Miss Pelican's Perch

Looking at my World from a Different Place


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The Gift

The Gift

“No, no, no…..” Celena muttered as she guided her stalled car over to the shoulder of the road.

When she came to a stop, she tried starting it again.. The engine would not turn over. She banged her fists on the top the steering wheel. Not again.

In spite of all the trips to various mechanics, not one had been able to determine the reason why her car frequently–and at the worst times and most unfortunate locations– would die. The dealership even had a team of people trying to solve the mystery.

Celena knew the reason, though, and it was no mystery. It was “the gift.”

It started with her grandfather, though everyone suspected it went back many more generations. Grandpa could never wear mechanical wristwatches because they would cease to function in spite of his diligence in winding them each day. He would often quip “It’s my magnetic personality.” .

Other family members had similar circumstances with mechanical devices and when the electronic-digital era dawned, younger family members discovered they too had “the gift”.

“You mean ‘the curse’”, her cousin Mimi would often say. She had the particular ability to make any computer she sat at freeze up or crash whenever she was stressed over a deadline.

The speculation was that a peculiar energy flowed through the veins of everyone in the family– or so it was said since no one could figure it out. Uncle Ernie once declared, “Face it. We’re just a weird family.”

Celena sighed and reached into her purse for her phone. As she figured, there were no bars on her device even though she knew she was well within her provider’s service area. Celena got out of the car and began waving her phone around trying to grab a signal. “C’mon, c’mon….”

She crunched down the gravel shoulder of the road. Of course, the car had died at night on the one stretch of the road with no buildings, a mile in both directions from any sort of assistance. There were streetlights but Celena knew they would be of no use.

As she approached the closest pole, the light on the top switched off. Celena continued on down the road. The next light too went dark as she passed it.

Celena was not surprised. This frequently happened whenever she walked under a light. Not every time, but so frequently that it had to be more than coincidence. It happened most often when she was anxious or angry. There was even a name for it, Celena discovered: SLI, or “Street Light Interference Phenomenon”. She found an article on Wikipedia that explained it all.

Celena was considered by the family to be the most “gifted” — or the most “cursed” if you were to ask Cousin Mimi.

Celena sighed with relief when her phone beeped and three bars appeared on the display. She quickly dialed Road Service and arranged for a tow truck. A few seconds later a text came through showing the picture and name of the mechanic on the way.

“Thank you, ‘Brian’” she said and kissed the face of her phone.

With the streetlights slowly glowing back to life, Celena looked around. Along the shoulder were shadowy hedges of Tecate cypress and oleander. They were thick and dense enough to hide a person.

Celena was not afraid. She fully believed that she could use whatever energy flowed through her veins to handle any threat that came her way.

Her mother always cautioned her not to be so foolish since “the gift” was random and manifested when it willed. Her grandmother had several times given her a stern warning that it was never to be used as a weapon and that she was acting prideful with it— a serious sin in her book. Celena had tried to explain to them that she could pull up the energy at will and push back anyone who tried to harm her.   She cited examples from her youth of schoolyard bullies that she had diverted with her “energy”. Mimi was annoyingly quick to point out that it had less to do with any alleged power and more to do with the bullies’ belief that she could knock the snot out of them with one swing.

Celena slowly strolled back to her car since the text had said Brian would be there in about fifteen minutes or so. She settled back into the driver’s seat and pulled out her e-reader to pass the time.

She got lost in the novel and did not notice that fifteen minutes had come and gone. At twenty-five minutes, she became aware of the time and pulled out her phone again to call Road Service to complain and ask for an updated ETA. The phone was non-functional as before.

“Great.” Celena considered hiking the mile down the road to the nearest convenience store and have them call her mom to pick her up.

As she was gathering her purse and preparing to get out of the car, lights flashed in the rear-view mirror. She turned in her seat to see a truck pull up behind her and stop.  She shielded her eyes against the glare of the two headlights that flooded the interior of her car.

“Finally.”

The door of the truck squeaked open and a figure slid out.

She turned the key in the ignition and rolled down the window.

The figure crunched along the gravel and came up beside her.

She frowned.  It was not the man in the picture she had been texted.

It was not Brian.  Her stomach knotted and her throat tightened.

And then she knew she had been wrong about everything.

 

Ljgloyd (c) 2017

Magnet

 


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At the Oracle

Oracle signA creative person often has a muse — that person who inspires the creative.   The muse can be a person known to creative or can be an inspirational figure from history.  The Greeks personified the muse in their mythology by creating nine characters, goddesses who inspired them in various areas — music, poetry, literature, and science.   I have followed the Greeks’ example and created a fictional muse.  My muse is a psychological construct who gets my creative stream moving.  Similarly, I personified my Inner Critic as well.  I have written a number of stories over the years where I do battle with my Inner Critic (and almost always squash her).  Writing these short stories has helped me overcome the occasional creative block in my writer’s journey.    A number of years ago, I finally wrote a story where my Muse comes face-to-face with my Inner Critic.  Here is a re-post of that epic encounter.

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At The Oracle

I rushed down the rain-slick street towards The Oracle. A break in the storm allowed fingers of light from the setting sun make the rain-laden clouds darkly ominous. I picked up my pace, hoping to get to the bookstore before the clouds unleashed a new round of rain.

I was supposed to meet an old friend at the bookstore, a writing buddy from back in the day when I actually wrote things. Sherlyn was passing through town on a promotional tour of her new novel. She had promised me that we would meet and catch up on old times.

When we were young, we would meet at the Oracle, write in our respective journals for a few minutes, and then read to each other what we had written. Of course these writing sessions were fueled by cups of Oracle coffee, the strongest brew known to humankind. Those had been great experiences, and we often come away from our writing sessions with the seeds of new stories to revise and expand. Sherlyn had taken those writings and produced a novel that made her famous. I was still making time at a dead-end desk job.

