hello. my name is dena. i am twenty, female, from new jersey. i am a junior at william paterson university, majoring in english with a writing concentration. i am also a spanish teacher (part-time) at an elementary school. if you want to know anything else check out my journal.
so i am here because i am working on several projects at the moment, for school, competitions &otherwise. i desperately need feedback.
please feel free to be as harsh as necessary. i'd be so grateful for any critiques. also, i would be glad to read/edit/suggest on other people's work. get at me with anything. for now here is a short story i am working on which is currently
Flora’s house was at the end of a lonely road. It looked at place, like it had always been there; yet sad, as if it could not quite fit in. In the front yard, a white fence peeked up, an emissary between the lushness of the green lawn and the sizzling, summer roadside. A flagstone pathway led up to the front door. The exterior was blanketed in varying shades of brick, reds and beiges: perhaps the handy work of an old mason, whose such skill was of a dying breed. A large picture window to the left of the door, draped on the inside with gauzy, lace curtains and two smaller windows on the right. The windows, all framed by wooden shutters, covered in thick layers of creamy, sand-colored paint.
That morning Flora got up the same way she did every morning to the mew, mew, meow of the cats, their rhythmic purring, rising and fading, to the tick of her bedside clock. She would yawn and stretch her arms far above her head, eye lashes fluttering –open, close – like the wings of a lazy monarch. For every moment she lounged, the cats grew more impatient; meows turned to mreer, mreer. So she would rise up out of bed, a morning glory opening on cue, the light of day.
The procession would march from the bedroom through the living room and into the open air of the kitchen. Things gradually became clear. The haze of night and the dreamy spell over eyes would fade away. As she walked through each room, she flicked light switches off along the way. Evening’s blanket of darkness had been lifted, no more looming blackness to fear. She reached into the icebox and pulled out a half gallon of milk, filled the three bowls on the floor. The thick, white liquid gushed over the porcelain and the cats’ tongues quickly began to lick up the cool, milky goodness.
Looking in on the scene it was astounding how starkly Flora’s skin resembled the porcelain of the bowls and the silkiness of the milk. Saying that she was a young thirty-eight was far more than an understatement. There was a radiance about her skin. It always seemed to glow, ever so slightly, like the moon. Her long strawberry-blonde hair cascaded casually over her shoulders with such a sheen, plumy lightness, large curls, soft as down feathers.
She set the milk down on the counter and opened a cabinet below the sink. All of the pots and pans inside were placed in meticulous arrangements. Each one spotlessly sparkled against the early morning rays of sunshine, shafting in through the windows. She reached into the bottom shelf and pulled out a teapot, filled it with water and placed it on the old-fashioned kerosene stove. From a basket on the wall, her gentle hands picked out a book of matches, struck a match and lit the flame.
A few minutes later she sat down at the table, sipping her tea. The familiar heat and sweetness crept across her tongue and slid languidly down the back of her throat. The heat brought on the memory, as so very many things did. She was there, at the park, a tranquil autumn day. The leaves of the trees on fire with color, red, orange, brown, bright against the grayish, clouded sky. Faint laughing spinning through the air around her. A small stream, rising visibly, with a little ebb and flow, like the pulse of a heart. She could see everything clearly. The sun came out from behind the clouds, bright like a freshly cut orange, yes, bright -- on fire; she squinted her eyes. She heard a tiny voice behind her. Suddenly like a hammer striking the back of her skull, the pain began.
That was how the pain always began and how the memories always ended, with sharp throbbing pains shooting, stabbing through her head. So she got up quickly and did what she did to block out the pain: fast jerky movements. The teacup to the sink. Hot water, soap sponge, scrub, scrub, scrub. Scalding her hands. Burn it away. The teapot to the sink. More soap, hot water, hotter. Steam rising. Okay.
Deep down, though, Flora knew that she was not okay. She had never been okay since... No, never mind, not important. The ticking of the wall clock over the sink was there, there now, what matters.
