A Suit Jacket and a Flower (Fiction)

“Britney, what’s this I hear about you not going to the prom with Marty?” I asked, as I hurried into the kitchen with an armload of groceries. I set the bags on the counter and turned to glare at my daughter. She sat at the kitchen table with her best friend Samantha, a bag of potato chips between them. Raucous music blared from nearby Bluetooth speakers. I reached over and switched them off. “Samantha, I need to have a talk with Britney now. Would you please go home?”

“Mom, she and I were going to look at magazines to find a hairstyle for me for Saturday,” said Britney.

“Saturday is just what we need to talk about,” I said.

Samantha, looking embarrassed, rose and hurried out the back door, calling, “See you later.”

“Mom, what’s going on?” asked Britney, turning to face me, a look of hatred in her eyes.

“I should ask you the same question. Imagine my surprise when Diane cornered me, as I was getting the groceries out of the car, and told me you’d just turned Marty down as a prom date after you’d already promised you’d go with him. How could you do such a thing? Marty’s deeply hurt.”

“So what,” said Britney, retrieving a potato chip from the bag and popping it into her mouth. After crunching for a few seconds, she said, “I changed my mind. I found another boy I like better. There are plenty of girls who don’t have dates yet. With three days until the prom, Marty will find someone else.”

“Who is this other boy? Is it some punk who wears a nose ring and greased hair and rides a motorcycle?”

“T.J. is not a punk. Yes, he wears a nose ring and rides a motorcycle, but he’s one of the coolest kids in school. It’s an honor to be asked out by him. I couldn’t pass it up.”

“Honey, you’ve been friends with Marty since you were in first grade. How long have you known T.J.?”

“Oh, about a couple of months,” Britney answered, grabbing another chip.

“You’ve known him for a couple of months. Why haven’t you invited him over?”

“You wouldn’t like him. He lives with his brother who owns Jake’s Burger Joint, and he doesn’t want to go to college. He can’t afford to go, anyway.”

“Jake’s Burger Joint, that sleazy diner on Fifteenth Street?”

“It’s not a sleazy diner. A lot of kids hang out there after school. Jake serves hamburgers, French fries, and milk shakes. Oh, I meant to tell you. I’ve decided not to go to college.”

“What?”

“After graduation, T.J. is going to work with his brother at the restaurant. I thought I’d stay home and find a job. Maybe Samantha and I will get an apartment.”

“Wait a minute. You’ve only known Samantha a couple of months, and you’re talking about moving in together. I thought she had a good head on her shoulders.”

“She does. She lives with her sister who runs The Hair Factory. That’s where I’m getting my hair done. She gave us some magazines to look at so we could choose what styles we want.”

“The Hair Factory. What kind of a name is that for a beauty shop? What happened to Alicia and Claire? Why don’t they come around anymore? They’re nice girls.”

“Nice girls who plan to go to college and get good jobs.” My daughter’s mocking tone made me want to slap her. “Look, I don’t want to argue with you right now,” she said, getting to her feet and picking up a nearby pile of magazines. “I’m going upstairs to look through these myself and find a hairstyle for Saturday.” She hurried out of the room, and a minute later, I heard her bedroom door slam.

I collapsed into a nearby chair and buried my head in my hands. Since I’d been promoted to junior partner in my law firm, I’d been too busy to notice any changes in Britney except for the fact that she no longer hung out with Marty, Alicia, or Claire. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw her report card. Had her grades suffered, hampering her chances of winning a scholarship to the university for the following year? Had she already been denied?

I didn’t know how, but things were going to change. For starters, Britney would go to the prom with Marty. I formulated a plan in my mind, as I marched to the phone to call Diane. When she answered, I told her everything I’d heard from Britney, including her unwillingness to go to college.

“I’m not surprised, Carol. Marty says he’s seen her hanging out with a bunch of kids he doesn’t recognize down by the creek after school. Maybe I should have said something sooner.”

“No, it’s my fault. I’ve been working too many hours and not paying enough attention to Britney, but that’s going to change. I’m going to figure out a way to cut back my hours. If I have to, I’ll quit the firm and open my own practice. In the meantime, I think I can fix it so Britney will go to the prom with Marty. He hasn’t asked another girl, has he?”

“I doubt it. Britney just gave him the bad news today. He’s still pretty depressed.”

