Luna Love (A Poem)

I’ve heard it said
the moon’s a melancholy soul –
up there all alone,
with no light of its own
and only sometimes whole.
But I spend a lot of time with the moon,
waiting somewhere between
asleep and awake
while the world turns from night to day
and the sky changes with the seasons.
And I say this:
It’s something truly special
(and not for all of us)
to keep close the company of the stars,
to see through another’s radiance
and shine a path bright and clear
in the darkness.

Ghost Girl (A Poem)

I am only a flash
in the corner of your eye,
nothing but a shadow,
or a trick of the light
on the stair,
there and gone.
You can try to catch me
in a photo,
or to capture
the sound of my voice.
Many have, and most leave
disappointed.
Are you scared?
You should be,
you know.
I’m not for everyone.

October Fire (A Poem)

Strike a match
against the October sky
and watch it burn –
blood orange and
blue hot with the fire
of elders,
of ages.
It rages and then smolders.
And in its embers lay the sands
that turn the year
from day to night,
and soothe the world to sleep.

Stage Fright (A Short Story)

*Before we begin, an update on Gatsby: He’s feeling better! He’s up and moving around, eating, and asking for cuddles. We’re relieved (that’s probably a massive understatement), and we’re continuing to monitor him to make sure he’s okay. Senior cat life is a roller coaster, but we love him so much and it’s worth it. Thank you to each of you who asked about him and sent good wishes and sweet comments! It made me happy knowing y’all were thinking about him, too. Now on to the story…*

************

–Stage Fright–

Tori Davis Come Home!

The headline looked up at her from the desk. She focused on her mascara instead. One swipe, two swipes. Counting had always calmed her nerves. Three swipes, four and done. She looked down at the newspaper, and wondered who’d left it here for her.

Country’s breakout sensation returns to her roots with a night of unplugged hits at the old train station. Bristol welcomes its hometown star!

Well, that was laying it on a little thick, but generally, yes, correct. Here she was in the back office of the old train station, using someone’s desk as a makeup stand, her grandfather’s old Martin all polished up and ready to play, just for the occasion.

All she’d ever wanted to do was make music.

She put on her favorite red lipstick. Someone had told her, when she started out, that you can hide a lot of mistakes behind bright red lipstick.

From the door at her back, three solid knocks.

“Come in,” she said.

“Fifteen minutes,” said a small voice.

“Thanks.”

A shuffle of feet, a rustling of paper.

“Was there anything else?”

Silence.

“Because I’m almost ready,” she added.

Tori could hear the crowd that had gathered for her, the murmurs and the chants and the claps, and the excitement. She could feel it, humming all through her. Though, it wasn’t really a crowd, was it? More like a group. A small one, less than thirty people, who’d all paid a lot of money for the opportunity to see this close-up, homecoming performance. Somehow, that made it worse.

“I don’t like to let on,” she said, “but I get terrible stage fright. Always have.” She brushed some light, white glitter just above her cheekbones. “So I like to have a couple of minutes before the show just to myself.”

“I’m sorry,” said the voice.

Tori turned around in her chair and saw a girl, maybe about twenty, with a clipboard in her trembling hands and a STAFF badge around her neck. Her knuckles were white. Poor kid. Almost as nervous as she was.

“Don’t be,” Tori said. “Did you want an autograph? I think we have time for that.”

“No,” said the girl. “Well, sure.” And then she added, at about a mile a minute, “I really just wanted to say that you’re my biggest inspiration.” She reached one hand up to fiddle with a strand of hair at her shoulders. “I love your music.” She stepped back toward the door. “Sorry. They told me not to bother you.”

“What’s you name?” Tori smiled at her, and the girl’s shoulders relaxed.

“Amber,” she answered.

“Amber,” Tori repeated. “My best friend growing up had a little sister named Amber.”

The girl’s eyes were big as saucers. Lord, where had that phrase come from, anyway? You couldn’t write that into a song. People would laugh you off the stage.

“Okay, Amber. Come on over here and I’ll sign your badge.”

Amber walked over and took off the lanyard hanging around her neck. Tori signed the paper badge with a blue pen she pulled out of the desk drawer, her own hands shaking. She hoped Amber wouldn’t notice. And so of course Amber did.

“Your hands are shaking,” she said.

