Procession

Ashes to ashes,
dust to dust—flutter in the
wind blown by my lust.

—Nortina


Every Wednesday in June, I’ve been writing love poetry for my Camp NaNoWriMo novella, Love Poetry. Each poem will serve as an epigraph to the chapter it introduces.

If you read my 2015 A to Z Challenge, you already know what happens to Whitmore. However, looking back at those posts, I don’t think Jessica really had enough time to process the events before she was back with Bruce. Yoga may help relieve some tension, but let’s be serious, one session is not going to help you get over that kind of guilt that fast.

So I’ve added a new chapter in which Jessica goes to Whitmore’s funeral to try to deal with her grief over his death and her guilt for wanting to be with Bruce.

This poem was initially longer, much longer, but then I found myself trying to rhyme and stick to a meter, and it just got really cheesy reeeally fast. Then I realized the only part I felt strongly about was the repetition of ashes, dust, and lust. And wouldn’t you know, those stanzas were seventeen syllables! The perfect haiku!

So I cut everything else out, which was basically meaningless babble, and kept the lines that conveyed the most emotion with the strongest imagery.

Sometimes shorter is better.

So what do you think? Should I keep it like this, or do you want to see the longer, cornier (and still unfinished) version? Personally, I think it says all it needs to say in just three lines.

 

E is for… [E]ulogy #AtoZChallenge

The day went by as a procession of footsteps, blurred clothing streaking across her vision as bodies walked back and forth, praying, offering assistance, giving condolence. From dawn to dusk, she cried a river of tears on shoulders, into coat sleeves, and damp, balled up tissues. And when her eyes dried and burned like salt, a hoarse, guttural wail she didn’t recognize escaped her throat, and underneath the sobs, her entire core shuddered.

Her friends and family surrounded her. Their hands caressed her. Their words cooed her. Her church family came to her aid. They spoke God’s tongue. “To be absent in the body is to be present with the Lord,” they proclaimed. “God is our refuge and strength, and ever-present help in times of trouble,” they consoled. “Let the peace of God transcend all understanding,” they comforted. Despite the love all around her, Leslie felt completely and utterly alone.

Finally, as the evening approached and the crowd started to dwindle, she collapsed on the couch and lay motionless. She felt as if she had become the couch and the weight of herself sat on top of her, pushing her down into the springs and boards. She plucked at the bags underneath her eyes, the skin raw from lack of sleep and ceaseless crying since that dreadful morning four days ago when the cardiologist announced they couldn’t resuscitate, that Antonio, her soulmate, the man she spent twenty years of her life with, was gone.

“Get up.” A slap on her knee jerked her upright. Her mother stood over her, hair pulled back into a high bun. She pointed her cane toward the kitchen. “Pull yourself together for them boys.”

Tony and Gregory were sitting at the kitchen table. She had assigned them both tasks in preparing for their father’s funeral. Tony was in charge of keeping record of all the gifts—who brought flowers, who brought food, who signed the guestbook. Eventually, she would have to write all those people “thank you” cards. An arduous mountain climb she couldn’t imagine tackling for another month. Gregory was given the job of writing Antonio’s eulogy. He  slouched in his chair, tapping the eraser of his pencil against the blank sheet of paper in front of him.

“They need you to be strong,” her mother urged. “They lost a father. Some would say that’s more significant.”

Leslie let out an exasperated sigh, but she knew her mother was right. She pulled herself to her feet, feeling heavy, as if emerging wet from a pool, side-stepped her mother, who took her place on the couch, and joined her sons in the kitchen.

“I can’t do this,” Gregory said, wiping his eyes. “Can’t you give it to Tony?”

Tony looked up from his doodling in the guestbook. “You crying, boy?”

“Tony,” Leslie warned sharply. She stood behind Gregory, rubbed and kissed the crown of his head. “Yes you can, sweetheart. Just say whatever’s on your mind.”

“That’s the thing. I can’t think of anything.”

Leslie lowered her head into her son’s, kissing him again, over and over. She closed her eyes tightly, trying to hold back the next wave of tears. “Oh, precious boy, yes you can.”

