Saturday Short: Berries on the Wall

photograph of berries and dried leaves clinging to a cement wall“You must be like the berries in the winter,” her mentor said as she gestured toward the wall they were walking past. The berries stood out with their red stems against the worn wall. The leaves had fallen a month ago.

“Poisonous?” That didn’t seem like a very good thing to be nor a lesson that she should be learning. She must have misread her assigned text again last night. In fairness, she had been very tired from her chores.

“No.” The exasperation was clear in her mentor’s voice and in the rubbing of her temples with the pads of her fingers. “Not poisonous. Hardy. You must be able to thrive even when it seems like there is no hope. You must push yourself and never give up. Like these berries. You must be the hope of life when there only seems to be death.”

“Oh.” Jasmin looked at the berries again. This time they seemed brighter than they had before. “I’m not sure I can do all of that. It sounds…”

“Yes?” Her mentor’s voice was soft, but it demanded an answer.

“It sounds like more than I can do.” She looked up at her mentor quickly, before looking back down at her feet as they continued to walk, their boots crunching on the last leaves of autumn. “But I’ll try not to let you down.”

“I know. And you can do it, or I would not have chosen you.”

At this Jasmin smiled and though she could not see it because she was still looking at her feet, her mentor did, too, before she looked back up towards the sun struggling to break through the clouds.

Saturday Short: Fallen Maple Leaves

photograph of fallen maple leaves on the sidewalk

“Leaves fall every year. It’s what they do. It’s why it’s called fall,” her sister said with an exasperated tone, the one she saved for Heather when their mother was out of earshot.

Heather shrugged. It was the safest reply. She wasn’t stupid. She knew why it was called fall. Though, is she were asked, Heather would have told her sister that she preferred to call the season autumn. It sounded prettier.

Luckily though her sister became distracted by a group of kids on the other side of the street from her school and forgot what she was about to say as she walked away. Heather was an afterthought, which was fine by her. That’s how she felt in her family most of the time anyway. She turned her attention back to the fallen leaves on the sidewalk, slicked down by the night’s rain.

She couldn’t read what they were saying, yet, but she would. Heather knew it in her heart. The leaves almost seemed to form letters that swirled in front of her eyes, but then she blinked and they were gone. It was frustrating and Ms. Willow was gone this weekend, stocking up in the mountains was how she put it when Heather asked. The other kids called her Old Witch Willow, but Heather thought that was mean because people made fun of witches, which they shouldn’t do.

“Come on, Heather, we’re going to be late!” Her sister was doing that annoyingly dramatic tapping of her wrist to make her point as the other kids laughed and waved goodbye. Her sister didn’t even wear a watch.

“Coming!” Heather glanced at the leaves one last time before standing up and running to catch up with her sister who had already turned her back to walk home.

She didn’t see the leaves swirl behind her and rearrange themselves on the ground. But they could wait. She would be back.

Saturday Short: Photographs for Sale

There was an old box of photographs for sale, shoved between a rusting lamp (it was not worth the $10 price tag tied around its base) and a pale violet vase (which was worth much more than its $5 price scrawled on a bright orange sticker), on the table of a vendor at the weekly, Saturday jumble sale that Suzanna had not seen before. The photographs caught her eye. Or, perhaps more precisely, the lurid green box they were stuffed in caught her eye. It was the kind of green she hadn’t seen since she bought that cheap, neon green chair for a few bucks to furnish her overpriced, but cheapest she could find, apartment in grad school. A fleeting smile played across her face. By the time she was done with her degree, the chair was held together with packing tape and prayers. It had been surprisingly comfortable though, or perhaps she had simply been younger. Probably a bit of both.

She knew she had been standing too long looking at the box, lost in her memories, when the vendor’s voice caused her to jump.

“A buck a piece or 6 for 5,” he said. His voice sounded as old as the photos looked. Scratchy like a misused record.

“A bit steep,” Suzanna replied as she touched the edge of the first photograph in the box. The corner was broken off and the boy in the photo looked like he was leering at the photographer. It sent a shiver down her neck.

The vendor did not argue with her assessment and did not try to hurry her along. There was no one else trying to look through his wares.

Suzanna continued to flip through the photographs, as if it were a compulsion. None of them were particularly well-composed. Some were blurred to the point she wasn’t sure what or who the subject was. And yet, she felt as if she had to look at each one, as if there was a secret for her, hidden in one of them. She just had to figure out which.

