Excerpt: Beyond the Fragile Glass–Unknown Chapter

There was a low murmur in the trees that night. I should have known then she was coming.

The sun had begun to set, and darkness hummed in the east with the wind. Crickets chimed as I stood on my porch, ringing like alarms. The trees in my neighborhood seemed to whisper her name is they danced around me.

Angeline, Angeline, Angeline.

Their warning gave me pause at the front door, tousling my hair, desperate to hail my attention.

But I pretended not to speak their language. “Everything is fine,” I said, slamming the front door behind me.

 

Excerpt: Here She Lies -Chapter One (Rewrite)

CHAPTER ONE–August 2, 2007
November “Milly” Ray crouches underneath the front window of her gray stucco house. Her chest heaves under the sharp California sun.

A man’s deep voice yells from the open window above her, “Where are you?”

Milly covers her mouth to quiet her breath. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

She doesn’t dare move her feet, even though tall, dead grass pokes at her legs and butt. She slicks sweat away from her forehead and keeps her eyes forward, willing the red Jeep with the curly-haired boy to appear.
The stucco wall to digs into her back. Hurry up, Charlie, she thinks.

A beaded bracelet hangs loosely on her wrist, and Milly clutches one of its beads between her fingertips that are slowly turning white.

Above her, her father, Jonah, mumbles to himself; his voice is hard but the words are strung together like a bracelet, indistinguishable from one to the other.

Milly’s fingers stroke the different textured beads threaded together on her wrist until she feels the bead she’s looking for. Her eyes lock onto a square, blue bead. Inhale. She looks across the street, searching for similar objects—the neighbor’s hose box across. Exhale. A garage door. Inhale. A window. Exhale. She looks down the street, but Charlie’s car is still no where to be seen. Inhale. She sees other houses, all the same two-story, gray-colored stucco as hers. At the far end, ten houses down and a good half mile, the cul-de-sac seems to form around one house that sticks out among the rest: a deep blue, two-story home with horizontal boards and a wrap around porch—Charlie’s house. Exhale.

The front door slams open.

“Crap,” Milly says. She jolts up and starts running down the street. The sun pricks at her skin and beads of sweat bubble from her forehead. The dry air sucks the moisture from her mouth. After passing five houses, Milly’s eyes flick back to her house. But Jonah is nowhere in sight. She slows down, careful to avoid the uneven slabs and cracks in the pavement.

Suddenly, a red Jeep blows through a stop sign at end of the street.

“Finally,” she says and flops onto the grass of a neighboring house, hiding in the shade of a canyon oak tree.

The Jeep slows in front of her until it putters to a stop and a plum of smoke rises from the exhaust.

Milly goes to it and yanks the door open. “You’re late, Charlie. Again,” she says.

Charlie offers her full-tooth smile. “So sorry, princess, practice took forever.” Milly rolls her eyes.

He looks her up and down. “Why were you walking?”

“I just needed some air.”

“It’s 104 degrees.”

She shrugs.

His eyes narrow and gaze in the direction of her house. “Is Jonah home?”

Again, she shrugs. “Move your crap, so I can sit down.”

“Sorry,” Charlie says as he grabs a half-drank gallon of water from the passenger seat and throws it into the back seat. It lands on top of his wrestling bag. Milly plops into the seat, and maneuvers her feet away from the graveyard of Red Bull on the floor. The seatbelt clicks as Charlie slams the engine into gear. Milly cranks the AC, and rests back, listening to the Van Halen CD booming from the Jeep’s speakers.

Charlie, Milly’s best friend since childhood, is tall and lean—built for wrestling. He has brown eyes and milk chocolate skin. His face is oval-shaped with sharp cheekbones and a smile that could melt the hardest heart—he’s easily one of the more attractive guys at their high school, but to Milly, he’s like a little brother.

