In the Odd Forest

There’s a patch of forest near where my husband grew up that had a supernatural reputation.  It was a small wooded area, but all the kids were convinced that if you went in, you’d get lost, like it was bigger on the inside. This is the first part of a story dedicated to that forest.

Amy peered through the trees. She could feel her friends behind her, waiting.

“It’s not so scary,” Angeline whispered. Angeline usually told the truth, but Amy thought she was lying this time. The forest was old and dense and dark. Kids disappeared there, wandering for days, lost. Panthers lived inside, or bobcats, or even bears. At least, that’s what the other kids whispered about. Amy didn’t know if she believed them.

“Come on, we all did it.” That was Roxy. She was brave, and loud, and had already started wearing tight pants and shirts, even though she didn’t have anything to show off yet.

Amy swallowed. She was the only girl here who hadn’t gone through the rite. But she was going to be in sixth grade this year, and it was tradition to do it before middle school. It sounded easy. Walk to the middle of the woods and leave a toy on the pile of other toys left behind by the other girls during their visits. Amy clutched a doll in her left hand. It was hand-made, with button eyes, a pink dress, and yellow hair made of yarn. Her older sister had made it for her, before she went off to college. Amy intended to come back and get it, later. After braving the forest once, a second trip would be easy.

But now that it was time, she wasn’t sure she wanted to go in even once. The trees were dense and shadowed, and Amy couldn’t see very far. The sun was warm on her back, but the air coming from the forest was almost cold. If her parents knew where she was and what she was doing, they’d lecture her about getting lost and about kidnappers and wild animals. Her parents didn’t know, though. That was part of the tradition. The girls didn’t want the forest to become forbidden.

Angeline put a hand on Amy’s shoulder. Amy nodded. If she didn’t go in now, she never would. She stood up straight, and took a step forward.

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Mushroom in the Fridge

So I was cleaning out the fridge, and found a mushroom. It was all dry and wrinkly, and I started to wonder about what stories I could get from finding a mushroom in the fridge. So, here’s Anna, doing just that.

There’s a mushroom in my fridge, right behind the tub of (not real) butter. It’s a whole mushroom, and it’s small and wrinkled. I look closer, not touching it.

Maybe it’s from the box of mushrooms I roasted last week? It looks raw, so it must have fallen out of the box before I cooked them. I hope it’s from last week. If not, then it’s from a month ago, at least. Maybe two.

I reach out to pick it up. I expect it to be slimy, but it’s dry. A puff of cold air hits my face as I close the fridge door. I bring the mushroom closer to my eyes. The wrinkles are big. I didn’t know that mushrooms wrinkled like that. I thought that they went slimy and then just kind of disintegrated into mush.

I poke it with a finger, right in the middle of the cap. It gives, like it’s hollow inside. I frown at it. What else is in the fridge? I haven’t cleaned it for a month or so. If I missed the mushroom until now, what else might I find if I look? Dry cheese? Moldy leftovers? Something slimy and gross that I’d have to put gloves on just to touch? I squeeze the mushroom. It bounces back to its wrinkly form.

I shrug, and throw it away. Maybe I’ll clean the fridge tomorrow.

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In the Moment: Afternoon Rain

This week I’m experimenting with the story in inherent in a single moment. A moment doesn’t necessarily need plot, or even character. The beauty lies in capturing the essence of a specific *now.* In the case of this week’s post, I’m also experimenting with the Japanese concept of mono no aware which, among other things, embraces beauty as an awareness of the transience of all things. “Afternoon Rain” is one of many moments I have shared with my cat, Vysarion, made all the more precious because these moments are fleeting.

To read more about mono no aware: http://sensitivitytothings.com/2008/07/25/mono-no-aware-beauty-in-japan/

The living room is dark and cool. Through the half-open blinds I can see the rain, falling in a muted torrent outside. A wall of water shutting out the harsh, restive world. Cradled in that protective rush, I stretch, my feet sliding out from beneath the quilt. After a few moments, I pull my feet back under and lie still, bracketed by the warmth of the quilt and the solidity of the couch.

There is a soft thump, and soon I feel the pressure against my belly as Vysarion settles next to me. His purr is too soft to hear, but when I move my hand to scratch his chin I can feel it. He stretches in response to my touch, becoming a comforting presence from neck to hip.

We lie there, human and feline, drowsing as the rain pours down outside. Eventually, the downpour will end, and the heat will return. Eventually, some call of nature will beckon, and one of us will move, breaking the moment. But until then, I bask in the fragile now.

This now is perfect.

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On the Subject of Groceries

No fiction this week, on account of a very busy, family-filled, holiday weekend.

When I go grocery shopping I occasionally look at the items on the conveyor belt; it’s a sort of game for me, to pass the time while I wait for the person in front of me to be rung up. It’s always fun to see what other shoppers are buying, and try to figure out whatever I can about them from their choices. But I always keep in mind that I might be wrong.

While cleaning out my fabric grocery bags I actually looked at one of my receipts. It was from earlier this summer: dry cat food, ham and cheese hot pockets, slimfast shakes, strawberries, blueberries, cool whip, batteries, and three six-packs of IRC soda (two cream soda and one black cherry). I wonder what the cashier thought of the selection, assuming that she was even interested in that sort of thing. The fruit and cool whip are, I think, self-explanatory. But slimfast paired with soda and hot pockets? Maybe she thought I was one of those dieters who think that replacing one or two meals a day with diet shakes means you can eat whatever you want at other meals.

