#ThrowbackThursday Poetry: I dream of wild strawberries

I dream of wild strawberries sprouting between the cracks of my dilapidated porch. Crawling on my hands and knees, I’ve regressed as this house; boarded windows, replace glass, cannot block the wind. The critters slip in at night, drawn to the dim light—a single lamp burns on my last paid electric bill. They settle in bed with me, finish eating the tattered sheets. It’s been days since the storm and still no relief, but I pry up the wood planks—splinters buried under fingernails. Fruit-shaped tear drops, the color of a summer sunset, red like the stop sign bent over backwards in overgrown grass. Seeds prick my tongue like taste buds; anticipation more satisfying than the bite. A sweetness that makes me forget the flood damage, the mosquitoes, the purple welts dotting my arms, the fever, the declined insurance claim, the spoiled milk and molded bread. A sweetness like Fourth of July cookouts, freshly mowed lawns, homemade ice cream melting on the spoon. A sweetness that reminds me of a lover’s kiss, saturates the mouth, explodes like a firework—as I sink in my teeth—and wake in darkness, cold, with drool on my chin.


Read the original, published October 17, 2017.

I dream of wild strawberries

I dream of wild strawberries sprouting between the cracks of my dilapidated porch. Crawling on my hands and knees, I’ve regressed as this house; boarded windows replace glass, can’t block the wind, the critters from slipping in at night, drawn to the dim light—a single lamp burns on my last paid electric bill. They snuggle in bed with me, finish eating the tattered sheets. It’s been days since the storm and still no relief, but I pry up the wood planks, splinters buried under fingernails. Fruit shaped like teardrops, the color of a summer sunset, red like the stop sign bent over backwards in overgrown grass. Seeds prick my tongue like taste buds; anticipation more satisfying than the bite. A sweetness that makes me forget the flood damage, the mosquitoes, the purple welts along my arms, the fever, the declined insurance claim, the spoiled milk and molded bread. A sweetness like Fourth of July cookouts, freshly mowed lawns, homemade ice-cream nearly melted on the spoon. A sweetness that saturates the mouth, reminds me of a lover’s kiss, tasting my own balm on his lips, transferred to the back of my throat for me to swallow—until I sink my teeth and wake in darkness, cold, with drool on my chin.

—Nortina

A Town Called Oceanview | Part 2

Continued from “Lost” …

Introductions

“Welcome! Welcome!” an elderly woman approaching them called. She was wearing wool socks, no shoes, and a pink floral dress—or it could’ve even been a nightgown, for her massive bosom hiked it up high enough that it became indecent for someone her age to wear a dress that short in public.

She looked older than death itself; her face covered in wrinkles, her eyelids sagging low over her eyes—it was a wonder she could even see—her gray hair frayed and stringy, thinning at the temples and behind her ears. She was barely taller than five feet and morbidly obese, at least three hundred pounds or more. Her skin was a dark, leathery brown, as if she had spent too many years tanning in the sun, and it folded in ripples down her arms and legs. As round as she was, she reminded him more of an English bulldog than anything remotely human.

And yet, even on swollen feet that clumped against the hardwood floor like cinder blocks—shoes probably didn’t fit her anyway—she still moved at an unbelievably fast pace and had her thick arms wrapped around his neck in a tight bear hug before he could get out of dodge.

He hugged her back, not to be rude, though he wasn’t sure of the occasion. Did he know this woman? Grandmother? Great-grandmother, perhaps? Or was it common practice to embrace a total stranger upon greeting in this mysterious town called Oceanview? He strained to catch a clarifying glace at the girl next to him, who had been so captivated by the painting and the story of the lost fishing vessel.

“Oh, I see you’ve already met Bess,” the old woman said after she released him. Bess was a stark contrast to the old woman. She towered over her, and almost met him at eye level. Her ivory skin pulled tightly over her bones. She wore a white tank top, and her broad shoulders poked so far out they looked as if they would pierce right through the skin. Despite looking thin and frail, there was still a ray of light behind her eyes, and her sunshine gold hair cascaded down her back in waves.

