Bit of Fiction: Defamiliarization [1200 words]

2015 9-14 BoF2

Beauty in the Mundane

Unattended toddlers were left to their own devices frolicking about on the zero entry side, screaming and running to the constant roar of the lifeguard whistle. Their mothers took refuge at a safe distance from their rambunctious mayhem and the toddlers’ safety was under the sole mercy of a teen lifeguard preoccupied with the female lifeguard in the two piece from across the way.

The group of ladies arranged their chairs in a semi circular motif which would lead one to believe that they were huddled around a campfire nursing s’mores on sticks, but they were not. They were all rather impeccably well-groomed, ages ranging from late 30s to early 40s. The quintessential suburban moms had their mandated uniforms and norms, which consisted of Lexus SUV’s, oversized Michael Kors or Coach Bags, and black Lululemon black leggings.The PTO extraordinaires, the Heisman trophy winners of bake sales had an air of superiority to them, especially when it came to crossing paths with mothers who chose to work outside of the home. It was just like the cliques in high school when all the cool girls united in their collective coolness deliberately alienating those deemed not worthy to be in the company of their embodied coolness. ‘I wasn’t cool back then either,’ Marisol thought to herself with mild amusement. She regrettably was particularly well dressed due to a meeting with potential clients. And it was with even more regret that she had to clickity clack right passed the gaggle of gossiping ladies in her Nine West faux leather pumps in order to reach the other side where the lap lanes were. Marisol could not help but internally cringe with every step as her heels like a full arsenal of Clydesdale galloping down the side, the sounds embarrassingly prolonged by echoing off the surrounding tiles. She was painfully aware of how overdressed she was and the cool girls were all too inclined to confirm her assumption with the head-to-toe once over inspection, which women are keen in doling out to disavow other women.

She sat a few paces beyond the group, just close enough to where the 8 year old were taking their weekly lessons to observe without getting wet. This week they were reviewing breathing techniques in the freestyle before progressing on to mastering the complicated butterfly. The instructor was wiggling her hand in the air to simulate the body movement in a butterfly when Marisol’s attention was abducted.

“Did you hear about Emma?” one of the mothers said out of the blue.

“Yeees, O-M-G how terrible! I feel just awful for the family. We should do something for them,” one of the mothers responded.

“I know! I can’t believe it” another chimed in.

“Yes that’s an excellent idea. Let’s create a drive for the family and ask for donations” another replied.

“Maybe we can start a fund called the Emma Fund where people can donate cash if they don’t have the time to shop?” yet another mother interjected.

Then without prompting all of the ladies said in unison enthusiastically,  “bake sale!” followed by an overzealous laughter, which bordered on cackling. The conversation quickly turned to depict every minutia detail of the status of little Bobby’s potty training. Dreadfully, exceedingly, vivid details of the frequency, consistency, and size of his stools were all contemptuously shared as if this particular toddler’s feces could cure cancer. Marisol was one of the two captive audience members, the other was a father looking increasingly uncomfortable by the conversation on hand.

When the conversation seemed to have lulled, a particularly heavy set woman asked the lanky one how long she had planned to breastfeed and before the poor woman could respond, a hell’s gate worth of declarations boomed uncontrollably from the other mothers.

“One year,” one said proudly.

“Eighteen months,” boasted the other.

“Almost two years, but then I had to stop because my nipples just couldn’t take the teething” another bragged followed by a sleuth of uh-huhs and head nods.

Yet another triumphantly declared, “I’m still breastfeeding mine and he will be turning 3 next month!”

An exuberant amount of accolades erupted, “great job,” “wow,” with the occasional “you’re such an awesome mom.” Marisol stifled a laugh and couldn’t help but to roll her eyes at the women’s correlation that the length of breastfeeding is some sort of definitive measure of how awesome a mother was. The incessant revelations filled Marisol with such disenchantment. Is this really the conversations of her fellow women? The never-ending and idle chatter about poop, nipples, and comparing the length of breastfeeding as if they were competing for a mother of the millennium badge of courage?

Marisol let out a small sigh. There were very few moments when the decision of returning to work after the birth of her twin sons haunted Marisol but there was always a lingering doubt within her, like that nagging feeling that the stove was left on rushing out of the house. Then when she was treated to conversations of this caliber, any residual doubts quickly abandoned her with haste. She allowed herself a minute to let the noise of the clucking hens fade from her mind. She inhaled deeply and tried to breath in the moment, to capture the mundane so as to not to take it for granted. The overbearing aroma of the chlorine, the intolerable humid stale recycled air of the enclosure, the thunderous splashing as the instructor unleashes the new batch of fish in their assigned lap lanes. All quite ordinary and yet special when a mother doesn’t spend every waking minute of every day with their children.

