June — Portrait of Words #10

Jeff, our POW host, came up with a doozy of a set of photo prompts for us.  Here is the story they inspired:

Spaghetti on Wednesday

“But why, Robert. What is it I’ve done?”bike

“You haven’t done anything, Bev. You’ve been the perfect wife. You’ve kept a perfect house. You’ve raised a perfect daughter. I have no complaints against you.”

Emmaline stood in the hallway outside the kitchen door and listened to her parents talk to each other. When was the last time they’d done that? She remembered, she was in the 4th grade — Mrs. Drieson’s room — when she’d quit trying to start conversations at the dinner table. She had finally come to accept that her parents were polite strangers who happened to share the same house and a brown-haired, brown-eyed daughter named Emmaline.  It seemed that was about to change.

“But a divorce? Why now? Is there someone else?”

“No, Bev. There is no one else.” Emmaline thought her father sounded tired. “But I would like there to be. I would like someone to smile when I walk into the room, ask me how my day went, and share all of life’s joys and annoyances. I want a little spontaneity. I want something beyond meat loaf on Monday, sex on Friday, and ice cream on Sunday night!

“Oh.” That was all her mother said. Emmaline stood outside the kitchen door, picturing her father standing inside that same door, waiting. The only sound that followed was the clattering of dishes as her mother set the table.

spring-roll“Bev, is there anything else you want to say?” Her father finally asked.

After a moment her mother answered, “Are you staying for dinner? It’s Tuesday. I made Spring Rolls.”

Her father sighed. “Somehow, Bev, dinner wasn’t what I was hoping for.” Emmaline heard the back door open and close. Moments later, she heard her father’s car start. She opened the door and stepped into the kitchen.

“Sit down,” her mother said. “Your father won’t be joining us for dinner.” Emmaline asked why, but her mother only shrugged and forked two Spring Rolls onto her plate. They ate in silence.

After dinner, Emmaline went to her father’s study. She stopped at the door and stared. With the exception of her grandfather’s old chair and pipe stand, the room was empty. When had her father moved his stuff? Did her mother even know? chair

Emmaline went to her parent’s bedroom. Her father’s side of the closet was empty. The bathroom had also been stripped of his belongings. Her father had actually moved out.

Her mother came into the room. They stood staring at the bare dresser top together. “My parents — your grandparents — always fought. The house was full of screaming and yelling and throwing things. One day Grandma slammed out of the house and none of us ever saw her again. I didn’t want my life to be like that, so no matter what, I always made certain every thing was calm.” She raised her hands, palm up and shrugged.

“Do you care that Daddy is gone?” Emmaline asked.

“It will be much quieter now,” her mother answered. “You are such a good girl. You never try to break the rules or change our routines.”

girlEmmaline walked down the hall to her bedroom and stood in the doorway. Her walls were beige. Her carpet was beige. Her curtains were beige. Her bedspread was beige. She had complained about her little-girl-pink bedroom, and on her 16th birthday her mother had surprised her with this “adult” decor. Emmaline had asked for purple, but her mother responded that purple was neither practical nor responsible. Emmaline just realized that what her mother had meant was that purple wasn’t “safe.”

She crossed to her closet and opened the door. All if her clothes were black or tan or brown or various shades of beige. There was nothing there that her mother wouldn’t wear.

Wednesday morning, Emmaline skipped school for the first time in her life. She emptied her piggy bank and rode her mother’s old bicycle to the mall. She bought a pair of tight red jeans, a red and black snakeskin patterned naugahide vest, and thigh high, spike-heeled red leather boots. She had her eyebrows shaped, her lip pierced and her fingernails painted fire engine red. Last but not least, she had her brown-hair died electric blue.  Then she went home for her mother’s Wednesday night spaghetti dinner.

May — Portrait of Words

Every month Jeff presents a collection of photographs and asks us to write a story using them.  Below is my May offering.  If you enjoy my short story, please follow the link back to the Portrait of Words Blog, and check out the other players.  If you really enjoy my story, you might consider joining us next month.  A good time is always had by all!

Caught in Amber

CantrellCantrell knew that the best place to hide was in plain sight. He tied his hair back in an orange and purple scarf and covered that with a crazy blue and orange leaf patterned hat. Next he donned an orange, blue and purple paisley jacket, a pair of purple denim jeans and his bright orange sneakers. Then he hid his distinctive golden-brown eyes behind cheap plastic sunglasses. Dressed like that, he could stand right next to his own mother and she’d never recognize him — especially since he’d dyed his hair and beard an orange-ish-brown color. Now he was just another oddly dressed, aging hippie. San Francisco had plenty of them and he fit right in with the carnival atmosphere of the street fair.

He picked up a beer from one of the concession stands and let the crowd lead him past Miranda’s jewelry booth. She was just as fresh and beautiful as ever. He could have stood there all day and stared at her, but he’d long ago learned that was a good way to get arrested. He milled with the crowd, looking at this display and that, but he never wandered so far he couldn’t see Miranda’s smiling face and hear the music of her laugh.

