Helen’s Dawning

I’m enjoying the rediscovery of posts from a former blog. As with almost all of my posts, they start from writing prompts. Maybe they’ll inspire you as well?

The OLWG prompts were: Neither have I; An impeccably dressed transvestite; The birds at dawn


The morning dawned clear and cold the day Helen left. Smoke from the wildfires the next county over turned the sunrise into a lurid magenta and orange. Somewhere a tractor started up, sending a swarm of Starlings high into the sky. They swirled this way and that, circling the farmhouse as if to herd her along her way.

Helen sat in her car, staring at the home built by her great-grandparents. The home where her grandfather and father were born and raised; where she and her sisters were born and raised, and where she gave birth to and raised her three children. Helen and William’s wedding was held in the living room. Leaving was audacious and terrifying.

The morning sun revealed the place for what it had become. The window trim she painted blue the year her youngest left for college was already peeling. The sign William placed on the stairs to the front porch, warning of rotted wood, had sunk down into the gap between the boards. The cracks in the living room window were not as visible from the outside, but Helen could see them. From the inside, the cracks looked as though someone took harsh, angry strokes of black spray paint to the picture-perfect view of the river valley.

The bedroom light came on, jarring Helen out of her melancholy. She started her car’s engine, rammed the stick into reverse, and sped backward down the drive. As she whipped around and pulled out onto the road, she compulsively glanced in the rear-view mirror. William was jogging down the porch stairs. He kept running down the drive, stopping just before Helen cleared the crest of the hill, and raised a hand.

###        ###

An impeccably dressed transvestite greeted Helen at the hotel reception counter. “Have you been to Denver before?”

Helen shook her head.

“Neither have I. HA!” Helen was not sure what to make of the man’s joke.

As he tapped away at the computer, Helen stared at the man’s attire. He had manicured hands and translucent pink polished nails. A tuft of chest hair peeked out from the neck of his pristine white linen blouse. Small solitaire pearl stud earrings dotted his ear lobes. He had bushy eyebrows and did not wear a wig, but what most fascinated her was the man’s waxed, jet-black mustache with tiny pin curls on each tip. She smoothed her sweater and slacks and ran her fingers through her uncombed hair.

“It’s none of my business, of course,” the man said as he handed her the key to her room, “but, I work here, right? I take note of these things.”

Helen did not understand what he was getting at. She waited for him to continue.

“I noticed you booked an extended stay,” he said. Helen nodded.

 “I can give you a list of relatively inexpensive apartments in town, if you like. That is, I mean, I assume. You moving here?”

Helen nodded again. “For school. I’m going back to school.”

“That’s great! Good for you.”

“Yeah. Hard decision to make, but…” she finished with a shrug.

“What school?”

“The Art Institute of Colorado.”

“No shit!? Oh, excuse my language, HA!” the man rolled his eyes and folded his hands neatly in front, then smiled. “No kidding? Really? I teach there. Great place. You’ll love it.”

Helen set her bags back down. “What do you teach? I’m getting my degree in music. I want to teach. I mean, of course, naturally, I want to play, but teaching…that’s the goal. Maybe write music.”

“What’s your instrument?”

“Piano. Some guitar. But I really want to learn to play the saxophone and the harp.”

“Wow. Ambitious.”

“Yes, well. It’s now or never.”

The man held up a finger and walked away. He returned holding out a business card.

“Here’s how to reach me. When you’re settled, we’ll go to lunch. I’ll tell you everything you need to know.  I’ve been teaching at A.I.C. for twenty years. Love it. Really, it’s a great place. I wish it paid the bills, but, well, anyway, HA!” the man waved his hands in the air, “Here I am.”

“What do you teach? You didn’t say,” Helen glanced at the card, “….Jeff.”

“Oh, right! HA! How’dya do!  I’m Jeff, the Executive of Everything! HA! No, no…seriously…I’m in the visual arts program. I teach most of the 101 classes. Hey, so, it’s actually a requisite for most of the programs at the university to take the 101 courses I teach, regardless your major, so you’ll probably end up in one of my classes!”

###        ###

In failing health and wheelchair bound because of a botched hip replacement, getting ready for a day out and about was an ordeal for Helen. She had to keep her mind focused on a can-do attitude in order to make it through the laborious task of bathing and dressing, something she did not always get around to these days. But on this day, she had to rally her strength.  The transport assistance van would be by in two hours to pick her up. She did not want to miss Jeff’s memorial service.

