My story for September is up at our new site! It's about faith and witnessing and death and... HATS.
"Death's Red Bowler" click here to read
And don't forget to add the rss feed to your friend's page, because after September there won't be more reminders! merryfates_rss
Today's post is available over at our new site, merryfates.com
! For the 5th week of August, we're looking back at the FIRST STORIES we ever published here, and discussing what we've learned and how we've stayed the same!
Come join us, and regularly scheduled fiction will be coming in September.CLICKY, CLICKY
Here's what I need to save a life: coffee.
Regular, hot coffee works fine, but I like mine to be full of syrup and whipped cream and to smell like candy. Edgar would say (under his breath) that it's because I'm a pain in the ass. But what's easier to get noticed--someone with an ordinary coffee stain, or someone smelling like peppermint and stained with an impossible to remove blob that only sugary syrup, whipped cream, and coffee can bring?
Besides, my job is hard enough that I figure if I can make someone else's easier, maybe then one day the universe will pay me back somehow. Maybe it will give Gloria the ability to walk again, or maybe it will make Edgar stop being an ass.
Maybe one day I'll be able to do things normal people can. Like have dreams that are just that, dreams. Or go outside just because I want to. That would be nice.
I can't be thinking about any of this now because now I hold my Peppermint Surprise! latte--the name would make me smile, if I smiled when I was at work--and make my way through Union Station.
It's thirty-seven steps to the door David Lewis will come through, the one by the gate his train from Maryland uses--he takes the MARC line to and from Germantown. His security team is lax because he's not just loud, but abrasive, and he won't live in the city, which means all four of his bodyguards have to commute in and out with him, plus live in Germantown too, and if you've ever been to Germantown--well, let's put it this way. It makes DC look positively glittery.
And DC is not even remotely glittery. It has power, and lots of it, but it is not a shiny city. Most of it--past the gloss of the Mall area and Georgetown--isn't even pretty.( Read more...Collapse )
There he stands three steps higher than I, dark eyes locked onto my face and the scythe-like curve of his smile the way it has always been. I bow my head and step nearer, my slippers thin enough I feel the smoothness of the stone under the balls of my feet. I go deliberately, softly, hoping to pass him by.
He catches my right hand. I lean against the curving tower wall as he puts his face to my sleeve. I am nearly undone by the feel of his hot breath in the crook of my elbow, and then he pushes back my sleeves and touches his lips to my wrist.
His words slither up my skin, “I will kill you, if I must.
It is a sharp thrust of steel straightening my back. Gripping my knife – only a small lady’s knife, for cutting her dinner, for showing off her father’s favor – I twist and stab it at his face.
My hope is surprise will win me the day, but I might’ve known better. He grabs my left hand, crushing my fingers under his and against the hilt of my knife. Slamming me back, he laughs.
I am pressed between the hard stone wall and his body. The metal of his armor coif shimmers dully in the daylight melting through one thin window over my head. It is like dragon scales, growing out of his forehead and spilling all down his body, changing him. With my hand still trapped in his, he puts the tip of my knife to his cheek and together we cut. I shove all my weight into him, into my arm, but he is too strong, and only a trickle of blood leaks from his skin.
He smiles at me again, and my knees are week. I will not bend, I tell myself. I will not bend
. But through his smile he suddenly cries out, as if in fear and pain! “Aoife! No!” And before I can react, swings me down the stairs.
When he lets me fall, all the world falls with me.( .... read more!Collapse )
First, there are the little things—the all-in-your-head things. You think they matter, but they don’t. If you obsess about them too long, they can make you feel guilty or like a bad person, but they’re just distractions, so let’s get them out of the way.
Don’t think about how hurt he’s going to be, or if your mother will say, “Honey, maybe you could be a little less callous?” or, “Honestly, Georgia! What was wrong with this one?”
Don’t think about it.
You’re thinking about it.
Maybe we should start over.
Once, I was standing in the cafeteria with Elizabeth Knox and she was in a real state, fuming about Skip Swanson because he was having a creamed-corn fight with his friends and almost knocked us down.
She said, “Chivalry is dead.”
