Naturebound – The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again?) of Self Sufficiency

My mother has an enormous number of skills that she, by and large, keeps to herself. It’s not intentional, it’s more like she assumes that either a) everyone can do that, or b) no one has any interest in doing that. This has been a source of great frustration for me over the years. Example conversation:

Lexy – My university roommate taught me how to knit! Look, I’ve made dish cloths!

Mom – if you wanted to learn how to knit, you could have asked me to! I used to teach knitting at a yarn shop, and I used to sell my Fair Isle sweaters as a side business.

She proceeds to point at an assortment of things around the house she’d made. I have never seen her knit before in my life. Had I been more of sleuth, I might have put two and two together and connected the giant chest of assorted yarns with someone having skill to turn them into things, but no.

If your skill isn’t known to people, they will not know to ask you about imparting it. That’s not an indication of a lack of interest.

My sisters and I have taken to asking my mother directly if she’s done the thing before we begin a new hobby or art type. Doodle got my mom’s leatherworking tools. No luck with bookbinding experience, though she does have the tools to make a book press. Calligraphy? She did her own wedding invitations. Pen and ink drawing? The lady can draw perfectly parallel lines!

And yes, of course she knows how to sew.

Another of her random highly skilled jobs was working for Naturebound (the Kit People). This company is no longer in existence, but in the 80’s, you could purchase kits from them to make outdoorsy clothing. Khakis, down jackets, and an assortment of bags, to name a few. Along with packing and shipping kits, my mother would write the instructions for each kit, and do line art of the pieces and steps to go with it.

The company was sold by its original owner in the late 80’s, and while my mother considered making an offer, she ended up declining. She had me, a second kid on the way and a full time position teaching at this point, and no background in clothing design. I can’t tell you what happened to it after this, as the answer is not on the internet.

From her middle teenage years through to the late 80’s, it had become more and more uncool to make your own clothing. Wearing something that didn’t come from a store was a good way to get bullied at school, and even get comments from other adults in the workplace. It became a point of pride that you had the money to afford to have someone else make your clothing for you. You’re not wasting your own time making it. While she loved the company, she didn’t see a future for something whose sole purpose was encouraging people to make their own clothing.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">I suspect a huge part of this shift is the shift towards dual income households – who has time to come home and work on your own projects when you've had a full day of work, and still have children to care for. It's the same reason that most people don't have the skills required to build a deck. I suspect a huge part of this shift is the shift towards dual income households – who has time to come home and work on your own projects when you’ve had a full day of work, and still have children to care for. It’s the same reason that most people don’t have the skills required to build a deck.

While I’m not claiming that no one has been making their own clothing since the 80’s, I am saying it fell out of fashion with the rise of fast fashion and cheap machine-made clothing.

I wore a lot of second hand clothing as a kid – and felt an excruciating embarrassment for it in the moment, nothing quite exactly this year’s style. I would have handled clothing made by my mother even more poorly, I am certain.

Adulthood, and the decreasing quality of store-bought clothing, has changed this. I remember the absolute joy of getting that GAP sweatshirt to join the hordes at my elementary school. The excitement of going to the mall with money to spend on clothes with the price tag still on!

Now I just want to have a tee-shirt that isn’t translucent enough to read small font text through it. And, in a more abstract sense, something made by someone who is getting a living wage. My focus is less on “many” and “new” and more on quality. I’m not alone in this, considering how much more easily I can find a pair of eco-friendly locally made sweatpants.

I feel as though something is shifting, and has been for several years. I am very likely late to the game. I don’t know if it’s the internet connecting like-minded hobbyists, the fact that you usually have to layer two women’s tee shirts to achieve translucency, or the crushing weight of consumerism and capitalism, but I feel like home-made is having a great come-back, along with buying second-hand.

Of course, we have the mask making cottage industry making people dust off their old sewing machines. But beyond that, there are so many youtube channels devoted to home-made clothing (and a million other things), pinterest is overrun with blogs and ideas, and enthusiastically responding to a clothing compliment with “I got it second hand!” is almost as common as “It’s got POCKETS!”.

Self sufficiency is in. Reducing waste is in. Reusing is in.

Even without the internet, I know a lot of people who are working on making things for themselves instead of relying on their credit cards, including a man who makes and sells beard oil, and a woman who has several sweaters she’s hand-knit for herself.

My mother has a great many skills that she has been passing down to my sisters and I gradually over our lifetimes. When I expressed an interest in expanding my sewing ability past hemming pants and making masks, with the desire to make my own clothing, she knew just the thing to get me started.

Those boxes of yarn have, since the late 80’s, been neighbours to an assortment of Naturebound kits. Some of the corduroy has dissolved, and everything (but especially the instructions) smells MUSTY, but it’s still good. Wash before use.

Any guesses what my first project was? What projects have you been working on?

Nan’s House

This was a response for YeahWrite #508:

A teapot

“Teapot with purple steam” by garrellmillhouse is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

***

“Nan’s house is magic, you’ll love it!” Gia was positively vibrating in her seat, straining against her seatbelt like she could make the car speed up and get there faster.

Brody had his doubts about this. He’d found grandparents to be a real sticking point with foster homes in the past. Old people had a distinct preference for kids who were the kids of their kids. Not so much the random one they got saddled with babysitting at the same time. Grandkids are a blessing, but other peoples’ kids were a chore, one rosy cheeked old woman had muttered to her neighbour friend when he’d slunk into the kitchen to ask for a glass of water.

“And Nan’s magic, too!” Gia added. “You’ll love her too!”

“What do I call her?” Brody asked, pitching his voice loud enough to carry towards the Bernardis in the front seats without, he hoped, being obnoxious. This home had so far been too good to be true, he’d do what he could to keep on their good side. If that meant being invisible for the summer so Nan wouldn’t complain to them about the extra work of looking after another child, he’d be the world’s most polite potted plant.

“Nan, of course,” Gia sent him a baffled look before resuming her strain towards the house they’d be living in for two months while the adult Bernardis went away. Mrs. Bernardi had to go to somewhere in Germany for research, and they’d decided to make a vacation of it.

Mr. Bernardi glanced in the rear-view mirror and met Brody’s eyes for a moment. “She’ll likely encourage you to call her Nan, but you can also call her Mrs. Costa if you prefer. Whatever makes you most comfortable.”

