Tag Archives: short story

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

This past week I went back to find a piece I had written as a farce, really.   I didn’t realize it’s been a year since I published it, somehow I was thinking I wrote it during the primaries.    Now that we are living this reality, the writ is even more poignant.

“Choosing a President:  A Thought Experiment”

I honestly don’t know whether to laugh at the absurdity or cry over the threat to our democracy.

Maybe, both.

Yours,

Frankie


Risk

“Down upon the canvas, working meal to meal,

Waiting for a chance to pick your orange field…

See the forest there in every seed,

                              Angels in the marble waiting to be freed, just need love. “

                                                                                                                Chris Martin

 

“Was it worth it?”  The hopefulness of a positive answer was apparent in the young girl’s eyes.   It caused the older woman to hesitate for a moment, she wanted to meet that hope with its equal response, but she knew truth was required – indeed expected – so she shifted slightly in her chair and offered an honest, if vague, answer:  “It was in most ways, yes. Pursuing my passion and reaching the goal I set for myself is an accomplishment I own with deep satisfaction. The cost was high, however.”

“But was the cost worth it?  It had to be hard.” The girl pushed, she needed details.  She was willing to take the jump, give up every thing to pursue her passion, but she had to know if the risk was worth the taking.

“Painful.  It was fucking painful.” That was the honest, crass truth of it but to blurt it out would terrify her inquirer and she knew this was a critical moment for the girl.  So the older woman took a minute to deal with emotions that were always just below the surface in order to give a more measured response. Like a nagging knee injury acquired during football days, the pain left its mark on her soul.

Pain from loneliness.  There is no other kind of loneliness, she thought, than having to believe in yourself implicitly and exclusively.   Only you can see the goal; there are no lights to help you find your way.  And you can’t waiver:  people are watching, they’re waiting to say “I knew you’d fail.” Or they’re secretly wanting to see you succeed because they want to take their own risk, they need to know it can be done.

There’s pain from sacrifice.  You can seem like an asshole sometimes for having on the blinders required to realize your goal.   Material wants and personal needs are given up freely, like trinkets, at the beginning of the journey – you know you’ll miss them, you won’t know the permanent effect of their absence until you’re so far down the path the only way out is to finish the course.

There’s pain from terror.   To sacrifice security for the sake of the thing brings upon a person a kind of fear that needs constant minding.  It can drown out the voices of the next story or darken the vision of the next painting.  It can physically paralyze you if you aren’t careful. So you must always be careful.

There’s pain from pretending.   You have to hold your head high and have belief in your goal on days when you forgot why it mattered in the first place. You have to invoke a confidence in your voice, even when terror sits inside your belly; you’ll feel like a fake and a fraud and a poser.  You can’t let them see it.

There’s pain in the discipline.  To shut out the naysayers, ignore your own doubts, and stay focused when you’re bleeding and exhausted requires discipline upon a mind that begs, just once, for a reprieve.  You can never let up and you somehow kill a part of yourself in the process.  It’s fucking painful.

The old woman gave a warm smile towards the young girl, she employed that steel-like discipline to keep her voice even, her tears in check.

“It’s true that the struggle to get here has been more painful than I could’ve have bargained, more difficult than I anticipated.  But I accomplished what I believed that I was born to do and followed my passion.   I won’t deny that the cost was exorbitant, yet I’m certain I would surely take the risk again.”

The young woman weighed the words, ignored the pain she detected in the voice despite the effort to hide it, and made the commitment at that moment to take the risk and pursue her passion. She turned to lighter chit chat, then gradually, quietly left the presence of the old woman with the affirmation she sought.   Once alone, the elder wrapped her arms around herself and allowed familiar, painful, tears to flow.

The tears took only a few moments to cool upon her aged cheeks; the sensation woke her from the dream. She stayed still, keeping her eyes closed in an effort to linger in its affect:  She was so full of life when she was younger!  She acted like a barely domesticated animal whose wild instinct lie just underneath the surface.  Those eyes were so piercing!  They weren’t as bright now, she thought.  The price she paid to meet the cost of pursuing her goals had dulled them slightly but she knew they now also possessed a knowing, quiet aptitude that few acquire.  “Yes,” she admitted as she rose from her nap, “I could never have forgiven my self if I hadn’t taken the risk to follow my passion.  Even if the cost was excruciating.”

Author’s Note:  On rare occasion, the right song comes along at the right moment in life and gets a girl over a challenging bump – uh, ginormous mountain.  I was working with the idea of this piece when I happened upon Coldplay’s ‘Up and Up’ from their latest album.  The words and music cut to the deepest part of this writer and are a soothing salve to the pain of sacrifice.  Go listen to the song kids, and while you do, promise yourself you’ll never back down from pursuing your passion.  Frankie


Choosing a President : A Thought Experiment

“Well then fuck the Prime Minister and cancel the State dinner.  No, wait!  We’ll have the State dinner but let’s invite that idiot from North Korea instead.  That oughta piss off all of those pussies in Europe.”

“But Mr. President, there’s international protocol, we can’t just dis-invite the Prime Minister of Britain because he didn’t agree with you on the whole Greek Reformation thing.  I mean, they really can’t fire all their workers when the people doing the firing are protesting as well.  And we can’t invite the leader of a nation that we’re imposing sanctions upon.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake!   International protocol my ass, this is the Greatest Nation on earth, we can change the protocol.”

