Spark

I started this as an entry into some forgotten competition.  Was cleaning off what used to be my ‘writing’ desk and stumbled upon it.  Just a bit of the flotsam and jetsam that I sometimes manage to get on to paper.

 

Spark

I always wanted an Easy Bake oven, I tell her.  She looks at me with the incredulous look only an eight-year-old can have.  Her eyes say:  They had Easy-Bake ovens when you were little?  I smile.  Answer:  Yes, Hailey.  She smiles that bright quick smile I adore; caught.

My parents couldn’t afford it, I say.  She hmmphs and stirs the itty bitty bit of batter that will make three miniature whoopee pies. I am enjoying this more than I imagined I would.  Why couldn’t they afford it, she asks just before she pops a finger sticky with red velvet cake batter into her mouth.  Her eyes, big and blue, are searching.

Because I had seven brothers and sisters I say simply.  Her eyes widen.  She’s met all but one of my siblings, but she doesn’t compute that they add up to so many.  Well, I have Timmy and Ethan, she says matter-of-factly and Santa brought me one.  Oh, oh, this could be tricky.  I asked for one for my birthday, I say, hopefully dodging the “is Santa real?” question.  She considers this, is silent a moment, then just says: oh.

Easy-Bake oven baking is a lot more complicated than real baking.  All those tiny amounts of cake mix and water and icing and sprinkles are difficult to deal with.  The ‘whoopee cushions’ as Hailey calls them turn out okay, though.  They are messy as hell to put together but we do a pretty okay job of it.  There is one for each of us:  Grampa, Gramma, Hailey, Timothy and Ethan.  There is one extra.  I tell Hailey it is hers, because she’s the cook.  She’s pleased with that.

We all eat our one-and-a-half inch pies and make a suitable fuss about how good they are.  Truthfully, I find them rather dreadful and shudder to think of the myriad chemicals we’ve ingested.  But, she’s my granddaughter, they my grandsons; and I’ll do anything for them.  At that I wonder:  shouldn’t I have protected them from this, then?  What kind of grandmother allows her grandchildren to be poisoned with artificial colourings and flavouring?

The indulgent kind, that’s what kind.

And then it’s time to clean up.

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The Dresses

When the urge strikes. . .

The Dresses

When I was a little girl I remember, vaguely, some dresses that my grandmother Evelyn bought for my sister Tracy and I.  One was pink and one was blue.  They had full skirts with crinolines underneath.  The tops were black (I think) with short, cap sleeves and a round neck-line.  The skirts were large print gingham with black silhouette cutouts around the bottom.  There were ladies, men and poodles as I recall.

My sister and I loved those beautiful little dresses.  Grandma even bought us matching white patent leather shoes to wear with them.  I remember feeling so pretty and so special when I put it on.  I couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 years old at the time.

My parents were dirt poor.  My father was a private in the army and was gone a lot of the time.  My mother was left at home by herself to take care of us.  There was barely enough money for food at that time, and certainly never any money to buy us pretty things like dresses or shiny white shoes.

Of course, I knew none of that then.  All I knew is that my beautiful, tall and elegant grandmother had descended like a fairy godmother to bring my sister and I fancy dresses, like those a princess would wear.

My grandparents had come for a visit and they were taking us all out for dinner or lunch.  Sadly, I don’t remember if we ever wore those dresses more than that one time.  We wanted to wear them all the time, but of course, were not allowed. Shortly after that my father was posted to Manitoba.  Whether the dresses came with us or not is a mystery.  I certainly don’t remember ever wearing mine again.

And then, our house burnt down.  It was a ramshackle affair in a town called Wheatland.  It was situated on a dusty prairie road alongside some train tracks.  I recall that most of the people living there were poor, like us.  I don’t believe we had running water; the house was heated by a pot belly stove.  That’s why it burnt down, in fact.

My sister and I saw it happen.  We had gotten up to go to the bathroom and came down to use the toilet beside my parents bedroom.  We saw that the pile of newspapers next to the stove had caught fire.  We were afraid to wake my parents up and so we just ran right back up the stairs to our bedroom, which was right above the stove, and crawled back in to bed.  We laid there, awake, scared, crying and not knowing what to do when suddenly we heard my mother and father screaming and shouting.

