The Day, Continued

The Day, Continued (Week 3 winner)

Keys, shoes, pointless umbrella – I had everything I needed and still stood staring at the door. I knew it wasn’t going to open itself. I knew it was up to me to cross the threshold to start my day. 

And I didn’t do it.

I put the umbrella back in the closet. I put my keys back on the hook next to the door. I took off my shoes and put them back onto the mat. I did get as far as touching the door but not until I’d already undone my preparations, waiting to make even that minimal contact with the potential of the outside world until I’d made it clear to myself that there wasn’t a chance of meeting it that day.

From the safety of the big chair furthest from the door, I considered my options. I had built quite a comfortable life for myself within the walls of my apartment. I didn’t, technically, need to leave it for anything. The internet brought all the world I could stand and then some to my fingertips. I was, through my computer, able to meet all of my basic needs from the comfort of my big chair. Groceries found their way to my doorstep and friends appeared on screen at regular intervals.

Outside wasn’t a necessary part of my existence. Or, at least, I’d convinced myself of such. Even so, at least once a week I went through the process of attempting to go out into it. That day wasn’t new – I had gotten dressed and shoed and wrapped my keys in one hand and my umbrella in the other on fifty one other days. And, on each of those days I found myself back on my chair, staring at the door from the furthest distance possible in my apartment. 

That day was my fifty second attempt. My fifty second failure. 

Have you ever failed at something that consistently? I think it does something to you, failing that many times. I’m not really sure I had any hope around my failed attempts. Had I honestly thought that I would open the door that morning? Had I used the same old self talk script to hype myself up enough that I got dressed and put on my shoes? Looking back it’s hard to imagine that I had any belief left.

My chair  supported me and held me, and that had been all I needed for a long time. All I had, anyway. My apartment was a fully furnished single room with an overstuffed chair, a bed that disappeared into the wall, a table that adjusted in height so it worked for all uses, a few pictures on each wall, and three bookshelves. The only wall without a bookshelf was the one taken up by what passed for a kitchen. It didn’t have full appliances – there wouldn’t have been room to live if it had. The range (no oven), microwave (half-sized), fridge (quarter-sized), and sink (single basin) got the job done.

Minimalist is what the wise souls on the internet called how I lived. Having a lable for it added ligitimacy to my mishigas in a way that was almost as comfortable as my big chair. I rubbed the arms of that chair as I contemplated what my day would be since it wouldn’t involve the outside world after all. For almost two months I’d had the pleasure of reorienting my day’s plans around my failure and I’d gotten rather good at it.

Tucking my feet underneath me I leaned back into the chair and closed my eyes. I had books I could read and house chores I could do, but in that moment I didn’t want to do anything beyond sitting in my chair and licking my proverbial wounds. As had happened on the other fifty one days, I went over my options and reasons and ideas as if doing so might help me move forward.

I nearly jumped out of my skin when my computer, not my phone, started ringing. The sound was jarring all on its own and only more so because it was such a rarity. Talking on the phone was something I avoided only slightly less than the outdoors and anyone who knew me understood that calling was something reserved for dire emergencies. Those non-existent calls would come to my phone, though, not the computer.

It took me a minute to decide to act and another minute to get myself up and over to my computer. It wasn’t even on. It was sitting, closed, in its spot on one of the bookshelves. Unplugging it and turning it off was something I’d read about online as a way to limit the compulsive checking of all the things. For the last three weeks I’d been dutifully disconnecting it and shutting it down. The only change it had made so far was that I was getting a bit more activity in with all the time spent bending down to plug and unplug it every time I thought of something I needed to do online. 

The ringing continued as I got the machine up and running. I found myself missing “the olden days” when phones, the ones that plugged into the wall, anyway, would only wring a certain number of times before going silent. My first taste of an adrenaline rush of, in my youth, came from racing across the ground floor of our family home to skid to a stop in the kitchen and retrieve the handset from the phone before that last ring. It didn’t matter who the call was for back then because there was no way of knowing. The simplicity sounded delicious in that moment.

I found myself shaking as I fought to find which app I had that could make a noise matching the ring I heard. It turned out to be one of the social platforms – one that I spent too much time on and that was the impetus to start disconnecting the computer. I paused for a moment of thanks that it was not, indeed, a phone call I was about to need to face. Once the app was open and on-screen I was confronted with the face of a dear friend.

“What took you so long?”

“I thought you were calling me and that slowed me down.”

She stared at me for a moment and I thought I saw the corners of her mouth twitch like she was holding back a grin. My shoulders tensed up as I readied myself for a fight.

“We both know I know enough not to call you.”

She was right. She did know me. She knew me better, or at least more honestly, than I knew myself. That the knowing wasn’t a two way street was something I’d struggled with for far longer than I’d struggled to leave my apartment. Helene. Helene Granscene. Helene Granscene in all her flamboyant, intense, loud, and boisterous glory had been placed next to me in the twelfth grade and hadn’t left my side since. For a time she and I led parallel lives though that’s not something most people would assume looking at us today. 

She’d smiled and shouted her way through high school and college while I slinked along in her shadow. Helene took center stage in all venues while I was happiest behind the scenes, but we were together through it all the same. We shared a friend group made up of people quieter than her and louder than me with the two of us marking the edges. 

“I have a proposition for you.”

My eyes narrowed and I pulled back from the screen. “What sort of proposition?”

“One that’s going to get you up and out of that damn apartment.”

“You’re not going to strong-arm me out the door, Helene. I’ll leave when I’m ready.”

“I said a proposition, not an intervention.”

“I’m not sure you have that in you.”

Helene was a force and always had been. We’d had similar conversations over the last few months and I knew she was shocked that she hadn’t gotten her way yet. History was behind her in that – I’d always capitulated to her desires in the past. She’d managed to get me on a bug-infested safari in Africa and on one of those ridiculous glass bottomed ledges that were all the rage in skyscrapers. When I retreated into my apartment she let it go for a little while. In the last couple of months, though, getting me out into the world seemed to have become one of her projects. She wasn’t nearly as used to failure as I was.

“Can I at least tell you what I’m thinking? Would you actually listen without shutting me out?”

“I don’t think I’m up for it today. Maybe tomorrow.”

She looked down and, even though I am well aware of how technology works, I leaned forward as if I could peer over the edge of the monitor to see what she was seeing.”

In the Dark, Continued

In the Dark, Continued (Week 2 winner)

Darkness thick enough to feel filled the world for as far as she could see. She knew, she remembered, that there were trees lining the rough road but she couldn’t find even hints of them when she squinted. Her only hope of orienting herself now was for a car to drive by, and that was almost as likely as the sun deciding to rise four hours early. She lifted her arm to check her watch and laughed at herself for forgetting how impossible even the simple act of checking the time was in the nowhere she’d found herself.

Keeping herself facing the same direction had become deeply important. It had been over an hour, she was almost sure, since she’d found herself in the midst of the darkness. She could feel the rocks under her feet, and she could smell the sea even if it was shrouded by the darkness. Alternating between squatting and standing was all the movement she’d allowed herself for fear of losing herself while she waited for something to happen. 

She’d maintained an almost constant internal monologue, talking herself into a state of relative calm. Everything would be fine was a phrase she’d uttered too many times to count, and those were interspersed with plans for the future and regrets from the past. The past. For as little time as she’d spent out there she’d managed to revisit a remarkable number of missed opportunities. The people she hadn’t reached out to, the steps she hadn’t taken – all of them had played a part in her ending up in the pitch black situation she found herself in, and she knew it. 

Without a change in the intensity of the darkness, the world around her was starting to reawaken. She could feel the subtle shift in the air, the movement of creatures she couldn’t see, and the slow increase in temperature. She waited, straining her eyes to find some hint of light coming from somewhere. The light, she told herself, had to come. She didn’t know if it would come from in front of her, behind her, or on her right or left. She hadn’t thought to track the sun before the light disappeared. Why would she have?

She bent her knees, lowering herself until her palms touched the ground. The sharpness of the gravel against the smoothness of her skin was comforting. It felt real. More real than the darkness, and that was enough to keep her looking for the missing sun. She shook her head and banished the idea that the sun, the ever-present sun, could be missing. This, she told herself, was just night. Night was real and normal, just like the gravel she felt her fingers closing around. Night happened and was inevitably followed by day, she just needed to stay calm and be patient.

