Theme Thursday: A seasonal affair


In some ways, projects mirror conversation. In particular, if you put your hands on either in an attempt to force it to go your way, you will most certainly fail. Words may be said, items may get checked, but in the end either your partner or your underling will resent you, breaking the human connection of conversation and productivity, respectively.

The temptation the first week was to beg people I know to contribute, which I largely avoided. (Should the admission that I didn’t wholly avoid it embarrass me, here? Probably not.) The temptation the second week was to fear that I had made the game too hard by raising the bar a notch.

I want to promote this project. I don’t want to constrain friends and fans. I want people to contribute, but I don’t want them to feel compelled to do so. These Theme Thursdays should be games, should be fun! And we’re (here in the north hemisphere) wrapping up our summer, which means it’s prime time for fun!

Therefore, a broad and unrestrained topic, rich in both memory and metaphor:

This week’s theme: Summer

Have fun. 🙂 Remember, all forms of narrative are fair game: fiction, non-, and poetry, along with photos.

Guidelines

The only right I assume from you posting a comment is that I am able to host your work on this blog for non-commercial purposes with attribution. You keep all other rights.

I do have plans to attempt to monetize this site once the boulder rolls a little further down hill, but at this point there are NO ASSUMPTIONS OF COMMERCIAL RIGHTS. I will contact authors on an individual basis for any and all commercial purposes.

Make the entries as short or as long as you want, and any genre is fair game: fiction, non-, and poetry. Publish in comments stories, no matter how polished or raw, according to the game of the week. If I like your story, I’ll contact you and ask for permission to remix your work, which I’ll post with the next week’s contest.

You have one week to submit your story, and please, please do. I don’t want this site to be my literary masturbation. Join me, and perhaps get some free editing and mentoring along the way!

**

Now for the first remixing of my chosen story from the game two weeks ago (one week for them to write the comment, one week for me to write the remix). The new piece is entirely fiction and not fed by the author except by the original post. Here goes!

The original (authored by Claire):

My mother is the kitchen, her smooth edges and pillowy white skin, soft and yielding and warm. The kitchen is sensuality in form of mother-love, my youth and my upbringing, my salty tears boiling over, my dishpan hands longing to be held.

When I miss my mother, I go to my kitchen. I make tea, the whistling kettle becoming her voice, the steam her fingers on my own. I fix it the way she likes it, orange pekoe, condensed milk, only I slip in two teaspoons of white sugar, the colour of her inner arms. She’d cringe at the sacrilege, but I need the sweetness of her words to cut the harshness of her reality when she impresses upon me to sit up, to buck up, to not feel so sorry for myself, to not sit alone and cry, to be proctive! to smile! to make friends!

But I feel sorry for myself in the kitchen. I cower with mug in hand and stare into the murky liquid that is only the colour of tea and let it wash over me, warmth, comfort, soft, yielding. My mother. My kitchen. me.

The remix:

“Smile,” she says to me. “You wouldn’t have it so bad if you made some friends.” Her voice is harsh but falsely polished, like the linoleum floor. It reflects light sure enough, but it makes the incandescent bulb look cooly flourescent. “Smile, God damnit!” I close my eyes and lick my lips. My toes curl as my head sinks, chin falling to my breasts. “God damnit,” she sighs, turning back to her cutting board.

Her knife moves fluidly like quicksilver. You wouldn’t know it was steel if you hadn’t felt its cut. I can feel her eyes flicking between what she’s doing and her peripheral so she might see if I’ve regained my composure. I think she takes pleasure in breaking me down; she doesn’t bother insulting me if I’m visibly subdued.

Her teeth grind. “Smile.” The word hurtles her mouth quietly, like a sand storm. It corrodes my skin, could cut to the bone. Her voice recognizes no armor. I am nude in front of it and damaged in its wake.

Said. “Smile,” she said. My head shakes of its own accord, my hair shaking loosely like horsemane, and my eyes open to a different kitchen. My kitchen, suburban, with the bright windows and the pink marble countertops. Light in my mother’s house always seemed filtered; here it feels so clean. There it seemed dirty; here, sterile.

I can’t tell if this is helping, this psychological experiment of mine. I escaped my mother so long ago, but I want to remember her without the childhood fear. I make the tea, orange pekoe with condensed milk, just like she has it in my nightmares. The smell doesn’t bring back anything definite, but my muscles tense, making my head fall to my chest and my eyes close. I bear all the same reactions from my childhood. A friend called it emotional regression, but I like to think I’m moving forward.

She is my mother. I want to remember her without fear. I want to connect the encouragement I see now that she was giving me with those words from my memories. Make friends had sounded so cruel, nearly impossible, nearly a curse. What if I had made friends? Would I have heard her the same way?

No, that’s not where I want to go. I relax my muscles and let my head fall back so that I’m looking at the ceiling. I breathe, deeply. As I exhale, my chin falls to my chest again, and the tea kettle whistles in earnest.

