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June 13: Flash Fiction Challenge

Many hands make light work. Women converged on Lady B’s yard, a twisting wreckage slammed by flood and debris last year. Someone — maybe a county worker — laid down straw last summer which snow matted like unruly hair. Depressed and unable to muck out her yard, Lady B expressed sadness. That’s when we formed an informal rake brigade. With six women and six rakes, we piled leaves and straw, collected debris and shattered ceramic pots. Lady B, 86-years-old, fussed over all of us with graciously served cups of sweet tea.

On Saturday, I’m looking forward to returning with annual plants to splash color in remaining pots, and give my friend something to water and care for each day. My daughter will join her hands with mine to plant, and other women plan long-term garden solutions. Approaching a year after the Father’s Day Floods, my community remains Copper Country Strong.

Across town, all hands are on deck to celebrate the Vet Center’s 40th Anniversary. A BBQ fires up, women set up tables laden with food — sloppy joes, taco salad, fruit salad, cheesy potatoes — and the color guard stands at attention. Vietnam Vets and their spouses stand to receive recognition pins.

But let’s back up past WWII, WWI and the American Civil War to better understand what the Vet Center is all about. President Abe Lincoln made a promise to the surviving soldiers and families of the Civil War. The following opens Miracle of Ducks, my novel-in-progress:

In his second inaugural speech, President Lincoln delivered a remedy of justice to those who have served a nation in times of war, understanding that the price paid by soldiers and their families comes at a cost to the nation:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

To this day, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs operates under a solemn commitment made to those injured in service and vows to take care of the families whose soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice. Less than one percent of US citizens ever serve, giving the entire group of veterans an obscure and minority voice. Veterans rarely speak up for their own justice, making it difficult to receive their benefits for what they endured. It is important that we speak up for them. That we welcome them home, understanding they won’t fit in with the civilians they protected. That we do the one and only thing they ever ask for — “Please take care of my family when I pick up arms for you.”

Those who marry these veterans are loyal. A service to nation that often goes unrecognized.

Miracle of Ducks gives voice to veteran spouses through the story of Danni Gordon. This character has evolved with my own understanding of the service spouses give to the nation. Mary Gauthier, a songwriter who works with veteran families to capture their experiences in song, sings about the War After the War. Here are the lyrics that resonate with the “invisible” spouses:

Who’s gonna care for the ones who care for the ones who went to war
Land mines in the living room eggshells on the floor
I lost myself in the shadow of your honor and your pain
You stare out the window as our dreams go down the drain
Invisible, the war after the war
I’m a soldier too, just like you
Serving something bigger than myself
I serve unseen, caught in between
My pain and the pain of someone else
I’m stronger than you think I am, I’m right here by your side
I am not your enemy I don’t want to fight
There’s no going back in time I know you’re not the same
But you are not the only one for whom the world has changed
Invisible, the war after the war

Yet, the price soldiers and their families pay comes at a cost to the nation. In subsequent wars, US citizens paid taxes to fund war efforts, which is why great thought was given before entering into such a commitment. Those who stayed home planted victory gardens, learned to cook and eat rice so that grains could go overseas to soldiers, went without nylons and other items to ration resources. When soldiers came home, citizens rejoiced with ticker-tape parades. And then came Vietnam, an unpopular war during a time of civil unrest. Soldiers became objects of derision.

The Hub remembers when Georgia hated the Army Rangers. They were barred from businesses and snubbed by society. Grenada changed that attitude and made the Hub wary of fickle views of citizens. He enjoyed getting a parade and allowed in establishments previously off-limits, but he still feels annoyed when someone says, “Thanks for your service.” I’ve tried to understand because I recognize that most people are sincere when they give thanks.

But consider this: Post 9/11 “War on Terrorism” has been the longest US war in history, and yet the smallest percentage of population serves. The toll on physical and mental health is high because of repeat tours. Giving thanks is not what Abraham Lincoln intended. The nation — its citizens — must bear the burden of the cost of war. What does this ideal look like in practice?

Soldiers get medical and mental healthcare without stigma, shame, or pressure to soldier up and take the pain and suffering in silence. That’s the VA’s job. On the homefront, soldiers get readjustment counseling to improve quality of life. That’s the Vet Center’s job. So what do citizens do? They can hire veterans, prevent homelessness, and break down barriers that cause veteran isolation. Isolation kills. Even though veteran suicides have dropped from 22 a day to 20, the VA reports that 14 of those suicides never sought VA services.

And I can tell you why — the VA is difficult to access and penetrate, staff often minimize or ignore concerns, funding goes into marketing a suicide prevention hotline instead of programs that encourage veteran inclusion and fitness, homelessness prevention is nonexistent and does not actually help veterans, and moral injury continues after service. Today, at the open house, I expressed my views based on three years of homelessness and 35 years of VA medical neglect to the regions suicide prevention coordinator. I gave her the view from the other side. And as a spouse, I don’t soldier up, I advocate.

My hands are not alone. As Josh Groban sings in The War at Home, “they are a million strong.” I stand beside my Warrior Sisters. Today, I wept as those of the Vietnam era were honored alongside their husbands with pins that represent their courage and indicate a grateful nation. My husband sat beside me and wept to see his Vietnam era Brothers honored and welcomed home. The Vet Centers exist because the Vietnam vets insisted on helping one another if their country wasn’t going to. The Vet Center exists to keep the promise Abe Lincoln made. It is the legacy of the Vietnam Vets.

Many hands make light work. Won’t you join me in bearing the burdens found in our own hometowns? A better world is not just about veterans. I know we are a global community, but each of us can see and meet the needs of others around us — helping a new mom, visiting the elderly and writing down stories, breaking barriers that isolate vulnerable populations, seeing the humanity in a homeless person, fostering community beautification, giving voice to the voiceless, taking on stories bigger than ourselves. We can all be of service.

June 13, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about the work of many hands. Is it a cooperative effort or something else? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by June 18, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Difficult Decision (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Hands reached out to Danni as she slumped in her chair. “I can’t do it alone,” she said. The women in her group, surrounded her.

Roxie patted Danni’s shoulder. “What do we need to do? I’ll bring my vacuum cleaner.”

Everyone offered to help Danni tackle Ramona’s empty house. She wanted to be angry with Ike for his absence, leaving her to make the decision no one in his family wanted to make. Ramona’s dementia progressed beyond Danni’s ability to keep Ike’s grandmother safe.

“Will she hate me?” Danni asked.

“Nah, she won’t remember you,” said Roxie. “We’ll help.”

June 6: Flash Fiction Challenge

Most of the white beach-washed pebbles are limestone fossils, remnants of a former coral reef. Some are chert with a coating of lime. When I first began hunting rocks on the shores of Lake Superior, I couldn’t tell my limestone from my chert, but with one I learned to recognize glossiness and a microcrystalline structure, and with the other distinct patterns and often a macrocrystaline structure. If I could see crystals like rock sugar, it’s likely a limestone fossil. Yet sometimes — sneaky as metamorphosis can be —  chert can replace the original fossil structure.

A big black tote bag holds all my rocks not yet displayed in window sills or gifted away. The window sills are so nearly mine, I’m taking the chance to clean them. Deep cleaning. Nesting. Rock sorting. I don’t have time to sort rocks, so lively as my days have been, but I find comfort in the process. If my rocks are organized, if I can name them, recognize their details and structures, then everything might yet be okay. I could also go to hell in a big black tote bag, and it will still be okay.

Point is, it’s okay. It’s more than okay. I don’t have to name all the rocks, but I can dream of what I’ll do next with them.

In the span of a week, I spent the night with a ghost, attended and presented at a writing conference out of town, met my next great author mentor, helped my kids  move out of my not-yet house, picked out paint for the walls, got a bed (GOT A BED!), moved from the Rodeo Room to the Happy Trails (named rooms), deep-cleaned kitchen cupboards, swapped out the spice cupboard for the tea cupboard and contemplated how to fill the rest of the pantry, unburied my desk and planned how to live in more space than my previous four foot by two foot corner, spent late nights at the Lake with Cynthia to watch sunsets and listen to cold spring-peeper, talked to my neighbors, talked to my flowers (which confused a neighbor who thought I was telling him to “Grow, baby, grow”), planned curtains with the Hub’s cousin, and buried a grandmother.

Some of these things were more life-altering than others. My neighbors will adjust. Before Sunday, they were my daughter’s neighbors, now they are mine. Now they get to learn I talk to flowers and chipmunks and stare long and hard into the eyes of the stars late at night. It has to be late — I don’t get back from the Lake until dark, and that’s after 11 p.m. My new bed is glorious (do you hear angels singing?), and I’ve been slipping off to sleep earlier than normal. We are adjusting to space. We are preparing to own this space. The Hub leaves a trail of socks and discarded shirts from room to room like he’s marking territory.

Of all these things, the biggest splash came from the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association Writing Conference in Marquette. That’s where I met the ghost and my newest writing heroine. I want to tell you about my teacher, but you’re probably curious about the ghost story and starting to wonder if my new neighbors are right to think I might be a bit off my rocker. So first, the eerie tale.

When I signed up for the writing conference back in November, I didn’t know it would coincide with the weekend my kids would move out, and I was designated Cook to the Movers. Sunday was the official move day, and my conference was all day Saturday, so I canceled my second night and drove home afterward to fix strata and macaroni salad. I drove to Marquette on Friday after Warrior Wives group to attend a dinner for presenters and UPPAA board directors.

A funny thing happens when I get to a hotel — my inner introvert wants to curl up and stay in. But I had a BOGO free card for drinks, a $20 meal credit from the hotel for having signed up for the room during their Spring Fling, and the expectation to show up. Marquette is home to Northern Michigan University, which has a competitive MFA in Creative Writing. This gives the town a strong literary base. From that base, grew UPPAA which welcomes authors of all genres and forms of publication. When they asked for someone to join the marketing panel, I raised my hand.

Let me pause a moment and encourage you to attend regional writing conferences. When I lived in Minneapolis, I attended Loft events, Rain Taxi, and workshops throughout the upper Midwest. When I lived in Idaho, I won a scholarship to attend BinderCon in LA and worked with Montana organizers to bring a satellite BinderCon event to Missoula. Sometimes you have to travel, but the biggest gains are networking and learning the current state of the industry and publication interests. It’s fun, too! Which I told my inner introvert who just wanted to hang out in the room with the purple and lavender wallpaper.

Before dinner, I sat down with ten strangers. After dinner, I parted from new friends. I sat next to a brilliant children’s book author and her seeing eye dog, Floyd. I met a historian who writes about Upper Michigan history, and he told me about his latest discovery — an abandoned quarry where the town was built into the rock like some 1800s Anasazi city. It’s off the grid with no discernable road. I met the incoming UPPA president, one of my co-presenters who publishes regional imprints. Then I met the outgoing president, author of Haunted Marquette. He asked me if I was staying at The Landmark Inn, and I said yes, up on the sixth floor.

“Not the Lilac Room?”

“Uh, yes, the Lilac Room.”

“It’s haunted.”

After a brief chat about the librarian and her lost-at-sea lover, I was warned to check for screws in the bed. Upon retiring to my (haunted) room, I was skeptical. The room was bright and clean and didn’t feel creepy at all. I pulled back the sheets — no screws. Settling into bed, I read and nodded off, waking up to bright lights. I opened my eyes, and it was dark. I flipped on the bedside lamp, feeling a bit uneasy. I chalked it up to the ghost story playing with my mind. But when I turned back off the light and closed my eyes, I could see bright lights. I wondered if I was getting an ocular migraine, a rare occurrence but I’ve had three in my lifetime, and I see bright lights in my periphery. Whatever the phenomenon, it was difficult for me to fall back asleep. So I read and finally drifted off.

In the morning, I thought about my “haunting” and laughed it off as being tired, impressionable, and maybe something weird but explicable with my eyes. On a whim, I tossed back the covers and no screws. No sheet, either. I know there was a  top sheet because I folded back the cover and just used the sheet until I went to bed. I found the sheet at the far corner as if it had been neatly pulled taut all the way down. Not scrunched or kicked down. Pulled. I couldn’t explain it. I turned to coffee, but my Keurig would turn off seconds after I pressed the power button. I gave up, showered, packed, and gratefully left the Lilac Room.

What isn’t in the haunting stories is that the lovelorn librarian hung herself with the sheets in that room.

Okay! Moving on from haunted rooms (don’t let that deter you from going out of town to conferences). On my way out of the hotel, I recognized one of my author, idols. I was surprised because Karen Dionne had been at Finlandia University the week before and I was bummed to have missed her. I try not to idolize authors, but I have great admiration for her breakout novel. I called her by the first name and asked if she was headed to the Peter White Library — turns out she was our keynote speaker. I felt embarrassed that I missed that detail, but thrilled that not only would she be there, but I was walking with her. Karen is lovely and down to earth. And she had just sent off her next novel to her publisher. Like that morning. She rose at 4 a.m. and wrote until 9 a.m.

Good thing she didn’t get the Lilac Room.

