Monthly Archives: February 2013

FFF 28: Secret

There is a secret hiding under my bed. It’s behind the books and DVDs in a cardboard box sealed with duct tape. I would’ve used packing tape, but I couldn’t find any at the time, and duct tape was the best thing I had on hand. It’s just as well, I guess, since I won’t ever be taking it anywhere, much less shipping it.

When I first put the secret in the box, I was tired of carrying it around with me and my seal was somewhat sloppy. After that, whenever I got too anxious (which was more often than not, it seemed), I would take out the box and wrap it in more duct tape. The package is more tape than box now, looks like.

I think I have to peel the layers of tape back and get at the secret once and for all, but I really, really don’t want to. I want to just leave it there and ignore it forever. Maybe wrap it more, even. But that hasn’t been working, has it? The secret’s still there, underneath my bed, waiting.

I have to try something else.

[See Flash Fiction February for more.]

FFF 27: Sheila

When Sheila went out to the shed that evening, she noticed something strange about the way the tarp was covering the back section, which had been partially torn apart during the hurricane. Lifting her flashlight, she moved around the piles of wood and rubble to see the tarp more clearly.

Lifting the tarp, she saw a set of bones lying underneath, stacked in a pyramid from largest and longest on the bottom to smallest and shortest on top. It looked… strange. Looking past the bones into the she’d interior, Sheila couldn’t see anything else out of place. It was the same shed she’d checked every morning and evening for the past three months, only now there were piled bones in the back.

“What in the hell…” she trailed off, nudging the pile with one booted foot. A few of the bones tumbled down over her shoe, rolling onto the ground haphazardly.

Sticking her head out from the tarp and around the shed’s side, she called, “Hey! Have you been saving bones back here?”

“What?” her daughter called back, only half listening.

“I said, ‘Have you been saving bones back here?'”

Her daughter stuck her head out of the sliding glass back door. “What?” she repeated.

“I said—”

“No, I heard you that time,” the young woman corrected, throwing the television remote down onto the sofa and stepping gingerly into the backyard mush that had at one time been grass. She criss-crossed her way barefoot to the back of the shed where her mother was standing, looking down at the half-messed pile of bones.

“What in the hell…” she said when she saw it. They were silent for a minute and then she said, “No. No, I have not been saving bones back here.”

“Can you tell what kind of bones these are?” Sheila asked. Her daughter made a face, but she dutifully crouched down to get a better look. Reaching over to grab a stick, she poked a couple of the bones and flipped one over to see the other side.

“What?” she asked when she noticed her mother giving her a look. “I’m not going to touch them without knowing what animal they come from.”

Sheila frowned, but her silence was concession enough.

“Looks like… cat bones? Except these are really too big to be from a house cat,” Sheila’s daughter said finally. “I don’t know. If I saw them in a museum from across the way, I’d think they were from a tiger or some other giant cat, but we’re not living in a place where it’s feasible to have tiger bones in the backyard.”

“Well, it’s not like the animal died and then stacked itself up like that.”

“True, but still,” her daughter admitted, heaving up again and tossing the stick down with the rest of the hurricane debris. “Maybe just leave ’em here for now and we can take a look in the morning when it’s daylight?”

Sheila shrugged. “All right,” she said. Her daughter returned to the house, and Sheila covered the bones up with the tarp again, fully intending to check again in the morning and make more sense of things if she could.

[See Flash Fiction February for more.]

“Reflections” by Fran Orenstein

Reflections coverReflections
By Fran Orenstein
Sleepytown Press
22 August 2012

In December of last year, my family and I visited extended family in San Diego, where my aunt’s wife took us to visit her mother so that my grandmother could get a better feel of life in a retirement village. (Convoluted, I know; sorry.) While we were there, someone mentioned that I write (and read) poetry, and the lady jumped up and immediately brought me a collection of poetry by a friend of hers, Fran Orenstein. (The inside cover is signed: “To Georgine, Through all the years and the journey continues. Love, Fran”.)

I love poetry because of the potential to dance with words and the space on the page, but much of Reflections seems tired. One hundred thirty-five pages of tired is… well, pretty tiring to read. I want to be sucked under a riptide of poetry that’s all-consuming and causes me to lose track of time, not like I’m mining for gold in an almost-depleted vein.

