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It’s a mac-and-cheese kind of read — comfort food for the literary soul. From beyond the myths of Marco Polo, pasta has traveled the globe in many forms from different cultures. Which came first, the Chinese noodle or the Italian spaghetti? Who knows for certain, but we do know that Thomas Jefferson introduced the colonies to macaroni and cheese, solidifying a future for America’s top pasta.
Writers took to pasta like worker bees, buzzing around the idea of how to dish it up in a story. Like fine dining or a casual dish to pass, these stories will leave you wanting seconds.
The following is based on the September 13, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes pasta.
PART I (10-minute read)
Tradition by Reena Saxena
We love Grandma, and yet are never on the same page where food is concerned. She cannot appreciate the subtle flavors in a pasta or pizza, or the convenience of having carbs, proteins and fats all in a single meal. She is so stuck up in her concept of a traditional Indian thali meal. Who has the time for that kind of luxury eating?
Yet, today, as I celebrate a festival away from home, I miss the unique, delicate flavors of different dishes. I try to put a meal together. I am more Indian at heart than I realized.
Pasta Bee by Floridaborne
She waited for her word, looking down from the stage of her elementary school auditorium. She’d loved sitting at the kitchen table learning to spell while pasta cooked and tomato sauce simmered on her mother’s stove. She didn’t like standing under lights, stared at by 200 people.
“Antonia Giordano, spell…”
Starched ruffles itched at her neck, compliments of the dress her mother sewed from remnants for this occasion. But that didn’t stop her from spelling out a word she’d known since the age of two.
“S-p-a-g-h-e-t-t-i,” she replied.
Maybe next year they’d give her a harder word; like Vermicelli.
Too Bad It’s True by Susan Sleggs
Dear Diary, They say pasta is a comfort food. I’m choosing to believe that and plan to make a serving every Saturday from here to forever because it seems I end up at one hospital or another on Sunday. A few months ago I sat with my sister while she and her husband decided whether kidney dialysis was worth the extra time on earth for him. Two weeks ago it was my daughter fighting sepsis (she won) and this Sunday it was my son with a smashed shoulder. The wine is gone tonight, the yummy red sauce pasta awaits.
Remember that Old Elvis Song, In the Ghetti? by Bill Engleson
“So many noodles in the world. Whatdaya think…? You gotta choose, eh!”
Right, buddy. It’s been a long day, All I want is a quiet bus ride home. But that ain’t happening, is it?
There I am, going all silently rhetorical on the fellow sitting next to me. And all he wants to do is chit-chat about pasta.
I try and remember what Emily Post had to say about Public Transportation Etiquette.
Nothing immediately jumps out.
So, I say, noncommittally, “Noodles?”
“Yeah man,” he says, “My mom’s Mac and Cheese. It was the best.”
Yeah, I think…mine was too.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara by Bladud Fleas
The rule for pasta requires the water to be as salty as the Mediterranean. Paolo gives thanks it’s not Jordan and the Dead Sea. Nonna scrutinises him as he puts the chopped guanciale in the pan, heating slowly, extracting its flavoursome fat. She’s a fine mentor; he’s a teaser.
He gets the cream jug from the fridge; she cries out, “ai-ai-ai!” and tries to snatch it but he keeps it out of reach. He laughs then, returns the jug and chooses an egg for beating. She pinches his cheek, within reach. So he knows Carbonara; she’s taught him well.
Pasta – Preschool Style by Ritu Bhathal
“Okay, today we are making Mother’s Day gifts for your mummies, grandmas, or aunties.
What I want you to do is take the string in one hand, and pick up a piece of pasta.
Remember, the other day, we painted it?
It’s like a tube, and you can thread the string through it, and make a lovely necklace.
No, David, you can’t eat it.
Penny! Stop strangling Julia with the string!
Peter! Don’t tip the tray upside d-…
Don’t worry Mary, we can pick it all up, stop crying, please…”
The life of a pre-school teacher.
Elbow Macaroni by TN Kerr
Margarite grinned wildly, stepped off the bus and hurried toward me.
When she got close she dropped her backpack and leapt into my arms.
“Holy smokes, Kiddo,” I pushed her hair back and kissed her, “what are you so excited about today.”
“Art class, Daddy. I made a picture of you.”
“No, Daddy. Mixed media,”
“Mixed media? What’s that?”
I put her down. She pulled a paper plate from her backpack and showed me.
Macaroni was glued to the plate. There were pencil lines and hints of orange marker. It looked just like me.
Pasta Pray Tells: What Are We Eating, Exactly? by Peregrine Arc
The little girl grimaced in her seat, staring at her plate of pasta. The garlic bread basket sat in the middle of table, steamy and pleasant. Her parents urged her to try her meal.
The little girl sighed resignedly and tried to eat. The fork and spoon soon fell to her plate with a clatter.
“I can’t do it!” she exclaimed. “Please, don’t make me.”
“Why not, dear?”
“It’s angel’s hair!” the little girl sobbed. “Give it back to them, please!”
Traditions by Heather Gonzalez
Angela stood on her tiptoes to be able to see over the counter top. Her nonna was mixing the pasta dough with her hands, and she was finally tall enough to watch. Each movement seemed like nonna had choreographed an intricate dance. Fingers and dough intertwining to create the magic of pasta.
After each piece of pasta was perfectly shaped, nonna motioned for Angela to come closer. This was it. She was finally getting a chance to be apart of the magic. Gently she lowered the perfectly crafted dough into the water with pride.
“Al dente. Perfecto.” Nonna smiled.
A Fish Tale from Lake Country by Liz Husebye Hartmann
It couldn’t be un-seen. It was right there in front of me: the giant spaghetti bowl, the splash of Tante Lianna’s special sauce, meatballs rolling off the table and onto the floor, parmesan spread all over the dining room table, like sleet in a Minnesota mid-June storm.
And the noodles! Seemingly caught in mid-flight from the bowl, they lay heavy as nightcrawlers escaping a flooded sidewalk, the aftermath of the aforementioned storm, turned to punishing rain.
And Uncle Wilford, face down in the middle of it all.
He should have heeded the warning twinge in Tante Lianna’s trick knee.
Love’s Give and Take by Sascha Darlington
“Pasta Puttanesca? Do I have to perform an intervention?”
“I’m at a crossroads.”
“Something you’re not telling me?”
“It’s not about you. It’s Chloe and that jerk.”
“AKA her husband?”
“He got fired. Wants to be a stay-at-home dad. Do consulting work.”
“Don’t see the problem.”
“You wouldn’t. You’re nothing like him. He’s perpetually lazy, doesn’t know how to use a vacuum or a dustpan. Stove’s foreign as well.
“Why’s this your problem?”
“I promised Mom I’d look after Chloe. I’ve failed.”
“He’s failing. Your pasta smells good.”
“You didn’t use anchovies?”
“Not when you hate them.”
Peter the Pasta Maker by Michael Grogan
Peter, the Pasta Maker, was a jolly chap.
Peter had a crush on the Lady Macaroni who would swan in each day and buy his freshest pasta. She never passed the time of day with him, she was focused on her pasta.
Always five hundred grams of spaghetti, she could never be tempted by a fettuccine or a Peter’s famous spiral.
One day she surprised him by asking he would cook for her, a pasta party with Peter the Pasta Maker would go well she thought.
Peter was flattered and prepared to make Lady Macaroni his best ever pasta.
Flash Fiction by The Dark Netizen
“Is the order for table number ten ready?”
I turned the blaze of the cooking flame down and grasped the pan in my left hand. With my right hand, I expertly arranged the lines of spaghetti on the plate. Reuben walked up to me and winked.
“You know, she’s looking quite fine in her black dress today.”
I peeked outside through the kitchen door window. There she was again, sitting in perfect poise, making my heart beat harder. Reuben whispered.
“Tell her, man!”
I put the final touch on the dish with the red sauce.
“A red heart, sweet!”
A Visit To The ER by Patrick O’Connor
“Pasta! I want pasta!”
“It must be penne pasta, with meatballs, and marinara.”
The doctor stared at me with a quizzical look.
My wife shook her head and said “That sounds about right. He loves his pasta.”
After the x-rays, CT Scan, and EKG, they worked on getting the blood pressure back up.
“I’m sure your wife will take you to get some pasta once you are released.”
“I’ll make sure of it Doctor.”
Seemed like forever before we got out of the ER.
Got to the restaurant and ordered penne pasta with meatballs and marinara.
“I’m not hungry.”
Flash Fiction by Robbie Cheadle
“Would you like some spaghetti bolognaise, Nan?”
“Absolutely not. I don’t eat that foreign food. Nasty, gloopy stuff. You can’t even pick it up on your spoon properly; it slithers right off.”
“Why don’t you just give it a try, Nan? It really is very tasty with David’s sauce.”
“No, thank you. I would rather eat English mashed potatoes. Such a versatile food. Did I ever tell you how we used it to make pastry during the war when we couldn’t get flour?”
“Yes, Nan,” said Julie with a sigh. “You have told me about potato pastry many times.”
Lunch by oneletterup
“I think I know who she is.”
“What should we do?”
They whisper, but she hears.
Crouching in the hall shadows. Hidden.
Disappearing. Like before.
“Lunch time!” the nice man calls.
The little girl and little boy are at school.
She perches on the edge of her chair.
Her very own place at their table.
“Honey…” the nice lady begins.
“We’re so sorry…”
“You can’t stay here anymore.”
The girl freezes. Stares. Forkful of spaghetti suspended.
Fingers clench into a fist snapping the fork upright.
Steaming tomato sauce spatters.
Drips down her hand.
Red spreading. Staining.
Pasta for Breakfast by Norah Colvin
Papa Bear pushed back his chair. “Not this muck again.”
Mama Bear stopped mid-ladle. “It’s Baby Bear’s favourite. I— I thought it was yours too.”
Baby Bear’s lip quivered.
“Pfft! Sometimes a bear needs real food.” He grabbed his hat. “I’m going for a walk.”
“Papa!” Baby Bear went after him.
Mama Bear dumped the porridge, pot and all, into the bin, grabbed her hat and followed.
“Where are we going?” asked Baby Bear.
“Somewhere nice for breakfast. It is spring after all.”
Papa Bear paused outside BreakFasta Pasta, then went in.
Mama Bear smiled; pasta was her favourite.
