On Another Earth

As an exercise, I used the three contest words in another 500(ish) word story. One Drop in The Sea of Love is the obvious entry, so with this one I tried more for fun, writing out the first paragraph as a riff without really thinking about it. I just finished the tweaking and editing. Hope you enjoy it.

On Another Earth

On picture day at her school, eight-year-old Georgia had been warned not to mug for the camera. She did it anyway. Her mother, Amandine, tore the mailed proof into tiny pieces (discarding them into different trash cans on separate floors of the downtown mall), then tried to have the photo redone before it was sent to every personal news outlet on earth. But Georgia’s cross-eyed, bulgy-tongued, ‘fingers pulling from both sides of the mouth’ grin would be traveling the ether alongside beautiful glossy photos of sweet little darlings who had learned well and done as they were told. The response would be quick, the embarrassment intense as reaction upon reaction piled in. The Book of Faces would never understand this. Amandine knew she was going to get a letter.

It was bad enough when someone’s camera was on the fritz and the ministry acted as though the world might end. A purposely ridiculous likeness could bring a fine. They were both getting low on their specially blended, Ideal Personal Color lipsticks– Amandine’s multifaceted plum with highlights of poppy and the subtlest touch of gold, Georgia’s translucent age-appropriate honey mixed with pale peony pink. How would they be able to buy lipsticks and pay a fine?

Amandine decided that this time Wyatt should be the one to admonish the child. Georgia hadn’t been listening to her mother for weeks. Perhaps the father so chiseled that he could do no wrong could get his daughter to stop pretending that unkempt and weird were actually viable options in life. That silliness was for history books. Modern Life took one’s visage very seriously.

If Wyatt couldn’t get the child in line, Amandine had one more idea. She’d seen an advertisement the other day for something called an Outer Layer Converter. One of its settings enabled the wearer to look good in every photo taken during a twenty-four hour period, from studio shots to selfies– perfection, no matter the angle. The thing was pricey, but there were low interest beauty loans for big ticket items like that. Anything to keep The Book of Faces happy and off their backs.

Amandine was jotting down notes about this at her desk, when little Georgia pushed through the front door, smiling as splendidly as she hadn’t for her school photo. With her bookbag and mary janes left haphazard on the the front hall carpet, the girl sidled up to her mother’s chair and pushed a sheet of glossy paper across the glass top desk, gliding it toward her mother with ceremonious glee. She said, “Look, Mommy.”

Amandine turned over the paper to find the brilliant face of her only child wearing her best graceful smile.

“They didn’t mail the proofs, Mommy. They passed them out at school today. Daddy and I played a trick on you.”

Amandine’s happiness dulled the impulse to scold. She embraced her daughter, pondering the effect a bit of her Hair Away cream would have on Wyatt’s Bald Be Gone.

Flashy or Plain –Which One Turns You On?

Four kind comments came in to last Friday’s post where I asked for help with a 500 word story I want to send in to a writing contest. The $100 prize would come in handy for the small necessities I’ve been doing without lately.

Utilizing their feedback and that from my sister and my daughter, I replaced the original story with a new revised version. I’ll take that one down in a week or so unless I can come up with a flashier story to submit to the contest. Something tells me that more flash may have a better chance in today’s world. But, of course, I don’t really know.

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Flashy Photo by Re’ Harris

What do you think? If the writing quality is equal, is a flashier story the one you’d rather spend a little time reading? Or do you prefer realism and emotion, a “style” that almost appears not to be one?

PS: Saturday evening, after receiving a certain piece of mail, my focus turned again from the writing I want to do, to the struggles going on in my life. I want to try to keep writing, but composing and revising is difficult for me when the hardness of the world intrudes on my emotions. This post is me trying not to curl up in response, the way I have been. This is me trying to stay out in the world. Regularly adding stories to Words One Hundred is my main target, though. That will add up to both practice and perhaps getting to communicate with friends. It’ll be great if that works out. My best to you all.

One Drop in the Sea of Love

While trying to get back to my writing, I came across this contest at MashStories.com. The prize is $100 (oh how I can use that!) and the rules are few — mainly a 500 word limit, and the use of this quarter’s words within the story: converter, mug, happiness. 

