Thursday, March 25, 2010

First Time I Heard About Him

The first time I heard about him, I had a feeling ... It was only his name, whispered in the next aisle, but I heard it with an electric charge that woke up something in me that had been sleeping. I knew him. I knew it.

I charged around the grocery aisle. Two women blocked the aisle, their carts pointed in the separate directions, talking over the piles of sugared, colored cereal and cheap hamburger. "This person ... Eric Thorson ... who is he?"

They glanced at each other, and must have made a tacit solemn pact to freeze me out because one said, "Well, I should be going," and the other agreed, and they parted like the red sea. I stood on dry land like an Egyptian saying, "Wait! Wait!" But it was no use. They hurried away, one to the far side of the store, and the other, the one I followed, straight to the cashier who took one look at my face, probably red and crazy-eyed, and asked, "Is this woman bothering you?"

I backed away and hurried home, where I googled his name. I got 576,361 hits. The first two pages were genealogy sites, about a man who'd lived in Marybrook, Massachusetts in the late 1600s and must have sired 25 children, all of whom studied family history.

There was a soccer player, somewhere in Europe, and a stockbroker in New York who looked very promising until I realized he was ten years younger than I. And gay.

I finally gave up and went to bed, but it was after two by then, and I slept fitfully though I had to get up for work at six. At some point, I must have fallen asleep because I dreamed of him -- Eric Thorson. He looked like Fabio, and he sounded like James Earl Jones and all he said was "I am Eric, the man for whom you search," and I started to weep. I woke to the alarm buzzing and realized my pillow was wet with tears.

Driving home from work several nights later, I was distracted, thinking about a client trying to win custody from her abusive ex-husband, when a car cut me off. I raised my hand to flip him off, but I stopped in mid-air when I saw his vanity plate: Thors. I sped up and followed him as he weaved through traffic, but just before seventh avenue, he darted straight across two lanes of traffic and exited before I could get over. I took the next exit and backtracked, but of course I couldn't find him amid the narrow streets.

The next morning, I called a private investigator the firm sometimes uses. "John. Got a case for you," I said.

"Sure thing. What's the name?"

I told him.

"What else ya know? Address?"

How could I admit I knew nothing else? "I think he drives silver Spider, convertible. License plate: Thors." I hesitated. "John, one more thing. Can you keep this on the QT? I don't want anyone to hear about it. I'll be paying you out of pocket."

I could hear his curiosity burble on the phone, but he only said, "You bet. I'm on it."

I waited two weeks for his call, sleepwalking my way through court filings and settlements, not to mention awkward meetings. I slept at night with help from a bottle of wine (and once, half a second bottle), but finally, the phone rang.

"John! What did you find?"

There was a half second pause. "Don't you want to say hello? Ask me how I'm doing? How are the kids?"

Rage flared through me, but I tamped it down. "Hello. How are you doing? How are the kids? Not that you have any."

"Fine thank you, and you?"

"Dying of curiosity! Just tell me what you found, damnit!"

I heard a low chuckle, and he started talking, but I hung up more dissatisfied and confused than ever. The silver spider belonged to a literature professor at Arizona State University who specialized in Norse mythology. His name was James McNulty.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Some People Just Know Things

Some people just know things. I've never understood it. They just do. I think they were born knowing things.

Not me. I've had to learn every single thing I know. Like two plus two. I had to line up two jelly beans and then two more jelly beans and count them. Fifty times. I kept getting the wrong count.

I know what you're thinking -- that I was eating the jelly beans, and that's why the count was off, but it isn't true. I only used licorice jelly beans because I hate licorice, so it wouldn't mess up my count (and also because licorice was the only flavor left in the jelly bean bag).

But still, I'd count once and it was four, and count again and it was three, and then two, and eventually zero, which I was pretty sure wasn't the right answer to two plus two.

I never did learn the answer to two plus two, but I did learn something, and that's my point. I have to actually learn things, I don't just know anything.

Oh, what did I learn? I learned that my Great Dane loves licorice.