The wind started to pick up and grew strong enough to lift her hair off the back of her neck. Her skirt moved, too, and she closed her eyes in thanks. 

It was the crunch of tires on the road that made her heart race. The first tendrils of light were starting, just enough for her to begin to discern the presence of shadows. She turned her head towards the sound but stayed down in her crouched position, just in case. The car or truck or whatever was driving towards her was going so slow, too slow. She strained against the dark and was just able to make out the edges of the vehicle. There was slight contrast where the headlights should be but not enough to make sense. They should have been bright beacons cutting through the darkness and illuminating everything in their path. Instead, it was just a slight difference in the quality of the darkness that told her they were there. She felt her heart beat faster, harder as she tried to make sense of it all.

The shadowed vehicle stopped before it reached her. She heard a door open with a reluctant creak, heard the shift of the vehicle as someone emerged, jumped at the snap of the door as it was pushed closed. From her position close to the ground she could smell the gas fumes, the stale smoke from inside the car, and something else emanating from the disturbed gravel. The vehicle was close enough to block some of the wind and she missed the breeze. Each step the person took seemed to reverberate through her body, making the hair on the back of her neck stand up for a different reason. 

Leather, denim, cigarettes, and sweat – the smells commingled in her nose as the person approached. She squinted, trying to see more than the barest of shadow where the person started and stopped. Her muscles tensed as she realized they were crouching down across from her, putting themself on her level in front of the would-be headlights. She heard their labored breathing and was thinking about who they might be when they spoke.

“My name is Xiana, and I’m here to help.”

The person’s voice was smooth and warm. She felt like their short introduction was like a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The hairs on her neck laid back down and her muscles relaxed. The sun would come or it wouldn’t. She would be ok.

“You’re here to help? To help me?” Her voice sounded painfully loud in her head. Loud and not quite right. She wondered if it had been that long since she’d spoken, and then realized that yes, it had been. How long had she been out there? 

“Yes, to help you. Do you think you can stand up?”

She brushed off the question as nonsense. She’d been standing. Standing, walking, running – she was only crouched down to keep her bearings until the sun returned. “Of course.” Her voice still sounded wrong. “I’m just waiting for the sun.”

She felt the person pull back and felt their scent change. The other scents were still there but were now joined by a tangy spike of fear. 

“I’m not sure what you mean. Waiting for the sun to do what?”

“Arrive. It’s too dark to stand.”

Silence fell between them and she was aware of the extra charge in the quiet. She didn’t know what the person was afraid of. Was it her, or the coming of the sun, or something else entirely. Her heart rate had slowed down once she heard Xiana’s voice but she could tell that Xiana’s had sped up once she started talking. 

“How about you take my hand and let me help you stand up?”

Xiana stood up and she felt the wind about her again as a shadow of a hand appeared in front of her. Letting go of the ground didn’t feel safe but she remembered the blanket quality of Xiana’s voice and let the gravel go. She reached up to the shadow and put her hand where it seemed to stop. She felt Xiana’s hand wrap around hers and was startled by how warm it was. With Xiana’s support, she straightened her legs and let go of the gravel in her other hand.

She turned her head from side to side, expecting to be able to find the sun. How long had it been since the shadows started? Long enough that the rest of the world should have begun to come into shape. Everywhere she looked seemed to be equally shrouded in shadow with no sign of a horizon line. She turned towards the shadow that was Xiana, holding onto the warmth her hand provided.

“Let me walk you to the car. You’ll be warmer inside.”

She felt the gravel through her thin-soled shoes as she let Xiana lead her to the car. The smell of gasoline intensified as she got closer and she waited for the groan of the car door. As she lowered herself down onto the seat she became aware of a new leather scent, different from the one that clinged to Xiana. The interior of the car was leather, as were Xiana’s boots, but of a different quality. 

It wasn’t until she felt Xiana climb into the driver’s seat that she felt the panic rise in her chest again. The sun should have been there. Now, inside the car, there should have been lights. All she had to orient herself were smells and sensations and the barest glimpses of shadows. 


There was a pregnant pause before Xiana replied, “keep breathing and everything will be fine.”

She gripped the fabric of her skirt in one hand and the arm rest in the other as she willed her heart to calm down and her breathing to go deep. Her first instinct was to go through her grounding exercise but as that started with “five things you can see” the thought of it only brought forth more terror. 


Another pause, and then she felt Xiana’s hand cover hers. Feeling the armrest beneath her hand and Xiana’s warm skin on the top helped, at least a little.

Middle Feet, Continued

Middle Feet, Continued (week 1 winner)

Little feet take many steps and barely leave a mark. Big feet, no matter how few steps they take, are sure to tell you where they’ve been. My feet? They fall somewhere in the middle.

I was a precocious child, or so they tell me. I walked and talked early and often. I burned through toys and puzzles, getting bored quickly which led to mischief. By the time I was seven I understood that I was different from other kids and not necessarily in a way that enamored me to the adults. By the time I was in middle school I’d stopped caring. 

Carefree twelve year olds are, in a word, dangerous. It’s only the clarity of hindsight that allows me to say that from here. At the time? Well, again, I was dangerous. 

My lack of care protected me from the normal prepubescent and pubescent angst. I drifted through those years blissfully unaware of the impact I was having on those around me and oblivious to the struggles of my peers. Maybe things would be different now if I’d been more affected back then, and maybe the now was destined to be no matter what.

Feet, in particular my feet, have a tendency to follow paths. My feet walked me right into adulthood without need or want of much in the way of connection. I took care of myself and only myself. I didn’t ask anyone for anything at anytime for anyreason. 

I’m sure you will understand, then, why I didn’t jump into action when I found Gransene sitting on my doorstep.

I could have invited them in, or asked if something was wrong. Hell, I could have called the police and let them deal with Gransene. If I’d cared, there were plenty of options available to me. But I didn’t care. When I opened the door and found them sitting there I did what any logical, precocious, disconnected being would do. I closed the front door and left through the back instead.

Yes, I took the briefest of moments to determine that nothing was immediately wrong. There was no blood, for example. No cries of pain or fear. I suppose if there had been I would have made a different choice. Probably. Instead, I closed the door restoring the barrier between them and me and went about my day.

Gransene wasn’t my responsibility. I wasn’t attached to them anymore than I was attached to anyone. They had appeared in my life a few months before they appeared on my doorstep and with just as much notice. I had walked into a shoe store in search of a pair of bright yellow shoes. The style didn’t matter, just the color and fit. I’m sure you have similar urges from time to time, and on that day my focus was on finding a pair of shoes in a bright enough yellow – nothing more, nothing less. I’d satisfied similar urges at this particular store and walked in reasonably certain I’d be able to complete my task quickly.

When you go shopping, are you looking for random strangers to glom onto you and bring you news from another realm in hopes that you’ll help them slay a proverbial or literal dragon? No, of course not, and neither was I. Gransene was sitting on one of those little stools that only exist in shoe stores. The aisle they were in was the aisle that had what I thought might be the perfect pair of shoes. I promise you, had I been on a different quest or on no quest at all there is no way I would have chosen to join them in the same air space.

Gransene, though I didn’t know their name at the time, sat there on that stool in the middle of the aisle. They were muttering something that wasn’t necessarily in English and I’d decided I didn’t care what they might or might not be saying. I was, after all, there for the shoes. It wasn’t until I reached out to take down a pair that looked promising that Gransene stood up and put their hand on my arm.

I froze. I don’t do strangers, I don’t do mutterers, and I certainly don’t do muttering strangers who make physical contact without direct invitation. Gransene looked me in the eye and I felt my heart speed up.

“You’re the one.”

I wasn’t sure if this was some incredibly awkward pick up line or an accusation born of mistaken identity but, as if I were in a movie, I looked over my shoulders – both of them – before responding.

“Excuse me?”

“You’re the one.” 

I felt myself heating up from my neck outward and was unsure of how to read that particular sensation. I was used to floating around people without them having the most impact on me and here was some stranger who, with a single sentence repeated twice had me feeling feelings and heating up. All I wanted was my yellow shoes. I decided, as any misanthropic human would, to pretend they weren’t there or at the very least weren’t stable. I walked past them and reached down to grab the yellowish shoes on the shelf.

That was when they touched me. Hand to arm, skin to skin. They reached out and put their hand on my arm and stopped me in my tracks. 

“You’re the one.”