“I haven’t seen you here before.”

“No, I suppose you haven’t,” he said, but did not comment further. It was odd, usually the vendors talked so fast and so long that she could barely get in a counter-offer for bargaining.

When her index finger touched the third to the last photo in the box, it felt like a shock of static electricity bolted into her hand. She pulled the photo out of the box and handed the man a dollar without a word. He didn’t say thank you or goodbye as she walked away in a haze, people having to sidestep her as Suzanna seemed unaware of anything but the photo she held.

“You’ve got to get rid of that box,” said a voice behind the vendor.

He did not turn around. “Why?”

“It’s not right to make them see their futures. It’s not our job.”

The man chuckled. “I don’t give them their future. I only show them their past.”

“That’s not how she’ll see it. You know that.”

“That is not my problem.” He held up the dollar before disappearing it into a fold in his sleeve. “I believe I am now winning our bet.”

There was a snort in reply. “Not for long. Tomorrow it’s my turn.”

Saturday Short: Whispers in the Night

photograph of a full moon

When the moon is full and reflects the last of the sun’s light,
And the cattle lay down to sleep in fields,
Both dry and green,
Then close your eyes and cover your ears
Little one
Don’t listen to the whispers in the night.

When the moon shines down and the stars are too bright,
And you can feel the earth hum,
Beneath your feet,
Then lock your door and hide the key
Little one
Don’t listen to the whispers in the night.

For they whisper soft and they whisper sweet,
But that’s the last you’ll know
If you don’t keep your feet.

Don’t listen to the whispers in the night…

Saturday Short: The Crow in the Tree

photograph of a crow sitting on a branch

“The bird in the tree does not mock you,” she says with the quiet assurance that came with age and study. Her smile creases the corner of her eyes into crow’s feet. You have never understood why wrinkles were called that. They looked no more like crow’s feet than the lines on the palms of your hands.

“You move too slowly for them to notice you.”

You bristle at that. You have always been the fastest in class. You’ve won ribbons out of the hands of competitors who underestimated you. If anyone is too slow, it is this old woman. “I’ve been coming to your lessons for four months now and still you haven’t taught me a thing that’s useful.”

She leans her head to the side. It reminds you of the crow in the tree that flew off a moment ago, after laughing its harsh call. You’re not amused, though she seems to be. “Perhaps you simply have not been learning.”

You cross your arms and have the urge to stick out your tongue at her, even though you are far too old for such childish things. “I came to learn earth magic and all you’ve talked about for months is the weather and the birds that have come to your garden and made me read books about identifying shorebirds that all look the same. They’re just little brown birds, who can tell the difference? Who cares? And now you think that standing here looking like scarecrows is somehow teaching? It’s ridiculous.”

She takes your rant that has been building in your chest like a festering boil for the last month and spilled out of you as if you were not in charge of your tongue without interrupting. She doesn’t cross her arms or look away. It is unnerving to be watched with some emotion you can’t put your finger on. It makes you angry though you couldn’t say why if asked. She doesn’t ask you.

“Everyone learns at their own pace. I had one student who took a year to be able to name the sparrows in the field and another who took two to identify all the trees on the farm.”

“That doesn’t matter!”

“Perhaps not to you, not yet. But it will.” She stretches her arms above her head, carefully so as to not hit you with her cane. “I think it is time for a nap. I will see you back at the house when you are finished.”

“How will I know when I’m done?” You want to scream, but don’t. You will keep some dignity even though there is no one around but you, your teacher, and the crow that is still sitting on a branch over your head.

“When you can recall what a flock of crows calls itself.” And she turns and begins walking back to the house without waiting for your reply.

You want to stamp your feet and yell, but she would hear and you won’t give her the satisfaction. Though you’re not sure if she would feel anything one way or the other. You look up at the crow and scowl. “I don’t suppose you know what she’s on about?”

The crow cocks its head to the side, in mimicry of your teacher. “Of course,” the crow says as you fall back, almost hitting your head on the side of the stone fence. “But you wouldn’t understand, not yet. I’m still not sure why she wastes her time on you. ”

Your voice is still not working as you watch the crow take to the air and join a flock, winging its way toward the farmhouse. But the word comes to your mind and you are relieved the crows did not want to act it out.

A flock of crows is a murder.

You reflect on that as you slowly rise and walk back to the farmhouse, not sure now at all where the world ends and the magic begins.