Brody was most suspicious of Mr. Bernardi. His eyes were so warm. He was too perceptive. He’d noticed Brody’s interest in the coffee table book about frogs and gotten him another from his office! Later, the man had offered to take Brody to the library! He had looked positively delighted when Brody slipped some books on sharks onto the checkout counter too. Brody couldn’t figure out his angle.

The car pulled off the highway and wound down back roads for another hour, and, all too soon, they were creeping down a winding tunnel of trees and hedges. Nan’s house was small and brick, with a riot of gardens all around it, a huge pond out front and a flock of wind chimes hanging from the wide porch.

Nan herself was a tall scrawny scarecrow of a woman, long white hair frizzing out of a long braid, wearing overalls, birkenstocks and a tee-shirt with a large smiley face on it.

She met Gia halfway, dashing the gangly girl up in a tight hug before pulling her back by the shoulders to do the standard grandkid once-over.

Brody hung back behind the Bernardis, clutching his backpack full of books to his chest and sidling towards the trunk to help with the bags.

He let out a yelp of surprise when he found himself swooped up in a tight hug by the old woman, who had apparently skipped the Bernardis to come and greet him first.

“Brody! I’m so excited to meet you! I’m Nan, and I’m so happy you’re here!”

Brody stood frozen in surprise as she proceeded to hold him at arms length and give him – him! – the grandkid once-over! It was madness! She didn’t even have a previous iteration to compare him to!

“I heard from Dan that you’ve got an interest in aquatic creatures, which is just wonderful, because you’ve arrived at the perfect time for tadpoles!”

She gave him a friendly slap on the back, passed him his bag from where it had fallen, and went to greet the adult Bernardis.

Gia bounded over and started unloading the trunk, her grin a match for the raspy-voiced old woman’s.

**

Brody spent the evening braced for the switch – the Bernardis had left after a hearty lunch in the back garden, which could only mean that Mrs. Costa would soon show her true colours.

So she urged him to help himself to seconds… of dessert. And then urged him to join her and Gia in a boardgame. She gave him extra marshmallows in his hot chocolate later, with a friendly wink and a comment about growing boys. She then gave Gia extra marshmallows with a comment about growing girls. Then added more to her own, with a comment about growing old.

It would happen when Gia wasn’t around, he was sure. Maybe she didn’t want to let her granddaughter know what she thought of the foster kid she was stuck babysitting. Adults were sometimes like that.

Though he was apparently definitely supposed to call her Nan.

**

Brody lay in bed as long as he could bear, hoping that Gia would prove to be more of a morning person here than she was at home. He was wondering how long he could continue only interacting with Mrs. Costa while in the presence of her granddaughter. He liked Nan-Mrs. Costa… he didn’t want to meet only-doing-my-daughter-a-favour-Mrs. Costa.

But it was nearly 8, and he was horribly bored.

He’d just slip downstairs and go explore a bit outside.

Mrs. Costa – Nan – was in the kitchen, eating toast and reading the newspaper. Not absorbed enough for him to slip past unnoticed, however.

“Lovely, a fellow early-bird! I’ve got toast, cereal, and, if you’re up for cooking yourself, there are eggs. Help yourself to whatever condiments – the cupboard by the fridge has nutella and peanut butter, jam’s in the fridge, so’s the milk and juice, butter’s on the counter.”

Brody made himself some toast with peanut butter and jam, uncomfortable in the silence. Nan pulled the comics section from the paper and placed it in front of the seat opposite her. Brody slipped into the offered seat and pulled the pages towards himself. Nan seemed content to sip her coffee and peruse the paper in silence while he ate.

“Gia wants a tea-party this afternoon,” Nan commented, staring into her coffee.

“Really?” Brody asked, surprised. Gia was thirteen – Brody was only ten, but quite sure Gia was long out of the age of tea parties.

Nan raised her eyebrow at Brodys tone – or possibly, Mrs. Costa did, he thought – and he looked away.

“You’re never too old for a tea party, kiddo- nothing makes you feel fancier, or more like a giant than tiny tiny sandwiches.”

Nan then suggested Brody join her in the garden to hunt for toads.

**

The tea party was more of a picnic. They all spent some time prepping tiny sandwiches – cucumber, pb&j, and egg salad – and chopping vegetables and fruit to go with the dips.

Once everything else was packed, they each chose a tea-cup from the many on the shelves, and packed that into the basket. Gia carried the basket, and Brody carried the blanket. Nan pulled down a small teapot and filled it with tap water.

They all trooped out to the far end of the garden, where there was a nice sun-dappled patch of grass surrounded by flower beds and trees.

Once everything was set up, their tea cups arranged on the basket-top, Nan looked at the children with a solemn expression. “And now for tea.”

“Me first!” Gia burst out, earning a reprooving look from her grandmother – not unlike the look she’d given Brody that morning. “Brody hasn’t done it before, he needs a demonstration.”

Nan nodded at that, as though Brody really did need a demonstration of cold water being poured into tea cups.

“Very well, my darling, what will you be having today?” Nan asked, holding the pot poised over Gia’s cup.

Gia scrunched up her face for a long moment in needlessly intense thought. “Raspberry Cordial.”

“Excellent choice!” Nan poured the water, giving it a bit of dramatic flare by drawing the teapot up high so the water cascaded down into the cup.

Gia smiled at Brody after taking a sip of her water. “You can ask for any kind of drink you can think of, Brody! But the raspberry cordial is really good, if you can’t think of anything.”

Brody wondered how he’d already lived with this girl for a whole month before learning she was crazy.

Nan turned to Brody. “And you, sir?”

“Um, could I please have some water?” He did his best to not roll his eyes.

Nan nodded without a comment and raised the pot, but Gia darted her hand out to cover Brody’s cup. “Brody – water’s the most boring thing – you can pick anything, really! It’s no fun if you just pick water.”

Gia looked so upset by Brody’s lack of effort to participate in the game. She was so nice, even if at times more enthusiastic than Brody was used to.

“Um, then how about… um… orange soda? Please?”

“Delightful choice!” Nan crowed, dramatically pouring the water into the tea cup. “In fact, I think I’ll have the same, since I can’t even remember the last time I had orange soda!”

