The Queen of Iceland

The Queen of Iceland

Pete didn’t even come into the kitchen. He just bounded right down the steps and out the front door like he had mornings for the past month, calling back at the last possible minute, “I’m late. I’ll grab breakfast on the run. See you tonight!”

He was back within minutes, searching along the walk and in the bushes. He came into the house, his alibi some forgotten business papers. So close to the truth. That’s what a good liar learned to do – to stay as close to the truth as possible, merely omitting the details that formed the lie. She heard him run up the stairs, the almost silent opening of the closet doors, the flushing of the toilet as he checked the bathroom.

It was almost fun observing him. He was like a character in a movie who doesn’t know what the audience knows. It lets the onlooker feel wiser than the character on the screen, because the audience gets to figure it out first.

“Find them?” she asked as he entered the kitchen.

“No.”

“Want me to help look?”

He eyed her suspiciously, as though it had just entered his mind that perhaps she had already found what he was looking for.

“Tell me exactly what you’re looking for, and I’ll come help look for it.”

She could see his distorted reflection looking back at her from the chrome-like polish of the stainless steel blender, their eyes meeting as though in a mirror. His eyes revealed confusion, fear, a bit of anger.

What did he see in her eyes? She tried to feign indifference.

He worried the change in his pocket, fisting the coins and then letting them fall. Up and down, up and down, they pulsed like his blood and his indecision as he tried to decide what to do.

“What do the papers look like?” she asked, making off in the direction of the stairs.

It was then that he had decided he must have left the papers at the office and had quickly left for work.

She took the stolen letter out of the blender. She had been right. He had never thought to look there. She saw Pete’s neat handwriting on the sealed envelope she had found in the pocket of the jacket she had taken out of the closet for a quick pressing this morning. Running the iron over the pocket, she had heard a crackle that was the stamped letter addressed to a woman unknown to her. In the upper left hand corner was his name and return address–a PO box unknown to her.

She had had time to do little other than find a fast hiding place for it, because she knew that when he got to the letterbox at the corner and discovered the letter missing that he would be back fast to try to find where he’d dropped it. And she’d been right about it all.

Now that he was gone for the day, she slit open the letter with a skewer and read:

“I feel like one of the ceramic figurines on the shelf in my Grandmother’s house. Chosen so long ago, it is not clear whether I am of value or merely a familiar part of the environment. The insecurity that has kept me from writing sooner is based on that same metaphor: my feeling that the fact that someone once chose me does not mean that I have enough value or taste or appeal to anyone else in the world.”

She stopped reading, then reread the first three lines again and again, as though trying to wring all meaning out of them before plunging again into the letter. Was she referred to in those sentences? Was her life being scrutinized as in a novel? And if so, was she to be villainess or heroine? She probed her own memories for proof supporting one view or the other. Knowing oneself from the inside out, how could anyone ever claim complete innocence? For the world knows us by the decisions we make whereas we know ourselves as all the alternatives seriously considered before making a choice.

“She caters to me like she caters to guests. Polite, fair, maintaining her distance, she is like a really good household staff member.”

She stopped again. Reread the sentences. Reread them. Reread them. Unfair. He was not being fair. He made her sound so cold. If it was she he was describing. She picked up the letter and read on.

”I feel like the exception, the holdout in her life, for everyone else loves her. I, who know her best, am the only one she can’t convince.”

She sat down on the kitchen stool, plopping down hard more by necessity than design. It was the greatest infidelity. He was placing someone else’s mind and affections before hers. Talking about her, like the vilest gossip.

Each sentence farther into the letter, she was being pulled closer to the core of him and seeing herself strained through and stained by his consciousness; and she realized suddenly that it was the greatest self-cruelty that prodded her to read more. And so, although there was a page more of writing, she folded the letter without reading on. She had learned as much of his truth as she ever wanted to know.

She folded the letter into the envelope, then folded the envelope into a tight roll and put it back into the blender. The apple juice sat on the counter where she’d put in readiness for him. Next to it were all of the other unused ingredients for his morning cocktail of blended fruit, juice, cereal and soy milk. Neatly, she sloshed out a cup of juice. She reached for the soy milk next, then the banana, papaya and frozen blueberries. She put on the lid and watched as sweet ingredients mixed with the bitter words to form a purple mass. She lifted the lid and began to add the eight ice cubes, one at a time. When the action grew sluggish, she added more juice and heard the clunk of the eighth and last cube meet the propellers.

She turned off the blender, leaned over to extract a very large plastic glass from under the counter. The mess in the blender filled the glass and another just like it. She took one in each hand as she left the kitchen, climbed the stairs. She walked down the hall. To her right and her left, the hall was lined with the portraits of his ancestors. Beautiful and prosperous, they seemed to form some unattainable goal, like trophies lined up on a shelf. Winners all, they dared her to live up to them.

