Things We Left

WU Blog Prompt

Before I begin the story I’d like to give a great big Shout Out to Writers Unite!, a Facebook group I am a member of that challenges its members each month with a new photo writing prompt (see above) and check out their website here: Writers Unite  !! 

I’ll also add that I put this together very last minute and haven’t had a chance to edit it to my liking, so it’s pretty rough.

                                                         Things We Left  

The toe boxes of Ellony Pickett’s scuffed Mary Janes kicked against one of the table’s wooden legs.

“Stop it!” Doris turned from the pile of dishes in the kitchen sink.

A reporter on TV shouted over the hurricane. “…evacuate last week. Residents of Eastern Florida—” A sudden woosh of static drowned out the station.
When the channel cleared, Ellony kicked her feet harder to keep up with the bouts of wind. Her eyes widened when she noticed the trunk of a palm bending. Another woosh interrupted the report.

Tap. Tap.

“Child, I said to stop.”

For the first time in hours, Ellony’s green eyes diverted to the woman with an unlit cigarette hanging between her thin lips struggling to talk. “Stop what?” the little girl asked.

Doris flicked the spark wheel on her cheap BIC. “You know,” she mumbled.

“I don’t,” Ellony whined.

Swish. “…And reports are just in that the wind…” Swish. Swish. “…The count is down—” Swish. “And we’re expecting that…” Swish.

“Dammit, Charlie!” Doris called down the empty hallway. “Charlie!”

Ellony turned back to the tv and rested her chin on her knuckles before batting her eyes and holding them for a few seconds. She swung her legs, and her toes resumed the tap, tap, tap of kicking into the table’s leg.

“I asked you to stop!” Doris turned and creased her forehead.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

“Charlie, if you don’t get your ass in here—”

Tap.

“I’m comin’, woman.” The overweight man shuffled down the hall and pulled his jeans over the roll on his stomach. “What the hell you want?”

Ellony grimaced at the curly chest hair that lay in thick patches over his a-line undershirt.

“Get outside and fix the antenna.” Doris nodded to Ellony. “Little shit’s driving me crazy enough kicking those shoes into the cabinet. Now I gotta deal with static. Program’s about to come on and I ain’t going to miss it today. Get out there and fix the thing.”

Charlie turned the corner of his mouth up and shook his head as he shifted his tone to mimic Doris’. “Get out there and fix the thing.” He threw his shoulders back. “Woman, all I do ’round here is fix shit. Day’s Saturday. I ain’t doin’ shit.”

Doris threw her hands on her hips. “To hell you ain’t! Get out there and fix the damn antenna.”

Tap. Tap. Tap.

“And, woah. Did you get that?” The reporter motioned to a stuffed animal that whizzed by his head and disappeared among the rain and debris. “Did you see that?”

Woosh.

“I said fix the damn thing!” Doris took another drag and sat the remainder of the cigarette in a saucer.

The sound of her mom slamming the cabinet door shut was little Ellony’s cue to exit. After the last confrontation, when the girl had stepped in front of Charlie who was stumbling toward her mother, hand balled into a fist, vying to strike Doris a third time and inflicting the punch on Ellony instead, she’d learned to stay away.

In the safety of her bedroom, she wrapped her seven-year-old arms around Isha and hugged the stuffed rabbit as though the ratty toy possessed the ability to protect her. Her thoughts turned back to the storm on the television; the beach looked nothing like all the beaches she’d seen in the adverts. To her little eyes, it looked like the reporter was standing in the middle of a nightmare. She hugged Isha tighter. It’s a shame some kid lost their stuffy.

Swish, Swish, Ellony used the remainder of baby fat that hadn’t yet left her cheeks to expand the air in her mouth into a sound she thought resembled the angry wind. Swish, Swish, Swish.

The storm became louder. Dishes whirled and flung against walls. Louder, a scream sounded from somewhere in the house. Darkness tip-toed into her room that, seconds ago, the sun had lit. Loose twigs tapped like bony fingers against her window.

Here’s my chance, the girl told herself before grabbing Isha and sneaking out the screen door. Once outside in the wind, she placed her fist in front of her mouth. “This is Ellony Pickett with channel nine weather. And this,” she nodded to Isha, “is my assistant. The winds are going really fast. Can you all hear that?” She turned her fist to the trees and looked to the hazy, green Midwestern sky.
***
“…reports say it was an F5 that tore through the Midwest yesterday evening—” Nevaeh turned in time to see the picture at the side of the screen showing the arm of a small child reaching for the floppy ear of a stuffed rabbit; debris and what Nevaeh thought to be wooden planks covered the rest of the child’s body.

The woman made a quick job of turning the television off. “What on earth do they show on tv anymore. I—”

“Mommy!” Terrell turned his focus from the tv to his mom’s worried expression.