I glanced at my watch. I was fifteen minutes late. Picking this time of day to get through the daily commuter nightmare mess was a bad idea, but this was the only time Sherlyn could meet. It was my mistake not to give myself more time to arrive and find a place to park. I hope my friend had not been waiting too long. I hope I had not missed her altogether.

I rounded a corner and saw the warm interior of the bookstore shining through its huge plate glass window set into the facade of an ancient brick building. A faded sign hanging next to the entrance read “The Oracle, est. 1851”. A bell jangled as I pushed through the door, the same bell that Mrs. Delphinia Ravenhill, the original owner, had installed a hundred and sixty years ago.

I hurried by a table of slick, glossy art books and wove through the stacks of Self-Help and Sustainable Living towards the backroom cafe’. With pastries to die for and coffee that would keep you awake while you did, the Oracle café was a place where writers and other creatives gathered to drink, eat, write first drafts, sketch drawings, read books, or just day-dream. The cafe’ was always busy, but at certain times, like November when the regional Nano-wrimo groups convened, one was lucky to get a table at all. Tonight though, most likely because of the afternoon storm, the cafe was only moderately active.

Mostly there were men and women occupying single tables, the faces intent on their laptops or the books they were reading. Some frantically scribbled in journals. At a few tables there were pairs or trios quietly conversing. I scanned the room:  Sherlyn was not there. This concerned me. If she were running late, she would have texted me. I had a sinking feeling that I had been stood up.

I took a seat at the long marble counter situated in front of a row of antique brass expresso machines. A woman stood in front one of the machines drawing a cup. On the back of her shirt was the Oracle’s ravens-head logo and the name Corvida.

Where’s Bennie, I wondered. I slid onto a stool at the counter and pulled out my cell phone. There was no message from Sherlyn. I sighed.

A steaming cup slid across the counter and into my view.

“I thought you might like this. It’s on the house,” said Corvida.

I glanced up at her.  She had thick waves of black hair tied back and was dressed in the t-shirt and jeans requisite for twenty-somethings, but her eyes seemed to belong to a much older person. She reminded me of my great-aunt Millicent, a mischievous old lady with a twinkle in her eye and wisdom on her tongue. Corvida, quite frankly, had a disconcerting aura about her — like she might have belonged behind this expresso bar, but not quite.

“Uh, thanks.” I looked down at the cappuccino and noted that the Oracle’s raven-head logo had been drawn into the foam of the drink. “Nice work.”

“Thanks,” said Corvida.

“How did you know this was my favorite drink here?”

“Bennie told me.”

“Where is Bennie?”

“Off celebrating. He just got accepted into the writing program at State.”

“He did?. That’s great news. I know he was on pins and needles waiting to hear. I’m so happy for him.”

“Me too.” Corvida smiled as she pulled a damp rag from under the counter and began wiping it down.

I picked up the cup and inhaled the earthy aroma of the coffee. This was a little ritual I always performed before I took a sip.

“Wow, Bennie made into a graduate program. He’s going places.” I set the cup down. “Not like me.”

“You don’t need any more schooling, “ said Corvida, eyeing me from the other end of the counter.

“What?”

She walked back down to me. “School is right for Bennie and he’ll learn from that experience. You’ve had your own experiences – unique to you – you just need to write them down.”

“Yeah,” I sighed. I leaned an elbow on the counter and hoisted my feet on the stool next to me. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. “

“There’s nothing wrong with you. You just need an idea, that’s all.”

“Sure. No problem. No problem at all.”

Corvida shoved the towel back under the counter. “So what brings you here on a weekday afternoon? Bennie said you were part of the Saturday morning crowd.”

“I’m meeting my friend, Sherlyn Queensman.”

“THE Sherlyn Queensman? “

“Yep, she’s the one.”

“Her novels take up a whole shelf over in 2-D.” Corvida motioned towards the front of the store. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she got a Pulitzer in the next year or so. And what a life she’s lived: her novels, her social activism, her five deadbeat husbands and, what did I just hear? She’s learning to be a pilot? Amazing woman. How do you know her?”

“She and I used to sit in this café and write together. Right over there.” I pointed to a table in the corner underneath the poster of Mary Shelley.

“No kidding? Sherlyn Queensman wrote here? I bet you have a story or two to tell about that.”

“Yeah, I would.”

“I bet you know all about her formative years.”

“That I would…” Suddenly, something in the back of my mind sparked. I shook my head. Naw, that’s a dumb idea…. still…..

I took a deep breath and the smell of cinnamon and carmelized butter overwhelmed me. “Are those fresh cinnamon buns I smell?”

“Yep, last batch of the day. Want one?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Comin’ right up.” Corvida pushed through the double doors into the kitchen.

Suddenly, a twangy voice cut through the air from the other end of the counter. “Those buns are making you fat.”

I knew that voice. I knew it well. Arvilla.

She sat on a stool, her back leaning against a brick pillar. In her short tight dress, chunky jewelry, and her usual spiky heels, Arvilla was a walking ad for the Rodeo Drive Chamber of Commerce. She casually sipped from a white and green venti-sized paper cup from the franchise down the street.

I already encountered my Inner Critic twice before, each time letting her mess with my head before kicking her out on her own. I was not going to let her work on me again. I pointed my index finger at her.

“Do not start with me, Arvilla. Do not say another word.”

Arvilla sniffed and set her cup on the counter. “Sugar, you seem to be under the presumption that I have come to see YOU. Rest assured, that is not the case at all.”

I lowered my finger and looked at her.

“See,” she said as she flourished a wave across the café, “these are the people I came to see. That one over there, in the corner – her plot stinks to high heaven and I’m going to have a little chat with her about that. And that gentlemen over there? He spends way too much time writing. He needs to have some distraction. I’m just the person for that.” Arvilla chuckled.

