Scourge–Inspired by Kristi West

I’m at it again! A challenge to write short stories based on the ideas and inspirations of my readers! We had 30 stories in September (find links to those stories here). Well, that was so popular (and insanely fun for me) that I decided to do it for December and January! Tune in on Monday, Wednesday and Friday to read the stories and vote on Saturday, Sunday and Mondays. Weekly winners will be announced on the Tuesday after the vote.

Today’s story idea comes from the lovely Kristi West. She was the first contributor in September with her story idea for Good-bye George. She also shared her creativity for Being Found and Broken and Empty. She is very creative. I admire her so much. (I really do, Kristi…). Here’s her idea…

Character: Jane. After having several miscarriages, is finally through the first trimester of a healthy pregnancy.

Setting: At home after a doctor’s appointment

Conflict: Jane was just diagnosed with cancer

Scourge

Jane was surprised how differently her living room looked. Only a few hours ago, everything had looked clean. Friendly. Welcoming. But, as she turned to close the front door, she felt cold. Not a chilly, need a sweater cold. Rather, a deep, ice in the blood cold. A disbelieving cold. A giving up kind of cold.

She touched the tiny bump of stomach that barely popped out under her blouse. The small avocado sized baby that grew in her stomach was fine. The ultrasound showed two arms, two legs, a strong heartbeat. Seventeen weeks she’d been pregnant. The longest pregnancy she’d ever had.

She and her husband, Rob, bounced with excitement for this baby.

So sure of joy. That this time all would be well. Before Halloween they would hold a baby. And that baby would be their own. They had hoped for this child. Prayed. Begged. This should have been what would heal her pain. Five miscarriages. Five deaths. She felt the injustice, the darkness in each loss.

But this time was different. The baby was healthy. But, Jane. Jane was not.

She hadn’t told Rob about the irregular PAP smear. She kept the doctor’s discovery to herself. Lesions on her cervix. The doctor had been concerned. Ordered a biopsy. That was ten days ago. Jane pushed the possibilities out of her mind. Didn’t allow the fear to sink into her gut.

Until her appointment that morning.

She sat on the other side of an oak desk from her doctor. Doctor Zachary. He was young. Wore trendy glasses. Shaggy hair.

“Jane, are you sure you don’t want Rob here for this?” Doctor Zachary asked.

“No. I’m fine.” She crossed her legs. “The baby’s okay, right?”

“Well, yes.” He cleared his throat, averted his eyes. “At this point.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You have cancer,” he said. “Stage 2 cervical cancer.”

She heard him, but couldn’t understand his words. “I’m sorry. What did you say?”

“Cervical cancer has spread. For now, the womb is unaffected. Which is good for the fetus…”

“Baby,” she interrupted. “It’s a baby. A small human. That word, fetus, is so harsh. Like it’s just a flap of skin.”

“Right. Baby.” He opened her file. “The baby is okay for now. I’m concerned about your health, though.”

“Can’t we treat the cancer later?”

“Well, that’s an option. But it isn’t the best option.”

She looked out the window. One dark cloud drifted among several puffy white ones.

“Jane, we don’t know how this cancer will progress in the next 23 weeks. My concern is that, by then, it will be too late.”

“Too late for what?”

Doctor Zachary stood. “I think it would be best if we called your husband. You shouldn’t be alone right now.”

“No. Just tell me. I need to know.”

“Jane, this cancer isn’t something to play with. It’s spreading. I don’t know how fast it will move. I don’t know what the prognosis is for you.”

“What do you think I should do?”

He walked to the window, leaned on the ledge. “This isn’t easy for me to say.”

“Tell me.”

“The best chance you have is a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.”

“Wouldn’t that hurt the baby?”

Doctor Zachary folded his arms across his chest. He slumped his shoulders. “We’d also need to perform a hysterectomy.”

“But how could you do that? I’m pregnant.”

“Yes. I know.” He used a skinny finger to push up his glasses. “We’d need to terminate the pregnancy.”

“No. I won’t. I can’t.”

“It might be the only chance we have to beat this cancer.”

“Will I die? If I don’t do that, will I die?”

“I don’t know.”

“What happens if I won’t let you kill my baby?”

“Jane. That’s harsh.”

“But this is my baby.”

“You’re right.” He moved back to his desk, sat in his chair. “Listen, Jane. You get to decide what happens. That’s your right.”

“If I let you take out my womb, I’ll never have another baby.”

“Correct.”

“So, you want to take this baby and every other baby I could ever have.”

“If you carry this baby to term, you might be risking your life.” He rubbed his forehead. “Or you could be fine for treatment later. I don’t know. It’s a gamble.”

“What should I do?”

“Talk to your husband. See what he wants.” He took off his glasses. “I’ll want to see both of you tomorrow.”

And so Jane had driven home. Completely aware of the sunshine and the beauty of the day. Beauty that seemed hard-edged to her. The day seemed to say “Look at this wonderful world that you will never fully enjoy”.

At home, curled up on the couch, Jane felt neither the budding life or the deadly scourge within her. But she was fully aware of both.

Thunder sounded. Lightening blasted. That one dark cloud had overtaken the fluffy ones.

“Jane?” Rob called as he walked in through the back door. “Honey? Where are you?”

She didn’t answer. Just opened her eyes, surprised by how dark her home was. She could hear the rain dropping on the roof.

“Janie?” He came into the living room, turned on a light. “Are you alright?”

“No.”

“Is it the baby?”

“This time it’s me.” She looked directly at her husband. “I’m the one who’s dying this time.”

Rob sat on the floor next to the couch. He held Jane’s hands. “So, what do we do?”

Jane closed her eyes, shook her head. “We go to bed. Then tomorrow we tell the doctor that we’re going to wait. This baby will be healthy.”

“But what about you?”

“I don’t know.”

Jane felt the smallest flutter inside. Like a bubble moving gently, tickling every so slightly. The feeling left. Then came again. She opened her eyes. So wide.

“Are you okay?” Rob asked.

All Jane could manage with a giggle. She caressed her stomach.

“Honey, what’s going on?” Rob got up, touched her face.

“I think I just felt the baby.” She smiled.

“Isn’t it too early?”

“The book said I would be able to feel the baby around this time.” Jane sat up. “This is incredible.”

“What does it feel like?”

“Give me your hand.”

Jane ran her knuckle softly across the palm of Rob’s hand. Just barely touching him.

“That must be so strange.”

“It’s the best thing.” She looked at him, still holding his hand. “The baby is real.”

Rob couldn’t help it. He let the tears come. He didn’t fight them. This emotion had nothing to do with masculinity or strength. The pain and the joy pulled and pushed and throttled him.

“I don’t know what the right choice is, Jane.”

“I do.”

“But I can’t lose you.”

“We can’t lose this baby.”