The Legendary Feud by Anurag Bakhshi
The boy’s great-great-great-grandfather was apparently the one to blame
For he called the pasta sauce of the girl’s great-great-great-Nonna tagliatelle, listless and tame
The echo of that insult had now been felt by these two star-crossed lovers
Who, let’s admit it, were just looking for some good old action between the covers
Their dead bodies were a testament to the folly of pride
A lesson that a family pasta recipe is not something to mock or deride
As the Bard put it so succinctly- For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo
No Pasta Was Harmed in Making This Story by Anne Goodwin
She snipped off the seal and upended the pack. Closed her eyes as fusilli clattered into the bowl. Paused, shook her head, reached for the rigatoni bag.
An hour later, there was barely room for his coffee cup among the bowls of dried pasta on the kitchen worktop. “Tell me, you’re cooking dinner at six in the morning or you’ve invited a kindergarten class for hands-on play?”
“Isn’t it obvious? I’m researching sound effects for my radio drama next month.”
“You’ve set it in a restaurant? In Italy?”
“A shack in Madagascar. I’m recreating rain on a corrugated-iron roof.”
My London Marathon by Kelvin M. Knight
I squinted through the rain. The other competitors looked comically savage – the way their dyed hair dripped down their faces. Nonetheless, these fun runners were out my league. Hugging my bin liner coat, I felt under dressed. I felt under trained. I should have done more. These words were my epitaph.
Still, I eat more than anyone else at the pasta party yesterday evening, so the complex carbohydrates would be on my side, along with this pantomime horse, this huge banana, and this Herculean woman with a refrigerator chained to her back.
Groaning, I waved at the BBC cameraman.
World’s Worst Poem, Plated by Chelsea Owens
Perdonnez, signora, will you taste my
veritable vermicelli which lost a
Tagliatelle or gnocchi -or was
it tortellini or gemelli?- that cost a
Few dozzina homemade noodles: measured,
mixed, rolled, chopped, shaped, and boiled -hasta
Domani, questa mattina -when nappy
And wriggly rigatoni-head rastas
Dangle candid cannelloni for
colazione (o pranzo o cena o altro) sauced, a
Banchetto of bavett, bucatini,
bigoli, e barbina; which fosta
Amore, our home country joy; precious
mem’ries of mamma o zia o ci, who bossed a
Flourishing, famishing family,
practically-plated with a plethora of pasta.
If that doesn’t bake your noodle, you’ve lost-a.
Pasta by Anita Dawes
What is it good for, not eating.
Throw it at the wall, see if it sticks.
Leave it until it falls off, give it to the kids to play with.
Oh, wait a minute they have already done that.
My granddaughters have used it for school projects
Picture frames you cannot dust…
The Italians love to tell us it has to be Al dente, the bite.
The thought of eating pasta makes me want to run for the hills…
And I know it’s well-loved across the globe
But seriously, why was it ever invented?
Does it grow on trees?
PART II (5-minute read)
Mangia, Sii Benedetto e Mangia! by JulesPaige
Mama thought a good way to teach us to listen was to keep our mouths full. Mama would serve us bountiful plates of Orecchiette. Sometimes the way Nonna Bella would make It, or she used recipes from Nonna Julia. Northern and Southern Italians cooked a bit differently. But there was always too much food!
Nonna Bella made rich red tangy sauces. While Nonna Julia employed creamy cheeses to dress her pasta.
Today you can get Gluten free pasta. Though Doc’s say a serving is one cup cooked of any shape you choose. And that Isn’t nearly enough, is it?
Boon or Bane? by Deepa
I was drenched in sweat that soaked the back of my clothes like a scattered map. My fitness tracker blinked up a new record today. It was the best result accomplished for my running record.
Well, don’t I deserve a small treat?
I swiped the pasta mania app in my mobile and selected the double cheese creamy chicken pasta, porcini mushroom, and an orange drink to balance my cheesy treat.
From a fitness tracker to palatable feelings, everything in a swipe at your door service.
Mobile apps, is it a boon or a bane?
So What’s for Dinner? by Di @ pensitivity101
Hundred of marbles
On vines to be seen.
Pasta is long,
Pasta is thick,
Cheesy or savoury,
It’s simple and quick.
Put them together
A meal in a flash,
Wholesome and nourishing,
Even better than mash.
Add meat and an onion
For spaghetti bolognese,
Or kidney beans and chilli
On somewhat colder days.
Pasta is versatile,
Be it boiled or baked,
One thing I’ve not tried yet
Is a pasta filled cake.
Macaroni is pasta,
Add sugar and UHT
To make a sweet pudding
As afters for tea.
Pasta’s a staple,
For Hubby and me.
Chester, the Reluctant Dinner Guest by Molly Stevens
“Myra invited us over for pasta tonight,” Ruth said.
“Pasta?” said Chester. “Don’t she mean spaghetti?”
“No, she was clear about it. She said pasta.”
“Well, la-de-da! That’s what she calls it, does she? Was there another fancy name stuck to her highfalutin pasta, like ‘prime-a-veers?’”
“She didn’t say. It’ll be a surprise.”
Harrumph. “I better grab a six-pack of Papst Blue Ribbon. I know she’ll be pourin’ some cheek wine, like chardonnee that will give me heartburn.
“You can always stay at home if you’d like.”
“Nah, I’ll go with along you. Besides, I’m clean out of SpaghettiOs”
Mother’s Italian Cooking by AbijitRay
“I am going out, shall be back by evening.”
“I am making a new dish Shailaja, don’t go before you try.”
“Mother has become adventurous;” wondered Shailaja, “she is experimenting with non Indian recipes!”
“What’s cooking mother? Am I your only guinea pig?”
“Today I am making Italian noodles.”
“Italian noodles, mother! Its called vermicelli; noodle is Chinese. Spoken in public, this may result in a diplomatic incidence!”
“Stop lecturing, try this out. This is vermicelli cooked Indian way.”
Shailaja found her mother in kitchen juggling a cook book in Hindi along with a host of vegetables and spices.
Remembering Terra by Saifun Hassam
Down at the SeaQuail Market, by the old Fishermen’s wharf, we feasted on a picnic lunch under blue summer skies.
Jumbo pasta shells overflowing with sautéed shrimp, sun-drenched tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, red and green bell peppers, olives, garlic and onions marinated in olive oil and just that delicate touch of rosemary, fennel and basil.
A generous sprinkling of shredded mozzarella, Gorgonzola and Parmesan cheese.
Espresso coffee and cinnamon ginger fudge.
In a week, Adriana, an astronaut and biochemist, would report for training for her first assignment to Mars. She was my sister. Would we ever see each other again?
Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning
David shut the door, shaking his head. Heather smirked. “Who was that?”
“The Pastafarians,” he said with a flourish.
“Welcome to Austin, right?”
“You’d think they’d respect dinner time.”
“What did he say, about the Flying Spaghetti Monster?”
They watched the disciples slink down the driveway, the tallest holding a book with a noodle dangling from the binding. “Do you think they’re serious?”
David shrugged, halfway holding a smile. “No. Yeah. I mean, I think that’s the point. We take this stuff too seriously.”
“Careful. You could get struck down talking like that.”
“Wouldn’t that just prove their point?”
Fettuccini Afraid-O by Susan Shuman
“This menu is amazing…” Shelley feigned enthusiasm.
“Get whatever you want,” Eddie shrugged. “Looks like you could use a good meal.”
“Oh, I can’t decide…”
Eddie wished she’d leave her hair alone. It looked like she was trying to strangle her fingertips with it. “Why are you doing that?”
“Huh?” Shelley let go of her hair. “Oh, bad habit.” Her throat tightened.
The waitress brought a steaming loaf of bread to their table and began rattling off the pasta specials.
That’s what did it.
Shelley stifled a scream and scrambled for the door—
Phagophobia: a legacy from her mother.
Pasta by Deborah Lee
Jane ambles through the grocery store, pushing a cart and luxuriating in the experience of grocery shopping. Like people who have a food budget, cupboards to store recipe ingredients, a kitchen for melding them into a home-cooked meal, refrigerator for leftovers.
She hesitates in the pasta aisle, torn between the thought of a steak or her mother’s standby, macaroni with tomatoes and cheese melted through. She used to think of pasta as poor-people food – before she became a poor-people. But it will always be comfort food, Jane thinks, tossing three times as much as she needs into her basket.
It’s black as a mineshaft outside and somthing thuds and scratches at the window. I suspect a bat is feeding on insects drawn to the light I’m still burning. Try as I might to see the nocturnal creatures, I can only discern the sound.
In a way, there’s comfort in knowing I’m not up alone while the rest of the house slumbers. One dog kicks in his sleep, another snores and the cat nose-whistles. The third dog is silent like a youthful sleeper.
None wait up to catch a glimpse of bats with me.
I wonder if the mythology of security, the tale we believe that we can conquer change — look younger! erase wrinkles! defy gravity and time! — is why changes unnerve people. Are we all unnerved or do we each have our own tender spots?
When I was still in my 20s, but mum to three active toddlers, I grew excited to show them the monkey bars on the playground. We had recently moved from a logging town in central Montana to a small town halfway between Helena and Butte. Out west, it seems, we always lived in the shadow of mining country.
This new town had a small school with a playground, and our new place was a walk away. The monkey bars were just like the ones I used to do cherry drops from as a fifth-grader. From a seated position, I’d drop between the bars and swing upside down.
I had no intention of teaching my five, four and two-year-old such a thing, but I wanted to show off my prowess in skipping bars. I swung out from the first bar, skipped the second and while reaching for the third, I crashed to the ground.
My one arm protested that I was no longer a school girl and I sat dazed wondering how I could be so changed at such a young age yet. My children swarmed me like puppies do when you sit among a litter and soon I was giggling and telling them not to skip bars like mumsie.
Life is a series of accidents, happy or not. We do our best to steer the course, stay on track, but changes happen, and we have to set new courses or change our ways to accommodate a loss of strength, memory, or status. Change can be frightening.
And yet — some embrace changes as if that is the answer. Why wait for wrinkles when you can bask in the sun and paddle a board to get them early? Why wear what your father did when you can adopt something more like what your mother wore? Change also offers new experiences.
Last Friday, as I stood in the shadows, watching a pack of warrior women dance their myths out, stomp them into the ground and claim their power through movement and music, I noticed some of the men, too. It all began with glitter that evening.
As part of the show, reading my set of flash fiction to introduce each dance, I went to the studio with the dancers and read over my stories while they donned stage make-up. For the uninitiated, stage makeup looks daunting. It’s dark, heavy and not attractive close-up. But on stage, it catches the right contours and colors.