She said it like she was announcing the death of Western Civilization, when she really just meant opening car doors or spreading your coat across a puddle. But the truth of it hit home, and I knew that she was right. That no one was going to slay dragons for us.
The first rule is that you have to be sure you’re leaving for the right reasons. You can’t call it quits because of failed chivalry. No one is going to come riding up to your tower and climbing up your hair, and really, who wants that?
The fact that once, when Skip yelled at me in PE to get off my ass and stop acting like a helpless female, Jason Curtz did not sweep in and carry me away on a white horse is not a reason. The fact that once, at a party, Jason called me his little sugar-bunny in front of his friends? I gave him back his letter jacket the next day.( . . .Collapse )
Thank you so much! We had some great entries!!!!
The randomly selected winner of the three prizes is.....
Caroline Sibley! Her story "Feel" is here at her tumbler
Congrats, Caroline! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your mailing address, and the three of us will send out your prizes!
Thanks again to all of our Watchers. You guys are the best. Don't forget this week myself, Brenna, and Maggie will be posting OUR story responses to the same prompt from the contest. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday! A 3-in-1 week!
Howdy, trusty readers!
Over the past month Maggie, Brenna, and I have been deep in talks about the future of The Merry Sisters of Fate. This was prompted by the recent LiveJournal outages over the last 6 months. Because we have a schedule, and you our readers deserve for us to stick to that schedule, we've decided that we're going to be moving our blog over to a brand new website. Truthfully, it's something we've been considering for months and months, this has just made the final decision easier.
As of September 1st, all new Merry Fates posts will be at the new site: http://merryfates.com
. Between now and then, we'll post there and mirror here.
If you'd like to add the new feed to your blogreader, the feed is: http://merryfates.com/feed/
If you want to add it to your LJ friend's page, you can add the new feed directly to your friends: merryfates_rss
In honor of our new blog home, and to make up for that Week of Silence thanks to the attacks on LiveJournal a couple of weeks ago, we're hosting a prompt contest!
All you have to do is write something original based on the prompt below, and post it to your blog or Facebook where other people can read it. It can be a story, a poem, flash fiction - anything you like! Link back here (or here
) in the comments, and you're entered!
We'll randomly select a winner for THESE AMAZING PRIZES:
- a signed advance reader's copy of THE SCORPIO RACES
by Maggie Stiefvater
- a signed advance reader's copy of THE SPACE BETWEEN
by Brenna Yovanoff
- a signed hardback of BLOOD MAGIC
by Tessa Gratton
The deadline is this Friday at midnight CST. We'll announce the winner on Saturday.... and then next week, Brenna, Maggie and I will each post a story that WE write, based on the same prompt. Brenna on Monday, me on Wednesday, and Maggie on Friday, the way we used to post back in 2008 when The Merry Sisters of Fate first began!
Here's your prompt, "The Turret Stairs" by Frederic Burton:
Have at it! :D
I am running through the trees. Even if the moon wasn’t so full, I’d know the way. I’ve done it countless times on Bessie, trotting noisily through the scrub. Never bare foot though, and never alone.
Never like this.
I’m glancing behind me every third step or so. Can’t help it. But he’s not following. Not yet. It’s fine.
These are the words I keep repeating to myself.
He’s so big and heavy, I’d hear him if he were here....if he were close. I know this. But I also know that the blow I gave him with the candlestick - hard as I could make it - won’t keep him down for long.
I’m glancing at the ground, jumping the fallen branches and rocky patches. Even so, corners of twigs dive into my heels and flint-rock scrapes the palms of my hands when I stumble. I shove a fist into my mouth, stop the screams. My skin tastes like blood and salt and desperation. But I must be quiet. He mustn’t know where I’ve gone; mustn’t even guess. I try to move like the kangaroos do, on velvet padded paws, jumping with the sway of the trees.
All the same, Bessie will know. Her hooves would pick out this path just as soon as he lets the reins drop.
But would he let the reins drop?
He’d pull a bit into her mouth and yank her head around and kick, hard. He won’t want to trust her.
