The Light Here Makes it Real

A short story set in, surprise, Paris. For your isolation consumption…

The Light Here Makes it Real

They talk about the light here as though it were some great shakes,” Reeny says. “The light in Paris. The light in Paris.”

She takes a sip of her latte and lets the cup drop noisily back onto its saucer. “But they never mention the rats, do they? Not when Ted and I lived here. Not in the brochures, not in the movies I’ve seen, and not in the books I’ve read. Not a goddamned rat among the lot of them. Not one. Cripes.”

You can find all the bad bits if you look hard enough, Reen,” I say. “But are the rats really bothering you? They’re just wandering about the shrubbery, going about their business. Don’t look. Ignore them.”

I know my reply doesn’t help, but Reeny is exhausting at the best of times. She gave up on Paris before we even reached our taxi at the airport two days ago. She’ll never see its beauty. Not again, anyway. Not after Ted. “Every city in the world has its bad bits, Reeny. But if you squint, they disappear. That’s when the light gets in.”

Christ, Annie,” she spits. “You sound like a brochure. Are they paying you to say this crap?” She swipes at a tear and sighs. As usual, she’s unwavering in her ability to hold onto negativity and sadness. In Reeny’s eyes, it would be wasteful to abandon these anchors that keep pulling her back down into the abyss. They’re character building, and she’s under reconstruction.

I can see Notre-Dame Cathedral from where I sit here on the corner of Rue Saint-Louis en L’ile and Rue Jean du Bellay. It sits just beyond the little bridge. We’re at the same cafe table where we began our day yesterday. Croissants, latte, orange juice and biscuits. Reeny will probably have the same breakfast every morning. She does not stray far from what she immediately becomes comfortable and familiar with.

I’ll give her today, but come tomorrow I will order on my own. I will choose whatever strikes my fancy on the menu and I’ll ignore the raised eyebrow of consternation she delivers. We’re on vacation. I will not conform to her demands here. Not in Paris, of all places. Paris is a feast and I shall partake, come what may.

Who flies a goddamned kite in the city, anyway?” Reeny says, seemingly out of the blue. It takes me a moment to locate her point of reference. A crimson red dragon with an impossibly long tail floats above the buildings in the narrow streets across from the cathedral.

It’s lovely,” I say, smiling at the whimsy of the dragon as it dances in the clear blue morning sky.

They’re asking for trouble,” she says, looking at it scornfully. “It’ll get stuck in the trees, or wrapped around a pole. The string’s bound to be cut. They’ll lose it forever. The end.”

My heavens, Reeny,” I say. I take the last swill of my orange juice and wipe my mouth with my white linen napkin. “You’re being so negative. We’re in Paris. We should try to enjoy our time here.”

I’ve never been accused of being negative before,” she says. I guffaw, but immediately regret it.

What?” she asks, astounded that I would be amused by her statement. “What did I say?”

Reeny Persaud, come on now. I’ve known you since grade school and I have called you out on your negativity for a good forty years now. Negativity is at your very foundation. It’s the very core of you.”

She begins to pout but can’t keep a straight face for long. A smile begins to form on the outskirts of her mouth and she gives in and allows it to blossom. I return the smile and add a wink.

Ooh. You make me so angry, Annie. Why are you the only one who can manipulate my emotions like this? I want to bask in my misery. God, I hate you sometimes.” She laughs.

Come on,” I say, tossing my napkin at her. “We’re done here. We’ve wasted enough time on breakfast, if that’s what you want to call it. Let’s get out into this beautiful day before it’s gone. A day in Paris is worth a week anywhere else in the world.”

I question your math, but okay. Please remember, though. I’m in mourning. I’m allowed to be moody. I’m allowed to wallow. Please don’t take that away from me.”

Understood,” I say as I rise from the table and leave a couple Euro under my saucer for a tip. “But I’ll not have you disparaging innocent kites and wishing them dead. I’ll call you out every time you try to kill a kite, my friend. Their only crimes are dancing in the wind and looking pretty.”

Stop being so bubbly,” Reeny says. She looks down at the table and then back at me. “You do know you’re not supposed to tip in Europe, don’t you?”

I’m sure the money will assuage their contempt at my breach in etiquette. Let’s go, Reen. It’s looking very much like a Montmartre kind of day.”

***

We take the Metro to Abbesses Station. I hope I’m right in assuming Reeny and Ted didn’t spend a lot of time in Montmartre while they lived here. I’m trying not to pour more salt on the wounds I opened up for Reeny yesterday by taking her to Luxembourg Gardens and the Tuileries. These places meant far too much to her and Ted. They carry too many memories. My hope is that Montmartre is safer ground to cover.

As we climb up out of the underground, Reeny confirms my suspicions. She looks around as we climb the steps to street level. Her smile is a good sign.

Believe it or not, I haven’t been back here since our senior year class trip,” she says. She points to the sign above the steps that reads Metropolitain. “Remember when Rob Kenner tossed Cheryl Demsey’s sweater up over that sign?”

I do. It was hilarious until we all realized nobody could reach it. My God, Ms. Dubois was furious. ‘Merde, merde!’

I learned a couple French curses that day,” Reeny says. “Thank God for the horrendous clown on stilts who took pity on us and saved Cheryl’s sweater. With her theatrics, it was almost an international incident.”

Ha,” I say. “Absolutely.”

So what exactly are we doing in Montmartre, anyway?”

