Written In The Margin

This short piece of fiction comes from a Writing Circle session. Due to popular demand, the group wrote in the genre of horror/thriller/suspense. Totally out of all of our comfort zones! What follows is what I wrote for the session, finalized after suggested edits by the group.

Written In The Margin 

The headlights of the car were off, but she could hear the crunch of the tires across the leaves. They had found her. Claire Siebold held her breath as she crept around the threadbare couch, tucking loose strands of her bobbed, mousy brown hair behind her ears, her mind issuing prayers that the driver would see all the lights out in the cabin and think she wasn’t there.

All was silent. Then she heard a small click and the quiet thunk of a car door being shut. He moved soundlessly over the leaves as he closed in on the cabin, but she knew he was there. She could feel his presence like the prickle of a coming fever. She knew now they wouldn’t give up until she was dead. Never mind promises, there was too much at stake – and she, a lowly, 24-year-old, barely-paid staff assistant, was too expendable.

She cursed her naïveté for thinking she could hide. She realized now these people would stop at nothing and that, one way or another, this encounter between her and the man with the gun, was inevitable since the night she picked up the wrong jacket.

It had been a big night for her. The chairman of the opposition had hosted a gala at his own home and invited members of both sides to celebrate his 65th birthday. It was a rare mixed event in the ramp up of an election year and tensions were high. The race had been close, but Claire’s own party’s candidate, Michael Robb, was gaining ground thanks to the rallying support of the handsome, winsome Senator Lucas Martin. He was popular, if young, and people were already whispering that he might be the next candidate in four or eight years. He was a game-changer and he had stirred up the pot with his impromptu speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial two weeks earlier. With Martin solidly in Robb’s corner, their party had hope. Claire’s boss, Ivy London, was a senior ranking House member and close confidante of Michael Robb. She had attended the party for a good show to the media hounds, but the plan was to eke out every possible moment raising more funds among potential donors. Claire, as assistant to the House staff assistants, had not expected to attend, but at the last minute, London called her personally and told her to be there. She blew her meager savings that afternoon on an appropriately fashionable and attractive but forgettable cobalt blue satin gown and begged Megan, London’s personal assistant to tell her everything she knew about not screwing up.

As far as she could tell, the evening had gone swimmingly. London secured more funds and gave Claire a rare compliment for her wit and efficiency when she had come up with a quick response to Senator Powell’s challenge on the Green Air Sustainability bill. She picked up her jacket from coat check and sauntered out into the night, buoyed by confidence that she would actually survive the world of politics. She was too distracted by the thrill of minor success to notice the jacket was at least two sizes bigger. It wasn’t until she entered her tiny shoebox flat and went to hang up her coat that she spotted the McIntyre label – a designer she 1) couldn’t afford, and 2) wouldn’t wear if she were paid to. Now that she looked at it the details were all off – bigger buttons, a different cut – but she had just seen a black wool coat and trusted that when she handed over her number, the coat assistant would return the correct coat.

She fished through the pockets hoping to find a business card or phone or wallet – anything to identify the coat’s owner. But of course it bore no such details. She found an inner pocket and thrilled to find a folded piece of paper inside. She threw the coat on her couch and fumbled as she tried to open it up. Across the top bore the insignia of the opposition party. She scanned the typed memo for clues, but it was one of the deep, inner pages of a legislative memo. It looked like it was the 45th page on a bill on transportation and infrastructure initiatives, otherwise completely innocuous. Such a strange thing to have tucked away, she thought. But then she noticed what was written in the margin.

$$ xfrd
Spider
11:47
LSM

Money transferred. That much was obvious. But what was the rest? Claire had shrugged her shoulders and just made a point to call the chairman’s house staff first thing in the morning to leave her name and number in case the owner of the jacket made an attempt to retrieve it. She hoped they still had her jacket as well.

It was only later the next afternoon, when she was picking up lunch for the team at the Greek deli around the corner from the office that she realized what the note meant. She had been standing in line waiting for her order, sipping her lemonade, when she heard the news. The entire packed deli went silent when someone had called out for everyone to shut up and they turned up CNN on the TV screen overhead.