“I’m sorry Mr. President but we really can’t.   This is a matter of National interest and prestige.   It’s not just about the US, I mean there are leaders all over the world watching how this visit goes down, especially in light of your, a-hem, the disagreement between yourself and the PM. I mean, this is fucking Britain we’re talking about and we really have to kiss their ass sometimes to keep our sway in Europe.”

“Goddamn he’s such a prick though.   Can’t I just send the Vice-President then?  Make up some excuse that I’m sick or something.”

“I, uh, really don’t think that’s in our best interest sir, we have to be seen as setting a high bar, as it were, in keeping a solid relationship with Britain.   That means the dinner must be perfect.”

“Whatever.  Just have your guys communicate to his guys that I don’t want any chit chat at the dinner table, and put some one cool and good-looking on the other side of me, I dunno, like Cindy Crawford and what’s-his-name her husband.”

“Yes sir, I’ll get right on that.” Jamie, the President’s Chief of Staff, closed the  door of the Oval Office and took a swig of his Starbucks.   He was grateful for the Cognac he added earlier to the remaining latte.  It’d at least get him through the morning.  The State dinner was only ten days away, he had no idea how he was going to keep this together. He sent a text to his secretary to get the number for Cindy Crawford’s agent along with a prayer muttered under his breathe,”Please let her be available on such short notice.  Christ this job is killing me.”  He took another swig and practically ran to the other side of the White House to find out if Bruce Springsteen would play the dinner even though he’d asked five times already and been turned down each time without hesitation. “God, what can I do to bribe the son-of-a-bitch.  And, why Bruce Springsteen?  He could’ve chosen a hundred other ass kissers to do the gig but he chose the one guy who would be a problem.”

Cindy Crawford was available (thank god), Bruce never did say yes (fuck ‘im), but Jamie convinced the President during an opportune moment that maybe  Coldplay would be an acceptable substitute.   Their agent had tentatively agreed, they were British so it was a brilliant nod to the visiting Prime Minister, and they were cool with the mainstream since they just released their biggest album ever.  As far as Jamie was concerned, it was a win-win-win.

The next few days were a blur.  Once the final pieces were in place Jamie immediately forgot about the dinner as he ran around, spiked Starbucks cup in hand, defending the President’s comments:  “No, he wasn’t endorsing bankruptcy as a solution to the national debt problem.”   “What he meant was that China should pursue the right policy for their nation and if that means no more petroleum based engines imported from the US then we of course regret the loss of their business, but I assure you we will continue to engage in other trade with them.”   “I’m sure the President didn’t mean the comment literally, it was a figurative reference that the President of Russia was a momma’s boy.  He meant that Russia appears to sometimes hides behind the skirts of the EU or China.”

The dinner went off without any trauma and Jamie was close to letting his guard down by the time dessert arrived.   The Prime Minister was happy to oblige the request to ignore the President and Cindy Crawford was even more beautiful in real life than he could imagine.  The President flirted with her all evening long and drank lots of champagne.  Jamie sensed that his wife was getting a bit pissed at the ordeal; she kept shifting in her chair and giving him horrible looks.   Jamie thought if the President didn’t realize he was in trouble with her, he was a complete idiot.

Finally the call came for the first dance which required the two to be ‘alone’ in a loose sense of the word; they were in front of powerful world leaders, A-list celebrities and a zillion staff and press.  As Jamie watched them dance to the first few measures of some sickening sweet love song, he could well discern the forced smile on both faces and imagine the conversation taking place behind the masks; he’d heard them personally more often than he’d care to recall, her accent was burned into his memory forever.   “Get your shit together, you are starting to cross the line and get everyone pissed.  Her husband is getting angry too.  He looks like he’s about to hit you. We’re almost done here, keep it zipped in every conceivable way, do you understand me?  The entire fucking world is watching you, act like a grown up!”   Jamie figured the cue for other couples to join on the dance floor came at a fortuitous moment.   They couldn’t speak with others around and their silence saved everyone from an escalating, longstanding argument.

Jamie took a long swig of his bourbon as he watched the President sit in his seat when he returned from the first dance and the brief conversation with his wife.  He knew the pose, the look, the rhythm of the breathing of his chest:  shit was about to happen.

He saw it unfold with such perfect consistency it put a knot in his stomach.  First the harsh snap at the poor waiter…as if he should have read his mind and switched the drink from champagne to scotch.  Then the invisible line crossed…ever so slightly with just a nod and tilt of the glass to the Prime minister.   A short comment, the lure of perhaps a fragile but sociable conversation, and then the bombshell.   The pent up, misdirected anger so beautifully put together in a short quip guaranteed to upset even Jesus himself.

The Prime Minister was visibly shocked by the remark when it was finally delivered.  Jamie’s first instinct was to look around the room and determine what the press was doing.   Thankfully he saw that they were all enamored with Cindy and her dance moves as she worked it to the newest, hippest Coldplay tune.  He finished his bourbon, grabbed another and turned to see the Prime Minister, always polite, whisper in his wife’s ear.  He saw her expression as it morphed from disbelief to horror to disbelief and then to hardened rage.  She put her napkin on the table and intimated that she was ready to leave for the evening.   It was early, tongues would wag, there would be explaining to do.

