Going to Be

“It’s going to be fine,”
she said as she tried to
convince me of that which
she tried to convince herself.
“I know,” I said, because
I figured it’s what I needed
to hear as much as she did.
And that’s the cadence to which
she’ll march, in words as much
as deed, past but never away
from the loved ones we’ve lost.
I’m sure I have it confused
in my wrong-footed way.
“I’m right behind you,” I said,
though I’m uncertain it’ll be okay.
That’s because what I hear is
“Fine. It’s going to be.”
But maybe that’s enough.

Making Faces

Photo by Scott Webb

Otto Schneider worked to the natural music of the wind off the Baltic. Since the war, it became a more pronounced tune as it hummed and whistled through the ruins of what once was the Prora Kamp resort on Rügen Island.

It wasn’t quite the Strauss symphonies or accordions and brass of the folk bands the Nazis would pump through the speakers up and down the island, but it served its purpose as musical accompaniment for his efforts as well as it did for theirs. 

He recalled how Hitler’s “Strength Through Joy” organizers came to the island and told locals like Otto how they would build their spare hotels in an effort to provide affordable vacation space for the average German worker. 

“Every working German deserves a day at the beach,” they told Otto and his neighbors. So he and other local business owners quickly mobilized their meager concerns to support the coming throngs seeking a seaside holiday from their smoky factory towns, the packed cities and boring farms. 

His oldest son, young Otto, and the younger boy, Kurt, became his second pair of craftsman’s hands, carving little boats, guns and doll heads, doubling his production of those toys. His wife Magda and older daughter Maria, sewed the little outfits for the dolls. In addition to the carving, Otto painted the faces of the dolls, giving them life and a certain sparkling magic that rivaled the sunlight on the waves of the Baltic.

“How do you do that, Father?” his youngest daughter Dorothea would ask as she watched every step of her father turning blocks of wood into lively kindchen and frauleins. “It’s like magic.”

“It is, in a way, Dotte,” Otto would say. “And perhaps one day you will make such magic, turning the plain into the amazing.”

“Really, Father,” she would say. “When?”

“In time, liebchen. When you a get just a little older and the Kamp opens.”

“I will make dolls magical, Father. Just you wait and see.”

But the Prora Kamp never opened. It’s building slowed as Strength Through Joy became superseded by the Aufrüstung rearmament. And by 1939 young Otto left Rügen Island to become part of the Wehrmacht, followed in two years by Kurt.

“Otto!” Magda screamed in her sleep one night in December of 1942. 

“What, my darling? I’m here.”

“No, Papa, our Otto, our boy.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s gone, I just know it,” Magda said, burying her head into her husband’s chest and sobbing.

“How do you know that, Magda. The last word we had, he was safely in reserve of the major armies. Here, you just rest upon me and go back to sleep. I’m sure you’ve had the fright of any mother of a soldier.” 

“He’s dead, Otto. Our boy is dead,” Magda said and quietly cried for the rest of the night.

The word came to the island two months later. Otto died that winter night of 1942 outside Stalingrad. 

Meanwhile, Otto kept making his dolls. 

Magda never was the same. Maria left Rügen Island to be near her fiancé’s family in Dresden in summer of 1943. Then letters stopped coming home from Kurt after the Allied invasion of France in 1944. He became just another German soldier who disappeared without a trace.

With the Allied bombing of Dresden in 1945, Magda’s heart finally gave out. Dorothea found her mother at her sewing machine where she had been mending and old dress of Maria’s for her younger daughter.

“Father, what will we do? It is only you and I left. No one is ever coming to this stupid island on holiday. There’s never going to be another holiday. There are no men, no husbands, no fathers. There will be no ladies and children coming to this ghost Kamp sitting on the shore,” Dorothea said. 

“We will do as we always have, Dotte. We will make or toys, give magic to our dolls, bring them to life. Someday, I know not when, the people will come back and our lives will be better. Look how well you can paint the dolls’ faces now. You have become better than I at giving them their special magic,” Otto said as he held up the spectacularly painted head of a doll Otto had carved the day before.

