Dream Walker (creative nonfiction)

boy-447701_640As I nestled within my white, four-post bed it was just like any other night in the Florida winter. Non-natives always underestimate our winters. They don’t realize that the high humidity at forty degrees can cut through the thickest layers of clothes straight to the marrow of your bones. My mom gave me a plush, heated blanket, which I turned to the highest setting. My room was a mishmash of construction projects gone by. The carpet was a knotted, burnt orange, no doubt the original carpet from the 1970s built home. The carpet had long been replaced by another that was deep blue throughout the rest of the house, expect the bedrooms. Each, including mine, kept their rusty orange matted naps from years of wear with a well defined dividing line clearly cut out at the door jam.

Half-heartedly, my parents attempted to make my room more feminine by adding frosty pink wallpaper covered with minuscule white dots. Water damage from a brutal hurricane season warped the end wall, the largest wall of my room by far. They nailed up thin wood paneling of a sky blue and gray faux marbling on that wall alone to hide the brown, dried water stains that seemed to bleed from atop the ceiling. The clash of colors and design was epic.

I always slept with my simple white ceiling fan on. It had two speeds: off and ready-for-take-off. It kept the room as cold as a walk-in freezer. I sometimes stayed awake at night trying to see my breathe while looking up at that fan. Its rapid gyration brought with it both a soothing whoosh of white noise from the jet stream of downward air, while simultaneously creating the ever-present risk that it may come crashing down on me at full speed, as it wobbled too and fro in its hectic pace, chopping me to even smaller child-sized bits. Every night before I drifted off to sleep I wondered if that would be the night.

I clutched the stuffed monkey my grandparents gave me while my brother was in the hospital recovering from yet another surgery on his legs and hips. I was too young to understand why he always received so many presents when it wasn’t his birthday or Christmas. My monkey was a consolation prize that I held firmly by the neck every night. I snuggled under my pile of blankets and pulled them over my entire body, warm and cozy, protected from the cold on the other side, except for my nose and forehead. I had to breathe. I wrapped the comforter tight and fell into a sleep that must have been a close cousin to death.

I’ve always been a hard sleeper never stirring for fire alarms, gun shots or sonic booms. I occasionally slept in my brother’s room on his top bunk, but, somehow, always woke up the next morning on the floor feeling as rested as ever. The fall never woke me. My father finally felt the need to nail a long two-by-four to the top bunk as a makeshift railing to keep me firmly in place. Since learning to speak I’ve also chatted the night away in gibberish, more often than not. My family was rather used to the occasional stray call from my room at night regarding the elephants caught in the strawberry patch, of which I had neither.

Before this night I may have mumbled some, randomly kicked at my sheets and turned clockwise in my bed, but I always stayed in bed. However, this night, whether from the cold exterior of my room or from the sauna created under my covers by the new electric blanket, this night I got out of bed in hysteria.

I ran towards the hall leading to my parents’ room at the other end of the house, but stopped immediately short, right at the door jam. I just couldn’t make the transition from my rustic orange carpeting to the brilliant blue of the hallway that seemed to ebb and flow like an ocean before my feet. My perspective slowly narrowed so that the kitchen in the middle of the house looked like a mirage miles away from me.

“Buddy!” I shouted through my brother’s open door, which was adjacent to mine.

“Buddy!” His name is not Buddy; it’s Richard after my father, but I call him Buddy to this day, a privilege he allows only family members and our remaining childhood friends. Finally, Buddy appeared in his doorway and stopped at the door frame, which he held onto for balance. He’d learned to walk four times now. It would require another two times before his surgeries were complete.

“What?” he replied sleepy and annoyed.

“Go get Dad!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.

“What is it?” My sudden alarm brought his senses out of the night.

“Look!” I screamed pointing down at the newish blue hallway carpet.

“What?” He looked in the direction I was pointing confused.

“I can’t…” I began to say as I lifted one foot and kept it in the air, hovering at the door jam. I jerked my foot back to my side.

“What is it?” Buddy asked examining the hallway with more intent.

“Don’t you see? Go get Dad!”

“You go get Dad,” he retorted in a more probing fashion than an antagonistic one.

“I can’t!” I shouted looking down the daunting hallway in front of me as the walls collapsed and reconfigured as if at once breathing while daring me to try to make a run for it.

It was at this point that my older brother, smarter than I ever gave him credit, realized that I wasn’t fully awake, a favorite time of his. He held countless conversations with me in the night through our wall while he was in body casts up to his chest that were entirely lost to me the next day. Sometimes I wonder what he confided in me while I was sleeping.

We went back and forth as my brother tried to coax me out of my room and into the hallway. I tried sliding my feet slowly, but that didn’t work. I jumped in circles, jogging in place at the junction of that dividing line of carpeting. I tried getting a running start, but always lost my courage. He managed to get me to hang my body over the hallway carpeting like a maiden carved into the front of an ancient ship, but I couldn’t command my feet forward. He almost persuaded me to jump, except that I realized I would then be completely engulfed by blue and there was no way I was doing that.

“Nothing there,” he laughed, holding onto his door frame more from laughter than for balance.