“Wait a minute. You mean to tell me that you didn’t come to see me, to rake me over the coals a bit.”

“No, darlin’, I did not.” Arvilla plopped her feet on the floor and leaned forward on her stool. She stared straight back at me and continued, “You are not even on my radar any more. You are not worth my time and effort. The truth is, sweetie, I have come to the conclusion that you are never going to write anything worthwhile in your whole life ever. In fact, that conclusion can apply to most anything about your life.”

I felt like I had been slugged in the gut.

Suddenly, the door from the kitchen banged open and there stood Cordiva, her eyes trained on Arvilla. “What are you doing here?” she spoke with a scary calmness.

Arvilla slid off her stool and turned to face Corvida. “Doing my job,” she replied.

“Your job is simply to tell people where to stick in their commas and semi-colons.”

I would swear that Arvilla’s tacky red hair was becoming even brassier.

Arvilla placed her hands on her hips. “I’ll tell you where to stick it, honey. You must have paid a visit to Mount O. because you’ve got a real goddess-complex happening here thinkin’ you can order me around.”

Corvida slowly walked around the end of the counter and faced Arvilla. I slid my stool out of the way, trying to make myself as unnoticeable as possible.

Cordiva slowly said, “You’re right. I don’t need to tell you what to do. You already know what has been handed down to us to do. In case you’ve forgotten, let me remind you, dear sister, that you are supposed to HELP, not hinder.”

“Well, I do help. If it weren’t for me, SHE,” Arvilla pointed toward me, “would be embarrassing herself by writing all kinds of dribble. She should be thanking me.”

Cordiva said, “Why don’t you try a little positive critiquing for a change. “

“What?” Arvilla and I replied in unison. We both stared at Cordiva in bewilderment.

“You heard me. Arvilla give Elle a compliment. I know you can do it,” Cordiva coaxed with a sugary smile.

“Fine. I will.” Arvilla gave an exasperated sigh. “Let’s see…. This will take a minute.”

I gave Cordiva a “why-are-you-putting-me-through-this” look.

“Alrighty, I got it.” Arvilla turned to me and said, “Your ability to write dialogue is fairly decent….and… well, you don’t totally suck at writing place descriptions…”

“And….” Said Cordiva.

Arvilla had a pained look on her face and after a long pause burst out, “Aw, heck, Cordiva, that’s all I got. She’s hopeless. She can’t write a sustainable plot for more than a couple thousand words and her writing, at best, is full of clichés.” Arvilla glanced at me. “She’s boring and unremarkable.” She turned back to Arvilla. “Face it, sugar, you are not doing her any favors by babying her.”

Cordiva said nothing for a moment. I thought I felt a tremor run through the counter top and heard the faint tinkle of cups and saucers on the shelf behind it. The lights flickered and momentarily dimmed.

“What’s the real problem here, Arvilla?” Cordiva took a step towards her.

“What do you mean?” Arvilla stepped back.

“Why don’t you want her to succeed? Is the fact that I might be correct in my estimation of her talent and potential and that sticks in your craw?

“You are full of it!”

Cordiva’s face lightened as if a profound bit of insight came to her. “Or is it, dear sister, you’re just a Critic because YOU do not possess any sort of creative power of your own. You’re angry because she has that power – and I have that power – and you don’t. You’re jealous of her, Arvilla.”

Arvilla’s eyes turned yellow and she hissed back, “I am not jealous of something like HER. She’s pathetic. I think the Universe was wrong to have wasted the molecules to create HER. She should not even exist!” She aimed these last horrible words directly at me.

I cringed and pulled into myself even more so. She must be right. Yes, she was absolutely correct.

Suddenly, I heard a loud pop and the sound of falling glass, followed by another pop and then another. I looked to the back of the counter. The bottles of Torani syrup on the shelf behind the counter were exploding, one after another. The cups and saucers on the shelf underneath were propelling themselves over the counter. I threw up an arm to protect myself from the flying glass and ceramic shrapnel, but it was all flying in the direction of Arvilla.

“I’ve had about all I can stand of you,” rumbled Cordiva. She began to grow in front of me, her t-shirt and jeans transforming into a cloak of black feathers. Her eyes were coal-black and filled with anger. She advanced towards Arvilla.

“From this point forward, you will no longer have any influence on anyone in this café.”

There was a loud bang and the café and bookstore began to sway. The overheads went off, leaving only the eerie blue glow of the building’s emergency lights. I heard a patron from the front of the bookstore scream “Earthquake!”

The tables were too far away for me to take cover, so I got down on the floor and crouched as closely as I could to the front of the counter. I could hear Arvilla shrieking and cursing Corvida and through the dim blue light I could see her covering the face and head. The shaking got steadily worse.

Then, the roof fell in on Arvilla.

“Miss Elle?”

“Huh?” I looked up at Bennie’s concerned face.

“Miss Elle, are you okay? You dropped your bag on the floor and then, well you sorta zoned out for a minute.”

Indeed I was on the floor. I picked up my bag and climbed back on the stool. I looked around the café. The patrons who had been there when I entered were still engaged in writing and conversation. Nothing was out of place. Everything was as it should be. I should have known from my past experiences with Arvilla that everything would be.

I turned towards the front windows of the bookstore. The sky had finally opened up and it was pouring rain.

“Some lightning show, huh? I thought for sure we’d lose power with that last strike.”

I turned back to the young man. “Where’s Corvida?”

“Who?”

“Corvida. Why are you here? She said you were off.”

“No….” said Bennie with some hesitation. “I’ve been here all afternoon. Um, are you going to answer your purse?”

“My purse?” I looked over at my hand bag that I had placed back on the counter. I could hear my cell phone’s ring tone coming from it. “Oh, yeah.” I scrambled to get it out and looked at the caller ID. I quickly flipped it open.

