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Challenge: Legal Theft: Gifts and the Rack (696 words)

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“No!”  She screamed, and the wine glass on the table shattered.  The visitor’s lapels, lilac tie, and white shirtfront dripped red cabernet.  The glass had shattered so that the half of it farthest from the visitor and from Aileen Varton remained in tact, but on his plate were several chips of glass and crystalline shards like sleet among the mashed potatoes and peas.  Aileen slowly lowered her arms from over her head and glanced at the visitor, fearful of his reaction.  She hadn’t meant to scream.  She hadn’t meant to shatter the glass.  She hadn’t meant to get upset.  She hadn’t meant to upset—  With a shout, her mother fled from the kitchen.  Her father turned to Aileen in a purple-faced fury.

Her mother returned and dashed past Aileen to kneel by the visitor.  Mumbling hurried apologies, she dabbed his front herself.  He allowed her to, ignoring her, his gaze carefully fixed on Aileen.

“This,” her father spat, “is exactly why you must go with him, Aileen.”

“You can’t just ship me off, can you?  Don’t you care at all?  I’m trying.  I’m really trying.”

“If you cannot control this—this—”

“Psychokinesis, I think.”  The visitor mildly provided the label.  “When she’s learned to control it.  But it might be more, and it might be less.  That particular manifestation seemed to influence the very molecules of the air.  Rather peculiar but not unheard of.”

All three Vartons stared at him.  The visitor smiled.  Aileen’s mother stepped back away from him.  There were still spots on his clothes.  “Aileen,” he said gently, turning to her, “I see many with abilities like yours, power beyond that of ordinary men.  I can teach you to control it, harness it.”

“Can you make it stop?”

“It is a talent you will possess as long as you live.”

“Then you can’t help me,” Aileen grumbled.  She flattened a few peas with the prongs of her fork.  “I don’t want to be special.  I just want to be—”  Her words died as she looked up at her parents, and saw only wariness and trepidation there.  She sighed and looked away from them both.

“I don’t believe that your ability is anything to fear,” the visitor claimed, and Aileen narrowed her eyes, looking for the lie in his bearded face.

She couldn’t find it.  She bit her lip.

“Come with me, Aileen,” he said.

“I—I’ll still have it if I do.  I—I might still hurt people, new people, people who don’t know.”

“You may hurt your family if you stay.  And we can keep you safe.  We have learned from those who came to me before you.  We have made my home as safe for everyone as it can be.”

“Who else lives with you?”

“There are others with powers like yours.”

“I won’t be alone,” Aileen breathed, letting her eyes mist over with the daydream of herself laughing with a group of girls her own age.

“No.  You won’t be.”

“Are there other girls?  Girls my own age?”

The man, smiling, nodded.  “Violet,” he provided, “and Sylvia.”

Aileen looked at her parents.  Her mother nodded, her eyes still deep and dark with fear.  A smile strained at the corners of Aileen’s mouth.  She looked back at the visitor and nodded too.

He turned away to hide a smile.  Aileen felt a flutter in her stomach.  Her smile wavered.

He composed his face before turning back towards her.  “Pack your things, Aileen.  We will leave within an hour.”

“An hour?  Isn’t that—”

“We must catch the next train.  You will need very little.  All will be provided for you.”

Aileen bit her lip and nodded.  There was no one but her parents to bid goodbye, but there was much she wanted to bring, things that she could share with new friends, with Violet and Sylvia.

“Only what you can I can carry, Aileen.  Go on.  Time is short.”

Aileen nodded.

As she fled the room she heard her father say, “Thank you, Rack.”

Aileen frowned, and she ran up the stairs to pack a bag or maybe two.  Mr. Rack had offered to help her with the luggage.

Today’s first line comes to you from Bek of BuildingADoor.  I stole it.  Check out “A Moment of Anger,” the piece that she wrote using the line.

