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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Word Prompt: Tears

The tears in Millie’s favorite fuschia dress brought tears to her eyes.

“Mommy, I’m sorry,” Violet said, her big, round eyes near tears of their own. The thick gobs of mascara and purple eyeshadow caked around them would surely streak an oily black trail over the rosy pink blush painted on her cheeks when the drops began to fall.

Millie didn’t mind when the girls used her old makeup to play dress-up – in fact, she encouraged their desires to act like proper young ladies – but taking her favorite clothes and cutting them to shreds had crossed a line.

“Why would you do this?” she cried, holding up the shredded dress. “You have a whole box of my old clothes to wear when you’re playing grown-ups.”

“I wanted to look like the girl on the magazine,” her daughter whimpered.

“You’ve ruined a perfectly nice dress, Violet!”

One which Millie had saved four weeks of her household allowance to buy. She convinced the girl at the store to hide it in layaway until she returned with enough to cover the sale. From the moment she tried it on, she knew it was the dress. The one which always earned gushing compliments from other wives when she wore it to parties and dinners with Harold. The one that made her feel like a million bucks. Like a model on a magazine.

And now it was ruined beyond repair.

“Please don’t cry, Mommy,” Violet begged. “I’ll save up my allowance and buy you another pretty dress to wear.”

Her earnest promise tugged at Millie’s heart. It would take her daughter two to three years to save enough quarters to buy another dress. Something about this made Millie laugh. She couldn’t explain the humor which poked her with a smile. God knows what type of dress her imaginative daughter would select for her if left to her own devices. But Violet meant well. She wanted to make her wrong right.

And to Millie, that was worth more than a million fuschia dresses.

– Written by Miss A

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Word Prompt: Grocery store

There was something odd about this grocery store. From the street it looked like your average, oversized cement block plopped at the end of an empty parking lot. The n, e, and s on the neon “Goneways” sign flickered like lightning bugs on their last legs and showed the store’s old age. Each time the letters faded into black, the sign glared “Go way.”

They might want to fix that, I thought to myself as I ambled toward the sliding doors. I was passing through town in the middle of the night, on my way to San Francisco. I hoped the five-day drive from Miami would dry the murky swamp sloshing around my head. Two days in, I could sing every word of Katy Perry’s “Firework,” but I was still wading four feet deep in muddy waters. Looking out for alligators lurking among the reeds had been keeping me awake at night for weeks. The endless asphalt trail hadn’t changed my fears, and it was pointless to pay for a motel while my eyes refused to shut. Some cultures believe a person’s greatest clarity comes when you don’t sleep for three or four days straight. I expected a revelation that likened the second coming when my insomnia finally decided to break.

A cheery instrumental score swarmed me when I stepped in the store. This place’s muzak sounded like an episode of Leave it to Beaver, quite a contrast from the jazzy or pop tunes you heard in the bigger chains, but maybe the owner of “Goneways” held a grudge against Kenny G. Couldn’t blame him.

I grabbed a basket and headed for the snack aisle. I needed Doritos and Chips Ahoy to fuel my midnight cross-country drive. But neither of my loyal friends was anywhere to be found on the shelves I scanned.

Maybe they were on display, I mumbled, though no one was around to hear me. I’d started doing that – talking to myself – around three in the afternoon.

Sauntering to the end of the aisle, I peered to the left and right for a pyramid of chips and cookies. Cans of Campbell’s Soup and boxes of Tide stared me in the face. I didn’t even know they sold Tide in boxes anymore.

Someone in the store had to know where my snacks were hiding. Sure enough, in the produce section I spotted a young man, about fifteen, stacking apples in a bin. The jaundiced fluorescent lights cast an eery pale blue glow on his pale skin, but the white cap atop his head drew me away from his sickly pallor. It seemed a bit retro for the times, but in small-town Kansas, I wasn’t completely surprised. It was common to find people in these parts a little behind the times. Or stuck in the past, as others might claim.

“Excuse me, where do you keep the Doritos and Chips Ahoy?” I asked him.

He gave me a queer, puzzled look. “Gosh, I never heard of sailor chips,” he said. “Can’t say I’ve seen a Dorito either. But I’m kind of new here. Just started three days ago. Let’s go check with Mack. Maybe he knows.”

His confusion was baffling to me. Nevertheless I followed him to the meat counter where Mack, the burly butcher, was hacking into a shoulder loin. He, too, wore one of those retro white caps and gave the same queer look when the boy relayed my search. He called over Marge, the cashier girl, who arrived promptly, her polished saddle shoes clacking against the tile as she flounced toward us. A crisp white smock was tied over her pale blue dress which tented outward in the skirt, as though it floated on a cloud of taffeta underneath. The store’s choice of costume uniforms was a little over the top for this day and age, but if the gimmick worked for them, who was I to judge?