Saturday Short: One More White Rose

photograph of a white rose in bloom against a black background

Lili looked over her shoulder before cutting the white rose and stuffing it, thorns and all, under her jacket beside her heart. It was forbidden to cut white roses if they bloomed in the winter. And it had already snowed. It wasn’t technically winter by the calendar, but she didn’t want to have that argument with the Queen’s security forces.

She doubted they would consider the calendar reading valid.

She scuffed her footprints as she made the return journey. She pulled her scarf tighter around her face as the wind bit and caused the tree branches to claw at her as she passed. Lili didn’t curse the wind though, not this time, it would obliterate any trace of her trespassing before dawn. Perhaps sometimes even the bitter wind was kind.

It was a fifteen minute walk to her house. It took her twice that long as she slid into the shadows and held her breath not once but three times, avoiding the notice of the night guards. Their scarlet capes flapped like angry birds wings in the wind and they muttered to each other, as if they had caught a scent but could not find it again.

She did not bother opening the gate. It always creaked in the cold. Instead she vaulted over the wall surrounding her neighborhood’s houses and scrambled up the trellis on the side of the building until she came to her window. Its hinges glistened with oil and slid open on a whisper and closed on a sigh.

Though she was eager to finish her work, it would have to wait. Not even a god could cause a plucked rose to dry before its time. So she tucked the rose underneath one of the loose floorboards beneath her bed and tried to fall asleep as she listened to the coughing in the next room.

“One more and done,” she said before she fell asleep, but only the moon heard.

Saturday Short: The Girl Who Loved Cats

This is my first short (short) story of the year. I hope you enjoy it. I couldn’t help but start the year with a cat!

 

photograph of a long-haired cat with blue eyes

“They can’t understand you,” her brother said with his hands on his hips. He always stood like that when he was gearing up to lecture her. And it seems like all he did was lecture her. It would have bothered her, except he did it so much that she learned to not listen while looking like she was paying close attention. It served her well.

She nodded, as if she agreed, without breaking eye contact with the orange tabby sitting in on the rock in front of her. His eyes were blue, like the sky on the first clear day after a rain. He still hadn’t blinked. She would have to soon.

“You are too old to be talking to cats. What will the neighbors say?” He shook his head. She could see him out of the corner of his eye. She knew enough not to answer. “They’ll say you are weird. They’ll never be your friend. Don’t you want friends?”

She went still, just as the cat cocked his head to one side as if he heard something new that she did not. It was an old nail he drove into her heart, but it still hurt. She did not give him the satisfaction of a reaction.

He huffed, turned on his heel, and walked away.

“Finally,” the cat said as he blinked. “I thought that horrible human would never leave.”

The girl smiled in a very feline grin and settled down for a lovely conversation.

Looking Ahead to 2021

Hello, dear readers! Happy Boxing Day to those who celebrate it. Happy almost 2021 to everyone. It is hard to believe we are at the end of another year, but even a year as odd and hard and exhausting as 2020 must come to an end. And this is the week of looking towards the new year. So, let’s look ahead, not behind, and not get maudlin, but instead get ready for another new year for us to create and to learn and to grow.

While the turning of a calendar page won’t make things magically better or create more time in the day to write or to do anything, it does always seem to me o be a fresh start. There is hope at the beginning of the year. Another 365 days to play with, to create in, to live through, and to make better. I don’t do resolutions anymore, a bit too much pressure to make grand statements and, let’s face it, I have no desire to have any more guilt in my life.

But I do find setting some goals or intentions and making sure my schedule reflects them to be useful, not only for writing, but for every aspect of life. In the new year, I want to ensure I hold time for family and friends. (One of the few upsides of the pandemic, and let’s be honest there have been very few, has been more time with my immediate family). I need to continue to make time in my schedule to write, even if it means getting up early to have a few minutes to myself every day. And I need to continue to learn so I can show up and be in community with others doing work I believe in.

And, at the end of this year, I’ve found that it is so important to have time to exercise so I can keep up my energy to do everything else. I know it isn’t for everyone, but breaking a sweat is one way that I keep balanced and calm (even more than meditating, which I’m horrible at, but keep trying). I hope you’ve found what keeps you balanced, even through this year.

So what does any of this mean for this blog?

Expect some short (very short) stories in the new year and other posts as I work to be more intentional about not letting this blog atrophy. And hopefully we all create something we’re excited about in this coming year.

