Letters From Home

Blair backed her SUV into the double-wide driveway. The taillights blazed red, and it lurched to a stop. She opened the door with such force, it snapped back on her leg. Using her foot, she pushed it open until it held. Her arms loaded with her computer, messenger bag, and lunchbox and her morning coffee cup in her hand, she used her shoulder to shut the door.

The hatch on the rear of the vehicle and the garage door levitated in unison. Blair shuffled through the interior door, greeted by the aroma of chocolate chip cookies. For a moment, she was her seven-year-old self, sneaking one of them from the linoleum countertop. Her computer bag slipped from her shoulder, breaking her reverie.

“I’m home, Grandma.” She dropped her lunchbox and traveler cup on the kitchen counter. Grabbing a cookie cooling on the dishcloth, she walked through the great room into the multipurpose dining room/office.

Grandma sat at her antique writing desk, a dip pen in her hand, scratching on the decades-old stationery. Looking up from her writing, she gazed out the window. “Hello, my dear. How was your day?” Her back to the doorway.

“Hectic as usual. Thank god for the advent of online grocery shopping.” Blair walked over to her grandma and kissed her head. “I don’t know how I’d get it done without it.”

“Like the rest of us did. Driving to the store, walking the aisles, and checking out at the register. It was not so long ago,”

“I remember crowded aisles and long lines.” Blair plopped her bags on her desk in front of the bookcase. She took a bite of her cookie, trying to catch the crumbs with her hand under her mouth.

Grocery shopping was a Saturday morning ritual for her mom and the rest of the world. As a kid too big to sit in the cart, she spent half of the time dodging the baskets of other distracted moms. Boredom replaced her anxiety, waiting in one of many lines snaking around the row of registers.

“How is this week’s batch of cookies?” Grandma dipped the tip of the pen in the ink well. “Do you think your grandpa would approve?”

“For sure.” Blair nodded and stuffed the rest of the cookie into her mouth. “So will your grandson.”

The screech of the yellow school bus’s brakes called her to the window. The bus door swung open, and her son, Drake, bounded down the steps, jumping to the pavement and racing towards the house at full speed. She smiled, and her heart swelled with motherly love.

Blair greeted him in the garage with a monster hug. “Hey, buddy. How was the first day of school?” With skilled efficiency, she loaded the nine white plastic grocery bags in the back of her SUV on her arms.

“It was good.”

“What did you do?” She already knew he did nothing, but asked him anyway.

“We started learning cursive writing. Like Gran uses.” He skipped through the door, putting his new Batman lunchbox on the counter next to her lunch bag. He snatched a warm cookie from the dish towel.

Blair grabbed another one and followed him to the office. He burst into a sprint, excited to tell Grandma about learning cursive writing. He was fascinated by her script and loved to watch her write with the dip pen since he was about four years old. The ebb and flow of the movement across the paper mesmerized him, quieting his fidgeting. Their interaction warmed her heart. She was grateful for this connection between them. And even more thankful for his interest in something at school.

But the imperfection of handwriting made her shiver. The messiness of erasing unwanted words and phrases. Or the dreaded scratch-outs. The time it took to rewrite the material over and over until it was perfect. Pounding on a keyboard was far more productive. The delete and backspace keys, champions of the console. 

“Hi, Gran.” He took a bite of his cookie and embraced his grandma, facing the doorway now.

She kissed his head of messy brown hair. “How was school today?”

Crouching on the floor, Drake opened his new blue camouflage backpack and pulled out a glossy red folder covered in bouncing soccer balls. He opened it and removed a piece of paper from one of the pockets. The letters A-G, upper and lower case, were printed vertically on the left. On each row, practice areas with solid horizontal lines on the top and bottom with a dashed line in the middle.

Drake jumped up and put the worksheet on the writing desk. “Look, Gran. We started learning cursive today.” He pranced in place, his voice bubbling with enthusiasm. 

“Oh, marvelous.” Grandma glanced at Blair over her shoulder. “I thought schools had stopped teaching cursive?”