I want to share with you, what Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic, says of teachers and why I look to my  favorite authors as mentors, whether they know I exist or not:

“Do you want to study under the great teachers? Is that it? Well, you can find them anywhere. They live on the shelves of your library; they live on the walls of museums; they live in recordings made decades ago. Your teachers don’t even need to be alive to educate you masterfully. No living writer has ever taught me more about plotting and characterization than Charles Dickens has taught me—and needless to say, I never met with him during office hours to discuss it. All I had to do in order to learn from Dickens was to spend years privately studying his novels like they were holy scripture, and then to practice like the devil on my own.”~ Elizabeth Gilbert

Karen Dionne shared with us her story and lessons from her journey. To me, she made a big splash when she said, “Have the temperament to take risks.”

And here I sit, at the end of what’s been a long journey to home, surrounded by all the risks I took to keep writing no matter what. And I will keep going. Don’t quit. Adjust, as needed. Learn. Take a deep breath but don’t quit. Bat-crazy stuff will go down in your life. Sorrows will rise, distractions will tempt. But stay the course. Writing is a journey with disappointing and astonishing destinations along the way. It is the act of writing, of shaping yourself into a Writer. Go catch stories, haunted, real, or imaginary. Find mentors. Take risks. Take risks with your writing and write something that scares you — not ghosts, but pushing into that deep place, feeling uncertain about what is rising to the page. Let it rise. Go write.

It’s been a rough few weeks for me emotionally. And it will be a difficult wait until we close. The Hub is having trouble with the transition, and I have to occasionally escape to the Lake to ground so I can return and practice patience when I want to come unhinged, too. No matter what, I still write. And sort rocks.

June 6, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that makes a big splash. It can be fluid, or you can play with the idiom (to make a big splash is to do or say something that becomes unforgettable). Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by June 11, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

 

Lucinda Arrives (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

The rumble of a Harley echoed across the valley, crushing the crackle of a nighttime bonfire. Ramona leaned forward on her lawn-chair and asked Michael, “Is that her?”

“Yes, that’d be Lucinda.”

Danni hoped Michael’s tension was excitement. Ever since he visited his aunts last fall, he spoke about the Navajo biologist he met at powwow. Lucinda rode her bike from Red Cliff, Wisconsin to Elmira, Idaho.

Rumbling up Danni’s driveway, the woman dressed in fringed black leather stopped and dismounted. Ramona gaped when Lucinda shook thick black hair from her helmet. “Oh, Michael. She’ll make a big splash.”

May 9: Flash Fiction Challenge

Soon, I’ll be another year older. I don’t really think of birthdays in terms of age; I’m more excited about cake and the possibility of a champagne sunset on Calumet Waterworks Beach. The 1.2 billion-year-old rocks interest me more than contemplating my meager years. I’m a mayfly in comparison to a Lake Superior agate. Why waste life worrying about growing older?

On Wednesday, I attended One Million Cups and listened to an eighty-something gerontologist talk about her experiences of growing older. Before she reached a high number of decades, she studied the aging process. According to definition, gerontology is the study of the social, cultural, psychological, cognitive, and biological aspects of aging. This woman educates readers on what to expect during the natural aging process. And I’ll give you a hint — aging is not a sickness.

Writer, Jolayne Farrell, answers questions at her popular blog, On Growing Older just as she did for decades in her newspaper column. When she told her story, I picked out many instances of her willingness to take risks. She talked about discomfort and uncertainty, but she also lit up at the idea of pursuing passions. In fact, she passed out her business card attached to a colorful blank card with a red circle she called a life-saver. She invited us to write down our dreams and keep that card with us at all times.

We might not be spared growing older, but our life-saver will keep us alive.

This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Gabriel García Márquez:

“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”

Jolayne shared with us her travels, work as a hospice nurse, and pursuit of what drives her own passions. She mentioned visiting other octogenarians in their mining homes (on the Keweenaw) surrounded by their memories. This made me realize how static we often try to make life. Do we think we can slow down the slippage of sand through the hourglass? I’m certain I don’t want my end-goal to be safe-guarding memorabilia.

My first year on the Keweenaw, I had a transformative experience at an estate sale. After the final owner of a home dies, a company comes in, working with the family, to clean out and sell the household items. I overheard a conversation at a sale — an elderly woman pined over a vintage set of glassware, commenting that they were “just like hers.” The woman’s daughter responded that they had downsized her belongings and she certainly was not going to get more “stuff.”

My heart ached. In part, I understood the daughter’s frustration. Likely, mom was living in assisted living or with family. She didn’t have the comfort of her old home surrounded by her memories. I felt the pining in contrast to the burden stuff can also bring.

When my best friend’s father died, and her mother went into a memory care facility, I helped my friend pack up her parents’ house. It was a painful experience, although we had plenty to laugh about (like all the teeth and hoard of toiletries we found in the bathroom). Sadly my friend died untimely of cancer. Is death ever timely?

Her children then had to sort through their mom’s and grandparents’ stuff. They were grieved and overwhelmed.

Yet, I felt for the elderly woman longing for her glassware. Sense of home stems from stuff surrounding us. I collect stories — books, rocks, and even broken glass. Other people gather family mementos or tools. One generation passes down glassware to the next. But not everyone wants great-grandma’s china. I have my great-grandmother’s recipes which I fashion into stories and serve along with the sopas or enchiladas. Yet both find connection to the past.

My imagination surges out west where the pining pictures pioneers unloading treasured household stuff to abandon glassware, dishes, and hutches along the Forty Mile Desert Trail across northern Nevada. The woman I briefly encountered at the state sale becomes one I imagine standing beside the wagon, gripping her apron as her husband deposits everything of hers deemed unessential on the blowing sand. The oxen stagger, needing water and hay. The children must walk in the sun, and they continue on, hoping the beasts don’t die to add their bleached bones to others. Once this woman makes it to Ragtown, did she dream of going back? In California, was she never satisfied, longing for her desert glassware?

Often, pioneers only had what they could take to remember home. Many would not see family again, and losing stuff adds to the sense of isolation. If you only had room for a few things, would you save a glass? Could you deposit your belongings in the desert if it meant your safe passage? Would you miss it years later?

I once saw a t-shirt that read, “Growing older is not for sissies.” It takes courage to balance what to take and what to leave behind; what to remember and what yet to experience. All the while we lose or sprout hair, find our posture slacking or our feet tapping out of sync. Did you know that a woman can experience hot flashes in her teeth? Yeah, no one told me that one, either. Digestions change and senses diminish. It’s the kind of transformation that signals the reality of change. Children grow up, waists expand, stuff matters more or less.

But Jolayne’s message was about embracing life. Not life at 20 or life at 50. But life. Life as it presents itself at the moment. Each day we ask, how will I live my best today?

The creative life is every day. It’s not when it’s now. On May 14, my middlest child turns 29, and a week later I’ll turn 52. It’s a middle of the spectrum age — it sounds young to some and old to others. It’s a number I can’t feel. I’m me, no matter what shifts. I have a robust imagination that sees beyond the day-to-day. Waly Disney said, “Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age, and dreams are forever.”

So dream.

May 9, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about growing older. It can be humorous, dark or poignant. It can be true or total fiction. It can be fine wine or an old fossil. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by May 14, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

 

Old Bones (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“That bone is heavy as iron,” Ramona said, picking up a fossil from Danni’s workbench. Ramona no longer recognized the bone or knew its story. Nothing seemed familiar these days.

Ike put his arm around Ramona, grinning. “It’s old as you, Gran’ma.”

Danni was brushing glass shards, musing over what they might tell her about 19th century occupancy near her garden. She paused. “Ike, you know that’s a dinosaur bone.”

Ramona winked. “Well, if bones get heavier with age then that explains the numbers on the bathroom scale.”

Danni laughed. At least Ramona hadn’t forgotten her sense of humor.

Gender

Baby showers often declare blue or pink party favors. What those colors denote of sexes, have evolved back and forth over the centuries. Like color, gender identity and ideas are becoming more fluid, more colorful.

Writers addressed gender in literary art. These stories reflect broad perspectives from around the world — gender stories that color outside the boxes with more crayons than blue and pink.

The following are based on the April 18, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about gender.

PART I (10-minute read)

Two Cents Worth Sense? by JulesPaige

Our eldest child was almost three years old when the second one was due.
A soft baby doll resembling our eldest was bought for love practice.
Changing the cloth diaper, singing lullabies, ever gentle hugging.

crabby old lady
said what good was it for him
to have a dolly

Our eldest is now a Daddy; he’s got one of each a peach, a plum.

crabby old lady
may not have had children or
a dolly to love

He’s changed diapers for both, sang lullabies and gives gentle hugs with love.

The world is a better place with gentle love.

🥕🥕🥕

Third Gender by Abhijit

“Boy or girl Sakharam?”

“Dr Saheb wants to see me?” Sakharam answered, “I have cleared dues.”

“Sakharam, your baby is a third gender,” Dr Sahai head of obstetrics and gynecology informed “we can make her a girl by surgery; it will cost money.”

“What is this third gender, brother?” a confused Sakharam asked.

“Bhai looks like your baby is a hijda,” a better informed Dayaram explained.

Sakharam, a daily wage laborer, was found hanging from a tree next morning. Hoping for a son, after three daughters, Sakharam lacked money and conviction to face the reality of fathering an eunuch.

🥕🥕🥕

Why Choose? by Charli Mills

The conference held at the UCLA campus thought of everything to address gender identity. The bathrooms were resigned, and attendees could declare their preferred pronouns.

“I’m not a pronoun. I am me.”

“Yes, but do you identify he or she.”

“Yes.”

“Which?”

“I am he or she.”

A line piled at the registration table. The woman seated, and we’ll call her a woman because a petunia pink ribbon beneath her conference Volunteer badge declared such, tapped her finger. “Look, organizers are sensitive to your identity. But you gotta tell me – do you want a blue ribbon or pink.”

“Both.”

🥕🥕🥕

Her Story by Joanne Fisher

She had grown up as a boy, but never felt like she was one. Her outward form never mirrored what she felt like inside. She developed anxiety, depression, and tried to kill herself multiple times. Then one day after losing hope of ever being herself, she finally talked to a therapist about her secret. This led to hormones and testosterone blockers, and changes. Her body became more curvy, her skin softer, and her breasts grew. When she looked in a mirror now she began to see herself. For the first time her body felt like it was hers.

🥕🥕🥕

It’s a Choice by Reena Saxena

“Gender roles are assigned based on biology. A man cannot give birth.”

“Sure! But he can raise a child.”

“Why did the caveman not do it? There must have been a reason.”

“They had no feeding bottles and breast pumps. We live in a different age.”

“Is that your condition for marriage?”

“Marriage is a choice. You are an artist who paints in a home studio. I am a civil engineer who has to be on the site. Who do you think can manage home and kids better?”

“Well, I’d prefer being child-free.”

“That is a choice – fully acceptable.”

🥕🥕🥕

Gender Comrades by Bill Engleson

“In my day, there weren’t no genders. Just men and wimin. Pretty sure that’s the way it were. Hard to remember, though.”

“Well, Luke, I’ll tell ya, your day was my day. I recollect it different.”

“Ya do, do ya. How so?”

“That time I sailed over ter France, daddy told me, ‘neither a borrower nor a gender be.’”

“What the heck did he mean?”

“It befluxed me, too. Said it were from Shakespeare’s Piglet… or Cutlet…anyways, it meant, be yourself, and keep your hand on your purse. Or your person. Somethin’ like that.”

“It’s a headscratcher, alright.”

🥕🥕🥕

The Greenhorn by Ann Edall-Robson

The greenhorn was getting his ranch introduction under Tal’s tutelage. The kid, as Mrs. Johnson called him, was an exchange student. He would be with them for a couple of months.

Hanna leaned on the fence listening to Tal explain the difference between the horses found on the ranch.

“Mares are the females. They get bred to stallions. Most of the horses here are geldings.”

“What’s a gelding?” The kid asked.

Tal thought for a moment before answering. “We classify them as being non-gender specific.”

Hanna couldn’t help but laugh. She had to agree, Tal was bang on.

🥕🥕🥕

Confusing by Di @ pensitivity101

Life was straightforward growing up, you had girls and boys.

Girls liked pink, boys liked blue.

Girls played with dolls, boys played with soldiers.

Or did they?

Suddenly pink shirts became fashionable, and from then on, the colour stereotype got slung out of the window.

There is no such thing as one or the other gender now.

It’s confusing, and the space on the job application form has multiple choice.

For security staff, it’s a nightmare, especially when it comes to body searches.

The world’s gone mad.

Imagine when asked

‘What gender are you?’ the answer is

‘You pick.’

🥕🥕🥕

Gender by Y. Prior

Ben placed me on hold.

Said he found my online stalker.

Exhaling with relief, I was eager to possibly have normal again. I could reconnect the wireless at home. No more power outages when I walked into the store or café. This stalker dude would sometimes get into my phone – so I stopped using apps. The airlines called me because someone unauthorized accessed my itinerary. And last year, he drove –

“Well Mrs. Jansu,” Ben said, “Your hacker is Lisa Hazel with the ip – “

“What? Lisa? Thought my stalker was a guy.

