Distractions, failures? Yeats had them, too

William Butler Yeats, July 1911

Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.

− William Butler Yeats

Two weeks ago in Dublin, I had the chance to visit the National Library of Ireland.  Dublin is a city of literary landmarks, and I wanted to see every single one of them during the one day I was there.  Tourist map in hand, I rushed around the city like Rochester’s loony wife on a literary mission.

On my harried way to visit Oscar Wilde’s house, I nearly passed by the National Library, which I hadn’t heard about and wasn’t on my map.

National Library of Ireland

When I saw the huge old building and the “LIBRARY” sign above the invitingly open wrought-iron gate, I could not resist going in.  I’m so glad I did because beyond the architectural grandeur of the building, the Library currently features, The Life and Work of William Butler Yeats, one of the most in-depth and fascinating exhibits I’ve ever seen for a single writer.

Honestly, Yeats has not been one of my favorites.  I think the last time I read him was 9th grade English, but seeing this exhibit has prompted me to read his work again, and I must say, I’m enjoying it a lot more than I did when I was 14.

Displays included original manuscripts, videos, interactive exhibits, and a huge assortment of Yeats ephemera donated by Yeats’ wife and son.  But the display that stood out the most for me, and the one I most looked forward to sharing with the Silent Writers, was called The Creativity Questionnaire.

A researcher from Cambridge University attempting to analyze the creative effort sent Yeats the questionnaire.  The first question asked how Yeats responded to the initial creative impulses that led to starting a project. Yeats’ answers were completely human and made me think of those of us who struggle every time we sit down to write.

In response to question, Do you become absorbed in other activities? Yeats answered, “Detective Stories.”

ME, TOO! Except for me it’s detective shows, Law & Order, in particular.  Or it’s Twitter or Facebook or _________ (fill in the blank).

In response to question: Do you find that actual execution starts with a series of failed attempts to work?  Yeats answered, “Always.”

ME, TOO!

If someone with the prodigious talent of William Butler Yeats goes through this kind of struggle, but keeps on keeping on, we can take inspiration from that.  We can look at our own failed attempts or rejections and know that it’s the writer’s rite of passage.  Not that this takes the struggle away.  It doesn’t.  But understanding that it’s a universal experience for writers makes it easier to bear.

The next question asked:  Do you feel compelled to keep up these apparently fruitless attempts to work until you arrive at adequate expression?

Yeats answered, “Always.”

Well.  I can’t shout out, “Me, too” to that one, but it certainly is another lesson that can benefit all of us.  William Butler Yeats teaches us from that answer, and from the quote that opens this post, whether the iron is hot or not, we have to strike and strike and strike again until our work arrives at its own perfected expression.

Need a motivation boost? Join The Silent Writers Collective on Tuesdays at 9 PM Eastern and/or 9 PM Pacific (US) for the next Silent Write-In.

Flash Fiction: Going Vocal

© Olivia Tejeda

Pat Sajak’s voice filtered into the bathroom as Catherine stood nervously doing her hee hees.

Hee hee hee.  She breathed.  Hoo hoo hoo.

Her vocal warm-ups usually settled her nerves, but this was a bad case and they weren’t helping.

Hee hee hee.  Hoo hoo hoo.

Knowing her courage could slip at any moment, Catherine stepped into action, standing straighter, and striding toward the living room.

“Aunt Dee,” she said focusing in the dark room.  “Do you have a minute?”

“Hi dear,” Aunt Dee absently waved Catherine in.  “Come watch Wheel with me.”

The light from the TV cast blue shadows around the room.  Aunt Dee never used the lamp when she watched TV.  “I’d rather not support the power company,” she’d say when Catherine used to ask if she could turn on a light.

“I-I’d like to talk to you,” Catherine steadied her voice.  “It’s kind of important.  Would you mind if we lowered the TV?”

Aunt Dee sighed, irritated by the imposition.

Catherine clenched her fists, her nails digging tiny crescents into her palms.  She had been living at Aunt Dee’s since being discharged from Sunnyvale ten years ago, and it still didn’t feel like it home.

After Catherine’s parents died in a car crash, she tried finishing her senior year at Juilliard.  She wanted to honor her parents by getting the degree in voice they had all worked for since Catherine was a child, but during her senior recital, Catherine froze on stage, unable to sing, speak, or move.  She was admitted to Sunnyvale after a botched a suicide and stayed for a year.

“I’m sorry,” Catherine said, her courage slipping. “I’m interrupting your show.”

“Yes, dear, Wheel of Fortune is on.”

“Yes.  Right.  Sorry.  We’ll talk later.”

“No,” Aunt Dee grumbled, waving again.  “I’m already missing this round.  May as well keep going.”  Her comment hit the mark as always, evoking in her subtle yet piercing way, the constant sacrifices she made for her niece.