“I hope your trip wasn’t too painful?” The woman was saying.

He raised an eyebrow. “Painful, ma’am?”

“Birdy, I don’t think he remembers,” Bess whispered.

“Remembers what?”

“No matter.” The woman clasped her hands together, and a low echo reverberated off the walls. The room had amazing acoustics; he suspected it once was a gymnasium before being converted into what he could only assume was a visitors center. “Sometimes it’s easier to forget.  Like my husband used to say: The ‘how’ is not always important, it’s the ‘what you do with it’ that takes the cake.”

“That’s an interesting phrase,” he said.

“Thank you. I’ve really come to cherish it in my old age, especially when dealing with some of the more distressing realities of life that I can’t control.” She was silent for a moment, and she and Bess exchanged tight-lipped looks in front of him. They seemed to be having a conversation solely with their eyes. Bess’s eyes widened, her brows arched, as if pleading to say something, to share some secret information that would help get his head out of this fog that only seemed to get worse with the women’s vague revelations. However, “Birdy” stood firm. She squinted her eyes and furrowed her brows as if scolding Bess for being so naive. Then she turned to him with a wide grin he would have mistaken for genuine if he hadn’t just witnessed the tense staring contest.

“By the way, my name is Lady Byrd, but you can call me Birdy.” She stretched out her hand to shake his, and he willingly took it, but when he opened his mouth to introduce himself, he froze.

He hadn’t the slightest clue who he was.

—Nortina


It is Short Story A Day May, and today’s prompt was kind of . . . meh . . . Anyone else feeling a little uninspired by these last few prompts? I decided to deviate today, to regain that energy and enthusiasm I had at the beginning of the challenge. Ok, ok, let me stop complaining. Knowing me, I’ll probably end up writing that “list” story anyway, just because my mind won’t stop trying to figure out how to turn such a lame prompt into an interesting story. It will most likely come to me in the middle of the night like most of my stories. Until then, I hope you enjoyed part two of Oceanview! 

The Lord Will Keep You

Bacon sizzled and popped in the pan. Leslie hovered over the stovetop, watching the bacon’s translucent pink transition to a deep, crispy red. She forked the strips out of the pan and onto a plate lined with a paper towel to trap the grease.

She cracked half a dozen eggs into a bowl, scrambled them with the same fork she used to flip the bacon, and poured them into the hot pan. She cooked robotically, not fully aware of her own movements, working on muscle memory alone.

She hadn’t slept at all the night before, tossing and turning until almost four in the morning, while next to her Antonio lay completely still but for the rise and fall of his chest under his heavy breathing. She envied how quickly he descended into sweet slumber, mere moments after kissing her goodnight and laying his head down on the pillow.

She had to coax herself into sleep. After hours of fruitless efforts to get comfortable, she clicked on the lamp by the bed and retrieved her Bible from the top drawer of the nightstand. God was keeping her up for a reason, and she desired to know why.

She opened the Bible to her favorite psalm, 121:

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help / My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. / He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber / Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep…

She stopped, prayed, “Lord, why have you kept me awake? Why do you refuse to grant me sleep while you work on my behalf?”

She didn’t expect a response. He rarely answered her prayers, especially when she question His motives. She used to be embarrassed by that. She’d been saved since her undergraduate years in college, nearly three decades, but she had never heard the voice of God.

It was on their second date, when the conversation had turned to salvation and whether or not they both had a relationship with Jesus Christ, that Antonio assured her there was nothing wrong not being able to hear His voice. He doesn’t always speak to you, she remembered him saying. Sometimes it’s just a feeling, like butterflies in your stomach when you talk to your crush. When He wants you to do something, it’s like you get dizzy, and you can almost see yourself doing it in your head. Some would call that a premonition, but it’s not; it’s the Holy Spirit leading you. “That’s how I came to give my life,” he’d told her. “I saw myself walking to the altar even before I did it.”

She waited for that feeling, that vision, to see herself fast asleep, and then to lie back dizzy, pull the covers up to her chin, and actually sleep. But God startled her that night, His voice like thunder filling the room.

“Keep reading.”