There were scenes of mayhem, police and firemen running around, and then cut to the shocked and excited face of a reporter relaying the news that the beloved Senator, Lucas Samuel Martin, had been shot. Claire watched in horror as scenes of the murder splashed across the screen. Martin had apparently been delivering a speech to party supporters and as he stepped down from the podium, a gunman had opened fire and, according to witness reports, shot twice, and killed Senator Martin at 11:47 a.m. that morning.

Claire dropped her lemonade. The words “11:47” struck her like a drop kick to her shoulder blade. Her knees buckled under her. 11:47. LSM. Lucas Samuel Martin.

The deli broke out in pandemonium, but Claire couldn’t move; her mind was in a whirl. Money had been transferred. Spider…a code name? For an assassin? Martin had been assassinated by members of the opposition! The owner of the jacket had been in on the assassination! And she had the evidence to prove it!

…And she had left her name and contact info with the chairman’s house staff that morning.

Her first instinct was to run. But where could she go? The pushing of the thronging crowd was suffocating her. She had to get outside. She shoved her way through to the open street and willed herself to think. Could she go back to the office and pretend she never knew anything? But if she didn’t release this information, the party would suffer. Without Martin’s support, they couldn’t win. Everyone knew that. And the corrupt politicians who had murdered him would win. It would be an insult to Martin’s memory, and, she was still young and idealist enough to believe, detrimental to the well-being of the nation to be left in the hands of murderers and crooks.

It didn’t take long for the phone call to come.

“Whatever you think you know you will keep quiet. Or you will be dead,” threatened the unrecognizable man’s voice. She didn’t have to recognize the voice to know who she was dealing with. Only the top brass would be in on a plot like this. In her fright and shock, she had promised silence and begged for her life. The line went dead and so stopped her heart.

She did not go back to the office. She left the sandwiches at the deli and went back to her flat, chopped off and dyed her hair, packed her suitcase and got out of town. She drove for hours and hours, out of the city, and down the highway. She wound her way through the deepest Appalachian forests several states away, found an old hotel with isolated cabins for camping, checked in with the name Rebecca Chamberlain, a mishmash of two of her friends’ names, and paid in cash.

She spent every day that week in hyper paranoia. She shopped for basic groceries two towns over, parked her car half a mile from the cabin and walked back, fretting the whole way about having withdrawn cash from the ATM. She had only done it once, out of desperate need, but she knew it left a trace. Other than when it was absolutely necessary, she never left the cabin. She had dumped all her electronic devices: her Macbook, her Blackberry, even her iPod, back in DC, operated only during daylight hours, and kept the lights off at night. She did her best to make it look like she wasn’t staying at the cabin at all, and prayed that if they did come, she’d remember something of that self-defense class she took when she was eighteen and moved to the city. She kept the folded piece of paper on her at all times.

She worried about her parents, having never had a chance to tell them she was leaving and not to worry. She worried over her job. It would not be there if or when she got back. Disappearing in the middle of a workday without word? It was unheard of, and she imagined, unforgiveable. And she had no excuse she could give. She listened to the news on a small transistor radio in furtive, 10-minute segments a few times each day. She couldn’t catch much, but already she knew the fallout after Lucas Martin’s death was disastrous for the party, and to her mind, for the nation as well. Could she survive like this until after the election? After the inauguration, even?

She didn’t have to wait that long. Eight days later, they found her. Despite all her precautions, they had found her and there was a gunman outside her cabin door. She had promised them secrecy. She had delivered them secrecy. And still they had come.

But that was their mistake…because now, Claire was mad.

Claire crawled out from behind the couch, sweat pouring down her cotton tank top and gray sweat shorts, her hands and knees digging hard into the wooden, splintery floors. Instead of moving towards the back closet, as was her initial impulse, she crawled her way to the kitchen. Watching the windows for the shadow of a man, she reached up and eased open the drawer by the stove, and reached in for a knife.

She clutched the scallop-sided chef’s knife to her and leaned back on her haunches. Which way would he come from? She needed to see better. Slowly, she stood up and started to step towards the front door. She moved closer and closer, her hands slippery with sweat on the handle of the knife. Dared she peer outside?

She didn’t see anything. Had she imagined the sounds? Was her paranoia actually driving her mad?

Claire began to let out a breath – until she felt the muzzle of a gun bump up against the back of her head.

