The Green Knight ( Part #3)

(Part #1 HERE) (Part #2 HERE)

Rhys didn’t consider himself an especially brave man. –

He didn’t take unnecessary risks although he liked adventure. He didn’t eat strange foods or desire to travel to exotic lands, except maybe to see famous gardens. He didn’t interact with dangerous people or practice questionable occult rhetoric. He did, however, spend an entire day in a women’s hair Salon and he felt he deserved a place among the pantheon of “Bravest Men Alive.” Or at least a gold medal of some kind in spite of Flora’s “I told you so” smirk.

Women were exhausting and calculating creatures. When he insisted on staying in the Salon all day he’d said it for the sake of the plants, not thinking about the consequences of his actions. He didn’t realize that for eight hours he’d be harassed, questioned, lectured, photographed, flirted with and scolded (this last one mostly by elderly ladies assuming he was preying on innocent young women for nefarious reasons).

When these conversations came about, Flora’s laughter would ring out and she caught his eye in the mirror, her gap-toothed smile unrestrained from the cover of her hand. Occasionally she would swoop in and defend him when she was free of clients but mostly he was left to fend for himself.

She was right when she said he would come to know more than he ever thought he would. For instance, did he know that he was supposed to get his hair trimmed every six weeks to encourage faster growth? Or that dieting was all media-driven bull shit? (He did actually know that.) And that men who were more quiet and cold were more attractive to women because it made them want to dig under the surface?

Even he couldn’t miss that obvious call. It left a bad taste in his mouth.

Rhys left that day with dozens of pictures in his phone of the Salon, dozens more from women who simply got in the way, and a pocket full of phone numbers which he promptly threw in his fire place. When he flopped on his couch in the blessed quiet of his own home, his ears rang with the echoes of Flora’s laughter.

Over lunch she told him that he didn’t have to come back. That if he left her a watering schedule, she would try to follow it and not murder his generous donations.

“I meant what I said,” Rhys reiterated stubbornly, shoving a bite of the kale and lettuce salad he’d crafted from the salad bar at the chosen lunch destination. “I’ll come back and water them.”

Flora munched her deli sandwich, amused, wiping her now colorless lips with a napkin. “Fine then. Come in with me in the morning and do it before everyone gets there. In and out and no one is the wiser.”

“I can do that. Thank you.”

She smiled and they ate in peace, simply enjoying the moment.

She gave him an out several times during the day, insisting she would send him photos every hour on the hour. To this her co-workers jeered and teased, asking what kind of photos and if they were safe for work. She came back every time with something witty and humorous that made everyone feel at jovial and at ease.

He couldn’t stop watching her, trying to catch more glimpses of her colorful tattoos when he wasn’t staring at the floor trying to ignore people. She jangled and flashed and had a ready laugh. An exotic butterfly with wings that mesmerized him. Catching her eyes in the mirror started a fire in his belly, low and slow. It’s presence alarmed him.

Be careful.

Occasionally she would disappear when it was her turn to do the “Psychic” part of the business and it was those times her coworkers would swoop in on him, playing Twenty Questions and trying to get dirt on him.

“What are your plans miho? I see you making eyes at our Flora. She gotta marry a rich man!”

“You gonna be coming around here regular-like? We gonna put you to work then!”

“Hey what can chu do besides grow things? Do you have a job or what?”

“What’s with all the green stuff? It’s like a jungle in here now. Can I call you Tarzan and put a loin cloth on you?” (This from the high maintenance resident gay man.)

It was too much. He saw how Flora fit in with the gaggle of squawking geese but he didn’t understand why she put up with it.

Rhys groaned and threw an arm over his face. Why was he even doing this? Flora was not the kind of person he gravitated toward when he was looking for companionship. His types were more the tea drinking, book shopping, gardening variety. Quiet, like him, prone to philosophical discussions, and better when they each had their own spaces. People that didn’t trigger him.

Everything about her was a trigger for him, although not in the usual bad way. He found he didn’t mind the burn in his belly or her symphony of sounds and colors. She fascinated him. What was her story? Why did she choose to open a salon, of all things? Why here in his sleepy little town? Why all the tattoos? 

He was a little ashamed that he ran out on her at the end of the day, especially after he insisted on staying. She was in the back and one of her clients was preparing to alight his lap to take a selfie, all legs and perfume and heaving breasts. It had been his limit. Until then no one had touched him. He’d managed to dodge the pats and pets coming at him from every direction with a shift of a limb or twist of his torso.

He stood, careful to avoid the woman, and beat it to his jeep before anything else could happen. He peeled out from the curb into honking, angry traffic, controlling his breaths and clenching the wheel like he was going to break it. His vision was blurred and he blinked rapidly to clear it. Calm down. Calm down!

Too close. All of it. Too close. Stupid, stupid! He shouldn’t have tried to push himself.

He turned on the country music station to soothe his ruffled feathers and drove the scenic route home, using the road and the trees and the wind to calm him. Mile by mile, his shoulders relaxed and he eased off the accelerator. He was breathing normally by the time he neared his neighborhood and his heart rate slowed. It had been too close to the line he didn’t cross. All the bodies, the perfume, the coquettish women…

He would apologize later. Maybe with some lilies or some hydrangea that were in bloom, though it would pain him to cut them. He’d been a crappy guest. Right now he couldn’t think about that though. He needed to prune and water, transplant and check on seedlings. Yes. He needed his hands in the dirt, grasping living unfeeling things to calm his thoughts and then he would make a watering schedule for Flora’s plants. But he wouldn’t give it to her. He would go back. He had to. He had to see more.

He began by transplanting some Amaryllis into a decorative pot and giving them a generous soaking. As he emptied the can, he couldn’t help noticing the color was the exact same shade red as Flora’s tattoo.

__________________________________________

Flora had her own routine for calming down at her place. She picked appropriately obnoxious music, cranked the volume to the max and sat in a ball on her couch, ignoring the world. She let the vibrations of the music sink into her tight muscles and the little knots of anger in her brain loosen. She’d stopped caring about the bangs and shouting from her neighbors a long time ago when this happened.

She didn’t blame Rhys. Not one bit. And she should have tried harder to make him go. She saw how tightly he was wound after lunch. It was her fault for keeping him there, enjoying the fact that people connected her to him. It was selfish and it hurt him in the end.

When she’d come out of the back with her client and found him missing with a cluster of desperate housewives bad mouthing him, it didn’t take much to connect the dots. Flora strode over to the women, scalding them with a blistering tongue lashing and held the door open for them. They cussed her out and swore to put her bad customer service all over social media.

Oh no. Not social media!” Flora sneered at the girls. “Run along now, and yap elsewhere.”

“Crazy gringa bitch. We gonna shut you down!”

Flora flipped them the bird with a green tipped nail. “I’ll beat your chubby cellulite asses with my curling irons if you come back here again.”

