Journal 5: End

“We must call for the priest,” Sister Agnes said, her eyes sad.  Marie nodded almost imperceptibly.  She felt numbness and sadness and peace and confusion all at once.  The months of illness had worn on all of them.  Visiting her dear Celine almost daily at the convent infirmary was all of those; now, Celine’s sudden turn for the worse only intensified them.  Celine, hardly aware of her surroundings, coughed and shifted in her bed.  Sister Agnes left the room.  Marie watched her leave.  The door closed softly.  Marie turned back to Celine and touched her hand.  Words were unnecessary; everything had already been said.

Sister Agnes returned with three other sisters.  They were Celine’s most frequent visitors, save for Marie.  

“How is she?” Sister Anne asked.  Marie shrugged her shoulders.  She was afraid to speak.

Sister Agnes rescued her from speaking.  “Her fever just increased and the cough is back.  I called for Father Guerin.  He should be here soon.”

“We will miss her.  Such a precious flower,” Sister Anne said.  Her gaze was wistful and reminiscent of happier times.  Marie felt her mouth quirk at one corner, remembering all the times Sister Anne had scolded Celine for inattention during study or for causing the other students to laugh in class.  She always knew that Sister Anne had had a soft spot for Celine; nothing reaffirmed that more than Sister Anne’s daily vigil by Celine’s bed.  For most of her illness, Celine had been cheerful and accepting of visitors.  That is, until the past two days, during which time she had drifted in and out of consciousness.

Disrupting Marie’s musings, the priest came hurrying into the room.  He set a black briefcase on the table next to Celine’s bed.  Marie stood from her chair, offering it to Father Guerin and stepping back to stand by the four sisters.  He anointed her solemnly and a hush pressed against the walls of the tiny infirmary.  After a few moments of silence, he rose and collected his briefcase. 

Offering the women a smile of comfort, he said, “I think she is not long for this world.  May her soul rest in peace.”  With that, he left the room.  Mass would begin in merely fifteen minutes, Marie realized.  If he was fetched so urgently, then Celine’s end must be approaching.  Marie shuddered, and wearily made her way back to the chair.  She replaced Celine’s hand in hers and continued her watch.  Sister Anne left the room momentarily to fetch chairs for the three other women. 

Soon after, sometime mid-afternoon, Celine’s breathing, which had previously been punctuated by coughing fits, slowed to a ragged drawing of air.  Marie began to cry – her one friend in the world was about to leave her.  She prayed.  For strength, for courage, for Celine.

Finally, after some minutes of harsh breathing, Celine calmed.  Her face smoothed and with a gentle exhale, Celine expired.  Marie tightened her hand around Celine’s and clenched her teeth.  The sisters began to pray in unison, and Marie held onto the familiar pattern of their chant as firmly as she clutched Celine’s hand.  There they sat until the bell for prayer rang, mourning the loss of Celine.

Journal 4: Flat

Shirley flopped on the hard floor of her old apartment.  She was awkwardly wedged in between two bulky boxes covered with a fine covering of dust.  The moonlight coming from the window fell on her feet, catching on the silver parts of her sneakers and glittering.  Seventeen months of emptiness filled the flat.  It felt strange to be back, tanned, tired, and changed.  She was poorer in pockets but so much richer in spirit – after seventeen months of service work, she was bound to be different.

The phone rang.  Shirley suppressed a groan and moved from her not-so-comfortable spot on the ground.  The phone line had only been activated that day, and already she was getting calls.  It hadn’t been an issue in Haiti, as only the richest people had telephone access.

“Hello?” she asked half-heartedly.

“Shirleeeeeeey!” a voice squealed.  Shirley grinned upon recognizing the voice. 

“Hi, Susanna,” she said.

“You’re back!!!  Your mom gave me the number!  We have to get lunch tomorrow.  You have no other choice.  I need to hear about everything that happened!  I’m free at 12:30.  Where do you want to eat?” Susanna asked in a rush.

“That sounds great, Susanna, but tomorrow doesn’t work for me – I have to unpack these boxes that have been sitting here since I left.  You’re welcome to help!” Shirley definitely did not want to unpack an apartment’s worth of goods without someone to give her a hand.

