Archives for category: flash fiction

​Rare eye conditions make me more cautious than most about what I look at and how I do it. Which means I would have gone into my yard or looked out a window on Monday to see the day dim and darkness fall.

Except for the presence of my also rare best friend in my life. 

She insisted we experience the eclipse together, drove hundreds of miles to make it happen, and gave me a running commentary as near totality progressed.

We traveled an hour and a half from my home to a place within the eclipse path, yet not quite in totality. Though we expected total, or near total darkness, the extreme twilight we experienced was something very special in its own right.

Even as a creative writer, I can’t adequately describe those thrilling moments. It was, of course, a visual experience, where everything turned a gloomy, eerie grayish, bluey…unnatural other. It was almost like a brand new type of photographic filter had been placed over the sun. 

We expected a 360 degree sunset and felt a bit disappointed when full light eased back onto the world without pitch dark occurring, yet the all around twilight that ringed the horizon was impressive in its own right. At one point I tried to lift my sunglasses to see how dim it really was, then was reminded by the way they felt that I had already switched to my regular glasses.

The most impressive aspect of that phase was the way we felt during the time of very dim light. A few words come close to describing it–eerie, othery…wrong.

There was an element of disorientation that makes me, as a science loving layman, wonder if there is a physical layer of our relationship with our star that we can’t​ be aware of when it’s shining brightly upon us. We felt perfectly normal again, after those precious seconds passed, but the memory of so brief a time will be with us for the rest of our lives.

Since I reluctantly gave up the opportunity to watch the sun, even through eclipse glasses, my friend gave me a running commentary of what she was seeing. That was the next best thing and gave me a remarkable experience I would otherwise have missed.

As I waited for darkness that didn’t quite fall, eager to see stars come out during the day, I got my wish in a more minor way. One bright, bright star appeared, then another. Stars shining brightly in daytime is awe inspiring, even when they are two. 

This was not like when the moon comes out at normal twilight and Venus is nearby…a tiny white dot against the blue of the sky. The eclipse stars were bigger and brighter than any I’ve ever seen. 

If ever there was a time to wish upon a star, eclipse day was the one. 

The biggest and brightest rode the faded sky near a big puffy cumulus cloud, making me think of the DreamWorks logo.

Something else that made the eclipse extra special was that we were in a McDonald’s parking lot. The store closed for a half hour for the experience, and the young employees were extremely excited about it. 

They gathered a few cars from us and when totality hit they cheered as if the home team had scored a touchdown, which made it more of an event. The area we chose had a few small groups scattered about, watching with muted awe. Families, individuals, and at least one obvious pair of grandparents, ushering grandchildren into the world of science and astronomy and our remarkable universe. 

Since I’m also extremely sensitive to heat, I was worried about traffic logjams. There were a lot of dire, appocalyptic gridlock warnings ahead of time that put the fear of Henry Ford in me. 

When the eclipse was over, we immediately headed toward home, with a stop for a late lunch along the way. The hour drive to the restaurant was fine. There was a bit more traffic, but nothing I wasn’t used to driving during normal rush hour. 

Then we tried to leave after we ate. Uh. No. I had to get us across just one of the three oddly configured lanes, but it proved to be a mini ordeal. A four way stop was funneling  suddenly expanded traffic into that one crucial lane and timing it so there was never quite enough room to slip between cars. Eventually, a slightly larger gap appeared to allow just enough time to get on the road again.

As we looped around to head home we passed the highway we’d come in on and there was the near gridlock I’d been concerned about. It looked as if it could soon become a total travel nightmare, and I thanked my lucky literal stars from earlier in the day that we’d left right after the eclipse. It enabled us to say we experienced the full total eclipse package, but with the traffic nightmare aspect from a tiny distance.

So you never know what real friendship may bring into your life. Because of her I was able to experience the 2017 eclipse in a richer and more unforgettable way than I would have on my own…on the day two stars came out for two friends who love the night sky and witnessed that night sky come briefly into an amazing day.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2017/08/22/ten-surprises-for-scientists-and-skywatchers-during-the-total-solar-eclipse/#3dedb8bc2ba6

I’ve had a lot going on lately. My mom’s health got so bad that I had to put her in a nursing home, after taking care of her by myself for many years. It’s a unique kind of heartbreak, when you watch someone you love so much become more and more dependent on you and then the realization comes that you can no longer provide the level of care that they need. I’m still adjusting and accepting the new reality we both face, and will probably write more about all that eventually. Right now I want to tell you about the way things that I thought of as separate merged recently. It’s been one of those times when life gets eerie and surreal.