Charlie speeds out of the neighborhood past a blur of cream houses and trees and brown yards, slowing the Jeep only enough to roll through stop signs before speeding past other houses. They drive out of the track-home neighborhoods and near the half-million dollar homes where Charlie slows a little, so Milly can drool a little over her dream houses, until they reach a small strip of land and then a trailer home park. He slams back on the accelerator. Eventually, they reach more track-homes that are newer than Milly’s house and those homes unfold onto a small shopping center with a Chinese food restaurant, an ice cream parlor—Milly’s favorite, Stater Bros. Grocery store, and a small liquor market—Jonah’s favorite.

As she and Charlie drive past Beaumont High School, Milly’s stomach flips. She takes a deep breath, only exhaling when they turn onto Cherry Valley Blvd and the school is out of sight. Cherry Valley Blvd slices through rolling hills of yellow grass that seemingly go on for miles.

Eventually, Charlie turns the radio down, and Van Halen fades away. He looks over at Milly but can’t catch her eye.

“Thanks for coming to get me,” she says.

“Of course. If he was that bad, you should have called me,” he asks.

Milly shakes her head. “Like you’d answer?” she teases.

“I would have!”

“You don’t let anything get in the way of practice.”

“You are more important than wrestling.”

Milly smiles. “It’s not that big of deal. I’ve avoided him most of the morning.”

After a while Charlie asks, “Are you okay?”

Milly plays with the bracelet on her wrist, rolling a circular bead over and over again, counting under her breath. One tire, two tires, three, four, five. “I already know what you’re thinking. I’m fine.”

“You always say that.”

“Because it’s always true, Charlie. I’ve lasted this long. Another year isn’t going to kill me.”

Charlie takes a deep breath. “You sure?”

“Yes.” Her eyes fixate on the road, away from Charlie’s gaze.

Charlie’s mouth opens to say something else, but he quickly shuts it again. Milly straightens her back and puts on a smile. “Would you just calm down? Stop worrying about me.”

“I won’t let this go.”

“Just give it a rest. I can’t handle another lecture this summer.”

Charlie focuses back on the road, taking a deep breath. It doesn’t matter how much this bothers her. Eventually, she’ll listen, he thinks.

“Maybe if you moved with your aunt, you’ll have to go to another school. But at least that way you won’t have to face everyone after last year…”

“Drop it, Charlie. I’m not moving, and I’m not running away from anything or anyone. Last year is no one’s business: including yours. You promised.”

“I’m sorry,” he says.

“No one’ll remember what happened last year anyway,” she says. The pitch of her voice rises. “I’m sure a lot of things happened over the summer for everyone; they won’t even care about me anymore.”

The car is silent. They pull off the freeway. Palm trees spring up every few blocks, and front yard after front yard sports brown lawns.

It feels like a boulder sits in Charlie’s stomach—he shouldn’t have pushed it. Everything changed last year, even Milly and Charlie’s friendship. She won’t admit it, but Charlie knows she thinks about last year a lot. She shifts in her chair and plays with that stupid bracelet, rubbing it like a genie that can fix all her problems. He slows at a red light. The only noise comes from the traffic of the overpass and the incessant click-click-click of his blinker. He can’t stand it anymore.

“There’s got to be somewhere—someone—better.”

“We’ve been over this a thousand times; there is no one else who wants me and no one I want. I know it doesn’t make sense to you, but that’s home to me—”

“God knows why,” he says while rolling his eyes. She glares at him. “Sorry,” he says quickly as he pulls off the freeway.
“This is my senior year, and I’m not going anywhere. I feel really good about it, and nothing that happened last year is going to stop me from having a good year. Just drop it, okay?”

“All right, all right,” he says.

The car slows to a stop. There’s a long cement gate that encloses a green park, filled with tall cypress trees that cast shadows across the entire park.

There’s an oxidized metal sign hanging from the gate: Hillside Memorial Park. Open six AM to dusk. Milly takes a few deep breaths and exits the car.