Jane put her hand on his cheek. He sobbed. Grief that was his gift to her, telling her how much she was loved. Treasured. Needed.

“Rob, I’m scared.”

“Me too, Babe.”

“Not for me. For this baby. God gave this child to us for a reason. I’m just so scared to push that blessing away.”

He looked at his wife. Regained his breathing. Tried to trust.

“Okay.” Rob pulled Jane to her feet. Kissed her forehead. Put his hand on her tummy. “Let’s go to bed.”

The next morning, as Rob drove Jane to Doctor Zachary’s office, they were in awe of how clear blue the sky was.

Guest Post by Jessie Heninger

Hey every one I’m back. Please stop crying I promise it won’t be that bad…

Last time I had the privilege of guest posting for Susie I ended up rambling on about the magic of antique and junk shopping and buying second hand. All true, I stand by almost every word. Today I want to talk to you about a semi-related topic; buying clothes second hand and even weirder, making your own clothes.


This was the first real success I had making a dress. Thank you Colette Patterns!

Several years ago when my marriage was still young my husband and I went to the local sears to buy our first washer and dryer. We were very excited about this mundane task because it was the most grown-up thing we’d ever done. We were using our own money that we’d saved so I could go to grad school (that didn’t really pan out) and were all hopped up on living in an actual house and working in a real job (by real I mean our first full time ministry which is about as far from real as you ca get). I happened upon a pale blue sewing machine and for some strange reason fell in love with it. We bought it, I’m still not sure why as no one in my family sews.


The pattern for this shirt was free on-line!

It’s just that after four grueling years of college I yearned to create something tangible. Make something with my hands that you didn’t eat. So when I saw that blue
Kenmore I felt some kind of whisper inside me. For several years I dabbled in making curtains, pajama pants for my siblings at Christmas, scarves for friends, that kind of thing. Then a couple years ago our friend Susie introduced me to the horrifying world of human trafficking and it’s role in the things we consume and buy including clothing (that sounded really dark didn’t it?) At the same time I was stumbling upon the youthful on-line sewing community. I had no idea so many people were making their own clothes and I had no idea that there were so many unique and chick patterns out there. Those two things along with masochistic tendencies sort of combined into a desire to make a significant part of my own wardrobe.


I love this dress but it was definitely a labor of love.

A couple of years later and I’m sewing more then ever. I am amazed at how my skills have advanced (I can now install an invisible zipper without swearing). I am addicted to making unique things. I like a slightly vintage look which costs a ton to buy but not if I’m making it myself! It’s not always easy, but I love it. I love wearing something to church and getting compliments knowing that I made it myself, that no one else is going to have this exact thing, and knowing that it’s constructed better then most things you buy off the rack (I was recently given a high end jacket as a gift and I’ve already had to repair it).


I think the fabric for this dress is so unique and cool.

I’ve also taken the plunge into buying my clothes second hand. You’d think this would be easy for me considering all I had to say about decorations and antiques and every thing, but clothing is an entirely different matter. I already make my own clothes and I’m a minister’s wife so throw in goodwill and a bun in my hair and you’ve crossed a line your not coming back from. However, I was feeling ever more convicted about slave labor and have not the skill nor time to make every thing I wear so some friends and I went to Kalamazoo and tried out all the second hand shops to see what we’d find.
Turns out there are A LOT of scary scary places to look in Kalamazoo. BUT, we also found some great places. So a few months ago I took a personal challenge not to buy any new clothes for six months (except underwear and socks). I am pleased to say that it’s going very well. I actually have nicer clothes in my wardrobe now because I am able to buy the brands that I could never afford new. I’d say about half of what I buy still has the original tags on it (who are these people that are buying brand new $100 Ann Taylor blouses and never wearing them?) And, I’m supporting a local business instead of a giant box store or company that’s using questionable labor practices.


This is a Couple hundred dollar dress I got at Double Exposure in Kzoo, along with a vintage hat.

Honestly, for the first time in years I feel almost fashionable. I am developing a style that’s very me but still cute (it took a while to get rid of the just-had-a-baby-don’t-have-time-for-hair-or-makeup-look) I’m not spending money I don’t have and am actually excited about fashion (well my fashion which is more fashion vintage instead of fashion forward). There’s something about the hunt of the second hand shop that excites me whereas the department store made me sad and frustrated with my body.  When I sew a garment for myself I can make it fit my odd and short frame just the way I want. Yes, I still have many flops, but I can say there are less of those.  I started dressing nicer and then, so did my husband (we’re regular madmen look-a-likes). Take some time and check out some second hand shops in your town you might be pleasantly surprised by what you find. Get out your sewing machine and try making something; you might find yourself addicted to the pleasure of making something yourself, something that will last and has more meaning.  You might find that changing the world one stitch-at-a-time is easier then you thought.


My newest addition. I wanted the skirt to have a Scandinavian look to it and the top is from 360 in Kzoo.

Stay or Leave — From My Archives

A tiny stream of light makes it’s way through my bedroom blinds. Sitting up in bed, I’m the only one awake. The kids are in their rooms, I’ve already peeked in on them. My husband is rolled on his side, eyes closed.

I want so badly to love him. But it’s gone. How do I reignite anything in my  heart for him? I can’t seem to remember a time when I loved him the way a wife should. He has always far more far more for me than I have for him. Does he see that?

Getting up, dressing, leaving the bedroom. Trying to be as quiet as possible. But the bathroom door creaks when I open it. It’s been like that for years. He just can’t seem to get to these things around the house.

I wish I didn’t have to live here. All I want is an apartment or small cottage somewhere, no blocks spread out all over the floor, no him with his expectations, no one else’s messes to clean up.

Looking in the bathroom mirror I know my regrets. I regret getting married, having kids, leaving my dreams out of my life. That I didn’t wait to get married. No 20 year old should be allowed to make that kind of commitment.

If only I was still single. Then I could be with Clint.

I’ve always been the kind of girl who likes getting attention from men. When they notice my new haircut or an outfit I put together. Clint always sees those things. He makes me feel so good about myself.

My husband only cares about how much the haircut cost or how much closet space my clothes take.

The car starts up with a quiet rumble.

“I have to go in to work for a bit tomorrow,” I told my husband last night.

“What? But tomorrow’s Saturday,” he said.

“I know. But I have to finish a few things before the weekend.”

“It’s the third time this month.”

“Well, you wanted me to have a job.”

“Maybe you should work harder during the week.”

So, I’m up early, out the door and on my way to have coffee with Clint. All my Saturday outings are to see him. It’s not an affair. We haven’t so much as held hands.

It’s not a complete lie. He’s my boss. We talk about work.

He’s waiting for me, sitting at “our” table. We had to arrange our meetings on the other side of town. Couldn’t have people gossiping.

“Hey, how’s it going?” He stands. “Can I get you some coffee?”

