Friday, January 31, 2014

Flash Fiction Friday: Shay's Backward Day

 Flash Fiction Friday is a weekly roundup of quickly-written fiction, 1000 words or less. Our host is Suzanne Warr and her blog, Tales from the Raven. Go here to read all the entries! Flash Fiction Friday


Today's prompt: National Backward Day–show someone who feels backwards or like they’ve got it all wrong.  BONUS if they’re the only one who sees the problem!

(Unfortunately, Shay is not the only one who sees her problem. And sorry, Mom, this one called for the "B"word. Those who read my post about that last week will understand what I mean.)



Shay's Backward Day

by Rebecca Blevins

I pounded off the alarm and accidentally fell back to sleep. Once I finally opened my bleary eyes, the red numbers of the clock stared at me evilly. New clock, new apartment, new city--I still wasn't used to any of it. 

Thanks to mistaking the "off" button for the "snooze" I had only five minutes to get ready for work. I threw on the first clean thing I found--a loose knit dress--slipped on sandals while praising my new job for Casual Friday, and ran out the door. 

The seat in the car felt kind of weird, like it had lost a lot of cushion. "It's probably time for a new one anyway," I muttered. I'd said that each year for the last three, but my old Civic kept barely holding together. My rump was so bony that I noticed as soon as anything lost a bit of softness, so likely the cushion had settled even more. Weirdly, my stomach seemed a little larger than normal, but that wasn't out of character. After all, I had eaten quite a bit of Chinese last night, and salty food does that to me. Still, my middle felt . . . strange. I poked my stomach, and it wasn't soft and squishy like when I'm bloated, but kind of hard, with a couple of weird bumps. I got this nervous, anxious, fluttering feeling, but the car behind me honked. I looked up and the light was green. 

I swung into the parking space and hurried into the office, holding my tiny purse in front of me. The bathroom was just inside the large sales room everyone sat in, sectioned off in short cubicles. As soon as I reached the room, everyone looked up. As if they were part of a single, ginormous organism, their gazes dropped to my belly. A couple of the guys laughed; a few of the women seemed concerned. I turned and fled into the bathroom and locked the door.

 Breathe, just breathe!  

My heart pounded, and after I set my purse down, I felt my stomach again. Yep, two weird, roundish lumps. I went over to the mirror, and I looked several months pregnant. I had always been skin and bones, so any bit of swelling was noticeable. But I wasn't in a relationship, hadn't been to any clubs where someone could have spiked anything, had no memory loss--what the heck was going on?

Someone knocked on the door. Oh, not now. Please. A voice came through the thin wood. "Shay, it's Jennifer. Are you all right? I didn't know you were pregnant." 

"I'm not!" I blurted. "Uh--I'll be okay. Give me a minute." Jennifer worked in the cubicle next to me. Unlike me, she was fashionable, smart, spoke with a British accent, and was quickly becoming a good friend--my only friend. I'd started here just three weeks ago, and I couldn't afford to become the laughingstock of the company. I'd already done that at my last job. Maybe some alien had abducted me? I'd been having strange dreams ever since I'd been working here.

"Shay?" 

I couldn't put off knowing what was happening forever. I stood in front of the mirror and lifted up my dress. 

My stomach looked terrible! Instead of being smooth and flat, it was in two rounded lumps with a huge split down the middle. Curiously, it looked familiar. I tilted my head, trying to wrap my brain around what I was seeing. Where have I seen that before? After a few moments it dawned on me, and I gasped in horror. It was a butt! I felt the bony points--my butt! 

I spun and checked where my rear used to be, and found that somehow my front was my back and my back my front. 

Jennifer pounded on the door. "Shay! Please let me in! I can help!" 

I hadn't a soul in the world to turn to. Not who wouldn't make great fun at my expense, anyway. The doorman in my apartment building enjoyed ribbing me a little too much. I sighed and let her in. "Jennifer, you'd better steel yourself. You're not going to believe this--"

She interrupted me. "Let me guess. Your bum is on backwards."

I was floored. "How did you know? Why didn't you tell me?"

She put a hand on her slim, green chino-covered hip and studied me through blond bangs. "You've been drinking those free bottled drinks in the break room I told you to stay away from, right?"

I nodded sheepishly. 

"I tried to give you a hint. If I'd said anything more you would've thought I was nutso." She shook her head. "The guy you replaced didn't stay away from them either. He couldn't handle working here after his incident." 