Marisol redirected her attention to her eldest by 37 seconds. She observed his effortless movement through the water. She marveled at his graceful glide gently parting the water from his path. Every stroke had a balletic fluidity, even the manner in which his hands cupped the water escalating his momentum forward was filled with elegance. He tilted his upper torso every other stroke to restock his lungs with oxygen and his legs fiercely propelled him without breaking the water’s surface. The water his arms thrust behind him looked like diamonds being carelessly tossed in the air.

Then Marisol casually scanned over to two lanes over to observe the youngest. His speed easily outpaced his brother but without any of the charisma, or the fluidity, or the grace. His limbs thrashed about wildly conjuring small tidal waves in his wake, dousing the neighboring lanes. He pummeled and trounced his way through the water; and on several occasions over the summer, Marisol had to thwart lifeguards’ rescue attempts by calling out, “NO he is not drowning! YES, I am sure he is not drowning. Yes, he does know how to swim. Yes, he did pass the deep end test. And no, it’s just not very pretty.” There’s a certain unorthodox spastic quality to his technique. Reminiscent of the bumblebee. Just as the bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly, he shouldn’t be able to move through the water at such a ferocious pace. But just like the non aerodynamic bumblebee, he defies all reasons and science and charges ahead of everyone in the class, every time.

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Bit of Fiction: First Person Narrative [1200 Word Count]

2015 9-7 feat

The Ripple under the Calm

One-two-three-f … “Good morning Maureen,” Landen said annoyingly chipper. His thin mousey voice sharply penetrated through the early morning calm like a chef’s knife through rice paper. Startled, I practically slid out of my chair as I was used to being alone in the office at 6:30 a.m. As I struggled to regain my composure, my heart rebelliously wanted to thrash to an irregular rhythm, and my hands tingled with nervous sweat, I was completely flustered.  

I looked up to see a ghastly pale man smugly staring back at me waiting for a response. He was average height with a stocky build. Less like a bodybuilder, more like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. The delicate voice seemed to be misplaced on him, and I always subconsciously looked for a clever ventriloquist hiding in the shadows throwing his voice on this poor unsuspecting sap.

I stealthily slid my hand down past my right jacket pocket and patted it gently. The sound of the pills gently rattling against the plastic bottle whispered reassurances, you’re fine. You’ll be alright. Nothing to fear here. Ironic that I’m the social media copy editor who communicates for a living via a screen and keyboard 24/7, but ask me to interact with a live warm human being, I am plagued by an absurd amount of trepidation. My calm exterior wrapped my incessant anxiety and bouts of panic much like a fragile egg roll, the authentic Dim Sum kind. All neat and tidy, even beautiful on the outside, keeping all the messy filling with all it’s juices confined within, restricted, and bound to adhere to social norms. But the slightest breach of the outer shell and all the messy filling pours out like a tsunami wreaking havoc on everything within its wake. Life as it is, is indeed full of ironies.

I observed him for a moment and breathed deeply. C’mon Mo, be normal. This is easy. Good morning, how are you? It’s only five words. Toddlers can mutter five words. Without looking directly at him, what I managed was “Good morning. Please call me Mo” in a rather arthritic manner. Well okay, that wasn’t great but it wasn’t terrible either. What a shame that real life interaction can’t be easily remedied with the arbitrary smiley face to make everything instantly friendly and happy.

I had hoped that would suffice the monotonous morning ritual but hopes are meant to be denied and trampled upon. As I started to turn away to carry on counting, one-two-three-fo … “Ya ‘no Maur … err I mean Mo, ya don’t look much like a Mo to me” he said drawing quotation marks in the air around my name with his index and middle fingers … twice.

“Whenever I hear Mo,” he again coupled it with a pair of invisible quotation marks; “Mo’s Ultimate Fire Tacos down the street pops in my head. They make really good tacos, very spicy but it’s a good spicy. Have you ever tried it?” he asked; pausing long enough for me to open my mouth but only to promptly close it again because apparently it was more of a rhetorical question.

