We Danced an Irish Reel

Are you going to stare at me all night, or are you going to ask me to dance?

Photo by Johnny McClung on Unsplash

This final entry for the #writingsprintchallenge given by @tuftin.reads is prompted by The Lobster, a wordless tune the Irish supergroup, The Gloaming. Below is my offering.

Some memories fade with age, becoming frail and full of holes, less and less real with each recollection. Other memories are etched in stone and you will take them with you to the grave. Such is my memory of that night so very long ago. I must have been barely 14, just a lad. My cousin had dragged me off to a céilí, to keep her company. I had no business being there—I couldn’t dance to save my life!

But there I was. Sitting with my back against the wall, a warm mug of beer before me that I had little interest in. Brigid had been quickly recruited by one young man after another to join them on the dance floor, where everyone wheeled about to the reel being played by the band. The music was grand, so I had succumbed completely to my natural glumness.

I looked about after this last round of dancers hit the floor and suddenly noticed the most beautiful redhead I had ever laid eyes upon. She sat two tables away and had to be close to my age. Her eyes were fixed upon the stage and I followed her gaze to the young man playing the fiddle with such skill and instantly felt a twinge of jealousy. Unreasonable, I now know, but there it was, me wishing that I were the one to whom she had given her attention.

I don’t know how long I sat there staring at her, lost inside my own imagination. It took me a moment to realize she was speaking to me. I snapped out of it and asked, “What?”

“I said,” she said, “Are you going to stare at me all night, or are you going to ask me to dance?” Her voice was as melodious as the music and it enthralled me to hear her speak. It took a moment to realize the meaning of her words.

“You want to dance with me?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t want you to put yourself out,” she replied sharply, a spark in her eyes.

I have two left feet, but my response to her is to shake my head up and down, at which she holds out her had to me. I found myself moving from my chair to her side and taking her hand, a lovely hand, and following her as she led the way to the dance floor, already beginning to twirl to the music and laugh the most spectacular laugh that ever left the mouth of a human being.

Here’s where memory fails me, for I cannot tell you a bit at how I performed that evening as a dancer—I’m sure I was terrible. I don’t think I mimicked the dancers around us, for I never took my eyes off of her. She moved with such grace and abounded with such joy! Heaven had come and landed right here before me, an angel with red hair, green eyes, perfect lips, graceful curves and music in every move.

One dance after another went by, the evening stretched out and we never left the floor until it was all over. Only then did I ask her what I should call her. “Caitlyn,” she said, “With a Y.”

“I’m Finnigan. But my friends call me just Finn.” I said.

“Thanks a million for the evening, just Finn!” she said and smiled.

She left with her companions. I left with my cousin. And I never laid eyes on her again, though I have often wondered what became of her and if she’s still alive, whether she married, was she happy, did she still dance?

I will never know. But I will always have the memory of a heavenly creature coming down from above to spend the most lovely evening with me.

I will always have that.

Home Sweet Mars

Photo Credit: @deirdredenaliphotography on Instagram

Day 6 of the 7 Day #writingsprintchallenge offered by @tuftin.reads on Instagram. Today’s prompt is the photo above. The red hue in the upraised rock reminded me of the Red Planet and the little patches of ice, snow and green growth cast my thoughts towards the terraforming of Mars, a process that will take anywhere from 50 years to 100 million years, depending on who you talk to. It all begins in earnest before this decade passes. I’m a huge fan and so, my entry today is called, “Home Sweet Mars.” Enjoy!

I stood on the tarmac watching the Stella Rose flip and begin its graceful arc on her way to the surface. It never ceases to amaze me, the beauty of a well engineered rocket designed to traverse the space between Earth and Mars, stop, unload, load, refuel, repeat. SpaceX had grown into the most powerful and wealthy company in the solar system by the simple virtue of being the first to perfect the process. They are by far not the only show in town. Bezos pulled off his own version and has given Musk a run for his money.

