Tag Archives: manners

Wednesday’s Word Flash Fiction: Knitting at Littleton Elementary

I love the quote Anu Garg uses to jump start this week’s theme on Wordsmith.org:

The French writer and philosopher Albert Camus once said, ‘Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.’

Today’s word is:

nescient. adj. Lacking knowledge or awareness.

I tried different strategies to get my story going: word association, breaking down today’s word into others that might spark an idea, trying to come up with a character name using only the letters from “nescient” itself (if only I’d had one more decent consonant). Nothing worked like I had hoped. So, here’s to writing by the seat of your pants!

*****

Knitting at Littleton Elementary

Joyce’s Dansko clogs squeaked as she turned from the clean black board and scanned the classroom. Twenty-four desks glistened from a long overdue date with a Clorox wipe. Each chair was pushed in snug against each desk. In the reading corner, books were lined up on the shelves in descending order according to height. The bulletin boards were de-cluttered, all those ridiculous xerox copies – of this rule and that rule – tossed in the trash.

Kids needed organization, structure, and only one rule. That’s what Joyce told Marcie after Marcie had gasped and stopped dead in her tracks during their morning walk.

“You signed up to do what?” Marcie’s face went pale.

“Knitting. I’ll be teaching knitting for one week to first through third graders. They’ll be making dishrags.” Joyce smiled confident.

“Joyce.” Marcie took her by both shoulders. “You’re an awesome knitter, but you don’t know squat about kids.”

Joyce took offense to Marcie’s comment. Sure, Joyce was older and never married, but she had nieces and nephews whom she saw twice a year. And, she observed enough bad parenting in the grocery stores. She knew all about how not to parent.

Marcie gestured wildly with her arms. “I know some of those third graders, Joyce. They’ll eat you alive.” She sighed, “what were you thinking?”

Marcie was young, that’s what Joyce was thinking. Just because they were neighbors and walking buddies didn’t mean Marcie knew Joyce that well. Joyce had a look that could make a chatty teenager sink down into the pew any Sunday morning. And, she had a stern voice that could freeze her cat in mid couch-pluck and send her flying under a bed three doors down.

“It’s only a week, Marcie, and I know plenty about kids. I’ll remind them of the Golden Rule, and they’ll behave like angels.” Joyce turned and started walking again.

The Recreation Department told Joyce that the kids loved knitting last year, but the woman who taught it said she was too busy with other projects to teach this year. The class maxed out at ten kids; all she had to do was teach them to cast on, knit, and cast off.

“Okay, but take my cell number in case you need help.” Marcie looked Joyce in the eye. ” And, you’d better bring candy.” Continue reading

The Devil Wears Red, Black, and Green

This week, Wordsmith.org celebrates sixteen years of Logophile mania by choosing words that are all related to the number 16.

Today, Revelation (16:16) brings forth the word of the day:

Armageddon. noun. a decisive, catastrophic conflict.

The final battle between good and evil.

May we begin this writing exercise with a moment of silence….

*****

Betsy tapped the brass door knocker three times. When the door opened, she stood face to face with Mrs. Anderson – long, brown (hot-rolled) hair, big blue eyes dressed in shimmering eye-shadow and thick mascara, lips of crimson red.

The lips spoke. “Bessie! Great!”

“It’s Betsy.”

“Yes? Right. Come on in. This is Michael.”

Michael peeked out from behind Mrs. Anderson’s legs. Betsy saw only the right side of his face, one blue eye the same color as his mother’s and half a head of brown hair. His timid smile suggested an easy night of babysitting.

“I’m so glad you returned my email. I took a chance on the neighborhood Nanny Service. It’s so hard to find a good sitter. Michael is one of a kind, and I hate to hire just anybody.”

Mrs. Anderson guided Betsy into the front room. She said Mr. Anderson made reservations for a last minute dinner with an important client at a fancy downtown restaurant. She had to meet him in 15 minutes. She hurried through directions for Betsy, while Michael disappeared down the hallway.

“Dinner at 6, bath at 6:45. Books at 7, bed at 7:30. Then, the rest of the night is yours! Here’s some money for pizza. The number for delivery is on the refrigerator.”

With manicured nails, Mrs. Anderson thumbed through a stack of $20’s and gave Betsy three.

“Oh, and if Michael makes a little mess, no worries. He’s four. That’s to be expected!” His mother was all smiles.

Betsy waved good-bye as Mrs. Anderson clicked down the sidewalk in her three inch heels.

