The New Normal

by Sarah

When she saw him on her TV, she spilled her wine.  The entire glass.  It just slipped out of her hand and landed soundlessly on the beige living room carpet. She wished she’d reached the point with him where her biggest concern was that an excellent Barolo was now soaking into the deep pile, but honestly, she barely gave it a second thought, other than the split second where she considered if losing the wine was worse than staining the carpet – it was very drinkable.

He looked good, which was disappointing.

Reaching over the arm of the sofa, she placed the now empty glass on the side table, reached for the TV remote, which always sat there, and turned the volume up.  His voice filled the space all around her.   It was odd, hearing him again, and especially to hear him speaking at a normal volume, at a normal pitch.  She couldn’t remember the last time they has spoken to each other when at least one of their voices hadn’t sounded spiteful and defeated.  At least two Christmases had come and gone since then.  Jo had moved out.  Ben was a father now.

At first, when they had stopped talking, stopped trying to make the other see their own side of things, she thought it was the biggest mistake they’d ever made, but as the slow days became slow weeks, she realised that not speaking was the only way they could come to terms with what had happened. Because they couldn’t talk themselves out of the mess that was their marriage.  They could, and they would forevermore apportion blame, but that wouldn’t alter the reality of where they stood now – apart.  And she liked being apart from him.  She liked the emotional freedom this allowed. It didn’t mean that she wasn’t still deeply hurt by what he had done, but time and distance enabled her to realise that in spite of all that hurt, she had thrived and was now happier than she’d been in years.

And so what if he looked good.  So what if the creases around his eyes bestowed character on his otherwise plainly handsome face.  So what if his greying hair suited him even more than the dark brown tousled mess that she used to love so much.   So what if he looked like he laughed more now.

And was the female BBC presenter flirting with him?  Really?  She leaned forward on the sofa, as if increasing her proximity to the TV would reveal more. Onscreen, the thirty-something brunette presenter mirrored her pose, leaning in closer, hanging on his every word, and she knew that without the presence of the cameras the woman would pour herself onto his lap.  He was still utterly charming.   He was the perfect mix of intellect, good looks and humility.  That he had a pathological desire to be desired only came to light after you were under his spell was really quite unfortunate.   Because by then it was too late. By then, you had two children together, had written four books together, owned a house together, and never for one moment had you questioned why every time he met up with friends to play golf on Saturday mornings, you wouldn’t hear his key turn in the front door until the early hours of Sunday morning.  Or why on the occasions when you opted to stay home instead of attending a work conference, he’d go without you.

Yes, he looked good.  Divorce agreed with him.  She wondered if he was seeing any one woman in particular.  She doubted it.

A few minutes later, the news segment ended, and now she being told that there was a greater than 70 percent chance that it would rain over the upcoming weekend.  She got up off the sofa and headed to the kitchen to grab something to try and soak up the wine. She wondered why her heart wasn’t beating faster.  Wondered how she was able to focus on cleaning up the mess without breaking down and cursing him until her throat hurt.  It didn’t take long before she was sitting on the floor, next to the still very present splash of purple, contemplating how she’d arrived at this point where she didn’t care. It was a shock. Because she didn’t care. Not really.  Not in any way that would hold her back.  She was living a life that for the most part didn’t include him. A few years ago the thought would have terrified her, baffled her, but now it made sense in a way that normalcy mostly did.

She picked up the rag and the compacted stack of kitchen towel and began to blot the stain some more.  The carpet would have to be professionally cleaned, probably. And it was such a waste of good wine.

 

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @BlindAssassinUK

Impact

by Dana

She had timed their arrival at the funeral home perfectly. She didn’t want to be so early that they were in and out quickly. She wanted her children to see how many people had been touched by the man they were saying good-bye to. She was grateful that the line to talk to the family had not yet made it out the front door. The biting cold and the snow/sleet mix that was currently falling would have made for a miserable wait. The weather conditions would have been an acceptable reason to skip the visitation, but she wanted to be there. She wanted her children to see the impact one person could make, especially in a community as small as theirs.

