Wednesday, September 28, 2011

100 Words: Budget Restraints

My dog is too sexy for the fish shaped pieces of dog food. She noses them onto the floor, as if they aren't even worthy of touching the bowl.

She's such a spoiled brat. I've let her get by with it far too long. There was a time when I would simply sigh and sweep them into the trash.

Nowadays, I'm clutching the wallet a little bit closer; everybody has to make sacrifices.

If I am forced to eat tuna fish out of a can, then she damn well better learn to eat those little pieces of fish shaped food.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Dream: Needs

I am a fifty foot giant, traipsing around the supermarket where I earn a regular paycheck, and the grocery aisles are arranged like a maze for laboratory rats. I can see the shoppers, racing around, finding their prizes and ringing their bells. They're stocking up on the must-haves and arguing over the want-it-bads.
This woman needs her roast; there's been a death in the family. That woman needs her cake; her granddaughter is turning five. That man has to have the Official Dallas Cowboy beer cooler; the game starts at three.

Each person's event is the most important event, and if we don't meet their needs, their lives will crumble.

I am a small ghost. I slip in between them and fill their carts.They don't see me. They don't hear me; even if they do, they don't recognize me. They don't need to.

I am a person. I need three o'clock. If it doesn't come soon, my world will crumble.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Oatmeal for Breakfast

I have a confession to make.

The semicolon scares the crap out of me (with its big scary dot and it ever-precarious comma hanging around on the bottom, mocking me). I never learned to use it properly. I was an honor student in school; we didn't study grammar past the eighth grade. (Did you see that? I used one right there between "school" and "we." Thunder did not rumble. Lightning did not strike. The world still spins.)

I was reading an old interview of Mr London Street. He was asked his opinion on how bloggers could improve their blogging skills; one of his answers was to learn proper use of the semicolon. I couldn't help but to think that is why he stopped following my blog. He simply couldn't drag himself through the muddy swamp of my poor punctuation skills. Woe is me.

I've always been very proud of the fact that I can edit my own writing. I don't need somebody hovering over my shoulder to tell me that "you're" should be spelled "your" or that "effect" and "affect" are two completely different animals. In fact, you could say I've been kinda snooty about the whole thing. After all, only one or two of my real life friends have ever even heard of a semicolon.

This isn't to say that I don't make mistakes all the time. I think every blogger whose blog has been a victim of my comments knows that I get in a hurry and often scrawl crazy things across the screen with no concern for "their" or "there." Just last week on Facebook I misspelled "weird," and it bothered me so much I had to go back and correct it right away! TeenerBeener actually thanked me for the correction.  It put a smile on my face, and from that point on I knew we'd be OCD buddies friends forever.

Today, I stumbled across this Oatmeal Poster displaying the correct use of the semicolon. I'm feeling a lot like Charlie Gordon in Flowers for Algernon.

 “Today, I learned, the comma, this a  
comma (,) a period, with a tail, Miss Kinnian, says 
its important, because, it makes writing, better, 
she said, somebody, could lose, a lot of money, if 
a comma, isnt, in the, right place, I dont have,  
any money, and I dont see, how a comma, keeps  
you, from losing it. 
But she says, everybody, uses commas, so Ill use, 
Them too.
-Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon

I can read; I can write; I can finally use a semicolon.
This does, however, make me very curious about the colon...

Friday, September 23, 2011

There's not a body down there, silly.

I fell asleep watching Adult Swim again.
I woke at five in the morning to the sound of Bugs and Daffy arguing. It's enough to convince me that Looney Tunes should have hung their hats with the passing of Mel Blanc. The remote is sticking out halfway from under a pillow. I make quick use of it, snapping myself into total darkness. My eyes take a minute to adjust to the shadows.

It occurs to me that I've missed the slide into Fall this morning by an hour. I'm not much of a nature lover unless I'm standing next to an angry ocean, but I do enjoy the quiet magic of the changing of the seasons. Thinking about this gives me an idea for the tapestry I'm going to create this week. I need to go to the store and pick up a specific type of needle for embroidery work. I need to finish the painting on my easel first, though. It's been sitting there far, far too long, and it's almost becoming part of the decor as an unfinished piece. If I die today, my kids would probably hang it on their own walls and convince their friends it's the work of an artistic genius. Half paint, half sketch. I am so friggin' creative.

There's no going back to sleep at this point, not that I would want to. I had a full night's sleep, but that always comes at a price. Nightmares. They weren't as powerful as usual. I didn't jerk back into my waking world desperate to escape my pursuer, attacker, killer, stalker. I only have flickers of images. Dirty children huddled in corners and sounds of anger and war. There must have been some sort of disease or madness going around. In the dream, I mean....

