Because

Because she said no, I find myself adrift. I am wanderer in a strange land where all life’s vivid colors have turned to shades of grey.

I still hold all of those dreams in my memory, my castles in the air, forever lost. They linger, mirage-like just beyond my window.

But I lie in the cool dark, her words a burning tattoo on my heart. “We cannot be. We are too different. I am promised to another.”

She swept away in a whisper of jasmine and bergamot, and I cursed the hatred that fractures acceptance.

“We are too different.”

And yet we are not. Does she lie on her bed and think of me? In the deepest night does she call out my name?

When morning comes, I’ll move on once again, but tonight I’ll dream. I’ll hold her in my arms again and pray to never wake.

Reversal of Fortune

I sit on the vast beach, listening to the waves beat against the sand. Above me the sky is empty. Not even a gull calls out. I am alone, the picture of dejection.

The arrogant fools have tossed me ashore and sailed into the wide ocean. The winds are with them, propelling them at good speed. Let them make merry and laugh at my misfortune.

They expect me to die. I do not plan to oblige them.

I shall conserve my strength and await the clipper I spied following in our wake. By my reckoning it will reach me by evening, time enough for me to start a fire. I shall use driftwood and the tinder I secreted along with the flask of rum.

By evening the fools will be feeling the effects of the tincture of nightshade I used to poison their water supply. They will hallucinate. They will writhe in agony. They will perish.

Good riddance.

Storm Child

Lightening forks down from the indigo sky while thunder roars loud enough to shake the stones beneath our feet. We tremble, falling deeper into the mountain fortress and praying to the gods for mercy.

The gods do not listen.

Instead, the clouds open, and rain pours in a torrent so thick that life beyond these caves becomes a memory. The wind shrieks with glee. Pieces of rock break and smash into the raging ocean below.

The priests cower with the rest of us until the child rises and walks to the edge of the cliff. She is no one. But she raises her arms to the sky and cries, “I am ready.”

For a moment the wind lifts her and folds her in its embrace before setting her down. Then the clouds begin to roll back, and the rain slows. A ray of sun slips through the darkness, and she catches the light in her hands.

Everyone Gone

It took three days to travel up the rain-swollen river. Suhan piloted the boat.

“Doctor go to big house. Very much sick,” he would say over and over like a mantra.

Each day the sun beat down without mercy, and I would feel my skin blistering as the sweat soaked through my clothes. I listened to the brown water pushing the boat onwards, the birds cackling in the lifeless trees, and drank sparingly from my bottled water.

On the second day towards evening, the boat collided with something, and Suhan called out in terror. It was a bloated body. Suhan began to rock and pray.

On the third morning as we drew close to the plantation the river was choked with bodies, and a plume of gray smoke rose into the sky. The great house was burning.

“Everyone gone,” Suhan said, his eyes like black tunnels. “Everyone free.”

Despite the heat, I began to shiver.

