Bronzed

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“How will I know it’s over?” Marika fretted.

“You will,” Jurena assured. A month older, she was already Bronzed.

“But …”

“But nothing …” Jurena lowered the edge of the tent and stole away. She wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near Marika. Especially not tonight.

Marika listened to the silence. She shivered and tried to not think of Undine, her neighbor, who had never reappeared. Not all did.

The darkness filled her, thick as molasses. Her limbs grew heavy. Her ears began to ring.

Perhaps it was the magic.

Perhaps it was that drink.

Shadows entered, and Marika’s mind filled with molten spears, lava on dried grass. Encroaching. Coming near.

The fire lit her from within. The biting ants. The heat. The pain.

She screamed.

Perhaps she dreamed.

By dawn the elders had removed the gloves. The bullet ants were still.

Marika’s hands were bronzed with stings.

An adult’s.

Her childhood scoured clear.

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimson’s Creative Challenge

Note: I don’t know why this photo brought up the image of a years-ago-seen video about Initiation With Ants video, filmed by National Geographic. But for some reason it did, and so I let it take me where it wanted to lead.

 

Restashed

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She packed her bag and stashed

Her dreams into the

Locket

That held them

In the past.

She shut the door

And sighed.

She must

Return to what she’d left

Behind.

 

 

 

For Sammi’s Weekend Writing Prompt: Return in 31 words

 

A Hundred Sleeps

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(Photo: © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields)

 

It will only be a hundred sleeps. They said.

What length a sleep would be, they didn’t speak.

She will awaken once the sleeps are done. They said. With eyes that darted and rounded shoulders that hid words and fingers that kept fiddling with the thread.

Nothing, she observed, of how she’d be upon awakening. What she might become. Who would tend her.

If she’d dream.

Will she still know herself? Know them?

“Only a hundred sleeps,” they said.

She turned sixteen.

They pressed her finger to the quill spindle.

Blood bloomed. Dark came.

The curse.

A yarn. A spin.

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers

 

Her Independence Day

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(Photo: Luke Michael on Unsplash)

“I don’t know what to make of it anymore,” she said.

Here she was, a youth in a country she had been raised to believe others had looked up to – and perhaps many indeed had in the past – only to see how other modern countries now look upon it with a worry mixed with pity. For what her country is losing. For the progress it is undoing. For the backward path it has been put on through the religious fervor of the few.

A country where religion ought to be free, but where one religion’s dogma was to be forced on everyone, so that freedom was no more.

She hadn’t left her home, yet hers was no longer the land of the free. Did not even pretend to be.

Here she was, supposed to feel pride when what she felt was wariness. Aware that her very voice was threatened next. Her vote. Her right to medical treatment. Her right to family of her choice. Her right to marry.

Already she had lost her right to not be used, to not be abused, to not have her body kidnapped, her soul ignored, her choice made moot.

And so, on the day of hoped-for-glory, she worried.

And she grieved.

 

She grieved for the country she had believed herself a part of, yet now the few decided to make her a thing to be controlled. A being without choice. Less than a human. Less than a body. Much less than an embryo.

Certainly less than someone without a uterus.

Again.

 

“What is independence,” she asked, the red, white, and blue furling and unfurling in her hands, “if it can be stolen? How can there be independence if it is kept only for those who take away choice?”

Pensive in jeans, red top, and white sneakers, she arranged blueberries and raspberries on a bed of whipped cream.

Her favorite July 4th dessert.

It always used to make her so happy, to see the flag represented, to taste the sweetness, and remember the freedoms others had fought so hard to gain and to protect. It had filled her with respect to know the path her country had taken through many historical wrongs, the struggles it had undergone to gain understanding. To see how people that the Founding Fathers – in their era’s blind spots – did not know to accept as fully human, actually very much were.

She’d felt pride for how the constitution was amended to better reflect humanity, to represent those who pledged allegiance to the flag and to the Republic for which it stands. In pursuit of liberty. And justice. For all.

Oh, she knew it had never been perfect. Her country. But it had tried to move toward fairness, civil liberties, and understanding those it had wronged. It worked on freedoms, on justice, on choice.

That effort, that promise to do better, was what had made her so proud … and why the undoing of long-time liberties broke her heart.

 

“I have less freedoms than my mother had,” she cried. “How can I fly this flag if it no longer represents me?”

