The Right Way

“You’re not doing that right,” Ted said, crowding up against my side at the sink, using his considerable bulk to nudge me out of his way. He opened an upper cabinet, swinging it so wide it almost hit the side of my head.

I moved a step to my right, pausing the round and round motion of the paring knife circling the potato in my hand. Taking a deep, calming breath, I stared out the small window at the distant mountains. The sun was sinking behind the jagged peaks, painting the sky in swaths of red and gold and orange. A hot puff of desert air found its way between the two panes of roll-out glass, riffling the sweaty tendrils of fading auburn hair sticking to my cheeks. I sighed.

He thunked down a cup on the countertop, then snagged the carafe brimming with fresh brewed coffee, sloshing some onto the Formica I had wiped down not five minutes ago.

“You need to use the peeler like I do…”

And just when’s the last time you did that? I thought. Continue reading “The Right Way”

The Faded Woman

Martha was a ghost of a woman. She disappeared into her surroundings, blending in as if she were no more than a sheet of wallpaper, sporting bras, hose, and socks, pasted behind the pegs of merchandise she stocked. Like a chameleon, her form merged with her environment.

Day after day, her soft, pasty body trudged up and down the lingerie aisles of the superstore, pushing a shopping cart bristling with a flashy array of leopard-print panties, bright red teddies, and other exotic intimate apparel; but unlike the garments she put out for sale, Martha was anything but colorful.

Thin, straight hair the shade of week-old coffee hung dull and lifeless to her shoulders. Stringy tendrils obscured her downturned face. Pale and rounded and malleable, she was kneaded dough, punched down and waiting for a rise that never happened. When she spoke to a customer—and she only did that when forced to—Martha’s eyes stayed on the wood-laminated floor. Even her “May I help you?” and “Have a nice day.” were smothered things spoken barely above a whisper on good days, and on bad days, a tired, almost-inaudible sigh of sound.

And there were plenty of bad days, days when her head felt as if it were a ball of unmitigated pain that had been created for no other purpose than to punisher her because she wasn’t a good enough daughter, a good enough wife, but most of all, a good enough mother. Martha endured the frequent migraines without complaint, a firm believer that her suffering was atonement for past mistakes, and when God thought she had paid enough, the attacks would cease. And though she told none of her coworkers when she was in the throes of a migraine, a glimpse of her features told the tale—red-rimmed eyes sunk into dark hollows on an otherwise skim milk face.

But regardless of how she felt, Martha plodded through the days, doing her job and doing it well so that at the end of the week she could collect her meager paycheck. Not for herself, but for her two grown daughters and their children. She was determined that her daughters would never do without as she had. Yes, she would always be there for them, paying their rent, buying their groceries, providing whatever their respective husbands didn’t for as long as she had a breath left in her body.

Martha’s children and grandchildren were her life. Only in their presence did her eyes sparkle, her lips curve in a smile, her round shoulders square. Other employees took note of Martha’s transformation when her daughters came into the store; it was like seeing her for the first time. One worker said, “You know, I never realized it before, but Martha’s kind of pretty.” And another remarked on the lovely green shade of her eyes.

Then her family would leave, and Martha would fade away once more, becoming as translucent as the pantyhose tucked inside the packages she placed neatly on shelves. A see-through woman. Barely there at all.

©️2019 KT Workman

Photo via Pixabay

Myra’s Funeral

So this is how it all ends, Myra Dunbar thought. My whole life laid bare for the entire world to see.

Well, not quite the entire world; just her family, friends, and a good portion of Welbly, Louisiana, the town she had lived in her entire life.

It was a good turnout, and it pleased her that so many cared enough to come see her off. But it was embarrassing too. After all, who in their right mind wouldn’t turn a bright red to hear their worst transgressions read aloud.

She was glad that John had already passed. He wasn’t sitting here now on the pew in front of her and the current speaker, their daughter Lily, while Lily recounted the time Myra had gotten high and let the five-year-old cook her own dinner, resulting in a nasty burn.

But Myra got through that and a few other mortifying tales without squirming too much in her seat. And Lily moved on to more mundane memories that characterized what an exemplary mother Myra had been.

She was doubly glad John was gone when the last speaker, Marshal Whitacre, the town recorder, took the podium. As was custom, he recited her list of sins first, starting with the time in third grade she had called Milly Simpson a soulless ginger, making the redhead cry, to her third affair that had ended shortly after John’s passing. Myra had learned at John’s funeral that he’d had four flings, sort of evened them out, she supposed, but was still glad he had gone on not knowing.

Then Marshal moved on to her list of deeds.

Head held high and shoulders squared, Myra’s lips curved in a small, modest smile as he recounted her acts of kindness, and exalted her public service, respect for authority, party loyalty, and small carbon footprint.

Ending with her work history, Marshall said, “As most of you know, Myra Dunbar devoted most of her adult life to the upkeep of our library, overseeing the uploading of countless books and their distribution over the internet. And just as importantly, she tracked down and deleted books banned by the Party, even going so far as to erase all mention of them on rogue servers. Furthermore, she was a front-runner in the Party’s initiative to ferret out and destroy false narratives, from history to science that pervades the internet, poisoning our children’s minds.”

