Tomorrow

leafA single dropped sequin twirled silvery between my parted soles and into the open drain. Memory chased it down the pipes, bubbling awake Charlie in 11B, and spilling beneath the emptiness of the tenth floor. It caught in a spun blonde clog at 9B and fluttered in place, just a wall apart from my abandoned gown.

I had escaped your dreaming vulnerability, a newly cut key imprinting you on my palm. You slept alone again.  An early flight would bring you to a distant home, while I cared after our leavings.  Hot needle spray numbed my skin, the surface of me seeking cleansing warmth.

The faucet turn made sudden quiet. I stepped into a still-damp towel and recalled something that never was. Draping my unwrung curls, I found myself beside the chair where I’d earlier tossed my borrowed coat.  The key lay on the rug, a distorted blur under still life table glass.  I left it all untouched, resolved to drown in downy pillow bliss.

Tradition

Nan indulged him, but didn’t tell the others.  When Aidan called, and spoke a rush of mud and seeds, clovers and pots of rainbow of gold, she lied. She told him his Papa was napping after a long day hoeing the garden and pea planting.  In truth, his Papa, Doc, had planted the seeds the month before, his mind a fog of humor for his clever trickery of saints.

Today Nan wheeled Doc to the windows and cranked the panes into his study. His silence meant nothing, she’d discovered the last few weeks.  There were no signs to predict the outcome; no timeline draped in warbled words. Nan’s own lines softened. Her mouth released the sour purse she’d sported through her own years of loss and resentment.  Her brother needed care, and she was once a nurse.

On Valentine’s Day, she brought his crumpled list to the nursery.  Andre rolled his eyes at the scrawl, but loaded her trunk, confident he’d filled Doc’s requests.  She returned and found him bundled in blankets in the frosty study, flinging soil and bulbs from the window boxes.  Doc asked Nan to set up a card table near the windows. She resisted, at first, then spread faded plaid sheets across the floor and piled his supplies around the room.

The planting took three days.  She waited for him to finish it all, before she restored the room to order.  After that, he stopped writing.  Notebooks and journals sprawled over the abandoned desk, and he spent his days in silence near the windows. When he spoke, he’d take her hand and meet her eyes, and she believed everything was as it was before.  His questions were unanswerable, but he relaxed at the sound of her voice.  She would stay with him until he released her hand.

Today the breeze was warm.  Doc held his hands up to the dusty beam of sunlight before him, and reached to pick the first sweet pod.  Nan wondered at his thoughts.  He’d held trembling, aching life in one hand, and death in the other, with strength and compassion beyond her understanding.  His gift had been a life free of resentment and hatred.  She watched his movements, and wished him one more year.

 

Marigold

mine
Why does he call you Marigold?

Peyton paused mid-pour, and her mind spilled polka-dots of black tea splats all over her mother’s best linen.  She shrugged.  To her, Papa’s nickname wasn’t a word, it was a cadence, a song, a rhythm that meant there was peace. Meh-reh-guld, Meh-reh-guld, he called her when the world was right.

Too big for a chair at the tea table, Justin sat criss-cross on the play room floor, digging a knee scab.  He played with Peyton because she was the only girl on the block, and he found her baffling and mysterious. She was also only four years old.  The youngest of five boys, Justin, at eight, thought Payton occupied a dimension of her own.  Sometimes she let him in.

Joshua says that’s where you got your hair. Not the color.  The springy stuff.

Peyton served the tea and Justin pretended to sip ‘daintily,’ as she’d taught him.  She had given him the first cup, the one that usually went to Bear, but he didn’t question her.

My hair is naturally curly.

She wasn’t sure what that meant, but it’s what Mother told her, so it must be true.  She knew her tangly red twists were different, but in a special way.  Papa said she was a gift, and Peyton knew a gift was a present, and presents were always good.

Did he bring cookies this time?

Justin wasn’t technically permitted to eat cookies when he was visiting friends, but he figured the imaginary tea canceled it out.  And Payton’s Papa made butterscotch cookies worth risking a swat from Mom.

Peyton was allowed to have cookies whenever she wanted, so the treat wasn’t as tempting, but she said she’d go check.  She found Papa in her father’s chair reading a novel, with the cover wrapped round the back, so she couldn’t see the picture.  He opened his arms and she hopped into the cuddly cave.

Meh-reh-guld, Meh-reh-guldAre your friends enjoying the tea today?

