Friday, February 21, 2014

Maggie's Smile

I've been trying out a lot of new things this week. Yesterday was the first time I posted fiction to my blog.  Today, again, I'm sharing a flash fiction piece.  I recently found a great writer's hangout, which I'm quite excited about, called Tipsy Lit.  Tipsy Lit offers a weekly writing prompt and link-up.  This week's challenge was to write about a joke gone wrong, and the following is the result of that prompt.  As always, please read, comment, share, and enjoy!  I'm trying to push myself outside my typical boundaries, so constructive criticism is most welcome.

Writing Prompts

Maggie's Smile


She died on April Fool’s Day, which seemed so profoundly appropriate that I thought God must share her sense of humor too.  I remember when I was told the news; my initial reaction was laughter.  I just laughed out loud and shook my head, as though the information was most assuredly false and this was all just another one of her clever pranks.  No one pulled off a better prank or told better jokes than my sister.  Our mother always complained that she needed to take life more seriously, but I thought why bother?  My sister always seemed to be having more fun than anyone in the room.  Who would want to change that? 
“Mom! Mom!” I yelled out, running toward the house to retrieve her.  “Maggie fell off the tree! Maggie fell! I think she’s really hurt!”
 My mother was doing the dishes then, and she pulled her hands from the water, shook them quickly off, and then dried them on her faded jeans.  “What happened?” she asked, already in motion towards the back yard where we constantly played at climbing and building forts.
 “She fell, Mom, she fell,” I faked fear, “I think she hit a rock at the bottom.”
 When Mom and I arrived back at the scene of the supposed accident, Maggie was lying in the grass with her legs splayed awkwardly about and her forehead smeared with the fake blood we bought at the Ben Franklin.
 “Mom, mom … is that you?” she dramatically whimpered and cried. 
Mother began crying too and leaned down to assist her eldest daughter.  “Oh, Maggie, honey, what happened?” she began, but then I ruined it when I started snickering and spit out an uproarious snort I had been trying to hold back.  
“Dang it, Tay! You ruined it!” Maggie yelled, and shot up from her position of portrayed injury.  She wiped the red, sticky substance from her face with one quick movement and then jerked her hand out toward me, splattering the green grass red. 
Mom shook her head and expressed her frustration that this was just another one of Maggie’s poor jokes.  “One of these times you won’t find this funny anymore, Maggie,” she warned, “You’re going to get yourself in real trouble.”  She sent us both to the house then and made us copy information from our set of Encyclopedia Britannica for an hour, hoping we would stay occupied and out of trouble. 
That’s what childhood was like with Maggie.  She called me Tay for short, her affectionate version of Taylor.  She was the only one who used that nickname, and it made me feel that we had a special connection that would last forever.  I was always her co-conspirator in our youth.  She’d come up with a plan, I’d perform my role, Mom would be worried and then angry, and then we would sit together at the kitchen table trying not to make eye contact, because we knew we would both end up snickering and Mother would only extend our punishment then.
When she became an adolescent, the four years between us now became a gap as great as the Grand Canyon.  She wasn’t at home much anymore; she was always out with her friends.  It seemed like everyone in the whole world wanted Maggie to be their best friend forever, myself most definitely included.  Although I was more often excluded now, I still admired Maggie.  Her smile and laughter were a teasing sort of magic to me. 
When Maggie got her license, she became even more popular. I remember one night when I was moping around the house, wallowing in my own self-pity because my friend Jamie was having a sleep-over without me.  I got a better grade than her on our spelling test, and this made her upset because I didn’t even try and she studied so hard; this, she said, made me “suck” and she didn’t want to spend the weekend with a  “lame, sucky, suck-ass.”  Maggie noticed my mood and she lobbed an old Rainbow Brite doll at me from across our shared bedroom.  “Earth to Tay,” she hollered, as Rainbow grazed across my shoulder, “What’s eating at you, kid?” 
“Well, come out with me and my friends tonight then,” she said, after I explained my current crisis.  I was so excited as we drove off in her used Ford Tempo.  We joined four other girls at Deb’s house.  Deb’s mom was out of town and all the girls, including my sister, arrived with their JanSport backpacks full of bottles.  My sister pulled out a bottle of Fleischmann’s and handed it off to me, “Here, Tay, you take the first swig.”  I looked up at her with apprehension, but then joined as the other girls too took pulls from their Apple Pucker and Boone’s Farm bottles.  I cringed as I struggled to swallow the liquid, but tried not to let on.  “Jamie is a dumb little slut anyhow,” Maggie added, and patted me on the back, apparently proud that her little sister was hanging with the big girls now. 
I stuck to Bartles and Jaymes the rest of the night, slowly sipping the wine coolers as the other girls played asshole, bullshit, and quarters with the heavier stuff, all giggling the night away.  “Hey girls,” Maggie asked after taking another shot upon being called out for bull-shitting about the cards in her hand, “Why do most guys like big boobs and tight asses?”  She paused a moment to ensure she had their attention, “Because they have big mouths and tiny little dicks,” she announced pantomiming at length with her thumb and forefinger.  Maggie was the definition of “life of the party.”
 I woke up the next morning with a terrible headache.  Maggie told me, “It’s called a hangover, Tay.  Get up and get over it.”  The drinking from the night before seemed to barely have an effect on her as she sat at her vanity making up her Maybelline eyes.  I hated the dizziness and nausea, though.  Even though I loved my big sister, I decided I wasn’t up for hanging out with those girls again. 
Maggie didn’t change her habits though.  She would come home late, trying to be sneaky, but then she would fall down the stairs or trip in the hallway and just lay on the floor laughing.  I laughed too.  Maybe I didn’t know better, but I think there was just something contagious in her laughter.  It was hard to be mad at Maggie.  Even Mother, though she yelled at her, didn’t really try hard enough to stop Maggie’s drinking and partying.  And then it was just too late.
Mother came into the room and sat down beside me on the bed.  She then told me she had just gotten off the phone with the police.  Maggie was in an accident, and she didn’t make it.  Then she asked why I was laughing and said, “Oh, Taylor, don’t be like Maggie.  Like isn’t always a joke.  Life is precious.”  She started bawling then and took my hands in hers.  I saw all the colors drain out of her face; she was white except for the black mascara streaks that stained her cheeks.  I realized then I would never hear Maggie’s beautiful laughter again, no one would ever call me Tay again, no one would pull pranks on our parents, and no one would try to cheer me up with dumb, dirty jokes ever again. 
In the weeks that followed, it seemed everyone just tried to make an example out of my sister.  They treated her like she was just the poster child for some damn drinking and driving campaign.  They forgot about the wonderful human she had been.  What about Maggie’s smile?  What about her laughter?  What about her joy and compassion and strength?  Didn’t that matter too?  Maggie always said yes to life, and now she was only being used to convince others “just say no.”  I know my sister made a mistake, but I wish others remembered her the same way I did.  I’ll carry her laughter with me for the rest of my life.  I’ll keep Maggie’s smile forever safe in my heart.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Good Girl Gone

