Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"lit, a place for stories" has moved!

While all the stories you loved are still here on this site, starting January 22, 2014, 

lit, a place for stories is now found at this site. 

See you there, or see you square? No, that doesn't make sense. See you later, alligator? Better, but not quite right yet. I'll work on it.


Monday, January 13, 2014

October, by Liam Konemann (Short Stories)


OCTOBER
 By Liam Konemann

When October creeps up, it brings summer with it. It gets too hot to sleep and we strip ourselves naked, kick the covers all the way down to the end of the bed as late night crosses over into early morning. Our bodies glisten with sweat and it plasters us to the fitted sheet’s blue cotton, leaving damp stains wherever we lay a palm or ankle. The air-conditioner is broken and even the coldest setting gives us nothing but hot air churning above our heads and that low, mechanical death rattle. We spend hours caught adrift in that place between wakefulness and sleep, until finally in the heat-sodden delirium she reaches out to me and whispers, “take me to the river”.

                We’re driving down the highway with the windows down, because she said she wants to be able to smell it when the air changes.  Lyza flicks through radio stations, skipping over Top 40 and Indie Rock and Country music until she lands on a song she remembers from her childhood. She turns the radio up and tilts her head back as she finds her place, eyes closed tight underneath those huge sunglasses. She sings along loudly, not quite word-perfect but close enough to convince me that she once knew all the lyrics. Her hand floats out the window as we hit Ballina, palm surfing the currents of salt-soaked air. There are kids riding their bikes on the dirt shoulder of the highway, and Lyza wonders aloud where their parents are. I shrug, flick on my indicator to change lanes and say, “Anywhere. Home, probably. The RSL.”

“But they should be watching them,” she says.

She turns around in her seat to watch as the kids veer off and slip down a track beside the river.

When they disappear amongst the trees, she looks back at me.

“Shouldn’t they?” She asks.

Lyza was raised upper-middle-class in an inner-city suburb with one neat, ballerina sister, the both of them private-school educated, both A-standard students. A life full of hyphens. Her childhood was neat hedges, smooth footpaths and bright Jacaranda trees that showered you with purple flowers in the Spring. She can’t fathom an upbringing like mine, didn’t have days when her skin was fifty percent mud and grazes, and she never dug for bloodworms with bare hands peppered by mosquito bites. To her, my childhood is as foreign and idyllic as an Enid Blyton story.

She’s looking at me with raised eyebrows and open mouth, her mind conjuring images of abductions or gruesome bicycle accidents.

I tell her, “Things are safer here.”

The late afternoon sun hits us as we cross the last bridge, gold rays melting into the Clarence River like toffee on a hot day. Lyza sleeps, the wind scattering her fringe across her forehead. I follow the curve of the river past houses and cane fields, a memory on each corner and in the branches of every tree. There, the edge of that field, that’s where I kissed that girl. The first girl. And there by the upturned tinny is where I smoked my first and last cigarette, pilfered from my mate’s old man and gravel-rough on fifteen year-old lungs. The road is old and uneven, and Lyza jolts awake as one of the car’s wheels dips briefly into a pothole.

“Are we there?” She asks, mouth stretching around a yawn.

I dip my head to one side, the bastard offspring of a nod and a shrug.

“Just about.”

She hums, stretches and settles back into her seat. The air filtering through her window is cane-sweet and mud-heavy, and it cycles through the air-conditioning over and over like my favourite song playing on repeat.

We pass the tiny general store and the ANZAC monument, and Lyza cranes her neck to see over the coffee trees as we pull up in front of the house. I turn the car off, grip the steering wheel a moment too long.

“This is it?” She asks.

I nod. “This is it.”

She tilts her head back to take in the slanted tin roof, its sharp edges jutting towards us. If I look over her shoulder I can see flaking white paint and the corner of my mother’s bedroom window peeking through the trees. She glances back at me and raises her eyebrows.

“So are we going in?”

I push the car door open and lead her around to the side of the house, up the stairs to the back door. The door creaks open under my palm, the ancient fly screen sagging in the middle. Mum never did lock the bloody door. We duck into the gloomy house, almost colliding with the dining table. It’s always closer than I remember it being.

“Stay here,” I tell Lyza.