The three of them huddled together against the cold that swooshed in every time the door opened. Within five minutes of their arrival, the line was out of the building. The door was being held open, but no one waiting inside complained. There was one thought in the forefront of their collective minds – comfort the family suffering such a great loss.

Bits of conversation started to drift toward them as they waited. She smiled a little to herself. This is why they had come, to hear the stories being told about Robert. And there were so many stories to be told.

“I remember when Mr. Parker coached my baseball team. He was always so patient with me.”

“Did you know that Robert was in a band when he was younger. He played piano. He couldn’t read music, but he could play almost anything he heard on the radio.”

“Remember the big wind storm in ’98? Robert heard that half of our roof had been blown away. He came right over and helped me get a tarp. A week later, he was helping me put the new roof on. He wouldn’t let me pay him, just wanted me to buy the beer that day.”

She looked at her children to see if they were taking all of this in. She could read on their faces every time a story surprised them. They had known Robert well, but there was so much about him they didn’t know. She leaned over to whisper to them, pointing out that at it seemed like half of the town was there. She watched as they looked around in awe at the number of people present.

They were slowly making their way toward the front of the line to speak to the family. She looked back and saw that the line was still out the door. It seemed that the weather hadn’t kept anyone from being there.

“He helped me build my pinewood derby car and his sons weren’t even scouts anymore. He offered because my dad wasn’t around to do it with me.”

“Did you know he still called Sally his bride? They were married almost fifty years and he still called her that.”

“I wonder how many sports he officiated for and coached. It seemed like every time one of my kids was playing he was there doing something. He would even just come to watch. He said he loved to be around the kids and loved sports almost as much.”

It was their turn to talk to Sally. She started to introduce her children, but Sally stopped her.

“I know who they are. Robert talked about them a lot. He told me that McKenna is going to be a fabulous volleyball player. He loved to watch her play. And he said that Samuel is a talented artist. I’d love to see some of his work.”

Her children stood there, with shock on their faces. This woman, who was grieving, knew who they were. She even seemed to be trying to comfort them. She was letting them know that they mattered to Robert. The mother and children each gave the widow a hug as they passed by her. They spoke to each family member gathered there, expressing their condolences.

The family of three turned toward the back of the room, preparing to leave. The room was packed with neighbors, friends and family members. They slowly made their way to the door, greeting people as they passed, occasionally getting wrapped up in hugs, comforting people as they could. They reached the door, which was still being held open for the people who were waiting in the line, which was wrapped around the exterior of the building.

She walked with her children through the now heavy, wet snow, an arm around each of them. She hoped that the message had been received. One man had touched the life of each of the more than four hundred people who had been at the visitation. She wanted them to realize that the smallest actions can make the biggest impact.

Follow Dana on Twitter: @craftyjhawk 

Zucchini

by Tracy

Standing over the array of organic vegetables at Trader Joes, he began to cry.

He’d been holding it back for days. Weeks, actually, and he thought he’d been doing really well.

They always say it will hit you where you least expect it.

They’re right.

He was 36 years old and crying into the vegetables at a grocery store.

He swiped at his cheeks, hoping to pull himself back together, but he couldn’t manage. The tears kept coming and he couldn’t make them stop.

It was organic zucchini that was his undoing.

Zucchini bread.

There had been zucchini bread in his lunchbox every first day of school of every year.

Zucchini bread and milk when she’d told him his dad had left and wouldn’t be back.

Zucchini bread and milk when he’d gotten an F in science in 7th grade.

Zucchini bread and milk when he got his driver’s license.

Zucchini bread in his first care package at college.

Zucchini bread when he brought home his first serious “real” girlfriend.

Zucchini bread when he’d announced his engagement.

Zucchini bread on the counter of his apartment when he’d come home from his honeymoon.

Zucchini bread as a housewarming gift for his first house.

Zucchini bread waiting at home when his son had been born.

Zucchini bread and milk when she’d told him she was dying.

Zucchini bread, he realized, there in Trader Joe’s, was her I love you.