I stop. Pick a thorn from my foot. As I do, I look around me. I need to be careful now. I’m at the very bottom of the gully, where Gilbert says the spirits live. It’s darker here, and the vegetation is thicker. I used to get lost here until Gilbert told me about the red banksia tree that marks the small pathway that leads directly up to the yard. When I jumped the summer-drained trickle of the creek, several feet back, I was crossing the line of where my father’s property ends. I’m in wild country now; the place nobody owns. If I were to turn right and keep walking, this land would stretch all the way into the mountains and to the desert-land beyond. It’s good that I’m here. My father might not expect it from me. Be careful of wild country,
he told me in the first weeks after we moved, don’t go there alone.( Read more...Collapse )
Just before my Granny Ava died, she pulled me near to her face so all I could smell was antiseptic and her slight sour breath. “Peach,” she whispered, “your mother… isn’t… human.”
I jerked back so hard the metal bars on the side of the hospital bed we’d had rolled into her living room rattled. “Gran!”
She waved one boney hand. It flapped from her wrist like torn paper. “Listen.”
Holding my breath, lips pinched tight, I leaned back in so she could continue. “Your mother never dips her fingers into the well of holy water at Mass.” Granny Ava touched her hand to her forehead. “She saves the host on her tongue.” Ava touched her heart. “I’ve seen her tuck it into her pocket just as she kneels to pray.” As she touched her left shoulder, her eyes floated shut. “And that rosary she uses – plastic!” Finishing the Sign of the Cross, Granny Ava grasped my wrist. “You must beware, and remember. I can’t die without someone else knowing.”
My throat was dry. I wondered what death knell in her brain was making Granny say these things.
“Peach!” she hissed. “Promise you won’t forget.”
As though from some great distance, I looked at the thin white hair curling away from her forehead, at the red flush surrounding her eyes, at her lips, which I used to kiss in exchange for a song or a hard green peppermint. “I promise,” I whispered, thinking, my rosary is plastic, too.
And then my granny died.
Mom came in from the kitchen, one hand on her cheek and the other gripping my dad’s. The glass sliding door let in perfect white light from the backyard to shine over our tableau, and sorrow felt like a water balloon sloshing in my stomach.
Dad moved around to put an arm on my shoulder. “Hey, kiddo, you ok?” I nodded, my eyes on Mom as she took my place perching on the bedside stool. Tears tightened her eyelashes and she touched Granny’s forehead reverently. Dad said, “I’m going to call the hospice nurse.”
I stayed back, and saw as Mom picked Granny Ava’s rosary off the baby blue quilt. The blood red beads had come from the Vatican, blessed by the Pope himself
, Ava always said with pride. It was only because I was staring that I noticed Mom tug her sleeve up high enough to lift the rosary without it touching her skin.
***( Naveen Rao opened the heavy wooden door of St. Sebastian’s just enough for me to slip in.Collapse )photo by Mason Long, via flickr CC.
Hi, all! Just a quick announcement:
Tomorrow (Wednesday) evening, at 9pm EST, all three of us will be chatting online with WriteOnCon!
For all the information you need, Follow this link
Come party with us! Hee hee.
I. The Waiting Room
They come to the forgetting place when they are too shaken and too damaged to remember. They come when they can’t accept or move on, when they can’t let go.
The living aren’t the only ones who cling to tragedy, grieving for things they can’t change. The dead can be just as mired in the past.II. Max
He is standing against the wall. At least, he thinks he is standing—the sheer uncertainty of being dead makes it hard to know for sure, and sometimes he suspects that he is only acting out the illusion of a body, not wearing the actual thing.
He’s watching four grizzled men play poker with the stone-faced seriousness of bankers. They don’t speak as the deal passes from one to the next, and it seems to him that they have never not
been sitting exactly like this, one on each side of the card table.
The game is silent and grim. It leaves no room for anyone else. Not that he has any inclination to join in.
His name was Max, and he still goes by it. At least, he is Max to anyone who cares to call him anything. Most of them are politely indifferent to him, sunk deep in their own misery.
Like the four men at the card table, they are all living out their own tragedies again and again, wandering the forgetting place until it coaxes them into remembering and they can finally move on.III. Emily
She is pale and beautiful, almost unbearably so. Her beauty is fierce, an integral part of her, while her paleness may only be an interesting side effect of being dead.
