A Slice of Fiction: Better Days


            Had there been better days? She thought there must have been. She remembered hating how the dirt piled under her fingernails. Oh, how those creeping black crescents of grime had bothered her. She would gnaw her fingernails down to the bleeding quick to keep that from happening. She remembered starting awake at noises in the night; the shrill scream of a train going by in the long tunnels was especially bad. She knew the bugs scuttling over you when you pulled the trash over to keep you safe; or to keep you warm when the rivers froze. She didn’t know the smell, not anymore. She could remember how it had once offended her. The organic smell of bodies pressed too close together, of greasy food covered in mustard. It was the smell of wine, cheap cigarettes and vomit. It was a smell that settled on your skin and into your pores after awhile.

That odor had gotten her in trouble, more than once. Because she couldn’t tell anymore, she forgot that it was foul to others. She would go into a place, wanting to get warm or buy food.  As she wandered the aisles, blissed on the heat, she would forget to watch for the dog-crinkle on someone’s face. She’d had to scramble from stores on a few occasions, with a yelling employee chasing, because of that clingy smell.  

A Slice of Fiction: Cicada Songs

This is a piece that I wrote a couple years ago. I thought it seemed appropriate for today. 

“Cicada Songs”

            Overhead, the sky was a perfect cerulean shell. The sun threw sharp glints of light off the pool’s surface. The leaves on the large cottonwood lay like limp flags. There was no wind to speak of, no breath of coolness to be had. The cicadas buzzed overhead. Wichita Falls in August.

She stepped from under the shadowy arch of the covered porch onto the pool’s cement deck. Quickly, she hopped backwards into the shade with a little hiss of pain. Hot! She stood on the sides of her feet, eyeing the pool and the five feet of lava that separated her from it. The raft she’d planned to lay on floated mockingly in the blue depths of the far end of the pool. She didn’t want to go back in and hunt for her flip-flops. She was already oiled up and ready to soak up some sun. Bobbie, next door, had told her that boys didn’t like pasty girls. She was already too tall and had a mouthful of braces. School started in a week; a new school, new people. She didn’t want to be pasty on top of everything else.

After a moment, and with a decisive nod to approve her plan, she leapt from under the green plastic roof and landed, one-footed on the deck. Twisting her gangly body, she made another huge leap and landed on her other foot, near the grass the bordered the pool’s deck. She swiftly stepped off into the blissfully cooler green. The cicadas’ song faltered for a moment, as if she’d startled them. Then, as if to cover their lapse, they started again, louder this time.

She hurried around the edge of the decking, making for the far end of the pool. As she approached her destination, she pulled the sunglasses from her face. No reason to lose them if things went awry. Her plan was simplicity. Jump in the end nearest the raft. Less time under water meant less oil washed away. Again, she nodded. She stood poised on the edge of the decking for a moment, calculating the ebb and flow of the raft.  Then she jumped.  One foot! Two foot!  Ahhh, water!  Underneath, she gathered her feet against the bottom of the pool. She realized she could still hear the cicadas, chorusing along. Maybe they were talking to each other, telling each other stories about 12 year old girls and pools, she thought. She shot up from the bottom and floundered onto the raft.

She floated in the blue, in the noise from the insects. They were in the trees, of course. They sang back and forth to each other in waves. The sound was deafening. She had noticed a jet earlier, high up in the sky. She’d squinted through her dark sunglasses, watching the contrail. She couldn’t hear its engines over the metallic chorus of the cicadas. She liked that. The din ratcheted up an octave. The sun was beginning to fall behind the back fence. They always got louder as the sun went down. She didn’t know why.

She pushed down with her feet, allowing the only slightly cooler water onto the body of the raft she occupied. The cicadas talked to each other in their metallic song. She closed her eyes and imagined the sound, like copper shavings, floating across the darkening blue gap of the sky, meeting other shavings and twining together. A story told in pieces, passed on and embellished. I wonder where the story ends up, she thought.