Personal Projects

Sunday short stories, an index

Every Sunday in 2016, I’ll write a short story of at least 500 words. I’ll do my best, but consider them firsts drafts towards becoming a better writer. This page will serve as an index that I’ll update with titles and a short synopsis.

Short story list

  1. Boop, 1/3/2016 – Eleanor plays in the garden on a summer day
  2. Fog of Caraway Bay, 1/10/2016 – A man moves into a house in Caraway Bay and experiences its Fog, despite neighbors warnings.
  3. Wait for a Postcard, 1/17/2016 – Joyce and Connie leave the city for a girls weekend to go camping. A self described prospector gives them a map to a place that’s better than a postcard.
  4. Tap it Out, 1/24/2016 – A middle aged grocery store manager awakes locked in a trunk of a car, will his grandmother’s lesson save him?
  5. Jessie’s Pirate Queen, 1/31/2016 – Jessie starts her day and embraces her pirate queen persona.
  6. An Ocean to Break, 2/7/2016 – Clara’s ex-girlfriend Ellie has a bad habit of crashing back into Clara’s life. This time, she lands in a ball pit.
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Personal Projects

An Ocean to Break

Clara pulled her six year old daughter from the ball pit with a whimsical smile, “Let’s get some pizza, kiddo.”

Melody pulled at her purple t-shirt and brushed the strings of brown hair from her eyes. “Did you order the pepperoni?”

“Sure did, it’s your favorite. You think your mom and I would forget that?” she said. At forty-two, she worked hard to keep a youthful outlook and appearance. She kept her dark brown hair long and stayed away from any clothing that screamed suburban mom. Her job as software developer challenged and fulfilled her, despite the grind of daily stand up meetings.

A whoosh and thrashing of a hundred plastic rainbow colored balls erupted behind her. The children wading through the play pen jumped and squealed. At the far corner, an arm grappled for leverage and a barefoot kicked at the surface. Around the ankle, a thin gold chain glinted in the restaurant’s carnival light.

Clara’s smile faded and she exhaled, putting her hand on Melody’s back. Clara had given the ankle bracelet as a gift more than ten years ago on a vacation in Montreal. She’d been broken up with Ellie for more than eight, and the last time she saw her, Ellie stumbled and stalked her while Clara shopped for garden supplies.

Melody leaned against the pen’s netting and laughed, “Mom, look at that lady.” Ellie’s head full of wild, curly black hair rose above the tide swallowing her, Melody yanked at Clara’s silk blouse, “She looks like that lady that talked to you at the yard store.”

“It does, doesn’t it. Go to your other mommy, okay? I’ll be there in a bit with some more tokens,” Clara said, working to keep her voice even.

“All right,” and Melody jogged back to their table, where Jess, her wife of seven years sat.

Jess knew about Ellie and her problem. The first time Ellie appeared in a drunken stupor in Jess’s presence was at a wine bar while she and Clara were dating, Jess laughed it off, attributing it to “things crazy exes do.” They managed to get her an Uber ride, sending her back home. The worst incident occurred the night before their wedding at the rehearsal dinner. Ellie crashed, and it was always a crash, into a waiter pouring cocktails behind the bar. Glassware shattered and vapors of expensive alcohol caught the attention of all their guests, making Ellie’s secret problem a public one. In a different city where they couldn’t ferry her home with an anonymous driver.

“Why, Clara, why does she always do this?” Jess said through tears. “What did you two have all those years ago that she’s still holding on to? Is this going to be our normal surprise fuck up every few months?”

Clara, with a group of guests politely trying not to eavesdrop, hugged her bride to be. Jess found a vintage floral dress, and normally didn’t wear makeup, but wore lipstick and mascara, curled her hair in her best Betty Page imitation. Clara said, her voice breaking, she didn’t want her makeup to run, “I don’t know, like I’ve told you before, the dozen other times this has happened, I really don’t know.” Clara stroked Jess’s ear, “But I. Love. You. We’re getting married tomorrow, and we’ll be married, and we’ll deal with the fuck ups in spite of them.”

Jess’s brother, Joey sacrificed his hotel room for a night while Ellie sobered up and disappeared back home, and despite the chatter and murmurs, Clara and Jess got married.

Ellie sat up in the ball pit, winced and leaned into the corner. She wore a light blue sweater and her dark skin had a sheen across her thin cheeks.

“Hey,” a boy said with a shriek, “you can’t be in here. Only kids are allowed.”

A little girl no older than Melody jumped back, “You have to take your shoes off, the sign says so.”

“Oh, dear,” Ellie said, slurring her words. She pulled at her bra strap and looked around, stopping at Clara, who held her arms crossed and lips frowned. “Shit.”

“You said a bad word,” the girl said, pointing.

Clara rubbed her face and put her hands on the hips of her not mom jeans. “Ellie.”

“Hey, Clara,” she waved. “Sorry about the intrusion. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in a ball pit.”

Clara raised her eye brows and remained silent.