Many years ago I started experimenting with flash fiction. A couple are deep in the archives here. There’s one in particular that I’ve been thinking about. I wrote it after an aunt I loved very much was stricken with Alzheimer’s. I never saw her when she had it, because she lived several states away. I spoke with her on the phone once, just as she was getting it. She was still herself, but very vague and forgetful. I’m glad that conversation became my last memory of her. This story isn’t about her. It was only vaguely inspired by her fate. And of course it’s certainly not about my mother, who was only recently diagnosed. That’s the thing. I had never been in constant contact with anyone suffering from Alzheimer’s, until my mother’s slow undiagnosed journey, then rapid decline. The story was my impression of what it might be like to live with a mother with Alzheimer’s. The eerie thing is that I got it so right. The mother isn’t my own mother and Caroline is not me, but they are too in a way. I think it turns out that they may be anybody’s mother and anybody’s daughter, bound by love and the past and the present. So my own fiction resonates with me, as if someone else wrote it. Perhaps someone else did. The person I was before my life made me more like Caroline than I could have ever imagined. Here’s a link, if you want to read it: To Smell the Roses Again

The movies part of the title of this post comes in after the nursing home became necessary. The need for distraction from stress and an unfamiliar kind of grief finds me watching TV and movies in the middle of the night, even more than usual. I picked a movie one night several days after my mom went to the nursing home. A random choice, I thought. Random choices can be tricky. What I watched was Rise of the Planet of the Apes. What could be more distracting? Science fiction, about sentient apes? Cool! It was cool all right. I had no clue, until I was watching it, that a subplot was that the lead scientist’s father had Alzheimer’s. I almost stopped watching it, when I realized where the plot was going, but stuck with it. By the time it was over I was glad I did. I really enjoyed the movie I’d gone so long without watching, in case it would somehow ruin my love of the original. No fear of that. It was such a drastic reboot that it was practically a whole new movie. And it handled its Alzheimer’s story so beautifully that it managed to be a bittersweet comfort to me that it made me feel better instead of worse over my own situation with my mom. Of course it also made me long for a real life cure. But that’s the stuff of science fiction and fantasy, until hopefully someday it moves into the realm of reality. Soon.

I really don’t understand how my real life experience with my beloved mother got bracketed so by my love of writing and movies. I also don’t understand at all why life has to be so hard sometimes. Or how such a difficult time finds comfort in moments when writing and real life and movies merge.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes Official Trailer HD

Coffee with Virginia Woolf
by
Muri McCage

Kerri was having coffee with Virginia Woolf.  Of course, Virginia wasn’t drinking any because she was in printed form, and Kerri was engrossed in the deceptively simple life of Mrs. Ramsay.  She sat hunched over the open pages, the noisy ambiance of the city street all but disappearing into the greater mental clamour created by the beauty of Woolf’s prose.  Lingering over a particularly lovely description of Mr. Ramsay’s features, Kerri sighed wistfully.

Just as she was reading of Mrs. Ramsay’s visit to the colorful and enticing harbor, Kerri caught a glimpse of a man’s face as he passed by.  Something made her look up fully, and try to locate the momentary attraction.  She saw a casually dressed older man striding purposefully down the sidewalk.

She shrugged and almost went back to the well worn first edition–found treasure from one of the antique book shops she loved to prowl.  Instead, a sudden flash of his features threw itself into her brain, as if a movie were being projected there.  With a gasp Kerri leapt from her seat, and hurried down the sidewalk after him, abandoning Mrs. Ramsay and her houseguests.

Realizing she still clutched her sloshing coffee cup, she tossed it into a nearby trash can, and quickly covered the distance between them.
“Excuse me. Sir?”

“Yes?”  He turned, with a polite smile.

“I’m sorry to bother you, but have we met?  You look awfully familiar.”  Lame, Kerri.  Lame.

He studied her for a moment, a fragment of the smile lingering to turn to slight puzzlement.  “Why no, I don’t think so.”

“Oh.”  She didn’t know what to do next.  He was about to leave and she’d never have the chance again.

The pleasantly weathered features cleared.  “Ah.  I teach law at the university.  Perhaps you’ve seen me there.”

“Perhaps.”  Inspiration struck.  “Actually, I’m thinking of going to law school.  I must have seen you when I toured the campus.”

“Of course.”  Still friendly, slightly dismissive, he glanced at his watch.