After a couple of hours, his courage fortified with yet another beer — not that he was drunk, he’d only had two and sipped them very slowly — he approached the booth and fingered the jewelry, waiting for Miranda to notice him. She chatted up a customer and processed her sale. Cantrell was so close he could have touched her, but he didn’t. He didn’t want to frighten her, but he had to be close.

Finally, she turned to him with a smile and asked, “Are you looking for anything in particular?” Cantrell almost panicked. She spoke! How could he answer? She’d know his voice! He tapped his fingers to his lips and shook his head no.

“Can’t you speak?” She asked. Again Cantrell shook his head.

“Okay,” she said. “Then point at what it is you’re interested in.”

Cantrell sighed. He was interested in her, but he reached out and touched a beaded hoop earring. The amber beads were the same color as her eyes.

“Very nice,” she said. “These beads are real amber and there is a small insect captured forever in each of them. That makes these earrings pricey.”

Cantrell drew a question mark in the air. “Fifty-five dollars,” she answered.

Cantrell extracted his wallet from his back pocket and paid for the earrings. He stood trembling as she counted his change into his hand. It took all of his will to not grab her and tell her he loved her.grapes

His transaction finished, he no longer had reason to stay, but wasn’t ready to leave. He fumbled with the little velvet box she’d fastened the earrings in, and removed one of the hoops. He looked into the counter mirror and fastened the hoop to his earlobe. Miranda grinned and gave him a thumbs up.

Then he had no reason to hang around. Again Cantrell let the crowd move him, but not too far. He bought a tangle of grapes from a produce stand, and sat down on a bench in the shade to eat them. He heard her call out that she was taking a break.

VWHe watched as she approached a fast food concession and placed her order. Cantrell couldn’t believe his luck when, food in hand, she came and sat right beside him on the bench.

She ate beside him in silence. Cantrell simply enjoyed her presence. Finally she finished and gathered up the trash, then, as she rose to her feet, she spoke. “You know, Dad,” she said. “You’re never going to get your visitation rights back if you keep violating the court order. You better go before you get caught again.”

That was his daughter — beautiful and smart. Cantrell chuckled to himself over the scene as he drove his VW Bug across the bridge to the other side of the Bay and the cheap motel he called home.5

Charlene L. Amsden
All Rights Reserved.

Jeff’s Portrait of Words #5 (My #1)

Jeff hosts a monthly meme where he puts a handful of photos up on his blog and invites us to create a story with them.  I’ve been wanting to participate in this meme for a long time, but couldn’t find the time.  Finally, Tuesday night, I started writing — and I am posting my story right at the edge of the deadline.

Portrait of Words #5

Mina & The Carousel

Hermina Romunda Guadalupe Lizet Villanueva has dreams as grand as her name.  That’s why she was sitting in the Hydrangea bush beneath the Maitland’s dining room window.  The Maitlands were thieves.  Hermina knew it and she was going to prove it.

Saturday afternoon Mina had secretly followed her sister, Maria Celeste, to the Church Street Post Office.  Celeste had told her parents she was going to the movies with her girlfriends, but she didn’t go anywhere near the mall.  Instead, she pretended to post a letter, and “accidently” encountered Roger Finklemeyer outside his dad’s clothing store.

Roger worked for his dad on the weekends and was on his way to Burger King for lunch.  Maria decided to join him.  Mina was all set to take pictures of their rendezvous with the camera on her mother’s cell phone.  That’s when the Maitland’s caught Mina’s eye.  Mr. and Mrs. Maitland were standing in the the front window of LaVive Art Gallery where a huge painting depicting an old-fashioned horse and carriage complete with groom was on display.   The Maitlands, however, were looking into Mrs. Maitland’s satchel.  Mina heard Mrs. Maitland say, “I can’t believe we really did it.” and Mr. Maitland answer,  “I think we should get it home and out of sight as quickly as possible.”

Whatever was in the bag, it must have been heavy — and very distracting. It took both of the Maitlands to carry it, and they walked right past Mina without even recognizing her!  The old couple had no sooner disappeared than Mr. Finklemeyer came running out of his store yelling he’d been robbed.  Roger jumped up out of the booth where he’d been playing footsie with Maria, and ran to his dad.  The two of them disappeared into the store arguing about who was supposed to be watching the merchandise.

Mina was so busy trying to figure out what was going on, that she forgot to hide and was standing square in the middle of the sidewalk when Maria came out of the hamburger joint.  Luckily Maria was staring after Roger.  Mina hurried around the corner and hid behind a tombstone on the grounds of St. Anne’s Catholic Church.  Mina wasn’t Catholic, but just the same she said a prayer for the person whose tombstone provided her cover.  After a few minutes, Maria stomped by and Mina followed her home — keeping a safe distance of course.

