Saturday, June 24, 2017

That's Like Hypnotizing Chickens

Writing prompt: That's Like Hypnotizing Chickens

The rain fell in a steady stream, but Sofia didn't seem to care. The basket hung from the crook of her elbow as she stomp stomp stomped her way through the flooded back yard. Her red muck boots, which she always took extreme care to de-muck before taking them off in the mud-room, were polka-dotted with little spots of mud. A gust of wind shook the trees and it seemed, for just a moment, that it was raining harder than it actually was. She stopped, right in the middle of the yard, and turned her face up to the sky. The cool rain washed the hot tears from her eyes.

It had been two weeks since Dylan had left her and the farm. Of course, she didn't realize at the time that's what he was doing--leaving. He told her he was going into town to pick up some lumber. He was finally going to fix the hole barn's roof. She watched him attach his wallet chain to his belt loop and shove the old brown wallet into his back pocket. She had given him that wallet for their third wedding anniversary. Leather was the traditional gift for three years, and back then, they were both still trying to conform to the standards of marriage, though he never was good at keeping track of what he'd gotten her, so sometimes he'd repeat gifts.

"That wallet's near to bursting," she said. "I don't know how you can sit on that thing to drive. What do you keep in there anyway?"

"Noneya, woman!" Dylan winked a crinkly blue eye and smiled warmly at her. "I don't ask you what you carry around in that giant purse of yours, I'd appreciate the same courtesy about my wallet."

It was a familiar routine with them. He liked to think he was being clever, being coy, but she knew the truth well enough after all these years. He was a paper hoarder. He collected scraps of paper the way her grandmother's sister had collected stray cats. He kept grocery receipts from four years ago, bills, and credit card statements for credit cards they didn't even have anymore. If someone gave him a business card, he'd keep it in a stack with all the other cards. Eventually, he'd forget who gave him the card in the first place. One of his favorite things to keep was old lists. But not his lists. He kept lists that other people lost. Mostly grocery lists, abandoned in the bottom of the shopping cart. Eggs, cheese, shoe strings, apples, sponges, shampoo. Sofia used to ask him why he kept those random lists, but she'd long since given up trying to talk sense into him. Now, she was just glad that he was able to contain a huge portion of his paper collection to just his wallet. When the wallet got too full he'd pull out some of slips of paper and stash them in one of  his unlocked lock-boxes. He always kept them unlocked because he knew just as well as she did that there really wasn't anything worth keeping in there. Certainly not worth keeping secret anyway. Turned out, the man kept all his secrets in his heart and head, where she could never get to them.

Sofia wiped her face and continued on her way to the coop. How long had she stood there, face upturned to the weeping sky? Fifteen seconds? A minute? Three minutes? It was as if the drops falling on her face had hypnotized her for a spell. No matter. The eggs had to be collected, rain or no, and standing around like a damn fool, replaying the last time she'd seen her husband wasn't going to change the fact that he was gone.

The chickens squawked and beat their wings as she approached.

"Hey there, lovely ladies," She greeted in return. "What do you have for me today?"  She closed the gate behind her and gently pushed Jenny Blue out of the way with her foot. Jenny Blue was the only of the the chickens who seemed to like her. Anytime Sofia came into the coop, J.B. was at her heels. More like a puppy than a chicken.

"It's about time I start selling your eggs, chickies. I just don't eat enough of them to justify keeping them. And it'd be nice to have a few extra bucks now that..." Sofia lost the thread of her conversations. She was talking to chickens, as if they could actually understand her. As if they gave a damn whether she ate their eggs or sold them.

Dylan had a saying when he thought things were pointless or silly: It's like hypnotizing chickens, he'd say.

The chickens watched her gather their unformed young and put them into her basket.

"I know what you girls are thinking. My putting one foot in front of the other, gathering up your eggs, trying to keep the farm from collapsing down around's like hypnotizing chickens, isn't it?" She took a deep breath and blew it out. "I suppose you're right, but what's the alternative? Give up and run away, like him? Someone's gotta tend to you, you know. So how 'bout a bit of gratitude, ladies."

