Prose, Unbound

Life of the Hereafter Party

Tom slowly closed and opened his eyes to clear his mind.  He surveyed his surroundings as he smoothed his left hand down the lapel of his suit jacket before he checked his wrist for the time.  Despite the stillness that hung in the air, a chill seeped into him. The hazy shine of fluorescents glared out through the blanketed night and caught in Tom’s peripheral vision.  The bus had long since left, and he needed somewhere to warm up while he waited for the next. With no other options in sight, Tom stepped out from under the awning of the bus stop and into the street where his black oxfords made a slimy click in the puddled water on his way to Nether’s World Diner.

As he neared the diner, he saw the place was packed and heard the tinny pulses of LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” bleating out of the jukebox.  Tom ran his fingers through his hair brushing out the drops of water that had condensed there from his walk across the street and opened the door.  He prepared himself for the din of voices to overtake him, but all he heard was the scraping of cutlery on ceramic bleeding into the jangled instrumentation of Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” as it switched places with the previous song.  Tom looked around with skepticism but decided no one was talking because the food was that good.

“Please Seat Yourself” hung squarely on the hostess podium, but Tom couldn’t find an open seat anywhere.  He craned his head to take a look at the place. No one looked at him as he took a gander at his fellow patrons.  Families sat at booths along the windows, parties of 2 sat at the tables running along the interior of the restaurant, and those dining alone sat at the counter  It seemed impossibly large, but there at the end of the counter, he saw a seat for a single occupant. Tom cleared his throat, squared his shoulders, and sauntered off to claim his seat.

“Hey there Tom, what’ll it be?” the waitress at the counter clicked between chews of gum.  Her sable ringlets bounced and big doe eyes sparkled between chews.

“Well, I must be in Heaven if an angel like you has the omniscience to know my name,” Tom flirted.  “How about a cup of coffee to help warm me up for starters and a slice of pie to sweeten to deal?”

“I’m no angel.  Your name is right there on your jacket, darlin’, and we’re out of coffee,” the woman said, a crocodile smile lingering on her lips.

Tom glanced down to see the stark white “Hello, My Name is Tom” slapped onto the lapel of his jacket.  He didn’t remember that being there, but he hadn’t checked a mirror since he woke up on the bus and stepped out into the dingy night.  Another traveler must’ve thought it clever to put one on him to help others help him in case he needed a friendly face. In the long run, it didn’t matter.  It’s always good to hear one’s name being called.

“Good observation,” he smiled back, “I’ll take a glass of sweet tea.”

“Sorry again, love.  As you can see we’re pretty busy,” his new friendly face said as she motioned about the diner, “The pie we can do but about all we have left is some tap water.”

“That’s fine,” Tom replied, disappointment turning down the corners of his eyes.

The waitress nodded and turned to check on other customers before walking back to fill his drink order.  Carly Rae Jepsen’s syrupy sythensizations of “Call Me Maybe” schmoozed their way through into Tom’s ears.  He hated to love this song with its repetition and its banality and it’s adolescent eagerness and idiocy wrapped up sugar sweet sickness, but he couldn’t help but sing along every time the course came on.

“Hey I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so call me maybe. And all the other boys try to chase me, but here’s my number, so call me maybe,” Tom hummed quietly and drummed his fingers on the counter, a boyish smile playing about his lips.  He spied the waitress pushing through the double doors carrying a small tray. Their eyes and smiles briefly met before she sat his order down.

Tom was still drumming the last cords of “Call Me Maybe” when he addressed the waitress, “Thank you, ma’am.  By the way, I didn’t get your name.”

“The name’s Purgatory,” she grinned back, “but most people just call me Tory.”

Tory set the water glass down and slid the pie across to him, “You know, you’re pretty happy for a dead guy.”

The alarm bells that had been drowned out by grating sounds of pop music as the smell of rotten fruit hit him.

“Hope you like durian pie,” Purgatory purred.  “You’ll be here for a while, and it’s about the only food we’ve left in the place.”  She winked and headed for the empty table that just opened up.

Tom tried to catch the eyes of the couple that just walked through the door, a young man in a letterman jacket and a girl who couldn’t be more than 17, but Rebecca Black’s anti-charismatic auto-tuned vocals in “Friday” drowned his plea.  Instead, a scraping sound of cutlery against ceramic filled the silence. He looked down and lifted the fork to his mouth.

