Spite and Malice

lavendar eyesI noticed her the moment she walked in the coffee shop. She paused to scan the room. As soon as she saw me, she walked to me. Her face was oddly expressionless.

“I am looking for you,” she said.

“Oh? Well,” I said playfully. “Here I am!” I beamed at the girl, who couldn’t have been more than fourteen years-old. I had no idea who she was.

Short and very slight, she was the most striking beauty I’d ever seen in a man or woman. Jet black hair hung down past her waist, the sunlight reflecting iridescent strands of Safire. There was not a blemish on her stunningly perfect heart-shaped face. Her large eyes were deep lavender with bright flecks of gold, outlined by thick, jet black lashes and elegantly arched brows. Transfixed by her beauty, I couldn’t help gazing at her the way a little child openly gapes at something that fascinates them.

“May I sit with you?” she asked.

“Of course,” I gestured somewhat grandly to the chair opposite me. She took the seat, leaned a little bit forward over the table with her hands in her lap, and stared intently at me. I didn’t move muscle.

“This book you are reading, it is good?” She asked, gesturing with her head to the novel in my hand. Her head moved in a kind-of reverent nod as she spoke. Mimicking her a bit, I nodded in reply.

“You will tell me about it. Please.”

“Uh…I just started it, actually, so I have no idea what it’s about. Not yet.”

She was silent, now searching my face, for what, I wasn’t sure. I felt my cheeks flush.

“So, how can I help you?” I snapped. I needed to take charge of the strange situation. “You say you’ve been looking for me…” she started to reply, but I put up my hand to stop her, “…but, I think you mistake me for someone else; someone who looks like me, perhaps?”

“Your mother told me what you look like and where to find you.”

I flinched. “My mother? My mother…my mother died years ago. You must have me mistaken for…”

“Yes. She died when I was five years-old.”

A strange girl mentioning my mother years after her death was downright weird. I was suddenly comforted knowing I was in a public place with many people around. Adjusting my posture to an upright position, I put my inherent no-nonsense sensibility into play.

“I don’t have a clue who you are. I never met you. But, if you knew my mother, like you say, though I find that highly doubtful, given how young you seem to be…” the girl started to reply but I stopped her with a flash of a upheld hand. “If you knew my mother, then you know that, were she here, she would insist you answer my questions, so,” counting off on my fingers as I went, “how do you know my mother, who are you and, how the f…how in the world do you know who I am?”

The girl lowered her head almost to the surface of the table before looking up again to meet my gaze. “Your mother is a friend of mine. She is very amusing! I like her very much. She taught me the card game she calls Spite and Malice. She says, with more practice, I will become very good, and one day I will win and she will lose.”

As she spoke, a smile broadened wide across my face. “My mother taught you Spite and Malice…when you were very little?”

“You have other questions,” she said. “I must reply as you requested.” I gestured for her to continue.

“My name is Amrusha Koshi. I live here, in the city …”

“With your parents, I assume?”

“Yes. Why do you ask?”

I shrugged. “You seem young. How old are you?”

“I will be fourteen in two months.” I smiled. I was right about her age.

“My auntie lives with us, as well. And I have an older brother. Do you want to know their ages as well?”

“No, no. Not necessary. Please, continue. You’ve not said how you know my mother. I mean, I have to assume your parents were clients of hers, or maybe your aunt?”

“She came to see me two weeks ago.”

I did not completely fathom what Amrusha said. “She? Who, she? Your aunt?”

Amrusha shook her head. “Your mother. We are speaking of your mother.”

“Amrusha, can I get you something?” I abruptly asked. “Maybe something to drink? A soda? Water? Tea?”

“Yes, thank you. I would like tea, please. Black. Or Oolong, if they have it. No sugar or cream.”

I excused myself and walked to the counter to get Amrusha Koshi—the very odd and very beautiful fourteen year-old, who knows her black tea from her Oolong tea, and who apparently was visited by the spirit of my long-dead mother for the specific reason of teaching her how to play the card game Spite and Malice—a mug of English Breakfast. Neat.

As the barista prepared Amrusha’s mug and topped off my coffee, I watched her. She sat still, staring straight in front of her, when suddenly she let out a loud, high-pitched giggle, which drew looks from others in the coffee shop. Just as suddenly, she went silent and still again.