This wasn't making any sense. "How is that legal?"

"This company is full of whackadoos. When you signed your new hire papers, you took personal responsibility for anything you ingest. It's buried in lots of legal jargon. You probably didn't read that closely, did you?"

I shook my head. "No. I feel like an idiot."

She smiled, her even white teeth the perfect candidate for a toothpaste commercial. "Don't. Hardly anyone reads the fine print. When you sign on you're basically agreeing to be experimented on, but of your own free will. The higher-ups like to try out their products on unsuspecting employees, but it's all voluntary. You get big bonuses if you act as their guinea pigs. Heck, when I started, I ate a granola bar and had blue hair for a month. But don't worry. The guy before you had his bum back where it belonged in two weeks, so yours should follow suit. 

"The longest anyone had a change was when Edwina sprouted chicken feathers that didn't go away. She went through several molts before she disappeared without saying a word. Rumor is she lives in Hawaii with a huge retirement pension. Everything has been highly tested before it comes to us to minimize symptoms, but no one takes anything knowingly unless they are desperate."

"Seriously?" I stared at her.
  
"Seriously." She leaned against the door. " They brought the drinks in a few months ago. I'm curious--what do they taste like?"

I thought a moment. "Kind of like cherry Kool Aid. Pretty good."

Jennifer chuckled. "I guess you shouldn't drink the Kool Aid, then. She handed me a long sweater. "Here. I keep this on hand for emergencies. And a hat, and a scarf, and yoga pants, and after last October's fruit snacks, a pair of knitting needles . . ."

I raised my eyebrows. 

"Don't ask."

I wrapped the sweater around me. It concealed my belly--bottom--pretty well. "So . . . this should be switched back in two weeks?"

"Should be." She sighed. "I guess we'll have to cancel going clubbing tomorrow night."

"Unfortunately, yeah." I felt so awful. I had been so close to making a real friend in this new city. 

"So," Jennifer said, "You like chick flicks?"

As much as I wanted someone to hang out with, I had to be honest. "Not much. I'm more of a Vin Diesel kind of girl."

"No way! Me, too!" she exclaimed. "Tell you what--I'll bring some Thai food and ice cream if you have movies, and we'll party in your apartment instead."

I couldn't believe my luck! "Sounds great!" 

Having to walk around bum backwards for a couple of weeks would be awkward, but at least I had someone to groan about it with. Things were definitely looking up.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

On Being Brave

A few weeks ago, someone on Facebook posted asking what everyone's word of the year would be. I typed change, because so much of that has happened. Though when I thought about it a little more, I couldn't stop thinking of a song that had me in tears every time I heard it, but I sang along with it as if the words poured out from my own soul. You are probably quite familiar with the song by now, but because of it, I have a new word. 

Brave.

Over the past couple of years, I've put myself out there. I've done things I felt led to do, I did things that scared me silly, I pushed myself. Nothing worked out as I'd hoped, not even the minimum I expected, but it's all for a higher purpose. I know this.

I know this.

At times last year I felt broken, sad, wondering why things didn't work out with that particular path no matter how hard I tried. What the purpose of all of it had been. At times, I just wanted to give up, stop trying to fulfill whatever measure of my creation I'm meant to fulfill, because man, it hurt.

Then something whispered gently to my spirit, all this has been to prepare you for what's next. As time goes by, I see this. Even though what I tried to do didn't work out, I did get to fulfill a dream I had since I was a teenager, even for just a short time. And in the ending of that chapter of my life, I discovered what makes me happiest, what needs to be my main focus, the biggest part of my life besides my family and church--my writing. I also learned that while I have children at home, I don't have time for both dreams, and the one that burns in my soul the most is to fully embrace being a writer. My husband even told me last fall, "You never were so happy as when you were writing." He was absolutely right.

I am a realist, and I know this path is not going to be easy. I'm taking this one project, one day at a time. Though writing and rewriting and editing are hard, I love it! Even when I want to toss my stories in the fire, by the next day I feel them pulling me back. I get feedback from other excellent writers, and it's so much fun to see where the stories need to be tighter, a bit more detail added, sentences deleted. The crafting of it appeals to me so much! Then there are days I've been in a panic because I wonder what on earth I'm doing; how could I be so presumptuous to think that I could write a decent book, let alone expect anyone else to read it? My husband and friends support me in this, but still, can I do this? Really?

