My story, Tired, that was published at Every Day Fiction last week has been turned into a podcast! Follow the link to listen to the story. You can even rate it if you’d like.
I’m returning to my writing roots today. Even though my current writing hat is cozy mystery novelist, I still love flash fiction. It’s the writing form that I was drawn to when I decided to hunker down and really pursue my crazy dream of being a writer.
While I adore writing quirky, fun cozy mysteries, I enjoy the challenge of writing in a different style. My flash fiction story “Tired” was published at Every Day Fiction today. Stop by to get a taste of a more serious side to my writing.
The kitchen counter looked like it belonged on the set of a cooking show. A collection of white bowls contained diced vegetables, rice and shredded chicken. Unopened bottles of spices were lined up next to the stove. A pile of dark green cilantro leaves sat on a wooden cutting board. It all looked out of place in her kitchen, the land of heat and eat convenience foods. Emma studied the page she had ripped out of a magazine and compared the list of ingredients to the real food in front of her. What had she been thinking when she signed up to make the casserole for the potluck?
On the third Friday of every month the residents of the artists’ colony held a potluck dinner. While she always brought chips and deli-made dip, most of the other artists cooked a delicious array of dishes. A rich beef stew with red wine, tender shrimp-filled dumplings and a spectacular crepe torte layered with lemon curd were some of the most memorable offerings.
Two, loud thumps interrupted her thoughts. She opened the apartment door. Daisy, her best friend, stood in the hallway cradling a slow cooker in her arms. “Sorry about kicking your door. I don’t have any hands left to knock,” she said as she squeezed past Emma.
“Thanks for bringing the slow cooker, but I’m not going to need it. I can’t make this.” Emma waved the paper. “I’m not going tonight.”
“The potluck is always fun and you need a break.” Daisy set the crockpot on the counter and plucked the recipe out of Emma’s hand. She slid her fingers along the ragged edge of the page as she read. “All of the ingredients are ready, so you’re half way done. Come on, I’ll help.”
“How about you cook and we eat here?”
Daisy shook her head as she grabbed Emma by the shoulders and guided her to the stove. “No deal. Put on your big girl panties or chef’s hat or whatever. It’s time for you to cook. Show everybody you are more than a pretty face and experienced salsa purchaser.”
Emma sighed as she turned on the burner under the pan. She was an artist who knew what to do with paint and beads, not rice and black beans. She had come to terms with the fact that she wasn’t a good cook, but Daisy seemed to have decided it was her duty to turn her into a kitchen goddess.
“Dump these in and let them warm up,” Daisy said as she handed Emma a can of tomatoes and the bowl of chicken. “The tomato juice needs to be boiling before you add anything else.”
The tangy scent of tomatoes and chili peppers rose from the skillet. It smelled good. Maybe the dish would turn out to be edible. Her mother didn’t teach her how to cook, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t learn. She was a grown woman, after all. A constellation of bubbles formed in the liquid in the center of the pan. “It’s hot. What next?”
“Add everything else, except the cilantro.”
Emma dumped the contents of the bowls into the pan and stacked the empty dishes into a wobbly tower. “Okay. Done.”
Daisy began running hot water into the sink. As she piled dirty bowls into the basin a layer of thick soap foam engulfed the dishes. “When everything is warm, toss in the cilantro.”
“Nobody’s going to believe I made this,” Emma said. She tasted a spoonful of the rice. It was savory and perfectly spicy, not fire-breathing hot like the last time she had made a Tex-Mex meal for Daisy. “You’ve fed me so many times I want to pay you back. Grab a bowl and let’s eat.”
Daisy flicked soap bubbles at Emma. “What’s the real reason you don’t want to go tonight? It’s not like mooching food from me or bringing deli containers to the potluck have ever bothered you before tonight.”
Busted. Better to fess up and admit the real reason behind the sudden change of heart. A full-fledged interrogation from Daisy usually involved large quantities of alcohol and relentless whining. Tired and hungover was not how she wanted to spend the next day. “I don’t want to be around Max and the freaky pin-up girl.”
Max was Emma’s ex-boyfriend. Recently ex. When he broke up with her she had believed his lame excuse that he wanted to concentrate on his career and didn’t have time for a relationship. A few weeks later there was a Marilyn Monroe look-alike clinging to him. It seemed that her main goal was to maintain as much body contact as possible at all times.
“He won’t be there.” Daisy bumped shoulders with Emma before plunging her hands into the dish water again. “You made him go to the potlucks.”
“I did not. I just asked him to go with me.”