Catherine looked for the remote to mute the TV, but Aunt Dee had it tucked between the seat cushions next to her. She tried to reach for it without Catherine seeing, and Catherine played along, pretending to notice something beyond the dark window.

“Well, out with it.  Are you in trouble?”  Aunt Dee asked lowering the volume one level.

“Oh, nothing like that,” Catherine said sitting opposite.  “Everything’s fine.  I-I just wanted to let you know that I’ve decided to sing at the Jeffersonville Talent Show next month.

Aunt Dee’s face turned stony.  Her ears pulled back, tightening the skin across her cheeks.  She looked furious, but stayed silent.

Catherine’s excitement boosted her courage again.  “I’ve been thinking about it for a while.  My voice teacher thinks I’m ready, and I think so, too.”  Her smile beamed.

“I see.”

“I know you’re worried.  I’m nervous, too, but I’m finally ready, and I have to try.”

“I see.”

Aunt Dee nodded, allowing herself time to form an argument.

“Catherine … Dear … I really thought we were done with all this foolishness.  You’re not a child anymore. I thought we let that silly dream go a long time ago.”

“No,” Catherine whispered.  “I never let it go.  You remember how much singing meant to you.  It’s the same for me, and now I’m ready to try again. My voice teacher says …”

“Your voice teacher!” Aunt Dee snapped.  “Your voice teacher doesn’t know you were a mental case.”

Catherine nodded.  “She does, actually.  I told her.”

“Catherine!  Why?  She couldn’t possibly understand.”

“But she does.  She does understand.  She’s taught me so much, and she’s been so helpful.”

“Is that so?” Aunt Dee sneered.  “Will she be so helpful you when go batty up on stage again?”

Catherine sighed.  “I’m not going to have another breakdown.”

“Well if history is any indication …”

“That was a long time ago,” Catherine pleaded.

“Maybe for you, but it seems like just yesterday for me.  What I went through.  Every week, I had to drive to that hospital!  I only thank God your parents weren’t alive to suffer through it like I did.”

“Aunt Dee.”

“No, it’s true.  It was terrible.  I’m sorry to say this, but they had you so drugged you don’t remember anything, but I do.”

“But I’m much older now, and stronger,” Catherine said.  “That was right after Mom and Dad died, and …”

“May God rest their tormented souls,” Aunt Dee interrupted.  She bowed her head and made the sign of the cross, a move that always worked to deflate Catherine, until this time.

“It’s just one song at one show.  I have to do this, and I’d like to have your blessing.”

“Dear,” Aunt Dee’s face softened. “You know I only want what’s best for you.”

Catherine realized at that moment that those words, “I only want what’s best for you” were the lynch pin for years of manipulation.  She looked at her aunt and tried not to believe what she knew was true.

Aunt Dee looked away as if she’d been caught.  “Oh, dear!” she said, changing the subject.  “We almost missed the end.”

The two of them sat together in the blue shadowed room watching the bonus round.  They guessed the answer at the same time, just before the contestant got it.

♦  ♦  ♦

When the talent show was over, Catherine was exhilarated.  She did it, and was awarded an honorable mention certificate, which surprised and thrilled her.  She was backstage congratulating the other winners when Aunt Dee found her.

“Poor dear,” Aunt Dee said.  “You did your best, but I guess that ship has sailed.”

“Didn’t you see?” Catherine said, holding up her certificate.

“That’s nice, dear, but you didn’t win.”

Catherine smiled and shook her head.  Aunt Dee continued.  “We’ll meet outside, dear.  Why don’t you go say goodbye to your friends.”

“Actually, Aunt Dee, I’ll see you at home.  I’m going to go to the after-show party,” Catherine said. “With my friends.”

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Thank you for reading my flash fiction. Please share any constructive criticism and feel free to let me know about any errors you find here. To read more flash fiction from a great group of writers, search #fridayflash on Twitter or visit Mad Utopia.

Lit Bit: March 28, Nelson Algren

Nelson Algren won the first National Book Award for "The Man with the Golden Arm."

Unless you live in Chicago, you probably don’t hear much about Nelson Algren anymore, and that’s too bad.

The Chicago writer would have been 101 years old today, and it’s likely he wouldn’t be surprised by his obscurity.  Even at his most popular, after winning the first National Book Award for The Man with the Golden Arm, and earning the praises of Ernest Hemingway, Simone de Beauvoir, and Richard Wright, among others, critics either ignored or condemned him.

His subjects, his voice, his own personality was not as polished and presentable as other writers of his day, but he wrote what he knew.