The ritual includes glitter. Lots of it — purple glitter, green glitter, silver glitter and gold glitter. My daughter smeared white glitter across my eyes, and I felt dancified. It was electrifying to wear the glitter. A man walked in — my SIL and the show’s MC and all heads turned. Glitter?
Solar Man is not one to fear change. He’s not threatened by a pack of dancers slinking toward him with wands of glitter poised. They all eyed his beard. He rubbed it, stroked his red tie, touched each cufflink and declared he’d only wear gold glitter in his beard. The moment passed — of all the colors, no one had gold with them.
We traveled to the performance venue and secured the dressing room. And lo and behold, a warrior found gold glitter. Soon the cameraman expressed interest and he be-glittered his blond beard. What happened next made me chuckle all evening. Other men took offense! The crowd accepted warrior women, but man glisten? No way!
Like twittering stereotypical old wives, the men chastized the glitter beards, stating it would cause regret, that the glitter would never disappear. At that comment, the scientists in the group acknowledged that glitter does not ever break down fully and pollutes the Great Lakes with other micro-plastics.
However, it did not discourage the newborn pride of glitter beards.
Bats hunt bugs, and likely always will. But men will evolve and accept the softer side of themselves.
June 7, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about man glisten. It was a fun term coined by two men with glitter in their beards. What more could it embrace? Look to the unexpected and embrace a playful approach. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by June 12, 2018. 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 your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.
Masks of Man Glisten by Charli Mills
Deep in the shafts of Mohawk Mine, men pounded steel to separate native copper from white quartz. Candlelight from helmets of miners caught flickers of dust. Mohawkite glittered in dim beams. At the end of shift, the men piled onto trams, hoisted back to daylight of long summer evenings and clean women waiting with baskets of fried chicken and Chassell Farm strawberries. Daughters and sons skipped to their dads, uncertain which belonged to them. Tired, blinking in the bright sun, masks of man glisten mined below the level of hell made them look alike.
Sparkle, sparkle hard rock miners.
We’ve all heard the old cliché about how a character “speaks” to an author? It happened to me a few years ago. This young girl popped into my head with a story. She was good company, persistent, too. She went on for about a month until one day I sat down and began writing what would become her story.
Now, this girl, she happened to be a person of color. And if you check my bio, you’ll quickly see that I’m a run-of-the-mill white guy, closing in on middle age. We’re talking, wears-cut-off-shorts-and-black-socks-to-cut-the-lawn. SPF 50 on the nose, kind of guy. But none of that mattered when I set out to write this thing. I can honestly say it never once occurred to me that it might be odd, me writing from the first-person perspective of a twelve-year-old black girl.
Maybe it’s because I hate to plot. Outlines for me are like creativity killers. And speaking of killers, people write from the perspective of serial killers so why did it matter? Okay, where was I going with this? Oh yeah, it does matter.
So I wrote a story about this old curmudgeonly blues player and this young girl, Nita Simmons. Even in the roughest—or rawest—drafts, I was aware enough to avoid stereotypes. No Ebonics or broken English for Nita. In fact, being so tip-toe careful to avoid stereotypes, I went the other route, and Nita became this gifted, straight-A student. A case-cracking superhero.
Reading through those first drafts, it was clear. In not wanting Nita to be a stereotype, I’d done something just as bad, or worse: I’d made her perfect.
And where’s the fun in that?
I dove back in, peeling the layers to the real Nita. The Nita in my head was a normal girl with normal problems. She was self-conscious, stubborn, she doubted herself and fought with her mother. She was still a gifted writer but shaky at math. And being a budding teenager, she was a know-it-all at times, terrified by the world around her at others. And she was gullible. She fell for the stories the old man told her. And it was through the stories that a friendship formed. After all, friendship—not race, was the heart of my story.
And because I write in frantic sparks of inspiration, always in haste, like an idea might slip away if I don’t get it down, it took multiple drafts for the Nita on the page match the Nita in my head. I worked at this story for over a year. I combed over every word and submerged myself into this world I’d created. I bought a guitar and taught myself some old blues standards. I’m awful, but I can pluck some chords now.
I’m no Harper Lee, but Nita is my Scout. I root for her every step of the way. I listen to podcasts, study black history and devour middle-grade books. I’ve read my share of Life Magazines. I fell in love with my characters.
Here was the original query.
Putting yourself out there can be tricky. Whether you’re 12 or 72, headed to a new school for smart kids, or strumming up the courage to play the blues in front of a crowd. Such is the case for Nita Simmons and Earl Melvin, two friends too stubborn to quit on each other.
After a disastrous day at school, the last thing Nita wants to do is solve the puzzle that is her neighbor, Mr. Earl Melvin. People say he’s crazy, that he once tried to burn down the city library. But something in that sturdy voice of his grabs her, and after a second encounter her fear gives way to curiosity. From there the unlikeliest of friendships takes hold.
Mr. Melvin regales Nita with tales of protests and sit-ins. How he marched against segregated schools and lunch counters. His stories are magical and inspiring, his cooking unmatched, and his guitar playing is the truest thing she’s ever heard. Nita decides that old man did all those things, then she can deal with school. But when she stumbles upon a discovery—one that threatens to prove everyone right about Mr. Melvin all along—Nita’s left with a decision to make: leave the old man in the past or drag him into the future.
Not perfect, but it worked. I got some bites. I think I queried over fifty agents. I don’t recall the exact number, but I received somewhere in the neighborhood of ten full requests and five or six partials. Not bad, I’m told.
But in all my research, in all my writing and revising, I completely missed something else entirely. Something big. Something raw.
As the agents got back to me, some were short and sweet in their rejection, and others came with some editorial advice. A few I never got back. Then, I got all the feedback I needed.
Here is a sample of what she passed along (as she passed on the story).
First, the good:
Your story intrigues me and I think you do a good job with the middle grade voice here. I really like the interactions between the characters, Earnest and Nita specifically, as well as Mrs. Womack and Nita, and of course, Mr. Melvin and Nita. You develop these nicely.
To write such a story, an editor will prefer you belong to the ethnic race of the primary characters. This story speaks to so many significant moments and people of the African American experience so, ensuring this is accurate is essential. But even more important, because you utilize first person when writing this text, Nita specifically, an editor will question your validity to do so.
Two things. I’m not saying the writing was perfect. It wasn’t. And let me make it clear that I’m one hundred percent in favor and support the #ownvoices movement. It’s great, a crucial tool in getting diverse books in the hands of kids who need them. Publishers want books about people of color written by people of color. Because think about it. How authentic is it going to look to find this book, with a black cast of characters, only to see some blue sock wearing, lawn mowing white guy on the cover jacket? (I suppose I could ditch the socks).
Rejection sucks. It hurts. And yes, it is personal. After spending so much time with a story and its characters and every single time it gets requested you feel like you could just march up a staircase to the clouds. And each time it gets rejected it feels like being knocked back a few steps. But I always hit the ground running. Until that last one, that one stopped me cold.
It was like a funeral, knowing it was the end of the road. Sounds dramatic, sure, then again, I do write fiction. After that last rejection, there was a new voice in my head (my poor wife), a suggestion to change the characters. Simply make Nita white.
I guess that’s on the table. But to me, it’s absurd to whitewash my main character in the name of diversity. So I’ve retired the story. Because Nita is Nita. And I still have control over that.
I’ve written a few novels since this one. One has gotten some requests, while another is getting closer to querying. And I don’t regret writing Nita’s story. I can’t help who spoke to me (pause here to acknowledge blatant cliché usage), or what characters emerged in my head. They’re mine. And if I could do it over, yep, I’d write it again. After all, I write for me first. In fact, I have, but that’s for another post.
Rejection is tough just one time, it starts to wear on you after a while. But those hours I spent getting lost in Nita’s world? In Mr. Melvin’s world? In their relationship? I think it was worth it.
I started and finished a project. I submerged myself in race relations and its ugly background (even as I ignored its current climate) and came out a better writer and person for it. And hey, maybe most importantly, I can play the blues on guitar.
So it wasn’t all for nothing.
By Hugh Roberts
November 2017 found me in a panic. A popular feature on my blog was coming to an end, and I had to replace it with something not only I would enjoy writing, but what my readers would enjoy reading.
Walking past the door of the guest bedroom, one afternoon, something stopped me in my tracks. I noticed the door of the wardrobe slightly ajar. Something was urging me to go and investigate. The moment my hand reached to close the door, something stopped me from pushing it, and I found, instead, myself pulling open the door.
Nothing unusual met my eyes. Empty clothes hangers hang neatly in a row but, when my eyes were drawn to the bottom of the wardrobe, my heart sunk when I realised that the last remaining box from our house move of April 2016 still needed unpacking. I could have sworn everything had been unpacked, yet this box seemed to have escaped.
Of course, I could have left unpacking the final box until another day but that feeling I’d had when about to close the wardrobe door suddenly came back to me, and I pulled the box out and pulled off its lid.
Nothing interesting seemed to be inside the box. In fact, I wondered why all the stuff in it had not been taken to the charity shop before we had moved. It wasn’t until I came to the last few items that the power of a word came rushing towards me. It was nothing special, just my name ‘HUGH’ handwritten across the cover of a burgundy coloured book. However, as soon as I picked the book up, I knew instantly that the panic I was having earlier about finding a new feature for my blog had come to an end.
As soon as I open the book, I realised that what I had come across was my diary from the year 1988. I read the first few entries before taking the diary to my study and started to scribble down a few ideas. By the time I sat down to dinner that evening, a new feature for my blog had been born.
The following day, I emailed over 40 authors, writers, and bloggers asking if they would like to participate in a brand-new feature I had planned for 2018. All they had to do, for now, was to choose a random date and a favourite song from the 1980s. As the replies came in, I continued to read the diary.
On January 10th, 2018, the first post of my brand-new feature was published on my blog. It included the diary entry from a date, chosen by one of my guests, details of their favourite song from the 1980s, and an introduction to my guest, their blog, books, and links to their social media accounts and author pages. However, as the series moved on, strange things started to happen.
As I prepared the following week’s post, memories came flooding back to me as I read the next entry in the diary. Not unusual, you may think, but what did become unusual was that I started having dreams about some of the memories and, sometimes, could actually ‘feel’ and experience the same feelings I had once gone through over 40 years ago. I’d wake up and, for a few moments, think I was actually back in 1988. Faces of people I had not seen for over 40 years became vivid in my mind. I could even remember some of their smiles and what they sounded like when talking. In one case, where I’d gone through a particular spell of jealousy, I woke up feeling exactly the same as I did during some of those days in 1988. It was a dreadful feeling that I struggled to shake off.
