A is for Attached

A prequel of Whitmore’s last relationship before he met Jessica. Originally posted for the A to Z Challenge April 1, 2015.


It was New Year’s Eve, and Whitmore was sitting up in a cold hotel bed with a bottle of flat champagne next to him, calling his girlfriend Layla for the fifteenth straight time.

The ball had already dropped, lights and confetti exploding around the illuminated numbers, 2014. All of the televised parties and concerts had gone off the air an hour ago. He was watching MTV count down the best music videos of 2013. He cupped his crotch, and hoped the half-naked women dancing across the television screen would ease the tension in his groin.

His pants were half way down when he heard a knock on the door. It was Layla.

“Where the hell have you been?”

Layla brushed by him and sat on the bed. She had a slight limp in her gait. She took her phone from her purse and began to scroll through the missed calls. “If I don’t answer after the first time, or the second time, or the third, or the goddamn twenty-third, why do you continue calling!”

Whitmore slammed the door. “We had plans, Layla. We were going to spend New Year’s together here.”

“At some shoddy hotel, drinking cheap-ass wine.” She flicked the bottle onto the floor. It rolled underneath the bed.

“Champagne,” Whitmore corrected.

“Whatever.” Layla stood and ran her fingers through her hair. “It’s freaking New Year’s, Whitmore. I don’t wanna stay cooped up inside. I want to go out. Party. Take some shots. Bring in the new year with my friends.”

Whitmore cocked his head to the side. “So you don’t want to spend time with me? You don’t love me?”

“Why do you always go from one extreme to the next, Whitmore? You can come with, or you can hang with your friends.” There was a sarcastic tone in her voice. She curled her lip and snickered. They both knew his only friend was his girlfriend, much to the vexation of Layla. “I mean, I just feel like you always wanna keep me to yourself. I do have a life.”

Whitmore scratched the stubble on his chin and folded his arms across his chest. “So why is your shirt inside out? Why are your pants unbuttoned? Why is your belt only through two loops? Why do you smell like Old Spice?” he asked circling, inspecting her.

“What are you getting at?”

“Who you been with?”

Layla picked up her purse and walked to the door. “If I’m gonna get interrogated, I’m leaving.”

She was gone before he could protest. He found himself alone on the bed once again watching raunchy music videos and contemplating masturbation. He shuffled out of his pants and boxers.

He was losing Layla. He could feel her slowly pulling away. He saw how she’d flirted with the waiter on their last date. Just the night before, he’d found pictures of men naked from the waist down in her phone. She’d been texting someone named Roc for the past month. She had one foot out the door, and he needed to act quickly to ensure that she would stay with him forever.

The idea came to him as he spilled onto the white bed sheets and fell limp. No more pulling out while they made love. He would get her pregnant.

—Nortina

July Treats While I’m on Retreat

Have we reached the end of June already? Wow, this month just flew by, and with everything I’m preparing to embark on in July, it’s a wonder if I’ll ever see the sun again before mid-August. But I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew, because these last three months I’ve been on a roll. Still, my epic meltdown was only a year ago, so I’m going to rein myself in just a little for July.

I’m Going Camping!

No, not outside. We all know I hate bugs. I’m talking about Camp NaNoWriMo. My decision to join Camp NaNoWriMo started in May. While participating in Short Story A Day, I was able to bring back to life some characters I let go dormant in 2015.

They’ve been revived, and my desire to finish their story has been revived too! What story am I talking about? Love Poetry, of course! This is a story I’ve been working on since November of 2014, when I first attempted the NaNoWriMo challenge. Back then, I only made it to a little over 5,500 words before giving up. This year, I want to get up to 30,000 words (about 968 words a day), and I want to FINISH! While it seems like a lot, many of the short stories I wrote in May were well over 1,000 words, and I wrote every day, so I have no excuse, especially since I have a plan going into this challenge.