“Ya no Mo, I think that’s what I’m gonna fer lunch today, hmmm maybe not, tacos give me gas. Lots of gas, the ripe ones too if ya ‘no what I mean,” he boasted with a wink and a snorted laugh.

My head was cocked oddly like a puppy trying with all it’s limited faculties to understand their human. I stared at him blankly with squinted eyes and internally deliberated on an appropriate response and my brows furrowed with annoyance.

What I wanted to say was, are you a fucking idiot? What the fuck is wrong with you? I don’t give a rat’s ass what my name reminds you of. And I certainly don’t give a flying fuck what you are having for lunch! And God help you if you make another set of quotation marks around my name with your despicable short little sausage-like fingers! Now fuck off you pretentious self-absorbed asshat!

But what actually came out of my mouth was a rather timid and cordial “uh-huh, I can totally see that” accompanied by a rather overt labored smile. His perpetual cheerfulness only added to my vex but with considerable effort I managed to refrain from downing my entire bottle of Xanax like ET going to town on some Reese’s Pieces. I swiftly turned away from him to begin absent mindedly typing ‘the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’ over and over at a breakneck pace, desperately hoping to fend off further sharing. Because despite what the popular saying suggests, sharing is NOT caring. Sharing is the opposite of caring. Sharing should be reserved solely for those who you care for the least!

Clacking away obnoxiously, my eyes affixed on the monitor while my fingers feverishly repeatedly to conceive the phrase on a fictitious email to absolutely no one; silently praying to be left alone.

“Oh well I see that ya busy I’ll catch up with ya later.”

I responded with the faintest nod to acknowledge his existence, nothing more.  As he finally took his leave and shuffled off, I returned to the task at hand. One-two-three-four-and a quarter. My little corner of the world has been reduced from a 6’ x 5’ office with a window to a 4 ¼ x 4 ¼ ceiling tile square sized cubicle surrounded by it’s brethren cubicles. The Office Efficiency Expert made claims that the notions of individual offices were archaic, old fashioned, and not conducive to the team spirit or collaboration. The new modern age office space consists of low wall cubicles to maximize everyone’s potential. At least that was the propaganda which was dispersed through multiple emails as we all helplessly bare witness to the demise of our private offices, one-by-one the walls came down and one-by-one cubicles popped up in its place. I imagine from a top view our new office resembled a honeycomb in a thriving bee hive. Each cube an exact duplicate of the other, occupied by a devoted worker bee, void of any distinguishing individual flavor in order to advocate unity.

I dreaded all the impending superfluous communal customs which I am condemned to partake on a daily basis now. My body involuntarily shivered at the thought of all the smells, the people, the noise, the people who generated the smells, and the people who owned the noise, but mostly the people. The thought raced in my head like that little squirrel from “Hoodwinked” on Cappuccino. It caused my breath to quicken just to maintain pace. My heart pounded with such ferocity that I could have sworn my entire body vibrated with every beat. Perspiration began to form on my hairline and I instinctively grabbed my right jacket pocket and just firmly held it in my hand. I inhaled deeply through my nose and exhaled through my mouth. Oh what I wouldn’t give to be Milton right now. Even with the roaches in the basement and the surrender of the old red Swingline, it would be more than a fair exchange with life on the cube farm

Bit of Fiction: Smart Story [1200 word limit] (Scofield – The Scene Book)

2015 8-24

The Mighty Little Ant

Numbness had fully settled in my toothpick legs. The full weight of the combat gear bore down on my lower extremities as if were clenched in the jaws of a rather ferocious vice. Standing at 5 feet tall and weighing 97 lbs, I was essentially carrying my own body weight’s worth in equipment. After some deliberation, the Blackhats collectively decided to give me a fake rucksack filled with sandbags to make sure that I ‘weigh enough to trigger the static line’ and deploy my parachute. Their collective thoughtfulness may have very well killed me right in the airplane hangar under the crushing 90 lbs. worth of equipment!

I sat there with the others under the strain of being tethered to the unimaginable physical burden of equipment, anticipating our first combat jump with great angst. The cavernous hangar was filled with the hush of uneasy tension. This was jump number three out of the required five in order to earn the honor of wearing the Airborne parachute badge on the uniform. A silent statement to say, ‘yea I maybe short, and I maybe a woman, but I’m a total badass!’

