Thursday, August 27, 2015

Eyes Sewn Shut (3)

(Part 3)

"Shopping Rain or Shine" by Andre Kohn
Celeste missed school again the following day, but by Thursday morning she was waiting in front of the house when Lora approached.

"Hey," she said as she fell in step.

"Hi," replied Lora. "You okay?"

“Yeah.  Look, I’m sorry ‘bout the other day--”

”No, it’s fine. Don’t be sorry. I didn’t mean to bother you, but I told your mom I’d pick up your work. And I was a little worried about you.”

“You didn’t bother me at all. I just wasn’t ready to talk about anything.”

They walked for a few moments in silence.  Lora hesitated but decided it would be rude not to at least ask.

”So can you tell me what happened?”

Celeste took a breath and cleared her throat.

“Well, no one died or anything, but I feel like he should be. My dad… he…" she trailed off.  "Look, I don’t want to get into it now. There’s too much to tell you between here and school, and I don’t feel like walking into class with mascara running down my face. How about we hang out at your place this afternoon and I'll fill you in on all the stupid details. Can I still take you up on those cookies?”

“Of course,” Lora said, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically.

She thought the 6th period bell would never ring.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Eyes Sewn Shut (2)

Part One of the story is here

Celeste Brighton had moved to Middlebrook from Kentucky.  She was blonde and willowy and fair complected.   Everything about her was light and bright and beautiful.   Lora was enchanted by this girl with the quick wit and slow manner of speaking.

After their initial meeting, the girls began spending time together each day: walking to and from school, eating lunch together, hanging out on Saturdays.  Lora would walk out of her way between classes just to run into Celeste in the hallway.  And though Celeste seemed to be genuinely excited about the budding friendship as well, Lora felt that they just weren't moving quickly enough toward being the best of friends.  She needed more than passing a note in class, more than even a friendship bracelet.  She needed matching Trapper Keepers.

Painting by Heatherlee Chan

How do I make myself more important to her than her other friends, thought Lora.

On a Tuesday morning in March, Lora made her way to Celeste’s house so that they could walk to school together. Celeste wasn’t waiting outside as she usually did, so Lora sat on the Brighton’s porch swing and waited. Ten minutes later, Celeste’s mother opened to the door.  Mrs. Brighton’s eyes were red, her hair disheveled.

“Oh, hi,  Hi, Mrs. B. Is Celeste ready?”

“Hon, Celeste won’t be going to school today. She’s feeling… a bit sick.”

Celeste had seemed fine when they had parted ways the previous afternoon.  Lora wondered what was wrong with her.

”Sick? Like a fever or something?"

"No, dear, no, not a fever.  Nothing catching."

"Oh," said Lora, "Like cramps or something?"

 "She's just under the weather, Lora.  She needs to rest."

"Well, is there anything I can do for her? Pick up her work or something?”

”That would be nice, hon. I’m sure she’d appreciate that. We both would actually. That's very thoughtful of you.”

”No prob. Tell her I hope she feels better, and I'll see her later.”

Mrs. Brighton began to close the door.

“And Mrs. B?”

Mrs. Brighton sighed. “Yes, dear?”

“I hope you feel better, too.”

Mrs. Brighton smiled weakly and gently closed the door.

All day long, Lora worried about Celeste. Why was her mom so weird about her being sick?  And why was Mrs. Brighton crying?

After 6th period, she gathered her belongings and hurried from the school, clutching Celeste’s work to her chest.   When she arrived at the Brighton’s front door and knocked, she was surprised to be greeted by Celeste.  Her friend was still in pajamas and had very obviously been crying.

“Oh my God, what’s wrong?”

“Lora, is it okay if I just talk to you later. I’m…we’re having a bad day.”

”Um, yeah, sure. I mean, did something happen? Did someone die? Your mom said you’re sick, so I brought your work. I just thought…”

“I’m not sick. Just… upset.”


Both girls stood in awkward silence.

“Well, if you feel better later, come over to my house. I’ll fill you in on what you missed today. And I can get mom to make us some brownies or something.”

“I may. I just don’t want to leave mom right now. That cool?”

”Yeah.  Yeah, it's cool. Sooo, just let me know,” Lora said, handing Celeste the books and turning toward the steps to leave.

“Thanks for the work, Celeste.”

”It’s no problem,” Lora said without turning around.

“No, really, thank you."  Lora felt Celeste's hand on her shoulder. " It's so sweet of you.  You’re such a great friend, Lora."

Lora turned and smiled at Celeste.  "Thank you."

 As she walked home, Lora's smile grew.  And grew.  Until Lora had all but forgotten about her friend's sickness or tears.

I'm a great friend.  