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October April Picture Book Roundup

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Working mostly at the registers this past month, I didn’t get to read any new picture books for kids, and really, it’s quite upsetting, not least of all because I feared I’d have nothing to give you all for the month.  But I’ve found a way to rectify the misfortune–at least as far as the blog is concerned:  Instead of reviews for picture books that I read in October (as that would be a very boring post), I’m going to reprint some of the reviews that I wrote and posted on Goodreads back in April, which is the last month (prior to June when I began these roundup posts) in which I posted any picture book reviews.  So without further ado: April’s Picture Book Roundup in October:

Les Petits Fairytales: Cinderella by Trixie Belle and Melissa Caruso-Scott and illustrated by Oliver Lake.  Gibbs Smith-MacMillan, 2012.

[Note from the present-day Kathryn: This was/is my first review of a Les Petits Fairytales book.]

This is a supremely succinct retelling of the tale of Cinderella. Each of the main elements is captured in a single word or phrase, “Girl. Chores. Mean stepsisters. Fairy godmother,” being the text of the first few pages. Each idea is simply but completely and colorfully illustrated. Unlike the Favorite Words books attributed to Eric Carle, Belle, Caruso-Scott, and Lake manage to tell a complete story. Granted, some of this story I may have subconsciously filled in myself. The subject matter well lends itself to such a succinct retelling as it is a tale that children can grow into (which I know is the idea behind the Favorite Words books, but with Cinderella there is so much more growth to be had, not from nouns and matching pictures to a board book with a simple story, but phrases and matching illustrations to a modern English picture book, to an illustrated picture book of the original story with a cleaner ending, to a modern English short story, to the original short story with the original ending, to a modern retelling in novel format, to a comparison of Cinderella tale types from around the world).

Belle et al.’s book is a more standard board book size as compared to the very little size of Carle’s Favorite Words books, giving the illustrator (Oliver Lake) more room for illustration. Rather than being a complementary illustration of a noun as are Carle’s, the form leaves room for a complete picture with subject and background and secondary characters or plot points.

I would be interested in parents’ reviews of the book. To me, Belle et al.’s book would seem to invite its own retelling by a child in time, for which I’d laud it. However, to me, the book seems to suffer the same flaw as the Favorite Words books: They cannot really be read aloud–or would be dull and extremely short to read aloud. These are books to give to young readers or would-be readers, essentially a set of flashcards in board book form attempting to tell a tale because of their arrangement.

***

Andrew Drew and Drew by Barney Saltzberg.  Harry N. Abrams, 2012.

A story of imagination and art, surprise is the key to this flap book. Andrew likes to doodle. The illustrations show the process of his doodling from a line to a full illustration, and the text closes with a reminder that there is always time for more fun tomorrow, making me think that its intention is to be a bedtime story. Akin to Harold and the Purple Crayon, though Drew’s illustrations are far more detailed and realistic if involving more subject and less landscape, there is something far more memorable about a purple crayon than a pencil.

This is another picture book where the illustrations and ingenuity of the design outshine the text.

***

The Dark by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Jon Klassen.  Little Brown Kids-Hachette, 2013.

I wanted to be more impressed than I was by this book, which I suppose is also how I feel about A Series of Unfortunate Events (of which I’ve only actually read A Bad Beginning, because I was not impressed enough to continue on with the series). Jon Klassen’s illustrations are as evocative and simple as ever and just the use of the name Laszlo speaks of the inclusion of Snicket’s refusal to tread towards the norm. But the plot relies heavily on personification (a common enough technique in picture books), and its use of personification is just a little unsettling, mostly in that by having the Dark show Laszlo where to find the fresh bulbs in the basement, the Dark seems almost suicidal or self-harming. Moreover, the solution is temporary and so the ending is not entirely fulfilling. Laszlo ventures into the Dark’s home to retrieve the weapon to use against it, led there by the Dark itself, but while that weapon pushes back the Dark, Laszlo’s fear of the Dark does not seem truly overcome. He is not but for a page or two left in true dark. Otherwise, he is armed with a flashlight.