After making sure the women were truly gone and not going to throw a brick through her window she turned and smiled at her remaining clients, who refused to look her in the eye. Some moved to grab their purses and she held out her hands, her bangles jangling.

“I’m sorry y’all. I had a crazy white girl moment. Today, all fees for hair cuts and alternative services are waived.”

A cheer went up and there was an excited buzz inside the Salon. Many of the women went for their phones to spread the good news and invite their relatives to come. Flora met Eta’s eye and the older woman held up her hands in surrender.

“You’re crazy miha,” she whispered when Flora came near, prepping her station for a grueling day at work. She felt the eyes of the other hair dressers burning holes in her back as well and heard puta aimed at her several times. Family, right? Love them and hate them.

“I’ll take the brunt of it Eta,” she said firmly. “You can take the fees out of my paycheck. It’ll cover the over time for the other guys.”

“Idiosa. As if I would do that. Their lazy asses can work hard for once. It won’t kill them, si?”

Her hands stopped Flora’s hurried movements and forced her to look up. Flora’s eye rested at her chin, a sign of shame, not looking directly into her eyes.

“You realize what you did, right?”

She didn’t actually. She had zero control over herself when she heard the cougars talking about Rhys. Like a red flag in a bull’s face, she just charged.

“I’m sorry Eta,” the smaller woman whispered, blowing out a frustrated breath.

“Who is he to you that you would kick out customers in our Salon miha? You’ve known him all of five minutes.”

Flora reclaimed her hands and reordered her utensils, trying to come up with an understandable answer. Who was he, besides some stranger she had a feeling about? How could she explain that to an outsider?

“He’s someone from my past,” she said carefully. “Someone I’ve known about for a long time.” She gave Eta a pointed look, gray eyes hard on her face.

Flora hadn’t divulged a lot of her past with the older woman because ignorance meant Eta didn’t disappear mysteriously. But for the sake of their business partnership, she felt it was fair to mention she had unsavory relatives, dangerous kinds, and that there were things she couldn’t say that Eta would have to be satisfied with not knowing. Explaining the importance of Rhys in her life was one of those things. Flora herself didn’t know exactly what Rhys meant to her but nipping the subject in the bud for now was the best she could do.

“Let’s just get through it, okay? Go and buy a round of Tequila Sunrises for everyone afterward at El Vita.”

Eta looked like she wanted to push for more details but Flora kept her eyes sharp so she let it go and made a show of her response to cast off suspicion from the others.

“Mio dios miha now you speaking my language! Drinks on the white gringa!”

There was a round of cheers and a new bounce to the employees the last hours at the salon. 

She and the others had worked well past closing time, giving away free dye jobs, tarot sessions, chakra cleansings, dream interpretations, hair extensions, waxings and magic spells. As busy as she was, the anger didn’t leave Flora despite being completely drained of everything else. She stayed quiet the rest of the day, preferring her own thoughts to conversation, and only staying at El Vita’s for one round of drinks before she cut out and drove home.

There’s something about him, Flora thought, glaring from her couch at her thrift store box TV. The more I’m around him the more possessive I get. I have no right.

Her eyes traveled up the cracked wall to a large cross hanging there, hand-made with copper wire and a rainbow of gem stone beads. It reminded her of her aunties, who were always surrounded by colorful scarves and jewelry. She recalled their chubby faces and their words floated up from the depths her memory.

Your instincts are never wrong Florinda. Your heart can be fickle and your mind will play tricks but your instincts never lie. You must learn to listen to them and you will never be in trouble.”

Instincts. Was it instinct that drew her to him? He wasn’t anything special when she first saw him at the Garden Center. Just a sort of handsome guy with a ton of nearly dead plants. Interesting story there but not someone who would garner a female’s attention immediately, especially after how cold he’d been. And yet she gave him her card. Her awful cheesy business card for her embarrassing job. Why in the hell did she give this guy her BUSINESS address? Normally it was her name and cell on a piece of stationary she kept in her car.

And yet he’d come. Admitted he washed the card on accident but then instead of calling or e-mailing her (it was on the website) he’d come in person to a place that obviously made him want to run screaming for the hills. And he claimed he wanted to keep coming back. That was something. It couldn’t just be her feeling the connection.

She wanted to know what he felt, what he thought about her. Was it only her who felt it? She wanted to ask but she knew he would never be forth coming about something so personal and unreal. The need to find out pressed on the back of her skull like a sensitive bruise ever since she’d met him. He could be one of the most important people she’d every met; a catalyst she needed to prepare for. Or he could be no one. 

If left up to him, she would never know. She could check though. She had the means and he would never be the wiser for it.

Another conversation, a less kind one, came bouncing into Flora’s head and she sat up, flushing with a latent anger, her fingers curling on the cushions like claws.

“She’s afraid of fire.”

Flora sat on the floor, her freckled face scrunched in concentration, staring hard at the dark-haired girl in front of her who was crying silent tears.

“Too easy! You need to go beyond the surface!”

There was a sharp rap to the back of her head and Flora jerked forward, not understanding what was needed of her. Mother spoke in riddles a lot and became irritated if she didn’t catch on right away. The other girl, a cousin, “volunteered” for her experimenting and sat in front of her. She looked terrified, brown eyes wide at the truths Flora had already uncovered about her; truths no one but her should ever know. Flora squeezed her trembling hands. trying to give comfort when there was none to give. She knew she was a monster.

Having a connection to someone, seeing their wants and fears on the surface won’t get us what we need from them. You need to sink into them, to become them and look through every memory.

I can’t do that Mama!” Flora argued, flinching in reaction to the quick hand movement toward her face. This time, a sharp faceted ring caught in her hair after the blow and yanked out a few strands of honey brown.

Find me something useful Florinda or you won’t get any food for an entire day. Maybe a clear head and stomach will make you focus better.”

But I don’t control the visions. They come to me–”

What do you think we are learning here child? Control! You saw the man in your dream because he will be important in your life one day. You made a connection to him in the astral plane. If you can develop that ability with anybody, you’ll be able to look for secrets. We need those secrets.”

But why?” she whispered, eyes tearing up from the pain and frustration.

Because as gypsies, we deal in secrets. The rest is just for show.”

Secrets. Flora knew lots of secrets that she tried to forget and she wasn’t in the market to learn anymore. She was furious with herself for even thinking of using it on Rhys, even for a flash of a second. She rose and flipped off the stereo, turning down the volume nob so she wasn’t deafened when she turned it back on again then she went into her room. She start divesting herself of jewelry and clothing. What she needed was a soothing and cleansing bath.

She was standing naked in her bathroom, waiting for the water to get hot, deciding which bath bomb she wanted to use when her phone started to ring. She looked at it, then at the clock on her headboard. Who was calling her at 11 at night? She swiped open the screen to reveal an unfamiliar number. She hesitated for a second and then answered it.

