Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams

Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: March 2012

Friday, March 30, 2012

Horror Story

She grabbed the letter opener, sharp and gleaming.

“Don’t,” he said.  “Not yet.”
“I must.”  She sliced open the envelope; pulled out the letter; shook open the tuition bill.

“How much?” He asked.

This was written in respose to this weekend's Trifecta Writing Challenge.  Write a horror story in 33 words, without the words blood, scream, died, death, knife, gun, or kill.


Front Porch

Nearly twenty years ago, my husband and I purchased our first home for sixty-nine thousand dollars. The real estate agency described the house as having old world charm, a nice way of describing its many flaws.

The kitchen tiles were yellow and chipped at the corners like aged teeth, and when we caught a square with a foot in just the right way, we’d dislodge it and send it skittering across the room. A previous owner had painted the bricks of the fireplace tan. Someone else had cut a hole in the floor of the living room, replacing it with a 4 by 6 piece of plywood. And despite my best intentions, the stairs would never quite come clean: Eighty years of dirt and grime and dust had accumulated in the space where the tread had divorced itself from the riser. The shower leaked; the bathroom floorboards were rotted; the basement was musty. A monkey had been raised in this house.

Yet it was in this house that my husband and I learned how to be married as we discovered the stresses of homeownership; as we began a family; as we both privately wondered whether our new and fragile marriage would last.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012


It’s a gorgeous first day of spring.  Seventy-five degrees, with a gentle breeze that carries on it the perfumes of the budding trees and flowers. A girl approaches with her camera and snaps a close-up of a cherry blossom.  The clouds are etched into the blue background of the sky.  Here and there, though, darker clouds muscle their way to the front.  And far over there, in the western horizon, the sky is a cake, layered in white clouds of frosting so thick that no blue can get through.

My daughter crosses her arms.  “Every girl in my class is going on senior week.”

“You’re not.” 

She demands to know why.

I have no ready answer.  It just feels wrong.  I return to my own childhood, the way my parents raised me, a place I often retreat to when I need parenting advice.  “Some things should be saved for college.”

“You can’t stop me,” she tells me.  “I’ll be eighteen.”
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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Market Day

She wears her best dress, clean and bright.  She pulls back her hair and cleans her face.  She slides colorful earrings into her lobes.  Reluctantly, she slips on the required armband—a dull gray band that marks her as a domestic.  Before the Reassignment, she’d been a successful computer programmer.  Then computers were banned and she suddenly, amazingly, found herself with no skills.   

She eschews shoes.  While domestics are allowed them—presumably to protect the owners of the house from any disease their workers may carry—she rarely wears them: She likes the feel of the dust and the rare patch of grass between her toes.  She walks to the marketplace, a basket upon her hip.  She smiles broadly. 
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Monday, March 26, 2012


These days, people even wanted to choose their eye color.  Years ago, when he first got assigned to this position, people were happy just to have their vision back.  Now they had demands other than health.  They wanted to live forever.  And they wanted to look good doing it.  Only then, would they be happy. 

He supposed he was a merchant of happiness.  But, by nature, he was also in the business of its corollary.  Wherever he brought happiness, he left sadness strewn behind him like drying petals of a yellow rose, crumpled and lost and forgotten.
He crouched in the bushes, a hundred feet from the entrance to the restaurant and settled in to wait.  Sometimes he waited for hours; sometimes minutes.  He didn’t mind.  The job paid handsomely.  He could afford a home in a gated community.  He had an in-ground pool and an indoor tennis court.  Every morning, he had his choice of seven cars, though he usually took the Jeep.  Less conspicuous that way.  He had everything that money could buy, and nothing that money could not. 

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Sunday, March 25, 2012


Two weeks ago, we stared the garden.  In the raised beds we planted cucumbers and four varieties of beans.  We planted popcorn, too, from the crop of a friend.  We tucked tiny seeds—tomatoes and onions and herbs of all sorts—into peat pots and set them in the front window of the house.  And then we waited.

