Short story: “She”

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It was a crisp fall day where the warm sun caressed the golden leaves but the strong air still sent shivers through her, goosebumps slowly making their way to the surface of her flesh.

I’m leaving, she said.

The wind caught a strand of hair, dragging across her face. She pushed it away and faced him. He held her captive with his hard, dark eyes. How could she do this to him?

I’m leaving, she said again.

A gently urgent breeze whipped the hem of her skirt around her knees. She wrapped her sweater more tightly around her. He stood there so unrelenting and silent; a standoff in the driveway. He made no move towards her and she stood frozen with her hand on the car door handle.

I’m leaving, she said a third time, after a pause.

The wind wrapped around her completely, insistently, and she shivered. She watched his chest rise and fall with each somber breath.

I’m leaving. A whisper.

A final resigned breeze caught her filmy blue scarf and sent it fluttering down like a flag of surrender. Slowly, slowly, he bent down to pick it up and extended it towards her.

She placed her hand in his and followed him back into the house.

Short story: “James”

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James

Violins play softly as I sit drumming my fingers on the red checked tablecloth with flickering candles as the only light in the whole room. This is a horrible spot to meet James for dinner. The candlelight, soft music, Italian food…it all spells out disaster. It’s the final piece of the puzzle, the last straw, the point of no return. It officially labels me as a romantic.

I’m independent, not romantic. It’s my thing. My older sister is the pretty one and I am the tough one, the daughter my Dad doesn’t need to worry about even though I don’t have a husband to take care of me. I’m a smart and strong and independent woman and then I have to go and meet James. Wonderful James, who gives me butterflies and makes me do stupid things like smile to myself at work while I dreamily braid my hair and send text messages with kissy faces and x’s and o’s. I even pretended the other day that I couldn’t open the jar of pickles so he would have to come and help me but it turned out the lid wasn’t even screwed on and so he saw right through what I was doing and laughed and kissed my forehead and called me adorable. How mortifying. No, I’ve never felt this way before.

Jeez, I’ve even gone to church with him the last three Sundays. I’ve never been a very religious person. The truth is, airports see more sincere kisses than wedding chapels. The walls of hospitals hear more prayers than the walls of churches. And then I meet James, and he turns everything I think upside down and I contemplate things like religion and heaven and angels and all other kinds of stuff. I start to enjoy going to his church services, and I like the God he tells me about and I start to wonder if maybe my view of God is messed up, not James’s. His God is different than mine. James talks about forgiveness and redemption and second chances and my God sits up on a dark thundercloud in heaven, angry and disapproving and ready to strike down the pathetic mortals for not living up to His expectations. Especially me.

I sip from my wine glass. It’s a wonder James still stays with me; not only stays, but wants to stay. I have a broken soul; I know that. I don’t pretend otherwise. It makes every one else run screaming but James wants to hear about it; he wants to talk with me about what gives me awful nightmares in the middle of the night and why I hate rainstorms. And so I tell, and he listens and just when I start to think that this story, this secret, this skeleton in my closet will be the end of us, will be too much for him to hear, he just holds me and sometimes I think his eyes are full of tears when he says he wants to protect me from ever being hurt again. And I start to believe that he can. And the scariest part is…I want him to. I don’t hide anything from him anymore. I expose it all, and then I wait for him to run, just like other guys did—not that there’d been a lot of them. But there’s something different about James. He doesn’t run. And I don’t want him to.

I wish I didn’t feel this way. We’re all immortal until that first kiss and second glass of wine. I met him when we were in line getting coffee. It was a Tuesday and he said something ridiculous and cheesy like he didn’t know angels flew so low and I got flustered and dropped my coffee all over his shoes and while we were cleaning up the mess he asked for my number and I gave it to him and ran away. So I thought that was the end of it and then that night my phone rang and I answered and then four hours later I was laughing more than I’d ever thought possible and we had made plans for a date the very next day. Eight months later I’m disgustingly head over heels in love, one of those annoying girls who constantly talk about how amazing her boyfriend is and sings “Crazy in Love” in the shower and looks at wedding dresses online. My family keeps asking when we’re getting married. They love him almost as much as I do and I’m just shocked because I’ve finally done something my older sister approves of.