She grabs the handle violently as I’ve felt her grab my write. That tight grip would’ve left bruises on me, still might. Hot water falls freely from the spout, filling her cup, which already contains the milk and the leaves. I look away, try not to imagine the difference in threshold between her sulfuric grip and the burns of hot water.

“Sit up,” she hisses, her voice only softly carried by the breath. “Your cringing makes me sick.” My eyes close again and my head jitters, a small flinch as I picture her dousing me in that steaming-hot tea, hitting me right in the vulnerable spot of neck exposed to her. The burn would turn my neck red, making my soft, untanned skin different from her ivory near-white. How I yearn to be different from her; give me the burns! I could scream it!

When I feel myself near tears with begging, I open my eyes, and her nose is mere inches from my cheek, cup poised to spill. “Sit up, stop cringing, and smile. You’re not making any friends over how cruel mommy abuses you at home.”

I hear the garage door open, and I’m back in suburbia. Shivers crawl down my body, and I touch the spot on my neck that mere moments before I had silently begged my long-dead mother to purge from my fair flesh. I feel the muscles loosen under my practiced fingers, grateful for their salvation. My husband, when he comes in, will ask me why I made the tea again. He’ll be angry, but I’ll tell him the memories are getting better. I can do this; I can overcome.

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Author: Greg Freed

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7 Comments

Filed under Features, Fiction, Theme Thursdays, Writing

7 responses to “Theme Thursday: A seasonal affair

  1. Sheri

    Windows bring in so much niceness: breeze, a polyphonic spree of bird songs, and the smell of my neighbor’s Hitachi cooking dinner. After the long months of winter, I forget about all the good things that come in through windows. When my cats go missing, I can now find them in an open window with a bird under surveillance, while in winter they are usually found hiding amongst my sweaters on the closet shelf. They have started making that rapid squeaking noise again, or the sound like they are trying to attract birds. I seriously doubt any bird with any sense would fall for their ventriloquism.

    Until this evening, I hadn’t realized how much sound was transferred out of windows. As I sit here, looking out my office window at a band of trees behind our flat’s carport, I can hear a woman yelling. She’s screaming at someone who never screams back. Maybe it’s her husband or lover. Or maybe it’s her adult child (or heaven forbid, her child-child). All I really know for sure is her voice is one that I frequently hear at 2am now that the windows are open, so I’m curious about its audibility at 8:13pm on a Wednesday night. I wonder if she cares what her neighbors think of her. I wonder if the cops have been called.

    I raise my voice at my husband when I just can’t seem to get my point across. When I do this and the windows are open, I wonder who will hear and what they think of me. But I am constantly worried about scrutiny. I guess that’s why this loud mystery lady fascinates me. Does she hear me on the other side of the street, past the trees, and think that this is just the way things go in relationships? Do I give her some authority? Or maybe I’m not that loud. I hope I’m not.

    All I really know is that I wish we could spend more time hearing the birds and watching the cats watch the birds instead of each being misunderstood and not getting our needs met. I don’t want to be alone, or lonely, but I don’t want to suffer what my mom and my grandma suffered, albeit for different reasons. [more to this essay, obviously….]

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  3. Ashley

    Dear Summer,

    I regret to inform you, but we are over! I had lovely visions of us together, on the beach. The tickle of sand between my toes. Snuggling under the shade of a tree with a good book in hand. Nights of clear skies where the stars out number the seconds in a day. The top down in my convertable with my feet on the dash and our friends by our side, goin where ever you take us.

    But, no. Those are just sweet, sweet dreams that were crushed when you failed to appear. You didn’t leave me high and dry, you left me cold and wet as the storm clouds rolled in day after day after day. Hours of sonlitary confinement consumed my “summer”. All of this, after I waited so paitiently for you to rescure me from that terrible bitter winter. Oh, how it treated my badly… you, YOU were suppose to be my night in shining armor, my saving grace. You, the creme de la creme when it comes to the seasons. But you left much to be desired. So, alas, I must bid my fair adieu. We are through!

    “Hello Fall,you are looking quite ravashing tonight!”

    Sincerely, Your once lover

    Ashley

  4. Kathleen Leary

    swing summer swing
    enjoying solitude
    swing summer swing
    by myself
    swing summer swing
    sitting here
    swing summer swing
    I can
    swing summer swing
    watch the
    swing summer swing
    neighborhood children
    swing summer swing
    with their
    swing summer swing
    running and
    swing summer swing
    laughter as
    swing summer swing
    they have
    swing summer swing
    no worries
    swing summer swing
    or fears
    swing summer swing
    I remember
    swing summer swing
    innocent times
    swing summer swing
    before you
    swing summer swing
    realize that
    swing summer swing
    summer vacation
    swing summer swing
    doesn’t last
    swing summer swing
    forever
    swing summer swing

  5. James Gregory

    It’s 1:39. The day is already beginning to close. The blush is slipping finger by finger bellow the horizon. I sit in a room the color of dirt with rows and rows of neutral colored walls and frames. They come only in straight lines. The room has no windows.

