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April 27: Flash Fiction Challenge

Winds gust up to 40 miles an hour, blowing steadily for a week. An entire week of rocking in a trailer, listening to the awnings tear and snap. The RV creaks relentlessly like an old Conestoga wagon, and I now know why pioneer women walked — the volume inside the creaking boards and snapping canvas will drive you mad. New Mexico howls, and I’m yet in its grip, wondering if we’ve checked into the Hotel California. “You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave…”

Our transmission saga began as a jaunty adventure, something penned by Louis L’Amour where the good guys win. We had hope. Now it’s slogging along like a twisted tale by Stephen King. All I can think is what next? We wait. And waiting throws huge rocks in our already rocky path. How long must the Hub wait for healthcare?

Part of our journey was to get him to a VA hospital because they refused to see him in St. George “because he wasn’t in the system.” He’s listed at Spokane as “transient” and he can go to any VA, but only if they set an appointment. But many of the VA hospitals where homeless veterans gather in warmer climates over winter are backlogged or simply don’t want to treat anyone not from the community. Like St. George, Utah where the Vet Center also denied the Hub’s order for CBT because they didn’t have the staffing for it. Yes, this is why veterans die, waiting to be seen.

Trying to replace our transmission has become similar to trying to get the Hub the healthcare he needs. The auto parts companies have merged like other American companies and in these mergers is confusion. They don’t eve know what they do and don’t have in their own warehouses. And then there’s the shipping policies. And next you have to deal with a shipping company that professes customer service, but they don’t do what their website cheerfully proclaims. And website marketing! How many “bait and switch” tactics did we encounter searching for the best price?

Once the ordered transmission finally arrived (150 miles away because of their store-only delivery policy) and we drove to pick it up, it was the wrong one. It was so wrong, the Hub asked if that was truly his order. It was. Everything matched on the order except the transmission they shipped. It’s like trying to get an appointment at the VA for a specific reason only to go through 15 other pointless appointments to finally get stonewalled at the needed one.

I’m so sick of corporations and a political system that cares more about corporate profits than people.

Today, I turned on CSPAN (national politics station) to drown out the noise of the wind and could not believe the audacity of the senator who had the floor, explaining why the Keystone Pipeline is good for America. He spoke of profits and made illogical leaps between profits and being good environmental stewards. Last year I wrote an article for a regional magazine about Lake Pend Oreille’s Water Keepers, a non-profit that works to keep the watershed drinkable, swimable and fishable. The director told me that for all the billions in oil profits that cross the train bridge over Lake Pend Oreille, the oil companies do not have a disaster plan for a derailment. Oil profits do not make us good stewards.

Nor does it boost our workforce. When the Hub and I toured the ancient Pueblo lands between Gallup and Farmington two weeks ago, we saw acres and acres of capped oil wells and rusting refineries. Fracking has long been a part of New Mexico’s economy, but it’s not profitable to create jobs unless the oil companies make over $50 a barrel (another point I learned, interviewing a state economist for another article I wrote about why Idahoans leave the state to find work). It doesn’t impact what workers average in wages to cope with rising costs. There yet remains a silent housing crisis in many rural places like where we had our rental sold from under us. Rural homeless are hardest to count because many live with families, couch surf or live in RVs like we do. We don’t factor into the sleazy politics who would have us believe profits will save us all.

I’m reminded of a Cree saying to which I might add the line, “When the last oil well belches sand tar…”

“Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish been caught, and the last stream poisoned, will we realize we cannot eat money.”

It’s on blasted days like this, when I realize I missed Earth Day and it feels like the environment is in my face, howling, “Notice me!” that I wonder is there’s any hope for our Seventh Generation. Seven generations from now, what will be the result of profit over people? For once, I want to hear an elected official having the audacity to stand up for the betterment of all constituents. I hope against all hope that when we finally get a transmission delivered and installed that we’ll arrive in Topeka, Kansas and the Hub can get an appointment that will directly address his needs.

On days like this, I wonder what Mary McCanles made of her long wagon journey west and if she still believed in dreams after arriving? I’m shifting my focus back to Rock Creek in anticipation that the winds will stop, the transmission will arrive and we’ll yet get to Kansas to the VA, family and historical research. Politics were just as messed up in 1859 as they are in 2017. And oil was on the horizon.

April 27, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes oil. It can be an oil refinery, the raw product or used as a commodity. How does oil fit into a plot or a genre? Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by May 2, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published May 3). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Green Enough (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

“Ma, look!” Monroe lofted a green pumpkin.

Mary nodded, wishing away the queasiness. Even standing she could feel the sway of the wagon.  “Leave ‘em on the vine, son until they ripen.”

“Will you make pies?”

She managed a nod although the thought made her ill.

Her brother-in-law joined her on the porch, excited. “Mary, we need to convince Cobb to take a stake along the San Juan. Running rivers. Mountains, even! And sand you can burn in a lamp. Black oil.”

Mary inhaled deeply. “Leroy, if it requires a wagon ride from here, no! This Territory will do.”

###

Author’s Note: Leroy actually did find crude oil in Colorado the summer he and his brother rode up a tributary of the San Juan River. He always wanted to push beyond Nebraska Territory, but settled where his brother decided. After Cobb’s death, Leroy returned his family to Tennessee and spent the duration of the Civil War, exploring Colorado. He homesteaded a place he named Florence, and brought the entire McCanles clan out from Tennessee. In the last years of her life, Mary finally accepted Leroy’s invitation and lived out her days in Florence, Colorado. She returned to Nebraska to be buried next to Cobb. Leroy made a fortune in oil.

 

Gazing at the Navel

What is it we hope to find, gazing at the navel? Maybe we seek our own beginning or that of time. Perhaps we feel a severing of bonds to establish who we are. We can stare at our navels, self-obsessed, or dare to reveal it to others. Somewhere between holding on to our beginnings and letting go with freedom to be we find stories of the humble belly-button.

Writers were tasked with navel gazing this week and many dared to return with a story.

The following are based on the April 20, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a navel story.

***

Ghawazee by Kerry E.B. Black

Dumbeks drummed a summons, and dancers stepped from hidden corners, bells tinkling with each movement. Tentative as deer approaching a clearing, the graceful women searched for authorities who declared dancing a crime. They hopped in time, their footfalls punctuating the rhythm. The beat quickened. Their skirts and veils eddied around lithe forms. They reached heaven-ward, exposing glimpses of navels whittled with exertion. Colorful tassels bounced from tribal belts, and tinny bells added to the magic of the dance.

A whistle warns, and they scatter, but for the length of a song, they re-created their heritage and defied the regime.

###

The End by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Vast ocean pounded a heavy drumbeat, intense wind carrying bright droplets up to the woman poised on cliff’s edge. A sheer of brine slowly covered her naked form.

Her thin fingers brushed a whirl of ashy salt and skin from wasting limbs. With each sweep and release of her fingers, she became less and less, her curves releasing to the granite and scrubby wasteland that led to this spot.

“Oh Angus,” she breathed. “You were my only god!”

Weuigwefq cwnjqoie.

