The Queen of Cups

“It’s an altar,” she said softly. Jenna’s reddish blonde hair swung forward, obscuring most of her face as she knelt on the bathroom floor and gathered up the myriad of things that had spilled from her bag. The small, wooden box hadn’t come open but the pentagram engraved on the lid had drawn an inquiry from the older woman.

“Oh.” Peggy watched in silence, her warmly tanned face blank of all expression.

Jenna could feel the woman’s emotional shut-down as surely as if she had flicked off a light switch. A part of her wanted to just raise her head and bare her teeth, to cause an immediate fight or flight reaction in the woman. Another other part of her wanted to laugh, cackle actually, and offer Peggy an apple. She managed to pass between the two desires and just sighed, then asked if Peggy had seen her lipstick roll away?

“No, I didn’t see anything.”

“Of course not,” Jenna muttered.

“Huh? I didn’t catch that?”

“Oh… nothing important.” Jenna sighed again and stood up, zipping the bag safely closed. “I have other lipstick. I liked that one though, it was practically new.” She did a quick check in the mirror to straighten her clothes and her hair before gesturing toward the door. “Back to work I suppose?” They exited together, Peggy in the lead with her ‘I’d like to see your Manager’ haircut bobbing judgmentally in front of her.

Jenna tried to finish her day without letting exasperation get the better of her but, it was a difficult thing. Every time she encountered people like Peggy it was so hard to not give in and perpetuate the old stereotype of witches and their craft. Choosing to carry a mobile altar in her bag had been a big decision that, so far, had caused more conflict than anything. Peggy was not the first to spot the little box and ask questions.

Five o’clock eventually came and Jenna punched the time-clock with a deep sense of relief. It was Friday. A couple days away from her co-workers was a nerve-soothing balm she sorely needed right now. Walking to her car she caught sight of Peggy standing next to her SUV talking closely with one of the ladies from the shipping department. Her posture was clearly gossipy. Jenna punched the unlock button on her car remote a little forcefully and pulled on the driver’s door.

“Good night Jenna!” Peggy’s voice rang out like a bell. The shipping lady looked on with interest. Standing upright Jenna stared at her across the top of her Taurus and smiled.

“Good night Peggy,” she called back. “Blessed be!” Not waiting to see the reaction she slid into the car and shoved her key into the ignition. The engine fired smoothly. Backing out carefully Jenna drove away without a single glance in the rear view. She didn’t need to look. The expression on the faces of the two women was nothing new.

Home was a small apartment on the city’s south side, tucked into a nearly suburban neighborhood with a few conveniences on the corner, namely a nice Italian bakery that offered hot ham and rolls on Sundays. Jenna stopped for a chocolate covered cannoli and instantly felt better about things. Cannolis could solve a lot of problems, she thought. How can you be angry or hostile with a cannoli in your hand?

All was quiet in her apartment. Jasper twined himself between her legs as she dropped her bag and the cannoli on the table.

“Hello brother cat,” she said. “I see you haven’t eaten in weeks. Shall I fill your bowl?” Jasper mewed pitifully and pressed his side along her calf in agreement. Jenna chuckled at him and opened the cupboard where she kept his food in a small bucket. “Try to pace yourself a little, eh?” Snagging the cannoli from the table Jenna dropped into her recliner and took a healthy bite. The sounds of her chewing inside her head seemed to be an echo of Jasper grazing through the kibble in his dish. Evidently his day had been emotionally taxing day as well.

Snack time finished Jenna retrieved her bag from the table and rooted for her tarot cards. People seemed to love getting their cards read but throw down a single pentagram and all of the sudden you were an agent of devil worship. She kept her cards in a bag, a purple Crown Royal bag to be exact. Even if they fell out she would most likely be assumed to be a party girl as opposed to a witch. The deck inside was one of her favorites and quite tattered around the edges, a testament to its heavy use. She shuffled several times, feeling her way into the deck before focusing. When she felt ready Jenna cut the deck and flipped the top card over and studied it intently, letting her eyes pick out the details that called to her. The Queen of Cups.

This card was coming up quite often for her lately. This queen faced left, a sign to her of looking back, seeing what has already transpired. Cups were the suit of emotions. Today the queen looked to be full of thoughts and more than a little petty. All the pearl-like buttons along her sleeves seemed to speak of so many little things that could be let go.

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Dak – Part One

Dak lay on his right side with his little, black snout pointing at the base of the toilet, almost touching the visible crack left from last Spring’s repair job.  His small, now cloudy brown eyes stared emptily into the space between the toilet and the wall while his back legs lay draped on a thin, pink pillow shoved against the side of the bathtub.  She had never seen the pillow before.

