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.

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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.

Reflecting Flame

Some folk turn savage. The world steps on them enough and their eyes get weird, dull or too bright. Others though, they come out crying and bloody that way. Whatever the thing was that kept most souls from swearing, stealing, and killing whenever the mood struck,  these people were not blessed or cursed with it. Everyone knew early, she was one of those that was missing it.

Not even four years alive, finally sure-footed on dirt scuffed legs, she pushed over a barrel of fish and stomped until guts squelched between her toes.  She wailed when they grabbed her away from the stinking carnage. Her village went hungry that night.

In her seventh year, she destroyed a fishing boat as it bobbed on the dock. After tossing a pilfered gas can and a smidge of burning peat into an unattended vessel, fire filled the hull and the little boat bobbed helplessly in the river. When they caught her in silhouette before the flames, she could not wrench her eyes away from the slowly drowning fire.

A decade on the earth, she was set to tasks of cleaning the catch and repairing nets with the other children. She was lazier than some, less than others, but the fishers never scolded her when she snuck away to stomp ant hills or throw rocks at trees. Better the ants and the squirrels than their nets, fish, or own little ones.

Fourteen brought curves to her hips and lit sparks in her eyes. The men of the village took note, and the boys stopped thinking in straight lines around her.  Eventually, one of them tried to force a particular crooked thought. They found him with caved in skull and her with bloody boots. She laughed at their open mouths and offered them the lit twist of herb she’d taken from his pocket.

Those with tastes for flame, bloody boots, and whatever they felt like taking in the moment are welcome in few places. Somewhere around her sixteenth year when the hooch went missing and the village elder’s eye was purple from her fist, everyone with a say convened to discuss what was to be done. They could run her out and risk a flame-filled return. They could apologize to her mum and poison her fish. They could hand her a spear and point upriver at the holder they suspected of cutting their nets. Savagery had its place and its uses.

Little was decided and few left the discussion pleased. The elders needn’t have worried. They wouldn’t have to contend with her budding brutality long.

Had the fishers been out on the river, the sound would have scattered the fish. As it was, everyone woke from their mats as the roar of machines and gleeful bedlam filled the village.

The bandits’ bikes belched exhaust and rolls of smokey fire stretching from the shack roofs into the sky. With little to loot besides reeking fish, the bandits sated themselves with destruction and the few people they could grab. The unlucky were slung over the backs of their bikes.

She was one of them, carried off into the night in a chorus of obscene cheers and guttural engine roaring. As quickly as they’d descended, they left to the next hapless place that had things to take and people to brutalize. Back at the riverside, the survivors picked themselves up and began the slow process of burying the dead and naming the gone. Her mother whispered her name into the wet river sand.

Only later, once the fish returned and the boats bobbed in the water again, people began to talk. Speaking behind their hands, they whispered that she’d not been taken. Instead, she had climbed willingly on to one of the terrible machines with the light of the burning village in her eyes.  Most did not believe it, but everyone remembered the way her eyes reflected flame so well.

It was my turn to pick the music for this week’s challenge, and I chose Franz Ferdinand’s The Fallen. Check out what Raw Rambles wrote with this song in mind. I started with the song and ended up far away. 

Flash Fiction: She Soared

She soared, barging out the front door and taking the building’s stoop with a single leap. Her yellow high-tops hit the sidewalk so hard the ache echoed up into her ankles. Above her, two stories up, a bare-chested man leaned out the window to holler down, “Baby, don’t be like that.”

She raised her chin to the sky and the rumpled man ruining her view of the blue expanse and the downtown towers. The people sharing her sidewalk turned their attention towards the brewing storm on the pavement. She basked in it, knowing he’d bake. Words coiled on her tongue.

She bit them back. She’d save her sinning for someone who’d appreciate it, use it to warm a bed they wouldn’t bring another into. Silently, she snapped her heels behind her and started walking, the bounce of her steps sending her sundress swishing around her hips. The afternoon wind lifted her hair, sunning the back of her neck.

She swished away and he called after her, “Baby– .” The bystanders waited a moment longer to see if they’d get their show. They never did. The block ended, she turned, and they never saw her again.

Music Challenge time again, Raw Rambles asked me to write something to or inspired by Lake Street Drive’s Saving All My Sinning. This is what I wrote, see her’s here. 

Flash Fiction: We Move Lightly

We are of a different kind. Unlike others that spread over the ice, and mud, and into their sprawling clay hovels and towers of metal and glass, whose births and deaths come and go in mere cycles of the sun, a simple exhale of our breath may summon hurricanes. Our steps sink deep into the shifting snow and hit the ground beneath. They exist blinded and swathed by snow, never knowing or touching the earth below it.

Do not hold yourself above them, we matter no more than these quick-lived beings. The value of a life is not measured in its length. Instead, watch where your steps will land and understand the weight with which they do.

They are lucky, and may throw themselves into passions and down many paths, dipping about like swallows on summer winds.  We must be cranes, still and deliberate lest our steps upset the waters.

So, my daughters, as you leave the cradle of our realm to walk amidst them, be kind if you can, and harsh if you must, but move lightly.

For this weeks Music Challenge, I asked Raw Rambles to write something to or inspired by City of the Sun’s Everything. Without lyrics to rely on, this was more troublesome than I thought it would be. 

Oversized Sweatshirts

Rich didn’t exist where she was from. You were either trash, wearing never washed hand-downs, or lucky enough to have someone buy you new scratchy clothes from the dollar store.  She didn’t lay eyes on a department store until she was eight, a year after the system combed through her trailer park, plucking up kids and sending them all over the state.

Designer anything only lived in the torn pages of magazines set in the corner of social workers’ offices, worn and peddled by the sleek women who pouted out from the glossy ads. It was a talent, she thought, to look so unhappy draped in breezy cloth that cost more than six months trailer rent.

Her clothes came and went, changing as she passed from home to home. At ten she wore never touched t-shirts from some forgotten choir, boxy, stiff, and donated by a church. At eleven, she developed a fondness for lace amidst thrift store racks and learned to ignore the smell of the elderly that clung to heavy thread. Twelve was spent in the ill-fitting jeans and oversized sweatshirts the group home managed to guilt out of the community.

With big eyes, dark hair, and spindly limbs from formative malnutrition, she looked like a doll. And in each foster family or group home, she was dressed like one, in the bits and pieces no one wanted for themselves.

It wasn’t until she was thirteen, that a new foster family handed her sixty dollars and dropped her off at the mall. She returned with a jean skirt, black boots that made her feet look bigger than they were, and a soft lavender sweater with a hood that wouldn’t fit over her hair. She laid them out over the bedspread that wasn’t hers either and reminded herself not to become attached.

As part of our ongoing Music Challenge series, Raw Ramble‘s challenged me to write something to or inspired by Hollis Brown’s cover of Oh Sweet Nuthin’.