My father came up the stairs and got each of us (there were six of us at that time, including my infant brother, Shawn).  The stairs were on fire already and he had to throw us through the flames to our mother who was waiting to catch us at the bottom of the stairs. Thankfully, I have blocked all that out.   Tracy and I were put in charge of our siblings, including Shawn, (we were 5 and 6 at the time) while my parents did their best to salvage what they could.

The next day, or maybe it was many days later, when we came back to see the house I remember Tracy and I crying and asking what happened to our dresses.  My mother, obviously stressed to the breaking point, screamed at us that we were selfish little girls and said something about “those goddamned dresses” .

I know now as an adult that there were some big issues between my mother and my grandmother.  Probably the fact that we were so distraught over something trivial like a pretty party dress reminded her of all that she had given up for the kind of life she had.  We had lost everything, and we didn’t have much to begin with, we were homeless, we were poor and we were alone, thousands of miles away from ‘home’, Ontario, where both my parents had grown up.  I can’t imagine the kind of despair they must have felt.

Still, when ever I think back on that time I wonder about those dresses.  And I have mixed feelings of joy and sorrow for those little girls who got to feel so pretty and so special for such a brief moment in their lives.   There never was another pretty dress for either of us, until we grew up enough to afford them ourselves.

©Kathy Larson, 2012
All rights reserved.

 

View from the Side’s weekend challenge — Dance

My entry for this week’s challenge:

Once, We Won a Contest

Somewhere, in a box, tucked away out of sight, is a medal with the likeness of Elvis Presley on it.  Every so often in a fit of de-cluttering or a demented desire to relive the past I’ll stumble across it, and when I do the same thing always happens.

I think back to the night we went to the theatre and wound up winning a dance competition.

We were so young then!  Still in our twenties.  A young child at home with a babysitter while we went out on the town.  With some friends we’d decided to indulge in a little culture.  I laugh now at how absolutely foolish we must have seemed.

But, we sure looked good.  All of us thin and in our primes.  New shoes, new outfits — all on credit of course, because we could only pretend to afford the lifestyle we were stepping out in to.

I don’t recall much about the play, it had something to do with a black, female blues singer, and was fairly light-hearted and full of toe-tapping tunes.  Afterwards, there was a dance being held in the theatre with members of the cast.  Maybe this was the final night of the play’s run, I don’t remember.

Well, we got into the drinks pretty quickly and soon all of our nerves and inhibitions were out the window.  When the organizers announced that they were going to have a dance contest I grabbed my red-haired darling’s hand and pulled him out onto the dance floor.  He resisted at first, but I wouldn’t be denied.

We jived, we gyrated, we twisted, we did the hop.  We kicked, twirled, dipped and walked like Egyptians.  And in the end, we won.  I can remember laughing and gasping for breath as we were handed our medal.  My husband and I were clinging tightly to one another, partly to keep ourselves from falling over, but more out of a sudden and compulsive need to keep touching.

At some point during the contest I remember a feeling of total abandonment coming over me.  Our friends did not exist, our child at home was forgotten.  The debts, the worries, and the squabbles that had come to define our relationship and our daily life seemed to be being ground into the floor beneath our feet as we danced.  When I looked into his face I saw the love he had for me, the desire, the need, the want, and it was all I wanted.

We’ve never danced that way since, and this past Christmas when we attempted the Twist, we both just laughed, shook our heads and agreed not to try.  Hand in hand we made our way back to our table, where we told our son and his wife the story of how once we won a medal for dancing.

© 2011 KathyLarson
All Rights Reserved

Something in the air — View from the side’s weekend challenge for Jan. 14th 2011

The following was supposed to be my entry in last weekend’s challenge.  I got de-railed and now that I’ve come back to this I don’t know how to finish it.  I think it was a good start to something, though.  Anyone want to have a go at it?  Maybe we can tag-team a story out of it?  Could be fun.  Thanks.

 

 

“It’s a little up in the air right now,”  she said, with a hint of Mona Lisa smile.

He gave her a puzzled look, but said nothing.  He was trying to be cool, didn’t want to lose it.  She wasn’t making it easy.

With deliberate slowness she extended her hand — fine-boned, with long, tapered fingers ending in perfectly rounded, pale pink-polished nails — turned it palm up and held it out before him.   She tilted her head as she did this and he had the feeling that he was somehow being reprimanded, though to this point he had behaved with nothing but the utmost calm and courtesy.