“Oh – I had forgotten!  You had trouble renting it, right?  Sure, I can bring something.  You still like McDonald’s, I hope.  A year and a half in the Caribbean can’t have squeezed that out of you!” In reality, Shirley thought McDonald’s would make her sick.  Nonetheless, she agreed.

“Yeah, sounds good, Susanna.  12:30 tomorrow, then?  I trust you know how to find the place still?” Susanna laughed.  It would be great to see the bouncy blonde again.  In fact, one of the things she missed living among the Haitians was the mix of all types of races so common in America.  People there were fascinated with her reddish-blonde hair, her freckled skin, her pale grey eyes.

She said goodbye to Susanna and spun slowly on her heel, surveying the room.  Nearly everything was still in boxes, and she had been cleaning and unpacking all afternoon.  A year and a half of disuse meant that surfaces had to be cleaned and re-cleaned, carpets had to be vacuumed three times over, and boxes had to be opened, emptied, and broken down.  Her bed was made, thankfully, but at this point, with nothing else done, she wished she had planned more to go to Haiti.  It was right after graduation that she decided to do the program.  No jobs seemed enticing and the desire to help the people who needed her more than any company or organization promised burned in her heart.  So, two weeks after she walked, she packed up her apartment, bought a one-way ticket to Port-Au-Prince, and said goodbye to the United States.  She hadn’t even had time to find someone to take the flat and her family lived too far away to care for it.  Thankfully, her landlord was an elderly woman who thought the charity work Shirley was entering into was “simply superb” and agreed to reduce the rent to pennies.

Shirley checked the time on her newly-reactivated cell phone.  12 AM.  The weight of it felt uncomfortable in her hand.  The peachy color that glinted in the moonlight reminded her of the color of freshly-picked mango.  She was afraid of buying one at the store the previous day because she knew that imported grocery-store variety mangoes could not compare to the tangy bite of Haitian mangoes.  She longed to go back – it felt far more like home than anything in America ever had.  She had a purpose there, a reason to wake up every morning, something to hold on to when she felt too weak to go on.

12 AM.  Shirley yawned – there was no time difference, but the location difference resulted in the same effects as jet lag.  She flopped back on the ground, exhausted but knowing that she couldn’t sleep yet.  Her foot caught the moonlight again and the silver flashed.  She grinned out the window.  A few months here to get things in order, and then maybe she could go back.  And maybe next time, permanently.

Journal 3: The Tooth of it All

Try this, page 180: Recall an experience that changed you.  Write about it with one of the traditional openings of a story.

Long ago and far away, I was six.  It was early evening and I was at a soccer practice.  I was terrible at the sport – the kind of goalie who kicked the ball backwards and the kind of forward who tried catching the ball – but at the time I didn’t fully understand my lack of talent.  The trees were starting to turn colors, and I remember the grass looking yellow.  That could have been the result of the Yellow Rains that came every year to Seoul, where we had just moved that summer for my dad’s job.  I didn’t know anyone yet, so I hoped that I could find a friend or two on the soccer team.  My mom was there, standing against the fence and talking to several other parents. 

After a few minutes of listening to the coach explain some rules about the game, we broke to start a scrimmage.  I volunteered to be on defense.  With two other girls, I started walking towards the other end of the field.  I recall it being far away from the rest of the team, but in reality it was probably only a hundred feet or so away.  While we walked towards the goal, I started wiggling my tooth.  It had started wobbling every time I took a bite of food and I had, in the two weeks since it started, gotten into the habit of playing with it.  The tooth was one of my front teeth, but on the bottom.  So, as we walked, my tooth wobbled and wiggled as normal – but then something changed.

It popped.  There was a strange feeling of release and all of a sudden, my tongue hit air instead of tooth.  My mouth filled with the stomach-turning taste of blood.  Tears welled and I felt sick.  In this miserable state I ran towards my mom.  The distance seemed doubly long and I wondered if I would ever make it.  Finally I reached the fence.  My mom was talking to another parent.  I started crying harder when she didn’t see me; finally someone else noticed and pointed me out to her.  She grew immediately concerned.  She asked, “Did a soccer ball hit you?  What happened?”  I couldn’t say anything.  I managed to find the tooth in my mouth and pulled it out to show her.  She flinched – she hated teeth and the blood that came with them – but understood what had happened.  Or so I thought.