Well,” I say as I lead her off in the right direction. “I thought we’d begin with Sacré-Cœur and end up somewhere near that pretty pink restaurant and stop there for something to eat. It’s such a lovely place.”

La Maison Rose. Ooh. It’s been a while since I was a tourist in Paris. I always wanted to dine at La Maison Rose. We only got to walk past it with the class.”

That’s the spirit, baby girl,” I say. I can feel my shoulders relax a little and I realize just how tense with worry my whole body had been. I’m relieved she’s gradually stepping into this day willingly. Perhaps things are looking up. “It’s a ten minute walk. We’ll be there in no time.”

We walk in silence for several minutes, quickly finding a pace that works for both of us. She slows down a bit and I speed up as much as my bad knee will allow.

I just realized we’ll be looking down at the city once we get to the cathedral. We’ll see everything spread out before us.”

That’s kind of the point, sweetie,” I say. I turn to look at her and catch her swiping tears from her eyes. I rest a supportive hand on her shoulder, but say nothing more.

It’s just…It’s our city. It’ll always be our city. I’m not sure it was a good idea to come back so soon after…”

She trails off, but she doesn’t need to finish for me to know what she was going to say. So soon after cancer, after death, after loss. Perhaps this entire trip was ill-planned. I just thought that being in the place she loved the most in all the world would somehow bring her closer to Ted, while at the same time miraculously helping her to let go. I’m a bad friend.

We continue to walk in the direction of the cathedral. She manages this mini breakdown while walking, at least.

Sweetie,” I say, “I know it’s hard. Remember, I’ve been through this kind of loss with Steven. I know what you’re going through. And I know it takes a long time to find a new normal. Believe me when I say I understand. You still wake up wanting him in your life so badly, you think about staying in bed and giving up. I get it, I really do. It’s been eleven months. I just thought seeing these places would make you feel closer to him. I’m sorry. I thought Paris would be difficult, of course. But I also thought it would give you some sort of peace. I thought you would feel his presence here, in a good way.”

I do, Annie, I do,” she says. She’s trying. “Ted’s definitely everywhere here. We spent three whole years living in Paris together. It changed us. Of course I see him in every shop, on every corner. But I’m grateful we’re doing this. I, just…I can’t believe it’s been almost a year. I remember when he first got sick, how I couldn’t imagine living my life without him. I do get that you know how it feels. Being here is just so overwhelming. It’s bringing back a past reality that no longer exists.”

We’re almost there,” I say. I guide Reeny across a narrow street and point off into the distance. “We can turn up this street, I believe, and come up on the church from the back end.”

She allows herself to be led, allows me to take her hand and lead the way.

It’s overwhelming,” she repeats.

I know. Maybe it’s good that we’re here. Maybe the places in which you find him will help you in some small way.”

Maybe,” Reeny says. We look at each other. Her eyes are damp and I feel helpless. Hopeless. “How do you feel about Montreal, Annie?”

That’s not fair, Reeny.”

I don’t mean it in a bad way, sweetie. This is not a competition on mourning. But it’s hard for you to go to Montreal, is it not?”

Absolutely. But I also love seeing the patio where Steven spilled the plate of spaghetti and meatballs down the front of his white button-up. Or the place where my heel snapped off between two cobbles and Steven helped me hobble to the closest shop to buy flats. I love smelling that particular sweet pungency of the Quartier Latin, and how nowhere else in the world smells the same. I love the way—”

Okay, okay,” Reeny says. She laughs and it sounds as lovely as Paris rain. “I get it. And, yes, I feel the same way. Why, the only reason I attacked that kite earlier was because I had a momentary tinge of happiness remembering a kiss Ted and I shared on that bridge by Notre-Dame. You know the one, where they have all those ridiculously infuriating love locks now.”

Reeny Persaud, you take that back. They’re not ridiculous. Love is not ridiculous, especially in Paris. L’amour n’est pas ridicule. Did I get that right? Just, how dare you! Those locks are precious.”

Okay, okay. You’re really keeping me on a short leash today. Precious, indeed. But that kiss, that day. It was perfection, Annie. We spent hours upstairs at Shakespeare and Company. You’re only allowed to read the books up there, you know. Ted found one that enthralled him. We sat on one of those horrid little benches that, if you patted it, the dust motes would rise and fill the air. It was wondrous.”

I guide her past the final turn and the back of the cathedral looms before us. I slow our pace, because it’s good that she’s talking, remembering, reliving.

I leaned into his shoulder and daydreamed about nothing while he sat reading, turning pages like it was a marathon he wanted to win. And after, we were crossing the Seine and stopped in the middle of that bridge to take it all in. Like we were tourists in love with the light. Like we hadn’t lived in the neighbourhood for two years already.

Paris is like that. You go about your daily life, forgetting its beauty. You just live. Then one day you see it, you sigh and think to yourself, Mon Dieu. C’est trop belle. My God. It’s too beautiful.

We stop walking and face each other. We both smile, but Reeny’s expression holds a pain so deep it wounds me.

Yes,” I finally say. It comes out as a whisper. I move to wipe a tear from Reeny’s eye and she allows me to do so.

Look at me,” she says, laughing. “I’m a mess.”

This is a good mess, Reen.”

The thing is, it’s never too beautiful. Beauty hurts because it’s supposed to hurt. But it’s a good hurt. A hurt that brings deeper love.”