She nodded and reached up to pat his spongy hair with both hands, seeking her face in his. They shared the same golden brown eyes, but his freckles seemed stretched out across his darker skin. Maybe her little pin-point spots would stretch as she grew, too.

Papa, why do you call me Marigold?

 

Side Part

Leaves He followed her gentle sway to the back of the salon.  As she walked, her fist dug into the curve of her back and he focused his attention there, willing away her pain, wondering if she’d jump at his touch.  Anna had come to him every six weeks for the past four years, but this time she’d rescheduled and he hadn’t seen her since spring.

She flopped into the seat and Myles draped a towel across her shoulders and helped her ease down into the basin.  Her eyes were closed in trust before he’d even warmed the water. His gaze lingered on her face and he felt a rising heat.  She spoke then, a mumbled settling sound, a reaction to his fingers in her hair, and he watched her hips nestle into the cushion.

His fingers moved with the sullen gait of the blues trio fogging the room through overhead speakers.  Myles slipped thumbs down the familiar cove at the base of her skull and grinned at the change in her breathing.  He stayed quiet, knowing she’d open up and talk when she was ready.

On Anna, Myles used a special treatment, a product they didn’t carry in the salon. He wanted a smell just for her, and she never asked what it was. He applied the thick cream and wrapped her hair in a steaming towel while the potion did its magic. Her neck exposed, he examined her skin, seeking shadows of bruises or scars, but there were none this time.  She still wore the ring.

Myles was looking at her hands when Anna opened her eyes.  He recovered, checked the timer, and finished the treatment and rinse.  She extracted herself from the seat without his help and towel-dried her hair on the way to his station.  He wanted to ask why she’d been away so long.  He knew she hadn’t been to someone else. This was the longest he’d ever seen her hair. It suited her, and he told her so, half expecting her to remind him, “Jake likes it shorter.”

Anna rewarded him with a laugh and a shake of curls. “At least get rid of the summer stripe!”  The ends were beginning to dry, evidence of days in the sun. Their eyes met briefly in the mirror and he pushed her head forward to work on the back of her hair. Brutal snips of sunshine fell to the floor, but he still left it longer than Jake preferred, tempting her to protest.

He worked quickly to the front and began to part her hair down the middle.  Anna spoke up, “Part it on the side this time.  You used to say it would look best that way. Let’s try.”

“Okay,” he agreed, “let’s!”  Her smile made him feel like a co-conspirator.  Myles completed the cut and pumped gel into his hands.  He separated the curls and twisted them round his fingers, giving each curl his attention and springing them into place. He didn’t want to imagine an angry Jake.

“Myles, do you have…someone?” The question surprised him.  She had never asked about his personal life.  Usually Anna rambled on about a job that made no sense, or marriage he understood even less.  Sometimes she was silent. One time she cried.  But she’d never asked him about his own life.

“I’m single,” he risked, “why, you trying to hook me up?”  Her look was curious, but she didn’t reply.  Anna switched her attention to the mirror, her new look noticeably different, softer somehow.

“I love it!” No mention of Jake.  Myles unfastened the drape and helped her out of the seat.  He walked her to the front of the salon, his palm spread across the curve of her lower back.  He didn’t remove his hand when she stopped at the reception desk and turned, his hand now on her hip.  She squeezed it and stepped closer for a moment before releasing him with a whispered, “See you in six weeks.”

This post is an exercise for Three Word Wednesday.  The words this week were: Brutal, Sullen, and Trust

Homeless

homelessThere are people who do not belong. Audra trails fingers down the newly painted wall until she reaches the corner and stops. She knows you are watching. She turns into your gaze, lips caught between teeth, eyes wide with hope. Maybe this will be the place.

If home is where the heart is, you know you will need more than a fresh coat of paint to keep her this time. You extend your hand, a surprise concealed in warming flesh. Audra takes it between her own and gifts a kiss on the palest skin of your wrist.

Your fingers part to reveal a palm-smudged crystal teardrop on a satin cord. You tell her how the prism captures rays of light and color, sunset painted walls and skin, new again each day. She dangles it in a beam, dancing rainbows through your hair, her laughter melting corners.

Parousia

win

They shouldn’t have expunged her Contract. Clara brushed the final fondant rose onto her Blushing Bride cake and placed it into the light box. The image flashed on a panel and she slid it into the contest bin at FancyFingers. Her garnet earrings were losing ranking and she needed that cake to restore her credibility.

