Fiction Friday: Revelations In Song

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The convertible sped at breakneck speed along winding roads wreathed with green. Nicole closed her eyes against a wave of vertigo as the car listed dangerously around a tight curve. She inhaled the smell of sunshine and dirt and vines, fixed her attention on Joel’s hand resting warm atop hers. The car straightened out, and she glanced over at the man sitting beside her, brown hair ruffling and whipping in the wind. She was running out of time to do what she’d flown halfway across the world to do.

“Joel,” she began, at the same moment he said, “You want some music?” He left her hand chilly in the sunlight and flipped on the radio.

“You’re havin’ my baby,” crooned the male voice.

Joel laughed. “I haven’t heard this  song in forever.” He reached for her hand again, caught it against his heart. “You’re havin’ my baby! You’re the woman I love, and I love what it’s doin’ to ya…”

Hot and cold flashed over her as he sang, his face rapt with the joy of performing one of the weirdest songs ever written. He frowned slightly, breaking off mid-phrase. “What’s wrong, love?”

“I have something to tell you.”

Joel’s phone rang. “Hold that thought,” he said.

The conversation lasted all the way to the small local airport. Joel made an apologetic face but he kept talking sales strategy as he hauled her suitcase out of the trunk and handed it to the staff member for loading into the private jet. Nicole waited, feeling increasingly frantic.

“Mrs. Summerhill, we need to close the doors,” the uniformed man said.

She turned to Joel, who addressed his phone: “Hang on a minute.” He dropped a quick kiss on her lips. “Sorry, love. Have a safe trip. I’ll see you in a few weeks.”

“Joel,” she said firmly, but he was already turning away. She grabbed his elbow. “Joel, I’m pregnant.”

*

This week’s Red Writing Hood prompt was to take the #1 song the day you were born and write a piece inspired by it. The song is “You’re Havin’ My Baby” by Paul Anka, and my first thought was that this is the creepiest song ever written. I’ve stepped back from that a bit, because some of the sentiments are really nice…but I can’t help feeling they’re just really, really weird in song format.

This is a scene I’m working out for a novel-in-progress.

Fiction Friday: The Epitaph

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English: Old Headstone
Image via Wikipedia

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood

People are better once they’re dead.

The sun beats down, melting the sweat out of the man. He pauses, shoves the blade into the dirt at the base of the hole, and stretches. His back hurts more these days, but it’s worse today than any time he can remember. He perches on the manicured emerald at the edge of the hole, takes a swig from his water bottle, tepid now in the midafternoon heat. Doesn’t help much. He leans on the grip of his shovel, calloused brown hands big as dinner plates supporting a face grizzled gray with wear, and peruses the words etched into the granite stone one plot to the west.

Our loss — Heaven’s gain.

He chuffs, shakes his head against the dizziness of sweltering July, and goes back to work. The inhabitants of this quiet corner of the universe, they were just like everybody else. They hit their wives, drank on the sly, slept around–or maybe they were more ordinary sinners, gossiping, talking behind their best friends’ backs. But one and all, they became saints soon as they drew their last breath.

Sure, he’s a cynic. He’s seen too much of life in the years he’s spent here, digging holes, filling them in, trimming, mowing, to be fooled by the prettiness of a whited sepulchre.

Whited sepulchre. What a great phrase.

He thinks of the notes he’s pulled off stones, anchored by rocks, wreaths or roses, confessing betrayals decades old. Better yet, laying out the laundry list of the poor stiff’s sins. That very stone he just read, in fact–hoo-ee, the malice contained on that little slip left there last Memorial Day! What do people think, when they leave things out on gravestones–that nobody’ll ever give into the temptation to look?

Then again, seeing as how they can’t accuse the poor bastard to his face, maybe it’s just how it goes. Either way, he, the inheritor of all this dirty laundry, has learned to view dignified etchings with skepticism.

Man, but it’s hot. Heat presses in on all sides. Breathing feels like sucking in Jello. And his back hurts. He tosses another shovelful out of the deepening hole, ignoring the way the world seems to be undulating around him…until he can’t anymore. Belatedly he realizes it isn’t just the heat squeezing his chest till it hurts. He drops the shovel and tries to pull himself out of the hole. He manages to swing one leg onto the jewel-green grass before the pain cripples him and he tumbles, prone, to the floor of the rectangular pit. He looks at the soft brown walls rising above him and can’t escape the irony: he’s dug his own grave. Ah, well, at least it’s cool and shady, he thinks as the world retreats. What will they etch on his grave? Perhaps:

He died lived as he lived.