I’ve never really considered the power words can have on us but reading my diary from 40 years ago has completely changed my mind on how powerful they can be. Yes, we can read or hear a news headline that will have some effect on us, but I’ve never experienced the intensity of the power that words can have until I started reading the diary I found that November day.
I may only be a few months into reading my diary and sharing snippets from it on my blog, but I’ve gone through many strong emotions in a short space of time and, unusually, even while being asleep. It never occurred to me, when I sat each evening writing about my day’s events, that 30 years into my future those very words I was writing would not only enable me to travel back in time and experience events and emotions again but that they would solve a problem I would be panicking about 29 years later. Even the comments left on some of the posts from the feature tell me that some of my readers are also experiencing the power that words can have.
Even though many of the entries in the diary are short, they can certainly pack a punch. It’s the same with the 99-word flash fiction challenge Charli challenges us to every week. You may only be allowed to use no more or no less than 99 words, but some of the stories I have read that have been created out of those challenges have been powerful and have remained with me for weeks after reading them.
You can read the first entry from my diary by clicking here. I also had the fantastic pleasure of having Charli Mills as my one of my guests in week four of the series. The feature, which I have called ‘49 Days in 1988’ will be running until the end of the year. Click here to read the post that Charli featured in.
Have you ever experienced the power of words? I’d love to hear how ‘words’ and/or your writing help you.
Hugh W. Roberts lives in the city of Swansea, South Wales, in the United Kingdom. He shares his life with his civil-partner, John, and their Cardigan Welsh Corgis, Toby, and Austin.
He has always enjoyed writing even though he suffers from a mild form of dyslexia. However, he’s never allowed being dyslexic stop him from having a positive outlook on life. Shortly after retiring, Hugh thought it about time he let his writing become public. Becoming a blogger seemed to be the perfect way for him to do this.
He started writing short stories at school but was never encouraged to continue writing them. In February 2014, when he discovered blogging, he wrote and published several short stories on my blog. They soon became hits, and Hugh was encouraged by some of his readers to publish some of the stories in a book. Now, finally, his dream of becoming a published author has come true with the publication of ‘Glimpses’ the first volume of 28 of his short stories. If, like Hugh, you enjoy shows such as ‘The Twilight Zone’ and Tales Of The Unexpected,’ then his short stories will hopefully take you on plenty of twists and turns to unexpected endings.
‘Glimpses’ is available to buy on Amazon and has already received excellent reviews. Hugh is now in the process of writing a second volume of short stories which he hopes to publish by the end of 2018. If you decide to buy and read Glimpses, then he’d be delighted if you would consider leaving a review on Amazon. Reviews help all authors and feedback is vital to improving writing.
Hugh’s blog covers a number of subjects, the most popular of which are his blogging tips and social media tips posts. He is a keen photographer and enjoys helping to promote other authors and writers on his blog. Despite considering himself to be an introvert, he also considers himself as a ‘peoples’ person. Please do feel free to contact him via his blog.
Blog: Hugh’s Views and News
Raw Literature posts as an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99-word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Just call me Wrong-Way Charli.
I might have boots but they don’t always go the beaten path. You might find me calculating the drop on a rock face or attempting to access a naturally secluded beach. The faintest hint of a trail through forest duff speaks louder to me than the exposed dirt of the worn path.
Adventurous? Mostly by accident. More like curious. As in curiosity-killed-the-cat. I’m Shirley temple chasing the bluebird of happiness. I’m Hayduke weeping at the beautiful places of solitude. I want to know what’s over the rise, if the loons will give chase, and take time to look for just one more agate. I want to be there when the hawk flies past unscheduled.
Snow condenses in layers now. The merengue grows stale. Lady Lake keeps a fresh coat of white paint over it all but cut into the layers and it’s turning grey. The county recently bladed our street and I can see snow in geological layers. Have we been buried for eons? It feels like it.
I press each foot into my boots and tighten the laces. My red cap and scarf keep me warm and I look like a plump elf in my dark green wool coat that flares like a dress. I grab a tote bag, my wallet, and my headphones. These snow boots are made for walking and I head out the door to shop the co-op on the hill.
Passing by the fresh cut of snowbank I can no longer read the Fire Lane street sign. It’s buried. The snow slides like grease with each step and I struggle to stomp my way up the hill. Beneath is a compact layer of ice more solid than concrete. Snow sits in the saddles of trees, taking up permanent residence. Ever-present flakes kiss my cheeks. Lady Lake is loving today.
The heater in our car stopped blowing. Without the fan, the windows ice over making it impossible to drive. Thus I’m experimenting with being car-less. I’m walking to buy my dried mango slices and Wisconsin cheese. I overfill my tote with vegetables to make bone-broth soup. The flu is raging through Hancock and across the canal in Houghton. Fresh snow, fresh veggies — my plan to stay well.
Magnificent Mondays rolled around and car-less, I put out a call for a ride. It’s a twice-monthly gathering of local creatives at the Ripley House of Healing where I will debut my TUFF workshop. Through a few missteps in communication, I got a ride (next time I’ll know to go outside and wait). It was lovely riding in a warm vehicle that I didn’t have to brush off the snow to ride in.
Liking this car-lessness, I let my cake baker know that I wasn’t able to meet up with her downtown, could she swing by the house? This time I put on my boots and elven winter-gear and waited outside. She’s a homesteader and makes gorgeous cakes from whole ingredients. She even bakes vegan. But this first cake will be German chocolate with the sides and middle frosted with traditional pecan and coconut.
Later that evening, I had a meeting for local entrepreneuers. I asked for another ride and was delighted when a local poet and book designer answered the call. We laughed all the way down Quincy Hill and over the canal bridge to the meeting. She lets her inner child run wild with the sharp wit of an adult. I find her fun and fascinating.
We laughed at her car, which was leaking gas. She had recently replaced her rear windshield after it shattered in the cold. This poet lives 16 miles up the Keweenaw Peninsula, so she had to drive to Houghton without a rear windshield in the snow. She said now she can claim she’s a Yooper. After fixing the glass, the mechanic told her about the leak. She asked, “Will my car explode?” After he replied no, she was relieved because things seem to be exploding in her car. It made my heater problem sound better.
About the time I thought I would fully embrace car-lessness, the Hub looked at YouTube videos and figured out how to fix it. He does have his moments. That’s how I came to be Wrong-Way Charli. I got my car back.
Today has been a flurry of preparation and blowing off nervous energy for my presentation and book signing tomorrow. I have felt the rainbow of emotions from over the moon excited to down in the dumps depressed. I feel moody as a teenager, not a time I wish to recreate in my life. I breathe. Following the breath in…following the breath out…and carry on.
When I found out the Vet Center has no projector, I researched buying one. Surprisingly they aren’t too expensive but it wasn’t in my budget, like cake and local advertising. The Vet Center and my lovely group of veteran spouses helped me track down a rental at Finlandia University which is on the Hancock side of the canal. I talked with the librarian who explained to me how to find the campus library.
First, let me explain Quincy Hill. It’s so steep that the Quincy Copper Mine on top of the hill built a special tram to deliver ore to the smelters and docks below. It’s so steep it’s now a ski resort. Mind you, it’s a hill, not a mountain, but its verticle climb is impressive. In snowstorms, some streets are blocked.
And that’s what I drove up today, a blocked-for-one’s-own-safety Quincy Hill Steet. It was one of those mistakes a person makes and realizes it’s the wrong way, but stopping would be worse. So upward I drove, willing those snow tires to work. The car slipped and careened, the dashboard flashing the light to tell me I had lost traction. I know, I know! Two young boys with shovels watch me, probably hoping to see a backward Yooper left turn.
At the crest of the hill were three choices: another hill to the right, a sharp dip downhill to the left or straight into a cavernous parking lot. I say cavernous because the snow banks were so tall and tight at the entrance it looked like driving into a snow cave. I opted for the cave, after all, I am presenting on the hero’s journey tomorrow.
My elixir turned out to be that I found the Maki Library. The door looked rather industrial and I thought maybe it had to do with being a university library. No other cars were parked in my cavern, so I approached the door and walked down the hall. Five people turned around and stared at me. That’s when I read the sign that said staff only. I had entered the wrong way and could see the front lobby beyond. There was no escaping my error.
A man with a ponytail and glasses halfway down his nose asked, “Can I help you?”
Awkward situations bring out my inner comedian and I pointed to the staff sign and said, “I’m looking for a job.”
He smiled, so I told him I was the person picking up the projector. He then escorted me out of the staff area into the lobby. Without further complication, I became a public member of the Finlandia University Maki Library, and I successfully rented a projector, cords, and speakers for free. Then I had to ask how I was supposed to get to my car. “Best go the way you came, Wrong-Way Charli.”
And that’s how I got my Yooper name.
January 18, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes boots. Whose boots are they, where do they go and what is their significance? Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by January 23, 2018, to be included in the compilation (published January 24). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Easing Frustrations (From Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Between public affairs and citizen scientists on her archeology dig, Danni wasn’t surprised to see Ike show up with his dogs.
Now she had someone familiar to lash out at. She stomped her boots down the gravelly trail toward Ike and the pointers at his side. Danni trudged past the silent volunteers. She marched right up to Ike and he swung her up into his arms, planting a lingering kiss on her angry lips.
Danni sagged against him. He growled in her ear, “I missed you, Babe.”
“Damn it, Ike. I missed you, too.” She refrained from kicking him.
How idealistic is it to expect writers to craft stories to heal America? Yet, the role of literary art is to provide value. Sometimes the value of a story provides escape. and other times it provides meaning. At the heart of literary merit is exploration — the attempt to write something that accomplishes a tall order, such as healing a nation struggling with an identity crisis.
To heal America is to accept different perspectives, to listen to different narratives. This collection provides a breadth and depth of variety in its responses.
The following are based on the August 17, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that heals America.
The Meeting by D. Avery
Driving to the meeting, he was angry when he spied his daughter with that girl. He had forbidden this friendship. He pulled over, anxious.
“Get in the car! Now! I told you to only play with our own kind!”
“Daddy”, she sobbed, “Celia’s cat got hit.” Both girls clung to him, faces tear streaked, begging him to do something.
He bundled the limp cat in the white sheet that he removed from his car. The cat mewed when he lifted it.
“You girls get in the car. Celia, here’s my phone. Have your parents meet us at the vets’.”
