The Snowstorm

The snow has been falling for three days, and the trees are heavy with white as the snow inches up hour by hour. Sometimes, the flakes, tiny and hard to see, rush to meet the ground. At other times they are big and thick, and float lazily down. Falling snow has the same hypnotic effect as a flowing stream or a blazing fire, and it’s hard for me to look away.

The storm reduces the landscape to white, grey, and black. The sky is a pearl, thick with snow not yet fallen or perhaps, already on its way down. Wind currents cause the snow to swirl as it reaches for the ground.

My world has gotten smaller as the snow diminishes my visibility, and I am left with the room where I sit, the window by my chair, and the bush just outside the window where the chickadees wait for their turn at the feeder.

The pine siskins quarrel with one another as they eat bird seed on my window ledge. Huddled against the cold, they look through the window pane, reminding me of urchins in a Dickens novel.

My thoroughly-housed cat crouches in nervous and impotent anticipation. The siskins are single-minded in their devotion to eating until the cat, unable to contain herself any longer, springs toward them, hitting the glass. The birds fly away in a frenzy of flapping wings, winnowing the chaff from the seeds. The embarrassed cat applies herself to grooming, and after a moment, the birds settle in again, looking like black letters on a white page.

When a storm like this is in full sway, it seems that the snow is all that has ever existed. It is impossible for me to imagine the sky as clear, blue, and limitless. This low, opaque sky is my only reality.

Perhaps, tomorrow, the storm will have passed, and the sun will be out again enforcing the colors of blue and green, giving a sparkling clarity to the white, and causing the fir trees to dump their loads. I will put on my parka and boots, grab my snow shovel, and blaze a trail to the mailbox. I will gaze, with eyes made tearful by the brilliance, at the snow-covered peaks on the northern horizon.

But, for now, I welcome the imposed solitude the storm brings as it draws its gauzy curtains of falling snow around me.

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Oh, That I Might Be Delivered From the Bands of Anguish. That The Cords of Suffering Would Be Severed.

My first bra was lying on the bed when I came in after school that day in the spring of my seventh-grade year. Seventh-grade may seem late for a girl’s first bra, but it was right on schedule for the stick-girl that was me.

The bra was small and white and stiff, and later that evening, I found out it was also scratchy. I should have laundered it before wearing, to remove the industrial-strength sizing that was integrated into the fibers of the bra, but my family didn’t own an automatic washer or dryer, and there was no time to wash by hand and line dry this deceitful scrap of cotton and elastic.

There was no time because I was scheduled to help serve a special dinner being held for the teachers at the school cafeteria that evening.  I and the rest of my seventh-grade class would be hunched over steam tables, operating commercial high-temperature automatic dishwashers, dodging bits of uneaten food, and trying not to touch all the things we would have to handle that evening. All in a room with no air-conditioning.

In my ignorance, I assumed that it was time to begin wearing a bra full-time. Right then. If I had known then what I know now about the comfort-factor of any bra, I would have entered into this new phase of my life much more cautiously. I would have started out more slowly. I would have put it in my dresser drawer and looked at it briefly two to three times a week for–say, a month or two. Then I would have begun wearing it for short spans of time–like a break-in period. Perhaps five or ten minutes here and there. Once I was familiar with the hooking and the strapping and the chafing and the binding and the riding up that the bra presented, I would have visualized myself wearing the bra someplace besides my bedroom. Like an athlete that imagines the race over and over before she faces the real thing, I would have readied myself for wearing the bra in real life.

But I didn’t know, and so I did none of this preparation. I strapped on this unknown, unexplored undergarment around my uninitiated body and set off for the dinner.

My breasts, at this age, were not readily noticeable to anyone but me, so the wrinkles in my shirt caused by the unfilled cups of the bra stood out like huge blots on my chest. Furthermore, since we had been instructed to wear white button-up shirts for this affair, every strap and band of the bra not only showed through the shirt, but seemed to be magnified. I was sure the first thing everyone would think when they looked at me was, “Good grief, Stick Girl is wearing a bra.”

However, my embarrassment fell quickly to second place in my consciousness because anytime your body is intruded upon by something from the outside that is new and uncomfortable, like contact lenses, thong underwear, or your first bra, it’s all you can feel. It’s all you can think about–most probably the way a convict feels with his first set of shackles. There could have been an earthquake, and as I was extricating myself from the rubble, I would have been pulling at that bra to ease its binding effect.