She proceeded to pour her own water as dramatically as theirs, and took a sip. She smacked her lips then burped. “Oh, the bubbles do have that effect! Definitely a good choice, though.”

Brody smiled politely, resting his teacup of water on his knee. He was about to reach for a sandwich when he realized that Gia was staring at him with tense glee in her expression. And Nan was watching him rather intently too.

Apparently playing the game in full was the barrier between him and tiny sandwiches.

Brody lifted the cup and took a small sip of water to appease the others. And gasped in surprise, causing orange soda to fizz out his nose and down his chest.

Gia howled with laughter, while Nan simply smiled, eyes twinkling, and handed him a napkin. “There’s a good lad – I knew you had it in you.”

He did try the raspberry cordial, and it was really quite good.

Brody was beginning to think Gia was right – this summer would be magical.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">

Hacking It

YeahWrite weekly writing challenge #507 (yup, that’s the previous week’s!) – “Can you Hack it?”

I once found a kid weeping on the phone at an international competition because she didn’t get top 5, and she felt as though her life up to that point had been a waste. The pressure on teenagers boggles my mind.

**

Tuesday – 5 am

“This is your life, Allison!  You have to take responsibility! Can you hack it or not?”

Allison nodded silently, chewing furiously on a protein bar as she shoved her books into her bag.  Late.  She was so late.

Coach frowned when she skidded onto the pool deck. “Late again, Heitzner.  Team captains aren’t late – shape up!”

Allison rushed her apology and joined the rest of the team in the warmup.  She finished last, just after the next slowest. Some of her teammates cast commiserating glances, others covetous. How many lates before they could add Team Captain to their resume?

Two hours later, frozen hair dripping chills down her back, she slid into her first class of the day.  No time for her banana, coach made her do extra laps for being late.  Time only for concealer for the shadows under her eyes.

An A- slid across her desk.  “Not your best work, Allison.  You have so much potential, but you’re just wasting it. Focus less on makeup and more on your education. It’s what you’re here for.”

She managed to eat the banana between classes.

An A+ and an essay submitted in the next class. 

Half a sandwich before debate club.  Fifteen minutes after debate club, enough time to finish up and submit her article about the swim team and the one about the volunteer group she lead, the one that would be working all March break.  The roster was full for March break, but they had plans to do long weekend and summer activities.  Those would also fill up quickly. At least she didn’t need to worry about filling in her volunteer hours.

The rest of the sandwich right before the quiz in chemistry.  Not a wise choice when they switched to a lab in the second half –the blast of sulfur did nothing to settle her ham and cheese.

A presentation in her last class, working on her practice sheets for Mathletes while other students presented.

French club after school.  “Si vous ne pratiquez pas, vous n’améliorez pas,” Madame scolded.  “Si vous n’améliorez pas, je n’écrierai pas un lettre de recommandation.”

An hour of dryland training, reviewing history notes, followed by half an hour on the bus, earbuds in and following along to Rosetta Stone.

“Hey Kiddo, how was school? You know, high school is some of the best years of your life!”

The idea of that being true made her nauseous. Or maybe it was hunger.

Dinner reheated and eaten over homework. 

Dissect the A-, dissect the A+, dissect swim practice.  Agree to suggestion that a part time job at Dad’s law office would look good on College applications.  Agree to add more running to her training to improve her cardio. She could complete assigned readings while on the treadmill downstairs.

Homework.

“It’s late, Allison, why are you doing this now?  We need you to be more helpful around the house.”

More homework. Midnight. She pulled out her phone and sent a quick message to her best friend.

“It’s no wonder you’re always oversleeping, you’re staying up late wasting time on your phone. Lights out, kiddo.”

Wednesday – 4:30 am

Allison bolted upright at her alarm. On time. Not late. Halfway through pulling on her swim gear before she was fully awake, her to-do list washing over her in a burst of adrenaline.

Ready to race through another day. So that she could race through another after that. Because it was her life, and of course she could hack it.

She changed back into her pajamas. She didn’t want to hack it, she wanted to live it.

A World Apart

Yesterday, I found out that the Chapters nearest me is closing.  EVERYTHING MUST GO, 50% off, SALE SALE SALE!  The remaining books huddle together in a disorganized jumble, leaving the outer edges of the building like a ghost town of empty shelves and dust.  On an unrelated note, this morning I (and most of you) lost an hour, but not in the way that indicates that you’re deep into a really great read.  For Master Class this week, I used the prompt Piquant Libraries, partly out of nostalgia, but mostly because the first definition of piquant I think of is flavorful.  And whether I’m reading a hard-cover book, an e-book checked out from the Public Library’s free online database, or an online story, good books, like good food, are filling in more ways than one.

Click the image below to read the rest of the responses or to submit your own!

master-class-featured-image

Growing up in a small town, Bailey never understood her mother’s love of libraries.  The single small room allocated for books in the town hall was musty and uninspiring.  It had three dog-eared copies of Where the Red Fern Grows, a complete set of Louis L’Amour’s novels, all but the first of the Narnia TV serial on VHS and an assortment of Christian children’s stories.  Not inherently bad, but certainly not the most piquant of libraries.

Her mother had offered up a selection of her own books, Asimov, Heinlein and McCaffrey, the Bronte sisters and Shelley to round it out a bit.  The town council declined, saying there wasn’t much point in overloading the shelves of a government offered service that got such little use.

So Bailey and her mother kept their own library, milk cartons and 2×8’s to support their hodge-podge collection of books.  Angela’s Airplane and Stone Soup from her earliest memories, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys when she first started reading on her own.  A complete set of the Narnia books.  Sci-fi and Fantasy in the kitchen, Romance in the hall, biographies by the TV.  Geography, History and Art by the desk.  Mystery scattered throughout, because a good mystery surprises you.

None of the other kids in her school read much, perhaps unsurprisingly, but when they were required to choose a book to write a report on, they knew who to go to.  Bailey would ask them questions – action? Drama? Love? Space? Cowboys? Knights? Spies? – and provide her friends with a selection to choose from.  Her mother helped her in creating the check-out slips, even going so far as to buy a date stamp.

When the worst came to pass, Bailey and her library moved to the city where her mother had grown up.  Her Aunt Mary helped her set up the shelves and smiled tearily as she recognized old friends from her own teen years.

