Have to Share: Laura Rider’s Masterpiece

Loved this novel, and had to share, in case anyone else has been feeling a bit of reading ennui lately:

Laura Rider is a force of nature hidden amongst the housewives in her small Wisconsin town. She owns a gardening business with her husband, Charlie, with whom she has laughed, loved (but not physically, lately), and lived for more than a decade. But now, she pretty much knows the gardening business inside and out. So now, she’s bored. And looking for something else to do.

When one of her heroes, radio personality Jenna Faroli, moves to town with her husband, an older man who is also not providing for his wife’s carnal nature, both Laura and her husband notice. Charlie, the easy-going, charming, lovable idiot, is eager to find someone who is as interested in a sordid, motel screw as he is. Laura is fascinated that this charming, intelligent woman is kind of physically plain and also, interested in her husband. Romance, chaos, and creative forces ensue.

This novel is fun, funny, and looks at what happens when smart people are forced to recognize their own flawed humanity by making terrible mistakes. How being driven can help you figure out what change you are craving, and how to make it happen. And how believing in aliens does not prevent a man from catching the attention of not just one, but two, amazing woman – but keeping their attention requires effort.

I loved this novel, and the audiobook version I borrowed from the library was very well done. The reader had an engaging voice, and although my office may be freezing, this book made it entertaining to drive to & from it. I may have just listened to this book at the right time, but I don’t think so. Although it only has 2.5 stars on Goodreads, I found it well-written, funny, and insightful.

So I highly recommend, if you’re looking for something fun.

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Haze

How could he have missed her, when her skin was luminescent, as though she were shining from the inside out? He knew, in actuality, it was a mutation caused by his grandmother’s excessive use of hairspray, his mother’s generation’s prioritization of convenience over climate. Still, his heart fluttered.

She had dark violet eyes, a shade his mother claimed people used to purchase plastic-silicone cups they put directly on their eyes to obtain. He had never understood the appeal of this optical vanity until he got close enough to see into her eyes for the few seconds before she maced him. It was the right move; the ever present fog comprised of pollution had further empowered and encouraged rapists, and glowing in the dark made her more noticeable prey.

He told his mother about her when he got home, though as usual, his mother didn’t really listen. His eyes may have been the ones stinging from capsaicin and not having been the unknown girl’s love at first sight, but his mother’s eyes were the ones overflowing as she wailed once more about how she was such an awful person to have brought him into this world that was so dark and bereft of something called Oxycontin, about how she had trusted the politicians who lied regarding the veracity of global warming when she should have listened to the hippies. And wasn’t it so ironic, now everyone lived like hippies because the water was the wrong temperature and too polluted for bathing, and the supply of dry shampoo had run out when he was only 2. Or maybe it wasn’t ironic because her understanding of that word came from a song from the ’90s, which she had later heard used the term incorrectly.

Eventually, his mother tired herself out. Her lids closed, and she drooped onto the tabletop, and he went to bed, because it was dark and no one else in his home was awake, and there really wasn’t anything to do.

He couldn’t sleep. Violet eyes, fringed with long lashes, stared into his own every time his lids closed. He should probably have been tired, but was oddly energized, as though he had come across some contraband Twinkies, and had sugar and preservatives coursing through his veins. Finally, after hours of pretending he would be able to get some rest, he went outside for a walk.

And saw her again.

He was wading round the corner of a crumbling brick building, amidst the foot of water that was now a permanent fixture of a decaying former downtown, when he was forced to halt his next step mid-air to avoid running into her. He saw her right hand begin to move in front of her, and cried out: “PLEASEDON’TMACEMEAGAINIWONTHURTYOUIPROMISEINFACTIWOULDLIKETODOTHEOPPOSITEOFHURTYOUBECAUSEYOUINTRIGUEMEBUTPLEASEPLEASEDONTSPRAYMEAGAINBECAUSETHENYOUWILLHURTMEANDDOESNTTHATMAKEYOUAHYPOCRITEANDOHMYGLOBALWARMINGNOWIMBABBLINGLIKEMYMOTHER. SORRYBOUTTHAT.”

Her hand halted. She looked at him, eyes narrowed, and then burst out into laughter. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

He ran his hand through his greasy hair. “Um… yes?”

“Well, it’s a good thing you said something, since I’m carrying a stun gun and not mace.”