“Man, can I go?” Tony huffed.

Leslie winced at his tone. She shook her head, reminding herself that he was a teenager, that his nonchalant attitude could be a form of grief. “Did you write down everything people brought?”

“Yes,” he said quickly with a loud exhale. Leslie didn’t believe him, but she let him go anyway, not wanting to deal with his stubbornness in her current state of mind.

She returned her attention the Gregory. She leaned over his shoulder, took his hand in hers and held the pencil upright. “Remember when you and your dad used to fix things around the house?”

He shrugged.

“Come on, honey. I can’t do this alone.” Gregory was never one without words. Always asking questions, eager to learn. He hung on his father’s every word, repeating everything he said, and living by it. Unlike Tony, Leslie and her husband rarely had to discipline Gregory, or repeat themselves several times before he would finally do what they asked. This was new territory for her. With her world already shaken, she tried to disguise her frustration. “What’s one lesson you remember him teaching you? One that you will always hold on to?”

“I don’t know, Mom!”

The ground under her feet began to vibrate as Tony returned to the kitchen, dribbling his basketball between his legs.

“What did I tell you about bouncing that ball?”

“Ok, Mom!” He stuffed the ball under his arm and left out of the back door.

“Can I go with Tony?”

“No, you need to finish.”

“I told you, I can’t!” He pushed his chair back from the table, knocking Leslie off her balance and into the cabinets behind her. He stormed past his grandmother who had come to the doorway of the kitchen, hunched over her cane. Leslie started to follow him, but the older woman raised her hand to stop her.

“You told me to be strong for them!” Leslie cried, but her voice cracked. All of her strength had left her, she had no crutch to lean against, and the greatest testing of her faith, Antonio’s funeral, was still yet to come.

—Nortina


Written for the A to Z Challenge. This year, I’m getting a head start on planning my novel for NaNoWriMo. prologues, character sketches (2), outlines, and in the case of this post, backstories. Stick around as I try to figure out what the heck I’m going to write in November!

Ashes to Ashes

I’m as shallow as these waters. Jewel squeezes my hand. He loves me. I’m supposed to love him. Daddy did — his dying wish that we don’t wait to marry.

The wind suddenly changes directions when Reverend Jacob holds the urn over the ocean.

My dad settles in my hair, and I shake and pull and rake, and fall hard on the rocks, and all Jewel can do is pull me into him, promise he’ll take me away from here. He needs to be my savior — that’s why I can’t marry him. I want to hurt. I want to cry alone.

word count: 100

—Nortina


© Rochelle Wisoff-Fields
© Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Friday Fictioneers challenges you to write a story in 100 words or less using the provided photo prompt as inspiration. Click the froggy icon to read other stories and add your own.

Depressed Deek

“Oh, I just wish I was dead!” a woman blurted.

I broke away from Grandma and followed the voice. Sitting on the plush, velvet cough against the wall left of Grandma, a stumpy old woman clad in a purple blouse and skirt matched so well with the fabric of the couch that if it had not been for her gray hair and pale white skin, I might not have seen her. She folded her arms over her chest, poked out her bottom lip—also painted purple—and said again, “I just wanna be dead!”

“Winifred, why would you wanna say a thing like that?” Grandma purred.

“Here we go again.” The woman with the eight-year-old hairstyle spun in her chair and turned her back to Winifred. “She says this all the time.”

“Such a damper,” said the older gentlemen sitting on the other side of Grandma beside the record player—the music gone silent again—in an armchair identical to hers. He lowered his head and with his middle finger, scratched the age spot on his bald crown. “You wanna die so much, why don’t you marry Millie? She seems to have mastered the skill of killing spouses.”

Grandma chuckled, but the tears still lingering in the corners of her eyes told me she didn’t appreciate his joke.

“Two broads marrying, humph.” The last of our group sat away from us, giving us only his profile. A newspaper lay open in his lap, and he flipped through the pages as he spoke. “Shit’s legal now, humph. And I thought we were done for when they let the races marry.”