I placed the mug of tea in front of her and asked her why the laugh.

“Your mother!” Her incredible eyes were bright and wide. “She is so very funny!”

“Yeah….Mom was a very funny lady,” I quipped.

“The answer to your last question…”Amrusha started to say.

“Oh, I’m sorry…what was my last question?”

“How I know who you are.”

“Ah, yes. How?”

“I assume the answer is obvious, because I have told you. I know your mother. She is my friend.”

I drew in a deep breath and took a moment to gather my thoughts. “And, so, Mom, my mother, came to see you…in a dream, perhaps?” Amrusha shrugged. “…and apparently knew I was here at this particular coffee shop, told you what I look like and told you to drop whatever you were doing and come find me? Is that it?”

“Not exactly. She…”

I interrupted her. I needed an explanation planted firmly on the ground, not riddles flying overhead. “My mother, from the great beyond, told you to find me here today, at this hour. Here, in this place.”

“Yes.”

“It’s just that…not including how strange this all is…I don’t come to this place often. At least, not regularly.”

Amrusha was nonplussed. “She said you were here, told me what you look like,  and asked me to come see you, as I have said.”

Curiosity superseded my disbelief. I had to ask. “Did she say why?”

“No.”

Was this kid playing me? If so, why? I narrowed my eyes at Amrusha and asked in scolding tone, “Do your parents know you are here? Or, where you are? And, most importantly, why you are here?”

I waited for her to respond, but Amrusha didn’t reply. She blew air over her hot mug of tea before taking a tentative sip and set the mug back on the table.

“OK. Whatever,” I shrugged.

My mother never gave any credence to anything she couldn’t actually see, touch or hear. Ghosts did not exist, except as the Holy Ghost, a Halloween costume, or in summer campfire tales. She certainly did not think anyone could talk to someone who died. This girl telling me she’s been sent by my mother, of all people, was kind-of funny.

“Ironic, to say the least,” I muttered to myself.

“What is ironic?” Amrusha asked, herself now looking a bit confused. I shook my head. I wasn’t entirely sure if she was asking after the meaning of the word, or why I found the situation as such. Either way, it was clear Amrusha possessed absolutely no sense of irony.

If Amrusha hadn’t mentioned Spite and Malice, my mother’s all-time-favorite, best-way-to-kill-the-time card game; if she wasn’t so unaffected, or if she possessed an inkling of a sense of irony, I could write the entire encounter off as nothing more than being the unwitting punk of some geeky teen prank. But, I believed Amrusha. I believed this strange girl befriended the ghost of my mother.

“Ya know,” I ventured, “I thought I spied several decks of cards, in the bookcase, over there…” Amrusha turned to see where I had indicated. “Why don’t we play a game of Spite and Malice. I’ll give you a few pointers of my own.”

Amrusha paused and then let out another high-pitched giggle. “Your mother said to me just now that you do not play well, but if you happen to win, I am to accuse you of cheating!”

Tears instantly welled up in my eyes. Whenever I happened to win at Spite and Malice, my mother always teased it was only because I was cheating.

“Oh, my dear girl,” I reached across the table. Amrusha raised her hands from her lap and held them open to me. I grasped them both. “You don’t know how much it hurts to miss your mother.”

Amrusha smiled.

“Has anyone told you that you are a very beautiful girl, but also a sort-of odd little thing?”

This time she frowned. “All the time. My brother, in particular. He calls me ‘weirdo,’ and tells me that I am to leave him alone. He is very mean to me.”

“Well, brothers can be like that. Don’t worry. He’ll grow out of it, eventually. Maybe. Anyway, c’mon. Let’s play some cards.”


Inspired by the prompt: You’re sitting at a café when a stranger approaches you. This person asks what your name is, and, for some reason, you reply. The stranger nods, “I’ve been looking for you.” What happens next?

Online Writers Guild #12: No, We’re Not

chickenvacationAre we there yet?

Are we where?

There! Are we there?!

I don’t know what you mean.

I’m asking, are we there?

Well, I suppose.

Then, why are we still driving? I want out.

OK, but then what?

What?

Then what?

You said we’re there, so that’s what.

We’re no longer there.

WHAT?