He was relieved at having not been attacked again, and curious as to how she had obtained a stun gun, given that they were illegal. Mostly, though, alarmed: “Yes, good I said something. I don’t like being electrocuted.”

She shook her head at him, lips pursed in derision. “You can’t play cool now. You just admitted to the ultimate girly insecurity: fear of turning into your mother.”

He opened his mouth, sure there was an objection to this, and them closed his mouth, having been unable to find it.

“It’s okay. I don’t particularly want you to turn into your mother, either.” She winked, revealing sparkly lids, before pushing past him. He turned to watch her walk away, only to see her look over her shoulder, and prompt him to follow her.

“Where are we going?” he asked, walking quickly so that he was at her side.

She shrugged. “I dunno. To find something to steal.”

“… steal?” He was a well-behaved boy, having heard numerous horror stories about what happened if people were caught stealing. It involved cruel and unusual punishment, occasionally culminating in death.

“Do you have something to live for?” she asked him, flashing teeth in a reckless smile. Her words were flippant, and he could not tell whether or not she was serious.

They arrived at a large group of brick buildings, whose front glass doorways were dark with dirt and dust, whose parking lots were spotted with vehicles that rose out of the constant smog, which they avoided out of decency, since the owners were likely living out of them. They tip-toed through the mist, moving without sound over the concrete, before she picked up a heavy green pole still occasionally used to contain the remnants of an illicit cigarette, and broke open one of the large glass windows.

Dust kicked up in small tufts with each step across the small black and white tiles lining the floor right before the window as they weaved between tables. Shortly, they came to an opening in the waist-high wall, and stepped onto dark green, low-pile carpet. Large wooden shelves loomed, filled with paper. She walked to the nearest shelf, running her fingers along the items it contained. “What is this place?” he asked.

“It’s a bookstore,” she responded. She removed a slim volume from a shelf, the front of which showed sad, feminine eyes morphing into a night sky atop a glimmering city. “This one is one of my favorites,” she said.

“You can read?” he asked. He had heard of it from his mother, although it was a concept he had never understood. What was the point in straining your eyes to view small symbols denoting meaning in a world where no one could see anything clearly, given the constant fog comprised of pollution? Yet here, she of the violet eyes held the item so close – maybe there was something to the act he was missing. He stared more closely at the front of her book, seeing white and orange symbols that were obviously supposed to mean something — yet, after staring for a few more seconds, he was completely oblivious to what that meaning was, and agreed with his original assessment of this “reading.”

She, meanwhile, ignored him, seeking out a brighter area, and finally settling in an area of the floor where a small shaft of sunlight shown through the window, lay on her stomach, and began slowly flipping through the pages.

He walked around a bit, finally finding a book filled with pictures, which he took near her and began reviewing. Some of the pictures were very beautiful or interesting, and he found himself getting lost, to the point where he looked up, and realized she was no longer beside him. Tucking up the book he had been looking at under his arm, and feeling a thrill that it was his now that he had decided to claim it, he began searching for her.

He found her, sitting on the dead, formerly grass, slope behind the building, knees up, arms crossed atop them. He sat beside her.

After a few seconds of silence, she sighed heavily, her mouth opening wide like a Greek tragic mask. “Do we have something to live for?”

“I don’t understand what you mean,” he admitted.

She gestured around herself. “Look at this world. Our parents fucked it up. There’s nothing to see, not much to do, and when you find shit to do anyway, such as ‘stealing’ from defunct stores that couldn’t take money if you offered it to them, you’re tortured. What kind of life is that?”

“…our life?” I ventured. “I mean, we’ve never known any different.”

“No, but we’ve heard the stories. Of how it used to be. Our parents lived in a world of light. Now we know nothing but haze and darkness. Violence and isolation.”

“I don’t feel isolated right now,” I said, looking over at her.

She dropped her chin onto her arms. “For now. But this feeling, like the one we just felt, won’t last.”

He thought for awhile. She made a kind of sense, yet he knew, in his heart, that she was not entirely correct. After awhile, he said: “Our life is… not great. But I’ve spent enough time listening to my mother – because when you’re around her, all you do is listen, there’s no point in talking – “

Tiny smile.

” – And I don’t think that they had it better. Should they have taken better care of the earth? Yes. Was it selfish of them to have us, knowing that the world would be nearly unlivable in the very near future? Maybe. But we are here, and we can still find some enjoyment in our lives. Even without dry shampoo.”

She looked over at him. “Dry what?”