“Then you’d love to hear about my husband Lindell.” Grandma stuck out her tongue. “Don’t mind him,” she said to me. “He used be in the KKK.”

“Marcos is his roommate,” Baldy added, then he yelled out, “Karma’s a bitch, ain’t it, Frank!”

“Stop all that cursing, Thomas,” Grandma swatted at his mouth, and he dodged the back of her hand.

“I was in the navy for thirty years! The sailor talk is bred in me.”

“Why won’t the Lord just take me now!” The wrinkles in the jowls hanging from Winifred’s jaw deepened as she shook her head.

“Oh, shut up, Winifred!” Thomas and Frank said in unison.

“You stop talking all that craziness, you hear?” Grandma added.

“I don’t have nobody,” Winifred continued. “You got all these husbands, I never even had one. Your granddaughter comes to visit you every week, I ain’t seen my niece since she put me in here. I just wanna die!”

Grandma slowly stood to her feet, her knees making a soft popping sound as she straightened up. She went over and sat next to Winifred on the couch. “Life’s too precious to want to end it before it’s time.” She put her arm around Winifred’s shoulders. “You know, I had a husband who killed himself.”

“Really?” I asked. Grandma nodded, though her attention was focus on Winifred, as if the rest of us weren’t even there. It was just the two of them in conversation now. This story was reserved only for Winifred.

D“Deek was a sweet man. I wasn’t smitten by him or anything, but I was happy. He was a great friend.” She looked up at the ceiling and wiped her eyes. “I remember that really bad blizzard of ’58. We sat by the fireplace talking for hours about everything we ever wanted to do in life, until we got soot on our faces.”

“Why did he kill himself?” Winifred asked.

Grandma inhaled deeply, raising her shoulders. When she exhaled, her entire body shrank, and she all but disappeared behind Winifred into the purple couch. “His mother was an awful woman. She gave him a hard time. I don’t think she liked me much. Eighteen-years-old and already widowed three times. I was getting a reputation around our little town. Most men thought I was some kind of witch. Deek was the only one who spoke to me after Carl died.

“I think he knew I wasn’t in love with him like I was with Andrew and Carl. I did love him, though. Maybe I just didn’t tell him enough.” She hung her head and pinched the bridge of her nose. “I should have been there.” Tear drops fell to her thighs, soaking the thin fabric of her dress. “I was at my parents’ house when he did it. Mama had asked me to go to the store and buy her some white beans for her three bean chili.” She titled back her head and whipped her hair off her face, blinking away tears. “When I got home later that afternoon, I found him hanging from the ceiling fan.”

“You poor girl,” Winifred said.

“Of course, his mother blamed me. Wouldn’t even let me go to his funeral. Me. His wife.”

“Funerals bring out the ugliness in people,” Thomas muttered. “Happened at my wife’s funeral.”

Grandma shook her head. “This woman was already ugly.”

“But you eventually moved on, right?” Winifred asked.

“I eventually remarried, yes,” Grandma said, “but it still haunts me all these years later. I just wish I knew what I could’ve done to prevent it.” One of Winifred’s gray curls stuck out behind her ear, and Grandma twirled it around her finger and tucked it down. “Take it from someone who’s been married twenty-six times and watched each of her husbands die. Death is never easy. Sometimes I’m just as lonely as you feel. But look around you.” She spread her arms, welcoming the rest of us in. “You have family here, and I’ll lend you my granddaughter every once in a while,” she said and winked.

“How bout lending her a husband,” Thomas joked. We all laughed, even Winifred and grumpy, old Frank, and the heaviness of the air finally lifted.

 —Nortina


The A to Z Challenge is in full throttle! Have you joined yet? Come back to read more from 26 Husbands–26 Unusual Deaths. And be sure to check out more “D” posts from other A to Z bloggers.

Cadillac Carl

The nurses were agitated. Spending most of their days picking up behind the residents, drawing up baths, being slapped and bitten when they tried to give the more resistant seniors their medicine. The last thing they wanted to do was clean up Jerry’s vomit. I offered to help, but I was afraid one of the nurses would curse me out.

