Vignette #33 “Listen to Yourself”

Life is not for the weak.

That much I have come to know.

It will pull you. It will push.

Life is hard. Living, though, makes it worth it.

It’s about the extra bit of cream you put in the coffee that was bitter from the start. It’s about the light hearted movie you watch instead of typing the report that night. It’s about taking a little time to sleep in even though the sun is glaring on your face. It’s about the friends and family that are there to hold you close when winter winds blow and bills demand attention and the work never seems to end.

If you need a break. You take a break. That’s it. In whatever shape or way you choose.

Life is not for the weak.

It will pull you. It will push. It will drag you down to the darkest depths of the ocean and bring you so high out of the atmosphere that breath is no longer an option.

But breathe you must. Because you are alive and therefore you are not weak.

You are strong.

So listen to yourself and when you need to breathe… take that break and breathe.

Otherwise
you
will
break……

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

©2020 Jai Lynn

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Vignette #29 “Wayfarer”

There is a path stretched out behind you. It’s concrete made with no bends in sight. As straight and narrow as the length of a computer screen, the width of an office desk, and the depth of the manager’s suit covered gut. The sun is the color of a fluorescent light, and the air is as stuffy as a hot classroom. Expectations, rules, the conventional like shackles pressing down onto your shoulders and binding your feet to the floor.

There is a path curving ahead of you, serpentine and shifting. There is no way to know what is going to come at you next on that mist covered trail. It changes its shape at every turn depending on the decisions you make, and there will be many decisions to make. Monsters lurk in the depths, some friendly and some not. Different than the behemoths you’ve fought before. These are stronger, and will swat the weak at heart away with a single slap across the face. There’s no tradition on this path to hang across your shoulders, but there is no guidance either.

And don’t forget the paths stretching to either side. You could go right where all the noise of the roaring waves is. Take off your shoes and let the sand crowd around your toes. Let the water call you in closer and closer till it caresses your skin. Let the call draw you in further and further till its over your head and all you can live, see, breathe is ocean.

Or, you could go left into the silence of the woods. Trees will stand over you and their leaves will cover you from the rain, while burrows will protect you from the wind when the storm comes to call. You can stay as long as you wish but this path can run around and around in circles confusing even the most skilled travelers. Everything will start to look the same until you forget there was anything different before.

You can even sit down and stay just where you are. The safest spot of all… at first sight. This is the one with the greatest risk to gain the greatest loss.

So, chose wisely.

Photo by Victor Garcia on Unsplash

“Cruelty”

Snark
has two faces.
One
for criticism
and the other
for telling truth.

Bitterness
has two sides.
One
for seeing the world
as it truly is
and the other
for knowing
that some things
never change.

Pain
has two
pointed edges.
One
for stabbing others
and the other
for stabbing yourself.

You ask why
I’m cruel?
Because
for too long
I have been
selfless
in giving myself away
until all
my kindness
had
left.

Photo by Caleb Shong on Unsplash

Living Life #26 "Do it."

Today is yours. No one can take that from you.

If you want to sleep in because your head hurts, then do it. If you want to sit and stare at the rain, do it. If you want to take a walk then just go, don’t come back till you have had your fill. If you want to pull all the books down from the shelves and build a fort to hide in, do it. If you want to do laundry and put extra fabric softener in, do it. If you want to let the dishes sit, then let them sit. And you can sit too.

No one knows how you feel but yourself. If today you are not right then that’s okay. Really, it is. One day you will feel right again. I promise. You have to have some bad to appreciate when it’s good.

So just remember.

Today is yours. No one can take that from you and that is the most magical thing of all.

Photo by Tonny Tran on Unsplash

Living Life #23 “Smile”

I have only seen her frown once.

Granted, I have never seen her outside of work but when you work as many hours as I do with the same people day after day… you tend to notice things.

In the early morning, when the sky is still painted night and the air chilled with dew, whoever she greets on her way in she’ll flash a smile. It doesn’t matter if her eyelids are still a little droopy with sleep, or her sweet voice a little heavier as if coated in honey. No matter what, you’ll still see that smile.

At our weekly meeting we learn about new procedures, rules, or programs we need to know how to run. If she doesn’t understand she’ll raise her hand and ask her questions, always with a coy quirk in her lip. As if in apology for speaking, when in reality she is voicing the question in all our minds.

Casual meetings in the hallway with everyone’s coming and goings, when if you’re lucky enough to meet her eyes, there that grin will be. It doesn’t matter that she already flashed it at you an hour ago when you walked in together.

Disgruntled customers are frequent and normal. I once watched a man spit at her, saliva getting stuck to her blouse and she didn’t even balk. That smile came to her defense and it calmed him, and the rest of us, down from coming to her aid.

When Tracy accidentally dropped a cup of coffee and it splashed onto her shirt.

When her computer broke and she had to stay late to finish her assignment.

When it started to pour just as she was about to leave the other day.

Everywhere she goes, she smiles. I don’t understand. Or at least I didn’t, until the day I saw that frown.

I was coming around the corner when I spotted her at the window. It was the only time I ever saw her eyes look so far away. Her arms were crossed tightly across her chest, and her hands were clenched around her elbows. I realized in that moment that she thought she was alone. I would have left it that way too… if not for the frown marring her face.

For someone who had always seemed so happy, and brought joy to everyone else… I wondered at the depth of sadness she must have kept bottled up inside. There was a lifetime of disappointment and worry in that upside down turn of her mouth.

I didn’t mean to stare… but that’s how she caught me. Her expression careened from sadness to surprise to a calm expression with her lips set into a straight line. I didn’t even know what to say, I was caught just as off guard as she was.

Are you okay? came to the tip of my tongue but my words weren’t working. She inclined her head at me then and passed by. That was the only time she didn’t smile, at least to me.

I wonder, sometimes, if she is as aware as I am of the powerful effect a smile, or lack there one, can have… because after I didn’t see one the rest of my day was wrecked.

Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash

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.