Other things I have learned:
  • You can flush an entire roll of toilet paper down a commercial toilet, but only if you unroll it first.
  • Cats are not interested in trick-or-treating in costume. Or even without costumes. Nor do they like licorice.
  • You can hard-boil an egg in the microwave.
  • Hard-boiled egg white is very difficult to clean off a popcorn ceiling.
  • Fortunately, hard-boiled egg white is hard to actually see against a popcorn ceiling.
  • You should unplug the waffle iron before you put it into a sink full of dishwater.
  • Having an rocket scientist for a brother is not as beneficial as being brothers with an electrician.
The point is, I can learn. I've learned all those things you can and cannot do, but people still call me stupid, and they won't let me live alone anymore, not even in an apartment like I had, where somebody checks on you several times a day, and you can eat in the cafeteria instead of cooking if you fry your waffle iron.

Another thing I've learned is how to get a job, and I don't understand why people talk about it being so hard. I mean, all you have to do is call Tanya at Job Source, and when she asks you if you'd rather clean at the local McDonalds or walk dogs at PetSmart, say walk dogs.

What I haven't learned yet is how to keep a job.

I was doing exactly what they told me to do -- just mopping the floor -- and it wasn't my fault the squeezy thing wasn't working. That old lady should have been more careful. And I don't know why her kids couldn't have sued the walker company instead -- aren't those cage things supposed to keep old people from falling?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Some People Just Know Things (Which Seems To Have Absolutely Nothing To Do With The Finished Prompt)

When beetles overran the onion fields Clive knew it was time to move somewhere far away, maybe Bermuda or Des Moines. He didn't care where, just anywhere but here. It didn't matter. He didn't want to think about fields or onions or Monica anymore. Especially not about Monica and her long purple nails and black, black hair ~ blacker than the bottom of a grave.

Clive stood in the middle of the field, beetles running helter skelter all over his shoes, and stared straight into the sun. He could walk away. That was his greatest gift, his ability to throw his life into a duffel bag and start moving. He had no sentimental attachments, no favorite songs, and nothing and no one dependent upon him. He liked onions, that was about as much of a commitment you'd ever get from the man.

But beetles were sending the onions into rot and Clive was grateful. He trusted nature to let him know when it was time to move on. His mother used to tell him never to stand still long enough to let the dust settle on his boots. It was the only piece of advice Clive had ever taken to heart, and it served him well.

The phone started ringing from inside the RV. It had to be Monica. Clive glanced around looking for signs of life. It was too soon after sunrise for there to be anyone about. The sky was the color of eggplant peel and old mushrooms. It'd be a bitch of a day. He could already feel the back of his neck prickling with sweat. No worries. He'd burn the RV and steal a motorcycle. Throw the phone into the reservoir. Monica was a witch, but she'd never be able to track him. He'd cleaned up her last mess. She could do it herself from now on.

As a parting gift he'd leave the hacksaw and the bolt cutter on her doorstep, cleaned of prints of course. Someday he'd leave evidence just for the hell of it. Just to make things more interesting. Clive was a ghost. His fingerprints changed every six months and his DNA morphed faster than that. He was perfect really. And now he was gone.

Monday, January 11, 2010

You Call a Wrong Number and Recognize the Voice

The phone rang several times -- too many, really. Maeve's machine always picked up on the third ring. It was a standing rule that any time I got her machine, I was to call right back because she was probably running for the phone and didn't make it in time.

I was about to hang up, when I heard a click, and someone said in an urgent whisper, "She's here!"

"What? Who's there?"

After a long silence, someone said, "Lucy?" I recognized the voice. It was Hank, my husband. I heard a click, and he stepped into the room, his cell phone in hand. "What the hell was that all about?"

"I'm sorry," I stammered. "I was trying to call Maeve, to tell her I wasn't going to make it. I must have fat-fingered it."

A sereis of emotions warred across his face, but I couldn't identify them. Then a bland mask dropped down. He reached out and stroked my forehead. "Poor Lucy. You should take some pain meds and just go to bed."

"But ..."