I'm up, and my day has begun. The dog is up. The puppies are up. The damn birds are up. I can't wait for them to migrate. All that cheerfulness this early in the morning is nuts. Who's that happy at five in the morning? Maybe if I go remind them it's autumn now, they'll pack up and head south.

There's a hole in my kitchen floor. We had a plumbing leak yesterday, and the maintenance guy had to cut a square  hole into the floor to reach the pipe.. He'll be back next week to resurface it, but right now, it seems as if we have a trap door in the middle of the kitchen. There are a million and one stories running through my head about that silly trap-door. "The Tell-Tale Heart" comes to mind, and I dismiss all my stories as second-rate baloney compared to Poe.

But still, there's a hole in my kitchen floor...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

He falsely accused me of being pleasant and cheerful.

Me: "Meat market, this is Nessa Roo. How can I help you?"

Mr. Sandoval: "No. I don't wanna talk to you, dammit. I want to talk to the fish department."

At this point all of the seafood workers were busy assisting walk-up customers. They weren't even grateful that I'd answered their phone. They would rather that I had ripped it off the wall and stuffed it in the meat grinder.

Me: "You got it. What can I do for you?"

Mr. Sandoval: "I need to find out if you have any trout."

Me (after getting the info from Caleb, Seafood King): "We sure do. We have rainbow trout fillets and we also have whole rainbow trout."

Mr. Sandoval (impatiently): "No. I don't want fillets. I want the whole fish. I want the head and the tail and the eyeballs and the scales. I'm going to start eating healthier, like the Japanese. I want it Japanese style."

Ooookay. I don't know what the fuck Japanese-style means. I'm thinking sushi, but...

Me: "Yes sir, the whole trout has all that."

Mr. Sandoval: "I want it right out of the ocean. Fresh fresh fresh. I don't don't want any old dead fish."

Me: "We only sell dead fish sir. If you want a live fish, you should probably call a pet store."

Yes. I did say that to him. I also deliberately did not tell him that rainbow trout is a freshwater fish, no oceans involved. Caleb was looking at me inquisitively, and I was giving him the look that said "This guy's being an asshole." He nodded and smiled in understanding, happy that he didn't have time to answer the phone. I can only imagine how the conversation would have gone if Caleb had answered the phone. I'm positive there would have been more profanity.

Mr. Sandoval: "I don't want a live fish! Who would want a live fish? Why would I eat a live fish? I want a dead fish. I want the whole fish. I want the scales still on it. I want the tail."

Me: "Yes sir. We got a dead fish we'll sell it to you for $3.99 a pound."

Mr. Sandoval (enunciating each word, as if maybe I don't understand English, really pissing me off): "Walk over to the counter and take the fish out and put it on the scale and tell me how much does it cost?"

Me (just as pleasantly as I could possibly be, and I mean really laying on the syrup, because I can't slam the phone down. The guy already knows my name, and I'm pretty sure he'd be calling my boss to complain about me): "Okie dokie, sir. Hold on just a sec." I walked over to the counter to weigh a damn rainbow trout, whispering the words "what an asshole" to Caleb on the way back to the phone. 

Me: "It's eight tenths of a pound, sir, and it costs $3.19."

Mr. Sandoval: "Is that the whole fish?"

Me: "Yes sir, that's the whole fish. That's the head and the fins and the tail and all the eyeballs."

Caleb was laughing, and so was Pam, but she was trying to stifle it because she was still assisting a customer.

Mr. Sandoval (suddenly very cheerful, because I think he might have multiple personalities): "Whooo-ee! Okay, lady, I'm gonna call back in a minute and get some fish from you."

He hung up, and all I could think was yippee, because now I knew better than to answer the phone when he called back. I was finished with this jerk. Caleb could deal with him from that point onward.

But no. 

Boss: "Nessa Roo, you have a phone call."

Me: "Is it Mr. Sandoval? I don't want to talk to him. He's an asshole."

Boss: "Too bad. He asked for you specifically. He said he wants to talk to that nice lady he talked to a minute ago. I know it wasn't Pam."

Of course it wasn't Pam. During her entire Seafood Queen career, I don't believe anyone has ever referred to Pam as "that nice lady." I reluctantly took the call.

Mr. Sandoval: "You're such a nice lady. You have been so sweet to me. This is why I only want to talk to you. How long have you worked there?"

Me (in defeat, because now he knows my name, he knows where I work, and he thinks I'm nice, so he's going to be calling me all the time!): "I have worked for this company for fifteen years."

At that point, I made myself comfortable by sitting on top of my double-decker cart, because the guy just kept talking to me about his lot in life, his abusive mother, his bad marriages, his bouts with cancer, and his desire to make something better of himself. He thought I was going to grow up to be something pretty special because I was just so inherently kind, and he was so thankful to have been able to reach me on the phone. 

