Living Life # 9 (a collection of vignettes)

“Undone”

Something was watching me. My breath caught in the back of my throat and I froze.

It was a nagging feeling, the type that says the oven’s on or the door’s unlocked. Not exactly the concrete creep of a touch to the shoulder but, for the fourth time today, I felt it. I wasn’t alone. 

First weaving through the high grass as I crested the hill, next meandering over the small bridge near the lake, and then sitting on the porch outside my front door. It was there, in all those places. And it was here, right now… this peculiar feeling. The best explanation I could give would be that it felt as if all my personal, private expressions were being noted. How earlier the way my arms had swung like reeds in the wind at my sides, or how my eyes had floated down to the water to catch something sparkling, or even when one of my boots tripped over the other and I tried to walk it off like it never happened. And I had been alone. Supposedly. Until in the next breath after each of those actions I suddenly became undone.

Each and every time, I turned. At the hill all I saw was the swell and buckle of the land beyond, the lake’s water had held still as if trapped in a glass and even though I heard the door creak on the porch it was held firmly shut just as I had left it. This time I determined would be different. It would be futile to turn, so I wouldn’t. Instead I would let whatever it was come to me. 

I released my long held breath and bushed it off as if I hadn’t noticed anything at all. I placed my hands firmly on my hips and looked off to the trees ahead trying to focus. The longer I stared though the more the feeling grew. Maybe I had made a mistake. 

In the tangle of the trees that marked the entrance to the forest, I could spy not a thing out of place. There was no wind so the leaves were still and the clouds above cast the shadows long and deep beyond the trunks. There was not a hint of movement. Trying to focus on anything else I strained to hear the birds but no songs touched my ears. My nails dug a bit deeper into my hips and I tried to tell myself maybe it was going to rain and that’s all the silence was. A calm before the storm. Instead, my heart insisted on not listening to this drivel. It pounded to its own rushed beat that even my own lies couldn’t stop. The truth it hammered again and again was this. There was nothing in the forest… but there was almost certainly something behind me. 

A ghost of a touch breezed by the back of my left thigh. I stayed still. The trees filled my eyes. Look to the trees, look to the trees. But maybe I couldn’t see the forest I was trapped in for those trees. No. Don’t think like that. Choose the high road. That wasn’t real.  

A trace of a tingle across my elbow. Look. No. Don’t. Look to the sky instead and try to tell one cloud from another, even though the imminent rain would make that impossible. 

A curl of breath against my neck. Too warm to be from the lungs of the nonexistent wind. My heart stuttered releasing my own breath from its cage and I couldn’t take it anymore. I turned.

The porch, the lake, the hills against a gray sky were all in sight… and someone was there. But still… they were the only thing I couldn’t see.

Living Life #8 (a collection of vignettes)

“Starved”

Don’t go shopping when you’re hungry. If your slumped shoulders are falling to the ground, if your empty head is spinning in aching circles, if your heavy heart is painting the world in black and white that means you have already waited too long.

If only I had a will to take my own advice!

Walking through those double wide doors, my senses exploded. Everywhere in sight was the nourishment that my body was so desperately craving. Out front were the staples, basic necessities to every health conscious person. My feet flew to them as if wearing winged sandals, not my ratty black sneakers with the frayed laces, and picked up the first to touch my hand. Of course, immediately going for heavy stuff.

Hardy and filled to the brim with adventure, The Odyssey I quickly tucked to my chest. Whenever my shoulders slumped too far I could heft it up to remember that a long and difficult journey is made with the ending in mind. It would be the perfect breakfast to get me through the rest of the day.

From there it wasn’t hard to spot lunch. Moving further into the stomach of the store I found just the right thing to feed my head with twists and turns, and break it out of its mindless rut. I plucked Descendant of the Crane between my fingers. That would distract me to help keep down all the bad thoughts and still the hunger pains.

Now the last. Dinner would be the most challenging meal. It would have to be nutritious and well balanced, something with good flavor and peppered with light to get me through the night. I wandered, I searched and so many things looked quite good but not quite right.

Until… with a off handed glance what did catch my eye was Howl’s Moving Castle and I picked it up with a cry. Finally, finally one to turn all those blacks and whites to green and blue and a red so bright. Something to give the world color again and help my heart sleep through the night!

I took my food to the counter and as the cashier rung up my order I realized with a start, I only had $2 on me and no debit card. In my haste to feel better I overlooked that important thing. Learn from my mistake, so you don’t stray from your diet. You have to be well fed to keep your spirit up, your head clear and your heart shining bright. Otherwise you’ll overlook things then need to run home burning more calories in two trips instead of one. Ugh.