The house was quiet, except for the sound of slamming doors and cabinets somewhere in the distance. Betsy followed the noise down the hall, past Michael’s bedroom, a study, and a spare room scattered with scrapbooking supplies. She found him in the master bath. His feet poked out of a cabinet opening underneath the sink. Betsy grabbed his ankles and pulled.

“Michael? What are you doing in there, little buddy?”

He turned around and stood up.

“Whoa,” Betsy whispered.

The right side of his face looked the same as before, but the left side appeared altered. A thick line of red lipstick ran from the corner of his mouth all the way down to his collarbone. Eyeliner shot out from his eyebrow into three directions that resembled a pitchfork. Mascara oozed across his eyelid and down the side of his nose. Half of his hair stood on end, held up with sticky, green goop.

“Digging around in your mother’s make-up, little guy?”

“Mine!” He blew past Betsy, and his feet pounded down the hall.

She traced his path using the destruction he left behind. Scrapbook confetti still hung in the air. Blocks from his room tumbled out into the hall. The desk chair in the study lay on its side like a casualty.

She found him in the kitchen, standing on the counter.

Continue reading

I cannot tell a lie, most of the time.

There are only two reasons to wake up early on the Wednesday after Mother Nature dumps a foot of snow in your city: you have to shovel the drive, or you can’t wait to check out the word of the day.

My husband purchased a (monster) snow blower several years ago, so a buried driveway doesn’t stir me from slumber. But, the word of the day…now, that’s excitement!

Today’s word on Wordsmith.org:

pervaricate. verb intr. to avoid telling the truth by being ambiguous, evading, or misleading.

Let’s get right down to some flash fiction business.

****

Ellen had been driving Gary crazy for the past three weeks.

Her desk sat in front and to the left of his, and every time he picked up his coffee for a drink, he saw her rolling her head.

Left.
Right.
A long, slow roll to the left again.
And, hold…back to center.

On that particular Wednesday, Ellen wore a shirt with a collar that rested three inches out from the base of her neck. With her left hand, she pulled her auburn hair around to fall over her left shoulder. The right side of her bare, sand colored, smooth neck – the side facing Gary – shimmered, open and vulnerable.

He sipped. She rolled. He shuffled papers, and sipped again. The last, long roll forced Gary out of his chair. He walked over and stood at the front of her desk. And, he waited, while she rolled back to center.

“Oh! Geez, Gary, you scared me.”

He cut right to the point. “I studied Chiropractics.”

“What’s that you said?” Ellen ran her hand down the right side of her neck.

“I know the ins and outs of the neck like you know that iPhone.”

They both glanced over at the iPhone. It flashed, with a new message of some sort, Gary could only guess.

Ellen turned back to Gary. “You’re a chiropractor? So, why are you working here?”

“There wasn’t much money in my field.”

“Really.” Ellen’s face showed doubt.

Gary started to sweat.

“Your right side bothers you.”

“Yeah,” she said. “This awful kink in my neck refuses to go away, since, like –“

“Three weeks?” he finished.

“About.” She squinted.

“I see it all the time. I studied Chiropractics. I can fix it.”

“You can fix it?”

“Your neck.” His heart raced.

Ellen paused, but then agreed to stand up. She let Gary take her head and neck gently in his hands. Her hair fell around his fingers as he guided her head through another set of rolls. Then, he put his right hand on her chin, and his left around the back of her head. He twisted and snapped.

What followed was a sucession of pops and cracks.
Then, a scream.
A punch.
A gasp.

After the commotion, Barbara walked into the office and found Ellen holding the back of her neck with both hands. Gary sucked in air as he slumped over with his hands at his stomach.

Barbara sighed. “Playing Chiropractor again, Gary?”

“Playing?” Ellen looked up and muttered several obscenities.

“Ellen, you’re still new here,” Barbara said. “I should have told you this from day one. There are three things you need to know about Gary: coffee hound, neck fiend, full of shit.”

“I know Chiropractics,” Gary groaned.

Barbara rolled her eyes. “Oh. And, Ellen. If he ever mentions podiatry, keep your shoes on.”

Barbara turned to leave but looked back once more.

“By the way, I’m going for coffee. Anybody want a cup?”

“Hazelnut,” Gary grumbled, as he wobbled back to his desk.

Smoothing Over Scrutiny

Yesterday, I found out I didn’t make the cut for a writing gig. I half expected such, but somehow seeing the list of writers who did make it, nudged me into a writer’s pity-party. Then, my husband and I moved furniture between two floors last night and discombobulated the house as well as my psyche.

