Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams

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

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Well, Filibuster's college tuition suddenly went up two hundred dollars a month. I sent her a message on Facebook the other day: “Call them and see what's up.”

She messaged me back. “I don't know who to call.”

“Business Office.”

“Can you?” She wrote.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Three days later—perhaps it was four—Ellen found herself on her brother's front stoop.

What happened?” Nate asked, ushering her to the kitchen table.

Ellen laughed and struck a match: The telling of this story, of course, required the prop of a cigarette. “It was the day they emptied the johnny pumps.”

Johnny pumps?” He frowned.
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Monday, November 26, 2012

Heart of Hickory

On Saturday, they walked in the woods, kicking up the browned leaves that had fallen on the path. She tilted her head to listen. “They sound like the waves on the ocean, when we were on our honeymoon.”

He nodded.

“Almost five years,” she said.

They paused at the stump of an old oak, rotten and empty like a decayed tooth. She took up a handful of wood and crushed it in her glove, watching the wood disintegrate and fall to the earth.

“We never should have married.”
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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Favorite Things

Words from generations past folded into notebooks—yellowed letters; names penned on the backs of faded photographs; newspaper clippings—rekindle old stories. Words are the glue that bind us; a map to point us home.

This was written for this week's Trifecta Writing Challenge Give us a few of your favorite things, in whichever form you want, in 33 words exactly. 


Monday, November 19, 2012

Seeing Things

Just before tucking him into bed, Marie taped Jackson's right eye closed. “There,” she said, rubbing his sealed eye with her thumb. “All done, Doctor.”

Thank you.” Jackson Byrd wasn't a medical doctor, of course. Ever since successfully defending his dissertation nine months ago, he'd insisted upon the title. Indeed, he wore his doctorate like a bauble round his neck.

Marie, truth be told, was getting a bit tired of it. “You're welcome.”

Jackson curled up on his side and drew his knees inward while Marie pulled the covers up to his neck. “Maybe tomorrow...”

You need to be patient.” She patted his good cheek, the cheek that he could still move properly. The cheek that still lifted when he smiled. “The doctor said you're getting better every week.”
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Friday, November 16, 2012

Santa's at the Mall

Well, it's not not yet Thanksgiving and Santa's at the mall. Just outside of Sears, I pause, clutching my plastic bag, to watch the scene below.

Dominating the display is the Christmas tree, of course, extending through the second floor nearly to the ceiling. In front of the tree is Santa's chair, covered in red velvet. Currently an elf sits there, chin in hand, staring out at nothing.

I can't see Santa anywhere.

Perhaps he's run to Starbucks for a cup of joe.
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Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Charts and optimal dates and preferential temperatures. One line or two. As if she could summon whatever it is that makes up the human soul as easily as she could a cab on a busy New York avenue.

Anger pulsed through every fiber of her being. Three times her seed been thwarted from blossoming; the flower nipped in bud.

Ludhiana. Amritsar. New York. Nothing had changed.

It was a girl the words left his lips, and stayed with her, forever ringing. Next time maybe came the consolation, and his X chromosomes consummated with hers again. The routine never wavered. Neither in pattern nor in words.

Three months was all she would get. And then, one word of doctor would bring her world crashing down.

Only not this time, she vowed. And a mother was born in that instant.

* * *

Hot lamp, flexi-neck bent in sorrow. Overhead lights blindly served witness.

Metal tray of instruments. Feet arranged in stirrups. Needle plugged into her wrist.

She wept yet another life they had started and cherished. She wept possibilities.

As the drugs worked their magic, he kissed her forehead. A mother who has lost is still a mother.

They would try again, of course.

Because hope never dies.

And I like to think, four years hence, of a little girl in pigtails, hopscotching along the sidewalk. Or perhaps a boy in denim.

Parents die, and children too.

But hope? It lives forever.

This was another co-written piece, again with Lucid Lotus Life and Ruby.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Soul Bound

Charts and optimal dates and preferential temperatures. One line or two. As if she could summon whatever it is that makes up the human soul as easily as she could a cab on a busy New York avenue.

There had to be an easier way, but if there was, she hadn’t discovered it. So Brid kept notes. A little black book filled not with names and seven digits, but with the passage of time.

One month bled easily into the next, each day's observations dutifully recorded in neat, tight script; pretty word bouquets to share with the baby.