“I’m sorry, but I must go.  Young minds await, and all that.”

“Sure.  Well, maybe I’ll see you around.  If I end up there.”

An absent nod, as he took out a worn wallet and offered her a crisp, white card with businesslike lettering.  “Here, have this.  If you decide to attend here, and need advice about classes please look me up.  I try to help the students any way I can.”

Kerri took the card, barely even breathing.  “Thanks.”

They stood there for another awkward moment, and she waited for him to walk out of her life again.  Impulsively, she stuck out a hand.  When he automatically shook it, she grasped the warm, strong fingers for a second too long.  She couldn’t help it, and he didn’t seem to notice.

She watched as he hurried across the street, then looked down at her fingers.  They seemed to radiate warmth, and imagined love.  She could hardly believe she’d been so close to the father she had only seen in the one photograph her mother owned. 

Once he was lost in the crowd, Kerri went back to her table, but she closed the soft, leather cover on Mrs. Ramsay with her embroidery hoop, the tangy sea air, and the lighthouse across the water.  There was too much on her mind to read anymore.  She was too busy trying to figure out how she was going to afford law school.

Related Post–Flash Fiction–To Smell the Roses Again

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     Caroline shouldered her way through the library door, arms laden with all manner of books.  There were novels and coffee table books about flowers and travel, volumes of poetry and stories of girls and their horses, anything she could think of that might spark a gleam of interest in the fading blue of her mother’s eyes. 

She paused to draw in an appreciative lungful of crisp, invigorating air, and admire the bright blue sky.  It contrasted appealingly with the colorful leaves of ornamental trees that lined the drive, azure, bronze, and maple red rubbing shoulders dramatically.  Fall had been her favorite time of year, but lately she found herself longing for the sense of renewal accompanied by spring. 

Fighting off a fleeting surge of reluctance, she went to the small haven that was her car, and drove home.  As she entered her apartment, the scent of baking apples welcomed her, but she knew it was only a candle burning in unconscious mockery. 

“Hello, Miss Caroline!”  The motherly woman who met her with a smile and a quick hug also mimicked what might have been.  What had been, once upon a time.

“Good evening, Betsy.  How is…everything?”

Betsy shrugged minutely.  “Pretty good.  We’ve had worse days.  ‘Night.”

She eased out the door, leaving Caroline to dump the books onto the hall table and walk alone to the chair by the living room window.  Caroline knelt to hug the frail figure seated there, but the elderly woman jerked free and looked up with almost feral alarm.

“Who are you?”

Ignoring the sharp fear in the petulant voice, Caroline swallowed back her deep hurt and backed off.  “It’s me, Mom.  Caroline.”

Immediate calm.  “My little Caroline?  How was your day, dear?  Did you pass your test?”

“Yes, Mom, I passed.”

“Oh, good!  I knew you could.  Math was always so hard for me.  But your father…”

“Yes, Mom, I remember.  He was a pip!”

“Pip?  Mama…?  Did Pip get out of his pen again?”

“No, Pip is fine.”  Long experience had taught Caroline to play along.  “Everything is all right.”

“Mama?  Tell me a story.  About a long time ago.”

Caroline slipped into the persona of her maternal grandmother.  She had heard the stories so often from this lovely, lost woman before her that she could tell them in her sleep.  She sat on the ottoman by her mother’s chair, and placed an arm around the familiar shoulders. 

“One day your father was in a hurry to go to work, and without looking, put goop in his hair.  Then he realized he had slicked down his thick, wavy hair with Pop’s denture cream!  He  tried for two days to get it out but he just kept looking like Albert Einstein with a bad hair day!”

Her mother clapped her hands. 

“And that’s when he started wearing a crew cut!”

“That’s right!”

They laughed together for a time.  Then her mother stilled, and grew wistful.

“Tell me about the roses, Mama.  That’s my favorite.”

“When I was a girl, my friends and I would cut the last of the roses.” 

Caroline closed her eyes, imagination drenched in the past. 

“We took them to the little meadow down by the creek, and spread them out all over the grass.  A carpet of roses, all colors, different scents, perfect and so beautiful that it was as if we were in a dream.

“We’d have a tea party, every single year since we were just children until we all grew up and life kept us from it.  Always the same place, always the final roses…the smell was like a living thing…”

Caroline kissed the soft, pink cheek and shivered a little.  It was as if three generations occupied the twilight shadows instead of two–grandmother, mother, and daughter–all linked by memories, and love, and the brief, cherished stepping out of time, to smell the roses again.