Algren grew up in Chicago, where most of his stories are set in the city’s seedy underside. His subjects were equally dark: Drug addiction, racism, poverty, crime. He wrote of junkies, pimps, prostitutes, and grifters. He addressed pressing social issues long before it was fashionable, and he wrote about them with an authentic, strong, unforgiving voice that brought his characters to life and still rings true.

Algren’s black humor novel A Walk on the Wild Side is the story of Dove Linkhorn, a naive Texan who travels to New Orleans to find his lost love, Hallie, who turns out to be a prostitute. This novel is often called Algren’s masterpiece. He describes it this way,

The book asks why lost people sometimes develop into greater human beings than those who have never been lost in their whole lives.

Lou Reed’s song about male prostitutes and transvestites, Walk on the Wild Side was inspired when Reed was approached to write a musical version of Algren’s novel, which never materialized.

While critics weren’t kind to Algren, the city of Chicago actively berated him, saying his characterization of the city was grotesque and exaggerated. The city held a grudge, too.

After Algren died on May 9, 1981, when Chicago’s West Algren Street was named in his honor, the residents complained so much that the name reverted back to West Evergreen Street. Even the Nelson Algren Awards, an annual writing contest for short fiction created by the Chicago Tribune was discontinued after a few years.

Algren died on May 9, 1981, and by 1989 all of his work was out of print.  Thankfully, The Nelson Algren Committee founded by Studs Turkel changed that and Algren’s work has been available print ever since.

I’m inspired by Nelson Algren, by his writing, by his voice, and by his commitment. He wrote what he knew with brutal honesty. It wasn’t the fast path to celebrity or success, but through the years he has finally gained the respect he sought. He’s not remembered or read as often as Hemingway, Faulkner, or Fitzgerald, but he’s still read and that’s a testament to his dedication and his talent.

Flash Fiction: Bottom of the Ninth

© Olivia Tejeda
Bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two outs. It’s the final game of the Cinderella Softball League Championship, my team is down 4-1, and I’m up.

I haven’t hit the ball once this season and now it’s all up to me. The only way the team can win is if I hit a grand slammer.

We don’t have a prayer.

The championship title is in my hands, my sweating pudgy little hands. My stomach hurts so much I’m afraid I might poop my pants. I swallow hard and wish I could hide until this is over. I want to go home to my bedroom with my books and my Scott Baio posters.

I love that. I hate this.

When Kayla was up, I figured that if she didn’t make an out, I’d have to bat. I’d have to be the one to lose the game, because I know I won’t win it.

Even though there hasn’t been any divine intervention so far this season, I start praying again anyway.

Hail Mary, Full of Grace, The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.

This feels like the hour of my death.

If I do die, at least my parents won’t have to pay for the funeral. Our team is sponsored by a funeral home.

The Colonia Funeral Home …

Owned by my grandfather …

I have the same last name.

The embarrassment never ends.

Coach Rockman gives me four hard raps on the back. “We’re counting on ya,” she threatens through clenched teeth. She takes her game seriously, and even though we’re a klutzy group of 9, 10, and 11 year old girls, winning matters to her as much as it does to Steinbrenner.

I walk to home base with my shoulders hunched over, wishing I could disappear. The stands are quiet. Everyone knows how hopeless I am at this. They’ve watched me strike out all season, and they’re just as embarrassed for me as I am for myself. I can feel their pity. I see it when I look over and see my Mom hugging her arms in front of her. She cringes when she tries to smile and gives me the most feeble thumbs-up I’ve ever seen.

As I get ready to bat, I try to remember everything Coach has told me. Plant your feet a little wider than shoulder width apart, keep your knees loose, stay relaxed. Check the opponents’ position.

The shortstop and second base are chatting. Right field is waving to someone in the stands. Third base is playing an invisible game of hopscotch. They know the ball’s not going anywhere. I know it, too. I’m just not any good at this, but I have to be here because of my grandfather’s funeral home. He says he sponsored the team for me, but I know he did it for the cheap publicity, and I have to stand out here and deal with the humiliation until it’s over.

Everything goes slow-mo as I watch the pitcher start her wind up. My hands shake as I grip the bat. I want so desperately to hit this ball. I want so desperately to prove to my team, to my grandfather, to myself, that I’m something more than a fat little pile of nothing.

I’ve daydreamed about hitting the game-winning home run, and my team carrying me around on their shoulders. I think about that now, and I want so desperately for that to happen, but I know it won’t. I hold my breath and feel sweat rolling down my back.

The ball leaves the pitcher’s hand, and I watch it sailing straight toward me. I keep my eye on the ball and try not to wince, like Coach told me.

Without wanting to, I shut my eyes. I pull back on the bat and swing as hard as I can.

My eyes open, shocked by the feeling of the ball cracking against the bat.

Holy Mary, Mother of God!

I hit it!

Stunned, I stand there with my mouth hanging open.

