Tag Archives: word of the day

Wednesday’s Word: Kleptocracy. Say that three times fast, and then write a story.

The last few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking: about new routines, upcoming projects and books unfinished. Planning, but not so much creating. It seems right, then, to click over to Wordsmith.org and spend some time with the Wednesday’s word of the day* — and my muse.

(I hope she’s listening.)

Today’s word:

kleptocracy. Noun. A government by the corrupt in which rulers use their official positions for personal gain.

A word and definition applicable to many, I’d say.

*****

Head of Household

Under the muted glow of the nightlight, Nora pulled at her lip. In the mirror, she could see a growing line of blood trickle down the inside of her mouth.

“Damn,” she whispered.

“Guess I got a little crazy, huh?” Glen came up from behind her and put heavy hands on her shoulders.

“Crazy!” Nora said. “You bit me.” She wriggled out from under his grip.

“Yeah, just making sure you knew who was in charge.” He slapped her ass. Nora flipped him off and marched back to the bedroom. She heard Glen laugh, but he didn’t apologize.

Glen wasn’t always so rough and crass. It wasn’t until the day after they’d gotten married, when Nora woke to the sour smell of morning breath and Glen’s face staring down at hers, that he started declaring he was now “master of her domain.”

“Good morning?” she’d said, as she’d laughed and pushed him aside. She had thought he was kidding around.

The next week, though, he began claiming her time, telling her exactly how many nights a year she could go out with her girlfriends. No more Happy Hour meet-ups or impromptu coffee dates. And “Ladies night out” was a conspiracy, he said.

During dinners, he got greedy, taking much more than his share and leaving her with scraps some nights. She called him out on it, but he told her she’d just have to start cooking more.

“The King has a right to seconds,” he said on the night she served tenderloin. “And thirds.” He stabbed at the last piece on the platter.

And after the lights went out, he was like an animal in hiding most nights. He waited until she was almost asleep and too tired to fight back and he took her. Tonight, he’d been vicious.

“How’s the lip?” Glen asked as he crawled into bed.

“I can still taste blood…just so you know,” she said.

He patted her head and turned over without saying goodnight. Nora sat up on her elbow and studied the shape of his silhouette. When she heard his breathing slow to a shallow rhythm, she reached out and put her hand on his waist.

She squeezed.

He was growing fat.

*****

They Might Be Giants – Don’t Let’s Start from They Might Be Giants on Vimeo.

* Wednesday’s Word means write something – an essay, poem, or flash fiction – based on Wordsmith.org’s word of the day and post it by midnight. Past pieces from this fun writing exercise can be found under Wednesday’s Word on the sidebar to the right.

Boxing, Writing, and Mrs. Quinn

This is how I feel right now...

I took a boxing class once, learned the art of the jab, the uppercut, the hook. I even sparred with a guy, but he just played nice. He knew I didn’t pack much of a punch.

If he’d really fought me, though, knocked me out even, would I have gotten back in the ring to face him again?

Maybe. If I really loved boxing. But, I’m too much of a softy, and I’m a definite people-pleaser. Even if I did get him with my mean, left hook, I’d have been apologizing profusely in between subsequent ducks.

How does this relate to writing? A couple of Wednesdays ago, I let the day slip by — without saying a word. I’d planned on writing a flash fiction piece, taking on Wordsmith.org’s word of the day, whipping out a story from scratch to post here by midnight. I had an intro, had an idea, and spent the entire day (and then some) wrestling with the story, circling the first paragraph, looking for an opening.

But that story tossed me around like a rag doll and knocked me flat, so at 1am I called it.

It would be easy to take a little failure and turn it into a big sign, to throw that story to the curb and maybe even abandon word prompts all together. But, I love word prompts, and I love flash fiction (and, honestly, that story isn’t dead, it just isn’t finished).

So, I’m getting back in the ring.

Today’s word on Wordsmith.org:

stupefy. verb tr.: 1. To make someone so bored or tired as unable to think clearly. 2. To amaze.

