Word count: 500 Singing Away the Rain
Dear Rupert 67A,
Your letter found me today. Communications aren’t always reliable here on Earth, especially in the River Region. I appreciate your efforts to locate me.
Yes, I remember you. To say I’ve been haunted daily by that event is neither true nor false. Perhaps ‘reminded’ is more accurate. Being locked in the closet, missing the sun’s emergence, actually had a positive outcome. Besides speeding my family’s return to Earth, it taught me valuable lessons about perverse human-nature. Nobody pretended to be my friend, yet I didn’t expect the hostility or cruelty of your actions. Trust is now something I bestow only after it is earned. I knew it was you, which hurt particularly, because I suspected you had a crush on me. Pulling my hair, kicking my chair, taunting me at recess, belonged to the normal “courtship” of young boys and girls. But you also knew I wouldn’t join in music unless we were singing about the sun, so you always requested “Sunlight on the Prairie”, though you couldn’t have known what that was, and my favorite, “Sunshine Yellow”, a color never seen on Venus. These songs saved me. I secretly thought of you as my only friend. Your betrayal was profound. “Why?” I wanted to ask. Had I done something to make you hate me? The words wouldn’t come, though. The song hiding in my heart—my spirit as you call it—suffocated and died in that closet. It was years before singing again became part of my life.
The other thing your terrible act did for me was to make me appreciate the everyday events we so often take for granted: The sun rising and setting. The color blue. Birdsong. The comforting aroma of toast in the morning. The ability to enter and leave a room unhindered. I like to think I live life more fully because of this.
You mention my reaction to water on my head—showers were an embodiment of my nightmares—Venus’s constant rain pursuing me into sleep, drowning me, burning me like acid. Screams—my screams—awoke me every morning. Only the sun could dissipate so much water. You couldn’t understand. For several months after returning to Earth, the sight of cloudy skies, the drumming of rain on the roof, sent me into depression. Gradually, the sun worked its magic. My rhythms returned. Song eased my heart. I no longer fear rain. On Earth, it is a temporary condition.
No, I was no better than Venus’s children. Where you envied, you should have pitied. Better to have never known the sun, like you, than to have lost it forever, as it seemed. Glimpsing it would have done nothing to ease my pain. I realized this, before you unlocked the door.
I now work in relocation of returning Earthlings, and rehabilitating those whose life-experiences have left them traumatized. Happily, you apparently have no such problems, though even daily sun takes getting used to. I wish you well on Earth.
In peace, Margot
Word Count 492
Singing from the Heart
by G. Ackman
I woke to the sound of singing. I recognized the song and the voice, but how could that be? She wasn’t here. She used to sing it to me anytime I was sick or hurt or sad. Sometimes I think she sang it when she was sad too. And she always hugged me while she sang it.
I remember the last time I heard it. I had been so tired and my legs hurt all the time. Every morning when she helped me up to go outside, I cried as my hips grated into place and then felt bad that I sounded like a little puppy. I saw my pain in her eyes and knew that she felt every twinge I did. That year, spring took its time getting here, but finally the snow melted and green grass filled with the smell of rabbits. I might have had much on me that didn’t work anymore, but my nose still did. I ambled down the hill tracing that rabbit’s progress. Both the rabbit and I knew he could outrun me. But I had fun trying.
Then at the bottom of the hill, my back end went one way and my front went the other way. I had to pull myself up the hill with my front paws, one slow step at a time. Mom-mom came running down and tried to help but I kept going.
Inside, I let my eyes speak to her heart and she knew what I was saying. I was tired. That night I had the best dinner – a cheeseburger and a whole order of fries, just for me. I ate every one of them and then had an ice cream cone. Mom-mom put this smelly black stuff on my nose and paw and kept pressing paper on it. I thought that was kind of silly, but it seemed important to her, so I just went with it.
The next morning, the man came. I knew why he was there. I could tell mom-mom and dad were sad so I thumped my tail to tell them it was okay. Mom cradled my head in her lap and sang “You Are My Sunshine” to me, just like she always did. The next thing I knew, I was here in this green meadow, young and strong and romping around with all these other animals.
But now I hear her singing again. My four dachshund friends – Missy, Brandy, Harry, and Oscar – they know that song too. I look and see an old woman coming up the path. Her familiar walk starts a flurry of wagging tails. As we five run to greet her, the song plays over our hearts and memories. She is our sunshine and now she is with us again. We have so many things to tell her and show her. As she kneels down and opens her arms to hug us all, my heart is singing right along with her.