The girl strafed the edges of the ball pit, “You smell like my aunt when she has too many glasses of her grape juice.”

“Clara, Clara, it was just half a bottle. A little celebration for a recent job I did.”

When they met at a Department of Defense Contractors conference, Ellie worked for the State Department doing research and development. She had the body of a gymnast and the brain of a physics nerd but the self esteem of a girl who never received enough praise. The first six months were intense, filled with physical passion in the bedroom and intellectual passion everywhere else. It wasn’t Clara’s first relationship with a woman, but it was her most fulfilling. Over the course of their final twelve months together, Ellie’s drinking increased directly with her neediness.

On the second to last binge before they broke up, Ellie laid on the couch half asleep, “Clara, Clara, so glad to be with you. You’re safer than my job.”

Clara shuffled under the blanket and laughed, “What do you mean?”

“Keep this a secret okay? I traveled, teleported actually, to a job site this week.”

“The State Department have secret jets nowadays?”

“No no, I literally went poof from a conference room to a favela in Rio. My team did the same, too.”

Clara stopped stroking Ellie’s shoulder.

Ellie grabbed Clara’s hand, “Why’d you stop? Well, the mission went to hell, and I was the only one to make it back. The rest of them, Alex, Chuck, Yvette, Moe, all got killed, shot up by a gang we were supposed to capture and take down. Gunshots to the neck are messy and blood is hard to get out from underneath your nails, did you know that? And gunshots are loud but when they hit the body, you don’t hear that.”

Now, amidst the crack and roll of the skee-ball lanes and the synth chimes of the big wheel of a fortune machine, Clara sighed at the sight of her mercenary ex-girlfriend. She didn’t understand the science of what Ellie told her, but Ellie was part of a black project, injected with a serum that could transport them at will based on a person’s unique electrical signal. It was black magic as far as Clara cared.

“Ellie, I thought you were getting help?”

“I get help, but I’m good at being functional too. But you don’t know how stressful the weeks can be.”

Nor did Clara want to guess which set of headlines Ellie and her current team instigated. “You can’t keep doing this. It’s been nearly ten years.”

The children in the ball pit sat quiet, observing the exchange.

“Eight. Eight years, three months, and ninety two days.”

“You were always good with numbers.”

“That’s my job. I’m the numbers girl.”

“Look, you need to clean up and leave. Explaining you to my daughter—.”

“She looks like you. Pretty girl, like her mother.”

“Explaining you to her is difficult as it is.”

“Her name’s Melody, right. You never carried a tune but you carried her.”

Clara’s face swelled flush and her maternal instinct sharpened in her chest. “Get help, Ellie. Find another woman, move on, but whatever, get help.”

Ellie scooted along the edge of the ball pit, the plastic shuffling as she broke through the tide, “I said, I am. I met a new woman. She’s nice. Doesn’t ask too much about when I got to float away. For her though, I make sure not to come home with bloody clothes.”

Like when, the night Clara declared them done after she found Ellie passed out in their bedroom, her black fatigues splattered with blood and her neck stained with dried crimson.

The two children in the ball pit floated with their heads breaking the surface, enough to show their eyes and track the conversation.

Ellie attempted to stand but resigned herself to staring up at Clara through the net. “Oh, Clara, Clara, we could have gone many places. I can take people—.” Her eyes blinked and she smiled broadly, “Look who it is. Hey there. I’m a friend of your mom’s.”

Melody stood behind her mother, peeking over the side of Clara’s hip.

“She really does look like you. Eyes and hair at least. Not sure if Jess has a nose like that.” Ellie kicked her leg up, revealing thin black yoga pants, and shook her ankle with the bracelet. “Jess never fucked you like I did, right, course she couldn’t knocked you up either.”

Melody hugged her mother’s leg and Clara held the back of her head. Clara no longer heard the skee-ball lanes or the fortune wheel. Her temples throbbed as the warmth of adrenaline spread from her stomach to her throat. She fought against her eyes that began to water and took a deep breath, “Please—.”

“Why are you being mean to my mom?” Melody still hugged Clara’s leg, but stood more to the side, more exposed to Ellie.

“Just teasing, is all, right Clara, Clara?”

“Both my moms say teasing’s not nice.”

“Mel, this woman’s sick, and needs help,” Clara said, kneeling down face to face to both her daughter and her ex. “I hurt her a long time ago, and I’m sorry for that, but she hurt me too. Adults do mean things to each other without… sometimes without meaning too. But also, adults, adults who are big and strong and smart like you are Mel, they learn to be better people.”

“Did you learn to be better?” Melody said, now fidgeting with her mother’s wedding band.

“In time I did. A little on my own, a little with your other mom, and a lot from you.”

Melody grinned. She turned to Ellie, who leaned back in the ball pit, as if floating atop an ocean. Melody asked, “Did you learn, too?”

Ellie waved her arms, skimming the balls on the surface. “Not in the way your mother talks about.”

She closed her eyes and let herself sink into a colorful sea of plastic. The balls that swallowed her bounced and jostled and she disappeared.