Up until this point, every post on this blog has been non-fiction.  Every story told here has been truth.  This post, however, has been written as part of a flash fiction competition with the them "it takes two."  To celebrate the third year of their literary anthology Precipice, Write on Edge and Bannerwing Books will be including the winning post in said collection.  Please read, enjoy, comment, and share! You guys are great!


“It takes two to make an accident.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby


I should have known immediately that there was something evil about him; the way I craved him was so unnatural and new to me.  I grew up a good Christian girl, honoring my mother and father, and believing strongly in the sanctimony of marriage.  When I accepted communion on Sunday morning, I also believed that I was consuming the true body and blood of Christ.  I never hungered for that wafer, though, or thirsted for that wine the way I hungered for his body and thirsted for his kisses.  


I had watched my father struggle with addiction.  I never would have shamed him before by spilling this secret, but all my old pretenses about that which was right and good were abandoned once I first knew longing and felt alive.  I knew then that my father never felt fully alive until the first drink every day.  That trembling in his hands as he precariously poured the bottle of whiskey over a glass of ice each afternoon was indicative of his own unhealthy desire.  It was the way my own thighs now quivered in anticipation whenever I thought of that devil’s body hovering over me, hammering inside of me.  I felt I couldn’t survive without his flesh against mine.  I knew now what need was, and I forgave my father the slurring of words and the slamming of doors.  


That new devil fascinated me.  Although a part of me acknowledged he was broken, he still made me feel whole.  I never knew kisses like that before.  Kisses had been sweet with other boys, but they always seemed somehow obligatory.  They were merely a token of appreciation for the evening out.  His kisses tasted like sin.  There is no better way to describe the soft, wet meeting of our mouths than as pure sin -- that knowing that something is so wrong, but the wickedness makes it all the more delicious.  It never ended with a kiss either, unlike the others who were merely a peck before parting from the ever obedient, polite girl I was.  When his lips first met mine, and his hands traced every inch of my skin, that good girl was gone.