The poet isn’t a poor poet, but her work in Reflections isn’t breathtaking, either, unfortunately. It’s difficult to write honestly about books when I feel in some way personally connected to the author/poet. In this case, I’m more worried about offending someone I know (if only peripherally) than the poet herself. Of course, I want to enjoy everything I read, but this collection could be well-served by further revisions and distillation. The point of beautiful, excellent poetry is to use the fewest words possible in the most surprising way the poet is possibly capable of to create the greatest possible emotional response in the reader (or listener, depending on whether or not the poem is being read aloud).

Orenstein makes good use of line breaks and indents, end rhyme, alliteration, and repetition. The poems range in length from haiku (17 total syllables) to a poem called “The Tides of War” which is three pages long. Split into four sections: “The Early Years”, “The Emerging Woman”, “The Middle Years”, and “The Elder Years”. By the end of the collection, the focus is loneliness; in the last section, there are seven poems in a row with that theme. Each section is prefaced with a poem written in all caps. The best of those, “The Emerging Woman”, includes the lines,

NO LIFE FORMS OR VEGETATION WILL BE
HARMED IF YOU STRAY FROM THIS PATH UNLESS
THERE BE DRAGONS AFOOT.

Poetry is a nearly forgotten art. Poets, in this day and age, are not rich or famous—even the “famous” ones. They hardly register at all on the scale of celebrity, so it’s clear (to me, at least, as a fellow poet and author) that poets write poetry because they must. They can’t not write it. That in itself makes poetry more worth reading, and I commend Orenstein for following her heart. But it doesn’t mean that all poetry is “good poetry”. I admit that poems, of all things, are strange beasts of burden, susceptible to the will and baggage of their riders (that is, the reader). Unfortunately, I found Reflections to hold flashes of insight and brilliance buried under pages and pages of mediocrity.

FFF 26: Michelle

There was a ring in her teacup. Michelle frowned, sipping the hot brew until she could reach the ring without burning her fingers too badly. It was… Michelle frowned again. She looked around at the other customers and workers in the café. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

The grumpy man who always got the coffee and newspaper, paid with exact change, and never tipped was standing in line being his grumpy self. The stressed out woman who always seemed to be running late was checking her watch while she waited for her latté. The old man who was still head over heels in love with his wife, married for 35 years this October, was chatting with the worker at the register.

Michelle held the ring up to the old-fashioned reading lamp next to the armchair in which she was sitting, both contributors to the steampunk decor and ambiance. The ring was silver—white gold, maybe; she really didn’t know—with a fiery violet-colored gemstone that flashed red and blue when she turned it in the light. She slipped it over her middle finger but it got stuck at her second knuckle.

When she took it off again, she noticed the writing on the inside. It read simply, Remember the Child.

“Remember the Child?” she asked aloud before she could stop herself. What in heaven’s name does that mean? She stood up, nearly dumping her tea onto her open book.

“Excuse me,” she asked one of the café workers, “has anyone mentioned they lost a ring?”

The young man looked up and smiled. “No, ma’am, I don’t think so.”

“Ah; well then,” Michelle nodded, closing her hand around the gemstone and silver. “Thank you.”

He nodded and returned to his task without inquiring further.

Remember the Child, she thought again. She sat down again in the big armchair and looked at the ring in her palm, glinting under the lamplight.

[See Flash Fiction February for more.]

FFF 25: Neil and Collin

“We’re going to need a locksmith,” Neil whispered over his shoulder to his brother.

“What? Wait; what?”

“This isn’t going to budge.”

“Hah hah hah, Neil. What a joker,” Collin said, pushing his younger brother aside to try the lock for himself. He used his lockpick more carefully than the longer-haired man had.

After a moment, the lock clicked and the latch sprung open, causing the door to swing a bit. Neil frowned. “All right, well; fine.”

“Locksmith, my ass,” Collin said, pulling his mask down over his face after giving his brother a wink.

Neil rolled his eyes, pulled his own mask down over his head. After getting his game face on, he nodded to the elder man, who then pushed the door open slowly. Despite Collin’s care, the door managed to creak until it hit the wall softly.

Making silent hand motions, the two brothers split up at the door, Neil taking the first floor; Collin the second. Methodically, each brother moved through the darkened rooms, clearing them for people before meeting up again at the bottom of the wood staircase.

“First floor empty,” Neil confirmed.

“So’s the second floor,” Collin nodded.

“You ready?”

Collin took a deep breath. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”

“You know this is illegal, right?”

Collin tsked. “Of course I know. I suggested it. Anyway, it’s not like we have any other options.”

