bookishgeek: (Heavy Rain - Madison & Ethan)

"We All Have The Movie. The One We're Supposed to Hate. Talk About... In Depth. Spoil it and explain WHY you love it despite mostly everyone else."

AKA: writing creative nonfiction is therapeutic, but it hurts my heart



My knees creak as I kneel on the dusty carpet of the living room, peering half-interestedly at the laptop screen as he fumbles with an HDMI cable, connecting it to the bigger television.

"I want you to watch this movie with me." My eyebrow quirk up as I look at the title, and glance from the laptop screen to his grinning face, beaming, a 26 year old cherub with deep-set dimples and an unruly brown crew cut that the littlest of Little Rascals would envy.

"Demolition Man? I've never even heard of it," I protest flatly. We have just seen Jurassic Park, and I wanted to see the sequel. "Why do you want to watch this?" The dimples never vanish, but the smile leaves his eyes. I squeeze his shoulder. The relationship is just four or five months old, everyone is still in the honeymoon phase of making perfect effort one hundred percent of the time. "Lemme go pee."

When the ending credits finish rolling, I'm leaned forward on the sofa, my elbows divoting my knees. I turn my head to look at him and catch him quickly looking away - the telltale sign of someone more focused on watching your reaction to something than watching the film or show or YouTube video itself.

"That was awesome." I say, enthusiasm pressing on my body's seams like a fire hydrant, bound to burst. "We have to watch it again." I lean back into the circle of his arms and feel him press a kiss to my temple.

"Of course."



The next time we watch it, we are prepared. The relationship is eight or nine months old, and we're sat on my sofa again, a twelve count box of Taco Bell tacos open and waiting on the coffee table. (six soft shell with mild sauce for myself, six hard shell with hot sauce for him). To watch this movie while not eating Taco Bell is a crime, we've decided, based on the overwhelming evidence shown in the film.

By the time the scenes even involving Taco Bell show up onscreen, the tacos are long-since gone and we are on opposite ends of the couch, laughing and repeating a couple of lines that we find the most funny. We follow each other around the tiny one-bedroom apartment, kicking in doors instead of opening them and bellowing "Phoenix!" at each other. There is a sense of best friend comraderie there, an omnipresent "I just want to make you laugh." We might be partners, but it feels deeper. He leans in like he is going to kiss me, and instead starts to sing the Green Giant jingle against my lips, buzzing like a hornet. I kick him beneath the table at Cheddar's cafe.


He comes home to find the DVD on the kitchen table at his new apartment a handful of months later, maybe a year and a half into the relationship. We have moved, 2 hours from home into separate apartments - we have keys to each other's place, but I've never felt as distant as I do now. I found it at the local new-and-used-nerd-shit store for $3 and could not pass up its pathetic appearance - the manufacturers didn't even care enough to give it a plastic case, it's just sheathed in cardboard. I get out my markers and make a coupon:
"Good for a free 12-count box of tacos from Taco Bell *
* - also a kiss"
I hide it inside the front cover of the DVD case. When he discovers it, I hear his proud laugh from the bathroom. I emerge and he wraps me up in his arms, pulling me to him. "Can I redeem the kiss now?" "Always."



Next time I don't even ask. I just show up at his doorstep in the rain, hair slicked back, a rapidly-softening box of tacos clutched in my hands. It's been nearly two years, and he answers the door distractedly, his phone in one hand. He takes in my wet-dog appearance, the tacos in my hand, and sighs. "Okay."

We watch the movie - he in his computer chair, me on the sofa, the box of tacos on a TV tray between us. We laugh in all the right places, but it feels hollow. I go to hug him when I'm getting up to leave - usually the time he would tell me to stay, come on, spend the night. But he presses a quick, distracted kiss into the hollow of my neck and says he'll talk to me tomorrow. That night I noticed the hickeys on his neck that he claimed were an allergic reaction. That night I believed him.



For Christmas that year my father gives me a huge Demolition Man poster - the glossy, hard plastic kind that Blockbuster and movie theaters posted outside on the lighted squares to showcase what films were playing. "I found it on eBay!" he proclaims proudly, and I hug him tighter than I previously knew possible to hug someone. I convince my boyfriend to stay home for a weekend to celebrate our second anniversary - a rarity these days, he always leaves on the weekends - and we go to Walmart, buying a huge poster frame. We hang it on the wall behind his kitchen table and when we fight, I look at it to remind myself that my family loves me.

"She's just a friend."
"Well then let me talk to her if she's just a friend. Why are you being so defensive?"
"You always blow shit out of proportion. And then you wonder why I don't wanna spend any time with you? Jesus Christ."

The glass of brandy smashes somewhere between Wesley Snipes' nose and the sullen eyebrows of Sylvester Stallone. "He didn't mean that," I whisper to Sly as I wipe up the mess. "he loves me. I know he does."



There is a point, nearly three years in, that I give up. I know he is cheating, and I just don't care any more - I love him, and I do not believe in leaving my partner because I believe it to be shameful. But one day, we break up because he loves the side chick too much and we split our things - clothes, DVDs, books, kitchen gadgets - under the watchful eye of Sylvester Stallone. I take my things away in the trunk of my car, and he cries so hard I hear his howls from the road as I fiddle with my keys - for a summer night, it is so cold. I am so focused on getting out that I forget the most important thing possible - the poster.



Over a year later I text him, ask if I could please have my poster back. He tells me no, he doesn't think it's fair to ask for something that I clearly gave to him so much later. I tell him the truth: my father's health is failing him, and this poster was a gift to me that I happened to hang in his apartment. That regardless of his feelings toward or about me, that poster would mean so much to me when my father is gone. I receive nothing but radio silence from my ex-best friend.



"Hey, look, they did a video about everything wrong with Demolition Man," I say to my new partner, feet curled up beneath me on the sofa, flipping through YouTube on the Roku.

When the 16 minute video is finished, I glance in my boyfriend's direction. He is smiling with his eyes, and I smile back.

"That's a weird movie." he says, shaking his head and fiddling with his phone. I stare at the screen for a few more beats before flipping to another video, something else mindless and funny to watch.

"Yeah," I say softly, "but I love it anyway."
bookishgeek: (Garfield - stare)
"The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep." - Robert Frost




The fingers of trees scraped the top of his car, and an involuntary shiver flung itself up and down his spine - crescendo, decrescendo. From the backseat of his worn-out '94 Saturn, Tennyson began to growl faintly. Matthias cursed under his breath and slowly slid the car to a stop from its slow crawl, gravel softly crunching.

"How did we get so far into these woods?" he asked himself, picking up his phone from the center console and poking a few buttons, navigating menus in the effortless way only a millennial could. "I thought the cabin was near the outskirts." Tennyson let out another growl and stood up, poking his head between Matthias and his phone and letting a glob of drool dribble onto the screen.

"Come on, Tenny!" Matthias unlocked the doors and stood up, opening the backseat doors and letting the dog lumber out. "Go pee." he pointed into the woods and the St. Bernard huffed to himself, shuffling into the brush at the side of the gravel path. Matthias flipped through a few more phone screens and held it up, almost reverently, trying to get a signal. But it was no use: these woods were far from the beaten path, and though Matthias had a feeling he was nowhere near Cory's cabin, he couldn't get a damn signal to call him. He should have known printed directions or a paper map would have helped. All he knew was that it was somewhere in these woods, a cabin and an outhouse, with a New Orleans Saints flag hanging outside. Fuck.

"I guess we have to go back the way we came and see if we took the wrong side road," he muttered to himself, wrenching open the car door again. "Tennyson, come on!"

No response.

"Tenny?"

A faint "whuff" came from deeper into the brush, and a consistent thwack-thwack-thwack that sounded like the dog's massive tail whaling on a small sapling or tree. "Come, Tennyson, we have to go!"

Nothing.

Matthias sighed, stuck his phone in his pocket, re-tied his boot laces, pocketed his car keys, and slowly began to creep through the woods. Tennyson's tail kept thwacking against the trees and he followed the sound like a sonar, stumbling one way or the other. He pulled his phone out after a while, when it grew dark and there was no longer a discernible trail. Shining the light down illuminated the pine nettles and leaves that coated the ground, and he continued forward, pressing deeper and deeper into the woods.

The noise grew closer still, and Matthias came up over a small ridge to see the faintest, shadowy outline of his dog standing on the other side of a pond, wagging his tail, letting the silhouette of a man pet his head as he happily thudded his tail against a small pine sapling. Double fuck.

"Sir, I apologize! I hope he didn't corner you - sometimes he has trouble with personal space, he's still pretty young. Come on, you big galoot." Matthias beckoned to the dog with a hand outstretched, but it was like Tennyson didn't even hear him. The man kept caressing the dog's head, and though it was incredibly dark there was enough of a backlight for Matthias to notice the man silently lift his head, looking at him while still caressing the dog. He was wearing a larger-style fedora, it seemed - the kind the old morticians wore in Deadwood when he watched it, curled up on the sofa, Tennyson at his feet panting heavily.

"Sir. Can I please have my dog back?" Matthias set his jaw, took another step forward. He was maybe ten to twelve yards away from the man and if Tennyson wouldn't come to him, then he'd have to come to Tennyson. He couldn't see it, but he felt the man lock eyes with him. Thwack-thwack-thwack. Pet, pet, pet.

"Tennyson?" Nothing. Was he even there at all? Was he astral projecting, or dead? Matthias took another step forward and the man dropped his gaze to the dog, bending to whisper something in his ear. Tennyson's tail - a waving flag - immediately dropped to half-mast, and the man turned and began to walk away, his duster coat flapping behind him. This was the part where Tennyson should have come running, turned tail and run home. But the dog trotted after the man, like Matthias had never existed and these woods were his home now.

Infuriated, Matthias began to look for a route around the small pond but didn't seem to see any way out but through. He stepped into the mud on the banks and pressed forward, murmuring curse words under his breath. "Just wait until I Snapchat this," he muttered, angry and bitter. "You're never gonna hear the end of this, Tennyson."

When he reached the other side, he noticed what appeared to be a small, one-room cabin with a lamp or candle on the porch, flickering faintly. He heard the crunching of leaves as the shadowy man and Tennyson moved towards it, and Matthias took the opportunity to break into a run.

The man heard Matthias crashing through the underbrush and simply stopped at the front door to the cabin, folded his arms. Tennyson plopped right down at his feet, panting happily. As Matthias approached, he unfolded his arms and placed one hand gently on the dog's massive head. It was barely bright enough to see with this light source out here - what turned out to be a standard oil lamp. As his eyes adjusted to the light, Matthias saw it - a tattered New Orleans Saints flag, mounted to a post by the door.

"Where is Cory?" he shouted at the man, who folded his arms again in response. Matthias tried to make eye contact, but he couldn't sustain it - there seemed to be no pupils there, no iris - just white. All white. "What did you do with my friend?"

Matthias lurched forward, wrapping an arm around Tennyson. "We need to go call the police, Tenny. We have to go, now." The dog peered up at Matthias, tail not moving, like he was a total stranger to him but it was still pleasant to get the attention anyway.