“Kayla?  Honey, what’s taking you so long?”

Jamie’s voice grew louder as she walked from the hallway into their bedroom.  Her heavy, booted footsteps stopped just outside the bathroom door.

“Kayla?”

Pulling her shocked gaze away from the dead, gray terrier she turned to face her wife with shiny, wet eyes, her right hand automatically reaching out, groping for support.  Her voice cracked with emotion.

“Jamie, Dak is dead.”  Protectively she filled the doorway, using her body as a shield between Jamie and their dead dog.  “Something has happened.”

Jamie’s small, not quite heart shaped face, expanded with alarm, her pale, blue eyes bugging slightly in their sockets.  The grip of her hand, initially reassuring, slackened.

“What?  What do you mean he’s dead?  What happened?”  Always the more nurturing one, Jamie pressed forward, trying to see past her into the bathroom.  Her voice rose in panic.  “Kayla, get out of my way.  Let me see!”  Three inches shorter but muscled like an iron-worker, Jamie used her shoulder to shove through the doorway.

Helplessly, Kayla watched Jamie take in the scene, her short, blond hair looking bristly in the stark bathroom lighting. Without looking she knew her own auburn locks looked like they belonged on a plastic, doll.  They always talked about changing the bulb to something softer, but never did.

“Oh Dak.”  Jamie’s voice was almost a whisper.  “Oh Dak, what happened?” Crouching, she reached to touch the body and Dak’s head rolled loosely against the floor making a sound similar to someone cracking their knuckles.  

“Jesus!”  Yelping in surprise Jamie fell on her butt.  Her boots thundered against the tile floor as she scrambled backward crashing into Kayla’s shins and staggering them both.

“I don’t know what happened, Jay.  I just walked in and found him.”  Putting her hands on her wife’s shoulders she squeezed gently.  “It must have happened while we were out.”  Feeling Jamie’s body tremble she dropped to her knees and wrapped both arms around her.  

“I’m sorry, baby.  I’m so sorry.”  The apology was instinctive.  Jamie had loved Dak with the fierceness of a lioness.  The small terrier had been the child she could never have.  Turning inside her embrace Jamie pressed her face into her shoulder, her body hitching with sobs.  Kayla’s own tears trailed silently down her cheeks to drop unnoticed on Jamie’s hair.  

Her eyes dragged themselves back to Dak’s body, horrifying her with the need to stare at the now obvious broken neck.  The pink pillow under the dog’s back end stuck out boldly in the beige and blue bathroom decor.  Where had that come from?  Neither of them had a pillow like that, not even as a left-over childhood momento.  It looked uneven and thinly stuffed, like something a kid might make when they were first learning to sew.  Her brain struggling to work again, she gave Jamie another squeeze and tried to ease her away as her heart sped up with fresh alarm.

“Jay, get up.  Someone has been here.”  She felt Jamie stiffen and watched her expression change, the puffy, leaking eyes narrowing as her lips parted enough to be the precursor of a snarl.

“What do you mean?”

Kayla raised an arm to wave at the pink pillow.

“Is that yours?  That pillow?”

“Of course not, it’s hideous.”  Her voice was sharp and bitter, as if she were annoyed to have to acknowledge the pillow at all.  “It looks like that stomach medicine.”

“It’s not mine either,” Kayla stated as her eyes snapped to Jamie’s face, magnetized by the sudden harshness of her tone.  “Where did it come from?”

Pushing away, Jamie got her feet under her and stood up.  With one hand she smoothed her hair down, staring at her palm as she brushed through the wet spot where Kayla’s tears had landed.

“You cried on me.”

Cocking her head to the side, Kayla stared at her wife.  Jamie wasn’t looking at her, just staring at her hand like it was repulsive.

“Jay, did you hear what I said?”

Jamie nodded and wiped her hand against her jeans, still not looking at Kayla.

“Yeah, you asked if the pillow was mine.”

“Before that I said someone has been here.”  Feeling like something was wrong, more wrong than just their dead terrier she fixed her eyes on Jamie and waited.

Satisfied that her hand was dried, Jamie looked up at her and nodded again.

“Of course I heard you, babe.  Just because I’m crying doesn’t mean I’m not listening.”  The bitter tone was back in her voice.

“What’s wrong with you?”  Kayla took half a step backward, her heel landing on the bedroom carpet.  Her heart leaped into her throat when Jamie laughed harshly.