Stuck by Jack Schuyler
In my makeshift hospital, two soldiers lay. One young, one old. One grey, one blue.
“Them Yankees liberated me,” said the Union man, “they said I now had the privilege to fight for my freedom.” He chuckled, “I said ‘where you been the last hun’ed years? I done my fightin’ in these cotton fields.’”
“I joined this war for pa,” the boy in grey shed a tear, “now pa’s dead, an’ I don’t know why I’m fightin’ anymore.”
The man sighed, “seems we both stuck fightin’ another man’s war,”
They laughed together as grey and blue uniforms stained red.
Solving Hatred After a Few Beers by Bill Engleson
Joe, local know-it-all, is holding court at Solly’s Tavern.
“Terrible…what happened in Charlottesville…”
“Yeah,” someone says, “Terrible. Whattayagonnado, eh?”
“Well…” and I can see Joe’s wheels turning, grinding away. Where he sits, he’s got all the answers. “Well, if I was in charge…”
“Of?” another voice asks from the back.
“Like, the President, eh…I’d…line ‘em all up, Nazis, anti-Nazis, the whole shooting match…”
“What then, Joe?”
Joe’s starting to sputter. He’s overreached.
“Joe,” I decide to give him an assist, “You’d hug ‘em all, man, and then insist they hug each other. Help ‘em find their inner pussycat.”
Bird by Elliott Lyngreen
A little birdie once told me
“There’s too much strength
For this earth to evaporate”
But in a strength of
tweet tweet tweet
One the God of gods
could not vanquish
The wind was its soul
At gazes in tiny species
In instances overwhelming
As if we were merely healed
Watching for in the trees
too much strength
in the ways he even
wriggled open hearts
Cuz there he
the same bird
Chirpa chirpa churpa
Warming through a soul
Warming up like that fresh sense
Of a new Spring
Just sang whenever
new windows opened
Dear Voters of America,
We, The Association of Former First Ladies, feel your pain. We too have forced a smile when all we hold dear is demolished around us. And not, we might add, beneath a hood and shapeless shift, but in a designer dress destined to be picked apart by the tabloids the following day with greater gusto than they devote to our minds. We too have stood aside, abandoned careers to champion those of lesser individuals (in our case, our husbands’). We offered you Hillary; sadly, you declined. Just asking, but would you consider Michelle next time?
Give Us a Housewife by Irene Waters
The cat flew across the room at the end of Donald’s boot. Maggie hugged her tightly.
“Mum” she screamed. Her mother appeared wiping floury hands onto her apron.
“What’s going on.” She listened. Both children talked, airing their grievances. As the tirade petered out she indicated they should sit. “We’re different yet the same. Let’s communicate, listen and learn. Let’s aim for a home of peace, love and acceptance. Without sanctions that don’t work. Silently she gave thanks for her ban of guns. Donald acted without thinking. They talked. Even Donald listened and learnt.
“Mum, please stand for President.”
Healing America by FloridaBorne
Betsy hugged the cat waiting for food on her mother’s kitchen counter. A great mouser, the light brown feline showed up in their barn seven years before, another animal displaced when half the country died.
She’d read about the week-long war in history books; how God saved the constitution by commanding, “This is civil war. Kill anyone who is trying to kill the US constitution.”
“Tell me the story again, Mommy!”
“We walked out of our homes, killing every communist and every socialist on every block at the same time. That’s how the USA became a peaceful nation again.”
What’s the Difference? by Norah Colvin
She dumped the toys on the floor, then proceeded to arrange and rearrange them in groups. The largest group was of bears, a smaller group of cats, a few lizards, two puppies and an assortment of singles. With a finger tapping her cheek, she surveyed them. First, she dismantled the group of bears muttering about bows, hats and vests. She hugged Tiger as she separated all the toys. Then Dad appeared with his briefcase.
“What’re you doing?”
“Which one to take?”
“I can’t choose,” she said, scooping them up. “I love them all the same.”
Crazy Cat Lady? by JulesPaige
Mim knew that being a ‘Cat Lady’ was her important mission.
She had made sure the strays were healthy and spayed.
Alternating Tuesdays in Mim’s sun room anyone who came,
could sit the large antique wicker chair and wait until the right
cat adopted them.
Mim’s Kits were at home in The Post Office, Library and
Hospital which allowed a large ginger to roam the floor and
bring comfort where death was a frequent visitor. Mim
believed that one of her Calico’s purring had brought luck
and life to back to little Susie when all other remedies had
Peace by Kalpana Solsi
The air reeks of disgust.
The news on the cell-phones beep of minute-by-minute details of macabre killings.
The thumping of the chests of the claims of responsibility of the heinous crime is obvious
and no prize for guessing.
Old Samuel coming out of the wigwam raises his crow-feet gaze at the sky and throws his
Doris’s purr echoes helplessness.
“The unseen roots of the Water Hemlock planted in distant lands creep to tangle the
hand that waters it,” sighs the silver-head wisdom.
“Any nation to be great has to plant peace in its back-yard.”
Satyamev Jayate. Amen.
Viewing the Eclipse by Kerry E.B. Black
Erin slid dark glasses on her nose. “Lyla, do you think we’ll be blinded?”
Lyla tapped her glasses. ”We’ll be fine.”
The crowd in Unity Park jostled at street vendors. Everyone sported glasses or viewing devices, everyone except a family huddled together on the fringe. They whispered among themselves, heads close together, three young children in odd clothing.
Lyla pointed her chin. “They’re refugees. Let’s go.”
Erin pulled away from Lyla’s grip. “Just a second.” She cleared her throat. “Excuse me. Would you like to share my glasses when the time comes? We can take turns.”
The family smiled.
Breaching the Gap by Robbie Cheadle
The children in the car were laughing as they guzzled chicken pops and drank large Cokes.
It was the last day of school and the children were gleefully looking forward to the holiday.
From his position on his mother’s back, a pair of luminous, dark eyes watched through the window. There would be no holiday for him as his Mother continued her daily toil to put food in their bellies.
The children were oblivious of his stare. All except for one boy.
He opened his window and handed his food and drink to the toddler.
Both smiled with pleasure.
Meditation with a Purring Cat by Liz Husebye Hartmann
I can’t heal the world, not on my own. Can’t heal America, can’t do much beyond my own limited vision.
I’ve seen the wave, the one that comes from:
• People in positions of power. They gather together and crest “No, we won’t.” And then roll away.
• The sheltering night. Removing symbols of hatred, knowing history is not forgotten, but enriched.
• The light of day. Behind the Deli counter, hands folded, back strong, she meet arrogance with dignity.
Their cool balance calls me to speak up.
Her family needs that job.
We need her Family.
Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning
It’s six fifteen on Tuesday and the regulars sit in the courtyard under the shadows of the monuments. They talk politics with removed passion. Some chain smoke and slug down the stale coffee. Others stare at their feet.
They are black and white. Old and young. Male and female because needles care not about such things. Prestige and privilege only go so far when it comes to a fix.
They don’t show up to be cured but to manage. To do…something…to find the strength between meetings. To nod and stare and not be alone.
Because sometimes, that is enough.
Modern American Culture by Michael
Modern American Culture, lecture one, and I was seated eager beaver to learn. Professor Trumpet strode arrogantly to the lectern, his cat, Donald, under his arm. “Make America great again,” he announced. “Now, how to do it.”
The next forty minutes he regaled us with stories of American greatness from inventions to statesmen to reasons why America was the greatest country on Earth.
All the while Donald the cat, who had the look of a sad dictator about him, watched dispassionately from the desk beside him.
“We don’t have to make America great again,” he announced,” we already are.”
Community Mutterings by Charli Mills
“Move your car!” Stan yells from his porch. Viola ignores him, dropping off kale for her friend.
“It’s a fire lane!”
Viola mutters, “There’s no fire, old codger.”
The young mechanic next door nearly swipes Viola’s Honda, racing his Dodge truck again. “Idiot!”
Finished with her garden deliveries, Viola drives to the vigil. She’s expecting the liberal-minded to light candles for Charlottesville. Solidarity. As the wife of an Iranian grad-student in a small American college town, she misses urban diversity.
Viola’s eyes sting when she sees Stan hobble from his neighbor’s Dodge, both lighting candles. “Glad you both came.”
Patriotism by Rugby843
Jesse put up the flag on his porch every morning. He was a WWII veteran and was proud of the flag, his service, and every day he wanted to show that pride by displaying old glory. He also said a short prayer for all of the deployed men and women all over the world still fighting for those ideals.
Two small boys happened to be riding by on their bikes and stopped to watch the old man raise the flag. One boy spoke up, “Glad you’re putting your flag up, mister. My dad thanks you too, all the way from Afghanistan.
Do You Hear Me? by Reena Saxena
Every morning, I decide to free myself of the blogging addiction. And here I am, logged in again, carrying my disappointed self into a make-believe world, where voices are heard.
Sane voices, by and large, remain unheard. Can we speak in a language that the insane understand? Write compelling stories, use popular media like videos and games and be the loudest voice. I need to rid myself of polarized thinking – “I failed, because I am not at the top.”
The world needs corrective action, not just America. Ask the right questions every day.
Maybe, I die feeling worthwhile …
Unity Park by Kerry E.B. Black
Keinwen shepherded her third-grade students to the site. Garbage littered the ground. Hateful graffiti marred nearby walls. A pedestal displayed no historic statue, the place of protests. She said. “Let’s get to work.”
Like a vindicating tide, they rushed into the square with scrub brushes and potted plants. They bagged trash and painted a new mural featuring smiles and shaking hands. Keinwen and two other teachers mapped out a path and poured sand. The children placed stones decorated with inspirational phrases, the week’s art project, as a border to the path leading to the place’s new name. “Unity Park.”
Pursuit of Happiness by Diana Nagai
Summer voyagers, using sandals for paddles, drifted down rapids on spectacular floats. Invariably, a voyager would swirl in a jetty. Not to worry, fellow travelers guided errant navigators back into the flow.
Harmonious sounds of “Sorry!” and “Oops!” followed by “No worries!” were heard. Everyone facing danger and surviving with a splash. Notably missing were sounds of “otherness”. All working together in the pursuit of happiness without a care of color or creed.
They witnessed humanity; people giving and receiving apologies along life’s bumpy path, helping those in need, knowing that someday they might need a gentle push.
“Purrfecting” by D. Avery
“Where you headed?”
“Goin’ to round ‘em all up. Get ‘em corralled. Maybe herd ‘em right off the ranch.”
“Oh, Jeez, what are you on about?”