David disapproved, of course. “There's not going to be a baby, Brid.”

Despite the storm, she fled the apartment; hailed a cab; slid into the back.

“How's it goin'?” The driver asked.

She offered him her withered heart. “Terrible.”

He nodded, switched on the windshield wipers.

And she realized, as she blotted her tears, that souls cannot be conjured, at least not in words.

Where you headed?” He said.

“I'm not really sure.”

* * * 
This piece, a collaboration of three writers, was written for this week's Trifecta Writing Challenge. The story was started a long time ago by Joules. Part two was written by Nia Ceridwyn.
Here's what we had to do...

Upon publication of this post, the challenge is officially open.  We will give you a prompt, and we ask that Team Member A continue this story with an additional 33-100 words of his/her own.  Team Member A needs to publish those 33-100 words in a post on his/her own blog and submit the link on the linkz on this page.  

The baton then passes to Team Member B.  Team Member B must write an additional 33-100 words, continuing the story that Trifecta started and Team Member A continued.  After publishing his/her post, Team Member B must travel over to Velvet Verbosity's 100 Word Challenge to submit the link to the post on the linky form on Velvet Verbosity's site.  That linky form will go live halfway through this challenge--41 hours after the challenge opens (Wednesday, 2 am Eastern).  


Saturday, November 10, 2012


These shades are dusty,” Natalie tells Ryan. He cannot hear. She understands this. She snaps up the shades of both windows, studies the motes suspended in the air. “There's so much we don't see, Ryan. Just so much we'll never understand.” She stares nine floors down at the crowded parking lot. “It looks so calm down there,” she says and laughs, surprising herself. “All neat and perfect. Everything put into place.” She turns to face her husband. His face is pale and thin. His eyes remain closed. “Remember Nick's toy parking garage? God, he spent hours playing with that thing. Driving his Matchbox cars up the ramp with his pudgy hand. Parking them in neat slots. Folding down the striped guard's gate. We thought life was so simple then, didn't we?”
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Friday, November 9, 2012


If I sneak seventy percent of the Halloween candy, there's a hundred percent chance I'll gain weight. The chance of cavities decreases by forty percent.

The things a mother does for her children.

This was written for this week's Trifecta Writing Challenge.  Andy Rooney created something called “The 50-50-90 rule: anytime you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there's a 90% probability you'll get it wrong.”  We want you to give us your own probability equation.  Use whichever numbers suit you, and make it about whatever you like, but give us something to think about.  In 33 words, of course.  Good luck!  And we will see you back here on Monday for our Anniversary Challenge!


Wednesday, November 7, 2012


It was the year they left Mantua; the year they left the bank where the teller sat in the drive-through window framed by brick—a pretty picture of small-town life and love—dispensing cellophane-wrapped lollipops and conversation with every deposit and every withdrawal.

It was the year they moved to forty acres of cornfields and woods; dreams and intentions. She remembers waking to the silver tanker pulling into the dairy farm across the street. She remembers standing at the window, staring at the holsteins dotting the field, wrapping thick muscular tongues around patches of grass.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Tall, Grande or Venti?”

“Give her a Venti,” Rebecca nodded at Alicia. “She's gonna' need it. And one for me as well.” She whipped out her debit card and elbowed in front of Alicia. “I'm buying, so don't even bother arguing with me.”

“Room for cream?” The barista smiled at Alicia.

“God, no. Fill them all the way up.” Rebecca swiped her debit card and tossed a handful of pennies in the tip jar. “I've got the sugars.” She grabbed a handful of packets and pulled five brown napkins from the dispenser. “Get a stirrer. We can share one. I'm going to get a table away from the entrance.” She shivered. “Every time somebody opens that door I get cold all over again.”

Alicia removed her lid and spilled a half-inch of her coffee into the trash. She added cream and replaced the lid.
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Friday, November 2, 2012

The Wall

Words are the wall behind which I can hide myself, occasionally peeking around to look for applause before darting back again and telling myself that the words are enough. Usually I believe myself.

This was written for this weekend's Trifecta Writing Challenge.  

As many of you know NaNoWriMo has begun.  Both editors are attempting this ambitious and possibly irrational feat.  We want to hear from those of you participating.  Have you attempted before?  Are you on track so far?  Are we all just plain crazy insane?  And for those of you not participating:  What are your thoughts?  Are we all just plain crazy insane?