“Run!” Coach Rockman screams, “RUN!” And I do, with all my might, I do.

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Thank you for reading my flash fiction. Please share any constructive criticism and feel free to let me know about any errors you find here. To read more flash fiction from a great group of writers, search #fridayflash on Twitter or visit Mad Utopia.

“Creative Writer” Blogger Award

Thank you to Anne Tyler Lord at Don’t Fence Me In for bestowing on me the dubious distinction great honor of Lesa’s Bald Faced Liar “Creative Writer” Blogger Award. I certainly appreciate the award, but my natural cynicism curiosity begs the question, Who’s Lesa, and why is she annoying liars awarding writers? A quick google tells me Lesa is a Library Manager and book reviewer living in Arizona… quite possibly within a few minutes of where I live. Cool coincidence. She started the award on January 22, 2010. Her post can be found here: The Inaugural Lesa’s “Creative Writer” Award.

In accepting the award, there are some rules to follow. This is I hope going to be a fun exercise and a nice little break from the fiction slog. But,

First: The Rules:

1. Thank the person who gave this to you. [Thanks again, Anne!]
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.  [Done]
3. Link to the person who nominated you. [Done]
4. Tell up to six outrageous lies about yourself, and at least one outrageous truth or six outrageous truths and one outrageous lie. [Coming up]
5. Nominate seven “Creative Writers” who might have fun coming up with outrageous lies and truths. [Stay tuned]
6. Post links to the seven blogs you nominate. [Working on it!]
7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know you nominated them.  [I’m getting there, I’m getting there]

Second: Lies and/or Truths:

Here’s my list. I’d love to know which ones you think are which. After some comments, I’ll tell you which one is the truth. Or is that a lie?

  1. I worked as an extra in Woody Allen’s movie Sweet & Lowdown and was called back for a walk-on role in Small Time Crooks.
  2. I jumped off the back of a moving yacht to save my dog.
  3. When things were going bad in my marriage, I used to spit in my husband’s dinner before serving it.
  4. It took me seven and a half hours to run the NYC marathon.
  5. At 12 years old, I was so superstitious that I was petrified of turning 13.
  6. Security at a Las Vegas casino detained and questioned me for over an hour on suspicion of cheating.
  7. I order veal and give it a name whenever I go out to dinner with my vegetarian friends.

Now, it’s time to share the love and award this honor to seven more  “Creative Writers.”  Sorry, gang, but now’s your time to shine.  To accept the award all you have to do is follow the rules.

Third: And the Winners Are:

  1. Dennis Tafoya at Dennis Tafoya’s Bad Neighborhood
  2. David G. Shrock at Draco Torre
  3. Cathy Olliffe at Life on the Muskoka River
  4. CJ Hodges MacFarlane at Mostly Other Things
  5. Tim Van Sant at otoh
  6. Cecilia Dominic at Random Oenophile
  7. Deborah Szajngarten at DeborahShinegarden.com

Okay, here are some truths … honestly! This took some time to put together, but it really was a lot of fun! Thanks again to Anne Tyler Lord.

Flash Fiction: Just Like Her Mother

by Olivia Tejeda
Sunday mornings were special for Penny. It was the one day a week Julian didn’t rush off to work and they could spend time together. This Sunday was especially exciting. It was Valentine’s Day and she had plans.

Shortly after waking up, she took a deep breath and cuddled against Julian’s back, feeling his familiar warmth. He stirred slightly and she seized the opportunity.

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Dreamboat,” she whispered into his ear.

“Oh, that’s right,” he mumbled. It’s Valentine’s Day, isn’t it.”

“Don’t pretend you don’t remember, Penny said, niggling him with her finger. He rolled his eyes, but was grateful for her trust. The truth was he hadn’t really remembered, not for her.

“I have a conn-fehh-shuuun,” Penny said, drawing out her sing-song statement.

She has a confession? Julian thought.

“Do you?” he said, forcing a smile and turning to face her in bed.

“Well, I didn’t want to spoil your surprise, but …” she said, stretching the short word into three syllables. “I stopped at the post office yesterday? To pick up the mail for you?” Her nervous habit of turning statements into questions infuriated Julian but his impatience was tempered by what she just told him. His smile froze as heat started prickling up his chest and neck, and his mind started running through the possibilities.

“Why didn’t you tell me, Sweet Dumpling?” He feigned patience. “You know I like to go to the post office. I drove all the way over there yesterday, and didn’t even need to.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Daddykins” Penny said, deflated. “I was on that side of town, and I thought I’d do you a favor. But then I saw something I shouldn’t have, and I … I just didn’t know what to do.”

Julian’s heart stuttered. Why would she pick up the mail? He didn’t even remember giving her a key to the box. He kept calm and turned his smile into the glare that kept Penny in line. Penny stayed silent.