Poem: Joshua and the Devine Dysfunction

With cocaine in his veins
and a temper to match.
Jameson on his tongue—
The fire was set
with the words of a love song
He can’t seem to forget.

I’ll be his scapegoat
if that’s what he needs,
but at the end of the day
he just wanted to leave.
Didn’t wanna be the bad guy,
so he blamed it on me.

Poem: Rewrite the Stars

The breeze whispers
in my ear, singing me
your lullabies.

She tells me all about you
and the wings
you sprouted overnight.

She tells me how
she carried you through
Clouds that soaked your skin,

How you tried to
catch their vapors
in your tiny fingertips.

She tells me of
your eyes, lit by
the midnight moon.

How you stretched your
tiny arms to touch
that white balloon.

She tells me stories
of the stars you
dance with in twilight.

And how your giggles
light them up for me
every single night.

Poem: holy water

Having to get out of bed
brings me to my knees–
but only metaphorically,
because physically,
I have not left
my bed in days.

You consumed me
like a parasite
grazing upon its host.
I am the empty vessel
for which the ghost
of your soul resides.

I wither in self-pity
and drown in
a grief I did not
know was possible.

I am hollow,
carved out with curettes,
sutured, and sent home,
but devoid of ever
feeling home again.

Poem: When the world fell apart

In a car, seduced by Clair de lune

On the radio.
Darkness ahead and around.
Lone on the road save the occasional
Early morning traveler.

It was the piano, the rise and fall,
That sweet lullaby that whispered
In my ear, “hold on to the moment,
For nothing will ever be the same.”

In my moments of darkness,
I go back to that car,
Wedged between blood and brothers
Loved and wanted but still

Brave enough to leave.
I go back so I can remember that
If it was once together
it must come back again.

Short Story: The House on Sutherland Lane (Part 2)

If you missed part one, catch it here. Otherwise, here you go:

“Leave that poor woman alone.”

“As president of the HOA, it is my job to care about our neighbors.” “That’s just your excuse to be nosey.”

“Bite your tongue. I just want to help.”

Emily made a rather large and embarrassing scene last year when Tristan left her for the local school teacher, who was twenty-two. She threw his stuff everywhere, screaming and cursing left and right. She kept saying something about how she never should have come here and how she hated him and wished she never left California and how she would never make this mistake again. They were only married for six years. Eric and I have been married for twenty- three, and sometimes I wish he’d leave me for another woman.

Eric doesn’t say anything else, and I don’t wait for him to speak. I already have my coat and gloves on. I open the door and step into the sharp air. It’s getting so cold, breathing hurts. I wrap my scarf around my nose to warm the air.  I clutch my arms to my chest, trying to keep out the cold. As the light fades and the street lights turn on, each passing minute seems to drive the temperature further south. I reach the curb before Emily’s house and stop a few feet before her garden.

I watch her focused eyes and steady arm move quickly between weed and plant. I watch the way she deftly clips, pulls, and hacks at the garden’s plants. The result is stunning. The garden starts at the curb and goes back six feet into the yard. Every few feet, a new plant erupts from ground. A stone path separates the two sections evenly and leads to the house. The front row of flowers is a maze of marigolds and the next row is full of small pink and red roses.  White lilies line the stone path and end a few feet before the house.

“Your garden is beautiful,” I finally say.

She jumps with a start. Her eyes meet mine and narrow. Her lips form a flat line. She looks back at the ground, and her arm whacks the weeds harder.  I wonder if it’s me she imagines in the dirt.

“Thank you,” she says, so quiet I almost miss it.

“You’re welcome. How do you keep them in bloom so long?”

“Meticulous pruning,” she says, and her eyes flick up. She snips the head off of a small rose bud.

“Oh,” I say. A cold breeze slithers up my coat. I move my back foot closer to the house and wrap myself tighter in my coat. “It’s so cold outside. Aren’t you freezing?”

“No.”