“Finish your milk, baby. We gotta get going.” She rushed around, throwing a few more items into a duffel bag while she spoke. “…pick up Daddy, and then we gotta beat the traffic.” Nevaeh paused and tossed her Havana twists behind her back. “Finished, little man?”

“Yeah.” Terrell held his empty glass up and his smile grew when he did. “Mommy, what’s an eff eye?”

“An ‘eff eye’?” Nevaeh turned and the tv caught her attention. She remembered the photos of the ravaged town…and the small child.  “Okay, an F-5. It’s a tornado, a very bad storm.” She knew she didn’t have time to explain more. A horn from outside honked and a few shouts caught her attention. “Come on, baby. We have to leave…now.”

Terrell jumped from his seat and ran to Nevaeh who put a hand around his shoulder and tried to comfort her boy with a reassuring look and a quick hug. He pulled back. “Jo-Jo…”
Nevaeh’s heart fell through her stomach at the realization she’d forgotten the stuffed lamb. She knew they didn’t have time. The firefighters weren’t going to magically stop the wildfires, and traffic was getting worse. “Sweetie, we just can’t—”

“Jo-Jo smells like Pops.” He blinked those sweet brown eyes Nevaeh couldn’t tell no.

“Stay right here.” She hurried to the stairs. “Don’t move. Mommy is going to find him, I promise.”

Her feet thudded up the staircase and she rushed to Terrell’s room. Nevaeh opened the door and her eyes scanned the boxes of toys that remained in bins in his closet. She bent and surveyed under his bed. Terrell was right; Pops, Nevaeh’s dad, had given Jo-Jo to Terrell days before the older man passed away. She had to find him. That’s right, she thought, Terrell crawled in bed with us…early this morning. She flew to her room and tossed the blankets around.

From outside, desperate honks sounded. She peeked out her bedroom window to see cars lined up at the four-way stop that served as the exit to her family’s subdivision. How much time did they have? Days? Hours? Minutes?

“Shit, Jo-Jo,” she whispered.
***
Terrell’s eyes gleamed when he saw his mommy run back downstairs carrying a tote.

“Okay, Baby. I found him,” she said. “Now, we have to go. It’s going to be okay.”

Terrell wasn’t sure exactly what was happening, why they had to leave everything behind, but he was certain of three things; he had his mommy, his daddy, and somewhere in Mommy’s bag, was Jo-Jo, and Jo-Jo smelled like Pops.

The little boy smiled.

Terrell sat in silence and allowed Nevaeh to buckle him in his car seat.
***
A snapshot of Terrell and Pops fell from a burned box in the attic as hungry flames licked the siding of 105 Oceanview Drive. The photo landed next to Jo-Jo whose palm extended outward as though he lay, faithfully waiting for Terrell’s tiny hands to pull him to safety.

The lamb, who Terrell had left under the guestroom bed during a game of hide and seek stared at the bottom of the mattress with unknowing glass eyes as the frame of the house collapsed and the fire consumed his tiny plush body.

The Unlikely Trouble with Pecan Pies

Pecan Pies Blog

Recently, round one results of the NYC Midnight 2019 short story contest were released.

My piece, “The Unlikely Trouble with Pecan Pies” placed forth and I moved on to round two!!

Without further adieu:

The Unlikely Trouble with Pecan Pies  

By Erin Crocker

 

The screen door of Emma Lee’s Beauty Shop didn’t get as much as an afternoon nap the day before the Holcomb County Summer Festival. Ladies, along with their gossip, poured in and out of the small building like pink lemonade over cracking cubes of ice.

Emma Lee put her hands on her hips and took a satisfied glance at the women sitting under the blow dryers. “Ladies, I’m gonna go in the other room and refill the tea pitcher.”

“Add some more ice this time, will ya?” Bernadette Oglebee adjusted her posture and shook her head. Emma Lee nodded before exiting. She looked a few seats to her right and continued. “Josephine?” When the petite lady failed to look from her magazine, Bernadette called out a bit louder. “Josephine!

Josephine’s irritated sigh caught in her throat, but she managed to respond. “Yes?”

Bernadette furrowed her brows. “If you don’t turn that hearing aid down, you’re fixin’ to have every dog in a ten-mile radius chasing you when you leave here. You hear me?”

“Why…I don’t hear a thing. Is it acting up again?” Josephine gripped the magazine and pursed her lips to keep from snickering at Bernadette’s chagrin. “Oh, I’ll turn it down.” The lady steadied her hand and fought with the small device in her ear until she was certain it was no longer buzzing. “You happy now? Got me all distracted from my readin’.”