She fished through her handbag for some tissues and applied them to my face.  Another parent ran to get the coach.  My memories from this point on get hazier, but I recall being shepherded home.  My mother told my father and there were hugs and congratulations on losing my first tooth.  The tooth itself was cleaned and placed in the special tooth holder my grandfather made just for this occasion.  That night when I went to bed, I placed the tooth in the small slot for lost teeth in the wooden contraption – shaped like a tooth, of course – and shoved it under my pillow.  It took me awhile to fall asleep because I was so excited at the prospect of the Tooth Fairy herself coming to get my tooth. 

When I woke up the next morning, I felt under my pillow.  The container was open and a dollar bill was wrapped up inside it.  I felt victorious.  Not only had I passed the important stage of losing my first tooth, I had gained a dollar to put in my money bank – a huge success for a girl of six!  It took me a week to get used to the strange feeling of a gap in my teeth.  I realized that I was slightly disappointed that I lost the tooth that early, because one of my favorite Christmas songs had a line that went “all I want for Christmas is my two front teeth” and I dearly wanted to be able to say that for myself.

For years after I lost my first tooth, though, my mom had the story wrong.  I thought she understood at soccer practice that it just fell out, but I would hear her telling people on the phone that “a soccer ball hit Carly in the face, and she lost her first tooth!”  I would try to correct her misconception, but she never seemed to believe me.  In fact, to this day she may remember that soccer ball hitting me and knocking my tooth out – but that’s not the way it happened!

Elevator Collisions

Journal 2 Prompt 1: Stuck in an elevator with a person you’d cross the street to avoid.  Dialogue.

“The light is red – what does that mean?” She asked.  She didn’t look pleased.

“It means we’re stuck.  Ugh, these stupid elevators.  New building, you’d think things would work!  The other one was down all last week,” I replied through my teeth.  I wasn’t pleased, either, but it wasn’t just about the elevator situation.

“What do we do?” Olivia wailed.  “Wait.  We can use the phone and call for help.  I got this.”  I rolled my eyes.  How annoying.  Stuck, and with her.

“Okay, sure,” I said.  Olivia gingerly picked up the phone and started speaking into it. 

“Um, hello?” she asked.  “Is anyone there?”  No reply.  “Hello?”  A few beats later, I heard a voice answer.

“Yeah, front desk.  What do you want?” the disembodied voice said. 

Olivia answered, “We’re kind of stuck on the elevator…could you get someone down here to help us out?  It’s me and my friend and we don’t know what to do.”  The voice replied, but I couldn’t make out what was said.  I tuned out of the conversation.  Me and my friend, she had said.  Pah.  Friends don’t pester like she does, I thought.  Bored and irritated, I stared at the fuzzy shapes reflecting back at us from the walls of the elevator.  After a minute, Olivia turned and talked to me.

“So they’re sending someone to figure out the problem, but the front desk person said it would take about thirty minutes.”  I slumped against the side of the elevator and slid down till I was sitting on the ground.  Olivia followed suit.  “While we’re here—” she started to say, but I cut her off.

“No, you can’t have my book.  I need it for class.  You’ll have to wait for tomorrow!” I said, barely keeping my frustration in check. 

“But you know I haven’t had a chance to get to the bookstore yet!  And last time I used Amazon they sent me a book about men’s scents rather than a history of Cologne!” she said, practically on her knees and begging me.

“No,” I said, resolute.  Her eyes darted to my bag, where the book was safely nested. 

“Please?” She asked.  She tried to do the whole puppy-dog eyes, but it did not work on me.

“No,” I repeated, turning away from her.  “You’ll just have to wait for it.”  At this point, she was annoying me enough that I would have crossed the street to avoid her – and here we were, trapped in an elevator.

She pouted, and started glaring at me.  I ignored her, but I knew I’d have to cave in, eventually.  After all, we do live together.  I hope this problem gets sorted.  Quickly.  It’s just too much pressure.

Journal 1: Flash

Prompt 5, page 17 from Burroway.  Images collide.  Sense impressions, not definitions.

Eating insects
Crossing the Atlantic,
Spicy music.
Don’t blink.

Worldwide diversity
Paper chains;
Little girls in red
Dancing in a line,
Never coming back.

Mean more than you say
Posters with smiling women
A coffin, too small
No wet cheeks.

Lost vocabulary
Distractions amid the noise:
Deo Gratias