After I got off the phone and put the groceries away, I sat at the kitchen table with paper and pencil. My daughter’s handwriting was easy to imitate. “Dear Marty, I’ve changed my mind again. The guy who asked me to the prom isn’t really my type. I didn’t realize this until after he’d asked me and I said yes to him and no to you. I hope you’ll forgive me. I’d really like to go with you to the prom. If you’re still free, you don’t need to reply. Just pick me up at eight. I’ll be waiting. Yours truly, Britney.”

I put the letter in an envelope, sealed it, and addressed it to Marty. As I walked next door in the gathering dusk, I saw lights on in the living room. Hoping no one could see me, I crouched, inching towards the mailbox at the bottom of the front steps. After the deed was done, I slunk home.

The next evening when I arrived home after another long day at the office, Britney and Samantha were in the living room watching television. They sat on the couch, the bag of chips between them and magazines scattered everywhere. “Britney, what time is this boy picking you up Saturday?” I asked.

“Mom, his name is T.J.,” said Britney, as Samantha giggled. “He’s picking me up at seven.”

“I thought the prom didn’t start until eight,” I said.

“It doesn’t,” said Britney. “We’re going to a party at his friend’s house first.”

“Oh,” I said.

“I suppose you’re going to ask me if his parents are going to be there. Get real, Mom. I’m almost eighteen. I can take care of myself.”

“You’re right,” I said. “If you want to ruin your life, that’s up to you.” It was my turn to exit.

When I reached my room upstairs, I flopped onto the bed and breathed a sigh of relief. When Diane answered the phone, I said, “The other boy is planning to pick up Britney at seven. In the note, I told Marty to pick her up at eight. If I can keep her in her room until Marty arrives, this should work.”

“When Marty found your letter today, he was thrilled. I don’t think I’ve seen him this happy in weeks.”

Saturday dawned bright and clear. I was pleasantly surprised when Britney returned from the beauty shop. Her long blonde hair was arranged in simple curls. “It looks very nice, honey,” I said.

Britney was sulking. “I wanted purple hair. Samantha came to school yesterday with purple hair. She said Doreen did it. Purple is T.J.’s favorite color, but Doreen said it wouldn’t be fashionable for me.”

“Who’s Doreen?”

“She’s Samantha’s sister who runs The Hair Factory. What could I say?” I was relieved that Marty wouldn’t have to be embarrassed at the prospect of taking a girl with purple hair to the prom.

At a quarter of seven that evening, I knocked on Britney’s door. “Come in,” she said with a note of disgust in her voice.

She wore the long white dress with a high neck and long sleeves I bought her a couple of weeks earlier. She wanted something strapless, but since I was paying for it, what could she say? “Honey, you look beautiful,” I said, tears brimming in my eyes.

“Whatever,” said Britney, jamming her feet into the white sandals I also bought her.

“Here’s a flower to pin on your dress,” I said, producing it from my pocket. Realizing I’d forgotten to order her corsage, I’d called the florist and requested one purple violet. It wouldn’t match the pink carnation Marty would wear, but maybe it would cheer her up. She’d been gloomy ever since her return from The Hair Factory.

Britney’s eyes opened wide in astonishment, as she gazed at the violet. “It’s purple! You brought me a purple flower! Mom, I love you!” She flung her arms around my neck for the first time in weeks. I held her, as we laughed and cried. “I didn’t think you liked T.J.”

“I haven’t met him yet. Maybe he’s not as bad as I thought. I may have over-reacted the other day. If you stay in your room until I call you, that will give me a chance to get to know him.”

Britney wrinkled her nose. “You won’t like him.”

“Maybe I will. It’s hard to formulate an opinion without meeting him. Besides, this will give you an opportunity to make an entrance.”

“Make an entrance?” she said, giving me a look of incredulity.

“Remember last year when you wanted to be Miss Teen-aged America after seeing the pageant on TV? Pretend you’re in the competition. Walk as gracefully as you can down the stairs and into the living room, as if you were walking on stage at the pageant, and T.J. were one of the judges. Boys like to see girls make entrances. He’ll be awestruck when he sees you in your white prom gown with your purple flower and your white sandals.”

“If he were the judge, he’d pick me, wouldn’t he?” said Britney with a dreamy look in her eye.

“Yes, he would,” I said, as I pinned the flower to her dress and hugged her.

At ten minutes after seven, the doorbell rang, and I was there to answer it. I wasn’t surprised to see the young man who wore a blue blazer over a white t-shirt and black slacks. What stunned me was the sight of Samantha standing next to him. She wore a purple sleeveless dress that showed too much cleavage, purple sandals, purple earrings, and yes, her hair was purple. She said, “Hi, T.J. and I came by to pick up Britney for the prom.”