I’ve been a no-show here for quite some time, but if any of the friends I miss so much come across this, and could spare a few minutes to give impressions on what I’ve come up with, I’d be very grateful. Any thoughts at all would help me decide if this is too little, too much or just plain boring. Or if I should choose a new subject and just start over, which has been a prominent theme in my life for quite a while now.

Thanks in advance for any help you can give. My love to you all.

One Drop in the Sea of Love

Ivy stood in the farthest corner of the garage from Abner. He was underneath the car removing its catalytic converter, flouting the law, thumbing his nose at the EPA, risking a fine.

“Half the scientists say one thing. Half say something else.” He said that to her with a straight face. “Liberals pretending the world’s dying… If it’s that bad– time to give up anyway. I’m gonna drive a car that works the way its supposed to.” She thought he was behaving like an ass and almost said so, but that felt like giving up on him. She wasn’t ready.

Ivy had emailed links about global warming gleaned from university websites, offered evidence on how the world’s skewed environment already affected their own area, even pleaded for their baby’s lungs to make it more personal, but mountains of misinformation were standing between truth and Abner’s heart. He’d always been strong. Now he’d crossed over to hard, battered by the gulf between their hand-to-mouth reality and the lost luster of his dreams for success. He wasn’t talking things through with her anymore or finding comfort in his family. She sensed herself simmering in the distance between them, too tender and unsteady, as if the best part of her had broken and was setting wrong.

She listened to him under the car, willing away science with a hammer to make himself feel superior, or remind himself of his strength. She braced herself, suppressing her ache, stitching her family together for the moment until she could decide if their happiness was going to be out of the question.

That evening, she made soup. He lingered in the garage, then paced the front porch, hands deep in his pockets, face contorting, head tossing now and then for punctuation as if arguing with himself or working out a problem. Ivy kept a wide berth until dinner was ready.

They sat at the kitchen table. In his high chair, baby Carl nibbled crackers and slurped cooled noodles and carrots Ivy proffered on his little spoon between sips of juice from his mug with the no-spill lid. Abner went on about the merits of movies on television later. When he paused, Ivy realized she’d stopped listening.

After Carl slurped another spoonful of noodles, her eyes met Abner’s, whose gaze fell over his soup bowl. A low, wet, sound clenched in his throat.

She was so used to arguing and contradiction that she stared in silence, anticipating the phantom guilt that often followed.

He sucked air into his lungs, hard, as if pulling something back inside. “I said, I can watch that Hugh Jackman thing. The one you’d like, without blades in his knuckles.”

Ivy reached for him, curling her fingers around his, and said, “Okay.”

After dinner and the cleaning up, they put Carl into his playpen with the fluffy blanket and his purple bear. The baby yawned as his parents settled together onto the sofa to watch a romance unfold.

Contests

Photo from the 420 Characters Page on Facebook

Lou Beach poured over entries for a contest where folks submitted their 420 character stories, vying for one of three copies of his new book, 420 Characters, to be given away as prizes. I wanted a copy of his book to hold in my hands and linger over like poetry — I so love the way he writes and has mastered putting so much into just 420 characters and spaces. The winners were wonderful. I see why neither of mine was among them. His book is still on my list for some far away later, though I do harbor dreams that later could turn out to be sooner.

I’ve decided to share the two entries I submitted to the contest, here with my friends, as I fight my desire to remain in retreat. I tried to write more of these for the contest to increase my odds (as others who entered did) but I found myself unable to find much freedom in even fewer words than I’m used to, at least without prompts. I know I could learn to find that freedom, but I’ve concentrated my work efforts in trying to master one hundred words. My mind doesn’t seem to have the space for trying harder in a newer, or older, more constricting form. Not yet. Or maybe I just didn’t wrap myself around the concept completely. So much to learn in what feels increasingly like so little time. Dot, dot, dot.

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These were my entries:

Sentence 

Fleeing along the trace, I feared falling. He knew, gripping my hand as if dragging me over rocks or to hell, would be better than losing me to law that says lovers who steal should touch only through words murmured into rancid phones. I felt his heart explode, raining past me in pieces, like bullets, when he was caught. I wear the ring he gave but not when I visit, bearing perfumed wipes, willing scent through wire.