Jamie felt when the press turned their attention to the exiting couple.  A short span of silence was followed by a rustle of voices and texts and pictures and motion at the horror of Britain’s early exit from the dinner.  The President was alone at the table for the moment.  Jamie watched him squirm a bit then he drank his scotch in one go and nodded for another.  As he waited for the blessed waiter to reappear he caught Jamie’s eye and motioned for him to come sit beside him.  He couldn’t refuse, he knew the press were watching so he went to the table and sat down with a confidence he knew he didn’t possess.

“Those Brits are such sensitive babies, the guy can’t even take a joke.”

It was going to be a long night, Jamie asked the nearest waiter for a pot of coffee.

“What was the joke?”  He was beyond any attempt to imagine what might’ve been said. After two years as Chief of Staff, Jamie knew he should just be prepared to be shocked and count on working his ass off for the next seventy two hours addressing damage control.

“I told him I had a great idea for a new reality show, we could pitch it as promoting international relations:  World Leader Wife Swap.  But I told him it wouldn’t work out very well, I’d end up with both chicks cause his sure as hell wouldn’t wanna leave me once she was in my house!”

 

 

 

 

 

 


It’s Been a Long Week, Time for a Smile

 

The Book of Chef La La Foutaise:  In Which Haggis Sends Him to Despair (Because I checked the sauce and this one hasn’t been done yet, I think.)

“Let me at him!”  The crude request came from Haggis, who could bear the competition no longer.  It was the early days of what anthropologists call “the foodie revolution” and flocks of Haggis’ followers were fleeing his culinary Highlands for the warmer climes of Italy and the new spaghetti dish made famous by Chef La La Foutaise.   Haggis was pissed about it, he’d kept tummies full for centuries and this young pasta upstart threatened his existence.  He thus traveled the saucy road himself to present his case to The Flying Spaghetti Monster.  How awkward did the dull northern god seem against the glistening tentacles of His Noodly Appendage!

“Fine.” Shouted an irritated, booming voice from somewhere between two giant meatballs and a glob of wet noodles, “Have at him, but you are forbidden to end his life.  He’ll do that himself with a slow death of cholesterol plaque, so keep your mitts off.  His kitchen is open game, so is his herb garden.  Do what you must and may the chips fall where they may.  You will find, however, that my dear Chef is loyal under the most trying circumstances, pasta is his life.   I have faith in this human.”

Haggis left the company of His Noodly Appendage with hope.  If he could dethrone the Chef once and for all he just might be able to remain King of Comfort Food.

His first stop was the Chef’s herb garden.  Trample, tromple, tromp.  Each tender leaf of basil and oregano was methodically bruised and destroyed.   There would be no seasoning in the Chef’s sauce. Our hero did despair as hard as any and verily his sobbing was heard up and down his block as he plucked dried herbs from his pantry and sacrilegiously added them to his fresh tomato sauce.  Yet he did prepare the most scrumptious of delights that evening, and to the Holy Trinity of Pasta, Meatballs, and Sauce, our Chef humbly gave thanks, as well as giving himself a pat on the back for having the forethought to save some of last year’s herb crop.

Seeing that his adversary was undaunted, our bloated villain Haggis took things to a whole ‘nother level.  He destroyed the tomato and garlic crops.

Oh the wailing!  Oh the complaints!  Oh the interesting swear words that were invented the moment our Chef did see that some master of maleficence had visited his favorite garden!  “How?” he whined, “How does one make a spaghetti sauce without fresh garlic and tomatoes?  I simply must cancel my dinner party this evening for I cannot make do in these conditions.”

The Chef was a mess.  The dinner party he planned that night was greatly anticipated among his neighbors; they all looked forward to a meal at the Chef’s house. The food, the ambiance, the company, and the pleasing demeanor of the Chef himself had earned a reputation in the village.   To cancel would bring the wrath of his neighbors upon him, and he saw what they did when the cable company blacked out the local football game.  Let’s just say the cable company changed its mind. He would find a way.

Once the initial shock of losing his freshness wore off, the Chef set about to improvise.  “Ragu it is!” he declared, “But it will be MY version of Ragu, I certainly don’t trust the people at Kraft.”   The challenged Chef unsealed the jar and upon a first whiff of cold sauce, he declared again, “How people can use this stuff on a regular basis is beyond me.”  Without so much as a prayer to His Holiness – it wasn’t needed, the Chef knew exactly what to do in this circumstance – our underdog added and stirred and tasted and added and stirred again.  By the time he was done, the jar of Ragu had been transformed into a culinary miracle:  one could discern the delicate balance between oregano and honey, one could taste a hint of white wine, one could almost imagine that fresh garlic had been added when in reality it was dried.   Once combined with the homemade pasta, the Chef’s guests could tell no difference and praised his talents generously.  The more wine the Chef served, the praisier his guests became.  He kept their glasses full, gave thanks to The Flying Spaghetti Monster for the fruit of the vine, and congratulated himself on his che’effing genius.