“What’s wrong with me?  My dog is dead!  What wrong with you?”

“He was my dog too!”  Stung, she looked away as more tears filled her eyes.

“Shit.  I’m sorry, Kay.”  Jamie  stepped close and put her hand on her arm.  “I didn’t mean that.”

Overwhelmed, Kayla could only nod as she began to cry again.  Jamie’s body pressed against her and her arms wrapped around her in a mirror image of their position only moments before.

“We need to sort this out, babe.”  Jamie’s voice was soft but firm against her scalp.

Looking again at Dak’s body, Kayla tensed, her eyes drawn to what looked like a small, brown stick poking out from under the pillow.

“What is it?”  Drawing back, Jamie peered at her, then turned to see what she was looking at.

“Someone killed our dog.”  She sniffled.

Monologue #25

I’m trying to get back into the swing of things.  I gave the blog a new header image and updated my About page which gave me a satisfied feeling.  Getting involved again feels like taking a deep breath after coughing too hard.  I need this air in my lungs.  This air right here.  Yup, that’s much better.

Smashing Pumpkins has progressed tremendously in the past couple months.  I have been forced to face the full size of this work (70k and climbing) and finally accepted the fact that I can’t pants it anymore.  Getting everything into working order now is going to take some seriously focused effort since I’ve got characters running all over the place right now.  To that end I have Googled  how to organize my material with Scrivener in a way that I can work with and found some good ideas.  When I bought the software I was aware of the learning curve and thought I’d just take it slow.  As it turned out, I’m not that patient.  I tore through the information provided and touched everything.  That doesn’t mean that I remember everything I learned, it just means that I got super excited and looked at it all.

Today’s business is really just going to be business.  I need to get out and work so I’m going to set my pen down (I still use one) and download a couple episodes of Star Trek DSN to my tablet and head out into the world to make some money.  What does DSN have to do with anything?  I spend a lot of time waiting, that’s what.

In the meantime please checkout the latest short work, Between The Pews.  As always, I wish you all inspiration and personal satisfaction in your endeavors.  Here’s to a productive year!  Cheers!

Between The Pews

Time always seemed to slow down to a crawl the second he walked in the door.  Minutes took hours to happen.  Maybe it was all the candles?  Did candles have some weird effect on time?  Who knows.  Could it be something actually built into the bricks of the church?  It wouldn’t be a surprise to find out that God’s blessing on the building was actually a rip in the fabric of time.  Everyone inside the church, soon to be fidgeting  through the sermon with him was actually trapped in a long, drawn out, three hour coaching session that only took an hour for everyone on the outside.

Slipping out of his brown leather jacket he draped it carefully over his left arm and tried to relax while looking around at the others..  The red carpet with its twisting black pattern always reminded him of the decor he sometimes saw on wrought iron fencing, giving him the unshakeable idea that he had walked into a trap.  Paired with the bright colors of the stained glass windows and those ridiculous giant wall drapes, he always felt bombarded by awareness when he first entered the church.  The warm, oak stain on the pews was the only saving grace, offering a safe spot to sit and block out the rest of the room.

“Good morning Fred.  It’s good to see you this morning.”

Trying not to look unfriendly, he turned toward the smooth talking salesman of God’s word, his hand already out and ready to be grasped.

“Morning Pastor Tom.”  Ugh, always with the soft, two handed grip.  Holding his face absolutely expressionless, he forced himself to endure it.  The man was a minister.  He was supposed to be gentle and non-threatening.   “It’s good to see you too.  How’s Helen doing?”   He looked the man in the eye, careful to not be too strong about it.  They were the same height, but that was all.  Dark haired Pastor Tom was more than a little portly and preferred a light gray suit for practically every occasion.  His own khaki slacks and charcoal gray sweater, chosen specifically to highlight his sandy hair with its seventy dollar haircut felt a lot more casual now that he was standing here.  He’d never felt this awkward with their previous minister, Reverend Harry.  Harry had rarely worn a suit.  He was a real down-to-earth guy.

“Helen is doing well,” Pastor Tom said with a grin.  “You know my sister, she’s got her hands into every pot she can find, stirring at top speed.”

Um, yeah.  What the hell was the last thing Helen had organized?  He couldn’t remember.  Was it that luncheon for the Beekeepers?

“That’s good.  Busy hands and what not.”  Smile and nod.  Pastor Tom was nodding too, his dark hair held firmly in place by an expert application of hair grease.  They were close enough that he could smell the lanolin.