“Father, this a waste of our time. We must leave Germany. Perhaps to America. That is where the future lies, even for toymakers and their daughters.”

“Don’t be silly, Dorothea. What could we do there? I am an Old World craftsman. Americans have no need for that skill. And you are only seventeen. Who would hire a girl whose only skill is painting doll faces? No, we’re staying here,” Otto said with finality, taking Dorothea’s latest creation back into his shop.

“I will not sit here waiting for something to happen that never will like you, Father. I will not die here like Mother, waiting for someone to come back here that I know never will. I will go to America and make a new life for myself,” Dorothea said. But her father didn’t hear her. He only hummed along with the winds coming off the Baltic.

Otto was sure Dorothea would always be what he was, what his father had been and his father before him. She was a Schneider and that’s what Schneiders did.

Five years later, as she just finished painting the magical face on another of her dolls, Dot Snyder felt a chill as she thought of the man who had taught her the skill she now used to make a living in America. And she knew, she just knew as her mother knew, that Otto was gone.

But before she could give it another thought, one of her dolls called her from across the dressing room at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas.

“Dot, can you fix my face?” she said.

“Coming, Dolly. Can’t let you go out there without your magic, can we?” Otto Schneider’s daughter replied.

Here’s the final story from my Six Weeks, Six Senses project in concert with prompts from Canadian writer and teacher Sarah Salecky. This final week was to write about a sixth sense — the magic of intuition. I had a choice of photos to help guide me in terms of a character, a setting and an object. I write this today while crippled up with a painfully messed up back. Been down with it since Saturday. But I had to do this, even if I didn’t feel like it, or even feel like I could or not. So here you go. The story is a first draft flash fiction that may or may not grow up or grow better. But it grew. Thanks, Sarah.

Sunrise on Beargrass Creek

“Been staring into that dark so long now everything’s moving. When’s sunup?” Cleve Bentley said, turning away from the clearing east of Beargrass Creek.

“S’posed to be a while ago,” said his partner, Israel Keene.

“Then where’s the sun?” Cleve said

“Damned if I know, but keep watching that tree line. Shawnee’ll be coming first light.”

“If there is any. That old hag Ben killed said we’d never see sunrise. She was just tryin’ to scare us, right?”

“She was’,” Israel said.

“Well, Ben sure ain’t gonna see it. I turned around and he was gone.”

“They probably saw the old lady’s hair on his belt and knew he was the one killed her. I’d’a killed him, too.”

“Israel, something is happening out there,” Cleve said.

“Damn, maybe they ain’t waiting.”

“I see one!”

“Settle down. I’ll move around and…”

But Cleve’s rifle flared and spit a slug at the approaching form.

“I got him,” Cleve shouted. “Gotta make sure he’s dead.”

”Wait!” Israel said, but Cleve had already crept away to where he thought he saw someone seconds before.

“Oh Christ! It’s Ben. I gone and killed…” Cleve said just before arrows pierced his ribs.

“Cleve?” Israel whispered. Two bodies lay outlined in something like a promise of day as the moon’s shadow began edging away from the sun.

A Shawnee man also emerged from the new shadows, ensuring his grandmother’s predictions — of an eclipse and the white mens’ fate — with a blow from his warclub.

Sunrise finally had come.

Here’s a 250-word flash fiction piece I wrote for Siobhan Muir’s weekly Thursday Threads feature. I felt the need to do a new story from my old genre, frontier and western.  Had to use the phrase “something is happening.” So I envisioned this scene in 1770s Kentucky. It needs a hell of a lot more character depth, setting description and, oh I don’t know, a plot? But I wrote it, which is a big deal for me these days.

Metamorphosed

This thing that grips my heart
in its gentle hands,
massaging it just to make sure
it’s fresh, was so useless to me
in the old days. Back then,
it could squeeze as hard as it liked
and I doubt this metaphoric ticker
would yield a bit, poured and cast
as it was from some Bessemer vessel
roaring with great light and
sparking bits of molten steel.
But something I never expected
changed that, with the warmest touch.
Now, my heart pours its own sparks,
pyrotechnics composed of joy,
sadness, anger, even love,
all bound together molecularly
by the wonder called emotion.
I would ask how a heart of cold steel
could accept and give its feelings
like a grape gives up its juice.
But does it really matter?
All I have to worry about is that
I have enough to fill the sippy cups
of the little ones who metamorphosed
hardened metal into such human flesh.

