The real tragedy of “First Man.”

Gosling
Cute fellow, but not worth losing a salad over.

Saw the movie First Man at a theater blessed with 4D. Much shaking. Some water sprayed on us during scenes when kids were in the pool.

(Pleased we weren’t seeing Jaws. Can imagine a dead fish being tossed our way, every so often. Or severed leg.)

The theater also had excellent food, not just the usual crap. I had a Horseradish Steak Sandwich and a Green Salad.

Luckily, I didn’t dress the salad before the 4D shaking commenced. As soon as that scene went into action, my salad flew off my tray.

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*Another* short story published: I Wanted Ten.

Airplane Want TenFriends, I Wanted Ten means everything to me. It is the first meaningful piece of fiction I ever wrote. Over 3.5 years, I sent 34 submissions waiting for that YES from Blue Lake Review, and I feel incredibly grateful to editors Diana May-Waldman and Mitchell Waldman for publishing this dangerous piece.

It is triggering as hell.

1 sad girl

The piece opens with the rape of a young girl by three men. My caring friends, let us remember this is fiction.

If you don’t want to read the super-triggering part of I Wanted Ten, I present a more gentle, edited opening here. After reading it, you can pick up the thread two inches down the scroll in Blue Lake Review.

Before we start, I want to give a special “Thank You” to long-time blog-follower and beta reader for I Wanted Ten, Laura Gibbons. Thanks with love.

The More Gentle, Edited Opening

 

 

I Wanted Ten: The More Gentle, Edited Opening

I was watching myself from beside myself. I saw myself crouched in the dim light of the hall stairs, eavesdropping on Dad and Lyle, Dad’s best friend from their army days. They were whispering about my older sister.

“Patrice has gotten mighty curvy all of a sudden,” Lyle said, and my dad agreed in the submissive voice he never used, only with Lyle. That was when I left.

When you sensed the danger, you left for the ceiling. That was when you found yourself looking down on yourself, thinking, Look what was happening to me.

I looked down at myself on the stairs—skinny, like any seventh grader, same Catholic uniform as all the girls, but I was different. I knew what would be mine. It was Patrice’s for three years, almost every time Mom left town. Mom traveled for work one or two weekends a month, and on those weekends, Dad, Lyle, and their other buddy, Ted, took Patrice to Lyle’s cabin in the mountains east of Seattle. They left me home to take care of Matthew. I never asked and Patrice never told, but I totally got what happened. Because each time Patrice came back, she looked swollen.

The next time they went, they left Patrice home with Matt.

When you knew it was going to happen, you found yourself looking down on yourself from the ceiling. When it was not so scary, you moved only to the side of yourself. When you thought you were going to die, you were gone.

It was Sunday morning. In Lyle’s jeep on the way home, they smelled like cologne. We pulled into a truck stop—big orange sign, Truck Stop Seven—where they encouraged me to order anything I wanted. I gobbled two butterscotch sundaes and puked in the parking lot. Oh, the fuss. They sponged off my face, carried me to the jeep. Lyle clicked me in as if he were caring for a little girl. We drove right past a pay phone. I could call someone, the police? Tell them. Help me. They wouldn’t believe me. Dad wiped my face one last time. Ted gave me a mint. Did any of that really happen, at the cabin?

As we passed through the last tunnel into Seattle, my reflection in the car window stared back at me, swollen.

At home. Patrice called me a bitch. When we were little, we had a kitty. Whenever I petted him, Patrice’s eyes would narrow, little slices of fury. Eventually, I let Kitty out, knowing she would never come back. There was no cat to let out when Patrice called me a bitch, nothing to do but watch her dress for school, her sweater tighter than usual, her mini more mini.

I couldn’t eat. On my bed, I curled this way then that, refusing to come out of my room, refusing to go to school or even ballet, which I loved, I lived for. I couldn’t imagine wearing nothing but a leotard and tights. Across the room, my first pair of toe shoes dangled on the wall by their long, pink ribbons. I was so proud to buy them last fall, back when it mattered who got into pointe class. Blisters formed before barre exercises ended and popped during adagio.By the time you got to jumps, your own blood dried your white-pink tights to the insides of your toe shoes. Removing them after class was tricky work. I loved the pain, the blood, the proof that I was dancing. I was done with pain and blood.