But for me, today is not about rockets, except this one, the Stella Rose and not because she is a thing of beauty, something not only a space engineer could appreciate. No, this rocket is beautiful because within her bowels is my family, whom I haven’t seen in a decade. I could have made the return trip, but my work here is critical. I am in charge of Operation Green Mars. And today, all that hard work has paid off for me personally. 

The issue that has been kicked around and argued about for decades wasn’t about whether or not we could terraform Mars, but a question about how long it would take. We understood the process fairly well, but change takes time, as they say. But Musk, in his usual cavalier and ingenious moves, decided it was a question of scale. He decided that you simply increase the inputs on a massive scale, you could speed up the process of converting the Mars atmosphere into a true atmosphere, one that humans can breathe in freely. 

Today I stand on the tarmac, without a spacesuit. I drove my Tesla here with the windows down. I do have an oxygen breather, developed by the folks at AlphaSpace. It is clipped to my belt, and consists of a plastic tube that terminates with a nasal insert clipped to my nose. Inside the small device on my belt are oxygen tablets the size of chlorine tablets used in swimming pools. It is really just an oxygen-enricher designed to make up for the thinner Martian atmosphere.

Around me, the sides of Jazero rise in the distance, behind the Stella Rose as she touches down gracefully. They are covered this morning with ice and the green of lichens and moss. We are not there yet, but we have worked a miracle in the 25 years since our first manned  mission. 

I move forward as a crowd begins to form by the gated fence designed to keep us all a safe distance from the rockets. It doesn’t happen often, and it hasn’t happened now in over 12 years, but sometimes things go wrong and a rocket will explode after touching down. This one does not.

Soon Marie and the kids will be making their way down the gangway and we will be a family again—a Martian family! Welcome, I think, to home sweet Mars!

Grace, Mercy and the Cancel Culture

Today’s entry is the 5th of 7 in the #writingsprintchallenge offered by @tuftin.reads on Instagram. She has poked the bear this time. Why do I say this? Read on…

When I was 25 years old, I cheated on my wife. Once upon a time, I would have said that with quotation marks around the word cheated, because nothing happened. Not any more. Because something did happen. Maybe not sex, but betrayal. Heartbreak. Disrespect. Dishonor. And any number of other offenses, not only against my bride and the mother of my children, but against the husband of the woman I didn’t have sex with, and against her, as well. In today’s cancel culture, I would be branded with a capital A on my forehead, and across my chest and banished to the outside, destined to remain alone, or take up company with other outcasts.

I was supposed to be at school, but I didn’t go. My pregnant wife was taking a walk with our first born in a stroller and saw my van pulled up on the street on the other side of the complex and she knew. She knocked on the door of the woman whose toddler she babysat and asked if her husband were there. I was.

She contemplated divorce. She had every right. But she chose, instead, to fight for our marriage. I can tell you, I didn’t deserve it. I can also tell you it was years and years before trust was restored in our relationship, and I didn’t always give her reasons to trust.

We celebrate the 15th of every month as our monthiversary and next month is our 39th wedding anniversary.  I am married to my best friend. There is no one in all the world that I would rather spend time with and the feeling is mutual. 

But it didn’t have to be. It could have gone very differently. At 25, I’d been married for 2 years. I was an idiot. I was immature. I was a jerk.

Today, I am a man literally saved by grace. Not just the grace from God above, or the Son on the cross, but the grace and the mercy of my wife. She gave me what I did not deserve and what I would not receive today in the culture we have created. But the results of her decision are 37 more years, so far, of what, though not perfect, has been a marvelous life together. Lots of great memories, a wonderful present and a bright future.

Let’s reconsider our cancel culture. Mercy and grace. We give it, because we need it. My sins may not be your sins. But believe you me, we both have sin. We are faulty people. None of us are perfect.

I pastored for 11 years and my motto was, understandably, mercy and grace. May it be upon your lips and in your heart. May you give it, so you may receive it when you need it most, and deserve it least.

