Throwing in the Towel

Hey all,

I get some great daily writing prompts from Sarah Selecky. Sarah is a fabulous writer who is teaching me the value and art of the short story. Her prompts are engaging and quirky…a quick, ten minute shot of creative juice to bring the muse. Having finished my memoir (after nearly two years of writing, now starting the query process–keep yer fingers crossed for me–more about this in future posts), I am diving into learning more about the slowly diminishing genre of the short story. Here is a recent shorty that you might enjoy… just a handful of paragraphs, but fun. Happy reading! 🙂

***

We all have storiesTerry lay flattened and sun-crisped in the street. She had flown from the back of the city refuse truck and landed in the road, just close enough to traffic that seven cars had already made their mark, pancaking her to the pavement. She was frozen there in her two-dimensional sprawl, waiting. Remembering.

Her life at the Ritz-Carlton seemed a hazy dream now. How had she come to this? Memories of emerging fresh and fragrant from the tumbling warm, fluffed and folded smartly, swirled in her muddled mind. Every room of the hotel was a joy, but her appointment was to the Presidential Suite. This was what she was made for. She hung proudly, invitingly, from her highly polished brass perch, every loop standing erect yet soft and ready for absorption. To wrap herself around a just-bathed torso or to enfold a flower-washed head full of curls, bringing comfort and coverage; this was her life’s calling. And she took it seriously. The satiny monogram—RC—emblazoned on her lower right hand corner filled her with stately pride. She threw her whole self in to her work.

Then one day everything changed.

She was pulling a temporary shift in the bridal suite. New housekeeping staff had made a laundry bungle. It was a good time though—sweet young couple. Terry was a little miffed that both of the newlyweds, after some strange ritual behind the wide frosty glass of the double shower, chose the plush white robes that hung on the gleaming wall hooks just to her right. They didn’t stay in those long either…apparently the consummation thing was ongoing and repetitive for the first twenty-four hours of the nuptials.

At any rate, there she stayed, proud, plump, and waiting, but never pulled from her post. Until checkout time. Then the strangest thing happened. The young wife came into the darkened shower room and snatched from the wall both Terry and her partner for this job (she never could remember his name…it may have also been Terry). Making quick work of rolling each of them into a tight jellyroll, the bride tucked them snugly into two suitcases. Terry into His and the other Terry into Hers. All light was extinguished as the zzzzzziiiiiiper made its circuit and closed out all knowledge of the only world Terry knew.

It was dark and cramped and stifling inside. She tried to remain calm, to keep her frantic thoughts stayed on the present moment and from spinning off into some horrific scenario of fated torture and ruin. But her panic and confusion won the day; and then she knew no more.

The next fifteen years were a numbing blur of mildew and bleach. Of endless weeks stuffed like a useless wad in the space between the dresser and the hamper—moldering among dust bunnies and hideous socks that reeked of Swiss cheese.

Terry had only recurring bits and snatches of these disturbing images left as clues as to how she came to be what she was:

Discarded.

Countless uses, some too shameful to tell; passed from one insatiable bather to the next (she felt so dirty and ashamed), left outside in the grass to drown in the rain and then bake in the sun, and finally left for dead on the rotting chaise for the cat to have its way with her.

“Gross. Throw that thing in the bin.”

Terry recognized the voice from somewhere far beyond her dazed stupor. Her last memory of that place was of the markedly aged face (fifteen years will do that to you) of the young wife, who was now a mother of two. She gazed down through the open portal of the rubbish can. Terry tried to call out to her, “Please! Please.”

But the tired bride apparently was not moved by nostalgia.

***

The smoke belching garbage truck lumbered over a deep pothole, pitching a number of untouchables out onto the pavement. Terry landed in a heap, partially covering an old Gameboy with a busted screen.

She had been here for some time now. Was it years? She awoke to her lower left corner being lifted gingerly with a stick.

“Cool! Check it out!” the freckle-faced youth hollered as he flipped Terry aside like petrified cow dung. He snatched up the fully revealed treasure. He and his buddy argued over the booty until their voices were just a distant buzz. Terry lay at unnatural angles against the curb; her middle now loose and undone from being stabbed and pitched.