She’s lost her train of thought. She attempts to find the thread while I think of the kite and hope it made it through the morning intact. Reeny will find her way back, if I give her enough time. We begin to walk alongside the cathedral. As we approach the vista at the front that opens up onto the entire city of Paris, she lets out a deep breath.

The thing about that day, Annie,” she begins as we continue onward. “On that particular day, we sighed at the same time. We both fell in love with the beauty of the city at the same precise moment. Ted turned to me and he said exactly what I was thinking. He said, ‘The light here makes it real.’”

I put my arm around her as we stop at the top of the stairs and prepare to turn our gaze onto the city below.

He was talking about the city, yes,” Reeny says. “But he was also talking about us, about our love, our life, our world. We kissed. By then I already knew I’d love him forever. But that day, the way we fell into sync so perfectly. The way the city re-bloomed for us. The way the light hit the Seine, and the cathedral, and the trees. That was my one perfect moment. You only get one.”

And I’m sure it was his too,” I say, because I don’t know what else to say. I know she’s avoided looking at the panoramic view so far. “Ready to see this?”

I take her hand in mine and squeeze. We smile at each other and she shrugs. We turn to take in the city. Reeny looks at it for several minutes in silence before turning back to face me. Tears course down her cheeks.

That’s the thing about Paris, Annie,” she says. Her sides hitch as she attempts to keep her composure long enough to complete her thought. “The light here. It makes everything real.”

THE END

Billions of Beautiful Hearts is OUT!

My cute little short story BILLIONS OF BEAUTIFUL HEARTS about two teens who find a way to come together during the time of Covid lockdown is now out in the universe! Much thanks and gratitude to my readers who made this a #1 New Release on Amazon this week! My two nonbinary teen characters also thank you! I don’t think I have to say this, but representation is so important. I’m glad Wen & Kaye have made their way out into the world…and I’m excited that they’ve been well received. Thank you all who supported this short story!

Click the image below to go to Amazon to pick up a copy of Billions of Beautiful Hearts!Billions of Beautiful Hearts is one of four short stories in the COME WHAT MAY series…and I can promise you that the other 3 are quite lovely. One of the perks of being involved in this project is that I was able to get early reads on the other 3 stories. You’ll want to pick them up! Links below for the other COME WHAT MAY stories:

GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING by CLAIRE RUDY FOSTER is already out and available!

AND ALWAYS COMING BACK by JUDE SIERRA comes out Tuesday Feb 16th and is available for pre-order now.

SUNNY PASTURES by LILAH SUZANNE comes out Tuesday Feb 23rd and is available for pre-order now.

THANK YOU!

Instagram Live with Claire Rudy Foster! Tuesday Feb 9th…

When I first opened THE GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, the newest short story from CLAIRE RUDY FOSTER, I accidentally got swept away into my own thoughts and I found myself landing somewhere back in the Musée du Louvre in Paris. Naturally, the title of the story made me think of Johannes Vermeer…the artist of the famous painting by the same name as the story. This made me think of The Lacemaker, another painting by Vermeer…one which I actually saw in person. For the full circle, it was at the Louvre that I saw The Lacemaker.

I had to reel myself back to the story. And such a delightful story it was! If you haven’t read the first story in the INTERLUDE PRESS/DUET BOOKS Come What May series, you REALLY SHOULD pick it up! The Girl With a Pearl Earring is a delight. It’s all punky and pondering and cute sexy. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It brought me back to my punk days, to my museum days, and to so much more. It’s all the vibes!

It brought me to my own contemplation of the differences of the people in my punk community…how we all arrived there for different reasons and from different backgrounds. This aspect alone of The Girl was insightful! There was a passage in the story that brought me RIGHT BACK to those punk days of my own…the moment the narrator realized their friend was on a different path than them:

“For the first time, I sensed how wide the gap was between us and knew, that she had always been aware of it; knew its depths and contours and its glacial creep, taking us in separate directions. I’d thought we were the same because I couldn’t see those things, or that I could somehow shake off those differences by doing a better impersonation of the people I desperately wanted to belong with.”

I was super delighted, also, to discover that The Lacemaker actually makes a cameo appearance in this story!

Here’s an AMAZON link to pick up a copy of THE GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING. OR, you can get a copy of this short story wherever ebooks are sold.

Girl With a Pearl Earring Synopsis: In 1992, Laura and Thea live together in a punk house in Washington, D.C. Thea, a brash and unapologetic trans girl, lives the punk life to its fullest. But Laura leaves her leather and safety pins at home each day when she leaves for work in a government job—hiding her anti-establishment lifestyle from her co-workers and her mainstream tastes from her housemates.When she invites Thea with her to see a Vermeer exhibit, Laura finds the courage to open up to Thea while viewing her favorite painting. Thea—normally critical of mainstream art—is charmed by both the painting and by Laura.

Now, I guess I digressed enough. As you can see, the title of this post has nothing to do with what’s transpired thus far in the post. But if you’ve read my posts in the past you probably already know I’m really good at digressing. I just wanted to SHOUT OUT Claire Rudy Foster’s short story first, before I announced tomorrow night’s Instagram event!

