Mrs. Statton

The Wrought Writer:

Part Three by Hazy Shades of Me

Originally posted on hazyshadesofme:

Part One, Helena, is HERE

Part Two, Gladys, is HERE

“We got a new girl today.” My blade presses through the taught, red skin. “She’s a bit tragic, I think.”

“And what makes you think that?” Rick asks, sipping his wine, eyes widening over the rim of the glass.

“Well, I’m not sure, really. She just seems so…independent.”

“And independent translates to tragic for you?” His eyes get even bigger.

“Okay, maybe she’s not tragic. Maybe her situation is tragic.”

“So, what’s her situation, exactly?”

Juice mists my fingers as the red pepper splits into halves and falls open on the cutting board.

“God, I don’t really know that either, I guess. Her mother didn’t tell us much.”

“Well, I think one of us is drunk, Steph cuz I don’t get it.” He grins and pours himself another.

Stephanie contemplates the thinning hair and mangle of bracelets…

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Gladys

The Wrought Writer:

Part Two by Hazy Shades of Me

Originally posted on hazyshadesofme:

If you’d like to read Helena first, click here.

- – -

Ms. Harris perches at a small table, rolling melting ice cubes around in her short glass, vacantly staring in the direction of the empty chair across. Her lips purse as she surrenders to the realization he isn’t going to show…again.

“One more round, Gladys?”

It’s why she comes here. They know she’s not done, but are polite enough to ask as though she might be.

“Absolutely, Damien. Just one more.”

“Food today?”

“I’ve decided I won’t be here long.”

He gives the empty seat the same look she had, nods and heads to the bar.

Gladys. She’s never loved her name. Never understood how someone could look into a tiny newborn’s face and choose Gladys, but still, she prefers it to Ms. Harris. She’d been tempted many times over the years to return to her maiden…

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Helena

The Wrought Writer:

Part One by Hazy Shades of Me

Originally posted on hazyshadesofme:

If you’d like to read Gladys, which could be considered part two of Helena, click here after reading below:

- – -

It’s a small smile, but enough to show me that her two front teeth overlap. She stands a distance from her mother’s side, trying desperately not to look at either of us.

“I’m sure Helena will be welcomed with open arms, Ms. Harris. In fact, I’ll see to it that she is.”

I smile warmly, but the girl blushes from head to toe and moves farther away. She absently pulls her hair, strand by stand, dropping each one to the floor as it comes out at the root and it’s suddenly clear why there are sparse patches scattered across her scalp.

“Helena, stop.” Her mother’s whisper is sharp. “Remember what I said.”

I didn’t think it was possible, but the girl turns a deeper shade…

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More

The Wrought Writer:

A short story from Hazy Shades of Me

Originally posted on hazyshadesofme:

“I know where you live.”

I stop mid pour. The rich smell reaches my nose and it’s glorious, despite not being able to stomach the stuff.

“I don’t think you do.” I say calmly, tipping the pot once again. Little coffee bubbles dance on the old Formica countertop.

“I do,” he says. “Saw you outside the Laundromat last week. You were driving that old green wagon.”

He takes a sip and closes his eyes as if it’s the best thing he’s ever tasted. His lips pull into a wide, flat line.

“Yeah, well I don’t live at the Laundromat.” I joke.

It’s the simple things, isn’t it?” He sighs. “Coffee, black and hot. Cures whatever ails.”

“I don’t drink it,” I tell him. “But I imagine if I did, I’d be dousing it with cream and sugar.”

“Nah, that stuff just smothers the quality of the bean. I like to…

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Duplexity

Breaking glass cuts the thin walls and fighting ensues but it isn’t the shattered shards of Champagne flute that’s caused it.

 

They’ve been struggling since I can remember. There is no beginning or end.

 

It just is.

 

Always.

 

A jukebox full of themes seamlessly moving to a new genre even before the last pick comes to a quiet.

 

I slice red peppers, add them to the oil and onion in the pan…let them sizzle over the crescendo next door. Leaning, one elbow on the counter, I stir slowly, splashing red wine into the mix and a little extra into my glass. My mouth waters as garlic rushes the air. Even the diced Romas seem particularly fragrant tonight. I scrape them off the board and into the fusion – juice, seeds, skin and all.

 

The bellowing gathers into a twisted tornado of assault and injury. Another glass breaks. Something’s thrown against our shared wall. Sounds like a book. Could be a shoulder.