PS. I spent all day on this story, and now I can barely see how it goes back to the word of the day. But, hey…it’s a story.

*****

Mrs. Quinn

Nicki fell in love with Mrs. Quinn on that first day of eighth grade Algebra. It was the way she wrote her name on the board that caught Nicki’s eye. Mrs. Quinn stood at attention – in her tight bun, stiff shirt, and a long skirt that hung just over the tops of her shoes – and let her hand draw out her name in a smooth series of hills and valleys and curliques.

Mrs. Quinn.

Even her algebraic expressions, with all those X’s and Y’s, showed flair. Never mind the way her skirt shimmied back and forth, to the rhythm of a song, Nicki was sure, during an intense moment of factoring.

But, she especially loved Mrs. Quinn because of the way she handled Jenny Baker, when she caught Jenny on exam day with a cheat sheet stuffed up the sleeve of her Abercrombie and Fitch hoodie. Mrs. Quinn drew a big, fat zero on Jenny’s paper and said “Aber and Fitch, as you call it Ms. Baker, has no place in Algebra, and cheating on a test gets you a visit to Mr. Harper’s office.”

“Mrs. Quinn,” Jenny held out her hands. “I’ll miss the football game if I fail this test! I’m head cheerleader!”

Mrs. Quinn ignored Jenny’s boo-hooing and showed her the door.

“Jenny’s pissed,” Nicki’s best friend Amy told her later in Study Hall. “She said she’s gonna have her mom call a lawyer.”

“For missing the game?” Nicki asked. “Serves her right.”

Nicki tried to push her hair back out of her face, but her Cerebral Palsy got in the way. Her hand circled in front of her forehead a few times, but it kept missing the hair. Nicki was tired after working through her Algebra homework and writing out her English assignment; her Cerebral Palsy never cooperated when she was tired.

“I got it,” Amy said. She tucked the hair behind Nicki’s ear and shook her head as she went on about Mrs. Quinn. “She’s cold-hearted, Nicki. I mean, it’s like she’s got no love. It’s Homecoming!”

Nicki didn’t feel one bit bad for Jenny, though, and she knew Amy was wrong. About the love part.

Nicki thought about how Mrs. Quinn looked her straight in the eye when she handed back her papers. She left pretty cursive notes on them that said “Great job!” and “You’re a natural with numbers!” and never wrote something stupid like “practice your penmanship.” She spelled out weekly homework assignments on the board like they were poems, rolling the letters together in delicious combinations and always ending the stream of instructions with a loose and curvy line underneath.

Mrs. Quinn loved math and she loved writing notes on the board and – according to Jenny – she loved Mr. Harper. Amy told her that Jenny said she saw Mrs. Quinn making out with Mr. Harper after school one day. Even though Jenny was a liar, Nicki imagined Mrs. Quinn writing him notes.

Filling the page with pretty letters.

Nicki wondered if Mrs. Quinn would sign them, “With love, Bethany.” If she would round off her Y with a flower or a heart or tease him with one of her smooth, curvy lines underneath.

* photo credit: jnyemb on Flickr

Flash Fiction: The Continental

Sometimes, Wednesday is all about using Wordsmith.org’s word of the day as a writing prompt and posting something by midnight. Past essays, poems, and flash fiction pieces can be found under the Wednesday’s Word category.

It’s Humpday, and it’s rainy, and I’m feeling kind of Flashy. I thought I might take on the word of the day – lancinate: to pierce or tear – but that sounded dangerous. Besides, the prompt I really wanted to tackle came from a listen to the radio a few weeks ago.

Through fortunate events, my husband and I wound up with free satellite radio for a whole month. Similar to satellite TV, there’s an overflow of options, most of which (like NASCAR radio) I could do without. One station, though, I quickly fell in love with: The Coffeehouse, a collection of acoustic songs that are really stories woven into musical threads. A writer’s dream. Well, this writer’s dream. Maybe you prefer the Liquid Metal station. Anyway….