Hello?”

There was no answer.

Hello? Anyone there?”

There were a few moments of breathing. Just breathing. There WAS someone on the other line. But they weren’t saying anything. They were listening. The hairs on her arm pricked and she ended the call, throwing the phone on her bed like it was poisonous. Her heart beat out a furious rhythm against her rib cage and it was hard to catch a full breath. Who was it? Was it Rhys? Or a wrong number? Or someone else?

Icy fear cracked an egg on top of her head and oozed liquid nitrogen down her neck and shoulders. She slumped bare-assed on her toilet, her legs twitching with the need to move, to run, as they always had when strange things started happening to her. She didn’t stay alive this long by staying put and ignoring her gut. This at least, her aunties taught her well.

She had money stashed. Eta would trade her cars in a heart beat, had always ogled the shiny Pink VW Bug over her old rusty Cadillac. Flora had a no real plan except to travel east into the big cities where she could get lost and her family’s influence had a tenuous grip. She’d cut her hair again, bleach it down and become someone else. Rent a station at another salon under her other identity, the one she bought before running away. Start over again and disappear into the shadows.

Hold on now,” Flora said aloud, her voice a soft counter point to the water still thundering in the bath tub. “It could have been a mis-dial. A co-worker drunk dialing me to freak me out because they’re assholes.”

Or it could have been Rhys, she thought wistfully. But no. He’d washed her card and she didn’t think to give her cell out to him again. Three dots make a line. I’ll start packing when I see dot number two. I’m just wound tight from the day and jumping at shadows.

Flora reached over and chose a colorful bath ball at random from the stack in a basket by the tub. It was deep red and white like the Dianthus bunch tattooed on her ribs. She let out a deep steadying breath and plugged the tub, tossing the ball in. She stood there watching it froth and flow in the ripples.

Instincts.

She detoured to her bedroom for a moment and got down on both knees to lift the blankets off the floor on the side of her bed. She groped around in the dark for a minute and finally hooked a finger around the handle of a duffel bag. She tugged it a little and it came toward her reluctantly, wedged tightly under the box spring slats, bulging with necessities. She fought with it until it was at the edge of her bed and then abandoned it. She sighed and tucked the strap back under the bed.

Just in case.”

Advertisements

Walk the Line: a deviation from Paint splatters

You wanna know why it’s so detestable to color between the lines? Because it’s boring!

Yes you can make the sky plum purple and the cow aquamarine with chartreuse spots but the colors are still defined by lines. Thin black tyrants of doom and conformity.

For me, story structure rules are a little like those black lines. I detest them and started this journey without a care, stepping on all the lines, breaking mama’s spine all over the place. (To those of you who don’t understand the reference, it’s a game my sister and I used to play where we couldn’t touch the cracks/line on the side-walk or we would break mama’s back/spine. Childhood is fraught with horrors. Do you KNOW what Ring Around the Rosy was about?)

I had an idea and the will to write. I read about it a lot and that’s basically the same thing, right? It’s the same as coming to this country as a foreigner with $20 in her pocket. It’ll all work out if I just believe, right? It’s the land of dreams!

My gawd I’ve never been more tortured in all my life than by that singularly stupid idea.

Writing a book, or attempting to, is the hardest work I’ve ever done. Seriously. Having two children within ten months of one another is a cake walk. Breaking both my elbows at the same time was slightly harder to endure but I’m still mostly whole and have forgotten the pain. Putting words on paper (or on a screen, whatever the case may be) is like that special pen from Harry Potter that uses your own blood as the ink to write with except that the scars it leaves are on your soul instead of your hand. It just leeches everything out of you, bit by bit until you feel like giving up from weakness and frustration doing the same lines over and over.

I counted all my unfinished book WIPs yesterday. I have 14. 14!!! All with great plots that I haven’t read before and nary a one has a completed first draft. Why? Because I detest lines. I prefer paint splatters. I can write a pretty damn good scene but if there’s nothing to connect it to, nothing to contain it, it’ll dribble off into oblivion, appreciated for a moment and nothing more.

I can’t deny it anymore. My piddly-ass stories will never be read by anyone but me (and Owen ❤ ) unless I grow up and take the long, less colorful road to success. Don the boring suits of a young professional and wear the boring black loafers that look hideous but apparently are very comfortable.

Here I go.

To have a decent story, at least for beginners, we need to start at the beginning, which means following a pre-set path laid down for us by the giants that came before us. A good way to do that is to be a mockingbird. Pick a story you really like (book, movie, manga, whatever) and break it down by identifying the story structure set up. Let’s be boring and do Harry Potter and run with a theme here, kay?

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K Rowling (SPOILER ALERTS BIG TIME)

(Part of this analysis was referenced from The Friendly Editor on this website https://thefriendlyeditor.com/2013/07/18/story-structure-rowling-potter/ )

The Set up: Harry’s life is crap. He gets picked on and abused by his cousin. We feel sympathy for Harry and his stunted existence. Wonder where his parents are.

Hook: Harry makes the glass to a snake cage disappear and reappear at the zoo, trapping his cousin inside. How? Why? He also talks to the escaping snake. Interest is peaked. Harry keeps getting letters from owls delivered to his door step.

Inciting Event: Hagrid comes and tells Harry he’s a wizard invited to go to Hogwarts.

First Plot Point: Harry is standing at King’s Cross Station waiting to board the Hogwart’s Express and meets the Weasleys.

First Pinch Point: There’s several for Harry that happen over the course of a chapter or two. He meets Malfoy, an obvious antagonist once Harry rebuffs him, meets Snape who despises him at first sight, feels his scar ache for the first time and is warned about the third floor corridor (though we don’t know this is important until later)

Midpoint: When Harry makes the connection between the package Hagrid took at Diagon Alley and what’s hidden on the third corridor. Finds out someone might be trying to steal it and decided to take action instead of standing by. reaction turns into Action.

Second Pinch Point: Harry sees Snape with a bitten leg and assumes he’s trying to get past Fluffy, the three-headed dog guarding a trap door on the third floor. Harry then is forced to contend with a cursed broom stick at a Quidditch match where we see Snape muttering and assume he’s doing the cursing.

Second Plot Point: When Harry realizes it’s Voldemort and not Snape who wants the stone, having been attacked by Voldemort in the forest. Then Hagird tells him that he traded information on how to get past Fluffy to a stranger for a Dragon’s Egg. Harry feels he needs to get the stone first to save his life and everyone else’s. Faces a series of tests and spells that hinder him on the way and his friends get hurt.

The Resolution: Harry gets through the tests and faces off with Quirrell, not Snape, who is discovered to have Voldemort inside his body to sustain him. Voldemort figures out that Harry has gotten the stone and they fight but Harry has a hidden power that makes Quirrell turn to ash when he is touched by Harry’s hands. Harry defeated the minion but Voldemort ultimately escapes to love another day. Harry saves the day and the world.