Their hand was cool and dry on my hotter than usual skin. I stared at their fingers because that was easier than looking them in the eye. Their fingers were long and pointy, with nails that tapered into what looked to be painfully sharp points. Or rather, into points that would feel painfully sharp to anyone who ended up beneath them. There was an odd contrast at play between their delicate and soft fingers and those angry nails. 

Instead of letting myself get lost in figuring out what was going on or engaging with them any further, I slipped my arm out from underneath them and left the store. No pair of shoes was worth that sort of drama.

The second time I encountered them was when I learned their name. I was skirting the edge of an outdoor performance of some play without much intention of stopping when I saw them sitting on a picnic table. Not at the table, ON the table. They were sitting in the center of a picnic table off to the side of where the production was happening, but they had their back to the activity. They had their legs folded and one hand up towards the sky with the other reaching out in front of them. No one was anywhere close to the table for obvious reasons, and yet it looked like they were gesturing towards someone. 

I wasn’t going to stop. I even thought about turning around and walking the other direction. And yet I found my feet walking me right up to them, putting myself in their line of sight, and saying, “what’s your deal?” 

They didn’t move or blink, they just looked at me. I stayed there for more minutes than I should, watching them stare at me with their arms up and out. My feet seemed to think I was where I belonged so I stood there, waiting for them to say or do something. 

Eventually, they blinked three times and tilted their head. “It’s you.”

“Is it?” 

“You’re the one.”

My feet decided it was time to go and I turned to walk away. They reached out and touched my arm again, and their skin was cool and their nails were still dagger sharp. The difference was that this time I didn’t pull away. 

“What do you mean and, pardon me, but who the fuck are you?” Tact was not something I typically brought to most situations.

They closed their hand around my arm and gave it a small squeeze. “You need me.”

“Oh, no. No I don’t.” I moved to pull my arm from their grasp and was surprised at the strength with which they held firm.

“You do, and you’ll realize it eventually.” They let go of me and blinked three times again. “Gransene.”

Even though their hand was gone I still felt them wrapped around my arm. The coolness stayed and I seriously thought they might have left a visible mark on me. They hadn’t – I checked – and that somehow was more disconcerting.



“What is that?”

“Gransene is me. I am Gransene.”

I put my hands up, backed away, and let my feet lead me away from Gransene and their coolness.

The third time I saw Gransene was the first time their existence was challenged. I was sitting at a bar, alone, the way I like it, when I saw Gransene sitting in a booth in the back corner. They didn’t have a drink or anything else with them. They were sitting on the seat this time rather than being perched on the table top. If I’d been standing I’m not sure I’d have stayed.

This is part of the 2022 500-Word Short Story project. Comment with “Tell me more” if you’d like to vote for this to move to the next round.

Love Story, Continued

Love Story, Continued (March 2020, Week 3 Day 7)

“If you’re happy and you know it…” Trina May looked at the circle of four-year-olds with her eyebrows raised, waiting for someone to finish the line. There were five minutes left in the day and all she wanted was to see the back of the children before she broke down into tears.


Masking a sigh, Trina May echoed, “Clap your hands,” and the song continued with the wobbly voices in their own interpretations of the tune. They made their way through sad, mad, and hungry before the bell rang.

“That’s our bell! Say goodbye to your friends and pick up your backpacks.” Trina May stayed in her chair at the top of the rug while the children ebbed and swirled around her and the room. She loved them all and she would miss them. 

When the last child cleared the threshold, Trina May closed her eyes and let the silence fill her up. This room had been hers for seven years and she could picture ever inch of it without opening her eyes. The pattern of the circle time rug, the placement of the alphabet letters, where the climbing stones were in Iggy the iguana’s habitat. The only things that changed were the pieces of art the children made and even that followed certain patterns. She put almost as much care into the room as she put into teaching the children themselves, and she wasn’t sure if she’d ever see it again. 

“Ms. Taylor?”

Trina May’s eyes fluttered open. “Yes, Ms. Abbot?” Looking over her shoulder was out of the question – she was determined to be off the school grounds before she let tears flow. 

“I don’t mean to disturb you, I just thought, well, I just wondered if you might need, might need some help with…things.”

Keeping her voice low and even, Trina May got out of the chair keeping her back to the other teacher. She answered, “thank you, no. I’ll make do on my own.” If things had been different she would have welcomed the help. If things had been different, though, she wouldn’t be packing up her room and leaving the school unlikely to return.

Trina May began dismantling the board furthest from the door and was blissfully unaware of when the other woman left. It only took three boxes to collect all she’d made for the room, all her personal touches. When she finished, she stood, rocking, in the center of the room with her arms wrapped around her middle.

“Ms. Taylor.”

The brusk voice was like a slap in the face and Trina May spun around to face the principal. It was satisfying to watch him whither under her glare even though it didn’t change anything. 

“You didn’t have to take everything down.”

Trina May picked up her boxes. “I didn’t touch anything that wasn’t mine to begin with. Do you need to check for yourself?”

“There is no need for hostility, Ms. Taylor. I’m sure you know we are not enemies here.”

“Mr. VonFrentle, you misunderstood. That wasn’t hostility, that was a genuine question based on self-preservation. And the question stands.” The corners of Trina May’s mouth twitched as she watched the small man flush. “Do you,” she repeated in the same even tone, “need to check for yourself?

The man’s mouth opened and closed as if he were a trout surprised to find itself on a riverbank. “No,” he finally sputtered. “I of course trust that you’ve collected your belongings as expected.”

Trina May gave a short nod and started towards the door. It wasn’t until she got within a few inches of him that she realized he wasn’t going to move on his own. She stopped, put her boxes down on the counter next to the door, and clasped her hands together at her waist. “Is there something else you need, Mr. VonFrunle?”

“Ms. Taylor,” he began, puffing his chest up and adjusting the snugness of his garish rainbow tie. “I hope you understand that it is our most sincere hope that we are able to welcome you back to the Central School family in the fall.”

Trina May watched as his mouth flapped its way through what was obviously a prepared speech. The man didn’t have a sincere bone in his body, and the only reason he was going through these motions was in hopes of avoiding a messy lawsuit. She needed to play her part and wait through his rehearsed words.

“…remembering that the good of our students is our highest priority.”

Trina May slid her boxes off the counter and took another step towards the door. This time the pompous man stepped aside and made room for her to exit. She had to listen to him, but she didn’t have to dignify his canned speech with a response. She walked past him and down the hallway, ignoring the sensation of eyes following her progress out of the building.

The parking lot was still mostly full – the other teachers would be lingering over the last day of school – and Trina May had parked in her usual spot furthest from the doors. Each step she took away from the building brought her closer to tears, and there were many steps between her and her car. She shoved the boxes into the back seat and stopped to catch her breath and fight the tears down. When she opened the driver’s side door she found a note sitting on the dashboard. She slid into the car, pulled the door closed, and put her key in the ignition before putting her hand on the note.

“Roses are red, Violets are blue, Onions stink, and so does VonFru. You know that I love you, you know you are right, head home head held high, and I’ll love you tonight. – J.A”

The tears Trina May had been fighting off erupted in a throaty blend of sobs and laughter. She let them take her over until she was spent and clutching at her sides. When she heard two teachers talking excitedly on their way to their cars, Trina May turned the key and threw her car into gear. With the exception of Mr. VonFrunle, she had managed to get this far without awkward goodbyes and she wanted to leave the parking lot before either of them could even wave at her.


Watching Trina May start to dismantle her room was bad enough – coming back into her own classroom was worse. Janice lingered over closing out her room, forcing herself to stop to chat with the other teachers and staff as she worked. Keeping one eye on the clock she arranged books on shelves, reset posters on walls, and adjusted the small figurines on her desk so her room would be just so when she returned in the fall. She knew Trina May had to leave on her own, knew that getting in the way today could render the sacrifice she was making pointless. She shouldn’t even have gone over there when the final bell rang, but not seeing her didn’t seem right, either.

Janice’s classroom was on the second floor and the windows behind her desk looked out over the parking lot. She had spent months watching Trina May walk out to her car – the bright purple Mini with a huge Cthulu decal on the hood and “Choose Happiness” emblazoned across the back window. At first, it really was the car that caught her eye. It didn’t take long for her focus and attention to switch to the woman behind the wheel. 

Just as she saw Trina May’s distinctive swagger left the building and started towards her car, Janice’s attention was pulled away from the window by a knock at her door.