When asked if anyone wanted to share a story about Jeff, Helen raised her hand. A nice-looking young woman Helen did not recognize handed her a microphone.

“There I was,” she began, a little thrown by the sound of her quavering elderly voice coming out of the speakers. “There I was, every bit the frightened kid away from home for the first time, regardless the fact I was a grown woman my fifties.” She paused, taking a moment to see Jeff in her mind’s eye. “And here was Jeff, in his quintessential pearl earrings, Kate Spade print skirt and Ralph Lauren linen blouse… and his weird sense of humor… and his perfectly coiffed mustache.” Helen mimed twirling the end of a mustache. The room let out a soft, knowing chuckle.

“He saved my life. Jeff saved my life. I don’t know where I would have been if it weren’t for his unabashed kindness and hospitality.  The luckiest day of my life was the day I met Jeff.”

Helen paused again, this time to halt the tears. “The past thirty years of my life are all the sweeter for having Jeff to call my nearest and dearest friend.” Helen blew a kiss to Jeff’s family in the front pew.

In her apartment afterward, Helen sat gazing at the painting Jeff made for her years before. It hung in a prominent place over her mantle.

The subject was the farmhouse on the day Helen left for Denver. Jeff perpetually asked Helen to tell the story of that morning, pressing her to describe what she saw. At the time, Helen did not understand why Jeff asked her to recall the most bitter-sweet moment of her life, again and again. She remembered growing perturbed at his repeated requests, begging him to stop pestering her. The memory made her smile.

Each time she looked at Jeff’s painting, it was as if she was there again, too terrified to turn the ignition of her car and put behind her all she had ever known. When that old fear arose, as it almost always did, Helen would quickly turn away, just as she did that morning backing out of the drive.

This time, she let herself become lost in the paintings magnificent purples, oranges, pinks and blues; the way Jeff made the hillsides behind the farmhouse seem as soft as giant pillows, and the warmth he imbued in the glow of the light from the bedroom. The usual memory of fear and trepidation did not arise. This time, the scene was peaceful, almost welcoming. This time, as she visualized William stepping out of the front door and onto the porch, she didn’t turn away.

She kept looking. At the house, the sky, the hills, the peeling blue trim, broken stairs, and the cracked window. She kept looking, even as her memory of William jogging down the stairs and onto the drive came back. This time, Helen saw what she refused to see all those years ago. William, with a resigned, and deeply sad smile, raising his hand to wave good-bye and mouthing the words, “Good luck. I love you.” 

Just Who is Ariel Jamison and What Does She Want?

Created from TBP Redux #7 and OLWG #181 prompts


You asked about Ariel?  Here, I’ve got a picture. That’s her, there. In the middle. That’s her husband, Dan, with my husband. That’s me, can you believe? And that’s Aaron and Jan. Hm. Betsy and Sam aren’t in this photo. Don’t remember why. Lots of happy times, back then. We were quite the group!

These days, Ariel keeps pretty much to herself. You have to understand why that seems so strange. Ariel and Dan used to be regular fixtures in town. The pair of them; a couple of go-getters, day in and out.  They were at every town meeting, every event, every party, every special occasion. Volunteered on just about every committee.  It exhausts me just to think about it!

When Dan unexpectedly died, Ariel disappeared into her own world. None of us saw much of her for a while there. Her neighbors said, right after Dan’s death, at night, regardless the weather, she would slowly walk in circles in her backyard, sometimes well into the middle of the night. They said she wore a path into the grass that looked something like those labyrinths you see in some church yards.

Then, that next year, she went away for a long time. If you’re wondering, that’s when the rumors started that she went to India to become a Buddhist monk, or some such nonsense. She didn’t go to India to become a Buddhist! I mean, yes, for a while, just after she came back, she took to wearing kaftans and a large scarf around her head, which was, I admit, odd. But I think all that was just Ariel finding out who she was outside of her marriage to Dan. I mean, that movie, “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, was so popular at that time, and that was just after “Eat, Pray, Love,” had been on all our must-read lists.