I feel 100 times more prepared this round. First, I have lots of material right here on this blog to help inspire me, including my 2015 A to Z Challenge, and my recent epigraph poems that will remind me what’s supposed to happen in each new chapter. Then of course I still have the unfinished version from 2014 saved on my computer, which will help me get started, since I’m opening the novella with that same scene. Finally, I have my plot, which will tell me where the story’s going. Although it’s still a rough outline scribbled down on scrap notebook paper, it’s a rough outline of a completed story—something I didn’t have the first time.

While I’m away at camp, I obviously can’t dedicate the time I want to this blog, but fret not; I’m not abandoning you again. All July, I’ll be re-posting my 2015 A to Z Challenge. So for those of you who’ve never read it, you can get familiar with the story and the characters, and for those of you who’ve been with me since the beginning, this will serve as a refreshing treat. Although a lot of the story has changed since the A to Z Challenge (and I’ll tell which parts I’ve taken out, added to, etc.), it is still relatively the same story, so I think you will really enjoy this month-long trip down memory lane.

I’ll try to post Camp excerpts from time to time, mostly to keep myself accountable and to stay on track. 

What About My June Goals? Did I Meet Them All?

Before you ask, no, I still haven’t written that damn short story. But I do have an outline prepared, which is more than what I had at the end of May, so maybe by August I’ll have something new to submit to magazines.

Monday’s One Minute Fiction, was a success, if only just for me. It’s always good to have something to motivate me to write on a sluggish Monday morning, so I think I will bring it back in August. I truly love writing flash fiction. It has helped me so much in polishing my writing, making it clear and precise.

I love going back into my archives every Throwback Thursday and rediscovering posts I haven’t seen in a while. And you guys seem to love them too. I hate thinking that after something is posted, no one ever looks at it again. Throwback Thursday will definitely be back in August, and I’ll go even further back (which is really only three years), back when I first started this blog and had no idea what I was doing, just that I wanted to write and share my passion. Maybe I’ll even go back to those stories and poems that never made it online. Like that poem about the woman who strangles her husband while he’s eating a steak—my first “love poem.” 😀 Would you be interested?

I still want to do more Fright Night Friday stories. Conveniently, I haven’t been able to think of any scary good ideas lately, but I’m definitely bringing this series back after Camp NaNoWriMo, because I’m not me without posting at least one ghost story every week. I might even include a frightful badge! 😉

I’m re-reading some of my favorite books I read during my hiatus in 2016, so new book reviews will come soon, but let’s reserve those for September for the time being, just to give me some time to catch up.

And finally, what will be my next serial story? Well, it came down to a three way tie between Widow, For the Sake of Humanity, and Dry Spell—all my favorites! In terms of ranks, For the Sake of Humanity won out, so I will start with that one first, but I might end up doing all three at the same time, giving each series a designated day out the week. But that won’t come until August, because first I have a novella to write! Until next time!

Your Eyes

It’s your eyes that I remember.
Thick lashes that curl toward heaven,
that kiss the delicate skin
of your cheeks—like a breeze—
when you blink. Your eyes that hold
sadness and light. Loneliness and
hope unconfined. Gaze into mine
and see the lifetimes forgotten, see
our souls swaying together on stage
to the low rumbling threads on the
string bass. Your eyes are a defiant
love poem; they wince at visions
of settling. One man cannot possess
them—they shift with the tides
of the sea, patterned to the moon
phase. Break these chains of idolized
attachment. Open your eyes. Illuminate
my deathlike night. I can never claim
ownership, only the desire to see
your eyes smile one last time.

—Nortina


Today is the last Wednesday in June, which means this Saturday I will begin my journey to completing my novella, Love Poetry, for Camp NaNoWriMo!

Every Wednesday, I’ve been posting a poem that will serve as an introduction to a new chapter. Seeing that we’ve come to the end of my planning sessions, this poem will open the final chapter of Love Poetry, in which Jessica and . . . well, I won’t ruin it for you, just know that it is quite different from how my A to Z Challenge ended in 2015.