They find him hours later, lying in the hole he dug with an ironic smile upon his face.

**

The gurus at Write On Edge asked us to come up with new characters this week, so I obliged. I wanted to try my hand at writing somebody curmudgeonly and bitter, but I feel it necessary to add that I read an article by a guy who used to dig graves, and his perspective on a man’s thoughts as you do so is much more praiseworthy than his fictional counterpart.

Fiction Friday: Heartbreak

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I talk often enough about being a fiction writer, but with the rare exception, I don’t give you any fiction to read. Fiction is my soul food as a writer…my guilty pleasure…my dream. So I’m going to start sharing. This first attempt, a woman whose marriage is in trouble reflecting back on her first heartbreak, is rougher than I’d like, but…man, you have no idea the day I had yesterday.

I’m deep in the process of writing one novel, but I have another one brewing in the background: the story of a marriage in trouble, and the beauty of what can result when people stick out the bad times. In the interest of character developing that upcoming project, I introduce you to Alison.

***

Broken Heart symbol

As Carlo strode down the gravel walkway toward the winery grounds proper, Alison stood in the living room, listening to her little boy crying. The pain within her seemed oddly familiar. She was accustomed to feeling her child’s pain, but this…this was different. It seemed to expand without limit; she had no idea there was room enough inside her for so much hurt.

In her mind’s eye, she saw a golden-haired boy in a letter sweater, standing with his back to her in the warm sunlight of a day much like this one. She saw herself as she had been then, an awkward girl in a pink cardigan softened by too much wear, a strand of dime store pearls at her throat, pulling the chapel veil off her head after SundayMass. Her parents chatted while her little brothers played tag, weaving in and out of the adults’ legs with an uncanny knack for avoiding restraint.

Over by the flower-crowned statue of the Blessed Mother stood Jerry. Jerry, with his hands shoved in his pockets, scuffing the sidewalk with soft leather soles as he talked to a group of kids from school. It was a beautiful day, but he was the most beautiful part by far.

Alison felt a flash of warmth, remembering the day he’d appeared on the parkway beside her on the way home from school, his hair like a halo in the sunlight. He always seemed to overtake her by chance, there along the path, and walked with her, listening as no one else did, talking with her about music, books—anything, really. Their conversations ended only when they reached the long wrought-iron fence and took opposite paths to their very different homes.

She fingered the envelope tucked inside her waistband. If the boys knew she was carrying Jerry’s birthday dinner invitation like a talisman, they would mock her. If Mama knew…she shivered. But how could she not keep the proof of his regard close, right against her skin? And now that he had made it official, did she have the courage to speak to him in public? In front of God and everyone?

She took a tentative step, and another. The knot of well-dressed high schoolers were so close now, she could hear them laughing and talking. “…turning your birthday into a charity project.” Mary Clare batted cheerleader eyes at Jerry. “Didn’t your mother make you invite the groundskeeper’s daughter?”

Laughter swelled. Jerry mussed his golden hair, shrugging. “It’s okay. She’s a nice little girl.”

Alison felt her body catch fire, burning rivers that tore through her body, melting the connective tissue that kept her together. She kept walking, veering away from them one slow step at a time. In a moment, he’d see her and call out, put his arm around her as he had just yesterday in the park and smile at her with that way of his. He’d invite her for a ride in his shiny convertible and take her away from all this.

“Allie!”

Not Jerry’s voice. Her father. Alison clutched the fractured pieces together and walked toward the beat-up station wagon. She squeezed in the back seat beside the boys and pulled the door shut with a deafening metallic groan. As the car pulled away, she saw Jerry laughing in the sunlight.                                                                                                    

Alison shook her head. Ludicrous to remember that at a time like this. How could the drama of eighth grade possibly compete with the present pain? Yet in the echo of the past, she recognized the sensation shattering her insides.

She watched her husband disappear through the row of arborvitae and whispered, “Heartbreak.”

***

(Critiques welcome!)