No, Ariel didn’t become a monk. She went to stay with her son Alec, who had just moved to Kentucky. She wanted to help him and his new wife and their brand-new baby boy get settled, and they were more than happy to have her. See, she had a dream as a little girl of becoming a racehorse jockey, and ever since then, wanted to visit the Bluegrass state. I mean, Dan was dead and gone, so why not pull up stakes for a while? Cross something off your bucket list, as they say. At least she wasn’t walking in circles in her backyard.

But, my guess is you really want to hear about the fire. Of course, that was the other rumor about poor Ariel; that someone in the family started it, or that, of all things, she deliberately set it. I tried to deflect as much of that b-s as I could, but you know people. I mean, losing your home is bad enough that people have to go around outright lying about how it happened.

It makes me sad, because, for one, Ariel was never one for gossip. And after all she and Dan did for the town, you think people would be grateful and leave it at that. At least have some sympathy for the poor woman! But my friend is a strong lady. She just puts on that Cheshire Cat smile of hers and rises above it. Yes, it was arson, and no, they still don’t know who did it or why. But, I can attest to this: Ariel knows exactly who started the fire.


A genuine challenge to figure out a story that goes with an ending! From Redux #7, I selected, “Though she wasn’t one for gossip, Mrs. Jamison knew exactly who had started the fire.” The UnOLWG prompts are bluegrass; the center of my world; seeking Amrapali.

Ursula’s Den

The UnOLWG prompts from the past 2 weeks stewed together with TN’s preamble story. The prompts are: playing a poor hand well; not a sound for miles around; like a poem without words; call him out; a matter of magic; the carousel only makes you dizzy.


Jasmine wandered aimlessly around the large, empty family room and kitchen while her children darted from room to room upstairs staking their claims. That was the deal: She would stay out of it and let them decide who would get which room. She knew it was only a matter of time before the wrangling would come to an impasse and she would, as always, have to step in as decider-in-chief. So, she listened and waited.

Evan impatiently negotiated with twins Sonja and Clara about who got the large room. The girls pushed back with their best argument that they were willing to share a room. Evan being the eldest held no sway. Marissa whimpered about the unfairness of it all and Michael, the youngest, was silent. Jasmine guessed he had slip-streamed his way through the tangle of his siblings’ bickering to zero in on the room no one seemed to want. As she predicted, he was the first downstairs.

“Why aren’t you taking the big parents’ bedroom?” he asked her.

“Because, like I said, I’m getting us a live-in and the master bedroom is going to be their room.”

“Why?” Michael was still at the age at which children cannot fathom an adult’s logic.

“I can only pay a nanny what I can. So, giving them the largest room, with their own bathroom and a separate entrance will make the deal sweeter. Anyway, that’s the idea.”

Evan was next down the stairs. Like the hormonal automaton he was these days, he went directly for the refrigerator.

“It’s empty, stupid,” Michael grumbled.

“Since when, with the ‘s’ word, huh!?” Jasmine scolded Michael with a gentle smack upside the back of his head.

“I’m going to check out the yard.”

Evan brushed past Michael, giving him a quick, soft warning shove against the wall. Jasmine watched Evan as he walked down the long dirt drive that lead away from the house. She sent him a text, if only to make sure he had his phone on him. He pulled his phone from his pocket, read the message, and put it back without replying.

Marissa called for Jasmine from the top of the stairs. “Evan and Michael took the rooms I want, and I don’t have a room!”

Jasmine took her daughter’s complaint as her cue to finally intervene. As she headed up the stairs, Michael rushed past her, down the hall, and disappeared into the room at the end. The twins were in the larger room mapping out a floor plan. Marissa stood in the middle of the hall wearing her ever-present look of despair.

“OK, so, it’s this one or that one,” Jasmine pointed to the two rooms on either side of the hall. “Which one do you want?”

Marissa pointed to the room to her left. It had a stunning view of the hillsides and the orange and red leaves blanketing the emerald ground beneath the trees in the yard. The morning’s cloud cover was giving way to blue sky and the mid-day sun streamed all the way into the room.

Jasmine took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. She knew moving to the country may prove she had succumbed to some sort of utopian idealism. After all, a spinning carousel, with all its bright colors, gilded adornments and twinkling lights, only looks like some sort of magic joy ride, when it really is just a dull, dizzying, and never-ending trek to nowhere. A move to a farmhouse situated in an idyllic country valley might be no better than just another muddy rut in which to get stuck.