“I know,” Tori answered. “Like I said, I get stage fright. I’m always a wreck before I go on.”

“But you’re famous,” Amber said.

“I’m still me.”

Tori remembered, then, how it all started. Community theatre in elementary school, karaoke when she was a teenager, always imitating someone else’s voice.

“I always wanted to sing ‘Strawberry Wine’ when I was younger,” Tori said. “You know that song?”

Amber nodded her head. Tori handed her badge back.

“My mom said that song was too old for me. I put it in every show now.” Tori smiled like the cat who ate the canary, and then winked.

Amber giggled. “I love that song,” she said.

“Me, too,” said Tori. “I like to sing it now, because it reminds me of where I started.”

“Here,” Amber said.

“Well, yeah,” Tori told her, “but not just here, in Bristol.”

Amber raised her eyebrows.

“Here, as me,” Tori said. “As just some girl who liked to sing. I’m still just some girl who likes to sing. They pay me a lot more for it now, though. And if I mess up, I let a lot more people down.”

“You could never let your fans down,” Amber said, quickly and tightly. “We love you.”

Oh, God, that made it a lot worse. Tori swallowed and fought a wave of nausea in her belly. Good grief, there was another one. Who came up with that? Couldn’t put that in a song.

“Have you ever disappointed your mom, Amber?”

“Plenty of times,” Amber replied.

“And did it feel good?”

“No,” Amber answered.

“It felt bad, right? Like, really, really bad? And you thought about it for a long time?”

“Yeah,” Amber said.

“Because you love her.”

“Yeah,” Amber said again.

“And you don’t want to let her down.”

Amber nodded, one solid motion this time.

“That’s how I feel about music,” Tori finished.

Amber stared at her for a moment, and then said, “Music?”

Tori sighed. “Yes, music. I love my fans, but it’s the music that keeps me in this. All I’ve ever wanted was the music.”

She looked at Amber for any signs of understanding, of recognition.

“And I’m terrified every time I go on stage that it’ll be the last one. That I’ll mess up big, and that I’ll never be able to do it again.”

“But you don’t,” Amber insisted. “You don’t, ever.”

Goodness, she was loyal. Tori hated to tell her, “Sure I do. All the time. I even had to go to the emergency room once, before a show. I had a panic attack.”

Amber gasped, just a little, the tiniest intake of air, but Tori heard it.

She added, “People mess up, even at the things they do the best. That’s life.” And then she asked, “How long now?”

Amber looked confused, and then frantic. “Oh my God, I’ve taken up all this time, and they told me not to bother you! I’m so sorry!”

“It’s fine,” Tori said. “It’s really fine.” If she’d been better at this, she might have given Amber a hug. “Just tell me how long now.”

Amber looked at her watch, clearly miserable. “Five minutes.”

“Okay, five minutes. I can work with that.” When Amber didn’t move, Tori added, “Thanks for chatting with me.”

Amber still didn’t move.

“Was there something else?”

“How do you do it?” Amber looked down at her clipboard again. “If it scares you so much, how did you even get started?”

Tori thought for a moment, and then said, “I didn’t have a choice.”

“I don’t understand,” Amber said.

“You don’t choose your family, right? And wherever you’re from, that’s home.”

Something flickered in Amber’s eyes. Good. Finally.

“Music is my family, it’s my home. Nothing else in the world. Just music.”

Amber pursed her lips together, knitted her brow, and said, “I think I understand that.”

“Good,” Tori said. “Now, get going,” she added, not unkindly. “And come and get me at thirty seconds.”

Amber nodded again, another quick, decisive motion, and said, “Thank you, Miss Davis.” And then she left, and closed the door softly behind her.

Finally alone, Tori took three deep breaths. Ten seconds in, ten seconds out. She looked at herself in the mirror, did one more pass of the red lipstick. She looked down at the newspaper again, at the big picture of the famous Bristol arch, placed right beside a picture of her famous face.

And then she got up, straightened her skirt, and slung her grandfather’s old guitar over her shoulder. They were waiting for her. From the door to the office, three knocks.

Home was waiting for her.

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Thank you for reading! This is the ninth of twelve stories I’ll write as part of my 2021 Short Story Challenge. Twelve months, twelve stories, and the theme this year is: Home.