“Sherlyn? … Yes, I’m still here at the store.. Where are you?… Yeah, traffic sucks and its pouring outside… Yeah, I have time to wait for you. What’s up? …. Uh-huh, uh-huh… That’s fantastic! …. What? You’re kidding me? …. Well, heck-yeah, I’ll do it… Sure, I’ll get an agent right away. … They will?… That much?…. Okay… Okay… We can get a rough outline laid out this evening if you have the time. I’ve got some ideas already for this. Oh, Sherlyn, this will be just like old times…. Yeah, okay…. I’ll see you in a few minutes.” I punched off the phone.

“Well?, said Bennie. “Looks like you just got good news.”

“Oh, Bennie, this is amazing. My friend, Sherlyn Queensman, just heard from her publisher that they’ve authorized an official biography of her life. They said she could pick the biographer.”

“And she picked you?”

“Yes, I can’t believe it! And her publisher is even going to give me an advance. This is incredible! Absolutely unbelievable!”

“That’s not so unbelievable,” Bennie smiled as he slid a cup of cappuccino in front of me. “You’d better drink this before it gets cold.” I looked down into the cup and saw the Oracle’s ravens head logo drawn into the foam.

And then I saw the raven wink at me.

LJGloyd © 2010, revised 2016

Image:  LJGloyd 2016

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Here is my first story featuring Arvilla which is also one of the very first stories I wrote for the Soul Food Cafe.

Inspired by Letter M at the Soul Food Cafe

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/a-journey/

 

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After Work One Night….

Dolores had fallen asleep that evening in the same way she had all week long: face down into her sofa the moment she got home from work. She had been on her feet all day at her uncle’s antique store. He was traveling again to secure more inventory and had left her to manage the store and deal with a steady stream of customers. Today none of their part-time clerks were available so Dolores was left on her own to open and close and handle everything else in between. She was completely spent.

Dolores dropped her bag on the living room floor when she walked through the door.   She immediately flopped onto the sofa “for just a couple of minutes” she told herself before she would make supper. Her little chihuahua mix, Rat-Dog, greeted her with a couple of yaps, jumped on the sofa next to her and nestled down. He seemed to sense her exhaustion and did not whine for his supper. Fortunately, her apartment had a doggie-door to  a  small patio off her bedroom so she did not have to worry about taking Rat-Dog on a potty-walk. She just wanted to get off her feet for a few minutes.

Dolores emerged from her sleep when she felt Rat-Dog jump off the sofa. “Hmmmm, I bet you’re hungry,” she mumbled as she swung her feet to the floor. “Time to get us both fed.” She glanced at the time display on her tv’s cable box. “11:30! Oh, sweetie, I’m so sorry. You really must be starving.” She quickly rose to her feet.

As she started towards the kitchen, she saw the tiny dog come to alert, his face trained on her apartment’s front door. His hackles were raised, and a low growl rumbled from his throat.

“What is it?” Usually when Rat-Dog heard a visitor come to the door, he would yip, yap and bark until Dolores scolded him into being quiet. This time was different.

“Is there someone there?” No one would come to visit this late, she thought. Dolores stepped to the window and tipped a slat in the blinds to peek out. She could see no one on her front porch.

“Silly dog.” She let the slat fall back into place. ” I bet you really want your supper now.” Rat-Dog did not respond. He continued to stare at the door.

“Suit yourself.”

Dolores shuffled into the kitchen, pulled a can of dog food out of a cupboard and got out a can opener. As she was scraping the can’s contents into Rat-Dog’s bowl, she heard him whimper. She walked out of the kitchen and found the dog shivering and backing away from the door. Then she heard it: a soft scraping noise on the other side of the door.

“Who’s there?” she called at the door. The noise stopped. Dolores stomped to the front window and yanked the blinds up.

No one. She strained to see the threshold, but the shadows cast by foliage prevented her from detecting any animal or object brushing against the door. She let the blinds fall down. “It’s probably a raccoon…. I just hope it’s not a skunk.” Her mind immediately went to the doggie-door leading out to her bedroom patio. That’s all she needed:  one of the wretched little beasts getting into her apartment. She rushed into her bedroom and snapped the latch on the doggie-door. She could see the quivering little lump that was Rat-Dog hiding under her bedspread.

“My hero….” Dolores shook her head. “C’mon, let’s go eat dinner. I’ll keep you safe from the big bad racc–”

A loud bang on the front door made Dolores jump back against her bedroom wall. Rat-Dog began to bark and thrash his way from under the tangle of the bedspread. Dolores pulled herself together and rushed back into the living room. Keeping her eyes on the door, she grabbed her handbag. She rummaged through it until she found her cell phone. She pressed the side button and saw a tiny sliver of red pop up on the display and the words “Battery Empty. Please recharge.”

“No, no, no….” She punched the face of the phone. The display momentarily flashed and then went black.

Another loud bang rattled the front window and shook the door on its frame. Dolores tossed away the phone and crouched on the floor between the sofa and the coffee table. Rat-Dog went berserk. Foam and saliva flew from his mouth as he barked.

There was no point in yelling for help: Dolores knew that the couple upstairs were on vacation and the old man in the adjacent unit never heard anything at night when he turned off his hearing aid.

Her eyes darted to the top of her curio cabinet in the corner of the living room. Atop it was a katana, a pre-World War II Japanese sword that she had acquired from her uncle. The cold curve of its steel blade and its elegant black-lacquered sheath glinted under the display lights above the cabinet.

Another bang startled Dolores and she glanced back to the door. Then she saw the deadbolt latch. It was vertical. She had forgotten to turn it to locked position when she came home. Dolores started towards the door to turn the latch but jumped back when the door knob jiggled.

Dolores raced to the curio cabinet and pulled the katana off the display holder. She gripped the sword and held it out in front of her.