Then that quiet voice whispers to me, you can do it. You work hard, you will do it, and there are people who need the stories you create.

I'm entering a first chapter contest for the LDS Storymakers Conference in April--something I was way too scared to do four years ago--and I've signed up for a submission workshop in which I'm submitting the first ten pages of my middle grade pirate story, along with a query, to an agent. And not just any agent, but an agent who appears to fit just with the kinds of stories I love to write most, and that's not all. He's my favorite author Brandon Sanderson's YA agent for one of my favorite books: Steelheart. 

This should be the scariest venture of my life. Somehow, though, I'm not as afraid as I'd thought I'd be. Yes, Eddie will critique the crud out of my submission, and it'll be passed around to seven other writers in the workshop (only two of whom I know in person, one happens to be one of my critique partners, and another nice writer I'm Facebook friends with). I'll just work on my submission really hard, have no expectations--I'm allowing myself to dream a little, but I have no illusions--and see where all of this takes me. I'm trusting I'll learn what I need to learn and grow in the direction I'm supposed to. 

So, not only do I have a word for the year, brave, but I have a theme song as well. I'm embracing what it fully means to be a writer--the awesome, the tough, the ups and downs--and this is where I want my future to lie. I'm going to say what I want to say, and let the words fall out wherever they land. Then I'll pound them into shape. 

If you haven't watched the video, it may bring a smile to your face. With my love of dance and considering how my path changed (those of you who know me will probably get it) I smile extra big. 

A note to Sara Bareilles, who I know must read this blog--thanks for being awesome. I hate that Microsoft is using your song for advertising their products, because that's just wrong. 

I'm also including a version done by BYU's  a capella group, Vocal Point. It's incredible! I listen to both versions over and over.






Monday, January 27, 2014

In Which I Butchereth Olde English--Oh! Yon Tale Awaits!



When in the course of an afternoon, a most middleth-aged yet sprightly Rebecca is fading from a shortly quenchable thirst, she looketh to satisfy the parched gullet. Indeed, she even hopeth to repine while sipping smoothly from her crystalline goblet--er, translucent life-giving liquid receptacle, which she may reach for in haste:





Oh, blessed vessel of mountainous spring refreshment (in truth, from the village water treatment facility)



In her mad lunge to avail her thirst--oh! The youngishful mistress mistakenly grabbeths the following artist's masterpiece, carved with much painstaking from the heart of a tree, raw timber brought to sinuous lines of golden glory:



'Tis a pepper mill



She doth not recommend it. Nay, not one whit of recommending she giveth, for indeed, spheres of gray-black spice doth not one's thirst, quench.



Friday, January 24, 2014

Flash Fiction Friday: Of Love and Lunch

Flash Fiction Friday is a weekly roundup of quickly-written fiction, 1000 words or less. Our host is Suzanne Warr and her blog, Tales from the Raven. Go here to read all the entries! Flash Fiction Friday

Today's prompt: Show parental love–mother, father, or other parental figure.


Of Love and Lunch

by Rebecca Blevins


Adam packed the lunch box--the slightly dented one featuring My Little Pony. He had picked up a new Disney Princess lunchbox so Grace wouldn’t have to use Ella’s old one from kindergarten, but Grace still preferred the well-used box. He should’ve known. She never missed a My Little Pony show, and the family DVD shelf was lined with every episode ever made.

He wiped out the dust and assembled a Soynut butter and jelly sandwich (there was a no-nut policy due to allergies, thankfully Grace liked Soynut butter), then cut it in triangles. What for a snack? Adam thought he’d had it all under control, but he should have known he’d forget something. He didn’t mind; it was just a new routine to get used to. After all, Trish had done the difficult job of getting Grace ready to go before Trish had to be at work. Grace was now in the living room watching a My Little Pony DVD, and all Adam had to do was make lunch.

After a bit of rummaging through the containers of prepped, healthy foods his wife spent Sunday assembling, Adam found some apple slices that had been dipped in lemon water so they wouldn’t go brown. Grace was very picky about brown fruit. He pulled a couple of strawberry Newtons out of the cupboard and wrapped them in some plastic film. It was difficult for Grace to open even the zippered snack bags, so they tried to pack everything in cling wrap.