“Cats! Cats are over runnin’ the ranch. I swear there’s more of them than us.”
“Yep, they’s lots, real diverse, all colors and stripes. I like havin’ ‘em around.”
“Well Shorty says to round ‘em up. Let’s go.”
“No, Shorty says we should pick ‘em up. Not round ‘em up. Just pick one up.”
“Which one? Which color?”
“Doesn’t matter. Just pick one up.”
“Shh. Listen to this beautiful cat purring.”
Still Water by D. Avery
“Lose somethin’ Kid?”
“Jest reflectin’ at this reflectin’ pool.”
“Kid, I swear, you are greener than frog spit. This ain’t no reflectin’ pool. It’s just a stock pond.”
“I can see myself, so it’s a reflectin’ pool. Look, you’ll see yerself too.”
“Oh yeah… hey Kid, it’s deep.”
“Yep. Shorty oughta call her place Reflection Ranch. People can come here an’, you know…”
“I reckon they already do. Been some mighty deep conversations goin’ on.”
“Yep, they ain’t been shallow. I’ve had some a my thoughts provoked ‘round here.”
“In a good way?”
“In the best way.”
It’s a muddle of music and smiling people in sunglasses beyond the orange fence of plastic netting. Entrance requires a red wristband and resolve. It’s Independence Day in the US and on the Keweenaw Peninsula, locals flock to Eagle River to celebrate. As crowds go it’s relatively small, but it’s still a crowd and I’m yet an introvert among so many unfamiliar things. What is it about unfamiliarity that seems unnerving?
Earlier at a beach on Lake Superior I heard the lament of a six-year-old boy, “I can’t overcome my fear!” I turned my gaze away from the rolling waves, to inspect a group of young boys splashing in the water. They were playing an imaginary game, a team of heroes on a mission. Except for the lone reluctant hero in a life vest and swim goggles who stood while his friends floated and swam. I can’t overcome my fear.
His tone was one any of us at any age could cry out. We fear new places and faces. We fear what we don’t know. We fear change. So we stay in the shallows, watching for danger.
I take a deep breath and extend my wrist to receive a band. I’m committing, going in, going deep. I’m shaky at first, not knowing anyone, but soon I follow the wafting aroma of smoked brisket, and loving arms reach for me with the familiar call of “Mama!” It’s my eldest and she’s with her husband in line for food. Fear melts away with a familiar anchor.
And maybe that’s what each of us needs — a guide to bring us in to a new harbor, a light to show us the rocky shoals. Once received we open up to the newness. Another boy at the beach stood up with his friend and together they went into the water. A few fearful cries soon diminished into laughter and together they splashed and played heroes. With my own lighthouse guiding me through the community event, I opened up to meeting new people and experiencing a Copper Country celebration.
A curious man approaches wearing pants of apricot and a silk neck scarf. My daughter mentions he’s filming a documentary and he invites us to a fundraiser with an invitation that is both artsy and strange. I wonder who he is and why he’s making a film. My daughter is part of a belly-dancing troupe and her husband drums. They know many people in the community who are living life to their own beat. I’ve yet to figure out the local beat, but feel more at home among the artistic and eccentric. I’m searching for the literary artistic and history eccentric.
So I ask the filmmaker if he’s from the area. He was born and raised on the Keweenaw, leaving in increments until he made it to NYC where he’s been making films for years. One of his films was received at the Sundance Festival in 2009. He tells me, “They’ve all been wondering what I’ve been doing since.”
“This documentary?” I ask.
He rolls his eyes with exaggerated drama. “It’s not a documentary. Well, I suppose some parts are. It’s creative. It’s different, no genre like it exists. It’s my creative expression.”
“I see.” Not really, but I see enough to hook my curiosity and decide I’ll go to the fundraiser and learn more. I might meet some writers, as I’ve heard there are a few about this area. One is even hosting a workshop on poetry and flash fiction. Ha! You bet I’m going to that one.
Then the filmmaker in the apricot pants explains what he’s been doing since his Sundance success: filmmaking. “It’s what I do. I make films.”
It’s what I do. I write. It seems such a simple statement on one hand and so bold on the other. And yet, in writing I do so much more than tap keys or splatter sentences in ink. I process. What I feared and faced, I write about at some point whether it’s something I acknowledge consciously or not. What I fear and think I’ve smothered also comes out. It’s not all about fear, but fear certainly has great sway over us.
I think about fear as fireworks flare in the sky. I watch the shadow of a person fogged in pyrotechnic smoke light the mortars on the beach. Is he not afraid of his task? I watch my husband who says he loves the fireworks display, and recall last year’s holiday when he charged across a Forest Service campground in the dark because someone was “shooting.” It was fireworks and he soon realized after a camping neighbor calmed him down.
The difference was not the fireworks but the unfamiliarity — he expects fireworks at this event.
Houses stretch three stories tall around this region. Most are old houses from the grand mining era pre-1900s. The bedrock is too close to the surface to dig basements so they are rocked as the ground level, then the main floor and a second. Some bigger houses have a fourth attic or maid’s quarters. They look scary to me, tall and speaking of deep snow and old ways. Yet I love the house my daughter owns. She and her husband have painted the walls vibrant colors, the hues of sunflowers and of sky and deep lake water.
Did technology bring about too many changes, or ones that left people without a lighthouse to guide them? I always thought the globalization of the internet would bring us all closer together. In many ways it has. Perhaps blogging, writing, are mediums of light that shine a path to bridge cultural differences. The fear expressed by many in the US reminds me of the child’s admission, “I can’t get over my fear.” Instead of looking for a way, some people have backed out of the water and barricaded themselves on the beach.
It’s not that there’s nothing to fear. Terrorism itself is the invoking of fear; it’s meant to terrorize. Water can be dangerous; children do drown. But we have choices. We have offers of hands to join together. It reminds me of the Great American Desert beyond the Missouri River, which terrified Americans yet beckoned them to cross for riches or land. Many did overcome their fear and a few even settled, including the McCanles family.
In my research, I’ve come across a written oral history of a family contemporary to the McCanleses — the Helvey family. Frank Helvey was 19 when his family decided to run a road station the same year as Cobb bought Rock Creek. The Helvey’s bought the Big Sandy Station 15 miles up trail from Rock Creek. Frank writes, “With McCanles and his men I was very well acquainted, and can say that a wrongful impression was given of him, and of the affair between him and Wild Bill, who I also believe was much maligned.”
Why do we run around in the dark with an inferior torch claiming the world is scary and preferring to only see in front of our face what we think we know? The settlers “knew” the Pawnees and Otoes were dangerous. The historians “knew” Cobb was a bad hombre. Many waited until people like the Helvey’s and Mary McCanles carved homes and ranches and communities on the prairie before they decided it was safe to wrest away from the remaining reservations. Indeed, there were a few raids on settlers in 1864 and 67, but in comparison to the massacres by US Cavalry, it was the Natives who should have had the greater fear.
It’s not that fear itself is so bad. Fear is a warning — proceed with caution; be safe. Entrepreneurs and artists take calculated risks — they strategize to overcome doubt and fear to do or create something new. Fear is best acknowledged, not justified. It’s fear justified that skews thinking and actions. In this recent body of research, I read about the Pawnee and Otoe and how fearful they made the settlers in their war to save their hunting grounds. That fear became an entrenched justification for robbing them of their lands. The extreme prejudice I’m reading in this history echoes today.
Like the boy on the beach, we need to overcome our fears to participate fully in a modern and connected world of many cultures. Like his friends, maybe we can offer to light the way for others.
July 6, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a beacon. It can be from a lighthouse or other source. Use the word literally or figuratively and go where the prompt leads you.
Respond by July 11, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published July 12). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Night Riders (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
“Nancy Jane, it’s dark. I can’t see!” Sarah reached for her friend.
“Beyond the ravine we’ll have light. Come on!”
When they emerged from the creek oaks and cottonwoods, the plains remained cloaked. Stars cast no light on this moonless night, but lone campfires topped the hills. Sarah asked, “Why are people in small camps? I thought they were afraid to sleep outside groups.”
“Nah, those are the fires warning where the ridges are.” Nancy Jane whistled and her horse nickered in return. “Ready, Sarah? Let’s ride the plains and let the Otoe night signals light our way.”
Lake Gitchi Gumee erodes the shore wave by endless wave. Ringed-bill lake gulls careen wide circles, wings spread. A loon trills from water so vast as to hide the fowl rolling in waves, but occasionally the sun slants just so, and a loon appears to be fast-paddling like a vessel full of rowers all in sync. The land giving way to water is part of the synchronization of the whole mass, a geological cycle that refuses to conform to state park boundaries or nostalgic memories of generational Kumbaya campfire singers.
Bit by bit I have frayed.
No one beach facing the endless waves maintains its original shoreline. Was it ever original? Maybe it’s just a memory of what was compared to now what is. When you visited the shore as a child, it’s not the same shoreline you visit as an adult. You are not the same, either. Yet mainstream media sells us on an ideal of “anti-aging.” It’s ridiculous. You only stop aging the day you die and even then you molder. Who I am now is not who I was a year ago.
When I packed for camping I thought at worst it would be until September. I grabbed two pairs of jeans, four t-shirts, a flannel and a sweatshirt. Wisely, I brought all my underclothes. Two pairs of Keens, my good turquoise pair and my ratty hiking ones, seemed enough shoes. I had to buy socks when it turned cold (even Mars slips away from the sun). A small wardrobe is like a sandy hill over the Great Lake, use after use, launder after launder, all fades and frays.
Internally I cracked before the storm ever began. Like a cowardly fisherman confronted with the weather report, I retreated. No way, give me some warm slippers, a comfy couch and popcorn; I’ll sit this one out. Like any hero’s journey, I refused the call. A year later when I should be due some elixir, I’m still stunned I made the journey. We intended to head to Michigan last year, to go to Rock Creek and Kansas along the way, to meet up with friends and family. But our vessel leaked and our path wandered.
We shipwrecked on Mars, broke-down in Gallup among the Great Indian Nations. How does one remain the same after endless waves?
And yet a beach is still a beach. A cliff recedes and still remains a cliff. I listen to the waves and the occasional tremolo of the loons, recognizing I am yet who I am, and I am becoming who I will be. Where does one’s energy go after the body fails? Ideas, emotions, intellect cannot simply dissipate. Sit still long enough and you can feel the impression of a place left by others. You can feel it in your own DNA. Did I ever have a grandmother dance wildly in Mali? Can I still see the highlands my Scots grandmothers left? Does Danish hygge offer me the comfort of grandmothers before me? Does my rebellious Basque grandmother still rise in me?
