Prompt Response: What makes me fearful

I told Ms. Emily McInnis that I am afraid of her. Emily isn’t bad or evil or cruel or a monster. She’s really quite nice. And she’s not even real actually. She’s only a character in my head that I want to put on paper, but she does have the power to hurt me. I am afraid of Emily because I am scared I can’t write her character, and I’m frightened that if I do write her that she will become a daily mirror in which I compare myself and see that I have fallen short. In my mind she has fortitude, and she is intrepid. She stands up for herself. She has grit. She is strong, determined and wise. How can I write such a character and make her believable when for some time now I have not embodied these qualities myself. What’s that old adage? Write what you know, right? If so, my Emily should be thwarted at every turn until she is finally paralyzed by fear.

I told her this one day recently and sat in silence across from her, waiting for her response.

Finally, Emily reached out and patted me twice on the worried tangle of fingers I held anxiously in my lap. “You, my dear, are dwelling in scarcity. It started when you looked and saw others succeed while you failed. You believe you have tried harder but have gained less. You have closed your eyes to the courage of others around you until now you don’t even believe in it for yourself.”

Emily ran her hands primly across her lap flattening the already perfectly crisp creases of her long day skirts. “Sit up straight, my dear,” she chided. As I sheepishly complied, I looked into her face but I did not see disdain or disappointment behind her words. This was just Emily. Emily of her time. 1910. Her eyes were soft as she continued.

“There is an antidote. Every day be ready. Be ready to see beauty. Be anxious to hold wonder. So ready and anxious that you find beauty and wonder in the smallest places, made of the smallest things, and you horde these tiny treasures until you have to push past them all to navigate the hallways of your heart. This is how abundance is made.”

Emily stood, and with a proper smile she straightened her hat and smoothed her hair. “Punctuality”, she stated, simply. “I must get to the baker for the school’s lunch loaves before the noon whistle. But you know where to find me.”

WRITE: What makes me fearful?

This prompt can be used for fiction or non-fiction. You can write about what makes you personally fearful, or you can use it to explore one of your characters to develop that character in your mind by determining what he/she would fear.

1000 words or less

And if you’d like, please share! Copy and paste your writing as a comment below, or if you have a blog you can post a link.

Not A Love Poem

How many ways to kill a heart?
A heart as soft as love can make.
The clearest is a buttressed pride
And slumbered chains this pride does wake.

Yet pride alone a blunted sword
Against a heart as soft as stone.
Better works a selfish mouth
That gives and takes and gives on loan.

But the heart may shudder on
One that’s made to stand and last.
The final stab to make it still?
Never change behind the mask.

The Buddy System

Big mounds of dirt. My most memorable field trip was when I was in 3rd grade, and we went to see big mounds of dirt.  One of the mounds was around 50 feet high and flat like a plateau.  There was a metal staircase stuck to the side of that mound, and we took it single file all the way to the top.  Once atop, we ran all around (the mound is nearly the size of a football field) and looked out at the rather plain, southwest Georgia landscape of grass and trees.  My “field trip buddy” (we were partnered-up for safety) was a boy.  I don’t think this was a random pairing.  I think he liked me, and we chose each other.  We had to hold hands as part of the “partnership”, and I’m pretty sure he could have let go once we got back to the bus, but he didn’t.  We were young and innocent enough that, although I had an awareness of his boy-ness that was obviously strong enough that I remember the hand-holding experience thirty-some years later, there was no nervousness or sweaty palms (other than from it being southern springtime).  Sweaty hand-holding didn’t happen until 5th grade. But later that evening my aunt, who must have gotten word of the scandal from my teacher, told me that next time I went on a field trip I should choose a female partner.