Ignoring the remark, Bernadette turned to Susannah. “Well, I heard that a certain someone is moving back to town…” Her eyes sparked with enough intrigue to entice all the women to lean their bodies in to hear more; even Emma Lee paused, still holding the pitcher brimming with cool sweet tea and refusing to set it down until Bernadette finished the story. “Howard George—”

Eyes widened. Hands flew to chests, and between the humid gasps, curious silence held its grip throughout the room. “I mean, I only know what I heard, but what I heard was that after spending half the summer in Paris and the rest in the Hamptons, he’d cleaned out the New Yok loft and was driving to town late tonight. And as one of the only single ladies in Holcomb, I think it best appropriate that I greet him.” Bernadette’s eyes held an ambitious tint that challenged anyone in the room to disagree.

Susannah grimaced. “He wasn’t all that attractive even back in school. Plus wasn’t he always in love with Lucille Blanchard?”

Bernadette huffed. “Attractive?” she scoffed before continuing. “Ladies, who cares about attractive. He’s wealthy. Could you imagine it? Weekend getaways, socialite dinners, shopping in Paris.” Her far-off expression indicated she was already halfway down Avenue des Champs Elysées.

“Oh, phooey! What the hell are you gonna be buyin’ up in Paris, Bernie?”

Bernadette scowled at Susannah’s remark.

“Besides, what about Lucille?”

Josephine’s ears perked at the mention of her lifelong friend. She knew she had to listen with care to what the other two ladies were about to say. “Lucille? She’s an old maid…waited for him all this time. He’s not coming for her. He wants someone with class now that he’s wealthy.” Bernadette squared her shoulders back.

Susannah sighed. “I’m only sayin’ I remember the way he talked about her. Especially her eyes. He always said he was in love with her pecan-colored eyes. I reckon the color hasn’t done got up and ran off.”

Josephine didn’t bother listening to the remainder of conversation. She waited with the impatience of a five-year-old standing in a supermarket checkout line for Emma Lee to finish unrolling her hair and brushing it out so she could drive over and tell Lucille the news.

***

Lucille Blanchard had just finished setting out a separate bowl of food for the final cat when the pressing need for an afternoon nap came to call. She eyed the recliner sitting in the corner and kicked the thermostat down to sixty-eight degrees before shuffling to her favorite napping spot. The wooden handle caused a struggle but finally relented, agreeing to support and elevate her exhausted feet. After positioning her body to one side and nearly smashing Curly, a calico kitten, she closed her eyes but noticed her left hip falling asleep. She shifted her weight until it spread evenly throughout both legs. A long sigh followed the readjustment of her cheek against the back of her hand, but before she could settle, her knuckles pushed against the side of her ear. She moved her hands and shifted her head. In a single deep breath, she relaxed, and Curly’s purrs soothed her into a near sleep—until the sharp ring of the doorbell jarred her awake.

“Well, hell,” she muttered in an exasperated breath.

The doorbell chimed once more. She rolled to her back and kicked hard at the footrest to push it down. “Imma comin’. Give an old lady a chance to get to the door, why don’t you?” She maneuvered around the coffee table and into the foyer.

Once at the door, she could hardly swing it open before Josephine pushed through and didn’t slow her pace until she reached the kitchen. She rushed to the cabinets and Lucille stood, hands on hips, and watched her friend sort through pots and pans. “Where’s your pie plates?”

“What on God’s green earth…” Lucille studied her friend. “I see you were at the salon. Did Emma Lee over sweeten the tea again?”

Josephine stood. “No Emma Lee did not over-sweeten the tea again.” She bobbed her head to mock the question. “But I overheard that you-know-who is coming back to town.”

Lucille studied her friend and waited. After some time, she spoke up. “Who?”

“You know who.”

“No. I don’t know who.” Lucille’s voice grew impatient.

“Oh, fine—” Josephine looked up from the cabinet. “—Howard George.”

Lucille’s face evolved from shock to surprise until finally she wrinkled her nose in disgust. “And what do I want with Howard George? I’m sure he ain’t changed one bit. I still remember going to the spring formal with Calvin Umberman because Howie waited until ten minutes before the dance to ask me. You hear me? Ten minutes before.

“Maybe he’s changed.”

“Changed? Man’s gonna dawdle around until they got him twenty feet underground and then he might consider changing. I spent too many years waiting for him and for what? Nothing. I have my cats…and you. I’m doing okay.”

Josephine stopped digging through drawers and cupboards and turned around. “I’m not hearin’ it. I know you’re more stubborn than a cow being loaded into a trailer, but you’re gonna listen. You’re still in love with him, and from what I hear, he’s still in love with you and your pecan pies.”

Lucille gasped and leaned in to scrutinize her friend. “Pecan pies? Why I’d never made a pecan pie. Don’t tell the girls, but I always bought ‘em right up there at the store and pulled the stickers off before church picnics.” She thought for a moment. “And those pies were never pecan.”

“Well, Howard begs to differ. He’s probably sittin’ back in a rocker somewhere just salivatin’ for one of your pecan pies.” She nodded to the gamut of cooking utensils and bowls spread across the countertop. “So, get to it.”