“No! I’ll take care of it. This ain’t your job.” She soaked the mop in the mop bucket then put it in the wringer and squeezed out the excess water, sparse of suds and the same dingy gray as the mop yarn. She slapped the mob down into the puddle, splashing up the vomit, and pushed the mop across the floor from left to right, spreading the liquid rather than soaking it up.

The nurse checking Jerry’s vitals stepped back to avoid getting splashed. “Why don’t you try cleaning it up instead of making a bigger mess.”

“I don’t see you offering to help.” The other nurse rolled her eyes and dumped the mop back into the dirty water. Without wringing it out, she dropped the dripping mop onto the floor with a splash, and drew wide figure eights around the edge of the puddle, knocking the top of the mop against both Marcos and Jerry’s feet. When she finished cleaning up all the vomit, she left behind a significant amount of water from the mob, which she decided not to wipe away, putting the wet floor sign over it instead.

Some of the meanest and most callous women worked in assistant living facilities, caring for the helpless elderly.

A third nurse took off Marcos’ shoes and checked the hem of his pants. “Let’s get you changed,” she said, then looked up at Grandma. “I’ll bring him back in a few.” She turned him around and wheeled him down the hall toward his room.

One out of three wasn’t bad, but was it worth admitting aged loved-ones into places like this knowing that at least two thirds of the time they would probably be mistreated and abused? I was grateful Grandma could mostly take care of herself. She wasn’t as old as the other residents, and her mind was nowhere near as deteriorated—just last week we played Sudoku, and she finished hers before I could even get two columns done. She only hated living alone. At least here, she always had a face to talk to, even if that face was as numb and as inanimate as the walls.

“I’m fine now,” Jerry said to the nurse trying to check his blood pressure. His face was turning red the tighter the strap compressed on his arm. “It’s when Millie’s talking bout that Burt that I—” he quickly covered his mouth and belched loudly. We all flinched, afraid he was about to throw up again.

“140 over 90,” the nurse read. “Did you take your medicine this morning?”

“Hell if I know. Did you give it to me?” Jerry crossed his arms over his chest, refusing to meet her eyes.

“Come on.” She took him by the elbow and pulled him to his feet. “Let’s get your medicine in you.”

“When I get back, you better not still be talking about Burt!” Jerry called over his shoulder as he and the nurse shuffled toward the nurses station.

“Bye, Jerry!” Grandma fluttered her fingers as she waved. “Now, where was I?”

“Who was after Burt?” the woman to my right said in a wavering voice. It was the first time she’d spoken since I’d been there. Her shoulder-length white hair was pulled back behind a hot pink headband and the ends curled under at her ears in a hairstyle akin to an eight-year-old girl’s.

Grandma nodded. “So, I met my next husband at Burt’s funeral.”

“Wow, Grandma, moving kinda fast, aren’t we?”

“Sweetie, if you ever make the unfortunate mistake of marrying a man like Burt, you’ll understand why I had to rid all memory of him out of my system as quickly as possible.”

“So who was he?” I asked.

C“Carl drove the family car for the funeral home. A beautiful Cadillac limousine. Doors so shiny you could see your reflection in it clear as day. The windows were tented. The seats were leather, and not a stain or rip in sight! I tell ya, if you every wanna make some money, get in the funeral business. Riding in back of that limo made me feel like a movie star!”

“So much for being in mourning, huh?” I said.

“No, I put on an acceptable show.” Grandma feigned dabbing under her eyes with her handkerchief. “It was spring, and the pollen was bad that year, so it didn’t take much.” Grandma leaned to the side, and slowly slid her legs out from under her. “Ahh, girl’s getting old,” she said. She massaged her knees and bounced her legs up and down to regain feeling.

“That’s how Carl caught my attention,” she continued. “After the burial, we went back to the church for the repast. When he opened the door to let me out, he took my hand, kissed it, and said, ‘Sorry for your loss, madam.’ ” Grandma shivered and patted her chest. “His voice was so smooth, like jazz, like the sax. He reminded me a lot of Andrew.

