Strands of Sorrow, Threads of Hope–Free all Weekend.

Final Cover  - Strands of Sorrow, Threads of Hope

My book of short stories, Strands of Sorrow, Threads of Hope, including some of my mom’s work as well, is available FREE for the next three days – Friday August 29th through Sunday August 31st on Amazon.

If simply FREE is not enough incentive to get you downloading – please read Roy McCarthy’s review of the work.

Excellent first collection of short stories, May 26, 2014

If FREE plus a thoughtfully, stellar review doesn’t cut it . . . hmmm . . . maybe short stories aren’t your thing. No worries. I write novels, too!

Please feel free to re-blog this post. After all, who doesn’t love a freebie?

Quick tweet (just paste and use – looks like it won’t fit – but it will):

Looking for a quick weekend read? Strands of Sorrow, Threads of Hope FREE #freebook Aug 28-31 – spread the word http://www.amazon.com/Strands-Sorrow-Threads-Hope-Stories-ebook/dp/B00KJJEP6M/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1400959180&sr=1-1&keywords=Strands+of+Sorrow%2C+Threads+of+Hope

Have a safe and wonderful Labour Day long weekend, everyone.

Back Porch Splendour - Guenette photo

A Special Christmas

Kristen's subdivision @ Christmas 2013

This is a re-worked story that appeared on my blog last year. Because that’s what writers do – re-work things. It was inspired by an email I had received that reminded me that Christmas is not an easy time for some people. I sat down to write and this story found its way into being. It isn’t filled with holiday cheer – it doesn’t sparkle and make you smile like a freshly decorated gingerbread house might. But if you’re lucky it could make you grateful for what you have. So – here goes.

A Special Christmas

She never let herself believe in anything as foolish as the magic of Christmas, but this year she couldn’t shake the feeling that something special was happening. It was as if time were standing still – her whole world poised on the precipice – watching and waiting.

She definitely had not anticipated magic. She had watched as early December slipped by like sodden leaves falling battered to the dark earth. Each day she dutifully ripped off a page of the tablet on the desktop calendar, feeling as though a part of her soul was being crumpled right along with the ball of paper that landed with a thud in the trash bin. Death was everywhere, now. It dogged her footsteps each day when she took the dog for a walk through the garden. Plants dragged down to the earth by the weight of the rain and the early frost. Everything was dark and decaying. Just the way they would all end up one day.

The doctor said they could bring Tabby home for Christmas. In the New Year there would be time enough for arranging hospice care. So she had followed his advice and somehow, against all odds, the magic of Christmas had sunk into her the way brandy would soak the cloth-wrapped fruitcake her mother used to make. There was a quality to the coloured lights and decorations, on the streets and in the stores, which brought tears to her eyes. They had taken three days to decorate the tree. The story of each ornament was told with breathless anticipation, all of them lingering over the details. Then someone would hang the ornament with the greatest care so that Tabby would be able to see each one from the hospital bed that now dominated the living room.

She had never before shopped for gifts when the only priority was the present moment. She bought a CD she knew Tabby would love to hear, a bottle of a light and fresh perfume to mask the ever-present smell of life slipping away, the prettiest flannel nightie to wrap around a body now diminished to skin and bones, a stuffed pink bunny – just like the one Tabby had as a toddler – this one brand new and so soft all she wanted to do was stroke it over and over. She couldn’t believe the absolute joy she felt as she wrapped each gift and laid it under the tree.

She piled up precious drops of time spent together – baking and icing sugar cookies, pouring over Christmas cards, playing Christmas music, laughing together as they placed a Santa hat on the dog’s furry head. She knew she was already storing these memories like a miser with every penny that came her way.

The living room was dark now as she sat curled up in the recliner. The rest of the family had gone to bed to deal in their dreams with their own versions of magic and pain. Tabby was asleep at last, the high sides of the hospital bed pulled up, the glint of the morphine drip catching the light from the Christmas tree. Her eyes traced the line of the IV tubing to the point where it snaked under the blanket. Her gaze shifted to the window and she saw the snow falling in huge, fat flakes to the ground. The trees, branches thickly covered, were already bowed under the weight like so many white garbed priests in supplicating prayer. The quiet was deep and total.