“Put down the knife.” The man’s voice was hard. It sliced through her and made her gasp. “Put it down slowly,” he said.

She made to crouch down like she was putting the blade on the floor, then swung around to slash at him. He was taller than she, but not by much. She swept upwards at his mid-side but was farther away than she thought and smacked the knife against the hand holding the pistol. The gun went off, like lightning in her eardrums. The man cursed and grabbed his bleeding hand as the .22 Sig-Sauer clattered to the floor.

She started to run, but he growled and tackled her. They crashed down onto the wooden floor of the cabin and she could feel the splinters in her cheek as he pushed on her face. She struggled underneath him, but he was too big and heavy. He cursed at her, pinning her down with all his might as he tried to reach for the gun. He couldn’t quite reach and she used the opportunity to try to squirm her way free. He was forced to use both hands to pin her.

Claire grunted and managed to turn more on her side, her hip digging painfully into the wood, and he smacked her hard in the face. “You’re not going anywhere, bitch,” he breathed into her still-ringing ear.

“You should have stayed away,” she spat back, more bravely than she felt. “You had it good. You had me quiet. But that’s not enough for you greedy sons of bitches, is it?”

He laughed. “That’s right. And now you’ll find out what we do to anyone who gets in our way.” He grabbed her hard, by both arms, and hauled her up and dragged her to the couch, which he threw her on. She struggled to sit up and launch herself at him, but was caught at the sight of him. He had his gun back in his hand. She fell back on the couch, eyeing him with every hair on her body on end.

“So, Peaches,” he said, suddenly in a better mood. “Tell me. Where is the paper? What did you do with it?”

“What paper?”

“Don’t be stupid,” he snarled. “We both know you have it. You’re gonna’ give it over nice and easy now and then this will all be over.”

She scrutinized him, weighing her options.

“Be quick!” he said. When she still didn’t move, he cocked the gun and got up in her face. “Where is the paper, damn it! It ain’t gonna help you if you’re dead.”

“It’s in the bedroom,” she whispered, her eyes wide with fright.

“Get it.”

She got up off the couch and moved toward the back of the sparse cabin. He followed her, the gun trained on her every move. She made her way to the bedside table, and pulled open the narrow top drawer.

“Hurry up,” growled the man.

She rustled a few papers, then finding what she was looking for, drew it out. He leaned closer in anticipation. She took a deep breath, then whipped around, and with every ounce of strength she had, stabbed a paring knife into his stomach. Even in her fear, she noted how much harder that was than she thought it would be. He yelled out in pain and fury and she kneed him forcefully in the groin, then front kicked him in the chest. He dropped backwards onto the ground and she jumped over him and ran towards the door.

On her way out, she stopped only to grab the kitchen knife, and could hear him stumbling after her. She pushed open the front door and rushed outside. As she ran, she sliced open both tires on the driver’s side of his car, and then pelted out to the woods, running faster than she ever had in her life.

Claire grunted as side-aches splintered her sides, and she forced herself to run faster. She crashed through the forest, branches cutting her face and hands as she pushed her way through. Her lungs ached, and her bare feet screamed in pain, but she pushed on, aware he must be only moments behind her. Even carrying the knife became too much of a burden and she dropped it in the leaves somewhere along the way.

Finally, she broke through the forest edge onto the main highway and screamed – a cry for help or of frustration, she wasn’t sure which. There wasn’t a car or person in sight. Desperate, she began to run along the open road, the gravel tearing up her feet with every step.

Then, to her unending relief, she saw headlights. She called out and ran in front of the car, flagging it down to stop. The ancient, early 70’s Chevelle screeched to a halt, coming to a full stop mere inches in front of her. She folded over, plopping her hands on the car’s hot hood and she peered in through the windshield to make out the scared and shocked faces of two teenage boys gaping at her. She ran around to the driver’s side.

“Dude, lady, are you all right?”

“I need your help!” she gasped. “Can you get me to the nearest city? I need the police.”

The dumbstruck boys looked at each other and shrugged. “Sure lady, whatever. Hop in.”

The driver got out to let her in the back of the hardtop coupe. Claire fell into the back seat, and struggled to catch her breath. It was only as the kid got back in and got the car back up to speed that she reached into her pants pocket and felt the folded paper that she began to feel hope. “Hey,” she said. “Either of you boys got a phone on you?”

