The Routine

IMG_20171007_174725.jpgI pull out two blue cardboard boxes from my medicine cabinet and blink at my reflection in the mirror. This is it. The routine is near completion. Once I do this I am past the point of no return. Last chance to flake out of training, but I see my thin neck and smile. That’s why I can’t skip this.

As I grew out, I took my big pants to the seamstress. “The hems,” I told her, “- they’re too high.”

But, in reality, my thighs were too thick. My pants bunched up from crotch to knee. I should probably have just bought new ones, but there was a tiny part of me that was still in denial. I’m not fat.

I slide the first contact over my right eye. Always the right one first. I wonder why. Is it because I’m right-handed? Or is it because I always have the right contact box on top of the left? Hard to know. Why am I thinking about this anyway? Just get on with the routine. I blink three times, willing the contact into place.

“It’s my PCOS. I read about it. It causes weight gain,” I told a dietician. “There’s the IBS too.”

No, silly. It’s because you eat crap. Just admit it. But I couldn’t. Not out loud. If I were to admit it, I wouldn’t be allowed cakes, chocolates, or cookies. How could I possibly live without my double fudge chocolate chip cookies?

I press the next contact on over my left eye and blink. I can’t turn back now. These little contacts cost too much to waste them. Now I have to go to boot camp.

In the past six months, the routine has been the same. Come home from work, get dressed, put on my contacts (because I hate sweat dripping onto my glasses), lace up my ankle strap, and slide my shoes on. Once done, the act of getting into the car and driving to the park has already been decided.

“You don’t have to hate food that’s good for you,” the health coach said. “We’ll find the plan that’s just right for you.”

I doubted it, but I paid money so I wasn’t going to be accused of not trying. I will come to their training sessions and eat the meal plans they suggested. What have I got to lose?

I slide my running shoes over my feet and leave for boot camp. The ritual complete for the third time this week. With pride, I strut out of the house with a gym towel over my shoulder. I have beat the lazy-beast for another day, and I’m much happier for it.

I returned to the seamstress. “My pants need hemming again. I lost all this weight.”

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The Warehouse Mob

IMG_20170822_121016.jpgThe small group huddled in the corner of the postal warehouse. Undelivered packages lay open on the floor alongside blankets, eaten food packages, and flies.

The last of the afternoon light dwindled.

“I can’t spend another night in the dark,” Sarah said with a tremble in her voice.

She wrapped her arms around her legs and wept into her knees. Around her, married couple Lance and Glen put their hands on her shoulders. On the other side, Priyanka and her son, Ashwin, reached up to touch the fading light.

The warning sirens started their nightly ritual, “Woo-woo-woo.” For five straight minutes, it would continue until the timer turned off – a relic of those first few days. It didn’t cover the sound of the agonies of the living, the half-living, outside the tin walls that protected them.

“Make it stop, Mommy,” Ash cried. Priyanka pulled the toddler close and hummed a sweet lullaby. Her gentle rocking settled his tears for a moment.

“Don’t you worry, Ashwin,” Glen said with a slight gruff. “We’ll be saved soon. The army will be here any day now.”

“No, they won’t,” the boy said. “The monsters will get them too. Just like Daddy.”

“Shh, shh,” Priyanka said, covering Ashwin’s ears. “Don’t fill his head with such nonsense. We know we will have to make our own luck if we’re going to survive.”

She picked up her son and laid him down on one of the blankets. She continued to sing a song until the boy’s breathing became steady and slow.

Priyanka inched back to her side of the makeshift bedroom and sighed.

“Dads?” Sarah whispered.

“Yes, sweetie?” Lance and Glen said.

“Can we try the radio again?”

“Only if you keep it down,” Priyanka said with a hiss.

“Yes, yes, of course,” Lance answered.

The teenager fumbled in the dark for a moment before the sound of static filled the room.

She moved the dial, the frequency of the static changed with each turn. She moved it fast and slow from one end to the next for several minutes.

“Don’t leave it on too long, hun,” Glen said. “Conserve the batteries.”

“Okay,” she turned one last time and heard a voice on the other end.

“Repeat, if there are any survivors out there, you are not alone.”

The group gasped in varying states of surprise. Survivors!

They listened intent on the transmission and the words said: their names and their location – an abandoned army base and a laundry list of ways to survive on the outside.

“The key is light. They hate light.”

The transmission ended and Sarah turned the radio off. The group sat in silence for a moment.

“How are we going to get all those items?” Sarah asked.

“I know where some batteries are,” Glen said. “Mr Saunders – ”

“The man with the little dog?” Lance asked.

“The very same… He used to keep a jar of batteries… for the apocalypse.”

“But Dads… he was one of the first to turn.”

“Then he’s long gone now,” Glen said.

For the first time they ignored the cries, the gurgles, and the bangs around the warehouse. They had hope.

It wasn’t until they all stood, like a giant mob, at Mr. Saunders’s door the next morning that they realized the truth. Overgrown grass and weeds covered the once immaculate lawn.