Bailey buried herself in her books, overwhelmed by her grief and her new surroundings.  The city was too loud, too busy, too chaotic.  Mary suggested an after-school job, made a few calls and gave her an address.

The building smelled a bit musty, but from there it was a world away from that sad room from her childhood.  A winged lion and a gryphon guarded the heavy doors, and light danced through tall windows and down the enormous central atrium.  More than a single room – or even a single storey full of books – the library had storeys of stories, more books than Bailey had seen in her life.

And people – children running down the curved staircases clutching large picture books, people checking books out, dropping them off, standing in the aisles reading the back, and curled up in comfy chairs lost in a book.  The library was so much more than its books, and standing in the quiet vastness of it, Bailey fell in love.

toronto_public_library

“The love for a good story, well told, lies deep in every human heart.” – Lillian H. Smith, Librarian.

Dramatic Flair

My contribution to Our Write Side’s Master Class prompt!

I used Melancholy Occasion, and wrote a bit long.  Check out the rest of the posts here.

***

Mother practically danced down the stairs. Her elegant black dress was freshly steamed and fluttering around her like she was caught up in an unkindness of ravens. Bespoke, of course. A dainty hat perched precariously on her head, black lace tracing a dark pattern across the pale porcelain of her face but not quite able to disguise the gleam in her eye. It would be taken for unshed tears, of course. She had a black silk handkerchief to complete the costume. To delicately dab at teary eyes or twist between lace gloved fingers. To flutter to the ground as she swooned into some kind gentleman’s arms, overcome by grief.

Mother loved nothing better than the drama of a melancholy occasion. Not even the husband for whom she donned her carefully curated wardrobe of grief. Number 3.

I hadn’t known Roger well enough to truly grieve him – home only at the holidays requiring a well-bred and loving daughter in Mother’s cast of characters since the age of 7, I hadn’t known any of my stepfathers well. I appreciated the way he had spoken to me as an equal, though, and regretted that I would no longer have the opportunity to work for his company this summer. Since their marriage 3 years ago, I’d been able to attend the summer-camps and activities of my own choosing, a vast improvement over the endless dance camps of the artistic daughter my mother would have chosen.

I certainly hadn’t known him well enough to look as hollow-eyed as I did, but as a part of Mother’s production of Grief, I’d been cast as bereft daughter. She really was a masterful makeup artist, rimming my eyes faintly with the pink of hours of weeping, bluish circles of a grief-tossed slumber disguising my perfectly well rested cheeks. At my previous stepfather’s funeral, she’d put tear-tracks down my cheeks, but apparently 17 was too old for such blatant displays of sentimentality.

***

Mother stood at the entrance and accepted cheek kisses and condolences with a tremulous smile. I did my best to seem forlorn and supportive at her side while memorizing the tread of the carpet. I was, according to her, simply her rock in these trying times.

“Jeremy!” she gasped, her voice sharper and louder than the role of grieving widow demanded. I peered up through my eyelashes in surprise. She never broke character.

The man’s suit was expensive and well-cut, but in dark gray. Youngish, I guessed – somewhere in his 20’s. Too young to be an executive, and thus outside of the realm of people my stepfather worked with who would have been known by my mother. Worth knowing by my mother. But not dressed in black, the expected colour of attire for a relative. What intrigued me most was that he didn’t seem taken in by my mother’s dramatics.

“Sandra,” he said, voice bland. “I see you’re keeping up appearances well.”

Her fists were clenched like she was considering violence and I held my breath. I could see her steel herself, unwinding her hands, clutching her handkerchief and immersing herself once more in her role.

“Jeremy!” she cried again, collapsing forward and forcing him to embrace her or allow her to fall at his feet. “I’m so glad you made it!”

Jeremy pushed her upright with a firm hold on her upper arms. “I’m sure you are,” he replied, leaning in as though to kiss her cheek. Instead, however, he whispered, “Which is why I had to hear about my own father’s death from the family lawyer. I guess you didn’t quite have old Lareby wrapped as tightly around your finger as you had hoped.”

As he turned away from my mother there was the faint but recognizable sound of silk ripping. Well trained as I was, I passed my mother a replacement handkerchief from my purse even as the son I hadn’t known Roger had turned toward me.

The corners of his eyes scrunched up in an instant of amusement and I swallowed my embarrassment of having been caught out providing replacement props in the middle of the play.

I shook the proffered hand, keeping my own expression neutral as this surprise scene-rewrite inspected me.

“You weren’t at the wedding,” I said, cogs turning in my mind as I tried to adjust to the new information. I wouldn’t have pegged Roger for an uninvolved father, and the shock of meeting his son for the first time loosened my tongue.

“You were?” he raised his eyebrows in mock surprise.

“Maid of Honor,” I replied, and added, “Mother and I have always been close.”

Another flash of amusement and he replied, deadpan, “Of course. Like sisters, I’m sure.”

I bit back my own amusement and, after a check to confirm that my mother wasn’t paying attention, I said, “People often mistake us as such.”

Jeremy snorted, and I felt oddly pleased.

A solemn man came to let my mother know that it was time to head out to the burial, offering his arm to escort her out of the church.

Jeremy surprised me by offering himself as my escort. I was rather used to being the rock that trailed behind the leading lady.

“I suppose you’re surprised I’m here?” Jeremy asked.

“I’m surprised you exist. News to me.”

“Huh.”

I regretted being so blunt. He was, after all, at his father’s funeral.

“I wasn’t exactly around much, though.” I offered when he continued to be silent. “Boarding school.”

“Interesting choice for such a doting parent.”

The barb might have struck home if I hadn’t come to terms with the role I played in my mother’s shows, but I ducked my head in acknowledgement anyways. I might not agree with her tactics, but at times they were effective.

“Sorry.” Believable, but not to someone raised in the theater of Mother’s making. There was real venom there, and it wasn’t directed at Roger.

I shrugged and changed the subject.

“Did you work with your father?”

“At times.” Intentionally vague.

“Will you take over now?”

“Well that’s certainly a question.” So, yes.

I waited for two steps and gave up.

“I was going to work there this summer.”

“Oh?” Wariness. He thought I wanted something from him.