 

And there we go. Story Structure basics. Eat it. Drink it. Sleep with it. Marry it. Because it is your entire life as an aspiring (and seasoned) author.

This really is the first step in creating any sort of story (except non-fiction), not just fantasy. You need to be able to identify these steps quickly and clearly for every movie you watch and book you read because they are the building blocks for your own stories. Yes, it’s boring to stay inside the lines but if you get good enough at doing it this way, you can start to color outside them a little.

This is admittedly a difficult task for me because I get so invested in the story I forget I’m supposed to be analyzing it. Add to this the desire to write something different from anything I’ve already read (because breaking the cliché is my favorite thing EVER in stories) and my life just got three times as difficult as I needed it to be.

Let your first attempts suck. They’re going to. Accept it and move on. I am at this stage. Leave my really GOOD stories for later, when I can give them due diligence, and in the mean time make crappy romance or lame cliche fantasy princess stories.

Start at the beginning with the boring black loafers. I promise, this will save you so much time and energy being wasted on trying to make your sparsely outlined novel fit into a different structure. Give yourself over to the work because this is part of the journey too. Keep writing your brilliant scenes and witty dialogue. Keep them in a three-ring Unicorn binder or in a document folder on your hard drive and bust them out once you have a solid grasp of Story structure. Just follow it long enough to let it guide you in the right direction.

To be a writer, you need to read. But read with two brains: the Writer AND the Reader

There are more terrible ways to pass the time, no? 🙂

(p.s. ROAR ROAR GRYFFINDOR!!)

Quickie #30 Cher: “As if…”

PROMPT: What movie has stuck with you the longest? 

My initial response is “Labyrinth” by Jim Henson.

I watched it as a kid when the baby sitter came over with it one morning and I forgot about it until about middle school, when I saw it on TV again. My mom searched for the movie for me for a YEAR. Not kidding. We went to Block Buster and tried to rent it but someone never returned the movie. We tried thrift stores, family members, obscure antique entertainment places–no luck. I told her we could probably order it off the computer but Amazon wasn’t a big thing then and my mom didn’t believe in credit cards being used on the internet. So I suffered in silence until a year later when EVERYTHING was about Labyrinth and you couldn’t turn without tripping on merchandise and promotions of it. We bought two copies of it; one to watch when I wore the other one out.

Heck yes.

Labyrinth” got me through a really tough time in my adolescence. The household was basically under thrall of an abusive man and I stayed in my room 98% of the time so books, music and movies were my escape. An ordinary girl taken away by a singing, dancing, handsome Goblin King? BRING ON THE MAZE!! I’ve watched that movie over 200 times probably and I’d watch it 200 more. It is my absolute favorite.

However, the movie that has followed me out of my teenage years into adult hood is the movie “Clueless“. My best friend and I in middle school watched that movie and decided that well of COURSE we were Cher and Deon. Blonde ditzy white girl and sassy tall black girl? Yep. We were the “Big Bad Bitches of Cabrillo” Or the “B.B.B.o.C.” and we were bigger disasters than Malibu. Ha.

This legacy has followed us into our thirties. I’m still Cher in texts and inside jokes and she’s still Dee. We say “Fuck you” instead of “I love you”. This year for Halloween we’re even going to go out as Cher and Dee and see how many people actually GET it. Ahhh how fun….

Our First Dump: what we grew out of the manure

“My gawd our first house was a dump,” I said from the floor as Mikhail passed by on his way out back.

He paused and knelt to look over my shoulder, fingertips caressing my neck and slipping under my neckline to brush over the swell of my breast. Cheeky monkey.

“Good memories there for sure,” he agreed, his tone playful.

I smirked up at him, a flash of passion igniting between us. Wrinkles and all, we still had it.

“Indeed. If those walls could talk. Or the floor. Or the counter tops…”

My fingers gripped the shiny pages of one of the photo albums I was searching through  and a picture had caught my attention. It was an unflattering shot of a dingy beige one bedroom house with falling apart rain gutters, cobb-webby, over grown hedges, a broken up walk way and a dirt driveway half laid with brick. One window had been broken, probably by some stupid kids on a dare, and there was a sizable hole in the roof right in the living room.

It was dirt cheap, a bank foreclosure on the market for years and marked down to practically nothing. There was so much wrong with it that the work needed to make it livable would have cost about as much as buying a newer home. It was in the middle of a spread out cul du sac, the ugly pimple of a house on a street of roughly polished jewels. The neighborhood had probably come up around that little shack of a house it looked so old and outdated.

I wanted it immediately, much to the chagrin of my husband.

“You’re crazy Jen! We can’t live there. Not even the Munsters would live there.”

It was everything we weren’t looking for. Small, one bedroom, next to people on the city outskirts and a massive fixer-upper. We couldn’t even move into it immediately because it needed to be re-roofed and fumigated first. What sold me though was that it was on an acre of land. Uncultivated weed and rock strewn potential with a chain link fence property line. I stood there and my mind soared with possibilities. Bonus was that it was near to the university Mik wanted to work at.

When I went into the realtor and placed my bid on the decrepit property, I could see the surprise and the relief on the agent’s face. One less ugly duckling to try to foist off on people. As soon as I’d gotten the call that the house was ours, I drove myself over to the bank and had gotten a line of credit to start making improvements immediately. And then my life was consumed with Auto Cad, tape measures, floor plans, building materials, phone calls and negotiations with contractors while trying to decide what to unpack at the rental, living out of boxes and settling my husband into his new job and learning a new town.

I flipped through the detailed photographs of the interior, the before and after photos and I paused to admire our handy work. Mik and I, we were good together. We had similar taste profiles when it came to decorating and color schemes. We loved the idea of trying to bring the outdoors in so we had a lot of natural tones inside with pops of bright color to break up the monotony. Forest green with orange, butter yellow with lily pink, celestial purple and chocolate bronzy brown.

“Remember this Mik? This was our first argument ever I think.” I pointed to a painting that took pride of place above our couch.

“The Pesky Flower Painting. I remember that day. Belligerent red-head.”

I’d bid on it an an auction that we happened upon one day while furniture shopping. We barely had any walls up at the time so shopping for decor was pointless but I liked to look anyway to get inspiration and ideas. The piece had been done in oil paints and it was two feet tall by three feet wide. It was impressionistic in style with florals but had deep bold colors and large round flowers. It was so very unlike the Monet copy cats I’d seen everywhere with their chinzy sweet pea vines and pastel lotus blossoms floating on blue-green ponds.