 

Once the water is on to boil and the bread in the oven, I kick off my shoes and flop. My wine is spicy, my feet sore and my mind roaming, but soon the muffled throbs of next door subside, as much as they ever do, and I laze through a magazine, alternating page flips with sips of Syrah.

 

I text, I flip, I wait and sip. I relax.

 

Just as the smell of my sauce seduces me off the couch, the doorbell rings.

 

“Anna! Thank you so much for inviting us. We hope you like Champagne.”

 

I take in her slightly smudged liner, their entwined fingers, his insane grin and their green bottle of bubbly with the shiny pink label.

 

I smile.

 

“C’mon in, guys. It’s lovely to have you.”

Duplex 3

 

 

 

 

 

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Please Pass The Kryptonite

“Do you think your feet still smell when you’re dead?” All I can see is the top of his little head, hair glowing like raging fire under the warm lights above us.

My voice strangled, I half scold him; “What a thing to ask, Sam. Now is not the time.”

I instantly regret my reaction as his blue eyes turn to watery seas and his chin, a dollop of Jello. Peter’s mother stands to the side shuddering like a blanket being shaken. It’s hard to watch. Hard to comprehend. Hard to believe. It’s all just plain hard.

Peter’s skin is powdery and I can see they’ve tried to blend blush across his cheeks and up over his ears. A little of it has reached the soft, blond hair framing his face and turned it pinkish. Carmex sits thick on top of his slack lips.

He is not in a suit, but dressed in one of his favorite blue Superman shirts, the bright yellow “KA-POW!” on the front, making quite an impact on the guests. His hands are folded across his tummy, the left one, sporting a fat, wobbly, Superman style “S” had been placed on top of his right. I’d heard his mother had specifically asked them not to remove the black ink.

I grab Sam’s hand and although I’m trying not to let him see me cry, a tear darkens the red carpet as I look down to lift his chin.

“I don’t want to go any closer.” He says. “He wouldn’t want me to.”

I kneel down so we’re face to face. “You’ll regret not saying a proper good-bye, son. C’mon. I’ll be right beside you.”

He looks down again and this time, his tears make the carpet change color.

“But I already made his mom so sad. If she’s me…” His voice trails into silence but his tears get louder.

“No Sam, it’s not like that. Best friends fight. C’mon. Trust me. It’ll be alright.”

And even though I’m doing my best to sound reassuring, I am shaking inside. I have no idea how Pauline will react to us and the last thing I want is to cause more upset.

I steer him towards the coffin, but at the last minute he leaves me. I watch as he heads over to Pauline and tugs on the back of her flowered dress. She turns slowly and immediately drops to her knees.

I rush over to help her but she grabs on to Sam. Hugs him so tight I think he’ll pop open right there.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Kerry. I didn’t meant to…” He chokes.

“Oh Sammy. Peter loved you so much. I’m so sorry you had to see what you did and I’m…” she takes a breath, “I’m so very sorry he’s gone.”

Pauline held Sam for a smidge longer, patted his eyes with her hanky and then her own and told him to go say his good-bye.

Sam and I had spent many hours since Peter’s death, discussing why it wasn’t his fault. How kids tease each other and tricking Peter into letting him draw that “S” on his hand was just a joke among friends. I’d often heard Sam tease Peter about his smelly feet and told him many times to stop even though I could tell it was all in good fun. But when Sam had drawn the “S” and then teased Peter that it stood for stinky, Sam could never have known what would happen next.

Peter had chased him out into the street, but as Sam made it to the other side, he’d turned to see his best friend being dragged along the pavement by a silver Chevy pick-up truck.

This time, as we approach the coffin, he stays on course, a determined look in his eye. We stand a moment and I stroke his hair and rub his back. I do all the things mommies do in an attempt to make-believe things better.

Having held it in for so long, I lose my battle as I watch Sammy take a black marker out of his pocket and carefully write “uperman” on Peter’s right hand.

Kapow 1

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Bird of Paradise

Although I’d told him not to get me anything, I am secretly buzzing inside. Right there, on the dining room table, in the middle of two beautiful place settings and a chilling bottle of bubbly is a small black leather box, encircled with a bright red, glossy ribbon.

Engaged.

Am I ready? Oh hell ya, I think. Four years together and I’ve been waiting at least three of those for this day.

“Honey?” Brett calls from upstairs. “Are you home? Do not go in the dining room!”