I check the time as the waiter stops by for the fourth time to see if I need anything. It’s not like James to be late. I had actually been the one to plan this date, and he had been so excited. I don’t plan dates. I don’t get excited about them. I say things like, “I don’t care; wherever you want to eat,” and now look at me. I make myself sick. I’d bought a new red dress that was much more sensual than anything I’d ever owned before. Red! It made me feel like a fire engine but I bought it anyway because it was kind of sassy and James loves red and I curled my hair and I was wearing the pearls he’d bought me. I’d even put perfume behind my earlobes. Ugh. I know he’ll love it, though. And yeah, maybe the heart shaped pizza is a bit much, but I’ll just say I hope he doesn’t think I’m too cheesy and then he’ll throw his head back and laugh that wonderful laugh of his, the one that thrills me right down to my toes and then he’ll lean across the table and kiss me. He kisses better than anyone I’ve ever kissed, and my older sister says that I can’t say that because he’s the only man I’ve ever kissed but that’s not true because Billy Driscoll kissed me behind the librarian’s cart in 7th grade and one time this really drunk guy kissed me in a bar and I let him because I was tired of having only Billy on my list. Billy, who cut my lip with his braces and then tattled to Ms. Cambridge that I’d gotten blood all over Pride and Prejudice and I had to face her wrath. The drunk guy had reeked of whiskey and stopped slobbering on me long enough to throw up on the floor and then resume his ardor without even rinsing his mouth and so those were both such awful experiences that they better count for something. Third time’s definitely the charm. James is the best because I can feel the love and sincerity coming right through his lips and I don’t worry about if I’m a good kisser or not because all I can think is, dang, this guy really likes me a lot and so I just kiss him back and he doesn’t complain, so there, Tessa. I used to hate couples kissing in public before, but I don’t protest anymore.

My phone rings, James’s picture popping up on my screen. “Hello?”

“Hey, beautiful.” His warm voice makes my heart beat faster and I start to believe that I am what he always calls me.

“Hi.” I giggle, something I never do except around him. “Where are you?”

“Stuck at work.” He lets out a frustrated breath. “I feel awful, but we might have to postpone tonight. I just can’t get away.”

My heart stops beating. I force my lips to move. “Sure. That’s no problem.”

“You know I wouldn’t miss tonight if there were any other way. My boss—“

“Yeah. No, I know.”

“Tomorrow for sure; I promise. I can’t wait. I gotta go but I’ll call you later, okay, baby?”

“Sure.”

“I love you.”

“Love you.” I hang up the phone and sit staring at the dark screen for a moment.

“Signora?” The waiter comes over. “Is your date coming?”

I sigh as I try to stand in the crazy high stilettos I had bought for that night. “No. He’s not.” That’s what happens when you follow your heart.

I leave James a voicemail that night, breaking up with him.

“Because of His Love for Her:” a One Act Play

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In my junior year of college, we studied how to write one act plays in my creative writing class. I originally wasn’t too thrilled with the genre, but the idea for this one came to me and I ended up scribbling it down (while I was in another class half listening to the lecture….oops.) After some polishing, it’s actually one of my favorite things I’ve written.

Because of His Love For Her

(Setting: café. Friends eating lunch.)

Rachel: You’re such a cynic. It’s disgusting.

Jacob: I’m not a cynic; I’m a realist. There’s a difference.

Rachel: Predicting that every single one of my relationships will fail isn’t realistic, Jacob. It’s pessimistic.

Jacob: (affronted) You wound me! Did I say anything about charming Harold when you asked me not to? I never once foretold any ill tidings about that relationship. I kept my mouth shut.

Rachel: Harold left me for my best friend!

Jacob: (laughing as he takes a drink) You make this too easy for me.

Rachel: Say what you want about Nathaniel. He’s the one; I know it.

Jacob: You’ve been going out for three weeks! I have leftovers in my fridge I’ve had a longer relationship with!

(Waiter arrives with food. Jacob waits as Rachel bows her head and prays silently)

Rachel: Nathaniel is different. He’s sweet and funny, and he treats me well!

Jacob: Well, that’s true. I mean, I wasn’t the one who had to come jump your car this morning. (loudly slurps straw, looking innocent.)

Rachel: (hesitates) He…he’s an auditor. He doesn’t know a lot about cars.

Jacob: Really?

Rachel: Why do you say it like that?