If you haven’t noticed, every poem is written by a character in the story— Jessica, Whitmore, and Bruce, the three parts to our love triangle. Can you guess who the poet is for this one?

If you missed the previous poems, check them out below:

Chivalry is Dead

Your Love is Like Jazz

Procession

Stay tuned for a post explaining what will happen with the blog next month while I’m away camping. I promise you’ll be in for a treat!

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.

 

Your Love is Like Jazz

Your love is like jazz music,
like the sultry Eartha Kitt
fitted in leather cat suit,
stretched across the piano,
purring into the mic.

Peel back my dress like the
delicate skin of a grape,
off my shoulders, slipping
down my waist and over my
hips; reveal succulent flesh
underneath, supple, ready to
burst under your prodding.

My hips wind against you
like a ticking clock to the
rhythm of your tongue rolling
off the roof of your mouth,
so close behind my ear naked.
Oooh . . . don’t kiss me—
Yes . . . please kiss me—
My neck elongated,
graceful, like a gazelle;
your lips right there.

No—Yes. Make up my mind.
You over him. Whisper me
sweet wine to flood my
trepidation in red. Spontaneity
over consistency. A fluttered
heartbeat bounces to the
spinning trumpet, and
I wanna be evil with you,
I’m sick of being his angel,
I wanna be your devil—
Oooh . . . Bruce—let’s do it.

—Nortina 


So, I think Wednesdays in June will be dedicated to love poetry from Love Poetry, my Camp NaNoWriMo novella I’ll be writing next month! This poem introduces the chapter where Jessica and Bruce reeeally get to know each other… 😉

If you want to learn more about Love Poetry, check out my 2015 A to Z Challenge. Eventually I’ll have all these posts together in one location.

Chivalry is Dead

Chivalry is dead.
Chivalry is an excuse
for men to treat women
as objects. And objects
are breakable— Like
this dish; like this
crystal Princess House
mug, and that one and
that one; like this
picture frame; like
this mahogany armchair,
an heirloom passed down
the generations, an
antique no more when
split in two. Objects
are replaceable. Swipe
a card and buy five
more. Women are fickle.
Men are here to stay.
Leave he won’t; give
up for another’s claim—
never. Inadequacy will
drive a nice guy bad.
And he’s sick of
running, wants to
finish this race on top.

—Nortina


I’m bringing back my 2015 A-Z Challenge novella this July! In my June Agenda post, I announced that I will be rewriting Love Poetry for Camp NaNoWriMo. Now it’s time to plan! I’ve sketched out a plot; some things are the same, but a lot has changed. I still plan on incorporating poetry in the novella, most likely in the form of an epigraph before each chapter.

This poem is a revision of my poem, “Last in the Race,” posted for N is for Nice Guys. In this particular chapter, Whitmore throws a hissy fit in Jessica’s apartment when he suspects her of cheating. A bit different from what I wrote in the A to Z Challenge, but a scene I have explored in the past. So are you ready for Camp NaNoWriMo? I know I am! Looking forward to finally finishing this story. 🙂

June Writing Bug: What’s Next on the Agenda?

We did it! Yay! ¡Lo Hicimos! 

Now that I’ve shown my age ( 😉 ), let’s talk about writing, and writing A LOT.

After wallowing in my own self-pity for many months due to the incessant beast that is writer’s block, I’m happy to announce that I’ve caught the writing bug! For the last two months I’ve been writing nonstop, posting almost every day for April’s A to Z Challenge and May’s Short Story a Day Challenge, and during the first week of May, I also participated in the poetry challenge, #fapalywo. My followers have slowly started to come back to visit, now that I’ve assured them I won’t disappear again. It feels good to be back to form.

