Prepositionally Prepared

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Photo: Tucker Good on Unsplash

 

Before first light was when she meant to leave, and working through the night she made sure to have everything she needed with her. When that was done, she double checked that all other items were stuffed into bags or packed inside boxes or sorted into their respective containers. It mattered to her that things maintain their places: on shelves, by couches, under cabinets, in canisters, outside on the terrace, underneath the eaves up at the attic, even stacked along the small shelves that she’d tucked between the twin beds of the guest room or strung across the top of the door-frame inside her closet. She believed it important for one to have whatever they needed near at hand while at the same time not letting life be scattered all over toward disorder.

It wouldn’t do to seek something and not find it untill after it was too late to be of any use. Or worse, redundant instead of necessary.

She was leaving and had no plan for or intention of return. But when they found the place, she wanted whomever it was to know that she had made arrangements on their behalf and had been on top of things to ensure their life, too, could be sufficiently organized.

 

 

(Just went to town and had some prepositional fun with that, I had … )

For Linda Hill’s SoCS prompt: Preposition

Collateral Damage

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Photo: Sharon McCutcheon via Unsplash

 

“They’re collateral damage,” he said, and gestured toward the flash of news images across the screen. “It’s not anything personal against them.”

He shrugged as if his words explained all of what happened. Of what continues to take place.

“They never should’ve put themselves in this situation,” he added, perhaps because he’d perceived my incredulous stare as an invitation to explain further, or perhaps because someplace, somehow, he felt ashamed. That is, if he was capable of shame, which as the evening dragged on I found myself increasingly doubtful of.

I glanced at Brenda, whose dinner plate seems to have become her world. Her absconding only made me angrier, but the boulder in my throat allowed no sound. I shook my head.

“Well, they could’ve stayed where they were,” he retrieved a comb out of his pocket and proceeded to slick back his salt-and-pepper hair, and the outrageously incongruous act against the reality of utter misery, somehow released my breath.

“They are children!” I choked on the word, but the rest tumbled out behind it as if afraid to become lodged again. “They could not make the decision to stay. They had no choice where to be born. Or who they were born to, or whether or not to put themselves in any situations.”

He continued to groom himself with the comb and I fought the urge to grab his arms and toss away the thing, one of the many things, the children were denied.

“Their parents should’ve taken better care of them,” he added blandly.

I took in a deep breath. “Even if that was true, which it is not in the vast majority of the cases, how does that make it acceptable for others to deliberately traumatize these children further?”

He raised an eyebrow in disdain to signal that my upset was the overreaction. “If their parents stayed in their own countries,” he stated sedately, “instead of coming here, the children wouldn’t get locked up. It’s simple, really. If a person doesn’t want their kids to suffer, they should not do certain things.”

“So now we’re talking like the mafia? Threatening people with harm to their kids?”

“Calm down,” he drawled. “Now that people know their kids wouldn’t have it easy here, perhaps they’d think before they decide to make their kids into collateral damage. If they did as they were told and stayed wherever it was they belonged, none of this would have to happen.”

I inhaled and glared at his wife, the colleague whose silence at the face of cruelty made her increasingly less of a friend. Her eyes scanned the wall someplace not quite behind my head.

“So you approve of terrorizing children,” I stated, my fingers groping for my purse. Her birthday dinner or not. I was done. “This is exactly what mafia does.”

He actually cackled. “They’re the mafioso. It’s their fault if their kids are cold and wet and getting hurt. What did they expect, crumpets and tea?”

 

 

 

For Linda Hill’s SoCS writing challenge: co-

 

Blasted Thing

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Photo: Susanne Jutzeler on Pexels.com

 

“Where is the blasted thing?!”

I sighed and put the textbook down. Momma never could maintain a smidgen of patience in herself.

“I’ll get it!” I rose and walked the three steps that separated my bedroom from the eat-in area. The measuring tape was exactly where she’d left it, on the dinette.

Momma was sitting on the floor not two feet from the table, one chair upended and her own legs sprawled straight out. She was wearing one of her depressing “housecoats” and a frown to match. It was uncanny how she managed to unbutton her kindly outward appearance and shed it right along with her matching sets of slacks and blouse.

