The Key

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Photo: Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

 

It was the key that would change everything.

He only found it because Cooper, ever disobedient, had slipped the leash and ran off the trail and into the thick of the woods. Again.

Deena thought his walks in the forest were cruel.

“It is his breed’s nature to hunt scents,” she’d inevitably complain about the leash, ruining what calm there was to be had in an afternoon walk. “How can you chain him to you when he’s meant to run where his nose leads?”

In Leigh’s view, walking the canine on paved sidewalks where there was no loam or crushed insects or chipmunk poo for Cooper to breathe, was actually far crueler. And so, like they often did when it came to disagreements, they ended up taking the easier way out by splitting the walks between them.

Deena would walk Cooper in the mornings in the neighborhood, where the most the dog could sniff was garbage cans and the occasional fellow leashed-pooch’s butt. Leigh walked him after work, and almost always in the direction of the woods, where in some ways they were both of them at home and both straining against some kind of leash.

It wasn’t perfect and sometimes it was lonely, but he preferred it that way. Quieter. With none of Deena’s nattering about minutia that he found excruciatingly boring to listen to and only slightly less indecent to ignore.

Not that he’d say that to her. Life was better when some observations were kept to oneself.

Like about keys …

He’d been running after Cooper when he tripped on an exposed root. A stream of words he’d learned while serving on a Navy ship spilled out of his mouth, when a shape manifested on the leaf-strewn forest floor. And it was as if a switch flipped and turned his mouth dumb.

He swallowed but there was nothing. His body shuddered with the memories of how quickly a mouth can turn devoid of moisture. That, too, he’d learned while serving on the ship.

He shook it off to make the involuntary shaking into an act of volition. Still his heart whooshed in his ears as he took a knee to the wet ground and reached for the key.

He didn’t know how long he remained frozen, fingers hovering without actually touching the bit of metal. Long enough for Cooper to return to investigate. Because the next thing  Leigh was aware of was Cooper’s wet nose, sniffing at the object of his master’s interest, licking Leigh’s fingers, breathing on his cheek.

“Move,” Leigh nudged the canine gently out of the way.

And Cooper, for once respectful without bribery, obeyed, and stretched with head on paws, his tongue dangling and his long body smeared with something Leigh noted to himself in passing would need scrubbing off with soap before being allowed back indoors.

“It’s the key, Cooper,” Leigh whispered. He was awed. He was aghast. “But how?”

It’s been eight years, five months, and two days since he’d lost it. On a different continent, in what felt a different world, in the middle of a battle, and not two hours after he’d sworn to his dying best friend that he would guard it with his life and bring it home to the fiance Mark had left behind.

“It was to be my wedding gift to Deena,” Mark had gasped, fighting for every breath. “She doesn’t know about it. I was waiting to tell her. It’s the key to my safe.”

 

 

 

For Linda Hill’s SoCS prompt: Key

 

None To Be Had

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Photo: Ofir Asif

 

There was no shade to be had.

No shelter from onslaughts

Of glaring heat,

Too bright.

There was no shade to be had.

Exposed as they were

To everything

In sight.

There was no shade to be had,

Other than what they

Conveyed in

A shrug.

No shade other than the small frowns

That communicated how

Very much in need

They were of a

Sheltering

Hug.

 

 

For Linda Hill’s SoCS writing prompt: Shade

 

 

Side-Effects

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Photo: Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

 

They said it was the best thing for it.

They hinted that to forgo discussing it will

Mean all manner of awfulness

happening

(And would, perhaps, be partially my fault

For not taking steps to fix

By listening).

 

They showed how it would better

Everything:

My house, my shape, my friends

My job.

May even lead to what I never had

Or always wanted

But an illness was sure

To rob.

 

The ad said it was the best thing for it.

A discovery deserving of a

King.

If only my eyes hadn’t left the screen

To pluck an errant string,

Which had my ears

Abandoned

To the chatter —

Which had previously lay hidden

Under sprawling beaches

And smiling people

And every beautiful

Thing —

And I heard

The actual words

That listed

All the side-effects

(from death, to heart-attack, to vomiting)

That this supposed

Miracle drug

Was likely to also

Bring.