“I don’t know. It’s something my mother talks about. A lot.”

She laughed. “You’re a weird guy. Or at least, have a very weird mother.”

“Agreed. Pretty sure I have to give mom all the credit, though.” After a pause, he said: “I’m Jeffrey, by the way.”

She looked over. “Nice to meet you, Jeffrey.” After a pause: “Amy.”

They sat behind the store awhile, making small talk that dipped its’ toes into large talk, and increasing their amiable feelings for each other until the initial liking of each others’ company began turning into something more.

Written in response to M’s June Writing Prompts

H&G: The Witch Needs to Update

“Look,” Geoffrey said, pointing towards a copse of trees about 600 meters away. The green of their leaves shone brighter in the sun that shone, seeming to single out these trees amongst the cool shade of the woods surrounding them.

“No, Geoffrey,” Hannah protested, stamping her right foot, her hands curled in fists at her sides. “You will not drop trou and piss in the woods. I will not have it.”

“Aren’t I supposed to be the bossy one? I’m the boy, and I’m older.”

But it had always been this way. It was difficult to resist someone who was so opinionated and certain when you were an aimless waffler.

Speaking of waffles…

“What is that delicious smell?” Hannah asked, her nostrils widening as she breathed deep.

“What do you care? You don’t eat – anything, really, as far as I can tell.”

Hannah shrugged. “True. But baked goods means that there is probably someone nearby. Perhaps in a lovely little cottage.”

“Lovely little cottage? Have you been watching those Jane Austen movies again or something? We live in the 21st century, not the 19th. Also, have you seen those hairstyles? You could never pull that off.”

“No one could. That’s why they wore bonnets. Or hats? I don’t know – something that covered their head.”

“That’s about the level of eloquence I expect from you.”

“I would kick you, but it might cause you to piss yourself.”

“Thank god for Oprah; I might not be alive anymore if you weren’t a germophobe.”

“…Hello children.” The voice broke through their fighting, despite having a fragile, bitter quality that should have been easy to ignore. Its’ owner looked equally frail, and was waving a hand with gnarled, knobby fingers at them, smiling at them with a mouth filled with crooked, yellow teeth.

“Hello,” Geoffrey said politely.

“You must be tired, if you have walked all the way out here to my cottage. Please help yourself to my house.” The gnarled fingers skimmed along the windowledge, and the siblings realized it was gingerbread. The entire house, in fact, was gingerbread, decorated with thick white icing, windows spun from sugar.

“Please. Eat,” The elderly woman prompted again, but both of them declined.

“That’s sweet, but I’m on a diet,” Hannah said.

“Diabetic,” Geoffrey said ruefully, shrugging his shoulders.

“Although, if you don’t mind, we would love to use your bathroom,” Hannah continued. She had begun feeling the pressure from her own bladder for the last few minutes, and was relieved to think that she would not have to walk all the way back to the car without relief.

“Bathroom? How would I get plumbing to work in a dessert house?” The witch replied, furrowing her brow in disbelief.

“I don’t know. How do you prevent the bugs and birds from eating it?” Hannah retorted, her bladder pressing ever more urgently.

“I don’t. It’s just fresh baked. Look, here they come now.” A line of ants was creeping up towards the windowpane from which the witch had greeted them.

“Well, what are we supposed to do?” Hannah asked, certain the woman was holding out on them. “Our car has got to be at least 2 miles away!”

The elderly woman shrugged. “Use the trees like everyone else?”

As the two hangry females had been arguing, Geoffrey had crept behind a nearby tree and done just that. Hannah refused.

So it was that two hours later, two lost little children came upon a restroom in the woods. They ran inside, only to find themselves caught in a trap once they had relieved themselves. And Hannah and Geoffrey came upon their car, having been lost only once, which was a full four miles from their encounter. Hannah would discover she had a urinary tract infection the next day, and Geoffrey would secretly revel in the fact that he had not solely been her lemming, and he did not.

The Writer’s Journey

I recently borrowed a copy of Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers from the library. The title appealed to me, as someone with aspirations to potentially becoming a published novelist at some point in the future who also has a background in Classics. There are a lot of writing aids out there, some better, some worse. Based on the Vogler’s own words, this particular guide is his interpretation of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. However, as someone who has actually not read Campbell’s famed work, I found Vogler’s work meaningful, particularly because he uses examples from famous books and movies to help explain the concepts that he is recommending to help structure any (longer) work – novel, screenplay, etc.