Living Life #7 (a collection of vignettes)

“Color”

It was a menagerie of colors.

Orange in flashes, the first lights of fire at night in the brittleness of the woods. Green everywhere, like vomit oozing from the same spot on the carpet that never would be the same again. Purple, the color of bruises that would show up after the fight the next day. Yellow, dead center, just like the perfect ring of a bullseye waiting to be stabbed. Pink, darting in-between and screaming for attention like the anger on a face of a manipulative man. Red… just like the trace of blood dripping down her arms from the thorns.

And white, the innocence lost and fading in the mess of it.

Her hold tightened on the bouquet. There was a note.

I’ll see you tonight.

She smiled. Yes, she could hardly wait. “Blue, the color you’ll be when I am through with you.”

Living Life # 6 (a collection of vignettes)

“Everywhere”

At first, I didn’t mean to meet him. It had been an accident that was the exact opposite of my intentions. The mini mart hadn’t even opened yet since Bob was late, though that wasn’t unusual. It happened from time to time. On a few occasions, he never came at all depending upon his mood. So I leaned against the front door and crossed my arms. Before my shift I always stopped at the gas station and bought my bagel. I had a bit of extra time and since it was nice out I figured I would give Bob a chance to show up. Only he wasn’t the one who did.

It couldn’t have been more than two minutes, when a big white monster of a car rolled off the interstate. Actually car was the wrong word, but it wasn’t a 16 wheeler either. Some sort of van in-between painted in off white with blue stripes down the sides. The exterior was desperate for a wash and the engine was louder than a lawn mower. I didn’t think that this was Bob. Just probably someone else passing through. After it parked in front of the pump, the absence of the engine made the air feel unnaturally quiet. I shifted uneasily on my feet. Waiting alone was okay, but two was a crowd.

Flicking my wrist up at my watch I meandered away from the door, and down the walk just as the driver’s side door slid open and closed. I decided suddenly to give Bob only three more minutes, putting off the notion that I might be eating from the vending machine later . Flicking my eyes down to my shadow I tapped my fingers against my thigh, ignoring the footsteps approaching. At least I was trying too. I heard him try the doors, and then the words “When does it open?”

Obviously he must have been talking to me. His voice was rough like sandpaper and his shadow was big enough to eat mine. It was with effort I pulled my eyes up to his red polo shirt. “Seven, supposedly.” I added the supposedly because it was 7:12 now, and his shadow gave me the impression I should be polite. The shadow crossed its arms, but as he turned I realized part of the reason it was so big was because of a backpack slung over one shoulder. I looked away and walked a few paces then stopped. So not to make it seem like it was his presence that was making me uneasy I took two steps back. One more minute Bob.

“You feel okay kid?” My shoulders jumped to my ears and in my surprise I met his eyes. Gray hair, black baseball cap, and skin that looked like it had never seen a day out of the sun. He must have been around 60 and he stood stock straight like a pole was running through his spine. With my skinny arms and wire frame I must have seemed much more cowardly looking.

“I’m fine.” I straightened my back to match his and dropped my arms to my sides. It was time to go.That would put an end to the small talk. But I would be sure to save a few words for Bob the next time I saw him.

I made to leave but that hard voice latched out again, and stopped me in my tracks. “You live around here kid?”

“Not far.” I answered, now stuck in the ropes of small talk. It would be the polite thing to ask him a question next, I knew. And I was nothing if not polite. That was the only thing really I had to my name. “Are you visiting?” There was no way he was from around here with that accent.

“I’ll be here for a week. Then I’ll be off again.”

“Vacation?”

“You could say that.” He smiled. With that vehicle and that shadow I didn’t think that was possible. He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and offered me one. I shook my head. Smoking was an expensive habit, one that I couldn’t afford. Not if I wanted to eat breakfast every day. The gesture though was enough to relax me. “I’m retired. Every day is a vacation.”

With work looming in my mind, the notion seemed exotic to me. “Well, I do admit I’m jealous.”

“You’ll get there.” he said, like it was inevitable. A fact, a rule. I admired his confidence. It made me forget, for a moment, my last paycheck.

“Maybe.” I sighed.

He pulled the cigarette from his mouth. “You won’t with that attitude.” He said loudly, but not unkindly. His laugh was abrupt and clipped. “Life is out there for the picking. You only have to be strong enough to grab it.” He pointed to his head. “It all starts here. Right or wrong?”

His tone warranted no other answer. “Right.”