There’s all the details! TUESDAY FEBRUARY 9th @ 7PM Eastern Time. This will be hosted on Claire Rudy Foster’s Instagram Account. If you go follow them now, you’ll be alerted when we go live tomorrow evening! Go follow them. Now. (-:

There will be giveaways and our novels will be on sale at the Interlude Press Store. We’d love to see you there! Please come…interact! We’ll be talking about…well, I guess whatever suits our fancies at the time. The announcement from our publisher is as follows:

Join Claire Rudy Foster and Kevin Craig live on Instagram talking writing, Vermeer, punks, the Camino de Santiago and pretty much whatever they feel like. They’ll also have giveaways of their new short stories,”Girl With a Pearl Earring” and “Billions of Beautiful Hearts.” And be sure to stop by store.interludepress.com, where we’ll have their novels on sale 2/7-14.

They officially said, WHATEVER THEY FEEL LIKE…so, like, we’re allowed to do whatever! Come see what happens!

(One quick note: my story is the only YA story among the 4 Come What May stories…just an FYI for readers.)

Oh! PS! My own Come What May short story comes out tomorrow! The special preorder price of 99 cents will be disappearing soon! Here’s the Amazon link to pick up a preorder copy: BILLIONS OF BEAUTIFUL HEARTS. This one can also be purchased wherever ebooks are sold. GET IT NOW! (-:

FLASH ACCESS! Billions of Beautiful Hearts on Net Galley for a Hot Minute!

If you blink, you might miss this one!

My awesome publisher–INTERLUDE PRESS/DUET BOOKS–found a way to include BILLIONS OF BEAUTIFUL HEARTS (and all the other COME WHAT MAY short stories) on Net Galley!!But you need to be SUPER QUICK! Act now! You must request it now because it releases TUESDAY FEBRUARY 9th, 2021 and won’t be on Net Galley for long! If you’re unfamiliar with Net Galley, it’s a website where publishers offer books for review. Once the books are posted to Net Galley, reviewers can log in and request to read/review. The publisher vets and approves readers and they have access to the book ahead of publication, for review purposes.

I found out overnight that BILLIONS OF BEAUTIFUL HEARTS went live on Net Galley, but it will be gone in a hot minute, so…act fast!

Here’s what BILLIONS OF BEAUTIFUL HEARTS is about:

A short story from the Interlude Press COME WHAT MAY collection.

Wen Devante is Insta famous with a massive following and a flare for fashion. At almost 18, they have already published a book on gender nonconformity, released several songs on Spotify and appeared on television. During the first wave of Covid-19 lockdown, they reach out to an unsuspecting Kaye, one of their 2.3 million followers. The two form a bond, first through Instagram messages and then through Zoom. They discover there are ways to have a meaningful relationship despite the bleak circumstances. In fact, the pandemic seems to make reaching out even easier than it used to be.

I was invited by my publisher (they published my latest novel, THE CAMINO CLUB in October of 2020) to write a short centring around love and relationships in the time of Covid. At the beginning of the pandemic, I promised myself that I would never include the nightmare in my fiction. In my fiction, 2020 would just be a normal year. But then, when I was invited to be a part of this project…I realized that life has to go on…whatever the challenges we face. And love…it happens…COME WHAT MAY. So, here we are. This is how Billions of Beautiful Hearts came to be, and how I wrote about a pandemic I vowed not to recognize in my fiction.

PREORDER IS LIVE NOW WHEREVER EBOOKS ARE SOLD. REMEMBER, THIS IS A SHORT STORY. Click here to go to my BOOKS page (it’s the 2nd book down the list) for multiple preorder links for 99 cents!

CLICK HERE TO REQUEST BILLIONS OF BEAUTIFUL HEARTS FROM NET GALLEY WHILE IT’S STILL THERE!

There are 4 short stories in the COME WHAT MAY series! Visit THIS LINK TO READ ABOUT ALL OF THEM.

 

Short Story Release Day is 2 Weeks Away! Billions of Beautiful Hearts…

It’s almost that time! My short story BILLIONS OF BEAUTIFUL HEARTS will drop two weeks from today!

This is a story I was invited to write as part of INTERLUDE PRESS‘s series called COME WHAT MAY. The idea for the series was that no matter the circumstance, love finds a way. Whether it be during the chaos of a pandemic, or any other impossible situations…love finds a way, come what may. My story is one of FOUR stories in the Come What May series, mine being the only young adult.

In BILLIONS OF BEAUTIFUL HEARTS, I write a cute YOUNG ADULT story about two nonbinary teens who quite possibly find each other during the opening chaotic months of the Covid-19 disaster.

It releases on TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 9th, 2021…but you can PREORDER it now for half price at 99 cents. Preorders help the author, and the independent publisher, greatly! So if you’re even considering eventually picking up a copy of this short story, there’s no time like the present.

Wen & Kaye are two teens who find themselves in an unprecedented situation, lost in the new world of social distancing and screen-only interactions. Find out what they do with this new world order. Preorder BILLIONS OF BEAUTIFUL HEARTS today!

BILLIONS OF BEAUTIFUL HEARTS (Duet Books/Interlude Press)One of Four Short Stories in the COME WHAT MAY project – Wen Devante is Insta famous with a massive following and a flare for fashion. At almost 18, they have already published a book on gender nonconformity, released several songs on Spotify and appeared on television. During the first wave of Covid-19 lockdown, they reach out to an unsuspecting Kaye, one of their 2.3 million followers. The two form a bond, first through Instagram messages and then through Zoom. They discover there are ways to have a meaningful relationship despite the bleak circumstances. In fact, the pandemic seems to make reaching out even easier than it used to be.