Truth be told, the real reason she had acquired the sword was not for its aesthetic qualities or historical significance. Rather, she got it to silence her gun-toting friends who insisted that she needed protection if she chose to live alone. Dolores hated guns and would not have one in her home. Her concession, laughable as it was, was to get the sword and buy a dog.

Dolores shifted her grip on the sword. Her breathing was quick and shallow, and sweat beaded on her forehead and face. Rat-Dog had stopped barking and stood whimpering behind the coffee table.

Could she defend herself? She had been taught all her life to “turn the other cheek”, “do unto others,” and “love your enemy.”

Dolores sighed and gently laid down the weapon on the coffee table. She had envisioned in her mind when she got the sword that IF she ever found herself in this situation, she only had to wave the sword around and frighten off her intruders. Here she was now– living out her own fantasy. Or was she? She knew that if someone came through the door, no amount of blade-wielding bravado would help her. Could she actually hurt someone?  Could she draw blood to save herself?  Would she?

Everything had gone silent except for the ticking clock on the dining room wall. Dolores counted the seconds and after a couple of minutes, she let out a huge breath of relief. She would not need to be tested after all.

Then, the door knob turned. The door swung open and hit the wall, leaving a crack in the plaster.

Dolores’ gaze returned to the sword resting on the coffee table.

The End.

 

ljgloyd (c) 2016

 

 


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Repost: Green

This is a repost of a very short story I wrote last year.

GREEN

Old Tilly sat on a rusted lawn chair outside her trailer. A lead-gray sky pressed down on her, and she listened to thunder rumble in the distance. She stared at the heap of dried watermelon seeds she had spat out the day before on the ground next to the chair. She sniffed the wind that had whipped up and wondered what trouble would visit her home today. Tilly turned her attention to the small curved knife she held in one hand and resumed scraping it against the whetstone she held in the other. Her plan had been to stalk the field behind the trailer park for wild herbs to harvest, but with the sky darkening and going green, Tilly knew she would not have time before the storm hit. Her customers would just have to wait.

Tilly glanced up from her work and noticed a figure down the gravel driveway. Her tired eyes could not make out the person, but she knew. She could always feel Arabelle coming towards her. The child had an energy that announced her coming from a mile away, quite literally. Tilly frowned. She could tell that Arabelle was sad and angry.
Tilly sighed and put her knife and whetstone on the ground. As Arabelle approached, Tilly grabbed the edge of the lawn chair to keep from being pushed back by the child’s presence. She noted Arabelle’s swollen, red-rimmed eyes and the wrinkled brown shopping bag she clutched to her chest. Tilly assumed that she must have gone home already after school. She had changed out of her school uniform into jeans and a black T-shirt. This child wears far too much black, Tilly thought. Arabelle dropped the bag in front of Tilly.

“What’s this?”

“Valerian root. I know you needed some, and I saw some growing in the ditch along the edge of the wheat field on the Masonville Road.”

Tilly picked up the bag and opened it. “Would you look at these. Nice ones. It took a good eye to find these. Thank you much.” Tilly crumpled the mouth of the bag shut. “So how was school today?”

Arabella said nothing. With the toe of her ragged slipper, Tilly pushed an upended bucket towards Arabelle. “Sit. Talk to me.” Arabelle plunked herself down on the bucket. The muffled sound of distant thunder rolled over them. She began to fidget with the end of her long brown braid. “Mr. Hendrix, my teacher in science class, was telling us about Saturn. He was talking about the rings and what they were made up and stuff. But he was wrong. I know because I read all about it in one of my dad’s magazines…”

“So you told ‘im, huh?”

Arabelle nodded.

“Bet he didn’t like that much, did he?” Tilly cackled. She did not think much of Dan Hendrix, a wet-behind-the- ears college boy whose only pleasure in life seemed to be in making the locals look and feel like idiots.

“He told me not to be such a-know-it-all. Then everybody in the class laughed. Then at the lunch kids started saying I was stupid.”

Tilly leaned forward in her chair and began to shake leathery finger at Arabelle. “Now you just listen here, girl. You are NOT stupid. In fact, you’re one of the sharpest people I know. Don’t you listen to them. You shine and people living in the dark sometimes just don’t like it.”

The fact of the matter was that Arabelle wasn’t just sharp– she was stunningly brilliant. Arabelle had the uncanny ability to observe and learn from every aspect of her world, particularly the natural world. She had an intuitive sense of how animals moved through the forest, where the best herbs and plants grew, and how the weather would turn. All of nature seemed to converge in her heart, and she expressed it back to the world in beautiful drawings, paintings, and carvings of wood and clay. She was an artist of extraordinary ability.

This did not surprise Tilly. Lenny Gardner, Arabelle’s father, a jack-of-all-trades and a local who had never graduated from high school, was an artist himself. Between doing odd jobs for his neighbors and the sale of a few of his sculptures to tourists driving through town, he made a modest living for himself and his daughter. Arabelle’s mother, a party girl with the short attention span, had abandoned them both when Arabelle was a baby. Lenny had done well to keep his brilliant daughter engaged through books, music, and art. He even got her a microscope. Arabelle responded by drawing, painting and carving the things she saw in the world and through the gifts her father had given her. There were times, thought Tilly, that the energy of the natural world came forth not only in her artwork but through her own life force.

Arabelle’s gifts, though, made her an outcast, a misfit, a person, as Tilly had just reminded her, who scared the bejeezus out of everyone. Tilly’s calling, she believed, was to guide the girl in continuing to manifest beauty and light and not to reflect the darkness and ugliness thrown at her.

“And don’t you think on what Dan Hendrix says. He’s not as smart as he thinks he is.” Tilly giggled. “You know those letters that come after college people’s names? Ph.D.? All that means are the words ‘piled high and deep’!”

A faint smile came to Arabelle’s face. “Mr. Hendrix doesn’t have a PhD. He has an M.A.”