Presently, she noted that the intensity of the afternoon sun seemed somehow diminished, and the air became mercifully cooler. Perhaps this was finally the blessed end. Perhaps she was finally going to make her exit. With her last bit of energy, she gazed upward in the hopeful expectation of meeting her maker. There above her, she met the curious gaze of two kind eyes set in a face of leather. Eyes that had seen a thing or two.

They regarded one another for some time. Finally her new-found shade spoke, and darned if it wasn’t the sweetest voice, like that of a gentle shepherd or a late night jazz radio D.J.

“Yep, I can put you to good use yet,” he intoned with resolve. He wiped his life-stained hands on his greasy dungarees and reached for her.

Terry just made out the words scrawled in Magic Marker on the side of the large white bucket as her rescuer plucked her from the gutter and placed her gently inside. She wondered what the words meant as she sank into the cool, sudsy water. Her kinked and crumpled length spread out luxuriously as she merged into her saving oasis.

“Rudy’s Window Washing”

“Anything helps,” it had read.

“Anything helps,” Terry repeated.

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Airportal Encounter

Some Girls CoverMy flight should board in about forty minutes. I’m sitting on cold vinyl, reading a memoir about a young American girl who finds herself in a harem—a concubine to a prince in Southeast Asia.

A modern story.

She is giving him a blowjob (just like the one he has gotten from a thousand other women), he is indifferent, and it’s pissing me off. Why, oh why are we so desperate?

I can feel the gaze of the guy sitting across from me. He has scanned all the women and made his assessments. I wonder how I measure up. Who cares, jerk. All men suck. Except mine, of course. I got lucky.

Okay, wow, so that’s a little harsh. Holy Moley. I’m thinking it may be time to change my estrogen patch. I close my book.

Not many folks here yet, I guess they aren’t worried about missing their flight. Thirty minutes to boarding. I would check my email, but I left my cell phone at home. Time to pee and find gum. I gather up my stuff—mustn’t leave any unattended baggage—and head for the ladies room. I am greeted by a chorus of flushing. I feel grateful that airport potties are mercifully clean.

Always a place to hang your purse–and we’ll leave the light on for ya’.

Having spotted a sundry kiosk, I meander down the corridor. I wonder how much they will gouge me for gum…eight bucks, likely. People mill about here and there, waiting for their flights, separated from their loved ones far too early before takeoff. The price we all pay to stay safe from the threat of terrorists.

The pretty young gal working the mini-store is being worked by a strapping young man in a blue work shirt and a name badge. He is Hector. She is not rude to me, although she says hi to me while looking at him.

The gum is only three-seventy-nine. That’s way better than eight, right? The small, white square cracks open and the minty liquid center washes over my tongue and my coffee breath. I never did have breakfast. Hopefully they serve peanuts on the flight.

I head back to the gate. Someone has already taken my seat; before the vinyl has even grown cold, my space is easily filled with another soul. The chairs are almost completely full now. We’re all here together, waiting.

Together alone.

A rumpled Everyman leans against the wall next to his too big to really qualify as a carry-on carry-on, sucking on an iced Starbuck’s, only it’s not a Starbuck’s because this airport only has Pete’s. He looks uncomfortable and tired. His backpack straps are making his wrinkled shirt ride up, so I can see a little of his belly peaking out. He isn’t aware. I can see that he is the hairy sort.

He is thinking about how he is going to cover his mortgage and the twenty-five hundred dollar charge he put on his Visa for the How To Make Money on the Internet seminar he just attended. Mary’s gonna kill him this time for sure.

I see one remaining open seat, facing the corridor—a perfect perch for people-watching. I think about how odd it is in airports, how we all freely watch people and write their stories, unaware that someone is writing ours too. It doesn’t matter. Maybe someone is writing a better one than the one we have written for ourselves.

Do you mind if I sit? I ask.

She is very pretty. Thirty something. Thirty two. No, maybe just thirty. No visible makeup and still stunning. She is small…petite…a delicate-featured blond. She reminds me of someone, but I can’t think of who.

She says, no, please go ahead, Everyman over there gave up his seat for me so I could sit down.