Due to high winds on the DZ we had been prepped and distressingly sitting since 0230 and it is now just after lunch. I had to move my right leg, the gear was becoming a tourniquet causing my feet to perpetually tingle annoyingly. I moved a few centimeters at most, anything to avoid a second equipment check by the Blackhats. The Blackhats took a particular sadistic delight in equipment checks. You see it afforded them the opportunity to affectionately polish the process off with the hardest slap on the butt which they could conjure and administer. I was fortunate to be so short that my Blackhat tried three times and failed to aim low enough. What he managed was a handful of the back of my parachute and I hope it hurted his hand … a lot.

With great care I moved my leg just enough so that the dented metal rucksack frame was no longer drilling directly on top my kneecap. My hands awkwardly laid to either side of me, some rested theirs on top of their reserve but I didn’t dare. I had an insatiable fear that the button on the sleeve of my uniform would accidentally latch the pull pin and arbitrally deploy my reserve in the middle of the hangar. The reserve was tucked right beneath my breasts and wrapped tightly around my torso like a deranged man’s corset. So like a boy on his first date I stiffly fiddled with my arm placement finally deciding that the side was the safest.

Some heads had started to bob forcibly forward under the weight of the kevlar helmet. It was like watching a game of ‘whack a mole’ as one-by-one the soldiers nodded off. A crooked smile broke through my face with the amusing scene and as I was about to succumb to the ‘z’ monster myself “STAND UP, STAND UP, STAND UP!” over the loudspeaker jolted me back to reality. In unison, we all Geisha shuffled towards the hangar door onto the tarmac. The cumbersome rucksacks were in front of our legs posted against our shins; so all any of us could muster was to waddle like a string of ducklings following mama duck to the other side of the road.

I was oddly thankful for the extra weight passing the back of the C-130’s thunderous propeller engines. The engines generated gusts of fuel laden scorching air which would have most certainly knocked me over equipment free. With every step closer to the plane my heart quickened its apprehensive pace. My hands grew clamy with nervous sweat and the booming engines faded leaving me to hear nothing but the sound of my own labored breaths, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. It echoed obtrusively like being in an astronaut helmet and for a moment panic had set in where I half contemplated to make a run for it.

We were herded on to the plane like cattle and the Jumpmaster relieves us of our static line as we passed. With a sharp click and a tug our faith were locked. The air seem to accumulate more and more nervousness as more paratroopers filed in. We sat shoulder-to-shoulder, knees touching knees, thighs touching thighs, like sardines jammed into too small of a can. The tempestuous vibration of the engines made one eager to leave the plane before anyone got sick in such close quarters. The Blackhats and Jumpmasters briskly walked on top of soldiers’ laps doing one last static line check because the aisle are all now enveloped with endless pairs of legs.

The Air Force Lieutenant Colonel next to me leaned over and half shouted, “you know, the Air Force just isn’t quite as proficient with punishing ourselves like the Army” he said with a playful twinkle in his kind pale blue eyes.  

Stifling a laugh, “Oh really Sir?” I asked amused.

He nodded and explained, “If the jump was at 1 we would leisurely stroll on to the tarmac around … mmm let’s say 12ish. When we’re close to the DZ the co-pilot would come back to let us know. We put on chutes, check each other, doors open, jump – VALAH!”

I paused for a moment, thinking enviously ‘Dammit I joined the wrong service!’    

After regaining my composure I retorted gently with a wink, “ahhm yeaaa … the Army … we’re really good at making ourselves miserable. Self inflicted misery, it’s an acquired taste.”

Our shared laugh was a grateful distraction from the guy who just violently vomited his lunch on himself and his surrounding neighbors. The sound of the human diaphragm regurgitating sometimes is worst than the end product. A potent noxious stench of stomach acid and dehydrated food quickly infiltrated the air. And when there is one there will inadvertently always be another. Just as a second began to dry heave the obnoxiously jarring alarm rang rambunctiously to interrupt. The large round red light dropped to green followed by “STAND UP STAND UP STAND UP!” The side doors opened on both sides of the plane. The cross breeze of unsullied air enticed the paratroopers to fall into its bosom like mermaids luring sailors.

Holding both hands up with all fingers extended “TEN MINUTES” the Jumpmaster bellowed.

A second seem to pass when the Jumpmaster barked “FIVE MINUTES!”

And before long “GO GO GO!” prompted our little dance into the open sky. The sheer momentum of everyone shuffling forward ensured that you were indeed exiting the plane. It was like a gentle but yet firm kick. I breached the door without a single thought; the static line became taut and after a slight rubber-band like jolt,  my chute deploys. One would never realize the peace that 12,000 feet in the open sky can yield. Falling at the rate of 115 mph, all the chaos of the day, all the noise, the smells, hastily dissolves, like sugar in a hot cup of tea, it all stayed with the plane.