Names

His name escapes me while fog swirls and memory, even of self, continues to fade. Are we all affected? Faces nearby shadow like mine. Farther away, blankness still evident in gaits leading nowhere, the eddy swallows them at the edges. He calls me something I don’t recognize before his words falter and spin out. Leaning into his chest, I wonder why. I remember light and keep to his warmth, preferring to be lost there.

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Here’s a link to the winners.

Pale Green, Chapter 5

Photo by Magpie's Fancy via Flickr

Evan’s apartment glowed with afternoon sun. He savored that light on Jess’s skin, reflecting in her hair.

She grinned, opening a sleepy eye. Snuggling into the pillow, she enjoyed the sound the linens made as she moved.

“So,” said Evan, “you going home to his yellow kitchen?”

She was quiet.

His face fell. “Then, are you sure it should be that colour? Maybe I should paint it green.”

“Evan … I don’t make much. He’s hidden money. I can only make small withdrawals from the joint account without him noticing. I want to leave. Soon. But I’m trying to get a little cushion in my own account first.”

“We’d be fine, take care of each other.”

She touched his shoulder. “I think I believe you.”

“Why wouldn’t you?”

“I loved him …”

“I’m not him. I want to be with you, not limit you.”

She nestled closer beside him.

He stretched out, basking, then wondered what other colours she liked.

The End

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This is the last “chapter” I attempted for week #19 of Julia’s 100 Word Challenge. She kindly gave me permission to go ahead and link this. You can mosey on over there and read everyone’s entries by clicking here.

Many thanks to all who encouraged me in this. 

Pale Green, Chapter 4

Photo by Mexicanwave via Flickr

Driving the long way through Fancher’s Woods, Evan drove slower on the turn where the Elms met overhead. He trained the corner of his eye on Jess as she leaned closer to her open window.

Where the road straightened, one tree’s leaves had changed from deepest green to dusty brown.

Jess pointed to it. “It’s barely September and still warm. Why’s it turning so soon?”

Evan glanced at it as they passed.

Craning her neck to see, Jess wondered aloud, “The color’s so dull. Maybe something’s wrong.”

“The leaves are still thick. It’s probably all right.”

“Are you sure it should be that colour? That sickly brown?”

Evan reached for Jess’s arm, slid his hand down to hers. “I’m sure the park service watches over them.” He caught the breeze tossing her hair forward, her look of concern beneath, and added, “It’ll be seen.”

She smiled at him, then turned back to the forest. He knew she would.

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I’ll post Chapter 5, the ending, tomorrow night here at Sparks In Shadow, but I won’t link it to the original challenge at Julia’s blog, because I’m not sure if it fits within her guidelines here. It’s her challenge and I don’t want to break her rules. The ending does stay within the 158 words for week #19 and the prompt she set. You can find out more about that and read the other entries for this week here.

Pale Green, Chapter 3

Photo by newleaf01 via Wikimedia

“Evan?” she said, refilling his glass.

He nodded, eyeing her over the rim as he drank.

“I’m, Jess.”

He licked the lemonade off his upper lip. “I remember.”

Smiling, she poured more for herself.

He finished his glass, returned to the tray and roller. He turned to her before continuing. “Maybe this’s out of line, but–why the green?”

She looked at him, then the Spanish tiled backsplash. “He said to pick the color. I like green.”

“But you knew.”

“I was hoping …” she touched the cheek Mr. Ashe had kissed, her fingertips cool from the glass, “for a sign.”

Evan’s eyes had wandered down the length of her dress. He recovered, repeating her last word to her eyes. “Sign?”

She nodded. “What’s your impression of him?”

He stifled a smirk. “Weird. Like he cares– and doesn’t.”

“Yes! It’s confusing.”

“Are you …”

” ‘… sure it should be that colour?’ ”

Evan laughed.

“Sure. It’ll be my last gift to him.”

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You’ll find the other entries in Week #19 of the 100 Word Challenge at Julia’s Place here. (This week’s challenge allows 158 words because of the dialogue and the prompt.)

Pale Green, Chapter 2

Photo by Siona Karen via Flickr

Mrs. Ashe gazed at the yellow. The painter paused, curious about her small reaction.

