Flash Fiction: The Weight of Words


“Mom, I want to tell you something,” I said to the back of her neck.  She was sitting at the kitchen table busying herself with something in her hands.  I don’t remember what it was, sewing perhaps.  She did not turn her head when I spoke to her, but continued to look down absorbed in her busyness, removed from the weight of my words.
I sat down at the table with her and took a deep breath.

“I think the love that Susan has for her girlfriend is natural,” I said as I let out my breath. 
She took her glasses off and placed them on the table.  Her face screwed up with disgust and her lips were pulled tight over her teeth.  Her eyes narrowed as she looked at me.

“It is not natural.  It’s disgusting!”  She spit out and waited for the words to sink in and detonate searching my face for signs of wreckage, but the damage was internal. My face remained stoic.
“It’s not disgusting,” I said, my voice wavering. It sounded too defensive and high pitched to me. This enraged her, but instead of arguing the point she altered her strategy.

“Do you have those feelings?” She asked accusingly, raising her eyebrows.
“I don’t know, maybe.  I mean, I can understand how she feels,” I replied, the sound of my heart thumping in my ears drowning out the drone of the refrigerator.

“I knew it the minute you walked in the door.  Susan and her girlfriend dressed you up in those clothes,” she said looking down at my shirt and then continued in a high pitched mocking tone imitating my cousin Susan, but sounding nothing like her, “It’s OK, just go ahead and be gay!”
I felt shame, shame for how I dressed and for how my voice sounded and for having those feelings.  Mother had never accused me of being gay, preferring to use another scare word, effeminate.

Don’t put your hands on your hips like that, it looks effeminate.
Those flip-flops make you look effeminate.

Which friend are you talking about, the overweight effeminate one?
I did believe that my cousin’s feelings were natural, but I was not defending them, I was testing the waters and now I was drowning.  Mother could sense it as she circled with wide dark eyes, baring her teeth.

She opened her mouth to take another bite out of me. “I suppose you want to be a woman now.”
I watched my body sink as my soul drifted away. The feeding frenzy had begun and would not end until there was nothing left of me.


Maine: A Sense of Place

We ride our bikes, Paul and I in the evening down Mile Road.  Past Billy’s Chowder House, a weathered gray cedar sided building content in its solitude on the edge of the salt marsh overlooking the Webhannet River. The smell of fried haddock mixing with the salty air fills our noses and teases our appetite.  We turn and follow the road hugging the coastline.
The air feels as if it has travelled a great many miles to reach this point, born on the open prairies where it meanders in slow waves over meadow grasses pushing larks into flight. It soars upward and over the Appalachian Mountains before tumbling down into the tiny cone of New England where it becomes cool and compressed and shoots out over rocky Wells beach on this margin of Maine, running loose and free like school children sprinting into the school yard as the end of day bell rings. There it mingles with the frigid Atlantic ocean and pushes up great emerald plumes of water against the rocks frosted with the seltzer air, fizzing and releasing the briny, saline sea.

The light too plays with the air.  It starts out small; silver and hushed in the morning clinging to the fog like a quivering newborn all wet and cold. The Webhannet River is metallic as it snakes through the salt marsh. The light brightens and becomes bolder during the day bouncing off of the water droplets and salt particles in the air; a prism like effect intensifying the greens of the rushes and cord grass, blues of the sky and sea and reds of the beach roses to their primary and truest selves.   In the evening it lingers, blushing orange, pink and coral in the turquoise sky reflecting itself like giant blobs of paint in the tidal pools. For a single instant when day and night balance themselves the thin strip of beach houses separating the marsh from the sea are washed aglow.
The sounds are layered, the constant pull and release of the waves alternating between whoosh and silence.  In summer the laughter of adults and children’s delighted squeals wrapped in the waves, release and repeat themselves as the waves crash and fizz. Tiny piping plovers move as a single organism back and forth chased by the cresting tide. The gulls, some stoically regarding the sea and others painted full winged against the sky release staccato laughs. In the distance the sound of a bell buoy clangs softly, tossed by the swelling sea.