“Nope. Female. Thirty-three – from Boston.

🥕🥕🥕

Gender Bender by Deborah Lee

Jane holds up a flash card with a dress on it.

“La vestido,” Chelsea says promptly.

“El vestido,” Jane corrects. “It’s a masculine noun.”

Chelsea blows out an exasperated breath. “Women wear dresses! How is a dress masculine?”

Jane shrugs. “I didn’t invent the language. Try learning the article along with the word, and don’t look for male or female quality about the object itself. A pen may look phallic, but la pluma is feminine.”

“Well, it’s stupid.”

Jane picks another flash card. “The test is tomorrow. Be glad you’re learning Spanish and not Polish. Polish has five genders.”

🥕🥕🥕

Life’s Big Question by Anne Goodwin

“What are you having?”

“Isn’t it obvious? A baby!”

“Hah, right! Boy or girl?”

“Probably.”

“Gosh, sorry, if you don’t want to tell me … I didn’t mean to intrude.”

“It’s fine. I don’t mind.”

“So, er, which?”

“We’ll find out when they’re born.”

“Didn’t you have a scan?”

“Of course I had a scan. Had to check they were okay.”

“They? You’re having twins?”

“Just the one. Thank God!”

“But you don’t know what it is?”

“Like I said, a baby.”

“But, but, what colour outfit do I buy for it?”

“Who cares if it’s chosen with love?”

🥕🥕🥕

Boys and Girls by Anita Dawes

My mother’s despair plain to see
At my unladylike behaviour
As I climb the conker tree
With my dress tucked inside my underwear
To beat the boys was my game
I take my brother’s double cap gun holster
Make my own bow and arrow
Dolls and frills were not for me
Until a daughter came to me
I dress her in silks and frills
As my mother would have liked to see
Quite the woman I turned out to be
My daughter never climbed a tree
No guns, no bows and arrows
Today’s boys and girls play the same…

🥕🥕🥕

The Guest Room by Luccia Gray

‘Alice, Billy’ll have to stay in the guest room, tonight.’

‘Mum, we’ll be up late, finishing our project.’

‘You can’t sleep together, not since…’ She nods towards Alice’s waist, ‘you were ill.’

Billy frowned. Alice didn’t look unwell.

‘It’s not contagious.’

‘You’re not a little girl anymore.’

Billy’s eyes widened. He stared at Alice. She looked the same to him.

‘So, you’re going to punish Billy because of me?’

‘Everything’s different now, Alice.’

‘Billy’s afraid of the dark. I’m grown up, so I’ll look after him, won’t I Billy?’

Billy’s jaw dropped and he nodded. Alice was always right.

🥕🥕🥕

Rainbow Futures by Norah Colvin

The children went around the circle telling what they’d be when they grew up: police officer, paramedic, teacher, doctor, prosecutor, influencer …

Laughter erupted when Rudii responded, “Mother.”

“You can’t be a mother,” taunted one.

“Can too.”

“But you don’t have, you know, boobies,” said another, glancing at the teacher.

“Dad said I can be anything I want,” retorted Rudii.

“But—”

The teacher silenced them and the circle continued, punctuated only by an occasional half-giggle or nudge.

A rainbow of opportunity awaits, Teacher smiled inwardly, contemplating the question he and his partner were processing: who would be Mom?

🥕🥕🥕

I Fixed Your Car! by Joanne Fisher

“I’ve fixed the carburetor and the oil leak, and given the engine a tune-up.” I said. The man smiled handing over some money.

“Thanks miss. Remember to thank the mechanic for me.” He said walking to his car. I rolled my eyes.

“Hey I fixed your car!” I called out after him. He just got in his car and drove off.

I’m wearing overalls and I’m covered in grease yet still some people just think I’m a receptionist or something. What do I have to do to be taken seriously? I shook my head and went back to work.

🥕🥕🥕

Are We Not All One? by David Harris

“What an idea this woman wishes to preach a sermon. Not sure it will fly with some of the congregation though.”

“Did God not make man and woman?”

“Yes, but didn’t He make us before them?”

“The Bible, Pastor.”

“Yes what of it? I recite scripture everyday, young deacon.”

“Does it specify what gender can or cannot speak of it?”

“…..No…No it doesn’t?”

“If you know scripture, do you not recall Galatians 3:28 saying no matter the race or gender, we are ‘all one in Christ?'”

“Hmmm actually it’s been a while since I saw that one.”

🥕🥕🥕

Prince Charming by Papershots

The little girls, four to eight years old, form a line backstage, demanding a kiss from Prince Charming. Prince Charming, a gay guy, texts his fellow – “How did I get talked into this? Got to kiss all these girls! I’m an actor, for god’s sake!” Pay is good, though. Before the show, the little girls were restless already, fidgeting in anticipation, no idea Prince Charming is not who he is, no suspension of disbelief. PC hides his phone, flips back his golden locks, and his charming smile opens the door to his dressing room. The little girls fire up.

🥕🥕🥕

Transient by Kelley Farrell

Rian floated from one form to another. Ice to water, glitter to dust, male to female and back again.

Rian frothed, dissipated, cycled through the clouds to the ground again.

Every nerve was disconnected. Each sensation coagulated around the indecisive form.

Rian’s thoughts blitzed the sky above. The ground pulsed with a steady heartbeat.

There was understanding. Then it was gone.

There was breath. Then stone settled in its place.

There was anger, now blinding regret.

Rian slipped between fire and glass, remnant of overheated ash; a permanent in memoriam to the transition between football and a silver dress.

🥕🥕🥕

Alex by Saifun Hassam

Alexander and Alexandria were super-intelligent AIs. Like other AIs in the Zeta-Tau galaxy, their digital code was integrated with DNA code from the genius brains of humans and galactic races. The AIs could take on any physical form; as humans, they could be a woman or a man. Aboard their starship “The Tsarina,”,they would startle Captain Mira and her crew by dressing to the hilt, in full officer’s uniform, or a tuxedo or a ballroom dress, jeweled pins adorning blue flowing tresses; their voices exactly matched. You could not be sure which Alex you were really talking with.

🥕🥕🥕

PART II (10-minute read)

The Devil and Some Deals by H.R.R. Gorman

“You let me screw with Job,” the Devil said to God, “Let me take away any gender-determination.”

God nodded. “Go for it, man.”

The Devil clicked clawed fingers, and bathroom signs became unreadable. Gender reveal parties ended with green colors. Identification cards lost a few M’s and F’s. The ability to think that way didn’t come back.

But, to the Devil’s horror, long-seated problems went away. Men’s fashion finally eclipsed Beau Brummell, and women could finally choose the veil or not. The two sexes and everyone outside and in between no longer guarded their supposed uniqueness.

“Lol,” said God.

🥕🥕🥕

Gender-proof Names by Susan Sleggs

The proud parents of toddler twins, a boy and a girl, couldn’t wait for Christmas morning to see which child picked which “rocking horse.” Without hesitation, Taylor went to the black and white motorcycle shaped one and Devin went to the golden pony. The parents smiled.

Years later the gender argument arose when the twins got their driver permits. Taylor asked, “Dad, in this day and age do we really have to mark the Female or Male box on this application?”

He answered, “It’s only good for statistics these days, each of you pick one, but make them different.”

🥕🥕🥕

The Shadow Show by The Dark Netizen

“Mommy, what is happening here?”

I looked at my child looking confused.

“This is a shadow show, my darling. It’s just like the movies we watch, but this is done right in front of us, in real.”

“So there are heroes and heroines here also? But I can’t tell which ones are boys and which ones are girls.”

My child was too young to understand this. This show was made so that the artists and the story is highlighted. It aimed to show genders are inconsequential. My child was too young to understand. I smiled.

“That’s what’s special here.”

🥕🥕🥕

Simon’s Pink Card by Charli Mills

Simon’s best friend Frank had crashed his bike, breaking his ankle. Simon’s mom suggested he make his friend a card. But Simon couldn’t draw the lines right and this made him sad.

“Let’s go buy Frank a card, okay?”

Simon brightened. Standing before rows of cards, he finally found the perfect one. The words described what he tried so hard to draw and couldn’t afford to purchase.

“But it’s pink.”

Simon smiled. “I like the words.”

That day, Frank grinned from ear to ear when his best buddy delivered a card that read, “I’d buy you all the flowers.”

🥕🥕🥕

Girlie by D. Avery

“Do you get picked on?”

“What do you think? Two moms? My style?” She twirled a finger in the long snarly part of her hair.

“You could change your style.”

“I could.” Jamie stroked my hair, “Long hair would look good on you.”

When I chickened out on one of Jimmy’s stunts he’d call me Girlie.

I knew I’d be following Jamie to edges and dangers unkown, knew I’d man up in ways that only this wild girl would appreciate. School wasn’t going to be much easier, but it would be some easier. I’d no longer be sitting alone.

🥕🥕🥕

This Diwali by Rupali Banerjee

Walking back home, little Riya asked Aunt Sarla why she didn’t buy her crackers for Diwali while she bought them for her own son. Aunt replied “Girls don’t burn crackers. They are meant for boys“.

After returning home, Riya went to her father and asked if what her aunt told was true. Her father replied “Absolutely not, my dear. Girls can do every task that boys can do and even more. But burning crackers pollute the environment. Even your brother shouldn’t burn them.”

Her father then took the children to the market, returned the crackers and bought lamps instead.

🥕🥕🥕

The Basketball by Tien Skye

She was puzzled when her seven-year-old girl left the counter empty-handed. “Where’s the basketball?” she asked.

“The man at the counter said I should play with dolls instead,” her little girl replied. “It’s ok, Mama. I don’t like the ball anyway.”

Furious, she grabbed her daughter’s hand and marched straight to the counter, pausing long enough only to get the basketball on the way.

“Here, we’re getting this basketball. For my girl! And don’t you dare tell her what she can and can’t play.”

Both the man at the counter and her daughter learnt a valuable lesson that day.

🥕🥕🥕

Heading South by Joanne Fisher

Aalen and Ashalla traveled southwards. Aalen could hear Vilja ahead bounding along.

“In my village we do what we’re best at. If you’re good at protecting the borders then that’s what you do. It doesn’t matter if you’re female or male.” Aalen said.

“Where I’m from it tends to be the men that are the hunters and use bows. When I told my parents I wanted to be a hunter it raised a few eyebrows.” Ashalla responded.

“Why do you only let men be hunters? Do human bows need penises to operate them?” asked Aalen.

Ashalla laughed out loud.

🥕🥕🥕

East to West – Which Gender is the Best? by Ritu Bhathal

“Hmmm, what is it?”

“Not what. Who!”

“Huh?”

“It’s the scan picture! There. That’s your grandchild right there!”

“Looks like an alien.”

“Well, we all know where the weirdness will have come from, Dad!”

“So, a he or she?”

“Does it matter?”

“No, not to me. Just as long as the child is healthy and happy, that’s all that matters. But you know what the rest of the family will be like…”

“I know, they’ll all want a boy. Typical Indian families.”

“Gender doesn’t make someone right or wrong, it’s their actions. Teach your child well. Make me proud.”

🥕🥕🥕

No Place for Friendly Men by Roberta Eaton

Sannie and I spent an anxious night locked in the house with the four children. Earlier in the day a cloud of dust appeared on the horizon. As it drew ever closer, we could make out a great crowd of horseman and ox-wagons.

The Boer Commando* stopped in our yard and the commandant knocked on our door. He told us they would be resting at our farm overnight and asked for some milk. I was angry with the commandant. A lonely farmhouse inhabited by two women and four children was no place to rest with so many “friendly” men.

* – The Boer commandos or “Kommandos” were volunteer military units of guerilla militia organized by the Afrikaans-speaking farmers of South Africa. The term came into English usage during the Second Boer War of 1899-1902.

🥕🥕🥕

Benders by D. Avery

Marge drew the blanket closer, nuzzling Ernest, snuggled cozy together on the couch. She could smell bacon and coffee and hear Ernest in the kitchen.

Marge sat upright. Ernest was in the kitchen.

“Nard! Ernest? What’s going on?”

“You two kept drinking. When you passed out together the love-hate relationship was in love gear so I only had to spread one blanket. Don’t worry, I have pictures for insurance.”

“Mmm. Morning Mommy.”

“Morning Nard. Breakfast’s ready.”

“Ernest. And after I slept with your fiancée. You’ll make someone a fine husband one day.”

“I intend too, Nard. When she’s ready.”

🥕🥕🥕

A Question of Identity by TN Kerr

Jimmy and Nancy continued to go steady for about three more days after the party. A year after high school Jimmy managed to secure some venture capital and founded a software company in San Jose. There’s a scholarship fund named after him now. Nancy works at the Speedy Mart.

Tito never came back from Vietnam, still MIA.

Becky is the Assistant DA of Lincoln County and has been in a committed relationship with Samantha Christian since she got out of law school. Samantha is a stay at home mom, taking care of the two boys she and Becky adopted.