“Nothing there, again,” he continued with each of my failed attempts to rally myself to this seemingly insurmountable task. I wasn’t stepping foot on that carpet. His laughter brought him sliding down the door frame as his body no longer had the strength or will to hold itself up any longer.

His laughter horrified me as ferociously as the hallway with its mishmash of mismatched carpet preventing me from moving my body pass the break in color continuity. Our exchanges went on in an alternating chorus of shrills and laughter until my brother collapsed to the floor holding his tummy full of giggles no longer willing to try to stand back up.

Finally, my father, surely poked awake by my mother from all the commotion, came barreling from their room toward our end of the house. Before he left the safe confines of the kitchen linoleum I held my palms out screaming, “Stop!” He did right where the linoleum met the blue carpeting. I watched his feet intently protesting loudly anytime they neared the threshold of the hallway. If my father tried to start down the hallway I would shout, “Nooooo,” so emphatically it would stop him in his tracks every time until he was marooned on that linoleum island. I felt that it was my daughterly duty to save him from taking that one, last, unseen step off a formidable cliff face into the churning blue abyss below.

“Buddy, what did you do to your sister?” my dad barked as debacles such as this were usually his fault anyway. My brother couldn’t breathe in any orderly fashion to present his defense, still writhing on the floor, face red and contorted from his attempts to stifle his laughter now directed at my father for complying with my demands in the first place.

“Look!” I began again.

“Look at what?” my father’s head and body bobbed and weaved, turning in all directions as if dodging a killer bee. This only made my brother burst out again, though he finally managed to get the words out:

“Dad! She’s still asleep!”

“What,” my father exclaimed. “Are you serious? This is not funny, young lady!”

“Yes…it…is,” was all my brother could muster in-between gasps for air.

In that moment my father realized that as sure as I was standing there, screaming at him with eyes wide open I was, in fact, asleep.

Being cut from the same cloth as my brother, the entire “conversation” began again, yet this time it included the curiosity of my father. He walked straight to us down the hallway leaving me dismayed by his escaped from the confines of the island kitchen. His bravery awed me silent. Determined to find a rational explanation for my agitation he started with logic. He asked me arithmetic questions, which I answered correctly. He asked what day it was, but that one stumped me. It was then that a mischievous smirk started across his face finally acknowledging my brother out of the corner of his eye as the master detective.

This time, as a team, my brother and father tried to convince me out of my rusty room. My father offered to carry me back and forth down the hallway to prove that I was imagining things, but my eyes and mind never met his. I was far too consumed by the pastel flower vines growing out of the wallpaper on either side of him. He sat down Indian-style next to my brother, now resting his back against the door frame. I got down on my hands and knees to examine the carpeting closer convinced they were both floating there just waiting for me to plunge head first into nonexistence. They stared at me. I stared at the magic they somehow possessed.

They would be satisfied if even a single toe touched the deep blue carpeting of the hallway; but none would be satisfied that night. I no longer had any reason to go down the hallway as my father had somehow made it safely to me. Finally, after all their efforts of reasoning and mutual enjoyment, my father sent my brother back into his room, both now laughing at their utter defeat. He simply turned to me and said, “Honey, go back to bed. And for God’s sake, turn off that blanket. You’re fried.”

And so I did.

I don’t remember the trip back to bed and it’s likely my father turned off the blanket himself, but I woke the next morning to the bright sunshine and ever-present whirl of my ceiling fan. As I walked toward the kitchen, pass my brother’s room, he jumped out at me with an, “Ah ha!” I looked at him like he’d lost his mind and kept walking without thought or consequence of carpeting, linoleum and wallpaper. He must have been waiting there all morning for that moment. His laughter after I passed could have echoed around the world.

I never slept with an electric blanket again. I can only wonder in the thirty years that have passed, living alone for most of them, how many door jams in the mishmash of life I’ve stood at, toes halted at the dividing line, in false fear or hallucination.

Return to JennWhittaker.com

Advertisements

The Ringer (fiction) by Jenn Whittaker

sugar-shanty-2667506_640On a long, winding, flat, snowy dirt road through the woods two boys walk in the afternoon. Andrew “Stitch” Haider, sixteen with black, wavy hair, and dark green eyes stands 5’9 and is well built for his age. His twin brother, Devon, walks with him towards a cabin somewhere in the woods of Canada. The motor of a school bus churns away in the distance.

“So, it’s inherited. That means it’s ours now,” Stitch says to his twin brother with authority.

They walk in silence for a while until they make it around a bend in the road that barely brings an aged cabin into view. It’s a clear day. The land has been in the family for generations. Off in the distance the cabin stands shifted on its foundation. It is timbered all around, but an additional metal roof with grooved sides sits on top now so the snow glides off easily. There are some modern epoxies patched around the edges with a lacquer sealer, but they were made by unrefined hands with a careless foreman.

Upon seeing the cabin Devon breaks the silence. “You know, I’m glad that bastard’s finally dead, but we need to take the summertime to make reinforcements and repairs. And to clean the godforsaken place.”

“I agree. Maybe the Batcher’s will let us take some of their extra sheet metal to re-tin the roof.”