“Thanks, that would be great,” I say. “A mocha would be nice. Thanks.”

“You already said ‘thanks’.”

“Well, it’s early.” But really, I’m nervous.

He brings a couple cups to our table.

“So, how’re the kids?”

“Fine,” I answer. “They were still sleeping when I left.”

“Good. Nice for them.”

We sit in silence. Then chat about weather, office gossip, politics.

“So, how does your husband feel about us getting together like this?” Clint asks.

I shift my eyes away from him. Sip my mocha. Clear my throat.

“He doesn’t know, does he?” His voice is a whisper.

“No,” I answer. “He wouldn’t understand. He’d just get mad.”

“Oh,” Clint looks concerned. “Does he hit you?”

“Of course not. No. He would never.”

“Because if he did, I’d steal you away real quick.”

“Steal me away?”

His smile is coy. “Listen, we need to talk.”

“Did you know that I’ve been married to him for 15 years?”

“That’s a long time.”

“We were 20. He was my first college boyfriend. You know how that goes.”

“I guess.” His voice is tinged with annoyance.

“Sorry. I don’t know why I told you that.”

“It’s okay. I want to know these things about you.” He reaches across the table, touches my hand. It feels both exciting and wrong. “I really like being with you.”

I just smile. That “wrong” feeling won’t go away.

“I want to be able to see you  more.” He wraps his fingers around mine.

“We see each other every day.”

“Not in the office. Not like that. And I don’t want to sneak around.”

I pull my hand back. “What do you mean?”

“Look, I have pretty strong feelings for you. And I think you feel the same for me. Right?”

“But I’m married.”

“It can be undone.”

Is he asking me to leave my husband? What about the kids? And all the regrets. The blocks and the mess and the expectations. Could I really pick up and leave it all? What would happen to my kids?

“You mean divorce?” I ask.

“You could start slow. Separation first.” He moves his chair to my side of the table, puts his hands on my knees. “It’s pretty obvious that you aren’t happy with him. I promise that I would make you happy.”

“But where would I live? I don’t have anywhere I could go. This is just crazy.”

“Live with me.”

“I don’t know. It’s too much.”

“Think about it. You have time. I’m not trying to push you into anything. But I want to be with you.”

“Let me think about it.” I stand, pull the strap of my purse over my shoulder. “I’ll let you know.”

I take the long way home. It’s pouring down rain. I can barely see through the windshield.

Stay with my family. Go with Clint. I go back and forth. What’s the right thing? Who can I talk to?

I pull onto my street. Puddles have gathered in the low spots of the sidewalk. Blurry figures up ahead are jumping, splashing, kicking in the water.

My husband has the kids out, jumping in mud. Another mess for me to clean up.

Getting out of the car, hoping to get inside before I become drenched.

“Mom! Mom!” My kids run to me.

“Hug mom,” my husband tells them.

Four soaked children cling to me, getting me wet.

“Why did you tell them to do that?” I ask my husband, near to crying. I’m so frustrated, so confused. “Look, they’re getting me all muddy.”

“You never looked more beautiful.” He smiles at me. It’s the smile he used to give me so long ago. “Come on kids, let’s see who can make the biggest splash!”

I watch him hold the hand of my daughter. He rustles the hair of one of my sons. He laughs and smiles and dances in the rain with my children. Our children.

My heart feels warm. There is nothing wrong in loving him. But so much could be lost if I go with Clint.

Clint, Clint. Even thinking his name causes my stomach to clench. Not with butterflies, but with anxiety.

“Mom! Come here! We found a giant worm!” My daughter, the only girl of the four, holds up a handful of slither and slime. “You’ve got to see this!”

I stay. The kids and the family and the home remain whole.

I leave. The kids split weeks between me and their dad. I tear our one flesh in two. Everything gets broken.

“Mom. Come on,” she calls to me.

My feet slosh through the puddle. My hands, open to hold the worm she found. My life, wanting to belong in my family.

Krow Photography Tuesday

I would really like to extend a special thanks to Kedron Rhodes for allowing me to post his photography. He really has an eye for eclectic beauty. Please visit and “like” his Facebook Page.

Now, these are my favorite, favorite, favorite on his page. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I do!

 

Learning

 

Sit Here

 

The Bird

 

Left Over

 

What has been your favorite Krow Photo? What made you like it so much?

Skinny — From My Archives

I was the fat kid. Not baby chub or pleasantly plump. This wasn’t the kind of extra weight I would “grow into”.

This was wrist roll, thighs rubbing, eye smashing, mortifying weight.

When my mom felt guilty about working so much, she’d bring home a pizza. The days when she’d had too much to drink and smacked me around, she would bake cookies.  If she had a date she’d leave a cupboard full of snack cakes and chips, and lots of soda in the fridge. And I’d eat everything until it was gone.

For me, food came after pain to give me a feeling like floating. Food never let me down. It helped me to pretend that I was loved.

Somehow I survived high school. But every year got worse and worse. And every year I gained more and more. My mom was mad that we had to pay extra for a special made graduation gown.

That whole summer was full of dread for the coming move to college. And so I gained more.

“Honey, take care of  yourself, okay?” my mom said after putting the last box of stuff in my dorm.

Without a hug, she was gone.

I instantly broke open the box of crackers I’d brought and shoved them into my mouth. The faster the better.

My roommate was on the cheerleading squad. She was blonde and beautiful. She was as skinny as I was fat.

I hated her. Completely.

She was such a nice girl. Never looked at me when I was getting dressed, understood my need for more space in the walkways, asked me to hang out with her and the rest of the cheerleaders.

And yet I still hated her.

Because she was everything I’d ever wanted to be.

The week after freshman orientation, she walked in on me during a binge. Food wrappers were spread out all over my bed. An empty bag of chips was on the floor.

“Oh, Amber,” I said. “I didn’t know you’d be back.”

“What are you doing, Penny?” she asked.

“I didn’t just eat all this.”

“It’s okay. We all do it.”

“Do what?”

“Eat like that.”

“Really? I thought I was the only one.”

“Nah. You got anymore food?”

She ate everything that I had left. It was more than I could have packed away.

“But how do you stay so skinny?” I asked, amazed.

That’s when I learned about purging.

I got skinny quick. Amber taught me all the tricks. Binge. Purge. Laxatives. Working out 4-5 hours a day. If not more.

“Penny, you look great!” my mom said when I went home for Christmas.

I ran into a guy from high school. He didn’t know who I was. He asked for my number.

Everything changed for me. The skinny me was no longer invisible or in the way or disgusting. I was suddenly eye catching, desired, lusted after.

And I still had my food.

“Penny,” my manager says. “You ready?”

I snap out of my thoughts of the old days.

“Yup. Let me just get some powder.”

The make up artist dabs my face with a brush. I’m on the set of my fourth workout video. Somehow I worked my way up to being a health guru.