That Summer

That summer, my eleventh, we paddled canoes on the lake during the hot days with the sun glaring down from the infinite blue. Grandma would yell from the porch, “Don’t forget the sun lotion” to us in general and to my brother, “Jimmy, you let Kelly play with you and the boys.”
Jimmy would groan and jerk his head toward the canoes. “Come on, then. We’re goin’ to Turtle Island. Don’t cry if you get bit.”
Jimmy rode with slender, blond Colin Burns. Jimmy said it was because they were the oldest and smartest. At fourteen, they were certainly the oldest.
He’d stick me in the canoe with raven-haired Chris Holloway, who inspired a million fantasies in my budding imagination. He was always some kind of outlaw in need of redemption by a good woman, the stuff of too many a romantic novels. Behind me sat Danny Tramore, a solid, if uninspiring presence. He was a nice boy who wore braces and hadn’t hit his full growth spurt, though like a puppy he had enormous hands and feet. If he grew into them, he’d be a giant.
I would ride between the two boys, my brown hair in a long braid down my back, sitting straight, pretending I was Sacagawea and feeling a bit like cargo.
Turtle Island wasn’t much of an island. It was more like a couple acres of swampy muck covered with trees and patchy grass and rock. I loved it there. The boys would run off in search the snappers that would float just below the surface of the brown water, mouths open, waiting patiently for prey. You could lose a finger easy, Grandpa would warn me and hold up his left hand where the index and third fingers had been sheered off at the first knuckle. The boys didn’t care. They’d dip branches in the water or sometimes skewer a worm with a stick and dangle it close enough for the turtles to snap.
I’d wander through the woods and listen to the rushing of the river, the chattering of the birds, the crackle of the twigs beneath my feet. Flies used to take a special delight in biting me, so I’d constantly swat the air like a crazy person. Still, I liked the green, the relief from the burning sun. I’d bring my sketchbook and sit on a tree root to draw and dream.
Our routine followed familiar paths for much of that lazy summer until a particularly hot, late August day when I wandered off to my tree root as usual. My birthday was in two days, and I pondered what I wanted most. I closed my eyes.
“That’s pretty good,” a lazy voice said, and I jerked around. Chris Holloway stood behind me staring down at my drawing. Of him.
I slammed my book shut. “It’s not polite to sneak up on people.”
He gave me a flat-eyed grin. “If you want to look at me, here I am.”
“I just think you make a good subject artistically.”
He sat next to me. “I think you’re full of it.”
I noticed up close his clothes looked as if they’d been worn by one or two people before he ever got them. His right front tooth was slightly crooked, and I wondered what he was doing at the lake at all.
“My old man works for Mr. Burns, so we live here year round,” he said as if I’d spoken out loud.
“It’s pretty here.”
“In the winter, the lake freezes. You can walk from one end to the other. Weird, huh? Not a whole lotta families around in the winter. It’s just gray.”
“Don’t you get bored?”
“Nah. I go play with all my cool video games on my 72-inch flat screen.” He screwed up his face. “Sure I get bored, dumbass.”
“I’m not a dumbass.”
He gave me a sly smile, and my heart gave a little jump. “Yeah, you kind of are.” He leaned over and kissed me, and not just a little dry kiss on the lips. The full on-tongue-in-mouth, red, hot kiss you see in movies. Worse, his hand slid down to my behind before he pulled away.
I heard voices calling, but I was shaking, unable to answer.
Chris Holloway stood and called, “I found her. We’ll meet you at the dock.” He looked down at me. “Don’t think you better tell your brother about this. He might get mad.” He picked up sketchbook and handed it to me. “I didn’t rape you. Now you got your first kiss.”
He gave me a hand up, and I followed him back to the dock where the others were waiting. I was sure Jimmy would notice something different about me, but he continued to laugh and joke with the others.
I climbed back into the canoe with Danny Tramore and Chris Holloway. The picture I had drawn had ripped and become smudged with mud. I closed the book. Sweat was running down my face, and I didn’t feel like much like Sacagawea now. But I sat up straight and looked out over the brown water.
We paddled down the river under the relentless sun, and when we got back I stood in the shower and wondered why I felt so odd. When I looked in the mirror, I saw the same girl, but something had changed. The girl had become more knowing or maybe I didn’t want to think of myself as a dumbass.
Had Chris Holloway stolen something from me, or had he taken something I wanted to give? For so many years I’ve pondered the question, but I’ve never found the answer. Maybe it lies with that eleven-year old girl who remains forever on Turtle Island.

Equality for some

Hot air shimmered through the room, but the three of them still wore their heavy velvet coats. Rich men sure was vain.

“Let’s hear it then, Tom,” Mr. Franklin and thumped his cane.

Mr. Jefferson stood and spoke so soft that Mr. Franklin had to lean close. “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary—“

“Damn it, Tom, get to the point!” Mr. Adams shoved the pile of papers before him.

Mr. Franklin smiled. “Now, John.” She loved that wicked twinkle in his eyes.

“Call the king a tyrant and get on with it!” Mr. Adams said.

Mr. Jefferson sighed. “I’m trying to do that, John.”

“Let us hear what else you have!”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

“Genius,” Mr. Franklin said. “Pure genius.”

Old Martha closed the door. Her back ached something fierce, and gritty sweat coated her skin. Later, she’d come back to tidy up this room. She still had other floors to mop and rooms to dust. Shuffling down the hall, she wondered why only the men was created equal.