My friends never did believe me that the woman who was head of PTA, mistress of all bake sales, and Lady-Of-The-Smile in charity drives and Christmas fairs, was a terror to be mothered by.

“Here, Momma.”

Her red-clawed hand reached for the tape. “And scissors? Did your pea brain stop a moment to consider I will need the scissors?”

She’d decided to reupholster the chairs. Again. Her idea of seasonal decoration.

We sat on pumpkins in the fall. On holly in the winter. On bunnies in the spring. On flags in July.

The curtains would be next.

I rummaged in the drawer for the scissors.

“Well?” She growled.

“They aren’t here, Momma.”

“Like hell they aren’t! Didn’t I tell you to never ever touch my fabric scissors? Just you wait till I’m done here!”

The threat had had some teeth to it while I was younger, and though she did not lift a hand to me since I’d grabbed hers in mine to hold her away two years ago — and she’d realized that my extension at five feet nine far exceeded her five foot three wingspan — the words themselves remained. And the possibility.

I kept my distance. Safer when she had a hammer nearby.

Something glinted underneath a corner of the pastel chintz.

“Can that be it?” I pointed.

She grumbled and reached for the scissors. “Just like you to hide it.”

“Can I get you anything else?” I knew better than to take the bait or argue. And I had a test to get back to studying for.

My ticket out, it was.

If I passed, I would be leaving.

I don’t care to where.

 

 

 

For Linda Hill’s SoCS challenge: Where

 

Cleaning Up

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Photo Sebastian Sørensen on Pexels.com

 

No amount of soap and water could clean up this mess.

Even if I were to try, I wasn’t quite sure how I’d go about it, or if the effort was worth the results. Perhaps it’d be better to burn the whole thing to the ground and start from scratch.

I eyed the matches on the stove and looked at what I could no longer justify keeping around.

I wouldn’t miss most of it. Or so I had to hope.

My fingers struck a match and I held the small flame to the ring, amazed as always by how easily it grabbed hold and circled to make a blue-yellow-purple circuit of heat.

The fire leapt and danced and hissed.

I sighed.

It was time to wave good-bye. I needed a fresh beginning.

I set the kettle on to boil, sat back down, and hit “Delete.”

 

 

 

For Linda’s SoCS writing prompt: Clean/Dirty

 

 

The Instructions

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Photo: Luma Pimentel via Unsplash

 

“I’ve written it all down,” she’d said.

“Anything you need to know is there,” she’d promised.

“It’ll a breeze,” she assured me, one hand already on the door handle. “I won’t be too long. It’s just a short gig. A few hours at most. He’ll likely sleep right through to my return anyway.”

But the baby slept through about five minutes and then would not stop crying and I had no idea what half of the terminology for baby-brand stuff meant or what “up to the spoon line” was supposed to be when I couldn’t find any spoons with lines, and no clue how to “keep a hand on the baby at all times” while also needing two of them just to untangle the tabs on the darn diaper and another two to keep the baby’s feet from kicking it away … And the clean bottles came separated from nipples, which had multiple unrelated parts that needed assembly like an Ikea cabinet from hell … And what on earth is a spit-up cloth and how is it different than a towel or a blanket?

Speaking of, how does one swaddle a baby without dislocating something in the process of making it into a mummified burrito?

And did I mention the baby would not stop crying?

 

“You’re a saint, Rick!” she’d said. Even kissed me on the cheek like I was some long lost brother and not the neighbor who happened to live next door and perhaps smiled a few times at the baby on the elevator.

“I know it is last minute but I’ve been waiting months for the opportunity … I’ll make you dinner,” she’d promised, and her relief at having a solution for the baby was so palpable that I felt guilty extricating myself from what she’d misunderstood as “yes” when at the very most I’d meant “maybe, but not really.”

 

“It was a breeze,” I said.

“He woke up but is now sleeping like an angel,” I assured her, ignoring the baby’s heft on my desperate bladder. I hadn’t dared to move, lest the baby woke again.