And she could hardly keep the Bible steady enough to read, her hands shaking uncontrollably. She laid it across her lap, stuttered through the words as she read aloud. Her ears still rang from hearing him for the first time, and her voice sound minuscule in comparison, like those squeaky little cartoon chipmunks she used to watch on television as a child. But she kept reading as instructed, whispering low to herself the entire psalm, down to the last two verses.

The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul / The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

And as if by the snap of His mighty finger, she was asleep.

Antonio’s cold hands curled around Leslie’s shoulders, jolting her back into the present.

“Morning, beautiful.” He kissed her neck.

She shuddered out of his embrace. “Honey, your hands are like ice.”

“That’s because I don’t have you to keep me warm.” He wrapped his arms around her waist, rocked her side to side, and slipped one hand underneath her blouse to caress her stomach around her belly button. She closed her eyes, rested her head on his shoulder, and he dipped down, lightly pressed his soft lips against hers. After twenty years of marriage he could still swoon her off her feet.

“Ugh, get a room!” Tony said from the kitchen table behind them.

“Watch who you talking to, boy,” Antonio snapped. “And last time I checked, every room in this house belongs to me. Unless you want to start paying the mortgage.”

Leslie hadn’t even noticed the boys were already at the kitchen table waiting to be served their breakfast before school. Tony slumped in his chair. He returned his attention to something on his phone’s screen. Leslie hated they’d even bought him one. He was a teenager, growing more and more distant from his family, and a cell phone only expedited that, but he needed a way to contact them whenever there was an emergency. She was reluctantly forced to compromise. At least she could still control his minutes. Limited text messages and no phone calls after 7 PM.

Next to him Gregory wrote in a thee-subject spiral notebook. Across the page he had written out the multiplication table, up to 20. He had a math test that day, and she was proud to see him studying. She wished Tony would follow his little brother’s example, since he was at the moment failing History.

“Boys, make sure you have everything together for school. Breakfast will be ready in a minute.” Leslie cut the heat off the eye of the stove and stirred the eggs with a whisk. Some of it had begun to stick to the pan, and she sighed in frustration.

“You ok, sweetie? You seem tired,” Antonio said.

“Couldn’t sleep.” She thought to ask him if he had heard anything last night. Those two words God had spoken had been so loud, so clear, but while she could barely contain her heart, pounding through her chest, Antonio didn’t even flinch. The message was meant only for her. If God had wanted her to share it, he would’ve woken Antonio too.

“Here, go sit down. I’ll finish up.”

Leslie couldn’t help but chuckle. Breakfast was ready, all that was left was dividing it onto four plates, but if Antonio thought he was helping, she wouldn’t refuse him. Chivalry was far from dead when it came to their relationship. She only hoped her boys would inherit their father’s same kindness and respect toward women.

She sat next to Gregory and smiled. “Ready for your test?”

He closed his notebook and stuffed it in his bookbag on the floor. “I think so.”

Leslie nodded. “Confidence, sweetie.” She turned to Tony across. “Put that phone away at the breakfast table.”

He rolled his eyes.

“Keep rolling your eyes like that, and they’ll get stuck there.”

He sucked his teeth. “Whatever.”

Leslie stood and was about to reach across the table to pop him in the mouth, but she heard a loud crash behind her. She spun around. Antonio was no longer standing in front of the stove. She rushed around the kitchen island and found him on the floor unconscious, the hot pan on his shoulder next to the oven, the scrambled eggs split all over his chest.

“Oh my god!” She fell to her knees, cradled his head in her lap. She slapped his face repeatedly. “Come on. You’re alright, you’re alright.” She swiped the tears from her cheeks. “No, you’re alright. Come on. Come on!” she pleaded.

“Mom?” Gregory and Tony had followed her. They stood at the corner of the stove next to the fallen frying pan. She looked up at her youngest son, and all her fear transferred into his eyes. They curved downward like almonds and welled up with tears.

She shook her head and pushed his legs back. “Call 9-1-1!”

“I-I don’t—” He looked over his shoulder at his brother behind him.

“Tony!” Leslie screamed. “We gave you that phone for emergencies like this!”