I tiptoe out of the room I’m not supposed to be in and call out; “I’m starving! When’s dinner?”

There’s a familiar creak from that fourth stair and there he is, curled lip, white teeth and a shock of chocolate locks. The smell of fresh laundry mixed with his cologne tickles my nose.

I shiver.

He still makes me shiver. I am so ready for that ring.

He crosses the floor in two strides and his tanned arms encircle me like the ribbon around the box.

“Hey, babe. I’ve been waiting for you. Dinner’s ready.”

He twirls me around to face the dining room and guides me from behind, a hand on each of my hips.

“Sit,” he commands. “Dinner in a minute, but first…”

I close my eyes. Here it comes, I think. Oh my God, I am about to be proposed to. I am about to be a fiancé!

The pop of the cork makes me jump and my eyes fly open.

“Oh, I thought we’d do that after.” I say, confused.

“Absolutely not!” He says, seemingly appalled. “Champagne with dinner is a must.”

We feast.

Brett is head chef at the local Indian Fusion and we bask in Vindaloo smothered Basmati, crispy meat-filled Samosas and crunchy vegetable Pakoras dripping in Tamarind.

I eat a lot more than I should and drink a little more than I mean to. My eyes keep veering over to the box. I cover my impatience by pulling out the card I bought him from the back pocket of my jeans.

Hi rips through my leisurely scrawl and pulls out the content of the envelope.

“Nice.” He says from behind the big red heart on the front of the card. “I love you too, sweetheart. Which is why…” He finally hands me the box. “I got you this.”

As I open it, I can’t help but think it’s weird that I am the one doing this while he just sits and stares, rather than getting down on one knee, but I put that out of my mind. I quickly realize it’s not what I want to be thinking while I ponder an impending lifelong commitment.

I’m blinded by the glint created as the light from our chandelier bounces off the large jewel in the box. It takes my breath away.

“Do you like it?” He asks hopefully. “There’s a card too. Here, open it. It’ll all make more sense.”

I put the box down, tears welling, and read the card he’s handed to me.

“I don’t get it.” I say, my voice strangled with emotion.

“It’s white gold and a real diamond, but if you don’t like it there were lots to choose from. We can go in together…”

I’m stunned.

“Like it? We’ve had this conversation a thousand times. No, I don’t like it. I…”

“Babe, it’ll look good. I know it will.”

I fight with the lump in my throat and somehow manage to swallow it down. I watch as he takes the gem out of the box and then dangles it in front of me.

“Just try it, honey. For me. C’mon, I don’t ask much.”

I look down at the piece of paper in my hand and see he’s booked me in for tomorrow morning. No time to waste. No opportunity to change his mind. No chance to stick to my guns.

I close my eyes again. The red place mats he’s bought especially for tonight, the way he’s folded our napkins into Birds of Paradise, the meal he cooked, the music he played, the champagne I drank. All of them gang up to make me slightly lightheaded.

“Alright,” I tell him. “Tomorrow it is. Tomorrow, I guess I will officially be one of those girls with bling in her button.” I try to smile. He grins.

I take another long sip of my now warm, sour champagne and wonder if this is the first or the last time I will pretend to be something I’m not.

And I shiver.

Bird of Paradise 1

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A Duck Is Just A Duck

Bev’s tea is always so much hotter. It’s because she boils her water in a stainless steel kettle over a big gas range. As she slices carrots through the floral veil drifting up from my mug, I half listen while she chirps and chops.

“As for Dan, well I mean, he’s an idiot. That’s all there is to it.”

I contemplate responding, but before I have time to decide it would be useless, she’s talking again.

“I mean, ‘where’s my green shirt’ like I’m supposed to know where every damn thing in this house is. So, I say; Listen Dan, the key word in that question is my. Not green, not shirt, but my. It’s your damn shirt, Dan. You find it.”

I could suggest that perhaps Dan thought she’d taken it to the cleaners or folded it into a drawer instead of hanging it up, but I know Bev too well. It won’t matter what I say. She wants to be angry. She wants to rant. God knows I love her, but she hasn’t changed since we were kids.

Two clicks and a flame ignites under the pot she’s scraped chunks of bloody beef into. There is an immediate sizzle.

“So, what about you?” You and Ducky okay?”

There is a quick flash of Ryan, his chubby legs tangled in a hooded towel, his wet skin slick in the light of the lamp. “Ducky, ducky!” He’d shouted, madly crawling towards the yellow plastic duck he’d thrown out of the bath moments before.

