Category Archives: Short Stories & Poetry

Frozen Memories ~ My story for @RBwood’s FIRST #WordCountPodcast of 2018

2018 marks the beginning of the eighth season of R.B. Wood’s WordCount Podcast! I’m so grateful I connected with Richard and discovered his podcast, hard to believe my first story appeared on his show March, 2011. I’ve been a happy regular (or irregular, as Richard calls some of us) ever since. His forum has allowed me to pen more than sixty pieces, all of which you can find here.

For this episode, the picture of two lobster boats frozen in the Boston Harbour provided the prompt.

My story inspiration

I hate the cold. Snow, ice, and boats don’t normally figure into my stories. Still, I love a challenge and even an unromantic scene of frozen boats can tug at a reader’s heart under the right circumstances. “Frozen Memories” is my attempt to warm up this cold season, and I hope you like it.

You can also listen to me reading the story on episode 72 of R.B. Wood’s podcast.

NOTE: The written version of this story is slightly different from the audio. I added a few extra lines after I had already sent the recording to Richard. Because I was away when he publicized the show, I had some time to consider details which I believe improve the story.

* * * *

In less than 24 hours, another two feet of snow blanketed the city and the mercury plummeted, yet again.

Life in Boston came to a standstill. This was after the city had already suffered the worst storm in its history a week earlier. Snow removal crews had barely cleared the main roads before meteorologists were forecasting more snow. This would surely be a different kind of Big Dig for Boston, they said. Cleanup efforts seemed pointless.

My walk this morning was particularly difficult, as I knew it would be. I trudged through neighbourhoods, which had yet to be shovelled, opting to walk in the middle of the streets whenever possible. Only a few drivers braved the roads anyway, and unlike the majority of residents, I wasn’t heeding the mayor’s warning to stay indoors unless it was essential to go out.

For me, today was essential.

As I entered the public walkway along Boston’s waterfront, a childhood memory came flooding back. I was a young girl again walking with my dad. He had brought me here to show me the boats in the harbour. It had been cold and snowing that day as well, but unlike today, the bay had not frozen over.

“Pick me up,” I had said to him, my arms outstretched to the sky. The barrier that wrapped around the walkway and kept pedestrians from falling into the water blocked my view.

“Come here, sweetheart.” He swooped me up and sat me on the metal railing with my feet dangling over the water. “My little girl gets a front row seat to watch the boats with me,” he said proudly and wrapped his arms around me.

I swung my legs back and forth kicking snowflakes in the air even as I looked at the dark swells below. How easy it would’ve been to fall in and be swept away to sea. Mom would’ve berated Dad for being so careless with me, but Dad never lived his life in fear. In his presence, everything was possible because he made it so. That day, we stared at the boats in the Massachusetts Bay, and Dad hummed in my ear. I wasn’t sure if he hummed an actual song, or he just made it up as he went along. It didn’t matter though, what I remember was the comfort and security I felt at that moment while leaned back against his chest.

It was the best day of my life in the short time that I had with him.

Dad passed away later that year. I could not understand his sudden disappearance, nor fathom that I would never hear his voice again. How could someone be there one day and not be there the next? The concept of death was final but unintelligible to a six-year-old. My carefree childhood ended the moment I realized he was never coming back.

A vicious cloud of powdery snow stung my eyes and swirled around me like a tornado.

“Fuck!” I shouted at the sky.

Nothing like blinding snow to transport me back to the present. I spun around and walked backwards to protect my face from the biting current of air. With my scarf wrapped numerous times around my neck and piled high around my face, I found it difficult to catch my breath. When the wind changed direction, I turned to face forward again and ran along the boardwalk to my destination. Once at my spot, I pressed myself hard against the barrier and dug the cleats of my boots into the ice beneath the snow. The railing, which I had sat on as a child almost forty years ago no longer obstructed my view.