But now it’s June, and I don’t want to wear myself down by committing to another month-long writing challenge. I could already feel it starting to become a burden toward the end May. I was reaching for good short story ideas. The last week and a half of prompts weren’t all that inspiring, so I really had to force myself to write something. The ironic thing is the stories I posted in the last week of May seemed to have been the most popular. That is truly a confidence boost, so thank you. (You really like me!)

One of my goals for May was to write a new short story to submit to literary magazines. I haven’t had anything published since 2015, mainly because I haven’t written anything. For the second half of this year, it is my hope to change that. Unfortunately, that will have to wait at least another month, because I didn’t get to write the story yet. I have an idea for what could be a strong story. To give you the basic premise, it’s a redemptive tale about a wayward woman who wanders into a church service one Sunday morning and has a life-changing experience. I’m still working out the details in my head, but while that story is still in progress, another rose to the surface while I was deep in the trenches of Short Story A Day May.

In short story #10, “I Can’t Stay,” I was exploring a story that came to me in a dream a few years ago about a woman who is running from her current boyfriend and has a “chance encounter” with her ex/the one who got away. I brought it back and expanded a little more with short story #31, “To Rewind Time,” and I think short story #26, “A Mother Still,” will also be a part of that story arc. So I will spend this month further developing the story and bringing it all together, and hopefully by July, I’ll be back to submitting to magazines and receiving more rejection letters than acceptance notices. (Hey, you gotta laugh at these things sometimes).

One portion of the Short Story A Day May Challenge that I really enjoyed was novel week. It not only gave me the opportunity to do some further sketching for my NaNoWriMo novel, Lost Boy, but I also got to revisit some characters I haven’t looked at in two years: Jessica, Whitmore, and Bruce, from my 2015 A to Z Challenge melodrama, Love PoetryAnd it gave me a wonderful idea—Why not write this novella (which I should have finished in 2015) for Camp NaNoWriMo in July? Camp isn’t as strenuous as the real deal in November; at least here we can choose our own writing goals, so if I don’t make it to 50,000 words, I won’t be a total failure. Camp will also prepare me for writing (and hopefully finishing) my first novel, Lost Boy, for NaNoWriMo in November. (My heart is pounding just thinking about it!)

So I took fifteen minutes to sketch out a quick outline for Love Poetry, which is slightly different from what I posted back in April 2015 but not too much, and for July (so you don’t think I’ve disappeared again), I’ll be taking a chapter out of fellow blogger, Marquessa’s, book (I hope she doesn’t mind), and while all my focus will be on completing Love Poetry for Camp NaNoWriMo (what’s ironic is that I first attempted to write this novel back in 2014 for, you guessed it, NaNoWriMo 😀 ), I’ll be re-posting my 2015 A to Z Challenge, along with other Whitmore and Jessica related stories (because I have more than a month’s worth). If you’re a new follower since May 2015, you’ll be getting a treat, and for those of you who’ve been here a while, a blast from the past!

Getting back to June, I have a few ideas on where I want to take this blog moving forward, but I need your help.

First, I am overdue for another serial story. If you want to check out previous (completed) serial stories, read the Buried Series from the beginning here, and my 2016 A to Z novella, 26 Husbands—26 Unusual Deaths here. I thought my next series would be Oceanview, but while attempting to write Part 3 for one of the Short Story a Day prompts, I went completely blank. So that story goes back to the drawing board for now. However, I did write a few stories that are a little more developed and could possibly be expanded into a series. Below are the links to those stories. Which one do you think I should turn into a series? Vote in the poll, and I’ll reveal the winner next week!

For the Sake of Humanity

Widow

Dreams are Real

One Night Stand (from the “White Jesus” story line)

Dry Spell

 

Was there a story not included above that you would like to see in a series? Not a problem. Let me know in the comments, and I’ll consider it in the voting too.