🥕🥕🥕

Sequins and Heels by Violet Lentz

“Poor little thing. She looks so unhappy. All sad, and overgrown.”

“Can’t you just imagine her with a fresh coat of paint, maybe change the dark trim to something a little more vibrant?”

“Seafoam?”

“Heavens no. She is definitely not a seafoam kind of gal. I was thinking of something a little brighter. Maybe in between salmon and cerise?

“Gavin, dear, your crown is showing.”

“And that my darling Marcus, is exactly why you love me.”

“That being true, I’ll meet halfway, at rouge- if you’ll cut the grass.”

“Only if I can do it in sequins and heels….”

🥕🥕🥕

Room 112 by Nancy Brady

It’s an historic building where Julie worked, and according to some people, it was once a home for orphaned children. Some of her co-workers claim they still hear the moans and screams of children when the building is empty.

One office suite was unusual as it had been converted. It was the only one in which girls, women, and those who identify as female entered and exited with regularity. Julie, too, visited the office regularly and always felt better (perhaps relief would be a better word). Rarely was she not satisfied even with her short visits to Room 112.

🥕🥕🥕

Gender Fluidity by calmkate

Born a pretty blonde Joel’s mother decided to dress and treat her fourth son as the daughter she so desperately wanted.

Simone had grown into a lanky young man who desperately wanted to be a woman. He had long flowing locks and preferred slinky dresses.

Joel is happily married with three children of his own. He always knew he was a man but was comfortable playing the daughter for his mother.

Hormones meant Simone grew perky firm breasts and shrank his manhood. He decided not to undergo surgery because most men got excited to discover she was a he!

🥕🥕🥕

Charity’s Childhood by Kerry E.B. Black

Charity played football while wearing her tutu and tiara. Her Barbies explored sunken treasures, donned armor, and battled evil warlords. She named her bike Ragnarok and imagined charging into battle every time she pedalled, yet she stopped to admire flowers, searched for fairies in mushroom rings, and danced like Shirley Temple.

Deeana broke from a group of gossiping classmates, manicured hands on her designer jeans. “Charity, why do you think boys like you because you can hit a baseball?”

Charity’s nostrils flared like a wolf scenting prey or a doe ready to flee. “Why do you hate me because I do?”

🥕🥕🥕

Questions of Gender by Irene Waters

I was a girl. I wore dresses but I didn’t have those monthly cramps and pains my friends suffered. Lucky, I thought. Perhaps I was. Boys attracted me. I fell in love but no pregnancy happened for me. My friends all had babies, cooking and changing diapers. My husband cooked for me. My friends led a conventional life but I did what I wanted – no constraints were placed on me. Menopause came unnoticed. No mood swings or hot flushes unlike my friends. Lucky me I thought. Now I wonder as talk is of grandchildren – was I ever a woman?

🥕🥕🥕

There They Go Again by D. Avery

“Let’s git goin’ Pal, Shorty’s steerin’ us ta some delicate ranchin’ chores. Git it? ‘Steer’?”
“No, I don’t git yer meanin’, Kid.”
“We’s ta do some gender fixin’. Ya know, gelding the colts, deballin’ the bulls.”
“Kid, that ain’t what they meant when they said fixed gender.”
“They? Shorty said; jist the one Shorty. She.”
“Nowadays ya kin say they fer a singular pronoun; gives ‘em wiggle room. Fluidity.”
“Pal, yer nuts, an’ speakin’ a such, do we or don’t we got some geldin’ ta do?”
“No! No geldin’!”
“Ok. But there goes dinner. Was gonna serve ya oysters.”

****

“Okay, Pal, then what is this prompt about? I’m confused. Ya know as well as I do when a calf is born we look and’ there’s only so much we’s expectin’ ta see.”
“It ain’t about that neither Kid. It’s mebbe more how the calf sees itself and how it sees itself in the world an’ all it kin do in the world.”

***

“Pal, then what’s this prompt about? I’m confused. Ya know as well as me, when a calf is born we look an’ there’s only so much we’s expectin’ ta see. Innies or outties.”
“It ain’t about that neither Kid, ain’t about parts. It’s mebbe more how the calf sees itself , how it sees itself in the world.”
“Ain’t really ‘bout calves, is it Pal?”
“Nope.”
“But folks is folks, kin be who they want, dress how they want?”
“Yep.”
“World might be a more peaceful place if we weren’t jammin’ folks inta jist a couple a boxes.”
“Yep.”

🥕🥕🥕

April 18: Flash Fiction Challenge

Today, I’m dressed for success. My hair is cut to shoulder-length with a buzzed undercut that I will keep until I die. At least that’s what I told my new hair-dresser, NC (she’s from North Carolina). How freeing to have that mass of heavy hair lifted from the back of my head. I rub the fuzzy stubble that feels like velvet. Head velvet. The rest of my hair covers it, so unless I clip my hair up, you’d not know I shave part of my head. It pairs with my favorite worm flannel shirt of blue and gray buffalo plaid. No strappy undergarments hem me in today, and I’m wearing a cheap flowy and floral yoga pants I found on Amazon for nine dollars.

A board room executive might feel confident in a tailored suit and expensive shoes, but I’m writing away, barefoot and comfortable. This is my definition of success — pursuing a creative life without dressing and primping to codes that don’t fit me.

NC shaves the left side of her head. She has pretty blond curls and a shaved patch which was impulsive — her hair was hanging in her face one day, and she buzzed it off. She laughed, admitting she picked up the razor impulsively but justified that as a hair-dresser, she knew the look would be in fashion. My daughter asked her dad to shave her head into a high-and-tight and women are exploring razor cuts. NC said, “It’s freeing.”

And yes it is. Freeing physically — it feels great — and from social expectations of how women are supposed to wear their hair. I like the undercut because I can have both buzzed and longer locks.

I know women who had to wear dresses growing up. I loathed dresses. I felt most like me in Wrangler jeans, flannel shirts, and boots. Certain activities, however, dictated I had to have a dress or two in my closet. At age 15, I had three jobs and money to hire a local seamstress who made me two dresses according to patterns I pieced together. Both were checked gingham and looked pioneer-meets-80s-pop. The fad never caught on with anyone else, but if I were going to be forced to wear dresses to compete in forensics, it would be on my terms and in my white, gold-tipped cowboy boots.

When I had three children — two girls and one boy, I let their own tastes dictate their choices. Mostly they wore hand-me-downs or clothes we bartered for at yard sales, but they got to pick what to wear. My son’s favorite color to this day is hot pink. My girls both disdain pink because it’s girly (yet they don’t think of their brother as girly). Colors are colors. Why do we assign gender association?

Recently, I saw a post on Twitter. The photo had two cards side by side. The card with a pink envelop read, “I’d buy you flowers.” The card with the blue envelop read, “I’d make you a sandwich.” The person posting made a comment about capitalism and cooking, or something like that. I didn’t really pay too much attention because I got lost on the tangent that the line of cards targeted kids. I was like, wait, kids are buying each other greeting cards? I thought kids still made cards for others.

But the image stayed with me because I later became confused. Yes, the messages were gender tropes, or were they? Nothing on the cards said which gender had to buy which card and for whom. I thought of my son and his favorite color. Why would my son buy such a card, and I imagined him as an eight-year-old boy. He studied ballet, loved receiving flowers at recitals, and the color pink. If he were to buy a card for his best buddy, he would have selected the pink one about flowers.

Where is the pressure to be binary come from? Obviously family of origin, secondary would be the culture we grew up in and participate in. My family called me Charli from the time I came home from the hospital. I rode horses, pushed cattle, worked on logging sites, and cleaned houses after school. I wore dresses when necessary, and find joy in wearing a broad range of colors. Some days I’m a lumberjack, and other days I’m a colorful diva. I like feeling a mixture of appropriate and rebellious.

Sometimes I’ve had to be strong. Resilient. Other days I’ve cried over the beauty of a sunset.

What does this say about my gender? Honestly, I don’t know. The more I think about it, the more confused I become. I can fall back on social norms and say that I’m a married mom of three. Duh. Female. But one of my daughters, married and choosing not to be a mother, says she is gender fluid. Her husband, a self-proclaimed feminist, accepts this. They are less confused about the fluidity of gender. They don’t experience the rigidity of binarism.

Gender binary by definition is “the classification of gender into two distinct, opposite, and disconnected forms of masculine and feminine, whether by social system or cultural belief.”

And I feel free to not choose sides. I accept that others freak out at the thought of not having the boxes. If they want the boxes, they can have the boxes. But why can’t we also accept boxlessness?

Today, an extraordinary thing took place — I officially became a resident of Michigan. I have a new enhanced driver’s license (meaning I can cross borders into Canada and Mexico, which I will need when D. Avery and I go road tripping between the Kingdom and the Keweenaw after the Writing Refuge where JulesPaige, Susan Sleggs, and Ann Edall Robson will be meeting up). I’m also registered to vote. But all the applications and paperwork made me choose: (box) male or (box) female. I was fine ticking F, but I worried for those who are not.

<And here is where I insert, you really need to read Anne Goodwin’s Sugar and Snails.>

I’ve been toying with gender as a prompt but didn’t know how to prompt it without complication. Literary art expresses our deepest authentic selves if we are brave enough to dive below the surface. Last Saturday, I met with local writers for Wrangling Words at the library. They are a terrific bunch of authors and poets. I told them I was experimenting and wanted to know is “gender” could elicit a response as a prompt. The variety ranged from a confused ivy-like intergalactic being misunderstanding human genders to my own exploration of a boy buying a friend a card. So I’m going to go with it!

<And here is where I insert, if you have any recent books you wish to promote, I’ll be updating ads next week. They are free for all our Ranchers who play here with 99-words and more.>

April 18, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about gender. It can be fixed or fluid. Explore the topic on your own terms and open your mind to possibilities and understanding. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by April 23, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

 

Why Choose? by Charli Mills

The conference held at the UCLA campus thought of everything to address gender identity. The bathrooms were resigned, and attendees could declare their preferred pronouns.

“I’m not a pronoun. I am me.”

“Yes, but do you identify he or she.”

“Yes.”

“Which?”

“I am he or she.”

A line piled at the registration table. The woman seated, and we’ll call her a woman because a petunia pink ribbon beneath her conference Volunteer badge declared such, tapped her finger. “Look, organizers are sensitive to your identity. But you gotta tell me – do you want a blue ribbon or pink.”

“Both.”

🥕🥕🥕

Simon’s Pink Card by Charli Mills

Simon’s best friend Frank had crashed his bike, breaking his ankle. Simon’s mom suggested he make his friend a card. But Simon couldn’t draw the lines right and this made him sad.

“Let’s go buy Frank a card, okay?”

Simon brightened. Standing before rows of cards, he finally found the perfect one. The words described what he tried so hard to draw and couldn’t afford to purchase.

“But it’s pink.”

Simon smiled. “I like the words.”

That day, Frank grinned from ear to ear when his best buddy delivered a card that read, “I’d buy you all the flowers.”

🥕🥕🥕

Beggars Can’t Be Choosers

When you have nothing but the sack slung over your back, beggars can’t be choosers. But does lack or a downturn in circumstances really negate choice? Who says, “Beggars can’t be choosers”?

Writers explored the proverb and its potential for stories. Pack a little sack, fling it over your shoulder, and come with us on a literary adventure.

The following is based on the April 11, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the phrase “beggars can’t be choosers.”

PART I (10-minute read)

Beggars Can’t be Choosers? by Sally Cronin

The memo announced the chairman would be evaluating managers for a senior position. Everyone set out to impress

Outside, tucked into a doorway, an old man huddled, a dog by his side. Most staff ignored him. But every day one particular individual would place several coins into his hand, smile and pat the dog before entering the building.

On Friday an elegant man stood in front of the eager staff and announced the manager who would be promoted. Delighted a young woman stepped forward and looked into his familiar face…

He smiled warmly ‘Who says beggars can’t be choosers’.

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Beggar That by calmkate

The lady in the welfare office is banging on again,
why do you move so often you need to get a life plan!
The recipient once more belittled tries to explain
it’s difficult to live more than 40% below the poverty line
in a supposed developed country.
But the highly paid worker has heard this song far too long,
got several pay rises due to the hardship of listening to the whiners.

Dole has not changed for 25 years
and how much has daily cost of life risen?
Landlords prefer those with jobs and income
Beggars can’t be choosers!

🥕🥕🥕

That’s the Way It Is by Susan Zutautas

What’s for dinner Mom?

You won’t like my answer, but we are having roasted chicken, broccoli, rice, and a Caesar salad.

Oh great, chicken again. I hate chicken and you know that.

Chicken is what’s on sale this week, and you know that we don’t have a lot of money right now. It’s funny how you will eat Popeye’s chicken and Wild Wing but you give me a hard time every time I make it.

I don’t know why; I just don’t like homemade chicken. Never have.

You know what I always tell you, dear, beggars can’t be choosers.