Caleb and Pam were chuckling and chanting things like, "Nessa's got a boyfriend." I gave them the stink-eye, because they deserved it, and made a silent promise to sneak fish-juice into their soda cups later on in the day. 

Mr. Sandoval: "Okay, I want to buy two of those fish. And this is what I want you to do. Cut off the fins and fillet them for me. Can you do that?"

Didn't he tell me earlier that he wants the whole damned fish, eyeball, fins....

Me: "Well, sure, we'll do that. We'll have it waiting for you here at the seafood counter."

Mr. Sandoval: "Oh no. I need you to bring it out to my truck. I'm not coming in the store. I'll give you the money when you get out here."


Me: "Okay. I can" (find somebody else to do that) "do that for you."

Mr. Sandoval: "And another thing. I don't want you looking at me like I'm crazy when you come out here."

Gosh. I would never have thought that....

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Obvious Cure?

Sometimes, for no reason at all other than I might be slightly crazy, I'll start stressing out about my life. I don't know why this happens. Life hasn't thrown me a curve ball. Nothing is going extraordinarily awry. No little surprises have sprouted up lately. Everything is just as wild and turbulent as it always has been.

The ball is still rolling.
The wheel is still spinning.
The fire is still burning.

Everything is just as expected, which means that nothing is going just as expected.

So why am I suddenly getting nervous about something as mundane getting the oil changed in the car?
Why does Halloween suddenly seem like such a chore?
Why am I standing in the grocery store getting upset over avocados that aren't ripe enough for guacamole?
And why are you looking at me like that? You got a problem?

The only extended period of time I've ever felt this way was the five years I spent hauling my kids around in the womb, but I couldn't possibly be pregnant. Aside from the fact that I have remained (relatively) celibate for the last couple of years, I don't even have a uterus anymore, so I'm one hundred per cent positive that there are no little creatures growing inside of me, throwing my hormones out of whack and causing me to have fantasies about stuffing the sperm donor down the garbage disposal.

This constant state of worry stifles my creativity. I cannot think in complete sentences when I am stressed, let alone put them down on paper. No best-selling novels will be written today.

I need an outlet- something with fewer calories than chocolate and more satisfaction than watching rich people shop for houses on HGTV. I need to do something physical to burn this unexplained adrenaline pumping through my system.

(I should clean my house. I should organize my bookshelves. I should go jogging.)


Who am I kidding? I'll never go jogging.

Chew me Up, Spit me Out

The dream I'd had was misleading. I don't know for sure who he was. He was nobody I'd ever seen before, but he warmed me with nothing but a touch of his hand. I wanted to hold on to that fuzzy coziness he brought into the dream. I wanted to think he could be real, but from the corner of my eye, I saw the row of razor sharp teeth beneath his angelic smile.

I jerked back into the cold world at thirty minutes after midnight.

It's times like these I consider Insomnia to be a good friend of mine.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Fiction:For Lack of a Blackbird

"I need you to run down to the crossroads and pick up a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread."

   Sandy stared at her older sister as if she'd sprouted an extra eyeball. Perhaps she didn't understand the magnitude of what she was asking. Perhaps she had forgotten about the robbery. How could she possibly have forgotten about the robbery?

   Yeah yeah yeah. Penny understood, but she was getting tired of being the only one willing to run errands around this place. Mama couldn't do it. She was mostly bed-ridden, and when she was out of bed, she was confined to a wheelchair.

   Mama never left the house anymore, not even to go to church. One of the church ladies, Ella Hamlin, faithfully came by on Sunday afternoons to pray with Mama. Then, if Mama had the energy, they would play cards and gossip sinfully. The rest of the week, Sandy and Penny spent most of their free time tending to Mama's aches and pains. Sandy thought she exaggerated her woes, but she would never say so aloud. After all, if it hadn't been for Mama, Sandy wouldn't be alive.

   "It won't hurt you to go to the store, Sandra Francis Powell," Penny snapped. "Just suck it up and get the damn food!" She wadded seven dollars into Sandy's palm and pushed her toward the front door.

   Sandy bitched under her breath as she slid behind the wheel of the Cutlass. It was the kind of car that, when sitting at a red light, the driver would need to keep one foot firmly on the brake pedal and the other foot tapping the accelerator just to be sure it didn't die in the middle of the intersection. Thankfully, there were no traffic lights on the mile and a half of barbed-wire-lined dirt road between Mama's house and Tom's Country Store.

   She thought about bypassing Tom's and driving all the way into town. It was only twelve miles. If she sped, she could make it back in half an hour. One look at the dashboard told her she'd better stick to Penny's plan. The Cutlass was quite a gas guzzler. She'd better not risk it. Penny hadn't given her any extra cash.