The shadowy man turned to Matthias, adjusted the seat of his hat and leaned forward to Matthias's ear, a gesture far too intimate for the circumstances, a fifth grade girl telling a secret to her very best friend.

"Follow me." he whispered, and it was a snake's death rattle, the clicking of hollow bones, the whooshing noise of wind whipping through a cavern, the stillness during the first snow of the season. It was life and death and pain all rolled up into two little words, and he felt that same shiver again - crescendo, decrescendo - and suddenly ...

The shadowy man stood up, patted Tennyson's head again. He opened the door to the cabin and gestured inside, wordlessly. Matthias did as he was told.
bookishgeek: ([pokemon - eevee - cartoon)

Twenty One

My grandfather taught me to count with a worn deck of playing cards. Smoothed over with time and endless flips end-over-end, the cards ran like rain out of a gutter across the lacquered table top, often skidding onto the floor. He would hold me on his lap with a weathered hand cinched around my tiny waist, the other hand flipping through the cards like it had a mind of its own.

"One," he'd say pointedly, flipping a card off the top of the deck and placing it face-up on the table.

"Two," I'd say, taking a card from his hand and placing it gingerly beside the first. On and on this would go, all the way to fifty two. We'd skim the deck and talk about colors (red and black), numbers (2 through 10), and the hierarchy of a king's court (I always said the queen should be the highest card of all). He taught me how to drive a tractor and a stick-shift, how to bargain at a rummage sale for the best price, and how to format a resume. But what I will always remember about my grandfather took place on his knee as a toddler, smelling the sweet-spicy swell of pipe tobacco, Old Spice and sweat as it crept out from his shirt.

My older brother, Jack, was less enthused with these games, preferring to sit in the living room and look at picture books, or play with Lego blocks. "That's a baby game, Margo," he'd say vehemently if I ever asked him to play a counting game with us, or Blackjack as I got older and learned to do basic addition. "Go play your baby game and let me stay here, I'm busy."

I'm busy.

His favorite phrase, excuse, two-word combination in the world. Help me with chores? Cut this tag out of my dress? Help make cookies for the school bake sale? "I'm busy, Margo."

So it shouldn't have stung so much when I called to let him know the bad news upon our grandfather's death and his greeting was "What do you want Margo? I'm busy." I swallowed the golf ball-sized lump in my throat, double swallowed, and my reply came out like a smoker with bronchitis, sickly and harsh:

"He's dead, Jack."

Dead air hung there in the space between us - I stood in stocking feet in the apartment I shared with two of my girlfriends, a Junior in college, two weeks before exams - and took the phone from my ear, making sure the call hadn't disconnected. But it hadn't.

"Jack?"

"Okay, Margo."

"We need to go up there this weekend, help go through his things. With grandma gone, nobody else ..." I trailed off, mental images of straddling his lap on the riding lawnmower running through my mind like a sepia-toned movie reel.

"Okay, Margo. I have to go back to work." He was twenty three, very busy with his first job making $12 an hour right out of the gate, and had no time for small talk and pleasantries. I drove to my grandfather's home that night, fortified by a tall cup of black coffee and random bouts of tears to keep me alert.

I was knelt in front of the fireplace digging through boxes when Jack's shadow crept into the room before he did - tall, lean and full of nervous energy. I didn't bother to turn and speak to him, but instead motioned to the boxes and sideboard full of drawers across the room.

"Is there anything you want to keep? Otherwise toss it." I tried to keep the emotion from my voice, but I was almost positive it had betrayed me as I heard it quiver - I had run out of tears to cry by now.

I heard Jack cross the room to the sideboard and tug open a drawer, fluff a garbage bag open, and begin cramming old bills, weathered bank statements, little pieces of junk drawer detritus, inside. While soldiering through a stack of photos and deciding which to keep and scan and which to discard, I heard him straighten up quickly, and caught sight of him cramming something into his pocket out of the corner of my eye. I stood, knees creaking, and picked my way across the floor to where my brother stood, face a bit ashen.

"What did you find?" I asked, peering down at the sideboard, dragging my arm across the face and leaving a shooting star's path across my oily brow. "All I saw in there at a glance was just junk."

"Nothing important." Jack said hotly, turning back to the sideboard.

"What, Jack?" I pressed harder and he faced me again. I saw his jaw set, click into place.

"This. Are you happy now?" he said, and extracted a deck of world-weary playing cards from his pocket, holding them out to me in cupped palms. I felt the color drain from my face, and knew I must look absolutely ill.

"Those ..." I trailed off and my eyes worked their way to my brother's face. He locked gazes with me, his steely blue eyes narrowed, daring me to protest. "We used to play with those. Those should be mine."

"This is all I want, Margo. Now leave me alone so I can go through the rest of his trash." I felt my fists clench up as he shoved the deck of cards into his back pocket, turning to continue to go through the sideboard.

"This is not trash, it's his life. And those should be mine." I made a grab for the cards which were now poking out of his back pocket, taunting me. Jack pinwheeled around.

"Play you for it."

Without a word I plopped down on the ground cross-legged, and Jack followed suit. We cleared a space in the trash bags and scattered papers, sweeping away the dust. I sneezed twice in a row and Jack wrinkled his nose.

"Blackjack," I said. "That was our game once I was old enough to do math, he is on my side here. If I win this hand, you give me those damn cards." Jack shrugged and extracted the cards from his pocket, shuffling through them.

"Cut them?" he asked me, and I accepted the deck from his hands. It was warm, and the cards felt butter-soft under my fingertips. They bent to my will, shuffling and cutting, until I was satisfied and handed them back to my brother, who flipped two over in rapid succession. 7 of hearts, 9 of spades.

"Sixteen," Jack said, turning the deck over and over in his hand and laying down two more cards for the house: 3 of diamonds, 6 of spades. "And nine for the house." His eyes found their way to mine again, and his brow quirked up. "Hit?"

I did mental math, running through possiblities like a drill sargent. This should work. This had to work.

"Hit me."

Jack put down the next card and flipped it over, expressionless. 8 of hearts. 24. Bust.

My chest gave a heave and Jack scooped the cards up off the floor, neatly stacking them and squaring the deck, placing it gingerly back into the box and tucking the flap back down. He turned the box over and over in his hands, pensive. I felt bile rise in my throat, and stood, wobbling toward the door.

Jack's arm shot out past me, bracing himself against the door jam.

"House rules," he slipped the deck of cards into one of my hands and turned to go back into the living room. My ears were swollen with my own heartbeat's frantic thudding, but I knew I heard the next words clear as a bell: "and it's not such a baby game after all, Margo."

bookishgeek: ([pokemon - eevee - cartoon)
This morning I managed to spill the seeds of 2 pomegranates we had painstakingly picked apart and put in the freezer two nights before all over the kitchen floor.

"I think I want to be a doctor," I told my grandmother at four years old, poking around in a fabric child's doctor bag I'd been given as a gift. "Oh, that would be great. Will you take care of me when I'm sick?" she asked me, grinning. I looked up at her, puzzled. "Well, yeah," I said, "if you pay me." Sorry, Gran.

I inherited my mother's sigh - an exasperated one-two-punch of a sigh that is not just a "ugh," but more of a "u-u-ughhhhhh," two sharp intakes of breath before the final shuddering sigh.

In third grade, I stole an orange bullfrog-shaped eraser from the book fair and was so racked with guilt that an hour later I "went to the bathroom," ran down the hall to the media center, fished it from my pocket and deposited it back in the bin before anyone else could see my secret shame.

You'll probably get a bunch of birthday presents from me because I buy them early, get too excited to hold onto them, and will inevitably give them to you early, forcing me to go buy you another one.

When I was nine years old, my father asked me while cooking our spaghetti dinner (one of two things he could cook - this and beef stroganoff so tough it hurt my teeth) how I would feel about having a sibling - my first and only. I gave it the briefest of thoughts before shrugging and saying, "Do I have to share my room?" When he told me no, I gave my approval for a sibling.  I was the first one she opened her eyes for, the one who taught her to crawl and who read her Goodnight Moon so many times I still have it memorized. (In the great green room there was a telephone, and a red balloon ...)

I buy a lot of lip balm and lotion, and routinely forget to apply either. I am obsessed with wax melts and candles and nail polish. If in our dystopian future every unread book you own was worth $1,000 I would be able to live comfortably for several years. I am allergic to almost every deodorant I have ever applied except only two scents of one particular brand. If you leave me alone with a 5 pound bag of Sour Patch Kids, I'll eat them until my tongue starts to bleed.

I remember sitting in my grandfather's backseat around age ten or eleven, when he cupped my chin in his hand and informed me that I was getting a double chin. "Those are for fat people," I remember thinking, bewildered. I have been fighting the ghosts of stress eating for years, and have lost 54 lbs since June of this year. I have a long way to go, but I think my grandfather would be proud to know my once-triple chin is now almost just one, regular chin. Several weeks ago I shrieked to my boyfriend, "I have a collar bone now!" - these discoveries are things you might take for granted. Enjoy the swell of your hip bones, sometimes they disappear.

Somehow I managed to never see some basic films growing up: the 1989 Batman, any Matrix movie. No Star Wars, no Lord of the Rings, no James Bond or any super hero movie. I am currently listening to The Shining on tape while commuting to and from work and my absolute innocence at the world of the book has bewildered a few people - but all I know is REDRUM and that gif of Jack Nicholson popping through the wall with an axe because it's been mutated so many times with so many different faces plastered over it.

I was obsessed with the Titanic in the 90s before it was cool to be obsessed with the Titanic. I like professional wrestling more than most over-educated women do - it's one of the only things my father and I have created a shared bond about, but sometimes I am listening to the classic rock station in my car, "American Pie" comes on, and suddenly I'm eight years old again, sitting in the front seat of his cherry red two-door car and listening to my father exaggeratedly belt the chorus as he keeps time with the rhythm on my thigh: "This'll be the day that I die." I never once asked him what a levy was, even though I wanted to know quite badly, because I was too enamored with the moment to care.

I'm Patricia, I'm 26 years old, and I can't wait to share this next mini-season of [livejournal.com profile] therealljidol with you.
bookishgeek: (HiH - Gryffindor name)
I don't remember why I fell off the LJ Idol train last time: I think it had something to do with my nasty breakup and processing it and just plain being unable to keep up. But I love participating in these things, and look forward to playing again.

bookishgeek: (MLP - twilight - insane)
Don't judge me. ;_;

List doesn't include unbuyables or anything over 2k because a) it won't fit in an LJ entry, b) this is temporary and c) ain't nobody gon' buy me a book over 2k, let's be real now!

So, So Many Books. )
bookishgeek: (comics - h&ah - fattie)
My name is Patricia, I am 25 years old, and I am obese.

There are many things wrong with the above sentence, though in all practicality they fall into the second two-thirds of it. (While my first name is not the most perfect, I've grown into it). Obese at 25? Obese at all? These are both truths, and - sad to say - it's taken me a long time to come to terms with this.