Lucille’s posture caved. “Well…I can’t remember exactly, but didn’t I make a pie for a high school social? Maybe that was pecan.”

“Now, I don’t remember, but I’d bet that’s exactly where he first tasted your pecan pie.”

“I’ll make this pie, but I’m not gonna do it for him. I suppose I can offer it to the fair’s bake sale. That’ll show him just what he missed out on all these years, I reckon.”

Josephine smiled and nodded. “Alright. I’m off, have some pants to hem before the festival. I’ll be back first thing tomorrow morning to pick you up.”

Lucille didn’t respond. She found herself lost in her thoughts. “I oughta put cat food in the pie and walk it straight over to that man,” she muttered to herself. “Bake? I didn’t ever bake that I can recall.” She sighed and retrieved an old recipe book her momma had handed down to her. “How difficult can it be?”

***

 

Lucille sat at the kitchen table and stroked Armond, a grey Siamese, from head to tail while she guzzled her second cup of coffee for the morning. She jumped when the front door breezed open but relaxed when Josephine appeared around the corner.

Josephine’s eyes widened in confusion. “What in the hell?” She rushed into the kitchen and surveyed the sink that spilled over with pans and silverware, measuring cups lining the remainder of the counters, coupled with pans full of what she guessed to be pies. Some displayed charcoaled tops while others seemed gooey and undercooked. Her gaze darted to the cluttered table. She motioned to the fridge.

Lucille nodded. “It’s filled up too.” She shrugged. “Figured you’d help me pick the best one.”

Josephine huffed. “Well, you can’t use any of the ones sittin’ out. They went bad long ago, Lucy. Maybe one of these here in the fridge.” She opened the refrigerator and assessed the desserts. “Maybe…this one. At least the top ain’t as burned. Now, come on. It’s nine-thirty and I’m not gonna be known around town as being late.”

“Let me head upstairs and grab my purse.”

As Lucille disappeared up the stairs, Josephine moved into the living room carrying the chosen pie. She shifted her weight and watched the secondhand tick around the clock twice before calling up. “Hurry up, now. I swear you’re slower than a Sunday afternoon.”

“I’m doing my level best,” came the irritated reply followed by Lucille sauntering down the stairs. “Were it up to you, I’d just slide down the stairs.”

Josephine shrugged. “If you think it’d get us there any faster…”

 

***

The glistening black stretch limo only added to the county’s excitement about the summer festival. Citizens stopped and took a few moments to stare. In particular Bernadette whose heels sunk into the damp ground as she hastened to the limousine. She stopped short as Howard exited from the driver’s seat. “Bernie?” His grin widened. “Bernie from school?”

“Guilty.” She giggled. “And I see you haven’t changed a bit.”

“Nope.”

“Well, that’s great. Seems money can cause folks to change. I mean, it would never change me.” Bernadette ran a finger down Howard’s shoulder, and he swallowed hard.

Before he could say more, two women approached them. He immediately recognized one as Lucille and his heart jumped. As they neared, his eyes darted to the pie the other lady carried before returning to Lucille. He cleared his throat. “Lucy…I-It’s been so long—”

“Here.” Josephine outstretched her hands before Bernadette could interject. “She made your favorite—a pecan pie!”

Howard grasped his throat. “Pecan pie? I’m allergic to nuts.”

Horror replaced the excitement that danced across Lucille’s face. She took the pie from his hands. “I-I am so sorry.”

“You must’ve forgot.”

Lucille, followed by Josephine, turned and left. Bernadette stifled a laugh. “Those two. So dramatic,” she joked as the passenger side of the limo opened and a tall, young gentleman with dashing black hair and sun-kissed skin exited and approached.

Howard wasted no time introducing him to Bernadette. “Bernie, this is my boss, former boss, Huntley Davenport.”

Bernadette’s eyes widened. “So…So you mean to say that, that you, that none of this is yours? You’re saying…” Her stutter trailed off.

“I’m his driver.”

“And friend,” Huntley added. “Say, Bernadette. How about you show me around this fair of yours?”

She straightened her posture and looked down her nose at Howard. “Why, of course.”

Huntley winked at Howard who returned the gesture with a mischievous grin. With Bernadette distracted, he found himself free to search for Lucille. Howard scoured the festival and she was nowhere to be found until Emma Lee reported she’d seen the women get in Josephine’s Buick Century and take off.

***

Once home, Lucille lost herself in the daunting task of cleaning her kitchen when the doorbell rang. “What now,” she groaned as she dried her hands. She paused before slowly opening the door. “What are you—”

“I’m sorry for the confusion, Howard said. “But most of all, I’m sorry for taking so long to finally tell you how much you mean to me.”

Her frown was a palette of hurt and anger. “You left.”

