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.

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’

Across the U.S. for a hug

Across the U.S. in a 1986 Toyota minivan. From the sultry, flat plains of southern Alabama to the crisp, evergreen-covered mountains of the Pacific Northwest.  It took nearly four (long) days to drive it.  Mississippi and Arkansas looked like home pretty much, but by the time I reached Oklahoma on the second day, I knew I ‘wasn’t in Kansas anymore’.  Hadn’t felt the outside air for hours as I made my way through Oklahoma, pulled up to a  drive thru for food, rolled down the window and wow…it was cold (relatively speaking).  And if the alignment had been good on the van, I’m pretty sure I could have driven the entire panhandle of Oklahoma without steering.  Just point the wheels forward and press the gas. In Colorado I saw green grass and wildflowers next to patches of old, winter snow as I climbed to Aspen.  The first to fall and the last to melt.  Up through Wyoming.  I don’t really remember much about Wyoming.  And not a lot about Montana either.  I’d never seen so much nothing in my life, but the space felt like the whole world had opened up.  But as I got to western Montana the mountains happened.  I’d never seen mountains.  The Smoky Mountains of Tennessee were more like large hills.  And then I was in Idaho and finally at my mom’s.

My mom and my brother had moved to Idaho when I was 10 years old.  I stayed with my mom’s family in Alabama.  They’d been my legal guardians since I was 4 years old.  I have pictures of my family hugging me when I was a toddler.  I remember my great-grandpa giving me a hug and telling me he loved me one night as we were leaving dinner at Shoney’s when I was in high school, and I cried in the car.  One of the most memorable moments of my life.  It hadn’t happened before that night, and it never happened again.  Once my mom came to visit from Idaho the summer after my 9th grade year.  She tried to hug me, and I’m not sure if I hugged her back.  All I knew was that it felt strange, and later she told me it broke her heart that I became stone-still and rigid when she tried to hold me.  But she had hugged me and nobody else had ever hugged me that way.  Like I was the most important thing and she didn’t want to let me go.

So when I was old enough (and brave enough), I drove across the country to her in Idaho, because I knew she had more hugs for me.  What an amazing thing to be at my mom’s house.  The return address on all those letters for so many years.  After a bit, she asked if I wanted to go see my brother.  He was living with friends only a couple of blocks over.  I had missed him so much.  My little, blonde-haired brother that I never got to grow up with, that I had visited with on some holidays and cried so much when he left, that I hadn’t seen for seven years.  He knew I was supposed to get to town that day, and when I drove up to the curb of his house, he came bounding out…6 feet tall and 18 years old…the little boy I had last seen when I was in 9th grade.  He grabbed hold of me and wrapped me in his long, gangly arms like our lives hadn’t been complete until that moment.  And I melted and cried and softened and started hugging.

 

–The pic is of me visiting my mom and brother in southeast Georgia before they moved to Idaho. What is painfully obvious to me is that although it looks like I’m reaching to hold my mom’s hand, I can tell from what I know of myself that I was trying not to let her fingers touch my side.

A Southerner’s Difficult Disclosure

In middle school there was a girl in our grade named Paula, and Paula could really sing.  When we would have spare time between subjects, sometimes the teacher would ask Paula to sing for us, and we loved it. Our favorite song, as little Southerners, was a gospel song she sang about a box of crayons…I don’t know the name of the song…but I can still sing it word for word today even though I sound nothing like Paula (and yeah I’ve tried).  We all thought she was the best. She was fun and sassy and nice and had star quality!  I remember once, even though I wasn’t sure she’d come because she was so popular and I wasn’t a popular kid at all, I wanted to invite her to my birthday party, but it was explained to me that it was ok to be acquaintances with Paula at school but that I couldn’t have her over for my party. Paula wasn’t white. In all honesty, by this time in my life, this restriction wasn’t surprising to me at all.  Because there was another little song I had jingling around inadvertently in my head occasionally that I had learned word-for-word by heart as a child, as well. Continue reading