“News to me. Maybe, they’re bringing it back this year. Why I don’t know since it doesn’t help the kids pass the standardized testing.”

Blair scrounged around in Drake’s backpack, pulling out a thick manila envelope. A white label with ‘Welcome to Third Grade’ printed in block letters was adhered to the front. She unclasped the fastener and pulled out a stack of forms.

“Good lord, I’ll be up half the night, filling out these forms and finishing my brief.” Blair rolled her eyes and slapped the envelope on top of her laptop bag. “Why can’t we sign into our kid’s online account and update anything from last year? Check a box if there are no changes required. This pushing paper is so inefficient.” She struggled to hide her annoyance from Drake.

“Gran, what’s your letter about this week?” Drake asked.

“Now that you’re learning cursive, I’ll tell Grandpa about it.”

“Why do you write to him?” The innocence of a child. The same question every week and the same story.

“It’s how we talked to each other when we were separated during the war. We didn’t have computers, smartphones and the Internet like military families have nowadays. No, we only had pen and paper, and victory mail was our version of email.”

Grandma peered at the framed pictures on the desk. One of Blair’s grandpa in uniform, another of her grandparents on their wedding day. The third one with them and a baby.

“After sending a post, I remember waiting for a reply. For weeks, I anticipated our mailman’s daily deliveries. Twice a day back then. Until one day, it wasn’t the mailman at my door, but a Western Union messenger with a telegram.”

“Grandma, enough. Grandpa has been gone for over seventy-five years now. It’s ridiculous to think he actually gets them?”

“Stop being mean to Gran.” Drake scolded Blair every time she criticized their grandma. He liked her stories. A time before technology complicated their lives with the expectation of instant gratification. Before information and entertainment were at their fingertips. 

“We may be blessed with long life, but I’m glad we aren’t an immortal family. Someday, we will be reunited. Until then, writing letters helps me stay connected with Grandpa.”

“But still cursed because we’ve been forced to live without Grandpa and Mom for so long.” The tone of Blair’s voice, full of melancholy with a tinge of resentment.

Both of their loved ones’ lives were cut short by physical injuries. Grandpa, killed in action during war. Her mom died from injuries she sustained in a horrific crash with an eighteen-wheeler. The accident report stated speeding and improper lane usage as the cause of it. The truck driver, unhurt, was late for his scheduled off-load time. If he missed it, he would have been forced to reschedule for the next day, missing his next load time.

“Because they aren’t physically here with us doesn’t mean we can’t talk to them. It’s just different than what you’re used to. It requires investing time into composing your letter. Then you must be patient, waiting for a response. It’s not like instant messaging.”

“Right, all I need is time.” Blair scowled. “A rare commodity.”

“You should try writing to your mother. She might have some insight to help you get control of your life. Like learning to close the lid on your computer and enjoy your family. And turning off your phone and focusing on your struggling marriage. Romance doesn’t happen with a push of a button. You have to invest time to reap the rewards.”

Grandma folded her letter and stuck it in the envelope addressed to Gene Miller, c/o Resurrection Cemetery, Section 32, Plot 766, Space 1. She licked the seal on the flap and attached a postage stamp to the front. “If you’ll excuse me, I have a letter to get in the post.”

Sitting at the writing desk, Blair watched her grandma emerge from the garage and toddle down to the street. From the periphery, a white truck with the familiar blue sonic eagle logo glided into view. Grandma handed the letter and a paper bakery bag to the mail lady. They exchanged silent words and acknowledged them with head nods and smiles. 

Blair had spoken with the mail lady. She thanked her for indulging her grandma’s irrational hope and asked what she did with the letters. The cemetery administrators told her that they never received them.

The mail lady dismissed the notion of her grandma being delusional with a wave of her hand. She thought her letters were quite sweet and her cookies, delicious. But with firm conviction, she assured Blair that all postal workers were obligated by law to deliver the mail as addressed. What happens after she drops off outgoing mail at the post office, she did not know.