“I did.” He ran a hand through his thinning, white hair. “I procrastinated. Perhaps too long because I was insecure and afraid that I’d hurt you. After my mother passed away, then my dad—”

“A horrible man. I remember that much.”

“Yes, and I didn’t know how I could love you if I didn’t even love myself. That terrified me. When I moved away, I tried to find who I was. I searched down the neck of empty bottles, and when that failed, I buried myself in work. It’s where I met the late Mr. Davenport; Huntley was young back then. His father didn’t have time for him. Mr. Davenport hired me as a driver, but I became much more. I was able to be the dad to Huntley that I never had. In return, he taught me self-worth through example. I retired a few months ago and came back here to Holcomb; to you, if you’ll have me. After all these years I can truly say that I love you, Lucy.”

Tears glistened along Lucille’s eyes. “Howie, that is simply beautiful, and worth the wait. I do love you. I would ask you to stay, but all the pies in my kitchen…”

“How about we take a week and go to the island house.” Lucille cocked her head and Howard explained. “As a retirement present, Huntley gave me the keys to his house. It’s off the coast of Florida. He owns the entire island. How about we go?”

Lucille tried to shrug off all her excitement. “Well, I could pack a bag if you don’t mind waiting. But, my cats?”

“Seems like your friend Josephine might owe you an apology favor?” He shook his head.

“I swear that woman couldn’t hear an airhorn durin’ Sunday prayer in church. I suppose she has some apologizing to do.” She scowled and  disappeared for some time and returned with a satchel full of outfits and other necessities. He took her bag and the couple meandered down the uneven sidewalk.

“I always dreamed of riding off into the sunset with a handsome gentleman.”

“Actually, the sun sets in the west tonight. We’re traveling east.”

Satisfied laughter drifted and melted into the summer humidity, and as the car door clicked behind Lucille, she sighed. That time it wasn’t from exasperation. After all the years of waiting, she was happy, but most importantly, she was whole.

 

 

 

 

Monday: Forbidden Character Interviews w/ Bernadette Withermoore

Forbidden Ebook Cover

This evening we are fortunate to have Bernadette Withermoore with us to answer a few questions from our friends!

Fun fact about Bernadette–her original last name was Witherstock, but it sounded too much like Colstock and was changed during the final edits.

So, without further commentary, let’s welcome Bernadette.

E: Welcome, Bernadette. Last week we had a name discrepancy. Is it okay if I label you as “B”?

B: Well, I am not one for labels, as you would say. However, I suppose. Let’s just get on with it. For Pete’s sake it’s hours past my bedtime, and the snacks ran out ages ago.

E: I certainly apologize for that. I will try to make this brief for you. So, let’s begin with our first question. Samantha asks, “What’s your favorite color and why?”

B: Bright yellow, like light. I think some of us, and I am not referring to anyone specific, you know some people might think I would be talking about our “dear” Reverend Colstock. Gossip? Me? Never…But there’s something about light, a real truth to it. A bit of truth never hurt anyone. Right dear?…Of course, some people might beg to differ.

E: I’m not sure that’s an answer, but I guess…Question number two is from Donise Sheppard, who also happens to be an author. Isn’t that exciting? She wants to know if this is how you thought your life would go.

B: Excited? Me? I suppose if she writes those erotic novels, I reckon I would blush a wee bit.

E: I’m not sure that’s the genre she writes.

B: Well.

E: And the question?

B: What question?

E: Is this how you thought your life would go?

B: No, I never quite learned how to sew.

E: Oh, no…Is this how you thought your life would go? Go.

B: Where did my knife go? I suppose if I’d had one, perhaps that girl wouldn’t have been killed. But it wasn’t meant to be, perhaps. Does that clear things up?

E: Not exactly but we can move on to question three. This is from Marianne. She wants to know what is the most heinous sin you have ever committed?

B: My sister was committed. Yeah, it was in Towne Greene. Of course, I was but a wee thing, and the community there, well they accepted our lineage. Mother taught us as little things to heal with herbs and oils. Her mother taught her and so on. Our ancestors migrated to Paradise Grove. They suspected the Colstock family of being corrupt. Our family and dear friends followed this leader far away. I believe my family thought they could save the rest of the citizens.

E: Oh, that’s interesting. I’m not sure that was the tone of the question but good to know, nonetheless. We have one more question.

B: Good. Well, I mean. Let’s hear it.

E: SFP74 asks: How do you feel about the sentence of death for those with the Jezebelian Spirit?

B: “Jezebelian Spirit” hogwash. Just like that dadgum “Sickness” the Colstock family raves and rants about. A reason to judge and punish those as a deflection of their own weaknesses. What we need is for our “leader” to tell the truth. It’s why I went after that young girl. I’d do it again if I had a chance.