Every morning, when I come downstairs, I check outside to see what’s growing in our little garden.  Have the peas sprouted overnight?  The squash?    Every morning, I see nothing except for the stalwart strawberries—leftovers from last year’s garden.
I take my coffee and check the little rows of peat pots catching the eastern sun slanting through the window.  Nothing there, either.

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Friday, March 23, 2012


“There’s nothing cute about it,” he said. The register of his voice indicated decision more so than discussion.

She disagreed heartily and privately, staring past his head and out the window behind him.  Her opinion cost a beating.

“Prancing about doesn’t finish chores.”

“Stop dancing,” she told Ellen.

“Make me.” 

She coveted Ellen’s courage.   She feared for her life.  While he watched, she punched their child.

This was written in response to this week's Trifecta Writing Challenge.  This week, we were given the first thirty-three words of a story, which we were to continue in exactly thirty-three years.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


“You can just cancel my order for this week, Jonathan Fowler.”  Bitsy stood before Jonathan, hands on hips.  Her face was red.  Her eyes were narrow. 

Jonathan stood there with four boxes of cherry pies in his arms.  “Bitsy, what are you saying?”

“I’m saying to cancel my order.”

Jonathan looked at Howard, who shrugged.
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Tuesday, March 20, 2012


She studied his shoes.  A tiny hole had started in the left one.  She’d made the right choice: He needed this job.

“What do you want me to do?” 

“I want you to erase my life.”

He looked up from his coffee, removed his feet from the desk.  “You sure?”
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Monday, March 19, 2012

King Me

“Let me see the child, my queen.”

Regina smiled serenely at her husband.   “There are two, Phillip.”

The king gasped.  “A boy and a girl?”

No, Regina replied.  “Two boys.  First…”

“No, Regina.”  He shook his head.  “If I know which is to succeed me, I will treat him differently.  I will train him harder; I will have higher expectations for him.”  He gazed at the boys, small and clean and new.  Full of promise and hope for the kingdom.  “Both boys need to know discipline.  Both need to learn leadership and weaponry and defense.” 
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Sunday, March 18, 2012


One cannot rush chicken stock.  Two days, two unhurried days are what you need.  On the first day, you simmer the chicken parts—backs and necks and, if you’re courageous enough, chicken feet.  And then, on day two, you separate the fat from the broth.  You strain the broth.  And then, you run the broth through the separator once more, this time adding copious amounts of ice cubes to which the fat clings.

You’re left with a beautiful, clear stock.
And a pile of necks and backs to deal with.

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Signs of the Times

The contractor was out yesterday to repair the shower and the kitchen ceiling.  I always feel a little guilty when I have someone working in my house.  Perhaps guilty’s not the right word.  Maybe embarrassed is more appropriate: I’m embarrassed that I’m not being productive when someone else is working in my house.  So, despite the chill in the air, as soon as Squints and I wrapped up school for the day, we headed outside.

We raked and pulled weeds and evicted the dandelions from the front bed.  We stood back and admired our work.  And when we called it a day, I returned to the house with dirt beneath my fingernails and embedded in the knees of my jeans. 

I wore that dirt proudly.  My badge of honor, comparable to the thin coating of Thinset and spackling compound that decorated the contractor’s jeans and his shirt and even his glasses.

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Friday, March 16, 2012


The excavator bites and tears.  The developer figures profit.
Happy couples outline visions; dream of pretty lives.
The farmer removes his cap, wipes his face and turns aside.
His vision is no more.

This was written in response to the Trifecta Writing Challenge.  We were to write a story entitled Lost.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012


My sister and I were talking about our kids the other day and I told her that some days, I just want to curl up in a cave and hide for awhile.

Because recently my daughters told me that living with me is like living in the military.

I admit that I want the house somewhat picked up: While I’m not into decorating the house with fancy-schmancy things, book bags and shoes and textbooks strewn all over the house aren’t quite the look I’m going for.  And, yes, perhaps I do get a bit cranky when I wait ten minutes for them in the school parking lot.  

And, well, yeah, I do get grumpy when I’m asked to drive too much. 