The absence of parental involvement is a very Snicket-y and unique element, one of which I was glad because a parent should not necessarily have to be involved in a child’s development and sometimes cannot be and that is a good lesson to learn as well as that a parent can help.

I suppose, given Snicket’s publishing history, I should expect to be left a little unsettled by his picture books, but it is not really a sensation that I relish–not for this intended audience, not without a sequel.

I’d advise parental discretion on this one. Some kids will probably relish the unsettling air of this picture book.

**

A Long Way Away by Frank Viva.  Little, Brown Kids-Hachette, 2013.

For its unique style, this book will show up in Children’s Literature classrooms. I can almost guarantee that. Viva has written a book that can, should, and almost must be read two ways. By the second time reading the text (down-up instead of up-down), it was beginning to make sense. A third reading (up-down a second time) and I understood what he was doing and became excited.

The plot is that of an alien either traveling a long way away from his home, through space, to earth, and to the bottom of the ocean, or of an alien traveling from a long way away from his home, up from the bottom of the ocean, out into space, and back to his planet and parents.  The journey fiction genre of this story lends itself well to two-directional reading.

The text of the story is… loose. I’m not sure it needs to be as loose as it is, but I understand that it must be at least somewhat loose to be able to be read as a story from two directions. The pictures paired with the text, the vocabulary and sentence structure of which are simple and short, are evocative, and the story truly exists in the emotions that it elicits: either of the sadness of being ripped from one’s home and parents’ love or the joy of return to such delights.  The vocabulary, colors, and expressions of the characters are what draw those emotions from the reader–or from me.

It is an ageless story. It is one I would recommend to the very young, who will relate to the emotions expressed by the protagonist, and also as a gift from a parent to a child leaving for college or having otherwise flown the nest. I hope someone thinks to market it as the latter. I think it would do very well among books for graduates.

Reading this the first time, I think I all but squeed in the middle of the store and did share my effusive excitement with both a passing customer and our children’s department lead.

****

Book Reviews: September Picture Book Roundup

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You’ll have to all forgive me the tardiness of this post again.  Another month means another move for me, this time to an apartment with which I will share the lease with a friend, one that is new to us, and so required us to set up our Internet—and while I thought about going elsewhere to get this post up on time, I realized that I ought rather to worry about getting things out of boxes and making sure that we can get fixed all that needs fixing.

This month there are a lot of books that just made me think “ehn.”  Also, Halloween has come early to Nine Pages, Halloween books being what Barnes & Noble is promoting on its children’s octagon and up by the registers.  So, if you’re interested in books to give a young child for Halloween, you’ve found the right review blog.

Anna Karenina: A BabyLit Fashion Primer by Jennifer Adams and illustrated by Alison Oliver.  Gibbs Smith, 2013.

A fashion primer is not something that it would ever occur to me to gift to a child.  A fashion primer seemed—upon my initial reading of the book—to be a tool of an overly consumeristic society and merely to give a child words to ask for extravagances.  Upon considering it more carefully, I recognize that there are advantages to a young child being prepared with the words to ask for the extravagances that she desires—and not all of the clothing types listed are unnecessary frou-frou (a word actually used within the illustrations) if most of them are.  This BabyLit primer includes brief quotes from the original work (all describing the characters’ clothing) and also is more interactive than any of the BabyLit primers that I’ve previously read, asking the reader to find elements within the pictures.  Asking the reader to find these other elements also allows BabyLit to include two vocabulary words per page rather than the usual one of the primer format.  I enjoyed Moby Dick more but concede that Anna Karenina is probably the better-constructed and more useful primer.  I do think that Moby Dick is the better illustrated as if the animal characters give Alison Oliver greater rein for her imagination; her animal characters seem warmer and more friendly and childish than her stiff human characters.

