Short Story: A Science Experiment in Naïveté

I suppose we could start at the beginning.

I had one of those miraculous childhoods that went weirdly out of style after the 60s when everything became granola and people got all paranoid about their children dying and whatnot.

My parents separated when I was five, plucking me out of my progressive kindergarten and into the hands of my three neurotic cousins in a large mansion left to my mother’s sister in a heated divorce. Between my siblings and I we numbered seven, ages 4-13; neither of our mothers had the luxury of staying home to make sure we were ok, so they just requested we never fill them in on our after-school activities. Ignorance is bliss, and whatnot. As far as they knew, we ran a book club.

We had the run of the neighborhood and no real adults to question our authority outside of the mother of the girl across the street, so we stopped inviting that girl over to play.

This led to sledding down the ravine on the lid of garbage cans, diving off the dock into the river at low tide to catch crabs in two feet of water, lengthy soap-opera-style home videos in which my cousin pushed us down the hill in a broken-down Barbie jeep for the dramatic crash conclusion. We scaled trees taller than our quickly wearing mansion. We spent our afternoons hiding from developers in partially constructed houses, throwing my four-year-old brother out of the second story window so my cousins could catch him and munching boxes of cheez-its under the brand-new floorboards while inspections took place just above our heads, the dust from their shoes littering down on us as they stepped across the floor above us, us trying desperately not to giggle. We rolled down three flights of stairs on beanbag chairs. We choreographed elaborate dances in the discarded costumes from my aunts failed monogramming business that we’d filched from the attic. We called into radio stations, endlessly requesting songs. We held three or four day monopoly games. We played Mortal Combat and beat Super Mario Brothers over the course of a month. We watched endless marathons of Chuckie, the demon doll horror flicks, every Halloween. We chased each other through the darkened crevices of my aunts walk-through closet, the unlucky victim to be chosen by my eldest cousin and his skater-punk friend.

We had no assigned beds. Every night we all scattered across the house and settled our tired bodies on the softest piece of furniture we could find. The last to bed was stuck on the leather couch in the formal living room, where the glow of the ginormous fish tank and the slippery fabric of the leather led to a zombie-like presence all throughout the next day. Worse, still, was to resign yourself to being wedged between my mother and aunt in their king-sized bed. My aunt snored like a train.

We never called our mothers over broken bones, scratches, fights, lost lunches. We climbed onto the counter to use the microwave and learned to run our raging oven burns under the sink rather than ice down. Our major concern when my sister sent a rusty nail through her foot at our favorite construction site was that mom might find out.
Our fragile child-kingdom was glorious. We were the masters of our domain. There were no rules. There were no time-outs. We learned our own way. We settled disputes on our terms.

My oldest cousin became the patriarch of the family, his slightly younger sister the matriarch. We’d all waited patiently for Ben to turn 16 and get a car so we could wedge in and get around–widen our berth of authority. Really, though, it was quickly becoming apparent that Ben didn’t care much for letting us follow him around like mother-less ducklings and he began to sneak off to the gas station to buy wine coolers from a few high schoolers he knew and share them with Molly. This left us all the more parentless.

Molly and Ben outgrowing us felt like the greatest betrayal of my young life. Molly had taught me how to ride a bike. Ben had played the gleeful villain in all of our favorite games, chasing us around with his bare butt, leaving a particularly reverent ass-print on our glass oven for months on end.

We all kind of grew up. Mom started signing us up for after-school care everyday, holding us hostage in that planned-activity, parent waiting room. We hated aftercare. Women with moles all over their bodies lectured us about sharing and made sure we let other kids in on our four-square games, preventing us from making up rules that guaranteed outsiders would lose. We’d had unlimited TV and freedom, now we had knitting lessons.

I couldn’t entirely blame Mom for putting us in aftercare, even though my younger brother and I took the brunt of it, being the youngest of the gang. Ben had taken to nailing random objects to the roof of his bedroom (the most coveted of all the sleeping spaces being as he kept it mostly off-limits to everyone but my brother and I; the fact that it was the only room on the top floor, had its own living room-attachment that held our treasured Nintendo, and was a whopping five staircases away from my aunts bedroom, where parents never had much reason to wander). I caught him hammering up his recently-deceased yellow lab’s leash to the ceiling and plopped myself down unthinkingly on his extra bed (where only my little brother was ever allowed to sleep) underneath his Weezer Green Album poster.

He and Molly were in a fight. I didn’t know what had happened (I was a first, possibly second grader, but my guess would be that he was caught smoking weed), but I knew Molly had ratted him out to his father about something and his father (you knew it was big if someone involved one of our fathers) had subsequently refused to buy him a car. Ben was thereafter grounded and hadn’t spoken to Molly since.