🥕🥕🥕

Discerning by Abijit

“Tock, tock, tock, tock,” repeated knocks on my window pane brought my focus back from the e-mails I was checking on my phone, as I waited at the long traffic signal under an overpass. “Give me some money,” a young girl with a baby  pleaded, “I have not eaten all day.” Her face forced me to look for some change money. Not finding anything lower than a ten rupee, I handed over an one rupee coin from the dashboard. “Beggars can’t be choosers,” went the adage till the girl disproved it saying, “what do you get for a rupee?”

🥕🥕🥕

Brother Francis By Violet Lentz

“Alms for the poor!” Brother Francis cried out from the corner of High Street on which he’d become a fixture. Scarcely noticed, his pleas mingled with the street sounds. His robes became part of the scenery.

He often returned to the monastery penniless, and was reprimanded by the Abbot, as the tenants of the order stated they must subsist on the kindness of strangers alone.

But Brother Francis was not chided by the Abbots rebuke. He knew, it wasn’t the pennies, but the feeling of comfortable acceptance he experienced every day on his corner, that gave his vows meaning.

🥕🥕🥕

Boundaries by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Holly sighed, dropping her sweaty forehead into her palm. It was the same words, the same argument that wasn’t an argument. She tugged her bangs and tried one more time.

“You can’t keep doing this.”

“Why’s it such a big deal to you?” Rita crossed her arms over her chest, and leaned back.

“I see the future,” Holly whispered. “It’s not sustainable the way things are.”

“Beggars can’t be choosers, Dear,” Rita hissed.

“I’m not begging,” Holly picked up her baby. “We’re leaving.”

“I’m calling Toby!”

Toby was the Ex-boyfriend, not the father.

So Rita wasn’t Gramma.

Problem solved.

🥕🥕🥕

Beggars Can’t Be Choosers by Anita Dawes

Years ago when I wore second- hand clothes
Worn out shoes
Sleeping in a room with no heat
Blankets as thin as rice paper
I made my way long ago,
I am happy
Some I know are still searching
Most days, he sits at the corner of Waitrose
Playing his clarinet
I hear the coins drop into his open case
At his feet as I pass
Today, I would give him a choice
Between a sandwich and coffee or a two- pound scratch card
I walked home eating the sandwich
Without waiting. I hoped he made the right choice.

🥕🥕🥕

Evie’s Choice by Margaret G. Hanna

“Evie, why don’t you leave? He’s no good for you!”

“I have to stay, Mom. I don’t have any choice.”

“Yes, you do. You can leave.”

“Leave? Him? No way. He’ll find me, just like all the other times.”

“Evie, there are safe houses. They’ll protect you.”

“There’s no such thing as a safe house, not from him.”

Mona clasped her daughter’s hand. “Leave him. Now! I beg you!”

Evie yanked her hand away, stood up. “No, I can’t. Good-bye.”

She stormed out the door, slamming it behind her.

That was the last time Mona saw her daughter — alive.

🥕🥕🥕

No Choice by Michele Jones

Dane stared at the tracks. Ahead could be anything, but he couldn’t go back, Zell had made that very clear. He had no choice if he wanted the money. And he did. He had to move forward.

The path looked clear, but noise echoed from the tunnel ahead. Inside, the key to his freedom. If only he didn’t need the money. Sweat rolled down his brow and his heart pounded. He sucked in a deep breath and moved on.

If only he’d listened to Amy. He’d have a choice.

A loud growl echoed from the cave.

God help me.

🥕🥕🥕

Juma by Saifun Hassam

Juma was sixty years old when the small railroad station closed. He had earned a living transporting goods for the farmers and businesses in nearby hill townships. Now he was reduced to working odd jobs, begging for food and money. In a nearby forest, he made his home in a small cave among banana and mahogany trees. Beggars can’t be choosers. One day, as he puttered around a junkyard, he found planks of wood, even a hammer. He scrounged for nails and wire from the local hardware store. He would build himself a splendid hut among the banana trees.

🥕🥕🥕

Beggars Can’t Be Choosers by Floridaborne

Sharing a hotel room with four high school girls on a trip to NYC, I’d never been anyplace quite as opulent.

I still felt the pain of an unsatisfying breakfast, when a waitress yelled out, “This is New York! We don’t serve grits!”

I was the tiny one, the poor outcast wanting to be accepted, always put down. Girls were swapping clothes, but I was told, “Beggars can’t be choosers.”

That day, I learned from a waitress that I might be poor, but not defenseless. I honed a mighty verbal sword, wielding it toward anyone who dared cross me.

🥕🥕🥕

Choice Metaphorical Beggary by Bill Engleson

Doubt

I began writing this elegy rather niggardly,
And by that I mean I was gracelessly leaning
To thoughts quite obscure, wrought somewhat haggardly,
Thoughts gaunt, sickly, words with barely a meaning.

Confirmation

What ho, scripting peasant, why are you so buggered,
With slapdash terms, such sloppy old bruisers,
Ungainly lexes that daub you a sluggard,
A slouched writing beggar snubbed by the choosers?

Doubt

He had me there by the byzantine tail.
I’d wended my way to the edge of the page.
Ninety-nine words with no wind in their sail,
Fresh bottled wine with no time to age.

🥕🥕🥕

Flaking Off the Walls by Papershots

A gust of warm wind rushed in with the man from the foyer. The chandeliers rattled; dust whirled down onto the carpeted floors.

“Lily and Becky?” he asked.

“My sister couldn’t…”

“Yes, it’s you and your sister. The gig’s outside the castle. 6am to 8pm.”

Lily nodded.

In the abandoned megaphone-shaped auditorium, ghosts of opera-goers gazed at their own paint flaking off the walls. Mr. Reynolds excused himself with his best beggars-can’t-be-choosers look; rushed backstage echoing orders. Now a car horn reached Lily’s ears from outside. Becky, of course, double-parked! By the entrée des artistes – the Irony of it.

🥕🥕🥕

Aftermath by Joanne Fisher

“Beggars can’t be choosers!” Ashalla said as she tried on a pair of boots she had taken from the soldier’s camp. They almost fit.

With their leader dead, the army had become fragmented and disorganised. It wasn’t hard to pick them off in smaller groups.

“Now all we need is to find the person who sent them. The one they call The Baron.” said Aalen as she washed herself in the river and Vilja hungrily crunched on a joint he had found.

“Not an easy man to get to, but I’m sure we can find a way.” Ashalla replied.

🥕🥕🥕

Beggars Can’t Be Choosers by Roberta Eaton

“I’m not eating it,” he said. I could have cried. My entire day had been spend foraging for fruit and now he was rejecting it.

“Why won’t you eat it?” I asked. He pointed towards a large, brownish bump on the skin of the apple, “It’s damaged and it might make me sick.”

All the fruit looks like this. Since the war, nothing is perfect. Thomas may be right about the dangers of eating the food but there is nothing else and beggars can’t be choosers. Next time, I’m going to peel the apple before offering it to him.

🥕🥕🥕

A Choice by Ruchira Khana

“Come on! you can do it, Nate!” Mom urged her teen as he sat all heartbroken with a droopy head.

“Beggars can’t be choosers. I shall take what’s offered,” he shouted back at her.

There was silence.

With moist eyes, but a stern voice she said, “That’s untrue! Cause even beggars get an opportunity

to choose. But they choose to take the easy route!” The son looked at her with a frown as she

continued, “What do you choose to do about your low grades? Accept defeat or get your concepts

right and take the retest?”

“Choice is yours!”

🥕🥕🥕

Chosen People by D. Avery

When John Williams comes to Kahnawake I feel an old fear of being taken by force from people I love. My family, and even Governor Vaudreuil, agree; it is my choice. I am no longer a child, I am a Catholic woman of the Bear Clan, Marguerite Kanenstenhawi, no longer John Williams’ daughter Eunice. I no longer understand the English words he speaks, but I remember his contempt for the Jesuits and the Kanienkehaka people. Should I return to New England I would truly be captive. He pleads but I choose to remain with the family who chose me.

🥕🥕🥕

Equally Nice by The Dark Netizen

I walked around the shop.

With every step I took, I was met with a pair of adorable eyes. There were more beauties in the pet-shop than I could buy. I walked up to an Alsatian. It looked majestic just like its price tag. I shook my head and turned to the shop attendant. I told him my budget. He nodded understandingly. He showed me a white Pomeranian, not as good-looking as the Alsatian, but it would have to do. Beggars can’t be choosers, after all.

Besides, I bet both of them would taste equally nice in a stew…

🥕🥕🥕

Kid Friendly by Sascha Darlington

After Daddy died, my mom, who was fifty-two at the time and out of the workforce for six children and thirty years, tried to make ends meet. It was a different time when kid friendly meals comprised: “You sit at the table until you’ve finished every pea on your plate.” Tough love, but we were a healthy bunch.

When you’re a kid, you don’t comprehend adults nor why your four brothers, so much older than you, rarely visit or why visits end in bitterness.

You just hear your mother say, “Beggars can’t be choosers” and choke down every mushroom.

🥕🥕🥕

Grape Juuuice by Kelley Farrell

“Uggghh.” Janey’s fingers left long claw marks in the hot sand around her.

As the sun beat down on her bare legs the scent of burning flesh tickled her nose.

“Ugghh … grape … juice …” In all of her five years she had never been so thirsty.

“Janey!” A mirage of her older sister appeared; just like the movies. “Mom said to sit up. You’re taking up too much room in the sandbox.”

Hana dropped a bottle of water into the sand beside her younger sister. Janey flopped onto her back, “Grape juuuice.”

“Beggars can’t be choosers, Janey.”

🥕🥕🥕

Santa’s Surprise by Kerry E.B. Black

We were poor. We didn’t indulge much. Basics filled bellies. Hand-me-down clothes drew derisive attention from their classmates. I scrimped and did without while trying to shield them.

Holidays stressed me most of all. I supplement their experience with hand-crafted traditions, but I couldn’t fulfill their wish lists. Failure pressed and drained maternal enthusiasm.

One afternoon, I answered a knock. Nobody greeted me. A package on the stoop read “from Santa.” Inside, gifts for the kids burst with cheer. I spirited the box into my bedroom and dissolved into tears. Gratefulness battled embarrassment, yet for my kids, I’d swallow pride.

🥕🥕🥕

Cheerful Choices by calmkate

those trying to survive well below the poverty line

do have basic choices

public housing seldom available some return home

or share with strangers and all the unknown

many choose a life of crime

to cover their bills

people who would never consider such risks

or sell their body then their soul, become homeless

but we can choose our attitude

embrace our inner wealth

serve others by volunteering

spread cheer and good will to all we meet

don’t let long term poverty poison your soul or defeat

sure it severely inhibits life choices

Reflect wisely and turn that around!

🥕🥕🥕

PART II (10-minute read)

🥕🥕🥕

Maggie’s Sulking by Di @ pensitivity101

I always get treats. Always, always, always!

Now I get some pongy stuff they call ‘breakfast’ and they’ve pinched my food bowl!

My big brown eyes usually work to get some titbits off plates, but I never pinch. No sir. Don’t want my nose tapped thank you.

Got to keep the sniffer in tip top condition.

It’s not fair. No biscuits either, not even in my dinner!

And they’ve told the postman I’m not to have any!

I’m hungry. My heart is set on chicken.

Guess I’ll have to eat the pongy stuff.

Oh well, beggars can’t be choosers.

🥕🥕🥕

No Beggin’ Dogs at the Table by tracey

I couldn’t catch the rabbit no matter how fast I ran. Darn, I was hungry. My twitching paws woke me up and I looked at the clock but I had never learned to tell people time. My stomach gurgled. I yawned and stretched and then trotted through the house sniffing for small child. Ah, he was at the kitchen table. He smelt of peanut butter and yogurt. I licked his foot but found nothing tasty there. I was impatient but settled on the floor under his feet where food was sure to be dropped. I hoped it was bacon.

🥕🥕🥕

The Chosen by Allison Maruska

I skulk on the edge of the wasteland, my movements quick to avoid detection. Once a bounty, this place is now barren. My stomach remembers, just as my heart remembers the once-constant presence of The Chosen.

The Other is near. I don’t want to approach, but beggars can’t be choosers. Securing sustenance is worth a little indignation.

Softly, I creep up. With expert dexterity, I jump.

The Other has me. She squeezes, barraging me with unholy shrieks. “Aw! Does Mr. Snooglepoof want some din din?”

I purr a little to appease her.

The things I do for a meal.

🥕🥕🥕

Choosey Little Beggar by Ann Edall-Robson

Hanna had drawn the short straw, meaning the night shift. The calf needed to be fed every three hours using a big plastic bottle. If she couldn’t get the orphan heifer to suck, she would have to call for help. She didn’t want to give Tal the satisfaction.

Squatting next to the animal, she lifted the calf’s head, hoping she’d take the bottle.

“C’mon you little beggar, quit being so choosey.”

“What’s the matter, can’t get her to ear?” Tal’s smirky voice sliced through the darkness.

Sounds of sucking made Hanna smile.

“Us girls gotta stick together.” She whispered.