“Mr. VonFrunle. What can I do for you?” Janice kept her voice light and forced herself to lay her hands gently on the back of her chair.

“Ms. Abbot, I’m glad I caught you.” He sauntered into her room and squeezed himself behind one of the desks in the row closest to her desk. 

Janice masked a sigh as she sat down. “You almost missed me! I’m just about done packing up.”

The expression on the man’s face was too sweet to be trusted as he nodded and looked around the room. “You’ve been a valuable asset to the team for many years, Ms. Abbot. And I have some news – very good news – for you.”

Janice raised her eyebrows and said nothing. The pregnant pause that grew between them made the little man start to squirm. She wasn’t going to make this easy for him.

“Yes. Well.” He shimmied himself out from behind the desk. 

Janice imagined a “pop” when he finally extricated himself and feigned a cough to mask the laugh.

“As you know,” he continued unchecked, “We find ourselves down one assistant principal for next year…”

And one stellar preschool teacher, Janice thought to herself, letting her mind wander to the parking lot, wondering if Trina May had found the note.

“…and I’m thrilled to offer you the job.”

The Storyteller, Continued

The Storyteller (March 2020, Week 2 Day 7)


“What baby?”

“Tell my a story?”

“Me, baby. Tell me a story.”

“Tell ME a story?”

Crystal closed her eyes. “Baby, I’m all out of stories.”

“No, mama.” Krissy pulled herself up onto the tall chair across from Crystal, her short limbs dangling for a moment before finding purchase on the railing. “You has one more story.”

“Have, baby.”

“You HAVE one more story. You always has – have one more story.”

Crystal looked at her daughter sitting on her own chair across from her, with tousled hair and smudges on her cheeks. She thought about all the stories she’d had to slog through at work, each one worse than the one before it. She thought about the mamas she’d left who wouldn’t be telling any stories to their babies anytime soon. “Once upon a time,”

Krissy’s face exploded into a smile that crinkled the smudges on her cheeks. “Yay! I like once upon the time stories!”

“A time, baby. Once upon A time. Let me clean you up and get you ready for bed, then I’ll tell you your story.”

Krissy scrambled down the chair and padded off to the bathroom. Crystal cracked her neck, first right, then left, and got up to oversee the clean up. Their apartment was small enough that nothing was ever too far away and large enough for Crystal to be able to have privacy after bedtime. They had moved in earlier that year and she was still working on making it feel like home.

“I brushed my teeth, mama.” Krissy waved her wet and foamy toothbrush around as proof of her words.

“And I’ma brush them once more. You know I need to do my part.”

“Yes, Mama. Aaaaaah.” Krissy opened her mouth and thrust the toothbrush into Crystal’s hand.

Bedtime was their time. No matter how crazy things got at work Crystal made sure she was always home for bedtime. Brushing those little teeth and scrubbing Krissy’s chubby cheeks before helping her into pajamas and tucking her in were the highlights of Crystal’s day. 

It took some back and forth to get Krissy into the right pajamas for the evening and to have all the right stuffed animals surrounding her pillow and to have the right nightlights on. As Crystal eased herself down onto Krissy’s bed it was all she could do to keep from climbing in alongside her daughter and falling asleep.


“What baby?”

“I’m ready for my story.”

“Of course you are.” Crystal leaned back on the wall and let her eyes close.

“Mama, don’t fall asleep!”

Crystal opened her eyes and smiled. “I’m not sleeping, baby. I need to close my eyes to see the pictures.”

“Can I see the pictures?”

“If you close your eyes you just might.”

Krissy snuggled herself down deeper under the covers until only her chin peeked out. “Ok mama, I’m ready. You close your eyes and I’ll close mine.”

Crystal let her eyes flutter shut and started the story again. “Once upon a time,”


Crystal looked at her daughter and smiled. Krissy’s eyes were squeezed so tight her cheeks almost met her forehead. “What baby?”

“Will the story have a princess or a knight?”

“Are those my only choices?”

Krissy’s eyes popped open. “Mama, Once upon a time stories always have a princess or a knight.”

“How about a knight who is a princess?”

“Oh!” Krissy’s nodding shook the bed. “A Knight Princess?”

“Yeah, baby. Now close those eyes so I can get to telling.”

While Krissy snuggled herself back into place and closed her eyes, Crystal sifted through the faces from work, choosing which one would fuel tonight’s story. 

“Once upon a time, there was a princess named Krishanda. She was tall, strong, and smart as all get out. She and her seven sisters worked to keep their kingdom and subjects safe and prosperous. Their mother, Queen Crystalta, ruled all the land that could be seen from the topmost turret of the castle.”

Krissy, her eyes open again, said, “like you and me, Mama”

“Yeah, baby.”

“Am I going to be tall and strong and smart as all get out?”

“Only if you close those eyes and let me finish this story.”

Krissy smiled and pulled one arm out from beneath the covers, reaching for Crystal’s hand. “Ok, mama.” 

Crystal continued where she’d left off. “Princess Krishanda was riding her horse through the eastern part of the kingdom when she heard a woman crying. Following the sound, Princess Krishanda led guided her horse down a lane and found a woman not much older than herself sitting on the ground in front of a small house. She held her head in her hands and her tears dripped onto her skirts.”

Crystal had almost been moved to tears by her final interview of the evening. It was always hardest when the woman sitting across from her, shackled to the chair, was someone who reminded herself of herself. Thinking ‘there but by the grace of God go I’ was never a good feeling, not in her line of work.

“What’s the matter, kind woman?” Princess Krishanda asked as she climbed off her horse.

The woman, not used to having a princess address her directly, stopped crying and swiped at the tears on her cheeks as she scrambled up to standing. “Your highness, forgive me.”

“My name is Krishanda, Princess Krishanda if you must be formal. Please, tell me why you are crying.”

They never expected compassion, and it was often all Crystal had that she could give them. Compassion and dignity were in short supply out in the world and especially in the criminal justice system. 

The woman gave a small bow before answering. “Princess Krishanda, I’ve lost my son to the dragon’s den.”

“Mama! Dragons!”

“Hush, baby.”

“Dragons are scary!”

“Should we stop the story and finish tomorrow?”

“No, mama. Princess Krishanda will take care of the dragon and the lady and the son. Right? But maybe she won’t hurt the dragon, either?”

Crystal chuckled, warmed by her daughter’s concern, “Baby, do you want to tell this story instead of me?”

Krissy squeezed her eyes shut again. 

“Princess Krishanda secured her horse and followed the woman into her home to hear the rest of her story. She sat the woman down, took leaves from her pouch and made her some tea, and then sat across from her to listen. “Tell me what happened, everything that happened, and only speak the truth.”

Crystal thought about how she had taken notes while the woman shared her story, using her laptop as a shield. The clink the chains made as the woman attempted to use her hands underscored her captivity. She had cried the whole time, begging Crystal for the chance to see her son, promising that she had never done this before and wouldn’t do it ever again. Explaining that she’d had to leave to provide for her son since his deadbeat dad had skipped out on them the month before leaving her without resources or a way to get them. Assuring Crystal that she’d left the house locked and the child in the playpen so he wouldn’t get into trouble while she was gone. Swearing that she’d only planned on being gone for an hour round-trip. Justifying her aggression with the officers that blocked her from seeing her son when she returned home.

“Princess Krishanda, my family is in trouble and I had to do something. You saw my land and how barren it is? Our once-fertile crops have stopped growing. Our cows and chickens are hungry and have stopped sharing their milk and eggs. My husband left us in search of work or food or both and hasn’t been seen in twenty-eight days. I am here, alone, with my baby boy and not enough food in the cupboards for either of us. As you can see, we are down to our last turnip. I had to do something to keep us alive.”


“What baby?”

Krissy sat up and rubbed her eyes. “This is a scary story.”

Crystal put her hand on Krissy’s cheek. “Are you doubting Princess Krishanda, baby?”

“Oh!” Krissy’s eyes brightened. “The Knight Princess! She will save the day!” Krissy shot one arm up into the sky as if she were pointing a sword.

“I sure hope so, but only a certain little girl stops interrupting and we can find out what that dang dragon has done and fix it.”

Krissy giggled and put her arm down. “Mama?”

“Yes, baby.”

“I need to go potty before we find the dragon.”

Crystal pulled the covers back and moved some of the stuffed animals out of the way. “Go on and take care of your business.”

