Monday, March 31, 2014

Suits, Cigars and Sonnets

That stupid ashtray. I had held it together until I saw that lumpy piece of painted clay sitting on his desk. He had kept my hideous childhood art for nearly thirty years. It wasn't even dusty or filled with paper clips or some other useful item.

It sat on his desk like an object of reverence and knocked a fatal hole in the wall I had built against my grief. I dashed away the tears on my cheeks before Mom could see them. She was hardly holding it together as it was and probably for my sake.

"I, uh...I think this one could work." I pulled the photograph out from behind its cellophane cover and handed it to Mom.

"Oh, yes," Mom whispered and traced her finger along the edge of the picture. "This was taken at that benefit we attended with..ah...what were their names?"

"The Andersons," I filled in for her.

"The Andersons," she mumbled.

I flipped through more pages of the ratty photo album trying to find enough pictures to satisfy Mom so I could get out of here and curl up at home with a strong drink. His house was filled with art deco paintings and smelled faintly of tobacco. It made me wish I were anywhere else, not sitting in that exquisite chair, searching for something to say. There was nothing I could say to fill the hole in Mom's heart.

"Do you think you could look through his desk for me?" Mom's voice was small in the overstated room.

I needed this to be over. I needed my mother's joyous tone and vibrant smile back.

"What do you need, Mom?"

"A book. Well, a journal. Small with a black cover."

I pulled out drawers, ignoring the pens, clips and notepads that had been rendered useless without an owner. I didn't want to think about needing to clean out all the mundane pieces of his life that made him a functioning, normal person. The kitchen alone would be hell.

Tucked away between two file folders was the mysterious journal. Before I could even confirm if it was what she was after, Mom gasped when she caught sight of it.

Her eyes shined with unshed tears and her chin puckered while holding in a fresh wave of sorrow. I reached across the desk and placed it in her trembling hand. "He kept it. I knew he kept it."

"What is it?" I immediately wanted the words back in my mouth. That little book was only going to open wounds I was holding together with a fine thread of strength.


"Poetry?" I couldn't imagine my hard ass father reading poetry.

Mom hugged the book to her chest and the first genuine smile I had seen in days warmed her face. "I wrote them. Not for him, not at first anyway. I caught him with one of my books one night, but I never said anything. I just kept writing them. Filling the pages until they ran out. When this book disappeared, I didn't look for it. I knew where it was."

If anyone else had told me that story, I would have laughed and congratulated them on the joke. Anyone who had met my father knew him as a cigar smoking, stock market magician with a lifetime membership to the good old boys club.

But my mother. She was everything his wife shouldn't have been: free spirited, soft-hearted and so damn happy. Just the sight of her eased the etched lines in his forehead and relaxed his shoulders from their constant state of attention.

The most wonderful lesson my parents had taught me was that true love existed.

Unfortunately, I also learned that the loss of one half of that perfect pairing devastates the other.

Mom stared blankly out the window, lost in her memories. She didn't even open the book, just held it like a fragile china doll. I knew then that a piece of her died with my father three days ago.

This was one of those awful life events that altered your world forever. If I ever got married and had children, they wouldn't know my dad. They would never see my mom as I had. She wouldn't be the same without that spark in her eye that he put there.

I shook off the pity party. Mom didn't need that on her right now. She could only put one foot in front of the other and count how many minutes had passed since she last saw him.

"Mom, I need to make a few more calls and," I couldn't say it. I couldn't tell her I needed to choose  a suit to take to the funeral home for Dad. The lump in my throat kept the words trapped.

How the hell did I become the responsible adult in this equation? That was Dad's job.

"The charcoal gray."

My head snapped up at the certain tone in Mom's voice. "What?"

"His suit. The charcoal gray. With a black shirt and tie." She smiled again, but without the light in her eyes. "I always thought he looked so handsome in it." She let out a small laugh. "He wore it when he knew he had pissed me off. He knew what I thought of that suit and that I couldn't resist looking at him while he wore it."

The smile, the laughter. It wasn't the same and it might not ever be again, but it was more than I had hoped for. My own smile answered in return.

"Okay, Mom." I picked up the earlier agreed upon photo. "Charcoal gray it is."

And now onto the second showing of our double feature. Head on over to Denise's blog and check out her story from the prompt in bold.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


She was always the invisible one in the family. Nobody noticed her until the day she dropped her grandmother's serving dish full of mashed potatoes on the dining room floor.

A collective gasp filled the room following the sound of shattered porcelain. Jenna didn't even register the broken dish. She couldn't think of anything beyond the words she had just heard from her father.

"We're moving?" she whispered.

Her father redirected his attention from the mess on the floor and flinched as if surprised Jenna had spoken. His eyes softened with pity for just a moment before returning to their bored stare. "Your mother and I decided years ago we would sell the house one day. We don't need all this now that all you kids are adults."

Jenna shook her head, mouth open in shock that they seem to be overlooking one important fact. "But, I live here."

His shoulders lifted with a familiar heavy sigh he reserved only for Jenna. "We will most likely find a place with more than one bedroom."

Her brain stuttered at the phrase "most likely" and her lungs were having trouble remembering their purpose.