She is the weeping ghost, and he loves her in the thin, desperate way that only shades can love—transparent and uncomplicated. Pure as glass.
He doesn’t remember meeting her, only that it was after he came here. He thinks that she has always been beside him, tears streaming down her cheeks. She has never once looked at anyone else.
The way he feels about her is the only thing about the place that doesn’t make him feel trapped. His love is, against all reason, growing stronger. This, this steady deepening is the only indication that time is actually passing.
When she turns her eyes up to meet his, he feels as though his heart, which does not exists, may start to beat again. Her gaze is steady, excruciating, and he thinks that if he keeps looking, he will get lost there. His love for her is enormous and acute, and sometimes, it seems to have the power to transform him.
Everything else just stays the same.IV. How He Died
With a flash of light and a burst of noise. With a bullet in his brain and his eyes turned blankly toward the ceiling. He died with a gun to his head, but it might as well have been a knife in his back. ( . . .Collapse )
The letter is hidden between a box of straight pins with colored heads and a cut glass candy dish. Its contents disintegrated from individual peppermints into one big lump long ago. I take the yellowed envelope down and slip it into my jacket pocket without looking at the seal. I know it isn’t broken.
My very first crime was stealing from that candy dish. My oldest cousin snuck up behind me with a fat green garden snake twisted in his hands and I dropped the lid, knocking off a sliver of glass.
My second crime was using the box of straight pins to pay him back when I was whipped with a leather belt, and he was not.
The linoleum floor has yellowed and pieces are missing. Part of me wants to find them and fit the chips in like a puzzle, but no one is here to care. The door to the kitchen is cracked half an inch, but the knob is gone. I slide the tip of my finger over the strike plate and wiggle it to fully release the latch.
Nicotine coats the stained kitchen cupboards. The cookie jar sits to the left of the stove, below the curio shelf holding tiny jars of dried herbs. The smell of neglect is two notes off from the vibrancy of life that used to hum in this room.
Witches used to be welcome here, before progress and electricity brought better ways, smarter ways, or so the Outsiders thought. Finding that things like love potions and tarot cards were a regular way of life on our side of the mountain was a shock to them. A shock and an abomination.
Why use a rod to know exactly when to plant a garden or the most fertile spot to do so, when the Farmer’s Almanac indicated the first, and a good compost pile provided the second? Who needs a healer to tend to the sick and dying, when modern medicine could offer a cure?
The setting sun shines through the bottles sitting on the windowsill above the sink. I stare at the stained glass shadows they make on the kitchen table. I wonder about the last time anyone sat there. They had to know what was coming. Were they afraid, or were they angry?
The first time the two men came to our house, Granny had not managed kindness, but she had been hospitable. After all, they’d passed through the haint blue door into the warmth of the elm log fire without incident. So many cautions taken for protection, yet they had no effect on the men from the city. If anything, they drew the wrong sort of attention, just like the empty black cauldron in the front yard.
The men hadn’t come to our house on a witch hunt. They’d been looking for me. The simple act of stealing Teaberry gum from the country store brought about the ruin of my family.
I chew a piece now. It was legally acquired – one of the first things I bought with the paltry sum the prison warden had given me when he set me free – purchased from the same store I robbed two years ago. On my eighteenth birthday. One day could make such a difference. Gone; sent to county prison because of a long juvenile record.
Not here to listen to the screaming when the men returned with reinforcements.
The same cousin who’d held up the fat snake so many years ago is the one who whispered the location of the letter, left by my mother as her last living act. I touched my hand to my jacket pocket now, and wondered yet again how he’d escaped the fate of the rest of the family. How he knew where the letter was, and when it had been written. I wanted to kill him where he sat on the day he came to tell me, but a guard and a thick sheet of greasy glass stood between us.
But I would find him.
I pull the envelope out, turning it over and over in my hands. Do I read it now, when my heart is calm, or after I view the cautionary tale the authorities had staged in the front yard, the one that no one dares to remove? I imagine curiosity seekers peering through the protection of the forest to see if the rumors are true, if the punishment is as horrible as everyone has been led to believe. When they find it to be fact, I suspect they run home to hide recipes and wands, charms and tea leaves. Maybe they find spots in their cellars, or bury them with their dead. No one wants to meet the same fate as the members of my family.