 

View from the Side’s Weekend Theme — October 8th, 2010

The following is NOT a true story and has absolutely no foundation in truth.  My son Landon did some wild things as a little boy (and even as a bigger one) but, never, ever anything like this.  This is entirely a fabrication made up for this weekend’s challenge.

All rights reserved.  Copyright Kathy Larson 2010

String and Sticky Tape

by Kathy Larson

I sent him to his room for being bad.  All morning he had pestered after me.

“Can you take me to the park? I wanna play at the park.”

“Later,”  I’d said initially,  “I need to get the vacuuming done.”  Then I steered him out of my way to a pile of colouring books.

This scene was doggedly repeated about every five minutes.  “It’s later,” he’d say, “I want to go to the park.”

“I can’t right now.”  I’d just as doggedly reply.  “You need to be patient.  Go play with your cars.”  Eventually, he started to whine.  Then my reply became:  “If you keep that up, we won’t go at all.”   So, he became quiet.  So quiet I thought I’d better check on him.

There was a mural drawn all the way down the hall of kids playing at a park.  He’d used multi-media — wax crayons, pencil crayons and markers.  For a five-year-old it was pretty good.  Still, I thought I was going to have a fit, right then and  there.  To my credit I didn’t yell, I didn’t hit.  I simply took the red marker from his pudgy little hand and said very quietly, “Go to your room.  Now.”

The look on his face told me he wasn’t sorry.  Not one bit.

I stood back to take stock of his ‘artwork’.  There were trees, flowers and grass.  M-birds flew overhead and stick dogs chased after balls thrown by little stick boys.  There were swings, and teeter-totters and jungle-gyms.  He certainly knew what he wanted.  Despite myself I smiled.  I hated that I would have to wash it all off.  But our rented apartment wasn’t a Greek palace and a fresco would not be appreciated by our landlord.  I sighed and turned away, heading for the cupboard where I kept the pail and cleaning supplies.  As I ran warm water into the pail I started thinking about how the morning had gone and how I had disappointed this little boy, my son, who wanted nothing more than to get out of this boring little  box of rooms and find some space to move and run and breathe and live.

To hell with it, I thought, the art could stay there for a few days, it actually brightened the place up.  I’ll make him a surprise  — I’ll pack us a picnic lunch and we’ll go to the park and play and just be.  Out came the peanut butter and some apples, a couple of boxes of raisins and a thermos jug of Koolaid.  I grabbed my novel and a blanket and had everything organized by the front door.  Down the hallway I went to his bedroom.  Knock. Knock.  No answer.  He must be asleep, I thought as I silently turned the handle and gently pushed the door open.

I wasn’t prepared.  Not at all.  He was standing on the top of the dresser one foot poised on the sill of the open window.  There was something hanging from his back, it looked like cloth.  In my surprise I did not comprehend that he had cut up his top sheet and that this was what fluttered gently around him, stirred by the warm breeze coming in from the open window.

“What are you doing?” I asked in a small, still voice.  I was terrified.  I knew exactly what he was doing.  “Don’t move”  Again, the defiance in his eyes, but this time also an accompanying sadness.  “Please.”  I added.

I walked calmly across the room stepping on bits of string and sticky tape that stuck to the bottom of my sandals.  The tape made a soft ripping sound as it tore up from the carpet.  I took hold of his hand and turned him towards me.

His bottom lip trembled as I pulled him close.  “Those are some very fine wings you’ve made,” I said as I opened his arms wide to admire his handiwork.   He jumped forward into my arms his wings surrounding us both.  I breathed, then smiled.

“Come on,”  I said, ” Let’s go.”

A Short Story — Rainbow Party

The following is a story I wrote for a competition last year (didn’t win, sigh) and I thought, considering the absolutely horrible story coming out of BC this week about the 16-year-old girl who was drugged and gang raped while people took pictures and video and then posted the images online, that it was, in a sordid way, appropriate.  A ‘rainbow party’ for anyone who doesn’t know is a party where girls give blow-jobs while wearing vibrant colours of lipstick — the guy who has the most colours on his cock at the end of the night wins.

