She put the hairbrush away and smiled at the reflection from the mirror. She couldn’t remember the last time she smiled before going to school. But, this was a new school; it would be different.
She looked at the floor to avoid the stares as she went to her first class. Two boys whistled at her and mumbled words she was happy not to hear.
When she reached her math class, three girls stood in front of the doorway. She smiled tentatively and said hello. However, the three placed their folded arms against their chests and glared back. They had something to say, but there were no smiles.
“You look like a tramp in that skirt.”
“And, it violates the dress code.”
“Maybe she’s blind.”
“All we need is another bitch in this school that thinks she’s hot.”
A boy wearing a letterman jacket approached and the girls parted. “We’ll talk to you when we walk you home,” one of girls said, following her friends into the classroom.
She fled to the restroom, locked the door to the stall and sent a text. She huddled over the toilet with her feet on the lid and waited for her mom’s answer.
Footsteps hit hard tile. Her body jerked from the bolt of nerves that shot through her.
A voice echoed.”It’s the resource officer. Come out.”
“Sit,” the resource officer said, pointing to the chair. She looked down at the girl. “Make friends and you’ll be happy here.” She paused before turning to leave. “You’re safe in this school–you need to get that in your head.”
Through the glass of the outer office, threatening eyes watched her.
Clutching her phone, she drew in rapid breaths, searching for air that had disappeared.
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He received the invite. Nashville’s Grand Ole’ Opry. Now, it was real. Satisfaction cut through the engraved stress marks on his face that belied his young years. He had earned it. Rough schedules, racking up miles across the country, opening shows with a mixture of envy and admiration for those who had paid their dues.
Billed as the new Hank Williams those close to him shuddered at the commonality.
Blinding lights, applause, screams, hands reaching to touch him played in his head as he splashed water against his face and patted down his hair. The paraphernalia used earlier set on the counter beside the sink. One more time to pull him through. Good that he forgot to put it away, he told himself ignoring the real reason. The effect didn’t last that long, just enough to get him on stage.
“Twenty minutes,” the chauffeur said through the phone.
Muscles tightened. His stomach quivered. He washed white pills down with bourbon to calm the nerves, but his thoughts were on the bathroom counter. One last time his mind reasoned. Before the show, before walking onto that famous auditorium with pieces of wood from the Ryman auditorium.
The wood Hank Williams stood.
The stretcher disappeared out the door. That close to making it his chauffeur thought with a tear in his eye.
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She loaded the children into the shiny Lincoln and drove down the tree studded drive to the highway. Every Saturday, the mother watched from the window as her aunt took brother and sister to the bakery. The donut run, as the mother called it, never failed to bring joy to her children.
When they returned, the eccentric aunt set the bag filled with soft, warm donuts on the counter next to last Saturday’s bag. It was a simple rule. You eat the old donuts before getting into the new bag.
Knowing that they would never experience the taste of the fresh donuts, how many Saturdays before the children’s joy faded? It had been seven months since the spinster aunt invited them to move in and the children were as enthused as the first time.
“What is so great going to get donuts knowing they will be hard as a rock before you eat them?”
“It’s not eating the donut, it’s imagining how it tastes,” said one. “It’s like going to the dog pound even though you can’t bring one home,” said another.
“They are beautiful. Covered in frosting–pink, white, chocolate, sprinkles, dusted in powdered sugar, filled with jelly–different shapes and sizes.”
“It’s hard to choose.”
“So Auntie let’s us take all the time we want.”
“But,” the mother said, “you always bring back a dozen plain cake donuts.”
“That’s what Auntie orders. We eat ours at the donut shop.”
A smile spread across the mother’s dampened cheeks.
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One night he cleaned off the dust, slipped into his best shirt, new Levis, and drove to a dance in the valley. A fiery redhead caught his eye, and his mind entertained thoughts other than lonely nights in the bunk house.
Having learned responsibility at a tender age, he secured a regular job. One that allowed him to take an active part in family life.
This didn’t take the cowboy out of him. He never missed saddling up for a round-up, branding, or any event to help a local rancher. He signed on to a ranch after retirement. His wife, known for her biscuits, pies, and any dish that cowboys had a likening, went with him.
Life of a cowboy isn’t an easy one. You take the lumps with the good, he used to say. He didn’t regret one bit, and lived life to the fullest.
Those who knew him never doubted he was a believer. His God lived in the outdoors–the plains, sagebrush, painted desert. Mountains, green pastures, and the beauty of horses working cattle. He never spent much time inside a church other than attending a wedding, or funeral. It made sense that his funeral was held in the local community lodge.
The minister stepped away from the podium and strapped on a guitar. There wasn’t a dry eye as he sang the cowboy’s favorite song.
Now, his wife lives in the house by herself, but few doubt that she’s alone.
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He hated doing it, but the nursing home smelled clean, and the noises in the background spoke of friendliness and care. Blind except for shadows and a sense of dark and light, he relied on hearing and intuition.
