Pretty Flamingo

I’ll say it right up front—I love pink plastic flamingos.

So do a lot of people here in the South. A few put them right in front of their houses for all the world to see, not giving a fig what said world thinks. Me, I hide mine in back amongst shrubs, flowers, and weeds. Yes, I’m a closet pink flamingo lover.

Why is it tacky to display the exotic birds? One can fill the yard with gnomes, fairies, frogs, and whatnots, but put a single pink flamingo out there, and one is labeled white trash, trailer trash (no matter that one’s house is brick), or plain old garden variety trash, all of whom are known for their cheapness and bad taste. I’ve read that some homeowners associations slap fines on owners for displaying the flamingoes because they believe the birds lower real estate values. Better tell that to Madison, Wisconsin. In 2009 they made the pink plastic flamingo their official bird.

One can buy tee shirts, plates, glasses, towels, shower curtains, and a plethora of other items sporting a pink flamingo, and proudly display them; but woe to her that plants that plastic bird on the lawn.

That’s why I keep mine in back. I’m not brave; I hate ridicule.

I wonder if there are others out there who nurture the plastic birds in secret. There must be. When I bought my pair on Amazon a few years ago, there were a gazillion reviews from verified purchasers. Of course, none listed their last name. Cowards, like me. I imagine they received their pink flamingos in unmarked boxes and waited until the dead of night before taking them to the backyard and displaying in a secluded area not visible from the street. Probably erected privacy fences to further shield the birds from curious eyes.

From my kitchen window, I can see the pretty flamingos. On warm days I can sit on the patio and admire their gaudy beauty. During winter, they’re the only colorful things in an otherwise bleak landscape. They make me smile.

Call them tacky if you will; I call my flamingos beautiful.

But they’re still not coming out of the closet.

©️2019 KT Workman

The Old Woman

The old woman rises at dawn
Cooks breakfast for the old man
As she stirs the bubbling gravy
Turns the sizzling bacon
Her eyes stray to the open window
Where the new-plowed earth waits

Dishes stacked in the sink
She joins the old man
Beneath the cerulean sky
Laying out the rows
Mounding the hills
Dropping in the seeds

As the days grow longer and warmer
The old woman weeds and waters
Tending the green growing plants
With love and care
As if they were her children
Who all have grown and gone

The old woman picks the lettuce first
Along with green onions
She drizzles them with bacon drippings
And while they eat in front of the TV
She and the old man
Talk of long-ago gardens

A passel of barefoot kids
Running up and down the rows
More hindrance than help
So sent off to play
While the young old woman and old man
Do the work

In the height of summer
The old woman picks juicy tomatoes
And the last of the cucumbers
She and the old man
Eat them with a little salt
While watching Wheel of Fortune

The old woman rises at dawn
Cooks breakfast for the old man
As she stirs the plopping oatmeal
Butters the toast
Her eyes stare through the frosty glass
At the barren, snow-covered garden

Arthritis torments the old woman’s joints
Her heart flutters in an unsteady rhythm
Keeping time with a lonely mind
That is muddled with yesterdays
She wonders if she will see another spring
Or if she even wants to

©️2019 KT Workman

Listen and Observe

Listen and observe…

I think a lot of writers do this naturally, without even thinking about it. We see a young girl in the checkout line at Walmart paying for a cart of groceries, and we wonder, where is the adult? Why is the girl alone? Where in the world did she get that big wad of cash? (This actually happened to me, and from it, a short story was born.)

In another store, we’re in line behind two elderly women, in their mid-seventies at least. One says to the other, “I think I’ll wait awhile before I get me another husband. The last three about done me in.” Another husband? Just how many husbands has this old woman had? What happened to the last one? And the ones before him?

While walking down the street, we see an old woman in layers of tattered clothing clutching a doll to her chest and crooning a lullaby. Who is the woman? Is she homeless, as it appears? Does the doll replace a child she lost in the past? How did she lose the child?

We hear a work colleague telling another that when his great-grandfather was a teenager, he killed a man, ran hundreds of miles away, and started a new life with a new name. Who did he kill? Why did he kill? Did he kill again?

We hear on television that the moon is moving 1.6 inches away from the Earth every year. What if it sped up its departure? If so, what caused it to accelerate its retreat? How would this affect Earth? What would be its impact on human life?