Clara had never seen Ellie vanish before. Her eyes were wide, looking into the dots of red, orange, blue, and green. She caught the looks of the boy and girl who witnessed the whole incident and she thought their eyes would pop out into the ball pit.

“Where’d she go, Mom?” Melody said.

“Hopefully to get better.” She kissed her daughter on the forehead, stood up and took her hand. “Let’s go eat some pizza.”

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Personal Projects

Jessie’s Pirate Queen

Jessie poured a shot of bourbon in her oatmeal and swirled it around with her index finger. Milk, oats, a little bit of brown sugar mixed with sweet maple and toffee tinged spirit, adding a 110 proof bite to cross her palate. With a mug of black coffee next to her economics textbooks, she sat down at her desk and flipped on her computer.

Looking down at the bowl, “I’m the breakfast champion.”

At 26, she finally made it into the state school and could afford a one bedroom studio apartment all to herself. Before, it was shitty roommates and scrounging for community college tuition on two waitressing jobs. Long days standing and carrying plates wore at her knees and shoulders. She’d come home to wash off the memories of customers who didn’t see her as a person and let the hot water in the shower soothe the swollen joints. Her customers now paid her well, and while they made the occasional request that she didn’t understand, she commanded them. Teased. Or seduced. It all depended on which wig she put on that day.

Half Japanese, half mix of American Irish, her natural hair was deep shade of brown with tints of red. Neither of her parents were blessed with height, but she walked her curvy five foot three petite self as tall as she could, occasionally aided by heels, wedges or platform boots. She got her mother’s broad cheeks and thin lips, while the blue eyes and dusting of freckles came from her father.

She didn’t think her parents knew what she did. It’d shock them, perhaps disappoint, but they’d still love her. Maybe. How do you come out to your parents as a sex worker? She finished the bowl of oatmeal and flipped through the macro econ book to review a few minutes before she logged on to her cam feed.

Jessie didn’t provide sex, but merely the allure and titillation through a web cam attached to her computer that she would then log in to a service with an audience. An audience she only saw through chat boxes of text and colorful emoticons. When she logged on, she became Grace O’Malley, a call out to the seventeenth century Irish folk heroine. Her regulars called her their pirate queen. She still laughs at that.

There would be no pirate queen without her former coworker, Camille. They both worked full shifts regularly until Camille went half time and then quit altogether.

In the parking lot after he last shift at the family chain restaurant, Jessie asked, “What are you doing now, now that you’re not running bread baskets and filling water glasses?”

Camille, a full head taller than Jessie, thin frame, narrow face and dirty blonde hair, narrowed her eyes as if to look Jessie over. Camille held her hands flat at her hips in her pockets and looked at the ground. “I got a new job. Pays way better, hours way better, and I don’t get shit on for eight hours serving crappy food.”

“That’s great,” Jessie said, touching Camille’s shoulder. “Where at?”

“My bedroom,” she said with an exhale.

“Wait, what? You’re a–”

“No! Not like that, no one visits my bedroom.”

“Then…”

“I cam,” Camille said, rubbing her face, looking up at the halogen lamp in the parking lot.

“Oh.” She raced through her thoughts, trying to hurdle over the awkward ones and finish with words that weren’t going to hurt. Who was she to judge? Did it matter how anyone made money? Less stress, better hours and pay? “Are you okay with it? I mean, are you happy with it?”

Camille returned to look Jessie in the eyes, “I am. I was a little shy or nervous about it at first, but over time, I got confident.” She smirked. “A skinny girl like me, no hips or boobs, and suddenly I can drive hundreds of dudes wild just by wearing a cut off sweat shirt and yoga pants.”

Jessie laughed, “For real? Yoga pants are a thing?”

“On the internet, anything is a thing.”

Jessie went home six months ago and ventured into the web links Camille texted her. The services would host her cam, collect her money, do her advertising and take a cut of the money she earned for the time she spent logged in. It felt like descending into a hidden world, a subculture with its own slang and personas. The best cam girls, or guys, invented personas for themselves, creating characters they could act out with their God given genetic talents. She took what she knew of Irish folk heroes her father regaled about to her as a little girl, and created Grace O’Malley with a red wig and a cheap corset she found at a thrift shop.

Grace’s wardrobe outgrew Jessie’s as she earned and grew a following. Thrift shop outfits and department store lingerie turned into designer costumes and boutique intimates from stores she couldn’t pronounce. Grace afforded her out of a four bedroom town house. Grace got her on campus behind brick walls. Grace, the pirate queen would sail as long as it took Jessie to get her business degree as a map to where she’d raid corporate America.

Today, she stood at the closet and chose a black wig and an emerald sundress. She logged on to her cam and typed, “Ready to storm the seas?”

 

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Tap it Out

“Use your words, dear. No one can take them from you,” my grandmother said. A former librarian, she still spoke with a polite softness matched by her snug wool cardigans. “Even when you lose your voice, you can write, and if you lose both, you can always tap it out.”