“Mom, is that T.J.?” called Britney from the top of the stairs.

I turned and said, “Yes, I think you’d better come down.”

T.J. put an arm around Samantha’s waist, and she giggled. Britney, not bothering with a graceful entrance, hurried down the stairs and stopped short. Her eyes widened, and her face grew pale, as she gaped at the couple in the front hall. “What’s going on?” she asked in a quavering voice. “I thought T.J. was taking me to the prom.”

“Not anymore,” said Samantha with a grin. “He asked me yesterday.”

“That’s why Doreen wouldn’t give me purple hair,” said Britney. “She said it wasn’t fashionable.”

“No, it’s not for you,” said Samantha. “but it sure looks good on me, doesn’t it?”

“No dear,” I said. “It makes you look like trash.”

Samantha gasped, and Britney said, “Mom’s right. You’re a slut. I thought you were my best friend.”

“I am,” said Samantha, looking abashed. “T.J. was all for standing you up, but I told him the least we could do was offer you a ride.”

“Well, you can take your ride and shove it,” said Britney. “and you can take this, too.” She ripped the purple violet from her dress and flung it at T.J. It hit him in the nose before landing on the floor at his feet. “Get out of my house.” She gestured towards the open door.

As they turned to leave, Samantha said, “Who needs you, anyway? You’re nothing but a snob.”

I closed and locked the door behind them, turned, and took my weeping daughter into my arms. “You’re right,” she said through her tears. “T.J.’s a punk, and Samantha is trash. I’ll be the laughing stock of the whole school, and I’m not going to this stupid prom.”

“Oh yes you are. You’re going with Marty.”

“What?”

“Honey, let’s sit down.”

Forty-five minutes later, the doorbell rang. “Hello Marty,” I said to the young man standing on the threshold. “Don’t you look handsome, and you brought Britney a corsage.”

“Yes,” said Marty, sporting a grin from ear to ear. “Mom wasn’t sure if Britney had one, so I brought this over.”

“How sweet. Come on in. She’ll be down in a minute.” Marty followed me into the living room, as Britney made her entrance. Smiling, she approached Marty and extended her hand. Marty took it and said, “Hi Britney. I’m glad you changed your mind again. I’m really looking forward to tonight, aren’t you?”

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Note: the above story appears in the spring/summer issue of Magnets and Ladders. Click below to hear me sing the song that inspired it.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Novel Emphasizes Value of Friendship Over Love

That Part was True

by Deborah McKinlay

Copyright 2014

 

Jack and Eve have two things in common. They’re both divorced from spouses who left them for other partners, and they both love to cook and eat. Jack is a writer in the U.S. Eve lives in England.

After Eve writes Jack a fan letter, they begin corresponding and develop a friendship. By telling the story mostly from alternating viewpoints of Jack and Eve, the author gives us a glimpse of their lives: Eve’s struggle with her daughter’s wedding, Jack’s difficulty with writers’ block and relationships.

Jack and Eve support each other through hard times, and during their correspondence, they talk about meeting in Paris, but life gets in the way, and that never happens. As close as they get to each other through their letters, you’d expect the friendship to blossom into love, but it doesn’t. Nevertheless, the book has a satisfying ending. It includes recipes Jack and Eve share with each other in their letters.

In a recording of this book from Hachette Audio, Jack’s part of the story is read by an American male, and Eve’s by a British female. The narrators do an excellent job portraying these characters. I also like the way the author develops characters through dialog instead of narrative, in other words, by showing, not telling. In a sea of romantic stories, with their ups and downs and broken hearts, this book is an island where friendship is beautiful and not complicated by love.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Novel Explores Serious Questions

The Shortest Way Home

by Juliette Fay

Copyright 2013

 

Set in a suburb of Boston, this story centers around a family with Huntington’s Disease, a degenerative disorder that becomes prevalent during adulthood. Shawn, a nurse who has worked in developing countries for years, thinks he has dodged the bullet but refuses to be tested.

Feeling burned out, he comes home, hoping to re-group and then return to his work. Years earlier, after Shawn’s mother died of Huntington’s Disease, his father left Shawn and his brother and sister with their aunt and never returned.

Now, Shawn discovers that his aunt is suffering from some sort of dementia not related to Huntington’s, and his eleven-year-old nephew, Kevin, has sensory processing disorder which effects his behavior. Kevin is the son of Shawn’s brother, who died of pneumonia after Shawn went overseas.