Part of me wants to somehow tell her that the slimfast is my way of actually eating breakfast (I like to sleep as late as I possibly can on work/school days) rather than part of any diet. The hot pockets were, this time, for my husband (I still had some of my favorite pizza ones left), and the soda is a reward. I drink a cream soda when I need to relax from a day (or week) of hard work, and I rarely have more than one a week. Those twelve bottles (the black cherry was for my husband to try) will last me nearly three months.

I’m guessing that the cashiers don’t really care what I buy, though I could be wrong about that. Perhaps they like to play the same guessing game I do. Perhaps they have become inured to the items that they scan and bag. But there is a story behind each and every assortment of groceries on that conveyor belt, even if it’s something as simple as running out of milk. So I challenge you to occasionally look at that conveyor belt and come up with explanations for your fellow shoppers’ choices. Then take a moment to realize that you might be entirely wrong about your assumptions, or you might be entirely right.

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Ice Cream at Night

Every now and then, when I get home from class in the dark of night, I hear the delicate music of an ice cream truck. I have no idea why he comes around at night, since he also comes around during the day, but the sound of that cheerful music at floating through the darkness reaches some primal part of my brain, the place where urban legends are born and believed:

Samantha pulled into her favorite parking place and turned off the car. Silence, almost like a physical presence, came in the wake of the engine noise. She laid a hand on her abdomen. She wasn’t showing yet, was only a few weeks into her pregnancy, but still she found herself checking, her hand fluttering to her stomach whenever she wasn’t doing anything else. Was the flesh beneath her hand curved more now than yesterday?

Shaking her head, Samantha grabbed her purse and opened the car door. Sound floated in, the gentle chirping of crickets, the rustle of leaves. The night was cold. It was a welcome change from the oppressive heat of the last few weeks.

The music started, then, and Samantha looked up. It was a delicate strain, notes tumbling down and up, playful and simple. It took her a moment to realize what it must be. An ice cream truck. At night? Shrugging, Samantha stepped out of the car and closed the door. Probably won’t get any business, on such a cold night.

The music got louder, then, and Samantha paused. She shivered and looked around. The parking spaces in front of her apartment building were nearly full, as usual. The green buildings were dappled with the shadows of trees. Though she could clearly hear the ice cream truck’s melody, the truck itself wasn’t yet visible.

It must be on the other side of the building. Samantha walked towards her building at a brisk pace, feeling oddly exposed. This is stupid. No one’s out here except the damn truck.

The music looped, began again, and Samantha felt her spine arch, from her hips to her shoulders. She ran, fumbling with her keys as she neared her door. The music was all she could hear now, as though the truck was moving up the sidewalk behind her. The door unlocked and Samantha turned the knob. She pushed.

The music stopped.

Samantha rushed inside and closed the door. Her breaths came short and hard as she peered through the peephole.

Nothing.

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Under New Management

As I was driving to work this week I saw a small billboard outside of an apartment complex. I didn’t even see the name of the complex; my attention was too focused on the billboard (and on driving, of course). The sign appeared to be an advertisement for the apartments. It read “New Management, VERY New Attitude.” I grimaced when I read it. What could the old management possibly have done to make the owners feel like this admission was good advertising? It screams to the world “hey, we sucked before, but we’re better now! Give us a chance!” Not really all that great of an inducement.

But that got me thinking about the story behind the sign. I assume that the previous management wasn’t up to snuff, and that the new management is better behaved. There’s certainly a story in that. But the story that came to my mind was something a little different:

Rhonda smiled and glanced around her office. Perfect. All traces of the former manager were finally gone, the last few framed landscapes and knickknacks piled in the dumpster. Now the office was pristine and, above all, functional. Photos and blueprints of the apartment complex properly adorned the walls in place of the framed tropical landscapes. The desk was spotless, occupied only by her computer, appointment book, pen jar, and a stack of brochures.

She’d kept most of the plastic plants, knowing their use in setting potential renters at ease. They were now arranged symmetrically around the office, bordering the chairs, hanging above the side table with its offering of coffee, and hiding the ugly brown thermostat on the wall behind her desk.

Rhonda finished her examination of the room and nodded. Much better than the previous manager. Robert’s office had looked more like the waiting room of a spa, with its abundance of plants, large painted tropical landscapes, scented oil plug-ins, and throw pillows. It matched his policies, she supposed, of allowing late and partial payments, paid overtime for maintenance, and frequent neighborhood pool parties. Robert had nearly run the complex into the ground.

Rhonda was a professional, however, and her practices would reflect the billboard at the entrance to the complex with its proclamation of: “New management, VERY new attitude.” Discipline was what this complex needed, or it would fail. No late payments. No partial payments. There were plenty of cheap apartments out there practically begging for renters. Let them go there instead. With them gone, maintenance requests would no doubt drop off, allowing the staff to finish their jobs during regular work hours. Neighborhood parties were mandatory at Halloween, the 4th of July, and St. Patrick’s Day, and those would of course happen. But if the renters wanted weekly parties, they were welcome to arrange (and pay) them on their own time.

Content, Rhonda sat at her desk and began composing a letter to the renters outlining her new policies. The future promised to be orderly and profitable.

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Side Swipe

Dents in cars are not uncommon enough to remark on, generally, but today I saw an interesting one. A white car, dented in the back left passenger door. What was interesting about it was near-beauty of the dent’s shape. It was nearly a perfect oval, but still contained clear swipe marks. Made me wonder what the car could have hit to create that graceful curve of destruction.

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