Lost Leaders, the Betrayed, & Wild Escapes

Photo by note thanun on Unsplash

This is the fifth day of #writingsprintchallenge from @tuftin.reads on Instagram. The prompt today is a quote from James Joyce from his compendium of stream-of-consciousness writing, Ulysses.

Yesterday I lay upon a gurney in a makeshift operating room in the back of an abandoned building not too far from my home, but today I take my place with my fellow classmates as we prepare to meet the 51st President of the United States, Allen P. Alcorn. It’s an honor, our teacher says. Especially, she pointed to the twelve of us who were actually going to be onstage with the President. We need to be on our best Ps and Qs—whatever that means. Today, I finger the button on my insulin pump, careful not to press the button. Not yet. Not until I’m on the stage and the president has shaken my hand. Then I press the button. But not before. Before today, my life has been a meaningless compilation of hospital visits and one surgery after another as doctors and nurses shook their heads over my frail little body. It has always been so, from back and back and back, since the cradle. I know, though they wont’ say it. There’s no hope for me. I will never live to see my twenties. I’ll never drive a car, kiss a girl, go on a date. I may not even reach manhood at the almost universal age of thirteen. Someone like me is given one shot, one tiny little window of opportunity to make a difference, to make my mark on the world. I could ride the wave until it carries me to that not too distant shore, or I can choose to take matters into my own hands—with a little help. What was it, a month ago? Two months? I can’t remember. But we were approached by someone who gave my poor mother a way out. As an immigrant in this unwelcoming country, they offered her a new name, a new start and all the money she could want. That, and a quick ending for her boy. She didn’t want to do it, but I piped in and had my own two cents worth. It’s my life, isn’t it mama? Should I get to decide? She finally agreed, though she didn’t want to, she did, for me. Now the President is finishing his speech and the crowd is clapping, the cameras flashing, he’s flashing that famous smile and turning towards us, starting with the first student in line. The stitches in my side ache from where they cut me yesterday. But that won’t matter soon. He moves to the next student, exchanges words, half turns towards the cameras and smiles. Click. Flash. Moves on to the next. One more, then it’s my turn. I’m not political. I don’t dislike this man. I don’t really care. I just want to be remembered. I want everyone to say my name. It doesn’t matter what they say after that. Shake. Turn. Smile. His smile is nicer than in the pictures. I can smell his cologne. His voice calming. Shake. Turn. Smile. It’s my turn. He stands before me. Takes my hand. “How are you, young man? I understand you’re quite the fighter. They say you were in the hospital just yesterday.” I mumble softly my reply. “What was that? I couldn’t hear you.” he said, bending closer. “I said, ” I say, looking him right in the eye, “My name is James Joyce O’Brien.” I press the button. I feel nothing, but the pump, instead of pumping insulin, pumps some liquid that acts like a lit fuse, touching off the explosives sewn into my body the day before. I grip his hand tightly and say, “Boom!”

A History Lesson

Image from Strange Day Duluth on Instagram

This is day four in the #writingsprintchallenge offered by @tuftin.reads on Instagram. Today’s prompt is the image above. You should check out the account, Strange Day Duluth for some surreal posts. My entry is called A History Lesson. Read and see why.

“Class,” the teacher spoke with authority, “I’d like you to welcome our guest, renowned author, Mr. Huff. He is not only the author of some of your favorite books, but he was also a history teacher before becoming a writer. Please, give him a warm Tiger welcome!”

The class offered up a spattering of half-hearted claps and quickly grew silent. I looked over the class without speaking for a moment—pausing, as it were, for dramatic effect. Never mind that this was a virtual classroom and that I was in my PJs in my office on the 7th subfloor of the Houston Tower. Neither was the classroom real. The students were all tucked safely away in their homes. All of us were wearing our VR gear and the entire school, classroom and all, was a programming construct. It felt real.