As Krissy padded off to the bathroom Crystal rested her head in her hands and looked around the room. This was the most finished room in the apartment. She had filled the walls with art and words to surround her daughter with images and messages of strength.

October 17, Continued

October 17, Continued (March 2020, Week 1 Day 7)

I’m not supposed to be here. My last day of life should have been October 17, 1983. 10-17-83, a collection of numbers that couldn’t organize itself into anything interesting. Maybe the sheer blandness of the date is what saved me, or maybe it was “fate.” Trust me, I’ve looked for “The Answer” every day since and am no closer to a eureka moment. That’s why I left home, how I ended up here.

Have you ever started over? Sure, you’ve probably gotten a new job or maybe a new husband. Or maybe you’ve even moved across the country to “start over.” But have you *really* started over? With a new name? A new personality? A new body? 

It’s been easier than I expected, to be honest. I had told myself story after story about why I couldn’t leave, why “home” was the only place for me. What a joke. And by joke I mean tragedy. And by tragedy I mean – I don’t really know what I mean. What I do know is that I’m never going back. Of course, that was part of the deal. The ultimate one-way ticket with my memories as my only carry-on item.

The me here gets much more attention. I went from being almost as bland as the date I should have died to being downright striking. That wasn’t a guarantee. I could have ended up some homely child with a limp and stubby thumbs, or an accountant. Old me blended into the background of most rooms. Old me had to get others to share my ideas if anyone was going to hear them. Old me knew that taking up space was all I had to offer. Old me – well, anything else needs to wait. What you need to know is that for once I pulled the right card and arrived in this body. This body topped with luscious hair, good fashion sense, and enough height to be intimidating without intent. This body with eyes you’re having a hard time avoiding, with skin you want to touch, and with a smile that rewards you. This body that is strong enough to do for itself and compelling enough to not have to. This body is all mine. No complaints.

Forgive me – I neglected an important something. You’ve come all this way and I owe you an introduction. 

My name is Melody and I am here to share my story. You could call it my job though I prefer calling. Whatever you label it, sharing my story is what I agreed to do so I could start over. Would you make the same choice? Or would you push forward, living on borrowed time, knowing you shouldn’t be there and that no one would have missed you if you *had* died on schedule? Perhaps hold that answer until after you hear my tale of woe? Ah, you’ve already decided. So be it. 

My first story ends quietly on October 17, 1983 – it’s not like there was a line of people concerned about my fate. That’s one thing most of us here have in common. Sure, there are a few who made the choice to leave because they’d done all they could, had all the impact they’d intended, and wanted to create a new life for themselves so they could be amazing all over again. That seems exhausting and selfish to me. But it’s not up to me to yuck someone else’s yum. I just distance myself from those ones. They’re easy to spot.

My second story starts on January 18, 1984. Why the gap? Well,  01-14-84 is a date with much more going for it and these things take time. How quickly do you think you’d work through the feelings of being alive the morning after you were supposed to have died? For me, waking up on October 18, 1983, sent me into a tailspin.

Back there you’re taught from the beginning about the order of things. About how its an honor and a responsibility to die on your day. How the death of some is important for the continuation of many. How questioning our place and time is akin to questioning the existence of God. I’d known my day since I could remember – it’s actually my first memory – and had expected to go as planned. I’d heard whispers about people who didn’t die. I’d heard the grumbles about the drain they placed on the community. It wasn’t something I wanted for myself and it’s not like the old me had anything in particular to live for.

If you’d asked me then I would have said waking up on the 19th was the worst thing in the world. I spent some time alone before outing myself. Agers – that’s the polite term for people like me who don’t die on schedule – aren’t exactly shunned but they’re not celebrated, either. Maybe if I’d been more liked or even noticed things would have been different. As it was, emerging back onto the streets three days after I was supposed to be good and dead didn’t win me any friends. No one wept with joy or threw a party. No one offered me a place to stay or a seat at their table. If I’d been bland before I was as good as invisible after. Well, not invisible – unwanted.

At first, I attempted to go back to business as usual. That only lasted a day. All of my things had been cleared from my workspace and, while they begrudgingly found somewhere for me to sit, it was clear they’d moved on and didn’t need or want me in the mix. I went through the motions of building components for the project I’d been working on but when I dropped off my completed set at the end of the day they didn’t even touch it. It sat, ignored, at the end of the line. It didn’t matter that it was perfectly constructed. Agers’ work wasn’t sellable.

It was on my way home that I saw the Change Stand. I’d passed it many times before but it was only on this day that it caught my eye. The stands were scattered around town, each the same in set up: A portable table weighted down with sandbags, a white tent with three walls and a roof, pamphlets and clipboards covering the table, and an ageless man or woman standing smiling at passerby under a large sign with “READY FOR A CHANGE?” in deep blue, red, or yellow lettering. It was rare to see anyone stop and talk to them, and they never called out or made a fuss. They had information to share only if you asked for it. That was the agreement they’d made with the officials and they stuck to it.

Since I’d never stopped to talk to them and had never gotten close enough to see what was on the pamphlets, all I had to go on was what the rumor mill could supply. Some said they were a cult, others that they were simply a religion. Some said they were charlatans looking to steal your resources. No one said you should talk to them.

I’ll be honest – I knew which routes to take to avoid the Change Stands. It wasn’t accidental that one “caught my eye.” That day, I aimed myself towards one. As I made my way down the block I watched the woman under the sign. She was wearing what I assumed was a uniform because it didn’t seem like something anyone would put together without direction or obligation. I’d come to associate the Change Stands with blue, red, and yellow because of the signs but the people in the stands were never dressed in those colors. This one was wearing a purple top with a plunging neckline made more obvious because of the shocking paleness of the woman’s skin. Since she was leaning on the table I could see that she had on a pair of green pants that left no mystery to her contours and a pair of tall, strappy boots in creamy brown leather. To top off this colorful ensemble she wore an orange beret. Taken together the effect was striking. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to talk to her or keep going and find some rainbow sherbert. 

She didn’t make direct eye contact with me until I stopped just out of her reach. I don’t know if I thought she might reach out and grab me to spirit me off somewhere or make a grab for my wallet. The rumor mill hadn’t specified what might happen to you if you did stop to talk to one of them. I suppose I was hedging my bets while satisfying my curiosity. 

When I stopped walking she turned to me and shared a smile. I found myself smiling back, feeling warm just at her acknowledgment of me after days of silence.


I stuffed my hands in my pockets and looked down before letting my “hello” escape. 

“Are you ready for a change?”

Goodbye, Continued

Goodbye, Continued (October 2019, Week 3, Day 7)

“It’s time to go”


“Neri, please.”


Paul looked around, hoping someone else would appear who could reason with his wife. Everyone had left, either to give them privacy or to distance themselves from the pain. There was no one within sight, and he knew they wouldn’t have had any more success. This wasn’t something anyone should have practice in, or have “tricks” for at the ready.

“Neri, we have to leave.”


“I promise to bring you back in the morning. We’ll come back, first thing. They open the gates at 6 am.”

Neri looked at Paul with eyes full of anger. He waited, refusing to shrivel under her gaze. The two of them stayed locked in silence as the wind picked up around them. Paul shifted into a crouch and stretched out his gloved hand, offering it to Neri. It wasn’t until the predicted raindrops started to fall around them that Neri accepted his offer and placed her naked hand in his.

“Thank you. I promise – we’ll come back as early tomorrow as you want as long as it’s after they open the gates.”

As they walked down the winding path to the car, Paul fished in his mind for the details of the last conversation he’d had with Neri where she’d said something more than “no.” If he’d known it to be an important one he would have paid more attention. They had been sitting at their kitchen table. He could, oddly enough, remember their plates and what was on them better than he could recall the content of their conversation. She’d had the garish orange plate that she loved and he hated, and it was piled high with hummus and vegetables. His plate had been one of their everyday china pieces from their public wedding, and he’d had an array of cheeses, meats, and fruits. The food didn’t matter, and Paul had tried time and again to push it out of the foreground to get at the conversation they’d been having. 

He tripped to a halt when Neri stopped. “What?”

She didn’t answer, but this time she didn’t need to. They had found their way back to the car while he’d been thinking about dishes and food. 

“Right. Sorry.” Paul unlocked the door and went around to the driver’s side. Neri yanked her door open, threw herself into the car, and slammed the door behind her. With sagging shoulders Paul followed her into the car, silently sliding into the driver’s seat without looking back up the path they’d just followed.

