Thursday, November 29, 2012

Broken Windows - Flash Fiction

      I try not to be judgmental, but Gloria looked anything but glorious when we met for coffee. Her chipped nails were so distracting that I found myself rearranging my silverware repeatedly just to keep from staring.
     "I'll just have an English muffin," she said quietly as I perused the menu.
     Irritated, I slapped the menu down harder than I meant.
     "Seriously? You're going to nibble bread and then sit and stare while I stuff down a well-deserved lumberjack special?"
     The hurt look just sent an aggravating ping through my already jangled nerves.  I dug around in my purse for some aspirin and came up with a tube of Korres body lotion instead.
     "You should get some of this. Awesome stuff. It would do wonders for your cuticles, and it's only twenty bucks a pop. In fact, we should hit the mall after breakfast."
     Gloria picked at the offending digits.
     "I really shouldn't. Besides, I...umm...don't have that much cash and I left my credit card at home."
     Well, this was turning into a real funfest. I was regretting the breakfast invite already. 
     "Tell me about your new project, Kristin. You've been so busy, we haven't had time to talk much lately."
     "Oh, it's just a volunteer project to take up some of my time.  The Hubs hated it at first because we had to reschedule our tennis games, but now he's on board.  We go down into the south ward - you know, it's not nearly as scary as I thought - and look for people who have homes that need cleaned up or fixed up. Then we make a list and the social workers check 'em out and see if they need other help. You know, the Broken Windows theory. A rundown building becomes a place for vandals, drug dealers and stuff.  Sometimes a little negligence is the sign of impending trouble.  Let it go, and things deteriorate.  Catch it right away, and you can maybe save somebody before they hit the skids.  Its all about paying attention to the little things, and I must say that I'm very good at it."
     For a moment, I wondered if I sounded stuck-up, but shrugged it off. Besides, our orders had arrived and I wanted to concentrate on the feast before me.  Tough to do, with Gloria looking around and fidgeting.  Suddenly, I couldn't wait to get out of there.  I ate half and pushed the rest away.
     "If you aren't going to take that, can I have it? For the neighbor's dog," she added.
     "Whatever. You know I can't stand leftovers. Unless it's steak or duck.  Remember when we used to go to Lamberto's and drop a couple hundred bucks? We should do that again."
     Which sounded like "Never".  Well, OK, apparently our days of chumming around were drawing to a close. It happens. Time to move on.
     "Well." We engaged in one of those awkward hugs where the arms sort of flail and don't fit and both parties wish it hadn't happened.
     "Give me a call sometime."
     She won't. I won't. I climbed up into the Rover and watched as she walked across the parking lot.  Didn't see the Cooper. Puzzled as she made her way toward a banged up Toyota.  Must be a loaner. But I didn't have any more time to waste, as I was due at the Broken Windows Alliance in two hours and I still needed to get my hair highlighted. 



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Luck, Thanksgiving, and a Mouse In the House

It's been six months of seemingly unabated bad luck. The HVAC unit needed replaced, followed by the water heater, dishwasher, radon fan, and water heater. The giant spring on the garage door broke in half, leaving the cars stuck inside the garage for a day and a half. And now I've got an unwanted squatter - a mouse, or possibly mice - in residence, just in time for the holidays. The Pest Man Cometh today sometime, at which point I'll find out whether I'm running a one-night rodent hotel or a brothel.

Happy Thanksgiving.

I went through my usual litany of how lucky I am to have a house that needs repair since some don't have a roof over their heads. Lucky to have things like dishwashers and water heaters. Lucky to have a car even if I can't get it out of the garage. Lucky to have friends and family to share the holidays with.

All true, but sometimes you gotta just scream about the little things. Mr. or Mrs. Mouse got a loud, long cursing out, including some brand-new combinations of very old terms. The garage door received a sound kick. The rest of the household appliances have been put on warning - they all saw what happened to the toaster which slung its final piece of toast on the floor a few weeks ago.

I must say, I felt a little better for a few minutes. Then I felt vaguely ashamed. It didn't solve anything, as it has yet to be proven that appliances and rodents understand/respond to human language. But what determines who's house will appeal to wildlife, which neighborhood will be leveled by a tornado, which toaster out of 1000 will develop a pitcher's throwing arm, which of 50 applicants will get the job which they are all qualified for and all so desperately need?

Luck, I guess.

Just as it was luck the other day that saved my life. Lucky that the BF walked over to a park bench to tie his shoelace, else we would have been standing next to the light pole that was completely sheared off at its base by an out-of-control car. Lucky that the light pole was there, else she might have hit us both anyway. Lucky that the pole fell into the street, which was empty of cars, instead of on us or someone else. Lucky that the fluid surrounding the wrecked car was only antifreeze and water, not gasoline. Lucky that the car ended up 20+ feet away from the fallen wires.