I was utterly appalled by this when I found out about it, but sadly, it’s quite a common event with kids these days.  As are ‘friends with benefits’.  This latest incident in BC is not an isolated event — these types of assaults seem to be happening more and more frequently.  The truly sickening part for me is that there are bystanders who film it, photograph it and then distribute it.  To add to the yuck factor is the knowledge that there are many, many people who will search these disturbing images out, deliberately, and then pass it on to friends as though it were nothing.

What, oh what, is happening to our world?  To the youth on whom the future is going to depend?  It literally makes me cry.  All I can think about is that poor girl.  I pray she recovers, but really, how can she?  After being violated in such a terrible and public manner?

I need to stop now.

© 2010 Kathy Larson
All rights reserved

Rainbow Party

Kassie looked in the mirror and made kissy-fish lips.  Then, she sucked in her cheeks and made her lips wiggle.  Jess, perched on the edge of the toilet, laughed.

“You geek!”  she said.

“Just loosening them up,”  Kassie replied.  She didn’t smile.  Jess looked down at her fingernails.  Her nails were ragged and chewed on; the polish – orange on one nail, black on the next – was chipped and picked away.  She grimaced and folded her hands together, tucked them between her thighs out of sight.

“We could do something else, you know,” she ventured.  She looked up at Kassie quickly, then away.  She seemed to be studying the tiny vase of blue straw flowers that Kassie’s mom kept on the second shelf of the cabinet above the toilet.  That vase had been there, she thought, forever.  As long as she could remember, anyway.  They, she and Kassie, had been friends since Grade 2, when they were six years old.  Seven years.  A long time.

Kassie said into the mirror, “Don’t come, if you don’t want to.”  Her words were flat, but she darted a quick glance in the mirror at her best friend.  She didn’t want to do this alone, but if Jess bailed on her. . .  Well, she would.  She’d do it.  This party was their chance and she wasn’t about to blow it.  Her stomach tightened at this last thought and she was suddenly grateful she hadn’t eaten supper.

Laid out on the vanity counter was an array of her mother’s lipsticks.  From the time she was little she had loved to come in and rummage through the drawer where her mom kept her dizzying collection of cosmetics.  Why her mom had all this stuff, she couldn’t figure, because other than once or twice a year Kassie never saw her wearing any of it.  The drawer had a nice smell when you opened it, like flowers and powder, but of something else, too.  It was the smell of ‘grown-up’, and in it was a mystery, a secret something about the woman her mother was, not the mom part, but the other part, the part Kassie tried to find every time she came in and fooled around with her mother’s makeup.

“You know I want to go, it’s just. . .”  Jess’ voice trailed off.  She reached out and picked up a shiny silver tube, plucked off the top and rolled up the lip colour.  It was a brilliant shade of red.  She looked up at Kassie.  “This is wrong, Kass.”  A tear slid from the corner of one eye.

Angrily Kassie snatched the tube from Jess.  “I told you, don’t come, then.”  She couldn’t believe this.  Her best friend, the one person she counted on, the one who knew, was chickening out.  “You don’t even have to do anything, for crying out loud.  If you don’t want to. “  She leaned back against the door and slid down to the floor, her knees tucked in tight to her chest.  Her flat chest.  She sighed.  Now she felt like crying.  “You were all excited about this when they asked us.”  Her voice trembled, and when she looked up Jess saw the tears brimming in her eyes.

“I know, but I didn’t know.  You know?”

Kassie looked at her.  “That was stupid.”

“Yeah.”

They burst out laughing.  And for a moment it was just like it had always been, just the two of them having fun, messing around in the bathroom.  Kassie twirled the tube of lipstick between her fingers.

“What would we do instead?”

Jess scooted down on to the floor beside her, wrapped her arms around Kassie’s knees and leaned in so that their faces were inches apart.  She was smiling.  A big wide-eyed, happy smile, full of excitement.  “We could stay at my house.  Rent a movie, or surf YouTube.  My mom would let us order a pizza.  I need to change my polish.”  It came out all in a rush and she rocked the two of them back and forth in her exuberance.

Kassie leaned her head back against the door.  “We always do that.”

Jess released her hold on Kassie and sat back, cross-legged on the floor in front of her.  “I know.  It’s lame.”