Here are the first eight stories, if you’d like to read them: 

The Roads

This Place

Talk Out the Fire

Quiet Neighbors

The Return

Old Friends

Jesse’s in the Back Room

Just Like Magic

And if you want to join in the fun, here’s more information. I hope you do! But just reading is good, too, and I’m glad you’re here!

The next story will be posted at the end of October.

A Friday in the Fall

September is the month of gold –
the leaves,
the light,
the hours.
And there’s nothing quite like
a September night,
when the magic of
the harvest moon makes
lovers and poets of both
the young and the old.

I always feel a little melancholy seeing September come to an end. And yes, I know we’re not quite there yet. I’m thoroughly enjoying the slant of the light, the slightly cooler temperatures, the way the leaves have just started to turn… I love it all. And I just had to share this moment.

This is the sunset today, on the (small) mountain behind my house. I can’t get enough of it. And I know that soon enough, it will be dark at this time of day. But with the winter comes the stars, so I’m not complaining. I always have loved winter best. But for now, I’m soaking up this special September magic.

Where Does the Time Go? (A Poem)

Where does the time go?
Hither and fro.
Over and yonder
and far and away,
time is a child,
and the child loves to play.
September closes
while October waits,
and don’t we all have
plans to make?
So what comes next?
No one can say.
It belongs to us to
only bide the hours
and count the days.

The September Kind (A Poem)

Try to remember them:
The days of smoke, of rain,
of golden leaves and woodfire embers
and orange twilights.
The growing nights,
ignited by the tawny harvest moon,
as full and round with possibilities
as the coming season.
These are the September kind.
The hours and minutes and memories,
the time and the turning,
the living and dying
that belong to us,
when we feel older and younger at once.
We are all the children of the fall.

Just Like Magic (A Short Story)

My grandmother believed in magic, and I loved her for it.

She lived in a small cabin in the woods, accessible only by a long dirt road marked with bright yellow “No Trespassing” signs. She wore her auburn hair long and loose, and her favorite shade of lipstick turned her lips the color of an overripe nectarine. She gathered flowers at sunrise, and filled her modest house with bunches of sage and lavender candles. She sat out on a picnic blanket at night and stared at the moon, and at dusk, she sang for the fairies. You couldn’t convince her they weren’t real.

“Happy nature, happy home,” she’d say.

And I’d nod, bobbing my tangled head up and down to the rhythm of the crickets chirping.

These days, I think we might call her an eccentric, or maybe even crazy. But to me, she was perfect. Some people just aren’t meant to be tamed.

I used to stay with her during those long, hot summer days when my parents were at work and I didn’t feel like being alone in a sweltering house with only the TV to keep me company.

“You’re the only kid I know who doesn’t like cartoons,” my dad told me once.

“I like making up my own stories,” I’d replied.

I guess people would probably call me an eccentric, too, at that age. And probably at this one. I learned a lot from my grandmother.

I remember one particular August day. I know it was August, because I remember the humidity, the gold slant of the sunlight, and the high cornstalks in the neighboring fields. And because school was about to start. My grandmother and I were sitting in her back garden, which she’d let go pretty much wild, on a worn-out plaid blanket. The sun hung low and heavy in the sky, casting shadows through the trees.

“You excited about school?” She asked me this as she wove a crown of purple clover flowers.

“I guess,” I said. I lay on my belly, propped up on my elbows.

“Fourth grade?”

“Yep.”

“I only got to about the sixth,” she said.

I sat up. “Really?”

“Yes, ma’am.” She finished the crown and placed it with a flourish onto my head. “There wasn’t much call when I was your age for girls to finish school,” she said. “My daddy needed me home to take care of us.”

“Couldn’t he do that?” I asked. “Or your mom?”

“There was only my daddy and me,” she answered.

I waited for her to add more, but she stayed quiet. So I took a deep breath and asked, “Where was your mom?”

She took a moment, straightened her legs out in front of her, and said, “I don’t know.”

And then she told me a story.

When I was a little girl, she said, about eleven years old, my mama changed. It was like she forgot who she was, she said, and my daddy didn’t know what to do, and so it fell on me to be daughter and mother both. He told me I had to leave school, and I did. He was not a loving man, she said, but he made sure there was money to put food on the table and shoes on our feet, and I made us dresses out of old sheets and curtains, and our small life was enough. And at night, she said, I sang my mama to sleep.