As much as I want to read the letter now, I don’t know if the fire of revenge will clear my vision or cloud my purpose.
I put it back into my pocket and follow the carpeted hallway. The bookshelf to my right is empty, a hundred years of knowledge, most likely destroyed. When I reach the front door, I hold onto the knob for a few seconds. Then I take a deep breath and step outside.
The blackened, charred remains of my family are heaped on a funeral pyre that hasn’t burned for two years. Nothing grows on the ground around it. I can smell the smoke; hear the screams.
My stomach turns, but I do not close my eyes.
I take the letter out of my pocket, sit down on the front porch, and rip open the envelope. I read the contents aloud in a strong, clear voice and look up.
In the center of the funeral pyre, something moves.
Myra's debut novel HOURGLASS
is available now! You can learn more on her website here
Image by Vilseskogen.
She waits to kill her king with a glass of sherry cupped in one palm and a dried cornflower in the other.
The blue petals flake away each time she moves, as she curls her fingers one at a time until they are a cage around the flower. Juro gave it to her when she first came to the palace, with a promise that if she fulfills her part of the plan and takes her vengeance for the slaughter of her family, she’ll be a hero.
It’s lived in a glass vial on her vanity since then, like a small blue eye watching her dress for dinner with the king, for dancing or riding out with him on a quail hunt. Occasionally she took it to the window and curled up on the cool stone bricks to stare south over the city. Through the marbled glass the mountain peaks where she’d grown up were muddy teeth cutting up into the sky. From this distance she couldn’t see the fire scars or broken houses, the poisoned wells. The graveyards.
All that this king's old father had caused.
This morning, Juro slipped into her bedroom without a knock, surprising her as she sipped dark tea and watched her watery reflection across the surface of the window where rain slithered in fast rivulets. The teacup had dropped from her fingers and hit the carpet with a dull ping, not breaking but splashing hot water against the tops of her bare feet.
Juro knelt and wiped them with a corner of his fine jacket, excitement making him less vain than usual. She hugged her dressing gown shut over her chest and watched the top of her handsome friend’s head. His dark hair combed back smoothly, and was caught up in a tail by a red silk ribbon. Matching earrings glittered at either side of his face, like points marking the edges of his wide, flat grin when he stood to face her. “Today, Messina, today is the day,” he said, and then he put his hands against her head, crushing her curls, and kissed her.
Once, his kisses had thrilled her, made her body melt and her resolve harden. But now, she opened her mouth and a string of guilt fell down her throat. She pushed away. “Juro, I’ve been thinking.”
He groaned and snatched one of the cookies off her tea tray.
Ignoring the hint, she stood tall in the center of her room, knowing soon she would miss this place. With its silk hangings, gilded mirror, and four-post bed that had its clothes changed every other day by a maid she shared with only two other ladies, this room was the best luxury Messina could ever hope to know. There was tea brought every morning, and dinners in the banquet hall, a private bath whenever she wished. Tomorrow, she suspected, she’d be back to cold streams and sand for soap, beer to drink if she was lucky, and straw under her back at night.
She said, “He didn’t know the things we hate him for.”
Juro slid a look at her that was at once pitying and amused. “Ignorance is no excuse for what was done in his name.”
“Nor is ignorance a reason to kill a man.”
“For God’s sake, girl, this is why you’ve been here for the last two years! Why we invested so much into you. To get you close to him. Closer than any of us might be.”
“I know.” She stepped nearer to Juro, touched his lapel. “And I have done so. I know him, and he can learn and change. He could do good from the throne – isn’t that a better outcome to hope for than open rebellion? Then the chance of someone worse ending up in power?”
“Messina.” His voice was hard and low. “Think of your parents. Of my sister and brother. Of all our families, cut down though they certainly might have learned and changed
.”( The fury in his eyes was difficult to look at, but she'd had much practice these years in doing unpleasant things.Collapse )
The apartment was small, but it was in an excellent location, right in the heart of the Warehouse District and a five-minute walk from the Expo Center. Adeline was only staying for a week or so—just until the trade show was over and all the boutique orders were in. Hopefully, there would be a lot of them. It had been a slow year.