Because this was a library book, and I could not mark the book up with highlights, handwriting, etc. (yes, I am one of those people who marks up her books), I am including the quotes, tables, summaries, etc., that struck me on this initial reading below. You definitely are not expected nor recommended to read the remainder of this post; this is literally posting so that I don’t lose the info that struck me as interesting/poignant from a reference book, but if you are currently struggling with the plot of this novel, I think this particular reference book could be a good resource.

Okay, now I’m going to post my notes, and shit’s going to get boring. #youwerewarned

At heart, despite its infinite variety, the hero’s story is always a journey.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “A Practical Guide”

Archetypes:

Ultimately, a Hero is one who is able to transcend the bounds and illusions of the ego, but at first, Heros are all ego: the I, the one, that personal identity which thinks it is separate from the rest of the group.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Hero”

People commonly think of Heroes as strong or brave, but these qualities are secondary to sacrifice – the true mark of a Hero.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Hero”

Ideally, every well-rounded character should manifest a touch of every archetype, because the archetypes are expressions of the parts that make up a complete personality.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Hero”

Interesting flaws humanize a character.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Hero”

Gift-giving, the donor function of the Mentor, has an important role in mythology.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Mentor”

Testing of the hero is the primary dramatic function of the Threshold Guardian.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Mentor

The energy of the Threshold Guardian may not be embodied as a character, but may be found as a prop, architectural feature, animal, or force of nature that blocks and tests the hero.


Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Threshold Guardian”

The Shapeshifter serves teh dramatic function of bringing doubt and suspense into a story…

Shapeshifters appears with great frequency and variety in the film noir and thriller genres.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Shapeshifter”

The negative face of the Shadow in stories is projected onto characters called villains, antagonists, or enemies. Villains and enemies are usually dedicated to the death, destruction, or defeat of the hero. Antagonists may not be quites o hostile – they may be Allies who are after the same goal but who disagree with the hero’s tactics. Antagonists and heroes in conflict are like horses in a team pulling in different directions, while villains and heroes are like trains on a head-on collision course.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Shadow”

In secret societies, a old rule of initiation is: Disorientation leads to suggestibility.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Ordinary World”

Every good story poses a series of questions about the hero.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Ordinary World”

Fairy tale heroes have a common denominator, a quality that unites them across boundaries of culture, geography, and time. They are lacking something, or something is taken away from them.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Ordinary World”

Scripts often fail because the stakes simply aren’t high enough.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Ordinary World”

In a good story, everything is related somehow to the theme…”

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Ordinary World”

A string of accidents or coincidences may be the message that calls a hero to adventure. This is the mysterious force of synchronicity

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Call to Adventure”

An important lesson of martial arts is Finish your opponent.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Road Back”

The central crisis or Supreme Ordeal is like a midterm exam; the Resurrection is the final exam. Heroes must be tested one last time to see if they retained the learning from the Supreme Ordeal of Act Two.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Resurrection”

Resurrection often calls for a sacrifice by the hero. Something must be surrendered, such as an old habit or belief. Something must be given back, like the libation the Greeks used to pour to the gods before drinking.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Resurrection”

There are two branches to the end of the Hero’s Journey. The more conventional way of ending a story, greatly preferred in Western culture and American movies in particular, is the circular form in which there is a sense of closure and completion. The other way, more popular in Asia and in Australian and European movies, is the open-ended approach in which there is a sense of unanswered questions, ambiguities, and unresolved conflicts. Heroes may have grown in awareness in both forms, but in the open-ended form their problems may not be tied up so neatly.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Return with the Elixir”

A rule of thumb: Subplots should have at least three “beats” or scenes distributed throughout the story, one in each act.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Return with the Elixir”

Another good rule of thumb for the Return phase is to operate on the KISS system, that is: Keep It Simple. Stupid. Many stories fail because they have too many endings.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Return with the Elixir”

Arsenic and Old Friends

It’s a little rough, but here is my story, prompted by M of Putting My Feet in the Dirt’s February 2019 Writing Prompts:

“Peach coffee and hazelnut tea?” The words slurred listlessly out of the orange-hued lips of the barista, whose eyes were heavy with sleep and mascara. Morgan smiled and said thank you, both actions that went unacknowledged, although Morgan liked to think that her actions were both charming and meaningful, and would slightly brighten the barista’s day, or at least change the world. She picked up the steaming mugs, and took them to a small table by the window out of which her companion Anna was staring intently.