Word Count 488
Finding Your Voice
By Mike Cecconi
She always called it a curse, even though it was all caused by a small benign tumor in her brain. She wondered aloud if she’d run afoul of Romani travelers or Vodou practitioners enough times to learn how you’re not supposed to call Romani “gypsies” and how “voodoo” is just a syncretic mix of Catholic and African faiths. Had she ever figured out a way to blame the Inuit, she would have discovered that “Eskimo” is an offensive term as well.
Maybe she hadn’t believed in any magic before the curse, maybe just blaming magic was easier than a battery of claustrophobic magnetic resonance scans then having her skull ventilated by a medical-grade rotary saw. We all make decisions like that, sometimes we admit them to others, sometimes we even admit them to ourselves.
Regardless of how or why, one day she woke up unable to speak without singing. “Yes, I’d like to pay my Spectrum bill” was the very first thing she sang, to the tune of the old children’s song “The Wheels On The Bus” without even realizing it.
“Would you… please repeat that?” asked the operator. “Yes, I’d like to pay my…” and stopped, noticing what she’d done. “Spectrum bill, Spectrum bill, Spectrum bill” the operator finished up then asked, “are messing with me?” She hung up immediately, of course, horrified and confused.
The first days were the worst, everything to the tune of “The Wheels On The Bus”. Eventually she learned to add other songs to her repertoire, such as the theme to the Ninja Turtles cartoon, “Ace Ventura Pet Detective” “Single-Payer Health Insurance” and “Woman Science Fiction Authors” and so on. Soon the entire discographies of Poison and Tupac were in there, all of Rodgers and Hammerstein too. It was hard to get people to take her seriously when she could only sing but as she learned more of them, she could at least pick out a tune that worked in the context, so that they laughed with her instead of just at her. It was something, at least.
She had never worked to sing well before her condition but once she had to, she developed a beautiful voice. She even ended up taking second place on one of those horrible music reality shows, her backstory was such a hook, she didn’t have to be the best, she just had to be good. And she eventually was. In time, she got very good.
Once she was famous, she had the money for less terrifying forms of medical intervention, but she still demurred. Sometimes life gives you exactly what you need even if it gives you it in the most annoying way possible. A golden goose took a crap in her mind, she wasn’t killing it now. Not only did she end up famous, she’d also learned how to be sensitive to every minority group that is associated with magic and that’s something quite worthwhile as well.
Word Count: 498
The Tales of Tails
By Peg Scarano
I’m guessing, whether you are human or feline, you are wondering how I got stuck with the name “Tails”. Many humans go through life disliking their names because they were named after a great-great grandparent, a distant aunt or uncle or their parents got lost in a moment and dubbed them with a name that was “cute” at the time.
Well, I don’t know of any long-lost relatives, but I do know I was originally named Jewels. What an elegant and prestigious name – Jewels. But while my name was regal – my life was not. Prior to becoming Tails, I did not live a life of luxury, but rather one of homelessness and loneliness. But I digress. Let’s stick to my new name first.
I lived in a house with approximately 80 other lonesome, wild, tame, sick, long and short-haired cats of various ages and stages of cuteness. The woman came alone the first time to look around at all of my other housemates. I sat straight and tall on one of the traveling prisons right by the front door so she would see me upon entering and exiting. I didn’t want her to miss me. She did speak to me, touch me and fondle my fur. So I did the only thing I knew to retain her attention – I sang to her in my sweetest and loudest purr. She did not understand the words, but she understood – “TAKE ME HOME!” Or at least I thought she did. But then she left.
How can I explain the anxiety of a cat when she is snubbed, ignored or abandoned by a human? It kind of feels like losing one of my nine lives every time it happens. But if this was true, my life would almost be over and I am not yet ready for the Rainbow Bridge – not by a long shot!
Since one year of a human’s life is the equivalent of nine years in my life, it seemed like a very long time before I saw this particular lady come through the door of my house of cats again. This time she had a male human with her. She actually turned to him as they came in and said while pointing at me, “This is the one I was telling you about. Isn’t she pretty?” I stood straighter and taller and started singing yet again while I paced back and forth over my portable prison. “She is pretty,” says the male human, “but let’s look at the rest of them.” My heart plummeted yet again. How many lives could I possibly have left?