She tidied up the kitchen, finished with the tea cup and pot. Dried them off, perfectly dry, into the cupboard. She took a wash cloth and dipped it under warm water, wiped the table, a hint of a ring left from the teacup. Utterly unacceptable. Now the cats were playing in the archway between the kitchen and the den. Snowball, the baby, creeping up behind Glory. Pounce, meow, Glory turned quickly, front paws up and playfully knocked Snowball down. A white ball of fluff, now rolling, sliding on the linoleum, calm, a ragweed blowing across the dusty, desert floor. All the while Bianca, the wise, tabby matriarch looked on with a condescending eye. The cats forever entertained Flora, who would diverge for a minute and then move on with a smile, a twinkle in her jade-green eyes.
She was moving towards the living room when the phone rang. She knew, as sure as the sky was blue, she knew what would show up on the caller-ID: unavailable; what she would hear on the other end: breathing, silence, a dead line. Always the same, yes she knew, but she always answered. Six times yesterday, eight the day before, only twice on Sunday. And so she picked up the receiver. The breathing, as if in a dream, slow sardonic breaths of life, exhale, inhale, exhale…as if all were a dream. Then came the silence, deafening and finally the shrill tone, eeee-eeee-eeee-ifyou’dliketomakeacall pleasehangupandtryagain…
So Flora put the phone down and started again for her bedroom. She would spend the day tending to her baskets. She sat out her gardening clothes on the bed and began to slip off her evening garb. Each movement was conscious and scrupulous, the most trivial tasks performed with elegance, grace. (Even though no one was ever there to see it.) She put on her clothes and headed out to the backyard.
It was certainly the opposite of the front in all respects. There was no symmetry, certainly no picket fence. It was more like a water painting. Trees everywhere Japanese Maple, Willow, Fruit; all having liquid branches, stretched out at every angle, every height, length. And hanging from seemingly thousands of branches were the baskets. There were baskets of every shape and size, dark wood, light wood. Baskets woven tightly, baskets woven loosely, basket weaving laced with silk or satin ribbons. Painted baskets, enormous baskets, tiny baskets. And in every basket there were flowers. Bunches of violets, small, timid, shy; petunias, pure, white as heroin powder; roses deep as red as wine; innocent daisies with yellow eyes; tulips fiery orange and magenta veined; pansies, purple, royal blue. There were lime green vines everywhere and lush, floppy leaves, curly-cued tendrils, jungle green, dripping over the edges of baskets; everywhere plants and colors bubbled like colored lanterns.
The garden was fractured into patches, where trodden trails sliced the earth like serpents, edged with smooth gray stones. There were rustic, cast-iron rails burgeoning up from the ground, topped off with matching hooks. Hanging from the hooks, more baskets, more flowers, hyacinth, jasmine, larkspur, saturated with fragrance, drenched in colors that spilt to the earthen floor. And the ground, the bluebells and the snap dragons, black-eyed-susans, bleeding hearts, and daffodils.
One could not help but wonder what force of magic was at work there. But it was just that, only wonder. There were no answers, no magic. There was only Flora and her baskets. And on that particular day, at that particular hour, Flora walked out into her backyard, reached into her gardening apron and pulled out her paring shears. She flitted and glided along her garden pathways, tending to her baskets. Snipping here, preening there, pulling this, propping that; her movement steady, tranquil and aloof as a work of art.
And a breeze came through the garden just then. The wind picked up, pushed dark clouds in front of the sun. Shadows cascaded across the garden. Will there be rain? Flora's pace quickened and a look of nervousness pervaded the serenity of her face. Her mind began to spin like a pinwheel in a dark forest. If she could just crawl into a hole away from the world--but no that would not erase the thoughts. The thoughts that swelled like swarms of insects and festered between flapping mounds of rancid flesh. No the swelling of those thoughts would not stop.
There was only a thin line between her nightmares and her realities. Her irrational fear of the dark was spiraling out of control. But that was simply the way it was, the way it had always been, the way it would stay. Of course there were brief periods when everything was okay, temporary sanity, blockage of the pain. There were her cats, her baskets. Life’s little tourniquets that slowed the bleeding; (but slowing is not stopping). Flora was painting her world, but she was not using the right colors. She allowed herself to become disillusioned, to believe that the darkness was the cause of her pain. The unceasing pain that haunted her ever since...