I’d gone to Ben on an errand from Molly to offer some sort of peace offering, to which he’d shrugged and finally sent me away with his prolonged silence. Molly had questioned me extensively about his reply. I’d shrugged. “He didn’t say anything. He’s busy doing something.”

“What?”

I’d shrugged again.

“Well, go back and find out.”

I went. I stood beneath him, looking up at him, standing on a chair, hammering that leash into the ceiling. It was green. It was a green leash.

“Molly wants to know what you’re doing.”

He hadn’t even looked down at me. He just kept hammering. “Science experiment.”

“Okay.” I left satisfied by that answer, Molly less so.

“Did he say what the science experiment was?”

“No.”

“Well…?”

I returned. “Exactly what kind of science experiment?”

“Gravity.”

“Gravity,” I reported to Molly.

“What is he doing exactly?”

I told her. She still seemed concerned. “What’s wrong? It’s just a science experiment.”

She went with me this time. The two of us climbed to his lair, she stayed in the doorway, examining the situation; Ben up on that chair hammering his dead dog’s leash into the ceiling.

“Molly wants to know what you’re going to hang from the leash.”

“Molly can mind her own fucking business.”

The police showed up within fifteen minutes. Ben got sent away for a while and thereafter lived with his father until he went to college.

I only remember being very worried about how our mothers would feel when they saw the police there and very mad at Molly for breaking our sacred vow of law-less silence. I was seven, maybe six, maybe even eight. How was I supposed to know that Molly had saved his life that day?

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You Can’t Go Back

For a moment, let us be needlessly sentimental.

The day my oldest sister moved away to college I cried. This had nothing to do with losing my lifelong roommate who’d tolerated (albeit barely) my atrocious brand of childish messiness. I cried because sometimes the moment washes over you in a clear wave that tells you that nothing will ever be the same again.

Soon after, my family crumbled. We each retreated to our separate corners. I drowned myself in the depths of my bed.

I can’t say precisely that I love my life. I have been looking for something. A feeling that rushes through your chest. A feeling akin to happiness. Every now and then I feel it brush across my skin. The wispy entrails of feeling that could, potentially, solve the unknown question (42).

I find myself retracing my steps, looking back to the places where this feeling once brushed my life. I have returned to the place. Maybe the place has not changed, but the feeling has left. Like my sister leaving home, it’s become markedly clear that my life will never return to those moments of bald joy.

You can’t go back to those slippery moments of happiness. Why am I lingering, waiting for them to return to the places where everyone else has left? Why am I still the one, swimming around in the past, looking for those last vestiges of long-extinct moments. Why can’t I get out of my own superior, possibly imaginary, memories?

Let us find new moments. Let us find new happiness. This one is no longer waiting patiently for our return.

Saying Goodbyes

I don’t know why but it is incomprehensibly hard to tell people goodbye.

Le Novio’s visit to Einburgh ended this morning. All of my previous guests (little brother and bestest buddie) I’d forced to sneak out in the quiet hours of the wee morning (which was apparently very rude, but the honestly least-painful way to leave, if you ask me)… But for some reason the censure of my condescending British hosts had me on the airport bus with Le Novio while he struggled to fill out forms for tax refunds on whisky.

Why do we prolong goodbyes? Can’t we just make it short and simple? Goodbye. Have a good flight. Let me know that you made it ok. Now get on the bus, please.

This is not an abrupt declaration that I don’t love you or am glad to see you go. This is me trying not to torture both of us by prolonging the inevitable. I will miss you, get back to your life, and someday I will see you again.

Why do we keep talking when nothing is going to make that person stay?

Needless to say, I am sad. Very sad. This mornings departure was unnecessarily and particularly hard. I tend to withdraw (in case you missed it) from emotional situations. Standing there watching someone walk through security in the perfunctory hallway of Edinburgh Airport…. Rough.

I miss everyone, not just those I’ve recently said goodbye to. And when I return to those people in America, I will thereafter miss people here.

That’s the problem… I can’t be everywhere, but I love people that are. It’s not my fault. I never meant to.

Flash Fiction: Keys

Keys

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She slipped the first one off her key ring on her last day of work.

“I guess I won’t need this anymore?” she said as she placed it on the granite countertop and slid the brass monstrosity across the surface to her employer.

“That’s so sad,” her boss stated mildly, looking down at the key kissing the countertop in front of her, but quickly too distracted to pick it up and pocket it somewhere safer.

She guess the key would be lost before the end of the day, forgotten or stolen, and shoved into a toy box for the children to fight over later.