“M.A.? You don’t wanna know what that means.” Tilly threw her head back and began to laugh. Arabelle’s shook her head and chuckled.

They both turned towards the sound of crunching gravel. A dusty black pick-up bounced along the trailer park driveway and came to a stop in front of Tilly’s trailer. The driver’s door squeaked open and a middle-aged man with a beer belly slid out and slammed the door. He hitched up his pants and belched as he sauntered over to Tilly.

“‘Afternoon, Pete.”

“I’m here for my order. ”

“And what order would that be, Pete? ”

Pete shuffled back-and-forth on his feet. “You know good and well… For the wife…for her, um, lady-troubles.”

“I seem to recollect that now. Coming right up.” She grunted as she hoisted herself off the lawn chair, clutching closed the front of her ragged house-dress. “Be just a minute”. She waddled to the steps of the trailer door and slowly climbed the steps. She disappeared into the darkness of the trailer.

Pete leaned up against the power pole next to the trailer, crossing his arms. His gaze swung around and leveled on Arabelle. She stared back at him.

“What are you looking at?”, he snarled.

Arabelle lowered her eyes.

“You’re Gardner’s kid, aren’t you? You tell your lazy good-for-nothing old man that he better finish mending the fences around my paddock or he can give back the advance I gave him. He should spend more time working and less time in — what does he call it?– his ‘stoo-dee-oh’.”

Arabelle got to her feet. Pete shook his head in disgust. “Calls himself an artist. Only city people would be fool enough to buy his crap. And I hear you’re no better — scratchin’ in your pad of fancy paper, think in’ you’re better ‘n us.”

Suddenly, a brilliant flash of white light enveloped them followed immediately by a shattering crash of thunder. The metal in the trailer vibrated, and the air seemed to buzz with electricity. Pete flattened himself against the side of the trailer.

“Whoa! That was close. Hey! Hurry up in there. I need to get home before this storm breaks.”

Tilly was already emerging from the trailer, breathing heavily as she navigated down the steps. She tossed a white plastic shopping bag to Pete. Then she reached over and cupped Arabelle’s chin in her hand. She looked hard at her.

“Don’t, Arabelle.  You are better than that.”

Arabelle’s eyes filled with tears and she nodded. Tilly patted her on the shoulder as she turned to Pete. She snapped her fingers and spread open her hand towards him. “Forget something?”

Pete scowled as he reached into the breast pocket of his denim jacket. He pulled out a twenty and handed it towards Tilly.

“The deal was for forty.”

“Forty? Are you out of your ever-loving mind? I am not paying $40 for a bag of lawn clippings.”

Tilly stepped up to Pete and whispered. “If you don’t pay me what you owe me I will let everyone know that my herbs are really for YOUR little problem.”

Pete reached up and shoved Tilly in the chest, sending her backward against the side of the trailer. “You say a word about that and I will have the county come out and condemn this thing you call a home. You’ll be out on the street you crazy old bat. ”

Tilly simply stared at Pete, her watery blue eyes filled with rage.

Arabelle screamed, “Stop it! “.

Pete glanced at Arabelle, then back to Tilly. Finally, he stepped back from Tilly, reached into his pocket, and pulled out an additional bill. He tossed the money at Tilly’s feet.

“Crazy old bat” he muttered.

As he turned towards the pickup, he looked up at the sky and gasped. The clouds had grown darker, overlaid with a sickly green cast. About a half mile away, he could see a funnel cloud whipping its tail back-and-forth as it sought to find a place to touchdown. Pete cursed and yanked open the door. In a matter of seconds, the pickup was rocketing down the gravel road.

“Arabelle! Don’t do it!” The wind nearly drowned out her words.

“It’s too late! I can’t stop it! It’s too big!”

“Then come inside! Quick!”

“No! I can lead it away!” She spun around and started running.

“Wait!,” shouted Tilly, but he words blew away with the wind.

All that evening and into the next morning, Tilly huddled in her trailer and prayed that Arabelle would be safe and that no one would die in the storm. In the middle of the next afternoon, when her electricity was finally restored, she switched on the television. She heaved a sigh of relief as the newscasters reported that in spite of the severity of the storms, no one had been killed and very few buildings had been lost.

As the newscast was wrapping up, one more story was reported: “As we close this evening’s telecast, we want to show you this odd phenomenon in a wheat field near Masonville.” Tilly smiled as she viewed the aerial footage of an intricate pattern of circles pressed into the golden field.

“Meteorologists are mystified at how these crop circles formed. Was it an odd quirk of the weather? Or the hand of an artistic prankster? Either way, the result is beautiful.”

crop_circles_swirl

Ljgloyd Feb. 2015

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/green/


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No Cliffhangers Here: “Cindy’s Choice”

Today’s Daily Post prompt says this:  No Cliffhangers:  Write a post about the topic of your choice, in whatever style you want, but make sure to end it with “…and all was well with the world. “

What follows is actually a story I wrote two years ago.  It is a re-telling of the Cinderella story.  Of course, this fairy tale ends with “and they lived happily ever after.”
*****

Cindy’s Choice

Cindy rolled the family’s beat up white minivan into the circular driveway of their sprawling Tudor-style house. When her stepsister married the Prince, the family had been given a home suitable to their new station as “royal in-laws.” The old minivan, though, was kept as an appropriate vehicle for Cindy to do the household errands. She turned off the engine and slid out of the van. She sighed and wiped her forehead as she walked towards the back of the van. It was going to be another scorching July day in the Valley.

Cindy did not dwell on the fact that it should have been SHE who married the Prince. Cindy knew that if she thought too much on the matter, she would spiral down to a dark place of despair, a place she feared she could not escape. Better if she just stayed focused on the life in front of her. She did, after all, get to live in a fine new house, even if it was as her step-family’s chief-cook-and-bottle-washer.