Jacob: No, nothing. I was just thinking about that mechanic you dated in college. That was handy, considering the beat up old trap you insist on driving around.

Rachel: Jesse? Yeah, he was nice. Thanks for ending that, by the way.

Jacob: What?!

Rachel: Don’t play innocent. You introduced him to every attractive, available woman you knew! You were there after he gave me the whole, “It’s just not working out, Rachel,” speech before dating Kelly three days later.

Jacob: Ah, yes. I do remember that. You got tears and snot all over my hoodie that night. (shudders)

Rachel: You’re a jerk.

Jacob: That is entirely your opinion. So, what does Nathanial think about the book you’ve been working on?

Rachel: (picking at salad) He’s not a—a big reader.

Jacob: No?

Rachel: (slightly longer pause) No.

Jacob: Huh.

Rachel: What?

Jacob: I was just thinking about that one guy you dated who loved reading. What was his name?

Rachel: David.

Jacob: David! He was a nice guy.

Rachel: (irritated) Are you kidding?

Jacob: What?

Rachel: You intimidated him every chance you got: challenging him, tearing him down, humiliating him–

Jacob: You do have to admit that sweater he bought for you for your birthday was atrocious. And several sizes too big, I add. I was merely defending your honor by pronouncing it the most hideous thing I’d ever seen and suggesting that perhaps any man who buys a sweater for his girlfriend of almost two years is afraid of commitment. Is it my fault that he was offended by that?

Rachel: YES!

Jacob: Debatable.

(Rachel rolls her eyes. Brief silence)

Jacob: So what does this wonderful Nathaniel do instead of reading?

Rachel: (faintly) He…camps.

Jacob: Camps! Does he hunt?

Rachel: I don’t—

Jacob: He probably does. All hunters camp, you know. He probably enjoys killing innocent animals for fun. Then he’ll keep your fridge stuffed with all that meat and make you wear the furs.

Rachel: STOP. You don’t know that. You don’t know him. Just because you hate marriage doesn’t mean all relationships are doomed to fail.

(Silence. Jacob removes the onions from Rachel’s plate and puts them on his own. She drums her fingers on the table, irritated. Suddenly drops fork, which makes a loud clattering noise.)

Rachel: Nathanial is charming, and sweet, and he has big plans for his life. He’s ambitious, and-and polite—(with a sudden burst of inspiration) His name means gift from God!

Jacob: (with mock seriousness) The heavens have foretold it.

Rachel: I’m serious. He’s fantastic.

Jacob: (checking watch) Well, apparently punctuality isn’t on the list of wonderful attributes for our dear Nathaniel.

Rachel: He’ll be here. And I was doing fine waiting for him by myself.

Jacob: Of course you were.

Rachel: I didn’t need you to come sit with me so I wasn’t eating all alone.

Jacob: Of course you didn’t!

Rachel: I am a strong, independent woman, perfectly capable of surviving on my own.

Jacob: (patronizing) Of course you are.

(Silence. Jacob lifts up the top bun of his burger; Rachel removes the pickles and places them on her plate.)

Rachel: Do you want to know the best thing about Nathaniel?

Jacob: His rugged good looks?

Rachel: (irritated) No.

Jacob: You mean he’s NOT good looking?

Rachel: No! I mean, yes! But that’s not what I’m talking about. Nathanial….(important pause) actually believes in marriage. (sits back, pleased)

Jacob: Hm. Does he want kids?

Rachel: (triumphantly) Yes! He does! Lots of kids!

Jacob: Awwww, how sweet. Is he gonna help take care of them?

Rachel: Well, no…he travels a lot for his job–

Jacob: Huh. So, YOU’LL stop teaching?

Rachel: We…haven’t really talked about that.

Jacob: Oh, my mistake. I thought since you’ve been discussing marriage you’d have talked about kids. (brief pause) And religion.

(Rachel is silent)

Jacob: (overly shocked) SURELY you’ve talked about RELIGION?

Rachel: I mean….sort of…(firmly) I definitely think he’s Lutheran.

Jacob: Lutheran.

Rachel: Yes. (pause) Or maybe Baptist.

Jacob: Baptist?

Rachel: Yes. (pause) Or…or maybe Catholic.

Jacob: Catholic!

Rachel: Yes.

Jacob: Ah.

(Silence)

Jacob: Perhaps he’s Jewish!