“Here is your disgusting beverage,” Morgan said cheerfully, the harshness of her adjective belied by the gentleness used to set down the drink. “Although it’s possible it’s coffee.”

Anna looked at her, right eyebrow quizzically raised.

“I’m assuming the barista misspoke,” Morgan said. “But maybe the universe decided to save you from yourself; specifically, your cafe decisions.”

“But I can’t drink coffee!” Anna laughed, rubbing her stomach gently.

“The kid’s not even born yet, and you’re going to let him just walk all over you! First, it starts with what you can eat and drink, then it’s going to be what clothes you can wear… what next? What hairstyle you have? Where will the madness end? You need to take a stance, Anna, and I think that stance should start with coffee.”

“She is a bit of a monster, but what can I do? She takes after me,” Anna replied, taking a small sip of her drink, and then a large gulp. “And if I was going to ‘take a stance,’ as you put it, it would not be with peach coffee, which I sincerely hope is not a thing, because it sounds disgusting.”

“True,” Morgan said. “Almost as gross as peach tea.”

“What do you have against tea? It’s good for you, especially when it’s not caffeinated, and it’s delicious. Try it.” The diamond solitaire on Anna’s left hand flashed as she nudged her mug across the table.

Morgan’s nose wrinkled in distaste. “I will not try it. I am a true American; tea is for wankers who try to make me pay taxes.”

“I think the people trying to make you pay taxes – and succeeding, I might add, since they’re automatically deducted from your paycheck – are also coffee-drinking, ‘true’ Americans.”

“Anna – must we really discuss politics? I thought I was in polite society. Such poor taste.” Morgan clucked her tongue and shook her head.

“I hardly think you would meet with me if you wanted polite society. And you started it!”

“Get your mind out of the gutter,” Morgan faux-chided. “I was merely discussing history, with no political intentions whatsoever.”

“Mm-hm. And what’s the historical significance of your hazelnut latte, exactly?”

“I have had them to drink before, and I like them,” Morgan replied.

Anna laughed. “Fair enough. And I like my baby-healthy, fruit-flavored tea.”

“… do you? Really?”

“I mean… not as much as coffee. But yes.”

“Ugh, I’m sorry. I forgot you couldn’t have caffeine when I suggested meeting here, to be honest.” Morgan had not forgotten. The small, bitter seeds within her heart had overtaken her intellect and social consciousness. She knew that she should be more kind, if anything, to her friend, but it was difficult to be kind, sometimes, to someone for whom everything came so easily.

“I’ve always liked Julie’s,” Anna replied, “even when I’m not drinking her caffeinated ambrosia. If nothing else, the view is great.”

“These turquoise chairs are trendy,” Morgan agreed.

“I was thinking more of the view out of the window,” Anna corrected. “I was looking outside at the trees while you waited for our drinks.”

Morgan looked out of the window, but failed to find much of interest. Maybe pregnancy hormones made the three trees outside appear more beautiful, or created the optical illusion that three trees made a forest or something.

“Do you think the trunk of a tree ever gets jealous?” Anna asked.

“Um… what?”

“The roots do important work, and obtain the nutrients that the entire tree will use to survive. The foliage, flowers, and fruit draw the eye of those who behold it, providing beauty and sometimes even food to others. And while the trunk has an important function, keeping the roots and the leaves connected, it is not a very difficult function, and at the end of the day, it’s really just a hollow husk.”

“… I’m going to be honest with you, Anna. I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I’m pretty sure the hallucinogens causing you to spout this nonsense are not good for the baby.”

Anna smiled, the pointed tips of her small canine teeth flashing for a second before disappearing beneath her upper lip. “Did you know, that night when we met Ben for the first time, I actually thought he was interested in you?”

… The bright sunshine streaming in through the window morphed into the hazy, sweat and smoke-filled air of the Lazy Star, the dark dive bar where most of Morgan’s nights ended. She was holding two flavored vodka shots, and was in the midst of passing one to the tipsy-but-not-yet-inebriated-enough Anna when he walked up.

“Oh em gee, look at that hawt guy coming over!” Anna trilled, seeming excited for the first time in days about something other than wallowing over her failed relationship with Craig, whom Morgan had always thought was kind of a dick, but had underestimated the impact his “I thought I loved you… but I don’t” would have on her friend. Morgan had been secretly worried that not even a night out with potentiality for alcohol poisoning seemed to be ameliorative, and felt her muscles relax as she was suffused with relief.