He scrambled to tug his phone out of his front pocket, suddenly tight around his hand. He finally ripped it out but dropped it on the floor. Leslie snatched it up. On her third try, she got the operator—the first two times, her fingers moving too fast, she dialed 9-0-1-1 and 1-1-2-9.

“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”

“Get me an ambulance!” She panted heavily, tried to swallow back the sobs and mucus building at the back of her throat. Her voice faded in and out as she tried to speak, her chest bouncing in rythm with the fluttering of her racing heart. She was too flustered even to remember their address. “It’s my husband,” she stammered

“Ma’am, try to calm down. Can you tell me if he’s breathing?” His voice was steady, smooth. He spoke at the same level as he had when he first answered, not raising even half a decibel. He was probably used to this, trained on how to handle frantic callers like her, deescalating as much as he could over the phone before the police and paramedics arrived.

Leslie squeezed two fingers against Antonio’s neck, but she couldn’t feel a pulse. The phone fell from her ear, and she fell facedown across Antonio’s stiffened chest. “Please, God! Please don’t take him from me!”

And again, He answered her. Two times in under six hours after twenty-seven years of silence.

“Remember what you read.” He was preparing her for what was to come, a trying of her faith in Him, like when He commanded Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac. Could she trust Him to be her only source after the love of her life was taken away from her? Job tore his clothes, fell prostrate to the floor and worshiped Him when he lost everything. Could she do the same?

The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away…

 No, she couldn’t accept it. “Not this, God. Anything but this!” She prayed unceasingly, knowing He wouldn’t change His mind, but she continued anyway, while Tony and Gregory stood over her, frozen, and watched. Their lives were about to change catastrophically, and while she knew that all things worked together for the good to them that loved Him, in that moment, as she prayed and prayed for Antonio’s healing and deliverance, she wasn’t sure she could say with tenacious zeal that she truly loved God over the man who lay dying in her arms.

—Nortina


It is Short Story A Day May, and  all this week the prompts are geared toward novelists! Today’s prompt comes from Lisa Cron and asks us to investigate a turning point in our protagonist’s past. This was the perfect opportunity to explore more backstory for my NaNoWriMo novel, “Lost Boy.” Last month, I used the April A to Z Challenge to plan out the novel. If you missed it, read it from the beginning here

A Town Called Oceanview | Part 1

Lost

He couldn’t breath. He took quick sharp inhales back to back, but couldn’t catch his breath.

His stomach was flung to the back of his throat, and pressure built in his head as if he were hanging upside down. He looked out the small, circular window and saw the earth spinning. The sky in the ocean, the ocean in the sky, the land between in a winding, twisting, blurry streak of green, black, and shades of brown, spinning into the center of his sight, and disappearing as if going down a drain.

An invisible force thrust him back into his seat, and he grabbed tightly onto the armrests as his body stretched in opposite directions. In his ears a piercing echo, like an engine blown, like a thousand screams, like a countdown to detonation, like a tumbling descent from the heavens.

He braced himself for impact, for certain death, as the sound increased in volume, and he peeled back his lips from his chattering teeth in an attempt at one final call for help from an unseen God.

Then total silence, total darkness. He felt he was still falling, but in extreme slow motion, conscious but unable to change his circumstance. He was suspended between time and space—freefall in limbo. He heard voices in the distance trying to break through the barrier. They were muffled at first, but grew louder and clear the closer they came, bouncing around him like a ripple in a wave underwater, until finally the burst through the bubble.

“Interesting story, isn’t it? A crew of fishermen lost at sea over thirty years discover a small island and build a town.”

He was standing in front of a framed painting of a large schooner against a black sky in the middle of the ocean being tossed to and fro by the winds and the waves. The plaque underneath read: The Net on its maiden voyage, mid-October 1869.

The source of the voice that broke him from his trance stood next to him. She had her hands behind her back, admiring the painting. He scanned his surroundings and realized he was in a small museum, one that depicted the apparent history of whatever town he’d found himself in. Mounted on the walls were more paintings, each one representing a point in the timeline. He assumed he stood before the first, since behind him was an entrance door that was closed off by a velvet rope.