“I didn’t know him very well, but I appreciated that he treated my interests like they were legitimate. I mentioned my interest in accounting and he offered the opportunity.”

“My father was always good at looking for potential.” Grudging.

“But?”

“He was better at finding employees than he was at finding… friends.” Wow, that was a lot of anger.

Mother clutched my hand as we arrived at the burial site, pulling me close.

“How is that poor dear boy?” she hissed, fingers digging into my wrist.

I thought back to the conversation. “Holding up well, all things considered. I don’t think I’ll be getting that summer placement at Roger’s company, though.”

“Oh darling, I am sorry.”

“You really are close. So much information and not a word that could be completely taken as such.”

Mother’s head snapped around so quickly her neck cracked. Instead of sitting in the front row, Jeremy had slid into the second row, and apparently listened in on our conversation.

“Jeremy, darling, whatever do you mean?”

Jeremy smiled, thin-lipped. “I think I can answer your real question more clearly, Sandra. It all goes to me. The house. The other house. All of the houses, really. And the cars, boats, et cetera. Roger had his will changed quite recently.”

In spite of being genuine, Mother’s faint coincided well with the arrival of Roger’s casket.  Draped in the arms of her handsome stepson, she really stole the show.

InMon – A Slide Turn

Two children meet a man with two faces, a few riddles and sharp teeth. Sometimes a kid can’t help but break the rules.

Last week on Inspiration Monday, they gave us the following prompts:

NETHERDOOR

CANIS EX MACHINA

BLINDSIGHT IS 20/20

PIONEER SPECIES

OPENING EPILOGUE

Check out the other responses here, or post your own!

inmonsterpromo

The artwork is by Cyril Rolando, otherwise known as AquaSixio, and is called The Magic Path.  If you’re ever looking for some inspiration for stories, I highly recommend visiting his work.  It’s whimsical and eerie and a little bit Alice in Wonderland.

the_magic_path_by_aquasixio

“You’ll never find it that way!” the slender little man giggled, juggling a quartet of oranges from the crate in front of the grocery store.  He was a bright spot in an otherwise dreary day.

“Find what?”

“Shush!” Maggie hissed, grabbing her little brother by the hand.  She was 9, and had been assigned the important task of walking her brother home safely.  She took the responsibility to heart.

“Find what?”Jeremy repeated, throwing his weight back to resist the insistent tug on his hand.  He was 6, less inclined to avoid a potential adventure than his older sister and entertained by the juggling.

“Not what, it.” The man giggled again and added an apple to his trick.

“What’s ‘it’?”

“No it isn’t!” another cackle, another apple.  Mr. Ventura wouldn’t be happy if the man dropped and bruised all that fruit.  Maggie wondered why he hadn’t come out of the store to yell at them yet.

Jeremy glowered.  He didn’t like this game.  Maggie, on the other hand, was intrigued.  If she looked at the man out of the corner of her eye, he was dressed in ordinary clothing, and was carefully inspecting an orange.  Looking at him dead-on, though, he was a jester, oranges and apples flying through the air and weaving patterns.  Her class had been going over the five W’s in writing.

“Where is ‘it’?” she asked.

“What a silly child!” he laughed, “How grand!  The Netherdoor is anywhere and everywhere, but only at the end and the beginning.”

“If it’s anywhere, then when is it…” Maggie cast about for a good location for a door.  She pointed at the slide in the playground across the street. “There?”

“In a moment.  I’d hurry if I were you, and take my advice, it’s best to go back as much as is possible.”  He had a cantaloup in the whir of fruit now, though his alternate version was deeply engrossed in rapping his knuckles on the fruit.

“Why are your teeth so sharp?” Jeremy asked.

“Only as sharp as my wit, darling boy!”

“Ok.  Let’s go to the Netherdoor,” Jeremy accepted the logic and dismissed it.

“We’re not going anywhere, we’re going home,” Maggie replied, grabbing for her brother’s hand.  “Mom said no stopping, go straight home.”

The little boy sprawled on the ground, yanking at her arm.  “Noooooooooo,” he moaned.  “I want to go through the Netherdooooooooor!”

Jeremy’s method of getting what he wanted in public largely involved making it as difficult as possible for those around him to get things done until they’d agreed with him.  He was lying across the full width of the sidewalk, and, from past experience, Maggie knew he’d stay there, even with the threat of being stepped on.

Maggie glared accusingly at the man.  He was now juggling a half-dozen oranges and apples, a melon and three pomegranates.  Out of the corner of her eye Maggie could see that he was also bagging up a few persimmons, a bag of pomegranates already hung on his arm.

“How are you doing that?” she asked.

“Blindsight is 20/20 in the young, but what would you see out of the other corner?”  The man grinned, and Maggie wondered why Jeremy had said his teeth were sharp.

Maggie sighed.  “You’re ridiculous.”

“Thank you!”  The juggling man grinned in delight; his alter ego checked his watch.

“Get up, Jeremy, we’ll go climb the slide backwards but after that we have to go home.”

“YAY!” Jeremy was on his feet in an instant.  Maggie caught him and made him wait for the pedestrian light and all the cars to stop before they crossed to the park.

Maggie let Jeremy climb up on the slide first, and carefully pushed him up with his feet resting on the heels of her shoes and his arms around her legs.  The cars rushing past didn’t slow, there was nothing to see – just two children playing some incomprehensible game.

She had to bend forward and push off with her hands as well so that she could keep her balance.  All she could see was the scratched up shiny surface of the slide, chipped paint and sprayed tagging.  All she could hear was the squeak of the rubber of her shoes as she shuffled backwards, the traffic-sounds having gone quiet.  The sudden shift in gravity sent Maggie and Jeremy tumbling backwards, landing in a heap at the bottom of a shiny slide, mirror bright under the bright blue sky.

Jeremy and Maggie exchanged a look of shocked delight, taking in the candy-apple red slide, the skittle-bright gravel under their feet.  An elephant wandering past tipped its bowler hat solemnly at them.  Above the treeline, a licorice ferris wheel made a slow circle.  Without conscious thought, Maggie took her brother’s hand and headed towards the forest.