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Bit of Fiction: Elaborating Simple Concept [1 paragraph]

2015 8-17

Simple Sentence: He was afraid of the dark.

Elaborating Sentence:

Betrayed

My childhood bedroom was a converted oversized den and was rather oddly shaped. Not quite a rectangle and not quite a square. It had a rounded corner on one end and came to an abrupt acute triangle on the other, with the door offset off of the main corridor so that it was not bad feng shui. The adjoining wall to the master was a putrid pale lime green. It was comparable to various unmentionables in a newborn baby’s diaper, thankfully without the aroma. No matter – I’m certain it was very trendy or more likely, Father’s colorblindedness had bested his decorating efforts yet again. The local carpenter built a custom box bed to accommodate the odd space. The fresh smell of cut oak lingered in my room for weeks. My bed laid quietly under the large window and the the light was not bashful in flooding my room with all it’s magnificence. Even on gloomy rainy days, the light would sneak in to keep me company and bring me cheer. Right outside my window was a mountain canvassed with towering trees. Tall ones, short ones, fat ones, skinny ones. The trees aligned themselves as if they were fans in a stadium; one taller than the other, competing for a touch from the sun. In the early mornings, I could hear the mountain run off trickling down the small waterfall. It was serene. It was peaceful. But then the night comes. And the light … the light betrays me, fails me, abandons me. The very same light which I embraced during the day turns menacing. It forsakens its obligatory shield from all things frightening. It relinquishes its welcoming glow. And in its place, dark shadows springs forth to plague my walls with their grimacing faceless forms. No two shadows were alike and they danced on my walls with such fervent wickedness. I’m not afraid of the dark, no. I’d much rather be completely submerged in darkness than be teased by the light. In complete darkness the shadows are banished from my eyes, from my mind but with the aide of the light it taunts my imagination cruelly and haunts me until I surrender to my dreams.

Bit of Fiction: Tension [1200 word limit]

emma-watson-regression-poster

The Cupboard

She huddled in the fetal position in the pitch darkness of the tall and narrow cupboard next to the built-in refrigerator and its lulling hum. The space was cramped for her near 6’ lanky frame. There were awkwardly stowed limbs everywhere, like a contortionist practicing a new act but without the elegance. It was at least 10 degrees warmer in the cupboard and the musty stale air of forgotten dry goods impaled her nostrils. A blinding light seeped in from underneath the door making her eyes water when her gaze had outstayed their welcome. She tightly clasped her hands on either side of her knees wrapping her arms around her legs, uncomfortably forced against her chest. ‘Boobs. Boobs would make this more tolerable,’ she considered. ‘Boobs,’ she repeated, ‘it would at least offer some cushioning’ her mind distracted by her current physically distressing position.

Sweat was beading down her forehead committing hara-kiri on the top of her knees. If she was lucky, the bead of sweat would run its course down over her shin bone. But the current path of choice was running all the way down her inner thighs and straight towards her crotch. ‘Just lovely! If someone finds my body they will no doubt deduce that I inevitably wet myself in my last moments,’ she sulked in the thought. And for a moment, a calmness flirted with her. For a moment, there was peace. For a moment there were even an absent of her current condition.

Then quite suddenly the sound of the squeaky doorknob interrupted her moment and swiftly replaced calm with panic. The door swung open with a little too much force and crashed into the wall with a thunderous bang. The sudden break in silence startled Audrey to let out a small muffled yelp. Quickly followed by both hands covering her mouth as if the gesture can promptly retrieve the sound waves which so freely passed through her lips. The thick rubber soles of a workman’s boots grazing insidiously against old wooden floors caused her anxiety to escalate with every step.

“C’mon please, please, please” she whispered through clenched teeth. Each step seem to have vibrated the floor joist beneath her jabbing her protruding butt bone just enough to make her wince. Adding to her physical discomfort. Adding to her growing angst of what’s about to come.