“Fair,” Neil agreed.

“Let’s do this, then.”

Neil pulled out his weapon and checked the magazine.

[See Flash Fiction February for more.]

FFF 24: Trisha

“What’re you doing out here, hon?”

“Reading. What does it look like?”

“Well, you’re out by the pool, so I figured…”

“I’m reading.”

“When will you be in for dinner, then?”

“I haven’t thought about it. When I’m done reading, I guess.”

“You’re going to get sunburned.”

“Yes, thank you, Mother.”

“Hey, now. I am your mother.”

“Good of you to start acting like that now.”

“What did you say?”

“Nothing, nothing. I was just talking to myself.”

“Nobody’s perfect, Trish—”

“It’s Trisha.”

“—and that includes me. Obviously.”

“Obviously.”

“I’m trying to be your mother, okay? I’m trying.”

“You should of tried when I was still a kid, when I needed a mother.”

[See Flash Fiction February for more.]

FFF 23: Cilvia and Doctor Connelly

This piece went just a tad bit over 1000 words (I confess nothing!), so I’m splitting it between two days. And yes, I know that’s cheating, but whatever. For part 1, see FFF 22: Cilvia and Nurse Jane

“Would you like breakfast, Cilvia?” Nurse Jane and a guard led her to the cafeteria area of the facility. She believed what they told her to believe, and the doctors said she was coming along nicely. Cilvia stood in line between a tall dark-haired large woman and a petite black woman.

“Hello,” the large woman said, “Hello. Answer me. Hello.” Cilvia said nothing. “Don’t you like me? Why won’t you talk to me?” the woman kept prodding. “Hello. Hello.”

“Shut up, Beatrice,” the black woman snapped. “She’s as crazy as the rest of us.”

“Hello. Hello,” Beatrice insisted. Cilvia received a tray and slid it along the line silently. She picked up a bowl of peaches and a plate of white rice and moved away from the two women still in line.

“Never mind the blue paint lines,” she said to herself, “they’ll dry eventually.” She’d been having nightmares about blue paint recently. She didn’t know what to make of them. She tried to ignore them and focus on what the doctors kept telling her to believe.

She sat down at a table by herself and said loudly, “I think not, sir! I think not!” Some others turned to look, but finding nothing of interest, they went back to their own meals.
After breakfast, Nurse Jane and the guard took Cilvia to see Doctor Connelly. Doctor Connelly was head doctor at this facility and had been keeping tabs on Cilvia since she had stopped talking a while back. Cilvia sat down in the chair opposite the doctor’s and waited. She’d done this a thousand times or more.

“Hello, Cilvia. How are we today?” Doctor Connelly asked politely. Cilvia said nothing. She blushed and smiled, and the doctor took this as a good sign and nodded appreciatively. They sat in silence for a moment or two, and the doctor said, “Cilvia, you’re going to have to talk to me sometime. I know you’re an intelligent young lady, and I’m not even convinced you should be in here, but you refuse to say anything that makes sense.”

“Bumble bees fly loudly,” Cilvia said.

Doctor Connelly sighed and wrote something down on her chart. “I’m keeping you at the same amount of medication for a while and we’ll see how that goes. If you need anything between now and the next time I see you, please ask Nurse Jane.”

“Silly me,” Cilvia smiled eerily, “I forgot my medication today. Silly me.”

The doctor looked up, half alarmed. She called for the nurse and guard to return. The guard smiled kindly at Cilvia and took her arm lightly, leading her away. “Nurse Jane,” Doctor Connelly asked, “Did you give Cilvia her meds this morning?”

“Of course, doctor. I did it personally,” Nurse Jane affirmed. “She was agreeable, as usual.” The doctor nodded, marking something on her chart.

“Thank you,” She said after a moment. Nurse Jane nodded and turned to follow the guard and girl.

Cilvia believed what they told her to believe, but it was hard sometimes. The voices, the voices in her head were so distracting. Tell them everything. Tell them nothing, they told her. She tried to ignore them completely and focus on the doctors and their solutions. She let herself be moved from cell to cell, was pleasant with everyone… at least as pleasant as one could be in a place like this, and didn’t make trouble. The doctors said she was making progress, but really she was running in place.

“I know it’s silly to wonder about such things, but it worries me anyway,” Cilvia said. “Never mind the blue paint lines. They’ll dry eventually.”

[See Flash Fiction February for more.]