Dessert for Breakfast

Dessert for Breakfast

The normally timorous Tilly put her hands on her hips and gave a truculent argument for dessert before dinner. “Daddy said coal miners get to eat dessert first! When I grow up, I wanna be a coal miner!” A very serious look passed between Mama and Daddy. Their surreptitious plot to make the horror of those old shafts sound like a grand adventure, with spurious rewards, were gradually bearing fruit.

Tilly’s mother forced her lips into a wan smile for Tilly. “Well, now, that makes good sense. Coal miners work hard all day, down in those mines. They’ve earned the right to eat dessert first, if they want to.” She didn’t explain to Tilly that those old, spent mines would soon be their only respite from the heat, or that they often collapsed, due to the ubiquitous fissures in the rock, as the ground underfoot shuddered and heaved, trying to rid itself of a two-legged pestilence.

A deep fissure had appeared in their back yard, only yesterday. The Culbersons’ house had vanished into a bottomless sinkhole, just a week, maybe two, before, taking the couple with it.

The parched and torrid earth seemed to be opening mouth-like chasms, gasping for oxygen and fresh water. There was little left, between the sparse, increasingly toxic air and the scorching sun.

“I found a grotto, yesterday,” Daddy said. “Water’s not too acidic.” That look, again.

“What’s ‘acidic’?” asked Tilly, eating the hated turnips first, before the sweet carrot patty, under Mama’s stern and watchful eye. Vegetables were hard to come by, even using ingenious, living room gardening techniques passed down by Tilly’s sagacious, prescient grandfather. The roots, showing signs of rot that had to be carefully pared away, were the last of them.

“Sour, like fermented apple juice,” said Daddy. A few teaspoons of vinegar probably didn’t have enough Vitamin C to ward off scurvy, but it was the best they could do, now.

“Eww,” said Tilly. “Can I see the grotto?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” said Daddy, appraising his spunky little girl. “It’s a long way. I had to climb down the old elevator shaft and walk through those dark tunnels to get to it. You’d have to be a good climber – very strong and very brave.” Encouraging a solipsistic interest in that dangerous, ancient colliery was now a survival skill, Tilly’s father thought, resigned.

“Are there bats? Like in a cave?” asked Tilly.

“Would that be scary, do you think?” asked Mama, concern written plainly across her brow.

“No, I wanna see bats!” cried Tilly. “Mouses with wings!” Tilly flapped her arms. Mama and Daddy often called her “Little Mouse.”

“Good! Because there might be bats. We’ll have to look very hard to find them, though,” said Daddy. Mama nodded, thinking how unlikely it was that they’d find any signs of life in the abandoned shafts. There wasn’t much time left to buy. In a few hours, a few days, maybe, the choice would be clear: burn, suffocate, or starve. The grotto, with its “not-too-acidic” water, might offer a fourth choice, a gentler choice.

“Can we go tomorrow?” asked Tilly. Her excitement was giving way to happy somnolence. Daddy picked her up and her head dropped to his shoulder.

“Let’s go now,” said Mama, clearing the dinner dishes and grabbing the backpacks that had been placed by the front door, earlier. Now, before the early morning sun began to penetrate the thinning atmosphere. “We can have dessert for breakfast, Little Mouse,” she whispered, her eyes glistening.


This story inspired by Writing Prompt – Creative Copy Challenge #615 and the words: Ubiquitous, Truculent, Torrid, Torpid, Timorous, Surreptitious, Spurious, Somnolent, Solipsistic, Sagacity

Red Paint

Red Paint

I sat on the floor, cross-legged, “Lotus style,” attempting for the 5,678th time to transcend something or other by way of meditation. This was supposed to be therapeutic; instead, it made me itch. Invisible hives. I fidgeted, waiting for the tranquil chime that would signal the end of this torment and let me get back to work. My Captain thought this would be “therapeutic.”

Work. The work was therapeutic. The work was killing me. Not working was killing me faster.

How could I sit here, clearing my mind of all thought, focusing on nothing, when out there – out there – were children being bought and sold like blow-up vinyl sex toys? Made to endure unimaginable things, things that were taboo even in the fantasies of normal men and women? Working undercover had given me urgent purpose, but a deep sickness had taken root in my mind, and in my heart.

This was not the cure.

I no longer understood the term, “tolerant.” My Captain thought my devotion to the job was “unselfish.” Far from it. The last case had unfolded like layers of filo pastry, each one revealing an oppressive layer of nuts beneath treacly sweetness. Slender waifs, dressed up like dolls, used up, discarded–at first, we had thought it was a warehouse for mannequins from the children’s department. Disjointed arms, legs akimbo. Our minds refused to process the scene.

No. Center. Listen to the burbling of the artificial waterfall at the front of the studio. Make the mind a blank.

