Pine Needles and Grocery Bags

“Dad?” Nora shoved the kitchen door with her hip, peering into the room in search of help. It was empty and clean. Nora sighed and shuffled in, her arms hugging brown grocery bags. She leaned them down on the counter island and lept after an escaped onion.

Produce secured, Nora looked around and frowned at the empty sink. So no one had made anything. She left the groceries sitting with quick steps and followed the sounds of deep vocals and piano. The music swelled from the living room. Nora stepped in without announcing herself. Their tree was set up in the corner, electrically aglow.  Pine needles sprinkled the carpet.

Her father was alone in the armchair, their tree skirt crumpled at his feet. The Christmas box was open and Nora could see old cards. scattered within. The woman singing over the stereo mourned in a deep trill. “Hey dad, you found the skirt. Good.” Nora turned the corners of her mouth up.

“In the box with the rest of this stuff.” Her father waived the photo in his hand at her. An old Christmas card, one he’d insisted on despite his wife and teenage son’s rolled eyes. Nora had been ten. Too young for the indignity to smart. “She hated letting anyone else take the picture. Hated posed pictures,” He said, voice rough.

“Yup.” Nora supplied before he could continue and bent to pick up the tree skirt. “Glad we insisted though, so we have it. You hungry?”

“What time is it?” He was looking at the picture again, holding the edges carefully so his fingers did not touch anyones’ face.

“Seven. Dinner time.” Nora turned and switched off the dirge. Only the low thrum of electric lights took its space and Nora winced at the silence.

“–She liked that song.” Her father barely flicked his eyes up, still locked to the photo.

“That doesn’t sound like her.” Nora swallowed around the stutter in her throat. She set a hand on her father’s shoulder and squeezed. “It sounds like you. It sounds like Liam. But mom didn’t like sentimentality. Come on, I’m cooking.”

He didn’t respond and she almost plucked the photo away. Nora would have liked to rip it up, she savored what it would feel like to have the glossy print tear between her fingers. Instead, she kept her itching fingers at her sides until he looked at her. She smiled, forcing every ounce of warmth she had left through her teeth. “Come on. Don’t make me cook alone.”

Her father didn’t move at first, and the pressure grew in the back of Nora’s throat. He straightened his arms and pulled himself up.  Once standing, he kissed her on top of the head. “Shouldn’t you be worrying about school? Instead of me.”

“Its winter break dad,” Nora said. She led the way back to the kitchen and did not see her father’s face fall.  The grocery bags still sagged from their own weight on the counter. Nora started to unpack.

He cleared his throat. “Any word from Liam?”

When she shook her head, he only nodded.

Raw Rambles apparently likes depressing Christmas music, and she challenged me to write to it. Above is my piece, here is hers. 

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Summer Shade

The placid water of the bay looked like pitch beneath the railing of her ship.

Mar could not love her home as she’d been raised to. So, she’d left to seek dark sands. The trip took months between the burning of bridges and the intricate preparations for her arrival here. Now, as the rest of the crew shivered when the desert coast’s wind bloomed in their sails, Mar kept warm by the crude fury in her chest and the ring turned over and over between her fingers.

Mar remembered taking her hand and how the silver had looked curved against her dark summery skin. The ring had faded, but the skin had flushed. All Mar remembered then was the kiss, always a bit sharp, but she had truly never minded that.  They’d talked then, and before, of the places they’d come from. Of endless dunes and bright night-markets, of pink dawns and white clouds.

After they spoke of what they would do. How they’d survive and in turn, help others do the same. How eventually, they would thrive. Mar had been optimistic, her less so, but they’d always suited each other that way.

Mar swallowed and stared over the water. She did not banish the memories, though a part of her begged to. From the deck of the ship, she watched the dunes turn silver in the moonlight for the first time. It looked exactly as it’d been described all those idealistic years ago, so beautiful it made her heart ache.

This week’s piece was written to Frank Ocean’s Pink+White. I challenged Raw Rambles to do the same. Check out her fiction blog here. 

Family Reunion

“Sit. Wait here, yes?”

Her nephew obeyed, lowering himself to the waiting room’s bench. Ira looked back from where she stood at the door to the main office. The tall teenager attempted his usual dopey smile but quickly went back to staring at the floor, hollow-eyed.

When she entered the cluttered office, the man behind the desk stood up. The clean cut of his brown hair was in need of a wash and his tired smile was genuine.  “Ira. Good to see you. It’s been years.”

“It is hard to make family picnics when living a continent away. Good to see you, Conner.” She made sure to enunciate each word, knowing her accent was thick.

He did not comment that others who lived equally far away often made the trip, for which she was grateful. Instead, Conner addressed the business at hand, for which she was also grateful. He sat and gestured to the chair in front of the desk. “Zach?”

“In your waiting room. He has … a temper. I do not want to agitate him.” Ira sat, crossing one leg over the other. Now close enough to see the mess atop the desk, a small crease formed above Ira’s brow. She had not pictured his space being so unorganized. Conner was, like her, a professional. “But you have a similar experience.”