“His first word!” Bev had squealed! “And I witnessed it!”

“Bev, he’s fifteen now. He hates Ducky. It’s Ryan. Besides, for the millionth time, you know that was not his first word.

“Well, it was the first one I heard.”

She slides the carrots, onions and potatoes from the thick cutting board into the pot, then mixes the jumble with a large stainless spoon.

“We’re alright, I suppose. “Ryan’s never home, really. It’s like I live alone.” I instantly bite the inside of my cheek, cursing myself for unleashing what will undoubtedly become a lashing.

Her head’s sealed in an envelope of steam but I can see her hands spritzing dashes of oregano and thyme, basil and pepper. The salty fusion wafts through the air and just about has me rethinking vegetarianism.

“And you will be soon enough. Alone, that is.”

I know what’s coming and to stall, I take a sip of my still scalding tea.

“Hmm?” I murmur deep into the cup.

“You need to find someone, Beth. You need help, someone to be a father figure to Ducky. Fifteen? No Dad? You’re asking for trouble.

I think about Ryan. Him telling me that he once again wouldn’t be home for dinner because he’d be working the late shift after school. Him explaining the horrifying reasons he didn’t want to go to any of the house parties he was invited to. The little list of chores he kept taped to the back of his computer monitor; a secret reminder of what he could do to help me out around the house. And, I think of why I’ve come to Bev’s today.

“Beth. Bethany! Are you even listening to me?” Bev’s hand is on her hip, the other still stirring the brew now bubbling on the stove. “I was just saying that Dan, when he can find the time, could have a chat with Duck.”

“It’s Ryan,” I interrupt. “He’d like to be called Ryan.”

She tsks and continues. “He could use a little guidance and Dan, despite the jackass he is when it comes to, well, most things, would at least be a male to talk to. I mean, it’s mostly me parenting, but I have to admit Dan has managed not to screw Stephen up. He’s such a great kid.”

I realize my hands are scorched and I loosen my tight grip on the mug. Stephen is Ryan’s eighteen-year-old cousin. He’d tried to sell Ryan some pills yesterday. Said he was trying to make money to get out of the house. He told him he kept his stash in a compartment under the steering wheel of his car in case Ryan ever changed his mind.

“Ryan and I are just fine on our own,” I tell her. “Listen, I gotta get going, but you should really take Steve’s car into the mechanic. Ryan said the steering wheel was shaking yesterday. He worries.”

“It’s Stephen!” She calls as I gently close the door behind me.

Rubber Ducky

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Magic

The Band-Aids are blue and there are four that I can see, one masking each little knee poking from below her skirt’s hem and one on each elbow like patches covering holes on an old man’s cardigan. The rest are hidden, but I know they’re there. They’re always there.

Back one night as she lay on her firm cot, she’d whispered into the lamp’s soft glow; “They can change, you know. When I’m happy, they turn purple. It’s like magic.”

I’d stayed very still, blocking the breaths of the nine other girls asleep in the room, silently willing Evie to share more secrets.

“But they’ve been blue for a really long time.” She’d sighed before drifting off.

Alone now, we sit facing one another, and she scans my expression. I see her brown eyes, upturned and massive through strands of mousy hair. Her lips look dry and her petite hands are folded in her lap. Her eyes dart from me to Jiffy who is trying his best not to squirm.

I’d planned various greetings while waiting for them to arrive today, even said them aloud while fussing with the fruit bowl, but when the doorbell rang, I’d merely opened it and stood, my gaze dropping from the social worker’s eager eyes to Evie, her backpack and her Band-Aids. She seemed even more fragile out here in the big world and everything I thought I’d say had left me.

My heart thumps. What do I do with this helpless creature? Adopting Jiffy was so different. A single pat had sparked instant love. But this? I suddenly feel like a fraud.

When I finally stand, she pulls herself smaller, shrinking into the chair’s dark corner.

Resisting the urge to scoop her up like a curly new pup, I present Jiffy instead. “Want to hold him? He loves kids.”

She shakes her head, unfolds her hands and gathers her skirt into two mid-thigh rosettes.

“It’s okay,” I assure her. “He might want to get to know you first anyway. He’s smart like that.”

I smile and her body seems to grow just a tiny bit.

“You should definitely come see your room though. I think you’ll like it in there. At least, I hope so. I read every decorating magazine out trying to make it look cool.”