****

Goodnight, Mouse: A Peek-A-Boo Adventure by Anna Jones.  Parragon, 2012.

The construction and glitter of this book attracted me to it.  I frankly found the text disappointing for being banal and the pictures dark (in color palette), but I maintain that I do like the cutaway format and that I do like a little tasteful glitter.

***

Pop-up Surprise Haunted House by Roger Priddy.  Priddy-Macmillain, 2012.

Priddy rarely disappoints.  Other than that I’ve read a lot (two) Halloween-themed counting books about monsters arriving for a party, I liked this book of his.  Of those two, I thought that Priddy’s was the better written for being more creative with sentence structure.  Also it has the advantage of being a pop-up.  The page with the werewolf is even a tiny bit frightening for the height of the pop-up.

***

Curious George by H. A. Rey and illustrated by Margret Rey.  Houghton Mifflin, 1994.  First published 1939.  First published in English 1941.

This one I actually read twice this month, once to myself, and once aloud to a group of twelve kids, none probably older than eight and some as young as one and a few months.  In reading it to myself, I worried that I would have to answer questions such as why it’s okay for George to have “a good smoke” (that line and illustration more than any other really dated the book, first published 1939 in France) and why George’s phone looks so absurd (being rotary).

George gets into a lot more trouble than I remembered.  George looks thoroughly distressed when the Man in the Yellow Hat snatches him in his bag.  George nearly drowns when he tries to fly like a seagull.  He is taken to a dismal, dungeon-like jail cell by the firemen.

This last is another concept that I was not utterly comfortable disseminating to impressionable children.  A lot of work is done to ensure that children are comfortable around firefighters, firefighters being less able to help children who are terrified of them.  While it’s important for children to know that calling the fire station when there is no emergency is a crime and wrong, the dungeon prison into which George is thrown is truly miserable.

The kids seemed to enjoy the story.  I think I was more distressed by the situations in which George found himself than they were.  I also made it fairly interactive.  George—even in the overlarge paperback I was giving for Curiosity Day story time—was often small, so I had the kids come and point out George to me.  I had them tell me what animals they saw George sharing with at the zoo.

Curious George is a classic and George’s adventures are a good mix of relatable and whimsical, teaching consequences without endangering children and being exciting and fun enough to entertain.

****

 Gallop!: A Scanimation Picture Book by Rufus Butler Seder.  Workman, 2007.

This is the first scanimation book, scanimation being the patented way of creating a moving image.  It’s pretty much just as exciting now as it was when it was released in 2007, and though I’ve flipped the pages of this and other scanimation books before, I’m sad it took me this long to read Gallop!  It is a very interactive text, asking readers to if they can “gallop like a horse” or “swim like a fish,” “spring like a cat,” or “soar like an eagle.”  Readers could either answer the text’s questions or, if feeling active, try to imitate the pictures’ motions.  Nonsense words accompany the pictures and create a rhyme scheme for the book.  The final page commends the readers’ efforts and says, “take a bow and smile: you twinkle like a star.  Take a bow and shine: a star is what you are,” providing a positive message for readers, because compliments, even coming from an author that you’ve never met face to face, are nice to receive.

****

Count, Dagmar! by J.otto Seibold.  Chronicle, 2011.

This is the second Halloween themed counting book, with which I was less impressed than with Priddy’s.  Also “Janner [and Kathryn] was as unsettled by the overuse of exclamation points as he was by the dreary countenance of the place” (176).  The exclamation in the title is entirely unnecessary, but that is a small quibble.  While I am quibbling with Seibold’s punctuation, let me congratulate him on the pun; I did not when reading the book notice that the title is a command, not Count Dagmar (like Count Dracula, Count Count, or Count Chocula) but “Count, Dagmar.”  I have just discovered that this is a spin off of another book that I have not read—Vunce Upon a Time—and as such may find its merit and its marketability in being a spin off, also in the popularity of Seibold’s Olive the Other Reindeer.