She looked tired and worried and sad and a little worse for wear, and I wondered how the gig went but didn’t want to ask after she appeared to hold back tears when I’d asked if she had a good time.

“Did the instructions help?” she asked instead.

I nodded. “Perfectly.”

 

 

 

For the SoCS Prompt: Instructions

 

Chew On This

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

He had never been so hungry.

Not even when he’d gone without food for three days to win a dare. Perhaps because at least then the food was there, available to him had he gotten too weak or ravenous enough to render the challenge unappetizing.

He’d won that bet. And the mountain bike his friend was cocky enough to suggest as the prize.

The same bike — and all his gear atop it — that now lay twisted at the end of some ravine he had no hope of reaching. The bike that would have dragged him down to the same end had he not, in some unknown reflex of survival, thrown himself off the seat and against the rocky walls of what he’d thought was a sort-of-trail.

It first it was the abrasions that caused him the most suffering. The skinless arms and cheek. The raw wound on his shoulder where his shirt had ripped.

Then night came and it was the cold.

And the next day, the hunger.

He had nothing on him. No knife. No phone. Not even a lighter. He’d been so proud to dress the bike with a complicated harness to carry everything he needed for his week-long trek. Now he was naked of supplies. Bare of any protection or wherewithal, alone in the wilderness, and ignorant of how to make do without the gadgets he’d never given a thought to the possibility of not having.

Ignorant, too, of the consequences of veering off the path “to test the bike’s capabilities.” He had told a couple of friends he was planning to go for a bike ride, but he had planned to surprise them with his accomplishment post-trek, and in his hubris did not notify them when, where to, or how long for.

Off the trail and into the “uncharted.” He’d felt strong. He’d felt courageous. He’d felt the braggadocio reverberating underneath his ribs.

Now no one knew where he was.

Or when to expect him.

Or that he deseprately needed aid.

He’d never been so hungry. Or so tired. Or so hurting. Or so scared.

He couldn’t help thinking of how someone would one day find what was left of him. That is if some animal did not find him first.

He stopped to rest when the new blisters on his feet had burst and the pain of another raw place was too much to manage.

His shoulder throbbed. His head. His hand where it had slammed against the rock and left two of his fingers black and unbending. He checked the sky and realized a third day was about to end and he was just as lost as he had been the ones before. And hungrier.

He cried a bit. There was no one in front of whom to be ashamed.

Or so he thought.

He woke to warmth and thought he’d died already. The weight of something on his torso must have been the earth, though he couldn’t bother to try and consider who’d have dug a grave.

Then a smell wafted to him and his stomach clenched in painful hunger. Surely not even hell would torment so in death!

He cracked open an eyelid to the view of a lively fire and a shadowed figure stirring something over a corner of coals. He blinked. The figure was still there. He swallowed, and his mouth was not as dry as it should have been. There was a taste of sweetness on his tongue, as well. He coughed just to hear his own voice.

The head swiveled toward him and he could not discern any of its features against the brightness of the flames. A hand reached back into a pack and rummaged, then the legs straightened and the person unfurled and stepped toward him. He squinted but still could not see the face. He wasn’t even sure it was a man.

“Here,” the voice confirmed. A woman, and not a young one. Not warm but by her actions so far, not unkind. “Jerky. Chew on this until the stew is done.”

 

 

 

For Linda’s SoCS challenge: Chew/Choo

 

Therefore

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Photo: Osnat Halperin-Barlev

 

It has come to her before.

The message that had felt like lore

And made a home

Inside her core.

It ricocheted in her heart

Amidst the four walls

Of her soul.

Her spirit knew it,

And therefore,

She left her door open

For more.

 

 

For Linda Hill’s SoCS challenge: For/Fore/Four

 

 

When She Leaves

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Photo: Mahima on Pexels.com

 

When she leaves, there will be time enough for all the things that should have happened and yet didn’t. When she leaves, a space will open to allow what was yearned for but manifested not. When she leaves — in a week or month or year or decade — a leaf would turn to let the newness grow.

When she leaves.

Yet for the time being she remains.

She has no choice. Or not a real one.