Happy Birthday, Lacey Spaczinski

Photo by Prince Abid

Lacey Spaczinski wasn’t sure she could carry it all onto the school bus, but she knew she had to. She couldn’t look bad to the other girls. Not on her birthday.

With great care, she began to climb the three steps from her stop on the corner of Route 9 and Harris Road, where she was the only child picked up. There was no way she was going to let anything happen to the artfully decorated box she held in front of her like it was filled with high explosive.

Lacey peered up at the windows on the bus and saw heads bobbing up from their phones to see who was coming on, but also to see what the colorful thing the farm girl was bringing on this time. The bobbing heads reminded Lacey of the Wack-a-Mole game at the county fair last summer. Sometimes she wished she had one of those rubber hammers to play it while she walked down the aisle to an open seat.

Or at least an open seat where she would be allowed to sit.

“‘Morning, Lacey. What ya got in that pretty box? Here, lemme help ya,” said Mrs. Heim, the driver of the school bus that had this route on the very fringe of Lacey’s district.

“Thank you, Mrs. Heim. Lacey said, carefully handing over the box. These are cupcakes my Grandma made for my class. Today’s my birthday.”

“Oh my, well happy birthday, Lacey. How old are you now” Mrs. Heim said as she held the box so Lacey could do the slip-slide-turn in order to get her heavy backpack around the corner and ready to begin the gauntlet to a seat somewhere near the back half of the bus.

Mrs. Heim handed Lacey her round box and returned to her driver’s seat while Lacey took a deep breath and began her trek down the aisle.

As the bus lurched out into traffic, Lacey fought to keep her balance, her backpack weighing nearly half of what she did, all the while keeping her box level and steady in front of her.

Inside the bus always reminded Lacey of one of her Grandpa’s old truck, the air tasting of fuel oil, leather and sweat. The truck still stood, its wheels resting on concrete blocks, behind the farmhouse where she lived with her Grandma. And she recalled it was on her birthday three years before that she moved there from Des Moines.

“Whatcha got in the hat box, Spaz? Some Little Fairy on the Prairie bonnet from back in Iowa?” sneered Brian Phalen, who was two years older than Lacey, yet in her class.

“You’ll see later, Brian. I promise.”

“What if I wanna see now, Spaz?”

The bus slowed as it was about to make another stop and Lacey almost lost her balance again.

“Lacey, honey, I thought you’d already found a seat. Will you please sit now so we can get rolling?” Mrs. Heim said as two more kids climbed on the bus and headed her way toward friends holding seats for them.

“Will you move it, Spaz? You’re in my way,” said Schuyler Shields, the queen of the bus, whose pubescent ladies in waiting were holding her throne in their section at the rear of the bus.

Schuyler pushed Lacey toward an empty seat on her right and she toppled on top of another student who was studiously ignoring the daily push and pull of rampant preteen, compressed, neo-hormonal conflict there on bus #31.

Lacey’s festive yellow box toppled with her. It’s colorful round top she had worked so hard to decorate with rolled and folded paper strips flipped off and four pink-frosted cupcakes came rolling out onto the lap and phone screen of Jerry O’Rourke.

“Jesus Christ, Spaz. What’re you doing? Look at my screen now. It’s a freaking mess. And, hey…cupcakes!”

Jerry grabbed one of the birthday cupcakes and shoved it into his mouth, paper wrapper and all, biting off about half of it.

“Hey, she’s got cupcakes. I hope you brought enough for the whole bus, Spaz,” Schuyler said, pulling the box from Lacey’s hands. Lacey couldn’t fight the theft. She lay facing up, her legs dangling out in the aisle, trapped between two seats by the weight of her own backpack, as helpless to resist as a turtle on its back.