Adam finally filled the thermos with milk, then shut the lunchbox and put on his coat. He went to the living room with Grace’s warm jacket. She sat mesmerized at the My Little Pony antics, her thinning gray hair wispy and fully dry from Trish’s washing this morning. “It’s time to go, Grace.” He held out the jacket and helped her into it. Then he moved her walker close and helped her get up. Her aged hands gripped the bar firmly.

“Already? But I don’t want to go. I’ll be just fine here. My show’s not over.” Grace wrinkled up her lined face and kicked at one of the green tennis balls on the bottom of the walker's feet. She teetered slightly, and Adam steadied her while she regained her grip on the walker.

He rubbed a hand over his face. “I know, I know. We’ve talked about this a lot. Greenwood is a great place for you to go and make new friends. Trish will pick you up at the end of the day, and you can tell us about all the fun you had!"

Grace frowned and her bent shoulders sagged even further. “Fine.” She pointed to the box in Adam’s hand. Her face brightened. “Is that my Pony lunchbox?”

Adam nodded.

“Okay,” she said. “I guess we can go now.”

They made it slowly out the door to the car, then drove to Greenwood Senior Daycare. Adam helped Grace inside, where a very kind woman named Merri took Grace down the hall to her new classroom. Adam watched them go, then realized he was still holding the My Little Pony lunchbox.

“Wait!” he called, and ran to them. “You don’t want to forget your lunch.”

Grace hugged the lunchbox to her chest. Merri said, “Grace, I’ll show you the special place we have for you to put your lunch. Would you like that?”

The older woman nodded.

As Adam watched, they went down the hall and disappeared into a room.  His eyes filled with tears as he remembered how she used to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for his school lunches. She’d always cut his sandwiches the special way—in triangles—and arranged them just so in his He-Man lunchbox. He never thought he’d see the day when he couldn’t even call her Mom without confusing her, most days.

He felt someone squeeze his shoulder and turned to find a kind-looking nurse. She handed him a tissue.

“Thanks.”

She patted him as he blew his nose. “They grow up fast, don’t they.”

He let out a small chuckle, trying to hide the tears. “You don’t say.”

The nurse handed him another tissue and gave him one last pat. “Don’t worry. We’ll take great care of her.” He nodded, and the nurse left. Adam stood, alone, staring at beige linoleum and bright paintings which lined the ivory corridor.

He walked back to the entrance, punched in the code to let himself out, and went to his car. The summer air was already warm. After he started the engine and got the air conditioning going, he took a moment to compose himself, then turned on some music and began the drive to his office. The doctor had been clear that if Trish and Adam didn’t want to put Grace in a home, this would be their routine for a long time..


He hoped it would be a very, very, very long time.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The "B" Word

This morning, four-year-old Bean was pretty upset with me for not letting him get on any electronic devices.

I stood in the kitchen, doing something at the counter. I can't remember what. Anyway, Bean clung to the back of my legs and shouted, "You're a B word!"

What?

I froze in shock. How did my baby, my innocent little guy, hear that word? We never say it around here, and if we watch a show or movie that might use it, he's always in bed. I searched my mind frantically for where he could have picked it up. He'd been outside playing with the neighborhood children, so that might be where he heard it in such a way to use it correctly. Or incorrectly, since he was insulting his mother. Still, if the other children's parents had known, they would have been unhappy with the choice of language as well.


I took a deep breath and said, "What 'B word'?" Then to the other children, "How could he possibly know that word?"

Princess, now eight, piped up from her breakfast at the table, "Mom, I can tell you what the B word is."

Really? I'm simultaneously interested to know this and quite scared. "All right, Princess, what is it?"

In her nonchalant way, she stated, "Mom, the B word is butt." 

I can't even tell you how relieved I was. Of course, Bean was subsequently told that we do not call people names, especially our parents, even if it's just a letter of the alphabet.


"Butt" is a word that we don't care for around here. Fanny, heiny, bottom, posterior, backside, bum, even buttocks sound better to me than butt. In fact, when Bean was newly 3, he used to get angry and call us the worst possible thing he could think of, comprised of two very "bad" words. He'd clench his little fists and say with utmost vehemence, "You STUPID, MEANIE BUTTHEEEEAAAAD!" (Extra vehemence on the "head" part of "butthead.")