The tomcat bumped her chin, and lay across the keyboard. “Too much drama, Navel Gazer…feed me NOW!” he growled.

###

Science is Coming by Elliott Lyngreen

Nate’s been expecting there will be a grand movement i step aside myself. Or lose myself. Exist around, outside myself.

Instead of inside this womb prosing on about and ever contemplating.

Charges coins now to share. The game is its more instant – but is, not speaking.

There’ve always been rules.

For speaking?

“Cant stand my echoes.”

Frees sound even my exhaling bellies; executes me further en passant. . . .

Pressing into the navel of a fuzzy peach. Nate cannot eat them.

Tainted on this bird repetitively clunking its reflection; for once, i want to remove the windows.

“Check, Nate.”

###

The Need to Know (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni sat on her haunches, studying the bone fragment. The school bus had left, but this piece found by a third-grader intrigued her.

“Is that one of my ancestors?” Michael had returned with Bubbie.

“Mmm, probably not, unless your ancestors ate each other.”

Michael snorted. “You bone-diggers. Navel-gazing at everything.”

Danni stood up and stretched, surprised to hear the pain in Michael’s tone. “I’m sorry. No offense intended. It’s a deer bone, likely, but has pot-polish from being boiled. It says something about what occurred here.”

“Let the place be sacred, Danni. You don’t have to know every detail.”

###

Omphalos by FloridaBorne

“Your name means Earth’s navel?” I asked.

“Mama said Omphalos was sacred,” a 12-year-old with medium beige skin replied. “She said we came out of Earth’s navel a hundred years after mushrooms destroyed all life.”

Amused, I asked, “Were the mushrooms edible?”

“You can see the mushrooms grow when you’re in Las Vegas.”

“Thank you for your presentation,” I said. “You may be seated.”

“Miss Phillips?”

“Yes, Omphalos.”

“Did you know your people are building underground cities?”

Keeping a straight face, I replied. “No.”

“You’ll need them in 2020.”

“That’s 60 years away,” I said, chuckling at his superstition.

###

Homage by D. Avery

That immobile travel trailer under the trees is a sanctuary. It stands on columns of humble cinder blocks, the destination of a pilgrim. Inside it is luxurious. There’s an abundance of books, one comfortable bed, and small altars enshrined with shells and pebbles. Yet this trailer overlooks the actual temple.

While the red-capped stewards drum rhythms on riddled trees, juncos sanctify the space with their spring rituals, alighting on a rounded glacial erratic before continuing their northern pilgrimage.

This omphalos stone holds all the answers for the pilgrim, but there at the center, the questions have now drifted away.

###

Gazing into Her Navel by Anne Goodwin

“Where should I start?”

“Wherever you like.”

She blushes, gazes down at herself pointedly. Was it sex? (It’s always sex.)

“There’s no rush. You’ve already taken the most important step by coming here.”

She hesitates. Opens her mouth and closes it again. I’d like to make it easier for her, but she has to find her own way.

She strokes her abdomen. Pregnancy ambivalence? But she isn’t showing. Yet.

Through her thin T-shirt she dips her middle finger into her belly button. “It might sound stupid,” she says, “but I’ve felt all wrong since the day I was born.”

###

Fluff by Hugh Roberts

“Oh, my goodness, what are you doing?”

“Well, you did say you wanted me to help get the fluff out.”

“Yes, but not with a screwdriver. Is there anything else you can use?”

“No. Nothing to hand. Now, do you want me to remove the fluff from your bellybutton?”

“Yes, but I’m sure I can hear something creaking.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. Right, here we go. Ready? A slight twist and it should be out.”

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

“Oh, I’m so sorry. I never expected that to happen. Allow me to pick up your bum and screw it back on.”

***

Moral of the story – never insert a screwdriver into your bellybutton and twist, because your bum will fall off!

###

Navel Contemplation by Norah Colvin

Billy watched Mother bathe Baby.

“What’s that?”

“The last bit of his umbilical cord. Soon it will fall off, and he’ll have a belly button, just like you.”

Billy lifted his shirt to inspect.

“What’s billy cor?”

“Umbilical cord – it’s where Baby was joined to me before he was born. Everyone has one.”

“Everyone?”

“Everyone with a mother.”

“So, Silas don’t have belly button.”

“Silas would have a belly button. Everyone has.”

“But Silas don’t have a mum.”

“Oh. But he would have had a mum. When he was born.”

“Nope. Not born. I made him up.”

###

Origin by KittyVerses

Suddenly there was brightness all around.The darkness that I was accustomed to, was gone in a matter of minutes.

A buzz of excited chatter all around, disturbing my serenity. Unknown images were excited about something but I was clueless and at a loss.

The yummy supply of food through the umbilical cord, will it cease now, I let out a cry.The images rose in unison to console and welcome me. But one touch said it all, up she lifted, holding close to her, I could feel her warmth.A gentle kiss on my forehead, I knew her, my origin, Mumma.

###

Fruitful Blessings by Lisa A. Listwa

He watched his wife dress, her navel peeking from beneath a camisole and between stretch marks as she reached above her head to fix her hair.

That small, intimate part of her reminded him how he worked to know her, to break through the rough, vibrant skin and bitter layers of pith surrounding the most delightful, refreshing burst of fruit inside.

He remembered her beautifully life-worn body when it swelled to carry and nourish the children who shouted at one another just down the hall. And he – he was lucky enough to taste of this bliss every single day.

###

Where Do They Hide the Navels by Joe Owens

Jerome never had seen belly dancers, at least not in person. When he imagined it he chose to rely on the one image burned into his mind, that of a beautiful Barbara Eden in her genie outfit. So one could imagine his excitement when he saw their would be belly dancing in this three hour dance recital.

When the music began Jerome sat up in anticipation, but ten seconds later he sank back dejected. There was no Barbara Eden to bee seen anywhere near the stage. Instead it resembled a cruel joke. There was plenty of belly on display.

###

Aloof by Reena Saxena

Apsara was totally taken by the intellect of this man, and the peace that he radiated.

Ten years later, she wondered if Vishwa had ever loved her. He was so wrapped up in himself – his books, meditation and his international talks. There was no space in his life for anyone else.

“Will you ever stop being a navel gazer, Vishwa?”

“Apsara, the navel is what connects you to your mother, your origin. Do not use that expression in a derogatory manner. One needs to decipher all mysteries of existence.”

It was not her existence that he was talking about.

###

Life Gets Complicated by Geoff Le Pard

‘Penny come here.’

Penny looked at her form teacher’s stern face, mystified at her tone.

‘Did you call Melanie a freak?’

‘I…’ Penny’s face flushed. ‘I just said her belly button was weird.’ Everyone had laughed, even Melanie. She’d showed them after all. ‘Is she upset?’

‘Melanie doesn’t know we’re talking. Someone else told me.’

Penny felt anger swell inside her chest. Sophie.

Miss Johnstone sighed. ‘She has an umbilical hernia. Just be a little careful what you say. You don’t know who might be upset.’

Penny held her gaze. ‘If Mel doesn’t care, why should anyone else?’