For this weekend's challenge, in honor of all of the writers throwing rationality (and perhaps sanity) to the wind and writing til their fingers bleed, we're asking for exactly 33 words about why we write. 


Thursday, November 1, 2012

That Made Four

I grew up four miles west of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on a small plot of land with a hardscrabble house. My mother believed in doing things the old-fashioned way: scratching out a small garden, hanging clothes out on the line, even in the coldest of weather, keeping chickens and a goat and a handful of cats.

My father had been a history major who'd always dreamed of writing books. But instead of making his own history, he chose to relive the histories of others. Daddy was a reenactor, dressing up every day in the costume of a Northerner, pretending to be someone he was not while hordes of tourists got off long busses and acted interested when all they really wanted to do was go out to dinner before hunting for ghosts.

I'm going to pick up ghost hunting, Mary Ellen,” Daddy said one day after he'd put away his gun and hung up his costume. “Weekends.” He nodded at me. “Bobby here can go with me.”

Momma shook her head. “Boy's too young to distinguish fact from fiction.”

Hell, seven ain't too young, is it, Bobby?” He grinned at me. “We'll take a bunch of tourists to Devil's Den and just let 'em loose. ”

Momma shook her head. “That ain't right, Frank.”

Daddy nudged me. “How many people came down this street last week, looking for ghosts?”

Some people, figuring that all the tourism might have scared the ghosts off, started to search on the outskirts of the area, bypassing the haunted hotels and restaurants, even the battlefield. They spread around in ever-widening concentric circles looking for something to believe in. “Five cars, at least,” I said.

See that, Mary Ellen?”

Just yesterday, a boy about my age got out of a white BMW while his daddy sat in the car. He stepped onto the front porch and asked me if I'd ever met a ghost.”

What'd you tell him?” Daddy wanted to know.

I didn't answer him.” Truth be told, I wasn't sure if I had.

Daddy snickered. “Can't you just see all those New Yorkers, picking their way through the rocks, taking care not to break an ankle, looking all wide-eyed and scared in their fancy clothes?”

Shouldn't make light of a place where so many people died.”

It'll pay the bills, Mary Ellen.” Daddy said and his mouth was in a straight line which told Momma that she'd better keep her mouth shut if she knew what was good for her. She sighed and started cleaning the chicken she'd slaughtered that afternoon. Daddy grabbed his guitar from the stand beside the fireplace. He sat at the kitchen table and picked out a simple tune, his eyes searching the dusty air for the memory of music.

Daddy started up his ghost hunting business. He kept Momma's protests quiet with his fists. And three years later, my father took me to the front porch. He looked me right in the eye and said, “Bobby. You're the man of the house now.”

I remember laughing a little at that. A man at ten.

I've got to go, Bobby. It's time for me to make my own history.”

And then he was gone.

* * *

Baked or fried,” my mother asked me on my seventeenth birthday.

I looked up from my math homework, irritated by this interruption. “Why are you asking me that? You know I like my chicken fried.”

Just giving you the option,” she replied.

Make a lot,” I said. “I'm hungry.”

After she'd prepared the chicken and tucked it into the frying pan, my mother pulled the guitar from the stand.

I narrowed my eyes. “You leave my father's guitar alone.”

She shook her head. “This isn't your father's guitar. It belongs to me.” She settled it on her lap, curled her body around it just so, like she was cradling a newborn baby and I knew, watching that instrument become a part of her body, that she was telling the truth. At first, her fingers wandered, high-stepping the strings like a hen in tall grass, carefully plucking her way around an old familiar place. The creases on her face smoothed out and I could see my mother as a young woman. As a beautiful woman.

Eventually, she warmed to the music, her fingers remembering how to play in the same way her hand never forgot how to wring the neck of a chicken. She closed her eyes and settled into her song, the way a chicken settles upon the prize of an egg and my mother's playing went from this translucent, shivering thing to something of confidence and strength and beauty.

What's that smell?” I said.

Mamma opened her eyes and the music dripped from her fingertips and puddled on the floor. “Oh good lord, that's the chicken.” She replaced the guitar in its stand and hurried to the kitchen.

You burned it,” I said, watching her pick up the tongs, flipping legs, thighs, breasts. “You ruined my birthday meal.”

I'm sorry,” she said. “I didn't mean to.”