She stands in the sunlight cast by the open door as I cross the dark room, sidestepping around aging, mismatched furniture to reach the window. I tug open the curtains and let the daylight flood in, the dust particles caught floating in its pool. Lyza wanders into the centre of the room, shoes scuffing on the worn floorboards. She turns in a tight circle, eyes roving over the faded couch and once-white walls as she breathes in the smell of dirt and damp.

“So this is where you grew up,” she says.

I almost tell her that I’m still growing up, not quite thirty and not quite mature yet, but instead I shrug, nod and say, “My childhood home in all its glory.”

She ducks out of the room and down the hallway and I follow her, watching as she lingers in the doorway of each room. When she reaches the end of the hall she turns and walks halfway back to me. She stops and leans against a doorjamb, fingers running over the dulled paint. Lyza tilts her head towards the room.

“This one?” she asks.

I nod. She pushes off the door frame and steps into my old bedroom, running a palm over one warped wall. Lyza sits on the bed pressed up against one corner, the dust-heavy covers wrinkling and dipping beneath her. I hover in the hall, unwilling to enter quite that far into my own past. She takes her shoes and socks off and curls her knees up to her chest, feet resting on the edge of the bed. I go to say something about the state of the house, to tell her that dirty shoeprints won’t make all that much of a difference, but I change my mind at the last moment and swallow my words instead. She pats the space beside her and waves for me to come in.

“Scared of a little dirt?” she teases.

“Scared that bed’s going to collapse, more like,” I say.

She smiles, tilts her head and waits. I shake my head and laugh even though it isn’t funny.

Crossing over the threshold and into the room doesn’t feel the way I thought it would. The floor in here creaks just the same as it does in the hall, and the air is just as stale. It doesn’t seem like a profound homecoming, like the return of the prodigal son. I just feel like an overly tall child, standing in a forgotten room in an abandoned house. For a moment, I see myself from a different angle and I wonder how it is that I could have run for so long and moved so little. I sit on the bed and lean into my girlfriend, and she rubs a hand over my back as I stare blankly out the window. It’s closed. When I left it was open behind me, too far above the ground for me to pull it shut after I had tumbled out into the long grass. I pushed my bag out first and then clambered after it, the night air cool on my skin. In the other bedrooms, my mother and my brothers and sister slept on. I always assumed that if and when I came home, they’d still be there fast asleep, not missing me at all. Never even noticing I’d been gone weeks or months or years. Life, of course, moves on whether you pay attention to it or not. My siblings grew up and scattered to the wind and in the gap between their visits my mother died suddenly, a stroke, with no one to find her crumpled and vacant on the bathroom floor. And the house was closed for business.

Lyza strokes the back of my neck, her fingers playing with the ends of my hair. She presses her lips to my temple and whispers something that sounds both pointless and meaningful, even though I can’t make out the words. I’m not crying, I don’t think, but something tickles my cheek and when I reach up to swipe at it the tips of my fingers come away damp. Lyza turns my head towards her and kisses my lips, breathes the life back into me. When she pulls back she puts her hand in mine and murmurs, “The river. Show me the river.”

It always seems to call out to me, from across state borders and highways and chicken-wire fences. I hear it, and I feel it pulling me back like some kind of Siren, like I’m writing a new Odyssey. Creeks and estuaries flow into creeks and estuaries and I follow them, always making my home somewhere in sight of the water as if I belong to it. As if it belongs to me. It’s the smell that hits first, then the taste of the air. Somehow rotting, fresh and salty all at the same time, like the doorway of a fishmonger’s. I need it. I use it to clear the dust and petrol fumes out of my head. I lead Lyza to the banks, both of us barefoot as we stand ankle deep in the dark mud. It’s dusk, and mosquitos buzz around our elbows and knees, tapping into our veins before flying off fatter than before. The water laps up over our feet and Lyza lets go of my hand, bends forward to inspect the guppies swimming back and forth in silver clouds. She stands up, tucks her hair behind her ears and smiles at me.

“I like it here,” she says.

I breathe out, dig my toes further into the mud and laugh even though this isn’t funny either.

“I feel safer here,” I say.

*************************************



Liam Konemann is a young Australian writer who wandered off one day and found himself in the most expensive city in the world. He currently lives in East London, and can be found online at @Liam_Konemann.


Want to get paid for writing? Click the "We Pay For Stories" tab up top there for details!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Why Don't You Come Back? (ISWG)

This is an


post! Find out more (and join the group) by clicking this link!





