Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams

Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: May 2013

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


The books had all but disappeared by the time Miguel was born. Words written were no longer useful for anything but fuel. You could boil water over Atlas Shrugged. War and Peace would fry an egg, provided you could find one. Infinite Jest could soften rice. Fish was done when each page of Les Miserables had blackened and curled and broken into bits that floated away upon the breeze.

The children were encouraged to explore the woods surrounding the village, rewarded whenever they brought something useful to the elders. On his sixth birthday, in the back of a dank cave, Miguel discovered a cache of books, wrapped in blankets and tucked inside several wooden cases.

"Elder Thomas." Miguel handed a book out shyly. "I found more fuel."

Thomas opened the book and ran a hand across the page. He coughed quietly into his palm and then broke into tears. "This is not fuel, Miguel. There are words here. Ideas. Listen." He pointed to the top of a page and began to read. After one page, he closed the book.

"Why did you stop?" Miguel asked.

"Reading is forbidden."


"Books are for fuel."

"The cave is full of them," Miguel said.

Thomas stood and glanced around at the other elders. "Show me," he said quietly.

When he saw the books, Thomas fell to his knees. "You must never tell anyone."

Miguel nodded and scratched at a scab.

Thomas taught Miguel to read in secret, Miguel sounding out exotic words that felt heavy on his tongue.

"You appear to have a talent for words," Thomas said a year later.

In the end, they were discovered hunched over the tiny print of A Wrinkle in Time.

The chief elder, Miguel's grandfather, ordered the hidden books to be burned to burn the bodies of the teacher and the boy.

The villagers watched as blackened bits rose to the sky and blew away.

This was written for this week's Trifecta Writing Challenge. The word was appear.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Eva perches upon the corner of the narrow bed, and runs a hand across the sheets, crisp and white. They smell of Clorox and this fact makes her laugh for no good reason.

"A laugh. That's unusual." The man in the white coat leans against the wall, arms crossed. Beside him is a rectangular window that allows her a narrow glimpse of the outside world. The before world, as she has come to think of it. The window's metal bars are unnecessary: No adult would be able to squeeze through that opening. "What's funny?"

"The bleach." She crosses her legs and sees that she's too thin. "My life has been completely sanitized. Fresh and clean; new and white."
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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Under Cover

Jennifer Pratt unwraps the cellophane on her pack of Kents and neatly tears open the foil beneath before thumbing the lighter in.

The stranger beside her laughs. "Thought I was the only one to have a car old enough to have one of those."

The lighter pops. Jennifer pulls it out; holds the glowing coils to the cigarette grasped between her lips. She inhales deeply, sucks down greedily. "Want one?"

The stranger waves a hand away. "Can't. Pregnant again."

Jennifer looks at her. "Are congratulations in order?"

"Unexpected, both of them. This wasn't the way I'd planned for life to go."
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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Seedling Star

After dinner, Grandmother shoos Billy and Grandfather out to the garden. Billy lies upon his stomach studying the cracks in the earth, watching an ant take stock of its surroundings, legs and antennae feeling...studying...committing the way to memory. Three feet away, Grandfather hoes between his tomato plants.

They pass an hour in silence. The air cools. The sun nestles into the horizon. Billy blinks and widens his eyes. The stars leap into the sky like popping corn. Grandfather reaches out, then balls his fist. "Quick, child. Dig a hole."

Billy jumps to his feet and grabs a stick.

Grandfather kneels and opens his hand over the hole Billy has scratched into the dirt. "A seedling star is a wondrous thing."
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Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Fourth Spoon

"Who's got the fourth spoon?" I demand, looking at each of the three girls in turn. They all deny having it. But I am certain that one of them has smuggled it upstairs, warming in a mug of tea or perhaps stuck in the forth bowl--a bowl overflowing with cereal or cottage cheese or some other sort of comfort food that will help get them through the stress of these last few weeks of school.

I stir my coffee with a knife and head up the stairs in search of the fourth spoon.

Since my husband left me, exactly one week ago, Orange Cat (the blind one) hasn't been the same: He walks about the house, meowing loudly and bumping into walls; running to the basement to hide when visitors come, emerging an hour or so later, strands of dust and cobwebs dangling from his whiskers in an undignified way no self-respecting cat ought to tolerate.

I know this fact only because my son reported it to me: When he left, my husband took with him Orange Cat (the blind one), Gray Cat (the outdoor one), two bowls, two spoons, and one dog (the frightened one, not the Seeing Eye dog, and, before you can even ask, no: The Seeing Eye dog is not for Orange Cat).

My husband took our son, too.
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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Throne of Moss

Once upon a time, humans understood the words spoken by the forest. They could easily slip from their native tongues into, say, the language of the grasses, which, outside of a few dialectic differences, is mainly the same. Humans could speak with the trees and the orchids, even the bees, who, naturally, spoke several languages, the bees' main employ being the hand-delivery of messages to the forest vegetation.

It came to pass, as these things do, that the humans believed they no longer needed the forest: They began to shape it to their desires.

Whole languages disappeared as the forest constricted. Lilies hung their heads. The bees stopped Sunday deliveries. Maples toed underground pipes.

Eventually the humans stopped speaking entirely to the forest, all except Willheim, the last remaining woodsman.

And so it was the bees who brought the news of the birth of Edmunda to the woods. Edmunda: daughter of Tatjana, granddaughter of Alois. The blood of royalty coursed through the child's veins: She was destined to sit upon a throne of gold.

But the blood of the woodfolk ran through Edmunda as well, a simple misstep in Tatjana's judgement, according to the servants, who gossiped like bees while they polished the silver and plucked the goose for dinner. Suddenly intoxicated by the scent of wild roses, scent being a language all its own, Tatjana had taken up with Willheim.

Tatjana's mother was furious: Royalty does not mix with men of the forest. Willheim was dragged into the executioner's chambers, Tatjana sobbing on the other side of the oaken door, while the maple planted outside, in a token nod to the forest, looked on in silent sorrow.

The months passed. Spring turned to summer and then fall.

Tatjana gave birth.

The tree whispered a message to the bees, who flew low, carrying the word to each blade of grass: A new woodchild had been born.

The child's throne would not be gold, they decided.

Edmunda would sit upon a throne of moss.

This was written for this week's Trifecta Writing Challenge. The word was blood. 

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Monday, May 6, 2013

On Broad Street

We caught the six-o-five to Philly. For the entire ride, the conductor groused about the way the train had three extra cars for him to tend by himself and that next weekend, thanks to Race for the Cure, it would be the same story.

Mainly, he was ignored: Despite the hour, everyone was in a festive mood.

We were headed to the Broad Street Run, a ten mile race with an expected forty thousand runners and countless spectators.

I hate the city.

I hate crowds.

I hate noise.

I hate traffic and sirens and the white pavement that seems to cover everything.

Most of all I hate having to worry about my children getting hurt.
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Thursday, May 2, 2013


"I don't care if is door. Or a window. It's nothing but a thin sliver of chance." Momma perched on the edge of her green recliner, the gaps in the vinyl mended with duct tape. She was always fixing things that way, doctoring arguments and things broken with patches or kisses floated through the air upon a ring of smoke.

I pushed aside the tarp covering the cabin's entrance and stepped into cool mountain air. The tips of the pine needles birthed fat drops of rain. The birdsong was tentative and cautionary.

"You leave me now, you ain't never seeing me again, you hear?"

I headed down the mountain. The rain transitioned from drizzle to downpour. My mother would say it was a sign; brittle bones tossed tossed into the air and falling to the earth to arrange themselves into a pattern of significance that I chose to ignore.
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