“Look at those abs! Look at those buns! Arms, legs, chest…all perfect! Somebody make a statue out of this woman!” That’s what’s on the cover of my first video.

“Even you can get a firm bikini body.” My voice in the video plays over pictures of me in a skimpy bathing suit, flirting with guys on the beach. Then it moves to a picture of me from high school. “If I can turn things around, so can you!”

My manager says I’m building an empire. My name’s on books that I didn’t write, protein bars I didn’t cook up, special workouts I didn’t invent.

“Penny, on set,” the director calls through his mega phone.

I go through a routine, the camera filming every muscle flex and bead of sweat running down my face. My voice is steady through the whole exercise. Crunches, knee lifts, bicep curls, squats.

And the whole time, all I can think of is what I’m going to purge on when I get home. And how I’d throw it all up right away.

If the tabloids ever found out, they’d finish me. I’d get sued. My life would be over.

My dressing-room is chilly after such a workout. The sweat dries quickly on my skin.

“Hey, Pen.” My manager sticks his head in. “Got your fan mail.”

“Like, as in real mail?”

“Yeah. Crazy. Some people still use the old post office.”

“Okay.”

“You gotta read them out loud.”

“Great. So you can laugh at my creepy fans?”

There were two envelopes. I tore open the first.

“Dear Penny; I love you, blah, blah, blah. Marry me, have my children. We’d be perfect.” I threw it in the trash. “Seriously, weird.”

The second was in the handwriting of a younger person. A picture fell out of the envelope. The girl in the picture was overweight. Very overweight. She looked like I did when I was her age.

“What’s that picture?” my manager asked.

“It’s a girl.”

“Come on, let me see.”

“No.” I turned my back to him. “You need to let me read this one alone.”

“Alright.”

By myself, I unfold the paper.

“Dear Mrs. Penny;

I’m 12 years old. I sent you a picture so you could see what I look like. I’m sick of being fat like that.

I get made fun of every day. And they say it’s my fault ’cause I won’t stop eating. But when I try to stop, I feel like I’m going to die. Can you help me, please?

My mom says that you were big like me one time. How did you get so skinny? Can you teach me?  I just want to look like you, but I can’t figure it out. I’ll do anything.

Please write me back. Maybe, if you’re ever in Toledo, you could visit me.

Your very good friend,

Elenore Styne”

“Oh, Elenore,” I whisper. “You don’t even know how hard it is to keep all this up. It’s not worth it.”

The mirror in this room has lights all around it.

My reflection is the body of a fit, tanned, surgically altered woman.

I still can’t think of myself as anything but a fat kid.

Challenge Me

After the incredible popularity of the September Challenge (and the massive fun I had) I’ve decided to have another 2 months of challenge! December and January will be dedicated to short fiction…and all the ideas will come from you!

Here’s how it’s going to work this time:

1. You give me one character with a name and one characteristic

2. You give me one setting

3. You give me one (yes, only one very specific) conflict

I’m only accepting 26 story ideas. So, act fast to make sure you’re one of the first ones to submit an idea! I’ll post stories Monday, Wednesday and Friday of each week.

There will be a winner for each week. The finalists from each week will go on to the semi-finals at the end of each month. Both semi-finalists (one for January, one for December) will win a journal made by Love Calcutta Arts (I’ll purchase this from Better Way Imports)…

Pick between red and black (pen not included...sorry)

 

Then the semi-finalists will go head to head in a final vote that will be held the beginning of February. The Ultimate, Super Cool winner will be awarded with a bag from Freeset (also purchased from Better Way Imports)…

 

 

So…put your idea in the comment section. Remember, keep it simple and get ready for some fun in December!

 

Buried — From My Archives

MISTY

I found an old picture of my dad today. It was taken about four months after he married my mom and ten years before it all crashed down on him. He smiled, looking at someone. Who? I couldn’t tell you. But my dad smiled anyhow. It wasn’t  forced or dull. It was a deep, flowing from joy smile.

I never saw that smile on his face a day in my life. No, by the time I was born he was different. In my younger years, all I saw of the man was nervous pacing when he’d get home from work late at night. And gulping of coffee first thing in the morning before he rushed back to the office. Always moving, always going. Never smiling. Not a laugh from him.

“I do it all to take care of you,” he’d say. “Hard work for a man to raise five kids, you know.”

The man in the picture I found would never have said that. That man would have skipped out of work for a soccer game or a dance recital. He would have driven us to school in the morning.

“No telephone calls during dinner,” the man in the picture would have said. That man would always be at dinner, asking us how we were doing in math. What game we played during gym.

When I was eight years old, my dad, the real one, cracked. Something snapped in his brain. He woke up one day and couldn’t leave the house. Not at all. Then a few years after that he couldn’t move from his bedroom. Eventually, he got stuck in his bed. He only got up to use the commode that my mom placed in the corner.

“Don’t come in,” he said to me. “You can’t come in this room. It’s not clean in here. You’ll get sick. Just like me.”

“What will make me sick, daddy?” I asked.

“Everything. It’s all contaminated. If you come in here I’m going to die and you’re going to die, too. Just stay out.”

He would tap things, squint his eyes, mutter strange words. Always the same rhythm, the same phrases. It was like he tried to get everything right just in case.

“I’m just trying to keep you safe, Misty,” he’d said.

I was thirteen. I told everyone that my dad died. It was almost the truth.

The man in the picture would have frowned at me. He would have been sad about that. But my real dad was too lost in his fear to care.

“Hey, Misty,” my mom said one day. “I need to talk to you for a few minutes.”

“What do you want?” I asked, full of teenage attitude.

“Listen, honey, we need to talk about your daddy.”

“I don’t want to.”

She sat at the kitchen table. “Sit down.”

I obeyed her. I hated to obey her. But it was either that or have her follow me into my room, which I hated even more.

“Misty, your teacher asked how we were functioning after your father’s passing.”

I snorted, pretending to think it was funny. Nothing about it was comical, I knew that. But something inside me had to brush everything off. “Whatever, mom.”

“Honey, you know that your daddy’s not dead.” She turned toward her bedroom door. “He’s right in there.”

“He’s as good as dead, mom.”

Her head made a thick thudding sound as it hit the table. She sobbed, drool and snot puddling under her mouth and nose. Loud gasps for air and groans poured out of her. She pounded her fists on her thighs.

“I just can’t live like this anymore!” she screamed. “Why does he have to be like this?”

All I could think of was to put my arms around her. It was strange to play the role of nurturer to her. But something about it was nice, too.

A week later my dad was moved to the State mental hospital. He screamed when they put him on the stretcher. They jammed a needle in his arm to calm him down. But he still knew that he was being taken away. He looked right at me.

“Please, please, please,” he cried.

All I could do was watch him go away. They hefted him into the ambulance and slammed the doors shut. No siren. No lights. No emergency. Just getting rid of what we could no longer bare to look at.