Her world was reduced to last moments. Tears washed down her cheeks unaware. The special moments of magic she felt wouldn’t change the fact that Tabby was going to die. Very soon now she was going to lose her seventeen year-old daughter – bury her before her grown-up life had even begun.

She rose silently and grabbed her coat and boots from the hall closet. She tugged on her gloves and wrapped a scarf around her neck. Out on the snow-covered lawn, among the tall trees, she turned slowly, her head thrown back. The snowflakes fell on her face. She watched the stars sparkle far away above her. All that was, all that had ever been, was now, this moment. It was all she had, all she could hang onto, all she could bear.

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Breaking Apart for New Beginnings

Emma at Kindergarten

September is upon us. At this time of the year, I often have a feeling of angst for all those who embark on new educational journeys. Over the last couple of days, I’ve seen the pictures on Facebook of little kids starting school. They’re all carrying brightly coloured backpacks and have big smiles plastered onto their little faces.

My granddaughter has just started what she calls grade kindergarten. She told her mom she was ready for school because she knew everything. We laughed but it made me think of a very common phenomenon across the lifetime learning spectrum. We often enter learning programs with the sure sense that we already know everything there is to know.

We all wear our own personal blinders when it comes to acquiring new knowledge. We often have to let go of previously held beliefs in order to let new ideas and concepts take hold. This can be a painful process because our current knowledge becomes welded to our sense of self.

Unfortunately, we never have the perspective of hindsight as we go through the breaking down and building up anew process. If we did, we would know that we will come out the other side intact. What we thought we knew before will not be gone – only altered and enhanced.

A while back, I wrote a flash fiction piece entitled, New Beginnings. Though not autobiographical in the strictest sense of the word, I once was an older graduate student setting out to learn to be a counsellor. Of this piece, I will only say . . . some truths are best represented through fiction.

New Beginnings

“Well . . . I didn’t think it was the right time to challenge her . . . I suppose I could have been wrong.” Shit . . . why had she tacked on those last words in that tentative, weak tone? It made her sound like she didn’t have a clue about what she was doing. As if she was openly admitting her client would have been better off telling her problems to the first passerby she saw on the street. Shit, shit, shit.

Monica clutched at the file in her hand and told herself to breathe. Weekly peer supervision rattled her composure. Members of her graduate cohort were required to pair up and share case notes from their practicum counselling sessions. They were supposed to be helping each other identify blind spots and work on their learning edges. What a colossal load of shit that was. It was pure one-upmanship spurred on by mutual insecurity. The first person in the dyad to show a hint of weakness would be brought down like a crippled zebra before a slavering lion.

And who the hell did this guy think he was to be questioning her judgement? The thought that someday this egotistical blowhard would be a counsellor made her pity anyone who might end up as his client.

What a joke the entire program had turned out to be. Why she had ever thought that going back to school, to get her Master’s degree, would be a good idea was a total mystery to her. At her age . . . it was laughable. She knew how to help people. She’d been doing it for years. But instead of being out in the world doing what she was good at, she was stuck in a corner of a classroom being grilled by a know-it-all, stick-up-his-butt wise guy who was young enough to be her son. Peer my ass, she told herself.

One month into the program, if she let herself dwell on what her experience had been so far, she was sure she’d vomit. The program was taught, for the most part, by a group of out-of-touch-with-reality professors who were – by the way – also younger than her, all busy nitpicking over ridiculous crap. One half of her fellow classmates had come into the program thinking they already knew everything. The other half were so busy spewing back every word the professors said – as if those words had just come down from God on high – they couldn’t possibly open themselves up to learn anything.

Voluntarily placing herself in this world, allowing this process control over her and going into debt for the privilege . . . it was quite simply the act of an insane person. It was all a huge mistake.

“Monica, can we drop the peer supervision roles for a minute? I really need to talk to someone.”

The tone of his voice propelled her out of her spiral of negative thoughts. She sat up straighter and met his pleading eyes, “Sure . . . what’s up?”

“I haven’t slept for days. Work is crazy right now and I need the job. I’ve got to pay for school. I don’t have a silver spoon in my mouth like some people in this program. My girlfriend is on my back every minute about how much time I’m spending on campus. I’m behind in the readings for every course. Forget about that bloody theories paper for Mr. Dickhead – it’s not going to happen.”