“Well, Gum Drop,” he said in that clenched-jaw way he had that allowed him to be menacing, but didn’t allow her to protest. The few times she did, he told her she was being overly-sensitive and ridiculous, just like her mother. “Are you going to tell me what you saw or are we going to play guessing games?”

“Oh, Cuddlebug,” Penny sighed. “I’ve upset you.” She looked at Julian with puppy eyes. “I guess I have to tell you now.”

She took a deep breath. “There was a little envelope from Pamela’s Floral Cottage in the mail. I thought it was just an old ad, so I opened it,” she glanced up at him, his handsome face was not so menacing now. Penny blinked a few times, looked down, and continued.

“I’m sure you know what I found and … and … Well, I just think you are the sweetest husband in the whole wide world to spend that kind of money on roses for my Valentine’s Day gift!” She threw her arms around him and squeezed him tight.

“Well,” Julian breathed, relieved at having the moment to figure something out. “You’re the sweetest wife in the whole wide world, and you deserve them.”

“But listen, Sugar Cube,” he continued quietly. “Since you spoiled my big surprise. I think I should have a chance to get you something else.”

“Oh you don’t have to do that. I’d love to get those flowers. I’m sure they’ll be beautiful considering what you paid for them. And the invoice said two dozen red roses for delivery on February 14, so they’ll probably be here any minute!”

“But Angel Face, it is Valentine’s Day and you should have some kind of special surprise, so …”

Penny interrupted. “Well, my Prince Charming, when I was at Schneider’s Jewelers yesterday with my mom, I saw the most beautiful necklace I’ve ever seen. I didn’t want to get it without asking you first, so we put it on lay-away and …” She looked at him again, batted her big browns and looked away.

“Don’t say another word,” Julian said, happy to be reminded that his wife was so naive.

The next day when Penny and her mother met at the mall, her mother saw the necklace right away.

“He went for it again,” her mother said.

“He sure did,” Penny smiled as she twisted the necklace around her finger. “He got me roses, too.” she said.

“That’s my girl.”

Penny leaned over and gave her mother a squeeze. “You’re the sweetest Mom in the whole wide world,” she said.

“Come on,” her mother smiled. “I’ll buy you lunch.”

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Thank you for reading my flash fiction. Please share any constructive criticism and feel free to let me know about any errors you find here. To read more flash fiction from a great group of writers, search #fridayflash on Twitter or visit Mad Utopia.

Flash Fiction: A Day’s Work

by Olivia Tejeda

Last night my husband announced he wasn’t happy. No explanation, no discussion. He calmly packed a bag and ended our life.

I spent the night in a bombardment of confusion and pain. My marriage meant everything to me, it defined me and happily so. Now it’s over, and I am paralyzed by it. This morning I’m so lost I don’t even know how to begin the day. The activities that mattered before, don’t anymore. I need something that still feels real.

I don’t know what to do, but I know that I have to get out of this house where I have nothing and go someplace where I have something – anything but the loss of a life I believed in. I work a menial job, shelving books at a store, but my passion for books makes the work meaningful for me and now it feels like a lifeline.

Like a robot, I get ready for work, allowing myself to feel nothing but numb. I follow the route and realize as I pull into a parking spot that I don’t remember any of the drive. I was in a mindless trance, putting myself and everyone else on the road in danger, but I don’t care and even regret arriving safely.

As I walk into the store I get the strange but comforting sense that unlike my home life, everything at the store is the same. A co-worker greets me as always, but I hurry off before responding. I’m so raw that the simple kindness of her greeting breaks me and the tears come back stronger than last night.

Hiding in a bathroom stall, I’m doubled over and heaving with sobs that I try to keep quiet. I don’t want anyone to hear because I don’t want anyone to know. I’m deeply ashamed. I had complete faith in the security of my marriage. I thought it was stronger than any other marriage I’d ever seen. Now that it’s over, I’m humiliated by my arrogance.

I have no answers for all the questions I know my co-workers will have. They’re the same questions I would have had if this was happening to someone else. But it isn’t happening to someone else, it’s happening to me. Now I’m stuck crying in this bathroom stall.

What the hell made me think I could work today? How did I ruin my marriage? How can I live through this? But here I am at work, and I have nowhere else to go. I can’t go home, so I need to find the strength to get through this horrific day.

When I finally recover enough, I go to the stock room where there are no customers, and I can work in solitude. I unload boxes and drift between numbness, misery, rage, and fear. I have to go out to the sales floor at some point, but I do everything I can to delay it. I don’t want to lose control out there. At least in the back I am alone with my loss, and I don’t have to hide when it overtakes me again and again.

I can’t put it off any more, so I roll my cart out onto the floor and start shelving. Again, I get the strange sense that everything’s normal, and I hide behind that false comfort.