She heard the loud growl of an engine rumbling from the rear of the property. Cindy looked up and saw a tall young man in jeans, sweat-soaked red t-shirt and a white baseball cap. He gripped a leaf-blower and was slowly working his way towards her on the walkway. Cindy did not recognize him and figured her step-mother had one of her hissy fits and fired the old gardener. She noticed that the man had stopped his slow movement across the walkway and was staring at her. Cindy nodded a greeting at him and turned her attention to unloading grocery bags from the back of the van.

She had forgotten to take her canvas bags when she left for the market.  Instead she had to use the flimsy brown paper ones provided by the store. She struggled to get a grip around the bags since she did not not trust that their handles would hold. Finally, with two bags in each arm pressed close to her chest, Cindy skillfully slammed the van’s door shut with her foot and started down the walkway towards the kitchen door. The gardener stepped aside to let her pass. Cindy was aware of his gaze on her as she walked past him.

As she struggled to insert a key into the back door, she felt the bags in her arms shift. Before she could compensate she heard the sound of paper ripping. “No!” she cried out. Canned peaches, bananas, and a number of other items spilled out onto the back steps. The lid of a quart of Rocky Road ice cream popped off and rolled into the shrubbery.

“Shnuzbuckett!” Cindy swore as she set the rest of the bags down. She stooped to pick up the grocery items. She heard a chuckle.

“Shnuzbuckett?  Better watch that salty language.” The gardener approached her, holding the lid from the ice cream container.

Cindy glared at him but did not respond.

“Let me help you.” The gardener picked up a can of tuna and a bunch of radishes.

“Thanks.”

“My name is Larry. What’s yours?”

She hesitated but then replied, “Cindy.”

“Pleased to meet you, Cindy”.

“You’re new,” she said

“Yep, the temp agency sent me over this morning. Seems like the old gardener wasn’t working out.”

“That’s what I thought.”

“Are you part of the staff?”

Cindy laughed. “You could say so. I’m Mrs. Chesley’s step-daughter but I sort of run the household.”

“So you’re a family member. I’m sorry if I was too forward.”

“That’s okay. I won’t tell.” Cindy smiled and motioned Larry into the kitchen. They both plopped the displaced groceries on the counter. Larry went back out the door, picked up the rest of the grocery bags, and brought them in.

“Thank you again.  You want some iced tea? I’m getting some for myself. It’s so hot!”

“Well, since I’ve already overstepped myself I might as well go all the way and have a drink with the boss’s daughter.”

“Step-daughter. I’m not exactly royalty around here.”

“Yes, I heard this place had a royal connection. Is that true?”

“Yes, indeedy….” Cindy looked into Larry’s dark eyes. There was something familiar about him that made her feel so at ease. After a few minutes more of chit-chat, she couldn’t help herself. She found herself telling him the whole story: her circumstances, the Prince, the Ball, and those blasted Italian clear plastic pumps.

As she spilled out the story, Larry stopped her at one point. “‘Fairy God-Mother?’ Seriously?”

“Well, that’s what I call her. Her name’s actually Loretta. She’s the hair dresser who lived next door to us in the old neighborhood. I went to her house whenever things got tough at home. She would always listen to me. And she was always trying to fix me up with boys. She’s the one who convinced me to go to the Ball. Got me all dolled up and everything. She even arranged the limo — icky shade of orange — but a really sweet ride. Anyway.. where was I? Oh, yeah..” Cindy continued with the rest of the tale.

“Finally, when the Prince came around with the plastic shoe looking for me, I was at the dry-cleaners picking up some stuff for my step-mother. By the time I got home, the Prince had already tried the shoe on my step-sister Tiffany and taken her off to the Palace. They got married right away. Who knew we wore the exact same size shoe? ”

“Didn’t you say something? You had the other shoe, didn’t you?”

“My step-mother had already thought of that and hid the other shoe from me. So I had nothing to prove anything.”

“Why would she do that?”

“She claimed that I should not have gone to the Ball in the first place and that I was trying to steal the Prince from Tiffany.”

Larry took a sip of tea. “Well…. If you ask me, it sounds like you dodged a bullet.”

“What?”

“Let’s look at this: The Prince throws a ball to meet chicks and decides right then that you would be the right girl for him.”

“Yeah, pretty silly of him to pick me….” Cindy responded.

“Don’t get me wrong — I can see why he would fall head-over-heels for you. You’re sweet and cute and all that, but you deserve to be courted just like any lady. A long, slow and romantic courtship.”

Cindy’s felt an odd twinge in her stomach. “That’s sweet. Thank you.”

“AND didn’t he even bother to look at her face? He couldn’t see that your step-sister wasn’t you.?

“Yeah, you’re right. Some guys just can’t….” Cindy flushed, “well, some can’t see above the chest… Sorry.”

“S’okay. I can’t argue with that, though.”

Suddenly a voice screeched from upstairs. “Cindy, is that you? Who are you talking to?”

“Yes, Mother Chesley, it’s me. I’m talking to the new gardener.”

“Tell him I don’t pay him to talk and to get back to work. Did you get the ice cream like I told you?”

Cindy jumped to her feet and put the softening Rocky Road ice cream into the freezer. “Yes, ma’am, I got it.”

“Lucky for you you didn’t forget it. Humph.”

Cindy sat down across from Larry and sighed.

“Nice,” he said.

“Sorry about that.”

“Why do you put up with that?”

“Because she’s my step-mother. What else can I do?”

“Lot’s of things. You’re an adult. You don’t have to stay here.”

Cindy got back up and began putting the rest of the groceries away. “It’s not that easy. I don’t have any money or skills. Where would I go? What kind of job would I get? At least here, I have a nice roof over my head.”

“Man, they’ve really messed with your head.”

Cindy turned to him. “You don’t know anything about this. You —“

Suddenly, the back door slammed open and a pudgy teen-aged girl stomped in. She had a scowl on her face.