Like most writers, I always have pen and paper handy—or my smartphone with its handy-dandy notes app—where I can jot down the things that make me go “hmm…I wonder…” I know better than to trust my memory; like dreams fade when waking, story ideas can slip away as well.

We watch, we overhear, and we store those nuggets away to be pulled out at a later date and inspected. We turn them over and over in our minds as the words form around them, layer upon layer, until the why, what, where, when, and how takes shape.

A story unfolds, and the magic begins.

©️2019 KT Workman

Mama’s Garden

I have a lot of good memories of my mama, some of them, surprisingly, from the time she was dying.

A little back history for clarification—

By the time she was in her late 80s, Mama’s heart was failing from simply being “worn out,” as her doctor put it. Knowing her time was limited, she asked not to be taken to the hospital under any circumstances, to be allowed to die at home. My siblings and I honored her wishes. We arranged our schedules so two of us could be there around the clock to care for her, supplemented with visits from hospice. During this four-month period, a lot of Mama-memories were added to my considerable store, some heart wrenching, some bittersweet, and all priceless.

One day in early fall, I was with Mama when she wanted to see her garden. I’m sure she missed it. She had always enjoyed “digging in the dirt,” whether it was working in her flower beds or tending the large vegetable patch behind the house. Over the years, when I dropped by to visit, if the weather was passable, many times that’s where I’d find her. I think for her the inside of the house was of secondary importance—except for cooking, but that’s another story.

That day, my sister, brother and his wife were there as well, and the four of us got Mama into a wheelchair and rolled her outside into the warm, sunny day.

We started across the bumpy yard, brother pushing the chair, and were doing fine until he hit a chughole in the thick Bermuda grass. The wheelchair stopped abruptly and Mama almost shot out of it. Of all things, she burst out laughing, and with a smidgen of relief that she had stayed put in the chair, the four of us laughed along with her.

Then we were off again, a bit more slowly this time.

When we reached the edge of the garden, brother parked the chair and set the brake. Mama looked out over plants that were still mostly green and growing, saying nothing. I couldn’t help but wonder what was going through her mind, how she felt about not being able to do what she had always done, how she couldn’t just get out of that chair, walk out in the rows and start weeding.

I don’t remember if sister, brother, sister-in-law, or I talked to fill the silence; all I remember is feeling sad as I stood there staring at Mama’s garden. And I remember wishing, as I had many times after Mama’s health started deteriorating, that I could give her some of my healthy years. But life doesn’t work that way, and she wouldn’t have taken them if such a thing had been possible. Mamas aren’t like that.

After a time, Mama closed her eyes and turned her pale face to the sun. And smiled.

That beautiful smile took away a little of my sadness, and lives on in my memory, warming my heart until the day I can see it again.

©️2019 KT Workman

Off and On

Let me start by saying I’ve been a writer for many years—off and on—and am just coming out of a lengthy period of “off.” I wish it weren’t so, but I tend to let life in general get in the way of writing. And I procrastinate. To my shame, “Don’t do today what you can postpone until tomorrow,” seems to be my rallying cry.

A few years ago when I was “on,” I had quite a few short stories published, but the forward momentum didn’t last when life hit a difficult stretch. The road has since smoothed out, so now, I’m trying again.

Writing is a lonely endeavor. Not everyone is cut out to sit alone in front of a computer for hours on end, pulling words out of wherever they come from and forming them into something they hope someone will find pleasure in reading. And there are so many distractions: job, kids, spouse, family obligations, friends, TV, lovely books, and of course, the computer (with an internet connection) right in front of you. It takes a lot of willpower to push it all aside and focus on your writing. It’s not easy. And don’t let anyone try to tell you otherwise.

But when everything comes together, when you read back over what you have written, and it’s good, damn good, in fact, it’s all worth it. You got the story/poem/ article out of your head and onto paper. To me, there’s no better feeling in the world.

Except maybe getting paid for doing it.

Money and recognition are fantastic things, but to be honest, most of us don’t write for those reasons; we write because we have to. The words, plots, and people are there in our heads, and they demand to be heard. We give them a voice and in doing so, find our own unique voice.

And isn’t that what it’s all about?

©️2019 KT Workman



The War

Damned ants! Now they’re in my mailbox of all places.