As I shelve books, customers stop with their usual questions: An author’s name, the latest bestseller, directions to the bathroom. Some part of me grabs onto those questions and hopes that maybe each time I take care of a customer, I’m doing a little bit to care of myself.

At the end of the work day I know my broken life is waiting for me. I don’t know how I’ll get through it, but at least I made it through this day. Even if my husband doesn’t need me anymore, my customers do and my books do, and I wonder if that will be enough.

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Thank you for reading my flash fiction. Please share any constructive criticism and feel free to let me know about any errors you find here. To read more flash fiction from a great group of writers, search #fridayflash on Twitter or visit Mad Utopia.

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© Olivia Tejeda and Liv Loves Lit, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Olivia Tejeda and Liv Loves Lit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Flash Fiction: I, Zombie

by Olivia Tejeda

Living dead. That’s what I am. A zombie. A corpse. It took me a while to realize it, but now that I know, it makes sense.

I try to pull myself out of this brain-dead stupor, but its allure is undeniable.  I’m seduced into surrender, and I let it bury me. I don’t know what time it is, or even what day. Something deep inside me wants to claw its way back to the surface and escape the pain, but I know it’s futile. I lie in the darkness, twitching and shivering.

Something was wrong. I ignored the foreboding and focused on everything else that needed my attention. Now I’m paying the price.

When I wake again, I want to get my bearings, but a hazy film crusts over my eyes, blurring everything into a jaundiced fog. Whatever’s left of my body twinges with pain. My joints feel too big for their crumbling sockets. I feel a deep ache in bones I never think about, my femur, my clavicle, my nasal concha. I hear groans and labored wheezing. A fire fills my nostrils and burns a path to my lungs as I gasp and realize it’s me. I’m making those disgusting snorting sounds. I think my nose has fallen off. Everything goes black.

Nightmares trap me in a leaden limbo filled with fear and anger. What’s happened to me? Who did this? I think of that Goth freak at Safeway. She had a zombie look, and she was standing so close I could feel her tainted breath. I bet she put this voodoo whammy on me when she saw me staring. I didn’t mean to stare, but I’ve never seen so much metal in one face before. Is that what my zombie future holds? Is that what I’ll become?

My pulse flutters, and I try to move again. I strain to shift my legs off this suffocating slab, but their dead weight exhausts me before I make any progress. What remains of my will to live begins to decompose. More shivering. More pain. More darkness.

A tiny crack of light wakes me and slowly widens until I’m squinting into its brightness. I sense that my misery is reaching its end. My salvation is near, or my damnation, I don’t care which anymore.

An astral image looms closer until it’s shadow overtakes me. I see it reaching toward me. I can’t move away. I give up and wait for its touch to end my suffering.

A hand rests gently across my forehead.

“Your temp’s back,” my husband whispers.

‘”Huh?” I grunt.

“This flu is kicking your butt. You want more Dayquil?”

Dot yet,” I slobber, grateful for the attention, “but I deed more tissue.”

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Thank you for reading my flash fiction. Please share any constructive criticism and feel free to let me know about any errors you find here. To read more flash fiction from a great group of writers, search #fridayflash on Twitter or visit Mad Utopia.

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© Olivia Tejeda and Liv Loves Lit, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Olivia Tejeda and Liv Loves Lit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Flash Fiction: Life of the Party

By Olivia Tejeda
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The rapt crowd sat adoringly in the palm of Claire’s lovely hand. She engaged them with repartee, charmed them with humor, and enchanted them with bon mots of one sort or another. Her confidence was easy and natural, her charisma, a powerful draw. Everyone in her circle felt privileged to be there, and by their presence they were rewarded with the pleasure of her delightful company.

At least that’s what Claire tried to visualize as she stood in front of the bathroom mirror preparing for Kelly and Evan’s New Year’s Eve party. She imagined her favorite Jane Austen characters and tried emulating their chatty demeanor. She mimed conversations, nodding her head, smiling, laughing. She pretended to wave to someone across the room. She practiced standing. First with one foot forward, hand on hip. Too bitchy. Hands at her side. Too super-model-wannabe. Arms folded in front. Too hip-hop.

She slapped her hands to her face and moaned in frustration. She was determined that tonight’s party was not going to be a replay of her high school horrors. Even at graduation parties, she spent most of the night standing in the corner, talking to no one, except maybe a parent, and wondering what to do with her hands. Now that she was in college, she was determined to relax and have fun at parties – no matter how hard she had to work at it.

When she was home on Thanksgiving break, she took the “Are You the Life of the Party?” quiz in the November issue of Seventeen magazine. She fudged some answers hoping to make herself more interesting, but she still scored an 8, which meant, “Hey, sorry, but there’s no point in even showing up.”