And yet, she fretted, could she allow the flag to be kidnapped by those who have no respect for her, for her body, for her rights, for her faith, her decisions, her choice? How could she let those who steal freedoms appropriate the flag? How could she let those who take away her choice, be the ones to exclusively own what is still also hers?

No, she could not let the flag be only for those who interpret freedom of religion as their freedom to force their own religion onto others. She would not abandon the flag to those who would gladly take away her vote, who already call her names, who would shackle her and vilify her most personal body functions all while they justify monitoring and hijacking her body to their purpose!

She could not let them own the flag. Her flag. She would not!

 

So even with the shattered glass that filled her heart, she flew the flag. The stars and stripes.

And alongside it she added a flag for choice, and a flag for freedom of religion, and a rainbow flag in solidarity with those whose very right to love was threatened. To let them know that she would also protect their voice, their freedoms, their choice.

And thus she celebrated the day of independence.

Not as confirmation of freedoms achieved, but as a sign of freedoms to believe in and to fight for. Not as an agreement with the current state of the union, but in determination to protect, speak for, and vote for independence. To protest the undoing of civil liberties by an imperious injustice, and to insist on one’s rights to one’s own body and their choices about it.

She flew the flags, to remind herself of what is possible, and of the work remaining. Her choice. Her voice. On Independence Day.

 

 

 

(Note: This piece was based on recent conversations with young women and the worries and feelings they’d shared. Wishing them – and all – a good and meaningful Fourth of July. May hope and choice come forth.)

Not His Kind

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(Photo: Daniel Diesenreither on Unsplash)

 

When he first saw her, he thought, no way!

After all, he preferred the quiet kind who’d let him listen to the crackle, to the silence, to the breathing of the cabin’s logs.

He thought her flippant. Voluble.

Disrespectful of tranquility. Wasting words.

But she’d been sent, and his household needed a woman.

So he endured.

Till he heard her soothe a monologue of comfort into his orphan’s ear.

And his heart turned dear.

 

 

For Sammi’s Weekend Writing Prompt of Flippant in 74 words.

 

 

An Opportunity To Gamble

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(Photo: Inbar Asif)

 

As she rose out of

Her previous life’s bramble,

She knew there was going to be

The opportunity

To gamble.

With the way her life

Could turn.

With costs and possible

Return.

On what she’d have to do

Again.

And yet, there was, she hoped,

So much

To gain.

So when once more her choice of cards fell

In a shamble,

She laughed because it was

Just a preamble,

To craft herself a new

Ensemble.

 

 

Written just for fun, for Linda’s SoCS prompt of “amble”

The Lost

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It wasn’t the hunger. Or the cold. Or the worry that their bruises won’t have time to heal before another layer made lace of the colors on their skin, to serve a lesson in horror and morals for their kin.

It was, more than anything, the despair.

The utter loneliness within.

The feeling that there will never be another way to be. Another way to live. Another place to be.

For the Commune was The Law, and The Law was The Faith, and The Faith was the whip and the rope and the cellar’s dirt floor.

The Law was everything.

Until.

That day when someone – who some later said was of the lost who were forbidden to be let back in – breached the fences. Ignored the “No Entry” sign circling the fields. Climbed through the grasses. 

With a lens. And later, with the law.

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimson’s Creative Challenge

 

Nana’s Will

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“So how exactly will this work?” Maria scanned the detritus left by the fire. Remains of a lifetime of work and investment. Gone. Shards and a handful of charred pots. Is all.

“We start from seed, as it were,” Steve pressed. “We get Dad’s old truck out of the garage. Use it as a wheeled nursery.”

Maria sighed. It could work, but was she even up to it? Where there’s a will there’s a way, Nana had always said, and it matters most where there’s little will with which to find a way.

“A willed nursery…” Maria nodded. “Nana’s way!” 

 

 

For Friday Fictioneers

Photo by: © Jan Wayne Fields

Arrowed Cloud

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(Photo: engin akyurt on Unsplash)

 

“He’s not cooperative,” his teacher warned me when I called to find out more about the boy who’d been referred to me for speech-language therapy. “He’ll find a hundred excuses to not do the work.”

“Sounds creative,” I interjected.

“He is,” the teacher conceded, “but it is exhausting.”

For him, too, I was sure.

“You’d think he’d settle down,” the teacher sighed, “but it’s like he’s gotten worse.”