   Three cars were parked in front of Tom's. Sandy recognized two of them. One belonged to Marcia Hardy's mom. One belonged to the old guy who lived just down the road with his dogs. She had never known his name, but he always waved to her as she drove by his house. His dogs like to chase the Cutlass as it kicked up a trail of dust in its wake.
   She'd never seen the man in the third car before. He was just sitting and staring at the storefront. Sandy wondered if he was waiting for his wife to come out. She'd probably gone in after something embarrassing, like tampons. Men were such idiots.

   She sat for a few minutes staring back at an ordinary brown cow in the pasture beside the store. It appeared to be speaking to her, though Sandy was (almost) sure it was just chewing on some delicious grass. Somebody had tagged one ear with a bright green plastic tag. Humans could be so cruel.

   Her fingers shook when she released the steering wheel, so she gripped it again, trying to calm herself. "This is stupid," she told herself. Four years had gone by since the robbery. She should have worked through this fear by now. Besides, Daddy was safely locked away in Huntsville. They were never going to let him out of there.

   She checked the sky for ominous signs of impending doom. No dark cloud crept across the sun. No black bird perched atop any nearby poles forewarning certain death. No bells tolled. She released the steering wheel once more, and although she was still shaky, she pulled her hands away and reached for the door handle. Every little step seemed to take super-human effort. She pushed the creaky door wide open and turned her entire body before stepping out of the car.

   The cow in the pasture watched all this. It jerked its head up and snorted. Strings of snot shot from its nostrils. Sandy stepped onto the lot and faced the cow. "Shut up, you heifer," she told the cow. She glared at it for a second and then added, "I think you lost an earring." She slammed the car door and moved toward the front door of the country store.

   She paused there. She had to take a deep breath because this was the closest she'd been to entering this store in four years.  Memories started slamming into her, but she persevered. She was strong. She could do this. The past was the past. How many times had Penny told her to come here and do this? Just face it. Just do it. Just go for it.

   She grasped the handle and pulled. Marcia Hardy was coming out of the store with her little brother Andrew.

  "Hey, Sandy," Marcia greeted her warily. "What're you up to?" She shifted the grocery bag in her arms and placed a protective hand on her brother's head. Sandy got that. If she had a little brother, she might decide to protect him from someone who came from a family like hers.

  "Milk, bread," Sandy mumbled as she passed them by. Marcia nodded and headed for the door with her arm wrapped around Andrew's shoulders. Smart girl, Sandy would think later on.

   "Sandy Powell, did you come out here to see me?" Alton Burkett purred from behind the counter. Sandy rolled her eyes. She'd gone on a few hayrides with the boy, and now he thought he could whisper in her ear any time he pleased. He kept telling the guys at school that she was his girl. He was a royal pain in the ass.

   "You wish, Alton. I came for milk and bread. Where do you keep it?" He pointed them out, and she moved to the back of the store. She passed the old neighbor guy on her way to the bread. He smiled and waved, and for the first time, Sandy noticed his double hearing aids.

   She was still focused on those hearing aids when the first shots tore through the air. She could hear Alton screaming incoherently, but she was also hearing another voice that was only in her mind. The voice from four years before. Her father telling everyone to "Get down! Get Down! Give me that money!"

   "Daddy?" she wasn't sure if that came from the sixteen-year-old that she now was or the twelve-year-old who had lived through it the first time, but it got his attention. He rounded the corner and aimed the shotgun. Neighbor Guy was blissfully unaware that he was being gunned down until he fell on top of Sandy.

   She knew it was her neighbor who was lying motionless on top of her, but in her mind's eye, she felt her mother's weight on her, just as before. The blood seemed to be everywhere, just as before, and just as before, the gunman was more interested in the cash register than he was in the little girl lying helpless on Aisle Four. She heard the shuffling sounds of dollar bills making their way into some sort of bag. Sandy laid motionless, watching him in the convex mirror cleverly placed in the upper rear corner of the shop to discourage theft. She watched him disappear into the bright, sunny afternoon. The sign on the door swung back and forth daring her to "Have a Nice Day."

     Sandy slid herself away from Neighbor Guy. He was dead. Those hearing aids were useless to him now. She saw Alton staring into the Great Beyond from the other side of the register. She half-nodded to the cow as she crawled back into the Cutlass and turned the engine over.

   She didn't remember about the milk and bread until she slipped into her back door and made her way upstairs to the shower.

   Penny popped her head into the bathroom just as Sandy was turning off the water.

   "Well? Didn't I tell you it wouldn't hurt you to go to the damned store?" she harped.
   "Yes, you were right, Penny," Sandy sighed and reached for a towel.  She thought about  Neighbor Guy and Alton lying motionless on the country store floor. She thought about her mother struggling to push a wheelchair across a dirt lawn, and she thought about her father rotting away in prison for his deviant behavior. She held her hands in front of her face and noticed that the shaking had finally stopped. "It didn't hurt a bit."