Ouch! Was she that bad? She double checked her score, making sure she added correctly, but the outcome was the same. She tossed the magazine aside and decided that there was more to her than Seventeen allowed. She was smart, at least her grades said so. She was funny enough to make her parents, her friends, and herself laugh. And maybe she was even a little bit cute, although sometimes she thought her 12-year-old brother had more curves than she did. She knew she had all those things going on, she just had to figure out how to get other people to see it.

Once her first semester was over and she was back home again, she turned her attention to the Claire Improvement Project, which started with her spending all her Barnes & Noble Christmas gift cards on books like, “The Art of Mingling,” “1001 Conversation Starters,” and  “Ten Simple Solutions to Shyness.”

It was that last book that told her, “Practice in front of a mirror so that you can judge yourselves and rectify any mistakes.”

Judge myself? Claire thought. Oh sure, like I need more of that. But she kept an open mind and kept trying out the techniques the books offered.

She went with her mother to Karen’s Kuts & Kolor and decided to go ahead with the highlights that Karen had been trying to talk her into since 8th grade. She even had a session with the makeup artist who taught her how to do her eyes and lips.

On the way home her mother commented, “You look beautiful, honey.”

Claire rolled her eyes, “You always say that.”

“Only because you’re always beautiful.”

Claire looked at her mother. “Thanks, Mom, but it feels weird. Too fake.”

The morning of the party, Claire’s mother was in the kitchen rolling little hot dogs into puff pastry.

“You’re having pigs in a blanket?” she said.

“Of course! It’s a tradition.”

Claire reached over and started helping her mother roll.

What’s going on here tonight?” she asked.

“Nothing big. The Wilsons are coming over and Aunt Caroline, Uncle Jim and the kids.”

“Oh,” Claire said. “Even Annie?”

“Sure,” her mother said. “She’ll be bummed you’re not here. She adores you.”

“I adore her, too,” Claire said. “Maybe I can babysit some night while I’m home on break.”

“That’d be great,” her mother said not paying much attention.

Later on, when Claire was dressed for the party and finished with her hair and makeup, she went to the mirror again to check herself out. She had to admit, she looked good, but she felt way too JonBenet. Seeing herself painted and primped like a pageant baby felt unnatural, and she felt a nervousness that started in her stomach and moved into her chest, making it hard to breathe. She blamed it on the new pushup bra that was pressing on her ribs and she shook out her shoulders trying to relax a little and wipe away the clownish image she had of herself.

Her shoulder shake turned into a full-on shimmy that reminded her of burlesque dance hall girls. She kept at it until she realized how silly she felt and started laughing. She stayed in front of the mirror and stared at the strange young woman she saw there.

“This is ridiculous,” she said out loud.

In the kitchen, her mother mashed avocados into guacamole and her father fried his famous chicken wings.

Claire could smell the wings as she walked down the stairs.

“It smells great in here,” she said.

“Ready for your party?” her mother asked, not looking up from a half peeled avocado.

“I’m ready!” Claire said with more enthusiasm than she felt all week.

Her mother looked up and saw Claire standing there in her gray sweats, hair in a ponytail, and her freshly scrubbed face beaming with a smiling. She reached over and swatted her husband to get his attention. Both parents stood silently looking at their daughter.

“This is where I want to be tonight,” Claire said before they asked the question.

“Yay!” Her father shouted and came around the counter to hug her. She felt the familiar comfort of his warmth, and she marveled at how natural it felt.

She would still enchant the crowd tonight, it would just be a different crowd.

Thank you for reading my flash fiction. Please share any constructive criticism and feel free to let me know about any errors you find here. To read more flash fiction from a great group of writers, search #fridayflash on Twitter or visit Mad Utopia.

© Olivia Tejeda and Liv Loves Lit, 2008-2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Olivia Tejeda and Liv Loves Lit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Flash Fiction: For Them

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by Olivia Tejeda
Christmas carols rang out from the speakers, serving spoons clanged against dishes, and waves of laughter and conversation filled the busy dining room. The noise continued even after everyone started digging into Christmas dinner. It wasn’t the way it used to be, Grace thought, but it would have to do.

She sat back in her chair to relax before eating and ran a hand through her thick gray hair. Today was special, and she wanted to savor this meal, make it last a good long time. She looked around the room enjoying the decorations. The Christmas tree brightened a dark corner of the room with its tiny white lights, tinsel, and ornaments. Even in the midst of all the commotion she thought it was comforting and found a sense of peace just looking at it.

She remembered celebrating Christmas with her kids when they were little. She and Hal never had money to be extravagant, but as a young wife Grace learned how to stretch a dollar so her family wouldn’t have to do without, especially on the holidays.