It was still generic, I admit. Something even I could have painted with a little effort and time. And it didn’t really suit our breezy au natural decor. But, like the house, I had to have it. It had been done by a local artist who apparently had a fan base in town. I got into a bidding war with another woman over it. Mik had attempted to reason with me about it, trying to focus my attention back to the task at hand and let it go. The amount of money this stupid painting was getting from me was ridiculous and something my budget really couldn’t afford.

But I always got what I wanted, be it husband, house or painting.

“It’s for a good cause Mik,” I snapped, when he tried to tug my numbered paddle away playfully. “We’re supporting our community.”

“Seriously Jen. You don’t need it. Let it go.”

“Mikhail!”

My sparky green eyes met his stubborn brown and I resolutely held my paddle up for the next bid increment: $375. When his lips pursed and his thick brows came down, I knew I’d irked him. He walked out of the hall and I stayed to watch the artist sign the painting in front of me, not really hearing what she was saying. I glanced at the other woman bidder and she stuck her nose up in the air at me.

Well okay. No one was going to be happy with me that day apparently.

The painting had started a love of hand made art in us as a couple though, after Mik had gotten over the exorbitant amount I’d spent on it. Whenever we traveled I sought out pieces to add to our collection; pieces somewhat more interesting and unique than the “Pesky Flower Painting” as we’d come to call it.

It had started another tradition between us as well and I smiled as I turned to a page that had nothing on it but a single photograph, a dried pressed flower and a rectangle of white card stock with my loopy cursive written on it. The photograph showed nothing but a freshly churned acre of smelly manure filled dirt at the back of the house and a large white basket sitting on a broken chair with balloons tied to it.

I felt bad about the painting. I get crazy obsessed some times and there’s no stopping me. Mik tries to tame the beast sometimes and sometimes I even listen. I didn’t commit a grievous sin this time but I still wanted to make up for it. Plus the stress of juggling a new job, unpacking, contractors and family had us both fraying around the edges. We needed something for us, to reconnect.

So I spent more money.

But this was money I had set aside in the budget already that my dear patient husband didn’t know about. It was a surprise I had intended to spring on him when the house was more finished but after seeing how much he was taking on, I thought I’d move the time line up a bit. All I had to do was have him to be gone for a weekend and that didn’t take too much convincing on my part. He was very close-knit with his family.

I had to fit the newly hired contractors around the plumbers and the carpenters but lucky for me, chain link fences were easy to mow down and the workers didn’t really impede with each other all that much. I talked with a man in a polo shirt and jeans and showed him a few drawings I’d cobbled together from my conversations with Mik. For $30 an hour he gave me his professional opinion and a list of trustworthy resources that would give me good prices if I dropped his name. When I told him I needed it done in a weekend, he paused only for a moment and then immediately got on his cell.

“Hey, Paul, I got a client who needs a quick job done for the week-end…”

I ordered sub sandwiches and ice-cold lemonade for the workers and watched from my newly roofed house as my brand new fence was installed. I did some work on my lap top while dump trucks hauled off dirt and then brought more dirt in, along with a healthy pile of manure which had me seeking the relaxing environment of a coffee house near by for a good portion of one day. I spent another half a day scowling at google maps as it led me on wild goose chases through towns that didn’t even have a dot on the map and huge cities I got hopeless lost in.

I barely heard the navigator over my stream of cussing and horn honking.

But I did not come back home in vain. I did have my white basket and my balloons and it had been filled with colorful goodies and ugly dingy lumps in plastic bags and glossy packets fanned out artistically over tools with my cheesy note on top of it all. I set it on a broken chair that morning and watched as the last of my $1500 budget rolled away and the final piece of fence was put into place.

I took one picture and waited for Mik to come home, spending the time picking out a cute but sexy sun dress and arranging my hair back from my face. The better to kiss him with, my dear. I had a picnic lunch ready for us to eat on a makeshift table (home-made pizza, of course) and floor pillows in what was going to be our living room.

He knew something was up when he pulled into the drive way and I was waiting for him by the front door, all smiles and sexiness. Or it could have been the heavy manure smell. I didn’t let him question me. I can’t lie worth a damn. I stood on tip toe and pulled one of his tie around his eyes, blocking his view.

“Really Jen? There are workers all around still you know. I’m sure their noise would mask yours but–”

“Hey you pudd I’m not a horn dog ALL the time!”

He smiled and my heart pooled into a gooey puddle in my rib cage. That gap-toothed grin made me fall in love with him all over and over again. I slid my arm around his waist and led him carefully through the studs that were framing our walls, nudging tools away from his big feet.

“I smell pizza,” he said upon entering the living room.

“Really? THAT was the first thing you smelled?”

“Well no.” He swiveled and ducked his head down to breathe in the scent of my hair. “The first thing I smelled was my lovely wife and she has the best smell in the world after a long trip away from home.”

Guh. So much love for this man.

“Pizza is a close second though.”

“Don’t worry. I told Pizza you loved it and you’d come home soon. It didn’t miss you too badly.” I pulled him to stand in front of the sliding glass door leading to the back yard (soon to be replaced with a glass pane door) and I pressed myself against his back, relishing the feel of him in my arms.

I could have this all the time now. I didn’t have to wait months at a time to feel his warmth against me. I didn’t have to squeeze as much love and memories as I could into a weekend and then fly back to the reality of my life. Mik was mine now; my husband. My life mate. We were living together and only a few steps away from a cuddle or a kiss. Sometimes the thought was so overwhelming I cried.

“I love you Mikhail.”

His hands caressed my arms side to side, comforting and waiting for me to settle again.

“I love you too Jeniveve.”

I reluctantly let go and stood in front of him again, sliding my fingertips up his face and pulling his head down for a sweet soft kiss. Then I opened the doors, gagging on the shit smell, and carefully led him outside.

“Jen, what did you do?”

‘Welcome home, my beloved.”

I took the blind fold off and watched his face as he took it all in. The new fencing around the property, tall enough to keep prying eyes away. The mounds of fresh dirt, landscaped into pleasant rolling hills around the property, creating curve and depth and texture. The ground churned deeply and sown with fertilizer to accommodate whatever plants we were going to grown there.

“We can put our little tea gazebo there maybe,” I said, pointing to the far corner of the yard. “And a fountain there. Or there. Maybe a pond if you want. I have a little room for my herb garden here on the trellis by the kitchen window. See? Oh! And there’s a plot for the green house. I made it extra big for you.”

My husband wasn’t one given to exclamation point feelings. He didn’t burst out laughing or gasp with surprise as I did. He stood there, taking it all in and I could see the wheels turning in his head. I tried to be patient and let him absorb it all. I tired not to worry that I’d done it all wrong and it was terrible and nothing like how he wanted it. After all, my memory had a culmination of years of discussions regarding our first garden. Did I get it wrong? Had he changed his mind, seeing it all now?

“Jen–”

“Here!”