"No, you should." He smiled, a smile that should have made me feel loved and adored but didn't somehow. "I'll get the dishes, and put the kids to bed. You take care of yourself for once."

Going straight to bed, at 6:30 in the evening, did sound delicious. And if I took a couple of vicodin, maybe the pounding jackhammer in my skull would be silenced by morning. I took his hand and squeezed. "Thanks, honey. I think I will." I turned away, headed for the medicine cabinet."

"I'll bring you up a stiff drink." Hank's voice followed me up the stairs. "It'll help you sleep."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Do NOT Mention the Murder

Prompt: Write for 15 minutes from the point of view of someone who committed a murder today. Do not mention the murder. (Tip of the hat to Kerrie Droban)

Justin washed his hands, singing the ABC song to make sure he spent the requisite time, but it wasn't enough, so he washed them again. He dug a pointed stick from his mother's nail care basket and cleaned under his fingernails, then washed his hands again.

He pulled his T-shirt over his head and stuffed it in the bottom of the laundry bag, then took a quick shower. He stepped naked from the shower and remembering the shirt, dug it out of the laundry and wrapped it in a dry cleaning bag. He'd drop it in a dumpster on his way to work.

He dressed and, grabbing his keys, headed out the door whistling. He should feel bad, he knew, but something about being with a woman made him feel cheerful. He tossed his keys in the air and caught them again, then slid behind the wheel. The rumble of the muscle car engine worked on his seat like a vibrator, but the snake had uncurled from the base of his spine, so the result was only a mild arousal.

He pulled behind the grocery store and parked by the dumpster. After a quick look around, he threw the shirt into the metal bin and doused it with lighter fluid. He lit a cigarette, smoke half of it, then tossed it into the trash bin as he climbed into his car and drove away.

"You're late," Bert growled when he walked in.

"Sorry." Justin dropped his head and rounded his shoulders, avoiding Bert's eyes. He clocked in, grabbed his apron from the rack and pulled it over his head. "Had to run an errand. I'll stay late."

"Make sure you do. I don't have to keep you on here, you know. Only did it as a favor to your mother."

"Yes, sir." Justin disappeared into the store before Bert could say anything more. "Stupid prick," he muttered. "Think you can treat me like shit? I'll show you." He opened the janitor's closet, slid the rolling bucket under the faucet and dripped liquid soap into it. But not today. Let it go. He ran his hands under the good, cleansing water, imagined it rinsing off his anger the way Lucy taught him. When he felt clean again, he thrust his mop into the sudsy bucket, swished it around and headed out into the store.

He'd mopped half the floor before he saw Bert again.

"Looking good!" Bert called, as if the earlier altercation never happened. "I can almost see my face in the shine."

"Thank you, sir," Justin mumbled. Bert could see his reflection if he tried, Justin knew. He was a master at cleaning up messes, knew exactly how to remove all sorts of stains, didn't mind cleaning up the most disgusting messes. Bert was lucky to have him.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Real Dump

Starting line: "The place was a real dump." Write for 15 minutes. Go!

The place was a real dump. I mean, really. It was a dump, the kind of place people threw garbage in the days before any of us had ever heard the word "landfill." 

I turned to my date. "What the hell are we doing here?"

He blushed. Even the three inches of wrist that stuck out below his cuffs turned red. For a second I imagined his whole torso pinkening until it struck me .... Eeeeuuuuwww! This wasn't exactly Six-Pack Sam. I'd only agreed to the date because my brother -- who was trying to convince him to sell some uber rare drak-e-mon card -- threatened to tell mom Damon spent the night in my bedroom last week.

"So?" I demanded, but he didn't answer. I got off his scooter and ripped off the stupid half-helmet he'd given me, one I suspected he borrowed from his geeky little sister who was obsessed with horses.

"Wait," he said. "I brought a picnic."

I just stared at him. A picnic? He seriously expected me to eat here? No doubt the flies would add spice. "Fuck this. I'm going home." I turned around, but I slipped on a piece of rotting fruit and came down hard on my kneecap. "Ow! Ow, ow, ow."