Rachel: (frowns thoughtfully, considering) No, I don’t think so….

Jacob: Or maybe he’s Mormon. Maybe he already has a couple of wives!

Rachel: He does not!

Jacob: (chuckles and takes a bite of his burger) You don’t even know his religious beliefs.

Rachel: I do, too.

Jacob: Prove it.

Rachel: Prove it? What, are we 7 years old again?

Jacob: Well, you’ve told me you’re probably gonna marry this guy, so you must know all there is to know about him. So, prove it! What religion does our dear gift from God follow?

Rachel: I…I think he’s actually…more…non-religious (sneaks look at Jacob, who is nonchalantly chewing.)

Rachel: So. (another pause. She awkwardly toys with her silverware. A sudden burst of laughter from Jacob startles her.)

Rachel: What? What?! What’s so funny?

Jacob: This guy is your polar opposite, and you think he’s the perfect one. You’re going to end up chained for the rest of your life to an illiterate chauvinist who makes you quit your job to take care of all the kids you keep popping out, and skips church on Sunday to murder Bambi’s mother!

Rachel: Stop it! (Jacob continues to laugh, slapping table) Rachel: You know what?

Jacob: (still laughing) What?

Rachel: You…you are…just…

(Jacob’s laughter flusters her)

Rachel: A mean cynic!

Jacob: Realist, my darling. Realist.

(In a huff, Rachel turns to her Coke. Jacob continues to laugh softly.)

Rachel: Shut up.

Jacob: Oh, I just can’t.

(They eat in silence for a moment; Jacob’s amused, Rachel’s indignant.)

Rachel: Why do you have to be so mean to me all the time?

Jacob: It’s good for you. It’ll put hair on your chest.

Rachel: I don’t want hair on my chest. I want to have a conversation with you for once without you shooting down all of my choices in men and making me feel like an idiot.

Jacob: Is it my fault that every guy you pick out has mortal flaws? You missed a pickle.

Rachel: They weren’t all bad.

Jacob: Nah. I especially liked the guy who liked to argue that he really was abducted by aliens. Take this pickle.

Rachel: One date! I went on one date with that man—he does not count!

Jacob: I’m giving you my opinion. Pickle!

Rachel: I don’t want your stupid opinion.

(Exasperated, Jacob gingerly picks the pickle off his burger and holds it between two fingers out to Rachel, stops when he sees she is sitting dejected.)

Rachel: I just…what’s wrong with me that all of my relationships have failed miserably?

Jacob: They’re jerks.

Rachel: Not all of them. Jesse was a nice guy. David was a nice guy. Harold— (pause) Okay, Harold was a jerk. But everyone else was great. They were great! And it ended badly. And now they’re all married or engaged. It shows that the problem wasn’t because of them. That leaves one person. Me. So, I ask you. What’s wrong with me?

 (Long silence as they stare at each other.)

Jacob: Maybe it’s your man hands.

Rachel: (shocked) My what?!

Jacob: Nah, that’s probably not it. Maybe it’s your cooking. Or your whining. You do whine a lot.

Rachel: (hurt) That’s a mean thing to say!

(Jacob raises eyebrow, grinning.)

Rachel: I hate you.

Jacob: Sometimes, yeah, you do. And sometimes I deserve it. But you have to admit—I’m always right. You could even call me Mr. Right.

(Silence.)

Rachel: (glumly) Nathanial’s gonna be out of town for my cousin’s wedding.

Jacob: Oh. When is it?

Rachel: Next Saturday. Do you have a game?

Jacob: Nope. We lost last week and the tournament ended. I can go with you so you don’t have to deal with Grandma Ruth’s proclamations of, ‘Oh, my poor, poor Rachel, doomed to single-hood forever!’

Rachel: Thanks, Jacob. (smiles.)

Jacob: Any time. (brief pause) Now will you please take this pickle before I throw it at you?

(Rachel removes the pickle from his burger and eats it. They sit in companionable silence, eating their meals. Nathanial enters, sits in chair next to Rachel.)

Nathaniel: Sorry I’m late—

Rachel: You’re ALWAYS late.

Nathaniel: (taken aback) What?

Rachel: And I don’t want to quit my job!

Nathaniel: But I never—

Rachel: And I AM A VEGETARIAN! (throws napkin down and exits)

(Nathanial looks bewildered at a very pleased Jacob, who quickly schools his features to look sympathetic.)