He turned to the woman who was now smiling at him.

“I’m sorry.” He hesitated. He couldn’t remember why he was there, or how he had even gotten there. It was as if he’d been picked up and put somewhere he didn’t recognized. He wondered if he should tell her this. How crazy would he sound to her?

“I’m feeling kind of hazy. Could you tell me where I am?”

Her smile slowly faded away. She lowered her eyes to the floor and said, “Oceanview.” He waited for details—Oceanview, California? Florida? Which ocean was viewable—the Atlantic, Pacific? But she offered no explanation. Her smile returned, a little weaker, and he tried to smile too, despite being helplessly confused, but when he looked into her eyes, he saw a hint of fear and perhaps even sadness, and he wondered if there was something more dire about this Oceanview that she was unwilling to reveal.

—Nortina

Up Next: “Introductions” …


It is Short Story A Day May, and today’s prompt from Julie Duffy invites us to take a second look at a story we’ve written in the past. I have so many stories I could return to and write from a different angle, but I decided on this story, which I haven’t looked at since writing it back in 2014 for a fiction writing class and later posting it here. While it started as a short story, I actually want to serialize it (When I first wrote it, I was thinking “ABC’s next Lost” ). So here’s part one. I hope you like it. 🙂 

Dreams are Real

It wasn’t so much a nightmare as it was a memory. A memory of a life, of what it could have been had she only said yes.

Now, with him feet away in the produce aisle, picking up, sniffing peaches, and putting them back down again, she wonders if it would be inappropriate to walk up to him and say, Hi. Remember me? Remember what we were, what we used to be, what we could have been together?

She had fallen asleep watching the Newlywed Game and dreamt they were married, that they quizzed themselves on how well they knew each other, fought whenever they got a question wrong, made up all night when the game was over.

She could still feel his touch on her skin, his body pressed into hers, his heart beating against her chest. It was real, it had to be, until she woke, and it became a nightmare, because she was lying along on the same dead mattress she’s had for the last nine years, with its lumps and broken springs and bedbug carcasses.

No sense in trying to change the past, she reminds herself. Fate is fate, and she missed hers. Still, it wouldn’t hurt just to speak, would it? She takes a step forward, and he turns his head, in the other direction; someone is calling his name. But it’s not his name they scream.

“Daddy, Daddy!” The little girl runs to him carrying a bunch of spotted bananas. He scoops her up, sits her on his right hip and kisses her forehead as she drops the bananas into the basket he carries in his other hand alone with the peaches he’s finally selected. And although a mother doesn’t follow, the pang in her chest cautions her from continuing on the path toward another heartbreaking nightmare.

She drops her grocery list to the floor, just as he begins to spin around with his daughter in his arms, and she exists through the sliding doors, just as she came, having purchased nothing, with the one wish that her dream could still be fulfilled, if only he’d find the post-it note on the floor, see it stuck to the bottom of his shoe, discover the thumbprint on the pastel yellow slip of paper, and diligently seek its match.

—Nortina


It is Short Story A Day May, and today’s prompt from Maria Hazen Lewis, “Nightmare,” hit a little close, because I just had a dream about an ex… 

Only Friends

Dreams are real,” he says.

I nod until he tells me he dreamt of our wedding night, how he lifted me off my feet when my dress became too heavy to dance, and we twirled around the ballroom like we were the only two people in the whole world.

I open my mouth to correct him, but my voice escapes. We are just friends — words every man hates to hear.

We’ve been friends for over two years. When will we ever be more? I know what I want — you. There’s no one else.

He’s always been in love with me. He knows my every secret, what I love and hate. To him, we fit, but my stomach bloats whenever I think of him kissing me.

I just don’t see you in that way…

I don’t tell him of my dream — the dream where I return home from the hospital, afraid to go inside alone with the possibility that my rapist still lurks in the shadows.

How many more rejections will it take before both dreams come true? I count my lives down to the day I can no longer tell him no.