Conner frowned and Ira explained, “there have been lasting effects. It was a game to her, one he has not recovered from. Beheaded and burned, he still mutters about her in his sleep. We are all worried.” Ira paused. “Bran and I, Adam is angry.”

“Why would Adam be angry? Zach is young, it was a mistake,” Conner said.

“The beast convinced Zach her intentions were good and that his family could be reasoned with. Zach led them to us. ” Isra flicked her gaze to the door and then back at Conner. “But that is in the past. I killed her myself, but her touch remains. This is why we are here. A place far away from the memories of it.”

“And far away from Adam.” Conner added.

Ira nodded, it was not untrue. “And to be around people who have experienced similar things.”

The break in their conversation allowed them to hear the slam of a door, specifically the one that led into the stairwell from the waiting room. They had not spoken quietly enough. “Zach” Conner said to draw her attention to it, but Ira was already rising from her chair.

Raw Rambles chose the song for this week’s Music Challenge. Both of us were charged with writing something to, or inspired by, Genesis’ Invisible Touch.

A Noose, A Knife

They dragged him, a man on each arm, through the morning’s grey fog. His boots kicked up peat, driving deep furrows into the marshy soil. Brown eyes rolled in his head, darting frantically above the old rag silencing his tongue.

His captors, strong-armed men from the quarry, kept their gaze on the path ahead. The moorlands were treacherous past harvest, when the rains grew heavy and incessant. Their task was grim. They pulled the condemned up the last rise. At its top, the affected and responsible waited with a ready noose.

The widow’s face was set like the craggy stone of the moors. Her surviving son hid stern and pale behind her shoulder. He looked away from the struggling man, but his mother did not. Next to the widow, the vicar sniffed from the cold and hunched his torso over a leather bound bible. The Lord of the lands they gathered upon, wrapped warmly in a fine winter coat, held the rope.

The condemned man did not pause his struggle, even as the Lord set the rope over his head. It burned red into his neck, bright in the rain’s dim downpour. The man kicked at them and swore beneath his gag, but the quarry workers hauled him up without difficulty and the widow, vicar, and Lord watched his boots kick in the empty air. Only the boy looked away.

When the body stilled one no one moved to cut the remains down. Dark times called for dark warnings. They left him swinging beneath the tree branch.

No one bothered to turn a parting glance they shuffled down the rise. The rain fell harder now, and even if one of the condemning parties had looked back, the storm obscured any view of the gallows and its makeshift justice.

Had someone turned, they might have caught a flash of a knife’s blade in the gloom. Or perhaps, if they had strained, the snap of a cut rope or the thump of a body’s fall would have reached their ears. But the workers, the widow, the vicar, and the Lord were intent on escaping the growing storm.

Tis the season, so I chose CocoRosie’s Gallows for this weeks Music Challenge. Raw Rambles and I had to write something to or inspired by the below song. See her’s here.

Country Sensibilities

The venue used to be a family-style steakhouse set just off the highway overpass. Hidden behind a smattering of the region’s characteristic oak trees, it had been the perfect place for weary nuclear families to temporarily escape the close quarters of the car.

Now remodeled, it’s pleather booths ripped out and kitsch decor removed, the place offered traveling indie bands a venue with which to reach new audiences and gain rural integrity outside the over-saturated city music scene. More importantly, it promised a stage unadorned by regional, yet controversial, flags. This commodity was not found elsewhere within a hundred miles.

For their part, the locals did their best to support the highway-side venue in the hopes it would bring money into their dwindling downtown district. Mostly though, the venue survived on the local college and high school students hungry for anything that vaguely tasted of the distant cities they all aspired to in some facet. The lax carding by bartenders helped considerably. Young, disposable, and underage money was still money.

Cole passed over a damp bill in exchange for two soapy beers. He was tall enough that the bartender never gave him a hard time, but he still couldn’t quite meet the staffs’ eyes. Cole avoided them and pushed himself into the press of bodies on the main floor.

Cole didn’t care for the band, but his girlfriend liked it and his life was easier when she was happy. And Stephanie was happy, pressed up as close to the stage as the venue would allow and gazing up at the bespectacled scruffy lead singer.  Cole found the caterwauling reedy and whiny, but knew better than to say so.  He passed Stephanie her beer and quickly ceded ground.

Having retreated away from the stage, his back pressed against the venue’s back wall, Cole found the experience much less audible and far more bearable. Though he did have an excellent view of Stephanie’s adoring gaze up at the stage.

“She is a bad influence.” The voice came from his side. Cole looked down to see his younger sister, Lane, standing next to him. Her black curly hair fell loose over her shoulders and compared to the rest of the audience’s bared skin, was overdressed in a jean skirt and knit shirt.  She held a drink in front of her with two hands.

“You’re one to talk.” He grabbed her drink before she could do anything but gasp with indignation. Cole took a sip. It was coke, but without the sickly aftertaste of liquor. He handed it back to her. “Good.” He said.

“And you’re a hypocrite.” She said. Her huff was annoyed but lacked any real outrage. After Lane got her drink back she turned her disdain to the enthralled audience. “But at least we’re not easily impressed. Do you think all bands from the city try this hard?”