At the mention of Doritos, Marge’s face drew a blank.

“Is that a new detergent?” she asked.

“Oh, come on, you have to be kidding me. None of you has ever eaten a bag of Doritos?” I asked impatiently.

They glanced at each other and shook their heads. Who were these people? What teenager hadn’t popped a handful of cool ranch Doritos into his mouth after a long day at school, or savored the crisp sugary crunch of a Chips Ahoy after dinner?

As I examined the late-night threesome gazing at me with vacant stares, an uneasiness gnawed at my growling stomach. The muzak, their wardrobes, Tide in a box…

This store wasn’t replicating the 1950s – it was haunted by it.

– Written by Miss A

Word Prompt: Shangri-La

Tucked beneath a ridge overgrown with moss and trees

An unfound world awaits the hapless traveller

Wandering lost in brush, moments from discovery

Marble temples paved by gold glow brighter than the sun

Stalwart fortresses of ancient gems they’ve sworn to keep pure

But for the journeyman, their doors open one by one

To reveal the wondrous truths others abandoned along their way

They altars burn eternal flames, alight the soul within

Endless halls of lavish splendor cloaked with rugs un-frayed

The traveller explores the wealth displayed before his eyes

Dares not touch the jewels, yet warms his hand by the fires

Astounded by the beauty where peace, love, and joy reside

Unmarred by gods who condition them with flaws

Compels the man who kneels and bows his weary head

For quiet kings and queens who reign this Shangri-La

– Written by Miss A

Word Prompt: Bubbles

(This prompt inspired me to pen a character introduction, which I may possibly explore further in a short children’s story. 🙂 )

When Mollie Hayes was eight years old, she was obsessed with the bubbles which sprayed from an air pump in her fish aquarium and floated through the water until they reached the top and disappeared. She wondered where they went. Were those round pockets of air only visible within the water? Did they retain their shape and become invisible when they surfaced? These were the questions she asked herself when she sat on her bed and gazed at the tiny bubbles expanding around the fish, whose puckered lips blew bubbles of their own. Where did the fish get their air? Did they huff it from the pump like the clowns who sucked helium from balloons and rambled in squeaky voices to crowds of children at the park? Did fish have squeaky voices? Did the clowns blow invisible helium bubbles when they talked?

Mollie thought more about this in the bathtub where she dumped her mother’s dish soap in the running water to make the biggest mountains of pearly bubbles. Mollie liked to experiment with the different soaps in the house to see which made the longest-lasting bubbles. Shampoo was pitiful. Her big sister’s fancy bath gel had lackluster results. So far, Mom’s dish soap was the winner, although Mollie wouldn’t admit that to her mother because she might make her do the dishes more often.

In the afternoons, Mollie liked to sit on the back porch and blow soap bubbles from a bottle of stinky liquid. She loved watching the bubbles grow, drift across the back yard, and ascend toward the clouds; she gasped whenever one popped and died before it reached its prime.

She pondered what it would be like to float in a bubble across the sky. Or better yet, live in a bubble! Her sister told her about a boy who lived in a bubble. Hollywood made a movie about him. Mollie’s mother refused to rent it because the idea of a child living in a bubble made her sad. Mollie didn’t understand her mother’s emotions. Living in a bubble sounded so cool!

Mollie decided that would be the first movie she’d watch when she was “old enough.” There were a lot of movies she couldn’t watch until she was “old enough.” As soon as she was old, she was going to see them all. And she wouldn’t hide behind the couch for the scary parts like her older sister. No, she would be brave and face the gruesome scenes and creepy music which she heard from her room when she was supposed to be asleep.

She was usually watching the bubbles float under the fluorescent blue light in her aquarium. When she had trouble falling asleep, she counted bubbles. Sometimes she counted all the way to one hundred before dreams carried her to faraway lands…in her own private bubble. Where it took her was always a mystery until the next morning when her mother nudged her awake because it was time to get ready for school. As Mollie brushed her teeth, she’d remember her grand journeys through the night to kingdoms where everyone appreciated her love for bubbles and wish for the day when she could live there for real.

– Written by Miss A

Word Prompt: Love

When Jackson Pierce cheated on his math test, he did it for love. If he wanted to win the heart of Lily Mills, the smartest and prettiest girl in class, he had to look smart, too. That’s why he wrote answers from his older sister’s test on the bottom of his shoe. Her friend Robin had told him that Mrs. Snodgrass used the same tests every year. Robin didn’t tell him this so he could cheat on his tests. She thought it was an interesting fact, which she learned from her brother, who was two years older. Jackson appreciated the tip all the same.