He greeted them from under the front porch. Batteries and a tiny dog head stuck out of the bulbous form.

Their screams were hushed as they became one with the host.

Midnight Dreamer

IMG_20170522_054502Awake. Again. At midnight.

Tears cover my pillow. I wipe my nose, not daring to sniff in fear of waking someone.

Why don’t you like me? I’m fifteen. Shouldn’t I have a boyfriend by now?

But the trumpet player doesn’t like me that way. Instead, he looks right past me. His gaze falls on my friends. Their perfect hair, perfect skin, and perfect breasts are as far from me as can be. I’m so cool, though. He tells me so. I play games with him, watch movies, talk about all the things he likes. It’s gotta be the way I look – my acne-riddled face, my big nose, my tiny mouth, and my ridiculously small boobs. That’s why no guy wants me, least of all him.

I close my eyes.

Across a crowded room, he enters.

His blue eyes search and fall on me.

His mouth widens in a smile.

Ignoring all else, he comes to me.

“Hey.” “Hey.” We say.

He leans in.

Noses touch.

Lips touch.

*****

Awake. Again. At midnight.

My pillow and mattress are damp with sweat. I stare at the ceiling as rivers trickle down from my eyes to my ears.

Why do I like him? I’m eighteen. I’m running out of time to find a boyfriend.

But just as before, the theatre major doesn’t look at me that way. His hazel eyes graze mine. He’s the first boy to look at me, not through me. We talk and laugh while we work. The days go by so much quicker when he’s there. But he’s not available. His girlfriend frequently shows up to brighten his day. I hate that I wish they would break up.

His head is on my lap.

I run my fingers through his hair.

We pretend to watch TV. But…

We are content to stare at each other.

His hazel eyes hold all the secrets.

*****

Awake. Again. At midnight.

My pillow is over my head, stifling what would be a full-on sob by now.

Why doesn’t he love me? I’m 22. I’m out of time to find a boyfriend.

But just as every time before, the roommate doesn’t look at me that way. His brown eyes are closed in the room next to mine – closed to me. He looks above me, scared to meet my gaze. We talk, we laugh, we play games together and watch movies together. On the days that he’s happy, everything is awesome. But on the days he’s not, all the weed in the world won’t help me forget.

He’s available. He doesn’t look at my girlfriends. He must like me. Why doesn’t he like me like that?

Black lingerie on, I step down the stairs.

His eyes fall on me.

Without words, he says, “Come here.”

I don’t.

I lay down on the couch.

Show him my curves.

He doesn’t wait long.

He crosses the room.

*****

Awake. Again. At midnight.

My neck pillow is no help. Tears of joy stream down my face as I stare at the tiny monitor in the seat in front of me and watch Mrs. Henderson Presents.

Why does he love me? I’m 25. I thought I didn’t need a boyfriend anymore.

But I found him. He found me.

His blue eyes stare back at me through a webcam. He talks to me, never at me, and for hours, we discuss everything from our day to our past and future.

I’m nervous excited about finally meeting him in person. In a few hours, I will start my life with him.

It only took ten years to have a partner. I hope I don’t screw it up.

No dream tonight.

In fact, I never have to dream again.

 

The Carriage

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He sat on the train with the trolley sitting across his leg and on the seat beside him. So far he’d been able to avoid the judgmental eyes of the nosy older women, but he couldn’t ignore their snide remarks. At this hour of the day, they seemed to be the only passengers, so he wasn’t even able to leave the carriage for greener pastures.

“Why isn’t he at school?”

“How old is he anyway? He looks like he just started high school.”

He cast his eyes down to his knees. I’m fifteen! – he wanted to shout.

His tattered shoes stared back at him – a reminder of his current predicament. If it hadn’t been for his best friend, he wouldn’t even have clean clothes.

He heard his stop on the speakers and made his move to leave.

“Go to school!” a voice screamed from inside the carriage.

He balled his hands up around the trolley handles until the whites of his knuckles were exposed. Taking a deep breath, he exited the train and pushed back his tears. As the door closed, he stood still to watch the train speed off to its next destination.

He sniffed the moisture back before starting his descent from the platform to the street.

He wouldn’t have to walk for long; she lived right by the station. In fact, her whole apartment space shook every 20 minutes.

He stood at her door, smile spread puffing out his cheeks and revealing the dimples that she used to love. He’d prove to her today that he should be in her life.

Cries echoed from the other side of the door. The sound pierced the walls of the complex, and he wondered if any neighbors had complained yet. The baby had some lungs.

He knocked and waited and waited some more.

When the door opened, a disheveled girl stared back at him. The baby continued to scream in the crib on the other side of the room.

“Are you going to help her?” he asked, worried.

“No,” she answered. “What are you doing here?”

“I… bought you a gift,” he said. “For our daughter.”

“Your dad kicked you out. You’re homeless,” she said with no hint of concern, “How could you afford a stroller?”