Also in June I’m doing a test trial for a new Flash Fiction writing challenge. Last year, I hosted a short-lived challenge, Moral Mondays, which was fun, but too much of a commitment for me at the time. I may be shooting myself in the foot here, but I’m bringing back the Monday challenge, because we all need a little Monday motivation, right? This challenge will be One-Minute Fiction. As the title suggests, you’ll be challenged to write a flash story in one minute, no more no less, based on the prompt (a word, a phrase, a photo, whatever I’m feeling for that week). Sound promising? It should really light a fire under your bum and set you up for a whole week of writing! If it’s a success, I’ll keep it going; if not it’ll end June 26. (womp, womp )

Other June personal blogging ideas:

  • Throwback Thursday – Share a post (fiction or poetry) from the past.
  • Fright Night Friday – Post a frightful (thriller, suspense, paranormal, etc.) story or poem every Friday night. (You already know I love a good ghost story.)
  • Book Reviews – I have a lot of book reviews in my arsenal. I think I might reserve these posts for Saturdays.

So what do you think? Are you excited for June? Do you think writer’s block is plotting its revenge? Would you be interested in purchasing Love Poetry if I were to self-publish it? Do you plan to participate in the one-minute fiction challenge? Are you looking forward to the next serialized story? Or maybe you’re waiting for me to mention the one left unfinished…I’m being really secretive about it.

You’ll see why in due time… 😉

By the way, are you enjoying these beginning of the month goal setting posts? They’re my way of holding myself accountable, but sometimes I think I’m just talking to myself. Prove me wrong and leave a comment!

First Date Jitters

Jessica could always tell when seafood wasn’t fresh. It had a distinctly sour smell to it, like it’d spent the last three days thawing on ice in a warm cooler with a broken seal. Jessica wrinkled her nose as soon as they entered the restaurant and plastered a phony smile when Whitmore turned to her for validation. He’d said it was his favorite restaurant to eat, had the best fried catfish in town, and she didn’t want to disappoint him on their first date, despite hating catfish, but the place was rank—like Bradford pear tree blossoms, rank; like wet mutt, rank; like a trash heap that missed garbage collection, rank; like dirty panties tossed in the hamper, rank; like an unclean crotch, rank; like a common area bathroom in an all girls dorm after the residents’ menstrual cycles synced, rank.

Whoever had decorated the interior was obviously an ex-employee of Red Lobster and didn’t give a damn about his job. The walls were covered in a tacky nautical wall paper—complete with images of anchors, sailor hats, compasses, telescopes, and steering helms—and was peeling at corners. There was an eight-foot long fish tank sitting in the middle of lobby, right next to the hostess stand, and it looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in weeks. The water was a murky dark green, and Jessica could barely see the brown shells of the crabs moving around inside, if they were moving at all—they looked dead. She made a note not to order the crab legs—probably best to avoid all shellfish, and she damn sure won’t eat the catfish. She wondered what non-seafood options were on the menu. Every eatery had to have at least two, for those stubborn patrons like her who refused to order seafood at a seafood restaurant. She flipped to land entrees. Fried pork chop with garlic mash, and chicken Alfredo. The only setback about ordering “turf” at a restaurant that served mostly “surf,” the food still tasted like “surf,” because the chicken was cooked in the same pan with the seared fish fillets, the pork chop battered and fried in the same grease as the trout, flounder, and whiting. She settled on the popcorn shrimp, accepting her inevitable fate of mercury poisoning, while Whitmore ordered the catfish.

Unfortunately, it took over an hour for their food to arrive. The kitchen couldn’t have possibly been backed up, but the reality was the restaurant was crowded, overcrowded even; there were people packed in the lobby like sardines waiting on a table. Whitmore had actually called ahead to make reservations. Reservations, for a place like this, which couldn’t have had more that a B+ sanitation rating. But he’d gotten them a good table, despite sitting directly underneath a vent that was blasting cold air, giving her goosebumps across her shoulders. However, they were away from most of the chatter of the larger parties, and thank God out of sight of that horrendous fish tank, where she would certainly lose her appetite.