He took another drag on his cigarette and gestured to me. “Stand up straight, hold your head high, and remember the only things that can hurt you are the things you let.” He gave another of his brusque laughs. “Life is good.”

I laughed too, only half ironically, and straightened my shoulders. “Life is good.” There was nothing wrong in his words, they were true. But I couldn’t help but say, “But what about when bad things happen?”

“Bad things will always happen, that’s life. But so will the good. Every day you get up is another day that can be good. Remember that.” He flattened his cigarette against the trash can and tossed it in. “The world is a big place. That’s why I’m traveling. I’m going to go out there and grab it.”

I liked his attitude, his confidence. Maybe that was another reason why his shadow seemed so impressive to me. “Where are you from?”

“That’s no easy answer.” he put his hands on his hips and glanced up to the blue sky before looking back to me. “You see that’s my house, right there.” He pointed to the van. “I’ve been all over.” He paused for a moment and then added, “I picked up a little bit of myself wherever I went. So, if you wanna know where I’m from the most honest answer would have to be… everywhere.”

I inclined my head to him. I had never heard an answer like that before, not to that simple question. “That sounds like a mighty nice way to live.”

“If you think about it, it’s the only way to live. Why be from one place when you could be from all of them.”

“I’ve only ever known this town.” I said quietly.

He smiled once again and I noticed one of his front teeth was chipped. Nonetheless assurance shone from him like light from the sun. I would give anything for even just half his confidence. Would I ever be able to live like he did? I didn’t know the answer.

He reached into his backpack and pulled out a brown paper bag. Reaching inside he pulled out two wrapped oval shapes, and handed one to me. Underneath the paper was a bagel. I swallowed and spluttered my gratitude. I had nothing to give him in return, and I said as much.

As I sit thinking about him now I still hold close the last thing he said to me. It was this. “You drive your destiny. Everywhere is just that, everywhere. And most important, remember, life is good.”

Living Life #5 (a collection of vignettes)

The Pancake Lady

Every Sunday at 11:00 AM when Ms. Kerry would open her kitchen window, there would always be a line. It was an ordinary window, nothing special, in an ordinary yellow house, in an ordinary neighborhood with daisies in the garden and a little porch out front. Yet, it was still the most popular place on Flour Lane. Today when I arrived, with fifteen minutes to spare, I was second and Waff, of all people, was ahead of me. Needless to say I was peeved.

“How’d ya beat me?”

He curled his lip. Waff liked to curl his lip when he was feeling good. “I never went to bed.” To that even I allowed my eyes to widen, but then shrugged it off and scuffed my sneaker in the dirt. I didn’t feel peeved anymore. A little impressed even, but I couldn’t let Waff of all people know that.

Instead I let my habits get the better of me, and the snark, that Mama said I needed to stop letting out, slipped. “Your eyes are real puffy, Waff.”

“I’m a little tired.”

“Ya know, ya should have just woken up early.” I wasn’t very good at containing it though.

Waff’s lip uncurled. He pushed a hand to his head making all the blond hairs ruffle, and he reminded me of the old dog that wandered around the gas station looking for the scraps, his fur always mussed and his stare always droopy. Easy was what everyone called him because of the way he would bite all the hands that tried to feed him. Waff got bit twice before he learned, and I quickly learned to give Waff any bits I had for Easy.

Waff’s mouth hung open like he was looking for the right words and those were hard to come by for him, despite the fact that he loved to talk. He could go on and on about anything.

“I didn’t think of that.” he said finally. “For an eight year old, you’re pretty smart Frenchie.”

“Mama says that too, but she adds another word after smart.” I said and then added, “And she only says it when she’s mad at me.”

Waff laughed and bumped his shoulder into mine. “It’ll be worth it. How much longer?”

“Ya don’t have a watch?” In Waff defense, I don’t think many eight year olds did. Mama only gave it to me though so I would always be home on time for dinner.

Waff shook his head. “I asked but my Pa said I’d only lose it.”

I felt a bit bad so I told Waff the time, my snark on a tight leash. Only ten minutes left. Ten minutes though felt like a long time. “How long have you been out here Waff?”

He threw his hands in front of him. “Dunno.” He scratched his head. “But sometime before the rooster.” Miss Kerry had five chickens and one rooster, I could hear them clucking from behind the house.

“That’s a long time.” I swung my arms out and crossed them against my chest. Then put them down again because it was too hot. I leaned my head back against the house instead with a thump. Waff thumped too. But we both jumped when the window opened. It was Maple, Miss Kerry’s daughter.