We’re here, not there. There is back…there. Now we’re here. Oops, no, sorry, now we’re here instead of there. The other ‘there,’ which is also back there. With the other ‘there.’ Oh, and now, here’s a new ‘here!’ Aren’t road trips fun?

No, not really.

Aw, c’mon. This is fun! Why would you want to be there when there is so much here to see?

Why? Because I want to sleep. In a bed. I want to eat a meal. At a table. With utensils. I want to walk, not be transported in a vehicle. I want to stop moving. Stay put. I don’t want to be here. Here is not there. I want to be there. So, I’m asking: Are we there yet?

(I swear, kids these days)

What?

Nothing.

You say something?

Forget about it.

Seriously, did you just say something?

Hey! Forget about it, OK?! Leave me alone!

Alright! Jeez!… All I was asking, was if … if we have yet arrived at our destination.

And all I’m saying is, it’s about the journey, not the destination.

OK, but does this journey include ever getting there? I’m hungry and I’m tired. And, I have to pee.

(sigh) Whatever.


This week’s OLWG prompts are: Are we there yet?; These kids today; Scram. And, guess what? I wrote it AND edited within the 25 minute rule!

Family Anthem

Road-TripOlivia started singing at the top of her voice when the chorus came around.

Well I’m on my way, I don’t know where I’m going…I’m on my way, I’m taking my time, but I don’t know where…Goodbye to ROOWZEE, Queen of Corona…See’n me and Julio down by the school yard…” Olivia continued humming along, her head pulsing to the rhythm.

She and her father Jason cleared the city about 20 minutes before; the seemingly endless sight of buildings, row houses, strip malls, concrete and asphalt finally giving way to empty rolling hills of tall spring grass and the straight line of highway stretching out in front of them. The uncluttered expanse made Olivia feel like all that crap could actually be left far behind.

The chorus came around again. Olivia blurted again at full voice, “See’n me and Julio down by the school yard!

“It’s not ‘see’n me and Julio’,” Jason said.

“Whatever.”

“It’s, ‘See you, me and Julio’,” Jason corrected.

“ ‘K. Whatever.”

The song played on, but Olivia sat quietly, unaccustomed to talking to her father. She’d been on this stretch of freeway before, when they used to go see her grandparents. Even as a little kid, she was amazed at why, except for the giant green exit signs indicating a road to places unseen, there was nothing out here. Just empty hills and the highway signs. Enormous highway signs, always looking new and shiny, as if someone finally noticed there was something to see of the world out here, beyond the city. Smaller, colorful signs promoting fast food joints, hotels and gas stations, made it seem like those unseen places were some sort of meccas; better than the city, something fantastic and not to be missed, out here, in the middle of nowhere.

The next song started and this time Jason started to hum the tune.

“Know this one?” he asked.

“Nope,” Olivia said.

“No?! Really? C’mon…you don’t know ‘Little Pink Houses?’”

“Nope.”

Oh, but ain’t that America, for you and me,” Jason sang the chorus as loudly as Olivia. He turned and smiled, giving her a wink and continued singing, “Ain’t that America, … something to see baby, ain’t that America, home of the free, yeah…Little pink houses for you and me.” Olivia stared out ahead at the highway, trying to hide a smile. Jason kept singing,

…he says Lord, this must be my destination… (da dumm dadumm dumm…) those old crazy dreams just kinda came ‘n went…OH BUT AIN’T that America, for you and me…!

Jason slapped the steering wheel with his hand, bobbing his head back and forth with the beat. Olivia kept her head turned away, making every effort to hide she was biting her lip to keep from laughing.

What do they know, know, know…Go to work…sum sum dum dummm” Jason mumbled his way through the lyrics and then yelled at the top his voice, “AND VACATION DOWN AT THE GULF OF MEXICO!! OOO YEAH!” He added an extra “umpf umph” through his teeth, accented with more head bobs.

“Oh my God, DAD!” Olivia whipped back around and smacked Jason on the arm. “Stop it!”

Jason mockingly winced, lifting his arm to shield himself. He sang even louder, twisting his face into one of those expressions everyone thinks singers make when they are belting out a song. . “… hey we’re something to see BAYBAY,”

“DAD!! Ohmigawd STOP IT!” Olivia feigned humiliation, holding her forehead in her hand, “Oh, My, God, you are like, so freakin’ me out right now.”