The kid in the front passenger seat tossed his phone at her. “Have at it,” he said, his voice still registering his wonderment.

She punched in the number she knew by heart. It rang three times before she heard the woman’s voice on the other end.

“Megan. It’s Claire. Put me through to London.” She knew she was safe when Megan connected her, no questions asked.

If you wish to participate in a Bigger Picture Blogs Writing Circle, check out more information here. The next one is poetry, hosted by the lovely Alita on August 9.

Write on Edge: Location, Location, Location

Below is an excerpt from my manuscript, The Yellow Suitcase, where I draw on setting to reveal something of my character’s conflict, as part of a segment of her society most others would like to pretend doesn’t exist: the one they wish to hide, the kind they’d turn away from.

Ae Lin shoved herself up from the bed and went to fill up a glass of water from a bottle in the fridge. She sipped the cup, looking out the window, curling her toes against the cool, tiled apartment floor. The sun wasn’t up yet, though the sky started to lighten. The buildings were low, but thick, tangled power cables obscured the view. She looked down to the floor below. Stray dogs sniffed in crevices, searching for scents on moldering walls. Every day, the matron of the apartment below her emerged at dawn to sweep the streets clean. She swept the street daily and with great energy, but it never occurred to her to do something about the mold growing in the crevices. But that’s the whole city, Ae Lin reflected. Everyone sweeps at the fine, delicate dust, priding themselves on their cleanliness, taking care to preserve their marks of beauty, all the while blind to the thick layer of mold hiding in plain view. The mold was a natural, if filthy, consequence of the confluence of the tropical Thai rain and heat, its inevitability its defense.

Whatever people believed to be inescapable eventually became invisible. Though she found the mold both repulsive and unsightly, it got so that, most times, even she stopped seeing it too.

*     *     *

Write on Edge is a community for writers. This week, they’ve provided a prompt to focus on the use of setting to deepen a reader’s connection to the story by revealing something about the character or conflict, or to evoke a mood. And do it in 250 words or less.

Embrace

“’Member that time we went swimming with them girls up from the North Shore? You and me stripped down to our bare ass and that one girl – Mary Ann, Mary Lynn something – almost did too, except ol’ Mr. Wickman saw us and chased us on up out of the lake with that fucking…fucking blowtorch.”

“Mmph.” Snap grunted with a grimace. If he remembered correctly, Mary Lynn was wearing a particularly enticing lace top he’d been real interested to see her get out of. He wanted to catch Joe’s eye with a wink, but he couldn’t open his own just yet. He enjoyed the breeze too much, feeling the comforting whoosh across his face and down his left arm.

“Good times.” Snap could hear Joe’s smile, could practically see the slash of his salty grin.

* * *

            When he came to again, his friend was asking him a question. “Hey, Snap. You know what I miss most? Bacon. Crispy, fatty bacon. And my mama’s cornbread. These gooks do up a mean rice, but don’t nobody beat my mama’s bacon and cornbread.”

“Mama Dee sure could cook it good.” His own mother, God bless her, couldn’t tell a skillet from a stick.

“When I get home, that’s the first thing I’m gonna’ do. Ask mama to make me some bacon and cornbread. And you know what she’d say?”

Snap grinned. Mimicking a throaty, Southern woman’s voice, he said, “Boy, you got some brass on them balls.” They both laughed. Snap tasted blood on its way up.

“And she’d do it anyway,” reminisced Joe.

“Yeah. She’d do it anyway.”

He tried to sit up, but it damn near made him pass out again. He cursed under his breath. Taking a few steadying breaths, he pushed himself up on his left elbow. Searing pain shot up from his right arm, straight to his spine, on up into the space behind his eyes. The movement caused Joe to groan.

Looking around he saw they lay in a ditch several paces wide. The lifeless faces of four other troop members greeted him. Johnny T’s eyes were still open. Snap looked away. He turned his attention instead to the gaping wound in his arm. It seeped blood from his bicep onto his sleeve and ran down to the soil below. Gingerly, he tried to move it and intense pain shot up again, making Joe cry out. That’s when he realized his maimed arm was trapped underneath something metallic pinned down by Joe’s chest. Joe, his best friend since the squashed toad incident in the third grade, lay on his left side facing him. He had no arm at all. His entire right side had been sheared off by blast burns, both his legs turned at wrong angles. Snap struggled, pulled, and strained, trying to get his arm out, but each tug aggravated his friend’s open wounds and exacerbated his pain. He lay back down, assessing the situation through dim, hazy awareness. He used the dirty fingers of his left hand to investigate the wound, nearly fainting again when he caught a glimpse of bone.