I mean, isn’t that what stay-at-home moms are supposed to do?  Stay at home?
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Trick? Or treat?

Two or three Halloweens ago, my husband and I shelled out massive amounts of money to have our garage doors replaced.  Trick?  Or treat? 

The old doors were heavy and cracked, freely admitting the winter winds, and, occasionally, even snow.  And every time we put down the doors, the mechanism shook and rattled in its overhead cage. 

The new doors were pretty; insulated; clean and white.  They had new trim, clean and white.  We were pleased with ourselves and our new purchase; satisfied with this small improvement to our home.

There was only one problem: In warm weather, my door refused to close.  I’d hit the button and the door would go down about a third of the way.  Then, stubborn old thing, it would pause, as if deciding something, before retreating back up overhead.  From inside the car, I’d hold the button down, but the same thing would happen.  I’d get out of the car, still running, and hold down the button by the fancy new keypad whose combination I always seem to forget.  Again, the door would refuse to close.  Finally, I’d turn off the car, slam the door, utter a few swear words, return to the garage, jab a hand at the interior button and hold it down, quite firmly, as if to say I’ve got you now and wait until the darn thing finally cooperated.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Airplane tracks across the sky decorate Edna’s days.  Every morning, as the parents lock themselves behind their computers and the children plug themselves into various machines, the silences within the house grow. 

She misses noise.

Edna wheels herself out the back door and parks upon a path in the garden, lovingly tended by nameless strangers speaking words she cannot understand.

They, also, are plugged in.

Are they disconnected, she wonders, or is she?

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Home, Safe?

The doctor lifted the sheet and peered at the injury on the boy’s leg.  It appeared to be a bullet wound, deeply infected, oozing yellow and green.  But, still.  I could’ve been worse.  He would mend.  “Looks like you’ve had some luck.”    Carefully, she turned the leg to the side. 

The boy winced. 
“I’m sorry,” she said.  “It hurts?”

“Of course it hurts, Doctor.”  The father frowned at her, as if she were responsible for the boy’s condition. 

She nodded.  Was the bullet still lodged inside?  And why had the parents taken so long to get the boy to the hospital?  “Although I’m not sure what I see.” 

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Saturday, March 10, 2012


"To the charge of murder, how do you plead?"

He was innocent.  But they would never let him go: Someone had to be punished.


He raised his gun and made it so.

This post was written in response to this week's Trifecta Writing ChallengeThis weekend's challenge is to give us a story or snippet of a story which includes, in exactly 33 words, a justified exclamation point.  Make us believe that your exclamation point simply needs to be in your story.  The writer with the most believable exclamation wins.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Of Birdsong and Eggplant

I wake to birdsong: a five note trill that bounces up a fifth before repeating.  Sometimes, the bird drops down the scale and and bounces once or twice on a low note.  I rise, intending to learn the name of this bird who so willingly sings outside my window.

The sun is becoming more generous.  The wind is gentle and warm. 
Our seeds arrive in the mailbox bringing a sudden joy to the day.  Squints tears open the bag, begins separating “his” seeds from mine.  “Mom, they sent us eggplant.”  His face is disgusted.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012


My daffodils are tall and green and fat with hidden blooms.  Here and there, a bit of yellow peeks between curtains of green, a fallen slip showing beneath a dress.  The robins bounce across the yard, pecking here and there in sun-softened soil. 

At the local garden store, I order a yard of topsoil for my new raised bed and I see there’s a flyer for a boy—a young man, really—who has gone missing. 

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Lilly Jean sat on the couch outside the branch manager’s office.  She’d been waiting for the past fifteen minutes, staring at the sign on the office door.  Frank Liebowics, Branch Manager.  What the hell was the man doing back there all that time was what Lilly Jean wanted to know.  Likely taking a nap, she mused, crossing her legs and drumming her fingernails on the arm of the chair. 

A woman entered the bank and strode to the manager's door.  "Frank, I’m kind of in a hurry here.”