The Coffeehouse is where I heard Suzanne Vega’s acapella version of “Tom’s Diner.” This song, like a good story, uses tempo to pull the listener along and incorporates pauses to allow the listener’s mind to wander. Just for a second. Just long enough.

Even if you don’t read the flash fiction piece below, listen to the song. I dare you not to write from it. You might even find a way to squeeze in the word of the day, too.

*****

The Continental

Nostalgia can be hazardous, Jenny thought, as she walked into The Continental. Just look at this place.

The original horseshoe counter had a tinge of antique color to it. The floor was sticky, probably caked in diner grease. A rotary phone hung next to the register. A rotary! And, the griddle sat off to the side, out in the open, where anyone could see the cook flip patties and wipe the spatula on his apron.

This place is neither efficient nor healthy, she figured, but it was the only place around. She grabbed the first open seat at the counter, a metal-rimmed stool with a vinyl cover that – of course – had a crack down its center. When she sat on it, the edges of the broken vinyl fell together and pinched her in a tender place on her thigh. She jumped and cried out. The waitress walked over.

“What can I get for you, honey?” The waitress cleaned the space in front of Jenny with a wet cloth and set a napkin down.

“Coffee,” Jenny said. She dried the counter with the napkin. “To go, please.”

“To go?” the waitress repeated.

“I’m waiting for a tow-truck,” Jenny said. “I won’t be long.”

The waitress shrugged and pulled out a white, ceramic cup. “Tastes better in a cup. And, I know that tow truck. He takes twice as long as he says.” She filled the cup to the very top and walked away. Jenny looked around, but no one else seemed unnerved by the waitress.

Jenny had blown a tire a few blocks down from the diner and ended up calling Information for a mechanic in town. She hated calling a mechanic, but while she knew how to change the tire, she didn’t have the strength. She dialed the number and was told forty-five minutes. She thought a slow walk to the diner and back would kill time. But, after hearing forty-five minutes would be more like an hour and a half, she regretted sitting down.

Next to Jenny, an old woman pulled up her purse and began rummaging. As she dug around, the aroma of Doublemint gum filled the air, and Jenny thought she smelled Aqua Net. She turned away, so she wouldn’t be tempted to peek at the contents of the old woman’s bag.

A bald man with a goatee sat at the end of the counter, next to the coffee burner. He refilled his own cup and worked a crossword puzzle with a gnawed pencil. “What it doesn’t hurt to do,” he said to the man next to him. “Fourteen down. Three letters. Should be easy, right?” The two men stared at each other for a minute.

“Ask,” said the woman with the purse. “A-S-K.” She turned to Jenny. “Men.” Then, she turned back to her rummaging.

Jenny snickered to herself and sipped her coffee, which was now cold. She waved at the waitress, who waved back. The waitress was busy, tapping her pen on her pad, while a young couple at the corner table giggled over the menu. The young man said something, Jenny couldn’t catch it, and held up two fingers. Then, he brushed a piece of hair behind the young girl’s ear.

Jenny’s body softened.

The woman next to her smiled.

The man with the goatee folded his paper and hit his pencil against it.

The phone rang, genuine, and the bus boy answered.

“More coffee?” the waitress asked. Jenny hadn’t noticed when she walked up.

“No. Well…yes. Thank you. I suppose you’re right. I should stay a while.” Jenny ordered a cup of clam chowder and a grilled turkey sandwich. The waitress winked, clicked her pen, and gave Jenny’s order to the cook.

 

Wednesday’s Word: Once I clicked, I committed.

I’ve got a long list of excuses as to why today was not a good day for writing a new piece of flash fiction (in fact, if this post gets out by midnight tonight, I’ll be lucky). The problem is, I clicked over to Wordsmith.org this morning and read the word of the day and, therefore, committed myself to write something – an essay or a poem or a very short short – based on today’s word:

phycology: noun. The branch of botany dealing with algae. Also known as algology.

Algae. Green, slimy, stinky snood. Wordsmith never makes it easy, but then who said writing was easy?