Cole heard Lane’s dig but didn’t answer. At the front of the crowd, Stephanie leaned past the stage and threw something to the singer. Cole’s stomach turned and he decided it was better he didn’t know what exactly of Stephanie’s the singer had just pocketed.

“Cole? Don’t tell me you’re actually impressed by tight jeans and the excessive use of flannel?” Lane’s question distracted him from the odd feeling in his stomach.

He snorted. “Can you even see the stage?” With her clunky boots, Lane just managed to top five feet. He doubted she could see anything over the churning crowd.

Her lips twitched. “I’m not wrong though, right?”

Cole finally laughed, “No. You’re right. They’re terrible.”

“They really are.” Lane stifled another laugh by taking a sip of her coke. Cole took a larger gulp of his beer and felt better.

I have no idea what I just wrote to. This week’s music challenge was brought to you by Raw Rambles, she charged me with writing something to or inspired by The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth by CYHSY.  Check out here piece here.

An Eternity Of One’s Own

They promised her a beautiful eternity if she could smooth the edges from her tongue and cool the molten roll of her hips. As the air-conditioned pews and jewel-toned glass eased others to their knees, she wobbled on newly tanned legs. With less than two decades to her name, a life felt like an eternity itself to spend with careful steps and swallowed words. She went elsewhere.

The next to tempt her with forever whispered from the pages of the greats. Laid out on the green between looming university edifices, her thumb traced the immortalized thoughts of the dead. Unlike the humble eternity of her adolescence, the dry pages promised prestige, her name gracing their covers and the most brilliant tongues for years to come. But in so doing, she’d consign herself to shelves.  Locked away until contemporaries leeched her eternity for their own. She was not interested in an everlasting prison of footnotes.

She rejected the eternities in hallowed service or ivory towers and followed a path carved by the slights of early adulthood and hollow-eyed men. They pressed bottles sloshing gasoline into her fingers and set fires in her chest that she turned towards the thick-necked businessmen who stole her rent to build bombs. Her eternity would be a legacy, a deserved scar on the cheek of the oppressor. But the fight is long and history is often forgetful. Any eternity gained, would be enjoyed, yet again, only by others. She slunk quietly away from their rallies and basement plots.

With little direction, except the pursuit of a proper eternity, she wandered down stained sidewalks and deep into the neon belly that exists in all great concentrations of people. There she found others searching for their own everlasting nights. The music beat timelessly on, one song always evolving into another. Arched feet, arched back, she never had to leave the floor as the pills and powders locked her exhaustion and worry deeper than she could reach. She finally found eternity, nestled within an oblivion that was entirely her own.

I charged Raw Rambles to write something to or inspired by Grimes’ Belly of the Beat, for our Music Challenge series. Check out her piece here.

Outside the City

Afternoon thunderstorms brought clear evenings. The summer air cooled and became hospitable if you were willing to risk the mosquitoes. Unlike the rest of the household, Lane wasn’t, and waited for night to fall completely before opening her window and creeping out onto the roof.

The ranch house was two stories with the bedrooms all set in the upstairs. Her’s overlooked the dirt road leading up to the front of the house. Lane considered the overhanging roof her personal porch, accessible only by twisting out the window and onto the angled shingles.

She glanced at her phone and leaned forward down the roof to check the drive. The truck was still missing and Cole had vanished into a friend’s mini-van an hour past curfew.  He was lucky his parents were already out,  Lane had heard the teenage hooting from outside all the way up in her room.

Confident she was alone to spend her Friday night as she pleased, Lane settled on her back and cradled her head against a skinny arm to watch the stars. It was the only good thing about her new foster placement. This far out of the city, she could see every speck of light in the midnight sky.

Lane didn’t know the constellations, so she just traced them with her eyes, and debated learning them. It probably wasn’t worth it. Her next placement might be back in the city.

Uncounted minutes or hours later, Lane jumped a little at the crunch of gravel and dirt under robust tires. She didn’t straighten or scamper back inside. Without streetlamps, she would only be spotted against the yellow backdrop of her window. Instead, Lane stayed down. If she turned her head she could see her foster parent’s truck down the slope of the roof.

Below Lane, Hannah stopped the engine and stepped out the driver’s side. The older woman was sure-footed on wedge heels and held her sweater balled in a hand.  Wyatt came around the front, trailing his fingers over the truck’s hood. He wrapped an arm around his wife’s waist and leaned in. Hannah’s giggle was cut off by the kiss.

The two stayed that way, swaying back and forth until one broke and leaned back an inch.  Lane could hear the sleepy smile in Wyatt’s voice, “You look wonderful tonight.”

Hannah answered him with another long kiss before the two strolled, leaning on each other, up the porch steps.

Lane waited until she heard the front door click to breathe out a tight sigh. She’d known there was something weird about this family. Couples only acted like when they had an audience.

Whatever she’d just encountered,  it was outside her experience. Shaken, and slightly ashamed she’d witnessed what was meant to be private, Lane took one more look at the stars and went to fold herself back through the window.

For this week’s music challenge  Raw Rambles set me to writing something to, or inspired by, Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight. Above is the result.  See what she did here.