Flash Points: Sarah Cain

Thanks for your your Flash Points analysis of my story. Very cool.

Flash! Friday

FlashPoints3

Welcome to Flash Points. Today’s post resurrects an old (ish) romp in which a story from the previous week’s competition is devoured for its deliciousness, bite by bite. In other words, we look at it up close and personal to help us in our pursuit of what makes great flash. Hungry? Let’s eat! 

Prompt: Queen Victoria political cartoon

Word limit:  140 – 160 words

Today’s chosen flash piece:  For Queen and Countryby Sarah Cain

“A great victory, my Queen.”

Thanks to his negotiations, they had added another shining jewel to their empire: a country of millions. When he presented the Queen with the treaty, she had been pleased, though she had kept her countenance grave in line with the occasion.

“We shall be fair and just rulers,” she had said, “as we have throughout the centuries.”

He had bowed. Throughout the centuries the kings and queens…

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For Queen and Country

“A great victory, my Queen.”

They had added another shining jewel to their empire: a country of millions. When he presented the Queen with the treaty, she had been pleased, though she had kept her countenance grave in line with the occasion.

“We shall be fair and just rulers,” she had said, “as we have throughout the centuries.”

He had bowed. Throughout the centuries the kings and queens of the realm had burned, boiled, and ripped people apart when they displeased the crown, yet this woman believed without question in the righteousness of her empire. Only the royals could afford to be so ignorant and arrogant. So be it.

Later he stared at the cartoon from the local paper and recognized his depiction: the manipulator, the power-seeker, the eternal Jew who pulled the strings of his benevolent and innocent queen. He crumpled the paper in his fist. Let the little people believe what they would.

Whatever he did was for his country, even when his country despised him for it.

 

The Berry Picker

When summer comes, I help my family by picking berries. It’s outside work, so I make a game of it. I scramble through the rows of ripe strawberries and pluck the fat red fruit quick as I can. I don’t mind picking, though my arms get sore after a few hours, and I wish I had shoes. But at least I have decent clothes and a hat.

Mr. Bigalowe says I’m the fastest worker he’s got. Sometimes Mrs. Bigalowe watches from the porch. She always smiles at me and asks how I’m doing, and I say, “Quite well, thank you, Ma’am,” just like Mama taught me. She offers me lemonade, and it’s cool and tart and sweet all at the same time. I don’t gulp it though. I always thank her. She smiles, and says we’re friends. Though if we were real friends, I guess she’d let me come inside instead of standing on the porch.

On the last day of berry season, Mrs. Bigalowe calls me over. She says she hopes I’ll come visit and gives me a heart-shaped strawberry tart with a golden crust. It looks like something from a storybook.

“Don’t forget to visit,” she says.

I nod and thank her. On the way home I sell the tart for five whole cents.

 

You Too Can Be A Published Author (Or Maybe Not)

The 66th Philadelphia Writers Conference, the oldest writers’ conference in the country concluded on Sunday. This was my second year attending, and overall had a very satisfying experience. I gained some insight from the workshops, met some new people, and learned (to paraphrase Dickens) that this is both the best and worst of times to be a writer.

Sound confusing? Not really. It’s the best of times because writers have options, meaning there are many pathways to getting our words into print: self publishing, indie publishing, e-publishing. The problem with this method is, the writer will be on the hook for a large chunk (or all) of the costs and the publicity. And please get your work professionally edited because most self-published books need it.

So the writer still has the option of traditional publishing, but of course, one needs to find an agent. The writer doesn’t have any hope of finding an agent unless his/her work is totally polished, professionally edited, and perfect; however, if the writer does all this, there is a small chance the writer will get picked up.

By the way 95% of published books don’t make back their advances.

Am I discouraged? Hell, no. I’m a writer. That’s what I do. If I wanted predictable, I’d have picked another profession (though I’m not sure any profession is predictable today).

Writers conferences are good to attend if only to remind us that we do not labor alone in our bat caves. It’s important to see that others struggle with the same issues. We may not all reach The New York Times best seller list, but we are all part of a larger community.