🥕🥕🥕

Safer To Eat At Home by Susan Sleggs

Eight year old Becky came home from school to see her mother had liver and onions ready to prepare for supper. She sought permission to go play with best friend Arlene and bolted out the door. Together the two girls hatched a plan then went to Arlene’s mother to ask if Becky could eat dinner with them. They were triumphant until they sat down to lima beans and fried Spam. Arlene’s mother, seeing Becky’s face said, “Beggars can’t be choosers. Eat up.”

Later, outside, Becky said, “Lima beans are yuckier than liver. Do you think they called each other?”

🥕🥕🥕

Beggars Can’t Be Choosers by Frank Hubeny

“Beggars can’t be choosers,” Ryan pontificated.

“We’re all beggars. We all depend on a handout, on something going right once in a great while.”

“Not all of us. Some of us can choose.”

“You know you’re a beggar just like I am.”

“Nope. I can choose.”

“What can you choose?”

“I can choose to sit right here.”

That’s when they saw Hawkins, a policeman, approach.

“I wonder what he wants?”

“You know what he wants.”

Hawkins stopped. “OK, guys, it’s 10 o’clock. Time for both of you to go to the shelter.”

“I get top bunk.”

“No, you don’t.”

🥕🥕🥕

If Wishes Were Horses...by Nancy Brady

Julie was one of the smallest kids in her class, and she was always picked last for every team. Despite that, she loved playing volleyball.

The school started an intramural league for the students; the team members would be picked for each volleyball team. First, however, Coach Coffman would decide who would be the captains of the teams. The captains then selected their players.

Julie asked the coach if she could be a captain. Wringing her hands, she implored him, saying, “Please, please, can I be a captain?”

To which, Coach Coffman said, “Absolutely not. Beggars can’t be choosers.”

🥕🥕🥕

In The Beginning, There Was Distraction by Chelsea Owens

Phan clutched her halo, rubbing already-tarnished finish. And sighed. If only she hadn’t been so diverted this morning, with the clouds. Then there’d been flowers. Then path swirls -which led right to the end of the lengthy queue…

“Next!” the angel matriarch called.

Phan floated forward. At a scowl, she hastily replaced her halo and hoped it aligned itself. It didn’t.

“Late again, Phanuelle.”

*Gulp*

“There’s only one assignment left; a newer one.”

Phan peered beyond the matriarch at the mostly harmless-looking blue and green sphere to which she must go. Oh, well. Perhaps it would have flowers, too.

🥕🥕🥕

A Man with a Golden Voice by Miriam Hurdle

A man saw a homeless person begging. The beggar’s voice sounded familiar, but he had to move on with the traffic.

The next day he saw the beggar again.

“Are you Ted Williams, the man with a golden voice?”

“Yes.”

“Hop in… Why are you on the street?”

“I was fired in 1994 for drugs and booze.”

“You’ll clean up and come to the radio station to see my boss.”
~
For the first time after 20 years, the beggar had numerous job offers. He worked in the radio show again.

“Beggars can’t be choosers” didn’t apply to him.

🥕🥕🥕

The Missing Car by Anurag Bakhshi

He gulped, and said, “Well, you see, I was getting really late for a date….”

I stared piercingly at him, and asked, “So?”

He stammered, “So, I drove at breakneck speed to meet her at the Theater, but…”

“But?” I growled menacingly.

“But,” he wiped his brow, “she was already inside. I hunted desperately for a parking space, but…beggars can’t be choosers….and so…”

I sagged even further into the chair as I completed his sentence for him, “And so, you left my Batmobile on the road, doors open, and engine running! Thanks Alfred, that will be all!”

🥕🥕🥕

Reena and Jay Do Beans On Toast by Ritu Bhathal

It had been a long trek.

Those last three mile had really dragged but finally Reena and Jay arrived back at the campsite.

Kicking off her trainers, she sighed. What she wouldn’t give for a pedicure, long soak in a tub and a chilled glass of Prosecco…

“Reens, can you remember how this works?” Jay was fiddling with camping stove, so they could prepare the feast that was Beans on Toast.

He rummaged around in the food bags, found some cans of lager and tossed one over to her.

Not even chilled. Reena sighed again. Beggars can’t be choosers.

🥕🥕🥕

Smart Beggars (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“Beggars can’t be choosers,” Danni overheard the receptionist say. She had stopped by the division office to resupply the fire-camp. Her grimy skin felt foul as her temper. Danni would set that uppity woman straight.

When Mavis hung up, Danni asked, “Who’s that?”

“Oh, hi, Danni. You look a fright.”

“I’m taking back the new supplies.”

“The ones that didn’t arrive?”

Danni slumped. “What will we do,” she mumbled.

Mavis answered brightly, “Beggars can’t be choosers, but Daddy raised no fool. I just sweet-talked old Jeb at DNR to find a roundabout way for us. Beggars can be smart.”

🥕🥕🥕

Who Says by Reena Saxena

He asked for help.

His father was a renowned doctor, so a drugstore was set up for him. He could not garner any new customers other than his father’s patients. The money was not enough to raise his children, so his father supported them as long as he lived.

His real face was exposed after the parents passed away. His brothers found to their dismay, that every valuable from a silver coin to diamond jewellery had been stolen. The parents’ bank account had been drained out to pay for the grandson’s foreign education.

Who says beggars can’t be choosers?

🥕🥕🥕

Imaginary Characters by M J Mallon

Brick fitted in the space well. It was narrow, like a cupboard to slot in, a place to be noticed. Brooke Trout sauntered past him. When she saw Brick her eyes opened wide. He smirked at her bemused expression. She didn’t notice but he followed her up the escalator. When she exited out of the toilet he was there angling for her.

‘Beggars can’t be choosers,’ she wasn’t much of a catch but she had a sense of humour. He valued that.

Brick smiled, ‘Babe join me? We can disappear together…

🥕🥕🥕

Tables Turned by Anne Goodwin

She hammers on the door, pleading, begging. It’s too late. She’s made her choice.
I’m not without pity, but her desperation soothes me, cancels the pain from when I was the one in need. From when I begged and Liesel chose.

She gave me two options, both impossible. If she left, I’d lose everything; if she stayed on her terms, how could our love stand the strain?

When she’s calm, I’ll go down to the cellar, take her some food and some clean underwear. I’m no cook, but she’ll relish whatever I give her. Beggars don’t get to choose.

🥕🥕🥕

Harsh Reality by Rupali Banerjee

One morning, as I was taking my car out of the Garage, I heard a pleasant sound of flute been played. I could find no one in close vicinity. Mesmerized at the sound, I drove down the valley. The music of the flute was like a beautifully cascaded flowing river. After driving some distance, I found an old man playing the flute and begging alms. A crowd had gathered around. When suddenly he started coughing, the crowd dispersed. Panicked, he again picked up the flute and somehow managed to play. “Beggars cant be choosers“, I thought sympathetically.

🥕🥕🥕

Restoration of Hope by TN Kerr

He didn’t hold a sign or jingle a cup with a few coins.

He wasn’t selling apples or matches, or singing street music.

He sat with his eyes closed in the chill evening air; had his blanket pulled tight.

So, he didn’t see her approaching from across the road.

“Hey,” she said to catch his attention.

When he looked up at her he was startled.

She was well dressed, but looked stern, the way his teachers had done.

He took the white paper bag that she proffered.

“It’s warm,” he said.

She simply nodded, turned around and walked away.

🥕🥕🥕

Breaking Old Stereotypical Molds by JulesPaige

Being the younger in a hard working family means hand me downs.
Maybe there’d be one new outfit a year, shoes when needed, things like that.
Cheap proteins; buckets of peanut butter, making due with leftovers.

there are choices, yes;
some allow us to reach stars
others for handouts

life throws all curve balls; cannot
beggars be choosers for love

To remember to give when we are comfortable can be key
To stretch outside of that comfort zone to help another, would, could you?
Without expecting some reward, remembering to give of the self.

Who says beggars can’t choose?

🥕🥕🥕

Hat Trick by D. Avery

“Pal, ya ain’t noticin’ my new hat.”

“It’s a beautiful day, Kid. Good day ta ride.”

“Yep. An’ ya still ain’t said nuthin’ ‘bout my hat.”

“I see ya’ve got a new hat settin’ on yer head.”

“Cain’tcha tell me what ya think of it?”

“Why? You went an’ bought it. You must like it.”

“Come on, Pal. Do ya like my hat?”

“No, Kid, no. I do not like yer hat.”

“Jeez, Pal, ya gotta like this hat.”

“No, Kid, I don’t. Ya begged me ta respond, ya don’t git ta choose my response. Now go Kid, go.”

🥕🥕🥕

April 11: Flash Fiction Challenge

It’s one of those days that my calendar has an extended period of time and so I choose to fill it with writing. Every morning, I rise, answer the Hub’s question — “Watchya doin’ Tarli?” — go downstairs, take my probiotics, set the timer for 30minutes, and write. It  doesn’t matterwhat I  write. I give myself permission to write junk. Words help me to process, to think and  express my emotions. I can brainstorm any project, work out resolutions, let my characters talk, or describe a scene I’ve having difficulty extracting from my head. I complain, celebrate, but never censor. I write.

With entended time and ticked boxes on my list, I enjoy a good run. This morning, I wrote past and started to hunger for lunch. But I chose to keep writing. The UPS man delivered a box and that broke my thoughts. My tummy rumbled. I hadn’t yet had black tea. Soon it would be time to go help at the yoga studio my SIL is opening May 1. I almost felt finished. I wrote on.

Satisfied, I thought maybe I could  use what I wrote as a post. When I copied it over to edit and revise, I realised it was over 5,000 words. Ugh. Easier to write  a 1,000 than edit five times as much. While writing, an interesting phrase popped up that caused me to wonder — beggars can’t be choosers.

By definition, it’s a proverb, meaning that those with no other options must be content with what is offered.

But is it true that we have no other options? Who tells us we must be content? Those who took away the options? The phrases felt jarring and I recognized it as old programing from the  environment in which I was raised. I see it’s essence in the lack of compassion people have today for the hardships of others. I better understand how cleverly crafted the phrase is to let injustice stand because the victims have no other choice than to accept what is. I can imagine greedy capitalists hiding behind the proverb as if their meager handouts bring satisfaction, making them righteous and right. Take what’s left from the raping of the land — be content with your lot — beggars can’t be chosers.

While I’m not going to share my 5k mind explorations, I can say why it came up.

We are preparing for the Hub’s knee replacement surgery on April 22. He destroyed his knee on a bad jump into Grenada in 1983. It pained him and locked up after  that  but he soldiered on and the  military took no interest in his gait, altered mood, and trouble with cognition. The jump that bashed his knee also smacked his head, twice. This less than  a week after he was knocked out cold in a base game of soccer. I was processing all we’ve been through since a doctor proclaimed in 1987 that he needed a total knee replacement. Only, no insurance would cover it and the VA denied it. What they denied then, we got them to finally service connect in 2016 after we filed in 2014. I also wanted them to check his head. Something was wrong.

Almost 36 years after the injury, one that has caused a multitude of problems, the Hub is getting his knee replacement. Beggars can’t be choosers. In other words, he’s had to be content with “no other options.” And I’m not going to write another 5,000 words on what I think about that.

Because I come back to the same conclusion and three empowering words:

We have choices.

Always. We always have choices. Suspect those who say you don’t. What are they trying to rob you of? In 1862 when the Dakota tribe of Minnesota was starving, three teens chose to go looking for food. A Norwegien family who did not speak English feared the natives when they rode up to their farm, asking for eggs. Begging. But asking nonetheless. The teens didn’t set out to start a war that day. They chose to ask their nbeighbors for food. But beggars can’t be choosers, so the frightened farmer grabbed a rifle and shot over their heads to run them off. Historians can debate who robbed whom first — some will say the treaties for land favored the Dakota; others will bring up the shady dealings of the traders who intercepted the treaty money with claims that the tribe owed them money for goods. The boys that day never robbed the farmer. They asked. But in the heat of the moment, the rising anger, the sense of being born to land their ancestors once owned but now failed to feed their hungry bellies — the beggers rebelled, retatiated and killed the farmer and his family.

We always have choice. It doesn’t mean we choose well or smart. It doesn’t mean the world must be just first. It doesn’t mean we will act with justice. Accountability is acknowledging our capacity of choice and taking responsibility for our actions. Accountability can also mean deciding to make better choices next time.

Little Crow, as leader of the Dakota, had a choice to make. He deliberated over whether or not to hand over the teens to US authority. He had made multiple trips to Washington DC on behalf of his people, explaining their predicament, asking that the treaties be honored. He was told money would come “soon.” It never did. Aid never came, either. But more  immigrants from Europe crowded the  land where his people tried to adapt to farming, but cut worms killed their 1861 crops. They even adapted to the language and religion. Little Crow was Christian but politicians in power regarded them as savages. He was  leader of his starving tribe and the center of unacknowledged injustice. His ribs were emaciated. Beggars can’t be choosers.