The girl who usually lived in the apartment was a bartender named Daniele. She was away on a month-long trip to Spain and was renting out the place for ridiculously cheap as long as the temporary resident agreed to water her plants.
Adeline wasn’t much of a plant person, but you couldn’t argue with a weekly rate that was, quite frankly, phenomenal.
The night she got into the city, it was raining hard and the streets were flooded, full of tiny white-capped waves and floating trash. She had to wade from the taxi to the curb, holding her suitcases up out of the high-running gutters. It had been a long flight and everything had begun to blur together, so that later, she barely remembered the slow, clanking elevator ride upstairs, the turn of the key in the lock and the headlong fall into sleep.*****
She woke up late the next morning, in Daniele’s bed, with the sun coming in through unfamiliar curtains.
The first thing she noticed about the apartment was that the whole place had a smell. Not unpleasant, but strangely specific. It was an ancient, shut-up smell, like abandoned attics and pages turning into dust. It reminded Adeline of estate sales, or how she thought mummies would probably smell, but she found it oddly addicting. She couldn’t stop breathing it.
She took her time unpacking, arranging her things on the bathroom counter and the dresser, alongside Daniele’s. Then she wandered down to the lobby to see if there was anyplace to eat nearby, a cafe or a coffee shop.
Outside though, the road was blocked off by barricades and police cars and the sidewalks were crowded with gawkers. The girl at the front desk only raised her eyebrows and gave Adeline a bored look.
“What’s going on out there?” Adeline asked, feeling a little disoriented.
“Looks like some pure fool got it into his head to climb up on the roof and start yelling about how he’s going to jump. It happens in the summer, sometimes. If I were you, I’d just stay in ‘til it quiets down.” ( . . .Collapse )
Thanks to everybody for playing in the contest! We had a lot of fun reading your quotations! The winner, chosen randomly, is silvertwi !!!
Congrats! Email me at tessa dot gratton at gmail dot com with your address and I'll get your signed, doodled copy of BLOOD MAGIC mailed out!
Because it's the FIFTH week of the month, it's CONTEST TIME!!!!!
We're giving away a signed, doodled in copy of BLOOD MAGIC, which just came out last Tuesday. Ooooooo! Ahhhhhhh!
All YOU have to do to win is:
Write a sentence or phrase that epitomizes YOU - something zany and creative or twisted and funny, whatever you think suits you best. Imagine this is something you found skimming through Bartlett's Familiar Quotations
. Comment to this post with it.
On Friday, we'll choose a random winner and BLOOD MAGIC will be yours!!!
We can't wait to see what you come up with!
I know what your parents told you, but they lied. Not on purpose. They didn’t know what I was capable of. But they lied, and now you’re going to have to live with it.
They’re not coming to get you. They don’t know where you are. Anyhow, if I’ve done this right, they’re too scared to come after me.
I’m sorry. I just had to say that. I’ve been thinking about this moment for weeks now – yes, that’s how long I’ve been planning it – thinking of what to say to you. “Don’t cry” has been in every speech.
Why aren’t you crying?
I wish the wind would stop howling. It sounds like people screaming. And when it whips the snow up like this, there’s nothing but white vagueness everywhere I turn. No way to see my father’s men coming.
Tuck your hands into your furs -- yes, that’s right. No reason for you to be cold. I’ll take care of you until... well, until we get where we’re going.
It’s not that long a journey, though these hills seem to roll on forever. It must seem long to you; your mother tells me you haven’t left the manor grounds for four years. Four years surrounded by stone and tapestries and gilded furniture... no wonder you felt safe.
But I did it in less than a month. I did it sick and hurt and confused, in a ripped and terribly impractical gown, barely knowing where I was going. Not with good clothes and provisions and a knife. I know how to use this knife, you know. I’ve been practicing for months. I started the second I stepped into my father’s house. So that when I held it to your throat and warned them to let me leave, they would believe I meant it.
You love him, don’t you? Why shouldn’t you? He’s your grandfather and he adores you. Don’t think that will stop him from using you for his interests, marrying you off to whomever he pleases. He adored your mother and me just as much.