During the trip though, being a kid and also maybe distracted by my budding sexuality, what I’m certain I didn’t appreciate was that my partner and I were holding hands and tromping around on the raised, earthen pedestal of a long-gone ritual temple and, from that vantage point 2000 years before, we would have been looking out over the largest Native American society north of the Aztecs.  In the small visitors’ center, which had an underground feel since it was built right into the excavated side of one of the mounds, we learned that the smaller mounds were used for burial, sometimes of human sacrifices.  In the dimly-lit, air-conditioned hall I walked hand-in-hand with my partner along the railed platforms, peering over at the artifacts scattered around the ground, a few only half unearthed as if someone had just been digging them up and maybe stepped out for a bathroom break.

There was pottery galore, but I’m pretty sure the highlight of the trip was seeing the replica human skeleton lying half-embedded in ancient, red Georgia clay, the real skeletal remains having been re-buried. I don’t remember anyone telling us they were replicas during that trip, and maybe they weren’t at that time. After seeing them and emerging from the cave back out into the hot, bright, humid day, the mounds dotting the hazy horizon looked mysterious indeed.  And from how I feel thinking about the trip, it was downright eerie.  I was eight years old, so not an age that I could truly conceptualize death, civilization, ritual and antiquity, but I can still feel today how I felt being there.  The best way I can describe it now with my adult words is that I had an ethereal feeling…of things not feeling all there…maybe like the trees and grass and sky were a thin mirage concealing something empty.  Or maybe I’ve watched too much Indiana Jones since then, and it’s flavoring my memories. Or maybe I should have been on medication as a child. But that’s the feeling that made me think Kolomoki Mounds when I saw this prompt.  That and the holding-hands business.

–RemembeRED prompt– A memorable childhood field trip

The Time Left

“We’ve been out here for two hours, Doloris. For Christ’s sake, pick something and let’s go home.”

Doloris poked the map repeatedly with her arthritic finger. “We still have four more plots to see. Don’t rush me, Charlie Finn. You’ve been rushing me for fifty years. And quit pulling at my elbow. We’re going this way.”  She pointed up the hill.

“’I want it to have shade,’ she says.  ‘I don’t want it to be a corner,’ she says. I say we just need room enough for them to dig two holes to throw us into.” Charlie looked to the gray sky for sympathy.

“Mocking me. You’ve never understood that just because something isn’t important to you, doesn’t mean it’s not important to me.”  She had turned to glare but started walking again.

With a grunt, Charlie followed. “And you’ve never understood that you shouldn’t force me to abide everything you find important.”

“Two Saturdays, Charlie. Just two. What else have you got to do?” she said over her shoulder. Out of breath.

“I can think of a lot better than trudging back and forth across a cemetery in January. This is a ridiculous waste of time, woman.”

She turned to face him, her wrinkled hands balled defiantly on her broad hips. Her lower lip quivering, maybe from the cold, but the tears said otherwise. “I’ll tell you what’s ridiculous, Charlie.  That after last week and you filing those ridiculous papers, if your old heart seizes up and needs a kick start, nobody can touch it.  If I don’t have a say anymore in when I have to give you up, Charlie Finn, then I’ll damn sure have a say in where I’ll sit to mourn you.”

–Red Writing Hood prompt–Flash Fiction 300 word limit with inspiration word “LIFE”

Middle Class Yard

I was in 5th grade, and it was the first time I had hung out in the yard of our new house after moving in.  I was there with my two sister-aunts and my brother-uncle. The easiest explanation of this classification would be to say I’m from Alabama, but that’s really just a mean stereotype.  The actual explanation is that my grandmother married a man with two daughters and a son, and since I was living with them, these kids felt like siblings to me.  But technically, being my grandma’s step children, they were my aunts, who were only two years older than me, and uncle, who was actually a year younger than me.  Ah well. It still sounds strangely sordid.  All six of us, two adults and four kids, had spent our first year together cohabitating in a two-bedroom house that could be described generously as 1300 square feet.  That’s before the attic was transformed into two additional bedrooms. And by ‘transformed’ I mean they put two beds up there, and we had to pull the folding wooden stairs down by the string in the hallway ceiling to go to bed.  It’s funny now, but at the time it was a kid’s dream. It was like a tree house.