When the anuities for the tribe never came, and the stores refused to let Little Crow take food on credit, he reportedly said, “Starving men will help themselves.” Sometimes choices are  forced, which is why the proverb tries to teach those at their lowest to be content. But it is human to rise after getting knocked down. Little Crow did not turn over the teens to authorities. Neither did he agree that war was the answer. He deliberated and chose to go to war with the US instead of hunting buffalo. During the Civil War, the Dakota attacked Minnesota and won several of their battles. They also killed many settlers, graves I have visited, battefields, I’ve seen, wondering about the fool choices of an expanding nation that pressured a tribe to draw first blood.

Little Crow survived the battles. The Dakota were rounded up — every woman, child, elder and warrior — and imprisoned. President Lincoln commuted the death sentence  for hundreds of warriors but on Christmas Eve (remember, this was a cultural group who had  adopted Christianity so they understood the holiday) 36 men were hung in front of their families and  tribe. Years later, while picking raspberries with his grandson, Little Crow was aprehended by men from a nearby town, hung, shot and drug behind a wagon with firecrackers in his nostrils for the cheers of the town who felt he was a monster for not knowing his place as a beggar.

And how did  I come upon these cheerful thoughts? It was the dilema of a bed that got me thinking of the phrase. You see, the Hub will have surgery and require weeks of home care during recovery. We are guests inour daughter’s home, and not to belittle all they have provided for us, but we don’t even have our own bed. The one we use is an antique and so tall that I have to  use a box to get on top. It will be impossible for the Hub post-surgery. When we received the list of alterations we needed make, I felt like we had no choice and that phrase popped into mind.

I corrected my thinking. I have choices. I don’t have to go without or settle for what is offered or be content with what won’t work. I looked through the local classified and did not find what we needed or wanted. I turned to Amazon and found a beautiful bedframe with sturdy steel slats and a low (but not too low) height. It was in our price range, too. It meant we would have to choose not to do something else, but that’s for later. Choices are empowering.

Our task might be less so, but I think this topic is worthy to explore.

April 11, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the phrase “beggars can’t be choosers.” You can play with the words, alter them or interpret them without using the phrase. Give it any slant you want — show what it means or add to its  meaning. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by April 16, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

 

Smart Beggars (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“Beggars can’t be choosers,” Danni overheard the receptionist say. She had stopped by the division office to resupply the fire-camp. Her grimy skin felt foul as her temper. Danni would set that uppity woman straight.

When Mavis hung up, Danni asked, “Who’s that?”

“Oh, hi, Danni. You look a fright.”

“I’m taking back the new supplies.”

“The ones that didn’t arrive?”

Danni slumped. “What will we do,” she mumbled.

Mavis answered brightly, “Beggars can’t be choosers, but Daddy raised no fool. I just sweet-talked old Jeb at DNR to find a roundabout way for us. Beggars can be smart.”

April 4: Flash Fiction Challenge

On March 29, Northern Lights flamed orange and gold over the Keweenaw. The sky colors raged like solar flares. These were no gentle green and blue sheets of shimmering arctic lights, but full expressions of Copper Country fusion. It came as no coincidence that 47 North raised the roof of the Continental Fire Company earlier that night.

Awakening began at 8 p.m. to a full house. The dance performances have grown in popularity, and the management had to open the upstairs bar and create a theater in the round perspective from above. My son-in-law opens every show as a theatric MC, grabbing attention with his voice and humor. The dancers opened with a remix of Wicked Game, a slow smoldering beat-heavy song that begins, “The world is on fire, and no one can save me but you.”

Each beat, the dancers popped in unison.

Pops are an under-appreciated element of belly dance. When most people hear the style, they think Mediterranean restaurants and women in sheer costumes swiveling hips and smiling for men. Not this troupe. 47 North Belly Dance is raq sharqi, Egyptian-style cabaret, ballet, hip-hop, and modern. They are fusion. And pops come from the ability to isolate muscles and control movement. They include the shape-shifting choreography of modern dance where dancers meld in and out of shapes with contrast and flow. Balletic grace infuses fiery strength. 47 North is a warrior tribe of strong female dancers.

After Wicked Game, I stepped onto the stage and read:

Welcome to the dark side: The black loamy soil from which crocus bulbs must break the surface. Before there can be spring, there must be winter. Life germinates in the dark, undulating to a restless energy, the manifestation of what comes next, a stirring felt by birds and bees and rising maple sap. On the stage dancers cast long shadows in the bright lights. They embrace the ancient rhythms, become the crocus spears beneath the surface. This too is part of life. The dance with darkness, the dance within shadows, the pre-emergence, incubation, propagation of winter absorbed by spring.

Two stories of bar chatter, clanking glasses and shaking ice creates a buzz I project over the top of like some Beat Generation poet, hustling literary art on the crowd. It’s not a typical reading venue, nor is it friendly. People don’t listen politely. It’s Friday night, and the party is underway. But I love this fusion of art, this opportunity to attend dance rehearsals, discuss meanings with choreographers and share a bit of their stage to read 99-word stories. I retreat to the shadows in the wings and two succubi, one short, one tall, dominates the stage, filling the space between their differences with an energy of seductive strength. This is not come-hither-boys seduction; it’s the dance of women owning their own sexuality.

The crowd roars and the fires are lit.

Throughout the evening the troupe dances from dark, sultry pieces that include bats to the in between stage we know so well on the Keweenaw  — before there is the daffodil spring we must endure the long melt of grit and snow-husks. We must crack the thinning ice. In Between, I read:

They chiseled their way into deep shafts, miners drilling through the basalt of a peninsula rich in copper. Men searching for copper. Women carve deep into the pits of their own souls to discover treasure within – the power to create, the power to renew. Spring awakens the miners. Tommy Knockers never stop searching in between dark and light. Fortune glistens in the returning light of spring to illuminate hidden veins held in the dark. Smell the musty earth and search for copper in your own blood. Plant a seed, pluck a stone. Spring has returned to Copper Country.

As MC, Solar Man entertains the crowd. He makes jokes: “Why did the belly dancer cross the road? She heard there were costumes on the other side.” We all laugh, but I’m not sure the crowd fully understands the troupe’s obsession with costumes which, like their dance style, is an eclectic mix to create vibrant visuals on stage. Hip belts are often the product of ripped leather coats resewn with cheap baubles and dime-store rhinestones. Tops are enhanced bras studded with costume jewelry, satin, and lace. Skirts are often scarves. Dancers use fans, veils, swords and golden canes to accent their costumes.

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The light dawns. The dances and costumes become more golden and glittery, the dances more joyous. This performance has been a full awakening. Before the finale, I have a point to make. One I want every artist to understand. We can strive to do our best, but no one is ever “the best” at art. You can tell the dancers, like my daughter in her high-and-tight buzz cut, that have trained for years in ballet. Grace imbues the way they hold their arms and necks. You can spot the dancers that flow with the music. You can compare ages, heights, and other numbers that hold no real meaning but are easy descriptors.

But you ‘d be hard pressed to agree on who is best.

I bring this up because writers often compare themselves to perceptions of best. Discipline doesn’t shape art, but play does. You can’t draft from the editor’s chair. You have to write first. After you write you can certainly improve. The trick is, you have to keep writing.  When you’ve amassed, then you can take a scalpel and practice precision. But keep writing. It becomes a dance. Pay too much attention to the other birds, and you can lose your will to chirp. Sing alongside the birds and add your unique voice, practicing the best you can do, not concerned about being the best bird.

Before the dancers took to the stage where they would  flow and  merge as small groups into one big group  with each dancer creating different movements, I read:

The Greatest Show on Earth returns in spring with birdsong. It has been said by ornithologists wiser than me that if only the best birds sang, the woods would be silent. How can we possibly define the best bird song anyhow? How can we say that the golden-wing warblers out-sing the piping plovers?  How can we deny the soul-stirring refrains of our favorite songs on the radio though yours and mine will differ? How can we not leave a live performance unchanged? The light has returned, and the birds have brought you out of the dark. Own your transformation.

47 North took to the stage and owned the transformation. The first time I saw them rehearse The Greatest Show, I cried. This troupe expressed how each dancer was different, but together they were stronger in their expression of art. They danced the way I feel when I arrange the collection of 99-word stories each week. I say this over an over, but it is true — art requires interaction. I might feel awesome writing my best, but it’s nothing if I don’t connect with others who read or hear it. Connecting when I’ve not written my best still feels more awesome than unacknowledged work. Unread, that’s what it is — my work. Shared, it becomes art.

The Continental Fire Company likes flash fiction. It’s because of my small readings they sponsored our Rodeo. The club manager always comes over to my chair in the shadows and explains how he likes the dances better with my stories, he feels drawn in to better understand what the performance means. Several people listen. Most talk. I don’t mind because the few who plug in, connect like a spark to fuel the flames.

But that night — March 29, 2019, those dancers took to the stage knowing one of their members was retiring to take a job out of town, and they all danced for her, with her, and for the mutual love of their shared art. The fire roared! The crowd caught it, ignited, and they roared back, feet pounding, hands clapping, hoots and hollers, whistles and trills. When the audience gave back the energy to the dancers, it was like a vortex opened up. It was a  rock-star moment, and the performance ended with a thundering standing ovation.

I don’t want to be “the best” writer. I just want to write the way those women danced!

Sunday followed the performance, and I had my first To Cultivate a Book retreat at the Ripley Falls Home of Hygge (or Healing). It’s a safe space to explore the creative life. I’m not here to tell someone the magic way to get published, the traditional way, the indie way. I’m here to listen. I meet writers where they are at, and I help them see what the terrain looks like. I help them plant and grow the book they envision. That’s the retreat part. Interspersed, I offered practical knowledge. Each attendee is working on an Author Action Plan that is cultivated to fit their book on their terms, knowing their options in the greater industry.

This is something I’ve felt called to do for a long time. Like all writers who face doubt, I wondered if it would be of value. Sunday I had my answer. Six women came together. Three had previously unshared works. Three felt called but had not figured out what their books were. I listened. I let my story-catcher out, and I caught nuggets to reveal as gems to each person. Seeing the fire light up in their eyes made my day!

Three of the women have serious books that each blew me away. I couldn’t believe they had not shared them, but then I understood. Our seedlings are fragile, and we must share with care lest someone stomp out the flames too soon. I felt like a book farmer, helping people grow the books they want, not necessarily the books they “should” write (unless of course, what they want is a book dictated by markets and readership).

Literary art is meant to be accessible, not put on a top  shelf for “the best.” Literary art has the power to move people just as dance can.

Keep your flame burning.

April 4, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about fire. It can be a flame that burns or a light that inspires. Follow the flames and go where the prompt leads!

Respond by April 9, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

 

Hard to Take a Break (from Miracle  of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Fire spun a halo in the night sky. Danni’s stomach churned. Nothing more she could do tonight. She leaned against her Forest Service truck, away from the camp chatter. Some recruits buzzed from the adrenaline, fighting wildland fires for the first time. Nearby, the Canadian Bombardier pilot regaled his earlier flight to the crew of Australians newly arrived. Danni scanned the distant flames, feeling impatient. In 1910 they didn’t luxuriate in rest and strategy in shifts. Is this what Ike felt before he left –restless while others fought a war he had to watch burn from the sidelines?

March 28: Flash Fiction Challenge

Wolfric III has terrorized me all day. It began while soaping the breakfast dishes, rinsing a cup and spying a slight eminence below the drying rack in the second sink. A small hump of gray darker than the stainless steel about the size of a cast-off peel of avocado caught my eye. When I focused, I realized it was a massive wolf spider. Wolfric denotes the name we give the eight-legged beasts of the basement, adding the suffix for annual lineage. In other words, this is the third wolf spider I’ve seen since relocating to the Keweenaw. Well, third one in this house on Roberts Street.

Last October, while sequestered away with my friend and seafarer historian at a lightkeeper’s cottage on Eagle Harbor, I stirred up a resident wolf spider in the bathroom. When they move, they hustle like arachnid lightning. Without my glasses, the world blurs. Nothing is distinct, but I can catch movement. I was about to step into the shower when I thought a mouse was scurrying toward me. I screamed, scrambled backward, hitting the bathroom door which obliged my force of contact and opened, launching me naked into the dining room. My friend, around the corner in the kitchen, asked, “What’s that you say, Charli?”

Mumbling all was well, I bravely, and vulnerably stepped back into the bathroom, grabbed my glasses and faced the biggest wolf spider I had ever seen. They are poisonous, though hardly aggressive. Living up to their name, wolf spiders are hunters. I’m actually curious about them because they often seem calculating and keen. Reputedly they have far better eyesight than I do. My shower was quick that day, and later my friend and I laughed about her missing Charli Verses Spider Show.

Mona, my daughter and son-in-law’s cat, is tiny but mighty. She’s the most loving critter on our block, possibly in the whole universe. She greets every person who comes to our home on Roberts Street with purrs and snuggles. Mona cuddles the dogs, runs to greet the kids at night, and brushes against Sgt Mills to gain affection. Sometimes, her love runs over. Like when I’m trying to write, and she decides it’s the loving hour. Often she escapes to the basement to hunt the hunter. But being the lovable Mona she is, she’s never hurt Wolfric I, II, or III. I’ve found her with all four paws tucked beneath her, staring at Wolfric staring at her as if she’s keeping the beast company.