***

Sophie La Girafe: Peekaboo Sophie! by Dawn Sirett.  DK, 2013.

As a touch-and-feel book to accompany a teething toy, I hadn’t expected to find any quality to the book, but Sophie la Girafe has always been known for quality and the book was no exception.  Very interactive, this touch-and-feel book is also a flap book and the text invites reader interaction with questions.

**** 

Frankenstein by Rick Walton and illustrated by Nathan Hale. Feiwel & Friends-Macmillain, 2012.

This was a very cleverly and well-done parody of the classic picture book Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans.  Walton keeps a similar rhythm and rhyme scheme to the original’s and, basically the same story, where a caretaker of twelve children awakes in the night knowing that something is not right to find that the smallest/ugliest of them all, Madeline/Frankenstein, has contracted a disease: appendicitis/headlessness.  The cure is sought and achieved, but then the other eleven children want to contract the same disease and in Walton’s succeed.  Walton throws in a twist where the caretaker does not care for the remaining eleven, her problems being greatly solved by their headlessness.

****

Cozy Classics: War and Peace by Jack and Holman Wang.  Simply Read, 2013.

Cozy Classics are, like BabyLit, are classics remade into board books for kids.  The stories seek to capture the basics of the plot in pages with a single word associated with a picture.  Cozy Classics does a good job creating full scenes with their felt dolls.  The dolls can also be surprisingly expressive.  This is a series I appreciate for its illustrations more than its text or concept.

I’ve not actually read Tolstoy’s War and Peace and am not overly familiar with the story other than to know that it follows several Russian families through several generations (I think), so I can’t attest to the Cozy Classics’ merit as an adaptation.  I have to think that there would have been some stronger illustration, however, than of a yellow dress—unless the yellow dress is highly symbolic in a way with which I am unfamiliar?

***

 Cozy Classics: Les Miserables by Jack and Holman Wang.  Simply Read, 2013.

This Cozy Classic also attempts to be an opposites primer but does not maintain the opposites throughout.  This Cozy Classic does a decent job of capturing the entirety of the tale (as I know it from the musical rather than the novel), though it glosses a lot of the reasons behind its illustrated nouns and the connections between pages are lost in translation.

***

Chuckling Ducklings and Baby Animal Friends by Aaron Zenz.  Walker Children’s-Bloomsbury, 2013.

This board book was another surprising find.  It’s a greatly factual book, and it feels that way but not oppressively so.  With a rhyming singsong rhythm, Zenz lists the different technical names that we have for baby animals, going into amazing specifics and digging up the more obscure names of which I was previously unaware.  There was nothing of a plot to the text, however, and it can really be lauded more as a reference with colorful and playful drawings than as a story.  The back also includes a pictorial guide so that, if there are animals the adult name of which the reader could not guess, the reader won’t have to search for the information.

***1/2

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Challenge: Legal Theft: Still Home (509 words)

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The town may have changed, but it still felt like home.  Where once there was a cornfield across from her preschool, a Costco had been raised, complete with its own gas station.  The potholed parking lot and empty strip mall had been replaced with a Big Y, and they had cut down a lot of the trees to make the building more visible from the road behind it.  The towering willow tree in front of the elementary school had fallen in a storm, leaving the school’s front visible from the road, making it seem somehow sharper, though the decorations in the second grade classrooms helped to soften the building’s exterior again. The subtle marina that had allowed the lake its rightful prominence had been replaced by what looked like a displaced Alpine-style ski lodge.

But the lake was the same.  The hills were the same.  The streets hadn’t changed.  The aroma of grilled fish still wafted over the parked motorcycles around the restaurant by the turn.

Up the hill past the restaurant that hadn’t been any one place long enough to have a name, her parents’ house—her house—was still there—and still unchanged, though the massive spruce had been lost in the same storm as the willow—and that was unsettling.  Her sister’s bedroom window had always been hidden behind the spiny branches—much like her sister.