Nevertheless, given the hand dealt her, Jasmine was reasonably confident she had played it to the best possible advantage. The change in her children’s lives would be hard on all of them, regardless the setting. She had nothing else to offer any one of her children other than her faith in the hopes and dreams for their future, and for each of them, a bright, sunlit bedroom all to themselves.

“Mom?”

“Yeah, sorry, kiddo. Fine with me! You like it?”

Marissa nodded.

“Then, this one’s yours.”

“When’s our stuff getting here?”

“They said today. My guess is it will be late.”

The sound of two-steps-at-a-time up the stairs announced Evan’s return from his tour of the outside. He looked at his mother and sister in the room in which they stood, then looked at the room across the hall. An equally stunning view of the valley made that room’s window seem all the larger. A good place for a seventeen year-old, Jasmine thought, to stare out to the horizon while listening to the siren song of the big, wide world calling him away.

“OK, that’s done!” She paused, waiting for a reaction. No one put up a fuss. “Let’s get the stuff out of the car and then we’ll drive into the town to look for a place to eat.”

“Does Dad know where we are?” Sonja asked. Jasmine turned back to see all five of her children staring at her with the exact same look; a combination of sorrow and fear.

“He does. Text him, let him know we’ve arrived. But guys,” Jasmine put up a hand of caution, “I need you to understand, OK? Your dad probably won’t come here. I’m not saying ‘never,’ but, you have to accept, he probably won’t…want to. He may say he will because he doesn’t want to hurt your feelings, but he won’t. Again, it’s not that he doesn’t love you, or that any of us did anything to make him…whatever. OK?”

“It’s because he’s with that lady and them,” Sonja replied.

“He’s not with anyone at the moment, honey. Look, when he said you can visit him, he meant it. He is your father and he’ll always be around for you. OK? Anyway, we’ll figure all that out later, you going for visits. All I ask is that you give this place, your new home, a fair shake. You aren’t that far behind in school and you’ll make friends soon. And don’t forget, Grammy, Gramps, Nona and Grandpop…and Uncle Mack, Aunt Jeanne, Geoff and Allie… they all  live really close, just, like, only ten miles away. We’ll get to see them way more often now.”

Her children gave her consolatory smiles. Jasmine knew what she offered was only a cold comfort. She kissed each one on the forehead and headed downstairs. She called back over her shoulder, “Evan, you want to drive?”

“Sweet,” Evan said as he vaulted past his siblings, snatching the keys from Jasmine’s hand.

“Wallet?” she asked. Evan patted his back pocket.

“Do we get to learn to drive this year?” Clara asked.

“I suppose. Sure.”

The twins jumped up and down, applauding. Marissa and Michael looked at each other wondering if they got a special offer, too.

Jasmine said, “And, when we get the TV set up, Marissa and Michael get to choose the first two family movie nights.”

The result was as hoped. The two youngest siblings high-fived and then chased after the others.

As the family made their way to the van, Jasmine suddenly felt like she was in a scene from the Planet Earth documentary series; the ones where bear cubs stumble and play alongside their mother as she leads them across the open fields to some yet unknown source of food. The image made Jasmine smile. If wildlife’s single mothers can hack it, she thought, so can I.

Elsa, part one

A hot, thick, wet breeze swaddled Elsa in an uncomfortable blanket. The second she stepped off the plane, her desperate wish was for a breath of cool, dry air. How do people live like this; like they are underwater? The days of the masked pandemic had nothing over tropical summer humidity.  

The drive was long to her sister’s place, as Elsa remembered. A rain forest to one side, and the Pacific Ocean to the other, all along a winding two-lane highway. The open car window blasted relatively cooler air in her face, which gave Elsa the time needed to adapt to the climate. She took in one deep breath after another and slowly exhaled after each one.

Finally arrived at her destination, Elsa dug around her carry-on for the set of keys sent to her, then thanked the Uber driver.

“You good?” the driver helpfully asked.

“Yeah, sure.”

“I don’t have another ride. Happy to walk in with you if you want.”

“No, thanks,” Elsa told the woman. “I’m fine.”