“Thank you for having me today. And as much as I love talking about my books, Mx. Bradley has asked me to talk to you about history. I taught Texas history, once upon a time. Back then, Texas was a state in the United States of America. Of course, now it is the Republic of Texas, once again, I might add. Texas broke away for the US when the United States decided to absorb Canada and form the United States of North America. Texas had its own plans. They invaded Mexico, then Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and so on, until it stretched form the Red River to the border of Columbia.”

“All of that, of course, was before the rising,” a bright young students said, waving her arm overhead, but not waiting to be called upon.

“Correct! That was when Houston was a costal city. Now Austin is a coastal city, and Houston exists as one of the world’s first submerged cities—not dead and gone, like Galveston, Corpus Christi and so many, many more. Houston’s engineers began armoring their downtown structures from the ground up to and beyond the level to which they believed the sea would rise.”

The discussion went on for some time and devolved into fielding questions about my YA novels. I finally unplugged and pushed away from the console. I looked out my window, several meters below the sea level. A whale moved past, on its way to the surface for a breath. Life is good.

Rock Star

Photo by Sam Moqadam on Unsplash

Today’s prompt was a musical one. Warsaw by Dessa. I listened to it several times and decided to address the prompt from the perspective of a rock star. For those who are new, this is Day 3 in the #writingsprintchallenge issued by @tuftin.reads on Instagram. Below is my take on this one.

I’m standing backstage, just behind the curtain.

Onstage the opening act is hitting their final number. The crowd is whipped up into a frenzy. The band eats it up. They’re young. They haven’t been sucked dry. There’s still some soul left in them. Pieces of themselves.

Not me. I’m buzzing. I hit it hard right before I go onstage. Something to carry me through. I’ve been at this so much longer. I can’t remember… How long ago did I start this nightmare? I remember it started as a dream.

Fame. Fortune. My name on the billboards. My songs on the lips of others. My songs—that was true once. Myself—that was true once, too.

Now nothing is mine—not my name, not my music, not my privacy…not my life.

I am no one. I am nothing. I am sucked dry.

I am fueled by nicotine, pharmaceuticals, sex, pain… Anything that will tell me I’m alive. But I am not—I am the walking dead.

I’m sorry that the young band on the stage will endure what I have endured. If they were smart, they’d drop out before it’s too late.

If I were smart, I’d drop out. But it is too late. There is nothing left.

The crowd roars and the band bows and walks off the stage triumphantly.

It’s my turn—meat for the feast.

Never Grow Old

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

Grandparents are those warm, caring old folks that spoil their grandchildren with candy and overnight stays where you can do whatever you want. That is, most grandparents, but not mine. My grandparents were a darker sort. Granny, as we called her, was one tough, hard-working woman who chain-smoked and cussed like a sailor. She was kind enough to us, but never had a nice word for Gramps. But then, who would?

Gramps is a drunken sob—not a pleasant drunk, a foul, angry drunk. He was a hard worker in his day, working the swing-shift at the paper mill. Back in the day, they paid out cash on Fridays, and Gramps would pocket his, head straight for the nearest pub and blow most of his cash. The drinking would continue until they closed the place down, or he’d gotten in a fight, which happened with great frequency. Either way, he would stumble home and God help the soul who was awake when he got there.

My father never spoke about it, but my aunt has told me stories of the beatings their brother would endure. Even once nearly dying as Gramps straddled him and choked him with both hands. It was my father who pulled him off and basically saved my uncle’s life.

Gramps grew old. He didn’t grow kinder. One day, Granny just up and left him. No one was sure where she went, nor did we ever hear from her again, but it came as no surprise to anyone. The surprise was that she’d lasted as long as she had.

After she left, Gramps grew even more foul, his moods dark and violent. That was 15 years ago. Today, Gramps is being trundled off to a convalescent center. Against his will, but it has been determined that he is too feeble to care for himself, and too unsound in mind to make decisions for himself. Since I’m a real estate agent, it has fallen on me to put the old homestead on the market. So I hired a crew to put the place into tip-top shape.