‘Indeed.’

###

Navel (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories) by Deborah Lee

“Is that a bra strap? That better not be a bra strap,” Michelle says. “We don’t do the Madonna look around here.”

Jane cocks her head to her shoulder, displays the wide strap of the tank-camisole layered under her blouse. “Not a bra strap.”

“And tattoos. Caroline hates tattoos. Keep your tattoos covered.”

“For the…third?… time. I don’t even have tattoos.”

“Or piercings. She doesn’t hire people with piercings.”

Jane surreptitiously pats the soreness at her belly-button, her brand-new glittering dragonfly. Good thing she doesn’t wear Madonna crop tops. She turns back to her desk, rolling her eyes.

###

Emily’s Navel by Michael

The class had been going for some time before Dash woke up to gazing at Emily’s navel. Navel’s fascinated him and Emily had the most alluring navel he had seen.

It was an innie, outies he found somewhat gross, though he knew it was no fault of the navel owner.

But Emily was caught up in her pose, oblivious of Dash’s attention.

He wanted to reach out and stroke it with his finger, feel the soft smooth folds of skin. The instructor’s strident voice woke him to reality. He stored away the memory and took up his required pose.

###

The Cadaver’s Surprise by Allison Maruska

The cadaver rests naked on the table. Her skin is ashen, her face covered with a white towel. My mind tricks me into thinking she’s breathing.

This was someone’s mother, someone’s grandmother. Now she lies here, pre-dissected for us, the potential medical students of tomorrow.

“Know what I wondered before I studied anatomy?” the teacher asks.

We stand in respectful silence.

“I wondered what the back of a belly button looks like.” With that, she lifts the skin covering the abdomen, revealing the dark side of the navel.

I bet the dead woman never thought anyone would look there.

###

Holy Holes and Adoration of Ashes? by Jules Paige

Navels
More than
Just an orange
For energy or even
Contemplation

Once
I read
A model had
Hers surgically removed…for
Vanity?

Links
Navels from
Mother to babe
Centers of life blood
Flows

I’ve
Been to
Maui – I saw
Different kinds of hard
Lava

Pahoehoe
Is sharp
A’a is smooth
We did not see
‘Lava’

Not
All ash
Is the same…
‘Wildcat Scattering’…she did
That…

To
My father
At his request –
In the Gulf he
Went…

An
Uncle left
His body to
Science – his ashes were
Returned

(…what tradition will I follow?)

###

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Art and Literature in the Raw

Essay by Urszula Humienik, a member of the Congress of Rough Writers.

<< ♦ >>

Kurt Vonnegut once told The Paris Review, “I think it can be tremendously refreshing if a creator of literature has something on his mind other than the history of literature so far. Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak.” Which is something I must have thought or heard or read somewhere sometime in high school, because instead of writing and literature, I decided to pursue a degree in my other passion.

I didn’t decide to go into some useful and prestigious field like law or medicine, like many other writers such as Harper Lee, John Grisham, Anton Chekhov, Khaled Hosseini, or even Gertrude Stein. No. I decided to go into art, a field even more useless than being an English major. Of course, I don’t believe that. I believe both art and literature to be essential. These two fields make us truly human while simultaneously showing us the human condition in the raw.

As a smart English teacher once said, “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” (John Keating, Dead Poets Society)

There seems to be an interwoven connection in my mind between art and literature, and it’s possible I’m not the only one. Lots of writers and poets made art, including: Sylvia Plath, Kurt Vonnegut, Lewis Carroll, Henry Miller, William S. Burroughs, Herman Hesse, Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, William Blake, e.e. cummings, and many others. Some artists also wrote. The surrealist painter Leonora Carrington wrote stories. Salvador Dali wrote screenplays. Even such brand names as Warhol and Picasso wrote. Gertrude Stein straddled the fence between these two worlds as a writer, art collector and muse. Her home was filled with artists of all types, including writers – so many of whom we know and love (or love to hate).

Then there are people like Patti Smith and Audrey Niffenegger, most known for The Time Traveler’s Wife, who make a living working in several artistic fields. I admire them both, and hate them just a little out of jealousy for being able to do what they love without staying within the boundaries of a neat label. We so love to label and put things in their place. I remember a friend once yelling at me in the stairway in high school, “Are you an artist or a writer? You can’t be both.” My answer throughout my life has always been why not.

There are several things I believe to be unarguable truths. One, our passions make us more interesting. Two, writers without passion for writing and the subject cannot write well. Three, any activity done without passion cannot be sustained for very long.

Somehow, in my life, I was fortunate to develop several passions. Two of them – art and writing – developed almost simultaneously, interwoven, interconnected to the point of being inseparable, one needing the other. I do not know if one can exist in this mind without the other. The way I see it, writing and visual art are just modes of expression, of connecting to another human being, of creating a space for an idea.

Visual art and literature begin in the same place in the psyche of their creator. I’m not sure if the spark to create them are the same, but maybe it is. Sometimes I feel that something that has come to me must be in the written and sometimes in the visual form, but I cannot explain the why or how I know that. The most interesting is when these two intersect. I have characters in my stories that are artists, for example, and I am drawn to create their art.

My art background also provides material for stories. An example is the following flash I came up with in response to one of Charli’s prompts, where I imagined what it would be like growing up in a house with a stolen painting hidden in plain sight.

Father’s Poppy Painting

A painting hanging in my father’s study figured large in my childhood. I remember its exotic golden yellow and crimson poppies on a background of burnt sienna and ochre. I remember days spent studying and copying it. I remember my mother constantly practicing Mendelssohn’s violin concerto in D minor. I remember father always gone on business. I remember the scent of Arfaj flowers wafting through the windows. Father’s poppy painting was the reason I decided to study art history at university.

One day when taking a class on famous stolen paintings, I discovered father’s poppy painting in my book.

There are several similarities between art making and writing. For starters, they often begin with a concept. Sometimes it’s just a word or a color or a vague idea. Once you have a concept, art and writing both have different phases of creation and exploration before achieving the final product:

  • play and experimentation – I’d argue that this may be one of the most important stages for both;
  • sketching, what would be akin to raw writing;
  • planning or outlining – depending on how a writer/artist works, this may happen earlier or later in the process;
  • and application of several layers.

This last phase may be thought of in different ways, but over time it has become how I think of the formation of a piece (of artwork or story). In a painting, this phase is obvious. The painter begins with a sketch or several, then the canvas is prepared with a base paint, next several background layers are applied, details are added, and added, and added, and added until the painting has achieved the painter’s intentions.

This is an oversimplification, of course, but a similar process occurs when writing. We begin with an outline or maybe just a rough story idea, which is then written and refined over layers. Some parts of the original raw writing become hidden under the layers of “improved” writing, but they are still there. And in my experience, the raw writing is necessary and enriches the final piece in ways others may not fully comprehend.

I spend much of my time thinking how I would describe a piece of art. It’s an exercise that’s more difficult than it seems (try it). There are many ways to talk about color and qualities of a line. It’s possible I could write essays on just those two characteristics alone. I also spend a great deal of time visualizing things I am writing, and I hope that improves my writing, deepens it, making it more tactile. I hope this means my writing is refreshing in the way Vonnegut said.