I've eaten my feelings most of my life from puberty on, but while my classmates shed the baby weight they packed on in their pre-adolescent years, mine never did go away. My mother gave birth to my sister when I was almost ten years old, and I went from spending most days at my grandparents' house running around and eating whole, clean foods to staying at home with "the baby," taking care of her and eating whatever prepackaged crap was in the pantry.

Then of course you go to school, notice how much bigger than all the other kids you are, feel poorly, and go home where there is a big box of macaroni and cheese with your name on it. Food becomes a source of comfort, and a surrogate parent. Carbohydrates and sodium make you feel warm and sleepy, safe. It's easy to keep shoveling food in your mouth when it's a constant, and a reward: good report card, birthday - society celebrates it all with a meal out, a cake or with treats and sweets.

Going away to college, most students pack on the Freshman 15. However, my nutrition habits from high school were not what everyone else's were, and so I put on the Freshman 15 and kept adding the pounds on. The allure of a college cafeteria with a buffet full of pizza and burgers was simply too much for someone with no self control and depression, and it started to show. I'm not sure how much weight I put on in college, but I know it was at least 50-80 pounds between 2007 and 2011.  Then my fiance and I broke up and I packed on some more weight, living alone. See, no matter how many good nutritional options you're shown as a twenty-something, what's imprinted on you from your youth is going to be what sticks out when you're in the grocery store and not thinking, blindly shopping.

Bad day at work? Bag of chips. A typical drive-through order? 2 double cheeseburgers, an apple pie, a medium fry and some Diet Coke. (my father has diabetes, so the one thing I've got going for me is an ingrained dislike of regular soda). And that was a late night snack, not even a meal. I'd become disgusted quickly as if awakening from a trance and realizing what I had just eaten, like a spooked horse, and rebel against the emotions welling in me by stuffing them down with more food. Let's go get a Taco Bell box as an appetizer, eat an entire medium pizza for dinner.

And then, after graduate school, little things began to pop up in my day-to-day life as I began a career at 23.

Can't quite fit into the booth at the restaurant?

Newspapers.

Have a child ask you about the baby in your tummy?

Dry wood chips.

Notice that you can't see your feet any more, even if you kind of lean back?

Dryer lint.

Being nothing but ashamed and chastened that you can only wear this bedazzled, sequin-encrusted cardigan from Wal-Mart because it's all that will fit over your breasts?

Flint and steel.

And then people in my life started to move, to change: friends online and off began to diet, to calorie count - Weight Watchers, pilates, Zumba, P90X. It's vogue now to work out and post about it on your Instagram account. And then one day last week, my father emailed me an offer, clearly wanting so badly for me to not wind up in the same shape as himself and my mother: $5 per pound lost by Christmas.

A heaping gallon of lighter fluid.

At the end of the day, you can walk down the road, parallel to the store window displays and avoid looking at your reflection, too caught up in other things. At some point, though, there is going to be a crosswalk where you can either stop and look down at yourself, or you can keep walking into traffic and wonder why the cars continue to ram you.

I have chosen to finally stop walking into traffic.

Boom.

I know this is not an easy undertaking, and in fact I've stopped and started diets so many times it's unreal. However what I've noticed, what I've read and seen and felt and somehow managed to innately grasp, is that this is not a diet - it's a lifestyle change. It's less about kale smoothies and yoga and more about being aware of what my body wants and needs, knowing that it is hungry or thirsty and probably not in the mood for another damn cheeseburger. It's about finding things to do that aren't stuffing your face in order to find peace, and I think that's the hardest thing for me. Alone at night in bed, all you want sometimes is comfort and if you can't get that from another person ... well, you can get it from your friends Ben & Jerry.

But here's the thing: cottage cheese and blueberries are delicious. An entire sweet potato? Negligible calories compared to a salty, fried mound of french fries. Bananas and yogurt? Way more filling than two sausage biscuits (my usual breakfast order). My body craves salads, craves big bottles of water and a rainbow of fruits. I packed it so full of things that, for so long, were comforting that I had forgotten a cardinal rule: food can be addictive, too. But I can change - we all can change.

My name is Patricia, I am 25 years old, I am obese, and I am on fire.

(I have a MyFitnessPal account and a Tumblr I am chronicling my weight loss with if anyone would like to be friends! Thank you for reading, this is probably the hardest LJ Idol entry I've ever had to write.)
bookishgeek: (writing - short story)

His name was Russell, all of the televisions said. Well, maybe it had been, once.

Rebecca tucked one leg underneath her on the sofa and adjusted her weight, gnawing on her bottom lip as the news came back from commercial. Anxiously, she twisted her wedding band around her finger and let her gaze flit around her living room: warm cinnamon scents drifting from the wax burner across the room, soft lights of the Christmas tree glittered behind the sofa. Her husband rustled through the adjoining kitchen, trying to find a snack to eat before they went to bed.

"Tim, it's starting again," she said, her voice so hoarse she had to clear her throat and say it again. "The news, Tim, it'll be back soon."

His name had been Russell, still was Russell, and he was Up To No Good.

"I'm coming, hold on. Where are the pickles?" Rebecca wrinkled her nose, knowing he was referring to bread and butter pickles, the scourge of the earth. A commercial of a dancing mattress left the screen, and the news was back. She felt fear begin to snake its way in through her gaping mouth, twisting its tendrils around her heart. "Tim!" she screeched. "Come on!"

Russell Langston was A Bad Man, and he was coming.

"Honey," Tim said softly, exasperation evident in his voice. "He's not coming here. They're going to catch him soon, tomorrow's Christmas. Look, let me make you a drink." He sat his sandwich down on the TV tray in front of Rebecca and turned to look at her. "What do you want, vodka cranberry? I can make you a martini?" Rebecca shook her head and turned the volume on the television up, utterly engrossed.

Russell Langston came into your house, came down your chimney, through your window, your front door, and slew your children as they slept, slipping out into the night with nary a trace.

"Authorities report no sighting of the Bethesda Santa so far today, and as we move into the night, we urge you to remain cautiously optimistic. Please close your chimney flues, ensure that all doors and windows are locked tight, and have a merry Christmas, folks." The newscast faded out and Tim settled into his recliner beside the sofa, bridging the gap between their seats with his hand and giving Rebecca's fingers a squeeze.

"He's not coming, baby, I promise. Do you want to get the presents for Bethany out? I'll go get my tool kit. Come on." He took a bite of his sandwich and winced a little, the tone of his words was too bright under the circumstances. Nevertheless, he took a swig of his beer and wandered off down the hallway, triple-checking the doors (locked) and going on to be sure that their daughter was still asleep, snug in her bed (she was).

"We've got that ride-on pony," Rebecca said faintly, standing up and stretching out her back. She had been glued to the television since getting home from work at 6 pm, and really didn't want to move at all. She would not feel safe until dawn came and Bethany jumped on their bed at 5:30 in the morning, a redheaded firecracker in the dark bedroom. A ray of light. Rebecca smiled to herself, and went to get the gifts out of the closet.

Russell Langston didn't have time for small potatoes - he had to go out with a bang, he sensed he did not have much time left.

Forty five minutes later, Rebecca felt more relaxed, having been coaxed into a drink by her watchful husband. She downed her third vodka cranberry and roared with laughter at a lewd joke Tim had made, throwing her head back as she unscrewed a plastic piece from the back of a princess castle to insert the batteries. She wiped tears from her eyes and was breathing so hard that she didn't hear the scuffling on the roof.

But Tim did.

Russell Langston was A Bad Man, and he was here.

Tim stumbled to stand up on numb feed, brushing the doll hair from his knees. "I'm gonna go check on Bethy one more time." he said quickly. "I've gotta pee, too." Rebecca nodded absently, beginning to artfully arrange the princess castle and its contents underneath the tree to achieve the most dramatic Christmas morning effect. Tim eased open his daughter's bedroom door and felt his breath catch: she was sitting bolt-upright in bed, clutching a doll from that Frozen movie - Layla or something - to her chest, eyes dewy with sleep.

"What's that?" she said softly, eyes searching the roof overhead. She squinted at the clock beside her bed and looked back at her father. "It's eleven-firty, it's not time to get up yet!" Tim nodded and crossed to his daughter's side, holding her tightly to his chest and reaching into his pocket with his free hand, extracting his phone. He dialed 911 - at least, what he hoped was 911, it was hard to know for certain on these newfangled smart phones, and waited. He heard a faint "911, what's your emergency?" and felt his chest constrict.

"What's on the roof, daddy?" Bethany asked again, persistent. I don't know, I don't want to know, Tim wanted to say. He held the phone to his free ear and murmured pointedly, "I think it's Santa Claus on our roof."

Russell Langston looked nothing like Santa Claus.

"On our way, sir," the dispatcher said. "I'll stay on the line until they arrive." Tim nodded - didn't know why he was nodding at a phone - and set the telephone down beside the bed, holding his little girl to him with two hands now.

"It's just Santa Claus," he repeated, trying in vain to laugh or smile. "That's all! He's waiting to come down our chimney, but he can't until you're asleep, silly." Bethany liked that, giggling and holding her doll tighter as her father let her go. "So you'd better go to sleep!" his threat was empty, but nevertheless, Bethany laid back down, grinning from ear to ear.

"I love you, daddy," she murmured into her pillow.

"I love you too," Tim said softly, smoothing her hair away from her face and standing, scooping up the cell phone. The clambering on the roof had faded moments ago, and that meant either there was nothing there, it was too late, or Russell Langston was biding his time.

Russell Langston never bode his time. He crouched on the roof of the single-story house, precariously watching the street below and the skyline for signs of movement. These people had a child, he could tell - the lawn was absolutely littered with the detritus of having a child and a yard to put it in. He felt his lips curling in protest. Children were filthy - it was best to be rid of them altogether.

Tim walked back into the living room, trying to remain calm. Rebecca peered up at him through a curtain of hair, grinning, and Tim felt his news catch in his throat - he couldn't tell her about the noises now, especially that he wasn't hearing them. It was better for the police to come, scare off the mutant squirrel or whatever was on their roof. Fuck, maybe it was a reindeer after all. He knelt in the packaging and began to undo twist ties on a package of make-believe food.

A police car crept down the road toward Tim and Rebecca's home, and Russell Langston froze in place, flattening himself against the roof.

"What was that?" Rebecca heard the solid thump on top of their house and looked up again, not for the first time today, to see where the chimney was. Tim shrugged noncommittally, reaching up to eat a bite of his long-forgotten sandwich from the TV tray.

"Probably some snow," he said. "You know it falls off those trees in those big ol' chunks."

Rebecca accepted that, nodded, and went back to putting the princess's dress clothes on so she could look beautiful for the ball.

The police car stopped outside, its lights off. It waited. Russell Langston cursed under his breath, made his way flat-bellied across the roof to the other side, began his descent into the backyard. He'd have to lay low tonight. The officer got out of the car and began to move to circle the house.