It was the last time I saw him.

The man in the old picture wouldn’t have begged. Would never have cried. He’d never been in that situation because he was smiling. When I tell people about my dad, I’ll just show them that old picture. Tell them he was a good guy. He never hurt anyone.

He started calling me. Leaving messages on my voicemail. Writing letters that I’ve never opened. They’re all in a box under my bed. He passed away from my life so long ago. Buried in that institution. Why couldn’t the dead just stay dead?

His letters jarred me. Still, at my age. With a good, grown up lady job and an apartment.

He wanted to see me. Needed me to come visit him. There was no way I was going to do that.

LEON

I gotta tap the table three times with the knuckles of my right hand every time I walk past. Flip the light switch on and off, on and off until I get it just right. Check the locks on windows, doors, windows, doors. Check again. I’m sure I missed one. Tap, tap, tap on the table. Do it again. I did it wrong. Tap, tap, tap. Check the locks one more time. If it isn’t right then the world will end and it will all be my fault.

I’m just sure of that.

“Leon? Are you still messin’ around in there?” Stella asks. “It’s time for breakfast.”

“Yeah, I’m comin’,” I answer.

But it ain’t all that easy. I got a couple more of my rituals to do before anybody can see me. It’s exhaustin’. But I don’t want nothin’ bad to happen to nobody.

I been doin’ this all my life. When I was a little boy I seen somethin’ that scared me so bad. It wasn’t good and I hate to talk about it. But it done me in. Ain’t never stopped bein’ afraid ever since. My mother used to call me “The Cowardly Leon”.  It made me hate her so bad.

One thing I learned quick when I was a boy, though, was that I could stop my fear. I’d walk back and forth through the hallway, tapping the wall every time my right foot hit the ground. When I did it perfect, I was fine. But I had to do it over and over till I got it right.

“Leon, you gonna wear that carpet from all that pacin’. Quit it out!” my mother would holler at me. “You drivin’ me batty, boy.”

But it worked. Every month or so I’d add somethin’. Didn’t nobody notice a lot of them. Like when I’d touch my nose before taking a bite or blinkin’ my eyes three times. Blink, blink, blink. Every single one of them rituals kept me safe. If I did them, I felt okay. Skip one and the world was upside down.

It just kept gettin’ worse and worse, though. The older I got the more people seen what I was doin’. They’d ask me what the heck I was doin’. Stare at me. Talk about me when they thought I wasn’t listening.

Then that last day, the day I knew I couldn’t never go back to work. It was bad. Somethin’ in my head snapped. Or somethin’ like that. None of my tappin’ or blinkin’ would make the panic go away. All I remember was holdin’ up in the men’s room, waitin’ for everybody to go for the day. I got home late that night and never went back.

“Leon!” Stella’s yellin’ now. “I ain’t holdin’ breakfast for you one more minute.”

I’m livin’ in a group home. They’re nice to me. Everybody else who lives here got quirks of their own. So, nobody looks at me sideways or nothin’. I like it. Just wish my Misty would come see me.

The other three been over. Barbara, Les and Renee. They seen my room. Don’t think they understand me or why I act like I do. But at least they come once in awhile. Not Misty, though. I guess it been hardest on her. That’s what the other three say. She took care of them while their mother had to work.

It’s a terrible thing to feel like you ain’t been forgiven for somethin’ you didn’t control in the first place. But she don’t know that. All she knows is that I failed her.

I gotta check the locks one more time.

MISTY

My sister Barb sits across the table from me. She invited me out, let me pick the place, said she’d buy. I should have known something was up. She’s giving me that look. The “I’m going to talk to you about dad and you have to listen or I’ll storm out and you’ll have to pay the bill” look.

“Dad said he’s been trying to get a hold of you,” she said, shoving a huge forkful of lettuce into her mouth.

“You know, Barb, you can cut up the lettuce a little before you take a bite.” I sip my tea.

“Don’t try to assert your role as the elder sister, Misty.”

“Don’t use your psycho-babble against me.”

“You’re changing the subject anyway.” She wipes her mouth. “Dad would like to see you.”

“I know that.”

“So, you’ve read his letters?”

“No. I’m just guessing that’s what he wants. But I’m not going.”

“He can’t help it, you know. He has OCD. He was born that way.”

“I don’t believe that for a second.” I put the napkin on my plate. There’s no way I can eat through this conversation.

“Huh,” her voice is sarcasm thick. “I guess I’m just dumb and have no idea how mental illness works. Too bad I wasted 8 years in school getting my psychology degree. Thanks for the lesson.”

The waiter comes by, refills our water. We’re quiet for another minute after he leaves.

“Misty, I’m sorry. This isn’t the best way to persuade you, I suppose.”

“Barb, I just don’t want to see him. I don’t. It’s not going to change.”

“Why do you hate him so much?”

“It’s not that I hate him.” I have to get a breath of air. “I’m not up to starting a relationship with him. You know, going to visit, phone calls. It’s just all so exhausting.”

“Did you know that when he was a little boy he watched his friend die?” Her tone is sharp, accusing.

“No. I didn’t.”

“Of course you didn’t. You didn’t bother to read the letters.”

“What happened to his friend?”

“Well, Misty, you really need to go read those letters.” Picking up the bill, she says, “I love you. Go see dad.”

“I read them,” I say into the phone. “All 25 of them.”

“And,” Barb says back. “What did you think?”

“What did I think? I think he’s really messed up. That’s what I think.”

“Did you read the thing about his best friend?”

“Yeah. He hid in a closet and watched his best friend get beaten to death or something.”

“You are so calloused.”

“Well, how do we even know that actually happened? What if he’s making it up.”

She’s quiet. Then a sigh. And another sigh.

“What? Barb, do you seriously believe him?” Silence. “Okay, in your professional opinion, could something like that cause a person to be crazy?”

“We don’t use the word crazy.”

“Okay, okay. Could it make them struggle with mental things?”

“Yes. It could contribute to his obsessions. Listen, I have to go. I have an early appointment.”

I don’t say anything. She fills in the silence.

“Just forgive him, Misty. You’re the one it’s tearing up. Stop being a bitter mess and go see him.”

She hangs up.

She’s right. I’m a mess. Have been as long as I remember. I’m an adult now. It’s time for me to stop blaming him for everything bad that has ever happened. I’m a mess because I won’t let it go. For some reason it feels right to be angry with him.

But he saw his best friend killed. He was just a little boy, hiding. He couldn’t scream or fight back against that man who murdered his friend. All he could do was watch. How unbelievably awful.

And I’ve blamed him.

It’s time to make things right.

CONCLUSION

Leon sat in his room. The sun landed, warm, on his bed. He held his hands together, so tightly that his knuckles were turning white. He was holding back from compulsing.