#

To her landlord, she enclosed both her square deadbolt and green door key in a white envelope she’d asked someone to steal from their work supply closet. Her roommate dropped hers, in inverted colors ying-yang to hers, in the envelope too and they both scratched out their forwarding addresses on the front with an old pen, just in case.

“This is stupid,” they both seemed to be thinking as they stood huddled by their front door, unable to re-enter their recently polished apartment. “Why are we doing this?” echoed silently.

They dropped the envelope in their landlord’s mailbox and stood around joking with each other for as long as they could manage before finally the lingering sadness became unbearable and they both got into their separate cars to drive away in different directions.

#

“I dropped by to say goodbye.” She was already on their couch waiting for her friends when they got home from work.

“I feel like we’ve done this a few times already. You sure you won’t be back anytime soon? You keep leaving and then we find you here all over again.”

“Pretty sure,” she replied, hopping off the couch and grabbing her set of keys on the way out the door. “Oh, I almost forgot–” she stopped halfway out the door and started to pry apart her key ring, sliding the colorful–decorated like a puppy–one off and setting it on their kitchen table. “Won’t need this anymore.”

“Wish you hadn’t done that,” they protested as she edged towards the door. “Now it feels so final.”

#

“I’ll walk out now then, if you don’t mind. I don’t want to prolong this longer than necessary and I have to get back to work.”

“No worries. I’ll be gone in the next ten minutes anyway. Just need to take my bags down to the car.”

They kissed briefly goodbye and he set off down the hall. They both tried their hardest not to watch the other leave, but she stuck her head out the door and watched him go anyway.

It took her two trips to get her suitcases from the past month to her car. She still had his keys, but it seemed oddly irrelevant now. She tried to shove them under the door, but the crack was too small. She tried to put them on the top of the doorframe, but the ledge was too thin. She had to unlock the door and put the building keys inside.

She balanced bags filled with dirty laundry and books. A soda fell to the floor with an unsettling fizz. She locked the door again and forced the plain, silver key as far as it would go under the door.

#

“For some reason, I’ve lost my mailbox key, do you have one still?” her father asked.

She looked at her now-dismal key ring. Where once there had been an eccentric collection, now only a small metal family of three remained, and a cheap bottle opener she’d gotten at a street fair.

“Here, sure. Do you want the spare?” she started to pry the key ring apart again to remove the gold mother-child combo, but he stopped her.

“Why don’t you just give me the whole set?” he asked, holding out a large calloused hand to her. “We’ll need the car key too.”

“Oh, yeah. That makes sense,” she muttered, and reluctantly placed her last possessions–two gold, one small, one big, and a gnarly black car key–in his hand, shaking a bit as she dropped them in his weathered palm, the remaining keys jingling. She didn’t quite know what to do with her empty hands. “Guess I don’t need any of them anymore.”

“Here,” he said watching her. After a quiet moment he slid the rings apart and looped the cheap plastic off the ring. “Why don’t you keep the bottle opener?”

Day Ninety-Four: Packing

I think I have over-packed.

After a bottle of wine for dinner last night and the hangover that greeted me cheerily this morning. This left me an agonized hour to pack my bag for the next two months.

I think packing is impossible. Basically I just tried to shove as much of my clothing in a bag as possible. The bad part is that I left no room for whisky… I’ll have to revise my priorities. Forget clothes!

Now I’m watching Goodfellas and drinking Moscow Mules with my father and step mother. Apparently they both grew up in Jersey/Yonkers so that qualifies them to be gangsters.

I’m pretty sure that’s how this works.

Planning to cook with dad and then have a nice writing day for a change. It’s been wayyyy too long, so wish me luck!

Actual quote from stepmother: “Oh shit. You’re staying til Tuesday?”

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Day Fifty-Four: Good News For People Who Love Good News

Almost six months ago I applied to do my MFA in Creative Writing and on Friday, after leaving the Lego Movie with Le Novio (which was actually incredible and self-deprecating and great), I got an e-mail with my first acceptance!

I had prepared myself for months now for blatant rejections, so I’m a bit at a loss for what to say when it comes to positive news. I had developed some really great insight into the importance of rejection and why it wouldn’t stop me in developing my career but FORGET THAT!

Just over a year ago I made a very important decision. I was working a job with no long-term goals other than a weekly paycheck. I was living in what I consider to be a fairly unambitious city. The only people who “make it” in New Orleans are in the culinary industry… and possibly healthcare or environmental policy. My mother had me really and truly convinced that I should become a Librarian.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d be a great librarian and I think that it would be a fantastic career… surrounded by books all day… lot’s of new technology. Really great, consistent job. But I don’t want to be a Librarian. I want to be a Writer.