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Eyes Sewn Shut (1)

Thank you to everyone who gave me feedback on my Facebook page about the first story in my series I'm calling "Saligia."  I started this series about a decade ago and only completed two of the seven stories.  This next story is a bit longer than the first, so I'm going to post it a section at a time.  This one is a bit more straightforward than the last. 

Let me know what you think.  Feel free to be brutally honest.   

(If you didn't read the first story, "Asmodeus," you will find it here)

Eyes Sewn Shut

All she had wanted since first grade was a best friend. Each girl in Middlebrook Elementary School seemed to have one. She’d see them in the lunchroom, heads together, giggling over their lunches as they shared whatever desserts had been packed that day. She’d watch them on the playground, swinging side by side and talking in their own secret languages. She listened as they planned sleepovers and trips to the movies, as they coordinated their matching outfits, right down to their impeccably white Keds.
Painting by Sascalia

It’s not that she was terribly unpopular. Whenever the class split into teams for kickball, she was never chosen last. She was invited to birthday parties at least once a month. On Valentines Day, when the students in class would exchange little cards, Lora would always receive a dozen or more.
But Lora Barton was never satisfied with being noticed or chosen or remembered.  She didn't just want friends.  Lora wanted a best friend.

As Lora grew older, things didn’t change much. She was asked to dances, invited to study groups. She was even on the homecoming court one year. But Lora still didn’t have what she desired. Girls were generally nice to her and she occasionally attended their parties and sleepovers, but there wasn’t a girl that she could call her best friend.

Each day in Algebra, Lora would watch the girl beside her doodle on the back of a notebook. She’d write her name, her boyfriend’s name, her name with her boyfriend’s last name. Lora found it all quite silly.  She burned inside, though, when she saw the girl doodle those big blocky letters:


Lora stiffened as those last three letters appeared on the notebook, a bitter reminder in purple glitter. She had never written those letters herself, had never called anyone her “BFF.” She’d certainly not had a friend she wished to keep forever! Courtney glanced up and noticed Lora staring. She shuffled her notebook under a folder and pretended to listen to the lesson. Lora turned red and for a moment fantasized about snatching the notebook away and ripping it to shreds, as if tearing those names would break some magical bond that she herself so intensely desired.

As Lora walked home that afternoon, she wondered if she’d ever attain the elusive best friend she’d so wanted since childhood.

Three blocks from her house, she heard someone scream. Turning around, Lora saw a small puppy running down the street. Chasing the dog was a girl about Lora’s age, red-faced and screaming.


Noticing Lora, the girl yelled, “Grab him! Please grab him!”

The little mutt was about four driveways from Lora. Across the street, Mr. Wilkinson was backing onto the street in his light blue Honda. Lora knew she had to act fast. She ran toward the car, waving her arms above her head.

“Mr. Wilkinson! Stop! STOP!”

About the time his brake lights turned red, Lora caught sight of the puppy out of the corner of her eye. She turned around and scooped him up in her arms.

The dog's owner jogged up to Lora, speaking in bursts between short, labored breaths.

“Oh my God... thank you so much. I...I thought he was in his crate, so I left the front door open while I unloaded the car.”

The little puppy squirmed as Lora handed him over to his owner.

“Um, no problem,” Lora answered.

“No, really, you don’t understand. I couldn’t bear to lose Rudy. He was my sixteenth birthday present and I sleep with him every night. He’s my best friend.”

“Your best…?”

“Well, not really, but sometimes I feel like he's the only one who gets me.”  The girl smiled at Lora, her entire face lighting up. Lora couldn't think of a response and replied with only a nervous laugh.

“Look, why don’t you come by my house. It’s a mess ‘cause we just moved in, but my mom just went and bought pizza.”

”That’s okay, I really…”

“C’mon, you have to let me repay you somehow. You’re my hero!” She hugged the puppy to her chest. “Our hero.  Isn't that right, Rudy?"

The girl smiled at Lora and said, "What a way to meet my first friend here."

End of Part One


I wrote this about a decade ago when I was keeping a blog called "No Shoes Allowed" on Myspace (remember that???). 

This was the first installment of a series called "Saligia," which included stories inspired by the so-called "Seven Deadly Sins."  

Never wavering, the preacher's voice leapt from the speakers and sauntered across the dashboard. Each word wagged its long finger of shame in her face.

Run, my brothers and sisters, run from the sin of lust, the sin of the flesh.

She reached to change the station, her eyes drifting toward the rear view mirror. Her mother glared at her from the back seat, the look of constant disappointment staining her pinched face. Withdrawing her hand from the radio, she grimaced as a smile of triumph fastened to the corners of her mother's mouth. She quickly averted her eyes from the backseat.