That night at the dinner table Mina told her father that  she thought the Maitlands were thieves.  Her father told her not to go spreading tales like that without proof and gave her a lecture on “bearing false witness”.  Mina didn’t quite understand what he meant because she hadn’t told any tales about bears, but she did understand that she would need proof if she wanted her parents to listen.

That’s how she ended up in the Hydrangea bush with her mother’s cell phone in her hand.  She needed a picture of whatever it was the Maitlands stole — but she hadn’t stuck around outside the Finklemeyer’s store long enough to hear what had been stolen.  She’d tried asking Maria, but Maria had just socked her in the shoulder and told her to keep her creepy, spying eyes away from Roger Finklemeyer.

Mina listened intently.  The window above her head was open.  She could hear a lawn mower down the block, cars passing out on the boulevard, the slight whisper of wind from the trees, but not a sound from the Maitlands.  Their car was in the driveway so she knew they were home; what she didn’t know was where inside their house they might be.

Slowly Mina raised her hand until the camera lens of her mother’s cell phone cleared the window sill.   She clicked a quick picture and jerked her hand down.  There on the tiny cellular’s screen was Mrs. Maitland, looking right at the camera in obvious surprise.  Mina erupted from the bush and ran for home without once looking back.

Her mother was waiting for her on the front porch.  “Alright, young lady,”she said.  “Give me my cell phone.”

Mina reluctantly handed it over.

Her mother opened the menu and scrolled straight to Mrs. Maitland’s photo.  She shook her head and then shook her finger at her youngest daughter.  “Edith called and said you were poking around in her bushes.  I told her she must have you mistaken with some other girl.  She was going to the window to look out and tell me what you were wearing, when you apparently popped up and took her photo.  You nearly scared her to death.   Exactly what were you up to?”

Mina shrugged.

“You were playing spy again weren’t you?”  Her mother demanded.

Mina looked at her shoes and didn’t answer.

“Very well,” her mother said,  “You may play spy in your bedroom for the rest of the afternoon — and don’t come out before supper!”

Mina sat on the side of her bed dangling her feet.  What kind of super spy got sent to her bedroom?  What kind of a super spy even got caught?  Mina puckered up her mouth and stuck out her chin.  “I’ll show them,” she thought.

Maria sashayed into the room.  “My little sister the spy,” she said, and rolled her eyes.  She perched on the edge of Mina’s bed.  “Can’t even watch two little old people without getting caught.”

“Well I watched you,” Mina said.  “All gushy and big-eyed, ‘Oh, Roger,'” Mina mimicked her sister’s voice, ‘Fancy meeting you here.’  Like it was an accident when you’d been waiting for him right outside his father’s store for like a half hour.”

“Oh!”  Maria let out a shriek, jumped up off the bed and grabbed Mina by both of her black, glossy pig-tails.  “Listen, Brat-Child,” Maria said.  “One word about Roger to Mom or Pop and you’ll regret it!  I’m warning you!”  She pulled on Mina’s pigtails until the girl was looking straight up at the ceiling, then gave them an extra tug for good measure and flounced from the room.

“Whatever,” Mina mumbled. but she made certain it was quiet enough that Maria didn’t hear.

Monday in school Ellie Haversol told Mina that a miniature carousel had been stolen from behind Finklemeyer’s store.  She said it was about  twelve feet in diameter, permanently mounted on a flatbed trailer and covered in hundreds of thousands of Austrian Crystals.  Mina knew there was no way the Maitlands had that in their shopping satchel — so what did they have?  While Ellie was going on about the carousel Mina was trying to remember what other stores were near Finklemeyer’s Clothing.  There was the Post Office, Burger King, St. Anne’s Church, and Emmerson’s Gem Stone Emporium.  Mina wondered of Emmerson’s was missing anything.  She didn’t have to wonder how to find out.  Tara Emmerson was in her 5th period class.

“Mina!”  Ellie snapped impatiently, “Have you listened to a word I’ve said?”

“Yes, of course,” Mina answered.  “You said Finklemeyer’s had a miniature carousel stolen from behind their store.”

“Oh!”  Ellie stamped her foot.  “I also told you that old man Finklemeyer, Roger’s father, is in jail.  He is suspected of stealing it.”

Mina was confused.  “Why would he report it stolen if he’d stolen it in the first place?”  She asked.

“He didn’t steal it!”  Ellie said.  “He was watching it.  The carousel was imported from Austria.  Old man Finklemeyer’s cousin is some rich, muscle bound, movie-actor, Governor or something or other — I’m not quite sure about that part — and he had this carousel shipped in for his kid’s  birthday party.  The thing is supposedly decorated with thousands of dollars worth of Austrian crystal, brass, copper, and silver.  Not only that, but the brass rings aren’t brass.  They are solid gold — each one worth a fortune.  Roger Finklemeyer said so.”

“Oh wow!”  Mina snapped her fingers.  “That’s it!”  She sprinted for the door, calling back over her shoulder, “Thanks, Ellie!  I gotta go!”


The pictures in the meme come to you courtesy of Dr. John.