“Hello, my name is Ben,” he said, hand on his chest as he talked in a host-like manner, which Morgan had thought was funny until she later learned that he was one of the owners of the bar. “And I would love to buy you ladies a drink.” He tried to catch Morgan’s eye, but she was here for her friend tonight, and shut-down any bedtime vibes his dark blue eyes would have prompted in ordinary circumstances.

“Hi Ben! I’m Anna,” her friend said, smile too wide, tone too loud and perky. “And my friend only got me one shot of vodka.” Her lower lip pouted out in a manner intended to be cute.

“Hi Anna,” Ben said. “We’ll have to fix that. More shots? Or would you or… ” He looked at Morgan briefly. “… your friend… like something else?”

Anna looked at Morgan, who could see her company was no longer desired. “Actually,” she said. “I just realized, I have to head out. So sorry to do this, Anna, but I just remembered that I have this meeting for work tomorrow that I forgot to do my slide deck for.”

“You have a meeting on a Saturday?” Ben had asked, clearly not wanting her to leave.

“Yep,” Morgan lied. “The joys of being an accountant. Every day is a long day at the beginning of the year.”

“Oh no! You’re leaving?!” Anna faux-protested. “And I was having such a good time…” She looked over at Ben, batted her eyelashes.

He behaved like a gentleman, reading the signals and giving the desired response. Morgan handed over the shots, and walked out. She had assumed it would be a healthy, consensual one-night stand; instead, her friend had hopped into a new relationship…

The light in the cafe suddenly seems glaringly bright. “Me?!”she laughed. “Who would find me interesting when you’re around, Anna?” She meant the words more than she wished.

“Well, I mean, not as marriage material,” Anna replied. “Obviously.” She laughed at Morgan’s quizzical expression. “I mean, you didn’t even know who he was!”

“… you did?” Morgan asked, remembering how her friend had suddenly seemed so much more inebriated. She had assumed Anna simply hadn’t eaten; that the liquor had quickly gone to her head (and libido).

“Ben Wellesley?! Of course I did. He’s been on the hottest 30 under 30 list since he was of legal age. When he walked up to us, I frankly thought I didn’t stand a chance. Historically, he hadn’t gone for my type. But I lucked out; he was ready to settle down.”

“Your marriage is much more calculated than I realized,” Morgan said, stunned. “Do you really love him at all, then? Do you really want to have his baby?”

Anna’s blonde hair glistened in the sunlight, bright as her diamond ring, which glittered where it rested on her stomach. “Of course I do. This is how I lock him in… And he can’t tell me to get rid of it; he has to pretend to be excited.”

Morgan was slightly impressed and simultaneously horrified.

“But,” Anna continued. “This baby will become the new trunk holding us together. Ben is the roots, providing our sustenance. I am the beauty, obviously, taking my daily pilates and spin classes to stay slim and appear delicate. Which means… the old trunk is no longer needed.”

“… I don’t know what you mean.” Although, of course, she did.

“The old trunk has to go away. Find a new set of roots.”

… She came upon Ben standing outside of Tiffany’s, coveted small blue box in his hand.

“Is that the ring?” she asked, coming up to him. “How exciting! Can I see it? How are you going to propose?”

He looked over at her, eyes slightly glazed. Wordlessly, he handed over the box.

It was so delicate. Morgan had never received or purchased jewelry from Tiffany’s, but now that she was peeling off the ribbon, gently lifting the lid of the box, and peeking into the satin-encased future of her friend – she got it. She felt delicate and special just getting to hold the damn thing; just imagine if it was for her. The sunlight caught the diamond, causing it to shine bright enough to hurt her eyes. It was considerable in size, and nearly colorless; Anna would love it. Any girl would love it. “It’s beautiful,” she breathed, closing the box and handing it back to her friend’s near-fiance.

“It is,” he murmured. It was strange to see him this way; Ben was always so confident, and occasionally even witty, when Morgan encountered him in social situations. But right now, he was so pale it was as though the sunlight shining in full force upon everything else had muted its ultraviolet rays just for him.

“C’mon, let’s go grab a coffee,” Morgan said, grabbing his arm and dragging him towards the nearest Starbucks. “I’m jonesing for some caffeine, and want to help you plan your proposal.”