"I'm gonna go to bed," Rebecca stood and stretched, cracking her knuckles. "You should too, Santa Claus." she winked at her husband and reached for his hand. He accepted it and let her tug him to a standing position. Rebecca went off to the bathroom to wash her face, and Tim brushed back the curtains in the living room, a big ball of packaging and tape wrapped up under his arm. The police car drifted past in the night, and Tim sighed with relief he didn't know he'd had welled up inside of him.

Russell Langston moved along.

bookishgeek: (MLP - twilight - insane)
"Alone" is a word that, by itself, is not necessarily scary. I have seen people gutted at the thought of spending a week without their partner, absolutely aimless, while others sigh with relief and think of bubble baths and bottles of wine in front of their televisions. To a great many, "alone" is just as terrifying as "shark attack" and "tornado watch," and I suppose that this - in and of itself - is its own kind of scare quote.

There is something prevalent in our society that pushes against being alone. Alone is sad, it says. Alone is pathetic, alone is you and your knitting and 50 cats. (which isn't really alone, is it? but I digress). Nobody should want to be alone, the hivemind thinks - alone is desperation and reeks of depression, takeout containers and pizza boxes. We see "alone," and we think "unattached." We think, "singular. free. unadorned, unburdened." This could be true, and this could also be as far from the truth as you can muster. Either way, "alone" has responsibility: superheroes stand alone in the face of terror and evil, one doctor can make the difference for countless lives. Alone has such power - and maybe that's what is so jarring.

In an undergraduate rhetoric class, we were introduced to the concepts of "god terms" and "devil terms." These are words and phrases that - no matter how much we struggle against them - will always be associated either overwhelmingly positively or negatively in our society. Even the term "rhetoric," for instance, is a devil term - we hear it and automatically assume that politician is sleezy: "he's spewing this rhetoric ..." Is "rhetoric" a damning word? Not at all, it's simply an art of finding the means of persuasion in any situation - something everyone should be at least slightly practiced in doing.

"Alone" and its cousin "lonely" are devil terms - rarely does someone say "I live alone" without someone saying something pitying. "Doesn't it ever get lonely?" or even jokes about where your cat might be, if you're going to ever get another one. We can't seem to accept as a society that some people are alone and deftly, adoringly proud of it. For some reason it bothers us that we can't pigeonhole everyone into a shiny box, partner everyone off and send them on their way. The reality is that relationships falter every day, that there will never be a society where everyone has a "someone," but that is okay. And as much as we might not like to think about it or admit it, we're all alone for those last few steps anyway.

I challenge us as a society to reclaim "alone." Let "alone" depict a vista, a place where it's just you and nature and at that moment there is not another soul in the world. Let "alone" be the freeing light of 4:59 pm on a Friday after a busy work day, when you're in your car driving home and ecstatic about the free time ahead for the weekend. Let's make "alone" the apex, the vista - let "alone" represent freedom of expression, of choice - we might not all choose to be alone, but we can all choose what to do when alone. Let's make "alone" a time of peace and quiet, of reflection and freedom.

After all, only you can prevent forest fires.
bookishgeek: (writing - short story)

I can't remember a time when there wasn't a worm.

The colorful picture books they showed us in preschool depicted a friendly, cherubic worm - huge in stature and size - orbiting vivid planets and grinning from what we guessed were his ears.

"This is the space worm!" the teacher, our mother, our father, would say. "His name is Fafnir, and he's a very helpful worm!"

We grew worms in the dirt outside, watched them grow and develop and wriggle out their little lives. We vivisected them, drew them, made stuffed ones from our fathers' tube socks.

"See how he lives up in space?" here they would gesture to the ceiling, to the sky, to the telescope. "He is like a biiiiiiiig bus that will move us from planet to planet! But he is not big enough yet, he is still growing. Science made him so that he will grow up big and strong! And then one day there will be all kinds of space worms!"

We drew orbits on construction paper with glitter glue, in the playground sand with sticks, in the steamy warmth of our soup bowls with our spoons.

"This is an orbit, and this is what Fafnir uses as his race track. See how things move in this big ol' smooshed circle all on their own?" (we'd trace the elliptical orbit shape dutifully in the air with our index fingers, following along). "That's an orbit, and there are lots and lots of them! He uses this orbit right now, around and around the sun, but someday we might have more worms like Fafnir, and they'll go all around the galaxy!"

I was told that one day, a long time ago, people did not believe in Science, but gods and deities.

"What's that, mom?" I asked one day in my parents' bedroom, sitting at the foot of their bed and eating pretzel sticks while my mother brushed my hair out of my face and struggled to bind it in a ponytail. On the television, there was a man kneeling in front of a big wooden T, and he seemed really upset about it. I felt concerned, and dropped my pretzel back into its bowl. "Why is that man so sad at that letter T?"

My father grunted a laugh and stood up from the bed, shuffling into the bathroom and stretching, his bones creaking their familiar dad-symphony. I felt my mother hiss in a short breath, her hands stilling in my hair ever so briefly before she resumed brushing it.

"Well, one time, many years ago, people didn't think Science was real. They thought that once upon a time, there was an old, old man called God who created everything we have here on Earth, and then he went away. He came back as a baby named Jesus, and Jesus lived for a long time before the people who did not like him very much killed him. A lot of people thought that Jesus was a god-"

"Like Science?" My brow wrinkled, and my mother smoothed it out with the side of her hand.

"Yes, like Science. They worshiped Jesus because they thought that Jesus was a god, and when the people killed him, they stuck him to this big ol' cross - sort of like a T, you're right."

"Like a cork board?" That was a funny picture. I bit my pretzel stick.

"Yes, Reagan, like a cork board. So for a long, long time after he died, people would carry around these big crosses, and they made them into jewelry and clothing and sometimes they all got together in a big building that was dedicated to Jesus and to crosses, and they would sing songs and worship him."

"But mom, that doesn't help him. What helps Science is research and math and exploring!"

"I know, baby, but they didn't know that then. Look how far we've come now!" she pointed at the magazine on the side table, the worm Fafnir being prepared for orbit on the front cover. "Soon we'll be able to go wherever we want to go because of Science and because of great worms like Fafnir. Just you wait."

So we waited.

And one day, suddenly, Fafnir was not such a cute cartoon image any more.

"He could come out of the toilet and eat your ass!" exclaimed Thomas Duvall in tenth grade math class one day. Brittany Welsh squealed in protest and threw her pen at him, and I continued to covertly draw an image of Fafnir on my desk with a pencil (pencils were banned - there were no mistakes in Science, so there was no reason to erase anything), but they were the best instruments to use to draw, and I loved to draw. I was going to go to college to be an engineer, I'd decided years before, so I needed all the practice I could get. But drawing was not Science - it had rounded edges and gentle slopes, it was not sharp and edgy like Science, not at all. So I continued to draw in silence, biding my time until graduation.

"He cannot do that, Mr. Duvall," Dr. Fern chided from the front of the room where he was writing trigonometry equations out. "He is too large now, remember? No matter how unstable Fafnir has gotten, he is far too large to fit in your - or anyone's - toilet." A slew of giggles flew through the room at the word "toilet," and it was quickly silenced by a stern glance from Dr. Fern. "What we need to do, class, is help Science to discover a way to tame Fafnir, not make everyone afraid of him."

"I thought we were going to train him," Brittany Welsh said to her lap, her fingers twined together, teeth clamped down on her lip with anxiety. "I thought he was going to be trained and then he'd do what we wanted."

Silence.

"Well, Ms. Welsh," said Dr. Fern slowly. "sometimes Science is overeager, but Science is never wrong. Don't you imply that, do you understand?"

Badmouthing Science was a fate worse than death, and Brittany seemed to understand that as she nodded grimly and went back to picking at her cuticles.

One day, they couldn't find Fafnir any more. He wasn't where he was supposed to be, wasn't circling the earth and eating space debris. He had to be somewhere, people cried - we can't just lose a giant space worm. But it looks like he outgrew even Science's plans for him, and once they found him again, they couldn't keep him there. Nothing, not even our orbit, could contain Fafnir.

He could be anywhere now, I realize, sitting at my drafting table and picking pieces of pretzel out of the bag beside me. I squinted out my window into the inky night sky, as if I could see the silhouette of a massive, angry worm cross my path.

We dissuade our children from pursuing space travel now, we caution them against ever wanting to go into orbit or be an astronaut. Because Fafnir the worm is still out there, and he is unhappy. But we can't find him, and we can't stop him. I bow my head as I remember my mother, who was sent to capture Fafnir years ago. She never came home. I still remember that warm summer night sitting on her bed, talking about how wonderful Fafnir was, how he would save us all. Maybe he didn't - maybe he did, in a weird way. There's more of a sense of community now than ever before.

I rub out a spot on my schematics with my pencil eraser, still hiding it in my lap as if it's contraband, a secret treasure. Maybe Fafnir was not right at all - a great, wonderful, terrible worm in space doesn't seem very natural. But it had to be right, because it was created by Science.

And Science is never, ever wrong.

bookishgeek: (GoT - cat 2)
You’ve probably seen one in more thrift stores than you can care to remember, looking appropriately stained and worn down by the grating sands of time: an old padded recliner, resting unassumingly in a corner, not taking up very much attention at all.

This particular recliner doesn’t sit in a Goodwill or Salvation Army, collecting dust particles as a hobby. It rests in an old one-story house in the suburbs of Georgia, taking its place as the crowning member of the family, sitting closest to the television and the telephone with extraordinarily large buttons. Its faded blue exterior attempts to hide stains well, but as all furniture eventually does, it has caved with time to the pressures of everyday living.

Thoughts of a recliner and who ought to own one spring forth often as you see it, alive with the glory of stereotypes: an old man in a worn-out shirt and blue jeans, a beer in one hand and the television remote control in the other. While beauty and truth are in the eye of the beholder, you would not be too far off the mark if your mind conjured this image up.

Its owner would settle down, gratefully, into its comfortable embrace. The chair welcomed this, stretching around his body, feeling a sigh ripple out across the room. The television would come on, the woman would sit nearby, knitting a blanket for someone, wind chimes would ring out in the distance, rain would patter against the old tin roof and the world would sigh as one, as if the chair and its occupants were the single most important thing the universe had to offer.

The old man and the chair, not too dissimilar from each other at the end of the day. They both sit stooped over a bit, and shake when pushed too hard. Their inner workings creak under pressure, and sometimes they both just wish everything would stop for a minute. Their home is made under a blanket of stars near Stone Mountain, where nightly fireworks ring out across the hills in the summertime. The man doesn’t enjoy these noises, though – too many memories of his old home in Hawaii, age sixteen, standing outside as the planes roared overhead the day of Pearl Harbor. He insisted for the longest time that he could make out the face of a Japanese pilot as he flew overhead. Most believe he did.