E: Well, that’s all of our questions for tonight. We really appreciate you staying late to answer them. It’s also time to pick a gift card winner. Did you have a favorite question?

B: I liked the one about being committed. It brought up a lot of old family memories.

E: Once again, thank you for stopping by and taking time out of your busy afterlife.

Congrats to Marianne! You are the winner of this week’s Amazon Gift Card. You will be contacted as a follow up within the next few days.

And stay tuned tomorrow for a Huge announcement and on Wednesday for next week’s character interview announcement!!

Thank You for Reading!

“Forbidden” Character Interviews Continue w/ Another Chance to Win!!

Forbidden Ebook Cover

I’m excited to announce next Monday’s character interview for “Forbidden“.

While it might seem that Bernadette Withermoore has a menial role throughout the story, the meaning behind this character is quite significant. I won’t go into interpretations in this particular post but want to make a note that she is not to be overlooked.

Therefore, Monday’s character interview will be with Bernadette. Feel free to comment with questions, because like last week, one question will win a $5 Amazon E-gift card! How exciting is that!

Stay tuned on Monday for Bernadette’s interview, and please leave a question in the comment section!

We All Fall Down

nature canopy

“Ashes, ashes! Ashes, ashes! Ashes!”

Little Serenity’s shrill voice carried, with ease, through the living room and into the narrow kitchen of the two bedroom home. Ed rubbed his wrinkled forehead and added more vodka to the mug of orange juice that sat alongside piles of neglected plates and glasses that lined the countertop.

“We all fall down!”

Ed guzzled the alcohol-infused mixture until it was empty.

Serenity entered the kitchen, arms spread wide. “No, all of us fall. I’m the queen. I command you!” She turned her large light blue eyes to Ed. “Daddy, you too. Fall down!”

“No, no. Not today,” he managed.

Serenity’s foot was this narrow, tiny thing but that day it could’ve been the foot of a velociraptor as she slammed it against the white tile floor. “Fall down!” 

Ed’s nose flared. “I’ve had about enough of you, girl.” He pointed to the fragile screen door that separated the kitchen from the neglected back yard. “Out with ya.”

Her arms folded across her stomach in a pout. “Fine. Stupid Daddy.” The words faded as she exited. “Stupid Daddy. Stupid, stupid, stupid.”

When Ed’s eyes caught sight of a fresh presentation of chocolate chip size deposits trailed across the floor, he grumbled. “Damn things, back again.” A saucer fell and broke as he reached past a pile of plates to grab the box of rat poison. He shook it just to make sure there’d be enough to kill the sickening invaders.

***

Serenity hopped around the yard and eventually settled at her mother’s garden. Flowers blooming in spring, well, they’re a sign of new life, Serenity’s mom had told her daughter the prior year while rubbing her growing belly.

Like your baby? Serenity had asked.

Our baby. 

But the small girl in her jean overalls and fairy princess shirt had never thought of the intruder as someone to be included. Worse yet, as her mom’s belly got bigger, she could no longer play games. Fall down, Serenity had demanded.

I just can’t, baby. 

Soon after that afternoon the young girl’s mom had fallen down, along with her unborn baby brother who her parents were going to name George. Serenity’s mother and George had both fallen down, for good.

Serenity skipped around the square flower box. “Water them, care for them, show them a lot of love, and in early spring they’ll grow with help from sun from above.” Her thin lips curled into a smile as she continued her song. “Sing to them, talk to them, they’re safely in their beds. Then, silently, quietly, rip off their little heads.” Her fingers ripped off the white bloom of a daisy, and a familiar buzz fulfilled her stomach.

The sun that escaped the barrier of trees and branches that lined an old path through the forest caught the girl’s attention. She dropped the dying flower and used her ripped up Sketcher to kick it into the dirt. “Time to go see Maria. She’ll play with me.”

The bumps along the unsure path reminded Serenity of the weary sidewalk outside of her aunt Gerry’s home. Serenity never knew why her mom had decided to send her away, but she was awful glad her dad picked her up just days before her mom fell for the final time.

As she continued through the opening, the trees thickened and imprisoned the sun. Serenity appreciated the darkness as much as she appreciated seeing the mix of purple and black that circled Justine Harrelson’s left eye. The stupid little thing had approached Serenity on the playground, flipping her shiny blonde hair, displaying her marshmallow white teeth, like a hungry lion, a stupid little hungry lion. Weirdo. The girl let out this merciless laugh before continuing. I heard your mom died. Your mom is dead. Your mom is dea–”

Justine didn’t have a chance to do much more after that but scream. Students from all corners of the playground ran toward the chilling cries for help just to witness Serenity’s little hand come up with a fist full of hair before charging back down to the girl’s face. The next time, her hand came up covered in blood. She’d managed to do a number on Justine before a teacher arrived to stop the scene.

