockers for crowding Tina and stuck my finger in his face and told him exactly what kind of asshole he was being. Everyone knows she’s claustrophobic. A laugh snorts out of my nose while I dab what I can of the mess. He wouldn’t even know how to expect something like that from a 5 foot nerd. He even apologized to her.

The textbooks get heavier every year. We won’t even get through half of this biology monstrosity. It lands on my bed. Start with art. I should save what I love for last, but whether food or work, that’s never been my style.

The polite knock comes as I finish the sketch of the tree outside of my window.

“Lilith, you got a sec?”

I teenage sigh, “Yeah.”

“Can you come downstairs, please?”

“Fine.” I cover the picture with my Pre-Cal book.

Mom is sitting at the table, arms crossed. She had too much time to think about how I won that last conversation.

Dad started, “We’re concerned about your behavior lately.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means your mother and I would like to see you … tone it down a little bit.”

“What is ‘it’?” My eyes haven’t left Mom. She returns the favor.

“Well, your attitude.” Dad is letting that sink in while he grabs the cookies from the pantry.

“No, she doesn’t get cookies. This is not a cookies conversation, Stan.” He puts them back, sighing. Time for him to exit this stand off. He sits down at the other end of the table and just waits.

We glare at each other. Dad coughs once or twice, sighs a few times, and pulls his Blackberry out. He leans down into the chair, legs stretched out and rolls his eyes as he logs in.

“I think my attitude is just fine.” Mom thinks she’s won because I spoke first, but I’ve now set the rules.

“Well, I – we – disagree.”

“So?” Two letters hit her, and she adjusts.

“So, if you don’t figure out how to be a nicer person, you’re going to spend the rest of your high school life grounded.” I smile. Mom’s face turns red.

“Okay.” I get up to leave.

“Sit. Down.” I look at her. How much ground does sitting concede? “Sit down or no more internet.”

I hesitate but sit. Hint of a smile at the corners of her eyes. Damn my Achilles heel!

“I am not going to spend your high school years miserable in this house. Your uncle made us miserable, and you are not going to make me go through that again.” I look at the ground. “So figure out how to act normal or we’re going to -”

“What? Send me off?”

“Maybe. You and your grandma get along.”

“Wait, so I sit next to some girl on the bus, and you are READY TO JUST KICK ME OUT OF THIS FAMILY!” Dad is back up, hand on my arm. I throw it off.

The timer dings on whatever healthy casserole is supposed to be dinner tonight. Mom gets up, “You know that is not what this is about.” Her back to me, I storm out of the kitchen and try to stomp through the stairs. She’s yelling at me to come back, and I slam the door on her voice. The door slows my slide to the ground, and I drop my head into my hands. Maybe grandma’s would be better.

The Kitchen

The kitchen should have looked different after she left. There was no teenage daughter grating the cheese, sitting on the counter, even though she knew her dad hated it. The off-white counters imperceptibly scratched by her jeans. Mom ran her fingers over the marks only she could see before wiping them down before bed. Eighteen years in this kitchen with Julie at her feet, at her hip, at the stove, and on the counters. The kitchen wasn’t changed without her, it would wait patiently for Thanksgiving when new stories would fill it.

The air in the kitchen was bubbly. Mom wondered if Julie was remembering to breathe as she talked through the first semester. The phone calls hadn’t been enough to really capture it. The friends, the seasons, the air, the classes. Julie rolled out the pie crust over her scratches, grinding the dusted flour in. Mom shared her stories at the stove, making the filling, but left a few key details out.

She scrubbed at the counter-top. Grimed of some form had settled into the seams and scratches. They couldn’t afford to replace it while Julie finished college. Elbow grease and stubbornness would get it looking like new. Julie han’t come home for the summer, like Mom had hoped. Her internship was in a different city, a different state. Thanksgiving was out as well. She was heading to a professor’s house or doing a dorm meal. Something. College was supposed to be exciting and new experiences, but Mom wanted her little girl home. Just for a few days. Mom ran her right nail into Julie’s scratches, coaxing out whatever green gunk had gotten in there.

Julie sat on the counter over her scratches, kicking the cabinets, eyes glued to her phone. Mom’s attempts to get a story or some help were met with mild acknowledgment of her existence. The vegan sausages, carefully separated from the others, started to smoke, asking to be turned. “Julie! Please put the phone down and make a salad for dinner!” Julie’s parents-are-so-whatever sigh harmonized with scraping across the counter as she slid off. “Watch the counters!” “Why? Their gross, Mom. That looks like mold.” Julie’s scratches had turned black.

Mom hadn’t been able to stop sliding her hands across the new granite counter-tops. They were unbelievable smooth. She ran her fingers over it mindlessly as she watched her daughter, trying not to stare. Julie sat at the kitchen table, phone down, looking out the window. No sitting in jeans on the counters this time. “That’s okay, Mom, I can just sit here.” She’d been home for a month, not talking more than yes and no and I don’t want to talk about that right now. Mom ached to fix whatever had happened. She’d somehow thought just getting her baby home would do it.