“The Barkley’s could lend us their backhoe so we can dig a new outhouse. Could there be a better time to make a fresh start?” Devon smirks at his brother sideways as they both burst into laughter. As it dies out, Devon continues, “Do you really think we gave him a proper burial, though? I know, it’s in the family plot and all, but should we have left his jersey and the rings like that, just to rot away?”

“It was proper enough. Why shouldn’t they rot with the old man? It’s all he ever cared about anyway, except for the whisky and smokes. Even Mama could remember that.”

“Don’t talk about Mama like that. You know, just because he’s gone doesn’t mean my love for the game is, too,” Devon challenges, remembering the tough times of pond hockey.

“What about your love of scars? Do you want the ring he wore on his left hand because that one was for you? And do you think I want Righty so I can match it to the indentation under my chin? Isn’t it funny that we’re all ambidextrous?” Stitch pauses.

“Runs in the family,” they shout together.

“You don’t have to be a dick about it. It’s over. It’s finally over,” Devon proclaims with a skip into the icy air, turning and sliding gracefully onto the path ahead of his brother. Now walking backwards in sync, the two momentarily look like a moving mirror surrounded by the whiteness of fresh fallen snow.

“Look, we still have to be smart about this. If anyone finds out that he’s dead before we turn eighteen, they’ll take us, separate us, and we might end up in an even worse situation.”

“Really? Worse? Different, okay. But worse? Who are you kidding?” Devon quickly retorts with a hop in his step. He lets out a sigh of relief. “Uh, he’s just gone. Just like that. Poof. Finally, freedom. Fuck you, Jim Beam,” Devon flicks off the sky, “and thank you kindly, Cirrhosis,” then takes a dramatic bow.
Stitch watches his antics with stoicism. The forest jets from the ground towards the sky surrounding the unkept road as far as the eyes can see. Evergreens seem like a mirage of paradise cast upon a white, snowy ocean.

Devon continues, “Besides, how is anyone going to find out? The Barkley’s are twenty-two miles east, the Batcher’s thirty west, and town twenty south.”

“He did tell Dr. Bartholomew to shove it two years ago; he was the last one to ever come around at that point,” Stitch adds while thumbing the bottom of his chin.

“But how are we going to get any money? Did he stash his somewhere? The bastard was loaded, but never bought a damn thing, except liquor and cigarettes. God, how are we ever going to get the stench out of that cabin?”

“We’ll just throw out that rickety recliner.”

“Oh, lets burn it and cook moose meat over it. It’ll be smoked, smoked moose!” Devon impresses himself with his wit and wears a goofy grin. His dark, green eyes sparkle as his wavy, black hair wafts in the light wind.

“As far as money goes, we’ll make it the way we always have – odd jobs or stripping timber and selling or trading it. It’s not like the bastard ever went to the store or gave us anything. We picked up his liquor and stogies because everyone in town knows he’s a miserable shut-in. That reminds me. We have to keep doing that or people will definitely get suspicious. But don’t you dare drink a drop. We’ll just use it for target practice. Besides, we hunt almost everything we eat, except for the chickens and your stupid garden. We don’t need that much money,” Stitch calculates.

“Hey…don’t make fun of my garden! You like carrots and potatoes as much as I do. It’s not like you help me in the root cellar, anyway. Besides, we always have left-over eggs to take up to the feed store to sell. And we can always sell the cigarettes at school and turn a profit,” Devon contributes.

“True,” Stitch agrees.

“Hey! What if we just tell them all that we’re getting home-schooled now? You know how Mrs. Birch is always complaining about the bus ride.”

“Don’t be a fool,” Stitch scolds sharply. “The school would have to get a signature for that. Mama’s been gone for eight years. Everyone knows that. And exactly who would believe that pile of shit would teach us anything, but hockey? Why would you want to invite anyone to look in on us?”

“Don’t talk about Mama. That wasn’t her fault and you know it,” Devon stops and stands proud against the drooping branches heavy with snow.

Stitch walks around him without missing a beat. “Yeah, well, when they took her, they didn’t want anything to do with his sons. They just left us here knowing that he wouldn’t stop. The first time we ever met them and they took her and left us behind. Is that family?”

Devon turns back around to walk on the other side of Stitch than he started. “We’re the only family we’ll ever need. Even Mama doesn’t understand that.”

“That’s because he beat her until she was so brain damaged they had to come and take her away from us,” Stitch fumes as his sweat steams against the frigid day.

“They took her when we were the same age as she was inside. We would have been taking care of her then. How could we do that? We were eight,” Devon protests.

“We always had. Once we got big enough he stopped picking on her.” Stitch’s jaw clinches shut.

“I’d rather it us, than Mama. You know that’s not her fault. And we just got a letter from her last week with a new drawing. At least they let her write us,” Devon encourages.

“It’s probably a good thing the old bastard wouldn’t pay for the postage for us to ever write her back when we were little, not that her parents let her put a return address on the letters anyhow,” Stitch reminisces.

“But, at least she’s warm in Brazil. I’m sick of chopping firewood. One day, I’m going to leave all this behind and go play hockey in the big leagues and have a house with a fireplace that has a remote control. The forest can take back this piece of shit cabin for all I care.”