When the wind finally died down, I looked up to see a surreal scene of boats trapped in vast stretches of icy seawater. Like statues, they rose from the surface majestic and motionless.

Tears ran in rivulets down my face and froze on my cheeks. In all the years I had been coming to this same spot, I had never felt this cold. With my hands shoved deeply in my coat pockets, I looked toward the horizon. Everything was frozen—the water, the boats, even my recollection of the past was frozen in time.

Perhaps it was stupid for me to return here prompted by childhood memories, but that’s all I have of Dad. So on this anniversary of the best day of my life all those years ago, I cherish the memories and relive that special time when Dad and I stared out at the boats in the harbour.

As always, thank you for reading.

Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.

~eden

**

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On Poe, Words, and Legacy ~ A story for @RBwood’s Word Count Podcast

The prompt for the latest episode of R.B. Wood’s Word Count Podcast asked that we use the month of September and the picture below in our setting. Richard snapped the photo of a statue of Edgar Allan Poe near Emerson College where he’s in studying for his MFA.

My story inspiration

This may be the first non-fiction entry I’ve written for the podcast. I was struggling to find some way to incorporate Poe into a story. A couple of days before the due date, I found out I would be attending a funeral. Somehow, I knew a story would find me there, and it did. 😉

 

You can also listen to me reading my essay on episode 70 of R.B. Wood’s podcast.

flourish

I attended the funeral of a friend’s mother recently. As this short tale is based on truth, let’s just call her Elsa, which is not her real name. Because Elsa died outside her country of birth, there was no one in attendance from her generation. It’s likely most of her friends would have pre-deceased her anyway. Everyone at the intimate ceremony was friends with her daughter, who like most of us were in our fifties or early sixties.

Earlier that September morning, I read interesting factoids about Edgar Allan Poe to inspire a tale for this podcast. Unlike Elsa who passed away just shy of her ninetieth birthday, Poe died at the young age of forty. To this day, the circumstances of his death remain a mystery. Though intriguing as that is, what struck me was that his enemy, a rival author, wrote Poe’s lengthy obituary, portraying him as a drunken, womanizing opium addict who based his darkest tales on personal experience.

Thankfully, funerals are a rarity for me, but the timing of it did arouse my curiosity. Perhaps it’s Poe’s recurring theme of death in his writing which made me think of the coincidence. Whatever it was, the  thought of the libellous obituary written for him stayed with me as an old priest prepared to speak at Elsa’s funeral. He approached the lectern carrying a piece of paper in one hand and a champagne flute of golden brown liquid in another.

It was not yet one in the afternoon, but the alcohol had been flowing for some time.

The priest reminded me of Harry Dean Stanton, only smaller in stature and with the same tired, deep-set eyes and weather-beaten appearance of the actor’s later years. Stanton was 91 when he died only a few weeks ago. The priest looked 101. Maybe that’s why I felt comfortable with him speaking to us as if we were his children. After all, we were the kids in that room. He spoke eloquently about the importance of mothers and what they gave to their children—the gift of life, praise, and discipline.

He raised his glass and toasted Elsa before taking a long sip. Only a few of us were holding a drink, but we all mimicked raising a glass anyway. From where I sat in the back row, I saw friends look at each other and smile. Like me, they probably didn’t know what to make of this man.

The priest stood confidently addressing our small group and waxed lyrical about friendship. Friends are important, he said, and hopefully, unlike him, we don’t all meet our friends in cheap bars.

He took another sip of his drink.

Wide-eyed, the woman beside me turned to me, “What is he drinking?” she whispered.

I shrugged. My best guess was bourbon. And like her, I found this man’s honesty and self-deprecation strangely admirable.

The priest continued.

“Because I wear this collar, it’s my job to comfort you,” he said. “I’m a man of god, after all, much to the chagrin of the bishop.” Several people let out a boisterous laugh. Like a slow-leaking balloon, the words of the priest deflated the tension in the room. When Elsa’s daughter got up to pay her respects with a moving speech, she revealed how her mother married a much younger man in her father. The short but touching tribute left several of us dabbing away tears after she finished and took her seat.