The chickens blinked. They weren't hypnotized and they didn't care whether she was tending to them or not. But no matter. They eggs needed collecting, regardless.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Your Heart Will Guide You True--Listen to It

Prompt: Your heart will guide you true - listen to it.

We were leaving Santa Fe. It was a warm, spring day and we had spent the day at an art fair, then we had lunch at a little dive. I even remember what I ordered. Migas made with blue corn chips. I didn't like them.

For years, I'd been asking for a dog. My husband was a cat person, and I married into three cats. We had been married for ten years, and I was ready to finally get a dog. But, we were renters. And we already had three cats. We weren't super financially secure. There were a million reasons not to get a dog.

After lunch, we got back on the highway to head home. My husband and I had been sniping at each other a bit, and the mood in the CR-V was tense. Not hostile. Not angry. Just...tense. He drove past a beat up truck on the side of the service road with a handmade cardboard sign that said simply PUPPIES in large, scrawly, black letters. My heart soared, but I didn't ask if we could stop. Without looking at me, without saying a word, my my husband turned around.

We parked off to the side of the service road and approached the dirty man who was sitting in the beat-up truck. His plates were expired.

He was trying to get rid of two puppies--Bilbo and Frodo. They were fuzzy and sweet and the puppy breath almost made me die of happiness. One of the pups, I don't remember which, was black. I picked him up and my heart swelled. Then it soared. Then it broke in a million pieces. My heart spoke directly to this dog. His heart spoke to mine. It was like our souls recognized each other. I set him down and picked up his tan brother. He was cute, with a little black robber's mask, but my heart didn't react the same to him. So I passed him off to our seven year old son and picked up the black puppy again. Again, my heart swelled-soared-shattered-spoke.

This dog was mine. I was his. There was no way around it. He called to me, and my husband, from the side of the road in the middle of the desert between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. I couldn't leave him. I couldn't.

Because we had been at an art festival, we had a little cash. We got in the CR-V to discuss what to do.

"I need him. My soul recognizes him. Please, Stirling." My voice was on the verge of cracking.  He nodded and pulled out his wallet to see how much cash he had. I pulled out my remaining cash.

I called our landlord. "Please, please let us get this dog. He's a shepherd-lab mix, and he needs a home. Please." The landlord agreed.

Stirling and I pooled our cash. It wasn't enough. It wasn't enough by almost half. But there was no bank anywhere near. I knew if we drove away, we'd never come back for the dog of my heart. We approached the man with the two fluffy puppies.

"This is it. We don't have any more money. If you just can't do it, we understand, but this is all we have."

The man dropped his cigarette and stubbed it under his boot. "Which one do you want?"

Stirling looked at me, and without hesitation, I picked up the black one. I scratched the tan one and thanked him for letting his brother go. I thanked the man for negotiating with us.

I rode in the back seat, little Bilbo or Frodo in my lap, and my heart settled into a happy rhythm. By the time we got to the pet store in Albuquerque, the dog had a new name: Harvey. Harvey the Wonder of my heart.

Tomorrow will be the one year anniversary of his death, and my heart still calls for him. It always will. I miss Harvey every single day.

Thursday, June 22, 2017


A friend from DFW Writers Conference posted a cool prompt on Twitter, and I thought I'd take a stab at it. I was supposed to set a timer for 10 minutes and write, but I forgot to set the timer, my dog started freaking out at the garbage truck, I got a string of texts from a friend. You know, life stuff happened. That, and I got carried away by the story that unfolded in my head and I couldn't force myself to stop writing until I found the end. I probably spent 30 minutes on this prompt. It has not been edited. It's just pure, delicious, writing prompt word vomit. But it was fun!

I felt normal until...Boxes of rocks... Choices... Write for 10 minutes. Incorporate all of these things.

I woke up feeling like I always feel. Sluggish. Disappointed. Slightly confused. I also had to pee like a mother fucker. I have a small bladder, and I'm a deep sleeper, so normal for me is waking up with a dull ache deep in my body. I rolled out of bed and kegel-walked my way to the bathroom to relieve myself, not wasting time to turn on the light.