Her eyes moved from face to face around the table, resting finally on the three kids sitting closest to her. She watched them for a moment and turned to their mother.

“The children look just beautiful,” she said.

Janice looked up cautiously, slowly finishing what was in her mouth. “Thank you,” she said finally.

“It’s hard, you know? They don’t want to dress up and …” she stopped. “The holidays … We just want it to be special for them.”

She kept looking at her children and forced a smile when she felt her tears rising. She glanced at her husband Tim who looked away as soon as their eyes met.

Grace nodded, letting Janice know she understood. “How are they doing in school this year?”

“Pretty good,” Janice said, relaxing a bit. “Jessica’s in second grade. It’s a new school, but she likes her teacher.”

“And the boys?”

“Justin and Jordan are in kindergarten this year,” Janice said, drawing out the word to reinforce for the twins how exciting it was. She leaned in closer to Grace, confiding. “It’s full-day, so that helps.”

“Well, they’re beautiful,” Grace said. “You should be proud.”

“And you should be quiet,” Hal teased when he stopped eating long enough to say something. “If you two don’t stop talking and start eating, someone’s going to come and gobble up your dinner.”

“I’ll do it,” Tim volunteered. He stuck his fork into Janice’s plate and scooped up a mouthful of potatoes.

“Hey,” Janice said, slapping his hand away and laughing.

When the twins followed suit and started stealing food from each other’s plates, their sister took charge.

“Boys, stop it,” she hissed. “Behave.”

“It’s okay, Jessica,” her mother said. “Let them be.”

The boys kept playing and Jessica grew more frustrated, horrified that her mother wasn’t hollering at them already.

“Mom!” she said when she couldn’t take it anymore. “Do something!”

“Jess, I said let them be.”

Jessica glared at her mother, sat back hard in her chair, and folded her arms.

“She’s such a grown-up little lady,” Grace said to Janice, and Jessica softened up at the compliment.

“7 going on 27,” Janice said, reaching out to touch the girl’s cheek. “She’s the best, my girl, and such a help with her brothers.”

Jessica got up and squeezed onto Janice’s lap tucking her head under her mother’s chin. Janice kissed her daughter’s head and rubbed her back as she finished eating dinner with one hand.

After his third helping, Hal stuck out his gut and patted it. He was a skinny man, but he made like he had a big round belly.

“Ho ho ho,” he said to the twins.

“You’re not Santa!” Jordan said.

“You’re too skinny to be Santa,” Justin said.

“And too old,” Jordan added.

“Jordan,” Janice cautioned.

Hal waved it off. “That’s right. I’m not Santa, I’m the Grinch, and I’m gonna eat you up” he said making his best monster face.

“No,” the twins screamed in laughter.

“You’re not the Grinch,” they said together.

“The Grinch is green,” said Jordan.

“And he doesn’t eat kids,” Justin added.

“No?” Hal asked. “What does he eat?”

“Roast beast,” Jessica chimed in.

“Roast beast? I don’t think there’s any roast beast around here,” Hal said. “What about dessert? Does he eat dessert?”

“Yes,” all three kids shouted at once.

“Good, then that’s what I’m going to do.”

Grace shook her head. “I don’t think you can fit another thing in that stomach.”

“Oh, I got some room right over here,” he said, poking at a spot under his ribs. “Besides, if I wait ‘til that guy’s done, I’ll never get to the pumpkin pie.” he said motioning to Tim who was well into his third plate and still going strong.

“I’m just trying to keep up with you, old timer,” Tim laughed. “How many servings did you have?”

“Ah, who’s counting,” Hal said waving his hand.

After dinner was over and present were opened, the kids played with their toys as the adults sat around the table with their coffee.

“Such a lovely dinner, I’m sorry to see it end,” Grace said.

Janice smiled, but Grace saw the sadness in her eyes. She wanted to tell her things would get better, but she couldn’t do it.

“We should get going,” Tim said quietly to Janice. “I’m gonna get the kids.”

Janice nodded slowly.

“Do you have a place tonight?” Grace asked. “Maybe there’s room with us.”

“We’re at St. Vincent’s Shelter,” Janice said. “Where are you?”

“Samaritan House.”

Janice shrugged. “We wanted to stay there but they said there was no room.”

Hal brought Grace’s coat around the table and helped her put it on. She stood close to Janice, feeling maternal, wanting to protect this stranger.

“I wish I could tell you it gets better,” she said.

Janice watched her young family walking back toward her. “It’s got to,” she said, “for them.”

Thank you for reading my flash fiction. Please share any constructive criticism you can offer. To read more flash fiction from a great group of writers, search #fridayflash on Twitter or visit Mad Utopia.

© Olivia Tejeda and Liv Loves Lit, 2008-2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Olivia Tejeda and Liv Loves Lit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.