I stepped right into my daddy's shoes then. I reached up my manly hand and smacked my mother across the cheek, the way I'd seen my father do. “No wonder he left you.”

My mother's smile was wistful. “Your father didn't leave me. I kicked him out.”

I stared, surprised. “You're not kicking me out.”

I don't intend to.”

That's right, you don't intend to. When Daddy left he told me I was the man of the house.”

Momma laughed and set her tongs on the counter. “Well, I guess my job here is done,” she said as she left the kitchen.

Where you going?” I asked. “You've got that mess to clean up.”

She picked up her guitar and walked to the front door. “You can take care of yourself now.” She paused at the door. “Maybe you should pay more attention to your past before you head into your future.”

Momma set up shop in an alley beside a restaurant, where the tourists came to gawk and read the little historical plaques scattered like chicken feed around the town. She played for eight hours straight every day and spent her nights in a shelter.

The chickens were eaten by a coyote. The goat dried up. The cats ran off. I found myself a girl willing to bring it all back.

On my nineteenth birthday, I went to find my mother. I stood at the square, arms crossed, watching her play on the hotel's front porch. The people smiled at one another, tapping their feet to the music, nodding when they recognized a song. I watched her play for two hours.When she was done, I walked up to her. “Come home, Momma. Sasha's frying up some chicken.”

My mother set her guitar in her case and folded down the hinges. “I hate fried chicken, Billy.” She stood and picked up her case. “I always preferred it baked.” She smiled and ran her finger along my jawline. “I'm headed out tomorrow.”

Where?” I always thought she'd come home.

Got me a recording contract.” She smiled. “I've been discovered by one of those New Yorkers your father was always mocking.”

I laughed. “Come on, Momma. Winter's coming on.”

She turned and walked away, the case bumping against her leg with every step.

Three months later, I saw her on a television show. Her hair was cut and styled. She had on new clothes. She looked right into the camera and I felt her eyes touch mine. Then she picked up her guitar and began to play. When she opened her mouth to sing, Sasha rushed into the room. “Who is that?”

No one,” I said.

That's your mother! She's got the voice of an angel!”

She does not.” I clicked the television off.

My mother went on tours. She began making all kinds of television appearances. I couldn't go anywhere without seeing her face. The tourists began showing up at the house, knocking at the door in the middle of the night, wanting to see where it all began.

And then, my father showed up. “It's time to get this family back together again,” he said. He pulled out a chair and sat. “Give me your mother's telephone number.”

He doesn't have it.”

My father narrowed his eyes. “I don't like your sass.”

Well,” Sasha said, hands on hips. If I squinted just right I could make out the gentle swell of the baby she was carrying. “That's not my problem.”

Son, you need to keep your woman in line,” my father said.

Sasha laughed long and hard. “The way you did?”

My father narrowed his eyes. “Get out.”

Don't worry.” Sasha began packing up her things, stuffing her belongings into a suitcase. “I'm leaving.”

I looked at my father. “All you've ever done is pretend.”

He speared a piece of chicken and drew his knife across it.

Sasha and I took up residence in the same shelter where my mother had lived. And in the quiet and stillness of the evenings, while my father gave tours of his house to starry-eyed fans, Sasha and I cradled our child between us.

Was hitting my mother a gift?” I whispered to Sasha one night.

Sasha wide-eyed me in the dark. “What?”

Will a man realize his right to freedom only when you do violence to him?” I sat up on my elbows then. “By hitting my mother, did my father...did I...give her the courage she needed to become who she is today?”

The baby cried and Sasha nestled him against her breast and I realize how like an egg life is. Strong yet fragile. Messy and clean. Unpredictable and contained. A tear slowly rolled down her cheek onto our baby's head. “You need to stop justifying your actions, Bobby, and face up to what you did. You and your father both.” She rose and picked up her bag.

Where you going?”

I'm afraid you're going to get the urge to give me some courage.”

And for the third time in my life, a person that I loved walked out on me.

She took the baby with her.

I guess that made four.

I returned to live with my father, to help him give tours of our home.

I am there still, searching for ghosts.

Sometimes, as I fall asleep, I can still hear the echo of my mother's guitar in the alleyway.

For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, SAM at http://frommywriteside.wordpress.comgave me this prompt: You can still hear the echo of the guitar in the alleyway today.

I gave Katri at http://bookslikeher.wordpress.com/this prompt: Dear Mr. President. Dear Mr. Romney.

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