Bread

This story was written in response to the one-word prompt, “bread.”

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Marla entered her father’s towering old house. It had never truly felt like home – just some place that she visited when her father requested her to. It had always seemed stiff and unwelcoming. As if by taking one wrong step across the egg-shelled floor, she’d cause the house to crash down around them. Maybe it was in the way her father stood over her, making sure she was always embodying the ladylike way in which she was told to act. She wondered if he knew that when he was out of the room, she’d often stuck her tongue out at him as a child, and flipped him the bird as an adolescent. He acted like she wanted to be here. To be the robot he was always too prone to remind her she should be.

She’d had different plans. And over the years, she’d fought the voice in the back of her head reprimanding every non ladylike thing she’d said or did.

So, walking into her father’s house now, with the smell of freshly baked bread wafting through the air, and a relaxed and soft smile on her father’s face as he greeted her in the foyer and wrapped her in a hug that was not stiff and not unwelcoming, Marla was caught off guard. Who was this man and what had he done with Jeffrey Winston III?

She hugged him back, sort of. Her arms went around him but remained fairly stagnant instead of squeezing back, and her hands awkwardly patted his back. How was she so bad at hugging? If the moment weren’t so abnormally unrefined, she might have laughed.

“It’s so good to see you, Mars. I’m glad you decided to pay your old dad a visit.” His voice was cheery and he’d call her the nickname he hadn’t used since she was five. She should have had plenty to say, but verbal communication seemed to be something she used to know how to do.

Instead, she furrowed her eyebrows, cocked her head slightly, gave her father a half-hearted smile and waited for the other shoe to drop. She wanted to believe that this smiling, earnest man was the father she’d always wanted but never had – to accept that without doubt – but she’d known the other version of Jeffrey Winston III for 30 years and couldn’t be easily swayed. He was up to something – and they both knew it.

“So, I guess you’re wondering why I asked you to visit me this Christmas.” She saw his eyes glaze over but she couldn’t tell if it was tears or memories that coated his eyes. She heard him clear his throat and noticed the tense pause that seemed to span minutes but was only a few seconds. “This will by my last.”

She watched her father’s shoulders give in and the tears he’d fought back fall down his face. She’d never seen her father cry; never expected he was capable of it. Emotions were never a part of their relationship, or a part of her father’s persona. He’d broken a few ribs and his left leg in a car accident once and he hadn’t cried. He’d seen his only child off to college and hadn’t even offered a single emotion – no teary-eyes, no “I love you,” no “I’m proud of you,” no recognition that they were indeed connected in any way. And while that had hurt, she’d known not to expect it.

But here he was, a couple feet away from her, sitting down on his beloved brown leather recliner in what seemed to be an inconsolable heap of a man. And despite never having seen this man before, she felt that missing connection now. She reached for his hand and held it, the whites of her knuckles showing.

She had so many questions she wanted to ask – Last Christmas? What do you mean? How do you know? What is your diagnosis? Have you gotten second and third and fourth opinions? – but the questions remained lodged within, wreaking havoc in her brain. She knew he would talk when he could.

A few minutes later, her father looked up, his eyes red and cheeks flushed and splotchy. She saw him try to smile, to be the stoic one he’d always needed to be, but his lips fell flat.

She heard the guttural sound of his throat clearing once again.

“I’ve been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. I’ve known about it for a few months and only have a month or two more before …” Marla heard his voice catch on the lump in his throat. “Before I die.”

Marla felt her own tears build up and felt when they readily spilled down her face and onto her shirt. How many tears had she shed over her father’s inability to be anything other than an uppity know-it-all poor excuse of a man? How many times had she resented her father for not loving her? And now it didn’t matter. Because here he was – the father she’d always wanted – and he was dying.

And there was no cure. No stopping it. No making up for lost time. No do-overs. No father-daughter moments to make and then cherish. Their past would have to suffice. She knew the world to be a cruel and unjust place, but she’d never felt it so much as she did now.

“How many doctors have you seen? How about chemo or radiation? Alternative medicine?”

She saw the look of defeat in his eyes and realized that he’d already been denied those opportunities. Or he’d tried them and they didn’t work.

“Nothing left to do, Mars. They said chemotherapy and radiation weren’t going to work – I was too far gone already. And if that wasn’t going to work, no alternative medicine would either.” This time he’d resigned to making sure his smile pushed through. But she couldn’t help thinking that smiles were pointless right now. What was there to smile about?

“I’m sorry. I know I wasn’t much of a father. I wanted to be.” Was that guilt in her father’s eyes? Regret? “I could tell you I didn’t know how to be a good father. My own father was a cold, hard man and the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. But the truth is I didn’t try hard enough. I took what came naturally to me and went with it instead of making sure that you never questioned my love for you, or how happy I am to be your father. I wish I wouldn’t have waited so long to admit this – maybe we could’ve had more time, with good memories. I need you to know that I do love you.” He was looking straight into her eyes and squeezing her hand as he spoke.