Until he got caught. It wasn’t even by Mrs. Snodgrass. It was by the substitute teacher who filled in when Mrs. Snodgrass was at home with the flu. With nothing to do while the students tackled their tests, the stupid substitute had decided to pace the room. Jackson wished Miss Goody Two Shoes had brought a book to read, like all the other substitutes. But no, this one wanted to pretend she was a real teacher, one who was all too happy to drag Jackson to the principal’s office and tattle on what he’d done.

Jackson was devastated. Now Lily would know the truth that he didn’t understand math – English and history were his easy classes – and she’d never give him the time of day. This is what drowned his thoughts in sorrow as Mrs. Snodgrass asked him to pull up a chair during recess the next day. The principal thought she should be the one to punish Jackson, not that horrible substitute who didn’t know how to mind her own business.

“Jackson, I was very shocked by the principal’s call,” she told him. “You were the last student I’d expect to cheat in my class.”

Jackson stared at his hands in his lap.

“I only wanted Lily Mills to love me because I was smart in math,” he admitted. Then realizing what he’d blurted out loud, to his teacher no less, he slapped a hand over his mouth. Oh no! What if she told someone and the whole class found out?

A small smile perked up the corner of Mrs. Snodgrass’s frown. “I think I know an appropriate punishment for you, Jackson.”

Then she sent him back to his desk without saying another word about what kind of punishment she had in mind. For five long minutes, he dreaded what she was going to do. When the class returned from recess, she pulled Lily Mills aside and whispered something to her in the hall. Jackson’s stomach fell on the floor. So this was his punishment. Mrs. Snodgrass was confessing his secret crush to Lily and humiliate him.

Lily barely glanced in his direction when she took her seat across the room. When the bell rang at the end of the day, Mrs. Snodgrass called them both to her desk. Jackson picked up his stomach and trudged to the front. Lily looked perfect as always in her pale blue dress, but when she looked at Jackson, she had a serious expression on her face. She thought he was a loser, Jackson thought. A big fat loser who didn’t understand math.

“Jackson, Lily is going to tutor you for one hour on two afternoons each week,” Mrs. Snodgrass informed him. “I think she will be a perfect fit to help you understand the equations and formulas you’re struggling with.”

It took Jackson a minute to absorb what she’d said. Two hours of Lily’s undivided attention, every week? Was this a dream?

“Why don’t you start this afternoon?” Mrs. Snodgrass suggested, nudging them toward desks in the front row.

Dazed, Jackson sat down and pulled his math book from his bag. His stomach crawled back into its rightful place.

“Okay, turn to page sixty-four,” Lily said in her best teacher’s voice.

Seeing her students were getting work, Mrs. Snodgrass excused herself from the room to speak with another teacher down the hall. As soon as she left, Lily whipped her head around and glared at Jackson.

“Jackson Pierce, if you ever cheat on anything ever again, I’m never ever going to speak to you for the rest of your life,” she snapped. Little white sparks flashed in her big brown eyes as she uttered her threat.

Jackson nodded. “I promise I’ll never ever cheat again,” he swore.

Thirty years later, as his wife dressed for their anniversary dinner, recalling that moment of first love made him smile.

“Are you ready, dear?” his wife asked.

Jackson glanced at the vision in front of him. Still ravishing in a pale blue dress.

Although he had kept his word to Lily and never cheated again, he had to admit that cheating on his math test had been the best wrong decision he’d ever made in his whole life.

– Written by Miss A

Word Prompt: Beauty

My mother gave me a distorted impression of beauty. Through her eyes beauty had to meet specific requirements, which were defined by her brief career as a model in the 1960s. Beauty had a 24-inch waist and 34-inch hips, even if it meant eating nothing but one cup of yoghurt each day. Beauty didn’t have stretch marks, cellulite, or downcast eyes. Beauty was evenly proportioned with a symmetrical, high-cheekboned face.

When I was little I wanted to be just like her. A model. Beautiful. But by thirteen, rapid growth spurts had carved long, purplish ditches into my hips and backside, along with a few unsightly dimples. My eyes did not perk up at the far corners – they sloped away from my temples just enough to make me look sad. And I was. Because according to my mother’s rules, I had a long, difficult path to walk before I could be considered remotely beautiful or model-worthy.

For fourteen years I always despised at least one part of my body. At least one. Even after my mother dashed out of the picture when I was sixteen. She didn’t want a family that couldn’t live up to her model expectations.