Upon the first creaky step up to the cabin, Stitch stops and looks seriously at his whimsical brother. “The big leagues, huh? What? You want to be like him someday?”

Devon punches Stitch in the arm. “We’ll never be like him.”

“You literally just hit me, dumbass.”

“Ah, shit. Habit. So what?” Devon retorts.

“So, if you want to go play pro hockey, keep it on the ice. I’m sick of it at home. You said freedom. Let’s start with that,” Stitch demands.

“You ‘re not going to quit playing hockey, are you?” Devon gasps.

“Hell, no! When we’re on the ice, we’re on the ice, but when we’re not, just, no more hitting. I don’t want to be like him. That’s why I don’t care about those stupid rings or jersey. If you want them, go get them. It’s only been a week.”

“Not without you,” Devon states plainly.

“You’ll be waiting a long time.” Stitch kicks a few gravel rocks off the frosted porch.

“How about eight years?” Devon bursts out.

“Why of all numbers would you pick eight?”

Devon leans against the railing, which whines as though it may give way under his tall, wide athletic frame. “I was thinking it could be our lucky number.”

“Why?” Stitch asks perplexed.

Devon pleads his case. “It’s for infinity. All or nothing.”

Stitch opens the unlocked door and walks inside the dark cabin, which is the same temperature as the outside air. The only light that breaks through comes from two small windows and misaligned cracks in the walls. “Sixteen years too late, if you ask me.”

Still in the brightness of the porch, Devon snatches at the opportunity. “Okay, then. Sixteen it is. I’m going to change my number to 16 and you change yours to 61. In eight years, when we’re twenty-four, we’ll go back to his grave and decide then if those rings mean a damn thing to us or not. Besides, I plan on having my own ring by that age. How do you think the old man would like that looking up from hell?” They both chuckle.

“That’s a good one. You better do it,” Stitch encourages.

“I will, if you will,” Devon insists.

“Promise?” Stitch asks.

Devon stands in the doorway facing his brother inside converting day into night with his shadow. He puts one hand in the air and another over his heart, “On my father’s grave.”

Return to JennWhittaker.com

Flying (fiction) by Jenn Whittaker

model-2425700_1920She’s not the kind of girl to ask for help. She can solve this equation on her own, although the unpredictability of adjusting for windage is throwing her off a bit. She should be able to precisely calculate the arc needed to hit her target. Her long, blonde hair is swept around in front of her face by the winter wind. She sits on her twelfth-story balcony, tiny as it may be, wrapped in a fuzzy blanket. There is nothing above the balcony but sky thanks to the district ordnance that no building can be higher than the U.S. Capitol building.

D.C. has not been kind to her. It’s claustrophobic. The balcony is her only escape, positioned on the inside and in the middle of a squared, u-shaped building. Yet, it feels more like a cage. The black, metal bars are only three feet tall. The balcony is so tiny, in fact, that even slumped in her chair, working on her calculations, she can see the ground below.

Who is she, she wonders sometimes when she peers across the city after lifting her head out of her notebook? It doesn’t matter. She doesn’t even like her name; she might as well not even have one. Does she disappear among the lights to onlookers from the buildings to her left or right? The only thing they have in common is their tiny balconies anyway.

As she stares at the ground through the spaces in the metal bars on the balcony she can see the pool, closed for the winter, surrounded by surprisingly still lush bushes. There is a wrought iron fence that creates the enclosure. Each of those black bars has a pointed tip, as if they’d been cut short from Spartan spears. Hard ground surrounds the outside of the enclosure, but not concrete. Her equation still needs work.

She could eyeball it, but if she misses, she may end up in a soft pile of bushes. That’s just her luck and her greatest fear – survival. She wouldn’t want to end up with a simple flesh wound, or worse, impaling only a limb and then needing to have said limb amputated. How would she explain herself if she survived? She couldn’t. They’d know. They’d all know she tried and failed, and that would be worse than death.

It’s all she can focus on. She stares at her calculus equations and their counterparts of height, weight, and air resistance ratios. How can she be sure, sure enough to take the leap? The leap. How could she forget about the leap? Does she need to take one? Definitely, yes. The iron spears aren’t directly beneath her. But what kind of leap: just a springy step or a swan dive? Perhaps she’ll just crawl over the bars, plant her feet on the inch of cement balcony remaining past her tiny cell and just let go backwards. She discards the thought immediately. She must face outward. She’ll lean forward as if carved into the bow of an old Viking ship. Yes. That’s it. It only saddens her to know that she hasn’t a long, silky, white robe to billow in the wind as she plunges from the sky.

The sky. The sky directly in front of her is a plank of death. It is her electric chair, her gas chamber, her oncoming traffic, her razor blade, her shot gun. It’s her way out. How beautiful it is devoid of all physical substance. The aether of her demise.

There will be no note. There will be no calls or long goodbyes or cries for help. She has left no hints. Her success only depends on her landing. Granted, from twelve stories up, any landing has a high potential for getting the job done, but she’s not one for potential. That’s how she’s ended up here in the first place. She needs a spear through the chest.

Each night as she pines away at the idea of execution, she wonders how long it will take to convince herself that it’s time. Time. That’s the factor in her equation that she couldn’t resolve until now. She has settled on the eve of daybreak. She wants to see the earth moving up to meet her.