It was that night, I listened to Patrice get calls from three different boys, new boys every one. I dropped into my chest, into an endless hole, the bottom of the universe. The whole, empty, cold weight lay on top of me.

Far, far away, there was the tiniest speck of light, barely a dot against the black background. Behind the background, I could see the cardboard the velvet was glued to, the strings holding the background up and the light fixtures creating the effect. I went to that speck of light anyway. It kept me alive.

It was Tuesday. When Mom returned from her business trip, she hovered over me, smoothing her already perfect hair, exhaling gently onto my face. Every night, two or three glasses of wine before dinner, one or two after. She became someone to stay away from. Never smeared her lipstick, though. I always wondered how she managed that.

She asked Dad, “Hon, was Jen like this all weekend?”

“Uh, no, I don’t think … we had Chinese last night. Maybe it disagreed with her.”

Mom took my temperature. Normal. “There is nothing wrong with you.”

My mother, Earth First Cosmetics’ top outside sales rep, decided there was nothing wrong with me.

Receiving no response, Mom turned to Dad like a helpless child. He stroked her arm. “Tell you what. I’ll swing her by the doctor’s tomorrow.”

Lyle was our doctor.

Lyle was our doctor. My dad, who was in real estate, gave him the lead on the cabin, and Ted was their lawyer. Our families spent Christmas together. Christmas, Easter, Fourth of July. These were our friends.These were our only friends. I wanted to spread my wings and fly to a land where kind people danced in the temples as the sun rose and set.

My parents left. I stared at the ceiling, sometimes down from it. Matt came into my room. He didn’t knock, nobody knocked in our house, but he hesitated for a respectful two seconds in the doorway before embarking on a cautious path across the floor, a sub in enemy waters. He perched on the edge of my bed. We sat like that, in silence. A stench like a sewer welled up inside me, pressed against my throat. I locked my jaws against it and wrapped my arms across my chest. I would not cry. They would not make me cry. I knew what would be mine. It was Patrice’s for three years. Not only the weekends Mom was out of town, but also the two or three nights a week she worked late. A quiet descended on the house, a horrible, sticky quiet, and we waited—my sister, in her room, Matthew and me in my room, in the fort we built of pillows and blankets. Now I understood why Patrice never turned him away, why she chose simply to wait in her room. There was no way out.

He would not go to Patrice anymore. They would do to my body what they wanted, but they would never never never get to me. I would keep them out until I was old enough and strong enough to make them stop, and one day, I would make them hurt, too.

Matt put his hand on my knee. He was only eight. Who taught him to be so kind? I couldn’t take it. I hit his hand away. I said, “Get out.”

 

It was July. Dad took us to Italy. Business trip. Those trips were numerous—Greece, Ireland, Spain. Mom dragged us from museum to monument. In Rome, leaving some big museum, Mom held Patrice by one hand and Matt by the other. Matt was her baby, and with Patrice fabulously curvy at fifteen, the Italian boys were always around. Mom barely bothered calling over her shoulder to me. Patrice was beautiful. I was easy to manage.

Matthew was the boy. That was all there was to that.

On a bridge, I stopped. The back of my mother’s summer suit receded, a balloon when you let go of the string. I kept waiting for her to turn around, to catch me not being good. And then she was gone.

I was thirteen and alone, my only effort at anything since that first time at the cabin. In those six months, all I did was wait for it, then wait for it to be over. The Sisters at school complained that I was not the active class participant I had been since grade school. It worried my parents. There were conferences.

Crossing to the side of the bridge, I stared several hundred feet below to the water, an ethereal olive green, dancing in the Italian afternoon. The sun beat down and the wind brushed my face, making it seem impossible, what happened every few weeks at the cabin, every few nights with Dad. My weight shifted to my left leg and I leaned a little farther over the railing. I wanted to be covered by the glassy-green movement. It might hurt for a second, that first smash, but after, nothing. Nothing else sour, no more of this hated numbness. Numbness offered survival, but the price was my life.

I could give life up, oh yes. But I didn’t want to.

I wanted to be here for Italian summers. I wanted to take the summer sun inside me and grow tomatoes with it.

I was not going to die. I was going to get out.