It’s not Wolfric’s fault he’s terrorized me. I’m not adverse to spiders, and I understand that his emergence is a cheerful omen of spring on the Keweenaw. I’d prefer he stay in the basement, however. My issue with wolf spiders, in particular, is their size and speed. It triggers one dandy of a panic attack deep in my amygdala. I took caution with WIII and finished loading the dishwasher. Any I washed by hand I carefully avoided dripping water over him. Throughout the day, as I drank water, sliced cheese for an afternoon snack, rotated our baby flower seedlings to sunny spots, and prepped dinner, my mind never released the presence of the spider trapped in the sink.

At last, Radio Geek and Solar Man arrived home. Sgt Mills has a long day of therapies on Thursdays, so he won’t be back until later. And he’d only tease me, calling me his “Cowardly Cowgirl” so I’d prefer asking our kids to help rescue Wolfric.

We’re in the kitchen, Radio Geek and me. I’m tentatively searching for Wolfric as she’s making a snack of popcorn. She has dance rehearsal for the big show at The Continental Fire Company on Friday, and my dinner of roast chicken and cauliflower won’t be done until after. She’s feeling peckish for a snack, and we are chatting. I’m getting nervous because I can’t see Wolfric and I don’t want him to startle me. He’s had me on edge all day. It’s hard to polish my flash fiction for the dance show with spiders on the brain.

Bravely, I bend over the sink, searching. I hear my daughter say in cautious tones, “Mom…Mom…”

All hell breaks loose in my mind. I think she’s spotted the spider and is trying to calmly warn me. This does not calm my heart which is now ready to burst from my sternum. The next instant slams me with unexpected pain. I distinctly feel a whump to my back, claws in my neck. My logical mind goes on instant hiatus. It’s wonderful to be an imaginative person except in instances like this. Without the backup of logic, I interpret that I’m under attack. The hunter has me, and I scream, and scream, and scream.

Through the fog of sheer terror, I hear my daughter howling in laughter. This grounds me, and I realize  I’m bucking and pitching around the kitchen, screaming my lungs out with Mona dug into my back. She figured since I was bent over the sink, it might be a good time to jump from the kitchen table to my shoulders,  She does this sometimes when I do dishes or cook. My feline parrot who nestles into my shoulders and purrs in my ear.

Mona is a cowgirl. That cat can ride.

When I realized what was happening, I slumped across the counter, the cat dropped to the floor, and I joined my daughter’s mirth, and we both laughed until we cried. When she had seen Mona perched, wobbling on her toes to make the leap, Radio Geek tried to warn me. I thought the spider had me. Wolfric had actually crawled into Solar Man’s coffee mug, and my daughter rescued him, releasing him on the kitchen floor.

I thought we agreed to set him outside. There’s only five feet of crumbling snow left. Ah, well, I step firmly into spring. If something emergent doesn’t frighten the life in me, it doesn’t seem like a transition. Spring roars in like a wolf spider or a bronc-riding cat.

Last Friday I coaxed Sgt Mills to go with me up the peninsula. We drove along the shoreline of Lake Superior, looking for signs.  No open water, but the ice is changing color, promising ice-off soon.

An artist couple who live on the lake announced the passage of three freighters, meaning the Coast Guard has cut the ice from the shipping lanes. A small group of friends celebrated Ostara, and we planted seeds together. Last Sunday, I attended the local Iranian community’s Norooz celebration and next month I’ll celebrate Easter. I feel like my candy basket is full of special treats. Hopefully, not spiders.

Once again, I’ll be adding 99-word literary art to a 47 North Dance Show (Awakening). That’s this Friday. Tomorrow! It’s about the transition from dark to light and the fusion of accepting both within ourselves.

On Sunday, I’m leading a writing retreat called To Cultivate a Book. It’s based on other workshops I’ve developed, but allows for continual growth both personally and professionally.

We have room for four more writers at the Carrot Ranch Writer’s Refuge in Vermont at D. Avery’s A-frame cabin in the woods near the Northeastern Kingdom. I’m excited to be living a life-long dream of working with writers in natural settings, experiencing literary art and nature as one. I’ll be adding more details and photos to the Refuge tab.

Let this encourage you to plant, grow, nurture, weed and harvest. No matter if your world is upside down because you live in the southern hemisphere or life sends you unexpected spiders, you can always plant what it is you want to grow.

Here are some photos I wanted to share  with you from last  Friday’s jaunt up the peninsula. Pressure ridges from freezing  waves and erupting sand have formed what look like ice-encased dunes, eminences that will crumble with warmer days, and persistent waves. It’s stunning, gritty and transformative:

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March 26, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that uses the word eminence. It’s a rich word full of different meanings. Explore how it sounds or how you might play with it. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by April 2, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Find What Glints  (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Eminence of sand rolled across flats, forming dunes. Danni recalled following an old pioneer trail across the Forty Mile Desert of Nevada in her dad’s Jeep, top down, spring sun beating warmly. What was that he said? Turn around and look for the glints among the dunes. Every time he pulled over, Danni scrambled among the hollows of sand, sun to her back. She trotted toward the glints – a purple glass nob from a dresser, a marble, an obsidian arrowhead. Even today, trained as an archeologist, she heard her dad’s voice coaxing her to find the discards of history.

February 14: Flash Fiction Challenge

It’s February 14, and I find much to love today. I can imagine that the invisible warm winds lapping at the coast of snow outside my stoop conform to aerodynamic heart-shapes. Why not? The wind is unseen so I can pick how to see it in my mind. Hearts float by and surround me in such an imaginative construct.

Today, I met a Nigerian Prince, and I loved so much about our encounter. He didn’t say he was a prince, but by his demeanor and broad smile I couldn’t help but think he was. The local Rotary Chapter invited me to speak at their weekly luncheon. Not one to miss an opportunity to read and tell stories, I accepted the invitation to be their guest. That’s where I met the Prince.

He wore cloth not from the US — it looked thicker, and held a linen-like weave. It was dark blue, almost like a midnight sky when a full moon casts enough light to give color. Small dots of cream decorated the Prince’s matching shirt and pants. He dressed handsomely and spoke eloquently. Suddenly, I loved Nigerian language. It occurs to me in afterthought that I should have asked him to speak his native tongue.

The Prince spoke clear English, but I noticed he rounded his sounds as if his mouth were an instrument. It made me think how sacred oral communication is, how as people, we take great care to shape sounds into words to give meaning to what we feel inside. And what is that exactly? What is this tug to love so many things — people, ideas, stories, exchanges? Literary art feeds on this impulse of expression.

Mostly, I loved the Prince because he appreciated my stories. Isn’t that the simplest of love stories? He approached with great care and asked if I had my words down in something he could carry. A book. But think about that a minute, because that’s where I’ve been languishing all day, believing heart-shaped wind caresses my snow into melting. He asked to carry my stories back with him. Back to Nigeria.

How could I refuse such a request? Yes, I gave him a copy of Vol. 1, and he requested I write something in it just for him. I’ve not felt so revered as I did with the Prince. Of course, that’s why I thought he had to be royalty. He was magnificent. Further, he told me a story about how he and his friends collect books and how hard it is to take all the volumes back to his country because of weight limits. Image that Nigeria is a place where literacy is so valued that when you return, you try to haul back as many books as you can!

Although I’m less enamored with children, I did love the ones who came with their parents today (something about a half school day). They all wanted to listen to the writer. One listened intently. I could see her listening with her eyes, creating images of the stories her grandmother told at my lunch table. That woman was one to love — a natural-born storyteller who announced to me as she left that she was going to declare herself a buckaroo, too!

How about that? I found a kindred-buckaroo-spirit in the Keweenaw. She and her granddaughter would have understood if I had whispered to them that the winds were blowing hearts today.

During my talk, I read. I love the privilege of working at Carrot Ranch among such talented, tenacious, and courageous writers. Fellow literary artists. I read a few stories from Vol. 1. I read a trio of Copper Country stories for Vol. 2. The audience marveled at the power of 99-word flash and the scope of where writers come from around the world. I love watching people connect with the stories. There’s nothing quite like reading aloud literary art and watching it grab ahold of listeners.

When I talk to audiences, I make sure I know who they are — business or civic-minded, students, or casual listeners looking to be entertained. I select stories to stir their hearts and prod their minds. I have my own 99-word stories I read, and a few I share from my storytelling tradition. Today, I asked for a volunteer to join me up front to hold my hand. I swear I don’t gnash my teeth at people, but you’d think I went feral at the uncomfortable silence that ensued.

I love that uncomfortable silence.

That’s the space where humanity happens. If we are comfortable, then we are walled up, everyone happily co-existing in boundaries. I want to break down walls. I want to risk discomfort, which is the point of my request. The man from the back who braved stepping forward let me hold his hand. It’s not the story I tell that alters the audience. It’s the understanding that shifts their hearts.

Holding the man’s hand, I relate a story once gifted to me by a Kentucky storyteller who once spoke at Carroll College when I was a student. She had asked for my hand and told me about the time her grandfather died. Before he passed, he asked for her hand. She was eight-years-old, and he told her that when he was that age, he met a man who fought in the Civil War. He held a rifle in his hands and battled cousin against cousin. He was old, but held the boy’s hand and said: “Don’t forget — you once held the hand of a man who fought in the Civil War.”

The boy grew up, raised a family, and as an old man on his deathbed, he passed down the story to his granddaughter, holding her hand. He said, “You’ve now held the hand of a man who held the hand of one who fought in the Civil War.”

And yes, I passed this down to a man in the Keweenaw Rotary Club today. I told him, “You held the hand of a woman who held the hand of the granddaughter of the man who held the hand of one who fought in the Civil War.” It gets long-winded, lots of hand-holding as the story grows, but they all got it. And I loved that moment of recognition. That moment when stories express the humanity of one to the humanity of others. That’s literary art. And that’s why we practice and put our stories out there.

We talked about collecting stories, about being story-catchers for the Rotary, their businesses, families, and life. I gave them my Lego bucket analogy for gathering 99-word stories. The kids all knew what we do with Legos — we build. One member asked if Carrot Ranch was my business. No, I told her. It’s my author platform, and I share it with a community. I explained how authors need to work simultaneously on three strategies — writing (drafting, revising, editing), platform building, and publishing. I told her that I also loved the interaction with other writers and the chance to create literary art as I work on longer projects.

I closed with this 99-word story I wrote for one of the Rodeo contests in 2017. I think. Sometimes, I realize I’m not a good curator of my own writing as I wildly sow seeds and then try to gather them up in some sort of organization. I don’t always pick the same stories to share, but I love this one so I will share it now (perhaps, again):

When I Grow Up, I Just Want to Be Happy by Charli Mills

I’m six-years-old and have told a lie. “Mom said I could go home with Mitch.” I leave school early with my cousin and our grandfather.

Mitch is Underdog to my Polly Purebread fears. He’s my hero. My pulse doesn’t flutter like a swallowed bird in my throat when we’re together. We pedal bikes through the apricot orchards, watch cartoons, roam turkey barns, climb baled haystacks.

Our grandfather catches me in the lie when my mother panics, not finding me at school. “Always tell the truth,” he chastises us.

My cousin does. He becomes a cop.

Me; I write fiction.

It’s Valentine’s Day, and I’m happy. In Finland, they greet, “Hyvää Ystävänpaivää!” Don’t ask me how to say it; I can hardly understand the English of Yoopers who shape their mouths and perform tongue gymnastics differently from my Nigerian Prince and me. But it means, “Happy Friendship Day!” And I love that. Love among friends, palentines for pals, love for life, humanity and art is so much broader than steak-and-lobster-for-two kind of love. Although, I do love steak and lobster.

A few household details — remember to include your story on the form, not just a link to your story. A link makes me work differently, kind of like I have to get off my horse to go take care of a chore that I asked a rancher to do. If you were my kids, I’d give you that “look.” And kudos to all of you who are getting into the mash-up vibe (combining constraints). I love that creative energy! But remember that this challenge is more than a prompt — it’s 99-words, no more, no less. Otherwise, you know the deal — go where the prompt lead!

Go spread love. Write. Make art.

February 14, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about valentines. It can be Valentine’s Day, the exchange, love for another, romance, or friendship. Have a heart and go where the prompt leads!

Respond by February 19, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

 

Be Mine (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

No Valentine’s Day card greeted Danni in the mailbox. Only an official Veterans Affairs mailer. She flipped on houselights, contemplating cold leftovers. She’d rather be wining and dining Ike, but he was in Iraq. Her landline rang.

“Hey, Michael.”

“What’s up? Hear from Ike?”

“No. just something from the VA.” Danni opened the envelop as Michael told her the latest from the Canadian border – nothing. “Oh, wow. This letter rates Ike for PTSD.”

Silence.

“Michael?”

“Are you going to leave him?” Michael asked.

“Are you going to dump your friend?”

“Hell no!”

“That’s my answer. He’ll always be mine.”