It felt like release to let her go; it was a wonderful release as literal and physically felt as the first time his fingers found their way below my waist and entered the pink, supple insides of me.  The former good girl never could have imagined her body feeling so alive and astounding. The wetness was overwhelming as I moaned in delighted disbelief.  I wanted this; I wanted him.  Nothing else mattered.  Reputation, morals, and obligations were immediately forgotten and I was slave to the mastery of his touch. 


I never imagined then how much I would forget myself; my entire identity became intertwined in him.  Lips and limbs lustfully entangled one another, and my soul and mind so, too, became ensnared. I believed every word that came from his lips, never once questioning his intentions.   I was ready to be his everything because I didn’t want to let him down as the others had.  His father left him at four years old to live alone with an alcoholic, manic-depressive mother who too left at age fifteen, finally succumbing to her illness with an overdose of prescription medication.  Guilt-ridden after being found in the arms of another man, his first girlfriend drank herself to death.  I imagined his soul must be riddled with sorrow, although he never seemed to show it.  Despite being a magnet for all things tragic, he had a cool confidence that also pulled me magnetically toward him. 


So entrenched in my deep desire, I couldn’t read all the passages of foreshadowing that were told through his unreliable narration.  I blinded myself completely to any arcane mysteries of his character, and saw only that which I coveted.  I craved the way the tip of his tongue tickled my chest, my stomach, my inner thighs, teasing me before entering me – the dripping discharge of liberation felt again and again. Sightless to his faults, I also ignored all feasible miscalculations of my addiction.  I failed to predict the pregnancy as foolishly as I forsook this final outcome.


            The warmth of his touch was drastically altered once he learned of our error.  In the way his eyes narrowed viciously upon me, I knew he deposited all the blame upon me.    I suddenly felt that he saw me as the enemy – the enemy I should have seen him for all along.  I was the good girl and he was the one who tempted me with his forbidden fruit, yet he now beheld himself as a god ready to banish me from our Eden.  Banish me he did indeed, and I became just another tragedy.  I wasn’t just exiled from his touch, his thrust, his tenderness.  He went far further to extents only a man with a devil inside would ever dare.

            Everyone who heard the fatal report believed it was an accident.  No one ever questioned him.  They mourned my death, but sympathized far more with his loss.  “How tragic,” they all whispered in the church pews.  They would then drop their voices even lower to pass their judgment, “Did you know she was with child?”  It would have been a son.  A son had been sent to us, but the child couldn’t save him from his life of lies.  The child couldn’t save me; I was already too far gone. The accident all started with that first compulsory, criminal kiss.  I was utterly amiss in my desire, and now this good girl is genuinely gone. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

In Their Shoes

Author's Precaution: This post discusses sensitive material, and may contain triggers.

By age thirty, Julie had experienced her third miscarriage. When she informed me of her most recent pregnancy, it was in stark contrast to her enthusiasm at age twenty-four, newly wed and eager.  The fear was so evident, like a shadow that hovered over her wherever she went.  Julie’s courage visibly trembled in fear’s dark presence.  I held her hand and tried desperately to be a harbinger of hope.  I smiled and said, “This time …” This time she would be able to hold that beautiful baby in her arms, to hear his first cries, to draw his tiny mouth to her breast and nourish him.  This time she wouldn’t awake in the night to blood dripping down her inner thighs.  This time the baby wouldn’t lie motionless inside of her, and she wouldn’t see the obstetrician shake his head in confirmation that there was no longer a heartbeat. I assured her that this time she would know only the pain of labor, not of loss.  But, I saw the doubt on her face and I felt it in my heart.  It took less than three weeks for the proof I was wrong.  She had given up on the trying, she said, because she couldn’t take the pain anymore.  She and I both knew, though, that sharp sting would linger for all her life.


Since age twenty, Trina lived with a secret deep inside of her -- a secret that stirred and scratched about yearning for release.  After being reminded of her loss as we jointly consoled Julie, Trina told me what she had not even told her own mother then.  She had left him years ago because she was pregnant.  She should have left him before that, but we often make decisions that are not truly in our own best interest.   He was the father by fact, but she couldn’t possibly imagine the life her own flesh would have should that child be exposed to the same physical abuse she had endured, always further numbing herself and foolishly excusing him.  There were moments of panic and indecision, and then there was the morning, which haunts her still, when she stepped into that clinic.  The child that had been growing within her was removed and replaced with a chilling hollowness that would torment her for all her life.  Guilt, like Julie’s companion fear, is the dark shadow that now slinks behind Trina and hides in corners of her heart.

I slipped on Julie’s shoes once, and quickly kicked them off.  I hated how they felt. Those shoes would never grow worn on me, for fear only briefly taunted me as opposed to becoming a constant companion.  I never tried on Trina’s shoes, as those high heels terrified me.  Yet, I somehow understand the way each now treads for simply knowing their stories.  In this knowing, there remains a confusion regarding why many individuals would be quick to comfort one woman and condemn the other.