***

God damn it. I hate my fucking name. Sure, the cops let me off the D.U.I. charge and escorted me back to my place, lights blazing, but that’s only because of my father’s name. Senator Sol. I haven’t done anything with my own name yet, so “Anthony, you must stop riding my coattails.” I can already hear the words coming out of his mouth before I get the call. It’s not my fault the cops ran my license and plates and realized I’m his son. But the lecture is going to be hell.

I guess I should feel lucky. Anybody else would have to spend the night in the drunk tank with prostitutes and full-fledge alcoholics. Their car would have gone to impound and they’d have a criminal record for the rest of their life. They may even get their license taken from them. But why should I stop drinking? I’m only twenty-three and that’s what twenty-three years olds do. I’m hungry. Got to love the drunk munchies. The sun will be coming up soon and I still have to go to class. Maybe I can still get some sleep. I need to smoke some loud. That’ll settle my nerves.

As I walk onto my seventh floor balcony, the day is just starting to wake up. It gets bright so early or maybe it’s just that late. Who cares? I light my blunt, one that I already had on-hand, pre-rolled, inside a cigar box, and out of the corner of my eye I see a girl. She’s just standing on her balcony at the top of the building. As I turn my head to get a better look, I see the look is amazing.

She’s completely naked, free as a bird. She must be on some good shit. It’s not snowing, but the wind has a bitter chill. I can see her hard nipples. I start to get hard myself. I can’t stop staring, but who could? She hasn’t moved a muscle, but she must be shivering. Then, she climbs over her balcony’s railing. I want to yell. I want to cry out for her to stop, but I’m afraid I might startle her and she’ll slip. But then she takes a spring and her body lays out flat, perpendicular to the balcony. Everything slows down.

Her face. I can’t stop looking at her face. Her body is robust in all the right places and poised, but it’s her face that draws my attention. It’s so peaceful. She’s smiling. Her eyes are open and excited. I can see the weight, all her weight, simply lift off her body in that one fluid jump.

I’m jealous. Here she is, brave and carefree. She doesn’t struggle or flail at all. It’s like she’s floating on a quickly sinking cloud, evaporating all around her. Will I ever know that freedom?

I’ve fallen in love. This girl lives in my building, but I’ve never come across her once. How could destiny wait to make our meeting until now? It isn’t fair. Only two seconds with her will have to last a lifetime. All alone, she escapes from her balcony, and, me, I’m standing on mine like a coward. She passes me. Time lights up again.

The crash and whining metal only lasts a blinking moment. By the time I look down, she’s already on the fence, that twists and bends all around her. Now, my glorious maiden lies pierced through the chest, which has surely ripped apart the heart that I now call my own. How intimate; she shared the best moment of her life with only me. It’s enough.

Return to JennWhittaker.com

The Running Man (creative nonfiction) by Jenn Whittaker

soldiers-1002_1920With two wars on, he sat with his head bowed into his new green army issued duffle bag containing his used army camo gear. The travel suitcase his recruiter recommended he bring sat between his legs. He was hot inside the beat up cattle car that carried Drill Sergeants daring the new recruits to lift their heads. The ride took nearly an hour. Finally, the recruits were released from their mobile holding cell outside of a plain, flat, brick building with no discerning qualities. It looked like every other building surrounding it. Platoons sounded off in the distance, marching and barking in perfect cadence. He didn’t know the man next to him, nor did I.

Upon exiting the cattle car, he held his newly acquired gear over his head and ran around the three-thousand square foot, two-story barracks building five times just like all the rest. As his arms and knees began to give way under the pressure of the weight, he was ordered inside. The air-conditioning refreshed his resolve and he stood next to a random bunk, the closest unoccupied one he could find. He bear-hugged his gear, feeling it slip ever so slightly as every muscle in his body strained to keep him upright.

“Drop them on the bunk,” he and his new battle buddies were ordered. Then it was back outside for his first C.A.P.E. – Corrective Action through Physical Exercise. Apparently, he had already messed up. But it wasn’t today. It was when he signed the recruiting papers and took the Oath of Office before being shipped out to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. It didn’t take long for him to reveal that he was planning his escape.

That night, after lights out, he snuck down to the female first floor window, which we told him was unlocked, and crept his way out. His suitcase had been placed in a storage locker. All he had on was the light gray matching sweats that everyone referred to as “marshmallows”, unlike the black and grey “high-speeds” that came with making it out of red phase. He moved fast trying to remember the driving pattern he’d memorized in the cattle car. He found a sidewalk and followed it along in the bush until a spotlight temporarily blinded him. An MP swaggered up while another stood behind his half-opened door with a grin on his face as he chewed his gum excessively.

“Where you off to, recruit?” asked the gum chewer with a chuckle.

“I’m running an errand for my Senior Drill Sergeant.”

“Sure you are,” the other MP plainly stated. “Now, get in the back of the car. What unit are you with?”

“Unit?” Damn.

“Look. We can either make this easy or we can wake people up. Which would you prefer?” the chewer snapped without missing a beat on his gum.

“I don’t know.”