The nicks in the counter were from wear and tear but had ended up on the same piece of counter-top real estate where Julie’s had been. She was home from her new job in the city. Close enough to visit but far enough to be separate. Mom sat at the table, as Julie made dinner. Still quiet in the kitchen, but the job was there to ground her, to give her something safe to discuss. She was doing well, getting back on her feet, planning for what was next. Mom listened.

Julie wiped down the kitchen counters and looked around at the boxes. Mom finished labeling them and surveyed the space. Julie’s partner and son were out in the yard, staying mostly out of the way and out of trouble. Mom opened the fridge and pulled out last thing left. She tossed the wine cork into the trash bag, hopped up on the counter, scratching her jeans along it. After taking a long swig, she patted the space next to her, and Julie jumped up. Julie leaned into her mom and rested her head on her shoulder. “I’m gonna miss this place.” Mom handed her the wine bottle. “Yeah, me too.”

 

Story inspired by this prompt.

Action: Day 11 of the Story A Day Challenge

Today’s prompt is here. Because I did not have much time to fill out yesterday’s story, I used today’s prompt to build on that idea and finish it.
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She knew this presentation backwards, forwards, inside, and out; she gave it a good twenty times a day at least. But she loved it, and her eyes lit up every time. Carnivorous plants were so cool. They found a way to live in nutrient deserts and had so many tricks to attract their prey.

She is just getting to the part about how some of them grew so large in the wild that they can trap frogs and small mammals when shouts and screams reach her from the tiger pen. Her walkie talkie goes off, but other ‘keepers are already running over there. She starts running mid-sentence.
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Shame: Day 5 of the Story A Day Challenge

Today’s prompt by Angela Ackerman is shame. Although the prompt focused on an action that makes the character feel shame, but I’ve always associated shame less with a single action and more as a collection of actions or thoughts (internal or external) that create the feeling.


 

He was the good son. He was not supposed to be like this. He was supposed to be successful and settle down and have a family and be the kid his parents talked about first when people asked how their kids were doing.

Hiding gave him an ulcer. He feared being found out and losing the most important people in his life. He feared not being found out, and the most important people in his life never truly knowing him.

His cure for fear was found at the bottom of a bottle, and when that didn’t do enough, in varying kinds of illicit substances. Anything to dull reality’s sharp edges. The self-medicating took a toll. He’d been fired, twice. His savings dried up. His plans and dreams and hopes withered.

The “I’ll tell them when it’s time” finally confronted him as a lie. He sat at his favorite barstool in his favorite bar, downing drink number four. His pain washed away after four drinks, and his instincts focused only on getting more drinks. A friend offered him some white pill procured with puppy dog eyes, a sad story, and a willing doctor. It went down easy with the rest of the gin and tonic.

He went to take a leak and woke up in the hospital. Bandages over veins where blood had been taken and a diaper where his underwear should have been. Brain still fuzzy, he had no idea what was going on. How had he gotten here?

A nurse came in, checked him over silently, and then said he could get dressed and go home. His confused look made her point to his pile of clothes on the chair next to him. “Don’t drink so much. You are wasting our time.” Her Irish accent scolding him about alcohol would have made him laugh if he wasn’t so close to tears.

The ride home was awful. He wanted to throw up the entire half hour but made it home and to the bathroom just in time. He crawled into bed and sobbed himself to sleep in the pillow. He couldn’t do this anymore.

The next morning, he barely ate, staring at his phone. He pushed aside the planning part of his brain and jumped in head first.

“Mom? Is Dad there? I need to talk to both of you.” He was already crying.

“Jake, is everything okay? Dad’s coming. Are you alright? What’s wrong? What happened?”

“I… Please don’t hate me. I have to tell you something, and I’m so scared.”

“We’re here. It’s okay. What is it?”

“…” He took a breath to calm himself down just enough. “I’m gay.”

The line was so silent he checked to make sure they were still connected. He couldn’t handle the silence and just cried over and over and over into the phone “Please don’t hate me. Please don’t hate me.”

“We don’t hate you, son.”

“We could never hate you. We’re just … sad.”

“But it’ll be okay. We love you.”

“Are you seeing someone?”

“No. I just have … I needed you to know. I’ve been running for so long, it’ll kill me to keep running. Please, just please don’t hate me. I know so many people that have lost their families. Please don’t make me lose you.”

“No. No no no never. Never, son. Look, we’re going to look for flights and come up there. Okay? We can talk and figure this all out together. Okay?”

“Okay. Yes.”

“I love you.”

“We both love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“We’ll call you when we have our flight details.”

“Okay.” His last word sobbed out, fear and shame bubbling up and out of his body. He thought about his friends with good coming out stories and flipped through his contacts.

“Hello?”

“Lace, I just came out to my parents, and they are coming to visit and I think it’s going to be okay but I really can’t be alone right now.” He raced out the words, just beating a new wave of tears.

“I’m coming over. It’s gonna be okay. You did it! Jake, you… I am so proud of you. I will be there in like 15 minutes.” He could hear her smile through the phone and allowed himself his own as he hung up. Tension he had gotten so used to suddenly left him, and he sprawled out on the couch, exhausted but suddenly somehow happy.