I laid in the trunk of a car twisting any inch of my body to tap out three dots, three dashes and three dots again. The nylon carpet lining the trunk itched my arms and legs. My wrists were bound behind my back and my legs folded and tied so I couldn’t kick the side wall. I could only guess that duct tape prevented my screams. I writhed around in a sweaty jogging outfit, hoping to come in contact with anything to send an SOS.

Slivers of light broke through the seams of where the tail lights attached to the frame, so I knew it was now at least morning since I blacked out during my evening jog. Middle aged, overweight grocery store managers don’t get kidnapped in suburbia, I kept telling myself over and over with sweat pooling at the fringes of the sideburns my wife kept nagging at me to trim. But, here I twisted my waist and shoulders in something not much larger than a coffin. The back of my head throbbed and a high pitched squeal covered the rustling I kept making. Even in the dark, my sense of balanced wobbled each time I opened my eyes.

And time. I don’t know when I woke up or how long I inched around burning up whatever strength I hadn’t lost during my initial muffled screams, snorting and bouncing. During that initial fit, I discovered I couldn’t quite roll over and brush the trunk cover, despite my broad shoulders. The tears and snot warmed my cheek where the seeped into the fabric, and wondered if my wife had reported me missing yet. How would she tell our eight year old son daddy disappeared? Jesus Christ, I knocked my temple in a quick trio of thumps and heard my grandmother’s voice in the library the day she taught me Morse Code.

“The dots are quick, and the dashes are long,” she said, tapping her index finger, dot dot dot, dash dash dash, dot dot dot.

The day before at her house, being a smart ass teenager, I questioned what she meant by tapping it out. She put down her coffee spoon and smiled at my mother who at her ice cream pie dessert. My father called out from the refrigerator to respect his mother. “Come by the library and I’ll explain.”

I stared at her thin hands, her fingers constantly dry from shelving books. She did the taps again. “Your grandfather taught me this on out first date. He was a signal man in the navy.”

I must have blinked or looked confused so she continued, “He sent messages. Sometimes in Morse Code. It’s pretty basic. He taught me to tap out my name and his,” she smiled. “And this is SOS. Meant save our ship, but it’s a universal distress signal. Even people who don’t know Morse Code should recognize it.”

Ten years later, I stole my grandfather’s move and taught a sophomore accounting major how to spell her name by rapping pencils on her textbook. We got married, and now twenty five years after that day in the library, I hoped my grandmother was right.

My forehead bumped against the front of the trunk. I could still see it was daylight through the cracks of the tail lights. This was going to hurt.

I brought the crown of my skull to the metal and bopped out SOS. I still had enough greying hair that the pain was dull. I did it again. And again.

And again.

I stopped counting and instead focused on a rhythm of swing my neck and head at the right angle and not too hard to crack my skull. I huffed through my nose and perspiration streamed down my face and all over my body. The air grew heavy and metallic. With each succession of calling out SOS, I called out memories, bringing forth my wedding, the birth of my son, graduation day, the day I won a hundred bucks off a lotto ticket, my son’s first camping trip with cub scouts, the time my wife wore–.

“This is it. This is the car.”

I wailed a muffled screamed, losing control and slammed my forehead against the frame.

“Holy,” a deep voice said, drawing out the last syllable. A pair of hollow bangs sprang out above me. “Hold on in there. We’ll get you out. Hold on.”

I rested my head, sweat trickled into my eyes. I let my shoulders and neck relax and worked to inhale whatever air I could catch. The plastic binding my wrists stung.

The metal groaned and yawned above me, and a pop blasted a wave of light inside.

“Mr. Collins?” a young female voice said.

My eyes adjusted to the sunlight. Against a partly cloudy sky, I looked up at one of my employees, Amber. A state trooper leaned in and pulled the tape off my mouth. “Let’s get you out of there and cleaned up.”

Amber’s eyes watered and she rubbed her hands repeatedly in front of her chest. “I heard noise as I was pushing carts. I thought it was nothing, but I kept hearing it. Over and over.”

The trooper undid my restraints and blood rushed through my body. The fresh air cooled my skin. I sat and drew my knees up and rested my forehead against my arms and rubbed the sweat off. I looked up at the trooper, who said, “Turns out this girl knows how to recognize distress signals. Good thing, too.”

 

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Wait for a post card

“Can you believe it?” Connie said, shouting over the gusts of wind kicking dirt in their faces. “We made it all this way. All this way, and for what?”

Joyce brushed the sweat off her brow and closed her eyes. Connie bent down on her haunches and picked at the weeds flailing around. They had hiked five miles out of the forest and into what the prospector told them would be a field of rainbow flowers and a valley full of emerald greens. Instead, they trekked through waist high grass that shrunk and thinned out further from the tree line, and even the insects buzzing about grew sparse. Joyce squinted at the darkening sky and placed her hand on Connie’s shoulder, “A long walk to the desert.”