    I sit not grasping the time. I walk in and it’s warm and bright outside as I do. I know later it will be dusky and fall feeling when I leave. Time having traveled forward without me. The seasons changing with my mood. Happy in the morning and down in the evening.

    Things one wonders about while in the limbo of the work room are many. I wonder how my friends are doing. I might pray they have good days. More likely I worry the girls are most likely kissing boys I don’t want them to kiss. They should be kissing me.

    I pack the day with work related things. Reports. Calls. Arguments. I hate everything about it. The day passes by slowly.

    I walk outside and I see summer is gone. A nasty breeze and the smell of dead leaves gets in my nose. I walk to my car in the empty parking lot and drive off into the half centered sun. Blinding myself and yet somehow making it to my destination every time.

  6. My fingers are stained deep purple. Even before cooking the grapes, their juice gathered under my fingernails and won’t come out for a week. This time of year, my fingers change their colors, like rabid sports fans who can’t decide from day to day. Sticky from peaches, slightly red from tomatoes, brownish-purple from plums later in the year, waterlogged from the corn I blanch and freeze. The grapes are new, delivered by a friend the other day who knows I like to experiment with jams and jellies.

    Canning — or preserving, more generally — is something that used to be handed down from mother to daughter, tools to help a girl’s future family survive a long winter. Before grocery stores and high-end farmer’s markets, there were seasons, seasons when food grew and, more importantly seasons when it didn’t. Summers were not a time to spend lazy days under trees, or riding a bicycle, or paddling at the beach. Summer was the time to grow food, watch food, get anxious about food’s response to the weather, and spend every spare minute putting up food for the produce-free winter ahead.

    I should have learned this skill from my mother. She, after all, grew up on a wheat ranch that still held the marks of Eastern Montana’s frontier. Gardening was necessary labor, not something inspired by a Michael Pollan treatise. She never saw the wild grapes that I’m now picking off withered stalks in my Hudson Valley home. She learned to drive an 18-wheeler when she was 5 and learned to fly a plane when she was 14. She knew how to survive. Every summer of my childhood saw her devoted to her vegetable garden, from seed to plant, to the canning jars and brine-filled pickle barrel in the kitchen.

    But she didn’t teach me. For every generation, the practice of canning sees an evolution brought on by personal interpretation. My great-grandmother canned as a way to help her family survive the unforgiving, often brutal life on the frontier. My mother learned the art from her.

    My mother, though, didn’t need to preserve food to survive. While my parents filled the freezer with venison to feed their family, the supermarkets of my generation were already full-year produce purveyers. Sure, they only had Red Delicious and Green Delicious apples, and I didn’t meet a kiwi until we moved temporarily to California. But the fact was, you didn’t have to make pickles or preserve tomatoes. You could buy them anytime, and usually cheaper than you could make them. My mother, I think, turned to the necessary craft of her childhood as a way to escape. She was too intelligent a woman to delight in knitting or quilts; her escape from the draining toils of motherhood had to be either deeply creative or eminently practical. Canning was the practical. She spent days making dilled pickled beans and peach chutney, but she didn’t want my help. This was her place of solitude, a reassuring, steady rhythm of work with the filling of jars, the boiling, and then end result: ranks of glass Mason jars filled with fresh, delicious, edible food.

    Canning means something different to me. I began doing it the year I was pregnant with my first child. It hitched on to the yearly failure in gardening and my newfound passion for local food in season.

    Having only watched during childhood, I had to teach myself. I spent hours on the phone with my mother, worrying about the mistakes I was likely to make. She was reassuring, and laughed at my concerns. She gave me recipes for new jams. And after several batches of tomatoes and even more of peaches, I began scouring the canning books, looking for new recipes.

    Preserving food, I had found, was more than just about eating fresh, local food. It satisfied some deep part of myself that craved to nurture. In childhood I rarely had patience for the slow husbandry of my mother’s activities. I wanted to hike and swim, to canoe, to climb mountains. Summer meant fun, meant action. But now my mother’s repetitive, graceful actions with all those Mason jars have come full circle. Summer has come to mean preservation. I plan my leisure time around the availability of orchard-run peaches from the local farm, and plan travel around the farming season.

    The wild grapes cook, and their juice drips through cheesecloth, waiting to be married to sugar and pectin, and sealed in jars to sit in the basement. In spite of myself, I have come back to the activities of my ancestors: peeling boxes of peaches and seeding crates of tomatoes, spending my summer preparing for the winter ahead.

  7. Pingback: Theme Thursday: Job interviews | Greg Freed's Online Portfolio

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