He went to war as they all did, moved to Georgia. The days of returning home, sinking into bed with bone-deep exhaustion have been replaced with shuffling from the bedroom to the living room. It’s much easier to let John Wayne do the fighting for you on the television after a while. Budweiser doesn’t shoot back when you break its top off, either. But one day, he stood up and shuffled off, and never came back.

His chair lies, waiting, not asking for much. A sliver of sunlight from the back porch, some reading light from the side table, the rare slip of a drop of someone’s misguided beverage. There had been a time when its life had been so packed full, busy. Children clambering all over it, laughing, fiddling with its faux-wood lever, pumping the footrest up and down. The metallic clang of guns from a television western, the music of rain falling on the tin roof, a cacophony of sound.

Now, there’s not much laughter. The chair waits for the light to come back, and sometimes it does, but it passes away fairly quickly again. It has settled itself into the ground, creating pleasing grooves to settle down and pass the time, waiting, always waiting as the shadows creep across the floor.

A place suspended in time, a moment, frozen over in a midwinter sheen. One day, things will change again. And until then it sits in the living room, just as it always has. Waiting, a thread or two of grey hair clinging to its exterior, shimmering in the low light.
bookishgeek: (piratized icon)
"Don't go in that lake!" my mother had warned as my cousins ran out the back door of my grandmother's house and down to the dock, shedding articles of clothing and whooping and hollering in true Southern summer fashion. I paused at the screen door and cast a look back at her over my shoulder: I was six, I was practically grown, I didn't need her help. I fingered the ties of my new shirt, blue with splotchy white flowers that tied at the front, some new nice, pristine white shorts.  I set my jaw and followed my cousins, basking in their shadow: they were loud, rough and tumble boys and like a new puppy I was desperate to fall in line, to be one of them, be accepted.

They bounded down to the side of the river and waded in, my oldest cousin at age nine beginning to pretend to do a newscast about the weather conditions. My aunt hovered nearby in a grove of pine trees, talking and laughing with us as the boys frolicked in the gentle ripples. I slowly kicked off my tennis shoes and peeled off my socks, placing them reverently beside a tree and picking my way across the pine nettles that cascaded over the forest floor, careful not to let on that it hurt my feet. My aunt Amy paused what she was doing and looked over to me, a frown creasing her brow.

"You sure about that, Tricia?" I didn't hear her, didn't want to. I needlessly rolled up my shorts and picked my way out into the water, tongue poking out of the side of my mouth, so pleased with myself: my mother would never, ever know that I was here! This was genius. I took a few more tentative steps and shouted out at one cousin or another when the icy fingers of the lake reached out and traced themselves down my spine - I tripped over a rock, stumbled, and fell into the water, blubbering.

I stood up immediately, drenched and absolutely humiliated. Peals of laughter rang from the dock and the water as my cousins laughed at my misfortune, and I could feel my lower lip wobbling. My aunt stood nearby, aghast but shellshocked, unsure how to react. I folded my arms across my flat chest and attempted to stomp out of the water, made my way across the pine nettles and scooped up my socks and shoes, carrying them in my limp arms to my grandmother's back screen door.

I wrung my shirt out and tried to bite back tears, fingering the tie on my lovely new short set that was now absolutely ruined. My four year old cousin was inside playing a tea party with Gran, and for a moment I wished I'd stayed inside and played a baby game with her instead. Slowly, tentatively, I eased open the screen door and let it clatter behind me. I could feel my mother's eyes from across the house, and as I shuffled my way off the carpet into the tiled kitchen, I wished I could melt into it.

"Patricia!" I heard my mother's screen before I saw her, like a supersonic bat, and I cringed: it was never good when she said my name that way. She went to fetch a towel and I felt myself burst into tears as she threw it at me, too angry to even form words. Tears dripped down my face, intermingling with the briny lake water, and I saw my grandmother's figure from behind my dripping wet eyelashes. She clucked her tongue and reached out to me, pulling me close despite being wetter than after a bath.

"Hey now," she said, smoothing my hair back off my forehead and planting a kiss on the crown of my head. "It's okay, there's no crying at Gran's house." she toweled off my hair and held me until the tears subsided. When my mother went out back to talk to my aunt, my Gran made me a big glass of chocolate milk in one of my favorite grown-up Libby drinking glasses, and I didn't have to share a drop with my cousins. She rubbed at her arthritic wrists and did a Polly Pocket knock-off of Where's Waldo with me, curled up on the sofa like two peas in a pod.

My grandmother passed away last month, and I remember a lot of things about her: her distaste for my rejection of dresses, bows and ruffles, her distrust for people who were not Christian, her inability to see that I didn't need to be married at 22 like my cousin to feel fulfilled. But as big as our differences were, are, after I found out she had passed and I fell sobbing into my boyfriend's arms, the darts we'd been playing clattering uselessly to the floor, I felt her smoothing my hair back all over again, the siren song of those words following me like the Pied Piper: "it's okay, there's no crying at Gran's house."

No matter where I go or what I do, if I feel defeated or beaten down, if I goof up a job at work or I fail in my duties as a colleague, a daughter, a girlfriend, I can hear her in my mind clear as the day she said it 19 years ago: "it's okay, there's no crying at Gran's house." And I know that somewhere, wherever she is, my Gran is free of her arthritis and dancing jubilantly with her God, pleased in me even if the words never fell from her lips.
bookishgeek: (writing - short story)
It had happened so fast he'd nearly missed it: just a blink, that was all it took, to go from the top of the steps to here.

Where was here, anyway?

Nathan couldn't recognize anything, and he reached up to rub the back of his head, frowning. He'd been going down the icy front steps, the dog's leash clutched in his left hand and a fistful of bills to mail in the right. His mother always gave him grief about not getting with the times and just doing them all online, but he liked the feel of sending something in the mail, it made him feel important, somehow. The wind was blustering and whipping his scarf around his face, and he set his jaw stubbornly and tried to grapple for it ... and that was the last he remembered. He opened and closed the hand that had been holding his water bill, but there was nothing there.

The sky was a dingy grey, like someone had slung a bucket of mop water across the sky. Fog rolled across the area as far as the eye could see. As he focused on his surroundings, Nathan found himself feeling strange, almost ethereal. He blinked up at the sky and slowly moved each limb, but he felt foolishly weightless. It was, by far, the strangest sensation he'd ever experienced. He thought he could make out the shape of a figure far off in the fog, but when he blinked to bring it into focus, it seemed to fade into the sidelines.

"Hello?" he called out, his normally clear voice ragged and tattered on the cold, harsh air. He pulled his arms in closer and wished he'd worn another layer of clothing when the figure in the darkness moved, shuffling closer. It made no sound on the ground and he felt fear creep across his skull, the hairs on the nape of his neck rising.

"Hello?" he said again, his voice wobbling. The figure became more pronounced and suddenly, Nathan could make out its shape: a robe, rolling fog at its feet. If he didn't know any better, he'd have said it was the grim reaper itself. But that was just a childrens' story anyway, there was no grim reaper. Right? He swallowed a gulp of cold air and watched the figure come ever closer before coming to a stop a yard away. Nathan could not see a face, just a hood with shadows underneath, deep-set and stark.

"Am I in Hell?" he mumbled, more to himself than to anyone else: it wasn't like he expected the hooded figure to answer. He was surprised when a hand came sweeping out of the folds of the robe, solemnly gripping his wrist and then pulling it back toward him. The figure's head swam back and forth in front of Nathan's eyes: no.

"Then where am I? This isn't Heaven!" He had almost said "sure as Hell isn't Heaven," but this was no time for jokes. A small smile played on his lips, though: he was pretty funny, he had to admit. His brother would have laughed at that joke. The figure shook its head again, and even though no words were exchanged, Nathan felt the answer solemn as a vow in his mind: no.

"I give up, then," Nathan murmured, hugging himself even closer. "just do whatever you're going to do with me and let's get on with it." The figure's hand opened, revealing in its palm a set of pristine, marble dice. He glanced up at the figure, but of course nothing glanced back. Unnerved, he reached out and took the dice and closed his eyes, wishing with everything in him as he let the dice roll out of his palm and onto the ground. They came to a rest somewhere a yard or two away - Nathan couldn't see where - and the figure turned to look at them - nodded approvingly. Nathan gulped.

The figure crept closer still to Nathan and reached back into the folds of its robe, extracting a small plastic object. Nathan squinted into the fog but could not quite make out what was cupped in the figure's hands as he brought it closer to Nathan's face and held it up toward him, a student passing back a sheaf of papers.

"Is that ... a barrel?" Nathan asked, incredulity creeping into his voice. The figure said nothing, but placed the barrel into Nathan's palm and unscrewed the lid, tossing it to the side and revealing a hollow toy, full of what looked like ... "Where did you get a barrel of monkeys?" As ridiculous as the situation was, Nathan couldn't help feeling like he was being pranked, but it wasn't like he could see the camera in all of this fog even if there was one. And then he heard the voice, so faint it was like it hadn't happened at all: around.

"You have a mouth?"

No response.

The figure reached into the barrel and extracted a monkey, hooking it onto another monkey and held the chain out to Nathan. He was sure that if the figure had a face, it would be quirking an eyebrow at him right now. Slowly, he reached out and took the monkey chain from the figure, dipping it into the barrel and pulling it out with three attached. The figure wordlessly took it from Nathan and added a fourth monkey, immediately passing the chain back to Nathan, who struggled to hold the barrel and the chain at the same time. This is unfair, he wanted to protest. You should have to hold it when I go. Then he realized it was absurd to try to complain to hooded figures that the games they were playing with you were unfair, and the whole thing was just utterly ridiculous, so he kept his mouth shut and kept playing.

It was at the end of the barrel that Nathan made a critical error. The hand that held the barrel wavered and wobbled, and in that one moment, the chain broke against the side of the barrel. Monkeys cascaded to the ground on either side of him, and Nathan looked up frantically. He could have sworn he saw the figure shrug, but that was impossible. In an instant, the game vanished from his hand and the figure reached out a hand to him. Unsure of what to do, but feeling the pull, Nathan let the figure clasp his hand in his and found it to be warm and gentle, not cold and harsh.

"That wasn't fair," Nathan stuttered as the figure began to lead him away, somewhere dark and cold. "I could never have won."

That is how life worked. he swore he heard the figure say. What makes you think death is any different?
bookishgeek: (stock - cupcake stegosaurus)
"Bethany," her father said one night over their spaghetti dinner. "what would you say if I told you that one day soon you might have a baby brother or sister?"

Bethany frowned hard at that, her hand frozen over the slice of garlic bread on the side of her plate. She had classmates who had one day gone from only children to kids with brothers or sisters, and it sounded absolutely awful. She had always said she wanted a baby sister, but now she was six, and she was practically grown. She was too old for a baby brother or sister! Her parents had had their chance, and they'd lost it.

She shook her head emphatically before taking a giant bite out of her garlic bread. "No thank you, daddy," she said through a mouthful, spraying a delicate shower of crumbs across the table. "I'm too old now, I am an only child." Satisfied in her response, Bethany began to twist spaghetti around her fork, tongue poking out of the side of her mouth in thought. On the other side of the room where she was pouring water into her cup, her mother ran her hand over her decidedly swollen belly and frowned in a way eerily similar to her daughter.