“This isn’t supposed to be desert!” Connie said, ripping a patch of weeds and tossing them into the wind. “It’s supposed to be gorgeous, remember? A postcard tucked away where time forgot. That’s what he said.”

Joyce sat down and took a swig of water from her canteen. Her blonde pig tails brushed her neck in the wind. Her cheeks were flush and the sunscreen had dried out leaving a foundation of dust on her forehead. She didn’t bother to put make up on that morning, knowing they’d be hiking all day in the sun. Connie did the same, but kept a pocket of lip gloss to keep her constantly chapped lips from cracking. She pulled it out now, pursed her lips and huffed.

“So we camp here tonight, huh?” She looked back at the jagged black tree line behind them.

“Yeah. Seems so. We can pitch the tent in a few minutes. Let’s just catch our breath for a few minutes, okay? We’ve been hiking all day,” Joyce said, leaning back.

“Think it’s safe? Out here?” Connie rubbed the length of her grey hiking pants, massaging her sore muscles.

“Connie, there’s nothing out here. The last bird we saw was a half mile to a mile back. There aren’t any bugs nipping at us either. Notice how quiet it is when the wind stops?”

They had left the noisy city for a girls weekend, planned for a long time after window shopping at the outdoors store. The weather worn, middle aged woman of a sales clerk inspired them to purchase a tent, sleeping bags and hiking gear. And with Connie’s recent breakup, Joyce pulled them both together and committed to a three day camping trip. They drove two hours outside the city, where the sprawl dissolved to suburbs and gave way to forests and rising elevation. During a stop inside a provision store, a gaunt man in a faded flannel shirt and worn jeans introduced himself as a prospector.

“Go here,” he said, holding out an elevation map, scrawled with a curved red line. “You’ll find a great view, better than any post card in this shop. Flowers of all colors and greens so green you’d think everything was a gem of emerald Ireland itself that Time forgot to take with him.”

“Really?” Connie said, taking the map, her eyes making sense of how to get to the point where the arrow stopped. “The map says nothing’s out there,” pointing at a patch of white rings.

“There is. Just got to be patient as you make your way out there.”

With their bags stocked with food and water they left the store and drove to a trailhead and parked.

“Do we want to do this,” Joyce asked, strapping her pack on. “We could just camp by the trailers and have showers nearby.”

“I feel like this could be a good adventure. The old guy sounded so sure of it.”

Six hours later they both leaned back against their packs, and watched twilight pull down a thousand stars above. The wind ceased and the ground kept its residual heat. The horizon rolled in the distance, funneling into a cracked riverbed. Stunted patches of grass pockmarked the landscape. Connie sighed and pulled the red bandana off her head, letting her brown hair fall to her shoulders. She tied it around her arm and rolls of her bag. “I’ll pitch the tent. Can you fix a snack to munch on?”

“Sure.”

Joyce pulled her pack in front of her, and dug out the camper stove and plates and two bags of instant trail stew. They had hiked most of the day in silence with Connie still depressed over her third major breakup in four years. Joyce knew her friend to be the independent type, confident in herself, her job, her personal life, but struggled when she tried to tie all three together in a two bedroom apartment. Joyce meanwhile still had her guy of ten years, who was probably letting their pug, Eddie, sleep in the bed.

Connie jostled with tent poles and grunted.

“Need a hand?” Joyce called out as she lit the stove in front of her.

“No. Well, maybe. I’ll figure it out.”

“Just holler,” Joyce said. She turned to focus on adjusting the blue flame.

In the distance, a shimmer streaked across the ground. She paused and waited for it to reappear. Still dry, flat, brown dirt. She placed a plate atop the fine tuned flame, and white diagonals crossed the far end of the dead river bed.

“Connie, something’s happening.”

“The food bad?”

“Connie,” Joyce kicked herself up, nearly tripping over her pack to grab Connie by the shoulders. “Look.”

She dropped the half inserted tent pole as Joyce turned her towards the horizon. Pops of white light sprang from the ground, and flitting embers sparked as the light went out. Red, violet, orange, pink, yellow. A groundswell of chromatic fireworks, perfectly silent, rolled like a cresting wave to the shore of their makeshift campsite.

“Holy shit, oh my god,” Connie shrieked, her tun to grab Joyce by the shoulders, and the ran for the grassy path they came. The ran until the grass scratched at their knees, and the each bent over, gasping for air. The lit ground still approached, and now, beyond the front line at where the shimmer first appeared, a deep emerald glow radiated, and glimmers of floral colors spotted the landscape.

The wave came closer and the ground vibrated, while the air grew heavy and sweet. Connie and Joyce stood back, and Joyce said, “I don’t know how far we’ll have to run.”

“It appears to be slowing,” Connie said, her voice unsure.

At different points, the wave broke and spilled into tendrils weaving through the dirt. The last points of light evaporated a few yards from the still lit stove. The walked back to their camp, slowly, surveying the glowing field.

“What just happened,” Connie said, holding her hands to her mouth.