Because his sister, a want-to-be actress, is too busy with her job as a waitress at a diner and play rehearsals, Shawn reluctantly cares for his aunt and nephew until someone else can be hired. He finds employment in a bakery run by an old friend and falls in love with Rebecca, a girl he knew in high school, who now works as a massage therapist. Then, his sister announces she’s soon heading for New York, leaving Shawn in the permanent role of caregiver. By this time, he’s conflicted between his love for Rebecca, Kevin, and his aunt and wanting to flee to Haiti, where a doctor, with whom he once worked, has opened a clinic following an earthquake.

Then, his father shows up unexpected, and after meeting his grandson, proposes a trip to Ireland with him and Shawn, to which Shawn reluctantly agrees, despite anger at his father for leaving the family years earlier. The book ends soon after they return.

I like the way this book explores the question of “to know or not to know” if you’ll be afflicted with a serious condition such as Huntington’s Disease later in life. It also focuses on the conflict between family love and loyalty and wanting to pursue one’s own dreams, especially if one’s life may be cut short by a serious illness. I can appreciate how the relationship between Shawn, raised an Irish Catholic, and God changes. There are some serious life lessons to be learned here, so I definitely recommend this book to everyone.

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 Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Novel Depicts Survival at Sea

Abbie-1

Life of Pi

By Yann Martel

Copyright 2001

 

Pi is a boy growing up in India, the son of a zookeeper. In the 1970’s, when he’s sixteen years old, he and his family, in an attempt to start a new life, set sail for Canada on a cargo ship containing several animals from their zoo. The ship sinks. Pi’s father, mother, and older brother parish. He ends up on a life boat with a zebra, hyena, monkey, and tiger. The hyena kills the zebra and the monkey, and the tiger kills the hyena. Then, it’s just Pi and the tiger, who both survive the ordeal.

This book provides a lot of detail in the beginning about Pi’s life growing up in India including how he gets his name. Therefore, I would like to have known more about his life after he survives being shipwrecked.

All we know is that after a little over seven months at sea, during which time they spend a few weeks on a deserted island, Pi and the tiger end up in Mexico. The tiger wanders into a nearby forest and is never seen again. Pi is found and taken to a hospital where Japanese officials from the shipping company question him about why the ship sank. He eventually moves to Canada and attends a university, but what career path does he take?

He later tells his story to an insignificant other, who undertakes some of the narration. Who is this person?

Before the accident, Pi, as a teenager, dabbles in the Christian, Muslim, and Hindu religions. How has his harrowing adventure at sea affected his faith? Which religion does he practice once settled in Canada, or does he do all three like he did in India, or has he become disillusioned with God?

Before Pi is shipwrecked, he’s a vegetarian. Once stranded on that life boat in the middle of the ocean, he realizes that in order to survive, he must eat meat: fish, turtles, and even the meerkats he finds on the deserted island. After his return to civilization, does he go back to eating strictly vegetables, or does he realize that meat isn’t so bad, especially since it kept him alive for over seven months?

Perhaps these questions can be discussed by reading groups. In any case, Life of Pi is a remarkable story of courage in the face of adversity with a theme of survival of the fittest.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Anthology Depicts Disability Culture

Abbie-1

Dozen: The Best of Breath and Shadow

Edited by Chris Kuell

Copyright 2016

 

Breath and Shadow is an online magazine featuring poems, stories, and essays by authors with disabilities. Pieces here focus mainly on what it’s like to have a disability and how others treat a person with a disability. This anthology showcases the best work that appeared in the publication over the past twelve years.

It contains dark pieces such as Susan M. Silver’s short story, “I’ll Be Looking at the Moon,” in which the protagonist is dealing with a serious illness. In contrast, there’s Amy Krout-Horn’s essay, “Who Dresses You?” in which she talks about a humorous way she answered this narrow-minded question from a waitress.

Many pieces portray the relationship between a person with a disability and health care professionals such as Lizz Schumer’s essay, “Peace Protest,” in which she talks about convalescing after a fall and wondering if she inherited her grandfather’s brain cancer. Then there’s Chris Kuell’s short story, “The Interview,” in which a blind woman retaliates against a prospective employer who is unwilling to even consider the possibility of hiring her.