I think, of course he did.

It is the first seat in the row of seats; I slide into the tight space between her and the large man standing next to it. There is only room because she is small, but now I don’t want to invade her space, so I carefully gather myself and my stuff in so as to not be a bother. She flashes her pretty smile at me and then resumes her people watching. Her eyebrows arch playfully over her twinkly faerie eyes.

I like your jeans, I say.

Oh! Thank you! she says.

I like the boot cut, I say. Yeah, me too, she says. I launch into how my daughter talked me into buying a pair of skinny jeans; they’re not very comfy—yadda, yadda, yadda—like I’m still young and cool and can pull off skinny jeans. Back to people watching.

There is a group of five Latino men standing in a circle just to our left. They are friends or work colleagues or cousins. They talk quietly among themselves and steal glances at the pretty blond girl. I wonder if they have measured me up too.

I can feel Everyman’s gaze from time to time.

One of los hermanos has dropped a pencil. He has two pens in his shirt pocket. He hasn’t noticed, and I wait to see if I can catch his glance. I will him to look at me, and he does. I point to the pencil. You dropped your pencil, I say. He doesn’t smile or thank me, he just bends and picks it up like he knows he dropped it. I guess I didn’t really measure up. I wonder if Blond Faerie would have elicited the same indifference. Not likely.

She and I start to giggle. I say, airports trip me out—are you trippin’? She nods and we laugh harder in agreement. I say, it’s like we’ve gone through some strange portal into an alternate reality or something.

More laughter. The tightness in the air around us breaks and something inside my chest makes a connection and I feel something like relief and loneliness and familiarity.

Oh my God, yes! She says again. She uses a lot of exclamation points, but I can tell she is really smart.

Are you coming or going? She asks.

Good question. I almost never know.

I tell her that I’m headed home. Just spent the weekend here in LA with my kids. I wonder if she thinks it’s a custody thing. I clarify—my son’s girlfriend just graduated from performing arts school and I came to see her final play and graduation.

Wow! She says. That’s great! I feel like she means it. She is warm.

My son graduated from the same school two years ago, and my daughter too, the year before that, I gush. I wonder if I’m getting the dates right. I wonder if I’m already talking too much. I redirect the conversation.

You? I ask.

I’m headed to Sac to visit my mom. Awwwwwww! I say with an exclamation point. I mean it—I feel the ache in my chest. I wish I could see my mom.

Faerie Girl is saying, Yeah, I’m gonna spend a week with her. Awesome, I say. I want to tell her to hug her mom and drink her in and look into her eyes and listen to her stories, but she is telling me that she can’t believe that my kids are old enough to be graduating from college; I look too young…

I love this, of course.

She says, I figured you were my age—forty. You must have married young.

I get this a lot.

Yep. Married my soul mate, I say (this gets them every time). So rare. So lucky. A relational guru. Way off the charts. Beating the odds. I can feel something like envy coming back at me. As if I have anything to do with it.

I was with my soul mate, she says. But he left me… She smiles as she says this.

A puzzling statement from one so fair. I can see her strength and her vulnerability all at once. A dahlia.

It is time to board. I, of course, checked in late, so I am in the last boarding group.

So is Faerie Girl.

I put out my hand as we stand together. I’m Kathy, I say. Jennifer, she says. It fits.

Her name and her tiny hand.

We move together toward the queue. I have grown so practiced in hiding behind my carefully constructed walls of having my shit together, but suddenly I just don’t feel like hiding. Please know me, my heart says, a touch of something like urgency rising as we walk. Keeping my cool so as to not betray my desperate desire to connect, I ask if she wants to sit together.

Oh yes exclamation point.

Moving into the sunlight and toward the great metal bird whose riveted belly stands open to receive us, it occurs to me once again that we are all total strangers heading together in perfect trust to our possible deaths or destinations… but now two of us, newly minted friends.

The jet engines roar, creating their own wind as we make our way up the rolling staircase. It moves ever so slightly as each of our steps fall into the rhythm of the person ahead of us. I turn to speak to Jennifer and have to bend down close to her face to be heard. She allows me easily into her space.