Joyce walked past the stove and stood, the tips of her boots absorbing the green light. She inched her foot forward and covered the light. She removed it and put her whole foot forward. She waved her arm above and caught rays of light in the air.

Connie followed and took an entire pace into the lit field. She walked farther out and laughed, throwing up her arms, basking in green light.

“The old guy was right,” and she sat down and took in the view. “Better than a post card.”

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Fog of Caraway Bay

Originally for a writer’s prompt, where it had to start with one of four opening lines. I chose the line below, from Jane Eyre.

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. The fog arrived outside my doorstep, hanging its misty grey cloak around my yard, and stood quiet and firm. On days like this, I didn’t let my pup Jasper chase the squirrels back up their trees. Did the squirrels know to stay tucked in the oak tree’s boughs?

I rubbed my right forearm and stared out the front window, sipping lukewarm coffee. Jasper lay on his side, keeping one eye on me. “Sorry bub, no walk today. Fog’s here. I don’t want you taken away by whatever lives within it.”

Jasper blinked his little yorkie eyes and licked his nose.

When I moved to this town, tucked away in the southwest corner of Oregon, the realtor neglected to mention the Fog of Caraway Bay. He sold me on the evergreen forests, counter top diners and a mainstreet free of parking meters. The houses were all the same: post war bungalows painted in all the shades of an easter egg basket. I bought a three bedroom one bath on a half acre that nudged up against the edge of a tree line in the back. Both neighbors on each side of me brought desserts the day I moved in. Alice, the middle aged homemaker, flirted with half smiles and twirling her hair. “I need to get back to my kiddos, but just so you know, we get a nasty fog every now and then. You look like a strong man,” she rested her hand on my forearm, “but it’s best to stay in and wait it out.”

She turned and left before I could express confusion between the plate of brownies, the lipstick smile and fog. I’m a thirty eight year old technical writer who happens to lift weights and eats vegetables. Surely, the computer screen hasn’t worn my eyes bad enough to walk or drive through a bad patch of fog.

Three weeks after I moved in, I felt it first hand. I woke up and everything already disappeared into a blanket of grey. The backyard no longer existed beyond six inches out the patio door. My welcome mat was covered in a cloudy foot. Somewhere near the swallowed up sidewalk lay my newspaper.

I fed Jasper, and walked out the front door. The air was damp and humid, a slight brine odor hung. My cotton undershirt clung to my body, growing heavier and my bare feet absorbed the chill of the walkway. My sixth grade science teacher Mr. Barton explained that being in a cloud was like being in a really thick fog. Whatever cumulo mass of water vapor fell to earth overnight, I inhaled and coughed, sucking in water, and slowed my pace. I’d gone only halfway. I think. The ruby red door behind me appeared blurred and muddy, and in front of me should have been a black top suburban street.

A soft breeze swirled around my right forearm, held up from coughing into the crook of my elbow. Up until this moment, I sensed no wind or air movement, and now a current of mist began to encircle my arm grazing the hair in a fine spray.

“What the hell?”

I looked to my other arm, free of any movement, nor did any air brush across the rest of my body like a normal wind. I took two quick steps forward and the flannel of my left pajama leg flapped back and forth. No longer dry, they stuck to thigh and calf smacking and popping on and off. I kicked on instinct as if to wake up a sleepy limb, but the air continued to move about my leg.

The mist around my arm formed a sleeve, increasing a slick constricting pressure on my skin. I flexed my hand into a fist and swung my arm up. The grey sleeve stuck, leaving an arc of a vapor trail.

And a gush of wind blew over my shoulder and flung my arm forward, catching me off balance and knocking me over. My shoulder took the brunt of the fall, landing at the crack of pavement and grass along the walkway. I groaned and shook my arm, now free of the grey sleeve.

I rolled and jumped up and turned back to my front door, keeping one foot close to the grass to lead me back. With arms outstretched towards the red murk in front of me, my hands collided against a panel of dew and wood. I fumbled for the brass handle and slid inside, slamming the door behind me, paper be damned.

Jasper stared at me doubled over with my hands on my knees, panting in the dry air. I ran my left hand through my greying blonde hair, surprised at how thick it felt with water. My right arm tingled and throbbed, but my forearm burned and itched. I rolled it over.

“What the fuck?”

Five crooked hearts the size of quarters hung from my wrist to my elbow, each inscribed with a letter. H. M. A. Z. M.

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Personal Projects

Boop

“Boop,” the little girl with black curls said, tapping the petals of the pink hibiscus. She scurried barefoot through the summer grass, her hands balled in fists and arms trailing behind her stopping at every flower pot that lined Aunt Marie’s patio garden. Patches of clay tile held pooled remnants of the evening’s watering, creating a humid shore to a sea of barely green, dried out grass.

“Boop,” she said, waving a pointed circle around the sweet jasmine. The patio hugged the back of the house and reached along both sides of the fenced in backyard. She stayed away from the lattice work of wood bent, warped, or chipped, entangled with with strands of honey suckle. The swollen welt of a bee sting still burned on the back of her right hand. Each time her wrist bent, a flare of heat burst.