"You can't stop me. You know that don't you? Dr. Perkins told me I don't have to listen to you, that I don't have to worry what you think anymore."

Even without looking, she knew her mother was shaking her head, so she turned the mirror down and focused on the green mile-marker sign ahead.

"Just because you spent forty years being ignored by daddy does not mean that you can guilt me into putting myself through the same. Don't pretend this is a moral issue, Mama. You're just jealous."

Church, I tell you to remember Joseph and forget not his example when the whore wife of Potiphar threw herself at that young man of God. Did he hesitate? No. Did he falter? No. What did he do church? He ran. Say it with me now. He RAN!

She had been running for years now. It seemed everywhere she went she was running. Running to pick up the kids. Running to get supper on the table. Running to this meeting and that choir practice. But she was mostly running out of excuses for the man she'd called husband for sixteen years.

Run, I tell you. Husbands and fathers, run from the smut, from the pornography that fills your minds with evil thoughts. Burn your dirty magazines. Crush your filthy videos. Turn off your computers--no, toss them out with the garbage. And with them, toss out the pollution that is rotting your hearts and homes.

It had been over two years since he'd touched her, with the exception one or two rare occasions when he'd come home drinking after a night out with the guys from work. At first, she had blamed herself. She had gained more than a few pounds during her pregnancies and had struggled with losing the last twenty. She was convinced that he was just no longer attracted to her, repulsed by her soft body and stretch marks. But after six or seven months, she decided it couldn't be only her fault. It wasn't normal for a man to deprive himself so long, even if he was no longer turned on by his wife. She was a woman, wasn't she, and better than no woman at all?

Run, I say, run from those who tempt you. Men, do not find yourself alone with your young secretary. Women, do not be lured into flirtation with your male coworkers. Pray to God for strength to resist those who would join you in the sin of adultery. Resist them and flee as you flee the Devil. Run. Flee. Run.

She had met Ted eight weeks earlier. He was hired to perform upgrades on the office computers. In those first days, their interactions were innocuous enough: drinking coffee together in the break room, discussing the recent elections or laughing over the previous night's episode of their favorite show. Within two weeks, though, she was meeting him outside of work for coffee, making excuses for working late. Eventually, there were subtle signs of what her mother would call "wooing"—a brush of the hand on her lower back, their knees touching beneath the table during staff meetings. Still, she hadn't put much thought into their dalliances. She was married and he was almost ten years her junior.

Run from the lies society and the media will tell you. They would have you believe that you should do what feels good, what makes you happy. Ignore what the Good Book says. Ignore the consequences of your actions. Ignore your neglected children, your shunned wives and husbands. But I'm telling you, church, what you are born to want is sin. What makes your flesh happy is as black as your hearts without the blood of the Christ. So run from your soap operas and your romance novels. Run from those who laugh in the face of what God has joined together. Say it church: run!

She readjusted her mirror.

"Hear that Mama? What God joined together. Even you couldn't find God in my marriage."

The familiar green eyes in the backseat narrowed. She braced herself for a slap that never came. With new determination, she continued. "You know, it'd be different if he were one of those paraplegics or something or if he was suffering with cancer. If he had some reason that he couldn't have… be intimate. A woman needs touching, Mama. He may be just fine touching himself, but that's not enough for me."


She was running, running from a life that she didn't sign up for. And though she knew she'd have to return—while there was no love left for her husband, she could not abandon her two children—she took solace in knowing she could run away for a little while.


When Ted had kissed her the day before, she felt like she was sixteen again. She could still feel his hands on her face and taste him on her lips. Her husband had never kissed her like that, not even on their wedding day. Or wedding night. Up against the wall, pressed against his body, she felt something inside her awaken.  
Illustration by Yury Darash


They had decided to meet two towns over, at a small hotel that was off the main road. Ted told her she deserved better than a cheap, by-the-hour motel. She had spent the afternoon in her tiny bathroom, surrounded by old copies of Cosmo, as she paid meticulous, rather ridiculous attention to each detail of her body. She was scrubbed, shaved, trimmed, lotioned and groomed—her body was different after having the children but she still knew how to accentuate her best features.

I know that some of you do not struggle with this temptation like your brothers and sisters. I know that there are some of you right now who feel I am wasting precious pulpit time with this sermon I have been given. But I also know that some of you are struggling with temptation. Pray, my children, pray for God to remove this temptation. Pray that He give you feet to run away from those who would lead you astray. Pray for your Nikes to be blessed by the Holy Ghost and that they will carry you in the right direction.

When she pulled into the parking lot of the Magnolia Inn, she scanned the parking lot for Ted's car. Pulling into a spot at the far end of the row, she adjusted her mirror to check her makeup. Fire burned in the green eyes over her shoulder as she reapplied her Truly Toffee lipstick.