She wanted to shame him for not trying hard enough – she wanted to let him know how much he’d hurt her by not being loving, or supportive. But she couldn’t. She could see he already knew these things – would take them to his grave – and she couldn’t hurt him when he was reaching out to her.

He’d chosen to spend his last Christmas with her. He’d chosen her. And that was something he’d never done before. It would have to be enough.

And two months later when she placed flowers on her father’s casket and said her final good-bye, she knew that the time they’d shared since Christmas would be enough to hold her together when she needed him most. It had to.

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X-Ray

This poem was written in response to the one-word prompt, “x-ray.”

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Like an x-ray

She saw right through me,

Saw all that’s left is bones.

She told me I’d be okay,

My bones were strong enough

to carry me through what’s

remaining of my life.

How could she know,

when she had all of her parts

within her,

that it’s not possible to sustain

Without a heart?

Clip

This story was written in response to the one-word prompt, “clip.”

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“Did you see Marina’s YouTube clip?”

Trevor noticed how Ayana’s cheeks flushed a rosy red at the mention of Marina. She’d obviously seen the clip. He wondered if she would ever tell her how she felt. It’s not like Marina would be terrible to her if she didn’t feel the same way. Marina was one of the nicest people he’d ever met. She never intentionally hurt anyone. She knew how it felt to hurt. But Ayana didn’t know her as well as Trevor, so he decided to give her the nudge she needed.

“Well, what did you think? Her song was dope, right?”

He noticed Ayana’s mouth twist into a slight smile and he knew now was the time to push. Not too much, but just enough.

“Her lyrics were really good, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, they were good. She was great. She’ll probably be a star.”

Maybe she wasn’t telling Marina that she’d practically been in love with her for a year not because she was too shy, but because she didn’t want to hold Marina back or get in her way. Maybe she was worried that if they did start dating and Marina became famous, she’d only end up being cheated on. Her ex had done a number on her.

Maybe he should stop pushing. He loved them both; they were his closest friends. He wanted to see them both happy, but now he didn’t know if that meant having anything to do with getting them together. He wouldn’t want either of them to end up hurting the other.

“Yeah, probably. She’s got real talent. She’s better than most of the so-called-artists today.” Trevor paused, fighting the urge to flat out ask why Ayana just didn’t put her feelings out there.

“People change when they get famous.”

“Yeah, but do you honestly believe Marina will? I mean, she’s not like most people. Marina’s Marina. Our Marina. She might make more money, but she’s still our sweet, wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly Marina. Don’t you think?”

He saw Ayana thinking about what he’d said. Her face was doing that scrunchy-concentration thing she always did when contemplating.

“I guess not. She’s pretty down to earth. It would probably take a lot for her to change too much.”

“Then why aren’t you telling her how you feel?” The words slipped out before Trevor could stop them. Well, they were out there now.

“I …” Ayana began to say something but thought better and closed her mouth. She looked down at the floor as if she were studying the fabric. He noticed her shoulders droop and she was chewing her bottom lip. “I just can’t. I don’t think she feels the same way and I don’t know if I can take that kind of rejection right now. If she doesn’t feel the same or even want to try dating, that changes the whole dynamic of our relationship and I want her in my life, even if friendship is all it’ll ever be between us.”

So, there it was. She didn’t want to ruin their friendship. Something was better than nothing.

“But, what if she does feel the same and you both just never say anything? How is that fair to either one of you?”

“She doesn’t. I just know. Just like you knew Jessica wasn’t into you, remember? How did that go for you? You knew she probably didn’t like you as more than friends and you told her anyway. You two aren’t even on speaking terms anymore.” Trevor knew she had a point, but it hurt to hear her talk about him like that. At least he’d been adult enough to say how he’d felt. It was only because he did so that he found out Jessica wasn’t the one for him. He was glad to know that … now.

“You’re right. But, you can’t use the Jessica experience as a scapegoat. You and Marina are not me and Jessica. You don’t know what you can be if you don’t find out.”

Trevor heard Ayana sigh, letting her hang-ups dissipate into thin air. He’d gotten to her. And he was glad for it. Maybe their relationship will change. But what is life without change? They may end up head over heels in love, or they could end up not talking anymore because things become awkward when feelings aren’t reciprocated. Either way, Ayana will know, and he’d be there no matter what.

“She comes home from Asheville tonight?”

“Yep.”

“Okay. But if I tell her and she doesn’t want anything to do with me afterwards, I’m going to need you to be close by. With a couple bottles of wine.”

“Of course … Hey, I’m proud of you.”

Ayana’s nerves were already wreaking havoc and he knew her mind was going a mile a minute. He walked the couple of feet between them and put his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. He may not be able to calm her nerves, but he could try. He wished he could tell her that everything would be okay, that he knew Marina felt the same about her, but he couldn’t. All he knew is Ayana deserved to know one way or another.

Sand

This story was written in response to the one-word prompt, “sand.”