While the guests woke up to hangovers and our Chef woke up to dirty dishes, the mighty villain Haggis woke up to disgrace; he thought for sure the Chef would give up without fresh tomatoes for his sauce but he found out the dodgy bastard managed to slide right through the difficulty and please his guests anyway.   Haggis thought long and hard.   If he wasn’t successful at sabotaging the sauce, then the noodles were next.  Consequently and methodically, every jar of olive oil in the village was rendered rancid, every bag of flour was riddled with weevils, every hen was sedated so she couldn’t lay eggs.  “Game on Chef!” Haggis did squeal from the top of a sheep shed, “Let’s see you make a pasta dish NOW!”   Haggis was quite pleased with his work and demonstrated it through his taunting techniques, “What’ll you do, huh?  Try some soy flour and almond oil and substitute applesauce for the eggs?  Ha!  I’d like to see that!”

I wish I could say that the Chef was gracious under these trying circumstances but really he lost his manners and all regard for societal protocol.  He wandered from house to house, didn’t even bother to knock before entering, and ravaged each pantry for fresh staples, leaving a wreck behind.  Haggis did his work well though, and the Chef was left with nothing, not-a-thing with which to make his soft, tender noodles.   Despair tore at his soul while his own hands tore at his apron and he ran around the village square with a repetitive wail, “What will I do now!”  His neighbors did close their doors, their windows, and their curtains in order to leave the Chef to his misery.  Behold! It wasn’t a pretty sight.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster looked upon this frail human with pity.  Verily He wanted to rescue this small soul and tell him that it was okay, that the Chef was just caught in the middle of an infinite battle between Himself and that prick Haggis, that his reaction will affect future generations in no way whatsoever.  But it was against all Colandrial consideration to breech the veil between god and man, so His Noodly Appendage did what most gods do in times such as these:   He invested in industrial strength ear plugs to block the Chef’s whining, and left him to his own devices by going on holiday to Vietnam where there was a new restaurant opening that He wanted to try – bring on the pho and bon appetit!

Feeling abandon by his god as he really was, our Chef did abruptly end his pity party and set to work to overcome his obstacles.  If he could manage to transform a jar of Ragu into a tasty dish, then by god he could manage to make some sort of pasta.  He suddenly became a man who considered his options.  As he studied the contents of his pantry, a small light flickered in the hopeless dark of the Chef’s culinary nightmare – he would triumph.   He closed up the house so his nosy neighbors were prevented from spying, and he set about to do what no Italian had done previously – make a pasta dish without pasta.

Haggis watched his victim squirm and he himself became prematurely giddy with delight when he saw the Chef had boarded up his windows.  “Ha!  I’ve done it, I’ve won! The Chef has shut himself up to wither away.  I will remain king of Comfort Food!”  He then went off to Germany for the night because he developed a thing for sausage while staying on the continent.

Haggis returned the next morning to find the Chef in a state of half-drunk, half-hungover happy delirium.  He had triumphed where none could even face such an obstacle and served his village the most sumptuous dish of first gnocchi.   While Haggis had indeed ruined every flour bin in the neighborhood, there were potatoes that could be put to use along with some butter (gasp!), and a solitary egg from a hen that the Chef shook and dangled so that gravity itself forced the production of a singular, white, oblong cache of culinary glue. By mixing them together and using a jar of Ragu white sauce this time (which, of course, he modified with his own touch as aforementioned), Chef La La Foutaise managed to invent a most wonderful addition to the Italian menu.   The international food landscape was permanently altered.

Never in the history of the gods had one imaginary being been so dejected, so utterly defeated.  Haggis bowed his head, hunched his shoulders, and took his paunchy sausage belly back to the highlands where it belonged.   He pouted the entire way.

“Something wrong?” The Flying Spaghetti  Monster inquired of Haggis,

hisholiness

courtesy wiki.ironchariots.org

whom he bumped into upon returning  from the most phenomenal pho he had ever tasted.  He knew the answer of course, the FSM is after all, omniscient about all things Chef-y, but he wanted to watch Haggis squirm in his loss.  Our Breaded Entity is not above gloating.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”  Haggis was a broody bitch.

“I heard through the grapevine that something called ‘gnocchi’ has been invented.  That wouldn’t be our Chef La La would it?”  The FSM failed at hiding his smile.  The Chef had surprised even the Holy Noodly Appendage and the latter was most amused over the entire circumstance, He couldn’t wait to try a fresh batch of gnocchi for Himself.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Haggis really was a sore loser.

“I can’t blame you there.  But I can say that I did warn you.  My Chef is a solid homie through and through.  Pasta, uh, always finds a way.”  The FSM did disengage Himself from the cruel northern entity and floated merrily on His way towards the boot-like peninsula where He did give His seal of holy approval to the new menu addition with a mighty “Argh!”

Verily, Haggis learned his lesson.  He never ventured from the highlands again and by-the-by he came to find a quiet pleasure in the small following that he retained in spite of noodles and gnocchi.   We should all be aware of the same lesson Haggis took from the incident however: The Flying Spaghetti Monster will always be more interested in new Vietnamese restaurants than He is in His own congregation.

R’amen.

 

 


Cycle Bound

Every thing is cycle bound.

The sun is burning, churning out atomic warmth powerful enough to induce life on a barren land far away. Omniscient enough to provide the light required to produce energy, food for every living being.  A star, born in the fire of our universal beginnings, its days are numbered in accordance with the delicate balance of its core. Then, blast!, a nova, a white dwarf corpse. Finite. But billions of years worth of life.