He remembered an explosion about thirty paces off. They had all turned to see five of their squad go down in a landmine blast. There was a voice in his ear, crackling, issuing commands…then all he remembered was waking up. The air was silent, save for the wind brushing the trees. He strained to hear a helicopter, voices, anything. None came.

Panic set in, and with it, came clarity of purpose. He tried to move his legs. His right ankle hurt like a mother, but he could move it a little. He didn’t think it was broken. “Joe,” he urged. “Joe. We gotta’ get outta’ here.”

“Tour’s almost over,” came his friend’s muffled voice. “Two more months. We can hang in two more months.”

He frowned at his friend. By the looks of it, he wasn’t gonna’ last another two hours. He’d already lost too much blood. Joe’s voice cracked and groaned with every word yet he seemed not to have any idea of the state he was in. Snap looked at his own arm. Gruesome, but they could fix it if he just got help. There was a camp not three miles away, if he remembered right. But every move he made only caused Joe more pain.

Life flowed out of Joe, seeping into the ground like liquid rust. The color of his face turned unnatural.

Snap felt the beginnings of fever. If he was going to make it, he had to move fast. But he couldn’t, not with Joe on top of him. Pushing him off to free his arm would surely kill him, pain the last thing he would know as he went.

A surge of anger coursed through him. He pounded the earth repeatedly with his one good fist.

“Snap?”

He gritted his teeth. He ached to yell and scream. The only thing preventing him was the desire not to disturb his friend. “Yeah,” he said, at length.

“I love you, man. I just…you’re my best friend.”

A chasm opened up beneath him and he fell into flames. That was how Snap felt to hear those words. He bit his cheek, willing himself not to lose it. “Love you too, man.”

Renewed pain coursed through his arm. A sense of urgency filled him; his instincts for self-preservation had woken up. He had to move – and soon – or he, too, would die.

“Snap?” said Joe. This time his voice had grown undeniably weak; it was almost inaudible. “I still owe you a bottle of whiskey.”

Snap heaved a breath, finally gaining the courage to look at the mess of his friend’s body. He had three options. One, he could send Joe into a final spasm of pain and death as he wrenched himself free. Two, he could lay back down and die with him. Tempting. That option was tempting. Or three, he could reach over and quietly end his friend’s misery and life, free himself, and run for help.

They looked at each other in the eye, though Snap couldn’t tell that Joe saw much of anything at all. He could have been staring at a pile of bricks for all the expression left in his face. He thought of how many times they must have looked at each other, knowing just what the other was thinking without saying a word.

“You don’t owe me nothing, man. Not a goddamn thing.”

He rolled over closer to the only person he’d loved as a brother, and passed his hand over Joe’s eyes to close them. With his good arm, he reached across his friend, enveloping him in a final embrace.

This piece is a product of a Bigger Picture Blogs Writing Circle, where writers come together virtually to share their writing. In each Writing Circle, three to five writers are called together by a moderator who sets a prompt. Each person writes in response to the prompt and shares it online via a Skype conference call, wherein the other writers listen to their words, reflect on them, and offer praise, encouragement, constructive criticism and feedback to help us stretch and grow. The prompt for this Writing Circle was “Embrace,” in the genre of Fiction/Short Story, with a 1000-word limit.

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The Gelaterie

The bell twinkled like a dance of faerie lights as she pushed open the door to the gelaterie, the cool shop interior a striking contrast against the warm night air. Like the display of white doves hanging outside the door, and hand-written menu, the bell imparted an inviting welcome. Mrs. Shu, the gelaterie’s owner, had a keen eye for such details. Elizabeth supposed that was why she preferred this little shop to the larger market down the street.

Mrs. Shu grinned in greeting and shuffled in padded slippers toward the front. “Hello, Miss Keane,” she said. She had been speaking English for more years than Elizabeth had lived, but she had never been able to pronounce ‘Mrs.’ properly. “How are you today? Is Charlie feeling better?”