I curled up, depressed, in my cat circle as I listened to a lot of human mumbo-jumbo. Here they come again. Should I even bother to get up and look pretty? I thought, “What’s yet another life?” and stood, flourished my tail like a peacock and gave my best song another shot. They took me home and named me Tails…and so my tale begins.
By Sally Madison
“Oh Mrs. Painter, nice to see you riding with us again,” said the conductor, as the matronly woman approached the passenger rail car. “I say, there is a young woman who is riding with us from St. Louis, going east to a university. This is her first trip alone and I was hoping, as a seasoned traveler yourself, that you might sit with the young woman and make her feel comfortable.” He did not add that her father had given him a few dollars to keep an eye on his little girl. She was hardly little, nor a girl, but beautiful young woman.
Agreeing to the proposal, Mrs. Painter sat in the adjoining seat with Millicent. “May I join you for the company?” began Mrs. Painter.
“Yes, of course”, replied Millie, as she rearranged her hand luggage to make room for her new travel mate. “Do you travel often? Millie asked. Mrs. Painter nodded, and the soliloquy began. “I’m on my way to the university. I was so very good in the school play, singing, that my teachers said that I should apply myself to music. I play the piano, too. My sister also plays the piano, but she doesn’t sing like I do. I love to sing, don’t you? Yes, everyone loves to sing. I love Rudy Vallee. I could listen to him all night long. Maybe he’ll let me sing at duet with him, in New York or maybe Boston. I’m going to sing a Carnegie Hall. Did you know that it holds over 3,600 seats? I don’t have that many friends yet, but I will. I can just feel the applause when the curtain rises. I’ll wear a red satin dress, down to the floor, with sparkles, and I’ll carry white roses. I suppose I shouldn’t plan my dress until I decide to specialize in opera. I can’t decide. I like opera, but I don’t have that many friends that like it. Do you like opera? Everyone should, it’s so mooooving and so much culture. I mean, they’ve been listening to opera for hundreds of years, right? Yes of course.” On and on, Millie droned.
After what seemed like several hours, Mrs. Painter, raised her hand in submission and caught Millie’s attention. Mrs. Painter interjected, “My dear, since you will need to sing for your interview, don’t you think that it would be wise to save your voice?”
Millie’s eyes widened, “I hadn’t thought of that. Yes, you are right. I should save my voice.” Mrs. Painter gave a great sigh of relief.
Sitting back on the seat, focusing out the window, Millie unconsciously began to hum. Mrs. Painter gritted her teeth. Suddenly Millie sat straight up, then reached down for her writing pad and pencil. “Clickety-clack, clickety-clack, give the monkey a pat on the back, Clickety-clack, clickety-clack, hit the ball with a great big whack, said Millie to herself. “I love the train, don’t you?” And Millie was off again.
Word Count 500
Me and Ricardo
By Sam McManus
When I was a kid I thought I would live forever. There was just something about that childhood optimism that was both refreshing and naïve at the same time. Old Pete and Raheim used to stand on the corner slinging rock, telling us kids we ain’t have no future but the streets, and that was if we got lucky like they did. And if we didn’t get lucky, well, there was some real estate a few blocks over that had some spots six feet under. Raheim told us that with a smile, and me and Ricardo would look down at our Converses like they was the word of Jesus, trying to break down what he meant.
We ain’t never met Jesus, not in the hood anyway. Me and Ricardo didn’t know him from Moses, the dude that financed Old Pete and Raheim but he ain’t never come around. He ain’t have to. Had his minions doing the dirty work for him. Whether that made Old Pete and Raheim smart was up for debate. Everybody knew they was doing the same rock they was slinging, and Ricardo’s mom said it was only a matter of time. I assumed that meant there was gonna be one less spot six feet under before too long.
Then one day it happened. I don’t know all the details cuz I wasn’t there, but Ricardo’s big brother said it happened fast. One minute Old Pete and Raheim was down on the corner, same as usual, with those doo rags on they heads like they was Deion Sanders, next minute a car come down the street, windows down, guns blazing. Raheim hit the deck like a rag doll, but Old Pete just didn’t have no reflexes anymore. To hear Ricardo’s brother tell it, Pete was like a dancing puppet until its strings got cut. Then the car was gone, and so was Pete, his blood running down the sewer drain.