One day, when Bethany got off the school bus, her father wasn't there waiting for her, but someone else was.

"Grammy!" she shrieked, pinwheeling her arms and legs and launching herself into her grandmother's arms, clinging to her, a barnacle that had finally found a place to call home. Her grandmother patted her hair and back, grinning into her granddaughter's hair and waited.

"Let's go inside, Bethie - it sure is hot!" her grandmother said. Bethany nodded emphatically and grabbed for her grandmother's hand, leading her to the house. She twisted a lock of hair around her finger, lost in thought.

"Grammy, where's daddy?" she asked, sticking the tip of her hair into her mouth.

"Well, Bethie, he's at the hospital with your mommy. She just had your baby brother." Grammy seemed unsure about how Bethany would take this, and apparently it was as her entire family had feared: not well.

"She had a baby anyway? I told her not to!" The smile on Bethany's face absolutely shattered, and her grandmother could feel her granddaughter's heart break. "It's just supposed to be me, only me!" She stomped her foot on the pavement, cheeks reddening.

"Let's go inside and talk about it, okay?" Her grandmother fumbled with the front door key while Bethany stood on the porch, gleefully scuffing up her Mary Janes and trying not to cry because only babies cried.

"There's nothing to talk about." Bethany said simply, having swallowed her disappointment and anger. "The baby will be gone soon. Want some lemonade?" she shuffled through the front door and down the hall, depositing her backpack on the steps upstairs and trying (badly) to whistle. Her grandmother swallowed - it was like she'd already forgotten about the baby. Was it too good to be true?



"This is Bo," Daddy said, taking Bethany's wrist and offering her finger to the infant who clung to it like a limpet. "and he's your baby brother." Bethany squinted down at the baby, perched precariously on her lap in a Boppy pillow and swinging his fists at the air, a miniature pugilist.

"No thank you." Bethany said softly, turning to look at her father. "You can take him back. I don't want him." Her father's lips fit into a grim line.

"Well, baby, I can't just take him back. He is part of our family now."

"Can't we just return him? The hospital gave you a receipt, right? Like Target? We just take him back to the hospital. Let's go." she jostled the baby in her lap and peered up at her father through a curtain of hair.

"I'm afraid there's not a return policy on babies, Bethie."

Bethany ripped her finger out of the baby's fist, and Bo started to squall in protest. Bethany threw the Boppy pillow to the side and her father barely managed to catch it in time as Bethany stormed upstairs.

"You'll be sorry!" she called over her shoulder before she slammed the door to her bedroom. Her father cuddled Bo close to his chest and closed his eyes: just once couldn't Bethany make things easy?



The next morning, her father went to get baby Bo from his crib, but upon peering inside found his son to be gone. Nowhere to be seen. He ran downstairs, sure Bethany was the culprit, but she was sitting calmly at the kitchen table, legs swinging as she watched TV from her perch and ate a cereal bar.

"Where is the baby?" her father asked her, trying to be as nonchalant as possible. Bethany shrugged.

"I don't know, Daddy." She turned back around to face the television. Her father was beginning to think maybe Bo had been in the crib the whole time and he was just losing it when he thought he heard a baby's cry. He turned back around.

"Bethie?" he called. No answer, his daughter was engrossed in Yo Gabba Gabba. Walking into the kitchen, the cries grew louder. He stopped in front of the refrigerator and opened it with trepidation, but thankfully his son was not in the crisper drawer. He took a step deeper into the kitchen, and had a sudden revelation as to where Bo might be.

His infant son was lying in the bottom rack of the dishwasher, blue in the face and screaming so loudly he'd gone hoarse. He scooped up the baby and wheeled around to confront Bethany, but discovered she'd soundlessly made her way into the kitchen and stood next to him, hands clasped behind her back.

"I told you you'd be sorry." she said simply, turning and skipping off. Her father was unsure if either Bo or Bethany would live to see their next birthday, and he clutched his heaving son to his chest and went to find his wife.
bookishgeek: (writing - short story)

Miriam didn't particularly have an affinity for the elderly, but this was better than the alternative. At least, that's what she kept telling herself as she wandered up and down the hallways, white Ked sneakers squeaking on the tile floor, waving hello and exchanging pleasantries with the people who had wound up in this assisted living home.

25 hours of community service, or as she had put it to her boyfriend on the phone, "Twenty-five motherfucking hours of goddamn shitty community service." He might have been a bit more sympathetic had her call not come from a local bondsman's office, as his secretary paced in front of the wall-mounted phone like an overanxious cat waiting for a meal while Miriam exploded to her boyfriend over the injustice of her plea bargain. "All I did was fucking hit that stupid bitch, just one goddamn time!" Joseph (the boyfriend) mumbled something soothing over the phone line and hung up to go back to work: he worked in construction, and this sort of thing was sorely frowned upon.

Miriam was 12 hours in, though, and felt the halfway point drawing near. She tugged the handle of a mop bucket toward her and grinned falsely at the family members who had come to visit their aging grandmother, or mother, or aunt ... whoever it was. This was better than cleaning a park or sorting clothes at a Goodwill, but she wished she'd been able to tolerate the animal shelter. She wrinkled her nose at the memory of the cat dander, so thick in the air you could see it floating around like a dust mite. Wheeling the mop bucket down the hall behind her like an unruly toddler, she made it to the end of the hallway and began to mop her way down it, stepping carefully over tile so she didn't mess up her work.

"Hullo?" the voice was so faint and hoarse she thought she'd imagined it, but then it came again, from an open doorway behind her. "Hullo there?" the woman said softly, peering anxious at Miriam from the safety of her apartment. "Oh dear, could you please come here?" she beckoned for Miriam with what she felt were clawed hands, an angel of death. Suppressing a shudder, Miriam plopped the mop back into the bucket and carefully maneuvered into the woman's quarters.

It was sparsely kept, very white and spartan in appearance. A few coffee mugs sat on the counter tops, along with Sudoku puzzle books and crossword puzzles scrawled through in pencil. Keeping their memories on the straight and narrow, that was what the no-nonsense matron of the place - she'd long-since forgotten her name - had said as she gave Miriam the tour. This woman must be particularly sharp, she thought, turning to shut the door behind her.

"What can I do for you, ma'am?" she asked, stepping toward the old woman. Grey ran through her hair, but not too much - there were still faint strands of blonde. Thought she stood a bit stooped, she was largely not all that hunched or, frankly, old-looking. Miriam gazed at her face until the woman looked up from her feet to her, wringing her hands.

"They forgot my Melvin's lunch." she said softly, glancing anxiously at her kitchen table. "I eat by myself, it's all well and good, but my poor Melvin, he needs to eat, too." she looked immediately down at her feet again - soft, baby blue slippers - and clucked her tongue, almost imperceptive. "He will be so cross if I don't get him his lunch." Miriam glanced around the apartment, her gaze falling into the kitchen, the living room, the bedroom ... but no sign of anyone.

"Ma'am ... what is your name, again?" she asked, feeling rude all of a sudden.

"Carolyn. Carolyn Rice." the woman said to her slippers.

"Mrs. Rice, I don't seem to see Melvin anywhere." Miriam said, taking a harder look at the living room to make sure he hadn't folded himself into the armchair by the television. "Is he resting? I can get him some lunch but perhaps it should wait until he's here?"

Apparently she had said the wrong thing, as a darkness passed over Carolyn's face. Slowly she raised her head before making direct, unflinching eye contact with Miriam, who felt scolded before Carolyn ever opened her mouth.

"My Melvin," she said crossly, "is right here, and I am tired of you people suggesting otherwise. Just look at him!" she gestured angrily to her side, toward one of the chairs at the kitchen table - totally empty, save a threadbare cotton bathrobe draped over it.

"Oh," Miriam said, unsure how to react to this turn of events. "Yes, right. Of course. Let me go get your lunch, Melvin," she said, addressing the bathrobe. Carolyn sniffed approvingly, now fixated on her slippers again. Miriam slipped out the door and grabbed her mop, wheeling it behind her toward the staff room at a frentic page.

"What the shit," she said, pinwheeling into the doorway and sending the mop bucket rolling into her ankle, "is up with that lady in 109?" the director - she wished she could have remembered the woman's name - sat at the table, picking the crust off a sandwich and glancing up at Miriam through cats-eye glasses, placed down the bridge of her nose.

"By that admission," she put down her sandwich, "I assume you're speaking about Mrs. Rice?"

"Yes!" crowed Miriam, maneuvering the mop bucket into its place in the closet and dumping the dirty water down a grate as she spoke. "She thinks her fucking husband is there, and he's not there! And she wants lunch for him! What a maroon. Is her husband in the game room, or something? I need to get him. Old people are so quiet they don't even notice when they're alone!" she laughed as she wiped her palms on her scrub pants, shutting the closet door to look into the very stern face of the director.

"Mrs. Rice," she began, "has been a widow for three years now."

Miriam wasn't sure how to react, and gaped a bit, waiting for the director to respond.

"Here is a lunch for him," she pushed a sandwich wrapped in a paper towel toward Miriam, "and just serve it like you would any other resident." Miriam took the sandwich, shaking a bit, and made her way back down the hallway toward room 109 once again. Edging the door open with her hip, she called out into the stillness:

"Mrs. Rice? Mr. Rice?"

"I'm in the bathroom," called Mrs. Rice wheezily from the back of the apartment, "but Melvin is still at the table! Please just give him his lunch, he must be starving, the poor dear."

At a bit of a loss, Miriam unwrapped the sandwich, laying it out on its napkin. She filled a plastic cup with water from the tap and laid it beside the sandwich, picking at her cuticles until the bathroom door opened and Mrs. Rice lumbered out. She glanced up from her slippers just long enough to see the kitchen table, and her face broke out in a jubilant smile.

"Peanut butter and jelly! Oh Melvin, your favorite!" she sat down across from the sandwich at the table and began to pick at a spare thread on her slippers. Not ready to leave, Miriam cleared her throat.

"Carolyn, do they often tell you they can't see Melvin?" Mrs. Rice nodded, never looking up.

"Oh, yes. They tell me he's not here and they can help me, that it is okay for me to be alone now, but I'm not. He's right here, he's always with me, my Melvin." Miriam could hear the tears edge their way into her voice. "I won't let anyone tell me any different."

"Fuck," Miriam muttered under her breath. Carolyn's eyebrows shot up, but her gaze never left the floor. Leaning against the counter, Miriam spoke again.

"Tell me about him? He seems like the strong, silent type."

Carolyn Rice's face lit up and she peered upward toward Miriam, tears shining on her cheeks.

"Oh, yes. He always was. My Melvin is a crown jewel. Did you hear about the blizzard of '59?" Miriam shook her head no, and Carolyn placed her hands on her knees, jiggling them excitedly. "Well let me just tell you!"