I was GOING to do a post on how writers don't seem to want to get paid, or perhaps on how hard it is to start up a publishing business or perhaps combine both of those, because I recently (two months ago) announced (on several forums) that I, as publisher here on lit, a place for stories, was going to PAY WRITERS FOR STORIES, and yet in that time I have had fewer submissions than I expected, given that I was offering to PAY WRITERS FOR WRITING, which I understood to be the whole point of WRITING, or at least 53%of the point of writing, but then I realized that such a post would not be about my insecurities, as such, and would not be about writing so much as publishing, so I decided that under no circumstances would I mention that lit, a place for stories will PAY WRITERS FOR WRITING, and I especially was not going to mention that the details can be found on the "We Pay For Stories" tab.

I take this stuff seriously, after all, so let me instead focus on a different topic entirely, the topic of

WHAT 

IS

WRONG


WITH 


ME?


Or: Why Don't You Come Back?


What makes a person come to a blog, and then come back?  And keep coming back? Because whatever it is, I seem to lack it.

Is it riboflavin?
Should I be eating more riboflavin?
What is riboflavin?
Is it what they use to artificially color McRibs?



Here is why I started thinking about how much people don't like me probably do like me and were totally going to keep reading my blog but were kidnapped by Ice People From Pluto: A few people have submitted stories to lit (which is the blog you're reading now but probably never will again) and those people have drawn some comments on the blog -- Tina's story, for example, got 26 (and counting) which is

(A) way more comments than any of MY stories have ever gotten, and

(B) way WAY more comments than any of my stories have ever gotten, and

(C) all of the above.

Which is GREAT, for Tina as a first-time writer and me as a third-time publisher, that being the third story I ever published on the blog, but then, the other day, I put up one of my own stories (because it'd been a week, which was how long I'd agreed to run Tina's story as the top one) and I while I didn't expect 26 comments* (*secretly I did) I expected more than three...

... one of which was mine.

...And the other two of which were from Andrew Leon, the second probably being a pity comment to bump up stats, which, don't get me wrong: I will take pity.  It got me my first prom date, it got me my present job, it got me my present wife, but the larger point is:

What happened to those 26-or-so people who came here to check out Tina's story and then didn't come back?

Blogger lets me track pageviews, and for Tina's story, the total pageviews were, quite frankly, phenomenal:  Tina's gotten 143 pageviews since 12/30/13, which puts her up there with Tebow-related posts (this used to be a sports blog, so there are old posts hidden in the history about Tebow and stuff), so Tina got about 7 comments per page view.

(For another day: Who views a page and doesn't leave a comment?  With 143 page views, shouldn't there be more than 26 comments?)

But my own story, posted on January 5 (It's the one RIGHT BELOW THIS, in case you were thinking about giving me a pity page-view.  You should read Tina's, too, but not out of pity) got only 16 page views in the past 2 1/2 days, and only those 3 comments.

So where did the 143 people, or the 26 commenting-people, go? Did none of them think "Hmmm! This blog seems interesting, what with it's letters and words arranged into narrative form!" and bookmark it to come back?

Those are individual post hits, which may only count if someone actually reads just that post, as opposed to coming to the website and reading everything, so I also looked at:



The ICE MOUNTAINS OF PLUTO, from whence Earth's doom came!
a graph of hits I had per day on the blog for the past week, which roughly encompasses the length of Tina's story being up and my own.

It's remarkably consistent, isn't it, with the same page views more or less each day (I can't explain that spike last night, tripling the average blog viewership for no reason late on January 7? Did something happen last evening, when I was playing Teddy Attack with Mr Bunches [long story] that caused people to rush to their laptops and try desperately to find short stories?)

Was it the ice monsters?
Were they trying to get our riboflavin?

What the graph shows, though, is that while lots of people checked out Tina's story (she told me she posted a link on Facebook, and on her blog), and lots of people (relatively speaking) commented on it, overall, readership (?) of my blog remained relatively steady, and has been for a month:




With again, the spikes coming around Tina's story.

So the question again, is, why don't those people come back? Or at least some portion of them?

Or did they come back? Is that spike on January 7 the readers who saw Tina's story and came back to see what was posted here now? If so, why did none of them leave a comment?

(And, we're back to why read a blog post and not leave a comment? But that's for another day.)