I’ve been fighting them little buggers for ten years now. Looks like they would have a little mercy, seeing as how I’d turned ninety a few months back—no spring chicken no more, not by a long shot.

I reckon I ought to feel lucky I’d come home from rehab none the worse for wear except for the pins holding my bones together and the cane I used to steady myself. That was what John Lee’d told me a’fore he up and died on me last month. But he weren’t the one that had tripped over the mound of hard dirt those dad-blasted ants has pushed up on the sidewalk and got his hip busted.

But I didn’t feel lucky, not with ants traipsing all over my back porch, (The blonde-haired woman with black roots what had sold us the place called it a “patio.”) and bunches of ‘em weighing down the trumpet vines I’d planted when John Lee and me had moved in.

There hadn’t been no ants—not like the numbers here, leastways—on our little place down by Henshaw Creek. But John Lee and me had been getting too old to keep firewood cut and take care of the cows and garden, and our kids were grown and gone, nowhere around to help out.

“Sell the place and move into town, Mama,” Elizabeth had said on the phone, her voice traveling halfway across the country to reach me.

“You and Daddy get a little place close to town,” Jimmy had said, his voice coming from somewhere in Belgium—can’t remember the name of the town offhand. “That way you’ll be closer to the hospital if one of you gets sick.”

So when John Lee’s heart had gotten so weak he couldn’t help me take care of the cows no more, we finally did what our kids wanted and moved to town. Took a while for us to get used to it, houses jammed together side by side like sardines in a can, cars passing by all hours of the day and night. Why I couldn’t even go out in the yard in just my gown no more. No telling who might get a gander of me. Not that I was anything to look at ‘cause everything had gone south on me more years back than I cared to remember.

But we got used to no privacy. It was the ants I couldn’t abide.

“Just leave ‘em alone, Emmy,” John Lee had told me more times than I had fingers and toes. “Ain’t none coming in the house. They stay outside minding their own business.”

But I couldn’t.

They pushed heaps of dirt up through the cracks in the driveway and around the cement porch. Why I couldn’t even leave a bowl of food out for our old tabby without them nasty critters crawling in it.

When I’d seen the first little mounds of soil a bit after me and John Lee had moved in, I’d stirred it with a stick, and the ants had come swarming out like Satan himself was hot on their heels. So I bought a spray can of ant killer at Walmart and let ‘em have it.

And that was the beginning of the war.

Along with more cans, I bought bug killer by the gallon and poured it in them pump applicators and I wet down all the dirt they’d pushed up. I killed ‘em out—or so I’d thought. Yep, every fall I figured I was done with the lot of ‘em, but every spring, they came back, more than the year before.

#

Earlier in the evening when I’d limped out to the mailbox and opened it, the white envelopes had been peppered with ants. After snatching the mail out and shaking it, I’d peeked inside and seen it was swarming with them little devils. They’d upped the ante.

I went back in the house and rested a bit. Then, just as night was settling in, I got a new can of bug killer from the case in the garage and eased out the side door. Didn’t want ‘em to know I was coming.

It took me a while, but I finally made it around front and out to the street. Leaning my cane against my belly, I slowly opened the mailbox. I was gonna fix their little red wagon but good. They’d never know…what…hit…

Something was tickling my feet. I looked down, and by the glow of the streetlight, saw my feet and ankles covered in black. And more tiny dark bodies raced along the ground toward me from every direction.

I think I might’ve yelled then, might’ve even taken the Lord’s name in vain. For the first time since me and the ants had gone to war, I was skeert. My cane clattered to the concrete and down I went.

#

My eyes opened to pitch-black dark. And quiet, lord was it ever quiet. No…a little noise—faint humming.

Where was I? Not in my bed, that was for sure. Too hard to be on a mattress.

I tried to sit up. My forehead smacked something solid, and bits of what-I-didn’t-know sprinkled my face. I couldn’t move my legs. My arms neither. I could move my hands a tad, so I clawed around with my fingers and felt something mushing up under my nails. Was it..?

Then I felt them. All over me. Thousands of little feet. Thousands of little nips on my skin. And I knew.

The heathen bastards had dragged me underground into their colony. More than likely, right up under the concrete slab of my own house. I laughed, but all that came out was a choking sound. Scratchy feet were marching over my tongue, up my nose, and down my throat. My house? Hell, it was their house.

They had won the war.

©️2019 KT Workman