Burning Ring of Fire

I’ve come to the realization the problem with going through life one day at a time, each in order, is not so much the order part as the living. The sun wakes you from the east and entrances you from the west. And if you’re lucky, that trance will overtake you until that magical sun does its great misdirection act and reappears in the east again. And again. And yet again, in the round and round ring of our life.

So bless me, Father, for I have sinned. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

“Why do you always do that?” Alison asked one night while I washed my hands in the kitchen sink after I got home from work.

“Do what?” I said and shrugged, which I came to learn was as bad as saying, “What the hell are you bothering me with this crap for, woman?” to that emotionally fueled and attuned half of humanity.

“You know damn well what I mean. You take your ring off and place it on the back of the sink. What if it fell down the drain? And please don’t tell me that you do the same thing when you wash your hands in the filthy restroom at work,” Alison said with the cold stare that’d chase off even snowmen.

“Well, yeah. Of course I do. I don’t want it slipping off my soapy fingers into the sink. This way, it’s safely sitting there right in front of me the whole time,” I said, drying my left hand and returning the ring to its rightful position.

“Gahhh, you infuriate me so sometimes Robert!” she said, stalking from the kitchen into the living room, leaving behind chopped up onion, relish and other condiments I suspected had to do with my eating hotdogs this evening.

“Aw, c’mon, Allie. What’d I do wrong this time?”

“You take your ring off in any number of unsavory places. Why even wear it? Why even be married to me in the first place?” she said.

“Well, I was working under the theory that graduates of Smith would have more sense than mere, you know…women.”

“How dare you! How dare… Whatever possessed me to allow you into my life, allow you to coerce me into going out with you, let alone saying yes to the man who so cavalierly removes the sign of his eternal love and fidelity five days a week,” Alison said with a mist forming across her eyes.

I learned a long time ago never to tell a woman not to cry. Do not force them into an embrace when they’re in such a state. Just stand there and look noble, open and a little sympathetic. Don’t fawn, hover or lay a finger on them until they overtly let you know they’d accept it now…except for the telling them not to cry part. That’s always a no-no.

“How do I know you’re not pulling off your ring and chasing some cute little hoochie-coo secretary at your office, or that bisexual amazon Stephanie when you’re at work? Huh?”

I sighed.

“Allie, one, none of the compliant hoochie-coos give a shit if you’re wearing a ring or not. Unless, of course if your ring has a healthy supply of gemstones in it. Then their interest is geometrically piqued. Secondly, have you taken a close look at this mug of mine lately? Looks like I got socked with a bag full of years, quarters and dog asses since I hit a half-century . And finally, Stephanie has a steady girlfriend, so you can forget her altogether,” I said.

But not-so-deeply inside me lived a more-than-passing affection and long-suppressed lust for that buff beauty. And I’d drop and give her a strong twenty and then fifty more if she asked for them, as long as a shot at her kind attention was incumbent on my successful completion of her Herculean task.

And I lied about the girlfriend.

“Well, all right,” Alison sniffed. “But please don’t take your ring off anymore. Please. And I think your face is fine. Full of character.”

“Yeah, like all you women say about this white hair. I know the half-assed code. ‘Old Bob has grown obsolescent, if not completely exceeded his shelf-life.’”

“Oh stop, Robert,” Alison said with her crooked little smile. “You’re my lovely man and I love you above all others. Just never take your ring off, okay?”

“Sure, I’ll be careful. Maybe I’ll just carry a supply of Handi-Wipes around with me instead of using soap. How’s that?” I said with a laugh. You know, break the ice with some levity.

“Now you’re teasing me,” she said with a frown.

And we were off to the accusatory and running defensive races again. This was our circular state of being, happening like this so many days that it became almost as certain as the sun’s rotation that brought and finished each of those orderly days I was talking about.

If not for the fact that every night we’d make up 9:00 PM and never went to bed angry with one another—in fact, quite the opposite—I think I very well might have decided to seek the gentle look-at-me-Bobby dressed women of our administrative staff.

I most definitely would have taken a shot at the Holy Grail of womanhood that was Stephanie Stoneman. She’d even given me the green light, though not in so many lumens or words, three years ago while some of us executives were on a touchy-feely retreat in the Adirondacks.

But no. I played by the rules, even if Stephanie was willing to suspend them in my case.

“Why don’t you come up to my room, Bobby?” she asked in that seductive voice of hers. The one that hooked men and women of all ages without ever losing at her classic features and athlete’s body. Even still at forty-seven.

And so went the order of Alison’s and my lives together. I maintained my ring in position as that sign of high fidelity and low testosterone. That is, until the day I came home to an empty house. Even the cat was gone. No loss there; I hated that cat.

There on the kitchen table, propped up against the napkin holder Alison’s nephew made in shop class and gave to us as a housewarming present ten years ago, was an envelope with “Dearest Robert” in Allie’s script on the front.