Though I had the height of Kate Moss, I couldn’t master her waifish figure or sullen glare. Or Cindy Crawford’s sultry pout. I dieted and exercised like a lunatic to keep myself thin, but celery and cardio didn’t erase the marks of adolescence on my butt. Sure, they eventually paled to a creamy shade of flesh, but they were still there. My personal flaws. Just like my un-sexy eyes and awkward nose, which turned up a little too much at the end. And my lackluster cheekbones, which didn’t protrude in seductive angles like those women whose figures I envied in the Victoria’s Secret catalogue. I didn’t have their perfectly flat abs or hourglass shapes. Buying their bras and underwear didn’t make me look like them either.

I had little to no appreciation for my body or personal beauty until I was twenty-seven years old. I’m thankful for my revelation happening sooner than later. Some women hate themselves their entire lives.

Two very different events changed my perspective within a year’s time: getting diagnosed with a serious illness, and choosing to escape the weight of that sickness by training for a marathon. When I crossed the finish line after 26.2 arduous miles, I burst into tears. My body – the one I hated for most of my life – had carried and pushed me 26.2 miles. My mind had gone along for the ride, and it exploded into a thousand tiny fragments after the journey was over. It blew up my mother’s superficial expectations. Looking like a model didn’t define me as beautiful. Beauty was the ability to train and run a marathon, to cheer on friends who were struggling alongside me, and smile at strangers as they waved on the sidelines. Beauty was loving and appreciating the body I have and keeping it healthy and strong so I can enjoy it for years to come. I didn’t have to be a supermodel to be beautiful. I simply had to be – and love – myself for who I am.

I don’t compare myself to fashion models and celebrities. I don’t measure my looks against other women and try to ascertain whether my body is as sexy or attractive as theirs. I feel sorry for the attractive girls and women who are running to plastic surgeons and begging for bigger breasts, duck lips, and Botox to smooth their worried heads. Plastic and silicone ruins their natural beauty. But that is my opinion. Just like my mother had hers. I’ve discovered that beauty can be defined in multiple ways – and it changes from person to person. Confucius sums it up best: “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”

– Written by Miss A

Word Prompt: Yellow

“Be careful what you tell Yellow. She likes to blab it all around town. Talks too much, if you ask me. Doesn’t seem to understand some things are best kept to yourself.”

That’s what the receptionist warned me on the first day of work. I asked her if she had any advice, and now that I’ve been here for a year, I can see she’s right. Yellow knows everyone’s business and she’s not afraid to share it. I didn’t have to learn this lesson the hard way, but I’ve watched others suffer at the mercy of her wagging tongue.

I first met her by the copy machine. She extended her hand, batted those soft brown eyelashes, and eagerly asked me about myself. I could tell she fancied herself to be the innocent ingenue, and I might have fallen for her act, if our receptionist hadn’t said that look was all show. Behind the grin was a lethal claw groping for a chance to stab you in the back. So I said my “hello,” pulled my papers from the machine, and stepped away to avoid a conversation.

That isn’t to say I’ve avoided her all together. She likes to sit with my department at lunch and gossip about what she’s heard around the office – who’s been kissing whom, which bosses make their assistants cry, the deals that are being made behind closed doors. This girl’s going to get her comeuppance one day, but it’s a question of whether it’ll happen later or soon. I don’t offer my two cents. When she’s around, I keep my mouth shut and my ears open. Never know what tidbits rolling off her tongue will help me in my own careers, but I sure as hell am not going to let her use my words to damage how far I’ve come. I know what happens when you say too much and another person hangs you from a rung.

Yellow’s too young to know any better. I’d say she’s a little green behind the ears, but that would be awkward, her name being Yellow and all. Who names their kid Yellow anyhow?

The mother that wants her baby to be bright and shiny, the life of the party, the glowing sun. I hear Yellow on the phone with her during breaks. That girl gossips about her own family, too. No one gets a break between those two. Makes me think twice about my judgments against other people – the kind that cross your mind when you’re least aware of the assumptions you’re forming from a stranger’s frown, illegal turn, or angry stare. I guess if I had nothing interesting in my life, I’d harbor those thoughts and turn them into blurbs for entertaining other people, too. Like Yellow. It’s hard to be the life of a party no one will invite you to. That’s why she dwells on the lives of others and spills gossip on the ground where everyone can see.

Most things are better left unsaid and left alone. A respect for privacy and confidentiality will get you a lot farther in life, so when rumors and secrets hit my ears, they stop right there. But that’s to be expected from a person nicknamed “Red.”

– Written by Miss A