There is the rock I hold in my hand. Millions of years of layers I can feel with my fingertips, see with my eyes.  What tales they could tell!  Forged by the pressure of nature, it will be ripped apart by wind and rain; or lapped up by the ocean, dragged down to the depths where it’s forced under a tectonic plate, melted there like Sauron’s Ring and spewed out again someday to become a layered trifle once more. Finite.  But millenniums worth of life.

Every thing is cycle bound.

The tree that gives me shade has been for hundreds of years now.  Her branches reach out then follow gravity down, providing a canopy that gives more than one kind of soul shelter from the rain.   Her rings would belie her age and give away her years of famine, years of plenty.   She would fall one day, becoming one again with the earth that fed her, to feed another.  Finite.  But centuries worth of life.

A human life resounds as well, with decades as boundaries for its duration.  We pass on our genetics, but more.  We create, make things out of other things, pull characters and pictures out of thin air, we reason and analyze, progress, advance.  Until the body wears down and its soul departs for an unknown existence.  Finite. But decades worth of life.

Every thing is cycle bound.

Man’s best friend fills a place in our soul like no other and if we’re lucky we get a dozen or so years of unmitigated affection. A companionship that mystifies and deeply satisfies, a love story of the profound kind. A partnership imperative to both parties; total mutual dependence.  And then a limp, a slowing down, a greying muzzle. Finite.  But years worth of life.

Bees, like the bearing beam to a house, support the weight of a specific niche in the ecosystem. Our lives rely on their consistent ability to pollinate. Because of them we eat; fruit, nuts, and vegetables.  Queens may live three to four years, workers live for months; days compared to other cycles, yet crucial days they are. Finite.  But days worth of life.

Every thing is cycle bound.

Millenniums or centuries. Decades or days.  Every thing is cycle bound. Perpetual motion, beautiful in its own way.


Lost Souls: An Atheist ‘s Sacrifice

Nate heard his girlfriend’s sobs when he entered their apartment and followed them to the spare room where she sat in her favorite wicker chair.

“What’s wrong Ange?” He smoothed her hair out of her face and waited for her to speak.

“Brenda called today.  We got into a bit of an argument.  It ended with her unfriending me on Friendlink and everything.”

“Why did you argue?”  Nate was concerned. Brenda and Angie had been friends since high school and though they lived two states apart, they kept a close relationship.

“Oh, she said she felt led to question me  about my lack of faith.  She kept bringing up that whole ‘I’m being led astray’ idea.   She was nice enough, I knew she was acting out of concern.  I wore the same shoes once, so to speak, so I just let her ramble on about returning to church and repenting.  I didn’t really respond at first because I was hoping I could just change the subject or something.  Finally she asked me if I could see the error of my ways.  I said that in no way could I unlearn what I’ve learned about gods and evolution and the fallibility of the bible.   I brought up the comparison of Helios. I told Angie I can’t make the leap of faith our ancestors did and believe that he drives the sun across the sky anymore.    In the same way I can’t make the leap of faith required to believe in the god of the bible because we know the bible has been contrived and tampered with, plus evolution, plus our habit of inventing gods…”  Angie stopped to wipe her face and gather her thoughts.   Nate waited beside his partner and allowed her to continue at her own pace.  Long moments passed.

“She couldn’t really ‘argue’ with my points and so she went on the defensive and said she’d have to really think and pray about our friendship.   She didn’t know if she could be friends with an atheist, she said.   I reminded her that in the past year of my godlessness I’ve still been loving, I’m still faithful to you, and even I’m involved in the community.  She responded by telling me that none of that matters if I don’t have Jesus in my heart and then she said she had to hang up.   When I checked my Friendlink page later I saw a message from her that she just couldn’t be my friend anymore but if I had a change of heart to please call her and she would welcome me with open arms.   Then she unfriended me.”  Angie let out a heap of sobs after the last statement and Nate, empathizing with her pain, held her close and concentrated on even breaths so she would sense his calm.

He understood her pain.  He’d been ostracized by some of his own family.  The justified anger and hurt took some time to work through. Nate hated to see his beloved endure the same.

After a while Angie sat up and spoke. “I know you’ve been through this with your own family.  Maybe I shouldn’t complain about losing a friend.”

“That’s not the point.  Ending any relationship is painful and requires a mourning process.  Pain is pain no matter what the circumstances.  We’ve talked about it before remember? We’re going to lose friends and family over the gig.  But we support each other in the process and we do get through the grief.”

She allowed his words to soothe the wound in her heart and by degrees the conversation lightened. Soon they were discussing the evening’s basketball game and choosing teams. The loser had dinner and dishes duty tomorrow night.

It was a few months before Angie worked through the pain of losing her friend however.  A twist of timing meant that she had to endure Brenda’s birthday without the traditional phone call and homemade card.  She made the card anyway.  It sat on the kitchen table for a few days before she tucked it deep within her armoire. Nate was brilliant.  He held her when she cried over her lost friend and provided silence when she needed time to think.  She focused on a couple of newer friendships and they did help some to make up for the hole left by Brenda’s exit from her life.