Lilly Jean looked up.  Frowned.  Nobody barged in front of Lilly Jean Jacobs.  She opened her mouth to speak.  Closed it just as quick.  Lilly Jean suddenly regretted her decision to stop putting on makeup; to stop doing her hair of a morning.  This woman was drop dead gorgeous. She wore a wool suit, red.  An ivory scoop neck shirt beneath.  Gray pumps.  A pearl necklace and matching earrings.  Her nails—fingers and toes—wore shiny red polish.  Her long blonde hair was pulled back into a casual but neat bun.  “What’re you starin’ at?”
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Monday, March 5, 2012


The taxi driver pulls to the curb.  Chrissie hands over two twenties and grabs the suitcase stuffed with sequined costumes and rhinestoned tiaras and cosmetics, oh my lord, the cosmetics.

“Mommy.”  Jessie points to a man lying on a grate in the sidewalk, entirely covered in newspapers.
“Stay away from him.  He’s dangerous.”

“I have a quarter.”
“No.  He can find hisself a job; work hard like the rest of us.”

Backstage, Jessie strips to her underdrawers, dingy and gray, because the judges won’t see those anyhow and with the cost of the costumes, they can’t afford new ones.  “Rassle into this dress, doll.” 
Jessie steps into her costume; pulls it up. 

“Munch on these.”  Chrissie piles a handful of sugar cubes on the table.  She takes Jessie’s right hand and begins applying polish.
 “Your energy picking up any?”

Jessie nods.
“Eat another one”

Jessie pops a second cube in her mouth; chases it with her thumb.
Chrissie slaps the thumb out of Jessie’s mouth. “That’s vulgar.”

Jessie’s eyes widen.  Tears stream down her cheeks. 
“Ah, shit.  You ruined your makeup.”  Chrissie opens the makeup bag and re-applies a thick layer of blush.  “You see them girls?”

Jessie nods. 
“You’re better than all of ‘em put together.”

Chrissie takes a handful of chips from the bag on the table and stuffs them into her mouth.  She wipes her hands on her blue jeans and chews noisily, dabbing blue eye shadow on Jessie’s lids.  She paints her lips a deep red and applies mascara.  “Go and practice your routine.”
The girl stands and walks to a clear space on the floor, weaving between photographers and suitcases and empty pop bottles littering the floor. 

Finally, Jessie is called to perform.
She dances.  She sings.  She struts.

After, Chrissie gathers her in her arms.  “You were perfect, baby doll!  You gonna’ make your momma a boatload of money.”
They leave the auditorium and step over the man lying on the sidewalk, sleeping beneath last week’s news.

This post was written in response to the Trifecta Writing Challenge.  This week's word was vulgar.

This post has also been linked with Yeah, Write


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Prom Season

Robins wake me in the morning now.  My daffodils are ready to burst into bloom.  I have a feeling the peepers will be starting within the week. 
Spring is here. 

And that, unfortunately, can mean only one thing: It’s time to shop for prom dresses.
V drives us, carefully adjusting the seat for her five-two height before backing out of the drive and heading out to what she calls “new territory”—an area she’s never driven in before. 

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Just before my husband pushed me, he’d whispered in my ear.  “A Roman emperor used to throw visitors he didn’t like over the cliffs and into the sea below.” 

I felt Phillip’s arms at my waist. 
And then, I felt nothing. 

I began to fall, the pressure of my husband's fingertips only a memory.
As I fell, the memories flew by, faster and faster until it was all I could do to grasp at them; as if by holding onto them, I could gain purchase on my life again.

I thought of the day I’d agreed to marry Phillip.
“Don’t go,” he’d said to me, the week before I was to leave on a mission trip.  “You can help people here—in the United States.”

“This is important to me, Phillip.”
He took my hand.  “The rainforest is full of dangers.  You’re terrified of snakes.”

I lifted my chin.  “I’ll learn to overcome my fear.”
He released my hand.  “At least come camping with me before you go.”

Phillip killed the snake that I’d found curled inside the tent.  And then, holding the snake by the head, he looked me in the eye.  “There are bigger snakes than this in the rainforest.  Marry me, Jules.  I’ll keep you safe.”
Within a year, I’d given birth.  I busied myself with bottles and diapers and doctor’s appointments.  As I began to navigate the waters of motherhood, my confidence increased.  I became aware of my power as a person.