“Will you two stop making a racket.” Maple took after her papa, which was why her hair was brown and longish. Miss Kerry had yellow hair that only reached far enough down to tickle her ears. Though if Gold wasn’t both of their last names, I wasn’t sure I would have thought they were related. Ya see I had never seen Maple’s papa. Or Mr. Kerry for that matter.

Maple was ten and therefore her words meant more than mine or Waff’s, at least that was what Mama said. Respect your olders. So, “Sorry!” is what I said. But Waff…

“Are the pancakes done yet?”

“Hush.” Maple scolded. “They’ll be ready at 11, like always.”

“How much longer?” Waff could keep the whine out of his voice as easily as I could keep the snark out of mine. Maple took a deep breath, and snapped the window shut.

“Ya made her mad.” I said, point blank.

To which Waff answered, “I always make her mad.” It was true. He did. It was part of the Sunday routine. The line behind me was getting even longer as well. Om had gotten behind me, and behind him was Cere, and behind her was old man Oats. He never missed Miss Kerry’s Sunday pancakes. You see Fast Break was so small a town, everyone knew everyone else, and everyone knew Miss Kerry made the finest pancakes in town. So, after receiving so many compliments she decided to share. Every Sunday she promised to make enough pancakes to feed whomever wanted. Even Easy was lingering near the end of the line that was now starting to wrap around the back to the chicken coop.

Waff thumped his head again. Probably because he was bored. I wondered what he had been doing before I had come. Again, he thumped his head.

“Ya’ll only give yourself a headache.” I whispered. “And then ya’ll give Maple a headache.” Waff looked at me, stock still leaning against the house. “And then… ya won’t get any pancakes.”

Waff’s mouth dropped open like the broken door hinge on my back porch. I tried to keep my smile in but it was hard. Until the window snapped open again. Then I lost that smile quick.

“Someone’s hungry. I never thought I’d see the day when you were first Waffle, son.” came Ms. Kerry’s sweet voice. Both of us jumped and turned around.

“Is it time?” I asked. I was hungry too ya know.

In answer Ms. Kerry brought out the first plate of pancakes and Waff took them into his open arms.

“I dreamed of this moment.” he said, because Waff said dramatic stuff like this even when it didn’t make any sense.

“Ya didn’t get any sleep last night.” I broke in, taking my dish next. I didn’t wait a moment longer to sink my fork in.

Living Life #4 (a collection of vignettes)

“The Red Bird”

She wasn’t sure if she saw the red bird first or if it saw her. It was one of those questions she would never have the answer to. Unless of course birds miraculously learned to speak English or she learned to tweet in bird. Since both circumstances seemed unlikely she left it at that. In the end it really didn’t matter. What mattered was that the red bird was there.

The first time she had seen it, she had barely acknowledged its existence. Instead she was more apt to sit and read than look out from the window next to her. Headaches didn’t cure themselves, only distraction and relaxation. So, the red bird had only got a passing glance.

The second time had been a few days later. It was raining profusely and the world outside was bathed in the dark stormy gray of the clouds and the vibrant green of the grass. She noted that the grass only looked that deep a color when it rained and some part of her wished she could see it more often. Then she remembered she really wasn’t fond of rain.

It was then that she had spotted the red bird again. It was huddled on the lawn, directly below her window. It’s contrast was so bright compared to the rest of the world. Autumn apple red wings, smudged dark shadow of a face and candy corn orange peak. It was looking right up at her.

“I’ve seen you before.” she had said.

And in answer the bird had flown away. It had been his turn to leave first after all.

This was the third time, a week from the last meeting. It wasn’t raining but it was cloudy. Her headache had eased but never left. There wasn’t much she could do. A different book was clutched in her hand, but it wasn’t open. Instead all she wanted to do was stare out the window, because she hadn’t tried that yet and she was too tired to do anything else.

The red bird didn’t take long to show up. It sat on the edge of her window sill just like the first time. “What took you so long?” she asked.

The bird bowed its head at her.

“I see. Well, I appreciate the company but if you’re busy I understand.” The red bird fluffed its wings and perched more snuggly onto the sill. It wasn’t going anywhere. She crinkled her eyes and smiled, the first in quite a bit. “Okay, then. If you’re keen on staying… I’ll tell you a story.” So she did and the more she spoke the better her head felt. So you see, it really didn’t matter who saw the other first.

Living Life #3 (a collection of vignettes)

“The Grape Eater”

It happened in aisle two.

The atmosphere of Shop Smart was bustling and all around there was movement. In one corner an overworked mother was pulling her son into the cart, while her son was pushing himself out of it. By the melons a tall girl was comparing one mango to the other, weighing each against her chest and no doubt looking for the best buy. To the left an elderly gentleman was clenching his fingers upward to the ceiling and shaking them back and forth complaining about clumps in the grated parmesan cheese. So, just another day… until I saw you.