“Boop,” she tickled the red blossoms of petunias that waved in the breeze next to the wicker chairs and wrought iron table. The adults, Father, Mother, Aunt Marie and her husband, Uncle Frederick, were probably in the parlor deciding which brandy to sip on the patio. But she, Eleanor, zigged and zagged, her knees kicking at the hem of her favorite yellow dress. It puffed out in her shoulders and a red satin band circled her waist. She hoped Mother couldn’t see her shoes tossed underneath the table.

“Boop,” she held the stem of the day lily that matched her dress to a dirt blemish. She had tripped on a sunken patch of lawn and landed on her hip. She stole a glance at the window. Aunt Marie kept her rosemary in the hanging pots underneath the window. Still no adults. No adults watched her turn Aunt Marie’s Ladies Club Prizewinning Garden to life. With each touch the flowers danced. They jittered like bugs, trotted like foxes, and swung like circus acrobats P.T. Barnum brought to town. All around her, she conducted the sycamores and willows to play the brass and boom of the bands on Mother’s records, kicking up the tempo with each step of her foot. Tomorrow evening, she’d bring her doll, Catherine out to dance with her. Catherine preferred the steady pace of the waltzes.

Boop. The man paced his hands up and down his cheeks to dry the tears away. He stood over the bed. His mother’s white curls were short and thin. An IV line stuck in to her right wrist. The nurse on the last shift put on a canary yellow gown and tucked her into the bed. Numbers he didn’t understand blinked from the machine standing on the other side of the rolling tray table.

Boop. His sister stood next to him, and rested her head on his shoulder. For both, their black hair was turning silver, like their mother’s did during her 83 years. She raised them both while their father worked at the factory. They both found music, through the vast collection of vinyl that collected on the shelves of their family’s den. She, a middle school orchestra teacher, and he the conductor of a symphony in a flyover state.

Boop. Now, their mother rested in a state of peace. Her eyes sunk deep and twitched gently.

Boop. They nodded to the nurse, a woman half their age, who was about to turn off the ventilator. It was her first time to do such a thing. In the quiet of her own mind, she sang, “Tonight, Tonight.”

“Boop.” A fire fly popped. Maybe she should go inside to get Catherine.

Bo-.

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Personal Projects, Technology

Map of whiskey producing countries

For some time, I’ve been meaning to play with web friendly mapping and visualization tools such as d3.js, datamaps.js or crosslet.js. D3 is quickly becoming the defacto standard for displaying statistical visualizations on the web, and other libraries are hooking in to add additional capabilities, like mapping. Communicating data effectively is the future, if not right now, and being able to get that data on to the web efficiently is a valuable skill.

Like all skills, you need experience, and as a beginner it’s often best to dive in and muck around. It’s helpful, too, to have a purpose, or an itch to scratch when playing around with new tools. In my case, I wanted to create a map of countries that produce whisk(e)y.

First, I needed which countries produced whiskey. There’s no real definitive list, thus I used a composite of sources. And by produce, I mean distill. Also, I may have missed some countries or left them off if I could not corroborate what info I did find. Note, Scotland, Wales, England are part of the United Kingdom.

Next, I chose datamaps.js as my mapping tool. It looked straight forward and minimal. Tweaking a few settings, I set the default map color to grey and whiskey producing countries to red. To tell the tool to flag countries, you use an international three letter abbreviation and assign it an attribute. For example, here’s the designation for Australia:

AUS: {
fillKey: 'MAKES'
}

Datamaps.js can also add other contextual information in its rollover of a country. Say you know how many distilleries there are for a country, you can add an additional property.

Below is a screenshot of the map. Click here to view the map of whiskey producers in the world.

whiskeymap

Countries colored red are those that distill whisk(e)y.

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Music, Personal Projects

31 days of live music summary

Thirty one days span the month of August. In those thirty one days, I saw, experienced, and absorbed live music. Everyday.

The days ranged from loud, raucous, sweaty, boozy, sober, smokey, smoke-free, quiet, infectious, challenging, enthralling, boring, fun. Much like a mix cd with thirty one tracks, some shows surprised me with how much I enjoyed them, while others I bided my time to meet my minimum. For a show to “count”, either a set or 45 minutes must pass. Occasionally, I stayed longer, especially if it was a Friday or Saturday night and more than one band lined the bill. The other rule I kept myself to (for the most part) was to only go to a particular venue once a week. I could easily venture to The Live Oak two or three times a week and see live music.

The idea of see a full month’s worth of live music stuck with me since I read about a guy who saw a 100 bands in 100 days (which spanned oceans). My ambitions never pushed me to go for 100 days, but doing a marathon month of consecutive live music concerts seemed doable. And with my recent move to a more central part of Fort Worth, the goal appeared attainable. August approached, and with no significant travels, I committed myself to the challenge.