No never mind not important. The watch was ticking on her wrist. Time passing by, the importance of time, every moment. She gathered up her gardening tools and dropped them quickly into her apron pocket, headed toward the house. She walked faster, faster still through the kitchen to the bedroom. Her hands fumbled behind her back as she anxiously groped at the knot of the apron. Finally the ribbon foundered, fell to her sides. She threw the apron on the bed, kicked her shoes off, placed them next to the others, neatly in line beneath the bed skirt.
The rain began. Flora shuttered at the sound of the liquid rapping on the rooftop. Now she ran through the house, grasping at the light switches as she passed them until all of the ceiling lights were on. Next came the floor lamps, one after the next. The lamp next to the sofa, the lamp next to the television, the lamp on the left of her bed, the lamp on the right. Finally, once more through each room to light the table lamps. And at last she fell, trembling, onto the bed. Consciously she steadied her hand and reached for the drawer handle of the nightstand. Once inside her hand fluttered around, feeling for the cold metal of the pillbox. She grabbed it, placed it on the bed in front of her. A tarnished relic, faded almost rusty gold, a few chipped porcelain roses on the lid.
The rain began falling harder on the rooftop now. Tip, tap, wash, tip, tap, wash, it was streaming down the window, coming down in sheets. Outside puddles were forming quickly and the air was thick, sparse amid the torrential droplets. A boom of thunder cracked, reverberated overhead. Flora jumped and dropped the pillbox, abandoning her only defense against the terror. Dear God, the cats. She ran to the front door. Snowball and Glory were sitting patiently beneath the overhang, they ran inside and rubbed lovingly against her legs, purring. Where was Bianca? Flora stepped away from the cats and inched closer to the door. Now she was shaking terribly, she looked around outside, no Bianca. Her eyes welled up with tears, she called out Bianca!
The sky was black, the sound of her weak voice lost in the sheets of water bucketing down from the foreboding clouds. Thunder cracked through the sky again and bolts of lightning began to strike the ground, one and then another. Flora's knees began to give way beneath her, she stepped back into the house, shut the door and fell against it. Tears came and she ran to her bedroom. What choice did she have? The darkness outside was too much, she snatched the pillbox up, the lid to the bed, six tiny white capsules in her palm. Outside the bedroom window she could feel the sky open up, parting to make way for an infinite blackness. The thunder cracked, the whole house shook, veins of white, blue, yellow lashed out of the sky downward, toward earth.
The air had breath, a wave of pressure and horror swept through the house, mounted, mounted, then surged with a great heave. And out went the power, darkness, silence. Flora fell to the ground, pulled her knees to her chest. Her hands flew open, grasping the ground for stability. The pills flew. She hugged her knees and squeezed with everything she had, rocking back and forth, frenzied, panicked. The darkness grew around her, moving in, closer, closer. Shadows danced in corners, nightmares began to breed, writhe, worm through the darkness. All of it came toward her closer, closer.
She closed her eyes. Inhale, exhale, inhale. She started to push through the darkness in her mind, through the cobwebs, the killers, the laughing, the blood. Think, think. She squeezed her eyes closed, tighter, tighter still just beyond the bursting point, just as something was about to snap, to fracture eternally. The cellar, the fuse box!
Flora pulled herself up, leaning on the bed for support. She had little strength but she hobbled through the darkness, praying, her eyes still pinned shut, tightly together. No she could not bear to look into that infinite darkness. She moved quickly towards the cellar, grasping blindly at the walls along the way. Soon she felt the cellar doorknob against her sweaty palm, twisted, pushed open, stepped onto the first stair. And the stair creaked with resistance, loud, echoed through the silence. The next step screeched louder, Flora wavered in fear, tried to control her shaking legs. And mindlessly her eyes snapped open and in her mind, that darkness might as well have been death. She fell, barreled down the stairs head first, to her back, her neck wretched, body flailed. Finally her head hit the cement landing and the whole scene faded, faded, floated away.