Blair fastened the lids of the Chinese carry-out boxes and put them in the refrigerator. Grandma wiped out the inside of the pastel yellow ceramic cookie jar. ‘Sweet Treats’ accented with green vines of pink and blue flowers advertised its contents. As a cherished wedding gift to her grandparents, the family knew to handle it with care. It’s revered status, another difference of opinion between them, but she respected it.

Grandma gathered up the remaining cookies and put them, one by one, into the jar.

Blair helped her. “I like this part of your ritual.” She smiled.

“Baking for someone is an act of love. A sign of affection.” Grandma placed the lid on top of the jar and pushed it back into the dark corner under the antique white cupboards. “You should try it sometime.”

Blair shook her head and smiled. She admired her grandma’s devotion to her grandpa, even if it was foolish. Like her persistence about Blair slowing down and taking stock of her life. She flipped the switch on the wall. The kitchen went dark except for the stove light.

* * * *

The aroma of scrambled eggs, bacon, and buttered toast permeated the kitchen. Drake and Grandma’s Saturday morning ritual always started with a hearty breakfast, but Blair wished her grandma would use turkey bacon. On the rare occasion that she joined them, she preferred avocado spread on her toast and no bacon.

Blair grabbed a wild berry protein drink from the refrigerator, shaking it with vigor. “What’s the plan for you two today?”

“Gran’s going to help me with my cursive.” Drake maneuvered the stepstool to the counter and slid the cookie jar from the corner. 

“That sounds like a great idea. Maybe, Grandma will let you use her special pen.” The thought of smudged ink made Blair shudder. She loaded up with her work bags and grabbed her travel cup. “I’ll be home around lunchtime.” A bit of guilt pinched her for the white lie. She rarely made it out of the office before three o’clock on the weekends. 

Grandma handed Blair’s lunchbox to her. “In case time gets away from you.” 

Drake took the lid off and reached into the hollow of the jar.

“Hey, come on Buddy. Eat your breakfast before…” Blair’s arms went slack, and her bags dropped to the floor. Her knees buckled. She blinked in disbelief.

“Look, Gran.” Drake pulled his hand out of the jar. “It’s a letter for you.”

This story was submitted to the Reedsy Weekly Writing Prompts contest. The prompt was write about someone who still practices a skill that used to be necessary but has long been replaced by technology.

East is West

The woods appeared unchanged on the other side of the archway. Hanging near the horizon, the sun warmed the chill of the previous night as it began its climb. The yellow and orange foliage glistened in its rays. Dew on the green ground cover freshened the air like clean bed linens. The girl basked in the splendor of the new day before continuing her exploration of this unknown path.

Venturing further away from the entrance, the sunlight faded, and a long shadow followed her. A few fireflies blinked in the depths of the forest. As twilight waned, thousands twinkled in every direction, illuminating her way. A cool breeze whistled through the trees, intensifying their enchanting flashes. Mesmerized, she ambled down the path without purpose.

Darkness descended upon the woods. The lightning bugs danced around her. Using her hand, she brushed a few of them away from her face. She imagined her breath’s web ensnaring an errant bug. The trail of luminous juice that it left in its wake as it traveled down her throat. The thought of the magical properties it might have. She giggled and skipped along her way.

The hum of their wings chimed in her ears, compelling her to twirl and prance down the trail. Her movement synchronized with their tune. The trill of flutes, fiddles, and mandolins filled the woodland. But she stopped dead in her tracks when she heard a tiny voice ask, “Won’t you join us in our merriment?”

My inspiration for this bit of fiction was originally posted on Instagram (suzeq221) as part of my #wednesdaywriting initiative. I’d love to hear your story idea inspired by this photo. Where does your imagination take you?

Door to My Imagination

Most photos give me story ideas when I contemplate what they say to me. I like to use the stream of consciousness style as I consider the subject. With this approach, a common theme usually emerges. And sometimes, my rambling thoughts morph into a piece of flash fiction or short story afterwards.

Here’s this week’s introspected look at the elements of this door in my imagination.