They used the extended wait time to get to know each other more, though Jessica did most of the talking, babbling on and on about herself while Whitmore listened intently, nodding and laughing at all the right pause points. He was a good listener, which made him even more attractive—that he was intrigued to know every detail about her—but then she started to think he couldn’t hear her, because the couple at the table behind them had three young boys who were kicking, squealing, and rough housing in the booth while the parents ate absently as if they didn’t notice or care. In the few moments when Whitmore spoke, it was as if he were whispering. She asked him more than once to speak up, they weren’t in a library, but he still spoke in a low voice, and she leaned in closer to get a least a fragment of his words.

When the food finally came out, Whitmore dove into his plate, and Jessica hesitated. Her French fries where soggy and a burnt gold color, as if they’d been fried in old grease, or possibly fish grease. No coating of ketchup could save them, but even the ketchup was acidic and watered down. The hushpuppies were fried hard, and the shrimp was more breading than meat and extremely salty. She’d had better meals at Libby Hill.

“How’s your food?” she asked Whitmore when his plate was nearly empty.

She thought he might have said good, but truly she couldn’t hear a thing, and before he could mumble anything else, his mouth full of the last bites of what looked to be dry, overcooked catfish, there was a loud crash and shattering of dishes by the kitchen. A waitress had just dropped her entire ticket on the floor, right at the feet of the six-top she was about to serve, and was on the brink of tears.

Jessica sighed. There was too much chaos in this restaurant, and for the subpar food, it wasn’t worth the trouble. She’d had better dates with worse men, but she wanted to give Whitmore the benefit of the doubt. At least he was trying.

“How about I chose the where for our next date,” she suggested.

Whitmore smiled and nodded, but Jessica suspected he had no idea what she’d just said.

—Nortina


It is Short Story A Day May, and  today’s prompt, “Sumptuous Settings,” asks us to get descriptive, very descriptive, using all five senses…

Peace in Trials

“They keep killing our boys. It’s like a genocide out there!” Stella was saying. Behind her the tea kettle whistled, clouds of steam shooting from its spout. She took the kettle by the handle and poured the boiling water into two mugs already prepped with a teabag, two packets of Splenda, and a lemon wedge.

“Did you hear about the last shooting? He was only seventeen years old. A child!” She slammed her fist down on the table and the water in the mugs rippled.

“Mama, please,” Leslie said. She covered her mug with a saucer to allow the tea to steep.

“I just don’t understand this shoot first ask questions later mentality. You see a black man walking down the street, and you automatically assume he’s dangerous—his presence is life-threatening.” Stella dropped a spoon in her “World’s #1 Grandma” mug and stirred the ingredients together. Leslie remembered the year Tony and Gregory pulled their allowances together to buy the mug for Stella. They were young, around nine and seven. Having just learned there was such thing as a Grandparents Day, they wanted to surprise Stella, the only living grandparent they had left, with a special gift.

Now Tony barely paid rent to his grandmother, and Gregory hadn’t been home in weeks since moving in with Tammi. Leslie wished they were boys again, who still honored and eagerly showed their appreciation for the women who raised them, not like the entitled children of this generation, who lacked any type of respect for authority. Even if the cops did abuse their power, most of those kids deserved a few slaps upside the head.

Stella ladled some of the tea onto her spoon, blew on it, puckered her lips and slurped. She quickly wiped her mouth from the heat, then stood and took another Splenda packet from the spice cabinet. She sprinkled it into her mug and continued with her tirade. “You shoot a boy nine times in the back as he’s running away from you and then try to say you feared for your life. You? Really? While another baby is lying dead in the street? I thought the police were here to protect and serve the people, not execute them.”

“Mama!” Leslie pleaded. She massaged her temples with her middle and index fingers. She didn’t want to hear about any more cop killings. Not with Gregory MIA, not with Tony and his anger issues. Her family was at risk as it was, and with Gregory living in Pleasant’s Edge, where the police could murder without consequence—no one would miss a dead body in Pleasant’s Edge; it was the South Side Chicago of Leiland—Leslie spent most nights wide awake, deep in prayer, chanting in her prayer language for the Lord to keep His angels encamped around her sons for protection.