I gestured to the basket and he glanced down at it. The balloons said “Congrats!” and “Welcome Home!” on them. Inside were a two pairs of gloves, his and hers, a set of trowels, dozens of seed packets and bags of bulbs, some which I had hoarded that year from the Breck’s catalog, taking note of which flowers he’d been mooning over, and some found at nurseries all over the county. There were tulip bulbs his mother had given me from back at his home and a cutting of the very first Coleus I’d ever grown from seed. There were tiny seedling succulents native to California where I was from and in the middle of it all a fat purple dahlia plant, the exact type and shade as the one in the Pesky Flower Painting. On this was my note, which read “Let’s plant roots together. The first of many.”

So cheesy, I know. But it’s us.

He wordlessly drew me into a hug and we stayed there for a long time, saying nothing. I don’t know if he cried. His face was pressed tightly against my head but his heart never faltered from its steady rhythm. The Pizza was stone cold by the time we’d roused ourselves. I almost missed when he whispered in my ear.

“Thank you for being my home Jeni.”

I smiled, a little teary, and replied, “Always. As long as we both shall live.”

See, the painting had been the start of one of MY dreams; to own my own home with my loving husband and fill it with our shared accomplishments. To have stories of our travels together and photo albums full of memories. To me the paintings represented the end of an era and the reward for our years of waiting and long distance traveling to see each other. We had things TOGETHER now. Granted we didn’t exactly buy the painting together but it was the first thing I hung in our first house and the first place we made love was on the couch underneath it.

But the garden for Mik was HIS dream realized. Other than me, of course. My dream was always on the inside. His was on the outside. He’d talked about planting gardens across America, leaving a legacy of greenery behind him. Not just him though. US. Planting seeds and sowing roots and watching patiently together as they grew. Getting our hands dirty in the soil side by side. Sharing the responsibility of watering and weeding and fertilizing. Watching as the flowers slowly bloomed, another reward for all the hard work and patience.

Gardening and Jeni, his two dreams coming together as one. A home with Mik, my dream realized at last. 15 years, 8 houses, 3 book shops, one tiny house trailer, and 10 different cities we’d lived together and we were still going strong.

I shut the photo album and lunged in to bite my husband’s neck, gently scraping my teeth over the sensitive skin.

“Hey there,” he murmured, settling next to me and sneaking his cool fingers underneath the hem of my shirt. The tips traced the edge of my pants and I gave a cheeky smile.

“Haven’t you sown enough seed for one day you ol’ Jack rabbit?”

“Never is enough with you. I don’t think the neighbors heard us the first time.”

“Damn. Gotta fix that then,” I said and invited him in for a deep kiss.

Poor Unfortunate Soul

Passion: a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept

I’m beginning to wonder if Passion isn’t a unicorn.

Or maybe a natural talent. Like, some of us have it and others don’t.

I don’t know if it’s cultivated at a young age; being the lucky kid that has parents that expose you to different kinds of things so you can have a chance to find out what you really like to do. Or merely liking something and being curious enough to stick with it and nurture it.

Maybe I’m thinking about the definition too acutely. Maybe I think passion is supposed to be a zealot-like, all-consuming devotion, like those people who give up all worldly possessions and dedicate their life to saving the rain forest.

Either way, I have zero passion in my life. I LIKE writing. I LOVE reading. I really want to lose weight and become a healthier person. I don’t have any strong desire to fight for any charity or injustice. I don’t really care about saving animals going extinct (although I wish it hadn’t come to that in the first place). Laziness beat all these out. Work? Pfffft! Oh, and forgetfulness helps. My short-term memory is shot to hell.

I’m a little jealous of these artists that can bang out books every year or clothing lines every season or produce awe-inspiring paintings for top-notch galleries. What drives you people? It it the love of creation? Is it the memory of a grandparent whose words inspired strength and resolve? Is it the illness of a sibling living life to the fullest while they can?

Why don’t I have this? Did something stunt me as a child and block some fundamental necessity to cultivate passion? Is it a personality flaw? Can it be fixed?

I was never disciplined enough as a child to stick with much of anything, except school and books. I wasn’t interested in anything enough to pursue it wholeheartedly but I was interested in everything. Clothing design. Drawing. Baking. Embroidery. Interior design. Quilting. Guitar. Choir. Calligraphy. Clay sculpting. Mixed Media Arts.

Jack of all trades, master of none.

Can one LEARN to be passionate or is “disciplined” as good as it’s going to get for me? Maybe I have to get through one to have the other? Is it depression submerging me in doubt and I just can’t see clearly? Maybe I haven’t found that ONE THING that fires me up and makes me happy to be awake every morning.

I thought for a second just now that I don’t take pride in anything and that was my problem.

Some people take pride in their homes. How clean they are and how nicely decorated. Some people take pride in their work. Some take pride in raising their families or being a devout (Fill in the blank ______ ).

None of those really apply to me. I’m happy to be able to do these things with some modicum of competence but eh. That’s life. What I do take pride in though, is making things well. Trying a new recipe and it turning out delicious. Seeing something on Pinterest, copying it and making it better than I’d hoped. Being given a task and having the person who gave it be pleased with my accomplishment. Making pretty things for people and getting nothing back.

I take pride in being generous and kind. I take pride in being able to create beautiful, quality things. I take pride in making people happy.

Still doesn’t help me with my writing though. Really, it’s somewhat of a distraction, making all these pretty things. Not complaining. Just saying. Cuz it always comes back to writing.

I thought for sure Writing books was my Thing; my passion; the thing I HAVE to do every day or I feel anxious and shitty and half a human being. Turns out I can go MONTHS without writing a single word! That’s not passion. Is it? I certainly think about writing a lot. I have conversations with my characters out loud sometimes. I write scenes in my head. I funnel my emotions into different scenarios. I make music play lists to guide me through the stories. I think about all the things I SHOULD be doing like character bios and plot lines and back story.

Thinking is good. At least the desire isn’t completely gone.

It seems writing won’t give up on me. Maybe it’s a stubborn as I am, waiting for me to get a grip. As it stands, it’s literally dragging me face down across the glass-strewn ground that is my life, walking determinedly forward. My wrist aches, my heart is dead, all I want to do is sleep and yet…it’s still there. So I ask:

Can Passion merely be the thing one comes BACK to?

Are there levels of passion out there? Some gently simmering for longevity and others blazing strong like the sun for a short until a project is done and then fizzling out? When can I have some? Share the wealth!

For reals I know that to be an author it takes work and time and experience. And practice. And planning (which I’m rubbish at). That Maya Angelou quote never seems to be far from my brain as a reminder:

“When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come’.”

So it comes down to forcing my fingers to move until passion/inspiration/motivation strikes? What a sad existence I have at the moment. But I know that eventually, after my first book is published and I look back, it’ll all have been worth it.