He loved us, but he never saw us – not then, not now. He didn’t see how much I had changed in my years of being queen in that wild northern land they sent me to. How much more I had changed when I saw my husband’s murdered body, and when the duke’s soldiers tried to take my daughter away from me.
Stop looking at me like that.
Damn it, you’re only six years old! Why don’t you cry?
Do you hear that?
That was something. Wasn’t it?
Don’t you ever talk?
It’s them. They followed me.
Didn’t they believe me, when I said I would kill you if there was any pursuit?
Don’t be afraid. I won’t do it. I need you. ( We’re going to hide now.Collapse )
Tally had lived next door to Mrs. Jersey Dash for eight months before she realized Mrs. Dash had a son.
She was on the roof the day she found out, because she’d gotten the idea to grow tomato vines up there from watching The Learning Channel at 2am after her parents finally passed out the other night. Some guy in yellow gardening gloves had demonstrated how to cut a hole in a bucket and plant tomatoes in it. Her house used to be separated into apartments, and some tenant ten years ago had put up poles for a clothesline on the one flat section of the roof – perfect, Tally decided, for her own tomato garden.
The hardest part would be dragging everything up there, since the tiny attic was crushed full of crap from her parents’ last (bigger) house. Either she had to spend a day rearranging dusty boxes and broken furniture and avoiding the banana-sized cockroaches, or she’d have to rig some kind of rope and pulley system through the guest bedroom window. Making that decision required seeing if she could get herself through the window in the first place, which is how she ended up hanging against the side of the house, her fingers clutching the aqua-marine trim, wondering if she should have tied a rope around her waist in case she fell.
Tally bit her lip, tasted salt, and thought for the millionth time that it was too early in May for it to be so humid. Her palms were sticky and her tee-shirt sticking to her spine. It made getting onto the roof more treacherous than it would have been in Colorado. As she studied the droopy trellis two feet away, trying to judge whether the dampness made it more or less likely to give away under her weight, her eyes veered off into the shocking green of the yard next door.
The tall privacy wall had kept her from ever seeing down there before, and unlike her own grassless yard, with its stone patio and her mom’s seven potted ferns, Mrs. Jersey Dash’s backyard was overwhelmingly alive. Bushes burst with heavy pink flowers, vines covered the rear of the house, spilling with purple blossoms. Ornamental trees lined the back fence, and the grass was as emerald as a football field’s, though more wild.
A smooth white bird bath full of crystal clear water reflected the sky back at her, and beside it lay a boy, spread out on his back. From hear the roof of her house, all Tally could tell about him was that he had dark skin, faded jeans, and really quite excellent shoulders.
Forgetting her grand tomato plans, Tally swung across for the trellis and climbed down to the little alley between their houses. Mrs. Dash’s privacy wall was made of gray and pink stone, and since her fingernails were already mostly broken, Tally kicked off her shoes and started climbing. It took only a couple of minutes, but by the time she had her elbows hooked over the top, sweat plastered her hair to her temples and she was having second thoughts about meeting boys with nice shoulders.
She peered over at the boy, who had his eyes open and stared up at the thick white clouds. He wasn’t wearing a shirt at all, and now that she was closer, Tally saw that he didn’t have any hair, and his dark skin was marred with strange lines like scars. One cut a jagged streak under his ribs, two seemed to slice his arms off, and another shone at the top of his neck, stretching from ear to ear. Tally frowned, staring at the pattern of discoloration around all the scars – if that was what they were. It gave him a sort of patchwork appearance, though if she was going to compare him to a doll, it would be a very well put together one.
The patchwork boy jerked suddenly, and jumped to his feet. Facing her. ( .....Collapse )
At first it was little things—how he always wore the watch I’d given him, even though it left a raw spot on his wrist and he’d never worn one before.
I told myself that marriage really does change a person. But I think when people say that, they mean gradual change, like becoming more patient, and not that the person arbitrarily starts liking green beans. They mean little things, not whole personalities.
We’d been married for two years when I first started to feel like maybe I was living with a stranger. I shook it off until one evening when I was getting ready for bed and found myself remembering how Bradley had been pathologically unable to put his socks in the hamper and it used to drive me crazy. But he hadn’t left a single piece of laundry lying on the floor since the wedding.