Driving out of the cemetery after dark required his high-beams and all of his attention. Paul didn’t bother putting music on and kept his hands at ten and two. She’d used to be the one who drove whenever they were together. Having her in the passenger seat of her own car just added to the wrongness that surrounded them. He snuck a glance at her once they got to the driveway. Her anger filled the car and, likely, the entire cemetery. That little glimmer that allowed her to take his hand was gone.

Paul missed her. He missed their conversations and how deep they often got. He missed having her reach out to touch him voluntarily. He missed her smile. It had been two weeks since his world had any normal in it though it felt like a lifetime.

The drive home was mercifully short and uneventful. Paul had barely put the car into park when Neri was unbuckled and pushing the door open. He didn’t follow her inside right away. After making sure everything was off that was supposed to be, Paul unfolded himself from behind the wheel. Neri was already back inside, and he was in no real hurry to join her. 


“Will you come downstairs?”


“The pastor is here. He just wants to check on us.”


“It might help to talk with him.”


The hallway was dark with only a sliver of light coming out from under the closed bedroom door. Paul hadn’t been inside since returning from the hospital. Neri spent all of her time in there, alone, only emerging to go to the cemetery. Paul slept in the guest bedroom and spent his time downstairs, doing his best to give Neri the distance she seemed to crave. 

Paul grabbed his hair at the temples and let out a silent sigh before attempting to smooth down his hair on his way downstairs. She was the religious one. She was the one active in the church. She was the one everyone was concerned about. She was the faultless one.

The house had been full of people coming to pay their respects, and Paul knew they were almost all disappointed that he was the one receiving them. All the questions about Neri, how she was doing, what she needed, how they could help her. He didn’t know how to satisfy their curiosity any more than he knew how to get his wife to unlock. 

When his friends came by things weren’t much better. The looks of pity, the questions not asked, the forced small talk. All of it pointed a glaring spotlight on how everything was his fault, as if he needed anyone else to point that out to him.

Paul waded through it all, alone, taking the solitude on as another part of his penance. He couldn’t undo the past, he understood that. He longed for the ability to do something to fix the present. Maybe the pastor would know, and maybe he’d be willing to share.


“It’s time for lunch.”


“Will you come down to the kitchen?”


“I could sit with you.”


“Neri, you need to eat.”


Paul stroked the bedroom door with all the care he wanted to give to her. “I’m going to go put something together. Maybe you’ll change your mind.”

Paul was careful to look at the floor as he passed the empty room between their bedroom and the stairs. Talking to his wife through a closed door day after day was painful enough. Adding the sharp twist of pain that came from seeing the stillness in that room was more than he could handle. 

Memories were everywhere. He went to the refrigerator and paused to take in everything help up on it by their magnet collection. Nothing had changed. The same field trip flyer hung there, and the invitation to the birthday party. The outside world was plugging forward while their home felt frozen in time. 

Inside the fridge was a different story. Paul opened the door and was assaulted by the change. Before, there would have been a variety of foods laying in wait for Neri. She would turn them  into delicious meals that the three of them would have eaten together around the dining room table. Now, there were stacks of tupperware holding meals for two that had been dropped off by friends too uncomfortable with grief to stay longer than the hand-off required.

Paul took the top container off the stack without checking the contents. Food barely had taste, anyway, so there was no point in deliberating over which plastic box would serve up lunch or dinner. 

Paul had gotten good at setting up plates to serve up the gifted food. He had figured out how long different things took in the microwave and how to stagger the reheating so he could end up with everything at an editable temperature at the same time. He’d gotten good at eating alone after having brought food up to Neri. 


“I need to go.”


Paul rested his forehead against their bedroom door. “Neri, I have to.”


“Fran is here. You’re not alone.”

Paul pulled his head back at the thud of a shoe on the other side of the door. He gripped the doorknob until Fran’s hand on his shoulder helped the flush of anger ebb away. She was the only person who could have offered to come over that Paul could accept. She’d taken care of so many people and exuded calm and relief, both of which he desperately needed. With Fran’s hand on him, Paul said, “I’ll be back later. I love you,” before walking away.

He had to keep going. One of them had to, anyway. 

Shrugging into his coat in the mud room, Paul let, “it’s not like I want to go,” out into the room. Fran clucked and adjusted Paul’s collar. “Of course you don’t. She knows that.”

“I’m not sure she does.”

“Well, I know that so that will have to do for now.”

Paul gave Fran a rueful smile. “Thanks for being here for her.”

“I’m here for the both of you. Now go, do what you need to do and get back here.”

“It should only be a couple of hours. I’m not back on officially until next week.”

“You do what you need to do and I’ll be here with her.”

Nuri, Continued

Nuri, Continued (October 2019, Week 2, Day 7)

Nuri was the only one who had seen it. The cute couples strolling, the joggers, the dog walkers, the students – not a single one of them had seen it, but she had. The symmetry of someone so invisible being the only one to see made her chuckle, in spite of the gravity of the moment. She had seen it, and she had acted. Now, sitting on the back step of the ambulance wrapped in a blanket only marginally thicker than the ones they gave out at the shelter, she waited and watched.

Some of the hubbub was dwindling. One ambulance had already screamed away, carrying someone very unfortunate off to the hospital. Nuri hadn’t gotten to see them on land. Hadn’t gotten to see how they were. She’d wanted to talk to them before anyone else arrived, though not knowing if she’d helped them survive or thwarted their attempt to die, what they’d had to say might have been hard to hear. 

“You’re quite the hero.”

Nuri looked up and found herself flanked by two police officers. They were both smiling. Nuri shook her head. “Not a hero.” Her chattering teeth made it sound like she had a stutter again.

“I think the woman in that last ambulance might disagree with you.” The fleshier of the two officers reached into his back pocket and took out a notebook that was too small for his large hands. “What’s your name, hero?”

“Am I in trouble?”

“Not that I know of.” The officer’s smile widened. “Is there something you need to confess?”

Nuri pulled the blanket tighter, forming a cocoon with only her head left showing. She shook her head.

“Thank goodness. The paperwork for arresting heros is mighty complicated. Now, what’s your name?”

“Can I just go?”

The other officer bent down so she was eye level with Nuri. “How will that lucky woman find you later if we don’t include your name in the report?”

“I don’t need her to find me. I don’t want any attention.”

“I think those camera crews have other ideas for you.”

Nuri followed the woman’s gaze and saw three news vans pulling up, blocking the ambulance. 

“Look, Hero,” Officer fleshy pressed. “You give us your name and we’ll get you into the ambulance and on your way before those vultures have a chance to unload.”


“Nuri what?”

“That’s it. My name is Nuri. Can we go now?”

Nuri watched as the two officers looked from her to the news vans. She wanted to run but could tell her legs wouldn’t have gotten her very far very fast. Waiting for people who held her fate in their hands was familiar and terrifying. After an eternal thirty seconds, Nuri heard the woman say, “I’ll go with her,” before she passed out.


“That was something of a sleep, Nuri Hero.”

Nuri’s eyes snapped open. She was the warmest she’d been in a long time, possibly forever, which was more disorienting than the almost familiar voice at the side of her head. The room was too bright, too loud, and too full of smells to be anything but a hospital. Nuri took a deep breath before moving her arms and let out a sigh when she was able to bring them out from under the blanket without resistance.

“If the nurses hadn’t shown me their reports I’d think you were avoiding me.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Do you know what day it is, Nuri?”

Before Nuri could answer there was a knock at the door that barely preceded it opening. A woman dressed in an overly colorful top, scrub pants, and sensible shoes bustled over to the bed singing, “Sleeping beauty finally awakens!” Nuri didn’t recognize the woman or the tune but found herself smiling. 

“I’m Estelle, your nurse for today. Let’s get you sitting up, now that you’re awake. No, no – let me do it with the bed, you just lay back and we’ll take it slow after all this time. Do you feel light headed at all? Does anything hurt?”

Nuri kept her eyes on the nurse and felt the room spin a bit as the bed moved her into a more upright position. “I’m ok,” was all she had to say.

“Well, that’s up for the doctor to determine in the end, isn’t it? What you and I can do is get you all set to meet them.” The nurse patted Nuri’s blanketed leg before shifting her focus to the computer at the side of the bed. “Some questions for you – what’s your name?


“Nuri what?”