I have a system myself: if I notice a blog, however I notice it (someone comments on mine, someone links to it, or something) I will bookmark it.  There are a few blogs I check out every day, or at least every day that I read blogs: those are the blogs that I have found consistently entertaining and well-written, and I read them as often as I can.

There are other blogs that post inconsistently or which I haven't found as entertaining; that's not a knock on them, because after all, I don't like every movie or book or song I hear, and even movies/books/songs that seem like they would appeal to me I don't always like equally.  Who does? One of my favorite groups right now is New Politics, and while I like many of their songs, I listen to Harlem




way more often than I listen to their other songs -- so if I don't come to your blog all the time, that's not necessarily a knock on you, it just means that even if you have a blog I like, there are others I like better, which with limited time means that I'm not going to get to read every blog I want to every time I want to, anymore than I will get to read every book I see is getting published.

So I get that.  But with that said,

Why didn't anyone come back?

I've come across blogs that instantly vaulted to the top of my must-read list, blogs like A Beer For The Shower, which is very high on my list of blogs I go to as often as I can, and other people's blogs, too.  Again, I don't necessarily get to every post they put up, but I get to a lot of them, because what I saw made me like them and I wanted to read more.

So that's what I'm left with: As many as 400 people clicked on my blog and read Tina's story, and 26 or so of them felt strongly enough about it to leave a comment, and of all those people, one decided to come on back and see what the next post was.

So Andrew, I welcome your pity. The rest of you, at least tell me the truth: was it my breath?




Because I've heard riboflavin can fix that.





Check out Tina's great story "Sippy Cups, Earbuds, and Something That Surely Isn't Wine," by clicking that link.  I've also published stories by Brian Miller; click this link for both of them, and if you want to submit your own, check out the "We Pay For Stories" tab.

Also, I'm part of a new group of speculative fiction writers gearing up a website and monthly magazine, so if you like scifi, fantasy, and other related stuff, go to "Indie Writers Monthly" and find publishing ideas, reviews, writing tips, and more!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

What Else You God? (Infinite Monkeys)





We have an opening in music.

 Doing what?

Making sure a cool song starts as someone sit down in their car.

Doesn't sound important. I was thinking finance.

Hmm.  It’s a recession, you know. Not much out there.  Let me check.


 You could be see a penny pick it up--

Ech. Nothing higher up?

Best I could do would be, uh, let me see, well, there's finding money in coat pockets.

Seriously? What about, like, dragons, piles of gold and silver and a lair?

If you are thinking about nonhuman the best I could do would be a leprechaun.

Pot of gold?
Cereal mascot.

I didn’t even think they were real.

They’re not. That’s the point.


You’re not, either.

Well, not yet, and not if this is the best you’ve got.

We’re under the gun here, you know. I don’t think you can afford to be picky.  How long is it since someone has worshipped you? Or even believed in you?

Too long. I know. I know. I was just… hoping…

For what? For thunder and lightning? For healing the sick? For inspiring works of art? Do you know how quickly those posts get snapped up, if they even open up?

Look, it’s not my fault I’m unemployed.

As I recall, you free-lanced it—

I have heard this quite enough…

… by trying to convince people to make things other than diamonds, gold, and silver valuable, and you being the god of new precious stones and metals.

Look…

What was it again? Aluminum?

Tin, actually. Just tin.

I could get you in with broken mirrors.

Switch teams?

It’s been done before.

I… don’t… I mean, I need the work, yeah, but it seems a little outside my… uh…

Starts today.

Does it offer benefits?


 _____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Like to write? Like to get paid? What if you combined those two?  LIFE WOULD BE AWESOME!
That's why lit, a place for stories, will PAY YOU FOR YOUR WRITING: essays, short stories, long stories, stories of medium length, poetry, novel excerpts, works-in-progress, knock-knock jokes: If you wrote it, send to to me and I'll (probably?)(I almost certainly will) publish it and pay you.  Click the "We Pay For Stories" tab for details.  
Also: the pirate really has nothing to do with this promo.  But he is fierce.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Sippy Cups, Earbuds, and Something That Surely Isn't Wine By Tina Downey (Short Stories)


Sippy Cups, Earbuds, and Something That Surely Isn't Wine

By Tina Downey

The flies are really starting to get on Lisa's nerves. The old men sitting around the older whiskey barrels playing chess and checkers don't seem to mind them, so intent are they on their games. At a barrel by herself, on a stump, she's uncomfortable, tired of swatting flies and completely annoyed at how long it's taking Keith to fetch the most important item on his list (starred and circled mind you) that he of course forgot to bring.