So the tears came. Not just because there would be no more zucchini bread, no more I love you.

The tears came because he couldn’t remember what it tasted like anymore.

Follow Tracy on Twitter: @some1tookmename

Medic

by Carrie

“Medic!”

Coates heard the call moments before being momentarily deafened by the thunderous crack of a rifle being fired by a private who fell into the sand behind him and knocked him to his knees. As he was struggling to his feet, a mortar exploded ahead of him, spewing sand and shrapnel in all directions. He heard a clink as something hit the top of his helmet. He did not have to look behind him to know that the private was dead, as he could see out of the corner of his eye that his M1 lay on its side in the sand, a smear of blood on its stock.

“Medic!” the voice screamed again. “Mehhh-dic!”

Coates wiped the sweat from his upper lip and lunged forward, raising his arm to shield his face from another spray of sand thrown by a bursting mortar shell.

“Medic, God-dammit!”

He took several long strides, stepping over a corporal laid face-down on the bloody strand, his motionless shoulders draped with a garland of .30-cal ammunition and a deck of playing cards, still in their box, laying nearby. Coates pushed his helmet back from his forehead and lunged forward.

“Medi—!”

Coates saw the first sergeant writhing in the sand, clutching an empty, shredded left sleeve with his right hand as blood pulsed between his fingers. “It’s okay, Top,” he said as he dropped to his knees and gently put his left hand over the sergeant’s. He reached into his medical kit with his right hand and—without looking—retrieved a tourniquet and forceps.

“Mother fucker!” the sergeant spat, his lips curled in anger and his eyes wide with fear as he watched the blood dribble between his fingers and down his forearm.

Coates worked to staunch the bleeding, tying the tourniquet tight around what remained of the first sergeant’s upper left arm, as the old non-com grimaced and bit down on one of the chin straps dangling from his helmet. Once the tourniquet was applied and the bleeding had stopped, he turned and reached back into his bag.

“How you doin’, Top?” he asked as he fumbled for a morphine syrette.

The gray-headed sergeant wriggled in the sand and grunted, “I’m alrigh—”

As Coates turned back to him holding the syrette’s plastic cap between his teeth, a bullet passed through the first sergeant’s throat, just below his Adam’s apple, puncturing his windpipe. The old sergeant wheezed. Clutching at his throat with his one remaining hand, his lips moved but no words came out. Just then, as Coates reached for the sergeant’s neck, another burst of machine gun fire crackled down the beach with a fwip, fwip sound. The medic heard a thud and felt a spray of crimson in his face. Top was dead, his temple shattered by a German round.

Coates put the cap back on the syrette and tucked it into his pocket. He looked at the tourniquet still tied around the sergeant’s stub, then shook his head and clambered over two more broken bodies to continue advancing up the beach.

That night, after the first elements of the American landing force penetrated the German beach defenses and pushed beyond the beachhead, Coates collapsed in exhaustion outside of the battalion aid station. All around him, the roar of trucks and half-tracks was punctuated by the sounds of nearby fighting: the pattering sound of a distant machine gun, the crackle of rifle fire and the faint punch of mortars being spat from tubes followed by an explosive thunk as they found their mark. He heard the moans of men in the hospital tents behind him and the unmistakable sound of a bone saw.

His head pounded and, despite his utter exhaustion, he could not sleep.

Screams. Shouting. The crackle of an MG-42 sweeping the beach.

“Medic!”

Mortars exploding. The distinctive pa-ching of an M1 clip as it is ejected from the breach.

Screams.

He could see what looked like lightning behind the trees in the distance, but without the thunder.

Coates reached for his chest pocket, groped for a cigarette, then realized he had none. He had smoked most of them before boarding the landing craft and given the rest away to injured men. He felt something, then paused for several long moments.

Screams.

He pulled the syrette from his pocket, pulled the cap off with his teeth, broke the metal seal and removed the wire pin. He rolled up his sleeve, felt for a vein, then slipped the needle under his skin at a shallow angle, squeezing the collapsible metal tube until—

A euphoric rush of lightness swept over him as he watched the light show along the horizon to the east.