The priest resumed his position behind the lectern. With the timing of a seasoned comedian, he looked at Elsa’s daughter and said, “You didn’t tell me your mother was a cradle robber!”

A collective gasp filled the room.

The pejorative term was said without an ounce of malice. His words were not delivered in the same vein as the obituary for Poe. They may have shocked us, but there was no ill intent behind them. We laughed even as we cried.

When the service ended, several of us expressed how we wished this priest would live long enough to deliver our eulogies. In his dry-witted, surly manner, he had endeared himself to us, seemingly without even trying.

The words about Poe upon his death damaged his legacy for almost a century until they were proven to be false. This realization, coupled with my recent funeral service gave me a newfound respect for those who must encapsulate a person’s life with merely words.

Words have the power to deceive, to hurt, and to heal. How we choose to use them is a  testament to our own legacies.

flourish

Thank you for reading and/or listening. Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.

~eden

**

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STICKS AND STONES ~ A story for @RBwood’s Word Count Podcast

The prompt for the latest episode of R.B. Wood’s Word Count Podcast asked that we use the month of July and the picture below in our setting. Of note, R.B. Wood took this photo while hiking in Zion National Park, Utah. This is the beginning of the Narrows hike, where previous hikers sometimes leave their walking sticks for future hikers.

My story inspiration

The current state of politics inspired this allegorical tale, along with the old saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

You may recognize the boy in the story. 😉

You can also listen to me reading the story on episode 68 of R.B. Wood’s podcast.

flourish

The boy’s three-foot wiry frame is small for someone his age. Judging from how he is dragged along more quickly than he can walk, his arm must hurt. He seems unable to pull away, or perhaps he is afraid to let go of the large hand gripping his.

People around him are carrying walking sticks to navigate the stone-filled muddy river. Some even use two poles to help with their balance. Flash flooding is not uncommon on this leg of the hike.

The boy runs to keep step with his father and trips on a rock. He is wet up to his waist before Fred yanks him up by the arm.

“Look what you’ve done. You’re soaked!” The large man shakes the child like a wet rag.

“Oww, my arm hurts!” The boy appears on the verge of tears. “I don’t want to walk anymore,” he whines.

“Don’t you cry, don’t you dare cry. Crying is for babies!”

The boy stands in the river, his chest heaving. He passes his forearm across his face and swallows his tears. “I’m not crying.”

“Don’t ever embarrass me in public. You are not a girl. Only girls cry, you hear?”

“Yes sir.”

Inside the Narrows, Zion National Park’s most popular trail, Fred pushes out an exasperated breath. The park is swarming with tourists. He thought he could avoid the crowds by catching an early shuttle—but not today. He can’t even visit one of America’s most beautiful parks without an infestation of foreigners.

Just then, a family of questionable background walks by single-file. They look Mexican or Asian, not American anyway. They speak to each other in some annoying language he cannot understand. Under his breath, he curses, “Fucking immigrants.”

One of the kids, a girl of about twelve must have heard him. She turns in his direction and stands tall. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Though each word is spewed at him with disgust, her eyes convey pain.

The girl’s mother pulls her away. She is less defiant than her daughter. “Kimmy, don’t cause trouble, come on.”

“But Mom, that man called us …”

“Never mind what he said, just leave him alone.”

Fred looks on as the family moves away from him.

“Dad, what did she say to you?” the young boy asks.

Fred takes some satisfaction in scaring off the foreigners. If he were not clearly outnumbered in this tourist spot, he would have happily told them to go back where they came from. He kneels until he is eye-level with his son. “You see, Donald, that girl is an example of a child who does not listen. In the old days, children who did not obey their parents would be beaten by sticks and stones. It broke their bones, but they learned to behave. Calling a child a name like idiot or stupid is not enough. Do you understand?”