Mrs. Rice spoke animatedly for upwards of three hours about her Melvin, occasionally pausing to send a grateful smile the way of the bathrobe draped over the chair. She never seemed to mind that the sandwich had not moved, nor the cup emptied, and Miriam stood fixated by every word. Glancing at the wall clock, though, she noticed it was nearing 4:30 pm: almost time for their dinner, and time for her to sign out.

"Carolyn," she said gently, reaching out to touch the woman's shoulder. "he is a wonderful man, god damn it, and you're right. Never let anyone else tell you differently, okay? I have to go now, but I'll be back. I promise." The old woman's hand reached over to Miriam's arm and she squeezed it affectionately, nodding.

As Miriam walked toward the exit, the director looked up from a computer situated in the lobby, her eyebrows tilted up.

"I trust you met Melvin?" she asked. Miriam didn't know what else to say, how to react, so she just nodded.

"Yeah," she mumbled softly. "he's gotta fuckin' be there, somewhere." She tightened her grip on her car keys, and headed out into the sunlight.

bookishgeek: (writing - short story)

"Are you going to kill yourself?"

Bethany wheeled around, the slack arm holding her briefcase pinwheeling and nearly hitting a fellow commuter.

"Am I what?" she brushed a strand of dishwater-brown hair behind her ear and stared straight ahead, incredulous.

"Are you going to kill yourself?" the man repeated eagerly, hungry for her response, like it would sustain him. He had thin-rimmed glasses made of a tortoiseshell plastic, and he clutched a sheaf of papers in his hands so hard that they trembled. Lips pressed into a thin, unamused line, he brandished his papers at her. "You don't have much time left, you know!" He passed one of the papers to another person walking by who nodded sagely and tucked the paper into their pocket, mouthing "thank you" in the man's direction.

"What are you talking about?" Bethany protested, setting her bag at her feet and crossing her arms resolutely. The man blinked slowly a few times, like he couldn't comprehend her not understanding his words.

"I mean," he said slowly, "that your time is running out, my dear. You're, what, 34?" he glanced at a wristwatch strapped to his right arm and gave it a shake and a firm tap on the glass front. He nodded to himself. "Yes, 34. You don't have much time left, surely you know that." Bethany wrinkled her nose and stepped forward, her bag flopping to the concrete.

"May I have one of those fliers, please?" The man shrugged and handed one to her. "It's too late for you, miss, but I'll give it to you anyway." He spun around on his heel and walked toward the subway, checking his watch one more time and handing a paper to a relieved-looking man on the sidewalk near the guard railing.

Bethany peered down, the wind whipping her hair around her face as she knelt down, pulling her reading glasses out of a side pocket of her briefcase and placing them on the bridge of her nose.

Your thirty-fifth year draws near! the ad proclaimed in large, bold letters. Our records indicate that you have not yet made any plans to deal with this. Please make your demise arrangements with the nearest death agency to avoid any further penalty from the bureau.

Bethany let the paper fall to the ground and squinted ahead, trying to see the man with the papers, but he was nowhere to be found. She took a deep breath and folded the paper in half, tucking it into her pocket. Surely this was some sort of April Fools joke ... in November. Shrugging, she walked down the street toward her office, lost in thought. Her birthday was next month, but nobody had ever said a thing to her about whatever this nonsense was - demise arrangements? Surely they just made this up, some sort of college drama department prank?

Rounding the corner, though, she saw it - a small, unassuming two-story building, somehow both narrow and foreboding, with a sign plastered in the front window and written in broad, urgent strokes - Death Agency. Bethany squared her shoulders and pulled her phone out of her pocket to glance at the time - she had a few hours of comp time, why the Hell not? Clearing her throat, Bethany pushed open the door.

A soft tinkling bell echoed through the room, which felt like the atmosphere of a massage parlor crossed with a church. A woman with her hair in a colorful wrap glanced up from the front desk and adjusted her glasses, smiling serenely.

"Ms. Cambridge?" she asked, standing up and extending her hand. Bethany glanced behind her, looking for someone else before realizing that this woman was saying her own name.

"Yes?" Bethany asked shakily, crossing the gap between the front door and the desk. As the woman shook her hand, pumping it up and down, a nearby fountain peacefully ran and a kitten skittered around on a play rug, chasing after a motorized laser pointer. Distracted by the cat, Bethany glanced down at her hands, which were shaking.

"Don't be afraid, darling. We're so glad you made it." Bethany peered back up at the woman, perplexed. "I am so sorry for not introducing myself, goodness, where are my manners?" the woman reached behind her desk and extracted a tall glass of ice-cold sweet tea and a soft, buttery crumpet - Bethany's favorite snack from childhood. "I'm Thanas, I work for the bureau?" Bethany nodded like she understood what was going on and bit her lower lip, confused.

"I don't understand." she said flatly. Thanas stepped out from behind the desk, carrying a box of tissues and a small saucer of milk, which she set out for the kitten.

"Let's sit down, you must be so perplexed." Bethany nodded slowly and followed Thanas over to some chairs near the window, where she set the bowl of milk down for the kitten and lowered herself into a large armchair. Bethany folded herself into a small beanbag at the armchair's side and bit at her cuticles.

"Well, dear, you know about the legislation," Thanas began. "and you haven't registered a thing! You must be so nervous. But it's nothing to worry about, I can take good care of you here."

"What legislation?" Bethany spat out. "What's a death agency? You made all of this up as a prank, didn't you? I'm on TV?" Thanas smiled sadly and shook her head no.

"You know it costs too much to keep someone alive into old age, and the older you get the more children you have - do eat your crumpet dear I baked it especially for you - so the government has decreed that anyone over age thirty-five ... well, you know the rest."

"It was never this way before!" Bethany screeched, her knuckles going white around each other. Thanas stared at her blankly.

"Yes, and?"

Bethany shook her head, a soft noise issuing from her throat that sounded almost like a kitten's mewl, but the kitten was happily slurping milk across the room. She watched it skitter around, lost in thought.

"Would you prefer a puppy?" Thanas had her hands on her knees, ready to spring into action. "I've got a pug and a husky in the back if you find them more suitable." Bethany shook her head absently.

"No."

"I thought not." Thanas settled back into her chair. "Anyway, dear, you've got about a week here, but you've just had Thanksgiving, so today might be a good day?" She produced a pad of paper and a clipboard from beside the chair and held them out to Bethany. "Just sign on the lines and we'll get you whisked away." she beamed, as if Bethany had won some grand prize in a lottery.

"None of this was here last night." Bethany muttered under her breath. "I'm positive this is all new." Thanas just repeated that same, sad smile.

"Honey, it's been this way since you were a little girl." She handed a pen to Bethany as well. "Come on now, baby, it's time to go." Bethany felt a surge of emotion in her chest, a rise of bile and panic, but bit it down, swallowed it. What would happen if she didn't sign the papers? What if she lived to be 36? But there was no good in wondering, and being in this office, she felt so calm ... it was so safe in here, Thanas was so nice ... surely the kindly woman was right, it was time go to sleep.

Nodding dumbly, Bethany signed the papers on the marked lines and passed the clipboard back to Thanas, not even bothering to read the fine print.

"What's going to happen?" her voice was hollow.

"Well," Thanas said, standing up and offering a hand to Bethany, who let the woman tug her to her feet. "We're going to get you all cozy in some pajamas and go lay you down and watch a movie. You'll get a lovely dinner - oh, whatever you like, darling - and then before you know it, you'll be so sleepy ..." her voice trailed off and she shrugged. "That's that, really." She gestured at the kitten on the ground. "Would you like a cuddle buddy?" Bethany shook her head no, and Thanas reached behind her desk, pulling out a paper-wrapped package. "This is for you, my dear."

Bethany opened it to reveal a gorgeous pair of silk pajamas, identical to a pair her mother had once owned when she was just a child, when she would stand at the counter beside her and rub cold cream on her face to be just like her mother. Oh, how she missed her mother ... she clutched the pajamas to her chest and turned to look at Thanas, nodding.

"Any other questions, honey?" she asked, putting a hand on Bethany's arm and leading her down the hallway. Bethany felt her mind give a little kick, a butterfly's flutter. Wasn't there something wrong with this? Her forehead wrinkled, she just knew something was wrong, but oh, what was it? She shouldn't be here? No, that was ridiculous. Halfway down the hall, she remembered and turned to Thanas in a panic, frenzy on her face.

"What's for dinner?"

bookishgeek: (pusheen - blogging)

Whitney Jennings had never meant for this to happen. But if you were to have asked her that morning, she would have probably told you - unabashedly - that this was something she'd wanted. Of course, things we think that we want often turn out to be not so great after all.

"I really need to go to that party, mom," she was protesting, pacing the kitchen floor and running her toes over the cracked linoleum. "everyone is going to be there and I just have to. I have to, it's social suicide if I don't!"

Marissa Jennings was a no-nonsense woman, stocky and anything but subtle. She stood at the stove, stirring a pot of spaghetti sauce with one hand so that the other could rest on her hip. "Whitney, you don't have to go. Your sister's not going!" Whitney felt her eyes roll and let them, feeling a small tug of pain as they attempted to crawl into her head. Marissa adjusted her grip on her spoon and looked at her daughter expectantly, lips pursing.

"Christina never goes to anything, mom, she just wants to sit in her stupid room and read her stupid Moby Dicks or whatever." Marissa let a small half-smile crease her face before it fell again.

"Well, you'll have to join her, Whitney. The answer is no. I don't have time to drive you, and I don't want you driving yourself, either. There will be other parties." Whitney peered up at her mother through a curtain of dramatically tossed hair, and this was how she would always remember Marissa: her Rubenesque figure rolling like a graceful wave across the kitchen, tossing a pot of spaghetti noodles into a colander, steam coating her figure in grey.

Enraged, Whitney grabbed her coat off the back of a kitchen chair. "I'm going out for a walk." she pronounced, shoving her feet into a pair of flip-flops - probably Christina's but who cared? - and tucking the key to the front door into the pocket of her jean shorts. Marissa shrugged.

"Be back in fifteen minutes, Whit. Dinner's almost ready." Whitney muttered something that was simultaneously agreeable and bitter and marched outside, slamming the front door behind her.

Dusk was falling, and as she skulked down the driveway and into the cul-de-sac beside the house, Whitney raked her fingers through her hair. It was unbelievable. Hannah was going to be there, and Jeffrey, too. And just because her stupid twin sister wasn't going, she couldn't go? It just wasn't fair, and seventeen was the worst age possible - so close to being able to work and buy her own car, so close to sweet freedom. She stomped down the broken concrete, aimlessly meandering from side to side, avoiding parked cars and yipping dogs. Stumbling over a fissure in the sidewalk, Whitney nearly fell but kept her balance, though her toes were scraped up. She figured now was as good a time as any to head home, and turned toward the driveway as the streetlights began to flicker on overhead.

Whitney threw open the front door and deposited her door key in a bowl by the front steps, hopping on one foot so she could kick off a flip-flop.

