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.

 

Letters to Celebrities

Abbie-1

One blogger I follow posts letters to Ellen DeGeneres simply because she can. In this post, she explains to Ellen why she thinks rotary phones should still exist. I must admit she makes some good points, although I really love my cell phone.

One of my favorite comedians is Alan Alda, who played Hawkeye on MASH. If I were to write letters to him on my blog, would A. Marie Silver, Ellen DeGeneres’s pen pal, sue me for plagiarism? When I was in college, I once took a basic research writing class in which the instructor was fond of saying, “Plagiarism is a crime.”

I pictured myself calling home from a police station in Billings, Montana, where I was attending MSU. “Hi Mother, Dad, I’m in jail for plagiarism. Could you drive the 150 or so miles from Wyoming and bail me out, please? Maybe you could ask Uncle Tony in Colorado Springs to come. He’s a pretty good lawyer, isn’t he? Maybe Aunt Lynn and the girls could also come, and after I’m free, we could all go skiing at Red Lodge like we did in Breckenridge when I was in high school, remember?”

Needless to say, it was with trepidation that I wrote my final paper, paraphrasing the heck out of every source I quoted. The topic was schizophrenia. Believe me, I had one of the symptoms of this psychological disorder, paranoia.

It didn’t help when another student said the instructor accused her of plagiarism after she turned in her paper. I expected armed policemen to march into the classroom at any minute and haul her off in handcuffs. Miracle of miracles, when I turned in my paper, the instructor did not accuse me of plagiarism and did give me a passing grade.

Now, my parents are gone. Uncle Tony is semi-retired, and his health isn’t what it used to be. If Alan Alda were a lawyer, he could march into a courtroom cracking jokes, like he did in the operating room in Korea years ago, but he’s not a lawyer. He’s not even a doctor. He’s a comedian and can’t help me if I’m sued for writing letters to him on my blog. I’m not sure it’s worth the risk. What do you think?

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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.

 

A Poem About My Mother

One thing I remember about my mother is her cooking. The following poem illustrates this and her inferiority complex when it came to meal preparation. This poetry form is a haibun, consisting of two paragraphs of prose and one haiku. Of course you’ll note here that the haiku has nothing to do with nature, but in my view, anything goes. Click this link to hear me read the poem.

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MOTHER’S CUISINE

Mother considered herself a mediocre cook, but I thought otherwise. I loved her meatloaf, steak San Marco, calico beans. When complimented, she said, “It’s too dry, too salty, needs more pepper, should have been cooked longer.”

When I was in college, she mashed potatoes for the first time: boiled, peeled, sliced them, added milk and butter, attacked them with an electric mixer. They turned out chunky but still good. On Christmas Day, with family and friends gathered around the table, when I asked for a second helping of potatoes, she said, “Well, you’re used to cafeteria food.”

mother’s chocolate cake

evokes happy memories

of a child’s delight

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Mother and her cooking are long gone, but I still remember. What about you? Happy Mother’s Day.

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Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

 

In the Moment (Fiction)

I sat in the classroom, not knowing what to write. The only sounds were heavy breathing from the guy next to me and the scratch of pencil against paper. The blank sheet stared me in the face.

I stared back, as time dragged on. Another student walked in late, whispering an apology. Footsteps sounded in the hall, as others walked by the open door.

I stared out the open window that overlooked the courtyard. Birds sang. Students laughed, as they passed the building, no inspiration there.

I looked around at other students sitting at tables set up in a u-shape format, the blackboard, the professor’s laptop on the lectern at the front of the room. I turned and stared at the computers lining the wall behind me. At the beginning of class, the instructor said we could use them if we didn’t want to write the old-fashioned way. I stood up and made my way to one of the terminals.

Sitting down, I pushed a button, and the screen came to life with Facebook in all its glory. Without thinking, I typed my log-in information and went straight to my home newsfeed page. There, on my timeline, were his words. “Emma Sawyer, you’re nothing but a goody two-shoes. Go to Hell!”

Others gasped, and a few tittered. I turned to see projected on the screen above the blackboard my Facebook timeline with Jeremy’s ugly words. Other screens were lit up, probably displaying the same information. I opened my mouth but couldn’t say anything.

Someone was shaking me. “Emma, wake up.” It was my roommate Shelley. The bland classroom walls dissolved into the walls of my dorm room, decorated with my photos and Shelley’s rock star posters.

“Oh, what is it?” I asked, rubbing my eyes.

“It’s after nine. Didn’t you hear your alarm? Your creative writing class starts at ten. Oh, and Jeremy called.”

“Shit,” I said, sitting up and reaching for my cell. “You didn’t talk to him, did you?”

”           “Of course not, silly, I just saw who it was on your caller ID. I’m glad you finally got rid of that bozo.”

“Yeah, he’s a real jerk. He’s here on a football scholarship so all he can think about are football, football, and football. He just wants to have fun, and he can’t understand that there are times when I need to study. Oh well….”

I picked up my phone and, with the push of a few buttons, blocked his calls and deleted him from my contacts. I then reached for my lap top.

“Emma, it’s after nine. You’re going to be late,” said Shelley, putting on her coat.

“I know, but if I don’t do this now, he’ll ruin my day.”

“And if you don’t eat breakfast, you’ll ruin your health, but that’s not my problem, is it?” said Shelley, sounding disgusted, as she slung her back pack over her shoulders. “I’m off to the cafeteria and then to my music therapy class. See you later.”

I waited for the computer to boot up, then went straight to Facebook where I un-friended Jeremy and blocked him from contacting me. For good measure, I deleted my Facebook account, figuring I could create another one later. I also blocked him from e-mailing me and removed his address.

I showered, dressed, and dashed to my class, grabbing a Hostess Twinkie and a can of Dr. Pepper on the way. I made it just in time. After roll call, the instructor, a woman who looked to be in her twenties said, “Okay, for the next fifteen minutes, I want you to write about being in the moment.”

THE END

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The above story appears in the fall/winter issue of Magnets and Ladders at http://www.magnetsandladders.org . It was inspired by a memoir writing workshop I took last fall, held in a classroom similar to that in the story, with computers along the walls that students could use. The instructor, also a young woman in her twenties, gave us a similar prompt, to write about being in the moment.

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Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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