Donald wrinkles his nose. “I think so.”

Fred picks up his son and continues on the trail. The July heat is relentless, but walking in the water cools him down. Even though Donald is only six, Fred has big plans for him. Donald will take over his business one day, but not before he learns the ways of the world. No way is he leaving his life’s work to someone who does not share his values or his love of country.

Fred will give his son everything he can, but more importantly, he will provide a strong foundation for him as a man. Like him, little Donald will grow up to be a confident ladies’ man, a strong negotiator, and a world-class leader.

That will be his legacy to this son.

Donald squirms in his father’s arms, and Fred stops mid-stride. “Do you want to come down?”

“Yes, sir, I feel better now.”

“Are you sure?” Fred says.

“Yes, I want to walk with a stick like everybody else.”

Fred lowers Donald until the child is ankle-deep in the river. “You will walk, but you are not like everybody else, you hear?”

“Yes sir.”

Fred finds a large stick. “This should be the right size for you,” he says. “Not too big for my boy, right?”

Donald grabs the stick with his little hands. A wide grin stretches across his face. “No sir, it’s not too big. No stick is too big for me to handle.”

flourish

Thank you for reading and/or listening. Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.

~eden

**

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IN TWO MINDS ~ A story written with Bill Kirton (@carver22) for @RBwood’s Word Count Podcast

The prompt for R.B. Wood’s Word Count Podcast #67  asked that we use JUNE in the setting AND the picture below:

For this story, the fabulous Bill Kirton and I are at it again!

You’ll recall I joined forces with Bill on two other shows:  “The Wrong Shoes” and Selfie Love.”

“In Two Minds” came together quickly, and we think it’s one of our best stories to date. I wrote parts 1 & 3, and Bill penned 2 & 4. There was no discussion of plot or characters prior to writing each part. We simply played off each other’s segment.

The title (Bill’s idea) is just as it implies, an exploration of two minds, evident in both the story and our collaboration.

Listen to Bill and me reading the story here.

You can also learn all the latest from the Facebook page for the Wordcount Podcast. Please LIKE the page if you get a chance. I know R.B. would love to have more people on the show. It’s a great way to hone your writing chops and be part of a supportive group of authors.

Thank you and hope you enjoy the story!

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I hate crowds, but here I am at one of the busiest places in New York on a June afternoon. The Jones Beach Theatre kicks off the summer with a free concert featuring famous musicians, and some not so famous. Though it is never confirmed, rumours swirl that music agents dot the crowd in search of fresh talent. The concert attracts musicians from all across the country and goes on for the entire day. It’s believed that catching the attention of one influential agent amongst 15,000 concertgoers is still a better odd at success than uploading a viral Youtube video.

I would not be here if it were not for James. He and I have just started seeing each other; it’s our third date. His teenage son is in a band that will play here today. Given the chaotic start, I imagine their band won’t appear until the second half of the show.

It’s only noon, and it’s sweltering.

Greasy people in shorts and tank tops, smelling of coconut scented lotion, are in constant motion around me. We are seated in the middle of a row where twenty-somethings shuffle by us to get to the end of the aisle or to their seats. They carry trays of beer and snacks. I stand every time someone passes in front of me, not to give them room, but to avoid having them touch me.

My germaphobia is on high alert.

“You all right, Maggie?” James touches my arm lightly as I sit down again. “You must be hot in that long sleeve blouse.”

I shake my head. A bead of sweat pools at my hairline, but I dab it before it rolls down my face. “No, no … I’m fine.” It’s a lie of course, but I like James. I’m willing to tough it out for a few hours with him here.

He leans toward me and brushes a sticky strand of hair from my cheek. “You’re such a good sport for coming out here with me today, especially in this heat.” He smiles in a way that makes my stomach drop a little. “How about I go buy you a souvenir T-shirt?” he says. “I’m sure it will be a lot cooler than what you’re wearing.”