…Little pink houses babe for you and me, OOO YEAH…. OOO YEAH…”

The song ended. Olivia lurched forward and hit the scan button on the radio.

“Oh, hey, now… that was a good station, kiddo.” Olivia repeatedly hit the scan button. “Not going to find much of anything else out here,” Jason cautioned. “Get my CD case out…”

“No!” Olivia snapped. “I’ll find something.”

The radio scanner landed on Mariachi and Norteño stations, a talk show, several Country stations, a man extolling the love of Jesus Christ, and a classical music station before coming back around to the oldies station they’d been listening to.

“Told ya,” Jason said.

Olivia turned off the radio and sat back in her seat with dramatic sigh. To Jason’s surprise, she did not turn on her phone and put in her earbuds.

They drove in silence for a while, staring at the road ahead. It was peaceful. Just the sound of the car speeding over the freeway; a kind of peace neither of them had known in a long while.

“You gonna let me drive some?” Olivia eventually asked.

“Yeah? Sure! Of course. You need some freeway experience.”

“Cool.” Olivia gave her father a quick smile.

“After lunch, then,” Jason thought a second before continuing. “Next exit, we’ll get something to eat. Good time for a break anyway.”

“ K.”

Jason smiled back at his daughter. They sat in silence a while longer before Olivia slowly leaned forward and turned on the radio again, just as Elton John started to beg to not let the sun go down on him.


Wrote this a while back based on two prompts: 1) “I’m an idealist. I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.” (Carl Sandburg)  2) Road Trip

Online Writers’ Guild #11: The Waiting Room

The waiting is the hardest part. Sitting. Sitting, not moving. Sitting for one minute, two minutes, three minutes, four minutes. Jeffery looks at the clock on the wall. Five minutes.

The flowers are all over the wall. They flutter and bend each time the oscillating fan on the side table blows air over their field, but the clock doesn’t do anything. Six minutes, seven minutes, eight minutes, nine minutes. Why doesn’t the clock move? Why?!

DAMN!

Jeffery catches it. This time. This is a good thing. The carpet is still. Good. This a good thing. Carpets are still. He catches it this time. This is a good thing.

He carefully raises his glance to face whatever is across the room. Feet. A woman’s feet. Now a child’s feet. Now the child’s feet are gone. Now they’re back. Jeffery cautiously moves his eyes to the left. A man’s feet and then the same child’s feet. The child’s feet go up, one at a time. They don’t come back. Jeffery slowly, very slowly, raises his glance. Knees. The man’s knees. The woman’s knees. Now whole legs. The man’s. The woman’s. And the child’s. On the man’s legs. The child’s chest. The man’s chest. The woman’s chest. Her chest. Her chest. The child’s face. The child’s face looking at Jeffery’s face.

Behind the child’s face the flowers flutter and bend left. Then still. Flutter and bend right; flutter and bend left. Then still. The child’s face is pink. Now purple. Now green, with each sweep of the fan. The child’s eyes are pure black. The child’s hands are growing toward Jeffery, long green fingers growing, growing, changing color to pink, purple, black, green, with each sweep of the fan. The flowers flutter and bend left over the child’s orange face. Then still. Flutter and bend, and twist around the fingers, growing and growing, faster and faster…

NO! STOP! STOP! GO! GET BACK! GET BACK! GET BACK! GO! STOP! STOP!

A woman’s voice. Calm. Insistent. Her hands on top of Jeffery’s shoulders. Jeffery forces his eyes open. A placid, smiling face of a woman with her hands on Jeffery’s shoulders. She pushes on Jeffery’s shoulders, forcing his knees to bend. She bends her knees as well. Throat. Shoulders. Chest. They sit. Chest. Hello, my name is…Dr. Brenda Chatsworth. Red letters. Black letters. Not moving. This is a good thing.

“It’s OK, Jeffery. Here.”

Her hand. Not green. This is a good thing.  A white paper cup. Clear liquid. Fingers, not growing, this is a good thing, and a pill. This a good thing.

“You’re Dr. Chatsworth,” Jeffery says staring at her name tag.

“Yes. You can call me Brenda.”

“You are not Dr. Anderson.”

“No. That’s right. I’m not.”