Daisy rolled her eyes. “And if he didn’t, what were the consequences?”
“There weren’t any.”
“Okay, then what did he get in exchange for being a good boy?”
“I didn’t reward him for accompanying me.”
“Uh-huh. By the end of the meals he was drooling like a hound who had just gotten a whiff of rabbit and it wasn’t because of the dessert table.”
“Stop it!” Emma was already too warm from standing in front of the hot stove. She didn’t need to remember the after-dinner trysts with Max. Time to steer the conversation in a different direction. She scooped up another spoonful of rice and fed it to Daisy like she was a baby. “Is this too spicy?”
“No.” She dried her hands on the dish towel. “Everybody will love it. So let’s get going. I need to stop at my apartment to grab my brownies.”
“I don’t want to be around Max.”
“He won’t show up.”
“What if he does?”
Daisy tilted her head to the side and then grinned. “You’re right that people won’t think you cooked this. Tell him your new boyfriend made it.”
It’s been a long time since I’ve participated in Friday Flash, so I figured it’s about time to get back to writing and posting on a more regular basis. The original version of this story was a freebie for people who liked my Facebook page. I recently redesigned that page, so I revised the story and now I’m making the story available to everyone. I have also published it on Readwave – a great site that features short fiction in many different genres.
A blog hop for feedback on your opening 250 words, and then a contest! Post your opening 250 words to your blogs, hop around and give feedback to others, spiff your words up and submit them for a chance to win! The blog hop is May 16th-17th. You can find more of the entries and details HERE.
My excerpt is the beginning of one of three “loaf” size stories (novelettes) from my upcoming book, “Road to the Colony” – Volume Two in The Bartonville Series. Thank you for stopping by and letting me know what you think!
The chunks of bread sizzled as they browned in the melted butter. Daisy poked at the cubes with a stained, partially melted plastic spatula. The utensil had been in the kitchen drawer, among the bent silverware and dull steak knives, when she moved in with Gary. It needed to be replaced. Just like their relationship, it was too messed up to work properly.
The apartment looked like he still lived there alone. Other than some clothes and a storage box full of coveted yarn hidden in the back of the closet, there wasn’t much else that belonged to her. Gary wouldn’t allow even a hint of femininity in his apartment, so she wasn’t allowed to change anything in his flop house chic decor. Hell, having a live-in girlfriend didn’t even change his dating habits. She’d lost count of the number of times he came home in the middle of the night, smelling like he’d been dipped in a vat of cheap perfume and then steeped in the smoke from a carton of cigarettes.
The comforting scent of the toasting bread overpowered the usual musty odor of the apartment. At least dinner smelled good. If Gary didn’t want to eat it, then he could go spend his own money on something he wanted, chicken nuggets, a greasy burrito, whatever. How had she gotten saddled with buying and preparing all of their food the second after she moved in with him? Because she let it happen, standing mute, like a docile pony . . .
Several years ago I participated in a challenge where I wrote a new flash fiction story every day for a month. Since many of those were really micro stories, the tiny sibling of flash fiction, I decided I might as well publish them on a blog. So I started Microcosm J on Tumblr. After about a dozen posts it fell by the wayside as I focused on longer stories once the challenge was over.
As I have been writing the second book in the Bartonville Series, “Road to the Colony”, I noticed that all of my stories where short of the word count goal. Years of writing flash fiction has left me with a tendency to write sparse, bare-bone first drafts. I always add in description and detail as I rewrite and edit, instead of taking it out. So, I decided, why not practice those skills in a creative way? I have brought Microcosm J back to life, but this time I’ll be writing vignettes instead of micro stories. Basically they’ll be small stories, rich in description, but lacking the beginning, middle and ending plot structure of a traditional flash fiction story. If you’re interested, or possibly confused, by the concept stop in and see what I’m doing. The vignette Sunlight is also a companion piece to one of the novelettes coming in “Road to the Colony”.
It has been a while since I’ve participated in Friday Flash. A big hello to everybody in this fabulous community!
Story Background: Emma and Daisy are the main character in The Bartonville Series of culinary fiction, my newest writing venture. The entire series, along with the other culinary fiction series I am planning, will be composed of stories varying in length from flash fiction to novellas. If you would like to try making the meal featured in this story you can find the recipe here. Or if you would like to comment on the recipe it is featured in this blog post.
Emma poked her beading needle into the pin cushion. She draped the completed bracelet over her wrist. The brown and green faceted beads sparkled in the lamp light. Daisy looked up from the hat she was knitting. “That’s pretty. Very woodsy, but feminine. I bet it’ll sell quickly.”
