Heart

From The Hot Girl – Part One

For the sixth time, Deanna watched her father pull a card from a vase of flowers, put it in a stack with others just like it before he tossed the flowers into a rolling trash can, dumped the vase in the sink and set it on a nurse’s cart.

“Daddy? Why are you keeping the cards?”

Doc Collings turned toward Deanna from the other side of what had been her Gramma Cora’s hospital bed. “So your mother can send them ‘thank you’ notes.”

“Mom hates cut flowers. What’s she going to say, ‘thanks so much for sending dying flowers to my dying mother’?” She didn’t see him wince.

“Flowers are okay at our house, DeeDee. Twice a year.”

“I know. Valentine’s and your anniversary. But you buy mom plants.”

“Sometimes what your mother says is okay, and what she really thinks is okay, are entirely different. She has tolerance for flowers on days where flowers are the norm. And tolerance for your brother or you giving her flowers or something fattening is different from her fully accepting it as okay across the board. Like with me. I don’t gamble with your mom. If I know where the strike zone is I don’t get fancy and try to throw curveballs.” He held his hand out perfectly flat. “I go straight down the middle. Plants in pots are in the strike zone every time.”

Doc Collings’ sports analogies always worked with his super jock son, but now he was in a situation where he always felt lost. Alone, with his daughter. Who, since she’d outgrown her Sting-Ray bike and Barbies lived on an intellectual diet of Romantic poetry, art books, Medieval versions of fables and fairy tales, and top forty radio. And until his mother-in-law’s failing health had sent her to live with them a couple of years ago, there hadn’t been anyone else in their house who “got” the post grade school version of Deanna except their black lab, Hayden.

“DeeDee, your grandmother knew you cared.” He tossed another handful of flowers, spun a guest chair around and sat in front of her. “She had all the pictures you copied out of the art books for her. All of your notes and poems and Polaroids were taped to the wall. She was so sick the last week or so she didn’t open anything.”

“I looked for this card forever.” Deanna stared at the unopened envelope in her lap, a thumb and finger holding it on each side. “If she’d just opened it…Maybe…”

“There was no magic in that card that would have saved her.” He ran his hand through his hair, left it at the back of his head. “I know how it hurts when you lose someone you love. In ways you can’t explain to anyone. My parents are gone, my brother died in the war…If you live long enough you lose people…And unfortunately, there’s nothing anyone can say…or do…to make it easier. I wish I could, but…” He reached out, put his hand on top of hers, took the card and gave it a long look before he handed it back. “Deanna, when things like this happen? The old saying about how ‘it’s the thought that counts’ is true. She knew how you felt, card or no card. Believe me.”

She searched his face, registered the hurt and confusion. “It’s okay, Daddy. She told me before. About her heart and everything.” She glanced around at the stripped bed, dying flowers, empty vases and back to her lost father. “And how if I gave myself time I’d realize the heart that doctors understand isn’t the most important one I have.”

 

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White Lies and Dirty Laundry

 From The Hot Girl – I

Roosevelt Junior High, October 20th, 1971

Deanna clung to her open locker door with her right hand, leaned her head on the shelf inside. She couldn’t go to homeroom. She didn’t want to talk, or smile, or lead cheerleading practice. Or read the afternoon announcements or do anything at all. Just for a day, she didn’t want to be who she was. All she wanted was to be alone and maybe have one real friend she could tell about Gramma Cora. Goddammit. Was that too much to ask, really?

***

Coach Stephens raised his chin in acknowledgment at the growth-spurt skinny eighth-grade boy in his doorway. “Mornin’, Jackson.” He tilted his head slightly toward the wall to Jackson’s left, tossed the blue nylon bag full of his laundry at him like it was a medicine ball. “Some geniuses clogged the shitter in the band room.” Stephens pushed his chair back, hitched up his coach sweats. “C’mon. I’ll get you out through the girl’s side. Grab a hall pass in case you meet a stranger on that side of the building.”