“New, huh? When did you get in?” the politer MP asked.

“Today.” There was no use lying this time around. He’d been nabbed.

The MP grabbed his CB. “Dispatch. We’ve got a woodpecker that just fell out of the nest. Shipment came in today. Direct.”

A female laugh came through the radio. “Already? Let’s see. Got it. 82nd Bravo Chemical Company.”

“Thanks, out,” he said to the dispatcher. “Now you. Lay down in the back seat and don’t sit up. We’re taking baby bird home. I don’t want to see you pass lights out again, got it? This time, I won’t wake up your First Sergeant. I’ll let him read it on the blotter report in the morning.”

With that, the boy laid down in the backseat looking up at the blue plastic roof trying to concentrate on right, right, left, right.

With each failed attempt at escape he updated his map and told 4th platoon all the details of his run-ins with the MPs.

“Aren’t you just making things worse for yourself?” I asked at the back of formation.

“It’s worth it,” he said.

With each new attempt, he was sure to say good-bye to the females before hopping out of the window. With each dawn, he was back in formation. I never knew his real name even though it was sewn to his right breast pocket. None of us did, except maybe the Drill Sergeants. But even they picked up on our nickname for him as “The Running Man”. I never knew why the night watch never reported the window unlocked until the company made it into white phase and got our first weekend pass. What I know now is that we follow the sidewalk straight from our barracks, pass the dining facility, turn left and walk straight out the main gate.

The Running Man is long gone, recycled over and over again to a new company in their first week of red phase. Phases don’t mix. Companies don’t mix. I wondered if he ever made it out – out of the gate, out of basic training or out of the Army. The last I heard, he never stopped running.

Return to JennWhittaker.com

Axle (fiction)

sign-2864889_640

The dirty, white van screeched to a halt, just missing her. She couldn’t believe her eyes. The van had been mounted sideways on new axles. Why, she thought. There must be a rational explanation, but no. Out popped a fiery blonde with tangled waves in her hair that fell to her chin, her features pointy but appealing. She got out to inspect her van.

“Here. Put this on,” she said with no introduction as she handed the enchanted girl an eye patch. It wasn’t as small as a pirate’s patch, but a large, black post-surgical patch that came to a soft point in front of her eyeball so that she could still blink behind it.

“It’s the only way to see,” the blonde continued. She was his best friend. She knew it without any words passing between them.

One of the back doors fell open flat, like a tailgate, since it sat sideways, as the blonde popped the handle. The new girl peaked inside.

“Cool,” was her awkward response.

“Not really,” said the blonde. “We can’t eat at the table.”

The girl bent down a little more to see through the door and, sure enough, a small round table was mounted to what would have been the bottom in any plain, old caravan. No, this one jetted out of the left wall. She could see through the sparse, metal interior straight to the windshield. It looked like the driver and passenger seats had been remounted in a normal position. They sat with the windshield facing out. No, the van was just twisted in the middle, the front wheels mounted on their plain, old, regular axle. It was only the back axle that had been retooled. There was no glass in the skylight that sat on the right side of the van. The glass in the windows on the top and bottom were also missing.

“Sit up front. Hurry! Let’s go!” she commanded.

The girl did as she was told, maybe to get in the blonde’s good graces, but felt instant vertigo as she did. The blonde pushed the gas pedal to the floor and before she knew it, they were swerving back and forth as the velocity held the girl in her seat. She hadn’t bothered with a seat belt. It was a van that had seen a lot of gravity.

The lot they steamed through must have been measured in acres with flat, creamy cement. Only one tree stood off to the left side, somehow immune to the cement ground. Tall grass and whippersnappers demarked the line of sanity on all four sides ending the horizons. There he was watching, holding onto the chain-link fence with his tender hands.

“He’s a pompous academic, you know,” the blonde said flatly as she continued to dodge things only she could see. The eyepatch wasn’t helping the girl at all.

“I know. I kind of like that about him,” the girl stated with no emotion.

He hadn’t been so pompous when she laid almost naked on the four-post bed with a cushy down mattress. She wore nothing but his open robe. Another girl laid there, too, but she had her clothes. How funny, thought the girl.

“Why would you be here? Are you his girlfriend?” she said to the other woman.

The other woman began to explain, but the words coming out of her mouthed turned inside out, going back into her throat. So much so that her words became softer and softer until she was mute. Our enchanted girl felt like an intruder and got up, putting her clothes on, again. Then, he walked through the door to stop her.

Their ages matched perfectly, but his black hair was already riddled with salt. He shook it out and took the girl into his tight, muscular arms and wrapped them around her waist. They stood nose to nose because his grasp had brought her body up against his, making her feel taller. The other girl on the bed was plump and upset. Her black, moldy face crunched up and he shooed her away while never losing eye contact with the girl. He had been a rock climber once, which explained his muscles, before becoming a Ph.D., which came with all the benefits of student sex.

“She’s a graduate,” he protested to the other woman. The other gave up and collected her yellow purse from the ground and exited the wide-open space of the bedroom.

Once the other was gone, they kissed, the girl trying passion, as he remained tight-lipped, sucking. Her face was twirling, almost lost to a black hole. It wasn’t a marvelous kiss, so she tried again. Again, she was met with the same kiss, but he rubbed her close to him with a moan. He was trying passion and that meant the most.