I would like to have seen fewer dark pieces. Nevertheless, I think this is a must-read for everyone, especially those in a profession that requires dealing directly with others: waitresses, doctors, nurses, cab drivers, etc. You don’t have to read the whole thing cover to cover. You could read perhaps one or two pieces a day. If you’re one of those narrow-minded persons who take a dim view of what people with disabilities can do, this anthology will force you to think outside the box. If you’re a person with a disability, you’ll read this and realize you’re not the only one. The people in this book, whether real or made-up, will speak to you of their experiences.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Review: Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone

Abbie-1

Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone: An Anthology of Wyoming Writers

Edited by Lori Howe

Copyright 2016

 

This is a collection of stories, poems, and essays that touch mostly on aspects of western life. Some pieces talk about nature and dealing with the elements, such as Patricia Frolander’s poem, “Wyoming 1949,” in which she describes cutting open a dead horse and crawling inside to stay warm while in the middle of nowhere during a snowstorm. Then there’s Aaron Holst’s poem, “Fire and Water,” inspired by one of the author’s firefighting experiences, that depicts an incident that can happen anywhere, not just in the west.

Other works discuss wildlife, such as Susan Marsh’s essay, “A Heart in the Shape of a Bear,” about the plight of this creature in the wild and in civilization. Still others deal with history and culture, like Cindy Jackelen’s poem, “Whose Land,” which depicts the brutality of the Indian War through several voices.

Not all pieces are set in Wyoming. There’s Patti Sherlock’s short story, “Mother George, Midwife,” a fictionalized account of a Negro midwife in Idaho during the 19th century who turned out to be a man disguised as a woman. Julianne Couch’s short story, “Reintroduction,” is set in the Nebraska wilderness. Then there’s Alyson Hagy’s short story, “The Saddlemaker,” in which a young girl from South Dakota is sent to live with her grandparents near Riverton, Wyoming, before her mother’s shady past catches up with her.

I’d love to tell you about each poem, story, and essay in this book, but there are so many of them. Like most anthologies, Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone can be read either cover to cover or in bits and pieces, depending on what strikes your fancy. Poems, essays, and short stories are bunched together, each in their own section.

That’s one thing I don’t like. In many anthologies and literary journals, stories, poems, and essays are together, not each in their own section. You might see a poem sandwiched between two short stories or two essays or one short story and an essay. For example, in Magnets and Ladders, an online journal I help edit, poems, stories, and essays are grouped into sections by topic. It creates less monotony that way.

Otherwise, I enjoyed reading many of the works in Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone. I know some of the writers whose works appear in this anthology, and it’s always fun to read what they have to say. Even if you don’t live in Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, or Idaho, this book will give you great insights on western life.

 

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Two Final Holiday Books

Abbie-1

St. Nick

by Alan Russell

Copyright 2013

 

Nick, a divorced cop, feeling depressed after being suspended from the San Diego police department, grudgingly agrees to work undercover as Santa Claus at a mall, where muggings have frequently been occurring. Not only is Nick expected to catch the bad guys, but he’s also compelled to grant a Christmas wish to a terminally ill child and find another child who wrote an anonymous letter to Santa, asking him to visit. He then meets a female television reporter, and things really get interesting. The realistic ending is predictable.

I usually don’t read detective stories, but the plot of this Audible daily deal intrigued me. It’s funny, sweet, moving, and not your run-of-the-mill mystery tale. I loved the way the narrator, Patrick Lawlor, portrayed Nick and other male characters, and his depiction of women and children wasn’t bad. This book is also available from Amazon. I know it’s a little late now, but maybe you can put it on your holiday reading list for next year.

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A Literary Christmas

Published by The British Library

Copyright 2014

 

This short anthology of Christmas stories and poems includes excerpts from such classics as A Christmas Carol and Little Women and work by Dylan Thomas, Shakespeare, and others. Of course no holiday collection would be complete without “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” also known as “The Night Before Christmas.”

This was another Audible daily deal with two excellent British narrators, Juliet Stevenson and Simon Callow. I could read some of the timeless classics in this collection over and over again. I was especially touched by the excerpt from Little Women, where the girls give their breakfast to a poor family on Christmas morning.

The recording was re-produced from a two-CD set, as evidenced by announcements of “Disc One” and “Disc Two.” With today’s advances in modern recording technology, you’d think those could have been deleted. Also, there should have been more of a pause between selections, especially when switching narrators. It seemed that one barely finished a selection when the other jumped in.

This book is also available from Amazon, so it would make a good family read during the holiday season. Children, depending on their ages, may find some of the pieces hard to grasp, but “The Night Before Christmas” and excerpts from A Christmas Carol and Little Women could surely be crowd pleasers. In any case, I hope you’ll also put this book on your holiday reading list for next year.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.