Added to that, was the heat and humidity that a commercial kitchen generates. The bra was getting closer and closer to my skin, and I was beginning to feel all the discomfort that the combination of stiff fabric, binding elastic, heat, high humidity, and awkwardness can deliver.

Every time I asked- “Would you like gravy on your mashed potatoes?”, every time I scraped or rinsed a dirty tray, every time I felt perspiration trickle down my chest, my thoughts cried out, “Take this thing off!” I was miserable. I needed relief. I was desperate to escape the torture that had assailed my body and was tormenting my mind.

There have been times since then when I haven’t equated relief with taking off my bra, although those times are foggy in my memory-perhaps due to a circulatory problem caused by the bra itself. But recently, well, my body has once again recognized its enemy and persuades me, whenever possible, to take it off and toss it.

High Desert Homestead

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It was a start. Four walls, a door, windows that looked out onto sunshine. A cellar to keep vegetables in. Blue sky above us and the golds, browns, and tans of a November without snow.

Then the warm autumn breeze changed its face to a cold winter wind, and my bright expectations faded to thoughts that staggered between survival and escape. As December came and relentlessly turned into January and then February, I knew that the wind wanted me gone. It didn’t care if I left while I was still alive and able to say goodbye, or if I lay down in the bed and died while burrowing in the blankets, trying to hide from its abuse.

The wind leaked into the house and bit with its cold teeth, sneaking up the back of my neck, and puddling at my feet making my toes ache. It howled and moaned, delivering my mind into dark corners with no hope of spring or warmth or light or human voice.

I began thinking of it as my trouble. Like a chronic disease that cannot be cured–that keeps fierce vigil at night and greets in the morning with hateful vigor.

By paulajwray

This piece of flash fiction won 2nd place in the Trifecta Writing Challenge on 5/17/12

 

Are We Insured for That?

Big Woods Fidelity Insurance Company
Notes from insurance investigation re: Case #00 WE-8NT-PAYN
Investigator: John Disteye
Policy Holders: Theodore and Thelma Behr
Claim: Break-in at residence.
Stolen property (porridge).
Destruction of property (broken chair).
Trespass and violation of personal property (stranger in bed).
Extreme emotional torment due to violation of personal space.

Transcript of interview with Theodore Behr
Disteye: Mr. Behr, what exactly happened on the evening in question?
Behr: Well, Thelma, that’s my wife, thought we should have an early dinner, so she fixed some porridge, which nobody really likes, and of course, she boiled it so long that we couldn’t eat it right away because it was so hot. I didn’t want to complain–she’s been so touchy lately. So I suggested we go for a short walk, while it cooled. I was hoping that the exercise would help Thelma to mellow out.
We weren’t gone very long. Thelma was afraid she would miss her reality shows “Bears in Cages” and “Trading Grizzlies” which was the whole reason for the early dinner in the first place. Well, when we got back, I realize something just aint right, ya know? You could tell someone or something had been messing about with our food and Junior’s porridge was completely gone. Just an empty bowl and a dirty spoon.  We walked into the den and I could tell someone had been in our chairs. Thelma pointed out a long blonde hair on my chair and while I was assuring her I had no idea where it came from or how it had gotten there, we were surprised by a shout from Junior. We turned and saw the pile of rubble that used to be his chair.
I decided that we should look around to see if anything else had been taken or vandalized, so we went into the bedroom and that’s where she was.
Disteye: Miss Laucks, you mean?
Theodore Behr: Yeah, she was asleep in Junior’s bed.

