Monday, December 12, 2016

For Whom the Bell Tolls

“Class is not over yet.”  Scarlett loomed in front of the chalkboard, coldly staring at the dozen entitled Catholic girls she taught in her fourth period AP Language class.  The girls froze in their act of packing up their bright pink pens and purple binders, drooping. 
“But the St. Cecilia bell’s been ringing for the past twenty minutes!” Came a whine.
“And it can ring for the ten minutes more that we have class.  One more word of protest, Miss Miller, and you won’t be leaving with your friends to enjoy your half day.  Instead, you’ll be spending the next hour with me in detention.” Scarlett leveled the threat, arms crossed and eyebrows raised. 
There was silence in response. 
“Good choice.” She whipped around, writing furiously on the blackboard in sloppy, sharp letters.  “Now, what makes Oedipus a tragic hero…”
Scarlett shut the classroom door and sighed.  Finally.  That Professor Snape act is getting old.  At least this strange Catholic holiday means I get the rest of the week off.  She threw all of her grading into her backpack and scurried into the badly-peeling, beige-painted bathroom to change.
Thank God.  She burst out of the school’s double doors at a sprint, darted across Penny Lane, and trespassed between City Hardware and Pat’s to reach The Victorian in under 6 minutes flat.  Her boss called her on-the-run commute “unprofessional.”  Scarlett called it “necessary stress relief.”
She dropped her bag off underneath the grumpy concierge’s desk, itching to move.  Better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.  Although I don’t think I’d get either from Ellen.
 Outside, her feet pounded the pavement rhythmically, in tune with her thoughts and the bell.  Wait, the bell? Her head lifted, as if to check that the spire of St. Cecilia’s was, indeed, still clanging, when a sudden cacophony of sound drowned out the hypnotizing tune.
“What the hell?” Scarlett exclaimed, abruptly stopping.  Just in time, too, for a garishly-clad woman she’d never seen before was less than two feet away from a full-on collision with Scarlett. 
Red on maroon on salmon on…is that burnt sienna? Jesus, I hate red.
The woman drifted closer, smiling eerily through the thickening fog. 
“Where do you find your peace?” She murmured, ethereal.
“Excuse me?”
The red woman just tilted her head and smiled again. “Where do you find it?”
Scarlett decided to take her literally.  “On runs. Or under the big oak tree – the mossiest one – in Howell Park.”
“Will you take me there?”
Scarlett assessed her, critical.  “Can you run in those shoes?”
“I do not need to run.  I float.”
“…Alrighty then.  Let’s go.” And they were off, scarlet hair and salmon scarf streaming side-by-side.  It was only as they slowed in front of the wrought-iron park gates that Scarlett realized she’d completely forgotten to investigate those gut-wrenching noises.  An accident, maybe? She shook it off.  I’ll find out later.
The ancient, rusting gates creaked as Scarlett pushed them open, but she ignored it.  With the woman by her side, she walked the gravel path inside by memory more than sight, the fog now the consistency of split pea soup. 
As her thinking tree rose in front of her like a pillar to Heaven, Scarlett slowly spun to the red woman, beginning in a hushed undertone, “This is—”
She was gone.
Scarlett completed her slow turn, looking for the woman in what she knew to be a vain effort.  Goosebumps rose on her skin.  She absently rubbed her arms, shook her head – that damn bell is still ringing – and jogged her way towards the edge of the park.  It is definitely time for me to go home. 
A flash of bright red and green in her peripheral vision, visible even through the fog, caught her attention.  She turned her head and met the strangely blank eyes of a grizzled old man, sitting on a patchwork blanket underneath a gingko tree.  He’s blind, she realized, and squirmed uncomfortably when he continued to unflinchingly hold her gaze. 
“The truth, with all its power, lives inside you.” It was his only comment, but Scarlett stood stock still for eons until he broke their eye contact.
Only when she was halfway home, on Blackbird Boulevard, did she dare ponder what he meant.
What truth?  Many truths? In me? In others?
“God, it’s been a weird day.”