No, not “unselfish,” Captain. Unselfish would be helping those children, not sitting here with taboo fantasies of my own. I imagined those men we’d arrested, three weeks ago. Imagined them, walking free on some technicality while their slick dick of a lawyer grinned, the way one does after winning a Chess match, crushing the King in a meaty fist. Nothing more than a game, to him. I wondered if he kept a spare set of pawns at home. I imagined those men, their blood splattered like crimson paint from a can lobbed by a cannon against whitewashed walls. I imagined the art gallery where that wall might hang, even as I might hang for painting it. That was…satisfying, if not positively uplifting.

Center. Focus. The work was killing me. Not working was killing me faster.

At last, the chime sounded, and I was free to return to the work.


This story inspired by  and the words: Tolerant, Transcend, Tranquil, Therapeutic, Taboo, Undercover, Unselfish, Uplifting, Urgent, Unfold.

To whomever romanticized the notion of the writer, hunched over a bit of parchment in an attic room, eating nothing but gruel and subsisting on cheap whiskey or laudanum, go jump in a lake. I am suffering from seasonal allergies and find that, and lack of sleep, to be not at all conducive to creative thought. Sure, we slog through. But this is not the dream. The dream (and I am living it) is a well-functioning computer, a soft blanket, a comfy armchair, and hefty doses of pseudoephedrine, washed down with filtered eau du tap, and a good snort of oxymetazoline hcl. Not having a stuffy nose would help a lot.

Prunebutt the Muse is back. “Excuses, excuses,” he sneers.

Funny, Prunebutt the Fuzzball makes a decent handkerchief.


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Stolen Valor

Stolen Valor

Kami cocked her head at the handsome, youthful face on the screen, at eyes that radiated kindness. She zoomed in on the photo until she could make out the name on the badge: Lieutenant Ari Zartman. He was wearing his dress uniform, but grinning at a little blonde girl perched on the crook of his arm. She held his face between her tiny hands, her lips puckered and poised to give him a kiss. Such a zest for life, those two. What had she ever done to be worthy of them? Kami wondered. .

“I had to write,” he said, in his message. “I hope you don’t mind. I hope we can have a meaningful relationship. Are you as sweet as you look in your profile pic?”

Kami inhaled and let the air out of her lungs slowly, through pursed lips. She looked at glass-covered shadowbox on the wall, with its triangular-folded flag. “No,” she typed back.

A sleepy little girl, unperturbed and suffused with clean, fragrant warmth from her bubble bath, stood in the doorway. “Mommy?”

“Teeth brushed, Rache?” Kami asked, her voice cracking with tension. She clicked the Report link, wishing there were a greater crime she could choose from the list than “Impersonating someone I know.” And that wouldn’t do, either, because Ari wasn’t there, anymore, to confirm or deny her claim. “Fraud or scam,” she chose, for the seventh time this month. Lord, liberate me from hate, she pleaded silently.

The child nodded. “Teef brushed. Will you tell me a story?”

Kami nodded. She would tell Rachel the story about the King who loved his Queen and his little Princess, who would one day grow up to slay dragons and run the country. Neither of them ever got tired of that one, and to Rachel’s delight, Kami never, ever, said, “The End.”


This flash fiction inspired by Writing Prompt – Creative Copy Challenge #613 and the words: Valor, Youthful, Zest, Worthy, Unperturbed, Suffused, Poise, Meaningful, Liberate, Kindness

Contemporary Sonnet #010101010101

Contemporary Sonnet #010101010101

Contemporary Sonnet #010101010101

I morfed while speaking ASL (or was that a/s/l?)
Across the keys my fingers moved, in ALL CAPS DID I YELL
Hermaphroditic princess of Marcel Duchamp’s white throne
Nonplussed by nonsense on the screen, the drivel of a drone.
He asked me “Do u wanna chat?” l asked him, “Can you spell?
He asked “Whut R u Waring?” and I muttered, “Go to Hell.”
I judge performance with a pen, its ink as red as blood;
If you say “Insert A in B,’ your name, it will be mud.”
He vowed to be my lackey; and I, his Mistress (“Dork!”)
Dispatched him to a chat room with a jeweled tuna fork
And there did bade him to recite, in front of all and sundry,
A sonnet from atop his head – no limp iambic blund’ring!
He couldn’t get it up to rhyme (his fountain pen, I mean!)
Next thing he did was disconnect, and ne’er again was seen.


Written in 2007, based on an online chat circa 1990 but apparently one of those “evergreen” things that’s relatable, even today. Reposted in answer to

Some things never change.

Asibikaashi #WednesdayVerses

Asibikaashi #WednesdayVerses

Strong threads you weave;
A web of them,
At first, to swaddle and protect –
Softly subtle, safe cocoon,
Where only pleasant dreams reside.

Bright sunlight flickers,
warm, upon the glass, and I
Can’t move. Can’t breathe.
Your sticky net catches everything
Grows tighter as I struggle,
Wiggling free.
Where once I fed on you,
You feed on me.

Night terror, you,
Your breath tickling my cheek.
Does it still breathe? I hardly dare.
Half-dreaming, I reach out,
Slap you. Slap me.