By the way, I say, I had guessed you at thirty my dear, not forty. I suddenly feel ridiculous even though I mean the compliment with all my heart. I try to make it real. I tell her, I meant to say it earlier; after forty we need to hear it every day, exclamation point. Jennifer laughs. She laughs at all my jokes.

We pass through the curtain of wind at the rear doorway of the plane. The strong whoosh makes a last attempt to completely blow my head full of curls out of all proportion to my rather smallish skull. My heart sinks a little at the sea of passengers seated down the aisle in front of me. No two seats left together.

Over my shoulder I say to my new girlfriend that I guess we won’t be sitting together. No room to turn around to shake her hand. Or give her a hug.

Well, have a nice flight, she says, and a safe trip home! You too, and have fun with your mom. A little deflated, I continue on to find a seat.

***

I’m waiting by the curb. My ride is late. The voices of vehicles and travelers echo and bounce around the concrete cave as I watch the last few passengers recognize their friends, colleagues, and lovers, bundle into cars and speed away to their lives.

Alone again. I catch my reflection in the large glass doors of the terminal and adjust my slumping posture. Girls up. Deep breath. Confidence. I think about my new friend. I wish I had gotten her contact info.

I move around the wide concrete pillar on my left to the stone benches reserved for the orphans. There she sits, legs up, crossed in a casual lotus; she is checking her phone. She looks up and smiles. Hey!

Hi! I say. We laugh. Her mom is late. I am glad. Yeah, my ride is late too.

She tells me about how she is in-between jobs. She and her ex had started an online New Age magazine—obviously that didn’t work out. Now a friend is training her to process loan applications.

I think: some friend.

I know that we could easily talk for another few hours. I want to ask her what she really wants to do with her life, if she ever wonders about what the hell she’s here for, why everything feels so disconnected, if she is alternately blown away by the beauty and the ugliness of life, if she feels like she’s from another planet altogether…

But just now comes another tiny faerie creature.

She is several inches shorter than Jennifer—her white hair is shorn very close. She is lovely and also so very cool in her jeans and short Levi’s jacket. She is seventy-eight. She looks sixty. I don’t tell her this, she clearly does not need to hear it like I do.

Everything is moving quickly—Jennifer is gathering her things, mom is in charge now, grabbing her daughter’s big suitcase and hurrying to get them to the parking structure and on with their itinerary.  I think this stay may be a challenge for Jennifer.

Have a great visit! I say. Jennifer stops. Puts down her bag. Moves toward me.

Our embrace feels completely comfortable, natural, and too short. She looks briefly in my eyes and sees me; her mom says, let’s go! They make their way back inside the terminal toward the parking lot on the other side; the glass doors shoosh shut like on Star Trek.

I stand in the breezy breezeway. My ride is not here. I am alone, but not as alone as I was before.

My friend is only a thought now; I never did get her number.

I had indeed passed through some strange portal. An Airportal. We both had, Jennifer and I—and in that little sliver of time, we came heart-to-heart with each other and face-to-face with ourselves. Two women…two souls with no plan, no agenda, no ulterior motive…just a willingness to unmask for a moment and let one another in.

For a second, I felt sad and perhaps a little pissed at myself for not having secured a way to reach my new friend so I could have more of whatever that was.

I always want more.

More connection. More understanding. More love.

The kind of wanting that drives some girls to join a harem. And some girls to join a cult–like I did. But that is another story altogether.

Then I remember something another friend wrote:

…where do those ripples come from? It’s as though the river is embracing and letting go…embracing and letting go.

And so, I can let go. Now a bit freer to embrace myself.

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Photo reference: Book cover from Some Girls, My Life in a Harem by Jillian Lauren. A veeeeery interesting read. Poignant, very well written, heartbreaking. Raw subject matter and situations. A very strong writer with a very unusual story.

Brief excerpt from River Ripples, a poem by Linda McGinnis.

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Thanks for stopping by. If you like what you read, please take a sec and share it with your peeps using one or three or all of the handy doo-hickies below. It’s fun to have visitors. 🙂 Also, if you like, jump on my mailing list and I’ll send you a little missive whenever there’s a new post!

Keep me posted!

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