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!

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.