***

Urszula Humienik is a freelance writer and editor from Chicago, currently living in Bialystok, Poland. When she’s not working on her first novel, she’s doing yoga, meditating, or making delicious vegan food. You can find her on her blog or her latest obsession, Instagram.

<<♦>>

Raw Literature is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

April 20: Flash Fiction Challenge

Of course the Land of Enchantment would have some oddities. That’s the state nickname for New Mexico, and I’m studying the terrain as we drive from Gallup to Albuquerque. The first trip, when we went seeking a transmission like pilgrims, it looked too unfamiliar and undefinable. My comparisons to rosy Mars and towering pillars of Zion left New Mexico wan and pale, like the corpse of someone I didn’t know. I sought familiarity.

“Is that pavement?” The Hub asks as he’s drives.

Funny, I was trying to discern the same odd plates of black as if a road construction company dumped broken pavement from a defunct highway. Mile after mile of these black piles, I finally answer. “It’s pahoehoe.”

That earns me a sideways glance from the Hub whom I often call the Puritan for his annoying habit of correcting my speech. I like to throw out words he doesn’t know to make him think. I doubt I’m saying it correctly, but he doesn’t know Hawaiian inflection. I’m well-read and articulate but mostly mispronounce the words I know. I just don’t know how to say them. The Hub is a grammatical Puritan, and he’s chewing on pahoehoe. He’s also smart and knows my obsessions, geology being one. “Lava?” he finally asks.

“Yep!”

Pahoehoe is one of my favorite geology words because it’s fun to say, and I don’t trip over it the way I do Quaternary, which is my favorite geological period. It’s when humans appeared as nomadic hunters and gatherers, when saber-tooth tigers were real and hunters could take down mammoths for a month’s worth of tribal meals and hide coats for all. It’s when volcanoes and glaciers were active. Pahoehoe is the form lava can take, having once been magma that oozed slowly across a place, creating nature’s own parking lots. You might say, the natural creation was thousands of years ahead of human technology to produce cars. Now we create our own pavement.

Evidence of my lava theory arrives as a roadside sign, announcing: Fire & Ice! It’s a turn-off to Bandera Volcano and Ice Cave. Where’s there’s an erupted volcano, there’s a chance for pahoehoe, hardened flat black lava. Bandera is one of the West’s best preserved eruptions and is about 10,000 years old, meaning it would coincide with ancient habitation of this region. The Hopi, Zuni, Pueblo and other Southwestern tribes claim to be descendants from the ancient ones, and yet all have different languages and cultures. The word Anasazi, often said to mean “ancient ones” actually means “ancient enemies” in Navajo. In the Land of Enchantment, there are many truths. Strange truths.

One truth about Bandera is that a collapsed lava tube maintains a 31 degree temperature, thus forming an ancient ice cave.

Another truth is that the resulting core might be an omphalos; a navel of the earth. Despite differing languages and clan cultures, the tribes of New Mexico say they climbed out of the earth’s navel and spread across the land (for creative takes on origin myths see Origin Stories). To the Pueblos, the journey continues, and some of the clan destinations included what we call “ruins” like Aztec Ruins National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park and Chaco Canyon World Heritage Center. All of these dwellings are said to not be abandoned, but occupied by the spirits of Pueblo ancestors. Many descendants explain that time is irrelevant and just yesterday they began their journey, climbing out of the earth’s navel.

Some sci-fi aficionados might liken this idea to portals in time and space. It’s so ingrained in native culture, that the kivas of the centers were built deep, round and accessible through the roof. When ceremonies were held, the people climbed down from the cedar roof with the reverence of entering the womb. Even today, the Hopi, Zuni and Pueblo clans regard these centers as sacred and spiritual. The Navajo say chindis (ghosts) populate these places. On the sandstone cliffs of Chaco Canyon, original inhabitants left behind painted hand prints. Imagine hovering your palm upon the print of your ancestor from 850 AD. Having visited Chaco Canyon with ravens eerily standing guard, I can believe in chindis easily. I can believe in the spirit-world of the Southwest. It doesn’t surprise me that Chaco closes at dusk.

The fact that Chaco Canyon is memorialized as sacred, introduces another truth and oddity: It is illegal to deposit the ashes of human remains at Chaco. My immediate thought was, who would do that? Evidently, “wildcat scattering” of cremated remains has become a thing, with reports of people spreading the phosphorous powder of deceased loved ones in public and scenic places from sports fields to Disneyland to scenic vistas. National Parks at the Grand Canyon and Yosemite offer scattering permits. Others, like Chaco Canyon, forbid it. Thinking on this unusual activity, I’m reminded how reluctant we are to discuss death and mortality. Yet, according to the Internet Cremation Society, over half of US deaths will result in cremation, and surprising (to me) it’s most popular in the western states.

Call me an old-fashioned story-teller who loves to read history in graveyards, but I had no idea.

My grandparents were each cremated, but it’s a vague awareness because they had funerals and were interred in the same cemetery where my great-grandparents were buried. I laughed, bittersweet, with my best friend when we were planning her funeral and she asked about being buried with the ashes of her beloved dog who died just months before she did. The answer was, slip “it” in when no one was looking! We did. The funeral home knew about it and simply looked the other way. Then there’s the story about Aunt Susie.

Aunt Susie was my cousin’s great aunt and when before she died, she asked that her ashes be scattered across the Sierras where she spent a lifetime hiking and fishing. It became a bizarre family burden as each person tasked with wildcat scattering Aunt Susie’s ashes died before completing the deed. Finally, after yet another family funeral, my cousin took charge of the ashes and told her dad that they would take care of it as they drove home from California to Nevada over the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

At a scenic spot off the highway and over one of the creeks Aunt Susie might have fished (it’s unknown), my uncle pulled over, and an argument ensued. He agreed to drive the ashes, but he wanted nothing to do with opening the plastic bag and relieving its contents. Neither did my cousin. Finally, her 10-year old daughter volunteered. The girl carried the bag to a rise above the creek and began swinging it in a windmill fashion. In horror, my uncle asked, “What is she doing?”

Who teaches another how to scatter ashes? We don’t even speak of it, let alone pass down tips and etiquette. It’s not like, “Put your napkin in your lap,” or  “Say please and thank you.” No one says, “And whatever you do, don’t swing the bag over your head.”

My cousin’s daughter reached a point where physics kicked in, and the ashes indeed scattered, but also dumped over her head. She ran back to the car, face white with residue, eyes wide, sputtering, “Mom! I got Aunt Susie in my mouth!” It might be appropriate to note to the uninitiated that cremated ashes hold no health risk. No, the reason Chaco Canyon does not want unceremonious dumping, windmilling or burying of ashes with or without New Age crystals has nothing to do with health risk. It’s not even because it’s disconcerting to come across a questionable white pile on a public trail. It’s because Chaco Canyon is culturally sacred and memorialized to the Southwestern tribes.

The oddities don’t end here. (And if you, like me, are curious about the growing phenomenon of cremation and what to do with ashes, read Ashes Underfoot.)