At Crescent Beach we park our bikes and walk along the shore, littered with blue and grey egg shaped stones. We breathe the ocean air in and it becomes a part of us. The oxygen and minerals themselves nutrients.  In this way Maine is forever with us, a part of our blood.


The Not So Friendly Skies

The flight from Chicago to Singapore is much like running a marathon; no one really wants to do it, but they brag about completing it and prepare for it by lying.  “My back has been acting up and I’ve been having trouble sleeping,” they tell their doctors hoping to score muscle relaxers and sleeping pills. “I think little Johnny might have a touch of ADHD,” they say with great concern to cash in on a prescription for Ritalin.  And the final lie they tell themselves?  “This will be fun!” But make no mistake about it; the flight to Singapore is not fun.  Men grow beards and women complete menstrual cycles on the 9,357 mile 22 plus hour flight that takes them over the North Pole to a country where every flight departing or arriving is international.
On my third trip to Singapore my penniless company booked a flight for me on United Airlines.  Singapore Airlines, my previous mode of travel, was deemed too expensive.  Gone were the sumptuous seats, exotic meals and beautiful, meticulous flight attendants with shellacked hair and Zen like faces known as the “Singapore girl.”  They were replaced with knee eating chairs made of wood, a gray meat like substance and Tyrell.  This was Tyrell’s first international trip as a flight attendant and he was “pumped.”

“Singapore! Can you believe that?  I’m gonna’ take care of you.  You want liquor, just say the word! Singapore!” Tyrell exclaimed as he practically galloped down the aisle.  I raised one eyebrow and looked sideways at my seat mate, who was busy implanting ear plugs. “Rookie,” he sighed as he began to inflate his neck pillow.  The pity I felt for Tyrell, who was sprinting out of the gate, was trumped by annoyance. “He’ll learn,” I said as I choked down an Ambien.
“Scotch or gin?” Tyrell asked me just as I was dozing off.

“It’s 11:00 AM,” I replied, not wanting to experience a hangover during the flight.
“Tomato juice and vodka?” He asked enthusiastically.

By hour six Tyrell was beginning to lose steam, the sweat beading on his brow.  He and his fellow flight attendant, a rotund Asian woman, were carrying two pots of steaming liquid each. “You want some, man?” he asked in a less than enthusiastic voice.  “What is it?” I asked back.  He flipped the lid open and stuck his nose deep inside.  Whatever it was, I wanted none of it.  He screwed up his face as if the pitcher contained boiling piss. “Some oriental shit,” he replied as the other attendant cut daggers with her eyes.  “Asian,” I whispered attempting to point out his politically incorrect statement. “Asian Oriental shit,” he corrected himself.
When the captain announced that we were over the North Pole, I saw Tyrell briefly re-energized, bend and look quickly left and right out of the window.  I swear he was looking for a red and white striped pole.

By the time we departed Narita, Japan for the second leg, Tyrell was done, but there were seven hours left.  I found him propped up against the lavatory door rubbing his head.  “I’ll have that drink now,” I said cheerfully.  Tyrell slowly looked up and said “I’m just about ready to join you.”
When we finally landed in Singapore the wrinkled passengers rubbed their eyes, stretched and felt the stubble on their faces.  As we slowly filtered out of the plane I passed by Tyrell, who was sitting in a seat, wrapped in a blanket, his glasses slightly askew and his eyes red rimmed. “Long flight,” I said trying to commiserate with him.  “Man, you have no idea.  I’m just glad I have a couple of days here in between my return flight. Just enough time to experience some oriental delights,” he replied with a wink and a nod, implying that I might enjoy the same type of debauchery.  It’s a mistake that many long haul rookies make, but one that I have never taken such delight in pointing out. “You know you lose a day when you travel to Singapore, you might want to check your schedule,” I said smiling as I jogged off of the plane for the win.

It’s all about setting a pace and keeping up with your time.

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