She selected and purchased his coffee for him (caramel macchiato, because she had no clue what he liked but was fairly certain nearly everyone liked that one), along with two warm chocolate chip cookies (because everything’s better with chocolate chip cookies, even when they’re not mom’s).

“Just what I needed,” Morgan purred, luxuriating in her first sip. She had been working too many hours; she tried to keep on a happy face, but it was a miracle she was even functioning at this point. She had begun having very vivid, detailed, boring dreams about spreadsheets that caused her to startle awake in a panic, only to realize that despite knowing how ridiculous she was being, she still couldn’t go back to sleep.

Ben laughed. “You’re always enjoying life, aren’t you?”

“You have to,” Morgan replied. “We only get one.

“With pressure like that, how can you be certain you’ve met ‘the one?'” He asked, his right hand straying to the pocket holding the little blue box.

“Don’t go all nineties rom-com on me, Wellesley. Anna’s the one. You’ve been dating her for 2.5 years now, and I’ve never even seen you guys get in an argument.”

“Exactly! Don’t real couples argue?”

“Who the fuck cares what other couples do?! Besides, Anna’s just a lovely person; how can you argue with her? I’ve never managed to, and I get in foul, want-to-fight-everyone moods. That woman’s magic.”

“She is. It’s just a big commitment.”

“Pssht. You can always get a divorce.”

It took Ben several moments to realize she was joking.

“People in my family don’t get divorced,” he said.

“Catholic?” Morgan guessed.

“Fiscally conservative,” was the response. “We don’t do things for silly reasons like zealous belief in an imaginary friend; our decisions are made based on money, that most powerful of all the gods.”

Morgan chuckled. “You are occasionally funny, Wellesley.”

After several sips of coffee, he asked her: “Is that why you weren’t interested in me, the night we first met? I wasn’t funny enough?”

“I can tell you get turned down a lot,” Morgan joked.

“I’ve just always wondered.”

“Really? Strange thing to ponder when you’re fucking my friend.” He just looked at her. “Okay, fine. If you’re going to be such a girl about it, I’ll satiate your curiosity.”

“Sexist. I think I’m behaving more feline than feminine.”

Morgan graced that with a smile. Then shrugged. “I just wasn’t open to meeting anyone that night. Anna had recently had her heart broken, and my sole purpose in being at that bar was to be there for my friend.”

“So if I had met you pretty much any other night, you would not have shut me down?”

“I likely would have done the exact opposite. I mean, look at you! With those dark blue eyes that don’t occur very often in nature, I think most girls would be interested.” After a beat of uncomfortable silence, she said, “But thank god I did shut you down! Because now you’re with Anna, and about to propose. Just imagine if you had gone home with me; I’m a disaster!”

He laughed, took a sip of his coffee. “I do think about that, you know. What might be different if I had taken you home, instead. You’re not a mess; though you may be more of a mess than Anna. Most people are.”

“Maybe,” Anna continued, her voice gentle, “find a set of roots who likes, or even loves her.”

How that afternoon coffee had morphed into an afternoon romp was beyond Morgan. She didn’t ordinarily do that sort of thing, given that she was ordinarily working too much during the day to enjoy bedroom activities often when the sun was still out, and she liked her friends and didn’t want to hurt them. “You’re amazing,” he had breathed, when they were done. “How can I marry Anna now?”

“Because Ben doesn’t,” Anna continued. At Morgan’s questioning look, she clarified: “Love you.”

But Anna knew that her friend was wrong. Ben had held her close lovingly, and sparred with her verbally, and stroked her hair lovingly, and bought her the mystery novels she loved to read without being asked. He had told her she was beautiful – and meant it – when she was wearing sweats, her hair thrown up in a ponytail, sans make-up. His loving her, loving both of them, really, was the reason she had continued the illicit affair even when it became clear that Ben was going to marry Anna. He had made the trip with her to Planned Parenthood when, despite their cautiousness, she had become pregnant anyway, and had secretly wanted to keep it but wouldn’t let herself because she thought she deserved the pain and anguish that comes with losing something so precious and she also secretly thought she would be a terrible mother.

Ben did love her. But sometimes, love isn’t enough. Particularly when it is being shared between three people and the wife is tired of sharing.

“Well, I’m still not following your crazy metaphor, Anna. You must be tired; I heard hosting a parasite can do that to you…”

“I appreciate your sympathy,” Anna said dryly.

