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.
 
 

 



16 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thank you. This was my first prompted attempt, so I greatly appreciate the feedback.

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  2. This is such a wonderful, and sad, story of sisterhood. I love how different they are and how strong their bond is, even after Maggie's death.

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  3. I like that you focus on the humanity over the act. It's true, unfortunately, that "scandals" polarize and create a strange ownership -- thanks for bringing it back to the personal in this story.

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    1. Yes. I didn't even know that's where I planned on going with it, but I was happy that ended up being a big message in the piece. We do need to remember the person and not just their final act.

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  4. Thank you for keeping the story on the person and the actual loss. That human element gets so lost in the statistics and public campaigns. I love the line about she always said yes to life and now was being used to encourage others to just say no.

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    1. Thank you for your kind feedback. I appreciate it.

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  5. I think that the beginning and the ending of this are the strongest parts -- the parts where Taylor's emotion comes through most clearly. I hear her voice most clearly describing the prank and then later when she talks about how the loss impacted her.

    I got kind of pulled out of the story in the middle with some of the extra details -- the Rainbow Brite doll, the Jansport, the used Tempo -- it reminded me of some of the early Mad Men episodes where there were so many "look how different things were in the '50s" details -- it almost feels like commentary instead of memoir. The one detail that I found most effective was the Bartles and Jaymes -- that one detail alone screams 1993 and is relevant to the story.

    I hope that this comment is received with the love it is written -- I once read a piece of advice for fiction writers -- if the brand/color/odd description is information that doesn't impact the story, don't put it in there because it disrupts the flow. Unless someone is a computer geek, knowing that the antagonist is typing a ransom note on a Dell Inspiron 2427 with an Intel 4 processor is overkill -- the same info can be relayed by saying that the antagonist typed the ransom note on an old, heavy laptop.

    Bah... English teacher in me coming out. I've only been at this fiction thing for about 18 months, so give or take it as you'd like. I'm full of it, anyway.

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    1. Hey, I'm an English teacher (though not currently employed) too -- I get it, and I appreciate your comments immensely. I know they're coming from a helpful place, and I understand that. Your comments reminded me of this movie I just watched with Aubrey Plaza -- The To-Do List, where it was just like "remember this thing from the 90s." I didn't want it to turn too much into that, so your points are totally valid and helpful. Thank you very much.

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  6. I walked away realizing that tragic stories often leave a skewed perspective of the person. You really nailed it; that we need refrain from focusing on the mistakes of one's own life but rather embrace the person as a whole.

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    1. Thank you very much. I don't typically write fiction, so this is somewhat new for me to put stuff like this out there, and I really appreciate the feedback.

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  7. I always wonder about people who are made into poster children, and this post made me think about them more as people. Stories that make you think...

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    1. Thank you. Hooray for stories that make you think. That is so what I want to do. Thanks a bunch, Natalie!

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