Photo credit: unknown

Rotted wood in corner damaged left open too long not opened soon enough; two angles met but never cross never intersect; don’t run parallel one horizonal one vertical up down sideways back and forth going one way or the other; linear straight angles no curves twist of fate.

Ivy crawling on the door invasive intruding insistent on getting in won’t take no for an answer breaking down the barrier or setting boundaries sealing in thoughts emotions feelings; no doorknob on outside of the door can’t get in no shelter; locks both inside and outside feelings locking emotions inside keeping them out open your mind close your mind.

Ivy on the tree strangling wringing life out of it invading its trunk its core thick solid its heart and soul protected against adversity rejection abandonment; slithering its way to the branches the bearers of seeds creators of new life more than one way to accomplish a goal take another tack driven to succeed blind ambition.

Moss on the floor organic natural nature smothering the inanimate manufactured lifeless concrete stone gravel break down into soil add water sunlight life reborn the cycle; cracks on the wall cracks in armor crumbling walls more barriers breaking down nothing can keep thoughts beliefs feelings out hidden away exposing secrets insecurities letting go of doubts liberating freedom confidence strength fortitude opening a world of possibilities the world’s your oyster find your pearl.

Groundcover undergrowth over the threshold of the doorway more ivy door can no longer be closed once opened can’t be close can’t put the lid back on can of worms don’t like worms they ruin the smell of rain slimy hands when baiting a hook but good for the dirt creators of rich black fertile soil; uh-oh off track off the rails thoughts too deep too heavy pause take a breath bring it back online in line; was the door left open to let in fresh air welcome new perspectives why did the ivy invade, did it take advantage of the opportunity laid in wait for the opportunity to creep in to block the exit or seek out the negative smother it allowing the positive to come in.

Glass in door looking out transparency seeing with clarity a clear vision the possibilities of letting go not holding back wiping the fog from the window to see out; no it’s opaque clouded not veiled by curtain but obscured hiding secrets self-doubt covering up inhibitions vulnerabilities not letting anyone see the fragilities ashamed.

Light bright sunlight in meadow beyond the tree openness unobscured let in the light see the light facing fears releasing those fears open the mind to new possibilities; more dense woods beyond, doors open and close, when one door closes don’t look back look forward look for new doors to open new opportunities fresh perspectives.

Stream of thought writing is so much fun for me. It got a little heavy at times in this piece, but the contrast of ideas was compelling. Now I’ll let it simmer on the back burner while I think about what elements like characters, setting, and of course, magic are needed to create an appetizing story.

He’s Watching

This piece is an attempt at the stream of consciousness style. I’m not sure I nailed the technique, but I enjoyed writing it. It stirred my emotions, and it’s good any time we are moved by something whether it’s art, music, a novel, or a conversation. The setting is a bar where a woman is talking with a man, a friend, and she catches her lover watching them from a distance.

He’s watching us, not wondering what we are talking about; if the topics of our conversation are engaging, boring; or having his own thoughts, taking it to another level, down another path, oh the places we go, no;

He’s watching me interact with you; do I look at you when I speak, if you look at me; when I’m listening, I look at anything but you, disinterested, interested; my gazed fixed on you, my attention hanging on your every word;

He’s watching me laugh, giggle like a school girl, purr like a kitten; my smile, my lips soft, supple; coy, pouting; my eyes sparkling, affectionate, rolling, sneering; am I’m watching him, feeling his piercing wonder;

He’s watching me, am I sitting back, relaxed and at ease, sitting forward on the edge of my seat, anxious, nervous; crossing uncrossing my legs, shifting my posture, turned towards you, turned away, neutral, facing forward;

He’s watching me talking with my hands, clasping them, wringing them with doubt, pointing my finger, twirling a strand of hair, tapping them to the beat of the music, snapping in time, picking my nails;

He’s watching me, my demeanor, my presence, enchanted, intrigued, come closer, tell me more; dreary, obnoxious, he’s out of his mind, disturbed, an opportunist, preying on his friend’s lover; smitten by me;

He’s watching me, my every move, gesture, admiring, learning, who am I, nonverbal cues, signals, no words, silent observing, interpreting, contemplating, what does it mean, am I faithful, loyal; or two-timing, double-dipping;

I’m watching him as he watches me, what is he thinking about, his sweet smile, smoldering eyes, hand resting on his knee, sipping his drink, elbow on the bar, does he trust me, know I’m committed, truehearted, does he love me?