Ain’t gonna tap, he thought. Gonna stop doin’ that. All’s I got is some nervousness. It’ll go away if I wait a minute.

His therapist had been working with him, teaching Leon that anxiety wouldn’t kill him. It was just uncomfortable. His body shook, sweat collected on his forehead and upper lip. He even concentrated on holding his eyes still. The blinking could become a ritual, too.

After ten minutes his anxiety lessened until it dropped off completely. Now his body shook from joy, from victory. He wiped the sweat from his face with the sleeve of his shirt.

Well, what do ya’ know. I done it.

For a short moment he entertained the thought that if he could only beat his disorder, then maybe Misty would accept him as her father. He swiped that idea away, trying to keep himself from hoping.

He walked past the table, the light switch, the door lock. The urge to tap, flip on and off and check overtook him. His brain told him that bad things would happen if he didn’t submit to his compulsion.

Alls it is is uncomfortable. It’ll pass. It can’t hurt me. He reminded himself of the therapist’s words and walked out of his room, feeling strong.

The kitchen was full of the rich smell of coffee. He poured himself a mug-full and drank it, black.

“Hey, Leon!” yelled Stella. “Where is ya?”

“I’m in the kitchen,” he answered.

“Somebody’s here to see ya’.”

“Okay. I’ll be right there.”

He couldn’t think of who it would be. His kids, the three that visited, would have called first. The therapist only came on certain days. There would have been no one else.

The collar of his flannel shirt was tucked into itself. His jeans were far too baggy. Bristly whiskers dotted his chin. These were the things that never occurred to him unless someone came to visit. There was no time to fix them.

I’m such a pig, he thought. Ain’t no thing. It’ll be fine.

He walked into the living room. A woman sat in a chair, looking out the window. Her hair was blonde. Not white blonde or golden blonde. More of an ash blonde. It reminded Leon of his ex-wife’s hair. She turned and looked at him.

“Hello. I’m Leon,” he said. “Do you want to shake hands with me?”

“Sure,” she said, taking his hand. “How are you?”

“I’m pretty darn good. How about you?”

“I’m well.”

A silence thickened between them. She looked right at him, into his eyes. He couldn’t bare to connect.

“Can I get you a cold glass of water?” he asked.

“You don’t know who I am, do you?”

“We keep the water in the fridge all the time. Keeps it nice and chilly.” Anxiety spread from his sternum to his arms, legs, head. It was getting harder for him to breathe. “I can get some. It’ll just take a second.”

“No, thanks.” She stood. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Just a little nervous.”

“I’m sorry.”

“What’s your name? Can you tell me your name?”

“I’m Misty, dad.”

“Misty? My little girl?” His nerves released a little, relieving him a small bit.

“Well, I’m not a little girl anymore.” She smiled.

“I thought you weren’t never gonna come. You never wrote me back.”

“That wasn’t very nice, was it?”

“Sit down. You wanna talk for a few minutes?”

She sat. They talked. Leon, about his therapy and the others who lived in the home. Misty, about her job. Every few minutes he tapped on his knee, but it wasn’t extreme. Just a small tap. Perhaps more out of a force of habit than anxiety.

“Goll, Misty, I ain’t see you in so long. You’re all growed up now.”

“I know. It shouldn’t have taken me this long to come see you.”

“That’s okay. Ain’t such a fun place to visit.” He sniffed. “Sure is better’n the mental hospital, though.”

“It was wrong of us to put you there.”

“Naw. It was all your mother could do. I never made things easy on her, you know.”

She sighed. Looked at the floor.

“Listen, I need to apologize…”

“Nope,” he interrupted. “Don’t think you gotta do that.”

“I do, dad.” She sighed. “I shouldn’t have ignored you.”

“Well, I wasn’t the kind of dad you kids needed anyhow.”

“Anyway, I need you to know that I do love you.”

Leon’s eyes turned red. He had no control over the tears. A quiet sniffle turned into a gasping cry.

“I’m sorry, you ain’t gotta look at a old man doin’ this,” he said, embarrassed by his emotion.

“It’s okay, dad.”

“You done made me too happy. Ain’t used to such a happy feeling.” Leon looked at his daughter, a long, wide, deep smile across his face. His eyes crinkled at the corners, forehead wrinkled.

“That’s the smile, dad.”

“What?”

“That’s really you, isn’t it? That’s really your smile.”

He laughed, not expecting the goodness of her hug.

Guest Post by Megan Sayer

Two minutes thirty four

 

 

Brittany Taylor

Melbourne,Australia

GMT + 10

Local time Tuesday3:53pm

 

…except Mrs Fitzpatrick is always nicer to Penny than she is to me. It’s because Penny has perfect pigtails and is…does this pencil need sharpening? Legs crossed…uncrossed…

oh, it’s Tuesday…Mum said I could watch that new show after school if I get my homework finished on time, with that girl detective on it…that circle becomes a swirl becomes a flower with leaves that weave in through the margin…

When I’m eleven me and Penny are going to start our own detective agency, and then we’ll get so famous that Justin Bieber will come to us when his money gets stolen and the police can’t find it…legs crossed…

Except Justin will like me better than Penny because…

what is seven times nine, I can’t remember…colour in that flower …why will he like me better?

is that meant to be a six?…oh eleven is so ages away…wish I could just click my fingers and bam! It’s the future!…because then I’ll have much longer hair than her…

If Mum won’t let me be a detective I’ll be a ballerina…

 

 

 

Precious Mgabana

Dar Es Salaam,Tanzania

GMT + 3

Local time Tuesday7:53am

 

…yelling because I can see his mouth move in big, slow streaks across his face but there is so much noise…get that boy off my peppers… chicken squawks in my ear hope it sells soon, some tasty fried chicken is good for market day…yes that is my eggfruit, grows in my garden, very good, I give good price…

aaaiiiieee…these whitefolk they hold their noses and wrap their faces…come, taste my bungo fruit, it is good, yes?…

…the mouths are moving again…Mzumbe’s boy has his bongo today…wears his American cap the wrong way on his head thinks he looks so important…

Akili is smiling like her face is carved…what she hold?…where you get that money…aaaiii…they like the good chicken…my girl is clever at market…you go, go find Andwele…

that girl…she dream of going to university in Johannesburg when she is old enough…like I used to dream when I was her age…I don’t tell her yet that every day is the same in Africa…there is no tomorrow but for next market day…

 

 

 

Elaine Paterson

London,England

GMT (0)

Local time Tuesday4:53am

 

…why watches and me don’t go together. How many have I had in the last few years that stopped working…more hot water…where’s that new shampoo bottle?…

Jim says he simply can’t drive me in so early…is that enough… lather…rinse…oh God did I call and arrange the taxi last night or did I decide to do it this morning…why did I buy that conditioner it always makes my hair fluffy and today of all days I just don’t have time…lather…comb…I didn’t. I made a cup of chamomile and went to bed…oh HECK…rinse…quick…

if I miss that plane…water off…oh blast that sticking door slider, why hasn’t Jim fixed that yet…towel…quick…underpants…well I just can’t miss it, that’d be my job gone and then how would we live…hairdryer…lipstick on…shoes on…is that the taxi beeping…no…he doesn’t understand there are still bills to pay and we’ve still got that second mortgage…did I put those documents in my bag already?…

it’s not like I can simply step into another job at my age, and after all I’ve invested in the company…Jim’s just going to have to miss his morning coffee…

I mean it’s not as if I enjoy getting up before dawn really, just to go to a conference…but in this day and age we live…

 

 

 

Shirley Long

Boston,USA

GMT – 5

Local time Monday11:53pm

 

…but really it was too late to talk…breathe in…out…

Stephanie said she’s coming in the morning…baby girl, all grown up…

my first grandchild… breathe in…She married a man…

a mathematician. Eric, that’s his name.