 I know the pain is real for both women; my sympathies are not in competition.  Who am I to say one can hold on to hurt while the other doesn’t deserve ownership of her emotions? Who is any one of us to deny a woman her sorrow and suffering? Perhaps you have also paced in Julie’s ragged, tattered sneakers; perhaps you too have staggered in Trina’s strapped platform heels.  Maybe you have only known one pair of comfortable loafers your whole life.  Regardless, both women deserve understanding. It wasn’t easy for either of them and empathy is a preferred companion to guilt and fear.   

**Author's Note: Names have been altered to protect privacy.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Momma Dreams

I woke last night from another one of my nightmares.  I screamed so loudly that I woke my spouse and toddler daughter, who had once again made her way into our bed. My husband gently rubbed my back and reassured me I was safe.

My daughter then brought her tiny hand to my cheek and softly embraced me, stating, “It okay, Momma.  I had sweet dreams of kitties and puppies.”

As she regularly reports having such sweet dreams, her father asked, “Can you send Momma some of your sweet dreams?  Can she dream of kitties and puppies instead of the bad things?”

“No,” my daughter adamantly shook her head, “She no dream of kitties and puppies.  She has to have Momma dreams.”

“Momma dreams?” her father asked, “What do Mommas dream about?”
“Mommas need to dream about cooking and cleaning,” she merrily replied.  

While there was amusement in my daughter’s na├»ve response, those words also brought forth anger. This anger was not directed at my adorable, comforting child, but at our culture and my own role in our skewed society.  At only three years old, has my daughter already become conditioned to believe that women’s roles are as mothers only, to raise the children, cook the meals, and clean the home?  Does she believe she must spend the remainder of her life subservient and smiling?  Does she believe that she can be defined only in relation to a man?

If so, those are not my dreams for her.  In addition to those delightful dreams of soft, cuddly puppies that she currently reports, I have far superior, more significant dreams for my daughter.  I dream that my daughter may never find herself in so many of the unfortunate positions I have discovered myself in.

I dream that my daughter may never work in an environment where sexism is so commonplace that a complaint is scoffed at.  May she never sit in an employee lounge where copies of FHM and Maxim are spread across the tabletops, with the images of barely clad women smeared with greasy fingerprints.

I dream that my daughter will never be in an occupation where she works more skillfully and competently than her male coworker, yet earns $2.00 an hour less despite his lack of experience. 

I dream that my daughter will never date a man who requests she step on a scale to verify his belief that she isn’t trying hard enough to stay pretty for him.  I don’t want her to doubt her self-worth so greatly that she would remain in this relationship.  

I dream that my daughter may never believe that intelligence is shameful in women.  I never want to hear her say, “I didn’t want to do well on the test because my friends would just call me a geek for being too smart.”

My greatest aspiration for my daughter, though, is that she pursue her own dreams – whatever those may be, with disregard to common gender roles. Should she achieve her goals, I aspire to a world where she is respected and rewarded consistent to her male counterpart. I want her to know that some mommas may cook and clean, but they also do, build, think, teach, inspire, plan, shape, and lead.  My dream is that she believes in herself enough to recognize she can do any or all of these things. 

I know that my nighttime terrors may not vanish should these dreams be achieved.  However, such dreams would make growing up a girl less frightening for all young females.  So, have sweet dreams and big dreams, my bright, growing young woman.





Friday, February 7, 2014

My Own 100 Books for a Lifetime

Amazon just released its list of “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime.”  After perusing this list, I have read 51.  I’m proud of myself for being over half way there, and I also gained a few reading recommendations.  However, like most great lovers of books, I found that there were some novels I believed to be blatantly missing.  Therefore, I have created my own list of “100 books to Read in a Lifetime.”  There will no doubt be duplicates, but I hope you also appreciate some of the new additions.  I am also aware that some of these selections are technically drama, short stories, or poetry collections.   What books would make your essential list?  Please leave your comments!

1.       To Kill a Mockingbird – I won’t make note of every book I mention here.  However, I truly believe that this book, more than any other (even the bible), should be read by every single global citizen.  If the reader truly follows Atticus Finch’s advice, this book has the power to transform.  An individual can truly become a better person simply for having read this book.  It should be mandatory reading in every secondary school district.

2.       The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – How could Amazon possibly omit this book?  It is so critical to our nation’s history and has become deeply rooted in our culture.  Likewise, this novel should be mandatory reading in every secondary school district.