I won’t entirely share what the note inside said, except for the phrases, “you don’t know who I am,” “I don’t know who you are” and “a man I can trust,” were the ones that sat me down and punched me in the gut. The fact that this dude and my wife were the ones being untrustworthy was lost on the woman I realized years ago was as shallow as piss in a platter.

The envelope also contained her wedding ring, since she no longer needed nor desired any sign or memory of love and devotion for me. I noticed she kept the $3,000 engagement ring, but I guess that’s considered a gift without any significant magical meaning to some women.

All in all, it was great load off my mind when my heart wasn’t cracking and my face wasn’t burning in a kind of embarrassment only the cheated upon understand. Most especially those cheated-upons who eschewed the occasion of salacious sin when it not only tempted you, but sent an engraved invitation.

The other day, I dropped off an envelope with the receptionist at Allie’s office. In it was not a note that mentioned trust, devotion, disappointment or any of the verbal finger pointing and breast beating you might expect from an aggrieved ex.

Actually, I placed my wedding ring and a card in the envelope. It was a thank you card for giving me back a life of opportunities and choices instead of trying to live the day-to-day doing the right thing for someone who who didn’t do right by you.

Okay, I also included a photo of me and Stephanie Stoneman we had taken on a recent weekend retreat—this one for two. It seems she is a very perceptive and patient woman. And I’m a guy who now can’t wait for sunup to see what new little or big adventure life has to offer me that day and for sundown to see what Stephanie does.

As in last September, I’m trying to create a five stories a week in a 2017’s Story-a-Day celebration. However, instead of responding to a different prompt for each of those thirty days September hath, Story-a-Day boss Julie Duffy is giving me five prompts each week to try to craft a story around. This is the first, a quickly penned first-draft response to the prompt asking to use the phrase/idea “The problem with going through life one day at a time, each in order…” Tune in tomorrow and see if I can rattle off another quick draft that might even be readable.

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Élan

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Amanty Aerodrome Building 47 – France

At the squadron’s makeshift bar, Lt. Mansfield Parkman (Princeton, Class of 1917) poured himself and Lt. Edmund Whitney (Class of 1918) another glass each of cognac, lifted his and said, “To our brave comrade, Albie Filmore, who lived, flew, fought and died with the greatest spirit of élan!”

At a small table across the floor of the leaking shed, Captain Fred Meek, a veteran of three years flying for France and now the United States, drained his own glass and said, “Yeah, Philmont seemed a spunky little fella, but buzzing around hellbent for election chasing Boche as he did, I figured he was bound to ‘go west’ in about a week’s time.”

“His name was Filmore, and how dare you sully the name of a brave young man while Taps still echoes in his memory?” Whitney said, charging from his canvas chair toward Meek with fists clenched.

“Easy there, Lieutenant, I was only making the observation — and you’d be wise to take to heart — that Filmore’s or any other pilot’s élan or whatever you romantic boys wish to call it doesn’t keep a watch out for you or your tail feathers, nor stop 7.92 mm machine gun rounds, at 12,000 feet,” Meek said, staring icy warning at the new pilot.

When Parkman gathered up Whitney and escorted him from the tent, Meek turned to his drinking companion, a fellow veteran flyer, and said, “Depending on the weather, I give each of those spunky idiots no more than five élan-filled days before they join their friend”…and it was four.

A shaky five-sentence fiction based on Lillie McFerrin’s prompt word  SPUNK.

Shedding That Skin

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The Lamia, by Herbert James Draper, 1909

“Yeah, that cheating Marina whipped my ass pretty bad this time, so I figured I’d call it a game…late in the fourth, gar-bahge time, ends of the benches clearing, fans streaming out to their cars.” Phil replied with a hangdog sigh.

“Phil, your sports analogies aren’t just stupid, they’re profoundly stupid, make you sound like a spineless, deluded idiot, letting this girl go without a fight,” his buddy Ken said.

“Oh, I wouldn’t say I’m going down like a total worm, Kenny…more like a snake,” Phil said, as he moved his hand back and forth while slowly pushing his arm forward in a serpentine motion.

In that hand he held his cell phone, and upon its screen a photo of himself and Jeffrey’s girlfriend Jeannette Bardo, their clothes half-shucked, locked in an embrace in Jeannete’s room, where in the background appeared a calendar that showed the date from two weeks before.

“Texting this to Marina and that tool Jeffrey, just to let them know we’ll be just fine,” Phil said, and brought his index and middle fingers, curved like a rattler’s fangs, down upon the screen, pressing SEND.

A quick free write flash fiction piece based on Lillie McFerrin’s Five Sentience Fiction prompt VINDICTIVE.

Unforgettable

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“Okay, Dad,” Rebecca Swann said to Ray Bentley as she showed him old photographs, this one her late mother and Ray’s wife of fifty years, “who’s this woman?”

“I dunno, I can’t make it out and I don’t remember anyway,” Ray said with a toss of his hand, tuning toward the wall of the nursing home’s common room.