The place is looking great and early this morning the lawn crew came out to put in the finishing touches. Granny had been a ardent gardener and the raised beds have long ago become weed jungles. I ordered them to remove the raised beds, and the huge compost bin in the back corner filled with rotted leaves and trash.

I got a call about an hour ago, the crew used a tractor with a bucket on the front to scoop up the pile of rotted compost. Time they got to the bottom, they found something unexpected. I jumped in the car and headed straight there.

By the time I got there, police cars were pulled up in the long driveway and the forensics team had already begun work. There, at the bottom of the compost heap, was a skeleton of what the coroner said was a female, aged 60 to 70 years, with one leg noticeably shorter than the other, leather corrective shoes still on her bony feet. Red matted hair still clung to the skull.

There was no doubt—this was Granny. Apparently, she didn’t just leave. One of their violent arguments apparently grew too heated and Gramps buried her remains in the compost pile.

Not sure what will happen to Gramps. He’s too far gone to even remember he did this and too unhealthy to serve any time. I tell you, it sucks to grow old.

A Tiger is Set Loose

I love prompted writing! So I took up the challenge thrown down by @tuftin.reads to do a 15 minute or so writing sprint each day for the next week starting tonight. The prompt for tonight is A Tiger is Set Loose, which is the title for my piece below.

Herman stood at the dining room window, a glass of bourbon in his left hand, his fifth for the evening. Work was taxing lately, what with tax season in full swing. As a CPA, he worked long hours trying to jam as many returns into one day as he possibly could. The tedium threatened to overwhelm him, thus the bourbon.

Nancy, his wife, still puttered about the kitchen, tidying up after a late dinner, and already planning for their company on Saturday, when her brother and sister-in-law were coming in from Austin. For her, it was a thing to look forward to.

For Herman, it was not. It meant that not only would he have to listen to her bombastic brother, and his wheedling little wife, but there would be the double whammy of her father and mother, too. Darla, Nancy’s mother, hated everything about Herman. Oh, she would deny it if asked directly, but one would not have to observe for long her acidic remarks and withering glances all aimed in his direction.

Herman rocked the ice back and forth in the glass and remembered the hell their first three years of marriage had been. That they were still married, going on 25 years now, was a testament of his own ability to suffer long the slings and arrows of such a witch of a woman. When the twins came, things cooled down a bit, but Herman lived to displease and it wasn’t long before Darla found other things to complain about. Herman didn’t advance in his career like George had—George being Nancy’s military career father, who retired as a Sergeant Major from the Army after 30 years. He wasn’t half bad, but he tended to back his wife, so if she was displeased, he felt duty bound to reinforce her position.

Herman tossed back the rest of his bourbon, and decided he needed another. But as he turned from the window, something caught his eye—a movement in the backyard. Dusk had settled, casting deep shadows, especially under the heavily oaked fence line. He peered into the shadows, straining his eyes.

There it was again, a movement along the wooden privacy fence, a lighter shadow among darker ones. To his amazement, the shadow turned and began advancing into the middle of the yard. In the fading sunlight, barely any light at all, there stood a tiger. Herman dropped his glass with a plunk on the linoleum floor.

“Nancy! Nancy! You’re not going to believe this!” he said, his speech a bit slurred from his libations. “There’s a tiger in the backyard!”

“Of course there is, dear!” Nancy answered glibly. She shook her head. Herman could be quite the drunk and lately, he’d been at it early and at it hard. She continued to organize the pantry, the result of checking to see what they had on hand for the weekend.

The tiger strolled right up to the window and sniffed, as if it were trying to determine whether or not Herman was worth breaking through the glass to eat.

Herman backed away, stumbling and landing on his butt. He knocked a dining room chair over in the process, which fell to the floor with a much louder crash then had Herman’s rather well padded posterior.

“For Christ’s sake Herman! What’ve you done?” she cried, turning from her can stacking.

Herman was winded. The tiger curled its lips back, baring his teeth, which were sharp and numerable.

“Nancy, call somebody! Call 911! Call the police!”

“And tell them what, dear? That you’ve had one too many night toddies and are seeing things?”

