The Parade

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Photo: Mihai Surdu on Unsplash

 

It was partially because they needed to find something to focus on, and the months ahead stretched barren of anything worthy of looking forward to; and partially because they believed they had some yet-to-be-discovered organizational talents and this could be a good way to shine a little spotlight on them; and partially because they knew it was the last thing Mayor Perry would expect. The latter reason alone was worth the effort. Especially when it would be something he won’t be able to admit he was against and may even end up having to endorse.

So they planned a parade.

They enlisted friends’ cars for floats and roped in small sponsorships by neighborhood stores and minor celebrities. They tempted bands and cheerleaders from local middle-schools with free exposure and offered same for the martial arts students from George’s Judo (which, not to be outdone, was followed by the dancers from Teens’ Tap and Ballroom Ballerinas). They raised money (and attention) by holding bake-sales on stoops and organizing a popup donate-your-merchandise shop on the sidewalk in front of the library. They printed flyers and pinned them to bulletin boards then convinced store owners to tape some into their display windows, by telling them every one else already had.

Peer pressure worked.

Most people didn’t ask too many questions about why a “Celebrate Ourselves” parade was necessary, where it had been born or by whom or to what end. The general theme seemed good enough, and it probably didn’t feel right to be against celebrating who one was and what they belonged to and were included in.

They ordered “CO” shirts, stickers, and visors in neon-green, complete with an abstract sketch of a float-turned-banner-turned-thumbs-up to ‘carry’ the letters as the parade’s logo. They uploaded photos of themselves handing shirts to firefighters, visors to grinning grandmothers in the park, and an assortment of the stuff to slightly bewildered parents at the playground. The stickers were a hit with the kids.

They videoed themselves delivering a shirt to the mayor’s office, then sent the video to the local news, who shared it under the title: “The Mayor Celebrates ‘Celebrating Ourselves.'” Social media amplified it.

By the following morning the mayor was accosted by a reporter on his way out of the gym. The insistent young woman shoved a microphone in Mayor Perry’s face and asked whether he’d been asked to be the Grand Marshal.

“Not yet,” he mumbled.

An hour later they were in his office, neon-green shirts on, tailed by the reporter they’d tipped ahead of time for an “exclusive follow-up scoop.”

Soon enough a statement was issued and the news headlined: “Mayor Perry to Lead CO Parade.”

Sponsorships streamed on: The gym the Mayor belonged to. The bank. The local hospital. The Aerobatics Club.

Requests came in for satellite parades in nearby towns.

The national news picked the story. Talking heads nodded and argued the pros and cons.

Mayor Perry marched, neon-green shirt and forced smile on.

 

By the following year they ran for office, with the CO logo strategically in the background.

Celebrating themselves was fun.

 

 

 

For Linda Hill’s SoCS and JusJoJun writing prompt

 

 

On Thresholds

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Photo: Offmetro.com

 

A few hours ago I stood at the first floor indoor balcony of “The Shops” at the Time Warner complex, “Jingle Bells” playing softly in the background, and stared at the commotion on the street below. The traffic circle and the whole street was awash in red, white, and blue. Not of flags, but in emergency vehicles.

Behind me the shopping center continued its pre-holiday buzz, filled with the distinct hubbub of people at the ceremony of gawk and point, browse and purchase. The mall was festive. Large ornamental decorations hung from the ceiling, and the balcony’s railing attracted a steady stream of visitors keen to capture a photo for immediate uploading into social media. It was a lovely spot to take a photo in, and yet it surprised me how many of the people who approached the banister seemed not to register the events that were taking place right outside the very windows that framed their shot.

It was impossible to miss.

Or was it?

Perhaps the tourists, energetically set to mingle with the locals, assumed that a constant whine of fire-engines, ambulances, and NYPD in a mass of first responders’ flicker is part of everyday in New York City. And perhaps in many ways it indeed is … and I am the one inured to an ongoing level of it. Perhaps where the quantity outside had, for me, somehow shifted qualitatively from the mundane to the attention-getting … the flickering outside had long surpassed the visitors’ threshold and had moved them beyond a place of response …

I considered how this was representative of the way in which, in general, once a “Too-Much” level for something is reached, a further increase in magnitude of too-muchness can paradoxically fade into the woodwork, swallowed by saturation.