He kept talking about the hours we spend, counting down my years in days…breathe out…and minutes

so many. Too many to count any more, I don’t want to know…

Funny…for the young that bank of hours seems so much less precious. Minutes and whole days consumed like saltine crackers, eaten up without thinking…breathe in…

Lord…teach them to number their days wisely…breathe out…

I see it all so much more clearly now that it’s nearly gone. No pain now…no movement…breathe in…

All I have left is these two things, and soon – soon please Lord – time will be gone…breathe out…breathe in…and prayer…oh to see you face to face at last…will be no longer needed…

Guest Post: Robert Meyer

This story by Robert Meyer was inspired by my story Not The End (which was also posted today from my archives). 

 

The End

Marty walked through the endless aisles of books, overwhelmed. He couldn’t believe the number of books that had been written on the subject of changing careers. How does anyone ever decide which book to get? He didn’t even know where to start.

The old man in the grey jacket walked by, his hands full of books. It looked like he was having the same difficulty, not being able to make up his mind. He was putting some of the books back on the shelf. Marty felt a sudden twinge of sadness, wondering if perhaps the old man was needing to go back to work because his Social Security benefits weren’t enough to pay the bills, or perhaps he had a wife with lots of medical problems. Thinking of this reminded him that he wouldn’t be growing old with his wife, not the way things were going, and his head started to ache.

The man put another book on the shelf, turning slightly towards him as he did so, and then Marty noticed that he was wearing one of those employee badges. Now he felt embarrassed. He’d been dreaming up some tragic circumstance for the old man, and it turns out he was just a bookstore employee restacking the shelves.

The old man looked up and noticed the look of utter lost-ness on Marty’s face, and he smiled. “Can I help you, sir?” he asked. His voice was sandy and warm, friendly but somewhat quiet, like that of an aged grandfather. Marty smiled back in spite of himself.

“I’m thinking of making a career change,” he said.

The man nodded his head sympathetically. “I can relate,” he said. “Spent thirty years in the furniture business, and here I am selling books. Not quite the career path I’d planned, but what can you do? Man’s gotta work.”

“Yes,” agreed Marty.

“So, you looking for a general change of scenery, or do you have a particular occupation in mind?”

“I’m not really sure, to tell you the truth. Guess I’m just looking for some ideas.”

The old man nodded again, taking a good, hard look at Marty as though examining his clothes. “You’re still a pretty young fella. It shouldn’t be too hard to figure something out. What kinda work you been doing?”

Marty felt his face grow red. “Ministering. Preaching. I’ve been the Senior Minister at a local church.”

“Yep, I figured.”

“You did?” Marty was surprised.

“Well, you have that look about you.”

“Look? What look?”

The man laughed good-naturedly. “The kinda look that says, Even though I’m living in a world of hurt, I’ve got time to listen to your problems. It’s the kind of look you see on psychologists, too, only they tend to make more money at it. I don’t suppose you’re looking to get into pscychology, though.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Of course not. Last thing you need right now is a heap of other people’s problems on top of your own. You need one of those jobs where you can work with your hands, create something out of nothing, the kind of thing Jesus did.”

“Pardon?”

The old man kept going as though he hadn’t heard.

“Sometimes I think that’s why God put him in the house of a carpenter, so he’d have a way to deal with all those troubled people. I mean, you can’t take on the cares and concerns of the world without having some way of dealing with the stress of it all. And there’s no better way of dealing with stress than putting a tool in your hand and making something beautiful out of something ordinary.”

Marty hadn’t thought of it that way, but suddenly the idea of doing something with his hands appealed to him. He’d always enjoyed working with tools, whenever he got the chance. Which wasn’t often. As a minister, most of his time had been taken up with counseling, preaching, teaching, researching sermon topics, and dealing with people and their problems. And his own family, of course.

The old man continued.

“Personally, I’ve always favored wood projects because they’re more forgiving when you’re first starting out. Most everything that gets messed up can be fixed with just a little bit of wood filler or sandpaper or paint. Metalwork, that’s another story. You’ve gotta work a lot harder and the cleanup can be a real pain. But if you keep at it, you can make some very nice pieces. And they’re very strong.”

Marty still had a faraway look in his eye, thinking about all the things he’d given up to serve the church, the family times, the dinners at home he’d missed, all the events that the kids had participated in but he hadn’t had time for. He remembered his wedding day, and the vows he had made, and felt a wave of guilt wash over him. He had not been the ideal husband, or father. Yet he remembered many sermons on the subject. Words. Just words.

“Some folks get into general carpentry and house maintenance, and that’s OK, but you tend to do the same kinds of things over and over again, like finishing up basements, or doing trim work. But if you want to really make a name for yourself, you start with cabinets, kitchen cabinets. There’s always a call for that kind of thing, and you can make ’em just as fancy as you please.”

Kitchens. Lonely kitchens, late at night, coming home after the kids had gone to bed, finding leftovers in the fridge and a note on the table: Gone to bed. Not “I love you” or “We missed you” or even “Wake me when you get home”. The spark in that relationship had died long ago. How long had it been since they had even hugged each other? He couldn’t remember.

“Once you start with the cabinets, you might even want to move into the furniture angle. That’s really the best side of carpentry, in my opinion, although I might be a bit biased! After thirty years in the business, you get to appreciate the artistry in furniture-making, the way the curve of the grain and the cut of the piece can make a statement about the man who put it together. And you remember those guys. And the customers do, too, and they ask for them by name. You take a look at that Barnaby Rush; now, there’s a man who can make an end table! I wouldn’t be surprised if one of his pieces ends up in the Smithsonian one day. He’s the genuine article, and that’s a fact.”