“Just Nuri.”

Estelle lost her rhythm for a moment before saying, “Just Nuri, can you tell me what day it is?”

“Yes, can you?” 

The warmth Nuri felt from and towards the nurse was doused with the chill that came from hearing the other voice. “Isn’t it Tuesday?”

“Sadly, no. Tuesday was a good day but it’s come and gone.” When Nuri’s face fell the nurse continued, “Don’t fret. It’s hard to orient after traumatic events.”

“So, what day is it?” Nuri’s toes curled while she waited for the nurse to answer. Before the nurse could open her mouth, the other person in the room spoke.

“You arrived here on Tuesday. Today is Thursday, Nuri. You’ve been out cold for two days.”

Nuri closed her eyes for a moment. Two days. She’d been in this bed, in this hospital, for two days. She felt her heart speed up, her natural flight instincts kicking in. The nurse misinterpreted her response and rushed to reassure her.

“Your body did what it needed to do. You’ll be right as rain in no time I’m sure. I’ll go let the doctor know and we’ll be back in shortly.” The nurse left, taking her warmth with her.

“I don’t want to stay here.”

“I don’t imagine you’ll need to, Nuri Hero, not once the doctor gives the ok for you to go.”

“Why are you here?”

“I said I’d come with you, remember?”

“That was two days ago.”

“True, it was.”

“You haven’t been sitting here for two days, have you?”

“No, though I have checked in on you several times since you got here.”


“I wanted to be sure you were ok.”

Nuri stared at the officer. “I’m fine.”

“No one else has come to see you, Nuri.”

There was no escaping the look of pity in the woman’s face. Nuri had seen it on so many different faces over the years, and not once had that pity done anything for her. “I’m fine.”

For a moment the officer looked like she was going to press the issue. Nuri was used to the temporary concern and was ready to brush it off. Instead, the officer stood up and put her hand on the railing of the bed. “As I can see. I’m surprised you don’t have questions for me.”


“I thought, at a minimum, you’d want to know about the woman you’d saved.”

Saved. That meant the woman had lived. The pang of guilt took Nuri by surprise. “I do. How is she?”

The knock at the door this time was slower, louder, and more insistent. Nuri kept her eyes on the officer while she said, “come in.” 

The room filled up with people piling in one after the other. The first to cross the threshold was clearly a doctor, her arrogance taking up the space of at least three people. The nurse scurried in after her and was followed by several people who looked to be about the same age as Nuri though they had stethoscopes around their necks, matching white jackets, and an air of superiority that made them seem older.

“Nuri. You’re with us now. How are you feeling?” The doctor’s eyes stayed focused on the computer while all the other eyes were focused on the doctor.

“I’m fine. I’m ready to go.”

The doctor chuckled and looked at her entourage. “That may well be true on both counts.”

“We’re ready to sign her out, Doctor.”

Nuri looked from the doctor to the officer, weighing her options. 

“I’m ok to go on my own. I don’t need signing out.” Nuri swung her legs out from under the blanket and pushed herself off the bed. She ignored the gasps from the students as she grabbed up her discarded clothing and pulled on her pants while standing next to the bed. She ignored the officer’s protests as she pulled her sweatshirt over her head. She ignored the doctor’s sputtering as she pushed past her and opened the door. The hallway was just empty enough for Nuri to find her way to the elevator unobstructed. On her way down to the lobby, Nuri pulled the hospital bracelet off of her wrist and dropped it on the floor. 


“Where’ve you been, Nuri?”

Nuri froze. The hairs on her arms stood on end as she pulled off her jacket. “Nowhere special.”

Summer, Continued

Summer, Continued (October 2019, Week 1, Day 7)

Every year, every single year, the seasons take their turn. Winter always gets to wrap itself around both sides of the change of year. Spring follows, whether emulating a lion or a lamb, and cleans up the debris of Winter. Summer and Fall do their bits, too. Every year. There isn’t much else in the world that is as unerringly consistent as the marching of the seasons beyond the “what goes up must come down” adage. The seasons, gravity, the rising of the sun – these are things we have, as humans, been able to count on. The seasons have been so consistent for so long that we’ve gone as far as to build entire religions based on them. Songs and stories feature them in a way that presumes understanding. And, sometimes, for better or for worse, children are named after them.

Summer was one of those children, and one for whom the name fell into the for worse column. She might have been able to have a disposition further from her name only if you believe all things are possible. As it stood, while one would expect someone named Summer to be light, carefree, and fun, this Summer was dark, angsty, and dull. She was the kind of child that made parties end early. She was the kind of child who attracted the worst of the substitute teachers. She was, to be honest, the kind of child without friends.

Summer did match her name in one regard – she was beautiful on the outside. At the should-be-tender age of 13 she had made it to the other side of the awkward moments of puberty and was a sharp version of what would be her softer adult self. She was of average height and both arms and legs had landed at perfectly proportional lengths. Her hair was full and lush, her teeth were white and straight, and her skin was a perfect brown. She didn’t see herself as beautiful. She didn’t really see herself, period. 

Summer lived with her father. He had fought hard to keep her with him after divorcing her mother, a rarity for someone so masculine and so young. Summer didn’t know that, and she didn’t remember what life was like with two parents. Without friends, her world consisted of her and her father despite the persistent presence of others.

She might have felt normal if her grandparents hadn’t told her she should be devastated, or if all the story books hadn’t told her she should be working hard to get her parents back together, or if the other children hadn’t made a sport of asking her if she felt like her home was broken. Missing her mother wasn’t something she thought about much except for when the playground mommies looked at her with pity when they thought she wasn’t paying attention, and leaving elementary school behind had cut down on that considerably. Feeling normal wasn’t much of an option. In the end, Summer settled for wearing black and stomping around. 

The town Summer and her father lived in was fairly small and averse to change. It was the kind of town that took pride in how similar one generation’s experience was to the next and expected fads to pass them by. On the rare occasion when someone new expressed interest in moving into town they were met with stares, questions, and a surprisingly narrow housing market. On the even rarer occasion when newcomers arrived by moving truck rather than via birth, they were usually older, approaching the town as a way to slow down. 

New students weren’t common outside of kindergarten. Classes moved up from grade to grade with very little change all the way through high school. Of course there was the random child who progressed faster or slower than their cohort, but those children were still familiar. They belonged. They understood. Summer’s grade had held steady at 21 children since the beginning. Seated alphabetically, as they always were, left Summer Walston in the last row of the classroom all by herself since the 1st grade. It wasn’t until Art was placed in her classroom that things changed.

The teacher pursed her lips as she directed Art to the seat next to Summer as if proximity to her might contaminate this new student on her first day. All eyes followed Art as she made her way to her seat, and not just because of the novelty of newness. Art commanded – demanded – attention. 

From her head to her toes, inside and out, Art was the most different anyone in the room had ever seen. She was tall for a girl. She was painfully thin. She didn’t have hair. She had a full face of make-up, expertly applied. She was wearing a dress that would have been perfect for prom. She wore combat boots. None of that made sense to the children or to their teacher. Art didn’t seem to notice or care. Art was a far better fit for her name than Summer. 

At 14, Art was a girl with big feelings, big ideas, and a big voice. She laughed from her kneecaps and cried true tears every time. She talked to animals and inanimate objects, giving them just as much care and attention as the humans around her. She saw everything as a potential vehicle for expression and saw value in expressing everything. Fear made her do more, not less. Being different was comfortable for Art. She hadn’t had much experience with the alternative.

Art exuded confidence from every pore as she navigated her way to the seat next to Summer. After she’d slid her long frame into the seat attached to the desk, Art gave Summer a huge smile. Summer smiled back. The other children gaped. The teacher cleared her throat. 

When change isn’t celebrated getting things back to normal is of the utmost importance. Classes move forward, homework is assigned, despite striking new students who don’t fit the mold. Summer handed Art the papers that were passed back from the front, barely making eye contact despite her curiosity. Art received the papers with a loud thank you and a smile that caused ripples of giggles to flow through the classroom despite glares from the teacher. The students found opportunities to twist around in their seats or sharpen pencils or borrow paperclips to steal glances at Art. English flowed into History without much fanfare.