Jackson tore off several pre-stamped with Coach Stephens signature hall passes from the pad, even though, after a year and a half, there wasn’t much likelihood of anyone stopping him on blue bag days. He hefted the laundry bag to his shoulder, followed Stephens to the center of the basketball court, the invisible wall between the only non-coed homerooms at Roosevelt Junior High. Stephens chirped his whistle.
“Heads up, skirts down, legs crossed, ladies. Man comin’ through.”

Jackson knew he’d turned red, shielded his head with the bag and sent his eyes to the floor for his trek through the minefield of girl’s gym homeroom. Damn. They sat on the floor cross legged, or laid on their backs with an ankle on their knee, skirts dropped to almost there. He heard them all shuffling positions, heard the giggles, the murmured comments that followed him across the basketball court until he was out the double doors. Up five steps and he was in the hall headed toward daylight.

He shifted the bag, raised his eyes, and noticed an open locker opposite from where most of the hall was blocked with junk that had been pulled out of the janitor’s closet to go deal with the clogged band room commode. All he could see under the locker door were sweat socks and girl’s saddle oxfords. Cheerleader gear. Great. And coming down the hall from the other direction, on a collision course with him and the cheerleader’s feet was Mr. Han, the asshole French teacher and hall pass Nazi. Shit.

Bonjour, Mr. Han.”

“Always halfway clever, Monsieur Jackson. You and the bag say it’s Wednesday but on the wrong side of the building. Something to do with who we have at their locker that should be in homeroom?”

Jackson stepped into the narrow space between the cheerleader’s open locker door and Mr. Han, swung his laundry bag around his right shoulder, knocking the unseen girl backward into her locker. He was chest to chest and almost eye to eye with Han, butt facing the cheerleader. In near-zero personal space, he managed to lift a hall pass out of his back pocket with a thumb and finger, held it under the bag, and waited until he felt her grab it.

“She was with me, Mr. Han. There’s shit, uh, sewage all on the floor by the band room on our side, and Coach sent her to escort me out the girl’s side. So I wouldn’t do anything stupid or talk to anybody. And, um, anyway, she needed a book, that’s why he sent her with me. And, uh, she ran ahead of me. To get her book.”
The girl pushed the crumpled pink slip past the bottom of the blue bag for Han, who snatched it, gave it a cursory glance.

“Don’t you have somewhere you’re supposed to be, Mr. Jackson?”

“Yes sir.” Jackson stepped off in a hurry, just under the ‘don’t run in the hall’ rule, didn’t look back. Han followed him with his eyes until Jackson and the blue bag were around the corner.

“Miss Collings, are you feeling alright?”

“Yes. And no.” Deanna brushed her butt, checked her effort and the pleats of her skirt over both shoulders. “My grandmother’s funeral was yesterday. I just didn’t want to talk to everyone…Anyone. That’s why I, um, ran to my locker, like he said. I’ll be okay. Really.”

“I understand. There’s never a good time for a funeral.” Han glared down the empty hallway. “Or Jackson.” He flicked the pink pass in his hand with his middle finger, handed it back. “Someday, Stephens will learn to put names and dates on his hall passes and sign them like the rest of us. Why he’d send someone like you out with that kid and the bag is beyond me.”

“Well,” she waved her hand under her nose, “there is some really gross shhh…Poop. And stuff. All on the floor on their side and Jackson can get in trouble. I mean pretty easy, and kind of a lot. And I did need my book.”

“As usual, Miss Collings, everything you have said is true.” He pushed her locker door closed. “But homeroom young lady. Now.”

“Yes sir.” She smoothed out the hall pass, put it inside the history book she wouldn’t need for four hours. Blue Bag Jackson had spare, stamped hall passes from Coach Stephens? Slacked her hassle with Han before it got started and covered her, no big deal, no stupid guy conversation, no junk? Even if he was kind of a jerk, knocking her on her butt…But still. Cool.

The Art of Drowning – Episode 3

Dreams, Blood and Sand – by Ash N. Finn

Empathy is hard to come by when veracity has to be cloaked in madness to survive. Evelyn watches the visitor walk away into the sea breeze from her window and wonders if she will see him again.