Paczki Day 2020

Outside, the sky was dark with rain-laden clouds. The lightning temporarily blinded the people coming and going on the sidewalk. Thunder rumbled, shaking the foundations of the centuries-old buildings lining Main Street. One thunderclap released a torrent of rain, soaking everything not shielded from it within minutes. Soon, water rushed through the streets, and the awnings over the front doors sagged from the weight of the rain collecting in them. But the violence outside was nothing compared to the battle raging inside the bakery.

It was Fat Tuesday, celebrated in Pole Town with paczki, fried fruit-filled donuts. Bakers across town labored all night, making sure they had enough inventory for the hundreds of fervent people who started lining up at 4:00 am to get their hands on a dozen of the delights.

With wands drawn, late comers Doretha and Eloise waged war over the last dozen, scattering chairs and tables with bolts of energy when they missed their mark. Among other casualties were shattered dishware and cracked glass of now empty display cases. As the combatants danced around each other, Doretha’s bolt made contact with Eloise, thrusting her out the front door onto the sidewalk. Doretha rushed forward to gauge the effectiveness of her strike when the awning above the entrance collapsed, sending a wall of water crashing down on Eloise. She screamed in agony as she melted into the sidewalk. Turning away from the scene, Doretha casually collected the last dozen paczki.

“First Thought, Best Thought”

Recently, I’ve noticed a renewed interest in the beat poets of the 1950s. Namely, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and Neal Cassady. The interest is not so much about their messages as it is about the spoken word delivered with or without music accompaniment. In other words, the revival of poetry readings popular in the 1960s.

The allure of these readings is the style of the writing. When the written word is spoken, it has a rhythmic quality. Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg described the style as “First thought, best thought.” In literary terms, the style is referred to as stream of consciousness.

I explored this narrative technique in a writing workshop. The subject matter of my exercise doesn’t even come close to the contemplative musings of the Beat poets. Or any other poet for that matter. It’s a simple stream of thought based on the given prompt which was someone infatuated with someone else at an audition for the leading lady role in local theater production.

The fun part of this technique is it is actually the internal voice in your mind. A friend once made a comment about how she maintains her dedication to daily exercise. She said she stops talking to herself about it. This perspective resonated with me because I’m constantly talking to myself. Hence the name of my blog, Idle Ramblings. Internal dialogue with myself is a part of everyday life from mental to-do lists to developing strategies to execute said list.

On the creative side, I find myself contemplating story ideas on a regular basis. These thoughts are usually prompted by various accounts I follow on social media. My mind drifts off pondering the what-if scenarios, which happens to be another creative writing drill. To continue the stream of consciousness exercise, I’m going to dictate my thoughts to see what comes out of them. Come back soon to see the results.

Oh, my gosh, I’m so nervous; remember, he has no idea how I feel about him, he’ll never think I’m expressing my feelings for him so relax and get a grip, I need to channel my feelings into the character, if I don’t, I won’t get the part and won’t get the chance to hang out with him during rehearsals; he’ll give it to his regular leading lady, Janice, she’s been in the lead role for the past two productions when he’s been the director, maybe there’s something going on between them, but they don’t seem flirty when they are together, all business when they interact, and I’ve never seen them together outside of the theater, she’s never joined us after rehearsals or any other time we get together at the Irish Cue; where I fell head over heels for him, attracted by his charisma, he was so charming when we talked, especially when we talked about theater, remember he invited me to the audition for this production, I hope he doesn’t think I’ll sleep with him to get the part; That’s it, Janice is sleeping with him; that’s why she always get the lead roles; Oh my gosh, I have to stop psyching myself out about this audition.