Featured Image: Unsplash – “Open 24 Hours Sign” by FancyCrave (CC0 Public Domain)

Three Line Tales, Unbound

Paper Cranes

We stand hand-in-hand leaning over the railing of the little bridge that crosses the river in the park behind our house while the city behind us becomes a kaleidoscope of light in the icy water below. We’ve been here a thousand times repeating the same ritual, repeating the same wish, repeating the same crushing weight of always knowing the answer is no, but we come back anyways because hope is all we have left now. We drop the last tiny paper crane into the water, a silent plea cast out through the darkness like a message in a bottle to the world, and we watch it flutter to rest on the water’s surface and bob up and down as if replying “Your resilience and faith has been rewarded – wish granted” before its pulled under by the current.

In response to: Three Line Tales – Week Eighty-Three
Featured Image: Dev Benjamin via Unsplash 
Special thanks to Sonya at Only 100 Words for hosting these Three Line Tales every week.
Three Line Tales, Unbound

Elise Lifting the Sun

“What if hearts were made of waffles?” Elise mused, her pigtails bobbing slightly as syrup from the bottle pooled on her plate and drizzled over the side from the unsteadiness of hands not quite as big as the questions she posed.

“Well, then love would be as deliciously sweet as you are,” I replied, dipping my finger in powdered sugar and adding a slight dusting to her cherub nose.

The scent of sugar and the late Sunday morning sun formed an amnesiac aura around the kitchen of our one bedroom apartment, impregnating the space with the peace of forgetfulness; tomorrow it will rain, papers will be washed in ink, and the acrid earthy smell of a life that was promised will drown out the candied moments of family memories shared around the breakfast table, but for now, I had waffles and syrup and Elise asking big questions that have hard answers all while lifting up the sun with her little hands.

In response to: Three Line Tales – Week Fifty-Four
Featured Image: Roman Kraft via Unsplash
Special thanks to Sonya at  Only 100 Words for organizing and curating these Three Line Tales every week.
Three Line Tales, Unbound

Star Wars DaVinci

DV-2301 didn’t choose the Stormtrooper life; the Stormtrooper life chose him.

Gifted with crafting form from a brushstroke of color, his childhood was spent drawing on the various canvases of life – illuminating flickers of hope in the wake of Imperial domination which had cast its shadow over the small corner of the galaxy he called home.

Now, his canvases were orders carried out with precision and unwavering loyalty, and his palette were the whites, chromes, and blacks of his station; he was the paintbrush moved by an invisible hand who painted astoundingly beautiful atrocities in the name of peace.

In response to: Three Line Tales – Week Fifty-Three
In response to Daily Prompt: Craft
Featured Image: Daniel Cheung via Unsplash (CC0 Public Domain)
Special thanks to Sonya at Only 100 Words for organizing and curating these Three Line Tales every week.
Three Line Tales, Unbound

Family Fruit

“The best families have fruit, some sweet like berries and some sour like citrus, a few nuts for variety, the grains of flour holding us all together, a splash of rum to warm the spirit, but the best part is the proverbial cherry on top – that’s you my dear,” Granny smiled as she delicately sliced the loaf.

I smiled up at her, briefly acknowledged her musings, and turned back to the text messages on my phone, oblivious to the allusion she made; Granny always drank while she was baking, and the more she drank, the more she tended to speak in innuendos and vague metaphors and the more people tended to smile at her good natured ramblings ignoring their true meaning.

It’s been six years since Granny baked her last fruitcake and ruminated on the spirits of Christmases past; it’s been seven years since I put on the apron taking my place beside the stove, kneading breads, baking cakes, making candy, and drinking rum – the cherry hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

In response to: Three Line Tales, Week Forty-Seven
Featured Image: Jennifer Pallian via Unsplash (CC0 Public Domain)
Special thanks to  Sonya at Only 100 Words for organizing and curating these Three Line Tales every week. 
Prose, Unbound

The River is a Wily Mistress

Running cattle was a man’s work, and Oscar was just old enough to make his first drive across the ranch.  He couldn’t afford to make a mistake.  Rattlesnakes and coyotes would be the last of his problems if he couldn’t find food and water.  “You have to learn how to read the river like you would read a map.  Like a wily mistress, it holds secrets amongst its banks,” the old man told his son.

Oscar had been given the job of retrieving one of the three hundred and fifty head who wandered off.  He needed to return the heifer to the herd and himself to the team before too long.  Failure to do so would endanger more than one life.  The heifer would give birth soon.  A twelve year old boy, exhausted mother, and newly-birthed calf would make for easy pickings.