So, here it is Wednesday, which calls for a word of the day post. Wordsmith.org threw me for a loop with this week’s theme — miscellaneous words. I didn’t know what to expect this morning when I pulled up the site. After I read today’s word, my vision panned out from the laptop screen to me: standing at an open door, staring into a dark and empty room, hearing an echo when I asked my muse for any ideas.

“Hello?”

Her lack of answer told me she’s still recovering from yesterday’s pity-party. I’ll have to go on without her.

Today’s word is avoirdupois, a French word gone English. I took four semesters of French in college, documented only by my transcript and a vague memory of a late night phone message left on my friend Rick’s answering machine. He really did know how to speak French; I, through a filter of too-many-Amstel-Lights, babbled in misplaced accents and overdone R’s. Rick never returned my message, a quiet reprimand to stick to writing English.

Its roots in Old French, avoirdupois rolls off the tongue with class and style. But, in English, the word is a disguise for the truth. A noun, avoirdupois means the heaviness or weight of a person.

“Did you just see…?”
“Yeah.”
“Was that…?”
“Susan.”
“Did she…?”
“She did. But, you have to admit, she carries her avoirdupois with elegance.”

Or, on a more personal note, I’m reminded of my son’s recent side comment to me after my husband held his pants waist out and showed off the inches he’s lost since bumping up his running schedule:
“Mommy, maybe you should start running like daddy.”

He hasn’t learned to finesse in English discourse. But in my own defense, I’m a writer, not a runner.

And, some things you just can’t hide.

Pulling My Head Out of the Sand

Today is Wednesday – mid week, mid month – and I’m avoiding my NaNoWriMo novel. Tamora Pierce wrote a great pep talk for NaNo-ers this week, who (like me) are spending their valuable writing time reading emails and blogs. She listed several questions I can ask of my characters to help get my creative juices flowing again. I read her talk and thought, yes. I will ask those questions. Definitely.

But today is Wednesday, and Wordsmith.org doesn’t put their word of a day routine on hold for NaNoWriMo. I’ve committed to write on Wednesday’s word of the day, nevermind I’m easily distracted and willing to do  just about anything…even vacuum the cobwebs from the corners of every room in my house.  Wait, that’s NaHoCleMo.

Anyway, Wordsmith’s word of the day today is expiate: a verb meaning to atone, to make amends for.

So, I hereby expiate for leaving my NaNoWriMo characters in a lurch this week.

To my dear friend Millie, who prefers to live life watching others through the glass pane of windows, I am sorry I left you at that party, in the middle of a crowd, vunerable and windowless.

To Mr. Millstead, who I continue to address as Mr. Millstead. Eventually, I will get back to my draft and figure out when and where I can start calling you by your given name, and therefore let your character fill out and your face color up.

To Marcie, who’s pissed off at the world and likely at me, since I have given her minimal dialogue and few appearances in the novel thus far. I realize you have much to say, and I intend, wholeheartedly, to give you your day.

To Mrs. Wilson, who showed up in the beginning in a lovely opening scene and was cut, by this author’s swift and indifferent hand, in the first few days. You were kind enough to revisit the story and even willing to let your name take the limelight.

My dear characters, in my first draft of Missing Mrs. Wilson, I promise (with my right hand on my heart and my left hand in the air) to write my way to 50,000 words, even if it takes me until Christmas.

***

Phew, that’s a load off.
Now. Enough stalling. Back to that novel.

Iron Bodies

Wordsmith.org’s theme this week is “terms from law.”

Today’s Wednesday, here’s the word:
barratry. noun: the practice of stirring up groundless lawsuits.

If you’re new to my Wednesday’s word of the day routine, know that the word is looked on as inspiration. You can use it in a story, or you can use it as a catalyst for a story. For me – today – barratry takes me back to another flash fiction post about welding and bodies and missed perceptions.

Here’s where we left off last time:

He wore his welder’s helmet. Sparks flew up and out around him. He must not have heard her walk in, but he surely felt her pointed tap on his shoulder. He jumped, dropped his torch, and swung his elbow around. In an instant, her eyebrow burned and she fell back, heard a loud clang, and blacked out.

When she opened her eyes, she looked up into flourescent lights. She blinked once, twice, and then saw him again. Only this time he wasn’t peering out from behind a green welding glass.

“You’re awake. Thank god. You scared me woman. You fell back into a pile of scrap and sliced open your head. I thought I’d killed you.” With that, he put his hand on her arm and squeezed.

Her heart popped and beat fast, and her head swirled. The heat of his hand confused her.

“Those people,” she whispered, “on the front lawn….”

He smiled. She squinted. Then, the nurse pushed open the door.