This "lil' old town", three blocks square if you count the block with the closed gas station, hair salon, and pawn shop, has one general store, which she is sitting outside of. Keith has driven off to, “There's a guy down the road on a farm who probably has propane.”

She lets Jace and Tim take off to explore. “You know Dad will get distracted because the farmer probably has all kinds of old equipment he'll want to see and talk about.” True. Keith loves antiques, especially old machinery.

This town isn't turning out to be quite as creepy as Jace had first said when she asked him to stop.

Mom, it looks like a ghost town. WHY do we have to stop?"

“I can't really explain it, Jace. Let's just stop and get a snack at the general store, OK? I just really want to.”

Fine! I want a Red Bull.” He expertly parks the truck pulling the camper.  From the back seat comes, “Mom, can I have one, too? I'm 14 now. You said when I turned 14 I could try one.”

Sure, whatever, Tim.”

At least this tiny place has a cell tower. I guess if you're the only town within 50 miles of anything else, that's where the tower goes. No data though, just talk and text. She can't even check her email, she's left her book in the car, and forgot her journal in the camper. Of course, the camper is parked across the street but Keith has the keys, and Jace the other set. She gave it to him when he got his license. His beaming smile in return makes her grin just remembering.

Mo-om!” Jace is rounding the corner, Tim straggling behind, probably wishing he'd taken his inhaler as suggested, but no, he decides for himself now. Jace doesn't wait. He never waits. He tolerates his little brother. That is an improvement from years before when he actively tormented him. Oh, how she longs for the days when they'd played so nicely together in the sandbox. Seems eons ago, yet also yesterday.

Mom, we found a pool hall, but my phone died and Tim left his at home, so we came to ask you if we could play. And get some money.”

Lisa lets them. There's just no telling how long Keith is going to be.

Alright, we'll pick you up there. Where is it?”

Around the corner, MOM. It's like the only place open. There are beer signs in the window. You could have a glass of wine and lose the attitude. Or sit here and stew and then yell at Dad like you always do when he's late.”

Thanks dear for the oh-so-keen observation. I'll keep your suggestion in mind. Sarcasm font now off.”

Geez mom, I know when you're sarcastic, no need to act all weird about it. It annoys the crap out of me.” At least he didn't say “shit”. They're working on the language thing. One battle at a time.

Luv you Mem!” This from Tim who grins at the unexpected privilege and hurries to catch up with his brother.

***



How long has she been sitting here now? Looking at her phone, she realizes that it's been over two hours. Plenty of time to buy propane AND look at antique farm equipment. She is eager to get to the campsite. She can see the mountains from here, and longs for the forest. She gets her best writing done at campsite picnic tables while Keith takes the boys hiking.

Ready 2 go. Come bck pls.”

It shows her text as delivered.

Hey lady, wanna play a game? Chess or checkers?”

No thanks.”

You've been sitting there stewing long enough, c'mon over and play.”

What the hell, what else is she going to do?

Clarence is a good chess player, but so is Lisa. She thinks fondly of their family's cruise four years before when Tim had learned to play using the life-size pieces by the pool on the Lido deck.

They battle on, and Lisa is glad for the distraction.

***

Mom, they kicked us out. Said we weren't old enough.”

That's ridiculous,” she says, never taking her eyes off the chess board.

And Tim says he feels weird. And I'm kinda scared. I don't feel so hot myself.”

Now they have Lisa's attention. She would have expected Jace to say, “And I feel like shit, too, Mom.”

She turns to look at the boys and grows instantly still. Jace has short hair, not the unkempt mop he so loves; his zits are all gone, and his clothes look many sizes too big. Tim looks ready to cry, while holding onto his shorts, with his t-shirt reaching his knees.

Come sit down with me here, and tell me what happened.” She pulls them to the far side of the porch.

Well, we walked in, I paid the bartender to play, and we were playing. Having a good time. Then the next thing was the bartender coming over to us like he'd never seen us before and saying, 'Kids can't play here unsupervised" and told us to leave.”

Well boys, if you still want to play, I'll go with you, and supervise, and Jace, you're right, I think I will have some wine and calm down.”

As if calming down is possible. What is happening? Where is Keith? What is she going to do?

What are you talking about, Mom?”