“Oh. Yes, Mrs. Shu. He got over that nasty flu and was back in school this morning.”

The old woman nodded, warming a metal ice cream scoop in an ancient painted bowl – cobalt blue, with a delicate gold trim and rust red roses – full of heated water.

“How is Mr. Shu?” asked Elizabeth, hitching her mustard yellow bag up her shoulder. It was perpetually slipping off.

“Oh, same-same. His back, you know. It ails him.” She said this every day, as if to complain, but Elizabeth knew the comfort of the predictable. Mrs. Shu could not be unhappy or overly worried; her wrinkles were all in the right places, her silver-gray bun always loose, yet neat.

She pulled out three paper cups, lined them up on the counter, and opened the gelato case. “Let me see. Coconut lime, hazelnut, and Oreo again?”

Elizabeth laughed as she always did. Mrs. Shu knew her family’s preferences: sweet-tart for her husband, John, rich chocolate decadence for herself, and the sweet crunchy chocolate for their son, Charlie. She smiled; they had always shared a fondness for chocolate, she and him. Only John preferred fruit flavors.

But as she watched Mrs. Shu scoop a small round ball of each flavor into each of the three cups, her smile faded and the lump in her throat got heavier, hotter, harder. She shifted to the pastry case, staring hard at the custard berry tarts and samples of mousse.

“Here you go, sweetie.” Mrs. Shu held up the bag to indicate her order was ready.

She stood rooted to the spot. She could not make herself pay and leave as always.

“You okay, Miss Keane?”

She shook her head and offered a feeble laugh. “Oh yes, I’m fine,” she managed, knowing her eyes must look shocked and glassy. “Actually, can I get some of this berry tart? And the opera cake? And maybe some of that almond one.” Stop, she told herself. Just stop it. “And the black forest,” she added, unable to keep her mouth shut.

Mrs. Shu raised an eyebrow. Never in four years had Mrs. Keane ever ordered anything but the gelato. “Of course,” she said, brightly, ever the professional. But Elizabeth saw the surprised concern on her face.

“Oh, it’s just that we’ll have guests in the morning,” she explained, nervousness coating her voice.

Mrs. Shu lined a pastry case and selected the appropriate tongs. “On a Wednesday?”

“Um, yes,” she laughed. “It’s for Charlie. It’s a school thing. I mean – it’s his friend from school. We’re meeting his family. We invited them over. To meet them.” She looked at the large number of pastries she had ordered. “There are rather a lot of them. Brothers and sisters…they’re all coming. So we can take them to school together afterward, you see?” Why couldn’t she stop talking?

Mrs. Shu nodded. She smiled as she rang up the order, but Elizabeth knew something had shifted. The air in the gelaterie was no longer cool. The sight of the sweets on display turned her stomach sour.

She paid with exact change. “Thank you, Miss Keane. I see you tomorrow,” said Mrs. Shu, as polite and friendly as ever.

“Yes, yes, thank you. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Elizabeth nodded and bowed her way out of the shop, armed with the large box of pastries and scoops of ice cream.

She strode away from the shop as fast as she could, but suddenly it was impossible to breathe. Her chest began to heave and her hands grew sweaty and trembled, threatening to drop everything she held. Her legs lost their strength and it was the most she could do to turn the corner out of the sight of the ice cream shop.

She was just two blocks away from her apartment, but she couldn’t make it. She couldn’t get there because she knew when she walked through her front door, there would be no Mr. Keane. There would be no Charlie. There would be no lights on in the living room and no pasta simmering on the stove, with a husband and child waiting to greet her and tell her about their day. There would just be emptiness. An empty, dark gaping hole of an apartment with sympathy cards on the table instead of dinner plates, unanswered messages from her sister instead of kisses from John, and faded flowers in murky vases and frozen casseroles from the ladies at church, instead of Charlie’s untied shoes littering the floor and the free-wheeling croon of the Snow Patrol album John played when she wasn’t home so she couldn’t lovingly mock him.

There would just be incomprehensible nothingness, as there had been for the three weeks since the car accident that took everything away.

She spied a trash bin down the street by a few meters and dropped the whole sorry lot of ice cream and pastries into it. She stood over the mess, staring down at the gelato melting, unsure why she had been unable to tell Mrs. Shu the truth.