The lunch bell rang, giving the students permission to flex their independent thought muscles for the next 22 minutes. The hallway became a buzz of whispered speculation. Who would Art choose to sit with? What would someone like her have brought for lunch? Where did she come from? The questions flew from boy to boy and girl to girl. As a testament to just how rare such an occasion was, they even flew from boy to girl and girl to boy. \

Summer left Art behind as she stomped her way to her locker, well practiced at ignoring the buzz. It was never meant to include her. Armed with her history book, the same lunch she’d had daily since the 3rd grade, and her jacket, Summer fought her way past the gibbering students and took up her usual spot. 

Middle school is hard. Middle school lunch is harder. Middle school lunch without friends is torture. Middle school lunch without friends was Summer’s normal. Books were far safer than other 13 year olds, and sandwiches didn’t spill secrets. Tucked into the corner at the table furthest from the door, Summer had her book in one hand and her sandwich in the other when she felt a tap on her shoulder and noticed the absence of chatter around her. She would have been prepared to see the principal, or a teacher, or even the lunch lady. She was not prepared to see Art towering over her with a bento box in hand. She was not prepared to be asked if the seat next to her was open. She was even less prepared to spend the next 17 minutes getting to know Art.


Summer was absorbed in both her lunch and the trials of the moors when she noticed a foot tapping at her side.

Seven years of solitary lunches since they’d stopped forcing children to sit with her had left Summer ill prepared for this visitor. Cassie was the person who went with the foot, and Cassie was the person with all the power in the 8th grade. The person who had the best parties. The person who dated first. The person who all the teachers loved. The person who would, someday, be head cheerleader, class valedictorian, or both. Cassie was also the person who never, ever, talked to Summer.

When people like Cassie want something they’re used to getting their way. It’s all they know, usually, thanks to over indulgent parents and the rampant insecurity of their peers. They’re used to doing whatever it takes to get what they want, even if it means talking to people like Summer.

Missing Persons, Continued

Missing Persons, Continued (March 2019, Week 3, Day 6)


Remo looked at the poster tacked up on the board in the vestibule of the cafe. It was put on top of other posters, obscuring a notice for an avant guard theatrical experience and part of the phone number for an in-home piano teacher. Checking these boards was the closest Remo let himself get to his past, and he lingered over it every time he came across one. 

“Where are you, Ne-Ne? And what made you leave?” No one answered Remo’s question – he was the only one there to hear it. He shook his head as he pulled himself away from the picture of a fresh-faced young woman and headed into the cafe to take his place in line. 

When you don’t have a job to get in the way of your free time, you get to see the world differently. Spending time behind bars gives you a still different view. Remo’s eyes were always open.  He was friendly enough to get what he wanted, and not so friendly as to take up too much space in anyone’s memories. Anonymity was his security blanket and he never left home without it. 

Remo spotted Ne-Ne before noon. He told himself that he hadn’t been looking for her and that was mostly true. Her picture had been in his mind since seeing it on the board. When she appeared within six feet of him there was a moment where he wondered if he’d willed her to appear. It had always been easy before, so easy that he’d earned the nickname of Magnet back in the day. Remo kept his eye on her while pretending to be engrossed in his book. He didn’t want any trouble.

She didn’t look exactly like the picture anymore. They never do, especially the ones who run. The conservative, girl-next-door haircut had been replaced both in style and color. Where the sweet young thing in the picture had an air of preppiness about her even though you didn’t see anything beyond the collar of her shirt, this version of Ne-Ne was strapped into an outfit that would have made her mother – most mothers – cringe. Remo could see more than these superficial changes between the poster girl and the street-smart young woman before him. Ne-Ne was hungry, and not just for food, with an edge that comes from figuring out how to make choices based on need over want. 

Remo kept his eyes on the pages of his book while he rolled his shoulders back. He knew how to make hard choices, too. As tempting as Ne-Ne was in this moment he had no interest in taking that many steps backwards. She would move along soon enough. He worked on shifting his imgaginary magnetism over to something that would repel her from him and then laughed out loud at his magical thinking. 

It was the laugh that caught Ne-Ne’s attention. He felt her eyes on him as soon as it rolled out of him.  “The Magnet’s still got it,” he muttered to the book in his hands. “Still got it and don’t want it.” Before Ne-Ne had taken two steps in his direction, Remo was up, his book stashed in the large pocket of his jacket, and on his way. As he passed the corner musician he threw some coins in the young man’s bucket, paying penance for the brief moment of hesitation, before heading home.

His home. The bungalo sat in the middle of the block and, like Remo, seemed intent on not calling attention to itself. He’d furnished it with pieces he’d found on the internet. Everything inside was new. It was more space than he needed since he lived alone, and that meant it was perfect. His was the only bed that had been on his mattress. His was the only ass that had sat on the couch, the chairs. He’d even bought a new toilet seat. 

The kitchen was fully outfitted, and cooking felt luxurious. He made himself a hot meal three times a day, making each meal from fresh ingredents. If he had it his way, he’d never eat food off of a tray again as long as he lived. 

He was sitting at his dining room table, having just poured himself two fingers of scotch after eating his lunch, when there was a knock at his back door. “For fuck’s sake.” He carried his glass with him to the door.

Ne-Ne stood there, one hip popped, chest pushed forward, and her hand in her hair. Remo sipped his drink.


Remo took another sip, looked Ne-Ne down and up, and closed the door. To the empty room, he declared, “Not even if she’d been wrapped with a bow on top.”


Ne-Ne woke up with the sun, working out where she was while she rubbed the sleep from her eyes. She eased herself out from under someone’s arm. His name didn’t matter, and he’d served his purpose. She grabbed her clothes off the floor and locked herself into the bathroom. Showering had been the last thing she’d worked out since leaving home and it still felt like a decadent treat. Before she left the apartment she helped herself to the cash from the guy’s wallet and planted a lipstick kiss on his forehead, thanking the power of drink for letting her leave without incident. 

 She made her way down Second Street, checking her reflection in the shop windows as she went. The money from last night, both what she’d earned and what she’d taken, would keep her going for a bit. She stopped walking, turned to the window of the clothing store to her right, and, to her reflection, said, “Mama always said, money is as money does. Wonder what mama would say now.” Ne-Ne gave herself a big smile and added, “Fuck Mama,” before continuing down the street.

The cafe was the only thing open on the block that early. Ne-Ne walked in, glanced at the WANTED picture on the board, and smirked. “I wonder where sweet Renee might be!” The baristas here had been walking past that poster for weeks and hadn’t put two and two together, and Ne-Ne had no reason to out herself. She took her coffee to go and sauntered over to a park bench to waste some of the morning. 

Ne-Ne found herself absorbed with the street artist working on a huge chalk drawing of the Dali Lama on the cement patio to the rigth of the cafe. The streets were full of interesting people. Everyone was running from something, everyone had their hustle. If you were one of them out here, people were transparent. Ne-Ne needed transparancy more than she needed a roof.

The man’s laugh caught her attention. She almost spilled her coffee when she heard it. Finding the person that matched it had only taken a moment. He sat there, reading a book, and holding a coffee from the cafe. His head was bald in a purposeful way and his clothes hung on his body as if they were a size too large for him. They were nice, clothes, and new. His shoes were freshly shined and he’d taken his hat off and set it on top of the newspaper by his side. She guessed that he was probably in his thirties – young enough to get himself into trouble and old enough to want to. Ne-Ne could spot a mark in no time and this one was ripe for the picking. She didn’t need one again so soon, but she wasn’t going to let that stop her.

She let him walk away a bit before following him. It was always best to see how they lived, and where, before getting into the thick of it. She’d learned that the hard way in her first week and wasn’t one to make the same mistakes twice. You could tell a lot about a man from what they called home. Even the ones staying in hotels gave things away by their choices. Ne-Ne prefered the men with houses. Apartments were ok but didn’t guarantee the perfect combination of money and fear.    

Ne-Ne knew she’d picked a good one when she watched the man throw a few bills at Maestro. When she got to the same corner she stayed and shared her coffee with her friend while keeping an eye on which house the man entered. She and Maestro shared a sandwich he’d gotten from a do-gooder who didn’t want to give him cash. Women with money never gave it up. Men, on the other hand, were easy.

With her makeup freshly applied, Ne-Ne decided to make her move. The back door was easy to find and she didn’t expect it would take much to convince him. When he came to the door, when she was face to face with him, she could see he was older than she’d guessed before.


She felt his eyes taking her in and waited for the invitation that usually followed. When he closed the door without a word, Ne-Ne smiled and whispered, “gotcha.”