"Mama, you are not going inside with me, understand? I'm a grown woman and I can make my own decisions. I don't need your input or supervision." She capped the lipstick and bent the mirror toward the passenger seat just as her mother opened her mouth to speak.

And if you find yourself mired too deeply in the black sticky tar of your sin, then pray for your fellow sinner to run from you. Pray that the opportunity to fornicate, to defile your temple, to sin against your God, will escape from you. Pray that the harlot will flee, that the lecher will take flight. If you aren't strong enough to run, pray that you will be run from! God is faithful and He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear! In the first chapter of…

Turning the radio off, she pulled the keys from the ignition and tossed them into her handbag. The gravel in the parking lot crunched and shifted under her heels as she walked toward the lobby. She still didn't see Ted's car, but she assured herself that he was just running late. Bells tinkled as she opened the door to the lobby, the air conditioning raising chill bumps on her bare legs. A man in a yellow shirt sat behind the counter, absorbed in the newest John Grisham novel. He put his hand up to indicate he needed another moment, then finished the chapter and placed the book face down on the counter.

"Yes, ma'am, may I help you?"

"I'm meeting… we…well, I'm not sure what to tell you."

"Do you have reservations?"

"I believe so. Do you have a room for Ted Wyatt?"

The man wrinkled his brow, shaking his head.

"Um, what about under Ma—"

"Wait, what was his name? Tom?"


"Yes, Ted. I believe he was in here earlier. Left this."

He handed her an envelope with her name scrawled across the front.

"What is it?"

"I don't rightly know. He just asked me to give it to you if you showed up."

She sat down in a high-backed chair and opened the envelope. She read the enclosed letter—the very brief letter—three times before standing up, smoothing her skirt and walking toward the door.

"Ma'am, will you be needing a room?"

Her composure began to crumble. Without turning to face him, she shook her head, unable to speak. He made a soft clicking sound in his throat.

"Don't worry, hon. You aren't the first."

As soon as she crossed the threshold of the lobby door, she felt the tears burning her eyes. She kicked off her shoes and snatched them up as she broke into a dead run toward her car. The gravel dug into her pedicured feet but she didn't stop. She didn't stop running until she opened the door of her blue sedan, threw her shoes in the passenger-side floorboard and slid behind the wheel. The same gravel that had torn her feet now sprayed from beneath her rear tires. She was back on the highway in less than a minute; it was then she heard a low snicker from the backseat.

"Do not start, Mama."

But the laughter continued, escalating from a snicker to a chuckle.

"Don't you dare laugh at me, you mean old crow. So help me, God—"

The chuckle subsided, replaced by a full-blown cackle. She could picture her mother's face, the lines around her mouth grotesque, her eyes open so that she could see the affect of her vicious mirth. Her mother had always looked her most malevolent when laughing, since she only did so when it came at the expense of others.

She fumbled for the radio, pushing the knob several times before she realized it was already on. The sermon was over and a choir solemnly warbled out the words to a hymn she remembered from her childhood.

"Come home, come home, ye who are weary come home…"

Though it seemed her mother was lost in the throes of glee, she had obviously been restraining herself in some way. By the time the choir reached "softy and tenderly," the laughter grew louder and shriller, punctuated with gasps for air.

Desperately, she took both hands from the wheel. She fumbled for the button that would change the station while simultaneously turning the volume up until her ears throbbed.  Both hands back on the wheel, she recognized the voice, a voice that she had received a whipping for as a teenager when her mother had snatched away her headphones.

The laughter from the backseat began to subside.

"Yeah, Mama, it's your favorite. Remember? I sure do. You took a belt to me over this."

She felt her shoulders begin to relax, her grip on the steering wheel loosen.

"I'm sure you're as pleased as punch about this, but it's not over. Ted said I make him feel electric. Electric, Mama. You'll see. This isn't over."

The backseat was silent again, save for the music blaring from the speakers. She forced herself to smile and wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. It was a lie. Deep down she knew it was over. It had taken  years for her to work up the courage—and swallow the shame—to open herself up to another man. And she knew she would never forgive him for making a fool of her.

She had lied to her mother but it tasted so much better in her mouth than the truth did.

She adjusted the volume to a more bearable level, but still kept it louder than her speakers were accustomed. She rolled her window down, allowing the warm wind to make her wet face sticky. The anger and embarrassment peeled from her skin, settling outside in the tall grass beside Highway 129. She had run. And she knew that eventually she'd have the chance to run again. Next time would be different. Next time would be truly… electric.

She pushed her hand through her hair as the familiar voice sang her home.

"Everybody needs somebody, you're not the only one."