This week’s OLWG prompts are:  Wait for it!; Can I call you Brenda?; It will tarnish

Me ‘n Gert

I couldn’t resist. A story gets left open-ended like that, I simply cannot just walk away. I’ll put my mind to this week’s Online Writers’ Guild prompts later, but in the meantime, here’s how I think tnkerr’s little preamble ditty concludes:


me n gert

Me and Gert the day we got married.

That was 45 years ago. That freckle-faced red-head and her munchkin in the back seat became my wife and son about a month later. I changed my name to Chispa Flores. Gert insisted I change my name. Time came we all went by Flores. As the boy grew, he wanted to go by “Will.” Even Gert had to admit times change, but to her, he’d always be Wildfish.

Gert and Will hung around Santa Cruz for the most part, and I kept traveling the roads and rails, working odd jobs when work was to be found. I made a point to always circle back to Santa Cruz, staying for as long as I could, but when Gert got pregnant with the twins, Taiyang and Chunji (Gert took up Eastern philosophy and medicine by then), I gave up my wandering ways. We moved into a place near Salinas, an old homestead we found one day on a hike. The land belonged to a generations-old farming family. We convinced them to rent the place to us and let us fix it up.  Gert opened a Yoga studio in town and went to school to become an acupuncturist. We plopped all the kids in school—which was a big change for ol’ Will, but he managed—and I went to work as a conductor for Amtrak. Every summer we held a whiskey barrel tapping party for our friends. Sent everyone home with jars of the stuff. Some men’s wives make pies and cakes, but my Gert’s always had a knack for makin’ booze. She eventually sold the Yoga studio and joined friends in on a small winery, but she kept on with the acupuncture. She loves making people healthy. We had one more kid, named him Bob, after my father. Good guy, my dad. Lived with us the last two years his life. Glad we got that time with him.

Tomorrow’s my last day at Amtrak. Bob’s off to college, if you can believe that, and the other kids’ are scattered all over the world. Will’s in Panama (we think, hard to know with him sometimes), Taiyang’s married, expecting our first grandkid, and loves living in Ketchikan, and Chunji sends emails almost every day about Beijing. She said folks there get a kick out her name. She’s loving teaching English and Spanish.

Anyway, Gert and I figure, with the kids grown and gone, we’ll sublet the old homestead and get a mobile home and head out on the road trip we started 45 years ago but never finished. Plan is to head up to Alaska to meet the grandkid and then maybe drive across Canada. I’ve always wanted to see Nova Scotia. Beyond that, who knows.

Maybe I’ll publish a book with all those stories about all those people I met along the way. My kids’ are always reminding  me I’ve always liked to write.

OLWG #7 – Song of Daniel

The rain was coming down in buckets; large drops splashing nearly a foot high as they fell. Daniel sat in the corner of a neighborhood pub with a finished pint of beer in front of him, idly scrolling through apps on his phone.

“Another?” the bartender called out from behind the bar.

Daniel looked up and pointed to himself. The bartender nodded. Daniel shook his head and went back to his phone. The bartender pulled another pint anyway. Daniel sighed and muttered to himself, “Even the bartender doesn’t give a shit what I say.”

The bartender set the beer in front of Daniel. “I’ll order you a burger, or something. When’s the last time you ate?” he asked.

Incredulous, Daniel snapped, “I’ve ate.”

“Yeah, right. I’ll order you a burger.”

Daniel picked up the pint and took two big gulps. After a long month of feeling about as blue and numb as he could remember, the chill of the glass in his hand and the warmth of the alcohol down his throat was a welcome sensation. He took another gulp and then resumed picking his way through various web sites on his phone. He wasn’t looking for anything, nor reading anything. Just passing time.

The burger arrived surrounded by a stack of onion rings and a heaping mess of salad. A giant steak knife was stabbed through the middle of the bun.

“I also got you a salad. We need to be smarter about eating balanced meals,” the bartender explained.

As the smell of grilled beef hit his nose, Daniel realized how hungry he was. He devoured the monster sandwich in a matter of seconds, not bothering to cut it in half, as the presentation with a giant steak knife suggested. He shoved the onion rings in his mouth just as fast, pausing only to take bites of the salad and gulps of beer. When he was done, he pushed the demolished plate away from him and sat back. Closing his eyes, he could hear the rain drumming on the roof. So calm, so peaceful. Maybe he’d just sleep here a bit.