A gaggle of teens passed by me, loudly debating the level of celebrity of some pop artist and the likelihood of her responding to a social media message. I found myself thinking of how an aspiring celebrity’s fan mail may be eagerly read when it first comes, every letter representing an individual … but might turn into a mass measured by boxes or at most a quick count of envelopes by the time fan mail becomes too numerous to actually read. One would have to pull out a single letter from the avalanche in order to rediscover the real person who’d placed a bit of themselves into the message. Otherwise, the very same person’s letter would remain as unseen as the rest.

It was the way so many other things — or at the very least the individuality of them — became meaningless when turned to be too many to count or attend to.

A stubborn blare of a siren jarred me out of my reverie and I returned my eyes to the scene outside the window. A ladder was raised to a high floor on one of the ornamental buildings on the exclusive street ahead. As far as the eye could see, Central Park South was brighter and more colorful than the lights around a tree.

Smoke billowed. It was a different kind of column than the one exuded by steam vents in the streets or steam stacks in the roofs of buildings. Fire.

Someone’s home. Someone’s belongings. Someone’s person could be at the mercy of the flames, tittering between existing and being devoured. The safety of the emergency personnel, too.

In this city of millions, it was all of it real. It was all individually significant in its own way.

“Keep safe,” I breathed. “May whatever this is, not completely mar your day.”

 

 

[Click for a Citizen App video of today at that time. Thankfully, all are safe.]

 

For Linda Hill’s SoCS prompt: ‘ingle’

 

 

Relative Loudness

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Photo: Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

 

“It’s way too loud!”

Maria smoothed her skirt. Her mother’s sense of what wasn’t “too loud” was limited to washed-out grays, faded pastels, and the kind of drab that would put even a hyperactive child to sleep. “I like it.”

“You can’t possibly think you’ll get the job dressed like this.”

Her mother always went for the jugular.

Maria shrugged. She’d learned the hard way that to show her wounding only meant that more of it was certain to be dished out.

“Don’t come crying to me when someone more professional gets the position,” her mother added.

“Thanks for the support, Mom,” Maria sighed. She grabbed her bag, checked to see that the bus card was in her pocket, and walked out, deliberately ignoring the foyer’s mirror. She’ll give herself a final once over later, against a store’s window or parked car if she needed to. Any reflective surface would be more forgiving than her mother’s eye.

Some days the anger churned inside her like a witch’s noxious brew. A dash of fury, an evil eye of newt, a cup of resentment, a clump of shame, a fistful of sorrow, all stirred with the bone of a dog left to die in the street under a full moon.

“She can’t help it,” Sam, when he was still around, would try to soothe her. He was spared the worst of their mother’s tongue-lashings, being a boy and therefore less intrinsically prone to disappointing her. But he was well aware of how their mother’s wrath was doled onto Maria, and he’d even take blame where he could, knowing he wasn’t likely to be punished for the same misdemeanor, and that he’ll get off lightly when he was. “Mom sees in you everything she wants to be and cannot.”

It was truth. It was also small consolation.

“I can’t help it that she had less opportunity,” Maria would pout in answer. “It’s not my fault she was kept home to raise her siblings and never got to finish school. It’s not my fault she feels unable to try anything, or that Dad liked pointing out how uneducated she was.” And still … more often than not Sam’s reminders of where their mother had learned criticism toward daughters, and of the inordinate amounts she’d had to put up with, did help awaken a measure of empathy.

Some days less than others, though.

And on this particular morning Maria had very little of it to spare.

She’d worked hard to prepare for this job interview, and she’d put much thought into the clothing she selected. The turquoise top and a the splash of magenta in the beaded necklace were meant to put a bit of color in her pale complexion. She coupled that with a dark blue skirt with a banana-yellow belt. A matching silk scarf was tied around the handles of her rather overtired bag. She wore a single turquoise bangle on her wrist, and the dark blue pumps she’d kept for special occasions. Her hair was pulled back from her face behind one ear to reveal a single studded earring, and fell in soft curls over her cheek on the other side.

She thought she looked nice. Till her mother’s acid raised welts of doubt.

A whistle sounded and she turned around fully prepared to frown, only to have her lips turn up when she saw the whistler.