"There is another option, sweetheart," her mother countered near her feet where she was wiping up the remnants of the side dish. "We could help you look for a place. Would you like that?"

Her mother spoke to her in the same voice since she was five, like she was coaxing a scared animal out of a hiding place. It constantly reminded Jenna that when they did bother to see her, she was parted out from her siblings.

Jenna slid into her seat at the table and forced back tears that would only add to her embarrassment.

Her oldest sister Macy rolled her eyes at the entire scene. She had never had patience for Jenna. Things worked they way Macy demanded they work in her world and Jenna never fell into line. She shifted her infant in her arms and spooned more peas onto her toddler's plate. Not a hair out of place on any of them and she made it look easy.

Her other sister, Angela,  watched Jenna's anxiety with the same careful pity their mother constantly exuded.

"You could stay with me if you wanted," Angela offered while patting Jenna's hand.

Encouraging mummers filtered around the table. None of them could imagine that Angela's offer was nothing but generous when in fact it was the definition of everything that terrified Jenna. An apartment in the city, surrounded by countless strange faces and constant offensive noises. Jenna minded her manners and forced a tight smile and a non committal shrug hoping the suggestion would pass without further discussion.

Her wish was granted as her father redirected conversation to Macy and whatever fantastic new promotion her overachieving husband had recently obtained. Jenna faded into the background, just another piece of nondescript furniture in the room.

She filled her silent roll expertly and avoided any further attention other than the occasional glance from her mother or Angela. She knew they only meant good intentions, but she was tired of their intentions. They only further exploited the fact that she wasn't an overachieving perfectionist like Macy or an artistic prodigy like Angela.

Thankfully, she never felt compared to her brother Drake who proved from the time he could walk that he was destined to be a spectacular athlete. Maybe because Drake ignored all his sisters equally. Jenna wondered if he could even tell them apart for as much attention he spent on any of them.

Drake had stunned all of them when junior year of college he announced he dropping out and going into construction. Their lawyer father didn't see any sense to throwing away a college education on such a lowly profession. Drake had only shrugged and said he was tired of people waiting for him to fail on the field and just wanted to build things. That was when Jenna decided Drake was her favorite sibling.

Jenna excelled at being the family freak. She rarely made friends, and even then they were hardly more than acquaintances. She had difficulty keeping up conversations because her responses were never what people considered normal. She was too quiet to be quirky, too plain to be mysterious.

The rest of the meal passed uneventfully and Jenna raced up to the sanctuary of her bedroom while her parents helped Macy pack up her kids to go home.

She loathed Sunday family dinner. Her parents let her be most of the remainder of the week. Her mom stopped asking her if she was seeing anyone or going out with friends. They both knew that it was only out of courtesy she even asked to begin with.

Jenna knew it wasn't normal to live at home at the age of twenty four with no plans to venture on her own. She was comfortable in this space compared to the rest of the world that felt so abrasive. She finished high school and went to community college just so her parents couldn't complain she didn't at least try. She worked at a nearby bookstore where people only wanted to talk to her about books. She could manage that conversation, and once in a while was enthusiastic about a particular novel or subject.

Books had been her constant. They never demanded anything from her and conversations were fairly one sided. Every lunch period during her school years was spent hiding around a building and reading. The only time she conflicted with her parents was when her light was on too late at night because she was forever asking to stay up for just one more chapter.

Then one birthday they gave her a telescope.

She didn't need a lamp to scan the stars and she slept even less.

Jenna knew every inch of sky she could see from her bedroom window. Moving meant losing that piece of the sky. If it was too bright, she might never see some of her favorite stars again.

The fear that had sat in her chest through dinner slowly warmed to a burning anger. It wasn't fair that Jenna's flaws were the only ones that were looked down on. Angela was flaky and forgetful, but no one harped on her because she was artistic and it was part of who she was. Macy seemed perfect, but the pill bottles Jenna had spotted once in her purse suggested otherwise.

There was a soft knock on her bedroom door before it slowly opened. Drake leaned against the door frame, but didn't step inside her space.

"I was thinking, my place is only like five minutes from here. It's only a two bedroom I got real cheap because I'm doing a lot of the remodeling myself, but you can crash in the extra room if you want."

He glanced at her swollen bookcase overrun with a miniature library.

"I just added new built-ins to the living room and they look kinda sad and empty. Your books won't be falling all over the floor or stuffed up in your closet." He shifted his weight and knocked on the door frame. "No big deal. Whatever you want to do. I'm not going anywhere anytime soon."

He flashed his Drake smile at her that always got him out of detention and made girls giggle. "Oh, and the last owners must have had kids or something. They have this massive tree house out back that I bet your telescope would fit in. Later, Jenna."

He didn't wait around to pressure her for any kind of answer. Just left his offer at her door for her to pick up or discard.

Tears filled her eyes and spilled before she could stop them, but she couldn't prevent the smile that came with them this time. Gratitude warmed through her body and relief lifted the rock off her chest.

Someone didn't pretend she was invisible. One person didn't see her as broken or wrong or bothersome.

She was just Jenna to Drake.

It was all she ever wanted to be to anyone.

And here is the link to Denise's story using the same prompt.

See you next week!