SHIT. She and Jace always joke about how much easier she is to get along with after a glass of wine.

She takes them back into the pool hall.

I'll have a glass of your house chardonnay, and my boys would like to finish their game. I'm here now so they have supervision.”

Alright, but I've never seen kids so young play pool.”

She turns around to the boys, and a wave of nausea rises in her throat.

Lisa swallows hard. The boys are changing before her eyes. It's like watching a slide show of their school pictures in reverse.

They are even younger, and dressed in what had been some of her favorite outfits of theirs. Tim in the jeans shorts and white t-shirt. What summer was it that he only wore white t-shirts? Jace has on his tie-dyed t-shirt and jeans. That boy never wears shorts.

Ok, brave face, Mom. Pretend everything is normal. Maybe with the physical changes come mental changes and they won't know what is happening. She prays that will be the case.

Tim, you want to try pool? I've seen Dad play it at Bill's house, you know the guy with all the pinball machines?”

Yeah, OK, sure.”

Lisa gulps chardonnay and texts Keith again. The boys seem oblivious to the changes now, so she's not as worried about them. But what if something weird is happening to Keith?

Suddenly Tim is crying and Jace is trying to console him. And they're younger still. About three and five. Sandbox age.

Hastily throwing a bill on the bar, Lisa grabs the boys and heads back to the general store.

Hey Lisa, wanna finish our game? Mighty fine boys you got there, how old are they?”

Um, I don't feel like playing right now, I need to take care of them. Sorry.”

Holding each by a hand, she leads them to the snack aisle.

What do you want, boys?”

Oreos” says Jace.

Oh ba dubba babba!” says Tim, grinning.

Lisa has to sit down, and she doesn't care if it's the cement floor, badly in need of sweeping. Tim didn't talk until he was three and a half. Well, he talked a LOT, it just wasn't English. He had speech therapy. Child Find. Intervention before entering the school system. Holy shit, he really can't be much older than three.

Just pick it off the shelf, Tim” Lisa says, tears threatening.

He grabs the Cheetos.

Back at “their” barrel and stumps, they eat their snacks and drink milk from the sippy cups she bought in the store, happy for the treat and none the wiser to the hell their mother is going through.

Suddenly her phone rings. It's Keith's ringtone. Imperial March from Star Wars, that ominous riff played when Darth Vader appears. She chose it because frankly, calls from Keith aren't always welcome. He's so difficult to get along with sometimes.

Where have you BEEN!” Lisa screams into the phone.

Calm down, Lisa, I'm on my way to pick you up. I'm not that late. Be there in just a few minutes.”

Keith soon pulls up in the truck, and for once she doesn't have to ask him to buckle the boys in. He just does it.

He just buckles them in? Doesn't he notice that they were 16 and 14 the last time he saw them?”

As he drives, Keith feverishly explains about the unexpectedly spectacular time he's been having since moving here. She looks him in the eye. He is not her Keith. He's some other version of Keith, not younger, just not...right. Not the Keith she drove into town with.

So I've finally found what I'm supposed to do with my life! I'm already hired as a senior design programmer! I have a group I'm in charge of! And wait until you meet my wife. You'll love her, she's everything I've dreamed of!

He's way too animated.  Besides, Keith hates programming. He's a design engineer. He hates management. They've been trying to get him to manage throughout his entire career.

Pull over right now, I'm going to throw up.”

Keith is used to Lisa's ridiculous penchant for getting carsick at the slightest misdeed in his driving, but he hates cleaning up vomit, so he's learned that when she says pull over, she means it. He pulls over.

All the angst, anger, fright and confusion of the day come pouring out of her. It doesn't stop. Her stomach long since empty of the one glass of chardonnay which is all she's consumed that day, she continues to dry heave. She feels like her body is being turned inside out, and the spasms just won't stop.

Keith gets out of the truck.

Are you OK? What's the matter? I've never seen you so sick before.”

The dam breaks.
You leave me at a general store oh, eight hours ago, with no answer to my texts, the boys were 16 and 14, LOOK AT THEM NOW! THEY'RE 3 AND 5! YOU'RE SAYING YOU'RE MARRIED! I'M YOUR WIFE! WE'VE BEEN MARRIED 21 YEARS!” She begins to heave again.

Hey, Lisa, I have no idea what you're talking about. How much did you drink? I'm sorry, I was only an hour late.”