“Stop! Don’t, those are for my…”

But no one was listening, except Mrs. Heim, who saw the aisle behind her clogged with students and pink balls or something being tossed from seat to seat.

“Hey, that’s enough back there,” Mrs Heim shouted as she made her way down the aisle. “Everyone get into a seat. Now!”

And, as the scrum halfway down the bus began to clear, she saw Lacey’s legs still out in the aisle and her pretty yellow box, empty and bent, between her feet.

“Oh, honey. What happened” Mrs. Heim said as she helped slip the straps of the backpack off Lacey’s shoulders, and pulling her to her feet.

“She pushed me and I fell and my cupcakes, my birthday cupcakes, they took them all.”

“Well, not this one,” Jerry O’Rourke said as he held a lopsided cupcake, it’s festive decoration as smeared and distorted as the expression on Lacey’s face.

“Who pushed her?” Mrs. Heim said, scanning the bus. “Was it you, Brian?”

“Why’s everyone always blamin’ me? We don’t just call her Spaz because her name’s Spaczinski, ya know. Clumsy bitch just tripped and they all came out. I can’t help it if they scattered all over the bus.”

“No, it was…it was…Schuyler pushed me,” Lacey said.

“Wasn’t me, Mrs. Heim. I was just going back to my seat and she just tripped. Amiright?” Schuyler said, looking at the nodding heads of her retinue.

“Okay, I don’t want to hear one sound the rest of the way to school. I’ll be making a report to the assistant super about this,” Mrs. Heim said and headed back to her seat at the front of the bus.

Lacey sat in the seat next to Jerry, her backpack lying at her feet, her yellow box, or what was left of it, on her lap. The salt of her tears mingled with the sweet smudge of frosting on her lips. If she wasn’t so distressed, it would have reminded her of the kettle corn her Grandma would buy her at the fair.

Lacey looked into the box and saw those interior yellow walls now wore smears of pink and white frosting. Not a cupcake left to share with her new classmates. Not a chance to make herself a bit more popular, at least for one day, when they tasted the love she and her Grandma had put into their baking and decorating. Not a chance to be anything other than ‘that new girl from Iowa.”

At school, her teacher, Mr. Smithson, wished her a happy birthday and led the class in a rendition of “Happy Birthday to You,” that sounded as empty and warped as the yellow hat box in her locker.

She thought the day would never end. Or it couldn’t quickly enough.

At dismissal, she boarded her bus and sat in the only seat left to her, backpack at her feet, mangled box on her lap. Once again she was next to Jerry O’Rourke.

“Oh, hi and happy birthday, Spa…I mean Lacey,” he said, looking up from his phone. “Sorry about what happened this morning. Didn’t mean to start a feeding frenzy and all.”

But Lacey only sat there, here head down, staring at her box, looking neither left nor right, up nor down.

“I really am sorry. Last year I was the new kid. And they treated me like shit until they found out I was the guy kicking everyone’s ass on Madden, Minecraft and now Fortnite. Now they treat me with a little respect and some fear when they see me online. I think I know what might bring you a little respect, too,” Jerry said.

“I don’t do video games, Jerry. I do art and bake.”

“Exactly!”

“What’re you talking about?”

“Here,” Jerry said, and pulled that last cupcake, the one he showed Mrs. Heim that morning, from his shoulder bag. “I want you to taste this.”

“I’ve tasted my cupcakes before, Jerry.”

“No, I want you to taste it like you’ve never had one before.”

“What do you…”

“Just do it.”

Lacey dipped her finger into the lopsided frosting and brought it to her mouth for a lick. It wasn’t sweet like cotton candy, nor like sugar from the bag. The butter from which she made it had imparted a slight saltiness to it, though nowhere near like her combined tears and frosting taste from the morning.

“C’mon, Lacey, bite into it with your eyes closed.”

“Oh, all right,” Lacey said, and took a small bite from her cupcake. It still held the moisture and bounce to her bite it would have while it still sat safely in her yellow box. If someone could turn vanilla ice cream into something soft, spongy and warm as the inside of a shoulder bag, that’s what she was cupcake’s flavor spoke to her. That and…

“Hey, is that one of those cupcakes from this morning?”