“You know, Fred, Helen could use another pair of strong arms to help with the Pancake Breakfast on the thirtieth.  We need one more cook for the grill.”  Pastor Tom’s dark blue eyes opened just a smidgen wider.

How strong did you have to be to flip a flapjack and roll over a sausage link?

“I’ll check my calendar, Pastor Tom.  It’s been a busy month for me.”  He felt his face stiffen with resistance.  Those blue eyes might work on the ladies of the congregation, but they didn’t move him in the slightest.  Was that Karen Green just walking in?  He caught a flash of copper red hair just behind Pastor Tom’s bulk followed immediately by a flash of leg.  It took willpower to keep himself from tearing his eyes away from his minister just to stare wolfishly behind him.

“Of course, Fred.  Just let Helen know if she can put your name on the list.”  Pastor Tom turned away to greet another member of his flock, fully blocking the view of Miss Green and leaving a distinctly loud and empty spot behind him.

Feeling like his shoes, long ago broken in to the point of comfort were suddenly too tight on his feet, he turned toward his usual pew and took a seat, laying his jacket gently beside him where another person might be tempted to sit.  Sunday wasn’t usually a work day for him, but he could definitely make it one.  At least the people who worked on the Lord’s Day got paid.  All he got was the ability to repent and be judged by the rest of the congregation.  Sighing softly he looked up toward the domed ceiling with it’s stained, wooden braces and tried to feel something besides resignation.

 

COL – Perfection

“Every choice you make will alter you.  It will change the chemical makeup of your body and shape the way people see you.  It will give you a baseline for every decision that will follow.”

Tall and strong, Kaleb Ferguson stood beside him, his wide hands with their stubby fingers splayed on the edge of their kitchen table as he leaned down, staring him in the face.  Shane knew his father was only five foot seven, but in that moment his memory made him look so much larger.  The feel of it was like his dad had been towering over him, blocking the bright sunlight that had been shining through the kitchen windows.  Looking at his own hands now, especially the one holding the pen, he tried to feel a connection to that man who had worked so hard to make him understand something that day.  The lesson hadn’t been lost on him, but it hadn’t been learned either.

His own fingers were long, more like his mother, with narrow palms and soft tips that seemed to read their way along every movement.  Kaleb had called it a natural gift for learning, an ability that connected directly to his brain through his eyes.  Whatever he saw, he could do.  His hands would move, copying the motions of what he was seeing, duplicating the rhythms.  It didn’t matter if he was watching someone type a letter on a computer keyboard or being mesmerized by how a machine could carve a small peg from a single block of wood.  His hands would move, following the patterns and flowing along invisible pathways that he could feel.

The pen in his hand was warm, the heat from his skin having created a bond between himself and the plastic.  It was a common pen, a simple thing purchased in bulk boxes of twenty-five with a personalized logo printed around its cylindrical exterior.  The casual appearance of the pen was a sharp contrast to the paper in front of him.  His eyes were captivated by the form, it’s perfect beauty a drug for his eyes.  Whoever had made this had cared very deeply for its shape.  They had taken the time to feel their way along its creation and respect the rhythm of its purpose.  The pen was typical, just ink in a tube.  The employment agreement was a siren’s song captured on paper.

“If you will sign your name at the bottom of the form that you are accepting the position we can move along to wardrobe and have you fitted for your uniforms.”

A perfect form.  A casual pen.  A voice that scratched his ears.

Rolling the pen between his fingers he ignored the blonde woman with her short, frozen hair and impeccable gray, wool suit.  The lesson wasn’t lost, it just hadn’t been learned.  Why now?  Why that memory at this moment?  His spirit ached for him to sign his name, to write it on the amazing form and become a part of what had created it.  His mother had called that rubbing against popularity.  People liked to be near things that were magnificent, feeling they could absorb the greatness and enhance their own existence with it.  Was that what this was?  Was he just trying to rub against popularity?

“Mister Ferguson?”

Ripping his eyes away from the beautiful form he found the woman smiling at him, the bottoms of her perfect teeth barely showing between her painted, pink lips.  Her eyes were fully open, the pupils expanded in the flourescent light of the interview room that somehow brought a

deeper blue to her them.  Was she wearing contacts?  Keeping his teeth to himself, he smiled tightly back at her.

“We should move along now.  We have a lot of ground to cover yet.”