She wears a long sleeve shirt covered in mud and small moth holes. Her pants are worn and muddy, as well. Her skin is red and small patches look nearly frost bitten. “You look it,” I say.

“I’m not.”

“You know, Mrs. Robins down the street uses these plastic bags to keep her flowers from dying in the cold. You put this bag thingy over the flowers. It works like a miniature,” I pause. “You know I can never quite remember the name,” I laugh, but it sounds forced. I hope Emily doesn’t notice.

“Greenhouse,” she says.

“Oh, yeah! That’s the one. Well, anyway, I’m sure if you talk to her, she’ll show you how to keep those beautiful plants alive all winter long.”

“I won’t be here much longer.”

“Oh? What do you mean?” I try to stifle the excitement in my voice, but it’s hard.

“I mean, I won’t be here during the winter. I’m going back to California. I couldn’t care less to live through another winter here.”

I don’t say anything, but the knot in my stomach loosens slightly. I repress a sigh of relief.

“I’m just getting the yard ready to sell,” she says.

I look at the garden, but my eyes wander to the house behind it. The brown paint is peeling slightly. The panel walls are loose in areas and completely missing in others. Not to mention, there are several small holes in the roof. “What about the rest of it?”

She glares at me, and my face turns pink and hot.

“I don’t have time to fix the rest of it. I don’t care about it much either. We bought it as a fixer upper, so I don’t mind selling it that way.” She doesn’t say her husband’s name, but we both know that’s who she means when she says “we.”

“Oh,” is all I can say. I wait a few more seconds, but she stops looking at me and resumes the work on her garden. “I’m sorry to see you go. I know we’ll all miss—“

Short Story: The House on Sutherland Lane (Part 1)

I stand at the kitchen sink, elbow deep in soapy water. I mindlessly caress the water for any signs of leftover dishes from dinner. It’s still early, though. In the west, the sun shines just above purple mountain peaks. Usually, I like to have dinner made and finished before the sun sets, so I can sit on the porch and enjoy tea and cookies.

I won’t be sitting on the porch tonight, though. Across the street, my neighbor, Emily Hale, hunches over rose shrubs and marigolds in her yard. Her head bobs among the different plants, inspecting and analyzing each before she hacks away at weeds and unruly vines. Occasionally, she gets up and stands behind the shrubs, which still have some blossoms despite the coming winter, to admire or criticize her work; then, it’s back to hacking. I creep down a little at the sink when she stands up, so she won’t see me watching her.

I can’t take my eyes off her. I have never seen a face as strange as hers. She has a long, pointed nose and black eyes surrounded by the wrinkles of crow’s feet. Emily’s jet-black hair once fell to the middle of her back, which made her pale face appear striking. A few weeks ago, though, she hacked her hair to pieces and left only an inch or two that now look like mangy feathers. There’s a furrow so deep in her brow line that even across the street, I can visibly see it. She’s ten years younger than I am. She looks so much older than thirty-three.

There aren’t any laugh lines around her mouth. It’s been almost a year since I’ve seen her smile.

My fingers brush past the edge of one of my favorite porcelain plates. “Gotcha,” I say to myself. I clean the last dish and drain the sink water.

I reach the living room and lean on the door frame. My husband watches the local evening news on his 52 inch flat screen television. He sits on my favorite plush blue sofa. Under each elbow is a pink and white embroidered pillow. I narrow my eyes at him.

“Eric, elbows off my pillows,” I say.

His forehead wrinkles and his lip puckers. “Jesus, Maggie. What’s the point of having these things if I can’t ever use ‘em?” My nose crinkles at him, and I waddle over to the couch and pluck one of the pillows from under his arms.

He glares at me and puts all of his body weight on the remaining pillow. “Please,” I beg. “You know how important they are to me.”

Everything is important to you.” His lip snarls, and he refocuses his attention on the news.

“And what is that supposed to mean?”