Monica watched him drop his head into his hand and rake his long fingers through his hair. When he looked up his voice shook, “I admire you. You’re the one person in the whole frigging cohort who seems to care about anybody else or even slightly have her shit together. I watch you and I wonder what the hell I’m doing here. I feel like it’s only a matter of time before they find out what a total incompetent I am and kick me out of the program. Sorry to dump all my crap out like this. I feel like I’m going under.”

Monica took a deep breath and reached across the space that separated them to put her hand on the young man’s arm, “Let’s take things one step at a time . . . OK? Maybe, together, we can figure out where you can get a little room to manoeuvre.” As she smiled warmly at him, she felt her world pivot back to where it was supposed to be.

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Daily Prompt: Stranded

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Do you ever wonder what it would be like to find yourself in a totally unfamiliar place or time? Today’s prompt about being stranded intrigued me and this little bit of flash fiction is the result.

Stranded

Her eyes flickered rapidly. Her head was down, resting on her arm. She could see a small journal lying open on the polished surface of the table beside a tall glass of white wine. She focused on the two words written at the top of the open page of cream coloured paper – Don’t panic.

She sat up slowly and reached for the wine, taking a long slow sip as she studied those words. She noticed the arm extended before her. She felt her heart start to thud wildly; the hand that held the wine glass began to tremble. A black silk blazer was pushed up the graceful forearm, a wrist was encased in a sparkling diamond bracelet, rings adorned the slender fingers – none of that had ever belonged to her.

She put the wine glass down very deliberately and glanced quickly over the body sitting on the chair. She noted the low cut white blouse – a crisp fabric under the black silk and a tight black skirt that rode up the thigh. Long legs were encased in black leather boots with stiletto heels.

Suddenly she had to find a bathroom – the wine was rolling in her stomach dangerously. She wasn’t sure if she could walk in the heels but she had to try. Much to her surprise she had no difficulty making her way toward the sign that indicated the direction of the ladies room. The bathroom was thankfully empty. As she passed the large bank of mirrors she let out a gasp and staggered against one of the stall doors.

Staring back at her from the mirror was someone she had never seen before. A woman in her mid-twenties perhaps, large dark eyes thickly fringed with make-up, fashion-model thin with a sheet of dark hair surrounding her face.

She gripped the edge of the vanity sink and stared at the face in the mirror. It had happened again. She forced herself to take a breath and think – what was the last thing she could remember? It never mattered, but she always tried to grab hold of that last vestige of a life gone from her forever.

She had been in the garden planting the peas, down on her knees on the spring wet ground, her hands in the cold earth. A robin had landed nearby and dipped its yellow beak into the newly turned soil. The bird had pulled up a worm, stretching it to what looked like the breaking point. She had sat back on her legs and watched as the weak sunshine glinted off the rippling water of the lake. There had been a flash of very bright light and then nothing until her eyes had flickered suddenly open to the words on the journal page – Don’t panic.

Where on earth was she? And more to the point, who was she?

She walked slowly out of the bathroom and back to the table, an oasis of familiarity within the desert of unknowns. Impressions hit her – she was in a bar, the clink of glasses and a low hum of conversation surrounded her. As she regained the security of the table she saw the bartender approach, a crisp white apron tied around his waist over sharply creased black trousers. He warned her not to leave her purse hooked over the chair the way she had. Did she want to get robbed? People think an uptown place like this in the city is safe – but it isn’t. What city, she was screaming to demand but she didn’t. He asked if she would like more wine and she shook her head, unsure if she could even pay for what she had already consumed. He walked away after flashing her a suavely suggestive smile, his glance lingering on the open front of her blouse.

She now felt the weight of eyes on her. People were staring – staring in a way she wasn’t used to anymore. She had been a fifty-five year old, overweight woman with streaky grey hair dressed in gumboots and a ratty sweater kneeling in the dirt of her garden to plant peas. There was no reason for anyone to pay her any attention at all.