In my quest to satisfy my curiosity over why Chaco Canyon would post such a sign as Don’t Scatter Ashes, I came across a 1998 article from The New Yorker by Douglas Preston, one of my favorite authors. But he discusses cannibalism among the Anasazi. Well, maybe that’s why the Navajo feared them as evil. And yet, it’s so unlikely. The Hopi and Pueblos have no stories of cannibalism. Often, the worst human atrocities are attributed to conquered or enslaved peoples as a way to justify their treatment. The leading archaeologist who put forth the theory has not consulted the tribes, and is at hostile odds with most colleagues in the niche field of Southwestern archaeology. Yet, in the Land of Enchantment, there are many truths. He has physical evidence of violence, dismembering and even pot polishing.

But why? One truth is that the Chaco culture achieved astonishing feats of engineering and art. Many scholars believed they lived a utopian lifestyle. A scientifically documented drought is believed to have ended the expansion of the culture. Yet, lingering Navajo stories of abandoned places holding chindis, of former enslavement seems at odds with the utopian and advanced civilization ideals. Even archaeologists have puzzled over why uncovered ruins from the era are often intact with valuables, as if people disappeared into thin air. Did they return to the navel of the earth? Did aliens transport them away? Was the culture good or evil?

What if we are asking the wrong questions? This is something important for you to think about as a writer. It’s vital that you ask questions others are not asking. If we all zip down the same paths, avoid the same uncomfortable topics and make assumptions everyone else believes, how will we ever write something new and different? When I began my research into Rock Creek I looked at all the theories and eventually asked enough questions, the questions other historians didn’t think to ask, and I came up with a new theory. For my historical writing, exploring women and others marginalized in history, the field is wide open.

The question the archaeologists don’t ask is that of human psychology. Preston explains how archaeologists cling to the concept of culture. The one archaeologist who pursued the cannibalism theory told Douglas in his article that the discipline needs to adopt a “Darwinian paradigm of evolutionary psychology.” He says archaeologists need a paradigm shift to “…understand the darker side of human nature in the archeological record.” This is where writers need to dare to go, too. I highly recommend reading Preston’s article, Cannibals of the Canyon. Not only is it one of the strangest looks at ancient culture in New Mexico, it’s excellent writing by one of my favorite Western authors. Read his bio and drool (or maybe that’s just me).

Back to the drive to Albuquerque. A second one is on the way. Progressive Insurance finally caught up with us in Gallup, although we managed the repairs on our own, it’s unlikely we’ll be reimbursed. But we all agreed that Camping World will be liable for a thorough inspection once we get to Kansas. The transmission wasn’t on the delivery truck today. Unless it vanishes like the Anasazi, it’s supposed to be ready for us to nab tomorrow. I’ll look at the drive with new eyes.

And don’t worry. I’m not going to expect anyone to write uncomfortable topics this week, unless you have belly-button issues and if you do, write it out.

April 20, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a navel story. It can include a belly-button, feature an omphalos (geological or cultural), or extend to navel-gazing (used in meditation or to describe excessive self-contemplation). Go where this oddity leads you.

Respond by April 25, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published April 26). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

The Need to Know (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni sat on her haunches, studying the bone fragment. The school bus had left, but this piece found by a third-grader intrigued her.

“Is that one of my ancestors?” Michael had returned with Bubbie.

“Mmm, probably not, unless your ancestors ate each other.”

Michael snorted. “You bone-diggers. Navel-gazing at everything.”

Danni stood up and stretched, surprised to hear the pain in Michael’s tone. “I’m sorry. No offense intended. It’s a deer bone, likely, but has pot-polish from being boiled. It says something about what occurred here.”

“Let the place be sacred, Danni. You don’t have to know every detail.”

###

 

With This Ring

With This Ring by the Rough Writers & Friends @Charli_MillsAn array of rings are offerings from a single artist. And yet, many singles dream of one ring to bind them to another. What is it about rings that are are deep in our culture and psyche? They adorn and they tell a story.

Writers explored the stories of rings to craft this collection of flash as rich as the rings an artist displays against black velvet.

The following are based on the April 13, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a ring.

***

One Perfect Rose (After Dorothy Parker) by Luccia Gray

‘I found a perfect gift,’ he said.
He gave me a pretty card, which read,
‘This gift is almost as lovely as you.’
I still didn’t have a clue.
I wondered what he had in mind,
Although I knew my love was blind,
I was hoping for a ring at last,
My happiness, it was so vast!
I’d wear it on my finger proudly.
I extended my hand slowly,
And he showed me one perfect rose.
I sighed and looked down to my toes.
‘Don’t you like the rose?’ he asked.
‘It’s not what I had in mind,’ I barked.

###

A Bacon Bit (Sizzlin’ in the Old West) by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Leadbelly sidled up to the bar, tossing a small leather bag on the counter. His boot hooked over the bar rail, spurs jangling, as he leaned toward the buxom barkeep.

“What’ll ya have?” Lula eyed the bag of gold dust.

“Whiskey, neat,” he twirled his greasy mustaches, “And you, disheveled.”

She rolled her eyes and turned her back. The piano player threw him out. Polishing a glass, she waited.

Josiah approached, sliding the fragrant waxed package across the counter. He laid a gold ring on top. His lips trembled. “Will you have me?”

“You and your bacon? Forever, Love.”

###

Heirloom by Bill Engleson

“Look at ‘em, Sybil. Sausages. Big fat sausages.”

I spread my mitts in grand emphasis.

“Yes, sweetie. You have big hands.”

“Not exactly Presidential.”

“No. But too big for your Mom’s ring. Maybe we can get it enlarged?”

“You think?”

“I don’t know. It’s pretty thin…probably hard to stretch…”

“Dad made it from an old copper cup. True story.”

“I’ve heard it often.”

“Well, it’s a good story. He was a handy guy.”

“A frugal, artistic man.”

“Depression days, eh.”

“Yes, it was. If we can’t expand it, maybe I should wear it.”

“Would you?”

“It’d be my pleasure.”

###

Not All Chicks are Created Equal by Joe Owens

The young man stood quietly, eyes glued to the arrangement of rings. All that moved was his eyes. They buzzed back and forth across the collection like a caffeine-addled bee.

“Don’t you have anything unique?” he finally asked.

“Unique? Son all of this is unique and handmade.”

“Yeah, I know, but this chick is one in a million!”

“Chick? Are you calling some lovely young woman a chick? What’s wrong with you? You need to learn some manners young man. Women are not chicks!”

Both turned when a girl in a bird suit opened the door.

###

New Ring by Diana Nagai

Conflicted, her thumb bent inward, seeking out the newly placed jewelry. She was a feminist, damn it. When looking at other women’s rings, she always saw society’s symbol of ownership, a male’s claim to his property. Yet, she wanted the ring. The band gave her a sense of calm and, admittedly, a feeling of pride.

The flashing camera brought her back to the moment. Worried that she had sold out to the very institution she ridiculed, she looked up, locking eyes with her partner. Warmth enveloped her and, in that instant, she knew what all newlyweds knew; love transcends.