The genuine article. Had he ever been genuine, really? Had he ever told her what it felt like to be at the receiving end of all the horrors of sin as described by the sinners themselves? Had he ever expressed to her how utterly demoralizing it was to stand in front of an auditorium of people who were more focused on which restaurant to choose after the service was over than the message being delivered from the Word of God? Had she ever understood how humiliating it was to beg and plead for money to keep the heat on in the winter and the air conditioning on in the summer, from people who bragged about the vacations they’d taken to Disney World and Mexico and Europe? No, he hadn’t shared all of those inner feelings with her. He wanted her to be proud of him, he wanted her to think of him as a positive, inspirational person who could charm the fangs off a snake, the tusks off an elephant. He wanted to shield her from all the negative aspects of church – the gossiping, the back-biting, the power struggles, the personality cults.

“Of course, that’s not the kind of thing that happens overnight. No, you gotta work at it for quite a while before you get to the point where the customers are asking for you like that. Years, maybe. But if you work real hard and keep at it, focus on your work and try to improve a little here and there every day, why, it won’t be long before people will take notice. And then they’ll be wanting to find out who it is that comes up with such wonderful pieces. And then you’ll have made a name for yourself. And that’s what’s important, a good name. And once you’ve got a good name, you’ll want to work even harder, to protect it.”

With a sudden dawning horror, he realized that he had protected her too well; he had insulated her not only from the problems at church, but also from his own problems – his own life. It was no wonder that his own wife had become a stranger to him; he had pushed her away with his over-protectiveness, his desire to be that perfect man that she so desired, showing no faults, no flaws.

“Yep, that’s what’s important, you know. Making a good name for yourself, and maintaining the quality of your work. That’s the kind of thing that money just can’t buy. Reputation. You establish a good reputation, a good work ethic, and the world will come calling at your door. Yes, sir, that’s what every man needs. A good reputation.”

His reputation. He had no reputation left. His reputation had been utterly destroyed when his wife had moved out and then filed for divorce. How was it possible? How could he have been so blind, so ignorant of everything that was happening all around him? How could things have gotten so bad while he remained so clueless? How could have been so deaf to all the warnings? He could still remember the words of the Committee as he stood before them on the day that they demanded his immediate resignation, how they had expressed their “deep regret” that, although he had done so much for the church body, it was evident that he was not qualified to pastor their little flock while his own family had been so obviously neglected in regards to their “spiritual and emotional needs”. He was too confused and angry and hurt to even try to explain his own feelings to them; he merely accepted their rebuke, packed up his things from the little office, and drove away.

“Gotta start simple, though, if you’re gonna be making a career change. No sense in jumping off the high-dive the very first time. Pick something you know you can do, something you really like to do, even if it doesn’t pay as well as you’d like, because odds are you’ll be doing it quite a while, so you might as well enjoy it while you’re building up that reputation.”

Simple. Yes, that was it. Something simple, something he enjoyed doing. What did he enjoy doing? What did he really like doing, down in his heart of hearts? What one thing could he envision himself doing for the rest of his life?

The old man smiled at him. “So, son, what do you think? You have anything in particular you might be interested in?”

Marty smiled back. “I like books,” he said. “Do you have any openings here at the bookstore?”

Not the End — From the Archives

Misty walked among the shelves of books. She was overwhelmed. So many different books. The store was huge.

“Can I help you?” asked the cute, skinny girl behind the customer service counter. Her lips smiled, but not her eyes.

“Um. Yes. I’m looking for a book,” Misty said.

“Right.”

“Well, I guess I don’t know which one, exactly.”

“Okay. Are you looking for fiction or non-fiction?”

“I guess non-fiction. Something about…well…weight loss.”

“Sure.” The girl typed something into a computer. “This way.”

She led her through the rows, more quickly than Misty could move. She eventually caught up, trying to catch her breath without gasping.

“Here’s the weight management books,” the girl said. “Do you need anything else?”

“Yeah. A cookie.”

The girl laughed, put her hand gently on Misty’s shoulder. “You’re too funny. Have a nice day.”

Misty was alone, trying to figure out which celebrity had the best diet plan. No flour. No sugar. No carbs. No meat. No coffee.

Maybe I’ll just have to stop eating all together, she thought.

Her cell phone rang.

“Hello, Heather.”

“Hey, Mom. What are you doing?”

“Oh, nothing.” She took a book off the shelf. On the cover were the bronzed abs of a young woman. “Hey, what do you think of joining a gym with me?”

“I don’t know. It’s kind of expensive.”

“You’re right.”

“So, did you and Dad get things figured out?”

“What do you mean?” The book was full of pictures. Women laying on their backs, elbows pointing at knees in a crunch, faces radiant with smiles.

“You guys were fighting all night.”

“Oh, honey, it was nothing. You know.”

Heather was so quiet on the phone that Misty thought it cut out. “Heather? You still there?”

“Yes.” She sniffled. “I’m here.”

“Are you crying?”

“Maybe.”

“Hon, we’ll get it all worked out. I promise.”

“I heard him talking about that woman.”

“Oh.”

“Why would he do that?”

“I don’t know.”

The women in the book were perfect. Perfect legs, abs, boobs, smiles. Misty was not. Legs striped by purple veins. Stomach slack and full from three pregnancies and years of secret eating. Boobs…well…they needed a whole lot more support than they used to. Her smile. What smile?

“Is he going to lose his job?”

“Yes. I think so.”

“Good. I hope he does.”

“Heather.”

“What?”

“This is going to be harder on him than on me.”

“Whatever, Mom.”

“Listen, I have to go. I’ll bring home some burgers and we’ll talk some more.”

“Okay.”

“I love you, Heather.”

“I know.”

Misty hung up the phone.

She realized that she’d lost her husband. To another woman. A woman who was 20 years younger. Who was thinner and prettier and sweeter. That woman dressed and put on make up and did her hair so much better than Misty.

“You’ve really let yourself go,” he’d said the night before. “I just can’t be attracted to you anymore. Lord knows I’ve tried, Misty.”

“Just tell me what I have to do,” she said to him. “I’ll do whatever you want.”

“Become just like her.”

The memory of his words stabbed her heart all over again.

“You know you can’t be a pastor anymore if you leave me.”

“Don’t threaten me. You’re always doing that.”

“No, I’m not.”

He raged at her. Screamed about her flaws, her mistakes in life, her occasional selfish moments. She hadn’t cried. She just sat there, in shock.

Then he left.

“Have you found what you needed?” the customer service girl asked. “I could recommend one if you’d like.”

“No. But thanks. I think I’m okay.”

“Okay.” The girl lingered. “Hey, I hope this isn’t weird or anything. But, you have the prettiest eyes.”

“Oh, thank you.” Misty lowered her glance.

“I’m serious. You really do. They’re kind eyes.”

Misty smiled. Her heart warmed a small bit.

“You have no idea how I needed to hear that.”

“Well, I hope you have a nice day.”

I won’t, Misty thought. But it’s not the end of the world.

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