The challenge began on a sweltering patio of 100 plus degree heat with the sparse acoustics of Terry Rasor and ended with Fou’s dream pop, in the final hours of the last day, as the TCU and LSU football game took an ESPN sanctioned long halftime.

Drinks for a month of live music

Drinks for a month of live music

All along the trek, I kept track of who I saw, the venue, how much I paid for a ticket, food, or drink. I only paid to get in to a show five times. Sometimes, I only bought a drink, or if family joined, I bought food and drinks. Ten times, I paid no cover and did not buy a drink. All in all, I spent $344 on the months concert related entertainment. $55 for cover/tickets, $289 for food and drink.

My costs for a month of live music

My costs for a month of live music

To discovery my daily concert entertainment, I relied primarily on Fort Live. DFW.com lacked the depth of concert listings and Worthgoing.com contained hardly any listings. Daily, I’d check Fort Live, peruse the weekly picks and listings, playing a game of logistics in my head. My main criteria was “is there a show at a decent time”? 9:30pm shows on Tuesday for my cube dwelling soul would wear me down quickly. Alternatively, I sought out afternoon shows on the weekends in order to kick back in the evening. My second criteria considered the venues, in my attempts to not go to the same venue more than once a week. When I had some leeway with my first two options, I mapped out the distance and if the artist might be interesting, checking out the venue and Google the artists for samples to get a sense of what they sounded like.

As an aside, this is the part where I confess my disdain for the Stockyards. It breathes character, thrills the tourists, and stands as living history of Fort Worth. A half dozen live music venues call the Stockyards home. However, as a wheelchair user, it’s borderline accessible, uncomfortable to stroll around (bumpity bumpity BU-UMP bump), and accessible parking is about as common as milk in a saloon. What I’m saying is: I avoided shows in the Stockyards, except for a fun family Sunday adventure to the Whiskey Girl Saloon, where my father asked for an Arnold Palmer.

Where I saw live music in Fort Worth

Where I saw live music in Fort Worth

Using Fort Live’s geographical breakdown, most shows I attended happened in the West 7th, Near Southside and Downtown areas. I made it to 19 different venues, several of which were new to me. Queen City impressed, Mambo’s felt weird, and Chubby’s was chill. I didn’t make it to marquee venues such as Lola’s, Tomcats, Rail Club, Wherehouse, Billy Bob’s or the Aardvark. Some are just plain inaccessible–The Cellar, Basement Bar and 1919 Hemphill. For 1919 Hemphill, I fully prepped myself for 45 minutes of metal, only to find a stairway leading up to a room of shredding guitars.

Live shows by genre

Live shows by genre

But what about the music in the rooms (or field) I did make it into? The music range from enthralling (Jessie Frye), captivating (Michael Hearne), okay (Bobby Duncan), tolerable (The Phuss), fun (Leftover Cuties), surprising (jazz quartet at the library). I focused on finding a way to appreciate every act I saw, even those I did not like (The Phuss, Bobby Duncan, CiCLOP). These are people out there making something, putting effort into creating music. That takes skill, a mix of musical instrument proficiency and confidence to perform in front of people. Aside from Cookie Monster, if you’re someone who loves cookies, you’re not going to love all cookies are you?

(The Fort Worth Library gives away cookies during their Third Thursday Jazz Series.)

With a little digging, it’s easy to see how vibrant of a local music scene Fort Worth holds. The best singer songwriters regularly make appearances at The Grotto. During a soulful set by Kilane (I’m still not 100% sure on her name, but she was amazing), she sang a ballad about she and her husband. I couldn’t help but also notice a lesbian couple holding each other close during the song. At Fred’s, Joey Greene led an earnest sing along of Eli Young Band’s “Even if it Breaks Your Heart”. Grizzled veteran Terry Rasor brings a partner for an honest set of unplugged Texas Country.

Even when the bands are plugged in, The Live Oak welcomes the indie bands. During Leftover Cuties’ set, I witnessed a first date (it HAD to be a first date) between two high schoolers. Buttons hosts the funk and soul, and judging by the 200 plus people crammed into the downtown library’s grand atrium, the city nicknamed Cowtown has a love affair with Jazz. The metalheads roam clubs, too, although I never made it out to see any of them. The Stockyards remains well stocked with various takes on country.

Approximate number of shows per night in Fort Worth

Approximate number of shows per night in Fort Worth

Across it all, there’s something for everyone. Monday ekes out a half dozen shows, but by Friday and Saturday, 70 or more live music shows strike out into the night. I’d be willing to bet, on a per capita basis, that’s high for a city the size of Fort Worth. Maybe someone smarter than myself can figure out that math.

For thirty one days, I used a calculus of internet searching, interest and commitment to see this through. There are many things we do every day, and there are some things we do occasionally. To consistently do the things we do occasionally, and make a habit of doing them, takes a certain amount of fortitude. This wasn’t a do or die thing. It was fun, with a degree of serendipity, and I could quit any time and say, “meh, I’ll watch some Netflix tonight”. Life is purposeful. You choose it.

Everyday.

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