“No, it’s not,”  Kassie replied quickly.  “It’s just, . . . oh, I don’t know.”  She pulled the top off the tube of lipstick again and studied the beautiful shade of red as it emerged.

“It’s kid stuff.”  Jess whispered.

“Yeah.”

They sat not speaking for another minute, then Jess looked up into Kassie’s face.  Kassie looked into her friend’s eyes.  “Did you check it out online?  How to do it?”

“Yeah.  It’s pretty gross.”

Jess’ eyes looked so big and blue in her pale face.  There was a look caught in them, a frightened little girl look that said:  Please, don’t make me do this.  She wondered if Jess was seeing the same thing in hers.  She closed her eyes, in case.

“I have to go.  I told them we’d be there.  But you don’t have to.  Go, I mean.  Really.”

Silence.  Then the sound of Jess standing up.  Kassie kept her eyes closed.  There was the sound of a brush being pulled through hair.  Jess’ long, straight blonde hair.  Kassie suddenly thought of them playing ‘My Pretty Pony’ and how Jess’ long hair streamed behind her like the flaxen tail of a Palomino when she ran.  She got to her feet.  Gently took the brush from her friend’s hand.

“Here, let me do that.”

KLarson©2010

Setting Goals

At the beginning of every new year I sit down and write out some goals for myself — things I want to accomplish, things I think I need to do.  Most of the time they get forgotten, but a couple of years ago I came up with this list of writing goals.  I keep a copy of it taped to the wall beside my desk as a daily reminder of what I hope to accomplish as a writer. 

Have I managed yet to double my income as a writer?  No.  In fact, I’ve made no income as a writer, but I don’t let it get me down.  I have, however, stuck to my goal to write for at least one hour everyday (most days) and I have written quite a bit of work that if I would develop a back bone I could submit. 

No matter how much I write, though, there’s still this nasty little voice inside me that says:  they won’t like it, they won’t buy it, they won’t read it — why would anyone want to read THAT?  I tell it to shut-up and leave me alone, but like all bullies, it’s pretty persistent. 

Still, though, I keep trying.  I’ve had successes in the past, and I’ll have successes again – it’s just about developing my confidence and refusing to give up. 

More than anything I use this list of goals to remind myself that I have to keep trying in order to keep growing.  It’s also helpful whenever I start listening to that little voice as though it’s telling the truth, to weigh what I have accomplished against what it’s telling me I haven’t.  Pursuing goals is tough, hard work and it’s tempting sometimes to want to give in to that little voice that’s telling you you’re wasting time.  Having a visual reminder of what’s important and why has been a huge help to me. 

This little list could be adapted for any goal.  Feel free to ‘borrow’ it and make it your own if it’s something you feel can help you achieve yours. 

Wishing you much success in whatever you pursue.

 

 Writing Goals for 2010

  • I am going to become a successful writer this year.
  • I am going to be making enough money writing that I will double my income.
  • I am going to do what I’ve always wanted to do, and what I was born to do – write. 
  • My focus will be short stories and personal essays.
  • I will target magazines and on-line publications that publish these forms of writing.
  • I will publish my children’s book and write another one.
  • I will spend at least one hour every day writing, but more when I can manage it. 
  • I will make whatever personal sacrifices I must to achieve the above goal.
  • I will make writing my main priority, second only to family, in my life.  Work and school will become third and fourth.
  • I am a writer and I am successful.

Flash Fiction

This is an example of something called Flash Fiction.  I entered this piece in a contest about a year ago (didn’t win, but got some decent feedback).  I’ve since edited it taking into account some of the comments I was given. 

It’s an apocalyptic little story, something ala 2012, if you will.  Hope you like it.

© 2008

  Beneath the Bed 

 Kathy Larson

              A wistful smile crossed Sandra’s face as she gazed down at the tiny body beside her, and she thought, what better place than this?  The steady rise and fall of the baby’s chest helped to soothe her, but it couldn’t stop the fear blossoming in hers. 

            It was warm here, beneath the bed; absurdly, she felt protected.  Then, sorrowfully:  Why hadn’t he stayed?  Choking back a sob she drew their son close and buried her face in his blankets.

            When the flash came she was telling him about the fun she and her sisters had once had playing make-believe beneath their beds, imagining golden lives in a far-off and shining future.