And then, the baby got sick.
“It’s not your fault, Jules.”  But Phillip’s were eyes dark and angry as he turned away and knelt to pray in the hospital chapel.

The baby recovered.
My confidence did not.

There was an accident.
I totaled the car.

There was a dinner party.
My food sickened the guests.

But Phillip was there every time, to pick up the pieces and pat them back into place like a clay figurine, raw and unfired and malleable.
From this height, I could see the way the earth knit itself together.  The fields were anchored in place by pristine farmhouses and pretty red barns.  The roads crisscrossed here and there; so many places to get to where you are going.  So many paths to take.  Further off, the interstate cinched itself around the ever-expanding waistline of factories and malls and discount stores.

My mind returned to the snake, the baby, the accident, the party.  All of those events, I realized, were linked: Phillip had put the snake inside the tent.  Phillip had sickened the baby and slit the tires and poisoned the dinner.  And every time, Phillip was there to rescue me.  Now there was this; Phillip's birthday present to me, ostensibly to help me overcome my fears. 
Phillip had cinched a belt around my confidence.

I wondered how he intended to save me now. 

I pulled the rip cord.  My chute deployed. 
Time slowed.  

I relaxed. 
So this was what it was like, I mused, to be weightless.  This was what it felt like to be free of worry.  This was what it felt like to be full of confidence.  This time, Phillip's plan to rescue me had backfired: When he pushed me from that plane, Phillip had set me free. 

I studied the gentle swell of the earth rising up to meet me.  I was here.  I had arrived.  And as soon as my feet hit the ground I was going to ask Phillip for a divorce.

Post script: Phillip had cut the cord on the parachute he’d intended for me.  But just before the jump, while Phillip was in the front of the plane, the instructor switched chutes.
Apparently my husband had planned to save me mid-air.

No divorce proceedings were necessary.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Eric Limer challenged me with "Write something where the viewpoint character is in freefall for the duration of the story's timeframe. (Your POV can, like, think back on things, but he/she should be in the air at the beginning of the story and in the air at the end.)" and I challenged Chimnese with "You're given the opportunity to meet your mother or father at a point before your birth. Who would you meet? When? What would you talk about?"


Saturday, March 3, 2012


Largely, my sisters and I dismissed the authority of the babysitter.  She was a playmate.  She brought us treats.  We styled her hair and demanded that she style ours as well.  Finally, at the appointed hour, she gave us piggyback rides to bed and tucked us in and brought us water and let us go to the bathroom one final time.  Wearily, she clicked off the lights and left the room.

A few moments later, we sneaked out of bed and tiptoed back into the family room where we found her eating popsicles and watching TV.
Teasing each other was my sisters’ and my favorite occupation.  Three girls—not Irish twins, but rather Irish triplets—whirled into the family room and then down the stairs into the basement, chasing each other around the ping pong table, zipping past the wine rack and then back up the stairs and into the kitchen.  I paused to grab a wooden spoon from one of the drawers.

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Let's Keep on Dancing

“What’s wrong?” I asked my husband, commonly referred to here as Darth.

He sighed “I’m in my What’s it all about, Alfie mood.”  This, of course, was in reference to the song my mother always used to begin singing whenever my brother, sisters or I would question the meaning of life.  Mom has another favorite she used to pull out, too.  Is that all there is?  …then let’s keep on dancing.
I understood my husband’s mood: His kids are growing up—and away from him.  He’s no longer their hero, but more of an annoyance. 

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The phone rang at 4am.  Caryn didn’t answer: Bad news was best heard over coffee.  
She padded to the kitchen.

 Seth’s courage waned.  His proposal sounded dull.  He disconnected.

Caryn drank her coffee alone, waiting for the ring.

This was written in response to this week's Trifecta Writing Challenge.  Here was our assignment:

Complete the following story in exactly 33 words:

The phone rang at 4am.