“You look glam!” Her eighty five year old neighbor leaned onto his rake and grinned at her through few remaining teeth. “Big day?”

“Hi Mr. Green,” she smiled back. “Yes. I mean, I hope. Job interview.”

“Ah,” he nodded sagely. “And you sure do look the part! Go get ’em! And don’t you let yourself worry none. Tell them all the good things that you are and can do, and don’t you be shy about it, either. It’s is your time to shine, so you go ahead and speak up as loud as anything. Show them who you are so they not miss the chance to employ you. And swing by on your way back to tell me how it went, will you now?”

She nodded. She did not trust her voice …

But her heart felt warmed and her feet were lighter as she walked toward the bus, every window reflecting rosy cheeks and a sparkle in her eye.

 

 

 

 

For Linda Hill’s SoCS challenge: Loud

 

 

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”

 

It’s a Wrap

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Photo: Monica Silvestre on Pexels.com

 

“It’s a wrap,” she said, and rose, and massaged the small of her back, which after all those hours of sitting felt as if sharp clamps had been tightened through it. Her back was never quite the same since the car accident. Or was it since the Shingles? Or the bad fall? Or the earlier things that were best left unremembered?

It wasn’t only her spine that bowed under the spasm. Her muscles were responding to a lot more than just the time spent in the chair.

He looked up, annoyed and uncomprehending. “Wrap, how?”

“In all the ways that matter,” she responded. It felt like ions since a soft hand on her back would melt the stress away and deepen her breath and make sleep nestle in so close she could smell it.

Decades? Years? Months? Too long.

“Living up to your rap of being cryptic, I see,” he muttered.

It was meant as a jab, but instead made a small peal of laughter form like a pearl inside her belly.

“I guess I am,” she noted, one hand still kneading the tightness in her lumbar area, the other held close against the urge to pat his head and make it better.

She’s moving on. He’ll have to find someone else to do all that for him now.

 

 

 

For Linda Hill’s SoCS prompt: Wrap/Rap

 

 

 

Soul Searching

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Photo: Inbar Asif

 

Would you sell your soul

To sorrow?

Would you reap

Hate’s awful gain?

Would you let go of

Tomorrow

So false power

Rise again?

 

Will your heart see

All humanity?

What will you allow,

Sustain?

Will your soles

Feed earth

Or hollow

Out it’s wealth

To drain?

 

Will you leave

Your soul abandoned?

Will you let your spirit

Die?

Or will you hold on

To the morrow

In a world

For you

And I?

 

 

For the SoCS prompt: Soul/sole

 

 

The Critic

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Photo by D. Tong on Pexels.com

 

It was his job to be the critic.

He’d taken it on when he was but a child and there was naught by chaos all around him.

Criticizing was a way to put some order into madness, to have at least the illusion of control.

Not that he’d criticize them openly and risk the switch or belt or backhand or the things that were … well … worse.

But criticize he did.

Mostly himself.

At first as practice.

Then as habit.

Then as something he would do without even a pause to think.

Offer a knifing critic.

Of his actions. Of his wishes. Of his hopes. His thoughts. His dreams.

What had began as coping, turned a prison.

And the jailer was inside him.

The sentencing, his own.

 

 

 

For the SoCS Saturday Challenge: Critic(al)

 

Third Yawn

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

“We’ll be okay,” he promised, even though he had never cared for a baby, let alone one quite so young.

It didn’t matter. He’d google it. He’d even call Aunt Edna if he had to.

For now, there was nothing to do but reassure Margo, who looked as if a semitrailer had gone over her once and came back for seconds. He had no idea what bleeding in a new mother meant, but he didn’t think it could be something to ignore, even as he simultaneously tried hard to not imagine the exact nature of it.

Still she argued with him till he said, “what if you give whatever this is to the baby?”

She let him call the paramedics. She agreed to call her mom.

“There’s breast milk in the freezer!” Margo remembered as EMS wheeled her out.

He was curious enough to head straight for the kitchen to check it out. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for till he spotted a few small zippy bags in the freezer’s door. They had a date scrawled on with a sharpie and contained an off-white substance. Didn’t look like milk. Well, maybe like a watered down version of ‘milk’ from the vegan aisle.