 I think my aversion for the word stems from my mother. I'm even cringing typing "butt" because she's going to read this. Hi, Mom! *waves*

Somehow I'd forgotten those days. Bean is a firecracker, but since we put a lot of effort into guiding his massive amounts of energy, it had been quite a while since we'd had an incident like this.

I have to admit that a little part of me is thankful to have been downgraded from a stupid meanie butthead to just a B word.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Flash Fiction Friday: Flaming Pooh

Flash Fiction Friday is a weekly roundup of quickly-written fiction, 1000 words or less. Our host is Suzanne Warr and her blog, Tales from the Raven. Go here to read all the entries! Flash Fiction Friday

Today's prompt: In honor of National Ditch New Years Resolutions Day, show someone behaving badly.  BONUS if you can tie in Winnie the Pooh, who’s bday is celebrated on the 18th!

Flaming Pooh

by Rebecca Blevins


The evergreen bushes smelled sharp and fresh, like Christmas had a few weeks ago. I watched, shivering and crouched in the snow behind them, trying to keep my fingers warm as the sun went down, turning everything cold and gray. Finally, Billy’s mom pulled out of their driveway to take the twins to baseball practice. After the van disappeared down the street, I stood up and stretched, then picked up the paper bag I'd brought and headed for Billy’s front door.

You see, there’s this girl I know, Kristina. We live a few houses apart, and last summer we just sort of started hanging out. She isn't gross like other girls, and I think she’s really cool. I wanted to do something nice for her birthday last week before New Year’s, but I just couldn't do it in person, so I sent a present in the mail without my name on it.

Somehow Billy knew I was the one who gave Kristina that butterfly necklace. I don’t know how he knew, but he did. As soon as winter break was over he announced to every person in the whole sixth grade that I’d done it. Now Kristina and her friends giggle whenever I show up, and she hasn't said a word to me. Though she is wearing the necklace. Trevor told me. He saw her, and my best friend wouldn't lie. Still, I was super ticked that Billy outed me like that. What a jerk.

I set the bag on the step and took the lighter out of my pocket. I knew that what I was doing would blow my New Year’s taking-the-high-road resolution to smithereens, but this would be worth it. Being a peacemaker was overrated, anyway. Besides, Billy totally asked for this! It’s not like what I was doing was that bad, anyway. The most that would happen would be he’d get a burn mark on his cement doorstep.

I made sure the edges of the bag that I'd tattered last night stuck out just right, in order to catch fire fast, then took out the lighter. I would have loved it if there was real doody in there, but 1) that is just too gross, even for me, and 2) the only place to get it would have been Mr. Richardson’s backyard, and his little yippy-yap dog bites really hard. So I had the brilliant idea to use a holey, grungy Winnie-the-Pooh I'd played with as a kid. It was that really old, moldy-smelling kind with heavy cotton stuffing that kept falling out. Mom kept it for some weird reason. I’d have to play innocent if she ever found out it was gone. She kept so much junk I doubted she’d ever miss it.

I thumbed the lighter and lit a flaming bag of Pooh. Figured it would send the message just fine, and let Billy know someone smart was onto him. (He had so many enemies that I was betting he wouldn’t know it was me.)

I rang the doorbell and ran back behind the bushes. Billy opened the door, saw the flaming bag, and instead of stomping it like he was supposed to, ran back inside. That old stuffing must have been really dry, because the bag practically burst into flames! My heart began thumping really hard and my chest pounded. I was about to scoop some snow to throw on it, when Billy came back with a pitcher of water.

Billy’s eyes grew huge at the size of the Pooh fire. He dumped the pitcher on the bag, and the flames sputtered and almost went out. He ran back in, and came back with another pitcher, and finally the fire died. He kicked the soaking bag into the yard and after hesitantly looking inside it, covered it with the snow and stomped until the whole thing was a smelly, soggy mess. He looked around and made a rude sign, then not seeing anyone in the twilight, went back inside. I was so thankful the bushes hadn't been pruned in a while.

I walked home quickly to try to keep warm, playing with the lighter and smiling at the look that had been on Billy’s face. From the way he wouldn't stomp on the bag, I was sure he’d been given a flaming bag of the real stuff a time or two. I hoped he’d get the message, and think twice before being a jerk to me or anyone else. Then again, Billy wasn't that bright. Maybe I’d have to save up Mr. Richardson’s dog’s presents for a few months and figure something else out.

I grinned as ideas began swirling around. Next January I'd have to choose a resolution I might actually keep.