AVAILABLE FEBRUARY 9th! PREORDER NOW FOR HALF PRICE AT APPROXIMATELY 99 CENTS DIRECTLY FROM INTERLUDE PRESS OR AT YOUR FAVOURITE RETAILER:

Amazon USA | Amazon Canada | Amazon UK | Kobo USA | Kobo Canada | Kobo UK | Interlude Press Store | Barnes & Noble Nook

As I mentioned above, BILLIONS OF BEAUTIFUL HEARTS is one of 4 short stories in the COME WHAT MAY series. To read about the other 3 stories, CLICK HERE to be taken to AMAZON where all 4 stories are collected. The remaining stories are; GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING by Claire Rudy Foster, AND ALWAYS COMING BACK by Jude Sierra, and, SUNNY PASTURES by Lilah Suzanne.

Come What May – February 2021 – from Interlude Press!

Last week I announced my upcoming short story, Billions of Beautiful Hearts. I also mentioned that it’s one in a group of short stories being published by Interlude Press. There are 3 other stories in the Come What May project.

All 4 of these shorts are available at your favourite ebook retailers, including Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple Books and more. Below, you will find the Direct-from-the-Publisher buy links for the 3 remaining stories:

In GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING by Claire Rudy Foster, Laura and Thea live together in a punk house in Washington, D.C. Thea, a brash and unapologetic trans girl, lives the punk life to its fullest. But Laura leaves her leather and safety pins at home each day when she leaves for work in a government job—hiding her anti-establishment lifestyle from her co-workers and her mainstream tastes from her housemates.

When she invites Thea with her to see a Vermeer exhibit, Laura finds the courage to open up to Thea while viewing her favorite painting. Thea—normally critical of mainstream art—is charmed by both the painting and by Laura.

Available here for the special pre-order price of 99 cents

In AND ALWAYS COMING BACK by Jude Sierra, at first, David and Evan found a silver lining to quarantine in togetherness. But as the months wore on, the novelty wore off. At the seven-month marker, David broke down—but not because of what was happening outside. Recognizing that loneliness could wield power even when you’re not alone, David and Evan commit to rediscovering the silver that lines togetherness.

Available here for the special pre-order price of 99 cents

In SUNNY PASTURES by Lilah Suzanne when Frankie’s glamorous big city life falls apart, the only place she has left to go is her grandmother’s retirement village where she’s charmed by her grandmother’s friends, and a beautiful home health aide named Claire.

Available here for the special pre-order price of 99 cents

Covers are on their way for these 4 short stories. The release schedule is as follows:

The Girl with the Pearl Earring – February 2, 2021

Billions of Beautiful Hearts – February 9, 2021

And Always Coming Back – February 16, 2021

Sunny Pastures – February 23, 2021

CLICK ON THE TEMPORARY COVERS BELOW TO VISIT EACH STORY ON GOODREADS! Don’t forget to add to your TO READ shelf!

Billions of Beautiful Hearts! Come What May…

I’m absolutely thrilled to announce a second project with INTERLUDE PRESS/DUET BOOKS! This time around, it’s a short story. Releasing on February 9th, BILLIONS OF BEAUTIFUL HEARTS will be my contribution to the small series of stories in their COME WHAT MAY project!

From the publisher:

In our COME WHAT MAY project, authors Claire Rudy Foster, Kevin Craig, Jude Sierra, and Lilah Suzanne explore relationships born from, changed by, and discovered in isolation in short stories released individually throughout the month of February.

After their release, these quick reads will be $1.99 each. But until February, they’ll be available in a pre-order special for only 99 cents each.

And here’s a link to the full announcement, complete with a synopsis for each story: COME WHAT MAY ANNOUNCEMENT

All Stories are available now, either directly through the INTERLUDE PRESS STORE, or your favourite ebook retailer (Including Amazon & Kobo)!

Might I add that I love the title of the series for a few reasons, but mostly because it shares a title with one of my favourite songs from one of my favourite movies! COME WHAT MAY from Moulin Rouge!

Preorder the shorts now and save! Only 99 cents each until February!

Musical interlude coming up in 3, 2, 1…

Or… What about WHAT ABOUT US?! That song inspired the title to my story…

NYC Midnight – Micro Fiction 100 – Round 2!

The results are in for the 1st Round of the 100-word Microfiction Challenge 2020!

That was the headline in the email I woke up to. I was 100% certain I would NOT find my name on the results page. TBH, I wasn’t even going to look. I had decided I wasn’t going to enter a submission the very minute I read that my genre was HISTORICAL FICTION.

Before you get all affronted and scream, “What’s wrong with historical fiction?!” let me just say that I have absolutely nothing against Historical Fiction. I just don’t think I’m capable of WRITING in any genre that requires world-building OR historical research.

At the eleventh hour, I decided I paid my money…it’s only 100 words. I should just throw something together and toss it back at them. So I did. I blurred through the 100 words in a few minutes and hit send before I even read it. It was a toss away entry just to justify the contest fee. I knew there was a slight chance I’d get a genre I’d hate to tackle. You pay your dues, you take your chances. I thought, “Maybe next time?”

So, this morning–after contemplating whether or not I would even check the results–I opened the email and took a peek.

nycmicro

Turns out I must have done something almost right in those 100 words! I made it through to ROUND 2!

1ST ROUND RESULTS:
For the 1st Round Results, go to https://nycmidnight.co/31a6Ees to see the top 20 stories and honorable mentions in every group.