“There were a lot of people at the repast. A lot of his former patients came, and Burt had a big family too. Lots of aunts and uncles and cousins. Nieces and nephews. He has five brothers too, and one sister. Thankfully, they didn’t have the same problem of keeping their food down.

“The church had barely enough to serve everybody, so we weren’t allowed to have seconds. But Carl sneaked me a plate of mac and cheese and barbecue chicken when no one was looking. I’d like to think that was his way of proposing. ‘As beautiful as you are,’ he whispered to me, ‘you won’t stay a widow forever.’ I squeezed his hand and said, ‘Not for long.’

“Of course, we had to wait and be mindful of Burt’s family.” Grandma shrugged her shoulders innocently. “But we became husband and wife months before we said our I do’s.”

“Ooh, Grandma, for shame!”

Grandma sighed, and her entire face dropped. I knew then that it was another happy marriage that ended too soon.

“So how did he die?” I asked.

“A freak accident,” Grandma said after a long pause. “He was working under the car at the funeral home. Carl was good with his hands. Really good.” Grandma exhaled a weighted laugh. “The funeral home director told me the car wasn’t on the jack properly, and it eventually gave way…”

“The car fell on top of him?” I asked horrified.

“Crushed his ribs, and one of the broken ribs punctured his lung.” Her eyes began to water, and she quickly wiped the corners before the tears fell. “Our marriage was even shorter than mine and Andrew’s,” she said. “The accident happened seven days after the wedding ceremony. The hospital kept him alive another 15 hours, but he breathed his last breath into my ear when I laid my head on his chest. Even it sounded like the last wind from the percussion of drums and cymbals fading out at the end of a jazz song.”

“Oh, Grandma.” I stood up to hug her, taking a giant step over the puddle of water left behind by the moody nurse. Her emotion was very much real, even if I still believed Carl wasn’t. Her body shuddered as she sobbed into my shoulder, and I rubbed her back in a circular motion. There were so many more husbands we had to get through. Hopefully, all the stories weren’t as sad.

—Nortina


Check out more “C” posts from the A to Z Challenge.

Grandma’s Confessions

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photo by Barbara Beacham

“Little did we know that Grandpa was a collector.” Jessie read, wiping tears.

“Would you believe we only did it once?” Grandma, drunk, smacked her lips. “That’s how we got your Mama.”

I didn’t want to tell her to shut up, but we were on the front pew, and Bishop Jorge kept looking our way.

“He left his screwdriver in my panty drawer once.” The whisky was hot on her breathe. “I thought it was one of those toys you kids fondle yourselves with.”

“God, Grandma, too much information!” I shrieked.

Bishop Jorge stood and tapped Jessie on her shoulder. “Mrs. Winklestaff, is there something you’d like to add?”

“Sure do!” Grandma’s legs wobbled as she walked to the podium. Jessie glowered at me for interrupting her eulogy she’d spent all night writing.

“Hubert was good with his hands.” Grandma’s lips nearly touched the microphone. “But I wouldn’t know. He spent all his time working on his damn trucks.”

word count: 150

—Nortina

Professional Crier

Most people don’t believe me when I tell them I cry for a living. They write off my answer as a sarcastic way of saying I’m unemployed.

Then someone in their family dies— maybe the potbellied uncle who sat on the couch drinking Bud Light and watching Fox News all day, ranting about how the homosexuals, the blacks, and the wetbacks were ruining America; or the successful NYC sister-in-law who bragged about her six-figure salary, called everyone south of the Mason-Dixon line country bumpkins, and complained about mom-in-law’s heart attack food.

***

Rhonda’s grandmother lived in her attic. She called Rhonda fat and ugly and criticized her cooking until the day of her stroke. The funeral was held on her family’s four acre ranch. Rhonda assured the priest that the low attendance was due to most of Miriam’s friends dying before her, including her husband. But for good measure, she hired me to collapse against the large headstone, cry out to the Lord, “why,” and faint as they lowered the casket.

***

Rhonda hands them my card.

word count: 175

—Nortina


Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers is a weekly challenge where you write a story in 100-150 words (give or take 25 words) using the provided photo prompt as inspiration.

Click on the froggy icon to read other stories and add your own!

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