Jacob: Tough break, Sport. (shrugs innocently) Women! (pats shoulder and leaves him sitting alone at the table, dials a number on his phone.) Jacob: Hey man, listen. I’m not gonna be able to play in the tournament next weekend….

Life is a Dance

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I generally don’t dance. Not at weddings, not at parties, not anywhere. It used to be my absolute rule. Dancing is awkward. You don’t know where to put your hands or what exactly to do with your feet. You can make a fool of yourself. Avoid it. It’s a good rule…except for when people tried to change your mind.

Our long time family friend has a hoedown every fall on his several acre farm. There are enormous tire swings made from tractor tires and a bonfire that once reached a record height of 33 feet high and food and laughing and square dancing and a hayride through the property and if you show up without a cowboy hat one will be provided for you at the door.

Square dancing.

I take pictures.

But one year, I was listening to the caller, who was barely understandable with his fake southern accent, and enjoying my hot apple cider when a voice interrupted me.

“Would you like to dance with me?”

I jumped, sloshing my cider over the rim of my cup and onto the hay-covered barn floor dangerously close to his feet. Normally I laughed invitations off kindly or flat out refused. But this time, for whatever reason, I said, “Sure.”

It was the worst dance of my life.

It was awkward and jumbled and I didn’t know what to do or where to go and at one point I jabbed him in the stomach with my elbow. I was completely out of my comfort zone.

It was the best dance of my life.

Dancing is a lot like love and life. You don’t know what to do and sometimes you make mortifying mistakes for the whole world to see and sometimes it clicks and something beautiful is born.

It all depends on your partner. Choose wisely.

Musings of a First Grader

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In the fall of my first grade career, I was subjected to the cruel and unusual form of punishment commonly known as private school. I excelled in reading and writing, and my parents were advised to put me in first grade early. At 5 years old, I found myself strapped into the plushy seat of our brown van on the ride to school. Even the homey cinnamon smell of the van and my new Beauty and the Beast lunchbox and thermos were no comfort. My ugly red and blue plaid uniform itched. This was definitely the worst day of my life.

Despite my silent prayer, “Please, God! Make another flood like Noah’s to wash away the school!” the building was still there when we arrived. Although we had been going to church there for most of my life, I stared up at the familiar structure as though I’d never seen it before. It now appeared foreboding and disapproving. My sister yanked the sliding door open, yelled, “Bye, Mom!” and took off at a run. I understood. No self-respecting fifth grader would be caught dead dragging along a lowly first grader. I slid my clammy hand into my Mom’s hand and continued at a much slower pace.

It was mid-September; the day was gray and cloudy, and a chilly breeze sent dying leaves skittering across the sidewalk like skeletons. I pushed open the heavy metal doors as if they guarded the entrance to a dungeon. The hallway bustled and hummed with students. Shoes squeaked on the floor, giving me goosebumps. The fluorescent lights bounced off the gray floor and colorless walls, making the hallway seem endless. This is the end, I thought, clomping down the hallway in my ugly dress shoes, part of the offending uniform. I’m a terrible person for asking God to flood the school, and my punishment is that I have to walk this hall for the rest of my life in these disgusting shoes. By the time we reached my new classroom, I believe I would have preferred that fate. Everywhere was chaos. Kids were piling things into their lockers, chattering to their friends, and not a single other child had their mom with them. I was mortified. My previous lifeline now caused me to be labeled with the worst insult to a 1st grader: Kindergarten baby.

“I’m fine,” I tried to say, wishing my lips would stop quivering. I was, after all, 5-years-old, and way too grown up to cry. Mom blew me a kiss, temporarily lifting my spirits, but as soon as I turned away, my soul sank back into my heavy shoes.

My backpack would not fit into the locker with my prized coat. Red and puffy, the cuffs and hood were trimmed with silky black fur. I had always pretended to be Anastasia when I wore it, and had felt bad for girls who didn’t have Russian princess coats. Now it betrayed me. No matter how hard I pushed, I could not close the door. The kid next to me gave me a look of pure disgust before shutting his locker effortlessly and walking away, laughing. I made a face at his back and probably would have called him a weenie (almost as insulting as “kindergarten baby”) but then the bell rang, stopping my heart. I gave the locker a last hard kick before leaving it hanging half open and dashing into class.