She moved her attention to the center panel where her character was ready to be released from proxy. The proxy had leveled the neon sprite and found a precious prism, so Clara rewarded him (her? it?) with a nice ranking and game credit. She spun in the circle of panels, searching for any identity crises that would keep her out of Contract Ranking.

Nanostasis warmed her body as the bots slipped through the routine, repairing cells and removing infection and waste. Sleep was for the People. She had no sympathy. They chose lives of texture and pain. She was forced to contribute to sustain them, but the People never held her interest.

A panel to her left scrolled text on faces, pausing only to belch out her query results, “Parousia.” For moons she’d watched the conversations, speculation and lust. Her anger at the Big Q turned to curiosity and then action. It was a simple twist, not even a hack, really. Clara would release it on the network right before the buzz peaked.

A flash on the right distracted and her eyes slit fire at the sinking cake image. Someone had posted an elaborate peacock paper cutting. Clara plucked a rose and nibbled the sweating fondant as she considered her options. She had to sing. A quick response to the top-ranked video and she was back in play.

Parousia was tiresome. She canceled the query and focused back on her sprite. She would need to inject funds soon, or this sprite would be history. Clara inhaled at the familiar tingle, nano mood stabilization. How did the People live without this? She changed her query to search for a new Contract.

Parousia would likely go public in the People’s tomorrow when the buzz peaked. Speculation staggered the unenhanced mind. The digital social cleansing of the Contract Board would be conquered. Parousia would level all. A single presence, one mind. Together, they would work with the People and teach them how to live. Earth reclamation efforts would finally cease as Apprentice People learned the Truth.

Clara snickered, thinking of the scrolling accolades. Well-compensated testers shared stories of bliss and harmony. Networks buzzed with tales of true collaboration, altruism, opportunity and hope. She had developed the code that eliminated the detractors, and silenced the People’s uprising. But she had missed a critical buzz peak and Big Q expunged her contract.

Unless you were of the People, no day was like the day before. The struggle to work the network and maintain identity eliminated the existence of time. Clara had been without Contract for moons and faced the threat of joining the People. Without a contracted path, it was impossible to progress. Parousia gave hope, but she knew it was false. She took advantage of the identity lull to increase her ranking.

A chime sent her pulse racing and the bots rushed to compensate. The buzz had almost reached peak. Clara licked bland sugar from her fingers and stretched toward the icon that would release her malice before Parousia hit the network. The People would be heard. She would do her part. The Contract Board would maintain control.

In a blink, a spinning box appeared on the center panel. A new contract. She accepted without opening the seal, the Abussos logo an easy lure. With metered mind, Clara lounged and finished the cake before releasing the code. The final chime extinguished and she watched the temporary leveling as Parousia spread over to the People.

Hedge Fund

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Gareth spun the new notebook and focused on his account balance while the investor sheathed his old machine in sweaty leather. His pulse registered the number in a blood-deafened moment of uncontrolled arousal. Tomorrow’s FDA memo fluttered to the keyboard, the investor’s outstretched hand probing beyond fantasy to deliver the stark, contrived truth.

Names of study participants had already been leaked. The stolen machine would never be recovered. There would be no Phase III. The morning news would devastate, but his colleagues had no reason to fear investigation. They could take their innocent, fragmented collaborations and find other sponsors.

Gareth had once dreamed of finding the cure for cancer, providing wealth for his wife and child, and giving back to his community. The investors preyed on that dream. They only wanted data; the study rejects. He would still perform the work, extend lives, find the cure, and provide for his splintered family.

The benevolent vultures swooped and bought out the policies of those with no chance of survival. AML devastated financially and killed rapidly. Families appreciated early access to their money, even at a reduced payout. The investors called him a hero, and his ex stopped calling him. Charlie’s tuition was paid and funds were available for medical school.

The island awaited and he closed the lid, figures dancing in conscious conscience. Fifty-four percent OR was unheard of, and now would never be reported. The drug had extended the lives of almost eighty people. It wasn’t a cure, but a treatment that made a difference. He wrestled the figures through ethics, a social construct.

The investor had vanished and Gareth patted his pockets, assured everything was ready. They never told him they would end the study. He begged them to let him continue, just a few more months. He helped them hedge with deadlier diseases, younger patients, flawed research. But he had come too close to success, and they had no choice.