But still…damn. A little heavenly light can shine on me any time now. I’d appreciate the boost ❤

SQUIRREL! Errant thoughts of a writer who is blocked

I can’t move my fingers.

They are reluctant to obey me.

My brain refuses to churn out any sort of ideas and words simply won’t come. Playlists don’t work. Word sprints don’t work.

Nothing will come.

________________________

“What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me?”

I sing this randomly during the day. It was from a hulu commercial and got stuck in my head. I sang it once in my high school choir. I think I blocked out the memory because it wasn’t until I got to the chorus that I even remembered I had.

Darn Ear Worms. But at least it was something good, right?

_____________

I have a shameful secret.

I’ve read 11 books in two months.

That’s not shameful though. What IS shameful is that I’ve read them on my Kindle. My brand new Kindle that I swore up and down I would never own.

The Kindle that saves space and trees and has free books I can save to my account on Prime and Good Reads. The Kindle that has page-free convenience, which also means hands-free, which means snacking and reading at the same time.

The Kindle I bought a special leather cover for that was made to look like a book.

It was blue. Dark blue. A color I don’t normally gravitate to. Beauty and the Beast blue.

__________________

I don’t know if I could ever live in a Tiny House with my family. If I was by myself  or with a partner then yes. If we could travel together then definitely yes. I could see myself in a Gypsy Caravan.

I have too much stuff. Too many clothes. Too many crafts.

No that’s not true about the crafts.

But the stuff, yes.

I either want a big sprawling house with four bedrooms and a large, lush yard or a Tiny House. $430K or $30K.

Man I wish I could afford either. Instead I’m in government housing in southern California.

_____________________________

I like looking at Wedding Dresses. So many fabrics and styles. Ugly, beautiful, intricate and plain.

Somebody dreamed those up. They took the images from their heads and put it on paper and then sewed it into a dress. The completion of an artist’s dream and the pinnacle of a bride’s dream.

I like looking at women in wedding dresses. No matter what they look like or where they came from, they all share the same shining hope. They have the sparkle of a woman in love, dressing up in the most beautiful outfit she’ll ever own, to walk toward the partner she wants to spend the rest of her life.

Every lady deserves to feel like the star of the show; a modern day princess, at least for one day (although it really needs to be more).

Even if most wedding receptions suck unless you have thousands of dollars to spend.

Weddings. Guh.

________________

I am so grateful for my cat. I’m glad I didn’t get a dog.

She’s brought so much joy and tranquility to my home. She’s affectionate and hilarious and protective. She loves music and having her shoulder blades scratched and she doesn’t mind so much when I pet her belly anymore. She doesn’t even mind when I call her Fat Girl. Winter was good to her.

(Thanks mom, for the extra food!)

When I call her, she comes and maow’s at me, blinking up at me with her yellow-green eyes.

She knows where home is and she doesn’t let any other cat near. Or dog for that matter. Unless she doesn’t have a choice.

She loves her collar. She won’t let me take it off to change it.

Sometimes she’ll sit at my feet when I’m at the computer and reach up with her claws and hook into my thighs until I rub her head. And keep rubbing until she can’t hold on anymore. My skin has permanent claw pricks. I’ve gotten used to the sting.

I get slow blinks and I am often a snuggle partner when we read together on the bed. She sleeps between my husband and I find myself pressed up against the wall in the morning to give her maximum room.

She loves new blankets more than anything, especially quilts. Fresh out of the laundry and folded as thick as they can get is preferred.

___________________________________

Sometimes I miss being in choir.

I couldn’t read a lick of music. I just knew when a dot was higher on the line, my voice needed to go higher.

I could match pitch though. As long as there were others to match with.

Never did I ever try out for a solo.

I liked being part of a group, working toward the same goal. I liked the music and the way my body felt after singing.

Like it was vibrating.

Like a bell.

I still want to punch my high school choir teacher in the face. Or maybe in the throat. What an asshole. Chipmunk man.

I’ve sadly lost my singing voice to age, child birthing and obesity.

I tried a karaoke game with my kids and I couldn’t even get through 5 songs without my vocal chords seizing up.

I’m sad I’m an alto/tenor now. I miss my soaring soprano voice.

Sharp Edged Snow (#10)

A piercing scream had me sitting bolt upright from a dead sleep, smashing my forehead on the top bunk support beams. Tears pricked my eyes as I stumbled out of bed and made for the door. I kicked toys out of my way, avoiding the Barbie shoes and Lego pieces with experienced steps.

“Gabby! What happened?” I yelled into the empty hall way.”Is Fritz okay? Where’s the baby?”

“Sasha it’s SNOWING! Come here!”

I could hear Fritz singing loudly and baby Jeanne laughing, probably at his goofy faces.

So the shriek was of delight, not fear. My stomach unclenched a bit and I detoured to the bathroom to look at the faint black and blue egg rounding on my head. It bled a little and I slapped a band-aid on it. I’d be the butt of all the unicorn jokes for the next week. Sometimes siblings sucked.

I huffed at my reflection, hazel eyes and curly dark brown hair I threatened to cut off every other week. But Mama liked my long hair so I kept it. I grabbed a hair tie and wove it into a braid while I traveled through the maze of hallways in Grandfather’s mansion. Having lived there for most of my life I didn’t really notice the priceless paintings hanging on the walls or the museum quality vases and statuettes on pedestals anymore. We lived in his ancestral home, passed down from Bromser Grandfather to Bromser  Son since it had been built. The accumulation of wealth was staggering when you thought about it all at once but I was a teenager. What did I care for art and dusty books when there was TV and Kindles?

I did notice the gaping holes in the floor where workers were replacing the plumbing and the buckets of plaster surrounded by smoothers and scrapers for the crumbling ceiling. Three out of the six bathrooms were in disarray, being re-tiled and caulked. There were paint chips and furniture catalogs sitting on boxes in corners.  There were hazards everywhere, thanks to Mama and Grandfather.

They had a crazy idea to turn the Bromser estate into a hotel or a bed and breakfast or something, which meant it needed updating. For me, it meant hazards to keep the younger kids away from and summer break would be spent painting and shopping. Ugh.

Down one flight of steps, two flights and I walked into the main foyer. The excitement got louder and I followed it into the informal living room where we spent a large majority of the day since that was where the big screen TV and computer was.

“Sash! Can we go out? There’s so much of it. The ground is nearly covered!” Gabby, the second youngest, looked at me with wide hopeful eyes that looked just like mine and she dragged me to the large window. She gave me a second glance and a little frown. “What happened to your head?” I ignored the question and peered outside. There was indeed a large swath of white covering the lawn. For a moment I swelled with excitement. Snow! We’ve never ever gotten snow this late in Spring!