When I was done on the toilet, carefully made my way to the kitchen. Boxes of rocks littered the hallway, obstructing doorways. Some of the boxes were arranged in sloppy, sagging stacks, the cardboard straining under the weight of the contents. I've been telling Nate for months that if he didn't get the damned rocks out of here, I would. He promised me a hundred-thousand times he'd deal with them, but he never did. Neither did I. Instead, the stacks got higher, more precarious. The more boxes of rocks he lugged in, the less fight I had left in me. I loved him, after all, and if this odd collection of his soothed his soul, who was I to get so pissed off about it? It's not like he was a drunk or a cheat. He didn't gamble our money away. He didn't have mistresses secreted all over the city. He was just a broken man who had a strange hobby. I didn't understand it, but I reasoned it wasn't my place to understand. After what he'd been through, the only thing I could really do was support him through his journey, wherever that may lead. Still, though, it hurt like hell when I stubbed my toe against one of those boxes. Boxes of rocks aren't known for being well-cushioned.

I flicked on the kitchen light and shook my head at the mess on the counter. When he first started this rock collecting phase, it quickly became clear that it could take over our whole house if we didn't lay down some ground rules..."ground" rules...har har har. I insisted he keep his collections contained in some manner--build shelves, stored in giant tubs, whatever--as long as individual rocks weren't strewn about the house. My only other rule was to keep them out of our bedroom and the kitchen. Just because he randomly developed a rock fetish doesn't mean I have to sleep and cook with the damn things. Until that morning, he had always done a pretty good job about respecting my boundaries. The kitchen was a blissfully rock-free 99% of the time.

"Nate," I called as I filled the carafe with water. "Honey, please get these rocks out of here! I wanted to make breakfast, but I can't lift the box off the counter!"

I measured out the coffee beans and ground them into a fine powder before trying again.

"Honey! I need the counter! Get these damned rocks out of here."  The coffee pot sighed and sputtered the irritation I tried to swallow down.

"You know what? That's fine. I'll take care of it myself! I wouldn't want to disturb you." I winced at my own passive-aggression. I swear, I'm not a bitch. It's just that living in a house of crumbled and dusty stone was starting to get to me. The coffee maker spat out the last of its brown juice, and I filled two mugs.

"I'm sorry, Nate. That was a total bitch comment." I side stepped the boxes between the kitchen and dining room and set my coffee on the table. I wrapped both hands around Nate's mug. Something was wrong. Nate wasn't into ignoring people. Even if he had his earbuds in, he always kept the volume low enough to hear me if I called for him.

The living room light was on. The curtains were flung open...odd. Since he started his collection, he preferred to keep the curtains drawn. It was as if he understood that his behavior and our current living conditions were far outside the range of normal, and he was afraid of being judged by outsiders.

There was usually a wobbly stack of boxes behind the couch. I don't know what he was thinking, stacking them so high. I'd told him over and over that it was dangerous. They could topple over and crush us while we watched The Office. Maybe he finally got around to moving them to a safer place.

I came around the couch and screamed. Nate's coffee mug fell from my hands, hit a neatly stacked pyramid of rocks, and shattered. Nate was on the floor, his feet toward the pyramid. The pile of boxes that had always threatened to smash our heads in while we watched mindless television had finally come down. But not by themselves. Nate did it. He had positioned his head at the base of the boxes and pulled them over onto himself.

Why? Why did he make a fucking pyramid in our living room? Why did he sacrifice himself at the base of it, to the gods of his inner demons?  I was the one person who loved him most in the world, and he chose not to trust me. Not to confide in me. To tell me what was really going on with him. He chose to leave me here, in a rock-hoarder's hell hole, knowing perfectly well I couldn't lift those fucking boxes.

As I screamed my grief and rage at the crushed body of my husband, it dawned on me that I was a widow.

I'd never wake up feeling normal again.