He stood there and wondered how the milk got from the freezer to the baby’s tummy. Do you cook it? Does it get ruined if you microwave it? Isn’t it supposed to be in a bottle? He hoped Margo’s mom will arrive before he had to figure that out.

He shut the freezer door but his mind would not shut the topic. How did the breast milk get into the bag in the first place? Did people sell this stuff? Was it hers? How does one milk a breast? Do you even call it “milking”? His mind conjured images too odd to contemplate. He wasn’t sure he liked realizing that women’s breasts had … um … practical uses.

The baby whimpered and he jumped to pick her up from the swinging car-seat-like-thing she was strapped into. Took him a good two minutes to figure out the clasp. Fort Knox, this thing. By then the whimper became full on red-in-the-face howl. He tried not to panic. Did babies normally get this loud or was the baby sick? He thought of Margo’s bleeding. Would he have to check, you know, the diaper area?

He bounced the baby lightly against his chest and she burped and dribbled some off-white liquid that looked like the breast milk in reverse. It wet his shirt but he didn’t care because the baby quieted. He wasn’t sure whether to keep bouncing her or not. What if she burped up more and ended up losing all the food in her tummy? He settled on a sort of light jiggly dance. Seemed to help. When he peeked down he saw the baby’s eyes had closed. The tiny mouth was closed, too.

A huge yawn stretched his.

He’d just come home from a double shift at the construction site and was dreaming of bed when he remembered that he’d promised Margo he’d check on the stairway light. He knocked on his neighbor’s door to let her know it was just a faulty light-switch, and was alarmed at how awful she looked when she opened it.

Margo rented the one-bedroom above the studio apartment he liked to think of as “his bachelor pad” though it was more like college-dorm-meet-thrift-store-shabby. Margo had already been pregnant when she’d moved in, and he’d felt a combination of protectiveness, shyness, and admiration for the young woman. Her mother had given him a critical once-cover and a ‘best not mess with my kid’ look when she’d come for the birth. He cowed under her glare and tried to stay out of their way. He hoped he passed muster when Margo’s mother found him making room for the stroller in the small landing. She didn’t say much, but she was marginally less glacial afterwards.

He’d been relieved when Margo’s mom left. Now he couldn’t wait for her to return.

Another yawn. He wasn’t sure how far away Margo’s mom lived. An hour? Two? More?

Margo had left her mother’s number on a sticky note, but he didn’t want to call. Told himself she had enough to worry about, though in truth he just didn’t want her to think he was as inept as he felt.

I did get the baby to fall back asleep, though, he thought defensively …

The third yawn threatened to swallow half the baby.

He lowered himself gingerly onto the couch. Hoped the baby stays quiet. She did. Good. He’d just close his eyes for a moment.

***

He woke to pots and pans and the smell of eggs and coffee. There was a slight weight on his chest. He stared down to see a downy head peeking from under a brown blanket.

“You were both fast asleep,” Margo’s mom manifested, apron-clad and a sudsy sponge in one hand.

He blinked.

She smiled, and he noted to himself that she didn’t look half as intimidating as he’d remembered.

“How’s Margo?” he chanced.

“She’s stable,” her smile thinned, with worry, not critic. “They gave her blood and are keeping her for observation but I can bring Ella to visit her later this afternoon.”

As if she knew she was the topic of the conversation, the baby stirred and stretched a small fist at his jaw. Her eyes opened and she contorted her face, ready to cry.

“I’ll take her,” Margo’s mom put the sponge down and wiped her hand on her apron before reaching for the baby. “Did she eat?”

He shook his head. Still a bit dazed and surprisingly disappointed at the loss of the small heft over his heart.

“I’ll make her a bottle.” Margo’s mom nuzzled the baby’s neck, and tilted her head toward a phone on the coffee table. The smile was back. “I took a photo, by the way. Of you and Ella. Was too sweet to not share.”

 

 

 

For Linda’s SoCS challenge: Yawn

 

A Firm Affirm

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Photo: Tetyana Kovyrina on Pexels.com

 

She climbed atop the hay

And called

“I am King Of The Hill!”

And then she paused

And frowned

And said,

“I am the Princess

I’m the Queen!

No dress

No crown

But still!”

 

 

For the Stream of Consciousness Prompt: Affirm