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Caffeine Deprived

Scarlett stormed down 114th Avenue, muttering to herself.  “The audacity of him….ooh, I can’t believe it!” In her hand, she flung a battered copy of Southern Living around.  “Busts my doorknob and my wall, patronizes me, and then dares to put my frickin picture in the damn magazine! As a –” She sneers, “’Fiery redhead helping bring back the town’s spark.’ He’ll see exactly what kind of spark I ‘bring back’ when his editor lights a fire under his ass after that letter I sent her.” 

            Suddenly deflated, Scarlett pushed open the door to Connie’s Coffee.  It jingled merrily, alerting the one other woman inside to her presence.  Being angry makes me tired, Scarlett mused.  “I need a coffee,” she said aloud.

“Well, you’re flat out of luck,” the woman remarked.  “The water shortage means there’s not even enough to brew a pot.  Found that out the hard way when I came in here looking for a bit of peace and quiet, myself.”

Scarlett groaned.  “Aw man, when are they gonna get this fixed? It’s like there’s nobody in the world who’s competent at their job anymore,” she grumbled.  She stalked up to the bakery case, stood beside the woman, and skeptically eyed the stale-looking pastries. 

“Oh, I totally understand that,” the woman confided. “I get loads dumped on me at work. All stress and no appreciation.”

Scarlett grunted in commiseration. “I’m a teacher.  English. At that Catholic girl’s school down the road- you know the one? We have off since we can’t teach the little buggers without working toilets, but I swear the younger generation doesn’t know anything about respect and gratitude these days."
She paused.  “…Anything at all good here?”

“I’d say the coconut cake is the best of the worst,” the woman remarked.

“Two slices,” Scarlett pointed at the yellowing, dumpy, half-eaten cake.  The owner, a greying, wrinkled woman who was presumably Connie, raised her eyebrows at the dubious praise but plated two large slices anyway. Scarlett slid money across the counter, then turned to the woman.  “Sorry, um –”

“Candice,” the woman said.  “I’m Candice Arnett.” 

“Well, Candice, I’m Scarlett.  The second piece of cake is yours, if you want it.  And there’s a park across the road where we could sit on a bench, observe the chaos, and bitch to our hearts’ content.  Whaddya say?" Scarlett cocked an auburn eyebrow and smirked. 

“Sounds perfect,” Candice replied. 
And just like that, Scarlett had her first friend.

Monday, October 10, 2016

A Southern Living Shootout

“Snick-clack…BOOM!”  Scarlett jolted up out of the cozy hammock she’d strung up on her porch before dawn, lesson plans and classic works scattering as she swayed from side to side.  Tall does not mean graceful, she thought distractedly. But wait… “Was that a pump shotgun? Who the heck is there worth murdering in this town?”

She groaned as she heaved the heavy, rusting, sliding glass door open to take a look.  Need some WD-40 for that later, ugh.  Just then, her front door burst open with a BANG, crashing into the wall hard enough to embed the doorknob into the plaster.  Dust and pieces of wall scattered everywhere.

“Us, apparently!” Shouted a frantic voice, surprisingly high-pitched to be accompanying the massive, hulking man who came barreling into her apartment. “Shut the door! Shut the damn door! She’s coming!”

“…What the hell? Who are you? And I would shut the door! But you slammed it into my wall and NOW IT’S STUCK!” Scarlett’s red-headed temper made itself known. 

“I’m sorry! I’ll pay for it! But help me close this door!” There was a rush of activity in the hallway, and the man’s pleading got even more frantic.  Scarlett, for her part, snuck over to the doorframe (a measure of caution was probably necessary if there was a murderer around, after all) and peeked her head around.  Stifling her curiosity – nosiness, some said – was never her strong suit.  But before she could size up the scene, an enormous bear’s paw grabbed her sweatshirt, yanking her fully back inside. 