Remembering that darkness excited Serenity in a way she’d only known one other time. She took careful steps along the surrounded path until she came upon warm lights that glowed and outlined a mobile home. Serenity grinned and approached the front door.

“Hold on, hold on.” Maria peered out the door. “Oh, it’s you.”

Serenity took note of the rollers.

She motioned for the little girl to come on inside. “I’m not busy, just settin’ my hair.”

Serenity crinkled her nose and ran her fingers through her own short, black hair. “Sitting on it?”

“I put it up in these rollers, here. It stays rolled up for a week. I got it off one of those mailing catalogues. Don’t know if you all see the mail truck comin’ out here.”

Serenity shook her head and took a seat on the couch and swatted away a line of cigarette smoke.

“What are you up to today?” Maria shuffled into the kitchen area and stirred a deep pot before covering it. “I’m making up some stew, here. When I finish, you can take some back for you and your pa. How’s that?”

“Thanks.” Serenity took in a nose-ful of meat and spices she hadn’t noticed when she’d first arrived. “I want to play ashes, ashes, let’s fall down.” Her little eyes flickered and lit brighter than the flame on Maria’s lighter as the woman flicked the spark wheel to light another cigarette.

“Can’t today, button.” She gestured to her head. “Gotta keep these suckers still.”

Serenity huffed. Her face reddened and burned and the fire seared her stomach all the way to the bottoms of her feet. The girl balled her hands into threatening fists as she tried to put out the flames.

“Tell you what. Why don’t you go out and look for frogs in my yard. I seen lots of those things out lately.”

***

Ed poured more orange juice in the navy mug and filled it the rest of the way with vodka. The powder trail of poison blurred and danced when he studied it. “Dumb little shits,” he grumbled. “That oughta do it.”

It had done it for Laurel and his unborn son. Done it to the point the cops had hauled his ass down to the station until he proved he hadn’t been home the night his wife had poisoned herself. When the dumb fucks released him, they’d said, Darn lucky the little girl didn’t eat them cookies.

Ed had agreed at the time. At least he had his little girl, the porcelain, innocent face with wide almond eyes. He was damn fucking lucky. After a few weeks, he noticed how loud she was. She never shut the hell up, ever. Talk, talk, talk, talk, sing, sing, sing. She was Laurel’s job.

He took another sip; he could’ve put her in that dress. That one dress, the navy one with bright yellow sunflowers and those dirty white saddle shoes. He could’ve polished them up real nice. Paired them with white frill socks from the dime store and a big poof of a hair bow. He could’ve appreciated the little girl, then. Her still, slim body resting, motionless in a shiny, wooden box, her doll-like hands sleeping against her chest. He could’ve cried, kissed her forehead, and said a prayer before sending her to a silent sleep.

The bottle of vodka was empty. Ed reached for the Jim Beam.

***

A sharp cry caught Serenity’s attention. She walked toward the noise and saw a fragile creature. “Hey there,” she cooed at the baby sparrow. “I guess you lost your mommy.”

She reached for the bird and cupped her hands to cradle it. It sat still, beak opening ever so often to elicit another squeak. She studied its wide, black eyes. A few feathers had started to grow. The thing’s desperate screech irritated Serenity when she tugged at one of the attached feathers. She pressed the top and bottom of its infantile beak together and noticed how its eyes widened with fear. Her stomach twisted and tumbled, so familiar. The thrilling satisfaction nearly doused the fire.

“Here you go.” She sat the little creature on a bed of grass and grabbed a nearby rock. “We all fall down.” Her hum was peaceful as she tossed the stone and watched it crush the infant’s fragile skull.

“Serenity?”

She hadn’t noticed Maria open the trailer door.

“Over here.” Serenity stood and moved away from the dead bird.

“Soup’s ready. Bring the bowl back.”

“I’ll return it full of cookies just like me and my momma used to make.”

Maria extended the plastic tub to Serenity, purplish-red painted lips stretched into a smile. “I’d like that very much.”

***

Ed had enjoyed Maria’s soup. It’d been a long time since a woman cooked him a meal. A long time, indeed. And then, to follow it up, Serenity had left him with a plate of cookies before rinsing the tub and returning to their neighbor with a few cookies inside.

Maybe she was doing better than he thought. His hand shook as he reached for the bottle of Wild Turkey and took a drink. “Time to bait those fuckers again,” he mumbled and grabbed the box of rat poison from the table. He shook the container. Had he used that much a couple days ago? Maybe. Hell, he couldn’t remember. Ed bit into a still-warm cookie.

***

Serenity skipped up the uneven path. Even the trees that lined the walkway seemed lighter that day. She sang her favorite song, the one her mom had taught her. This is our song. It will always be our game. Nothing will ever come between us. But something did.

Liar, Serenity thought. “We all fall down. We all fall down. We all fall down. All fall down.”