***

He left the room to give her some privacy. When he tried to go back in, the nurse side-stepped in front of him. Her words were irrelevant; it was her expression that warned him not to return. He left a note at the nurse’s desk and went back home to his welding. She stayed overnight to recover.

A few days later, she sat in her recliner watching TV. During a commercial break, she got up to pour herself another cup of tea. She walked past the TV screen and stopped short.

[Are you the victim of a personal injury? Insurance company not returning your call?]

When victim and personal hit her ears, her mind returned to the scene of the crime. She marched to the window and snapped back the curtains. He had moved the figures, sure, but she still saw evidence of their former positions in the depressed grass. She grabbed her spring jacket off the coat rack. In her frenzy to wrench it closed – tight – with the waist belt, she ignored the in-turned collar. She flung open the front door and made her way across her manicured lawn, through his overgrown yard, and straight to the garage. She heard clicking and then the sound of his torch.

This time when she pushed the door open, she held it back against the wall. She kept one hand on the door knob and one on the door itself for balance. Then, she weaved her foot around a chunk of metal and careened it her way to use as a door stop. He turned from his work and peered through his welding glass.

She waited.

He waited.

She sighed, rolled her eyes, and moved towards him. She stopped twice to make sure he put his torch down before she got too close. He raised his welding glass.

“What can I do for you?”

She couldn’t decipher the tone of his voice. “I got home from the hospital three days ago.”

“Yes.”

“You haven’t bothered to call to see if I’m okay. You haven’t said a thing about paying my bill.”

“I left a note with a nurse. Have you gotten a bill?”

“Well, no, not yet. But when I do….”

“Fine.”

Again, the tone puzzled her. “You left a note? I never got a note.”

He waited.

She waited.

He turned back to his work and pulled down his glass.

She leaned over and tapped him on the shoulder. His response was muffled by the glass, which he didn’t raise this time. He held his hands frozen in position, and she saw his shoulders rise and fall as he took a deep breath.

“I’m calling a lawyer,” she quipped.

He set down his tools. He raised his welding glass. He was smiling.

“Did you hear me?” She moved one foot back. “I said I”m calling a lawyer.”

“Yes.” His smile didn’t budge.

Her feet shuffled back and forth, and her shirt felt wet under her arms. She looked around at the other iron bodies, but their menacing looks had changed, probably from the extra light through the doorway she thought.

“You might want to cut that grass in front. It’s a hazard if we hit dry conditions.” She wanted to add insult. “Not to mention it looks like a jungle.”

“Thanks for the tip. And, you might want to fix your coat collar.” That was all he said. Not one word more.

She watched him as he turned back to his metal and lit his torch. She turned to storm out, but stopped at the door to fix her collar. Then, she reached down pushed the chunk of metal out of the way. The door closed slowly behind her.

She stood there for several minutes and listened to him work. When her eyes came back into focus, she saw speckles of color all over the back yard: purple and yellow and a soft orange. More weeds, she thought. Then, upon closer inspection, she noticed a stone path winding through the flowers.

Disgusted, she did an about face and marched back towards her house. But this time, she took the sidewalk.

Overheard

I’m guilty of accidental airing of dirty laundry.

I share an office with a few others at work, so I take my phone calls outside. I forget, though, about the open window or the strong acoustics in the hallway. I go on and on about what she said or he did: first names and last names and details, details, details. Until, suddenly, I catch the eye of a passerby and realize I’ve said too much. Out loud. In public. The heat rises up my chest and neck and I whisper, amid nervous laughter, “well, I should really get back to work.” My covert conversation just hit the ears of about 10 or 20 people, some friends, some strangers.

Emily Post had her sight on the future when she wrote Chapter Five, On the Street and In Public, in her book of Etiquette:

All people in the streets, or anywhere in public, should be careful not to talk too loud. They should especially avoid pronouncing people’s names, or making personal remarks that may attract passing attention or give a clue to themselves (p. 28).

Woops. She, of course, never imagined cell phones. But, her words still hold true in warning us of possible embarrassment. I’ve overheard plenty about late night escapades, who wore slippers to the grocery store, couples on the verge of a break-up. Even in one-sided conversations, a lot of details fall on uninvited ears.

Once in a while, though, I hear something much more touching:

I’ve got the ring…Yea…I’m gonna ask her tonight…I know, dude, I’m so excited.

Still, more times than not, cell phones give a false sense of privacy. Either I’m dishing out too much, or he’s giving away trade secrets, or she’s looking possessed – waving her hands around words of a manifesto flying out of her mouth and past the mouthpiece of a blue tooth that I can’t see.