Not even the smell of erasers and pencil shavings soothed me. I looked for an empty seat, and two friends from church waved me over. The kid who had mocked my predicament at the lockers slid into the last chair at our cube-like table, but I ignored him and surveyed the teacher. She had brown hair piled on her head in a way that reminded me of my aunt’s shih Tzu, and her face was white and fleshy—like a pierogi, I decided as she slid a piece of paper in front of each of us.

“Complete the assignment,” she sang out, “and then we’ll go to the library.”

I looked down, thrilled to be going to my favorite place. On the worksheet, there was a hippo whose massive midsection held long lines of letters, the first of which read XKQARLCATPOF. I had never seen a word search before. I blinked.

“Just circle all the words. Isn’t this fun? A game for homework!” she trilled. I quirked an eyebrow at that description. I liked games, and I liked reading, as long as they were real words and not nonsense. I shrugged and circled the entire first line, but she said briskly, “That’s not right,” before moving on.

I looked at my paper in surprise, contemplating what I’d done wrong. Maybe the words went up and down, not sideways. Anything was possible in this ridiculous game. I started to circle them vertically when a tap on the shoulder from Locker Boy interrupted me.

“You circled them wrong!” he hissed.

I frowned, hurt. My circles were even and flawless. What was the problem?

“How do you do it, then?” I whispered back, only to receive a curled up lip and a disbelieving, “You’ve never seen a word search before?”

I glared back at him and tossed my curls over my shoulder. Boys were a waste of time. In my desperation to understand the assignment, I’d forgotten that.

My haughtiness vanished as everyone began packing their papers into their backpack and I was left behind with a substitute while they traipsed to the library. I was astounded. I was denied library for not correctly circling these non-words. What next? I’d probably get fired from first grade. Tears stung my eyes, blurring the hippo, which now had the beginnings of a hole in his stomach from the erasing he’d had to endure. A light perfume scent wafted towards me, and I blinked to clear my vision. The substitute teacher was crouched next to my desk.

I sighed loudly before she could say anything. “You’re just gonna tell me to circle the words,” I said as a lone tear slipped down my cheek. “And I’ll tell you, I know how to read and this—” I jabbed a finger at the first line, not even attempting to sound out XKQARLCATPOF, “is not a real word.”

She bit back a smile. “There’s a little word hidden inside that mess,” she said. “It’s like a treasure hunt. Can you find it?”

I studied the paper and felt the answer dawn in my mind. Cat was in the middle of that line! All the other little words jumped out at me, and I zipped through the assignment in time to get to lunch. I found my friends and sat down, but suddenly, Locker Boy came over and tugged on my friend’s braid, singing her name. He has a crush on her, I realized, torn between disappointment over her low standards and disgust at the thought of how many cooties were probably crawling all over him.

She surprised me by immediately slapping his hand away and scowling, “Stop it! I told you, I don’t want to sit with you. Go away.”

I watched him slink away and turned back to my friend, pleased.

She rolled her eyes. “Ignore him,” she said firmly. “He thinks he’s so cool, but he’s nothing but a weenie. Christine says he’s cute but I think that’s gross.”

We shared a smile and I pulled out my Belle thermos, clinking it against hers. First grade might be terrible, but at least I wasn’t alone in my suffering.

Hope

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Inspired by and dedicated to all victims of sex trafficking.

Esperanza used to be such a beautiful girl. She always wore a light pink dress with light pink ribbons, a sharp contrast against the dark hopelessness of the village. The Americans had brought it for her. Maybe someday they would take her away with them. Esperenza loved to tenderly care to a tiny kitten that had found its way into her hut, sick and nearly starved. She nursed it as best as her 5-year-old hands could, saving bits of her small piece of bread for the feline. When it grew stronger, she would rock it gently, humming. She so loved the rare moments her mother could do that for her. One day Esperenza carefully ripped a corner of her sheet to make a little makeshift dress for the kitten, who proudly strutted around the village sporting her new look. Esperanza, the tender-hearted.