He doesn’t look at me. His reply comes from the side of his mouth as if answering my question isn’t worth all of his effort. “I’m tired of not being able to touch anything in my house.”

I roll my eyes and sit on the couch. I think of Emily across the street. “She’s lucky her husband isn’t around to ruin all her prized possessions,” I mumble.

He turns the TV off and looks at me. “What was that, darling?” He says with a sarcastic scowl.

“Nothing. I was just thinking about Emily. You can keep watching television if you want.”

“Thank you for the permission, but if you’re sitting here, I know you’re gonna interrupt it anyway. What were you sayin’?”

“I was just thinking about our neighbor. It’s been a while since I’ve seen her smile. I just wonder about her, especially after she hacked off all her beautiful hair.”

“It looks sexy.”

My eyes widen. “Well, I think it looks atrocious.” I say it like a challenge, daring him to argue with me.

“She’s in shock.”

“She’s losing it,” I say.

“Give her a break. She’s had a hard year, Margaret.”

“I know. The ladies in town are concerned.”

“I’m sure you’re all very concerned.” His eyes roll.

I ignore his comment. “It’s been a year since Tristan left her. She’s had plenty of time to move on and get on with her life. Now is not the time to hack your hair to bits and be rolling in dirt all evening. She should be meeting other men, falling in love again.”

Eric laughs, and it takes me off guard. “What?” I ask.

“If I dragged ya away from your home and all the people you love and then left ya for a younger woman, it would take ya years to recover.”

“So you do listen to the neighborhood gossip,” I say and smile. He shakes his head.

“I talked to her.”

“When?” My eyes go wide again.

“Last month.”

I don’t say anything.

“She didn’t even get to go to her daddy’s funeral a couple years ago because Tristen said they couldn’t afford it.”

“I heard she didn’t get along with her father.”

“If ya asked, you’d know she loved her father. His death crushed her.”

“She didn’t act crushed. She just pouted all around the neighborhood.”

“Probably ‘cause she couldn’t go to California. She doesn’t have anyone left.”

“No one?” I ask.

He nods. “Ya may want her to leave, but she’s got nowhere to go.”

Again, I don’t respond. I call my mother every week, even to this day. I still see my big sister a few times a year. I can’t imagine not having anyone.

I straighten myself. “I know it’s been hard for her, but that’s still no excuse for her behavior lately. Just last week, someone saw her in the grocery store and tried to say hi, and she didn’t respond. Who does that? And someone else saw her yelling on the phone, swearing up a storm. She’s very rude.”

Eric shakes his head and turns the television back on.

I stand up, and as I stomp back to the window to resume watching Emily, the wood flooring whimpers under my weight. The skyline lingers in orange, pink, and the lightest of blues. I try to take it all in, but Emily is hard to ignore. Her angry scowl distracts me from the beautiful Midwest sunset. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for thirty-eight years, and I won’t let some bitter woman ruin this place for me. If I can talk some sense into her, maybe she can learn to act normal. I march towards the front door.

“Maggie, where are you going?” My husband calls. The television volume turns down. “I’m just going to talk to Emily. I’m worried,” I yell to the living room.

“You aren’t worried.”

“No, I really am!” I am worried, I tell myself. The better she’s doing, the better the neighborhood does. I’m sure I can help out. She just needs someone to listen.

Poem: Raw

Like wanting to carve my own body,
up through intestines and
stomach and liver
to the residence of the heart.
To squeeze and bleed her dry,
take every beat of hers away.
Then climb up past the lungs
Up through the esophagus
To spill into the mouth and
Rip through the sinus cavity
To the find the hiding, quiet, deep
Of the limbic system.
Like the surgeon, I wield a blade
Sure and true, meticulously
I slice the synapses, these
Engraved tombs of ghosts long gone,
But never leaving, always flickering
In the darkness.
I will stop the electrical jumping
From one neuron to the next,
So their shadows might finally
disappear.