“You can’t expect an old woman not to worry about these things,” Stella grumbled. She took her mug and walked to the living room, where she sat on the couch by the window, leaving Leslie alone in the kitchen.

Leslie traced the tip of her finger around the rim of her mug. We all worry, she thought, we can’t help but to. Even Stella, who had witnessed the atrocities of Jim Crow and of the Civil Rights era, worries, even more now with a president in office who encourages hate speech. Each day, we become more and more endangered. When will it end? When will the killings, the injustice, the fear and worry all end? She hadn’t had a night of sweet sleep in a long time. It would be nice to get one now, assurance from God that everything happens for a purpose, despite all the uncertainty in their lives. “Jesus, give us peace,” Leslie prayed, “peace from all the troubles of this world. We need it. We need You.” She sipped her tea.

—Nortina


It is Short Story A Day May, and  all this week the prompts are geared toward novelists! Today’s prompt asks us to continue in world-building but from a societal aspect. It was hard to get a story out for this prompt, and I’m not totally in love with this scene, but hey, at least I wrote something. Hopefully this is the end of the novel prompts, because I feel I’ve written all I can write about these characters. If you must know more about my novel in progress, check out my 2017 A to Z Challenge from the beginning here.

On the Other Side

Leslie loved the fresh greenery of Leiland’s street corners. A few years ago, the mayor began a “Beautify Our City” initiative. Every weekend, citizens from all walks of life—the seniors who still had enough pep in their movement to walk and bend without suffering, to the middle-aged and working class, to the high school students looking for extra volunteer hours—they all joined together as one body on assignment, Mayor Richardson heading the brigade, to plant grass, small trees and shrubs, and flowers, including daffodils, lilies, chrysanthemums, lilacs, azaleas, and daisies, along the roadways and on the medians throughout town.

The goal was to make Leiland feel more welcoming to those outside of town, especially travelers coming off Highway 87, where they would often endure miles and miles of gray road, overgrown weeds just off the shoulder, and the noise blocking walls built up behind them—hardly any appealing sight to witness at all apart from the occasional billboard advertising fast food at the next exit. Mayor Richardson had hoped the new vegetation would invite visitors to stay awhile, get to know this quiet, quaint little town, and maybe even decide to make it their permanent place of residence.

Leslie couldn’t say if the population of Leiland actually grew as a result, but she could testify to the initiative being a definite success, at least for her. For she often resolved to walk to places rather than drive just to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the city’s flora, smelling the blossoming azaleas in the cool, early Spring breeze, just in time for annual azalea festival in Wilmington every April.

But today was different. She drove on the outskirts of town and watched out the window as the precious green vegetation of Leiland transitioned to the cool dankness of concrete and red clay, and then she passed the sign: “Welcome to Pleasant’s Edge”; it was anything but pleasant.

She turned to Gregory, who sat next to her in the passenger’s seat. He was quiet most of the ride, only speaking up to direct her where to turn. Leslie tried not to worry about him—what was going on in his personal life, why he had dropped out of college after finishing just one semester—she wanted him to know that no matter what he did, she would always support him; he was her son after all. She only wished he would speak to her more and try not to take Tony’s abuses so personally; his brother’s unfiltered mouth being the only reason Leslie could think of for why Gregory never wanted to stay home.

“You know Tony and Kerry will be moving out soon,” Leslie said. “Your grandmother’s giving them one of her rental homes.”

He said nothing, only rested his elbow on the door handle, put his chin in his hand and continued to look through the window. What was he thinking? Would he even tell her?