“Help me –”  “Okay, okay, jeez!” She obviously wasn’t getting any answers before she…shut the door, and thus herself inside her apartment with this strange, desperate man.  Maybe this wasn’t the best idea.

Shrugging, she added her weight to the man v. door tug-of-war.  With a heave, the doorknob popped free and the door slammed, sending them both sprawling in a tangle of limbs to the hard, linoleum floor.  Bear-man’s elbow whacked into Scarlett’s eye and she doubled over, clutching at it and yelping.  When she straightened up, glaring at him as best she could with one eye indisposed, he backed up, hands in the air.

“Holy guacamole, you’re scary.  I think it’s the height.”

“Shut up.”

“Touchy subject?”

“I said, shut up!”

He flipped a notepad open and magically plucked a pen out of thin air. 

“Okay, so moving on to other questions—”

“NO! Not until you answer mine! Who the hell are you?”

“Goodness, little lady, calm down.  I’m Joe, from Southern Living, here to interview you—”

“You can forget about that, Joe from Southern Living. Get out.  I’ve been talked down to and patronized enough in my life.  This “little lady” ain’t gonna take it anymore.”


“Leave. I’ll send you the bill to repair my door and wall – plus interest – later.”

Joe-bear-man whipped out a camera, snapped a photo of Scarlett’s glower, and high-tailed it out of there.  Shaking her fist after him, Scarlett yelled,
“I hope you DO get shot!”

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Disastrous Dinner

“Urg!” Scarlett White tumbled out of the peaceful window nook she’d been reading in, book flying. BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP, an ear-shattering siren rent the still in her apartment in two. Scrambling to her feet, her 6’3” frame nearly as tall as the ceiling, Scarlett spun in a circle, desperately trying to find the source of the ongoing… Dammit!  She sprinted to her kitchen, opening the door to a billow of acrid smoke. Coughing and sputtering, she made her way to the stove, hoping against hope there would be something to salvage. Or not. Sighing, Scarlett looked down at the disintegrating remains of her rice. Looked like it was takeout again, for the 354th day in a row. At least she hadn’t burned water this time.

20 minutes later, Scarlett finally found a parking spot at the new Vietnamese-Mexican fusion restaurant. It was opening night, and the entire town, it seemed, had turned out to test the cook’s mettle. She was halfway through her bún bò tacos when darkness fell over the land. Literally.

The pitch black carved a sudden silence into the previously bustling restaurant. And then one of the big guys who’d been having a little too much fun at the bar roared, “That was my toe, you spineless cheapshot!” And all hell broke loose. Sounds of china shattering and the splintering of chairs filled the air, accompanied by wet splats as flung food made contact with bodies. Cursing under her breath, Scarlett stood quickly. She’d asked to be seated in the back corner booth because it gave her a wonderful vantage point for surreptitious people-watching. She hadn’t expected to have to wade through a bar fight to get to the door. Well. Now or never, she supposed. Clutching her empty plate over her head as a modicum of measly protection, Scarlett burrowed her way through the pulsing, riotous throng as best she could. She could already feel the bruises forming on her pale skin.

She was a foot away from the door before she realized there was a great bulk of a person blocking her way out. Aghast, she stared open-mouthed at the moron, and was about to ask what in the @#&! he was doing when he hysterically sobbed, “My wife! Where’s my wife? Nobody’s getting out until I find my wife!”

Now, Scarlett was normally a very sympathetic person. She really was. But she had just trucked her way across an MMA fighting cage and she was more than the worse for wear for it. Her patience had shredded to irreparable pieces three near misses ago. The door to freedom was right there. And he was trying to tell her she couldn’t take it.

There was only one way out of this.
Scarlett pulled back her fist and let one fly. Thwack. Ooh, right in the eye! The man doubled over, clutching what would surely be a beaut of a shiner tomorrow, and Scarlett calmly walked past him and into the parking lot. Idly, she flexed her fingers. “That’s one heck of a way to relieve some frustration!” she grinned to herself. And she hadn’t even had to pay for dinner.