The new house didn’t have the tree house style, but it was much classier and was smack dab in the middle of middle class. It was brick and had three large bedrooms and an enclosed garage that we made into part bedroom, part den, part office and part storage for fishing clothes (that for some reason we had gobs of). The only way we could afford to buy the place, I believe, was that almost everything we owned was second-hand, garage sale.  All our furniture.  All our clothes. My grandma was a master garage-saler. Saturday mornings we were up with the sun, armed with our classified ads and the well-worn map, and headed to the local military base where there were always plenty of families moving away and selling off their stuff. The furniture was nice. Our clothes were another matter.  I am not kidding when I say I had a bathing suit once from the 1950s. As cool as that might sound now, it wasn’t then. We were teased mercilessly by the middle class neighborhood kids. We learned we didn’t belong in that middle class neighborhood. We didn’t have the clothes to pull it off.

But of course, all that was yet to happen at the time we were hanging out that day in our new yard.  And the fact that we were in our new yard wasn’t what will forever make that day stand out in my mind.  A girl I didn’t know and never met, riding her bike by our house, was the reason that day in the yard is in my head.  We were goofing off there in the yard, and I vaguely remember the girl passing by on her bike. There was a loud thump, someone screaming and a man from across the street running like lightening to the ditch in front of our new house. From what I learned later, the girl on the bike had wobbled a bit just as a car was passing her, the car caught her front tire and launched her into the ditch.  They told us she was alive but wouldn’t let us anywhere near as we waited on the ambulance.  I learned what a compound fracture of the femur was that day.   And I learned, most likely for the first time, what it felt like to care about a complete stranger.

–RemembeRED prompt–  ‘The first time I __________ed after _________ing’

White Shag Carpet

Back in 1977 when I was about 6 years old and living in a mobile home parked on an acre of rural land near Webb, Alabama, I spent a lot of time standing on a straight back chair in my small white-shag-carpeted bedroom. I did two things while on the chair and both involved records I was playing on my record player. When on my chair (a.k.a. “stage”) I would either practice Spanish using my grandma’s Spanish language records (I loved how the guy at the start of the record would announce in a deep, rich, heavily-Spanish-accented voice “Spanish in rrrrrecord time!”), or I would pretend I was Elvis. My grandma had every Elvis album ever produced and had drawers full of RCA 45’s and quite a few yellow-labeled Sun 45’s, but my favorite album to “perform” was Elvis On Stage. (“ON STAGE” was in Las Vegas lights across the album cover with a photo of a mature Elvis earnestly singing, and my small mind was wowed).

During this time I had a babysitter named Ena. Ena was kind of a hippie and gave me a real mood ring and my first book of poetry. Most notably for me at that age, she helped me dig exciting although non-functional rabbit traps out along the back edge of the yard. I think the holes were probably only a foot deep, and we would cover them with some sticks and grass to fake out the rabbits.  I was so sure I was going to catch a bunny.  Every day…several times a day…Ena would walk with me to check the always-empty traps. She was the coolest, even if her traps were bogus. One day Ena and I were watching tv, and the news broke in that Elvis had died. I remember this being such a shock for me, and I’m sure my Elvis-time on the chair increased for a while after that, as some sort of 6 year old’s tribute.

I catch a lot of flak around my house during the holidays for playing my Elvis Christmas record (which used to be a record, then a tape, then a cd and now an mp3), but it’s just not Christmas until I hear that mellow voice singing “got no sleigh with reindeer…no sack on my back…you gonna see me comin’…in a big black Cadillac”. So a couple of weeks ago I made it to the gates of Graceland at 10pm on a Monday night. I took a couple of pics of the gate and looked at the house for a few minutes and thought back to my Elvis impersonations and living in trailers in rural Alabama and Ena and all the rabbits we never caught. Just like that famous hound dog.

The pics at top are a scan of one of my grandma’s Elvis Sun label records and some photos my grandma took of him at a concert (1956).

Originally web-posted 02-25-10