Xylophones, the sound of hailstones hitting them in a competition of accelerating crescendos is what she hears when an episode grips her. They give her Xanax here whenever they notice her cupping her hands over her ears. She saw her visitor’s eyes darting over to the packet on the coffee table, taking in the evidence that at least that part of her story is true. What can be seen must be true. Does he smell the airborne stench of rotting matter, too, she wanted to know. He shook his head at this. No, he doesn’t.

Of course, he thinks she is crazy. On the surface of her existence in this place for crazy people she wears the crazy outfit like a triangular road sign, giving off a warning to navigate the dangerous bends ahead with caution. Loose rocks might tumble and crush you regardless, even if you avoid speeding off a cliff and plunging into the sea to join all the lost ones in it.

Reality is so much more than people want to acknowledge. They stick to the visible mostly and let themselves be fooled by it. She knows it is the invisible we must strain to see if the evil force is to be stopped. He asked her to explain what she knows of the evil force. There is a watery depth in this man’s eyes which made her think that here is someone who has taken deep dives into the invisible inside himself and that inside others.

Dust settles on everything so quickly she told him then, and he watched in silence while she dusted the framed portraits above the bed on the far side of her room, waiting for her to continue. He must have noticed how tidy the room is, but didn’t comment on it. She is sure his alert investigative mind retained all he saw and heard during his visit in minute detail. It calms her when there is order to the visible around her. In these parts, so close to the sea, dust combines with the fine sand the sea breeze sends and enters through the smallest cracks in the walls. Keeping the window closed at all times doesn’t manage to keep it out.

Ink drawings of her younger self cannot suffer to come in contact with sand for long, much like her present self. She washed her hands and face after dusting them, then sealed the dust cloth in a plastic sandwich bag before throwing it into the small bin under the sink. What is worse than the dust is when you wake up on the beach, your legs buried in sand that is still moist from the tide that must have swept over you while you were out cold, dried blood mixed with sand caked to your naked skin. You turn your head to cough the salt water out of your lungs and stare right into the face of a dead woman. You turn the other way and there are rows and rows of skulls. Skulls and bones as far as you can see. At that point, her visitor asked her if that was a recent dream she had.

Not the first time it happened. The first time she was there and made it out alive like a resurrected corpse dragging herself away from the beach on all fours, but she didn’t tell him it was real the first time. If he goes there and sees for himself and comes back to visit, she might reveal to him that the first time was many years ago and real.

Every episode brings that same dream is all she has told him for now. Only recently, the face of the dead woman is a new one each time. The last one looked like the missing woman the detective is trying to find.

Clouds formed from sea foam and darkened by sand sucked in from the beach are carried toward her now by the strengthening breeze. The unbearable putrid stench it delivers makes Evelyn gag. She closes the window in what she knows is a futile attempt at shielding herself from its evil power.

Holy wells are what her mother and aunts would have prescribed for her, were they still alive. Deep inside her they are still alive for as long as she remembers them, she reminds herself. She had left Ireland a long time ago, and as far as she knows there aren’t any holy wells around here. If there are any, the detective might know of them. She will try to remember to ask him about it next time he visits, if there is a next time that is.

A protective shield can be fashioned in many ways she muses, but to choose the most effective one is difficult when you’re not sure who or what has tried to drown you and might come after you to eliminate the risk of you telling. The detective promised that any information she had shared would be followed up discreetly and treated as confidential. Will that be enough to protect her?

Old age has crept up on her, giving license to no longer worry as much about the consequences of telling. She has been the crazy lady for so long now that there are more times when she believes herself to be crazy than not. Is that a sign of sanity or madness?

Screams and shouting in the corridor outside interrupt her thoughts. The door comes crashing into her room and flattens the coffee table on impact. She should have told the detective it was real the very first time.

The Art of Drowning – An Ethereal Mystery

3 writers, no destination – What could go wrong?

Ash N. Finn  The Perilous Reading Society  & Not Very Deep Thoughts