“I hope you’re right,” Emma said as she stretched her arms over her head. “I bought a bunch of these beads. Hopefully people will like the color combination.” She usually made jewelry while sitting at her work bench, but when Daisy came to visit she switched to using a lap tray so she could sit in the recliner and chat. At least once a week they got together to talk, work on their current projects and have dinner. That evening they were planning on going to a new Thai restaurant a few blocks away. Several of the other residents of the artists’ colony they lived in had raved about the food there. A low rumble drew Emma’s attention to the window. Icy snowflakes pummeled the glass, carried by an angry wind gust. She put the tray on the floor, went to the window and cupped her hands around her face so she could see into the darkness outside. A snow drift jutted from the base of the street light on the sidewalk below her window. Snowflakes swirled like angry bees in the bubble of light cast by the lamp. She shook her head. “I don’t think we’re going out for dinner tonight.”
Daisy joined her at the window. “Yeah. I don’t feel like turning into Frosty the Snowgirl just for some Pad Thai. Between the two of us, we can whip up something.”
“What about baked potatoes? I picked up some russets a few days ago and I have some sour cream.”
“That sounds good, but we can do better than just sour cream.” Daisy pulled her keys out of her pocket. “I’m starving, so why don’t we cut up the potatoes and roast them instead of waiting for them to bake whole? If you can start on that I’ll go get some more goodies from my apartment.”
Emma had just slid the pan full of seasoned potato chunks into the oven when Daisy returned. She waited for more orders from Daisy since it was her idea to go above and beyond butter and sour cream. “They should be ready in about half an hour. What can I do now?”
Daisy hefted a mesh shopping bag onto the counter. It was full of plastic containers and condiment bottles. She tossed a package of mushrooms onto the cutting board. “If you want to slice these and get them sauteing with a bit of onion, I’ll start on the sauce.”
Cooking with Daisy was always a lesson. While Emma could make a few things well, she always followed the recipes exactly. Daisy was an artist in the kitchen as well as being an accomplished fiber artist. She threw together ingredients and adjusted seasonings with an ease that Emma wished she had. Of course, after spending Christmas with Daisy’s family, she could see where her friend’s cooking prowess came from. A steady parade of sweet treats and savory nibbles flowed from the family’s small kitchen during the three days Emma stayed with them, everything from iced sugar cookies to barbecued meatballs made from scratch. Nothing was fancy or gourmet, but everything was delicious. A far cry from the microwaved, processed foods Emma grew up eating since her mother was always more interested in her newest boyfriend than cooking nutritious meals for her daughter.
“What kind of sauce are you making?” Emma asked as she tossed her piles of mushrooms and onions into a pool of shimmering olive oil. The vegetables hissed when they hit the hot pan. She quickly stirred them with a wooden spoon.
“Blue cheese.” Daisy retrieved a small whisk from the pot of utensils that sat next to the stove. As she stirred her concoction she explained, “I thought we’d top the potatoes with mushrooms, onions, blue cheese sauce and bacon.” She pulled a small plastic bag out of her bag. It was filled with mahogany bits of crispy, cooked bacon – Daisy’s favorite food. “Leftovers from the BLT I made last night.”
When the potatoes were done they assembled their meals in handmade ceramic bowls, made by a neighbor, then settled back into their spots in the living room. Daisy speared one of the crispy potato chunks and used it to point at Emma’s bulletin board. “Is that a card from your mom?”
Emma turned. It was the card her mother had sent, postmarked three days after Christmas. “Yes.”
“Why is it all ripped up?”
The heavy paper was bubbled and torn. Holes had replaces several ornaments on the card’s Christmas tree. Her mother’s scrawled signature was bisected by a jagged tear. “She put my Christmas present in it.”
“Damn. What did she do? Send you a roll of pennies?”
Emma balanced her bowl on her lap and clapped. “You’re close! It’s probably worth about the same amount. If you guess correctly you’ll win the grand prize. Instant chocolate pudding with whipped cream from a can.”
“Yay!” Daisy raised her bowl in celebration. Then her expression turned serious as she asked, “So are you going to tell me what the present was or am I really going to have to guess it?”
Emma shook her head. “It was a cheap necklace. Perfect, if I was still ten years old.”
“It’s the thought that counts?”
“This spring my mom called to tell me about the pink, rhinestone heart necklace her new boyfriend had bought for her at the flea market. The boyfriend’s long gone and I’m ninety-nine percent sure my present is that necklace.” She snorted. “What kind of thought went into giving her daughter a memento from one of her pathetic, failed relationships?”