She plods along the rutted path made by the heavy feet she’d dragged so many times before. She does what must be done. She smiles. She nods. She cooks. She holds.

She finds in every day a small reminder of the hope. A sliver of a dream. A memory of what is yet to come.

It sustains her.

It has to.

It’s all she has.

Until she leaves.

 

 

 

For the SoCS writing prompt: Leaves

 

 

Remotely Social

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Photo: Atara Katz

 

She’d have preferred to not have even as much contact with others as the job required, but the alternatives were worse, and she couldn’t argue with the benefits:

A roof over her head.

Supplies.

A stipend for the necessaries.

The most-days-solitude.

Granted, there were days when she could feel the walls press close around her and the vistas felt airless. She’d scan the horizon, then, wondering when someone would stop by that she could talk to. Vulnerable in her need, her fingers would reach for the radio, yearning to hear a voice that was not her own, and she’d make some excuse about checking the weather or changing the date of the next airdrop.

And yet she could not wait to end the conversation – if that was what one could call the brief exchange with the dispatch to arrange a fly-by or a stop-drop of supplies – so the last of the vowels could evaporate into the quiet.

Human contact suffocated her.

Its lack bore holes into her soul.

It was untenable, and all she could do is try and find some semblance of balance between loneliness and overwhelm.

There were no roads to the respite cabin, only footpaths, or for those who braved the crosswind, a rocky field in which to try and land a chopper. The nearest town was a hard three-days trek through the mountains.

Once in a while she’d see a shepherd who’d misread a storm and sought shelter. Sometimes another ranger would stop in during an upkeep task, to resupply or send an update to headquarters. Those were hardy, silent persons like herself, who welcomed a warm bowl of soup, a place to dry their clothes, and a break from the wind, but needed little in the way of clucking.

The trekkers, for whom the respite cabin was intended, thankfully limited themselves to the brief season when the weather was most forgiving. Her outpost was stationed on what was a remote route even for the most intrepid hikers, and yet some evenings in midsummer the small cabin would be bursting at the seams with chatter and the smell of unwashed feet, damp shoes, and giddy overconfidence. The bunks slept eight. To have even three occupied felt to her like eighty.

The trekkers would all leave in early morning, bellies full of oats and faces flushed with sleep, and she would not know if their eagerness was for the day’s exertions or to get to where they could safely gossip about the agonies of trying to wrest a word out of the reticent resident ranger.

She’d grow skinless by the time fall brought with it a piercing cold and the relief of rarer human sightings.

It would be weeks into winter before her fingers reached for the radio, pining to hear another person’s word.

So she was not prepared for the knock that came, an hour into night in early winter.

There was no storm. No ranger’s late arrival. No shepherd.

Just a youth. Half-frozen and her belly swollen, and in her eyes a look that pleaded urgent need even as it warned to keep a distance.

It could have been herself.

Fifteen years back.

 

 

 

For the SoCS prompt: Social

 

 

Emperor’s New Clothes

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Nata Silina at Supercoloring.com

 

“I expect loyalty,” he stated.

A silence followed.

Shock or perhaps because

There was

No honorable way to respond.

 

“I need loyalty,” he repeated

With the implication clear:

You bend the knee

Or you are gone,

Swear fealty to the man

Or you’re a traitor

And an enemy to be scorned.

“You will always get honesty from me,”

Came the measured return.

“That’s what I want,” twisted the retort,

“An honest loyalty.”

 

As if there was such thing

As honest loyalty

To one who deemed acceptable

Only what offers

Praise and supplication,

And allows no room

For truth,

Let alone for the calling out of

The Emperor’s bare bottom

Of the barrel

Governing

Or his disregard for honor

As he dons repeated sets of

Non-existent,

Yet much lauded by him,

‘New Clothes.’

 

 

Note: As it happens, the book I’m reading and which was right by my elbow as I read the prompt … is “The Mueller Report” (w/ commentary by the Washington Post; page 296 of the book, page 35 of volume II in the report).  … And the rest, well, is history. And what will be …? We shall yet see.

For Linda Gill’s SoCS: open book, point, write