###

The Ring by Pensitivity

Embedded in the root of the hydrangea bush was a ring.
The flower which flourished every year from that part of the root was bigger, brighter and more glorious than any of its counterparts.

‘It’s your grandmother’s engagement ring,’ he said with a tear in his eye.

‘She lost it years ago and although we searched, we never found it. She told me it would eventually turn up. Come to think of it, that bush never flowered so much before she died.

Her last words to me were that she’d always be with me. Bless her, she never lied.’

###

Only the Ring Remained (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“Don’t you tire of sifting dirt?” Michael leaned back on the porch chair, drinking a Rocket Dog.

Danni knew Ike had stocked his workshop fridge with his Ranger buddy’s favorite beer. A token of appreciation. Or a bribe. “I thought we buried the hatchet, Michael.”

“Just curious. Seems boring.”

“It’s amazing how much evidence past garbage holds.”

“It doesn’t bother you?”

“Garbage? No. The most disturbing find was considered a site contamination.”

“Contaminated garbage?”

“It was run-off from the 1956 Grand Canyon plane crash. A wedding band among Anasazi pottery. Identified as the pilot’s whose body was never recovered.”

###

Consider the Odds by Elliott Lyngreen

This concrete pier doglegs like a long driveway into the lake.

The horizon rises behind as I fish into the calm side; the inlet back into the marina and boat launches.

This morning, he snuck away from the wife. As I tie a lead weight to my T-dropper rig he sets up his folding chair near the steel edges crashing waters whale.

But, I am too excited to ask how he managed to get away. So I offer, “more weights in my box if needed.” He responds, “nah, just going to use my wedding bands.”

Perch season begins perfectly.

###

Ring For Mother by Geoff Le Pard

Mary stared at the box, momentarily lost.

‘Mum? Can you find it?’ Penny peered over her mother’s shoulder. ‘There they are.’

Mary fished out the string. ‘Yes. Your Grandma’s pearls; she gave them to me when I was 21. I…’ She sobbed.

‘Mum? What’s wrong?’

‘Nothing.’ She looked at Penny. ‘Your grandma wanted you to have her wedding and engagement rings, after she died, only..?”

‘What happened?’

‘They disappeared. Somewhere been her collapsing and her… dying. I didn’t notice until it was too late to follow it up.’

‘Don’t worry, mum.’

If only it was that easy, Mary thought.

###

Finders Keepers by Jules Paige

I found the gold ring with a chipped amber type square
stone with four diamond-like gems, while walking the
dogs one day. The band had a kink in it. But the sun
made it sparkle in the gutter where it lay, lost or
tossed.

Now it was mine. And I wore it when ‘he’ came to visit –
‘He’ didn’t have to know that my new Beau hadn’t given
it to me. It made breaking up with ‘him’ so much easier.

I got the band fixed. Though I hardly ever wear that
ring. Now wear my white gold wedding band.

###

Eternity Ring by Anne Goodwin

I emptied the contents onto the table-top. Plastic decked like playing cards, coins rolled on their edges, a foil-wrapped migraine tablet squat among the notes. He held my fingertips so gently, I almost anticipated congratulations. “Take it off!”

I babbled about its sentimental value, worthless to him. He grabbed me roughly by the wrist. “Fucking take it off! I won’t ask again.”

I tugged at the gold band. Bonded with my body, it wouldn’t budge.

Spreading my hand across the table-top, he brought down the knife.

I stared at the stump. I’d lost my finger, but kept my promise.

###

The Rescue by Kate Spencer

The hawk screeched and dived toward its prey. Jen held her breath and screamed when one of the talons clipped the pigeon’s wing, leaving it powerless, plummeting to the ground.

She ran across the field toward the fallen dove, flailing her arms and shrieking at the hawk.

Jen kneeled down beside the motionless bird. “You’re a beauty,” she cooed and delicately slid her fingers under its shaking belly. Her beaded ring brushed against a tiny metal leg band.

In that moment, Jen felt it in her heart. This feathered friend was special. It was a survivor. So was she.

###

Child Bride by Kerry E.B. Black

It blurred in her vision, yellow gold devouring a too-thin finger. It weighted Shakti’s hand, tethered her to a place, a family, and an older man who didn’t regard her as more than property. She shook her hand, but the wedding ring clung like an infant to its mother’s breast.

Wild-eyed, she searched the room hung with wedding silks, praying for an escape that didn’t come.

Instead, her groom came to consummate the marriage. He lumbered atop her until she cried out in pain.

After, she scrubbed the sheets, marring the gold band denoting her new status as wife.

###

Junk by Allison Maruska

“Daddy!” Reese tugs at my sleeve. “Toy!” She points to the dispenser full of opaque plastic eggs.

“Honey…” I crouch. “You can’t see what’s in those. You might get junk.”

“Please?” She bats her brown eyes.

I laugh. What the hell. Standing, I dig a coin from my pocket. She snatches it.

After three cranks, an egg plops out. She pops it open, removing a plastic ring with a square rhinestone. “Like Mommy’s!”

Her words choke me. It does look like my late wife’s ring. “You’re right. It is.”

“It’s not junk.” She skips ahead.

No, it sure isn’t.

###

The Onyx Ring by Susan Zutautas

Grandma would sit and tell Molly stories about her life in the old country. Scotland sounded amazing to Molly but what she most wanted to know about was the ring grandma wore.

Well dear this ring wasn’t always a ring. Your grandpa gave me this as a necklace that I wore for years. One day I decided I wanted to make it into a ring and took it to a jeweler.

It was a black onyx stone with a diamond in the middle and Molly just loved it.

Years later when grandma passed away, Molly was given the ring.

###

A Father’s Blessing by Roger Shipp

“Pap-pa, Esmeralda. She’s the one I’ve been telling you about.”

Freddie lost his father. Lost? No… He just left.

And Freddie appeared. Assisting with weeding the mowing… shooting hoops in the driveway… caring for the Dane when I’m away.

The two are aglow.

For a bride, so many traditions. Something old… new… borrowed… blue.

Nothing for the groom. Marriage license. Money. Rehearsal dinner. More money. Honeymoon. Even more money.

If a groom has no roots of his own… it’s hard to grow.

I wonder… my fingers encircle the ring I’ve worn faithfully since Sara’s passing.

“Freddie… if you’d like it.”

###

The Wife’s Ring by Michael

It was the start of our adventure and it meant packing up house and moving to a new town.

Everything was going well. We had a place to move to, we both had jobs and our new place was way out in the bush.

It came undone when my wife lost her engagement ring. It had vanished in the clean-up. Did it go in the rubbish? Was it thrown in the incinerator?

We searched high and low, blamed each other, but it was never found. I liked that ring, it was special and unique. It would never be replaced.

###

The Ring by D.Avery

He acted like he had found gold, though it was just an old skidder wheel-rim.

“Whatever for?” she asked.

“For you”, he said. “I got you a ring.”

He set it in the clearing behind the house. He gathered wood. He brought seats.