Esperenza grew older. At the age of ten she was always running through the village, heedless of the rocks and sticks that cut into her bare feet. She always had a quick smile she would flash before she was off again, chasing a dream, a butterfly, sometimes even just her own whim. The boys challenged her to a race, tired of her constant running. She beat them….so they beat her. A bloody nose her trophy, Esperenza held it high in the air when she passed by them, walking slowly, and they clenched their fists. Oh, the humiliation of being bested by a girl. Once they could no longer see her, she took off running again. Old Mr. Carlos shook his fists together over his head in a celebratory manner when she flew by. No one could catch her. Esperenza, the wind chaser.

Esperenza grew older still. She didn’t run with the wind anymore. At 13, her steps were slowed by the weight of her soul. Her mother was sick and needed medicine they couldn’t afford. Esperenza moved out of the village to the city, to work selling necklaces to tourists…but then there was no more money to make necklaces, and certainly nothing to pay Esperenza. She couldn’t go home, so she began to beg for money on the street corners, sending whatever she received home. A man stopped her one day; was she hungry? Esperenza was. He offered her bread, and she eagerly took it, wolfing it down and wishing immediately for more. She grew confused when he demanded money for the food. Wasn’t it a gift? Oh, no, Esperenza; nothing is free. What was she to give him? She had no money. Esperenza, the innocent.

Esperenza grew up. She was in high demand because of her youth and beauty. Her tattered skirt hanging around her, Esperenza waited for the fifth man of the day, clutching her knees to her chest. She wanted to run again; she wanted someone to hold her, rocking her gently back and forth, wiping away her tears. And so, one day, she soared. He screamed her name; she never turned back. Chasing and fleeing simultaneously, she ran as though she could fly. Esperenza, the strong, graceful bird.

But even the most majestic birds get shot down.

Esperenza used to be such a beautiful girl.

Call of the Wild

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I don’t always write depressing stuff; I promise. In fact, I love to write humor….especially when it pokes fun at myself.

I’m sitting in the library innocently working on my homework when it happens again. The quiet atmosphere of the peaceful valley is turned into a jungle as a girl waltzes by and the boys instantly straighten up. It’s like watching something from Animal Planet; the males preen themselves, trying to impress the female, who spreads out her feathers while pretending not to notice.

“Hey hey, what’s goin’ on?” One of the hopefuls asks smoothly.

Her lower lip sticks out in a cute pout. “I forgot my credit card, and I have no cash, and I’m starving!” She leans on his shoulder as she clutches her stomach to emphasize this point.

The peacocks turn into lions, fighting to see who will come out on top. The lion who brandishes his credit card like a flag wins. “Getcha self whatever ya want, babe,” he croons.

“You’re adorable!” She pecks his cheek and accepts his card. He gloats over the rest of the pack. He’s the Alpha dog now.

I shake my head in wonderment. I’ve tried to learn this little flirting game all my life with no success. I always end up embarrassing both myself and the poor victim who attempted to play the game with me. The preening and seducing is too much for me, and I pack up my stuff. I have to go grocery shopping anyway.

As I drive, Cosette and Marius sing together, “For this isn’t a dream; not a dream, after all.” How did she learn this art, while I’m left floundering? She was raised in isolation by an ex-convict, for Pete’s sake.

I’m in the checkout with my milk and eggs and a bouquet of roses catches my eye. February 13th. I decide to buy them for my Mom; my Dad is great, but he doesn’t really care about Valentine’s Day.

My items are being rung up, and I dig through my wallet for cash. Where’s Mr. Alpha Dog when you need him?

“What’s this, now?” The cashier holds up the bouquet.

I blink at him, wondering if I’m being Punk’d. “Roses?”

“No, no.” He looks at them and frowns sadly. “A pretty girl like you should never have to buy flowers for herself.”

That’s my cue, I know. It’s time for me to say something witty and cute in response. For a wild moment, I consider hopping up onto the conveyor belt and planting a kiss on his cheek. I’ve got nothing else.

He’s waiting for a response from me so he can deliver the next line in this script everyone but me seems to have memorized, and I finally unstick my tongue from the roof of my mouth. “Well, I’m not buying them for myself. They’re for my Mom.”

“Oh.” I’ve done it again. The mood is killed. I’m like the Ancient Mariner, only my actions are always unintentional and I don’t have a beard. Nevertheless, I’ve clumsily shot the preening peacock and turned him into a limping bird. “Well, I….hope she enjoys them.”

I take my bags and retreat in shame. I’m pretty sure I had my nose stuck in a book when God was passing out flirtation skills.