Beaming, he turned to Myra. “And so on this day, March 25, 2031, we owe her our thanks for a life well lived, and a job well done.”

The mourners clapped. Myra demurely lowered her eyes, as was expected when one was praised.

When the applause died down, Marshall continued. “Today Myra Tyson Dunbar turns seventy-five, and as is custom, she passes from us. But she will live forever in our hearts.”

Applause again broke out.

Marshal took Myra’s hand. “Come,” he said.

She stood and looked up into the smiling, middle-aged face of her son-in-law.

“Are you ready?” he whispered, tucking her arm through his.

“Yes…yes, I am,” Myra said, though now that the time was here she wasn’t so sure. But she knew she had to put on a brave front, if not for her own pride, then for that of her family. It didn’t sit well on one’s permanent record if a family member behaved badly, even at their passing.

All stood as Myra walked with Marshal down the center aisle toward the back of the room where two soldiers waited on either side of the double doors.

Among the applause and smiling goodbyes, Myra heard a woman whisper, “Can you believe that young people used to have to fight the wars? Imagine squandering productive life that way. Barbaric…”

Then white-haired, stoop-shouldered, Myra Dunbar passed through the double doors and into the Army.

©️2019 KT Workman

Photo via Pixabay

Safe

Ashley slipped the only picture she had of her little brother—taken in better times when their father was still alive—into the white Walmart bag on top of a couple changes of clothes, and tied it closed. Then, she turned out the light, and fully clothed, stretched out on her bed. And waited.

He had said to meet him at midnight. One more hour to go.

As the minutes ticked by, her resolve began to weaken. Was she doing the right thing? She had only known John Smith for two weeks, after all. How did she know he wasn’t an ax murderer, or worse? He looked okay in his profile picture, and in all the messages they had exchanged, nothing came off as weird. But you never could tell.

Maybe she shouldn’t go. Maybe if she talked to her mom again, when she wasn’t drinking, this time her mom would believe her, and—

The doorknob jiggled. Ashley sucked in a startled breath and sat up. Again, rattle-rattle-rattle. She grabbed Fuzzy Wuzzy and clutched the teddy bear to her chest.

“Ash…come on, unlock the door,” Jack said, his voice slurred from alcohol, drugs, or both. “Let your old daddy in.”

He wasn’t her daddy! Her daddy was dead.

“Please…” More rattling. “You know, I could…could knock the damn thing down. If I was…a mind to.”

Ashley screamed, the sound muffled against Fuzzy Wuzzy’s belly.

Something, most likely Jack’s fist, banged once against the door. Then silence.

Ashley held her breath, ears fine tuned to the hallway outside her door. She heard the faint sound of footsteps fade away. She was safe. For tonight.

But what about tomorrow night? Would her mom’s boyfriend decide then that a locked door wasn’t going to stop him? If something didn’t happen, she’d lose her virginity to the creep before her thirteenth birthday got here next month.

She had no choice. She had to leave.

Ashley picked up her cell phone and read the time—11:45–then dropped it on the bed beside Fuzzy Wuzzy, snagged the Walmart bag, and padded across the floor to the window. One leg over the sill, she paused. He said not to bring my phone, but he didn’t say anything about…

She rushed back to the bed, picked up the teddy bear, and tucked him under her arm. Then it was out the window.

Her eyes already accustomed to darkness, Ashley jogged across the dew-damp grass and through the back gate listing half-open on rusty hinges. She turned left, following the tree-shaded alley that ran behind the houses on her street.

She hadn’t told a soul about John Smith, even Emily, her best friend. He had told her not to, that people wouldn’t understand. She didn’t even understand herself, but was grateful that John Smith had wanted to help when she told him about Jack.

Ashley saw the dark shape of a man standing at the end of the alley. Right where he said he’d be. She slowed, a niggle of unease rippling along her spine. Then stopped.

He moved toward her. Come, young one, she heard him say. Time is short.

Clutching her bag and Fuzzy Wuzzy, Ashley watched him approach, wanting to turn and run, but her feet were rooted to the spot. What have I done? “Mama…” she croaked. “Daddy…”

The man stopped in front of her, and she recognized John Smith from his picture. But there was something more to him that shone beneath the surface of his skin and moved in his dark eyes. Something…something…

He smiled, and all the fear drained from her body. He held out his hand and Ashley took it.

In the night sky behind John Smith, a light winked into existence. Ashley tracked its lightening-fast approach, and in seconds, the landscape was bathed in its silver light. She looked up into its glowing heart. I’m safe.

Dogs barked. Car alarms jangled. Lights blinked. TV sets turned off and on.

Ashley McKinnon’s feet left the ground, and with one hand in John Smith’s, the other clutching Fuzzy Wuzzy, she flowed upward into the light. On the ground where she had dropped it, the Walmart bag bounced once, twice, and followed.

©️2019 KT Workman

Photo via Pixabay