Lucky that no one, including the occupant, was killed or severely injured.

I suppose we all struggle with the question of why some things happen as they do, why bad things happen to good people, why one survives and another does not. Whether one consults science, faith, stars, or chicken innards, there don't ever seem to be any solid answers. I wish I had one for you, but I don't.

I do know that I'm not as thankful as I should be for what I have. Especially since the victims of Sandy are still struggling with complete devastation in many areas. I simply cannot imagine how they many of them are coping, and my heart breaks for them.

This Thanksgiving will be a quiet and reflective one, shared with those I love. To all of my readers, wherever you are, whether you are celebrating a holiday or going about your life: please drive a little more carefully, love your family and friends a little bit more, give what you can spare to those in need, take a moment or two and give thanks for what you have......

Happy Thanksgiving!


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remembrance - Re-Post - Flash Fiction

Very lights, phosgene, duckboards and bully beef; a secret language which only we spoke, words that left a metallic tang like the water I sipped from his canteen. He said I could never use I'll be back. Goodbye, see ya, but not that. Because Leslie had said don't worry Gran, I'll be back, only to be swallowed by the unspeakable mud of Landers. I didn't know where Landers was, exactly, but I knew that it was somewhere over the sea, and that nothing ever grew there but the skeletons of trees and barbed wire. The sun never shone; it rained or it misted or it stormed, with great rolling booms of thunder and squalls of shrieking metal. Sometimes the farmers still turn up shells, planted but never blooming, with their ploughs.

He had a clay pot of poppies on his porch. I wanted to pick one, it was so beautifully, vividly red; but he said no, those are my friends and I understood it to mean that they were really and truly his friends, come back to life as flowers, and so I watered them and talked to them, and to the ones which withered away I gave a decent Christian burial beside the house. The house itself seemed weary of things, leaning to one side and sighing to itself on occasion.

He had to have been old, but sometimes when I walked beside him he seemed young and vibrant and smelled of soap. I loved the scent of freshly cut grass in the summer, but he held a hand to his face and went inside. Grass and mayflowers are the smell of death, he would say, more to be feared than the stench of the lines, for the dead cannot do you harm.

On July 1, every year, we went into the yard and we had a picnic of corned beef, crackers, and tea. The flower pot from the porch was our centerpiece, and before we ate we stood, and he lifted his glass and said solemnly Gentlemen, when the barrage lifts* . It made me feel important to be a part of it all, though I did not understand.

People must have thought him a strange man, for they never spoke to him or acknowledged his existence. But then they must have thought me a strange little girl, for they seldom spoke to me either. One day I was sent away to boarding school, just like that, with one battered suitcase and a paper bag lunch. It was a girl's school, and it might just as well have been another country for I didn't speak the language or know the customs. I got the occasional letter from home it's just for a few years and how nice it must be for you to finally have friends and finally, after a while, such dust everywhere, they've torn down the old shack next door, an eyesore it was, no one's ever lived there that I can remember.

I came home after a time, and insinuated myself into the life of a small town. Once a year, on July 1, I go to the local pub and loudly drink my toast. Someone will ask what it means, and I will tell them. I work two jobs and, bit by bit, I am paying for the piece of land which lies beside my childhood home. There is nothing there, not yet, just rutted mud and the odd brick or stone. The grass is growing, slowly, and I lie upon a patch in the sun, idly twining the stem of a poppy between my fingers. They have grown, once again, of their own accord, children of the ones I buried long ago.
1. *Author's note: traditional In Memoriam newspaper notice:  9th and 10th BNS., K.O.Y.L.I. - To the undying memory of the Officers and Men of the above Battalions who fell in the attack on Fricourt (Somme) on July 1, 1916.Gentlemen, when the barrage lifts.”

2. “Gentlemen, when the barrage lifts.” This was a toast made before the Somme attack of the 9th and 10th Battalions of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. Twenty-four hours after the attack, 800 men had been reduced to 80 men and 4 officers.
3. The smell of the gas phosgene is often described as that of newly mown grass or hay.

I wrote Remembrance quite some time ago, but thought I would re-post it once again in honour of Veteran's Day.

And here is "In Flanders Field"

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

by John McCrae, May 1915

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Blogging From A to Z: The Challenge, the Site, the List

Hi readers -
Been quite a week, with the storm and the clean-up underway, the shortages, the suffering. But there have been beacons of hope; people rescuing each other, feeding each other, sharing and offering solace. Remember to appreciate whatever you have, and hug your family and friends today. And vote.

No new fiction here today, but I do have a guest post over at the Blogging From A to Z site with a few ideas for next year's challenge. (Because it's never too soon to think ahead, right?)

Everybody have a groovy Tuesday.