As she walked between them, she felt as though she were running the gauntlet. Her eyes went from glass top to glass top, watching so as not to spill a drop.

She walked down the hall to their bedroom, sat down on his side of the bed and put one glass on the night table as she bent over to open the wooded door of the night table. Inside was a small freezer full of Healthy Choice frozen nonfat yogurt bars, sugarless popsicles and frozen natural health-food candy bars. She slipped the two glasses into the freezer along one side, then shut the door.

The alarm rang as usual at 6 a.m. the next morning. Jarred from her sleep, she sat stiffly upright, like a mummy rising from the tomb. As she felt her way down the stairs, still half-asleep, he fumbled around in the bathroom. Ten minutes later, she was back with two mugs of coffee. As if rehearsed, he cracked the door to the bathroom and stuck his hand out. She placed the insulated mug onto his palm and the hand withdrew, leaving the door ajar.

“Early meeting again today?” she asked, walking across the room to perch on his side of the bed.

From the bathroom came shaving sounds. “Yeah, all this week.”

She bent down and opened the bedside mini-freezer, withdrawing a tall glass.

“I thought that might be the case, so I made your shake yesterday morning and froze it. If you put it in the microwave for a minute when you get to the office, it will thaw out enough to drink.

“Thanks, Rita. I’ll owe you one—anything you want.”

Her eyes caught on the steam sifting out from the cracked-open bathroom door as she climbed back into bed for an hour’s more sleep. Nestling more snuggly down into the pillow, she answered him in thought only.

Anything, Pete? You should be careful. You know me–I’m fully capable of making you eat your own words.

(Here’s another fictional response to today’s prompt, Fight or Flight.)

Kidnapped: Fight and Flight

The Prompt: Write about your strongest memory of heart-pounding, belly-twisting nervousness: what caused the adrenaline? Was it justified? How did you respond? A prior post meets this topic.  See it HERE


Fight and Flight

 

Head Shots

Morning Head Shots

Picture a woman sleeping, words wrapped close around as sheets.
Syllables slipping to the floor, loosed from their midnight feats.
A whole new world evolving as she’s lost away in dream.
All those single actions spilling from the seam
of those reveries she’s wrapped in, meaning more than what they mean.

Click

Picture eyelids opening as light begins to dawn.
See the eyelids close again, her stretching and her yawn.
See the dreams she’s had all night pulled to consciousness–
all tightly wrapped, but wriggling themselves free from all the mess
of what they’ve been bound up in to become what she’ll confess.

Click

See the words all rising from the place where they’ve been sleeping.
See her brow remembering bits it struggles now at keeping.
See her form a paper sheet into a little sack
and use her pen to prod the words back into a pack,
sparring with belligerent phrases that fight back.

Click

See her herding each into its place with little nudges,
overlooking warring words that seek to live their grudges,
making words that don’t belong together somehow fit,
forcing the recalcitrant to want to do their bit
to turn their separate strands into a story finely knit.

Click

Now see the picture on the page where words have come to rest–
stretched out vowel to consonant, best standing next to best.
Brutal words relaxing, flaccid words now showing zest.
Brought recently into the world where they have met the test,
here they stand before you, shaken out and neatly pressed.

Click

Then see the floor around the bed–the words she’s thrown away.
The words that somehow just don’t say what she wants to convey.
See them rising in the air to hover up above.
Words of anger, sadness, envy, honor, lust and love.
They jump, they float, they kiss, they spar, they hug, they joust, they shove.

Click

Tomorrow night they’ll rain back down to form adventures new.
To form themselves into the curious plots that dream parts do.
Picture them assembling into order all their own
or forming groups informally, wherever they are blown.
Ready on the morrow to once more go where they’re sown.

Click.

 DSC09955

The Prompt: Three Perfect Shots–Take a subject you’re familiar with and imagine it as three photos in a sequence. Tackle the subject by describing those three shots. (As usual, I’ve been excessive and done seven shots instead of three.)

P.S.  Yes, that’s my new Mac Air in the picture.  It just arrived with friends from the States last night.  I’ve been putting my coffee or Coke on the floor or a different table and hope you do the same.  Better to learn from my mistakes than your own.  It feels like I’m finally speaking my native language again after trying to negotiate the web in a language I’ve never spoken before for two months.  Ahhhhhhhh. Relief.  But, I now like my Acer PC as well.  Just still more of a struggle and I was able to transfer all but the last 10 days of what was on my old Mac onto my new Mac, thanks to my dedicated backup drive.  Too bad I hadn’t backed up for 10 days, but this is much better than nothing.

Empty Cup

Empty Cup

You would think there would be some remnant left,
but death was simple.
You were there and then you weren’t.
After one deep ragged breath
you were so gone that even your body
seemed to miss you.  That stillness
so irrevocable. So not right.

Our friends all came
to see the place where you had been,
bringing offerings
to fill the void.
It was a full-packed house–
your sons, their wives, your daughter–
eight of us filling out every hollow corner.