The rush reminded him of the afternoons spent swinging from an old tire hanging from the oak tree, and of the weightlessness felt as its arc swept him down to earth into his sister’s arms.

Follow Carrie on Twitter: @C_T_Morgan Visit her blog: http://wages-of-war.com

The Fiction with Friends “Manifesto”

About three and half years ago, I opened up a new Microsoft Word document and after a few days of writing out some miscellaneous, inter-connected scenes about a character that had been living in my head for many years, I scrolled to the top of the document and wrote these lines:

“I am writing this story for me, and no one else. It doesn’t matter if it’s any good, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work out because it is just for me.”

I found those lines liberating because, see, I had just been coming out of a years-long hiatus from creative writing, and I was nervous.  What if I didn’t have any creative ideas left in me? What if I didn’t know how to do this anymore? What if I had fooled myself into thinking I ever did? What if all I could write was utter drivel? Rubbish?

That’s when I stopped, and wrote those lines at the top, because I reminded myself, who cares? I honestly hadn’t started writing for any other purpose than I just missed it and that I just really needed that creative outlet back in my life.

After that, my miscellaneous scenes grew, and then they actually turned into SOMETHING, which gave me hope and a tiny bit of confidence.

A few months into that “nothing” turning into “something”, I discovered fan fiction. Now, if you are a writer who scoffs at the whole idea of fan fiction, then you might have just found your stopping point in this post, even though this blog won’t ever host fan fiction. And that’s totally cool. If you have read or written it, then you have found a kindred spirit, as Anne Shirley would say, and you will understand the rest of this “manifesto” even better.

The day I decided to publish the first chapter of my first fan fiction story, I thought I would pass out from hyperventilating after realizing what I just did. Holy shi– crap. People could SEE what I just posted. What if they laughed? What if they thought it was stupid? Poorly written? Or maybe the worst, what if no one even read it at all?

While I have always recognized that fan fiction is not some paragon of publishing (copyright law not even being the most obvious issue), I saw in it a unique opportunity to get experience with writing for a public audience, which proved extremely valuable as I continued to pursue broader aspirations with my own, original writing. Not only that, but it helped me discover that a lot of fan fiction writers were just like me in that they were learning and practicing the craft. They were experimenting.

Perhaps now you can see where this is all leading.

Maybe you are that kind of writer. Maybe you are thinking of publishing a major work some day – or maybe you aren’t. Maybe you’d like to just experiment with original characters and original ideas in a small, non-competitive venue. Maybe this small venue is a chance to share without judgment.

Fiction with Friends is my vision for just such writers and experimentation. 50-100 word flash fiction story? Share it here. 2,000 word story? That’s welcome here, too. What makes this site different than others? To be honest, not a whole lot. There are many places to post your original fiction. But for now – and maybe for always, who knows? – we are small. This isn’t a place for me (I already have my own blog, yo), it’s for you and others. We will be promotion-free and review-free (ie: no comments on stories).

Why no comments on stories? If I am appealing to you as a new writer or even a writer who has published on community forums before, then you might be able to understand the following: reviews and comments on our writing are AWESOME, no doubt about it. Feedback is the lifeblood of writing for the public. On the other hand, it’s remarkably easy to feed self-doubt when we don’t get the quality or more importantly, the quantity of feedback that we hope for or expect. My friends, writing can be hard enough on the self-esteem and publishing our writing can be a difficult enough obstacle as it is without adding the pressure of “is it popular” or “is it good enough”. If you need the feedback, then this site might not be for you, and that’s okay. There are lots of other great sites for that kind of thing. But if you’re looking for a safe place to share and experiment, then this might be just the venue for you.

Check out the “Prompts” link if you are stuck for something to write (and feel free to share possible prompts that I can add as we go, too). Got a little something ready to go? Check out the submissions link for both general guidelines and the submission form. If your story fits within the guidelines, it will be accepted and published in the order it was received. This is not a contest or a juried periodical.

Questions? Use the contact form or tweet me @FictionWFriends. I hope to see your work here soon!