So here’s the instructions for the upcoming ROUND 2, from the NYC Midnight email:

ATTENTION TOP 20 IN EACH GROUP!
If you are listed in the top 20 of your group, congratulations on advancing to the 2nd Round kicking off at 11:59PM EDT (New York time) this Friday, June 26th.  In the 2nd Round, the 1,600 advancing writers will be placed in new groups and will be challenged to write a 100-word story based on a new genre, action, and word assignment in just 24 hours.  The assignments will be posted on nycmidnight.com, e-mailed to everyone from feedback@nycmidnight.com, and will be announced through our facebook and twitter pages.  Best of luck!

It looks like I will be getting an email Friday night. Here’s to getting a genre I’m more comfortable writing…or, you know…getting pushed out of my comfort zone again. (-;

For anyone interested in learning more about the various contests going on at NYC Midnight, here’s a link to their site: NYC MIDNIGHT.

The next thing in the hopper for the NYC MIDNIGHT contests —->

nycflash

I guess this is the point in the post where I embarrass myself by sharing the 100-word fiction piece I threw together at the last minute with some duct tape and a little Spackle:

Death in Soho

As I usher little Annie into bed, I discover the sheets still carry the stains left behind by Mother and Father. The thick Cholera miasma of their dying fills the air. I light the candle to keep the darkness at bay. Annie moans, holds her belly, and soils the sheets.

“My sweet love,” I coo. I pick up Mother’s hairbrush, run it slowly through Annie’s hair to soothe her.

The cloppy dance of a hansom clicks the cobbles as it passes by the open window. A neigh and then silence. In the quiet, I feel the first tinge of cramps.

 

To those other writers who made the cut into ROUND 2, Congratulations and Good Luck moving forward! To those who didn’t, Congratulations on stepping out of your comfort zone and jumping off that cliff into the unknown. AND…Congratulations for putting yourself out there! Every submission should be celebrated! Clicking SEND is the victory…

The Woman Downstairs – A Short Story

20140616_190750

Today, I’m going to share another short story. I wrote this one last year (2019) for the NYC MIDNIGHT SHORT STORY CONTEST. My heat in round one had 3 stipulations. The genre had to be DRAMA, it had to involve PET-SITTING in some form and one of the characters had to be a FIANCEE.

I decided to write a pastiche to Rear Window.

It WON 1st Place in my Round One heat!

nyc

Here’s the feedback I received from one of the judges for THE WOMAN DOWNSTAIRS:

“The writing is top-notch, perfect for the setting. The POV character’s world of the dog and the window reminds me a bit of REAR WINDOW, and the dog is like the cast, keeping her from going out. The drama she watches and the drama she lives come together at the end.”

THEY GOT THE HOMAGE! Yay!!!

Without further ado, here is the story…

THE WOMAN DOWNSTAIRS

“Madame. Pas de cheins,” the waiter says as I sit down. He tsks and points to a sign in the window. It’s of a dog being crossed out by an angry red line. “Go, go. No dogs. S’il vous plait, laissez. Go.”

I thought I would be okay if I sat at the farthest table from the restaurant’s entrance and tied Chewy up to the outside of the fence separating the patio from the sidewalk. I quietly get up, untie Chewy’s leash and make my way along the sidewalk towards Notre-Dame.

I underestimated the strain house-sitting for Stacey would put on me. It sounded like a lovely idea at the time. How could a third-floor walk-up on Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île in Paris not be a dream come true? The apartment is mere steps from Notre-Dame Cathedral and walking distance to most other major sights. Even with her little Yorkie included in the deal, it seemed doable. The dog-sitting was incidental, really. Paris was mine.

Robert was supposed to join me on day three so we could spend the rest of the three weeks together. We needed the little vacation prior to the chaos of our impending wedding. Two and a half weeks in Paris together sounded like perfection, a way to get back on track after our disastrous year. I wanted to show Robert the city, have some fun, and put the past behind us.

Alas, he’d have to actually show up for that to happen.

I take Chewy to the little parkette behind the cathedral and sit down at one of its many benches. It’s a perfect place to feel sorry for myself, complete with gargoyles glaring down disapprovingly from above. With no breakfast in my belly and no Robert at my side, my misery is complete.

I pick Chewy up and smother him in kisses. He rubs his face against my cheek and I’m reminded I’ve gone another day without makeup. I never go anywhere without it. I blame Robert. It’s my eighth day in Paris and I’m still alone. It’s my favorite city in the world and because of him, I’m miserable. Every day brings another excuse, another delay in his arrival.

After festering in the shadows of the cathedral for a few minutes, I place Chewy on the ground and we head back to the apartment.

Once inside, I return to Stacey’s kitchen window. The only habit I’ve picked up since my arrival has nothing to do with the city sights. I’ve become fascinated with the woman downstairs, a strange once pretty woman who wears nothing but a graying white camisole that barely conceals her morbidly obese body. Thank God she never looks up. When I originally told Robert about Downstairs Lady, I gave her the name Fanny-Mae. I can be so cruel sometimes. Robert and I did that thing where we create fantasy worlds for the unsuspecting quirky characters we stumble upon. We give them names, spouses, children, problems and dreams. Backstory.