I am hot, and only getting hotter. I suddenly feel heat rush to my face. “Thank you, James, but I won’t be able to wear it anyway.”

“Why not?”

“It’s … it’s the formaldehyde. They use it to treat new materials, so I never wear anything new unless I wash it first.”

James furrows his brow as he looks at me. 

Have I offended him?

+++

Bizarre creatures, women. Necessary, essential even, but so hard to fathom. There’s not much I like more than putting on a fresh, brand new shirt. Does that mean I’ve got a thing for formaldehyde? Poor Maggie. She’s sitting there, obviously uncomfortable from the heat, but it’s more than that. It’s the people. I sort of knew it from how I first met her. In a library of all places. Who the hell goes to libraries nowadays? Well, obviously Maggie does. I was there to look up something for Cal. He’s written a couple of new songs for the band which they think could be their breakthrough. I have to admit the lyrics are pretty impressive but he said there was something missing from the second one. He’d been a bit ambitious, tried threading different sets of references together and wanted to get Norse myths into it. He’d looked online but hadn’t found anything extreme enough – he wanted weird hybrid creatures, the things that popped out when Gods had sex with humans – so I said I’d check the stacks in the university library. And there she was – not in the main building, but at a single table tucked away in a corner of the stack. Little halo of sunlight around her hair, stunningly beautiful – so much so that you’d expect her to be gliding about where there were others to admire her. But no, she was in a near empty building, reading quietly amongst dust and volumes that were rarely opened.

She’s an enigma. OK, we’re still new to one another but at least she’s here. I really thought she’d say no when I invited her to come. I mean, The Jones Beach Theatre? First concert of the summer? Hardly the place for someone who’s agoraphobic. But she’s here. That’s a positive, right? But can anything come of it really? I can’t help feeling I’m invading her space. When I brushed back her hair then, she flinched. Only slightly, a conditioned reflex. She smiled to hide it, but it was there. And yet we’ve kissed, I’ve held her. Nothing much more yet and I’m trying not to rush things, but if she always needs to stay in that cocoon of hers, well…

God, the noise. That’s the trouble with these things – most of the stuff onstage is derivative. Tribute bands without admitting it. The present lot are probably copying Spinal Tap, with the amps set to 11. I’ll be glad when Cal’s set’s over. I won’t look for him. His mum’s here somewhere so she’ll probably find him and embarrass him in front of the band. Maggie and I will just find somewhere quiet. Yes, quiet would be good.

+++

I’m relieved when James takes my hand and brushes his lips over the fingertips. Despite the heat, a shiver runs down my spine.

He is unlike the others. James is gentle and considerate, and when I’m with him, I feel like what I imagine a normal woman would feel like. I can only owe this to him being a father. He cares about more than just himself. I sensed that when he approached me at the library where we first met. He immediately apologized for disturbing me and sat in a poorly lit area so he would not infringe on my space. I felt bad for him, trying to read in the dark like that. When I gestured for him to sit closer to the window and the light, closer to me, he almost seemed reluctant to do so, but he did.

I always fall for the shy, quiet types.

It’s been two years since Mike, even if I’m reminded of him every time I walk by the overgrown flowerbed in my backyard. The patch of wild flowers is hidden behind my wood shed, a dilapidated structure used to store garden equipment, along with leftover cans of paints and cleaners. I repainted that garage with three coats of oil paint. The smell was awful, but for a time, it masked the odour of the body.

It was with Mike that I learned everything I needed to know about formaldehyde. Mike turned out to be an abusive drunk after our initial honeymoon phase. My biggest mistake was inviting him to live with me after only a few months. He must have been on his best behaviour before then because he changed immediately after moving in. From the moment he came home after work, he drank beer and hardly moved from the couch in front of the TV. Next came the hard liquor, soon followed by his violent fits of rage.

Ten drops of methanol added to his scotch over three nights was all it took. The chemical metabolized into formaldehyde inside his body and led to respiratory failure. Mike’s asthma sped up his demise. The hardest part was keeping his body in the shed while I dug up the flowerbed.