She took a sip of the wine and then another for good measure, draining the glass. She pulled the fashionable handbag from the chair and rooted inside. She found a wallet and flipped it open to discover a raft of credit cards and a driver’s license with a picture of the women she had seen in the bathroom mirror. Her name was Veronica Lambden – she was twenty-six years old and she lived at 515 Huntington Terrace, Manhattan. A fancy cell phone vibrated in her hand as she picked it up. A text message ran across the screen under the name Robert – traffics a snarl – I can’t get a bloody cab – should be there in ten minutes or so – order some more wine.

She raised the empty glass to the bartender and shrugged her slim shoulders. He nodded. She would drink another glass of wine and wait until Robert, whoever he might turn out to be, came along to claim her – what else could she do? It was always the same, already she was forgetting the image of the robin and the feel of the cold earth on her hands.

Flash Fiction Honourable Mention–Featured Today

 

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This morning I awoke to a beautiful winter-like wonderland.

Today is the day that my flash fiction piece – Breaking Free – is being featured as one of three honourable mentions for a contest that ran on the great blog, Postcards, poems and prose. I hope you’ll pop over there and check it out. They’ve set the story on a postcard background and they’ve done an interesting little bio of me to go with it. Send a kiss

Flash Fiction: He stopped in the doorway to the hospital room . . .

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Matt stopped in the doorway to the hospital room. He saw Lexie’s long artist fingers, stretched out on the yellow coverlet, reaching beyond the thick white gauze that wrapped her wrist to pull nervously at a thread. She looked up startled and saw him, her face as white as the bandage. Her eyes held his with a silent screaming plea.

He sat down in the chair by the bed and pulled her hand into his. He leaned his head over and rested the side of his face against the cold skin on the back of her hand. The room was quiet. After a few moments he looked up to see tears washing down her face.

“I’m so sorry for putting you through all of this, Matt. You never deserved any of it.”

He shook his head, “Don’t worry about me. I want you to be sorry for putting yourself through this – you don’t deserve this, Lex.”

She shrugged and brushed the tears away with the back of her other hand, her slender arm awkward with the weight of the bandage. The hospital gown’s short sleeve rode up and revealed all the scars that marched in a relentless path up her arm – each cut a tiny rehearsal for the final act. She looked at him and again her eyes held that plea to understand, “You stuck with me through all the crap I pulled on you. No matter what I did, you were still there. I thought that meant something – I went over the edge when I found out it didn’t.”

He pulled Lexie’s hand up to his face and rubbed it slowly along his cheek, “It did mean something, Lex – every minute of it meant something.” He paused to catch her eye, “I love you. I’ve loved you from the start.” He reached across the bed with his free hand to pull the tiny gold cross she always wore around her neck free from the top of the hospital gown. He dangled it on his finger and said, “Since that first day, remember when I asked you if you were a good little Christian girl, or did you like to come out and play.” He smiled at her and saw the merest shadow of one of her grins. “You were the first girl who saw right through all my crap – what did you always call it? Oh ya, I remember – my crazy stud-boy routine.”

He tucked the cross back inside her gown and held her face in the palm of his hand. “You and me, Lex – it was always exclusive – no matter what you thought. It all meant something.” Matt felt the tears running unchecked down her face and across his hand. “Our timing is wrong – that’s all it is. It all meant something – never think it didn’t.”

Matt looked over his shoulder to see the medevac guys in the hall with the stretcher. Lexie clung to his hand and said, “I’ll never forget how you came back for me.”

He looked at her in surprise, remembering the sprint he had done up the four flights of stairs to her apartment, his heart threatening to burst out of his chest with the fear of what he knew had happened. “You remember that?”

She nodded and said, “I felt you holding me; I heard you calling me back from the very edge, Matt – asking me not to go. I’ll never forget that.”

He stood in the doorway of the hospital room and watched as the stretcher disappeared around the corner. He leaned against the door frame for support, dropping his face down into his hand. A quiet chocking sob broke through his fingers and echoed down the walls of the empty hallway.

(the above photo was taken on the grounds of the California State University in Chico)

Helplessness–Featured on the Story Shack Today

 

Helpless

 

Isn’t this a gorgeous piece of art? Grace Gao created this drawing especially for a short story I wrote entitled Helplessness. Grace’s drawing along with my story will be featured on the Story Shack today. I hope you can pop over to that site and check out our great collaboration.