Perhaps she would tell her tomorrow.

She trudged the rest of the way home. But with every step away from coconut lime and hazelnut and Oreo, and every step closer to her black hole flat, she knew with increasing certainty that she would not tell Mrs. Shu the truth tomorrow. Or the day after. She would not visit Mrs. Shu’s gelaterie again.

 

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An Intentional Life: Written {A Bigger Picture Moment}

Living life with intention isn’t always easy. Sure, with a little practice and desire, you can be intentional about the big things. Big plans, big actions. It’s the little moments that get hard – because you’re distracted, and they’re small, so do they really matter? But eventually all the little moments begin to tot up and you have to wonder if too many little pieces, fine enough by themselves, are together creating a picture you wouldn’t necessarily choose. I always appreciate these weekly Bigger Picture Moments, for they are a call and a reminder to take a step back and ask myself whether the momentary is really in line with what I want for the momentous.

And this week, I realize I haven’t been approaching my writing with much intention lately. Since I finished writing the draft of my novel, it’s been harder to get immersed in my writing. (Editing is a very different kind of beast.) I write almost every day: blog posts, more blog posts, timed writings, presentations, emails, and comments, and notes in the margins. Almost every day I’m creating something. But I find I’ve had too many days…too many weeks!…where I’ve just shoved my writing into the crooks and crevices between point A and point B.

That’s good – to an extent. I’m writing, even when it’s hard and I have to eke the words onto the page, like tears when you’re too defeated to cry. But it has been too long since I really engaged with my own words or since I tried to see if I have something to say other than just something.

So this Saturday, I’m taking a writer’s retreat. I’m shutting off the computer, logging off from the internet, and unplugging to go play with words. I’ll bounce around from cafe to park to home, wherever I need to be to say welcome to Miss Muse. I’m officially inviting her on a date.

Do I have chores to do? Yes. Things on the to-do list? Of course. Deadlines approaching? Yeah…don’t remind me. Because this is at least as important as that, and I know I’ll regret it if I relegate myself to writing only in the cracks.

Right then. Tally ho!

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take,
but by the moments that take our breath away.” 
- Author Unknown

What moments stole your breath away this week? 

Each Thursday, we come together to celebrate living life with intention by capturing a glimmer of the bigger picture through a simple moment. Have you found yourself in such a moment lately? Share it with us! 

Live. Capture. Share. Encourage.
This week we’re linking up at Sarah’s!

What I Said Was Not What I Was Thinking

This week at Bigger Picture Blogs, we’re wrapping up reading A Writer’s Book of Days together. For the final week, we are sharing our responses to the prompt, “What I said was not what I was thinking.” I did a 20-minute free write in response, to share here below. If you want to join in, try your hand at the prompt and link it up here!

Before anyone freaks out, note: What follows is NOT a true story! It’s just a response to the prompt, and if anything, suggests I’m reading too much Jhumpa Lahiri.

The silverware clanged rather than clinked against the plate, the silence between us heavier than the lamb roasts in our stomachs. He sipped his beer and looked off to the side patio, pretending to watch the crowd. I kept my eyes on my plate, loath to look up and reveal their redness.

The words I wanted to say turned my mouth to concrete. The words he didn’t say burned in my ears.

“Do you want dessert?” he asked after we cleared our plates.

I said yes, but what I really wanted was not cheesecake or ice cream; it was bought time.

“Let’s get ice cream. Coconut or pistachio?”

By “pistachio,” I meant recognition.

He ordered two scoops and, catching the waitress just as she was turning away, asked me if I wanted coffee.

“A cappuccino,” I said. But an apology was what I meant.

Was he sorry or too proud? Was he, too, longing to say something, or just waiting for me? Or was he not waiting for anything at all?

With each bite of ice cream, I dove into sorrow. Each sip of coffee was another hurt swallowed.

“Good?” he asked, like it was any other dinner, any other night. “Good,” I agreed, sounding as if I meant it.

He asked for the bill. I smiled at the waitress when she brought back the change.

He pushed back his chair and reached for his jacket. “We done?”

This time, when I said yes, I meant it.