Right there in aisle two.

I was minding my own business, as one does when grocery shopping. I had a small list: bananas, Oreos, and Mocha Swirl ice cream. All major food groups, and all scattered in their own habitats in the store. It was at the exact moment I had spotted the most yellow of the bananas when I saw you a few feet away, hovering over the red seedless grapes. At first my mind skated over. Grapes, sure they were good, but not on my limited list. Besides the drinkable version to me was more preferable for the cost, despite it being nay 12 in the afternoon… then it happened.

You. You in that maroon colored overcoat, in those black bell bottoms, in those disgusting gray tennis shoes which must have once been white reached into that bag of innocent produce and plucked. Plucked. I was so stunned all I could do was watch as you popped that innocent orb of juiciness and vacuumed sucked it into your mouth, leaving no trace of evidence behind…

The bunch fell straight out of my hand and landed with a crash onto its other brethren below on the stand. Looking around to the other patrons of Smart Shop’s finest I found no one else paying any mind. No one had seen. But I saw. I know what you did.

There must have been a look on my face. At that moment I had no control over any of my emotions. You though, Grape Eater, were spared my revulsion by swiftly pivoting away to deeper into the recesses of the store. The others weren’t.

“Are you okay?” Melon girl asked, holding two watermelons now in each of her palms. I didn’t know how to answer. Was I okay? Physically, yes. Mentally, maybe. Emotionally, no. No, I wasn’t. But I was in no mood to explain all of this to her. For some reason fate had willed this burden to fall into my hands and not hers. So I would spare her.

Giving a quick jerk of my head that was neither a nod nor shake, I grabbed my fallen bunch of bananas and scooted out of aisle two. Maybe I was just overreacting. I mean if the Grape Eater was planning on buying the bundle then it didn’t matter, really, whether one was gone or not. It wasn’t stealing. Just eating, preemptively. My synapses calmed at this thought. Any leftover abhorrence I pinned elsewhere. For example, Grape Eater, don’t you know you have to wash fruit first before putting it into your mouth?

But that was Grape Eater’s issue and not mine. Mine was on finding the Oreos. That was easy enough, my Double Stuf Oreos were waiting nestled in between all the other cookies of choice. I grabbed the pack and forced a smile. When I got home these would be well earned. I turned from the display and I stopped. At the end of the shelves was Grape Eater.

You were munching merrily and it was with trepidation that I looked into your basket. Behind the Chips Ahoy and jars of marinara sauce I saw the half eaten bag of grapes. You were trying to hide it, I know you were. Those cookies were placed so carefully to block any onlookers from looking deeper. The marinaras’ label were bright red and distracting to divert any other attention straight to its “Delicious!” marketing campaign. But I knew what to look for. I wasn’t fooled.

This time I followed you, walking right out of reach, as we entered the frozen food section. Grape Eater strolled casually by the peas, by the boxed pizzas and then paused at the ice cream. I swallowed. With grimy hands you reached in and pilfered a container out of the display. I felt my heart lurch when I saw the Mocha Swirl. There was no way.

You coasted by again as I bolted to the freezer and scanned the labels. Mint, Salted Caramel, Butter Pecan…. but no. No more Mocha Swirl. I looked again, and then again. The aisle was empty and you were gone by the time I let realization take hold. This was personal.

I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I was going to do it. Punching the heels of my boots into the tile floor I strode out into the wilderness of the store. The mother and son watched me wearily and the elderly gentleman sidestepped out of my way, each had to just take one look at my face.

The Grape Eater was waiting. Right in front of the tower of Barilla Pasta, on sale for $1.29 a box. It was as if you knew what you did with that smug bloated smile on your face, and you were proud of it. You, Grape Eater, chucked that empty grape bag to the side with a quick, purposeful flick of your wrist, then finally, met my eyes. So you had seen me, just as I had seen you.

As I opened my mouth, it happened. Melon girl, appearing from around the corner, now with two apples in her hands and a menagerie of other fruit in a cart nearby never saw the empty bag. It slid from right under her foot and flinging her apples she in turn reached out… and knocked down the whole tower of pasta.

Grape Eater never stood a chance. The boxes came tumbling down in an avalanche of linguini, penne and farfalle. After, when the dust settled I seized my moment. While everyone was distracted by the spill and Grape Eater floundering on the floor, I grabbed my Mocha Swirl from the forgotten basket.

No one paid me any mind. And it was satisfying.