Mom was shrieking. What registered before she clutched me was that she smeared her lipstick. Her smudge of a mouth moved weirdly fast, issuing disjointed noises, like a movie rewinding. She was more upset that she lost me than she was that I disappeared.

“Why?” she asked over and over, as if I were keeping an answer from her.

It was dinner at the hotel. Patrice kicked me under the table. “You just wanted attention.”

Kind of not, really. It never occurred to me to not be there the way a good girl always was. The next morning, I slipped away at yet another impressive monument and wandered to a fountain I recognized as being near our hotel.

I had no money.

I didn’t know anybody.

My Italian consisted of the three phrases my parents insisted we learn in every country: How much? My name is . . . and Where is the bathroom? Meanwhile, they practically shouted as they tried to make people understand English.

Since I didn’t know what was next, I returned to the hotel. I got an extra key to our room, let myself in, waited.

Tap on the door. Dad’s desperate whisper. “It’s me, Jen.” I never considered not letting him in. His face pressed into my neck. “I love you so much, Jen. That’s why I do it.”

He told me that a lot, in my room at night. Each time he said it, I experienced him as a child inside me. I looked out through his eyes as someone did it to him or someone he loved. That part wasn’t clear.

The lobby. Biscotti and iced espresso. When everyone else got back, no one said a word, not Mom about her obvious panic, not Patrice, who glared at the tablecloth, or Matt, who stared at the floor. This would never end.

Seattle. Stealth personified, I scoured – {To pick up the story, click and proceed about two inches down the scroll on the right side of the screen.}

 

Ten Days. Ten Books: Day Eight: Black Hearts in Battersea.

I’ll admit it; most of my book picks are low-hanging fruit. However, there are two books in the Wolves series by Joan Aiken, the two that directly follow her YA classic, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, that are just as fantabulous, and that I read almost as often.

 

4th-grade: I started Black Hearts in BatterSea. I did not know that there was such a thing as a sequel. I understood that a series such as Little House followed the same characters through many a book. However, the Wolves sequels took secondary characters from The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and made them primary in Black Hearts in BatterSea. The same in Black Hearts as it progressed to Nightbirds on Nantucket. All my old friends! One, die-hard enemy! Sequels!

I would rank Black Hearts in BatterSea marginally over Nightbirds on Nantucket. Black Hearts is set during the Hanoverian Wars. When we came to studying the period in History class, I was well up on my game–though for the life of me, I can’t remember much beyond the phrase “Hanoverian Wars.” Bonny Prince Charles?

Wolves

Aiken’s famous The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

By the Numbers: “A Distressing State of Purity.”

Rosie Goldstein
Goodness!

Let us first take note that the image the magazine Literary Orphans chose is far sexier than I am enjoying.

Over the past two years, my latest publication, the flash fiction piece “A Distressing Sate of Purity” was rejected thirty-one times before finding a spectacular home at Literary Orphans. One of those thirty-one rejections came from the literary magazine for which I am now a reader, Vestal Review. In May of 2017, a VR Editor Who Shall Not Be Named wrote on my rejection that “A Distressing Sate of Purity” was “an interesting story except for the ending.” Traitor!

Due to Vestal’s response, I sent “Purity” to a magazine which offered editor feedback for $4. Read below. (Some parts are redacted because they reveal critical plot points.)

Though ostensibly flash, the piece seems to be interested in telling a modern fable; that is, a piece that feel a little bit bigger, more allegorical, more omniscient in the telling. Usually flash focuses on a single concentrated moment told in detail, with an intense focus on the language, but this piece skips time and the narrative voice stays large. That style is not to my particular taste. What I prefer to capture me in flash is the language: a dense focus on the line and the energy brought about by a particular rhythm and line of tension in the prose.

I think the most interesting part of Rosie’s character is something that wasn’t quite exploded enough: she seems to want to {REDACTED}, and she figures out a situation in which she can and yet {REDACTED}. Why is that? I’d like to see that story zero in on a moment of interaction with {REDACTED} — right now it’s mostly told, and I’d like to loosen the narrative grip on the piece and see a moment of confusion or ambiguity in Rosie’s education.

I took my $4-advice to heart. And worked my ending. And kept submitting.