Mr. Ashe called from another room. “Jess?”

She opened her mouth as if to answer. The painter watched her, noting how she avoided his eyes. Mr. Ashe’s footsteps approached from the next room.

He kissed her cheek. “It’s like the living room,” he said, smiling. “Same color– ‘Butter’.”

The painter watched her silent struggle, her husband’s tentative smile as if waiting for validation. Wanting to stare, the painter tried to look away but saw her pooling tears, so thick he couldn’t understand why they hadn’t spilled.

“You picked that yellow. Remember?” Ashe looked over the one finished wall. “Much better color.”

He squeezed her shoulder. “Now you’re home, I’ll run some errands.” He glanced at them before leaving.

To the painter she appeared frozen, fragile as thin ice.

“Are you sure it should be that colour?” he asked.

Warming, lighter, she said. “Why not?”

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This is my second entry into Week #19 of the 100 Word Challenge (with 50 extra words allowed because Julia told us to center them on dialogue.) It wasn’t easy once I realized I’d have to include “Are you sure it should be that colour?” into each chapter. I’ve got four of them now, but if the consensus is that this isn’t working, I won’t link the others. I hope you like it, but I can take the truth. Click the link on Julia’s name to read this week’s other entries.

Pale Green, Chapter 1

Photo by jhhymas via Flickr

“Are you sure it should be that colour?”

The young painter looked over his shoulder. “Yes, Mr. Ashe. Your Missus chose ‘Pale Willow’ at the shop — to complement the tiles.”

“She knows I can’t abide green.” Ashe surveyed the wall, grimacing. “Why would anyone put green in a kitchen?”

“I’ve seen quite a few, Sir.” He continued cutting in the line along the cabinet.

Ashe surveyed the painter. “Stop. I’ll go get something decent.”

Laying down his brush, the painter glanced at the center of the opposite wall where he and Mrs. Ashe had tested the color to be sure. He turned to Ashe. “Perhaps you could wait for the Missus — choose something together.”

” ‘Perhaps’ you back off. You’ll be paid properly.”

“Yes. I know.”

Ashe left for the store.

The young man waited outside, fingertips grazing his chin, contemplating lovely Mrs. Ashe, the way she’d looked at him the day before, reconsidering his refusal to look back.

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This week’s challenge from Julia was to use 158 words or less to include, “Are you sure it should be that colour?” into a story centered on dialogue. Click the link on her name to read this week’s other entries. 

“Guitar Strings in the Snow”

Last Friday I received a cool prompt for Words One Hundred — “guitar strings in the snow.” I finished writing and revising a story with that as the title, Sunday morning and uploaded it onto the new site. With only one subscriber there (thank you, Coco!), I realized the site was still very much in it’s infancy, and wondered how many folks would know something fresh was in. I thought I’d include the new story here, too. Why not?

This story has 105 words, 100 words plus the 5 words in the prompt (hence the new site’s title.) My aim with each of these is to write the most literary, efffective pieces I can whether they’re serious or fun. Folks can see what I do with words and decide if they want more, in just a couple of minutes. The idea of going short is not new but of the ones I’ve seen, I’ve noticed that we are all different in our approaches. Like genre writers, we’ve chosen a particular area, each of us bringing our own unique sensibilties, criteria, and imagination to the work.

If you feel so inclined, you can read my new micro story below, or you could click over to Words One Hundred to observe its search for sustenance in its usual habitat. It doesn’t mind if you look.

Guitar Strings in the Snow

Photo by dustinphillips via Flickr

They escape her pocket onto a snowbank as she hurries away. This winter evening, in waning sun before packed offices empty, she heads for the last subway seats.

Holding the tall case between her knees as the car rocks, her eyes close. For ten minutes she’ll review lyrics. The set list is in her fingers. Music never scares her. Words can.

Thirty come to listen, adore her songs, her voice. She pretends comfort with their praise, hiding.

New strings lie in reserve, shining copper before use. She’d kept the first ones broken onstage – the guitar strings in the snow – luck loosely held, let go, unneeded.

The prompt was, “guitar strings in the snow” — from Jasmine.