I slept in the bed meant for two,
trying to convince myself I was enough–
trying to fill in the space you left.
That empty cup.

The Prompt:  Cut Off–When was the last time you felt completely, truly lonely?

Mexican Fiesta

 Mexican Fiesta

Every village has one for the saint’s day of their town.
Vendor booths spring up like grass as fireworks rain down.
Bottle rockets all day long are auditory pollution.
Newcomers often fear that it is a new revolution.
Thousands in a day explode, from predawn into night;
so gringos living in the town often just take flight
for the two weeks of fiesta that happens every year
as loud music and announcements join the assaults to the ear.
But after thirteen years, to me it’s just become a joke.
I simply plug my ears and down another Rum and Coke.

The Prompt: Write about a strictly local event in the place where you live as though it were an entry in a travel guide.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/local-flavor/

Plot for Life

Plot for Life

The Prompt: If you were given a plot of land and as much money as you need, what would you do with it?

I’d build a large house with five wings surrounding a central kitchen/living room space.  Each of four of the wings would be a private quarters where  I and three  friends could live as we grow older.  The fifth wing would be for guests until it became necessary to have live-in help or a nurse.  Each private area would consist of a bedroom, bathroom, living room, small efficiency kitchen and additional room that could be used for writing, art, crafts or whatever hobby the occupant wanted to pursue and would also have its own small fenced-in garden.  There would be a larger garden surrounding the house and a small studio/gallery at the street entrance.

Up Against the Wall

Up Against the Wall

 Wall_Drug_Sign

If you haven’t heard of Wall Drug, you probably have never been to South Dakota.  Signs for one of the world’s oldest and best known tourist traps are spread out across the state and surrounding states as well as such far-flung locations as Antarctica, Afghanistan and Italy.  For me, it was an exciting stop along the only vacation route taken by my family for most of my young life, for Wall was stationed smack dab on Highway 16 between my even smaller town of Murdo, South Dakota and the Black Hills, where our summer vacation usually consisted of an overnight stay in “The Deer Huts” after taking one of my older sisters to the Methodist Youth Camp a few miles away.

The excitement of the Deer Huts consisted mainly of the fact that the bathrooms were all outside–little wooden enclosures marked by a half moon that my mother hated and I adored.  I loved the nighttime trip up the hill with a flashlight and the strangely reassuring sound of what had once been a part of my body making its dark descent down the long vertical tunnel–as though it was having an adventure of its own.  I loved the threat of animals watching me in the dark as I made my way back to the log cabin.  It was about as exotic as my life ever got before I finally left home for college at age eighteen and life really began. But I digress, for the true adventure that wound up at the Deer Huts always began when we got to the badlands–a series of sandstone hills and gullies that furnished the background for many a cowboy movie of the fifties.  Then, shortly after the badlands, came Wall Drug!.

You can read the full story of Wall Drug HERE.   If you are pressed for time, however, I will give you the shortened version. The whole phenomena of a drugstore in a small town of under 300 on a godforsaken prairie  in the middle of nowhere started in 1931 with a suggestion by the wife of the owner that they put up signs offering free water.  From there, the promotions grew into singing automated cowboy orchestras, stuffed longhorn cattle, a life-sized dinosaur, chapels, souvenir shops, other automated scenes, a restaurant offering such South Dakota fare as hot beef sandwiches complete with mashed potatoes and white bread swimming in brown gravy, homemade rolls, cherry pie and 5 cent cups of coffee with  free coffee and donuts offered to soldiers, ministers, and truck drivers.

I have pictures of me at age eight and age sixty-six, standing by a huge stuffed longhorn steer, bravely touching the horn.  The last picture was taken as my childhood friend Rita and I took our last long nostalgic trip across South Dakota. In the Wall Drug Cafe, we shared a hot beef sandwich, a cinnamon roll and a piece of cherry pie for old time’s sake, put a quarter in the slots to see the singing cowboys creak into action, still in tune after almost sixty years.

In this more sophisticated age, folks still stop at Wall Drug.  It’s possible their teenagers remain in the car, texting their friends or playing computer games with the air conditioning cranked up to dispel the scorching South Dakota summer sun, but I bet the little kids as well as the bigger kids who are their folks or grandfolks still wander the block-square expanses of Wall Drug, looking for thrills from another age and time. And somewhere within its cluster of rooms and passageways, Grandma can still buy an aspirin or get a prescription filled, then get a free glass of water to swallow it down with, Grandpa can still get a five cent cup of coffee and a little kid can taste his first delicious mouthful of South Dakota Black Angus beef, swimming in gravy and surrounded by reassuring slices of Sunbeam white bread and mashed potatoes.

The Prompt: Tourist Trap: What’s your dream tourist destination — either a place you’ve been and loved,https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/tourist-trap/ or a place you’d love to visit? What about it speaks to you?