The night I knew, really knew
, we were staying up at a rental cabin with three other couples. (We’d become the kind of people who did things with other couples.) I knew something was wrong because he did the dishes after dinner and when we played dominoes and he won, he didn’t rub it in anyone’s face.
Later, I lay beside him in the dark, trying to decide what to do. He asked me if something was wrong, but I said no. Having a husband who picks up after himself and treats other people with consideration isn’t wrong, and I couldn’t tell whether I was awake or asleep.
We drove home the next morning without saying much. I was deep in a funk and he let me stay there. He bought me a cup of coffee and a danish without me having to ask. He didn’t try to make me talk to him.
Later, I locked myself the bedroom. I dug through his college footlocker and his dresser drawers, even though that’s not what trusting wives do.
It was in the back of the closet—this little wooden box tied with red string. There was a picture of me stuck to the top of box with Scotch tape, and the string was positioned directly over my eyes. When I undid the knot and the string fell away, I felt a curtain lift, like shaking off a cold fog. What had seemed like a long, confusing dream turned true and certain. It was clear, suddenly, like that knotted string had held my photo down, kept the doubts from surfacing, and now they were all floating there right in front of me.( . . .Collapse )
She finally got the courage to kill the bastard and wouldn’t you know it happened right after the damn plague started up. Of course, she didn’t know that at the time. She was never really one for newspapers or the twenty-four hour news guys and since it was election season it all just burned together in her head.
Sometimes she let her gaze flick over a headline or two while waiting for her email to launch but she’d been a bit preoccupied over the past few days. She was busy researching poisons and drugs, wondering which would be the way to go.
Tuesday night she fantasized about getting him wasted, undressing and then hitting him with a drano cocktail. She imagined the pain of the liquid searing down his throat. She’d get the good kind -- not the generic -- and it would be thick and syrupy and it would blast open his windpipe and coagulate until it oozed out his nose.
It would be painful and she would enjoy every minute of it as his eyes bulged and his brain circled around the truth of how she’d finally gotten back at him.
But then on Wednesday he’d been tender with her. Had brought home dinner and remembered she didn’t like tomatoes on her burgers during the off season. She was still resolved to kill him as she lay next to him that night, but she wondered if maybe this time she’d do it slower, softer.
Maybe just crush pills into a pan of brownies. Wasn’t there a book she’d read as a teen where some deranged grandmother tried to kill the kids with cyanide powered donuts? Should she go that route and watch him slowly wither around her until he was such dust all she had to do was blow a puff of air and he’d be gone?
When she finally did it late Thursday night it’d been brutal and rough. She hadn’t properly planned which she should have known would happen. It’s what always happened in her life: it’s how she’d ended up at that stupid college in that stupid class with that stupid professor.
Really, it was the look he gave her after she struck the first blow. She’d overestimated her will -- her desire to see him dead and so she’d come at him weakly. An hour after he’d taken the last bite of his dessert she’d confessed about the antidepressants she’d painstakingly crushed and laced through the chocolate. How she’d been saving the pills for weeks and weeks.
He scoffed at her shaking admission if to say, “You failed my tests, you failed my class and now you’ll fail this.” What he’d really said was, “It’s basic chemistry, Clara. My god, I’d have thought if I’d taught you anything it would be this.” As he’d gone into the kitchen for the baking soda.
“Tricyclic antidepressants require an acid environment for proper absorption, Clara.” His voice shifted into the deeper rumble he used in the classroom, the crooning as he coddled a slow student. “The remedy couldn’t be easier.”
He pulled the yellow box from its place in the cabinet, nestled between the carton of kosher salt and the dusty bag of flour. Eyes narrowed in concentration he measured even scoops into a cup of water, white particles drifting down to settle on the bottom.
Her lip had quivered. She knew he noticed and thought it was because she was being contrite. She was always contrite. But that wasn’t it at all. She was quivering because she wasn’t used to being right. Because she was holding her breath so hard that it ached inside her along with all her other losses and crammed together into the fierce desire that this time it had to work. ( It was the same feeling she had when she bought a lottery ticket.Collapse )