 

 

 

For Linda Hill’s SoCS prompt: Flyer/Ad

 

 

Slivers Of Dreams

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Photo: Marina Shatskih on Unsplash

 

All those dreams that he had

As a child

Snug

Under covers

At night,

His tattered teddy

In arms.

His dreams

Parsed out

Into slivers

When

Under stars

At war,

His battered rifle

The only thing

He could

Hug.

 

 

 

For Linda Hill’s SoCS prompt: Dream

 

 

What She Ought

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Photo: Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash

 

She looked so fraught

I thought she fought

For what she brought.

She apparently did not

But then still she almost forgot

To tell me of some fish she’d caught

And how distraught

The worms she bought

Were at the thought

That she decided that she ought

Just put potatoes

In the pot.

 

 

 

For Linda Hill’s SoCS challenge: “ght”

 

Nuts About Her

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Photo: Herrmann Stamm on Unsplash

 

He does not like the new way the kitchen’s been done.

He does not like the curtains she’d chosen.

He cares naught for the way she turned the couch around

Or how she leaves the garage door open.

He will never get used to the stuff on her nails.

He detests hosting all of those book clubs.

He’s did not want his Foosball exiled downstairs

Or pink bottles to take over the bathtub.

Some days he thinks it had been better before

She showed up to give life a stir,

But she does make him laugh and he cannot ignore

The fact that he’s just nuts about her.

 

 

 

For Linda Hill’s SoCS prompt: Nuts

 

 

Dressed Down

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Photo: Marjorie Bertrand on Unsplash

 

He eyed her twirling in her tutu and his heart squeezed with longing.

He wanted to do that, too. It was not fair that it was not allowed.

That only girls could.

Be princesses.

Wear dresses.

Put on make up.

Play with dolls.

Paint their nails.

He’d tried, of course, but he could tell that even those who did not outright take things from him or forbid him or call him hurtful names, didn’t really feel comfortable with his choices. There was that look they gave, the forced smile, the way they inevitably ran out of patience and gave him “other suggestions” or directed him toward “trying other things.” He was given gifts that made it clear that what he’d asked for was not acceptable and therefore required others choose for him.

He could tell his parents were ashamed.

They loved him. He knew. But they didn’t quite love that part of him. The part that he loved in himself the most. The part that he hated. Sometimes.

It wasn’t even that he didn’t like sports, or climbing trees, or making mud pies. He did. It was just that those weren’t fun without adding a bit of dance, of looking for fairies amidst the branches, or pretending that the mud pies were part of a birthday bakery for princesses.

They kept saying how “wonderful it was to have such an imagination,” but their body language told him that they’d have much preferred if his imagination didn’t quite go where it wanted to. That they would have liked better an imagination of the kind they felt was more appropriate for boys.

“Do you want to be a girl?” his sister asked. They were in her room for a tea party. She was wearing one of her ballet-princess dresses and the full set of jewelry she’d gotten from Grandma just the other day. She let him wear the crown. They pretended this made him a princess, too, but they both knew she chose the crown because it would be easy for him to take down if someone walked in.

Or say he was a king.

Sometimes he envied her so much that it carved a hole into the center of his being. The ease and confidence with which she could prance around in rustling taffeta and glittery baubles, the smiles she got when she dressed up and smeared lipstick on her face … It hurt. It hurt. It hurt.

She let him into her world, but they both know that it was not his to live in. They both knew that when her friends came for a play-date he would be excluded. They both knew that even with no dress on, and with a crown fit for a king, at any moment someone might barge in, and frown, and find a reason to ‘redirect’ him.

Her question made him cry.

Because he didn’t want to be a girl.

He wanted to be a boy who liked playing with dolls and painting his nails and having tea parties and trying on dresses and decorating mud-pie cakes for princesses.

And yet … it would have been so easy. If he were a girl.

No frowns. No shaming. No overhearing adults talk of how he needed “toughening up” or was “too sensitive” or was “definitely gay-material” or “headed in the wrong direction.” Not having to know that Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa were kind of ashamed of him.

“I want to be me,” he sobbed, and fingered a dress his sister discarded and that he would give his heart to be allowed to put on without fear. “I just want to be me … and I don’t understand why it is wrong.”