I played our little game over texts this time around. I couldn’t bring myself to send Robert a discreetly stolen snapshot like I usually do, though. Downstairs Lady is different. Taking her picture would somehow steal her soul, her inescapable beauty. I couldn’t insult her honor that way. When I tried to explain this to Robert, he asked if I was okay. “Are you taking your pills?” “You need to stop obsessing over this lady.”

I promised I was taking the pills I never once opened and he promised he’d soon join me in Paris. Our lies canceled each other out.

Stacey’s window looks into Downstairs Lady’s dining room window, where she’s trapped in an over-sized hospital bed in a room not designed for beds. Through her casement windows, which are left open day and night, I can make out the bottom of an ornate chandelier that hangs above her bed. Being in a circular courtyard, our windows are extremely close to each other. I can even catch whispers of conversation.

She eats relentlessly while watching black and white movies on a small TV. She leans up on one elbow and fills her face with the endless supply of food her gorgeous dark-skinned French lover brings to her bed. He’s always cooing sweet nothings in a sexy voice filled with longing. Mon petit ange, mon amour, mon tendre. I decided to call him Henri. I melt each time Henri enters the little vignette the window allows me, or opens his mouth to coo. What must it be like to have his kind of love? I adore how she owns it and how she unapologetically lounges about, erotically certain of her powers. She could lead a revolution. This is why I changed her name to Belle days ago.

I fill Robert in on Belle’s daily food consumption, while I myself forget to eat. I only break my vigil at the window long enough to drag Chewy throughout the streets of this little island. And I speak only when Chewy’s neighborhood fans stop us in the street to worship his undeniable cuteness.

Robert assesses me with each text I send, evaluates my mental state with each of our infrequent calls. I know I’m slipping, but can’t stop it. I struggle between over-exaggerating my fall and disguising its depths. Which side of the scale will bring him to me quicker and which will push him away?

The constant silence reminds me I’m shutting down. Robert calls this Phase One. “I know it’s bad when you stop talking.” I’ve been startled by the sound of my own voice lately, after going hours at a time without hearing it at all. He suggests bike rides and jogging as possible remedies, but this would be a moot point if he would simply join me in Paris. That would solve everything. I think.

***

“Hello?” I say into my cell as I struggle to gain my bearings. My screen reads five-thirty a.m.? He’s done it again. My twelfth day in Paris and he still can’t get the time zones right. “Robert? It’s not that difficult. You’re six hours behind.”

“Emma, I’m sorry,” he says. He sounds overly animated, like he’s been drinking. “I forgot.”

“Why are you awake? It’s…” I do the math. “It’s almost midnight there. You’re never up this late when you’re working.” There’s a din of muffled voices and laughter about him, accompanied by the pounding bass of dance music. “Where are you?”

“Sorry, baby,” he slurs. “I miss you.”

“Robert, hang up. That’s so rude,” says an unfamiliar woman’s voice in the background. There’s a rustle as his phone is jostled.

“Robert,” I say, now fully awake and sitting up. Chewy eyes me with suspicion from the foot of the bed. “Who’s there? Where are you?”

“Just out for drinks with a few guys from the office, Em. Crazy day. We needed a reprieve.”

“Robbie, come back to the party. I’ll smash that phone if you don’t hang—”

The ambient noise cuts off, along with my connection to Robert. I place my cell back on its charger and try not to think about what just happened, try not to think about his cheating or how it led me to my last breakdown.

My head drops onto my pillow and I turn away from the glaring moonlight streaming in through the un-curtained windows. I need more sleep but within minutes Chewy is in my face, licking and whining. He’s been awakened too early and won’t be appeased until he does his business.

Once dressed, I carry Chewy down the spiral staircase to the ground floor. I forego the inner courtyard for an opportunity to explore the awakening city. We make our way through the alleyway that leads to the narrow street and I wrestle with the large creaky door that separates the two worlds.

Finally, something I can love the way Henri obviously loves Belle. Paris. In my gloom, I’ve forgotten how enchanting Rue Saint-Louis can be, and how it comes slowly to life in the mornings. The street cleaners make their way up the sidewalks, spraying down everything in their wake to wash away yesterday’s layers of grime. Tiny delivery trucks crawl up the roadway, dropping off goods to the local stores before the impossibly narrow street becomes too congested for them. Shop doors open and entryways are swept clean.

Chewy offers a few reticent yelps to the street’s interlopers while I attempt to push Robert’s phone call from my mind. His past cheating fills my head and my heart begins to race with the panic of a new certainty. He’s doing it again.

We walk towards the cathedral and make a left at the next footbridge in order to head down for a walk along the Seine. The sky plums above us and I decide we should see the sunrise, now that we’re out in its beginnings. My beautiful Paris.

As I descend the stairs to the path along the river, my cell goes off again. I look at the display. Round Two.

“I’m sorry,” Robert says. “I know how that probably sounded. I’m home now and ready for bed. I don’t want you to think—”

“What am I supposed to think, Robert?” I try to sound level, but it’s impossible. “That history doesn’t have a way of repeating itself?”

“It’s not what you think,” he says, panic slipping into his voice. Panic, with a side of irritation. “You have to trust me. This isn’t fair.”

Come, goddammit,” I say. “If you want to prove something to me, put me first. Put everything else aside and join me in Paris like we planned.”

“I can’t, Emma,” he says. “It’s not that easy. It’s such a bad time here. We can’t seem to get ahead of—”

“Liar. It didn’t sound like you were having a bad time when you woke me up earlier. Were you at the Black Stallion again? Getting your fill?”