Nodding his understanding he rolled the pen around again, looking for a cooler spot to grip.  Carefully he turned the paper, positioning it at the exact angle he needed to get the proper slant on his signature.  It was his way to write in an upward motion, away from him.  His second grade teacher had made a fuss over it, trying to force him to write from right to left instead, but he had ignored her, waiting until she walked away to turn his paper back to the angle he liked.  Positioning the pen over the line at the bottom of the form he took a last look at it, letting his eyes soak in the love that had been imbued into its creation.  Taking a deep breath he touched the nib to the paper.

“Okay, let’s move along to wardrobe.”

Feeling like the room had become slightly darker, he shoved the paper away from him, not looking anymore.  The form was ruined, its beauty destroyed the instant he had touched it.  All he felt now was regret.

Snippet #21

The glass door was propped open with one of those hard, plastic wedges jammed beneath it. Nervously I peered inside, wondering if I was really going to go through with it?  I’d never done anything like this before.  It was so out of character for me that I could hardly believe I had thought of it all by myself.  The boy behind the counter looked too young to have a job.  His hair was flopping over the brim of his visor, and that vest!  Oh god, to even think about buying something from a boy wearing a vest like that and wasn’t working in a hardware store was almost too much.

Just as I was ready to discard the idea entirely, the kid looked up and spotted me.  I guess I’d blocked the light a little too long.

“Hi!  Welcome to Literation Services!”  His face radiated happiness as he looked at me like I was his favorite uncle.  “My name is Kevin.  How may I help you today?”

I felt my eyes get bigger as I contemplated just running away.  How would that look though?  The other people on the sidewalk might think I was a shoplifter trying to get away with something.  They might try to stop me!

“Come on in!”

In spite of myself I responded to his energetic wave and stepped across the threshold.  The change was like night and day.  The feel of the store from the sidewalk had been pretty normal, like it was any other store on the street.  From the inside it was like holding your breath in a submarine, completely unnecessary but oddly compulsory.  The walls were covered from floor to ceiling with shelves packed so tightly with words it was almost impossible to see exactly where one stopped and another began.  My hard won high school diploma seemed an unlikely aide among all these choices.

Walking around the counter Kevin stood in front of me and held out his hand.  His eyes were shaped like almonds with a perfect duct in each corner, just big enough to hold a single, pristine tear.

“What can I help you with?”

“Um… I’m… uh…”  How did people do this?  Did they just come right out and ask?  Or did they play twenty questions?  I shook his hand, so young and lacking lines.

Turning to stand beside me Kevin looked up at one of the shelves and gestured with his open palm.

‘We have anything you could possibly want, it doesn’t even matter what language you need.”  His face glowed with pride as he openly preened over the inventory.  He looked back at me.  “So tell me, what are you looking for today?”

Okay, so I was just going to say it.  No games or charades, just straight out ask for it.

“I need a word that starts with L.”  My voice sounded clipped and hard, like I might chip it if I tightened it any further.

Kevin’s face grew thoughtful.

“How many letters?”

“Seven.”  Yes, seven letters.  I felt like a huge schmuck.

“Okay.  Are you looking for a noun?  Adjective?”

“Adjective.”  What man can’t come up with his own adjective?  I wanted to cover my face.

Moving away like a hound on the hunt, Kevin raised his hands in the air and let them flow across the shelves like he could feel the words better with his hands than he could see them with his eyes.

“Can you give me an idea of what you want to use the word for?”  His voice floated back, very professional and businesslike.  I could not accuse him of being judgmental.

“Um…”  Crap.

Stopping, hands still raised, Kevin looked back at me.

“Don’t worry, I’ll never tell.  All your business with Literation Services is private now and forever.  We don’t even keep a database.”

Monologue #23

Another late post.  I’m struggling to get things done for myself right now.  By this time next week my schedule will be different and I will be learning to function in a different time slot.  I’m looking forward to this a lot.  After being on third shift for five years, the idea of being able to sleep at night rather than during the day is like a rainbow spreading over my spirit.  Knowing that I’m in the last days of perpetual daylight seems to be causing extreme tiredness though.  It’s like my body knows that real sleep is coming and is already trying to get to it.

Before I go, here’s a quick work-related story.  

I was talking with a coworker about Lemon Wedges, which is my nickname for a certain customer who comes in pretty much every night.  The name came from her particular habit of eating lemon wedges in their entirety.  Pulp, seeds, rind, all of it.  The whole wedge goes in her mouth and nothing comes back out.  After relating this curious fact to my coworker, he stared at her for a few seconds, shrugged and said, “She always reminds me of Misery.  You know, that book by Stephen King?”  I promptly leaped aboard the Fiction Train and let it carry me off for the rest of the night.  Finding the Wand Maker from Harry Potter was the pinnacle of my work day!