“I bet I can beat you in a snow ball fight, Unicorn brain,” Fritz said, grinning at me. I rolled my eyes. So predictable. He carried baby Jeanne who slapped the window and drooled, making baby sounds of excitement. I scoffed at his bet, turning my nose up at his ginger hair. He was Grandfather’s “mini-me”, the only one in the family with orange hair now that Papa had passed on.

“Like you ever have, Carrot head. You can’t beat the Queen of Diamonds.”

My nickname on the softball field. I was a beast at sports, on my way to getting a full scholarship to my top choice university. Fritz rasberried me, knowing it was true so he couldn’t say anything. “Besides, there’s not even enough yet to make a ball. A snow pebble maybe.”

“It’s still coming down. I bet we could build a snow man by dinner time.”

I took baby Jeanne away from him and wiped her slobbery mouth with her bib. She patted my cheeks, asking for “outside”.

“You’re making a lot of bets you can’t win Fritz.”

“Saasshhhhhaaaaaaaa! Let’s goooooooooo!” Gabby whined.

I stared out at the falling snow. Yeah there was no way we were missing that.

“Alright,” I relented. “Go get shoes and a jacket.”

“Yaayyyyyy!”

My siblings tore off to get ready and I found some pants and shoes for the baby, who kept insisting for “outside” and struggling against my efforts to clothe her. I stepped into a pair of Mama’s Uggs, too big still but I was too lazy to walk back upstairs. I shrugged on a flannel of Grandfathers from the coat closet and we waited for the others by the window. The wind changed direction and started blowing the snow across our porch. I frowned down at it as a few pieces swept across the wood. Since when did snow have sharp corners? And it looked kind of dirty. More yellowish than pure white.

I looked up and saw that the sky was bright blue–no clouds in sight. When did snow ever fall without clouds? That was impossible. I saw a formation of planes roaring away in the distance when I looked farther across the sky. We never saw that many planes out here either.

I cracked open the window, expecting a chilly breeze against my skin. Warm scented wind curled around me and I began to suspect something was very wrong. When Fritz and Gabby came tearing back downstairs and tried to pull open the door I stopped them with a fearful shout.

They looked at me and scowled.

“What gives Sasha?” Fritz said, annoyed.

“It’s not snow,” I whispered and I pointed out the window. “Look down.”

Fritz huffed over to me and shoved me out of the way, looking at the porch. He looked back at me with his eyebrows raised, a stupid expression on his face.

“It has EDGES, dummy! And there’s black specks on it. What has sharp edges and black specks?”

Gabby pressed her face to the window.

“Books?”

“Books,” I agreed. “Those are book pages.”

“But why?”

I took Jeanne away from the window, which made her squawk in protest and I went to the computer, jiggling the mouse to wake up the screen. I saw Fritz creep toward the door and I picked up the nearest object and threw it at him. A book.

“OW SASHA!”

“You idiot! Don’t go out there!”

His freckled face turned red and he rubbed the spot where the book hit him; square in the shoulder, where I’d aimed.

“You’re the idiot! It’s just paper.”

“And what if it’s coated in anthrax or something Fritz? What if it has the bubonic plague wiped all over it or the avian bird flu, huh?”

He crossed his arms and slouched against the wall, once again beaten by his older sister. Gabby came over to me, solemn faced. We waited for the home screen to pop up and I pinned Jeanne’s hands away from the keyboard long enough to type into google “world news”. The first article to pop up was written in bold letters “GOVERNMENT BANS BOOKS”.

“Oh my god,” I whispered and clicked on the link.

I read the article silently, scrolling slowly through the extensive article. Words like “terrorism” and “anarchy” and “control” pierced me and my jaw went slack. A yawning scream started inside my head the longer I read and my stomach clenched with nausea. This was so much worse than I initially thought.

“What?” Fritz asked, coming out of his pity party long enough to realize I wasn’t paying attention to him at all.

“They’re banning books,” I said, barely able to get the words out.

He scoffed and my hackles raised instantly.

“So what? Books are dumb. Whatever we need we can get on the internet.”

I set Jeanne down on the floor and I stood, my back to Fritz so I wouldn’t feel the need to punch his stupid face.

“It’s because of people like YOU that this even happened,” I growled. “You’d believe anything the government tells you. The internet doesn’t always boast the truth. The only true source of knowledge is books.”

“Hey I had nothing–”

“It’s not about BOOKS though!” I barked. “It’s about the government taking away our freedom of speech. They’re superseding the Constitution, taking away what makes America, America and stomping all over it. If there’s no line they can’t cross, they’ll take everything over and they just crossed that line. We’ll become a dictatorship.”

“Oh yeah okay–” His voice was dripping with so much sarcasm  I could have strangled him with it. “How do you even know what you’re reading is true if the internet lies?”

“It’s right there on our front lawn! They’re trying to control the flow of information and suppress the truth of the people. They want to do our thinking for us so we don’t question them anymore. They’ll say it’s for our own good but they just want to make us subservient sheep.”

I gave Fritz a hateful glare. “For those of you who don’t know what that means, it means slavery.”

He didn’t move or say anything. He just stared at his scuffed sneakers. I stormed over to one of Grandfather’s book shelves and pulled out a worn copy of Aesop’s Fables. I waved it at Fritz.

“This was your favorite bed time story book as a kid,” I said. “It had beautiful illustrations you would stare at while Mama read you the story and you would talk about what the stories meant. They were teaching you and giving you memories. This is a learning tool but also history passed down from generation to generation. The stories of our ancestors.”

I pulled another one out, a Frederic Nietzsche tome.

“This guy had a voice, an opinion. People idolize him for his knowledge and his truth, for being different and not being afraid to say what he saw. The government hated him and the people loved him and now they want him to disappear. What will happen when Frederic is gone; when no one remembers his truths?”

Fritz didn’t have an answer for me. Either he was too stupid to understand what was really going on or he was sulking about me being right. Again. Either way, it pissed me off.

“They’re going to destroy all the books. History. Fiction. Philosophy. Manga.”

There was a pregnant pause. I knew Fritz loved his manga. It was probably the only thing that he read and the only thing that would have bothered him about this take over.

“It’s a hostile take over, guys. And it’s only going to be the first step.”

There was so much more roiling inside me; so many more things I needed to say out loud. My siblings didn’t get it. It wouldn’t become real to them until the soldiers broke down the door and took all the books outside and burned them. It wouldn’t be real until it was too late. I wondered with an inward scoff if my Kindle account had already been wiped.

“I want Mama,” Gabby whispered, her lip wobbling at my harsh tones. She was carrying baby Jeanne, clinging to her like she would a stuffed animal, afraid to let go. Jeanne was still insisting for “outside.”

“I do too Gabby. Lets go call her while our stupid brother stays here like an angry little kid.”

“Shut up Sasha,” he grumbled and crossed his arms.

When I passed him on the way to the kitchen, I flicked his forehead in annoyance.

“Wake up, dummy. This is real life, not a movie.”