He helped me up, but I couldn't walk, couldn't even stand on that foot. I leaned on his shoulder and hopped over to a boulder, where he lowered me down. "Wait here," he said, and he was gone.

"Where am I supposed to go? I'm hurt, remember?" I pulled up my jeans, grateful bell bottoms were back in style. My knee was swollen and stiff, and a trickle of blood slid down my calf.

He was back with a plastic Wal-mart sack and a dirty horse blanket. He spread the blanket on the ground beside the rock like it was a red carpet and pulled a root beer out of the sack with a ridiculous flourish.

"Oh, please!" I said. "Root beer?"

He blushed again. "It's not just root beer. It's Henry Weinhardts."

I squinted to see his face against the sun. "Yeah? You got anything to mix with it?"

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Picture Prompt

Write for 15 minutes based on this image (a soul collage card):

Eyes Like Mine

by Katrina Stonoff

The eyes stopped her. Elaine was thumbing through a pristine design magazine in the doctor's office, flipping the pages one after another without seeing them, when she noticed the ad.

A photograph of a woman's face, close up, the ad was a comical attempt to sell insurance with an exaggerated expression of fear, but she missed the humor and the exaggeration.

She saw fear, naked and staring. Eyes like her own, the woman on the page pleaded for release, for solace. Maybe even for life.

Slapping the magazine closed, Elaine tapped her manicured nails against the cover. The tip of her thumbnail was ragged, so she pulled an emery board from her Gucchi bag and filed it smooth.

She tucked the board back into her purse and sat quietly, but her right hand drifted across her sculpted thighs. Her fingers slid across the magazine's surface like a caress. Snatching her hand back, she held it in place with her will power and all 10 fingers.

Across the waiting room, a swinging door opened. "Mrs. Olson?" A 30-something woman with a distended belly pushed herself out of a chair across from Elaine and waddled through the door.

Elaine looked down, blinking away tears, and found herself clutching the magazine. She slipped it open, and without turning a page, found herself once again staring -- falling --into those eyes, dark and deep. The office dissolved as she was immersed in the blue.

Sometime later -- two minutes or an hour -- a one of the husbands coughed, and Elaine jerked. The magazine slid to the floor.

She stood and crossed the room, listening to the click of her heels on the marble floor. "Can you tell me how much longer it's going to be?"

The receptionist gave her a sympathetic look. "I'm really sorry about the wait. Dr. Janders was called out at noon with twins, so we're running a little late." She ran her finger down a row of names. "They're only two girls in front of you though, Ms. Armstrong. Shouldn't be too long."

Elaine swallowed. "Can you ... " Her voice sounded thick and muddled. She cleared her throat and tried again. "Did you get the results back?"

The nurse tipped her head and smiled again, but the smile looked stressed. "I'm sorry. I don't have any information."

Walking away from the desk, Elaine chose a seat six chairs down from the magazine, but she could feel the eyes burning across the space. She pulled out her Blackberry and scrolled through her mail. Mostly junk, though she made a mental note to call Jack about the meeting with the advertising people. Her thumbs flashing, she sent a quick note to her secretary, "Would you see if Abrams Plastics is still manufacturing? They're outside of Chicago."

After tucking the phone back into her bag, Elaine twitched her foot and checked her watch. Twenty minutes since she'd talked to the receptionist. How much longer would she have to wait?

She picked up another magazine, but found she had no interest in cupcakes that look like sunflowers. She threw the tattered pages aside, and with a decisive snort, crossed the room and picked up the design magazine.

"Ms. Armstrong? The doctor's ready for you."

"Just a moment." Turning to the ad, Elaine tore a strip from the page -- just the eyes. She left flapping in the magazine the woman's comical hair in rollers and the garish red mouth in a round "o".

"Ms. Armstrong?"

Tucking the strip into her purse, Elaine followed the nurse through the swinging door and past examining room after examining room.

They stopped at the end of the hall, and the nurse opened a door Elaine had never noticed before. "The doctor will be right in."

Elaine stepped into a paneled office with rich leather furniture. "Oh, no," she thought as she sank onto a chair. "This can't be good."