Still, the prodding of her friend’s questions caused her to examine her decision to leave church.   She found herself going through a cycle of thought:  was I right to leave religion?  could I really go back? how?  How can I go back when I see the landscape of evidence before me compared to the narrow view the bible offers?

She couldn’t.   The thought of returning to the four walls of limited thought and knowledge even evoked a sense of claustrophobia in Angie.  If it came down the to choice of acquiescing to religion and keeping friends and family, or living in the reality of what we observe and losing friends and family, she always came out on the side of the latter. Always. After going through the same cycle and coming out on the same side repeatedly, Angie found a deeper strength in her decision. She gained a greater measure of peace.

At their high school reunion three years later, Angie and Brenda managed a cordial but shallow conversation and then moved on to other people.   Angie reflected later that night at the memory of their breakup and looked back to see how far she’d come since then.  She had no regrets.  Like Nate said once, sometimes losing a friend is an atheist’s sacrifice, but we do get through it.


*Author’s note.  This is a complete work of fiction but it was born out of the many testimonies I’ve read in online forums.  I’ve had a bit of fortune myself in that most of my friends are accepting and loving even though I’ve abandon the faith.  A few have distanced themselves but I’ve not experienced the ‘breakup’ that Angie did.   At times familial relationships become strained but love always overcomes and we’ve pretty much all learned to avoid the topic in order to retain our rapport.  Some are not so fortunate and I wish for them strength and grace as they work through their own sacrifices. Yours, Frankie


Inspiration from Competition

One of my sisters planted a seed in my mind and its grown to become a full-fledged entity to deal with:  Why don’t you enter  a writing contest?

I’d never thought of it before.   My focus has been on magazine submissions, building my web presence (many thanks to you readers for tuning in), and working on my latest manuscript. When I began to investigate what opportunities were out there, my competitive drive took over and I find myself happily grooming a couple of works for submission.   I’m enjoying the process and as I prepare to send off my first entry, I would plant the same seed in your mind:  Why not enter your best work in a writing contest?   You’ll be challenged in ways unimaginable but fruitful.  You’ll be inspired in the face of competition.

Here a few contests I am eyeing, but there are hundreds out there.

Manchester Writing Competition – Deadline for entries is September 15, 2015.

The Gift of Freedom (A Room of Her Own Foundation for Women: Artists and Writers) – Deadline for entries is November 2, 2015

2015 RRofihe Trophy ‘no fee’ short story competition – Deadline is October 15, 2015

Best of luck, and here’s to creating some winning work.

Yours, Frankie


Third Person

I’m a morning kind of guy and like to sit out on my deck with a hot cup of coffee so that I can watch the world wake up.   Across the lane from me is a canal with an easement road on the other side of it.  A variety of persons use the dirt road: runners, groups of kids going to school, and a few walkers. There is one who stands out among them.

She comes round three or four times a week with her dog.  The road is gated and ends just where my back yard sits across from it and instead of turning around and making her way home like everyone else, she’ll sit there on the bank of the canal. This is one of the reasons she stands out; what kind of person stops and just watches the water?

I mean, this girl watches the water.   Her pose does not change for moments at a time (she’s inevitably interrupted in her meditations by the dog as it shakes off the water from its coat right next to her after a dip in the canal).  She seems purposeful in her thought.   What is it she ponders, I wonder myself as warm coffee keeps out the cool morning chill, or does she? Maybe she only notices the sway of the algae in the current and thinks of nothing else.   Perhaps just the action of the water dragging against a low hung tree branch is enough to encapsulate her thoughts.

Whatever the content of her imaginations, it must be important for her to sit there and commune with her surroundings as she does.  She makes it a point.  An appointment, in fact, with herself and her world with which she seems to interact on as intimate a level as anyone I’ve seen in my long life.

Take her dogs for example.  I’ve seen her with two over the years.  The one with her this morning she’s only had for a while, still a pup.  The first one must have passed on.  I watched one morning as it chased a squirrel and fell over on its side in convulsions.   She ran to the animal, soothed it, calmed it, and after a while she picked it up to carry it to where ever home was. Their walks were less frequent after that, and then one week she was back on schedule, this time with a small black thing that is now a big black thing.  She’s good with the dog.  She’ll call it to her on occasion, rewarding it with some treat or other.  She makes it sit and does so with just a slight hand gesture, impressive.

Besides the way she interacts with her dogs there are other clues to her connection with nature.  She almost always touches the low hanging tree limbs of the aged oak tree that provides a canopy over the easement road. She can call a horse or two to the fence and pet them. There are times I see her with a feather tucked in her hat; once I watched her reach among the reeds to claim a nice size turkey feather. She promptly stuck it in her hair.

She always has a baseball hat on.   She pulls her long hair through the opening in the back.  They vary in color and insignia and I’ve queried on some quiet mornings if she chooses the hat specifically or randomly?

Specifically, I think.  She dresses neatly and appropriate to the weather.  She walks upright, shoulders square, eyes in front (this too sets her apart since most walk with a slumped shoulder or head down). She’s fit so she doesn’t slack in the exercise department. These are the actions of a person who is deliberate in her choices.   Which particular hat to wear must weigh in her mind I would think.