“No, dear,” he said sharply, emphasizing dear. “Tell them there’s a tiger set loose and it’s in our backyard.”

Nancy turned from the pantry and strode into the dining room, ready to reprove her drunken husband. As she stepped through the door, two things happened simultaneously. She spotted the tiger, whose massive size filled most of the dining room window and the tiger let loose a most horrific roar. At that, Nancy fainted dead away, falling forward and landing in Herman’s lap.

Whether it was because it wasn’t hungry enough to eat two, or it didn’t like the look of the meat available, the tiger turned and disappeared once again beneath the shadowed oaks and over the fence.

Photo by Efe Yağız Soysal on Unsplash

#writingsprintchallenge #amwriting #writersofinstagram #writingsprint #lovewriting

Diva

Photo by Adrian Dascal on Unsplash

The challenge was to create a piece of writing from one or more of the following prompts. As usual, I chose to do all three. I hope you enjoy!

1. A dizzy diva diving
2. Golf balls by Lexus
3. Gambling-a-Bermuda

A ditsy, dizzy diva diving

Underneath the bed,

Looking for some place to hide

Her all-too-well-known head

O’ it wouldn’t do to be found

Playing cards here in The Hague

Gambling-a-bermuda

And strip poker with the page.

It had started oh so innocent,

A conversation with the Queen;

First one drink, then another,

Then another, ‘til she’d leaned

Just a wee bit too hard

Against the royal person’s side

Who promptly fell from off the balcony

Oh my! There went her alibi!

The cops were searching room by room

Her time was running out

And the page, God rest his sorry soul,

Had thought to give a shout

Now he rested on the carpet

Looking altogether dead

With “Golf Balls by Lexus”

Printed backwards on his head

Now the story ends abruptly here

Oh what a tragedy!

They locked the diva in the can

And threw away the key!

Playtime

Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🎞 on Unsplash

The challenge was to create a writing piece from one or more of the following prompts. I, as usual, chose to use all three. This one’s short. Enjoy!

1. “But robots can’t join heifers at the county fair, Uncle Zeeb!”
2. Obsolete literate long distance information directory operators
3. Camelot

“But robots can’t join heifers at the county fair, Uncle Zeeb!” Jimmy said, bouncing up and down in protest.

“Why not?” Uncle Zeeb asked, looking perplexed as he got up from his knees and brushed himself off.

“They just can’t!” Jimmy replied, exasperated.  “Everyone knows that!”  Uncle Zeeb didn’t seem to know much of anything.  Every time he turned around, he was messing up.  He believed in Martians, and thought that Andromedans could fly!  Where did he learn this stuff?  He was hopeless.  Jimmy remembered when he was four and Uncle Zeeb had kept trying to teach him some game involving obsolete literate long distance information directory operators.  Jimmy couldn’t see the point.  Then he’d gone on and on about some guy named Arthur and some place called Camelot.  Jimmy was beginning to think that Uncle Zeeb was in need of deep psycho-cleansing.  Perhaps a brain wipe would be called for.  Jimmy knew that that would set things straight.  He’d share with the Keeper after playtime.

“Okay, Uncle Zeeb.  I don’t want to play anymore,” he announced.

“I’m sorry, Jimmy!  I’ll get it right!  Can’t we play just a bit longer?”  Uncle Zeeb pleaded.

Afraid not!  I’m done.  Now go back to your place.”

Uncle Zeeb’s countenance fell.  Shuffling away to the next room, he stood on a silver disk in the corner.  A bluish light bathed his body and he slipped into the cold familiar trance.  The light stopped and Uncle Zeeb remained standing, more mannequin than man, frozen in place.

    Yes, a good brain wipe would do the trick, Jimmy thought.  He was sure Uncle Zeeb would be as good as new, no more of that archaic nonsense.   Maybe he should activate mom for some advice?  No, he decided, just go to the Keeper.  But first it was time to eat.  Shutting the light off in the playroom, he headed to lunch.