She was there, at the park, a tranquil autumn day. The leaves of the trees on fire with color, red, orange, brown, bright against the grayish, clouded sky. Faint laughing spinning through the air around her. A small stream, rising visibly, with a little ebb and flow, like the pulse of a heart. She could see everything clearly. The sun came out from behind the clouds, bright like a freshly cut orange, yes, bright -- on fire; she squinted her eyes. All was right in the world because her daughter was behind her, yes she could hear Bianca laughing, swinging through the air.
Then the white car rolled up to the curb. With the sun in her eyes, Flora could not see it clearly; as she focused the fuzziness faded and she could read the letters on the side. C P S. A tall woman got out of the backseat. She had dark features and cold eyes. Her hair was a platinum white, coif, slicked flat against her head and pulled into a tight, lifeless bun. She walked slowly toward Flora.
"Miss. Aubrey---," she went on and on in such a calm monotonous voice. Flora heard nothing. She only looked into the woman's eyes, but there was nothing there, only ice. Flora moved toward Bianca and pulled her close. The woman called out, "Back up slowly." Flora refused. "Do not make this harder than it has to be, Miss Aubrey," the woman spoke cold, undaunted. She reached her hand out to Bianca.
"Mommy?" Bianca whispered, her little eyes looking up at her mother, afraid. The woman grabbed Bianca's wrist. Flora screamed, "No!" She held Bianca tightly in her arms. The woman's lips pursed tightly. Her face was expressionless, unyielding.
Flora saw two officers coming from the white car. The sun was so bright in her eyes, setting, disappearing behind the mountains, so incredibly bright, fighting to remain; but gravity persisted. There was no sense in fighting it and so it set. Flora kissed Bianca's forehead and she let go.
The woman grabbed her quickly, pulled her by the arm towards the car. The little girl's eyes filled with tears, she reached out towards her mother, "Mommy?" she yelled out one last time.
The woman pulled the child with her into the backseat, slammed the door behind her and the car drove away. Flora fell to her knees as the last glow of the sun faded from twilight into darkness. She remained there, sobbing hysterically into the deepest, blackest part of the night. She never saw her daughter again.
As fast as the storm had come on, it passed. The sun came out, just as warm and as bright as it had been before. The earth beamed in radiance. Rain droplets dazzled in the sunlight, slid down the sides of flower petals. The air was sweet and warm. All that was alive shook off the wet and basked in the re-emerged light of the sun.
Flora lay at the foot of the stairs for quite some time and then suddenly she woke up. Her head was sore where she had fallen and her arms were scraped, bruised. She got up and slowly her senses came back to her and she remembered what had happened. Only now it was not dark; sun light was coming through the cellar windows and door. She went to the fuse box and flipped the switches. Bianca! She made her way upstairs holding her pounding head in her hands. Flipped off the lights as she went to the front door. She prayed that Bianca would be sitting there waiting. She opened the door, nothing. She ran down the front walk, through the white fence, into the black road. And she saw her. Soaking wet, lying lifeless on the side of the road. No blood, no damage. She went down to her and picked her up. It was as if she had only fallen asleep. Oh, Bianca. She brought her into the house and dried her off with a fluffy towel. She would bury her in the back among the baskets. Her most beautiful Bianca. She kissed her on the forehead, wrapped her up in the towel and started for the back.
Just then, the phone rang. She knew, as sure as the sky was blue, she knew what would show up on the caller-ID: unavailable; what she would hear on the other end: breathing, silence, a dead line. Always the same, yes she knew, but this time she would not answer. She put Bianca down on the couch and went to her bedroom, got her gardening apron. She took Bianca out to the back, dug a deep hole beside her most beautiful begonias and laid Bianca to rest.
Flora said her goodbyes and went back inside, where something very strange was happening. The little red light on the answering machine was blinking. Odd. She pressed the blue button which read, PLAY. The machine spoke out in its robotic tone, "You have one new message." And then there was the voice of a young woman. "Hello. Yes, I'm trying to reach Flora Aubrey. I am not sure if I have the correct telephone number here..."
The girl's voice broke and stopped. Several lingering moments passed.
"Oh, Mommy, this is Bianca, I know this must be you, it has to be you. I’ve searched for so long..."
Flora raised her hand to her heart, she smiled, cried. My Bianca.
All criticism would be appreciated, specific or general. Thanks in advance! ♥♥♥