And they along with friends and family often ended up there, speaking easily around a crackling fire, into the night, gazing into the flames in communion, staring in their own silent reveries.

In the daytime, empty and cold, it looked like what it was, an old rusty rim. But it was gold. She loved this ring.

###

Commitment by Reena Saxena

Stella looked beautiful in the red dress, as she glanced at the mirror, one last time before leaving. Her father’s eyes fell on her be-jewelled hand.

“Don’t you think you need more space, if David proposes?”

“No, Dad! These are gifted by people with different talents, and are all important to me. David needs to create a unique slot for himself, if he proposes today.”

Her father’s thoughts moved back to his deceased wife, whose ring could not be removed by the coroner. Either it was rigor mortis, or her undying love for him.

The world had clearly changed.

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

Maybe if she’d been wearing it things would’ve been different. But my skin was burning off my bones. I pulled for breath. Bugs skittered down my neck.

Jada wasn’t home. The ring sat there. Shining.

They gave me eight hundred bucks for it. Two days later I was broke again. Jada cried. Moved to her mother’s. I sat in a ball, for two days, shivering.

The ring sat on the shelf. Shining. My skin burned. Nausea like shame in my gut. There was nothing to sell. Just the brick in my hand.

I went to get Jada’s ring back.

###

The Solitaire by kittysverses

She looked at her solitaire ring, with amusement. She had always dreamt of it since she was a kid.

The numerous fairy tales she read affirmed the fact that her prince charming would come, galloping on a horse and gift her a solitaire.

Years later, he did come and gifted this on a trip they took together.

Today she looks at her fate in amusement, it indeed gave her a solitaire but took away her prince charming to a place from where he could never come back. And now I’m a solitaire in my own solitude, mourned she.

###

My Silver Ring by Lady Lee Manila

It was a silver ring with heart

Crafted by my own hands

One of my evening courses

Silver jewellery making

It wasn’t easy to make

I just wanted a simple ring

Something dainty for my finger

It was a silver ring with heart

I never had an engagement ring

We were still students then

I thought I’d make one myself

Crafted by my own hands

I love taking courses

Yoga, academic writing and Zumba

One of them is jewellery making

One of my evening courses

Sawing, soldering and annealing

Sanding and polishing

These things I learned

Silver jewellery making

###

Raw Weather

Wind howls across the high mountain desert of Gallup and rocks my RV with a steady wave-like rhythm. I’ve heard the joke several times already from locals: spring arrives, depositing Arizona in New Mexico. With the airborne sand, I do believe it’s from across the state-line to the west. It’s so gusty here, highways post windsocks to warn of cross-winds that can tumble a semi or RV. For now, we’re rocking while stationary.

It’s more than windy today at the ranch. I thought I scheduled a guest for the series Raw Literature, checked the calendar and see that I scheduled next week! In the midst of a move and a break-down, it’s just another hiccup. I’m fond of lemonade so today’s scheduling lemons gave me opportunity to participate in Irene Water’s fascinating memoir prompt, Weather: Times Past. What’s unique about her prompt is the collection of data based on memory, generation, region and urban or rural proximity. Participants and readers get to compare experiences. It’s open to anyone, and as is the case with most responses to prompts, this is a piece of raw writing.

***

Memory of a Gen X Buckaroo, Weather in Rural North California

The old Californios Ranchos sat inland from the coast where fog creeps in by night and burns off by mid-morning. This region is home to cattle ranching, centuries old. Before there was California, there were the Land Grant holdings of Mexico and the original Missions of Spain. Weather didn’t change ownership; gold did. When Sutter discovered a gold nugget at his lumber mill, the (18)49ers poured into the region, and the US claimed it as a state: California.

To the ranchos, a change of hands didn’t mean a change in work. The miners needed to eat, and the ranches provided beef.

Some men came to mine, others to set up businesses. My family came to ranch, raising cattle, apricots, turkeys, hay or managing ranches. One grandfather was the foreman for an original rancho and another bought it after making his wealth by turning his ranch into a golf course. For generations, both the men and women in my family rode in the San Benito Horse Show & Rodeo. I even won several trophies for horse showing and one for goat tying, all before I was of an age to go to school.

This is buckaroo country — a culture unique to the Californios influence of the Ranchos style of ranching and horsemanship. And like any agricultural community, it’s always focused on the weather. In rural California, dry spells could turn into years long droughts, and rain could flood the dry river beds. It was a deluge-fueled flood that first caught my attention in regards to weather, and it was so severe, it cut off ranches from communities. One of my earliest recollections is standing with my parents on one side of a raging torrent of water as my grandparents stood on the other side. That memory has transfixed a fascination and horror of floods.

Many more times I would stand over flooded rivers in other states, drawn to relive the earliest memory of how water could swell so vast and swift, muddy and full of churning debris. Such has been the weather cycle in California and I wonder how the earliest ranchos managed. And that is how I begin raw thoughts for historical fiction. The confluence of memory and history and curiosity.

So I will end with a trio of flash fiction (at this rancho, its always 99 words, no more, no less) based on where my thoughts led me.

The Bad Dream of a Californios Girl

Maria shouted across the arroyo swelled with frothing mud. “Papa! Vaya con Dios! Papa! Mama!”

“Maria! Maria! Wake up. You’re dreaming the bad dream.”

Maria gasped in the dark, feeling her Aunt Tessa’s hands. “I’m awake, Tia.” Outside, she heard rain splatter against the hacienda’s shutters. She shivered.

“Maria, I’ve fixed of a cup of cocoa.” Her aunt lit the hurricane lamp and Maria saw the steaming cup sitting on the small table by the window. Her aunt had fixed her cocoa five years ago when she escaped across the flooded arroyo. The flood that swept away her parents.

###

The Only Path Left

Father Sean Kincaid, nudged the mare to press forward in the rain and sopping ground. He’d experienced thunderstorms back in Missouri, but this was different. God Almighty had forged a sky river the first 12 days of 1851. Hadn’t scripture promised an end to God’s flooding wrath?

The bridge he’d crossed earlier was gone. Not a splinter remained. Sean’s chest tightened. On the other side was his parish church. Behind him was Rancho Santa Ana he had failed to reach because of a landslide. He looked up. Not to God, but to the steep incline he’d have to traverse.

###

Good Horse-Sense

Capitan reared and snorted. The stallion charged his herd, pushing mares back, away from the river overflowing its banks on both sides. A deadly lake, pooling in the moonlight, eroding pasture. Capitan whinnied, turning on any horse who tried to bolt in fear.

“Damn stud save them mares,” Joe said, over coffee. The old ranch-hands gathered after mass at Kincaid’s Cantina.

“Unlikely, Joe.” Corey Fairfield expressed the skepticism of a vineyard owner. Educated.

Patty poured toppers. “Unlikely? As unlikely as your sons serving in the Pacific?”

Corey flushed at the chuckles. Their sons were Marines. Good horse-sense meant survival.

###

April 13: Flash Fiction Challenge

“My car broke down, too. Used to have a Nissan, ran it until it quit. Now I come to town on these tires.” The Navajo woman who’s about my age, just as tall but slender from being her own car points to her gray tennies. “Yeah, gonna need new Goodyears soon!”