"Mom?" she called into the stillness. She wrinkled her nose momentarily: the house should have smelled like pasta sauce, what happened? She tugged at the base of her ponytail, tightening it up as she wandered into the kitchen. "Mom?" she called out again, only to be met with stony, cold silence. The kitchen was bare and still, no food to be seen, nor any trace of her mother. Panic gripped Whitney's heart like a vice.

"Christina!" she screamed, turning and pinwheeling, feet pounding up the stairs faster than her mind could keep up as she burst into her sister's room. "Christina!" her sister looked up from her position on the bed, splayed on her back, a large book balanced against her thighs. Puzzled, Christina pushed her glasses up on her nose and turned down the volume on the stereo on her bedside table.

"What, Whitney?" she said, exasperation apparent as she floundered around on her bed for something to use as a bookmark.

"Where is mom?" Whitney all but screamed, her face ashen. Christina furrowed her brow as she placed a scrap of paper towel in her book and shut it, setting it aside slowly.

"In the hospital? Where she's been all week? Aunt Lynda will be here soon to take us to dinner, are you hungry? You don't look so good."

Whitney felt her heart skip a beat, and her pulse quicken.

"She's where?" maybe she'd just misheard her sister. There was no way ... she'd just been arguing with her minutes before.

"Do you have Swiss cheese for brains?" Christina muttered, shaking her head. "She fell in the gym last week, remember? Her back is really hurt, she can't walk, they're doing surgery tomorrow. We're gonna go see her afterward and then she's gonna come home. Do you forget things this easily all the time? Do we need to call a doctor?" Christina stood up and crossed the space between herself and her sister in two steps, putting her hand on Whitney's shoulder. "I know this is rough but we've got to stick together, sis."

Whitney shook her head feebly. "I was just talking to her ..." her voice trailed off and she looked outside at the streetlights' faint glow. She was home, somewhere, she just had to be. This couldn't be all in her head, she wasn't creative enough for this, her teachers told her all the time that she had too much wasted potential.

"On the phone? Why didn't you tell me!" Christina protested. "I wanted to tell her about my Chemistry test. Oh well." She brushed past Whitney into the hallway and thundered down the stairs in the practiced way only a house's inhabitants can. "Let's get ready for dinner, come on."

Whitney slowly meandered down the staircase, her fingers tracing the wooden railing. What had she done? For the first time in as many years as she could recall, all Whitney wanted was her mother.

bookishgeek: (HP - Gryff - gryffintrepid)

Yes, the Harry Potter fandom is still alive! Come make new friends and relive old moments! Going on now!
bookishgeek: (stock - cupcake stegosaurus)
"Maybe you should just get a cat." Sophia's laughter rang out, and she grimaced, holding the phone away from her and making a rude gesture at it before putting it back to her ear.

"I'm serious, Soph," Margaret protested, mashing the lock button on her car keys and jugging the grocery bags while trying to keep the cell phone penned between her ear and her shoulder. "I don't know what it is, but it keeps making these clicking noises and I'm terrified that it's mice or rats or something."

"Like I said, maybe you should get a cat. Not even joking, sister. Laughter aside and all that, a cat might be the answer. Mine is the reason I haven't seen a cockroach in years." Margaret wedged a two-liter bottle of Diet Coke under her right arm and shuffled her way toward her apartment, fumbling with the keys again to get to her door key.

"I don't have time for a cat!" she protested feebly, unlocking the door and holding it open with her hip while she set down the soda bottle and a package of toilet paper. "I don't even have time for myself!"

"Maggie," Sophia said gently, "cats are therapeutic. Your husband left you, you're kind of obligated to get a cat now, it's a rite of passage. Newly single? Get a cat! Look at me, I have one and I'm still single." Sophia trailed off, realizing the implications of what she was saying. "... but not because of the cat! Come on, I'll drive down there, we can go to the shelter together."

Margaret sighed dramatically as she began to unload the plastic bags: she'd forgotten her canvas, reusable bags again. Why did she keep buying them? She literally never remembered them. She did have a lot of space now ... and 29 wasn't too young to ever find love again, cat be damned.

"How's tomorrow work?"

------------------------------------------------

"Look at that one!" Sophia pushed her sunglasses up to the top of her head and sat down in the middle of the room as a herd of cats began headbutting her for attention. The shelter had their cats set up in a huge, open-air room and there were at least 30. Margaret hung back a little bit, anxiety creeping over her chest. She'd heard the noises again the night before, and they seemed louder and closer. But maybe she was being paranoid. And maybe, just maybe, a cat would help with that after all. She slowly crept farther into the room, watching as her best friend laid down on the concrete, laughing as waves of cats clamored euphorically over her, mewing in ecstasy.

"Okay, okay!" Sophia sat up and pulled a Ziplock bag out of her pocket. "Want some?" She shook it at Margaret. "I brought catnip treats. My own recipe!" She began to break the treats up into small pieces and toss them around, creating a feline mosh pit. Margaret shook her head. "I'd rather just look."

A few cats came over, rubbed themselves along her ankles and walked away, happy that they had left their marks. Margaret noticed a small calico sitting a few yards away, intensely studying a corner and ignoring the treat frenzy Sophia had created across the room.

"Hey little girl," murmured Margaret, creeping closer. "What are you up to?" The cat didn't even glance up, but remained fixated on whatever was going on in the corner. Margaret kept an eye on the cat, settling down in a chair a couple of feet away. Moments later, the calico pounced on something and turned around, pride shining in her eyes as she trotted over to Margaret and deposited it on her shoe.

Margaret looked down at what appeared to be a mangled cockroach, and over to the calico.

"I found the one," she shouted over to Sophia as she put her hand out for the cat to sniff. "I think she might be the solution to all of my problems." Margaret suspected Sophia might have heard her, but she was too busy communing with the feline world to notice or care. Margaret gently scooped up the calico and stroked her ears, thrilled to hear the purrs come like a roaring engine.

"Danica!" exclaimed Margaret to the cat, who continued to purr enthusiastically.

------------------------------------------------

A month later, Danica had settled in to Margaret's apartment seamlessly, and she hadn't heard the noises in weeks. "You're my little good luck charm!" she'd exclaim to the cat, who would purr and trace a figure eight between her legs. Until mid-July.

"Did you hear that?" Margaret sat up, alarmed. Danica was asleep at the foot of the bed and seemed quite nonplussed about the entire situation. "Danica!" Margaret hissed. The cat stretched her legs in response and rolled over. Slowly, quietly, Margaret slipped out of bed and grabbed for her phone to use as a light source. 4:12 in the morning: if the noise was going to come back, couldn't it at least be more nice about what time it showed up?

"Danica, I think it's in the bathroom." No response from the cat, and Margaret cursed to herself. "Want a treat?" she said louder, in a higher pitch. The cat was at her side instantly, purring and making small chirruping noises. Margaret opened the door to the bathroom and flicked the light on: the scrabbling, rodent-like noises were coming from inside the walls, and they were definitely in here.

She opened the door to the linen closet and poked her head in. Danica followed, becoming interested in a Q-Tip that had fallen to the floor of the bathroom and batting it out of the way. The scratching noise came again. "Do you hear that?" she exclaimed to the cat, who sat on the floor with the Q-Tip hanging out of her mouth, her ears back. "Mrrp?" said Danica, standing up and trotting away toward the living room.

"Damn it, you're useless!" Margaret exclaimed, shoving aside towels and linens. She needed to get into the closet, needed to see if this rodent, creature, whatever it was was in the walls or in the closet itself. Margaret turned around to make sure the cat had left the bathroom with her prize, and shut the door behind her with a firm click so she could wedge open the linen closet door even farther. Margaret began to toss towels and sheets out onto the floor, and the scrabbling noise in the wall became more frenetic.Mutant mice? She had no idea, and didn't really care to find out, either. This was most unamusing.

A loud scratching noise issued from the other side of the bathroom door. "Not right now," she exclaimed, "I'm trying to see if it's in the closet. Hold on!" The scratching became more insistent, and Margaret figured that the cat was having a severe case of separation anxiety. She climbed off the shelf in the linen closet and went to shut the closet door behind her, when she saw Danica sitting on the bath mat, gnawing on her Q-Tip.

The scratching from the other side of the bathroom door stopped.
bookishgeek: (GoT - Tully)
I am a cacophony of change, a swirling symphony of contradictions played out by a band who is all-too familiar with the piece, and ever so slightly disinterested in playing the same song again.

I will be 25 years old in 16 days. I live alone with a cat named Pixel, and an ever-changing bookshelf crammed full of young adult novels. (My Masters degree is in School Library Media, and I fall in love with the quick-clip pace of the young adult world time and time again).

I have a desk job at a local university that pays the bare minimum I need to stay alive, but it's a good enough job.

I have a younger sister who is 15 - ten years younger than I am - and I am thrilled to discover over and over again that she is becoming much more of a person and less of "the baby" that we all talked about for years and years.

I just filed my first tax return with a "grown up job" on it and was shocked to learn that I could get $500 returned to me just by working hard. It should be in my account by the 27th and I consider this the best birthday gift I could receive.

I fantasize about taking a bubble bath, but by the time I run the water and get in, I lose all desire to actually be in a bubble bath.

I am overly fond of cats, looking at cute animals on the Internet, talking to stray animals in the hopes that I have become The Stray Whisperer overnight and didn't know it yet, Kroger's version of Diet Cherry Coke, my Tervis tumbler and sleeping in.

I will spend hours on the laptop looking at various things on the Internet, decide I'm done with the Internet for now, turn the laptop off, roll over, pick up my Kindle, and spend even more time doing exactly what I was doing on the laptop on a smaller screen.

I constantly start TV shows and never finish/catch up with them (Supernatural, Chuck, Deadwood).

I have a fervent, surprising love of professional wrestling.

I bite my nails, my cuticles, and the skin around my nails. It's a nervous habit that I never used to do, but started in middle school and have been unable to stop besides in short, ineffective bursts.

I love to buy things, and I love the high that comes with them. I've learned that I get the same "new purchase" high by getting new books from the library, and so I go on a weekly basis to return what I got and get some new finds.

I do not care a lick for fashion. I wear the same ~8 shirts, pair of khakis, and 3 pairs of shoes to work each day. I own one pair of jeans, two pairs of gym shorts, and enough t-shirts left over from college to float me through my off-times.

I have been dieting since January, but this past week has been a lapse. I will pick it back up on Monday, however - my body does deserve better, even if sometimes I squinch my eyes closed and act like it doesn't.

All my life, I have been challenged to think critically. Now that I am older, this has become an ability I cannot turn off - I think critically about everything. "What did he mean when he said that?" or "They abbreviated that phrase, does that mean it's not genuine?" - it's impossible for me to just relax and not think at all. Thanks, school teachers, for instilling anxiety into me from a young age.

I am bound up in inconsistencies, but at the same time, my flaws are all too human and relateable. Join me on my journey to find "me," and I hope that in doing so, you can find some of you, too.

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