3.       Of Mice and Men – This novel has also become deeply rooted in our culture.  Does no one else remember the Loony Tunes character that asked to pet the bunnies?  This is a vital novel of friendship and Lenny and George are pivotal characters in the realm of fiction.


4.       Pride and Prejudice – Of course Austen tops my list.  Recall my wish to make zombie Jane Austen my BFF.  However, it is quite deservedly that this novel should rank so high in Amazon’s list, Good Reads reader polls, and my personal opinion.  Austen is an astute observer of human nature.  Further, particularly given the time period, Elizabeth Bennett is an admirable marvel of a woman and an exemplary role model.


5.       The Grapes of Wrath – Steinbeck appears twice in my top five.  This book is such a brilliant portrait of our nation during a difficult time.  Told with honesty and poetic grace, the Joad family should be known kin to every American reader.



The following novels appear without comment and in no particular order:

6.       The Good Earth - Pearl S. Buck

7.       Night - Elie Wiesel

8.       The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

9.       All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten - Robert Fulghum

10.   The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

11.   Life of Pi - Yann Martel

12.   Nickeled and Dimed - Barbara Ehreneich

13.   The Help - Kathryn Stockett

14.   The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver

15.   Fear of Flying - Erica Jong

16.   Frankenstein - Mary Shelley

17.   The Road - Cormac McCarthy

18.   As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner

19.   Unbroken - Laura Hillenbrand

20.   The Circle - Dave Eggers

21.   Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut

22.   The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway

23.   The Color Purple - Alice Walker

24.   Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston

25.   Black Boy - Richard Wright

26.   The Alchemist - Paulo Coehlho

27.   1984 - George Orwell

28.   The Metamorphosis - Franz Kafka

29.   Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

30.   Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf

31.   Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison

32.   A Passage to India - E.M. Forster

33.   I am Malala - Malala Yousafzai

34.   The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood

35.   Animal Farm - George Orwell

36.   Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury

37.   A Thousand Acres - Jane Smiley

38.   Bastard Out of Carolina - Dorothy Allison

39.   Persepolis -  Marjane Satrapi

40.   The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton

41.   Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen

42.   The Wasteland, and Other Poems - T.S. Eliot

43.   A Long Way Gone - Ishmael Beah

44.   The Fault in Our Stars - John Green

45.   Every Day - David Levithan

46.   Sold - Patricia McCormick

47.   The Namesake - Jhumpa Lahiri

48.   Peace Like a River - Leif Enger

49.   The Invitation - Oriah Mountain Dreamer

50.   The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien

51.   Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger

52.   The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

53.   Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

54.   Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl - Anne Frank

55.   The Jungle - Upton Sinclair

56.   The Stranger - Albert Camus

57.   The Things they Carried - Tim O'Brien

58.   The Round House - Louise Erdrich

59.   Snow Falling on Cedars - David Guterson

60.   Room - Emma Donaghue

61.   Lord of the Flies - William Golding

62.   Ellen Foster - Kaye Gibbins

63.   The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton

64.   The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne

65.   Go Ask Alice - Anonymous

66.   The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chobsky

67.   A Doll’s House - Henrik Ibsen

68.   Beloved - Toni Morrison

69.   The Awakening - Kate Chopin

70.   The Yellow Wallpaper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman

71.   Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

72.   Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
73.   Same Kind of Different As Me - Ron Hall & Denver Moore

74.   The Hunger Games  - Suzanne Collins

75.   The Red Tent - Anita Diamant

76.   Gilead - Marilynne Robinson

77.   Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov

78.   A Farewell To Arms - Ernest Hemingway

79.   The Canterbury Tales - Geoffrey Chaucer

80.   The Crucible - Arthur Miller

81.   One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest - Ken Kesey

82.   Walden - Henry David Thoreau

83.   Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson

84.   The Woman Upstairs - Claire Messud

85.   Looking for Alaska - John Green

86.   Paradise Lost - John Milton

87.   Gulliver’s Travels - Jonathan Swift

88.   Don Quixote - Miguel de Cervantes

89.   Silent Spring - Rachel Carson

90.   There are No Children Here - Alex Kotlowitz

91.   The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass - Fredrick Douglass

92.   A Good Man is Hard to Find - Flannery O'Conner

93.   Tales of Mystery and Imagination - Edgar Allan Poe

94.   Annie on my Mind - Nancy Garden

95.   The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams

96.   Feed - M.T. Anderson

97.   The Dinner - Herman Koch

98.   The Reader  - Bernhard Schlink

99.   Little Bee - Chris Cleave

100.      Naked - David Sedaris