Transcript of interview with Thelma Behr.
Disteye: Mrs. Behr, tell me what happened on the evening of the 16th.
Thelma Behr: Well, I was looking forward to having a little time to myself for a change, because my shows, “Bears in Cages” and “Trading Grizzlies” was going to be on that night, and I like to just relax on the sofa with a glass of wine and watch tv. So I thought I would fix an easy meal, and we would get it out of the way early, so I could get on with my evening. Well, Theodore started in complaining about the porridge I was fixing. See, he likes a lot of honey in his porridge, and we were all out of honey. Not my fault. Theodore is in charge of getting honey–not me. So if we’re out it’s his fault.
Disteye: OK. Mrs. Behr, if we could skip to the time you got back to the house. Was there any sign of forced entry?
Thelma Behr: Oh, no. Anyone could have come right in. I’d been asking Theodore to fix that lock for months.
Disteye: And what did you find?
Thelma Behr: well, besides the porridge being mucked up and someone totalling Junior’s chair, you mean?
Disteye: Was there something else?
Thelma Behr:  I’d call a skinny blonde in Junior’s bed something else. And it looked like there had been  someone in all the other beds, as well. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to sleep in that room again, let alone in my bed. All these nights on the sofa, waiting for the insurance company to buy us new beds, have ruined my back. The doctor says I’m probably not ever going to be able to attend to my housewifely duties–vacuuming or otherwise.

Transcript of interview with Junior Bear.
Disteye: What happened on the night of the 16th?
Junior Behr: I don’t know what you mean. I had nothing to do with it.
Disteye: no one is accusing you of anything. Just tell me what you remember.
Junior Behr: Mom made porridge again. So when Dad suggested we go for a walk to let it cool down , I thought sure, why not? I get better reception on my cell phone if we go down the road a ways. When we got back, mom started hyperventilating about someone violating our porridge and Dad was all like Who did this? How dare they? Of all the nerve! He was all like bent, ya know? It was no skin off my nose. I don’t even like porridge. In the den, mom started ragging on Dad about a blonde hair she spied on his easy chair and they’re going at it with the volume turned way up, ya know? They didn’t even notice the pile of rubble in the middle of the floor that used to be my chair. Do you think the insurance company will let me buy one of those chairs that has the stereo speakers in it to replace the primo chair that Blondie trashed?
Disteye: what happened next?
Junior Behr: It was epic! There was a girl in my bed. All the guys keep asking me about it.

Transcript of interview of Behrs neighbor, Mrs. R. Monger
Disteye: Mrs. Monger, did you see anything suspicious the night of the 16th?
Monger: well, I don’t know if you would call it suspicious or not, but the whole Behr family just went traipsing off through the woods. I found that strange, as I knew Thelma had just made dinner. Her specialty–porridge. I knew that because she had come over to borrow honey. Theodore likes honey in his porridge. Well, I didn’t have any. It’s just a temptation to bad eating habits, I say. Of course, having dinner on the table, wouldn’t stop Theodore. He gets a crazy idea in his head and nothing do him but to carry it out. I have to give it to Thelma, though. Anybody else would tell Theodore to sit down and eat his meal before it got cold and enough of this foolishness, but Thelma is always humoring Theodore and his crazy ideas. So off they went.
They hadn’t been gone long, when I saw someone pass by on the road out front. I didn’t pay much attention, as I try to keep my nose out of any business but my own, but I noticed her bleached blonde hair.
I started watching my own shows on tv, it was my night for “Cops Marathon”. I guess I must’ve dozed when I was startled by a shrieking noise. At first I thought it was on the tv, but then I realized it was coming from up at the Behr’s. I don’t know what Theodore told Thelma, but finding a blonde hussy in the bed when they got home–well, sounds a little fishy to me.

Transcript of interview of Miss Goldie Laucks re: counterclaim of bodily injury sustained on property belonging to Theodore and Thelma Behr
John Disteye: Now Miss Laucks, tell me why you happened to enter the Behr’s home and what happened after entering.