‘Oh wonderful, now I have to go to the loo?’ she thought to herself with certain indignity. The heavy footsteps ensued with a certain clumsiness. As the wearer of the boots came closer in proximity the steps served to announce its amplified insidious intent. The only barrier separating Audrey and the wearer of the boots was a paper thin plywood cupboard door. She slammed her eyes shut and turned her face from the light to listen. To pray. To beg whoever or whatever was listening. An ardent student of atheism, who was she praying to? What was she praying to? Begging pardon with? Asking to be spared? God? The Universe? Leprechauns? Rainbow Unicorns? Audrey could not resolve to believe in the intangible but at the first sign of impending doom the archaic notion of ‘being a slave to outdated notions of a commoner’ came back to possess her. ‘pffft, famous last words – this is karma for you Hughs’ she thought regrettably.

Audrey listened with such intensity that her racing heart and shallow breath dominated the conversation. She squeezed her eyes even tighter in an attempt to muster additional concentration, as if magically her hearing would broaden its reach. But she heard nothing. Not one sound. Not even the sound of the curtains fluttering ever so delicately in the warm summer breeze. Silence fell because there was nothing to hear. The footsteps had halted. As abruptly as it started it ceased with equal unapologetic bluntness. Her scrawny frame instinctively began to slightly rock back and forth as dismay settles into her bones. ‘Why wasn’t there anymore footsteps? It was not possible to reach the cupboard doors in so few steps. Where the bloody hell are the boots?’ She frantically reasoned with herself in an attempt to employ logic over borderline hysteria ‘Open your eyes Audrey Grace! Open – your – eyes – you – little – coward!’ she berated herself. She let out a soft exhale and obscenely slow peeled her left eye open, then her right. Squinting at the terrible white light, her irises rebelled adamantly making her light green eyes water in an instant. She did her best to clear them, tilting her head and alternating turns rubbing on each perspective shoulder; leaving streaks of tears, mascara, and foundation on her pale yellow shirt. ‘Bloody freaking hell, that’s not going to come out in the wash’ she irritatedly assessed. She blinked feverishly and as the white blur came into focus, she desperately cocked her head in the most unnatural way in hopes to catch a glimpse of the world beyond. Anything. A crumb. A shadow. A sign. Any sign. Any gesture of where the wearer of the boots may have taken up residency.

A shuffling could be heard. Then a step. Then another. Before Audrey could consider the situation her fight or flight instincts kicked in full force and she sprang out of the cupboard with a crazed gleam in her eyes. The wearer of the boots leaped across in no more than three steps triumphantly yelling, “GOTCHA!” His arms wrapped around Audrey so keenly that he could touch both sides of himself. He hoisted her off the floor with her legs flailing and kicking like a fish desperate to find its way back to water.

Audrey screamed loudly in despair and every inch of her body convulsed as if she was having a fit. She squirmed, twisted, and kicked to break free but it was a futile attempt. Her initial fight had relinquished itself to being defeated. Audrey’s entire body fell limp in his arms. A broad cheesy smile flashing his perfect pearly whites encompassed his face. Audrey’s brother 5 years her junior had finally surpassed her in height, strength, cunning, and evidently cockiness. He gave her a few good shakes and Audrey’s arms lifelessly flopped up and down with each shake as if she was a string puppet.

“Say it!” he demanded, “Say IT Audrey!”

With an exaggerated sigh and her head drooping lifelessly she mouthed the words of defeat.

“Oh c’mon! I can’t hear anything! Fair is fair Audrey – say IT!”

With another exaggerated sigh she duly recited the oath of losers. An oath which she created when they were children. An oath that he had recited almost exclusively until now. An oath of complete surrender. An oath that now she had to attest, out loud, browbeaten. Her reign over him is officially over.

“You’re the best. I’m the worst. You’re kung-fu is the greatest” Audrey uttered void of spirit.

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Bit of Fiction: Setting [1200 word limit]

2015 8-3

The Forty Year Mourn

It wasn’t always so cold and devoid of life here, the brownstone at 80-23 Surrey Place. My childhood was a comfortable one, never in need of any of the physical essentials like food, or clothing, or a roof over my head. The childhood home was a humble brownstone, humble by the standards of it’s neighboring homes towering over our little shack.

The neighborhood was serene, idyllic, perhaps even other worldly. The streets in the community were not the standard New York fair seen in photos or the movies, where each home is a carbon copy reproduction of the other, aligned perfectly with military precision, rows and rows of clones. Like a brigade of West Point Cadets in their dark blue cutaway coat with scarlet facings, brass buttons, white waistcoat and tight pantaloons on the parade field marching as one.