Me and Ricardo was in school, and my mom said it was a good thing because young folk don’t need to see nothing like that, that we’d get messed up. Ricardo said we was already messed up cuz we lived in the hood. My mom cuffed him upside the head for that one. She wasn’t never afraid to teach us life lessons, ones that kept our heads ringing. Somehow Raheim survived, but he wasn’t on that corner no more. He got himself a robe, ditched the doo rag, and ended up over on 42nd Street with a Bible and religion. Least that’s what Ricardo’s brother said.
“Guess Old Pete and Raheim wasn’t so lucky after all,” said Ricardo the next day.
“I bet Raheim be singing like a canary when they catch up with him,” I replied.
“Yeah,” Ricardo agreed. “He ain’t got no chance.”
We didn’t realize back then that we ain’t have no chance either. That this was our forever. Me and Ricardo, staring down at our Converses like they was the word of Jesus.
Word Count 233
By Sharon Collins
She sits in the early-morning midst of March-birdsong. Bold Black Birds, greedy Jays, silly Speckled Starlings, Cardinals in their Crimson finery, bashful Mourning Doves, curious Chickadees, Woodpeckers, Downy and Flicker, their singing makes her sad. Their natural symphony, organic and unorganized, a cacophony really, performed from bare birch branches, stark in their nakedness, rains down, impossible to ignore, filling her ears, making it hard to breathe. Her mind knows bird-song cannot drown her, but her heart fears different. She can drown in birdsong. She is drowning in birdsong. She has almost drowned a dozen times already. But She is learning to swim. She has been treading water in the sea of loss for over a year. Of recent, She has even taken tentative strokes toward the shore, grateful for this time in the trough between breaking crests. It has been almost a winter’s season since the last tsunami of grief broke over her, flinging her, tumbling her down to drown into memory. She has stopped looking over her shoulder for the signs and simply enjoys the float. But this morning She feels it building again, getting stronger and louder, like this racket of March bird-song so jarring after the snow-quiet of winter. Birds singing with such abandon, the heralds of spring, rebirth, optimism, joy, all the perfection of hope, her mother loved spring. She does not want to hate it, but she does.
Word Count 498
By Terry Rainey
Trudging through the skeletons of the cut corn stalks, my Father carried my Brother Edward’s lifeless body across the field leading up to our house. As he came up the slight rise towards the house, I could see his red, swollen face, his heaving shoulders and heavy legs.
My Mother, bent over the water pump in the front yard, looked up and screamed. Her wail pierced the late December air. She ran to meet my father near the end of the yard, bawling “Oh sweet thing, my baby, my sweet thing…”
Father and mother collided in the middle of the yard, Edward between them. My mother clutched, squeezed, and strained to revive his limp body, his crushed spirit. It was futile, but she tried. My father slumped to his knees, weeping, while my mother continued to minister to Edward, sobbing “Just breathe, oh my baby, just breathe, just breathe!”
Edward was most likely dead already, but that exchange, that conjunction of the two great forces in my world — that sad communion of my parents — was his death moment. For me it was the last moment that I shared with my older brother.
Edward’s death at age nine when I was only six would hang over our family like a cloud and accompany my parents to their graves.
Other details of that day are less sharp, but questions still haunt me, all these years later,
Did Edward’s blood leave a line of red snow across the field west of our house? Did the crimson stripe appear in the snow years later? Was that the same path that we all took after we’d drained the maples, out past the far western field? Did my father find Edward already dead? Did the fall kill him? How long had Edward been on the cold, unforgiving ground?
I never dared ask my parents the questions that I grew up with. I was “too young to understand.” Not only was my age held against me. I was the only daughter, after four boys. My parents handled me with kid gloves. They shielded me from life, from failure, from risk, from tears as best they could. I was one flower raised carefully by two attentive parents.
On my mother’s death bed, one year ago, she told me, in one of her clear moments, that my singing had kept Edward alive for her all these years.
Sadness, melancholy, gripped me. I’d been having these flashes, these attacks of pure emotion threatening to overtake me. For a moment, I felt nauseated and dizzy. I flagged a bit. A tear leaked down my cheek and rolled to my chin, where it pooled. Then it dropped to the weathered page of the diary in front of me. My mother had been a faithful diary-keeper, and I had yet to read it since her death. What caught my eye, next to the splotch of my tear, was the year of the entry I was about to read. 1864.