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It had been four years to the date since Blythe had felt the cool, lovely sand between her toes. She loved days like these. Days she could smell the salt water, hear the gulls hollering at each other, enjoy the beach to herself, and when work was a distant memory.

Last time she was here Dante was also.

She hadn’t thought of him for some time. Three years, give or take. Not that he didn’t occasionally cross her mind, but he was just a part of her past she’d tried hard to forget.

But being here, in this place where they’d spent every anniversary, brought reluctant memories of him. Of them.

Four years ago, he was right here by her side sitting in the sand, holding her hand tightly. They knew it would be the last time they were here together. Everything they did that weekend felt like they were clinging to a moment, a feeling, that would never come again. They stayed in bed ten minutes longer than usual, holding each other because neither one wanted to be the one to let go. Each smile mattered more, so they smiled more purposefully. They watched the sun set each night instead of rushing in when it became too chilly to stand in the late October cold. They pretended not to care when the occasional breeze filled their bodies with goosebumps. Nothing mattered except the memories.

Blythe felt the start of hot tears form in her eyes and she let them fall. He should have been here with her. He shouldn’t have said good-bye. He’d broken her heart even though she knew it was coming. She wasn’t naive. She knew when a man was distancing himself, about to make her regret the wall she always carefully manufactured after she let anyone in and it ended in pain. She’d begun building her wall back up before he’d ever uttered a word indicating he wanted to end things.

She just hadn’t realized then what she realized now: Love is no match for a wall.

He hadn’t been happy in quite some time. At least that was his excuse. He never pointed the finger at her, but that didn’t stop Blythe from thinking if she’d just joined in on more adventurous, spontaneous outings and wasn’t quite so insecure about her weight that maybe he would have been happier, or at least tried to make it work.

Wiping the tears from her face, Blythe gulped back the remaining ones and stared ahead at the vast black ocean. She wondered when she’d be able to reclaim this beach as hers and not theirs. She’d been visiting this beach since she was in college. Well before she’d met Dante. She didn’t want to give up something she loved and seemed to love her back just because it was associated with a guy who wanted to marry her, then didn’t.

Standing up and brushing the sand from her pants, she bid the ocean adieu and forced herself to enjoy some wine and a nice, luxurious bath to ease the tension stiffening her back and pounding inside her head. One day at a time, her mother had said. As if there was any other way. She set the glass of red wine on the side of the jetted tub and slipped in, instantly feeling the pulsating water relieve some tension. The memory of Dante’s hands as he rubbed her shoulders from behind in this very tub made her cheeks flush a scarlet red because what happened afterward the time before last had given her so much pleasure that she couldn’t help but long for it now.

But she was alone. And she should get used to it. Even if she felt in her gut that saying yes to his marriage proposal was a mistake, she’d loved him fiercely and she didn’t think she’d feel that way again anytime soon. It was good for her to be alone, to find herself again. Or maybe that’s what her best friend, Becca, had convinced her she needed. Either way, here she was, trying to relax and forget about human connection for more than five minutes, but failing.

She wanted to meet ‘the one.’ She wanted to spend a lifetime with someone who loved her wholly; someone who didn’t want to change her or belittle her when she tried to change but just couldn’t. Secretly, she liked herself. She was strong, smart, giving, and supportive. It was her self-doubt that twisted her into thinking she should be what others want her to be. As if she wasn’t good enough as is. She wasn’t some worn out toy that needed to be fixed.

No longer enjoying the bath, or the wine, Blythe got out of the tub, wrapped herself in the soft cotton robe provided, and lied down on the bed. Looking up at the log beams of the cabin, she appreciated how sturdy and beautiful they were. They didn’t come crashing down on her, like her love life; they gave her refuge and protection, and an aesthetic appeal she liked. Snickering to herself, she thought, Now how about I find a man that I can say the same about?

To be continued…

What Inspires You?

What inspires you – as a person, in what you do, and in doing what you love?

For me, I get a lot of inspiration from nature. I enjoy the beauty of the world – the beaches, mountains, landscapes, flowers, meadows, lakes, and other wonderful aspects of nature. I feel invigorated and alive when I am in the woods, the beach, the mountains, etc. I can even feel inspired by just looking at nature pictures and paintings. For example:

Or, another picture taken during my favorite season, autumn:

Like these? Check out my Pinterest boards, Oh What a Beautiful World and Awesome Places & Spaces. Lots of inspiration there!

Other things that inspire me? Buildings – mostly older ones. Take this castle, for example:

An old greenhouse, even:

Music is something that inspires me, as well. Currently, I find inspiration to write, or to get up and be productive in daily chores, from Jetta, Sam Smith, Hozier, Adele, and Jussie Smollett (a.k.a. Jamal from Empire). I like to feel something while listening to music, and these artists know how to do just that – they tug at my emotions in all the right ways.

Also, my writer friends inspire me. Whether because of their talent, their support, or the incredible camaraderie we share, I have been and will continue to be inspired by them.

What inspires you?

Feel free to post pictures.