Faceless cars rushed past the empty park, and the man paid for his groceries and started home.  Out of the corner of her eye, a weary woman cutting through the park could have sworn she saw the man capering and juggling.  She chalked it up to a long work day and hoped she’d run into her children on the way home.  She’d been feeling anxious all day about their walk home alone, and had jumped at the chance to leave work early.  It would be nice to reassure herself that everything was fine.

Status Quo

Brace yourselves, it’s another long one.  Sci-fi sometimes requires a bit of world-building on the page so as not to leave those readers not present inside my head with questions and confusions.  Like what the hell is it with all the colours? (because it’s less blatant than labeling them ‘crap lives’ and ‘happy lives’, and they haven’t quite gone morlock vs eloi)  And why do insurgents seem to always be wearing eyeliner in movies? (so they can give the hero a really penetrating stare?  To make their eyes pop?  because men wearing eyeliner = bad men in a bit of Hollywood transphobia? I don’t know, it’s late.)

I used the following prompts from Inspiration Monday – check it out for other responses and to submit your own!

Armoured Ambulance

Bitter Half

inmonsterpromo

The massive buildings made deep narrow canyons of the streets. Heavy concrete, the structures’ lower floors had no windows, the light-access increasing as one rose through the building until the top floors were nothing but steel girders and plate glass. The rapport of gunfire echoed, disorienting, as squads of soldiers ran the maze; engaging pockets of the enemy. All civilians were placed on lockdown until further notice.

Dr. Timothy Marrick of block 719, Green level 8, recently honorably discharged from his time in the army, was not yet on a civilian card. He was absent-minded, one of the reasons he’d been discharged, and so had forgotten the need for a new card. This one still opened his home and business doors, still let him pay for his morning chai and order the occasional vid.

He wasn’t very good at following directions, easily distracted and, for such an intellect as he was, sorely lacking in the ability to interact with people. He was surprisingly fit for someone who lacked the basic coordination to reload a gun while running in a straight line. They’d said something about all this during his discharge interview, but he’d been thinking on a new bypass technique he’d studied in a before-time medical text, and hadn’t really been paying attention. Army service was randomly assigned through the Green levels, and always 18 months or longer.

He was aware that his discharge was in many ways a failure on his part, and had since been attempting to remedy it. His hour-long walk home from his government-allocated block 699 green level 2 medical practice was good for listening to self-improvement talks. He slipped out the door at grey-level one, already muttering repetitions of the enthusiastic man instructing him that Eye Contact is step one to social interaction. Smiling is step two.

It made sense, though he’d listened to this one three times and attempts to enact the steps to social interaction left his patients and staff uncomfortable. One woman on the elevator had burst into tears, and he’d gotten a reprimand in the mail citing him for inappropriate public socializing. This time he planned to enact only one of the social interaction steps at a time. Build up was key; first he’d master one, and then move onto the next.

“-tor?!” The doctor turned at the sound and found himself face to face with the Enemy.  The woman looked just like the pictures he’d seen in basic training. Tan clothing and weapon straps and… heavy black eyeliner. He couldn’t seem to recall the reason for that bit, but the eye-liner had stuck in his mind as in some way critical to the whole.

He gaped, tugging his ear-buds out. “Um?”

“Doctor?” she barked again, irritation across her face.

He nodded, taking a step back when he saw that the Enemy was surrounded by more Enemy.

The woman grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and pulled. Doctor Marrick found himself in the middle of a cramped surgery, rumbling along at high speed on the smooth City roads.

“What?! No!” he yelped belatedly about his abduction. “Wait! Stop, that’s not right! Just let me,” he added, taking in the shaking scalpel, the vast quantities of blood and pained man on the table clutching at his abdomen. Doctor Marrick shoved the scalpel-wielder aside and took control of the surgery.

The features that made him a terrible soldier helped to make him an excellent doctor.  Immersed in his craft he barely noticed that the patient changed, what with them all having similar wounds.

What he did notice was that they were all young. And when he was between patients, he noticed the ricochet of bullets off the van. The enemy woman was quick to reassure him. “Armored Ambulance – can withstand a rocket-launcher or a gyre attack. What are you called?”

“Timothy Marrick, M.D., Green. Why are they all so young? What’s a gyre?”

“Because we die young. And it’s a very very big avian.”

“Then why do you even fight? Wait, what?”

“Because the government is corrupt, Doc.  And not everyone wants to stay in their caged and miserable lives.”

Timothy knew that the people living in the Grey levels – the levels without light – were crammed in like sardines while half the Green sat empty. They labored in the darkness of the sewers, moving the waste and never seeing sunlight, as they had been banned some years ago from traveling street-side. He knew the menial laborers of the Brown worked 14 hour shifts, to the 8 he and his fellow Green worked. And, though he didn’t think on them often, he knew that the Blue, way up high in their glass houses, were the only ones ever assigned to Government duties by the Government.

But the caste system was necessary. Every task required a hand, and after the blasts had wiped out so much of the human population, it was no longer reasonable to just hope that every role would be filled naturally. The world had become more dangerous, the Government handled the building of the first tower to host the small remaining nearby population. 20 storeys of blank concrete walls, 20 with arrow-slit windows, 20 with  square meter sized windows spaced 2 meters apart, and 20 with enough light to host plant-life for hydroponics, and, eventually, the Blues. Even though it was the Browns who maintained the hydroponics. It was a massive endeavor, and costly. The only safe place to be in these dangerous times. They were lucky the Government from before the bombs started dropping had arranged the beginnings of this project, really, ready to start this post-end-of-the-world off on the right foot.

The Government had invited in the dregs of humanity, so long as they were willing to put their shoulder to their government assigned grindstone. Better inside and committing the future generations of your family to shoveling waste than out there, with them. Everyone understood this. The population grew, and the next tower was built. And the next, and the next. None had been built for a long time, though, now that he thought of it, and with the Grey population outgrowing its floors, wasn’t that something the Government ought to be doing something about?

“They built the towers. The wall.  They protect us from the creatures in the Waste,” he said uncertainly. “Without a hand for every task the work won’t get done.”

“The Waste has been free of the big dangers for years now, doc. More than a hundred, in fact. Radiation made them unstable enough to get big and bad, and made them sterile, mostly. They failed to breed true, if at all. Mostly.  And the land out there is good enough for people to expand beyond the walls, survive without Government handouts.”