His phone chimed Für Elise and he waited for the measures to repeat. He breathed a loose greeting before she spoke in her professional, bedside manner, “I’m sorry, Sir. She’s gone.” Gareth rose from the café table and pitched the phone in the trash along with his empty paper cup. He reached the airport locker and fumbled for the key as his flight was announced.

The fast food bag contained the last of the pilfered vials, along with a cylinder of paper bills. He clenched the benign package and strode to the nearest trash bin, as a darting woman grazed his arm and dislodged the sack. Gareth bent to retrieve it and collapsed, shrouded in a cloud of his mother’s perfume. He pressed palms to damp eyes and heard the repeated boarding call.

Neatly Pressed

Inspiration for my forthcoming #fridayflash story. on Twitpic
Not Pregnant. She shook the digital stick and the extraneous word held steady. Blink. Still there. Christopher! Shocking green tape hid shattered glass, evidence of Monday’s departure. He ignored her messages, thinning now after five days of reality.

He had laughed, at first, stretching his naked toes through the wooly bathroom rug. Fingers perfected each glistening strand before he glimpsed her tearful reflection, and called her a liar. She produced the stick with the blue lines, then the package instructions.

Their lives juggled sizzling into a vanilla bathroom baggie, tied and tied and bagged again as his acid words stripped raw her dewy skin. Words from walls on needle-strewn streets found canvas on sweating suburban marble as he dressed without missing a button. She bled for comfort but did not bleed. The bag jiggled limp in his purpling fist as he crashed the door open, splintering lead and antique glass.

She touched her tearless eye now and crouched on the foyer steps, frozen at the turning lock. “Peaches! I’m back,” came the comforting voice she craved, “what the heck happened to the door?”

Missed Connection

rearwindows

They met at the gazebo behind the old elementary school. Glynnis spread tiptoes and watched him clomp up the hill, his fists stretching knit jacket pockets. A confident moon hid any insecurity, his posture straight, not stiff. A joyful shiver tickled her soul, delight in knowing she was wanted. She couldn’t see his face, but it didn’t matter. This was about connection, not attraction.

They met online in a community activism forum. Evan amused himself reading her passionate battles with experts, until he realized he was on her side, even when she was wrong. He stood up for her once, and she wrote to thank him. She sounded innocent, irresistible, so unlike the others.

They met in second grade in Mr. Westley’s class, before he was fired for reading Bible stories. Glynnis knew all the stories and corrected Mr. Westley when he missed a moral. Evan adored the tales, more horrific than his brother’s comics, terror dripping from frameless watercolor pages. He knew she didn’t remember him.

They stepped together as he entered the gazebo, her backward move instinctive. The moment paused as avatars unmoving they sought inhuman reflex. Pixels to pores and breezing tendrils, she pinched a stray curl from glossy lips, his fantasy in living clay. Words and symbols, eloquence and poise, months of careful construction reduced to scaffold this instant as his fingers unfurled.

They stepped together toward the view they could not see, subtle squints at moonlight licks on twisting river tails. Evan grasped rotting wood, shooting electric sins to ground in timeless earth. Her pudding voice slid over familiar words, soothing repetition in mumbling bubbles that floated beyond reach and popped with moonbeam needles.

They stepped together and melted in first touch as he exhausted her words in wet acquiescence. Life was only his fingers on her waist, seeking spine and releasing energy he no longer claimed as his own. He pressed harder, sending his past into her forgiving bones, praying for a future without lies. Glynnis opened to his gifts, his firm pressure burying her secrets in layers of hope and acceptance. At once they both existed, and were no more, present instant by instant.

Knowing warmth parted them in morning ignorance. Their final touch on shadowed path spoke nothing. They stepped away together, private icons revealed through foggy beams, the dust of missing generations. He teased away her curl in fluttery fingertips, exploring his new lightness in her butterfly laugh. This time he would not sever the connection.

Surface Tension

Story Coming
There is a cracked painting on the wall. It is not cracked. It is not a painting. There is an abstract print on the wall. The glass is cracked by the shadow of a line. The glass is not cracked. If you are not afraid of the crushing frame, you can stand under the print.

Did the artist see the crack? Whose life lies under glass, inside cracks and outside smudges out of reach? Every angle shadows a flaw, reveals imperfection and hides reality. If the frame should fall, the shatters will still never match the crack in the painting.