No – the streets I grew up on added a romantic sentiment to the phrase ‘going home.’ As I applied pressure to the jarring chime on the Q46, the mere glance of the community sneaks a smile on to my naturally pouty face. Getting off the bus I always instinctively stopped to steal a moment and admire the odd sprout of heavy vegetation surrounded by the four major fairways of Queens. It’s like Grandmother holding out a soft, warm blanket straight from the dryer, with a faint smell of the dryer sheet still intertwined with the fabric on the grayest, coldest, wettest, most miserable of days; waiting and beckoning for me at the front door.

The 503 acre community was bursting with large magnificent enormous oak, maple, elm, and chestnut trees. The tree trunks were enormous, bold, and their bark formed patterns like scales on a dragon, gallantly standing guard over the community. I remember Mother used to grumble about our after dinner walks because the thick, twisted, knobby tree roots would protrude through the sidewalk just enough to be a tripping hazard. The roots defiantly projected themselves above ground, through newly poured sidewalks, like squatters refusing to leave. The branches were often the size of treelings in nurseries, extending out with purpose and fierceness, like arms to stave off the woes of the day. Some of the more prominent trees were on the outer perimeter of the community serving as a moat abruptly separating an inner peace from the hectic pace of big city life. I use to take such delight walking from the Q-46 bus stop making my way up Surrey Place. It was like passing through a magical threshold leaving behind the rumbling sound and smells of the diesel engine busses, the chaos of the bumper to bumper traffic, and the boisterous pedestrians. Beyond the tree line, the world instantly hushed like stepping into a soundproof room.

I fail to recall the precise moment when everything changed. It seemed like one morning I woke up and the tranquility and the custodial presence simply abandoned its post. The houses, the trees, even the rebellious roots remained but something intangible in the air had gone amiss.

Mother use to take my brother and I out to dine once a week. It matter not that she worked 10 hour days, we always managed one meal together. If it was a particularly harrowing week, she would bring take out for us to enjoy, together in the dining room. We used to frequent the parks, take long walks, and go to shopping malls to have an Orange Julius and soft twisty ice cream. But as time passed, the gravity of being a widow at the tender age of 42 with two young school age children feasted on her like maggots on rotten flesh. She condemned herself to wearing black for an entire year after Father’s unexpected death. A traditional Chinese shrine was created atop of our formal dining room armoire with a large 11×14 black and white photo of Father staring down as we passed through, from the living room into the kitchen. His eyes haunted me. Relentlessly staring. Staring right through me, following me from one side of the room to the other, infesting me with such a fear of death and ghosts that I eventually was simply too petrified to go through the dining room and detour myself to take the long way down the main hall from the front door instead.  A heavy black clay bowl was placed in front of Father’s eerie image and every day for a year Mother burned three sticks of incense at once and placed it in the bowl. The bowl would catch the ashes containing it from scattering. Once a month she would make a special trip to Chinatown to purchase the special type of incense for tribute to ancestors. The fragrance imprisoned the entire first floor in a subtle smell of bitterness. It was an odd combination of cool and sour and for an entire year, it was as if I had been involuntarily committed to live in a Buddhist monastery.

The woman who scandalously married a recently divorced man twenty years her senior was once spirited, robust, brimming with life. But as the days went on, Mother incrementally withdrew herself from the world. She cocooned herself in murder mysteries, Carol Burnett, and work. Her new lifestyle left very little room for anyone or anything. Mother obsessed over work and  volunteered to work, no matter if it was a Saturday, a Sunday, or both. I can recall weeks during the school year where I only saw her in passing as she came home from work at 8:30 p.m. and retreated to her bedroom straight away, locking the door behind her. We became strangers cohabitating under one roof.

Father’s untimely demise essentially made me one step above an orphan. Mother and I never could overcome her incessant mourning and self imposed solitary confinement. It has been years since we have last spoke. Her only two grandchildren are in universities having no memory of their grandmother. Ironic that I am who was summoned to be the executor of her will.

For a moment I stood still to inspect the brick exterior noticing a few bricks has been haphazardly patched with window caulking instead of cement. The front yard was farcely overgrown and neglected but not abandoned entirely. The front two steps had been outfitted with a makeshift ramp of thin plywood which yielded ever so slightly to my weight. I gingerly made my way to the front door and softly grasp the brass round door knob, slightly warm from the beating sun. I glanced down casually procrastinating the task at hand when I noticed a new doormat. It was a Christmas themed in gaudy array of standard holiday colors of dull green, awkward red, and dingy gold. There was an animal of sorts which I can only assume was meant to be a reindeer. It read “WELCOME” in all capital letters at the top then in slightly smaller font, “but especially if you are Santa.”  A crooked smile sneaked onto my face as the mat was obviously a Job Lot after holiday clearance item. I welcomed the distraction and with an exaggerated sigh I turned the door knob to what was once home.