There’s a bit of a rebel in her despite the meticulous presentation.  I notice a few tattoos, on the ankles and forearms (I suppose I could make them out if I employed my binoculars, but I’m not one to be that nosy.  Besides, I sort of like the mystery).  They hint at a kind of contradiction, I think.  Proper in just about every way, the ink belies the undercurrent of an unorthodox life, especially in this conservative town.   The contrast makes her even more mysterious:  does she know what the conflict is?  Has she made peace with herself over it, or is it something she still navigates? I’ll never know, most likely, but the preponderance is worth my time somehow.   Maybe I’ll find answers to my own contradictions.

She’s taught me a couple of things, and that’s saying something for this old man.  She taught me to just watch. The power of observation and quiet is a tool I am happy to have acquired, thanks to her.   She’s taught me to be freer.   She apparently is unaware that she’s observed since all her actions are without restraint, without inhibition.  She is open to her world more than any other person I have seen, and the example inspires me. She’s sure to have her faults, she’s human after all.  But she seems to live on a more interactive level of life than most and I for one am fascinated by her ability to do so.

She’s come and gone for the day which means my time for musing should come to an end as well. Those chores aren’t gonna do themselves. Thanks for listening.

*author’s note:  Aldous Huxley sez, ” To see ourselves as others see us is a most salutary gift.” The Doors of Perception, 1954.  The quote hounded me and this short story is the result of its persistence.  I turned it into a writing exercise, a challenging one at that.   It’s tempting to divulge too much, give away a small detail, or step out of character and yield to my own interpretation.  I’m not so sure I succeeded in every way, its difficult to remain objective about oneself, but the introspection was worth.   Keep writing kids……Frankie.


Questions, and Answers

Two inquisitive minds set out with similar questions which obliged each to begin from the same point, and on equal footing. It wasn’t a race or competition they anticipated, mind you, but a quest instead.  A search for answers to curiosities springing from a well that would not be stopped.

Their shared questions:  What this?  Why that?  How come?   When?  Why here?  gave them a momentary sense of camaraderie.  As they floated along in the same stream they traded suspicions and congratulated each other on specific observations.  For a while, then, the two could amicably and happily content themselves in their common search.

By and by, they arrived at a fork in the stream and there was great discussion about which direction to take. One stream was slightly wider and its current more brisk as a consequence, the other retained the same width and flow as the original. One inquisitor felt that answers were probably best obtained in the wider stream, the other felt more comfortable with the status quot.  Imminently, there was no reconciliation, the two parted ways and stayed the course they thought would best answer their questions.   They never saw each other again.

For a time, the streams continued on without change, answers refused to be found, but the curious contented themselves in their individual decision and pondered what it might mean, if anything, that they chose differently.

After, say, a fortnight, one of our seekers discovered a profound answer, a vigorous stream itself feeding into the original waterway, fortifying it with the new information – its banks were widened, its flow increased, its current quickened. Steadily, almost consistently, creeks and other streams, in the form of answers, found their way to the questioner.  Before long a wide river of knowledge stretched out on either side and ahead.   There was life with this river.  Green trees stood solid and sure on each side. Birds and bugs filled the air.  Fish and algae dominated the water.   Vibrant; enviable; this river would continually be fed with new streams, leading the seeker to countless, continuous, and beautiful discoveries.

I wish I could report that the other seeker shared a similar fate in success at finding aswers.  It seems the stream of this questioner had no other resources to keep it flowing.  Sure, seasonal creeks would donate their runoff, but the crucial steady supply of new water was absent.  The queried mind worried somewhat about this lack of new energy and it was left to contemplate only the answers it had so far acquired.  Those would be recycled continuously for want of fresh information and as a result the stream eventually dried up.   This curious seeker then, wandered a desert-land bereft of life and the dawnings of new days.

It is an easily observed case from my perspective.   I stand on the mountaintop of time and history.  I can see precisely where the two parted ways.   My eyes savor the beauty of the wide silver gleam that morphed into a behemoth river and they track stream upon stream of answers flowing into its arms.   I scan the valley to find the other seeker.  Ah, just there. Only recognizable by its origin, where it diverged from its companion.  If I trace its route I can see the gradual shrinking and final ending in a small pool of a lake whose only source is the one stream.  There is scant evidence of life and when the lake fills with sediment and dries, as all lakes with only a single feed are wont to do, that life will dissipate, allowing desert to arrive.

Observing these two is an exercise in the profound contrast of outcomes.

Science and Religion set out with similar questions which obliged each to begin from the same point, and on equal footing. Their shared questions:  What this?  Why that?  How come?   When?  Why here?  all attempted to define man’s place in the universe.  From the mountaintop of time and history, we witness the destiny of each.  This is a story about Questions, and Answers – an exercise in the profound contrast of outcomes.


Leap: A Conversation Between Two Friends About Leaving Religion

“Oh look at you!  You look great!” Grace said as she gave Sophie one of her best hugs, Sophie noticed that her friend was still using the same lemony scent as always.

“Thanks, I’ve been working out again and it makes a difference, doesn’t it?” Sophie sat down across from her long lost friend and wondered if she’d have the nerve after all to ask the question she wanted to ask.

“Yes, for sure.  It’s tough to get back in the habit if you fall off the wagon, way to go.”  Grace said and sipped on her usual triple-shot-latte.  They caught up with kids and work and husbands – or exes, as it was with Grace, and in a bit of a lull she asked Sophie how so-and-so from the church was.   Last she heard, their mutual friend was diagnosed with a treatable form of breast cancer.