Really?” the doctor looked up from his careful suturing, eyes going wide. He’d dreamed of climbing the City walls as a child, of going on an adventure like Huck Finn or finding magic like Harry Potter. Become a knight like Alannah, fight alongside the enormous intelligent rodents of Redwall. See a tree, maybe even put his feet in naturally flowing water. “You’ve been there? What’s it like? Do trees really grow as tall as a tower?  The government says it isn’t safe out there. Why would they lie? What about the mutants?”

The enemy woman regarded him for a long moment. “I’m glad to see you’re interested,” she replied as they rumbled onto a bumpier surface than the cobbled pavement of the City. “Because you’ll get a chance to see it. And treat some of those poor unfortunates you call mutants,” she added mockingly, wiggling her fingers on her left hand so that he noticed that there were six.

“What? No, I’m not… I’m not good at things, I’m just a medical. I flunked army training,” he added morosely.

Just a medical,” she snorted. “Did you know there hasn’t been a Brown or Grey in medical training in more than 30 years?”

“… No?” Timothy had flown through medical school, and, honestly, couldn’t think of the name of a single person he’d known during that time. They were all just… fellow students. Though he supposed, now that he thought of it, that they were all greens. Probably.

“Do you treat Browns or Greys often?”

“Of course not, you only treat those within your… band…OhI see.”

“You’ve lived with the better half, Doc, now it’s time to tend to the bitter half.”

Sealed with a Kiss

This week on Master Class, I chose to use the prompt Venomous Honey.  Check out the rest of the responses HERE or submit your own.

Gabriel Picolo‘s artwork is bright and imaginative.  I love the way he makes digital art look like watercolour.  That and black cats hidden everywhere makes his work well worth a visit.  The artwork is called Queen Bee, and I wrote my story before finding it.  Her lipstick and honeycomb was just too perfect.

queen_bee_by_picolo_kun-d8qtqbs

Soft and delicate was the best way to play it.  It put him at ease, on edge, and in lust. All with a minor wardrobe change, pink lip gloss and some subtle makeup to make her wide eyes pop. She was Honey, innocent as mom’s apple pie and seductive as dark chocolate mousse. All natural and innocent. She only accidentally brushed her breast against his arm when she leaned over his desk, and blushed prettily when she apologized.

How could any man resist that? Especially one with his predilections. Maybe if he could see the effort put into the veneer, but that wouldn’t happen with this much cleavage flashing – oh gosh, I’m so embarrassed – the button must have come off in the wash! – and those pretty eyes wide with a bit of hero-worship. She smelled like honey, too, the secret was in her lip gloss.

It was only a matter of time, and not much of it.  He  wasn’t a man who practiced delayed gratification. When he called her to his office late one evening, Honey smiled and touched up her lip gloss. Wax first, to delay the inevitable seepage, then a new tube of her signature pink. Honey heady in her nose, she knocked and went in.

Honey’s lips tingled after their first kiss and she remembered the tingle of a split lip, the fear. She jerked herself out of his arms when her lips began to burn, his tight hold raising bruises just like the first time, the memory of what had happened next giving her strength.

She pulled a wet-nap from her cleavage and wiped off the gloss, backing away. He would have followed, if he could.  He loved the chase.  The veneer flaked away and Honey’s venomous twin pulled off the gloves that would keep her anonymity and bundled the toxic wet-nap away.

“Why?” he rasped, scrubbing fruitlessly at his own burning lips. The venom ran too deep. He’d always been good at that, cutting straight to the point in the courtroom and in conversation.  And in other situations, more private.

“You should have listened more carefully to the ones who said no. You’ve been found guilty, Judge.” She laid out her case in photographs and police statements – bruised wrists and tearful statements – all buried by high-ranking officials – and locked the door on her way out.

Fully Furnished

Since my last post hit me right in the sads (does everyone who writes occasionally find themselves pissed off at the author of their own work for making unhappy things?  Why would you even think of making your own character go through something so upsetting, Lex, why?!), I was pretty pleased to find this prompt and all the images it inspired

She had never seen so many cats in one place in her life.

My dog would be thrilled at a discovery like that.  He also thinks every rotting pumpkin and leaf-pile on my neighbours’ lawns is a potential cat-friend. He desperately wants to meet them, but I wouldn’t stick around either if someone 10x my size was barrelling towards me crying and letting out xena-war-cries of excitement.  Half the outdoor cats in my area are feral, which frustrates me intensely, because, honestly, if you don’t want your cat, don’t just push him outside!  He isn’t a wild animal, he doesn’t know how to care for himself, and why didn’t you get him fixed?! Ahem.  Off the soapbox and onto the writing.

The photo is The Cat by Jakub Kubika, and you should check him out.  His work is all beautiful and occasionally very dark.

the_cat_by_kubica

Caitlin was bouncing in excitement by the time she met her new landlord, the exhaustion of a full day driving a u-haul cross-country entirely forgotten.  “Mr. Cole?  I’m so excited to meet you, I’m Caitlin, I’m renting apartment 302?”

Mr. Cole grunted, grinding his cigarette out on the sidewalk before picking it up and depositing the butt in the public bin at the curb.  As they walked up the shrub-lined front walk, he said, “No smoking in the apartments.  No drugs smoking, no cigarette smoking, NO SMOKING.

“Not a problem, I’m not a smoker… or… um… a drugs smoker.”  Caitlin smiled reassuringly but all that she got from him in return was a sour glare.

“It’s bad for your health.  know this if anyone knows this.”

“Uh-huh!”

It’s fine, she reassured herself, He’s just grumpy, but he showed me the entire apartment live on skype , and listened to all my weird instructions about getting closer to the grout and to the cook top and the windows.  It’s fine.

“You got my e-post, I saw – first and last months’ rent?”

“You surprised? You think I can’t do the internet because I’m old?” He scowled.  “I can do the internet, I have three buildings, forty units and more, and I keep nice places.  Clean.  No smoking.  Advertise on the internet.”

“Absolutely,” Caitlin interjected, “Very impressive.  And this apartment is so much nicer than any of the other ones I looked at!”

So why did it sit empty for so long? her mother’s voice interjected.  What’s wrong with it?  Is it mould?  Are you going to move a million miles away for no good reason and die alone of black lungs?