“Tell you what,” the bartender said, interrupting Daniels reverie. “I’m the owner of this place, and I know a guy down on his luck when I see him. Tell you what: How ‘bout you come work for me.”

Daniel was taken aback. “I…don’t…”

“Look, I noticed you’ been in a lot these past weeks. You aren’t working, at least, not at a regular job. Your girl, or boyfriend,” the bartender held up a hand, “I’m not judging, just sayin’ I bet you’ve been through a breakup as well.”

“Something like that,” Daniel confessed.

“Occupational hazard,” the bartender smiled. “It may be a cliché, but it’s also a fact. Run a pub and you learn to read people real fast, and what I read about you is that you are a good guy down on his luck. And I can use the help, else I wouldn’t be tending bar, waiting tables, as well as running the joint.”

“I don’t know…” Daniel began.

“Ever tended bar? Wait tables?”

“Sort of. In high school. I worked at a Baskin Robbins.”

“Good enough.”

A group of three people walked in. The bartender excused himself to wait on them and then came back to talk to Daniel, who was now up and putting on his coat. He handed the bartender wad of cash for his bill.

The bartender counted the cash and handed back a ten. “I’m Jack. Jack O’Connell,”

“Ah. Jack at Arms,” Daniel nodded, shaking the man’s hand. Hence, the name of the pub, he thought. “I’m Daniel. Shapiro. You made the wrong change,” handing back the ten.

Jack shook him off. “Keep it.”

“Look, Jack, I appreciate whatever it is you’re doing man, and the job offer, but I don’t know about it, I…”

“No worries. Just think about it. Gimme a call later today,” Jack walked to the register and handed Daniel a business card.

“What I was going to say is, I do work. I mean, I have a job. But, here’s the thing: I work from home. Freelance, so sometimes I’m stretching it to make bills…I mean, what I’m saying is, I’ll think about it.” Daniel shook Jack’s hand again and headed out into the rain.

There are worse things than working in a pub, Daniel thought has he made his way to his car. Having a reliable, regular source of income, no matter how small, would help. Maybe this was the sort of change he needed to put the misery of the past month behind him.


This week’s OLWG is a continuation of last week’s story. The prompts are: Rain drumming on the roof; I don’t know about this,; Snickersnee. I absolutely did not write and edit this in only 25 minutes (tee-hee). I enjoyed writing this too much to limit my time. In case you want to catch up, the Susan and Daniel story started here and then went on here, then back to here.

OLWG #5: Waiting for Prompts

Untitled-1[SCENE] A bare stage. Three people sit at a long fold-out table, facing the audience. All three are staring straight out, expressionless. One has a laptop open, another has a lined yellow note pad and pen, the third has a leather bound journal.

They sit like this for three minutes.

Actor #1 takes out a smart phone from a pocket and begins to scroll through app screens. The other two actors turn their heads slowly toward Actor #1 and stare, still expressionless.

Actor #1: (staring at his smart phone, he stops scrolling a moment). “Wait, is that a monkey?”

The two other actors slowly lean into Actor #1. All three stare at the phone. They hold the position for a minute.

Actor #2: “No.”

Actor #3: “Wait. That is a monkey!”

All three actors lean in closer to the phone.

Actor #1: “That is a monkey.”

Actors #2 & #3 sit back in their chairs and resume staring out at the audience. Actor #1 resumes scrolling on his phone.

Actor #3 turns his head away from the others and looks up a bit, as if at a clock. “You think he’ll be here today?”

Actor #2. “It’s Sunday.”

Actor #3 keeps looking at the clock. Actor #1 keeps scrolling on his phone.

Actor #2 lifts his legs and puts his feet on the table. The other two do not look at him. Actor #2 leans forward and removes his shoes. The other two do not look at him. Actor #2 wiggles his toes.

Actor #2: “There’s a hole in my sock.”

The other two actors slowly turn toward him and lean way in to inspect.


Time’s up! Only got two of the three prompts in this week, but I wanted keep to the 25 min. rule.  The Online Writer’s Guild prompts this week are

  1. There’s a hole in my sock
  2. Do as I say, not as I do
  3. Wait, is that a monkey?