Friday, January 25, 2013

Stranger - #FridayFlash Fiction

     Dead of night, and I climb through a cottony mass of half-formed thoughts and half-dissolved dreams into consciousness. Heat weighs heavily on me, and overhead the blades of the ceiling fan revolve sluggishly. I shift slightly, and turn my head; with a jolt, I realize that there is a stranger lying next to me.
     I inch my way out of the tangled sheets and, setting my feet carefully on the cool floor, make my way over to the doorway. A floorboard squeaks and I quickly shift my weight and move closer to the wall. A sigh, and then his slow, even breathing resumes. I sigh as well, and tiptoe out of the room.
     The caliginous bedroom gives way to a living room awash in moonlight. I draw the curtains and sink into the depths of an overstuffed chair. How did I come to be here, and what do I do now? The answers, it would seem, are all around me.

     A trophy perdures on the bookcase, shrouded with dust; textbooks as well, unthumbed as the day they stood on the seller's shelf. A blue smock with a garish badge is tossed in a corner, along with a black pair of shoes whose scuffed toes have been covered by black magic marker. A man's jacket is thrown carelessly over the back of a beat up sofa, which crouches beneath the picture of a grinning young couple posed on a sugar white beach. All eerie in its vague familiarity.

     I remember that I met him last night after work. That there were awkward pauses and silences, and that we spoke to each other oh so carefully. That we peeled away the layers, and that in exploring each other we explored ourselves as well. A dangerous thing, but necessary; unspoken becomes unnerving becomes undoing.

     Dawn breaks, and I wearily make my way back. He is still sleeping, and I slide quietly into bed and lie there, studying him. The slope of his shoulders, the fine golden hairs on his arm, the nape of his neck, somehow delicate even on so large a man. Strange, and yet comfortingly recognizable. He stirs, stretches, and turns his head towards me; the morning light catches the autumn flecks of green and gold and brown in his eyes. He looks at me somberly for a moment.

     “Happy Anniversary,” he says, and smiles.
      In the full light of day, I smile as well.
     “Happy Anniversary,” I reply.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Martyr Of Fourteenth Street

The room had been kept as she left it. She was never coming back, and Rose painstakingly maintained the shrine as she always had, wiping away each speck of dust from the dresser top and the swimming trophies, carefully repositioning the stuffed pony and the folded pyjamas, pressing down ever-so-slightly on the pillow bearing the last imprint of the beloved head.

Thomas, leaning in the doorway, curled his lip in disgust and walked away, lowering his silent bulk into the faded armchair and opening his paper - snap! - while he waited for dinner to be served. Rose began to set the table, hesitating at the place where her daughter used to sit, and allowing a silent tear to roll down her cheek. Her husband did not notice, of course, and so she sniffed audibly.

"Forchrissake woman, would you stop this nonsense? She's married, not dead!"

"Do you know that she's asked me not to come around for a week? That I am not to call her unless it is a DIRE emergency? Her own mother, treated like a pestering sales representative?"

Thomas snorted. "You give the girl no peace. Always dropping by, taking food as if she can't cook, offering advice she's no need of, mocking her husband's profession, chipping away at their marriage. You're lucky they haven't moved to the other coast. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if that were in the works."

Rose whirled, and the cold Spam on the platter slithered over the edge and plopped on the floor. "What do you know that you're not telling me? Conspiring, always conspiring against me.  I've devoted my life to raising a beautiful child and waiting on you hand and foot, and all I've gotten is heartbreak. I could have been a journalist, you know, traveling the world. It would be MY name you'd be seeing in that damned newspaper you're forever hiding behind."

He eyed the evening's entree on the floor. "Indeed, you've taken marvelous care of me. Kept me at arm's length unless you needed money for some new scheme to make our daughter famous. I might as well have been an ATM standing in the corner. Devoted your life to the child, assuredly, to the point where she married the first fool who offered to get her out of here.  Well, I've had enough of it. I'm leaving you, Rose. I'm not so hard a man as to drag you through a long drawn-out legal proceeding; you'll have the house, a car, and a bit to live on. But I deserve someone who will offer me at least a little warmth and companionship in my golden years."

"You mean you've found some young tart I suppose," Rose sighed. "Of course I'm worn out with tending to everyone else's needs. My poor body is exhausted from childbearing, cooking and scrubbing. Never a thought for myself. Giving up career, fame, a pension. It's just like you to think only of yourself. Well, go on then. I'll live out my days as a lonely old woman."

As she slowly bent her plump body to clean up the floor, a thought struck her. She would soon be..a...a...divorcee. Shunned by the community as a failure, a cast-off. People would whisper, and snicker, and follow her with their nasty judgmental eyes. Oh, and what of her daughter? To have divorced parents! Why everyone knew that children from broken homes turned to crime, to drink, to drugs.

"This will hardly do for dinner," she said in the sweetest of tones. "I'll make you a lovely stew from scratch. I've been so morose lately, but I shall fix things. Go and enjoy your paper, and I'll call you when it's ready."

Yes, she decided, better to be a grieving widow. Then the world would recognize her sacrifices, her suffering. They would not dare to turn their backs on her again.

Monday, January 7, 2013

One Side Of the World To the Other: Walking From Beijing To London - Nonfiction

Beijing zoo. Photographed and placed in public domain by  Daderot via Wikimedia Commons.

"My name is Michael Lee Johnson. I’m 28 years of age and I am from Widnes, Cheshire, in the north-west of England.

On Friday July 26th 2013 at 2:15pm, I will be quitting my day-job and boarding a flight from London to Beijing with the intention of never returning back to the United Kingdom by anything else other than by foot.

Upon arrival in Beijing and after a good nights sleep, I will then begin my journey home (on my own)." *

Sounds like a great book, right? It hasn't been written yet, but it will be - just as soon as Michael completes his journey. And you can follow along on his incredible freedom walk. He'll be recording his epic trek for a documentary, as well as plotting his location on Google maps and (hopefully) streaming some video as conditions and technology permit. 

The trip will be wholly on foot, and he'll be facing just about every sort of climate condition and terrain imaginable.

"The route that I presumed would be the best and most safest, will take me from Beijing into Northern & Western China, right through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and possibly Turkmenistan, across Iran, Armenia and then back home through Europe to London, England. 15,000 km, thirteen hours by plane and between 3 to 5 years on foot." *

As someone who seldom steps out of the "comfort zone", I can't even imagine undertaking a journey of this magnitude. But Michael views it as more than just an epic hike. To him, it is a freedom walk - freedom from job constraints, deadlines, the endless demands of tightly structured days.

Of course, trouble - and danger - may very well lie along his path.

"Who knows what may happen along my journey? And you know what… I really don’t care! Why? Because life’s too short. We only have our memories at the end of the day, so I’m making some good ones. It’s all or nothing in my eyes, life or death. I think life is what you make it, so I’m making it what I want… I’m bringing my dreams to life, and letting the whole world dream with me." *

So if you want to dream along - and help him along - you can find more information at Michael Lee Johnson or by following him on Twitter as @mljonfoot

*all passages in quotes are by express permission of Michael Lee Johnson, and reprinted from his website.