The exterior was a different color than before, but otherwise, Elsa’s sister’s house was much as she remembered it. But, the months of vacancy, especially in a tropical climate, showed its wear. Ants crawled in long lines on just about every countertop and cupboard door. Green Geckos scurried across every wall. Elsa remembered an aggressive spider, smaller than your garden variety, with short legs, bulky girth, and a bite that would make a mosquito envious. The memory made her wince.

That time before, when she came to visit, by the time she arrived at her sister’s, she was covered in bites from any number of venomous vermin. Elsa’s sister quickly ushered her to the bathroom, insisting she immediately shower with citronella soap, then get lathered up with her husband’s black goop (a concoction he brewed up to draw out the venom of any number of tropical insect bites), and afterward come curl up on the couch beside her with a G&T and watch some TV.  

“Just what you need, baby girl.”

Sitting on her sister’s couch that time, a short 45 minutes after her arrival, in an agitated state of itchy discomfort, Elsa silently wept. Staring out at the magnificent panoramic view of the Pacific from her sister’s home high atop an ocean bluff, Elsa thought, whomever it was that first sold the idyllic version of an exciting, exotic trip to Polynesia? What a fucking bastard.

So, here she stood, a twelve years later, in the middle of that unpleasant memory. This time, however, every centimeter of her body was covered in a rich citronella lotion.

“OK house!” Elsa yelled. “Your new mama is here! And, I’m having none of it! Umm-umm. No sir.”

Two geckos scurried to the corners of the walls. Elsa turned her gaze downward and stomped at a group of ants, who also scurried. She scanned the room for those damn spiders.

Back and forth, forward and back

Yolanda gazed up, watching how the early morning sunlight created colorful patterns on the ceiling as the oscillating fan gently swayed the stained glass adornment that hung from the bedroom window’s sill. The blue, red and green glass twisted one way and then the other, left to right to left, again and again. It reminded her of playing at being a clothes washer when she was a little girl, arms out, fingers touching her shoulders, twisting her torso back and forth. Back and forth, back and forth.

“Fuck it,” Robert said as he rolled off her.

He lay on his back, an arm flung over his eyes. Yolanda decided it would be unfair to comment on the irony of his remark. Instead, she turned over and straddled him, and though it was obvious it was not going to happen, she nevertheless attempted a few gentle kisses to his cheek, tip of the nose, side of the neck.

As she began to scoot down, Robert abruptly sat up, pushed her off and got out of bed. He pulled open the drawer of his dresser with such force, it frightened her a bit. Robert’s mood was more and more prickly these days, but this was the first time Yolanda had ever seen him in a rage. He put on a pair of sweats, and walked out of the bedroom without a word or look toward her.

She wondered if he blamed her. Morning sex had become such a routine over the years, something he wanted whether she was into it or not, that she had become complacent. If he didn’t necessarily require her interest, why should she even bother to reciprocate? Were she given the choice, she would rather have the extra bit of sleep.

Robert banged about in the kitchen, slamming drawers, clanging utensils and bowls. Then a moment of silence fell. It was Yolanda’s cue to get up. As she put on the t-shirt and short jammies from the night before, she heard Robert walking down the hall to the bedroom. His footfall was heavy and rushed. Yolanda swept up her long hair into a messy bun and waited.

Standing in the bedroom doorway, Robert held up the old, broken hand blender. He face was pure anger.

“I asked you to please take better care of shit!”

“That is the old one,” Yolanda replied in a quiet, measured tone, eyebrows raised. “Remember? You said the cost to have it repaired was more than buying a new one. Hmm?”

Robert shoved the hand blender in the air toward Yolanda, as if a weapon to threaten her. As he began to speak, their young son stepped into view, and gave Robert a hug around his leg. Father and son looked at one another, both a little confused. From the kitchen came the sound of another blender.

“Pancakes!” their son triumphantly declared.

“C’mon,” Yolanda took her son’s hand, pushing past Robert. “Let’s help your sister make pancakes.”

“With chocolate chips!”

As her son skipped ahead, Yolanda was struck at being caught between the pure joy of a little boy with something as simple as pancakes to look forward to and the senseless anger of a grown man creating nothing but regrets on which to look back.


The prompts this week are: She stared at Robert’s ceiling and wished she was on top; take care of your tools; blue glass