He took her clothes back off and went down on her. Now, the sucking kiss felt right. That explained it. She’d teach him the difference later. But he knew he had Chlamydia and he warned her that they should wait. After consideration, she did. It would clear up soon, she knew, after the season for it.

“So, what does this mean moving forward for our future?” he asked, sincere.

“You mean you want more than this?” the girl felt surprised.

“You’re a graduate and capable,” he said. “Meet me at the festival parade,” he followed up with, not explaining his meaning, but her butterflies knew exactly.

She couldn’t wait but had to. She despised this season.

“I have to go feed my dogs, you understand,” he said as he walked, shuffling the papers beneath his feet. “I can grade later.”

She went to get some coffee out of his pot, waiting for his return, as his two cats, already fed, twirled between her legs, putting on a fluffy show. It was a sign of good times to come. He wanted a future.

With that future upon her, the day of the demolition festival arrived. Now, being vetted by the wonky blonde, she could start to see the derby with her good eye behind the patch. The blonde made it out. With stretching metal creaking, the van tried to keep up.

Return to JennWhittaker.com

Wake Up Call (flash fiction)

hahn-2645271_640

I can’t wake up. All of my life I’ve been a heavy sleeper.

I hadn’t found an alarm clock that was up to the challenge until my best friend gave me a chicken alarm clock. Its body comprised the clock face surrounded by white plastic, etched feathers. Above that sat the head of the chicken with a yellow beak and that red thing on top of its head. Well, that red thing was the snooze button. In order to turn off the alarm I had to flip a switch on the yellow feet. At the set time, the chicken crowed like a rooster for daybreak. I’d finally found the one. I was eleven.

At nineteen, I found Bill. He is a tortured artist.

Once, he slathered himself in multi-colored, acrylic paint and rammed himself against a wall. The remaining full-body ink blot was like a cloud to us. We’d sit and try to find unique shapes in that splat, like elephants or dolphins. I moved into his loft-style, garage apartment. I brought my chicken clock. Bill was a vegetarian. He always seemed to look at the chicken with contempt. We got into a fight; I brought home a burger; the next day he broke up with me.

After he left, so I could pack, wailing and screaming, I destroyed much of his artwork. During my fit, my chicken clucked away. I threw it against the wall and it shattered into pieces. I immediately realized what I had done.

I don’t break my stuff anymore.

Return to JennWhittaker.com

Homesick: A Geographical Whirlwind (fiction)

dark-1755167_640

I’m happy to be back. After a two-year return to my birth state some of the things I disliked most are now the most comforting, familiar. I don’t even mind the thickness of the humidity in the air. This place is teaming with life, from the neighborhood cats to the wasp that occasionally gets trapped on the screen porch. I don’t even mind the bugs so much. There is a plethora. Except for the cockroaches. I never missed those.

I made it to D.C. where to my great disappointment it was just as humid as Florida. I still knew no relief. I hadn’t traveled anywhere else. D.C. was more conservative than I imagined in my liberal leaning mind, though there was that one time when they put up fences all around town for the G-8 summit. This was before the permanent barricades installed after 9/11. I felt naked in a tank top. The attire of the vast majority were full suits, ladies too. I only went to one so-called protest where people sat on the lawn of the National Mall smoking pot. The first time anyone asked me if I had been to the mall, I thought it an odd question because who has never been to a shopping mall? But that’s what the locals call it, The Mall. Just like locals call it the National Airport, not Reagan. It has several metro stops. The first time I rode in a metro I stuck my hand in the doors as they were closing, thinking they operated like the elevators I’ve always known. But the doors did not open back up, trapping my arm. Passengers pried the doors back open so I could jump on before the underground bullet took off. It frightened me, then, but I eventually found myself nodding off on long metro rides soothed by the sway of the cars. I walk too slow for this city.

From my stay in the Arizona desert, the still, yet crisp air gave me sweet relief from the humidity of my life and silken hair-days. Tumbleweeds, thick with thorns, collect against fencing barren of any spectacular pop of color. Bestowed upon me is an appreciation for the floral hues of Florida. I didn’t even know tumbleweeds really existed. I thought they were simply made up for movies. My whole life I lived under this misconception. I don’t know why. No one ever told me they didn’t exist. And grass! How green the Florida grass grows and how fast. I never felt the true meaning of the word “lush” until I returned home after seeing some of the world.

Arizona is where hands dry out and skin painfully cracks. I have never used so much moisturizer. The static electricity is unavoidable in winter. I was always shocking my poor, sweet kitty cats. And they sometimes shocked back, all accidental by everything involved, except the static. I enjoyed the convenience and security of carrying a concealed weapon without a permit.

The occasional snow in the southwest is made more confusing because the standard road procedure to lay down small pebbles for traction, not salt to melt the snow away, causing pebbles to spit up from the road. I had to get my whole windshield replaced each year I was there. Where Nor’easters are common they have the practical sense to use salt. That’s on the other side of the country.