Rong Rong Name Stamp

Bit of Fiction: Real or Memorex?

2015 7-27 Short HK

Fleeting Memories

Time, the enemy of many things has begun to erode what little memory I have left of my childhood home. My family and I immigrated to the U.S. when I was 7 and I regrettably have not been able to return to Hong Kong, U.K. since. My memories of life on the lovely bustling little island have now begun to go missing in large portions, like one of those old movie reels where the acetate has started to erase the contents from existence.

One of my strongest memory was accompanying Mother everyday down the hill to the market for food. It was an open market by the docks. I always knew when we were close because the smell of the ocean mixed in with all the live seafood greets my nostrils long before my eyes can see the rolls of stalls. When we entered the cluster of stalls, vendors projected their voices advertising wares from the left, from the right, the sound of male voices covered the air in a loud hum. One louder than the other in hopes to capture shoppers’ attention like a moth to a flame. Combine the voices with the clucking of chickens and ducks, the swishing of fish still swimming, and the snapping of the live crabs and lobsters claws, it was almost a sensory overload at times. I remember one time specifically that Mother had purchased a particularly large fish for dinner. It was still swimming in its red plastic tub of salt water. We brought it home and Mother began to prepare it when she suddenly let out a rather undignified squeak. I ran into the kitchen to see the commotion and saw the fish fillet in half. Yet the white sack which I can only assume was the heart was still rising and falling as if it was still whole. Mother was terrified but I found it oddly curious and poked the white sack which made her let out a second squeamish noise followed by “how can you touch that?” I shrugged my shoulders and leisurely strolled out of the kitchen.

To this day, I still remember that fish laying on the wooden cutting board, partly dissected but refusing to die. Those fish eyes staring while it’s little heart drew its last ditch effort of living. Of course perhaps properly butchering the fish would have prevented such an jarring image but then that wonderful day of shopping would have been amongst one of many destined to be forgotten.

2015 7-27 Short US

Fleeting Memories Redubbed

Time, the enemy of many things has begun to erode what little memory I have left of my childhood home. My family and I immigrated to Flushing, New York when I was 7 and I have yet returned to visit. My memories of life in Flushing, New York have begun to go missing in large portions, like one of those old movie reels where acetate has begun to erase it from existence.

One of my strongest memories of life in Flushing was the first time I accompanied Grandmother to the supermarket for food. Every Wednesday she would walk down Kissena Blvd to Waldbaum’s because Wednesday was double coupon day! With the little foldable wheeled grocery cart in hand we would venture to the large grocery chain taking small delights in the displays as we passed shop windows. The entrance to Waldbaum’s was two one-way automatic doors triggered by stepping on the thick black rubber matting, sometimes with bits of produce still stuck in the deep groves. Immediately upon entering, my ears were overwhelmed by the loud shrilling hum of the dusty overhead vent. Pouring down a veil of bitter cold air or subjecting its patrons with a wrath of sudden agonizing heat – depending on the time of year. There was always a faint fragrance of pine sol which illuminated the store. It was strange to go to a store to purchase food but the smell and sounds gave more of a hospital vibe, unwelcoming and full of dead things in packages. Everything was refrigerated and shrinkwrapped; the chicken, the beef, the seafood, all tidy in their own little designated spaces in the open cooling units complete with a set price. There were to be no haggling or choosing which fish looked the freshest. It was all uniformly controlled & priced for efficiency. It was profoundly odd to identify the fish not by its head or tail but by the baby blue styrofoam tray tightly shrinkwrapped for ‘freshness’ with a ‘sell-by date’ stamped on its label. The fillet itself was neatly packaged in perfectly surgical precisioned portions and the almighty shrinkwrap assured that no remnant of it ever being fishy in the ocean escaped its grasp.

To this day, I still remember how initially unsettling it was to go food shopping inside of a climate controlled building where almost everything were in tidy shrinkwrapped packages. Over the years the details begin to blur but certain moments such as this are ingrained with such force that it refuses to be one of many destined to be forgotten.

Rong Rong Name Stamp