The Hub and I laugh with her. She’s carrying two black velvet lined boxes filled with turquoise and stone silver rings. We’re eating breakfast, the cheapest we can find on the menu — $5 for an egg, bacon and roasted green chili pepper sandwich served with dark coffee. It fascinates me that we’re the only white people — Anglos — in Earl’s Restaurant. No one one pays us any mind except the artists who wander through the tables with their wares.

“My daughter is a Marine, and my sons are both Airborne,” she tells us, after learning the Hub is a veteran. He’s Airborne, too. In fact, he’s an Airborne Ranger so I tell her to coin him. Anyone claiming to be a Ranger has to coin up. If caught without one’s Ranger coin, he has to buy beer. She asks him to see his coin and he digs it out of his pocket. She holds it in her hand, flipping it to see both sides. “A Ranger,” she says, handing it back.

I thank her for her service, saying mothers deserve to be thanked, too. “That’s right,” she says, her face showing the love and pride she holds for her children’s military service. 100 percent. Her entire brood serves. I ask if that’s why Gallup, New Mexico has signs claiming to be the most patriotic town in America. She laughs and says it’s about the Code Talkers, too. And Hiroshi H. Miyamura, a Japanese-American Medal of Honor recipient. He’s known locally as “Hershey,” and is still alive, having served in WWII and the Korean War.

Hershey is known as Nisei. With close to a quarter million people living in New Mexico from pueblos and reservations who are Zuni, Toas, Tewa, Ute, Hopi, Apache and Navajo, Nisei sounds like another tribe. But it isn’t. To say Hershey is Nisei is to adopt the term to describe him as a second generation Japanese-American. During WWII the 100th Infantry Battalion of the US Army was 100 percent Nisei. Most had family held in Japanese-American internment camps. Many lost their homes and businesses. It was a cruel response to wartime, and robbed many of dignity.

However, Hershey’s family was never interned. They had their cameras, firearms and radios confiscated, but the citizens of Gallup signed a petition as character witnesses for the two dozen Japanese-American families living here. Hershey was born October 6, 1925 in Gallup, New Mexico just 13 years after it became a state, but his parents arrived earlier in 1906. Gallup was then a railroad and mining town with a nearby cavalry fort. According to the 1940 US Census record, Hershey’s father was widowed and operating a cafe and raising six children. Hershey says in a newspaper interview how grateful he was they lived in Gallup and escaped internment.

Not only is Gallup patriotic, it’s also called the Indian Capitol of the World because of its proximity to the diverse reservations and pueblos, including the largest — the Navajo Nation. From these southwestern tribes come the world’s most stunning art. Among the artists who walk past my breakfast table is a man selling his wife’s miniature Kachina dolls. Kachinas are spirit beings in the Pueblo traditions who assist with controlling the weather for crops. The Hopi, in particular, believe that it requires the supernatural to grow corn in the semi-arid high desert of the southwest.

The Hub is drawn to the dolls and despite being down to the last of our cash, he buys one for me — Morning Singer. The Kachinas represent harmony with the land, not dominance. Hopi men carve Kachina dolls from the root of cottonwood trees and dance as Kachinas to become supernatural. I find it curious that my little Morning Singer was carved by a woman, but collection of dolls has evolved into a large tourist trade and is not the same purpose. I’m dreaming of adding Native Art to Carrot Ranch, but reality is that artists are grossly taken advantage of and I could not stomach being a part of that system.

If I had the money I’d buy directly from the artists. One tall and lean young man in dark sunglasses and a hip-hop baseball cap walks up to us selling a silver squash blossom necklace with chunks of turquoise each the size of a walnut. I’m stunned. The silver-smithing alone is spectacular, and yet it is the high-grade turquoise that captures my attention. I know that a piece of jewelry like this will sell for $3,000 or more in a gallery. He’s selling it for $600 and offers it to us for $200. The temptation is to buy it and resell it at its value in the greater market outside Gallup. No way can I do this. I can’t devalue another artist.

It’s a familiar scenario for writers. Buy my book for .99 cents. Get published and you’re lucky to see 6 percent of each sale with the majority going to the publisher and distributor. And writers can’t bypass publishing and distribution. Gallup artists can’t compete with the online sales of knockoffs because they don’t have a way to get their art to the high-paying markets except through the trading posts and wholesalers. With great empathy, I show my appreciation for each piece as it parades by like an open mic night giving away words for cheap. My lame excuse for not paying the bargain price is, “We’re broke down.” They get it. We’re broke.

Most artists tell us their own broke stories, like the military mother who jokes that her shoes are her tires. “At least you only need to replace two worn tires, not four,” I jest in return. What is it with artists and poverty? We lead rich lives and create rich stories, rich horse-hair pottery, rich Kachina dolls, rich jewelry, but find no monetary wealth in the pursuit. We later stop at one of the trading posts and I notice the small Kachina dolls are marked off 20 percent. I ask how much and the “sale” price is $15. I bought mine directly from the artist for $5. Is it fair the trading post makes $10? If economics were my strength, I suppose I wouldn’t be a writer. Like one of our Rough Writers, Pete Fanning, wrote last week, “It makes my head hurt.”

I decline to buy one, explaining we’re broke down. I joke that if we can’t get a transmission we might live in Gallup. “Then you can get a job,” she replies. Ouch. Yes, there’s that, too. Despite my long hours, despite the material I’ve created and amassed for future publication, despite the articles and client content I write for pay, I don’t “really work.” The artists this proprietor takes advantage of to profit according to the religion of capitalism where, by God, where those who “work hard” deserve to make more than those slackers who merely create. How to even explain to her that my husband would gladly work, given a fair chance, but no one in his industry wants to hire a 50-something veteran with workplace adaptation issues due to PTSD.

That’s right; we’re a couple of homeless bums broke down in Gallup. But we are rich in other ways profits can never be. I’ll be a story-teller long after her shop closes down because the artists figure out how to work together for mutual benefit, cutting out those who take advantage of them. For now, I’m going to write from Gallup, collect stories as I catch them and explore the history of this region which is so unknown to me. I’m going to support other writers, and promote the value of literary arts from its rawest form to the possibilities of life-long mastery. That’s my job.

April 13, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a ring. Keep the definition to that of a piece of jewelry. Whose ring is it and what’s its significance? Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by April 18, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published April 19). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Only the Ring Remained (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“Don’t you tire of sifting dirt?” Michael leaned back on the porch chair, drinking a Rocket Dog.

Danni knew Ike had stocked his workshop fridge with his Ranger buddy’s favorite beer. A token of appreciation. Or a bribe. “I thought we buried the hatchet, Michael.”

“Just curious. Seems boring.”

“It’s amazing how much evidence past garbage holds.”

“It doesn’t bother you?”

“Garbage? No. The most disturbing find was considered a site contamination.”

“Contaminated garbage?”

“It was run-off from the 1956 Grand Canyon plane crash. A wedding band among Anasazi pottery. Identified as the pilot’s whose body was never recovered.”

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