And one day, she said, I came in from the vegetable garden, and she was just gone. Couldn’t find her anywhere, and neither could anyone else, though we searched through the night and into the next day. And eventually people stopped looking, she said, even my daddy. And my mama never came back, she said. And after a while, people seemed to forget she ever existed at all.  

“Wasn’t your dad sad?” I asked.

“Oh, sure,” she said. “And so was I. We stayed sad for a long, long time.”

“Don’t you want to know what happened to her?”

“I do,” she said. “I wish I knew, and I wished it before I fell asleep every night for years. But you can’t live your life just wishing.” And then she added, “Believe me, because I’ve tried.”

“Does my mom know?”

“No,” she said. “No, I never told her, because I didn’t want her to be sad for me.”

“Why’d you tell me, then?”

“Because you’re my brave and smart granddaughter,” she said. “And because you asked.” And then she took my two hands in hers and said, “But don’t you be sad for me.”

I squeezed our hands together and said, “Okay.”

We stayed quiet for a long time after that, and watched the sun set through the tree branches. I picked at the blades of grass around the blanket, pulled them up and arranged them in a neat row. My grandmother hummed to herself. Just when the dark began to settle around us, she said, “I think things happen they way they’re supposed to.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, it’s a special kind of magic, the way the world comes together.”

She stood up, and I did the same. As we folded up the blanket, she told me what she meant.

If I’d stayed in school, she said, I wouldn’t have been at the grocery store the day I met your grandpa. And if my mother hadn’t left us, I would have been in school. See, he worked there at the grocery store, she said, and I’d dropped a bag of flour all over the floor, and he helped me clean it up, and that was how we fell in love, just like that, in less than a minute, covered in flour, both of us. Like snow, but in the middle of summer. 

And, she said, if I hadn’t met your grandpa, I wouldn’t have your mother, or you. I’m right where I need to be, she said, and I never even knew I was heading there, but here I am, she said, and that feels an awful lot like magic.

“But that’s not magic,” I told her. “Those are all just things that happened to you.”

“You can see it that way,” she said. “Or you can see that all of those little pieces came together just as they were meant to, and that takes the sting away when the things that happen to you are bad.”

“My friends say magic isn’t real.”

“You listen to me right now, Ellie Jay,” she said. “A lot of people are going to tell you a lot of things you love aren’t real. You don’t listen to them. You listen to you.”

And it’s funny, because even now, all these years later, me sounds a lot like her.

I visited her once, years later, when she was in the hospital. I was her last visitor, as it turns out, and we sat together in her room, hand in hand.

“I sure would like to go home,” she said.

I answered by way of a sniffle.

“Why are you crying, little girl?” she asked me.

“Because I’ll miss you,” I said.  

“Did you know,” she said, “that when caterpillars go into their cocoons, they turn into goo before they become butterflies?”

“I didn’t know that,” I told her.

“That’s what I’m doing now,” she said. “I’m turning into goo. I don’t much like it, but I know it’s just so I can become something else. Just like magic,” she said. “I wonder what I’ll be.”

“Something amazing,” I said.

“Just like magic,” she said, and squeezed my hand.

And honestly, I think she was right, and I love her for it. Life is a lot like magic, only you have to choose to see it. It brought my grandmother to me, and me to her, and who knows where else it might lead me. But I do know one thing. Wherever that is, it’s right where I’m meant to be.

************

Thank you for reading! This is the eighth of twelve stories I’ll write as part of my 2021 Short Story Challenge. Twelve months, twelve stories, and the theme this year is: Home.

Here are the first seven stories, if you’d like to read them: 

The Roads

This Place

Talk Out the Fire

Quiet Neighbors

The Return

Old Friends

Jesse’s in the Back Room

And if you want to join in the fun, here’s more information. I hope you do! But just reading is good, too, and I’m glad you’re here!

The next story will be posted at the end of September.

August’s short story will be up tomorrow!

It just needed a little more time to come together. But it’s almost there! We had a busy weekend, and I think my brain just needs a little rest before putting on the finishing touches. I’d rather take some time, get some sleep, and come back with fresh eyes than post something I know I’ll want to edit later. So, thanks for bearing with me!

And in the meantime, enjoy this sweet picture of Gatsby enjoying his favorite sunny spot. 🙂