(Past pieces from Wednesday’s Word exercises can be found by mousing over to the sidebar on the right and clicking on the Wednesday’s Word category.)

*****

Solitude

Joanne’s canoe glided towards the far side of the lake and carried her into a space void of campers, unreachable by motor boat, and reminiscent of times when the electricity went out at home; the air surrounded her with a heavy quiet.

Relief, she thought.

Sometimes she tired of the constant buzzing or humming caused by electric or other what not noises that smothered her at home and at work, sounds that were noticed more so when they ceased. She thought a weekend retreat to her cabin would offer solace, but the Wisnewskis were up this weekend, too. They were a raucous bunch, even at breakfast, which is why Joanne pushed off in her canoe shortly after her second cup of coffee.

She relaxed her shoulders and relished her space and didn’t think twice about floating into a blanket of algae. The canoe cut through it like a wedge, splitting the muck and setting off spirals of green around her. She scooped up a handful of slime and rubbed her fingers together, searching for the substance. The algae held together only in mass.

Figures, she thought, just like the Wisnewskis. They thrive in clumps and encroach on the lake just the same.

Joanne breathed a sigh of disgust and, at the same time, lurched forward; the canoe had slowed, almost stopped. She brushed the tip of a sunken log, and as it scraped against the underside of the canoe, it pierced the quiet with a sound that frightened a kingfisher out of the trees just feet in front of her. She about had a heart attack because of that damn bird, and now, with her hands clenched to the sides of the canoe, she watched her paddle bounce and slip right off into the water. Into the muck. Away from her canoe.

Now, she certainly was alone, and the algae was closing in behind her.

Oiling the Hinges: Writing on Wednesday’s Word

At almost 100 years old, our Grandfather clock stands with authority in our living room. Its inner workings are simple, but delicate, and when I don’t pay attention – when I let the weights wind their way to the bottom – the gears stick. Only a silent prayer and a gentle nudge of the minute hand will break an invisible seal and get the clock ticking again.

Caring for that clock requires the same diligence as nurturing all aspects of my writing. If I ignore one area of writing for too long, it grows stagnant, it stalls, and it takes muscle to get that part of my creativity flowing again.

Recently, I had a chance to crank out a flash fiction piece for Pam Parker for a Flash Friday post. She emailed me and two other writers a prompt and asked that we turn it into a 100 word flash in a few days (you can read the pieces here). Writing 100 words was not an easy task, and it was a reminder that I can’t ignore that side of myself that loves creating something new. Rewriting and editing are great (dare I say fun?….nah. Great, but not fun). But my muse gets bored helping me whittle down the same old short story. She wants shiny, new, get-the-blood-pumping kind of work. So, I’m dipping back into Wednesday’s Word today, basically so my muse won’t leave me high and dry when I return to those rewrites.

Today’s word from Wordsmith.org:

volte-face. noun. A reversal in policy or opinion; an about face

*****

Fickle

Lately, Nick predicted his wife’s moods with the same success rate as the new guy on Channel 9 when he predicted the weather: nine times out of ten he was wrong. When the forecast called for sun, Nick was pelted with insults like hail. If Nick braced himself for frigid temps, he came home to a barrage of affection. He began to wonder if there wasn’t something in the water. Or, maybe it was all that Sweet and Sour Chicken his wife had been eating for the last week. The sauce had an unnatural color, that was for sure, and maybe housed some other infecting quality.

He watched her scarf down another take-out order for the eighth day in a row. He shook his head.

“What?” she asked, as she licked each finger clean.

“Nothing,” he said. “It’s just –”

“Hold that thought.” She pointed her index finger at him in a way that made him jump, then she ran to the bathroom. He considered retreating upstairs, to wait out whatever might be brewing. But, when she came out of the bathroom, she looked flushed and giddy.

She pulled him out of his seat and squeezed both his hands.

“I’m pregnant!” She beamed.

He rolled his eyes. “Thank God,” he said. “I thought you were going crazy.”

She squinted, then she slapped him, and then she drenched him in kisses.