“… but on a completely unrelated note, I’ve been feeling a little lonely lately. My friend has been all wrapped up in being married and pregnant, and I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind putting out some feelers, and letting me know if there are any viable, interested male friends of yours who wouldn’t mind buying me a drink, or at least fucking my brains out?”

“Morgan!” Anna reprimanded, although she was smiling. “I’m a mother now; you can’t talk that way around me anymore!”

“And why not?!” Morgan demanded. “Didn’t we just talk about this, Anna? You can’t let that little one make all of your decisions for you…”

The hazelnut coffee was warm and delicious, and when it was gone, Morgan missed it, but knew it was for the better, She would drink a new cup of hazelnut coffee soon enough, and she might even like her new cup even better. Who knew? It might even give her a Tiffany’s box.

Writing Prompt: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The lights were, by turns, beautiful, dazzling, sophisticated, funny, overdone, underdone, twinkling, moving, immutable. Distracting even if a person was not consumed with a rabid holiday fervor, although in his experience, most people were infected with good feelings in spite of the fiscal woes associated with the end of the year. This festive virus ensured that the addition of a few tiny bulbs of luminescence made the host entirely unaware of his or her surroundings.

This young woman, for example, with her silky brown hair trailing down her back in waves and her soft cashmere travel wrap, would not ordinarily let a hitherto unknown man stand a mere foot or two away from her for longer than a minute, two at most, unless that man was exceptionally handsome. Yet he, who fell short of even being average-looking, had been hovering near her for a quarter of an hour, and had not received so much as a cursory glance. The scent of Chanel No. 5 wafted through the crisp night air, and breath escaped her mouth in a white fog that merged with his own exhalations.

He could be the love of her life, right here, within touching distance. She could look over, and their eyes could lock, for a minute. And then he, smitten by her beautiful brown orbs, would lose track of where he was and trip over the rubber-tipped toe of her Sorel snowboots. She would giggle, and say something slightly snarky and comforting while flashing a white, orthodontia-enhanced smile. He would respond with some witty repartee, and convince her to get a coffee with him. She would nurse something sickeningly sweet and holiday inspired, like a gingerbread latte. They would talk in the dim lighting of the coffee shop until it closed, and then he would walk her home. A kiss would be shared under the gently falling snow, the first of many more.

He could be a rapist, stalking his prey right here, within touching distance. She could look away for a few seconds, only to feel his hand clamp over her mouth and nose, holding a white rag damp with chloroform. He could drag her limp, heavy body behind the clump of large evergreen trees just a few feet away. She would awaken, hours later, as her consciousness slowly, painfully broke through the heavy, drug-induced haze. She would endure hours waiting in the hospital to be examined, shivering in a green smock that exposed her back and the bruises on her sancrum, where she would learn that in addition to being defiled, she had permanently lost feeling in three of her toes due to frostbite. Then, she would be hoisted onto the police for questioning, where she would be implicitly told, over a cup of gritty dark coffee, that she had been asking for it, wearing such a formfitting snow coat.

He could be her long-lost brother, the black sheep who left the family over a decade ago in pursuit of money and fame in Los Angeles. She could look over, and their eyes could lock, for a minute. They would simultaneously recognize their mother’s eye shape, and know that this was their former playmate, sparring partner, and confidante. She would envelop him in a tight hug, and they would head to a bar. Over cheap, sour beer, he would explain how he was disillusioned, and had only realized after heading out there that he did not have the looks, talent, or contacts to act, nor did he have the money, power, or contacts to produce, and had wasted the past eleven years washing dishes. How he had been completely alone when his cat Mr. Egghead passed away, and had decided it was time to come back home, where he could live with mom and dad and figure things out.

He could be anyone, anything, and she – distracted by the lights – would not look over, would not see him. It was too early for the drunks to come stumbling home from the bar, Taco Bell bags clutched tightly in their fingers and off-key carols escaping their lips. Too late for the frazzled shoppers, who had already driven home, made numerous arm-laden trips into their houses with the as-yet unwrapped presents, and now drank their eggnog and hot chocolate before the fireplace. It felt as though they were alone in the world, and anything was possible.

Christmas truly was the most wonderful time of the year.

She was still focused on the lights when the pain bloomed in her lower intestines. The knife slid easily in and out of her person, and he was walking away, each step crackling with the salt on the soles of his boots, as her blood began to pour onto the clean white snow.

December Writing Prompt #13 from M’s blog Putting My Feet in the Dirt