Cindy said, “Hi, Crystal.”

The girl motioned towards Larry. “Who’s he?”

“This is Larry, our gardener. Larry, this is Crystal, one of my sisters.”

“I’m not your real sister.” Crystal moved a disdainful gaze up and down Larry and made a loud snort. She turned and yanked open the refrigerator door. “Did you get some diet soda?”

“Um, no, I don’t think you put it on the shopping list.”

“You know I drink only diet soda.” Crystal took one of the regular sodas out of the refrigerator and slammed the door. “I guess I’ll have to drink a sugared one. If I get fat, it’s your fault, you idiot.” She stomped out of the kitchen.

Larry reached over and touched Cindy’s arm. “Honey, like I said, you don’t have to put up with this abuse.”

“But what can I do?”

“Well, if you’re asking me, may I suggest you go back to school and learn to do something else. I’m going to night school right now, taking business courses. I want to open my own landscaping firm. What are you interested in?”

“Um.. well…. I guess I’m a pretty good cook. Maybe I could learn to be a real chef.”

“There you go! And it doesn’t have to be a trade. Maybe you could be something like a college professor.”

It was Cindy’s turn to snort. “Yeah, right. Anyway, education costs money and I don’t have any.”

“Borrow it.”

“From who? I am completely alone.”

Larry gave her a soft look. “Sweetie, no one is ever really alone. All you have to do is make the choice and the help will come.”

Cindy and Larry gazed at each other for several moments. Something akin to hope stirred in Cindy. The spell was broken when they both heard the slam of a car door and the front door swing open.

“Mom?”

“That’s Tiffany,” she said to Larry, “the one who married the Prince. I wonder what she’s doing here.”

Tiffany stormed into the kitchen. She wore a crisp white linen suit. Her hair was pulled back into a chignon and she had on a pair of huge sun glasses. She stopped and looked towards Larry.

“Who’s he?”

Cindy sighed and introduced him.

“In the palace the gardeners stay outside,” she pointedly said to Larry.

Larry stood and slowly drained his glass. As he set it down on the table, he leaned in to Cindy and whispered, “You’re in control. It’s your choice.” He pulled his cap tightly on his head and nodded towards Tiffany. “Ma’am.” He gave one more glance at Cindy before he walked out the back door.

“Is Mom here?” Tiffany asked.

“Yes, she upstairs. What’s wrong?”

“This is what’s wrong.” Tiffany pulled off her glasses. Her left eye was swollen nearly shut and showed purple and blue bruising around it and down her cheek.

Cindy gasped. “What happened? Were you in an accident?”

“If you call my marriage an accident….”

Mrs. Chesley waddled into the kitchen. “Is that Tiffany? Tiffany what are you doing here?” She let out a small cry when she saw Tiffany’s shiner.

“Did he do that to you?”

Tiffany hung her head.

Mrs. Chesley reached an arm around her daughter. “I knew you two were having trouble but I didn’t realize it was that bad.”

“Dumb-nuts finally figured out that I am not HER.” Tiffany glared at Cindy. “Got himself all worked up and swore up and down that we tried to dupe him. Said he was going get the marriage annulled and take back everything he had given us.”

“Including the house?” Mrs. Chesley eyes were wide with fear.

“Yeah. So I reminded him that his public opinion rating wasn’t too high and a nasty divorce would make him look even more like the jerk he is. That’s when he popped me. I should have called the cops and had him arrested. I don’t care if he is a prince.”

“You will do no such thing,” Mrs. Chesley sternly said. “Things are already bad enough.”

Mrs. Chesley swung around to face Cindy. “This is all YOUR fault!”

“MY fault? How?” Cindy felt her cheeks flush and an odd feeling rising up in the pit of her stomach.

“If you hadn’t butted in and gone to the Ball, the Prince would never have met YOU. And his shorts wouldn’t be all in a wad right now. You need to fix this and fix it fast.”

“Me? What can I do?”

“Yeah, what can she do?” said Tiffany.

“Well, it’s obvious that you’re on the way out, Tiff, as far as he’s concerned. We’ll just let him do his quiet little annulment and then Cindy can move on him. Then Cindy can say it was all a big misunderstanding, blah, blah, blah…. ”

Both Cindy and Tiffany cried out “What?”

“Shut up, both of you. Cindy, if you don’t do this, we’ll all be out on our butts. You’d better do this for all of our sakes.”

Something in Cindy shifted. It was as if the air suddenly cleared and everything had fallen into place.

She quietly turned towards the kitchen counter and picked up her purse.

Mrs. Chesley said, “What are you doing?” Cindy walked to the door. “Where are you going?”

“I’m outta here.”

“You can’t leave. We need you.” Cindy was out the door and heading down the driveway. Mrs. Chesley held on to the door frame and screamed, “You useless little ingrate! You’re worthless. Go ahead and get out. You’ll be crawling back before the end of the week. See if I’ll take you then!

Larry’s truck was parked near the service gate. He had just finished loading up his leaf-blower and tying it down. He looked up as Cindy approached and smiled.

Cindy said to him, “I’ve made a choice.”

“Good girl!”

“Can you give me a lift to my friend Loretta’s house?”

“I can do you one better.” He opened the door to his truck’s cab and with a flourish motioned Cindy to climb in. As she stepped on the running board, she saw an older women already in the cab.  The woman smiled at Cindy.

“Loretta!” Cindy flung herself on the woman and hugged her.

“Cindy! It’s so good to see you. I see that you’ve met my grandson, Lawrence.”

“Larry? He’s your grandson?”

“Yes he is and he’s a real prince, isn’t he.”

Cindy laughed and settled into the cab between Loretta and Larry.

And they all drove off and lived happily ever after.

ljgloyd, originally published 2013.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/no-cliffhangers/