Leslie sighed. She’d thought the news would at least get a reaction from him. To know that all the noise of Tony and Kerry arguing, and Tony taking all of his anger and frustrations out on his quiet and reserved little brother would finally cease. Then it would only be Leslie and Gregory left in the house, and they could seize the opportunity to repair their relationship, restore that tightly weaved mother-son bond they once shared when Gregory was a child, before his father passed.

“It’s just up here.” Gregory pointed right of the intersection just ahead, and Leslie turned into a dilapidated trailer park, where the siding on the houses cracked in places and the roofs either slanted or sunk in. On one home she even spotted the clean entry point of a bullet hole in one of windows, the glass cracked in a spider web-like pattern surrounding it. To her right, on the other side of the street, a barbed wire fence stood at about seven feet tall and extended down to just beyond where she could see an end. Posted on the front of the fence, every twenty feet or so, were “No Trespassing—Authorized Personnel Only ” signs. Behind the fence, a mound of gray rubble, just as wide as the fence itself, towered over the neighborhood.

“Please don’t tell me she lives here,” Leslie said as she put the gear in park. She regretted making this drive without first considering where she was taking him. She had been so desperate to get Gregory to trust her again and open up to her that she had been willing to take him to the home of a girlfriend she’d never even met, and it had to be in the worst part of Cumberland county, to further worry her. Pleasant’s Edge wasn’t known for its herbaceous greenery like Leiland, or for its friendly neighbors exchanging pleasantries. Pleasant’s Edge was infested with crime and rampant drug use. More people were dying of gang violence and heroin overdoses in Pleasant’s Edge than in anywhere else in North Carolina, and Leslie had just dropped her youngest son off at its front step. Was he in any of those things also?

“At least tell me this girl’s name,” Leslie said as Gregory opened the door to get out.

“Tammi,” he said. No details on who Tammi was, how they met, how long they’d been seeing each other, if she was a sweet and respectful young lady—though her environment warned that she was anything but. Nothing to give Leslie a clear indication of who she’d just handed her son over to, other than a single name: Tammi.

“Will you call me to come pick you up later?” Leslie asked, but she wanted “later” to be now. She wanted for Gregory to get back in the car and they speed off back to Leiland, back to safety, back to the cover of precious trees and flowers and herbs, symbolizing a city that cared, before he got into any more trouble, which he would surely find here.

“Nah, I’ll have Tammi’s mom take me home.” Gregory slammed the door behind him and crossed in front of the car to the yard of the trailer Leslie had parked in front off.

Leslie started to roll down her window to ask when he thought that would be. She feared it would be another week before she saw him again. Granted he was old enough to make his own decisions now, she wanted to remind him that he still had a home to come back to. He shouldn’t feel obligated to shack up with this girl in poverty as if he had lost everything, including all hope and all dignity.

As he walked up the driveway, she heard something shatter underneath his foot, and he briefly stepped with a limp before regaining his stamina and continuing to the house at a quicker pace to disappear in the darkness behind the open door.

Leslie remained parked in front of the trailer, wondering if anyone from the household would come out to greet her. Was it just Tammi who lived there, or were there others? Did she have roommates? Were her parents the actual homeowners? Leslie knew she couldn’t linger any longer, the indigenous folk would start to suspect something wrong. Already she could see through her rearview mirror, two men in all black, wearing black du-rags tied around their heads, approaching the car. She looked back to the trailer, where the door was now closed, and her eyes fell to the shattered glass on the sidewalk. She floored the gas without thinking, without realizing what she’d just left her son to. She wanted to erase it from her mind, but there was no way she’d be able to rest that night knowing that a broken crack pipe lay just outside the home she had allowed her son to enter.

—Nortina


It is Short Story A Day May, and  all this week the prompts are geared toward novelists! Today’s prompt asks us to shape our characters’ physical world. For this one, we switch back to Leslie and “Lost Boy” to take a glimpse into the stark contrasts between the towns of Leiland and Pleasant’s Edge just next door. To learn more about my novel in progress, “Lost Boy,” read my 2017 A to Z Challenge from the beginning here.