I wish you all the peace, joy, and energy you need to create and care for and be in the new year. Thank you, as always, for reading and I’ll see you in the new year.

A Very Belated Post on 2020 NaNoWriMo

Hello, dear readers. How are you? No, really, how are you? My mother feels that this question is only a social pleasantry and that to say more than “fine” is really TMI. I feel like the question is an invitation to get to know someone more deeply, to take a moment to pause and be human with them, to care, to empathize.

And I mean it when I say I hope you are doing well. And if you are not, that you have someone to talk to that will hear you and listen deeply and sit with you. And if not, that you find someone to do that.

How am I? I’m exhausted and happy and sad and angry and all of these things all at once. I wish we had a word for it. I haven’t found one yet that feels right to me. But mostly I’m feeling a bit embarrassed that this post about NaNoWriMo is so late after November ended. However, I wanted to do a bit of a reflection on this year’s NaNo so here it is. I’m going with the “better late than never” philosophy for today’s post.

Did you do NaNo this year? If you did, yay! If you didn’t, I understand. This year was hard and I thought about just opting out, but in the end I’m glad I signed up for it.

Did I win?

Well, I didn’t hit 50,000 words. I almost wrote 27,000, which was a win for me. And I wrote every day, which was another win.

I think everyone who wrote anything during NaNo is a winner. Sitting down and writing is a win, any day.

But what was really great for me for NaNo was hosting a couple of virtual write-ins. I was really nervous about doing that, but they ended up being so much fun. We had a small group, but it was the first time I’d seen some people in almost a year. It was great to write in community and to support each other.

It was also one of the few times during this school year that Zoom felt like a gift rather than completely energy draining. It was so lovely and made me even more excited for next year’s write-ins that will hopefully (fingers crossed) be in person.

So NaNo for me this year was a great way to reconnect with some writer buddies, get a good start on a new novel draft, and remember that it is okay (even good) to prioritize making some time every day for my projects and passions (even when the work and home to-do lists are never-ending).

I hope that you are finding ways to take time for your writing, your creative activities, your passions, too during this year of really unprecedented times. I have the privilege to do so, even when I feel overwhelmed, and I hope you have space to do so, too. If not, I hope the next year brings the space and ability to do so into your life.

And I hope the end of the year inspires you to take some time to plan what you want the next year to be and how you will get there.

For those of us who have the ability, consider supporting NaNoWriMo as they help support us with Come Write In Program and the Young Writers Program. Everyone has a story to tell and this is one way to help others tell their story.

Thank you, as always, for reading and listening. I hope you find joy in your writing and the work you are doing. Until we meet again, friends, take care and keep writing.

Hi, yes, I’m still here

Happy Saturday, dear readers (if any of you are still out there). I know it’s been quite some time since I’ve posted anything on this blog. I keep thinking about it and meaning to, but life has gotten in the way. This year has gotten in the way. I’m sure you can understand that as we’re all living through the same year, even if we are experiencing it in different ways.

But, yes, I’m still here. And, yes, I’ve still been writing.

I just wanted to check in with this blog and with you before the end of the year. And I wanted to say that one of my goals in the new year is to post here more regularly (and for me that means once a week). I need to get back in the habit of writing very short stories while working on my longer writing. It is good and it keeps the ideas flowing. Even though sometimes it is hard to find time for both.

I also wanted to say that I need to write more here about what I’m thinking about and reading about and doing in life. Because life influences our work and our writing and our creativity. So you might see more posts about the process than before. You might see more posts about how my activist work impacts my writing and thinking than before. You might get posts about what I’m reading than before. Or not…we all have to see what this next year brings. But I wanted to let you know there will be changes. And if you keep reading, that’s wonderful. And if you don’t, that’s fine, too.

We’re all just stumbling through this year, this life together. And some of us our writing our way through it, too.

I hope that you are able to find moments of relaxation, reflection, and rejuvenation as we come to the end of the year. I hope that you are able to find moments of joy. I hope you are able to fill yourself up so you can create and share your creations with the world.

I hope.

I continue to write, and take deep breathes, and figure out this whole writing and living thing and I know you are, too.

I hope you have a wonderful day and find wonder in the small things that can bring us joy. Like twinkle lights and hot cups of tea and an unexpected card in the mail or text from a friend. Let’s continue this journey together. Thank you, as always, for reading, for listening, for creating, for being.