Miss Laucks: Um, yeah, ok. I was walking down the road, I’d run out of gas back a ways–my gas gauge doesn’t work, see. So I was looking for some help, you know, a ride with somebody, or a telephone or something. Well, so I came to this first house and I could hear the tv blaring inside and I  figured people don’t want to be disturbed during their shows, so I decided to walk down to the next house. All was quiet there, so I wasn’t worried about upsetting anyone by knocking on the door. I figured they must not be watching any shows that night. So I knocked and waited. No one came but the door kind of moved when I knocked on it, you know, like it was open? So I pushed it open and looked in. I thought maybe if I stepped in and yelled, someone would come. Well, when I got in, I noticed the porridge on the table. I don’t know , I guess the long walk and the stress of running out of gas on a lonely road, got to me. I sometimes suffer from low blood sugar, and so I thought it prudent to eat just a little of the porridge. I mean, I didn’t want to black out or anything. Turns out I traded hypoglycemia for ptomaine. My stomach was giving me fits and so I looked for a place to relax for a minute. I was feeling pretty woozy I can tell you.  I went in the family room and sat down. Those people should get some new furniture! I just couldn’t get comfortable. Well, until I sat in the recliner. I was pushing back and the chair was making sort of a creaking noise, but it was really soft and cushy and I was beginning to get comfy, when the foot rest sprang up at an awkward angle, the headrest tilted steeply to the floor and the chair ejected me, injuring my back, neck, and hip. I gathered myself up  with some difficulty and limped into the bedroom. The two big beds were extremely rumpled and looked like wrestling matches had taken place in them. The small bed looked fresh and crisp and since I felt too shaken yet, to leave, I climbed in between the sheets and fell immediately to sleep. The next thing I know, three big, hairy, unattractive bears are standing around the bed looking down at me, drooling.
Well, I jumped up and managed to drag my seriously injured and food-poisoned body out of the house and down the road. I think I deserve something for all the pain and suffering I had to endure. My doctor, my psychiatrist, and my lawyer all think I’ll need to go somewhere warm and tropical to recover my health. That’s gonna cost a bundle.

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Tiny Dancer

Lacey started dancing as soon as the breeze hit her face. She seemed to always to be dancing. Whether she was standing in line with her mother at the soup kitchen or standing by the bed at night, her mother dressing her in layer after layer of underthings to keep her warm in the frigid apartment.

She saw the sadness on the faces of her parents. The disappointment when her daddy came home without work. She wished she could replace their hopelessness with joy. She knew it was probably wrong that she felt like dancing in the midst of their sorrow.

But she couldn’t help it. It overtook her. It seemed to start somewhere in her imagination and wash down over her until it infected her feet and they began tapping, and then her legs began jigging. When this baptism was allowed to complete itself, her arms would extend and wave about, and she would bend at the waist and twist, tossing her thick, brown hair.

The music told her the steps. The music that came from somewhere just above her head. Sometimes, it was a waltz, and it would wrap her in a satin gown that swished as she moved in three-quarter time. Sometimes the music put clogs on her feet and she stomped the floor while holding her body erect and stiff, only her legs and feet moving. At other times, she was decked in crinolines and she leaped and bowed and spun in dizzying circles, her arms and hands drawing poetic lines in the space around her.

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This was done as a ten minute exercise. I started with the first line, which had been provided for me, and just kept writing until the buzzer sounded. It doesn’t qualify as a story but could be developed further. I enjoy doing the ten minute exercises because they allow my right brain to take over, and I’m always surprised by what I come up with when my left brain censor is not allowed to dictate.

Bell Ringer’s Blues

Marnie stood in front of the local Dino Deals wishing that whoever had been in charge, had positioned the front of the store with a southern exposure. But here she was, ringing her bell, shivering in the shadow of the mammoth building.

She watched as the customers tried to quickly trade the warmth inside their cars for the warmth inside the super-store as they ran the gauntlet of wind that assaulted them on the parking lot and especially the gusts that came barreling past the corner of the building where the entrance was located and where Marnie was stationed with her bell and kettle.

It was hard to imagine a worse place to solicit contributions on a cold December day. In anticipation of freezing temperatures, the maintenance crew had spread salt on the pavement leading to the entrance, but it didn’t matter. It was still icy.

The shoppers hurried across the parking lot, heads ducked, shoulders hunched, hands deep in their pockets. Then they would suddenly transition to careful, mincing steps, their arms extended like tight-rope walkers, trying not to fall victim to the slippery surface surrounding the door to the mega-mart.

Almost none were willing to stop in their pursuit of warmth and stable footing to fish around in their pockets or purses for coins to add to Marnie’s bucket. Still, she rang her bell and wished all a Merry Christmas, while under her breath, she hummed to the tune of Silver Bells.

“City sidewalks. Icy sidewalks.
It’s a treacherous scene.
Don’t you know broken hips could spoil Christmas?

People slipping. People sliding.
Should have ordered on-line.
And you don’t even notice I’m here.

Ring the bell. Ring the bell.
My feet really cold. Fingers numb.

Ring the bell. Ring the bell.
No one’s donating dough. This is dumb.”