They had enough fresh water.  The Colorado ensured they wouldn’t die of dehydration under the Texas sun.  The problem was sustenance.  The horse and heifer had food enough, grazing along the banks, but Oscar’s last meal of a couple of campfire biscuits, quick scratch gravy, and slice of venison jerky was over three days ago.  The pain of hunger was starting to affect his judgement.

He couldn’t afford to stop for long to test the waters, but when the banks of the river had opened up to a wide span of calm water, he would stop briefly to cast his line.  The grasshoppers were enticing enough, but each time he pulled back his line there was an empty hook.

The group traveled on.  Oscar’s weary head dropped low in the saddle as the paint led the way, the heifer on a length of rope trailing behind.  Soon enough, the sun dipped low, streaking reds and orange sherbet along the horizon.  “Red sky by night, sailor’s delight,” Oscar mused.  The boy, his horse, and the wayward heifer bedded down for the night next to an oak along the bank.  The splashing of life just beneath the surface taunted him.

“You’ll be tempted into her wide arms, thinking you’ll find refuge there, but underneath that calm smile of hers are lies.  What you want are the murky shores, gnarled with roots.  It won’t seem right, that in this darkness you’ll find what you’re looking for, but it’s there,” the advice of his father interrupted as Oscar was about to drift off.

His eyes adjusted to the darkness around him.  He felt the roots of the oak curling around him and down into the banks of the river.  Exhaustion and hunger buzzed violently in his mind and hands as he worked to set the hooks at intervals.  The bank line was fixed to a knotted root just below the surface of the water.  “This is it.  Either she embraces me or I embrace our good Lord,” he decided as he cast his line one last time.  No sooner had he sat back against the trunk of the tree than he saw the slack in the line pull taut.  The fresh moonlight across the water betrayed that something was already on the line.

Oscar kicked back on the bank with his hat slung low over his eyes, only the hint of a smile peeked out from underneath the brim.  In a few hours, the trot would writhe with fish.  He would feast in the morning and then return the stray heifer to the herd.  A great catch for a hard day’s work.

In response to Daily Prompt: Fishing
Featured Image: Pixabay – “River” by makar92 (CC0 Public Domain)
Prose, Unbound

Foolhardy Heart

He paced across the porch, hands and fingers splayed out as if he were trying to make the ever-important point as he would in lecture. How frustrating I found myself feeling like the student instead of the work colleague that I was. Abashed and staring down at my drink, I held my breath for what was coming next.

“Don’t you feel it too? I know you do,” he lowered his voice as his pacing came up short and stopped merely inches from me. His body radiated heat that stretched out, curled around me, and closed the remaining distance between our bodies.

My breath stuck in my lungs, and a million thoughts swirled in my mind. Is this really happening? Am I dreaming? Did he really just say what I think he did? Does he know how I feel? How did he know how I felt? I’d been diligent. Friendly when I thought I could handle being close; quiet and withdrawn when I knew the distance could never be spanned.

“I do feel it,” I whispered, my eyes still cast on the ground. A huge weight had been lifted, but something more unsettling had filled its place. My breathing quickened its tempo as I waited for Jeremy’s reply.

He paced away again, his hands exasperatedly splayed out once more. I finally released the breath that had been tearing its way through my chest.

“You know… Amy… I’d have no problem having an affair with you,” he spoke with just a hint of amusement but with all the seriousness of a man who was determined to get what he wanted.

My breath caught once again leaving me breathless as if I had swallowed his words and they’d caught somewhere in my windpipe. Words are not tangible. They have no formal shape. They cast no shadow and bring no light. Hell, I work with words. I shouldn’t fall prey to them.

Panic shone bright in my eyes. I slowly prepared my rebuttal, but for my entire proclivity with words, they had failed me when I needed them most.

“It’s just every time I see you… I want to kiss you,” he said and crossed the distance of the porch in two strides. His hands enclosed my face and wrenched it upwards to meet his. Before any half-hearted protest could escape my lips, his mouth had enclosed over mine with a mingling of desire, desperation, and defiance.

Only the stirring of dust deep inside me registered any change. Was it fear that kept me from responding to the kiss? Surprise that I had the power to elicit this kind of response from a man? The emptiness I’d felt at being alone for the past three years? The understanding that the kiss was a forbidden folly was not lost on me. It’s not the knowledge that I felt nothing that keeps the memory of this moment fresh in my mind, tormenting me. It’s the unspoken acknowledgement that things had irrevocably changed.

In response to Daily Prompt: Folly
Featured Image: Pixabay – “Dried Leaves” by Unsplash (CC0 Public Domain)