So long ago, a truce – you
Retreated to the shadows,
Present, still.
Those graying wisps
Hang tattered, torn, defeated.
I learned to deal with nightmares
On my own.

But there! Just now,
Upon the dew-kissed window-pane,
I see you! Sunning yourself.
Smiling at the rounded belly
Beneath my hand, as we
In our own ways, our own time –
Begin to weave.


Happy New Year. And welcome to #WednesdayVerses. Vinay and Reema are offering a prompt each Wednesday to inspire you to write a poem. If it does, write it as a post on your blog, then come link up with them. If it doesn’t, then browse the links to read what others have written, and share the posts with your poetry-loving friends. The linky is open from Wednesday till the following Tuesday night! Please add your post to the link only if it is a post written for #WednesdayVerses. All are welcome and invited to participate.

The prompt for this week is the picture of a lovely dream-catcher, which finds its origins in Ojibwe legends. A link to the image is here.


Author’s note: I wanted to learn more about the real history of the Native American dreamcatcher – not just the commercialized motif so popular since the 1990s or so and more likely made in China, now, than by Native American hands. I hope that my own reading and interpretation of the story does it justice. What I saw, in reading the legends, was mothers and sisters and grandmothers standing in as proxies for the protective Spider Woman, Asibikaashi, whose web hangs over children’s cradles and beds and “catches” all the nightmares and only lets good thoughts and dreams come through the center. But children grow up; part of becoming an adult is struggling against the protection and safety of their elders’ “webs” and learning to take care of themselves, so that they can one day take care of others. As a mother, myself, I know that it’s only after we’ve broken free of the “constraints” of what we see as “overprotectiveness” that we’re ready to accept help from the old “spider women” whose webs once chafed and annoyed us.

Observant: My #OneWord365 for 2020

Observant: My #OneWord365 for 2020

My parents were the first to observe just how unobservant I am.  There’s a reasonable chance that, when my mom said, “Look quick! Did you see the [bear, deer, flying monkeys, velociraptor]?” it was just a feeble attempt to startle my nose out of a good book, so that I would not miss the endless mile markers as they raced backwards through the tempered glass windows of our VW. I imagined the slow respiration of stalwart trees pumping oxygen into the shimmering air as it rose in heat waves from the asphalt. Jarred so abruptly from the pages of other worlds as they took solid form in my head, it’s hard not to notice the sudden nausea brought on from reading in the car. “You’ll get carsick if you keep reading that, you know.” I did notice things, but I may have missed a beady-eyed crow as it flew faster to our destination than vulcanized rubber tires could carry us.

I think I’d had one or two dates with my husband before I noticed whether or not he wore glasses, or sported a mustache. I did notice his intelligence, his kindness, his trustworthiness – those things that matter most, but would hardly count at all in a police line-up. My mother laughed at me, perhaps relieved that I could not mentally reconstruct the tickle of hair against my upper lip. I doubt that I will ever put Sherlock Holmes to shame, but I think I have done, and can do, better than that.

It’s not just that writers need to be able to pick the purloiners of letters from a line-up; writers need to restock the bits and bobs that build imaginary worlds and all the actors in them. They don’t spring up from the void, fully formed; they are lovingly crafted from snippets of conversation; flashes of memory; wiggly things found under rocks; wisps of nightmares. The imagination must be restocked through keen observation and refilled like a muddy trout pond after years of drought and neglect. Laser focus on particular and pragmatic projects can lead to lack of energetic interest and observation when it comes to everything else.

There is another sense of the word observant: that of being diligently attentive to principles. In a sense, that brings me full circle to 2015, when I first discovered this insidious concept of choosing a single word to guide me in the coming year. In “Just ONE Word? You’re Kidding, Right?” I chose the word, “commit.” Last year’s word was, “limitless.” Did I observe time slipping, stealthy, from year to year, while commitment wavered and limits were, more often than not, self-imposed?

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

from Macbeth, William Shakespeare

Corinne Rodrigues writes, in “Is The Word Of The Year Practice Stressful?” that it’s meant to be “a visualization of what you want to be during the year. No pressure. No guilt.”  In my mind’s eye, I am hiding behind winter coats in a closet, clutching a dictionary to my chest, silently rocking back and forth. I want it all, I whisper. I don’t want a word. I want a paragraph. Then another, and another. If we’re talking about aspirational goals, and if I could choose more than one word, I’d keep both of those and add a new one: “observant.”

Life is short, and I want to live it, observant; I want to drink in the details, and wrestle loose from ordinary experience the elusive, recalcitrant words. At the end, I don’t want a tombstone with a handful of clichés carved into stone; some day, I want to fly – a billion dust motes sparkling like snow in sunshine, drifting onto the warm waves of the Atlantic Ocean as laughter rains up from a sandy beach into the endless blue sky. There are no words.

Meanwhile, in the interstices between that inevitable “some day” and the experiences of tomorrow and today, there are all the words.