She asked him to stay, and he did. From 8:00 in the morning the two shared memories, walked the halls, and drank coffee on the patio until the taxi arrived at 8:00 in the evening to take him home. As years passed, the staff seemed to forget to call for his cab and it came later each evening.
One morning, the cab driver carried a large suitcase with him as the two walked inside. No cab would be called to take him home.
The couple had rooms next to each other, but often woke up together. When his wife became ill and demanded care around the clock, he slept in the big cushioned chair next to her bed. He stayed by her side when the time came. He held her hand in his, talked to her about things others didn’t understand. His arms were wrapped around her when she drew her last breath.
Word traveled through the home, and one afternoon the nurse approached him. “The lady in room 6-B has no one and won’t last through the night. She asked for you. She will understand if you don’t go. We all will.”
It was difficult, but he saw no choice.
From then on, folks called him the cross-over man. He was called often, and it never got easier. Whether they had no one near, or no one to care, it was left for him. He was near, and he cared. He knew them by their first names. He greeted new residents the day they entered. He spent his days going in and out of each room carrying his smile and a funny story.
He knew more about them than they thought. No, he didn’t know the color of their hair or eyes. Being blind, he was compelled to look further. Deep inside, where the real person lived, where beauty and love existed.
How important is it to have someone present during the final minutes of death? Would you do this for a person who wasn’t a close friend or family member? Your comments are appreciated.
On his way to teach mixed choir, the college professor turned the corner and observed a spellbound man blocking the stairway.
“What’s that sound?” The man asked.
The professor cocked his ear. “Oh yes, that’s the new student warming up.”
“I would have sworn it was an angel.” The man waited until the sound ceased and went on his way.
During her public school years, the girl brewed a pot of trouble and may have been viewed as a devil. She rebelled in second grade from the assigned corner of the special education room. The meaningless worksheet and the broken red crayon flew across the room.
Determined, she fought to join the reading group and sit with the rest of the class.
The girl, her mother, and the assigned ADA attorney became a common sight around school district conference tables. The shiny blue cover of the thick ADA manual faded. Notes filled the margins of pages. Clips, yellow stickies, and dog-ears marked heavily used sections.
Change didn’t happen overnight. The girl mainstreamed in fourth grade and became fully included in sixth grade.
She faces new issues of inclusion. Rosa Parks, one of her role models, comes to mind when she enters shops that don’t allow space for a wheel chair to navigate. She would love to select her own clothing from the racks; or, find the perfect gift.
Hearing of others who followed the trail she blazed brings joy that lights her face. Perhaps she is an angel.
Satisfaction cut through the engraved stress marks on his face that belied his young years when he received the invite to Nashville. He had earned it. Rough schedules, racking up miles across the country, opening shows with a mixture of envy and admiration for those who had paid their dues.
Billed as the new Hank Williams Senior those close to him shuddered at the commonality.
Blinding lights, applause, screams, hands reaching to touch him played in his head. He splashed water onto his face and patted down his hair. The paraphernalia used earlier set on the counter beside the sink. He forgot to put it away in the guitar case, he told himself. He wouldn’t acknowledge that he left it out to use. The effect didn’t last that long and he needed it just before he walked on stage.
“Fifteen minutes,” the chauffeur said through the phone. Muscles tightened. His stomach quivered with nausea. He washed white pills down with beer and gulped bourbon from the bottle before going into the bathroom one last time. Before the show, before walking onto that famous auditorium rebuilt with pieces of the original wood.
The wood Hank Williams stood.
Bright lights dimmed. Garbled voices came from distorted faces. “Can you hear me? What’s your name?”
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She sat in the assigned seat although her demeanor expressed dislike in leaving the far back corner of the classroom. The corner protected her from sounds of gun shots fired in the middle of the night, boisterous laughter, groans, cursing, and rhythmic squawking of the lone bed separated by the thin wall of her room. The smell of smoke, crack, meth, and putrid body odor seeped through the rotting wall’s cracks and crevices. Even the cockroaches ran over each other getting to the bare floors of her room.
Wearing the jacket over the bulky sweater she wore night and day to disguise any resemblance of a girl with female parts, she sat huddled on the single bed, back against the wall, eyes glued to the door.
The girl’s fear burned at a constant level while her mother worked the streets and spiked each time a second pair of footsteps returned with her.
She relived every second as the tape played inside her head. It happened two years ago. Ten years old but far from innocent, no child should hear, see, or experience what she had. His putrid taste and smell stayed with her no matter how strong the mouth wash, or how red her skin turned as she scrubbed. Her mother promised that it would never happen again, but the words offered no consolation.
They found her underneath the bed, the sanctuary she visited when she escaped to that place in her mind with grass, daisies, sunshine, and blue sky.
A voice crackled through the police car radio. She sat in the backseat with her jacket pulled over her head, but it wasn’t the dispatcher’s words she tried to deafen. The sounds of kicking, splintering wood, and firing gunshots rang in her ears.
The woman in the second police car hadn’t lied.
Do personal struggles and those of friends and family affect the way you relate to characters in a story? Does personal tragedy enhance the story and create an emotional bond to the characters? Please share your thoughts.