It's no use. She's the only one who remembers the past. Might as well play along until a better idea surfaces.

I'm sorry. I did drink too much waiting for you. Let's go see your new job, OK?”

Climbing in, it takes every ounce of her motherly instincts not to dissolve into the mental breakdown she longs to have.

You OK, Mom? I hate when throw-up needs to come.”

So do I, Jace. I'm OK. You know I get carsick.”

Yeah, remember how I did that one time I threw up in...”

Jace, please don't talk about throw-up now, OK?”

Sorry, I forgot, Mom.”

After several dusty, winding roads, and enough curves to truly make her carsick, they pull into the parking lot of a dilapidated, long since abandoned hotel.

Isn't this place swanky? I can't believe I work here now.” Once inside, he's actually right. Five-star all the way.

Wait right here. I'll go get Jennifer.”

Lisa swallows hard. Takes her boys’ hands. Thinks about sandboxes and sippy cups, diapers and speech therapy. Takes herself back to those days. Steels herself for the hurt to come.

Lisa, I'd like you to meet my wife, Jennifer.”

Lisa politely shakes the hand of the tall brunette with the long, flowing, curly hair, perfect figure, and slight baby bulge. She wants to hurl again. Jennifer is her exact opposite in every way.

Hi!” Jennifer giggles. “I'm so excited to meet you! I've heard so much about you and your adorable boys. I'm glad Keith has such a good friend in you.” She giggles again.

Lisa is a waitress here at the hotel.”

Oh. My. God. She's a total bimbo. Keith is all smiles and vacant eyes and hands all over Jennifer. He stops at her stomach.

Lisa, we're having a baby. Four months along. Aren't you excited for us?”

Lisa is anything but excited. She's confused, heartbroken, nauseous, and wanting to leave this town. Everything is wrong, and maybe if she crosses the city limits, she'll have her life back. Sure, Keith can be hard to get along with, caught up in his projects, easily distracted, but he is hers. Always. Since high school. Loyal and true and full of integrity to the bone. She has no idea who this man is, but she wants to get away. Before she pukes on the expensive carpet.

Well, nice to meet you, Jennifer. Congrats on the baby and take good care of Keith.” Her voice cracks as she says her husband's name. The husband she didn't fully appreciate until now that he's gone.

Bye, Keith! We've got to go now.”

But you haven't seen my office, or our apartment, or anything.”

I'm really just not feeling well. Some other time, OK?”

Sure, sure. Want help buckling in the boys? I know how you hate that part of being a mom.”

Nah, I'll be fine. Thanks. Good luck with the new job.”

She buckles tired boys into their seats, and starts the engine. It's not long before she's out of town. She holds her breath as she thinks about turning around to look at them. She's not ready. She comes to that decision many times before she realizes that what she really needs is to close her eyes. Just for a second. She pulls over and tilts her head back. Just a few minutes. For sanity.

Get off my earbud cord you idiot! You've got your shit everywhere!”

Sorry, Jace, I was sleeping.  SORRY!” He receives a punch in the arm for his apology.

Lisa is instantly awake. And being lectured.

Why the hell are you driving, Mom? You know I said I'd drive. You haven't driven the rig since Dad died. You're too nervous and emotional and shit.”

Jace, Dad isn't dead. He's stuck in some weird time/space alternate universe thing in that weird town we stopped in yesterday.”

Alright, Mom. Out of the driver's seat. You're not making sense and you're scaring the hell out of me. It was your idea to go camping so you could 'feel closer to Dad' so we came with you. But we never stopped in a town. There's NOTHING out here. That's why we brought the extra...never mind. Just MOVE OVER. I'm driving.”

She lets him. It's all too much. They keep heading for the mountains. Jace knows the way. They've camped here many times. He's right. There are no towns to pass through. Maybe she really is having the mental break her therapist warned her might come with the unexpected death of a spouse. That's right. She's thinking more clearly now. Keith's dead. Car accident. It's been three months.

Hey Mom, do you have a trash bag? I'm like buried in crap back here from all of the snacks.”

She wearily hands him the trash bag. As he hands it back to her full, something heavy hits her leg. She opens the trash bag to make sure he hasn't thrown away a 3DS or something else valuable.

It's not anything like that. It's a sippy cup half full of milk.  




Tina Downey lives in Colorado with her engineer husband and two boys. She blogs at Life is Good. http://kmdlifeisgood.blogspot.

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