I mostly keep my writing to myself. Ask anyone in my life and, outside of this blog which is my first committed attempt to public writing, and they won’t have read more than a piece or two of my work. Complete strangers I shared classes with have read more of my stuff than most of my friends.

When I was still an undergrad I’d let my mother sucker me into sending her a play I’d written for class. I was wildly proud of this play. It was read on stage by a group of professional actors. By Christmas, however, my mother had circulated this play to my entire family and it had become a running joke. I didn’t know this until my sisters started quoting it over dinner, much to everyone’s amusement at my expense. After that, I swore I wouldn’t share my writing with people I was close to… My latest project has been one of three times I’ve let a personal relationship read my work.

If I wasn’t going to let anyone read it, my work would never be more than a hobby.

Last year while at the park with the children I cared for, I ran into my Freshman Writing professor with his kids. I hadn’t been writing much at all. I’d been too tired from the kids and too distracted by my personal relationships. He seemed surprised that I wasn’t writing, that I wasn’t applying to school.

“I’d bet if you submitted works just from Freshman year, you’d get in. Doesn’t hurt to apply.”

Seemingly innocuous enough statement, but his words changed my life.

I had failed at writing. I had failed at writing because I’d stopped trying. The worst kind of failure is when you give up on yourself. If I wasn’t willing to put myself out there, I was the worst kind of failure imaginable. I was a coward.

So here I am a year later. Grad schools take a national percentage of 6% of applicants in America… and as of Friday I’m in the 6% and more than halfway through my first novel.

Forget the numbers though… They make this career look impossible. Work hard. Write well and often. Take rejection on the chin. And just keep putting yourself out there, no matter what it is you hope to accomplish. Only I will decide when my writing career is over.

I’m not all the way there, we’ve still got a long way to go, but I’m closer than I was last year.

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Nothing anyone could say would make me feel like a failure right now.

Day Twenty-Three: Shelter from the Storm

Took off after my impromptu shower yesterday and spent two hours driving through bass-akwards nowhere in pitch black, fog and rain. Mostly sure I am dead and this is but my ghost determined to continue blogging (unfinished business now equates to an unfinished novel). Anyway, I’m now hiding out at my father’s place trying not to roll my eyes at the delightful (re:awkward) banter between him and my stepmother.

Luckily. There is beer. Strong beer. This beer.

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(Delicious. French.)

Any minute now we’re to head to a wedding outside Orlando. Should have more beer (they brewed all their own stuff for this shin-dig). Lots more beer, so that’s something to look forward to.

However, the weather remains dreary at best. Dad up-sold with the new wife and now lives in what they’ve dubbed “a cottage on the beach” (nevermind that their living room is the size of my New Orleans apartment). Normally I wake up to a ridiculous sunrise over the ocean. Today’s view, albeit still gorgeous, was a bit more bleak…

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(Not sure what that weird pot thing is…)

Life in this house is like some interesting informercial for retirement. I sat around all morning writing (completely re-did all the crap I was previously calling chapter 8 and now it’s much better) while the two of them argued about such inanities as: why my stepmother wasn’t breathing a word to my father about the plot of my book; why my stepmother ordered plastic pineapple plants when she hates pineapples; why their neighbor talks so much; why we have to listen to the Steve Harvey show at full volume; and why my stepmother is so nervous about “rescuing” (i.e. buying off a breeder) a new cat.

It made for some great writing actually. I had to really enter an alternate universe to ignore their constant bickering (weirdly… most functional marriage I have ever witnessed). I’m thinking my next project is going to be a non-fiction, personal study of happiness… Whatever this dysfunctional life these two have built for themselves, it is… counterintuitively, very… functional. (There’s a beautiful irony in that.)

Chapter 8 was really giving me hell. My main character, Bean, was making a new best friend. I apparently have no idea how people make best friends. Not surprising because (outside of the boyfriend… and we still have no idea how we suckered him into this relationship, but Creative Factory and I were pretty determined to gain access to his pool) I haven’t made a best friend in about 5 years. After a certain point with people, you fall so easily into a certain kind of conversation that you stop thinking about what to say to each other. I barely remember meeting the Creative Factory (namely, there was alcohol), yet alone how we ended up getting to the point where we… not finishing each other’s sentences, we’re past that now.

How do you make a best friend when you’re 11 and terminally awkward? (Clearly, I didn’t have much companionship at that age.)

Does this mean…. I have to go out into the world and be nice to people? I’m not very good at that.