***

I don’t know how he did it, but that sick bastard did it. 

That’s what Sherriff McAllister had said when police had finally arrived on scene and found Ed’s body surrounded in an eruption of fluids that ranged from frothy vile around his mouth to moist stools near his waist and feet.

Thank God that little girl didn’t eat any. See if the neighbor lady heard or saw anything. 

Maria was nowhere to be found.

Her property sat in silent isolation for days until buzzards started to circle the roof of her trailer. Their never ending honks caught McAllister’s attention. Hours later, they hauled Maria’s body from the residence.

Mc Allister glanced at the sun that danced through the forests’ branches. He thought of the innocent tears that had plagued little Serenity’s face. She is the sunshine in all of this, he’d said. That trash of a father she had. It’s a wonder the little girl is as stable as she is.

***

The years weren’t kind to Serenity. The trail of death that seemed to stalk her reminded her of the dark, uneven path of her old home. As soon as she reached adulthood, she moved back to that home. She needed familiarity.

And it was while she was clipping a rosebush that a head of light blond hair appeared at the end of that old path. “What you doing?”

Serenity took in the little boy’s cheeks that had not yet shed their baby fat. He was in red shorts and a blue and white stripe top. A strand of hair fell down his forehead and his lips exposed his white teeth when he gave her a chubby smile. She motioned for him to come over and spent the morning explaining all of her flowers to the boy.

“Go home. I go home,” he finally said.

“Did you just move in?”

“Me, sissy, Momma, and Dada. Just move up there.” His chunky finger pointed at the trail.

“That’s so wonderful.” That feeling surfaced in Serenity’s stomach. It tossed and tumbled through her body with freedom. “Run along home, now. Tell your mommy to have coffee ready. I’ll stop by with sugar cookies.” Serenity’s excited grin made the boy chuckle. “You like sugar cookies?”

He nodded his head.

“Okay, run on home. I’ll be over soon. I promise.”

Serenity’s eyes followed the boy as he toddled up the path and disappeared in the clutches of its darkness. Her grin spread wider across her face, she sang, “We all fall down.”

 

**A Huge Shout Out to Writers Unite for sharing “We All Fall Down” in their writing group! If you haven’t checked them out on Facebook or at their website, please do so by clicking the link!!

Coffee Shop–1

CafeBlog1

Mud-water splashes against my pant legs. In no time they’ll dry, leaving spots of dirt trailing up the material. I despise going anywhere when it rains. Fog beats against storefront windows. The air is humid, melancholy whispers that reduce themselves to leaves as they tap the top of a park bench. It’s nothing special, an ordinary bench in a line of benches.

The coffee shop, with its scattered tables, struggles to mimic some endearing quaintness found in larger cities. The atmosphere falls short of the cliché setting in which a girl I used to date in high-school phones to say she’s driving through town that afternoon.

The atmosphere, where, a couple quivering cups of coffee, a bit of small talk, and a handful of tense gestures later, we find ourselves reminiscing between three-hundred-count bedsheets in a hotel a few miles down the road where I realize exactly what it is we’ve both done after thirty-minutes of irreverent silence and a couple attempts at ‘footsie’.

This is the café where baristas forget to properly mix the milk with coffee. The light swirls around dark, and there’s an ease by which my tongue separates the flavors. Nagging, really, like trying to recall where it is I’m supposed to remember her from or how she obtained my number.

From school? Decades have passed since I attended school…never went to reunions. She wants to ‘catch up’, the voicemail says. It dictates to meet her downtown at 2:00 P.M. and to not be late.

Catch up to what? I never realized we’re behind. It’s true, though…as true as the way stagnant water lurks on small town sidewalks and waits for some guy…some guy with a receding hairline and proof that sitting behind desk twelve hours a day utilizes more mental endurance than physical–then, now, here, gone; and all leads to the eventual absorption in pavement or dirt.

She’s in a blue dress, periwinkle if I’m being specific. I’m not, so I’ll go with blue. The back of her head resembles a helmet. Is that a bob? I still can’t recount who she is. I know who I am–the recluse–the stereotypical nerd whose Saturday evenings were best spent programming in VCC++ 6.0, learning the song of FORTRAN, and LINUX–were? Who am I fooling? They still are.

I turn. The bookstore’s having a sale–twenty-five percent off this weekend only. When it rains, I crave an adventure with Herman Melville, to ride along on the Pequod. Will they have a copy?

A tragic journey on the high-seas or a by-the-hour hotel encounter with a chic I don’t recall?

Chanting along with the infamous quarter-deck scene or waiting in a café incapable of mixing caffeinated beverages?

Pages of winding plot, or hours of wondering why anyone would be wearing such a hideous shade of my favorite color?

The bell clanks as I enter. The clerk glances up. “Can I help you?”

“Certainly, you don’t happen to have Melville, do you?”