But James is not Mike. He’s different from the rest. He’s not a loner. He has people who depend on him. That will make it difficult for me to fall back into old patterns.

The others are gone now, in the past. James is my future.

I palm his face and offer a sweet smile. “I’m just being silly,” I say, “Of course, you can buy me a T-shirt. I’d love to have one as a reminder of our day.”

“Excellent!” he says. A grin lifts the corners of James’ big, brown eyes. He appears genuinely pleased.

+++

You know, maybe I’m seeing problems where none exist. As I’ve said, we’ve kissed, touched, and she’s here beside me. Even in this heat, she’s still looking great. I couldn’t resist kissing her hand. And she let me, even smiled. It was magical – her and me, a little oasis of quiet in the din. And she touched my cheek, trailed her fingers over my lips. No recoils, no flinching. Maybe it’s my imagination again. It’s just that she seems so fragile, vulnerable. That’s so bloody attractive nowadays, when women’s sexuality has become so … well, aggressive. She’s probably just shy. I’m going to get her that T-shirt but I don’t want to leave her alone here with all these strangers around her. We’ll get it after Cal’s set.

I can’t help feeling sort of special that she’s let me get this close. It seems like a real date, the first. The other two we’ve had so far were fine but there was a distance. We were feeling our way – both of us. You know, I even think she may be a virgin. I know it’s unlikely. I mean she’s well into her thirties, but there’s that mystery about her, that otherness. Makes me want to protect her. I know, I know – typical male fantasy, macho crap, but I can’t help it. It’s that fragility. When I was at her place for dinner, it was almost a parody of the single female. The place was immaculate, the kitchen spotless. She’s a wonderful cook. The meal wasn’t at all fussy and yet the flavours were superb, but she blushed when I said so, waved away the compliment and said something about adding chorizo oil at the last minute.

But she’s no handyman – the garden, the shed, they’re just embarrassing really. It’s a nice place, lots of potential, but it needs a bit of TLC. The shed ought to come down. Apart from the state it’s in, it’s right at the front, hiding the bit of garden that’s got the most potential. The central flowerbed’s a disaster. All around the edge she’s got delphiniums, lavatera, hollyhocks, foxgloves – that sort of thing. It’s like a wall of flowers and, in the middle, where you can hardly see them, there are phlox, Californian poppies and peonies. It needs a man’s touch. I’m toying with the idea of surprising her. She has a graphics conference in Massachusetts next month. I’m thinking of giving the garden a make-over while she’s away. Put up a new shed, fix the trellis at the side of the house. Most of all dig over and replant that bed.

That’s for later, though. For now, I’ll just sit with the beautiful Maggie and watch my own kid, whose nappies I used to change, excite these thousands of people with his music. Life doesn’t get much better.

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Thank you for reading and/or listening. Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.

~eden

**

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SILENCE #poem

It’s been a long time since I wrote a poem. This is one I started more than a year ago when I was having a difficult time writing. I’d forgotten about it until I perused the many drafts on my blog which have yet to be published.

The poem says a lot for how I was feeling and how I continue to feel at times. I never published it, probably because I wanted it to be perfect before I did.

Today, I could not feel more imperfect. I don’t say this to solicit sympathy. It’s simply a statement of fact that some days will be less rosy than others.

Even if the poem goes unread, it will no longer just be silent words in my head.

+++

Silence

Silent

I’ve been silent for so long

So silent I’ve lost my own voice

So silent I don’t know what I sound like anymore

When I speak, I gauge another’s reaction to my voice

I see confusion where I once saw recognition

I sense disagreement where there was once agreement

I feel discomfort in the space between us

Where a pillowy air of comfort used to be

How did I get here?

I’ve been too quiet

For too long

It’s time to hear my voice again

Time to speak and express

It’s no longer important how I came to be here

It’s only important where I go from here

 

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