“It’s Mom, Dad, don’t you remember?” Rebecca said and put the photo back into the pile of Ray’s black and white forgotten memories.

Rebecca saw a small group enter the common room, touring the facility as a potential home for the elderly woman toddling along with her walker, when she heard her father take two deep sniffs, saw him turn, and watched him beam as he blurted out, “Helen?”

The elderly woman brought her disheartened gaze up from the floor and saw not an 78-year-old man seated at the table in front of her, but rather the 19-year-old who had given her the brand of perfume she wore for the past forty-eight years, the one called Unforgettable, and she smiled a teary smile, broke away from her children, crying “Ray!”

As someone whose certain memories seem to be sifting away more each day, I was moved by Lillie McFerrin’s prompt word FORGOTTEN to express the power certain crazy stimulants have on memories you would think long lost. I love how that works.

The Open Gate

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“Did you not set a guard or lock the stockade gate?” The Fort Orange commander asked Simon Schermerhorn, wincing as a surgeon bound up his wounded leg, of the massacre at Schenectady the night before.

“It was so cold, sir, and we had sent out Mohawk scouts to forewarn us if any French or their native allies were coming, so we felt safe and…not exactly,” Schemerhorn said, dropping his chin to his chest and sipping more hot rum to warm him from his freezing cold ride along the Mohawk River to Fort Orange.

Outside, the wind blew the deep snow, almost obscuring the trees from the guards set along the fort’s western stockade, the one facing the place named for Mohawk phrase for “beyond the pines,” where a French and Indian raiding party might be lying in wait to attack after sacking the village, killing many inhabitants still in their night clothes and carrying off many captives.

“With all that potential for attack and wiping us all out, what do you mean, ‘Not exactly,’ Herr Schermerhorn?” the commander said.

“Well, sir, it was horrible cold and we were feeling fairly safe, waiting to hear from our scouts, so we left the stockade open and did set a guard of…two,um, snowmen,” Schermerhorn said, wincing again, but not in pain.

With a slight simplification and distillation, here is a conversation between Simon Schermerhorn and the military commander of what would one day be my hometown, Albany, New York. On the night of Feb. 8, 1690, Schermerhorn escaped the massacre of the village of Schenectady and, wounded in the leg, set off on horseback through the snow and cold, following the Mohawk River east, to warn the garrison at Fort Orange. Legend has it the authorities in the village were feeling safe that night and indeed did set a guard at the open gate of two snowmen. This five-sentence fiction was inspired by the anniversary of that night and Lillie McFerrin’s prompt word, OPEN.

Then Trust Me

Trust Me

“Nancy told me today Sasha’s coming to visit her tomorrow, so I’m going over to see her, my savior,” Lacey said in a tone as pregnant with hope as her belly, which was in its second trimester with our child.

I sighed long and loud with the memory that a year and a half earlier, Lacey had engaged in an affair with Sasha, who Lacey’s statement implied had saved her from me, or the me from three years before Lacey and I met, when I was head over heels in love with Sasha, who was utterly irresistible to everyone, knew it, and was comfortable with it.

“Sorry, that was just me being selfish and stupid…I told you I’d never be that way again, and I haven’t been…I mean really, right?”

“Then trust me,” Lacey said, rolling herself up to kiss my cheek, then rolling back and closing her eyes, an angelic half-smile on her face.

I rolled over, too, facing the wall, and didn’t sleep the rest of the night, thinking about her.

A Five Sentence Fiction based on Lillie McFerrin’s prompt word: TRUST.

Love Letter

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“She’s been scribbling away on a sheet of paper she’s been hiding from us for three days now, Doctor, and even after I take the pencil away from her, she finds another somewhere,” Nurse Cindy Nichols said.

Dr. Warren Fulbert tapped away at his tablet, scanning Eloise Silverman’s charts for the recent history of her latest regime of medications, therapies, diet and behavioral analyses and said, “Everything seems the same as it’s been since she was committed before her trial, Cindy, so get her a crayon, five milligrams of Haloperidol IM, and let’s keep a close eye on her so she doesn’t hurt herself or cut up someone else’s…oh, and bring me that drawing or whatever it is.”

“She’s due for group in a few minutes, so we’ll flip the room and get her a new sheet of paper and crayon while she’s down in therapy,” Nurse Nichols said.

After rounds, Dr. Fulbert returned to his office, where he found a gray sheet of paper on his desk with a sticky note from Cindy Nichols.

That’s when Fulbert looked closer at the paper and realized it wasn’t gray, but rather was covered edge to edge in the same sentence, written hundreds and hundreds of times, one atop the other, that said, My darling Peter, why won’t you come?

A mashup five-sentence fiction based on Lillie McFerrin’s prompt word, MARRIAGE. I tossed in a dash of the tale of Héloïse and Abélard and a splash of inspiration from that photo up there of a letter written in 1909 by Emma Hauck to her husband while she was in a psychiatric hospital.