Lacking any Native American DNA, I also lack the blood of conquerors — I’m not Spanish, French or English, but I’m many cultures dominated by the three. My ancestors were chained to the galleons, endentured after lost battles, and endured hardships of famine and loss. It’s without a doubt my ancestors were always striving, reaching to pluck the promised fruit, the fabled gold pavers. Luckless? I don’t believe in it. Hard-working? Without a doubt. Stubborn? Just a wee bit.
I ponder these things as my frayed edges catch in the breeze. Soon it will be Independence Day and I no longer know what that means to me. Gallup was patriotic. The town served in military wars despite the injustices its communities suffered. They were proud to serve America, united. Here, in the wilderness of a copper country in the Michigan U.P., the least skilled of the immigrant copper miners remain — the White Finns. They are patriotic in skewed ways — believing the cities are breeding terrorists, and that Trump is their savior, many turn to fundamentalism and patriotism in ways I find strange. They are frayed and wanting a mender.
Here beats the heart of America who has failed to examine her social injustices and buries it beneath a false image of greatness-returning. And one of the top universities in the nation thrives here, a holdover from its origins in 1885 as a mining technology institution. Now it is an engineering beacon with a majority of its students international. Professors, students and those who’ve built engineering firms in the beauty they found while at school create a vibrant yin to the yang of what remains.
Not to dismiss what remains of the mining culture. They are no different from my own rural roots. Hardworking and stubborn folks who believe they’ll get ahead, but generation after generation they work to pull wealth from the ground for others. They turn a fierce faith to God and get a jump on the judgement they believe is coming. Apostolic Lutherans. Firstborn Laestadians. Not my kin or kindred spirits, but I recognize the determination to not fray.
Thus I give in to the fraying.
I don’t want this year to harden me. I don’t want to become poured cement to prevent change, or fear the erosion, the synchronicity of wearing down, energy against energy. I want to lift my wrists to the wind and let the frayed cuffs of my sweatshirt fly, release my frayed soul to life yet to be and accept a new weave, one the wind might direct or the waves carve. I note the heart at my cuff and know good things come out of unraveling. It’s our fear of change of going through hard processes that convince us the garment must be tossed and proper seams displayed. I have become the fray. And who knows what is coming next.
Carrot Ranch has finally come to a resting juncture. A few internet hiccups, rectified as of today. Know there are still places where hot spots and boosters do not work. Even Mars and Elmira Pond had better receptivity. I’m now connected, and Operation Stabilization has officially commenced today. We met with a true advocate at the U.P. Vet Center, an energetic female Captain (Airborne, too) who has no problem understanding or reaching Sgt. Mills (Airborne Ranger). Another counselor I met a few days ago also works with vets and understands their filters which gave me peace through validation.
I’ve not been here long, but already I have a community and the support of my grown kids (Rock Climber is now living in Svolbard, Norway and the other two and partners are up nort’ here, ay). I’m most grateful to the community who has traversed this year with me or has fearlessly joined up during the crazy trail ride.
This is a safe space to craft, draft and connect. Come as you are, write as you are and let your frayed edges fly. Let’s get the saddle show started this week — writers on your mark…get set…go…!
June 29, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about something frayed. It could be fabric, like a flag or garment. It could also be nerves or temper. What is it to be frayed?
Respond by July 4, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published July 5). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Let Freedom Ring (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
“I heard her husband led the Palmetto Guard.”
“He murdered free-staters on raids.”
Mary McCanles walked bare-headed through the crowd with her basket, ignoring the fine women in stiff bonnets deep enough to hide wrinkles and scowls.
She settled on the quilt her daughter Lizza spread. A gray-haired woman herself, Lizza smiled broadly and attended several Otoe-Missouri papooses. Though frayed, it was Mary’s treasured marriage quilt.
“I love babies, Mama!”
“You are good with them, Daughter.” Mary dared anyone say anything to Lizza. Born a blue baby, she was often ridiculed. Not today.
“Ain’t Independence Day grand, Mama?”
Woofie runs in mad circles across the lush mowed grass of eastern Kansas. It’s a doggie game — I call his name in a playful pitch, and he responds with the energy of a spunky toddler. He has big brown teddy-bear eyes behind long black fur. His face is like that of a Wookie, and when he drinks water he likes to slop his cold wet beard on someone’s lap or leg. He’s definitely the youngest dog in the pack but not the only one to play games.
My Sis (technically, The Hub’s Sis) is married to the Dog Whisperer of Missouri (DWM). He’s good at teaching old dogs games, like counting to five. Bobo knows her numbers and eagerly plays the game before DWM goes to work. Woofie and Kale have other tricks and games. Kale would play doggie flashlight tag until he dropped. Sis has even come home to find him nested in her bed (her side) with the flashlight lovingly grasped between his front paws.
No one plays games better than The Hub, and often this is to my dismay. His favorite games involve annoying me. Like talking in a monster-truck voice at the grocery store, announcing every item I pull from the shelf. It’s the result of a cooped up extrovert, living in an RV with an introvert. We all know the silent struggles of introverts, but silence can be difficult for extroverts to manage. So The Hub entertains himself with games.
Leaving a down-home coffee cafe, a tetherball gets me thinking of games. I haven’t seen one of these poles set in cement since I was a child. I vaguely recall playing tetherball and it seems a fun, albeit vague memory. Remember the games we once played? Running around, playing tag as exuberantly as a galloping dog? Hopscotch, hide-n-seek, jump-rope. I’m not sure screen games compare, being of the generation who didn’t have screens growing up, nor did my kids. We still like board games and cards. Seeing that tetherball was a remembrance of outdoor recess at school and that joy of having time for games.
Which leads me to time, or a lack of it. I’m so busy playing adult games, I feel like the child who laments the setting sun because it’s time to stop playing and go inside.
In the morning I return to KATP archeology field school to play in the lab. Danni’s scenes, and I have so many, where she’s working were generalized. Now I know what she’d be doing exactly and why she could get lost in her work. I’ve met dedicated archeologists who know what it is to pursue their passion although it will never lead to wealth in the pocketbook. Many professionals are volunteering on this dig and loving every minute of it, gritty with sweat and field dirt, smiles on their faces. One archeologist told me a joke I’m determined to fit into my novel, Miracle of Ducks. I think it resonates with career writers as well:
What’s the difference between an archeologist and a large pizza?
A pizza can feed a family of four!
Ouch. But true. Why is it, the pursuits that expand our minds and understanding like literary arts and cultural anthropology, are the ones we value least with money? Funding cuts are slashing deeply across the arts and even sciences in America. What a poor world where books are merely reports and cultures diminished and homogenized. I want vibrancy and diversity. I want time to play tetherball or cards over coffee.
While last week was bitter disappointment at the VA, we may have a ray of hope beating like fireflies at dusk. I’ve picked up the past-time of telling so-called veteran’s organizations what I really think of their fundraising and lack of services. We’ve had such unfortunate experiences reaching out to organizations that don’t help and then claim it’s because they are “not services.” In other words, they collect government money, grants and donations to NOT serve, but merely direct veterans to organizations that do. No kidding, last year at the height of crisis, we went through dozens of organizations that all filtered us to one to another to finally sending us to the same service that didn’t help because of criteria or (ironically) lack of funding.
The blip of hope is that I told off an organization only to be contacted by someone who said I misunderstood. It’s a veteran-led organization that has experienced our same frustrations. After talking to one of the organizers today, I felt…dignified. That may seem an odd reaction but until you’ve experienced what it is to have your human dignity taken away, it’s an empowering feeling to have someone restore it. We’ll know more on Monday, but they may be able to help in practical ways, understanding what barriers we’ve faced and validating that the VA does indeed block transients from care. They know the back alleys, the underground railroad of sorts. And I hope they pull through.
I’m sure you’ve noticed I’ve been away from the Ranch. It’s unintentional but think of me as temporarily away at a rodeo where I may win a purse or at least bring back new tales and stock. Between Rock Creek research (and I get to go visit Rock Creek station next week!) at the Kansas State Archives, archeology field school, beloved family and dogs, a possible new client contract, interviews for future profiles and articles, and trying to cram more time into a day, I’ve been called away. This is temporary, and I greatly appreciate the way the community supports one another in the comments and across individual blogs. Please continue to do so and know I will get caught up with you all over the next few weeks!
If any Rancher is interested in some ranch chores, I could use help wrangling stories from the last prompt and this one. If someone is up to it, I’d also welcome a guest prompt post next week. If not, I may extend the deadline next week, depending upon what happens Monday and when we get to Rock Creek, Nebraska. I’m grateful for this community and appreciate you all showing up and being patient. Think of the ranch challenge as a game, one we enjoying playing like tetherball or other long summer nights on the streets or dirt roads with friends.
And an update on our first Anthology and establishing an imprint — we are halfway there and have enough to start. The cover will be revealed after the Fourth of July. This is going to happen! Thank you to all who shared and contributed. More forthcoming, when I have time to process it all! To our Friends attending the Bloggers Bash, have a blast!
June 8, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves playing an outdoor game, like tetherball, hoops, tag. It can be made up, traditional, cultural or any kind of twist. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by June 13, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published June 14 unless extended). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Games Across Rock Creek (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
“Rawr!” Cobb charged his five children on his hands and knees in the cropped grass in front of the west ranch house. Lizzie stood and giggled, blind since birth, she relied on her brothers to get around. Even playing games, the boys guided Lizzie. Cobb gently bumped her with his head and she squealed in delight. Young Charl tried clambering up Cobb’s back. Monroe boosted his youngest brother so he could ride Da’s back like a horse. Laughter carried across Rock Creek.
Sarah watched from the shadows on her side. Away from his precious family. The games they played.
Someone has propped a frail and wrinkled woman on a metal folding chair by the entrance to Earl’s diner. The folds in her face are deep, like an dried apple doll I once saw in a folk museum. Her white hair is piled on her head in Navajo style, and she seems shrunken with thin arms drawn up. Her dress is traditional Navajo and I approach her with the respect due an elder. She’s selling beaded medicine bags and has a few dollars and quarters on her display tray.
“Ya’at’eeh.” I cringe at how poorly I form the greeting in my mouth, hoping she doesn’t take offense.
Softly, I hear her words, clicks and sounds I don’t understand. I kneel beside her and she touches her hand with bent fingers to each bag. I hear clearly, “$45.” More clicks, more explanation in Navajo, her hand on the next bag. “$45.”