She doesn’t laugh, but gently leans over and picks up her backpack. It’s a small victory.

I walk delicately terrified she’ll break along the way, but when I open the door, I hear her draw a quiet breath behind me.

It’s cliché, really. A room much like the ones most girls her age should find themselves in; shades of lavender, a single bed, a fluffy rug and an old bookshelf I’d bought at a yard sale up the street. I’d been pleased with my efforts but now that she’s here, they somehow seem not enough.

My doubt mounts as she walks in, drops her knapsack and kneels in front of the crammed bookcase.

“I’ve never owned a book,” she says in a Christmas morning kind of whisper. “We weren’t allowed to take them out of the reading room in foster care.”

“Which one was your favorite?” I ask, hoping I’ve masked the sadness in my voice.

“I don’t know what it was called,” she answers. “The cover was ripped.” She picks up one of the books I bought at the same yard sale as the shelves and runs her hand across the front. I can see she’s already lost in it.

I set Jiffy down and am amazed when he doesn’t rush at her like he would anyone else. We watch in silence as she takes the book over to the big beanbag and sinks in. It’s like she forgets we’re here. Her body becomes so engulfed in the chair’s violet fabric all I can see are the milky cotton socks spilled around her ankles.

I sneak away to make some lunch. She must be hungry and I’m sure I’ve burned through a thousand calories by now my heart rate is so high.

I smooth jam over bread, but can’t help myself and tiptoe back to Evie’s room for a peek. I find her and Jiff asleep on the beanbag and as I move Evie’s backpack out of the way, a frayed, coverless book falls out onto the floor. Stooping to pick it up, I notice she’s scribbled over her blue Band-Aids with a pink hi-liter, turning them a mottled purple.

“It is magic.” I whisper.

Magic Purple Band-Aids

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Mercy

At fifteen, I was a witness.

An enormous steel door cranked open in the distance and launched his cries into the stale, cold air. His heavy steps clamored on the slate pavers and I heard hesitation in the back and forth shuffle he seemed unable to control. As he moved slowly up the ramp towards me, his breath clouded and fused with the death that engulfed us. He didn’t look up.

A noose was placed around his neck; eyes saucers of spilled black tea, dark and brimming. His lashes were long and caught in the tiny pieces of cool, blue light filtering through cracked slats of wood. He was massive and mesmerizing, stunning. It was impossible to look away.

My heart galloped as the straight end of the noose was pulled taut. He bucked frantically, but was dragged off his feet, head ramming into the stone wall beside him. Dazed, he’d slumped to ground, groaning and moaning, tears wetting his panic-stricken face. The bolt went straight through his skull, centered just above his eyes and a long, straight metal prod was inserted, meant to scramble his brain. He fought and flailed and I’d felt his desperation clawing its way into my own rattled organs.

He finally looked up and our eyes locked, both begging.

Kill him,” I’d choked. “Oh please dear God, have mercy and kill him.”

They used the noose to rope his legs and in an instant, he was on his back, all fours up in the air, slit open straight down the middle. His body shuddered and his sweat christened the ground below him before the blood reached it. His insides oozed and steamed as his valued parts were scooped for market.

It was the most brutal thing I’d ever seen and like the beast, I was gutted. Running off, fighting through tall grass and bursting out into the misty morning air, I was sure I’d never kill a living thing as long I lived.

The door protests loudly at my intrusion, but she doesn’t look up.

The room is shadowy and the rain pelts hard on the double-glazing. Cool blue light steals in through a crack in the curtains.

She’s lying on the bed; what’s left of her anyway. Trying to raise her wasted hand is exhausting. She surrenders after only a moment. There’s hesitation in the back and forth breaths she seems unable to control. She groans and moans, as tears wet the cheeks of her panic-stricken face. Dazed and scared, frenzied, as fear and death vie for her attention.

My hand rests over her heart and it’s clear we’re not beating in time. Hers is slow and labored; mine races to keep up with the trampling thoughts littered over my aching soul.

She finally looks my way and her gaze locks on mine, eyes big and blue, brimming; an ocean’s waves spilling onto the beach. And it’s obvious we’re both begging, only for two very different things; I’d give anything if life would sustain her. More than anything, she finds torture in each extra minute.

Every raindrop punctuates her silent plea.

End it. Oh please, please help me. Have mercy and end it.”

And, I do.

At forty-five, I’m a participant.

Cracked light

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