“I’m not exactly sure, to be honest.  I’ve sort of not been to church for a few weeks now and I don’t have any more information about it than you do probably.” Sophie relaxed, an open door for her question!

Grace took a moment to process Sophie’s words. Not going to church?  She wasn’t sure she heard right.

“Well, then, so much for that bit of news.  But what’s up with skipping church?” Grace asked.

It took a few seconds and she plunged right in. “I don’t know how you did it Grace.  How did you manage to leave?  Are you glad you did?”

Grace was surprised by Sophie’s questions and thought for a moment before she answered. There was a tone of desperation in her friend’s voice as if she were fishing for something specific.

“Well, it wasn’t an easy thing to do, first off, and anybody else I’ve spoken with says the same thing.  It’s a process, but, yes it’s worth it.” Grace said

“But I mean, did you miss everyone?  How did you survive without your friends?” Sophie blurted out the questions.

“Um, yeah, I did miss people.  I still miss some.  Some, like you I’ve managed to be able to keep in touch with.  It all depended on how people reacted to my change of heart.  I knew I would lose some friends in the process, but I went on to make new friends too.”  she answered, and then added, “What’s going on with you, what’s with the questions?”

Sophie fiddled with the lid to her coffee while she spoke, “I just don’t think I have the faith anymore.  You know Bill has always been passive and he finally quit church over a year ago.  I didn’t bother him over it, I figured he’d come back around at some point. I asked him about it a few times and he said he got tired of the politics. He said there was enough of it at the office, he didn’t need at church either.  And, well, we both started reading other news sources, Bill wanted something with another perspective, and I was shocked at the differences. In some instances the stuff I was reading from the church was quite at odds with the real world.   I started to just watch and listen and I came to see Bill’s point about the politics.  People vying for places of position and keeping things secret. I read some of the books Bill was reading and I came to realize just how outdated religion really is, and well, science does a better job explaining the presence of things than religion does. But it seems difficult to make a final break, like I’m abandoning my friends and who will take their place?”

Grace thought about her friend’s questions for a long moment before she responded.  She recalled being in a similar place when she declared her own atheism.  It was scary and unsettling and god how she wished she had someone to speak with.  She was glad she could be that someone for Sophie, in this moment.

“Well, like I said, you just have to figure that some people will write you off.  It’s hurtful and you’ll be angry over it but you can’t resent them for it.  Honestly, I think some of the people that react the strongest are the ones who would leave as well if they had the strength.  It’s one of the toughest things to do, to leave such a tight knit social group. We all have a deep desire to belong somewhere and often times we think ‘the church’ is the only option.  There is a bit of a grieving period, a kind of loss that goes with the process. But it doesn’t last forever.   There are alternatives too, ya know.  I’ve joined a couple of local community projects that provide the same sense of belonging, and I feel like I’m contributing more than I was sitting in church three hours a week.  At least that’s been my experience.  Does that answer your question?” Grace took a sip from her quickly disappearing latte and sat back, allowing her friend time to think about what she just said.

“It does.”  Sophie began slowly, “I was afraid you’d say exactly what you said.  That I might lose some friends forever.  It makes sense what you said about belonging and come to think of it, I am already finding my own alternatives, I just didn’t know why or what it was about.  I’ve started to form closer friends at work the past few weeks I’ve been out of church.   You know, in church we spend all our energy focusing inward and excluding anyone who doesn’t believe exactly the same way.  I am finding out as I get to know some of the girls I’ve excluded that they are genuinely nice and care about issues and one another.  All in all, it seems that the world is a much less frightening place than the church makes it out to be.”

Grace chose not to respond to the last comment and she let her friend keep control of the conversation.

“I suppose I just have to make the leap and admit that religion and I are no longer compatible. It’s a big leap after a lifetime of thinking just one way. But then I see you and a couple of others who have made the same choice and they haven’t been struck down by lightening and they really do seem happier.  I want that.”  Sophie said.

“Then it seems you will have it, you are well on your way already.”  Grace said.

“I think I just needed to hear some things out loud.  You really helped to affirm what I was already thinking.  And now I have to go pick up kids from a birthday party.  Thanks for meeting me Grace, it was good to catch up and good to know my feelings are normal.”  Sophie said.

“Anytime.  We should get together again soon.  I know I would’ve loved to have someone to talk to when I left religion.” Grace said.

“I would like that very much, I’ll send ya a text early next week.”  Sophie said.   The friends gave each other a couple of parting hugs and left to do their errands.   Sophie had more peace about her decision than ever.   It is a leap, but it just might be worth it.

Frankie

*I wrote an article a couple of weeks ago about the need for us as atheists to understand the innate desire to belong and feel loved. I surmised that many who might leave religion do not simply for the sense of belonging that the church provides. This short fiction story is a twist on that idea. As a writer I wanted to explore what a conversation might be like between two friends: one who had already admitted to atheism and one who was considering the idea.   I thought it would be helpful to have some sort of visualization about these kinds of conversations – they are important in the scheme of things and we must allow compassion and empathy to guide us.

“No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your own knowledge.”  Kahlil Gibran