I shake my head. I don’t have the money and won’t dishonor her by offering her $10, the only bill I have.
She moves on to each bag, “$45.”
“They’re beautiful. Thank you for letting me look.”
Then her hand with the bent fingers taps the change on her tray. With the saddest eyes she looks right at me and says, “All I have.” If it weren’t illegal to nab a woman from the streets, I’d have picked her right up and given her room in my RV, adopting a forever Grandmother. How could I leave her there? We gaze into each other’s eyes. Wiley old woman. Her black eyes twinkle. She knows she has me.
A younger woman, as in 70 not 240, steps up and begins to talk in Navajo and I’m let off the hook. As I walk away I hear another woman click in the Navajo way, but say in English, “I’d have offered you $35.” I smile. Humor in this culture is subtle, polite and true. Inside Earl’s I catch up with the Hub and we take a table in the full restaurant. Earl’s is the heart of Gallup. No matter which reservation or pueblo you come from, this is where you go. I’m aware that we are the only Anglo faces. Bilagaanas.
What is it to be a minority? Is it about culture, skin tone, position of power? I don’t feel like a minority in Gallup, the Indian Capital of the World. It’s not so much a reflection of my own sense of being, but that I feel welcome although a stranger to these parts. No one stares, or glares. I don’t hear snide comments or feel dehumanization of the other. Those are disconnecting experiences for any marginalized group. Toas musician, Robert Mirabal, sings a sad song about the disconnection that leads to the high rate of suicide among Native youth:
“Can you take it away,
can you kiss it away,
can you take it away,
can you kiss it away…
I’m the mirror that reflects all…”
I’m the mirror that reflects the forgotten and disenfranchised in America. I know what it is to feel alone and broken. I can recognize the brokenness around me in a place called Earl’s. And what I mirror is not disconnectedness, but acceptance, beauty and strength. There’s no pretense here. No one is on a diet, recovering from plastic surgery or driving the latest luxury car advertised for discerning tastes. I don’t know the stories seated around me, but I know they are rich with love and loss, pain and beauty. Beauty, not suffering. Recently a veteran therapist said to me and the Hub, “Pain in life is inevitable; suffering optional.” To me beauty is taking that pain and working it into something meaningful and connected.
Not everyone understands.
Since becoming stranded in Gallup, we’ve come to know that this is a busy RV park for travelers going elsewhere. This is not the destination. We’re the odd ducks who stay longer than a recovery day or two from driving what was once Route 66, America’s Main Street. Gallup emerged as an overnight hub for travelers going to LA from Chicago. Old motels with peeling paint and faded signs line the old Route 66 strip. Trading posts that once attracted tourists on the road now sell Chinese-made knock-offs online. Others sell plastic beads to local artists. A recent RV neighbor told us she went downtown and there was “nothing.” Gallup has nothing is a common phrase we hear from travelers.
Gallup has warrior-artists, people who battle the pain of displacement, irrelevance and poverty to produce visual treasures. I’m razzle-dazzled like the ghosts Mirabal sings of, “The dawn has come…” At Earl’s I anticipate the dawn, the parade of “sellers” as they are called, walking through the diner with their trays full of their art. Different genders, different generations, different clans or tribes. Each artist expresses their own designs, stamps artist initials to distinguish authenticity and politely shows what they have for sale. I’ve become curious to know about their designs, meanings and stories. I’m the literary artist seeking shades of words to tell the tale.
“It’s the sunset,” he leans in to tell me as if disclosing a secret. I’m chatting over a full cup of coffee with the Hopi man who makes pottery in traditional colors (black and white or red and black with white accents). Yet he has a few pieces with non-traditional hues. The one that catches my curiosity is a red clay pot with a band the color of butter circling its middle. Above lavender darkens to purple. Below is a band of dark green like mesquite. When he says it’s the sunset, I see it. I’ve seen it out my RV door. I can’t buy the pot but neither can I un-see the gift of its beauty, the sharing of its intent.
“Hey!” At the loud and friendly voice I turn to see my favorite silversmith. She’s the artist who walks to town on her Goodyear tires, in joking reference to her tennis shoes. KJ was the first artist we met and today she makes us feel like family. “You still here?”
“Still no transmission,” I say and she commiserates with us a moment then shows me her near empty tray.
“Sold ’em all. Ha! I better go make more!”
I’m happy for her. It’s like running into an author with a near-empty box of novels at a book fair. She tells us her son, one of three children serving in the military, has shipped out to Korea. Suddenly, politics have become real. How many patriots has this community lost? I’ve seen the profusion of American flags snapping in the wind at every cemetery we’ve passed on the reservations. Gallup is also known as the Most Patriotic Town in America. Home of Code-Talkers, medal recipients, those who gave their lives in service. It’s not a populist patriotism. It’s dedicated, honorable and non-partisan.
We don’t eat out often and usually we make it our one meal of the day, snacking on cheese and crackers or PBJs later. We don’t come for the food but for the community, the connection. I’ve ordered meatloaf, comfort food. The menu describes it as Spanish, which means it will have a red or green chili sauce. It wasn’t specified. In New Mexico chilis come green or red. You have to be careful. Red is actually mild. Green can blow your head off, especially if it has chunks of bright green chilis. Christmas is not just a holiday in New Mexico; it’s a combination or red and green chilis.
“Excuse me, I overheard you are having transmission troubles,” says the man at the next table, who had been quietly chatting with two women in Navajo. Turns out he’s a diesel mechanic. He and the Hub discuss the transmission and how to solve our problem. I listen, interject and continue to watch the walking art show.
Then my salad arrives and I’m transported to my roots. I’d ordered Thousand Island, a dressing not often on menus. Now I’m tasting the Thousand Island dressing of cowboys, a Depression-era recipe of ketchup thinned with mayo. It then occurs to me that meatloaf is also a Depression-era recipe, extending ground beef with saltine crackers. I once thought I grew up with traditional recipes, but now I’m facing the truth of that tradition — it’s poor food. I don’t mean the food is poor, I mean the people consuming it know poverty. The farmers, the fruit pickers, the Oakies, the Mexicans, the ranch hands, the transient. And I know why I’m struggling with the pain of my situation. It’s the shame of my impoverished roots.
I’m the mirror that reflects all. I realize my comfort in what should be a strange culture. We find comfort in poor food. We’ve gathered in a restaurant to pay money to eat poor food! The foodie in me wants to gasp and run away. Certainly for the same amount of money I can go buy some gourmet ingredients at the Gallup Safeway and whip up something tastier, fancier, richer. Instead, I own it. With absolute relish I eat my runny dressing, dig into my meatloaf with red chili sauce next to mashed potatoes with brown gravy and relish my plain pinto beans.
The beans I savor. Bare naked dried pintos hard boiled at least a day. This was the staple of my childhood kitchen. When you bite a boiled pinto, the fiber releases a distinct bean flavor. My grandmother grew these beans, dried them and boiled them with cloves of garlic. Even better, is to fry these beans in lard, mashing them as they fry. Refried beans. Mana of every westerner. Edward Abbey writes about refried beans and every initiate to the West eats them as the “Edward Abbey diet.” It’s my go-to. I always have a can of refried beans and a packet of corn masa tortillas. A little jack cheese and I’m transported to my comfort zone.
To realize this connection between my childhood and the those around me, I feel like I belong. Earl’s would not be the kind of restaurant I would have written about in my food column years ago, but it has given me a valuable insight. I’m no longer ashamed of my poor food roots. In fact, I didn’t realize I was and I’m pleased to have extracted that awareness. It brings me back to Mirabal when he sings about the burn of conflict we all feel because no one escapes walking in two worlds.
There’s the world represented by the ancient Navajo woman outside, the medicine world. Call it your spirituality, your Christianity, your Muslim or Hindi faith, your atheism. It’s your inner beliefs, your culture, your desire to know who you are and why you are. Mirabal says it has a dance, a language, the music and the arts. It’s all the beautiful things. The other world is that of confusion and computers, of cars and telephones. It’s chaos and yet we need it. He shouts, “Do you feel that burn of conflict? DO YOU FEEL THAT BURN OF CONFLICT? Yeah, I thought you did…” But then he prays for the next generation that their paths and transitions will be smoother, easier and that their fires will burn with hope, desire and love. “Do you feel that love? DO YOU FEEL THAT LOVE…”
Like the Taos People we live with our angels and demons. This is the dance between pain and beauty. Push into the fire, extract your art.
One concern I have as a writer it is that of right. What do I have the right to write? I’m all about diversity in books and making the literary arts available to all cultures. But do I have the right to write about other cultures? This was a topic at BinderCon LA in 2014. The grievous act is that of perpetuating stereotypes in fiction. In memoir, the concern is where does our story end and invade the privacy of another? I’m not sure I have the answer, but I’ll do my best to kneel in respect and try to understand. I’ll look for connections and common ground. I’ll share handshakes, art and laughter. I’ll be me and recognize you.
Writing Ike’s best friend, Michael Robineaux, as Native American initially felt uncomfortable to me. It wasn’t gratuitous. It was to honor a teenage sweetheart whose uncles had all been Marines. We worked together at a state park and he drove me crazy with all his boyish teasing. I didn’t know until later that he had wanted to ask me to be his girlfriend. I would have liked that, but I think we were both shy in that regard. I knew even as a teen that Natives were proud to serve in the military and I wanted to find a way to recognize that, thus my character’s creation.
What helps with developing any character is to think of him or her outside the frame of the story. What was childhood like? Did he move around or never leave until military service? What’s his favorite book, or does he like to fish after work? Is he neat or untidy? Who is his sister? What’s their relationship like? Does he hate a certain band? Why? And what food did he grow up with? What brings him comfort, or feels familiar?
May 4, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about comfort food. How can this familiarity influence a story or character? Is it something unusual, like Twinkies from the 1970s? Or is it something from home, from another place or time? Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by May 9, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published May 10). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Normal Tastes (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
“Tobasco Sauce?” Danni sat down with Michael and sprinkled her eggs liberally.
“I tasted it once on raw oysters, and it was not pleasant. Might have been the oysters, though.”
“I love fried oysters. If we ever ate out as a kid, we’d go to the Red Lion in Elko. I’d have liver and onions or fried oysters.”
“No hamburger and fries like a normal kid?”
“Nope, but if I’m to eat slimy things I like them peppered, breaded and fried.”
“Hmm.” Michael sprinkled two dots of sauce on his eggs. “Not sure I like food that bites back.”