—Nortina

Penny For Your Dreams

I never cared for the taste of coffee. It was like blending dirt, boiling it in rain water collected in a rotted barrel, and drinking it for breakfast. Three days ago, I wouldn’t have imagined myself swaying in front of the coffee maker as the grinding of the beans lulled me to sleep. The rich, dark espresso shot down my throat, through my arms and legs down to the tips of my fingers and toes. I stood erect as it warmed my stiff body, loosened my muscles.

“I never took you for a coffee drinker,” said my coworker who had just entered the break room. She opened the refrigerator and took out a container of Yoplait Greek yogurt.

“I’m not.” I shoveled ten spoonful’s of sugar into my mug, poured the creamer until my coffee turned beige.

“I can see that.” She leaned against the counter, peeled back the seal of her yogurt and licked it. “So what’s the occasion?” she asked, smacking her lips.

“Can’t sleep.” I took another sip. I could still taste the bitterness, a smudge of mud lingering on my tongue. I added two more spoonful’s of sugar, poured the cream until it reached the rim of my mug. “I’ve been having this recurring nightmare.”

“What about?” she asked, mouth full of yogurt.

“You’d laugh if I told you.”

“C’mon, no I won’t. I promise.”

I turned my back to her as I recounted the horrors of last night. “I keep seeing this man. He’s wearing trousers, a gray vest and a bowler hat. He has a monocle over his eye, but I can’t see his face, and he’s—” My breath caught.

“He’s what?” She was standing behind me now. I felt the warmth of her hand lingering over my shoulder, but she hesitated to bring it down.

“He’s riding a penny-farthing.”

“A what?”

“You know, those bikes from the 1800’s with the big wheel up front, and the tiny wheel behind.” I looked at her over my shoulder. She was pressing her lips together, trying to hide a smile. I pulled away from her. “I knew you would laugh.”

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. But you gotta admit, it does sound kind of ridiculous.”

“No. It doesn’t.” I shook my head, fell into the chair at the round table against the wall. “He rides past my bedroom window. Back and forth. Waving. Taking off his hat and nodding at me with no face. He does it all night. And it’s so real, I don’t know if I’m dreaming or sitting there on my bed watching it happen. All I know is I wake up the next morning exhausted, and my curtains are pulled back nearly off the rod.” I cleared my throat, a weak cough and tearless sob.

“This has really got you frazzled, huh?” she said, pulling out a chair and sitting next to me. She folded her hands in her lap, still afraid to touch me.

“I’m being tormented by some demented 19th century ghost.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?” A hint of a smirk was still on her lips.

I rose from my seat, retrieved my coffee mug from the counter next to the maker. “Please don’t tell the whole department I’m crazy,” I said as I exited the break room.

—Nortina


127-10-october-25th-2015This piece of flash fiction is in response to this week’s photo prompt for Sunday Photo Fiction. Click the froggy icon to read other stories inspired by the photo and add your own.

Write or Die Wednesday: Fog

I see ghosts in the fog—
pale-faced shadows floating
above the surface, drifting into
what was, what used to be.
One dives down to kiss me—
grazes his frozen lips against
my cheek. He moans; I remind
him of a love long forgotten—
his only memory: her curly,
chestnut hair, how it wrapped
around his fingers like tiny
serpents, his blood flow halted—
stiff as stone. He tries to lay
me down, reincarnate his
devotion between the cracks of
a wooden bench— his limbs
disintegrate the higher he hikes
my skirt until only water
droplets lick my exposed skin.
Another fires cotton bullets
toward my head; shouts,
Who is your master?
Where are your papers?
I hear the crash of braided raw
cowhide behind me—  the tip
of a feather quickly brushing
down my spine. The halo overhead
descends, tightens around my neck.
Dark outlines of limp bodies
dangle from willows.
I swing with them
behind the veil of weeping leaves
until the wind blows, the fog lifts, and
the spirits of my nightmare
wander into slumber
before the morning rooster crows.

—Nortina


I recently came across Write or Die Wednesday, which is a biweekly writing challenge that provides you with a prompt and lets you run with it. This week’s prompt was:

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Read other fog writings, and have a go at it yourself!