 

 

 

For Linda Hill’s SoCS challenge: dress

 

 

In Quotes

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Photo: Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

 

“Oh, wow!”

“I know.”

“Did they really decide you were threatening violence against others?”

“Aha.”

“You!??”

Sigh.

“But you weren’t!”

‘I know.”

“And you’re the last person I can think of who’d do anything like that.”

“Thank you. Indeed I wouldn’t. I was speaking out against the threat of violence … and yet …”

“Whoa.”

“Yeah.”

“So now what?”

“I don’t know. As soon as I saw they suspended me, I’ve appealed. I pointed out I was protesting false-choice and threats of violence against the helpless. That I was absolutely not promoting violence. I pointed out that I’d placed any graphic words in quotes exactly because I wanted to make sure it was clear that this was an example of what someone like a Mafioso, in their false-choices, might say. I told them that this was an analogy. That that’s why I put it in quotes. I was certain they’ll reinstate my account. Instead, they wrote back to say that they’d reviewed my appeal and ‘found’ me to have been threatening violence and therefore they won’t restore my account.”

“I can’t believe this is the conclusion they’ve reached!”

“Me neither. It hurts my heart.”

“But you were doing the opposite of threatening people!”

“I know. I abhor violence. Against anyone. By anyone. In fact, this was why I was pointing out the wrong of using violence as a threat.”

“Can’t they see that for themselves? Also, all they need to do is read some of the stuff you write and do and stand for. I mean, this is ludicrous!”

Sigh.

“You of all people …”

Sigh.

“Sheesh! What’s wrong with them?”

“Actually, I’m not angry they wanted to take a look. If anything even appears to be threatening, it should be examined. I’m okay with that. What does upset me is that even after supposedly reviewing this, they say I was threatening violence, when I was absolutely not. I’m dismayed that in spite of me pointing out that this was a quote (and yes, it was in quotes!) of what a mafioso might say to gain compliance, they don’t see this for the analogy it was. I’m upset they don’t believe me I was protesting, via use of the mafia analogy, the untenable situation others are currently facing. I was protesting violence, not promoting it!”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“I know.”

“So now what?”

“I’ve re-appealed. I hope they’ll reconsider.”

“Now you wait?”

“I guess so.”

“And in the meanwhile?”

“I write here. I continue speaking against violence and injustice. I continue to trust people will do the right thing. I breathe. I don’t know what more …”

“Can I help?”

“You already are.”

“I am?”

“Yes. It helps that you’re listening. It helps to have you validate that you know I would not threaten to do harm to anyone. It helps that you’re here. It helps that you’re kind. It helps that you’re you.”

“Oh.”

 

 

 

For Linda Hill’s SoCS challenge: Oh

 

 

Hold Your Ground

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Photo: Anthony Garand on Unsplash

 

When the truth flees the sphere

Of those who power corrupts

And the lies become leaders’ way

To disrupt,

It behooves us to hold strong

To not let those confound

As we keep our eyes on

A true moral ground:

To be firm

To be kind

To keep light

In our mind,

And to not get swept up

In the feverish flow

Of those who prefer we

Give up and

Let go

Of core truths

And the law,

And forget how

Foreshadowed

In wisdom galore

Founders sought separation

Of powers before

And checks out to balance

Against tyrannical war,

Predicting the day

When ambition to rule

Would rise in someone

Who’d attempt to befool

And try to prop

Lies for a flop

And our constitution

For corruption

To swap.

 

 

 

For Linda Hill’s SoCS challenge: Ground

 

 

Metastasis

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Photo: Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

 

It lingered, hidden.

It’s potential ever present

Yet hoped

To in deep sleep

Remain.

Till it found purchase

Someplace where the

Balance

Could not be

Maintained.

 

“It’s metastatic now,”

They said

And shook their head

And watched her deep breath

Rise

Along with the determination

From last time,

Returned.

 

It will be

What it will,

But even if equilibrium

Was difficult to

Attain,

She was going to meet

Life

Head on

Again.

 

 

 

Dedicated to those who are facing this challenge now: You got this. We got you.

For Linda Hill’s SoCS challenge: “-tast”