The ticks up north are unbearable in their numbers. Entire neighborhoods are being hazed in masses with the most poisonous insecticides, yet it cannot keep them in check. Misquotes, while always troublesome and annoying, are easily deterred by screening.

In the northwest, it just isn’t available. They just don’t do it. They have bugs, too, though the high altitudes and cooler temperatures keep the population limited. I just can’t believe everyone doesn’t see the benefit of screening. In Florida, it can’t be lived without.

I never thought I’d hear myself say that I’m happy to be back. No state tax. It was all I could do to get out of here at the age of twenty-four. It took much longer than expected.

The Midwest is pleasant in the springtime. I visited once before spending five months in Missouri, which many affectionately call Misery. Humid still, but worse with the mixture of unrelenting heat without a sea breeze in summertime. The sweat pooled in the heels of my boots.

Chicago, oh, Chicago! I stayed at The Drake, like Princess Diana, though I’m sure in a different suite. I was working as a cocktail waitress in a dive bar next to a pizza place in a strip mall when the news of her violent death came over every station on the TV sets. But that wasn’t in Chicago. The Drake was and the Blackhawks define Chicago, now a dynasty close to royalty. The Europeans have their royals, South and Latin Americans and many in the far East have their dictators or religious heads of states. In the U.S. we have athletes worshipped just the same, if not more.

I missed Little China in a brush with New York, but not in Portland. The statuesque entrance was less colorful than the Little China in D.C.

Then off abroad to Germany. It’s cleanliness admirable. Every view was of the picturesque Bavarian southern country-side with fields of flowers in bloom to be used in the production of diesel fuels. It’s the Alabama of Germany. The odors from the sugar beet factory offset the pleasantry, and, then, even further, by the abrupt smell of manure in the planting season. The spargel really is worth it.

The Netherlands, land of tulips and channels, with outdoor cafes in the center of town and a striking width for bicycle lanes, is only improved upon by the ease of public transportation, even if pick-pocketing is a nuisance for foreign travelers. The shots at the bar of the brilliant turquoise “Liquid Cocaine” (in translation) almost overtakes the hash and mushroom experience. But the Van Gogh Museum is not to be missed. A canned jigsaw puzzle of a famous work, though I cannot now recall which, still waits to be pieced together. It holds a place of honor on my bookshelf as a memento from the trip. I am inspired to re-visit the Salvador Dali Museum in nearby St. Petersburg. That’s St. Petersburg in Florida, not Russia.

On the bookshelf, too, sits the piggy bank resembling an Alice-In-Wonderland-like bunny bought in a thrift store. It contains various versions and forms of European currency – the euro, the kuna – oops, I forgot about the Canadian penny (that is generally accepted by most stores in the United States). I wonder if this is more a reflection of the common physical characteristics of our pennies than on the value placed upon the economic stability of our northern neighbors.

The kuna hails from Croatia whose coastline is made of colossal granite mountain ranges and canyons with cliffs that drop right off into the Adriatic Sea. The Grand Canyon is less impressive.

Slovenia is small and poor.

The architecture of Vienna will take your breath away at every turn. The shopping District is like no other. Its magnitude like no other. My addiction to Swarovski starts here, though fine crystal is also made elsewhere, but this is the crème-de-la-crème. Their jewelry dazzles and sparkles.

I skipped France because I wasn’t with a man I loved, which I believe is necessary when visiting Paris for the first time.

On the Charles Bridge in the Czech Republic, Prague is like Vienna, but dirtier, sexier. It has an astronomical clock tower in the center of the town square. I have my portrait done by a chalk artist. It all feels so Bohemian in the moment. His rendition is not of my liking, but I pay for it anyway. Do I really look like that? Now, I’m someone with a portrait of myself. How pretentious of me, but it, too, is a cherished souvenir. This one stays turned around facing the wall in the back of my closet.

Over the year since I’ve been back I’ve lounged on the deserted, sandy beaches of the Space Coast with the Atlantic Ocean crashing at my feet. This is my favorite spot. One day, I’ll return as I ended up in Key West this time around. Four square miles is too small for such a great number to live and visit. I never partied on Duval Street as I don’t drink and once spent New Year’s Even down there when I was a teenager. I don’t expect it could get any better. I miss the saltwater taffy, but now trade relations could open up with Cuba a mere 90 miles offshore.

San Diego brings temperate weather and personalities. A coastal cousin, in the least, full of Navy ships.

Now I’m at the University of Tampa campus, a pristine oasis with prime channel-side real estate. Silver, spun minarets reflect the shining sun. I now feel the word “nestled” when thinking about the buzzing city of Tampa one block over. I hope to be well-written one day and that my works can be used as examples for Spartans to come. The Spartans in Tampa, not in Greece.

I haven’t made it by there yet, but fancy the cuisine.

Home again, domestic. I had to move away to appreciate it. Now I’m back, but not for good.  Anywhere I go in the world I can look back and Florida is home. I wish I had a stone globe in my study, containing a hollowed-out space for a spirits compartment. Haphazardly, I’d slowly spin the cold stone and just wonder where this story of mine is going to end up next. I wonder about the screen porches, humidity, the exchange rate, the bug population, the cultural heritage, is it landlocked? I wonder.

Return to JennWhittaker.com