Al* had language-learning issues. He struggled to express himself, to understand what he read and what was read to him. He mixed up letters. He mixed up messages. Exposed to alcohol (and quite likely to other substances) in utero, his early childhood was marked by constant shuffling between foster-care and reunifications with his biological mother, until parental rights were terminated, and he became eligible for adoption. He’d never known his dad. Al suffered from asthma. He had difficulty attending but reportedly “no difficulty misbehaving.” He scuffled. He cursed. He broke things. He kept getting in trouble. He spoke little, read less, and his writing was filled with errors. He was in fifth grade.

The “settle down” was a reference to his recent adoption by relatives of his biological mother. Now that he was in a “forever home with family besides” he was expected to move on. He was expected to “make gains,” close gaps, and be happy. He was undoubtedly happy for stability. He was also grieving, furious, frustrated, and failing at school. He acted out. He shut down. He “did not cooperate.”

He’d had at least four previous speech therapists. The teacher informed me that “he hates ‘Speech.’”

 

“You don’t look thrilled to have another speech therapist,” I noted on our first session together.

He raised a single eyebrow so perfectly that I wondered if he had practiced the move in front of a mirror.

I smiled. “Speech can be fun …”

“It sucks.” He stated.

I nodded. “I hear ya.”

“So, I can go?”

“Good try,” I chuckled. “We’re stuck together for now.”

He shrugged but didn’t flee.

“I don’t do work.” He warned, testing.

“So let’s not call it work,” I agreed. “Let’s just figure out ways to make the other work you have to do, a little easier. Because I think you’ve had to work way too hard.”

He narrowed his eyes, suspicious.

“I mean it. And … I can understand wanting things to be easier.”

He shrugged. Crossed his arms. Leaned into the backrest of the chair.

I saw it as truce.

The next few sessions were like pulling teeth. His attention flickered. He vetoed some tasks. He tried to sulk. But he listened. And he didn’t disappear into the boys’ bathroom when it was time for sessions. He tolerated me, which was better than what the teacher (and Al?) had predicted.

We took it slow.

Then I brought Shel Silverstein’s poems to a session.

“I’m not a baby,” he bristled.

“It’s not for babies,” I retorted. “It’s also for grownups. The illustrations may look silly, but lots of this is about serious stuff.”

He folded his arms and closed his eyes. On strike.

Or not.

I read.

His eyebrows were knit together, but then his shoulders lowered, and he took a breath. He frowned. He chewed his lip. He listened.

When I finished, he opened his eyes. Held my gaze.

“Cool, eh?”

He shrugged.

“Poetry is like that,” I said. “I love how it can find words for things, sometimes.”

He shook his head. Twisted his lips. Stared at the book. Flipped through the pages.

“Want me to read another one?”

He shrugged.

I did.

I read three more.

He scribbled arrows piercing clouds.

 

The next time I saw him, he pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. Fiddled with it. Shy.

“You have something?” I chanced.

Shrug. He stared at the poetry book I had prepared for us again. Unfolded his paper. Refolded it. Coughed. Took a breath. Thrust the note in my direction.

“Can I look?” I asked. Consent is tricky with kids who’d had others decide everything for them. I didn’t want him to think he had to show me.

He nodded. “I write it.”

I unfolded the page. Eight wobbly lines of transposed letters in phonetic spelling. A poem.

“Can I read it?” I checked.

He looked up at me, vulnerable and holding up an olive branch of trust, “yeah, but … but not loud …”

 

 

 

(Originally published in the March 2022 issue of ISSTD News as “Arrowed Cloud – The Use of Poetry in Therapy” )

*Name and details changed to protect privacy.

Bookended

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She stood back to appreciate her handiwork.

A mix of tidiness and lived-in disarray. The books. The pillows. The cozy afghans on the couch.

“She’ll love it,” he said from behind her, and she jumped. She hadn’t heard him enter.

She leaned against his chest. Felt the thrumming of his steady heart.

“How do you know?” she fretted.

“Because it’s not about perfection, but about having enough support so that no matter how you wobble,” his hand rose toward the bookshelves, “you’re bookended by love.”

She kissed his palm.

“Let’s go get our new daughter, then. Bring her home.”

 

 

For Rochelle’s FridayFictioneers

Photo: Dale Rogerson (thank you for the homey, inviting photo prompt inspiration! This room makes me wanna curl up with a good book on the couch. xoxo, your NYNF)