So nice!” she repeated, trying to drown out the tirade.  “I’m lucky it stayed on the market long enough for me to find it.”

“Yes, well, people are fussy, foolish.  Fully renovated, beautiful view, peaceful safe neighbourhood.”  Mr. Cole patted her  brusquely on the shoulder.  “Nice place for a young girl, you can walk home at night.”

Caitlin smiled at his reassurance.  Her mother would approve.

“Door key – don’t let people in, even if you see them inside sometimes.  Mailbox.  Unit.”  He held up three identical keys one at a time – even the mailbox key looks the same, isn’t it supposed to be small? – and passed her two of them before leading her up three flights of stairs.

Caitlin was puffing a bit by the time she got there.  “Um, isn’t it on the third floor?”

“Yes.  Ground, one, two, three.  No elevator.  Fully furnished, one year lease.”

Maybe that’s the catch? Caitlin tried to treat her new exercise regime as a positive.

Mr. Cole unlocked the door at the end of the hall and gestured that she should precede him.

The apartment was as light and airy as it had seemed in the photos and the skype session.  It was nicely decorated, with cream walls and well cared for furnishings.  It even came with basic cooking equipment.  Perfect for someone starting from scratch in a new town, it came with everything Caitlin would need… and… she stared around at the living room in confusion.

“Mr. Cole, is someone already renting here?”

“You.”

She had never seen so many cats in one place in her life.  The bay windowsill had two calicos and a black cat, all sitting primly upright.  A large manx lay draped across the top of the couch and a handful of kittens were playing on the carpet.  Black, white, cream, grey, red, ginger, brown and blue – solids and patterned in stripes, points, dappling and any combination thereof – the cats were everywhere.  A few acknowledged her presence with indifferent stares, and one trotted up to roll onto its back at her feet.  Most continued with their business, which largely consisted of napping.

“Mr. Cole?” Caitlin felt a growing horror.  Her mother was right!  “Mr. Cole, there are CATS in here!”

The old man came up beside her and looked around.  “Yes, of course.  Fully furnished.”

“Mr. Cole, I don’t want cats!  Let alone this many!  I mean, how? Why?”  Caitlin clutched the strap of her bag in her fists, catching sight of more cats through the kitchen door and in the bedroom.

“Fully furnished.  You knew this when you signed the lease, Miss Smith.” Mr. Cole sounded scolding, but also faintly amused.

“Where did you put them when you were filming?” Caitlin whirled on her new landlord, the scumbag.  “You misrepresented this apartment, and I want my money back.”

Mr. Cole shrugged.  “They were all here.  They were here when I took pictures, too.  They’re very camera shy.  But they’re no upkeep at all.”

Caitlin sputtered.  “Are you kidding me?  I’m allergic!  And this many cats, it’ll smell, and be loud and … and…”Caitlin hesitated.  Sniffed the air.

No smell.  The cats, even those tussling off in the corner and the one that had come up to twine around her legs, were completely silent too.  One of the kittens pawed at an adult cat and meowed.  Or seemed to, but in complete silence.

She looked to Mr. Cole for some kind of explanation.  The old man was smug.

“Do you believe in ghosts, Miss Smith?” he asked.  “Because cats… well, cats don’t care what you believe in.  They just are.”

Goalsetting

I don’t usually do dark intentionally because I like my endings happily ever after.  Especially not anything remotely real-world-ish.  So trigger warning eating disorders.

I’m a bit later than my previous Inspiration Monday post, but my inspiration was apparently on holiday until it felt the urge to make me unnecessarily sad.  Check out the other responders in the comments here, or submit your own!

inmonsterpromo

Susan hit her goal weight 20 lbs ago. She felt no satisfaction in her achievements, as she stared into the mirror at her plump face and various jiggles and saw how far she had to go.  She reduced her intake by 200 calories.

She reached her goal size three sizes up from the cinched belt and size zero jeans she wore now, but there was a size 00 dress in her closet. She’d look beautiful when she could fit into that. Another 200 down, she stretched what was left compulsively through the long days with iceberg lettuce and splurged with carrot sticks – they were so high in sugar, but without them she suffered from cramps and dizzy spells.

Susan’s stomach grew the less she ate, so she fought harder, exercised more and ate less. Jiggly thighs, a fat ass and a stomach whose rolls just wouldn’t flatten no matter how many crunches she did, how little lettuce she crunched. Her hair was her best feature when she was fatter, but she was too tired to worry much about how dull it was lately, how thin. She sucked in her gut in public, wearing bulky clothing to hide her enormous body.

A feverish energy burned and gave her a new lease on life as she refocused on her goals. The fewer calories she ate, the less hungry she felt. Win-win.

Her mother cried because she didn’t share Susan’s commitment to health. She would never meet the kinds of goals Susan had surpassed. Her jealousy drove her to have her daughter committed, only 3 inches in thigh circumference away from real happiness. Susan hated her.

In the hospital she was sly,and the others helped, tired but gleeful in their gaming of the system.  Months passed and she wasn’t allowed to monitor her goals.  It was devastating.

No mirrors allowed, but she found one. She stripped and stared, aghast, at the feast of famine highlighted by the hand mirror she moved down her body. Dull skin stretched tight and unnatural across knobby bones.  Famine stared out of a stranger’s dull eyes, a prisoner in a self-inflicted internment camp. Susan struggled to refocus on her goals but when she brushed her hair it came out in handfuls. She had loved her hair.

The others looked down on her for giving in. She hadn’t expected failure to be so difficult to accomplish, as the scale crawled slowly up from her check-in weight, and every extra calorie was a war.  Nausea and panic won less often over time.

She hugged the nurses she’d previously cursed and returned home.

Susan struggled in the arduous pursuit of new goals. The achievement of 200 grams of chicken breast with salad at lunch was cause for cheering at group. They had mini cupcakes to celebrate her birthday a month later and she only threw out the icing. So many calories, and her size zero jeans were tight.

Her mother brought her in to an emergency session when she found her purging later that day. Her mother cut all the sizing tags out of her clothing before she got home.

She failed and failed again, but her hair grew soft and shiny, famine left her eyes and stopped nipping at her waist. On a sunny afternoon, she was three french fries into her goal of guilt-free poutine, and Susan had a good feeling about her chances.