- also linking up with just write

A Crosswind

An open landscape stretches out to the horizon line, the simple planes of view marred only by a crossroads and no signs. On an otherwise still day, a sudden shift in the air and temperature marks change, a disturbance, a sign to perk up one’s ears and pay attention because we cannot count on continuity.

I notice a tree beside me is bending with the gale. Dust fills my nose, desiccating the airways. Loose pebbles and debris clatter across the road, propelled by the force. I hug my jacket tighter.

I feel cold, though it is not cold.

And yet, I ignore the gale. One foot steadfast in front of the other, I push forward on the same trajectory. I follow the path I’m on, though I know the path of least resistance lies another way.

I keep marching towards the horizon beyond the horizon line – towards the secrets I know are there but just can’t see. I know new vistas are waiting.

I do not make that left turn. I keep going forward, because something tells me that the harder path is the higher path, and sometimes you learn more by staying than by leaving.

 

I Might Have Been in Wonderland

I might have been in Wonderland except I didn’t know until I got swallowed up by the rabbit hole. From sunshine and daisies, I fell off the edge of the earth down into a dark, cramped, musty hallway, following the music of a trusted voice, hoping it wouldn’t lead me astray. But stray it did, ‘til I found myself inching further on down that hallway, past the broken lights and misplaced candles, down deep to an open door. The voice called to me, to peek inside where I didn’t know I should not look. In loyalty and trust, I followed the voice and looked through that door, where inside, instead of one, I saw two.

I didn’t want to believe at first.

“No, don’t,” I wanted to say. I wanted to ask, “Don’t you mean this other door instead?”

But she was already inside with this other. They had already crossed a threshold, and all I could do was watch and wait.

The two, they stood there, all alone in this big, wide room, a space only they two could share. They did not touch, but I know you don’t have to touch to feel, and the air, it got so heavy it hurt.

In the end, they did not touch. They did not touch, and she walked herself right out through the front door, not the back. But still I was not unaffected. It is such a heavy weight, this weight of a sin not yet committed. It’s such a heavy weight, to witness a wrong waiting to be. I understood how it could happen and did not judge for a feeling, but I felt the shadow of pain of the one who wasn’t there, the one who should have been in the room instead, and I felt the inky wash of a feeling I could not name. I felt I had been witness to something awful, like the death of a star, something that didn’t even allow the satisfaction of blame. I’d become privy to a secret I should not know.

I clambered back out of the deep, dark hole, shaken and uncertain. I wanted to cling tight to my other half, to call him close to me, terrified of a hole that suddenly gaped. I think he must have felt it too, for without my speaking or even looking, he clung to me first, even though he hadn’t seen where I’d just been.

This piece came from a Bigger Picture Blogs Writing Circle. It was written in response to the prompt “deep/depth,” received feedback from other writers and edited to create this final piece. If you’d like an opportunity to try out your writing and get some feedback in an open, welcoming, supportive and constructive forum, join us in our next Writing Circle. Spaces are filling up fast! See here for details.

 

On Recalling A Spotless Mind

There’s something I’ve been mulling over ever since my husband first brought it up. He mentioned an article he read that said we might now have the power to erase specific memories – great for getting rid of the traumatic ones, but I wonder about the rest. It turns out our memories aren’t the coherent images we think they are. They don’t reside in our brain waiting to be accessed. Instead, memories result from chemical and protein connections in our brain. We rebuild them each time we recall them, and every time we think of them we rebuild them a little differently, changing the underlying circuitry every time.

This is why witness testimony is so problematic. This is why a year after 9-11, people remember being in an entirely different place when it happened than they said they were just after the event.

This makes me think about the ethics involved. Do we make our memories, or do they make us? Aren’t we all at least a little bit shaped by not only our experiences, but how we remember them? If we take that memory away…what does it do to who we are?

And then it makes me think about the fact that we’re erasing bits of truth out of our mind anyway. That our memories aren’t exactly the factual representations we like to think we are. I itch to write a story about this, to process in my own mind what this looks like and does…but I don’t know how to write anything that isn’t Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

But the question I can’t seem to escape is this: What if every time you remembered your most cherished memory, a little piece of it changed, until what you remember is no longer the memory at all, but just a fiction constructed by your brain?

What if your most important memories, by virtue of being so important, eventually became lies?

* The article was in Wired. If you’re interested to find out more, you can read it here.

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