It was Brian Phelan’s voice.

“Let me tell you, Spaz. Those things were un-freaking-believeable. Best breakfast I ever had. Did you make those?”

“Uh huh,” Lacey said, still with a mouthful of cupcake.

“Well, if you ever make any more, I’d love to have some,” he said, without a crumb of insincerity.

“Lacey, I think we found your hook for respect,” Jerry said. “It’s your baking.”

“And Spaz, I mean Lacey, if you get me some of those cupcakes or whatever you wanna bake, I’ll make sure those bitches leave you alone,” Brian said. “Just sayin’.”

“See what I mean? And I heard two of those ugly step-sisters in the back talking about how pretty this box you decorated was. They’ll never admit it to Schuyler, but don’t be surprised if one of them sneaks up and talks to you about it in art class,” Jerry said.

“So you think that baking to finance Brian’s protection racket and being only acceptable to be spoken to in secret is respect?” Lacey said.

“Baby steps, Grasshopper. At least they know you by more than Spaz now. You gonna finish that cupcake?” Jerry said.

When she got off the bus and walked into her grandmother’s house, Lacey was met by the aroma of cake wafting from the kitchen.

“Welcome home, honey. Did everyone enjoy your cupcakes?” her grandmother said.

“Um, they went fast, Grandma. Everyone loved them.”

“Good. Thought I’d make us a little cake, too. Plus, I left out the bowl if you want to lick some leftover frosting,” Grandma said, pointing to the silver bowl on the kitchen counter.

“Thank you, Grandma.”

“You’re welcome, Lacey.”

“Grandma? Since Mommy went away I haven’t felt like anyone likes me. No one wants me around ‘cept you. I don’t think I could make it without you.”

“Oh, don’t be silly, honey. It just takes time. None of the boys and girls talk to you? Not one?”

“Well, there is one boy. But I think he was just being nice.”

“That’s how it starts, honey. They’ll come around. Just be Lacey. You’re a lovely girl. Cute, smart, have a good heart and you’re…”

“A great baker,” they said in unison and laughed.

“I had a great teacher, Grandma. The best,” Lacey said. She grabbed her grandmother in a hug and planted a kiss on her cheek. It was then she recalled that special something she couldn’t place when she tasted the cupcake Jerry gave her.

It tasted like Grandma, she thought.

This piece is in response to Week Five of Sarah Salecky’s Six Weeks, Six Senses Summer Writing Project. This week, we were asked to use the sense of taste, basing it one three photos. One of them is the fancy box up top of the story. This one was harder than the others, but I was determined to write something. I think I wrote “something,” what it is I have yet to figure out.

Someday

I hope someday I can see you
and you will recognize me,
not as this man of stooped posture,
melted face and numb presence.
I hope someday you will see me
as the man who loved you like no other,
because there will never be another
for me like you. Never.
I hope someday we can talk about
the time we missed, the time
you were taken from me and the times
I died a little more inside each day.
I hope someday I will recognize you,
since time and distance can change
so much, even the love one can feel
for the one who taught them how to love.
I hope someday there will be a day
that we can be together, when past
is forgotten, future is unnecessary
and I’ll never need a someday again.
Each today will be our someday

The Worm’s Turn

 

Across the coaster-sized bare spot
that sits within the mess
of weeds and some grass
I call my lawn, a worm glistened
in its pink and brown slicker
after twenty minutes of watering.
“You better hurry, little dude,
or some bird find you in the open,
and you’ll be flying,” I whispered.
But the worm just oozed along
at his life’s petty pace
to the next tuft of green.
I wondered why he commuted atop
his normal subterranean route
from dirt to dirt, going, for him,
relatively aerial to his own salt mines.
Then I noticed the nearby lumpy trail
of passage left by that damn mole
and I figured maybe a worm has
as good grasp on living as I do.
I never wanted to die surrounded
by my office walls either.
And if some bird would’ve come along
and carry me to my demise, so be it.
At least I’d no longer be crawling
on my belly, and, man, we’d be flying.