“Jesus, Em. Between your paranoia with my imaginary flings and this woman you’re obsessing over in the window, you have no room for anything else. You’re slipping again. Why would I want to go there just to hear more of this? We can trade insults over the phone.”

“Imaginary flings? Really?” I ask. I stop walking. Chewy glances up at me with what looks like concern. I take a seat at a nearby bench and Chewy settles in at my feet. “Cheryl was not a figment of my imagination, Robert. Why are you doing this? I’m your fiancée. We’re getting married in two months. Please put your ‘work’ aside for one hot minute and come? It’s Paris, for God’s sake. No one should need to be convinced to come to Paris.”

The inflection I place on the word work has the desired effect. He runs with it.

“Stop accusing me of cheating. It was one time. I’ve apologized. I can’t do anything else to prove my dedication to—”

I disconnect, put my phone on silent and slip it into my purse. The sun has somehow risen without me noticing. I get up and make my way back to the apartment with Chewy. It’s almost time for Belle to begin her day. I love the way Henri interacts with her. It reminds me that love and tenderness still exist in the world. Perhaps their intimacy had something to do with me renaming her Belle. She is loved and beautiful to him.

This woman won’t leave my head. I can’t believe Stacey never mentioned her. There’s heartache and happiness happening right outside her window and she’s never once mentioned it to me. Perhaps she hoards it as her own little secret proof that beauty exists.

***

Chewy stirs me from my sleep with a low grade constant growl, a sound I haven’t heard in all of our two weeks together. There’s a ruckus in the courtyard below my open window and it’s lit like a fairground down there, enough to fill my room with a soft glow.

I scoop Chewy up and move to the window. The courtyard is filled with firemen, police, and EMTs. They make frantic gestures and speak in super-fast French I wouldn’t even be able to comprehend if I had polished up on my high school French prior to coming to France. The scene is chaotic and their conversation is in a state of escalation. I think of Belle and bring my gaze back up to her window.

More EMTs and firemen. My heart sinks. This can’t be. She’s hidden behind the swarm squeezed about her inside the tiny room. Some work on her as others look around the room and out the window to the crowd of first responders gathered below. They all appear helpless, lost.

Henri storms into the room, desperate, hands flailing. I can hear snips and bits of his words. Enough to feel his love on fire. Through tears, he tells them she is beautiful, asks them to be gentle and tells them she is loved. This much French I can piece together from the little I know.

Chewy’s urgent barks cause all heads to turn in my direction and I’m finally discovered. I scurry away from the window, humiliated, and prepare to take Chewy outside. Making my way through the commotion of the courtyard, I have to walk past the first responders who only moments ago caught me ogling. The sting of my humiliation heats my cheeks. I’m relieved to escape to the street, even though I’m terrified for Belle and desperately want to know what’s happened.

I walk for hours, barely able to keep myself together. Chewy steals glances my way, silently pleading with me to end our walk and take him home. But I can’t go back. I don’t want to know.

My cell rings. Despite seeing Robert’s name on my screen, I answer it.

“Emma?”

“I can’t do this, Robert.”

“I’m at the airport, Em. I came. I’m in Paris. I just landed.”

Now he comes?

“I think she might be dead,” I say, ignoring his statement.

He sighs and I know Henri would never be this exasperated with Belle. He’d have endless patience. “I’m on my way. Okay?”

“I can’t go back there. I can’t see that bed empty.” My words stop me in my tracks and niggle at my mind. They ignite something inside me, but I can’t quite grasp what it is. I bend to pick up Chewy and realize how spent he is. His panting fuels my guilt.

Frozen amid the busy sidewalk, I cuddle Chewy for dear life as the true meaning of my words sharpens into focus. Robert is the there I can’t go back to. Our empty bed is the one I can’t bear to see again. Our time apart has clarified what I knew all along.

“Tell me where you are. I’ll find you.”

“No,” I say. “I’m in Paris. You can’t have it. Paris is mine.” He groans in palpable frustration. But I finally realize it’s too late for us. “Goodbye, Robert.”

I shut down my phone to remove his ability to argue. With Chewy in my arms, I run all the way back to Rue Saint-Louis. I need to know.

THE END

2019 Rotary Stratford Short Story Contest

I’ve just been made aware of the upcoming open-to-submissions date for the next FREE Rotary Stratford Short Story Contest. The 2019 Rotary Club of Stratford Short Story Contest will begin taking submissions for short stories of no more than 2,500 words of any genre on MAY 1st, 2019.

Submission window is:

MAY 1st – AUGUST 31st, 2019

There are two categories, based on AGE—Youth & Adult.

19 and under-Teen (must have parental or guardian consent)

  • First: $300
  • Second: $200
  • Third: $100
  • 3 Honourable Mentions

 

20 and over-Adult

  • First: $500
  • Second: $250
  • Third: $100
  • 3 Honourable Mentions

NO CONTEST FEE!

Submission Deadline Again: AUGUST 31st, 2019

LINKS:

CLICK HERE FOR CONTEST RULES AND REGULATIONS AND TO SUBMIT

CLICK HERE FOR COMPLETE LIST OF LAST YEAR’S WINNERS

FULL DETAILS AND ELIGIBILITY

Contest Announcements:

  • Shortlist Announcement: September 2019
  • Winner Announcement: October 18 – 27, 2019 during the Stratford Writers Festival