“I busked,” he admitted. “Then I sold my guitar.”

“So you think this means you’re a Dad now?”

He bowed his head, “I am a Dad.”

She gave a derisive sniff, “Good for you.”

She snatched the stroller from his hands without a word of thanks and disappeared around the corner. He stood in the doorway, chatting between long silences while she ducked in and out of the room. “Maybe we can go for walks together.” “I’m almost old enough to work. I’ll get a job.” “My friends think they can get me another guitar.”

She ignored him, but when she put the baby into the carriage and grabbed the diaper bag, his spirits rose.

She pushed the carriage to the door. Laden with toys and clothes and bags, it moved slowly.

“Here, Daddy. You can have her.”

There was a wildness in her eyes – a flicker of mania.

“For the afternoon?”

“Forever. I’m done.”

She pushed the carriage out the door. He scrambled to get in front of it to stop her from falling out.

“What are you doing?” he cried.

A slammed door was his only answer.

As his daughter wailed, he looked at her. Her tiny hands, her black hair, and dark skin reminded him of his mother. She was perfect. He lifted her out of the carriage and held her head as he had seen in the movies. With water filling his eyes, he cradled his daughter.

“What now?” he sighed.


Dear Daddy

Dear Daddy,

It’ll be ten years next week since you went home. Life is moving on without you, though, and there’s been so much I want to say to you. And so much I wish you could say to me, but for now, this letter will have to do.

I left eleven years ago for Australia – for Wayne. In that time, I’ve changed from the mousy girl, to a fierce, albeit sometimes aggressive, woman. I’m a staunch liberal, I never go to church, and I’m a reforming racist. I’m sure if you were still here you’d see how much I’ve changed. You might even comment on it in the same ferocious tone you used when you told me how disappointed you were in my choice to move away.

As long as I’m being honest with you, though, some days, when my mind wanders, I think maybe your sobriety ended because of me.

Mostly, I just wonder if you are proud of the woman I’ve become. Would it surprise you to know how much I’ve drifted from the ultra conservative, fundamentalist Baptist girl you raised? Or that I don’t watch every movie at the theatres anymore? I don’t read as much as you used to read to me? How much of the girl you knew is still there? Would you still be clinging to the memory of extinct young Mel? Or embracing the change?

I married Wayne; did you know that? I love him. I never had a chance to say that to you. Though I’m sure you knew it. I hate that you never got a chance to meet him or even talk to him. The year between my leaving and your passing was such a short period of time but such a long one too. I regret not forcing you on the phone more when I called. I regret not putting Wayne on the phone to talk to you. I always planned to visit with him at my side. I think you would have liked him.

We did end up visiting, but not for the reasons any of us liked. I still get teary when I realize that the only time Wayne ever saw you in person was staring down at your open casket in that church. By the time we were there, the man I saw looked nothing like the man I hugged good-bye at the airport in May 2006.

Despite all the negatives, I will always be Daddy’s little girl. I still think back with fondness all those hours watching movies on the couch together or the early Saturday mornings before the rest of the house was awake when I’d play Nintendo and yell-whisper at you about my high score. I enjoyed the sound of your voice when you read Tolkien and Heinlein to me. I loved our trips to the donut shop together to buy the yummiest and least nutritional breakfasts for the family. I still talk about your keyboard and all the hours spent with you singing together. I miss being able to call you randomly to sing a song to you to find out who was the artist and the song.

I always knew I was your favorite, even when parents aren’t meant to have favorites.

I knew when I left, it would be you I’d missed most. I just didn’t realize it was because you would be gone forever. I don’t regret leaving. I will never regret that. It’s landed me a healthy life with Wayne, a real career, but most of all, a smile when I get up to face the day. I know despite everything, that’s all you wanted for me.

A month after you left us, I had a dream. You were driving me around Paris, TX, one last time. The buildings were derelict and the streets were barren, but there was a certain calmness to it. You parked us outside an office building, and we went inside for me to get ready for an interview or something. We walked into an almost vacant office and sat to talk for a while. The office window looked out into downtown Paris. I could see the blue sky and the sun breaking through a solitary cloud.

You told me how I would some day ride a horse. I’d get married and feel loved. And that I’d find out who your actual family was, a question you never had the courage to ask.

When you seemed content that everything you wanted to say was said, I started to hum, not understanding what it was at first, but eventually, the music took me away and the words just came out, “At the crossing. Of the Jordan. Why should I be afraid? There’ll be someone there who loves me. To guide me. Across the river. To endless joys above..”

I sniffed and swallowed the growing moisture. Your footsteps were silent, but your gentle pat on my head gave me comfort. I smiled and watched the cloud move across the sun’s face.

“Why did you have to go?” I asked, turning to face you.

But you were gone.

I know it sounds silly, but a part of me wants to believe that was your way of saying good-bye – a part of me needs it to be true.

Love always,

Melly Belly