It was a small house, a boxy one-story ranch from the 70s.  The neighborhood had once been all one-story ranches from the 70s, but the ranches had been built upon by most of the home-owners and now her house and the house of her across-the-street neighbor were dwarfed by two-stories with bay windows.

The walkway was still broken and overgrown brick with the dry stone wall that held up the larger garden threatening to topple under the weight of weeds and planted perennials to crush the dainty pansies and babies’ breath below it, and the pansies and babies’ breath threatening to reclaim the walkway.

Both the glass and the red door behind creaked when she pulled them open, and she had to pull them shut behind, since they wouldn’t close on their own.

There was that strange smell of rot and mold that her father had complained about.  Boxes were piled on the chest beneath the window while the couch looked empty without a nest of blankets built by either her or her sister.  Worse than empty nest, she thought.  Just empty.

No one was home.  She knew they wouldn’t be.  They both worked now, but it was the only time that she could make it and she needed to pick up a few things.  She needed to make sure that things were all right after the broken pipe.

The cat darted away from her behind the couch.  She knew better than to try to coax her out again, though she hoped each time that the cat would befriend her, remember her, and let her scratch her again beneath the chin.

Her footsteps seemed abnormally loud on the bowed wood.

Is there specific term for someone who steals repeatedly from the same person?  This week’s line again has come from Kate Kearney at More Than 1/2 Mad, where you can find her original story, “Unwelcome Party,” which uses this line.

Challenge: Legal Theft: Saints Have Hands (755 words)

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The night was gentle and warm, the kind of night that you can feel on your skin and that feels soft.  The smell of petunias hung in that air, almost sickly sweet, but somehow pleasant.  I crept with my friends up to the door of your apartment building.  The first of two doors remained unlocked and opened onto the small vestibule.  We crowded in between the Grecian Neoclassical vases.  I didn’t know your apartment number.  I’d only seen you come and go through this door.  I hadn’t meant to.  I lived across the street, and you’d walked down the sidewalk one night with that swing in your step, the one that speaks of confidence, though you’d been wearing, for all that I could tell in the glow beneath the streetlights, a t-shirt, khakis, and Keds.

The old hopper window was tilted open above the locked door onto the stairs and the atrium.

“Hello?” I called through the open window.

There was no answer.  I hadn’t really expected one.

“All right,” I said, turning to my friends, “we’ll have to play loud.”

Justin shifted his guitar and strummed a few quick notes to show that he was ready.  Rick answered with a chord on his banjo.  Sanders pulled his bow across the fiddle.

“All right.  Now, I’ve heard her listening to country, so I’ve learned a few songs.  Just—”

“We know,” Sanders reminded me.  “We’ve practiced.”

Sanders started with a slide, and Justin and Rick answered.  I picked up the backbeat with the tambourine that I’d bought and started to belt out as loud as I could the lyrics to a popular country tune that I’d listened to again and again after examining Top 40 charts for the genre.

Our music rattled the vases in the vestibule.  I hoped it would echo down the corridors off the atrium.  I hoped she was not high above us or below us.  I hoped she wasn’t past those closed, metal doors that must divide the building.

Slowly people began to trickle into the atrium to stare, though no one let us in.  One man came huffing out of his apartment to tell us to quit it, spewing profanities against the whole of the music genre.

“I’m looking for someone,” I called to the man, while my friends took up the bridge.

“Well, look for them quietly!”

“I don’t know her name.”

One of the women near the front sighed.  “What’s she look like, honey?”

“I’ve seen her under the streetlights.  She’s small.  She wears her hair in a ponytail.  Works a lot of night shifts, it seems, or is frequently coming home late from somewhere.”  It wasn’t a lot to go on, especially in an apartment building of this size.

“You know she’s unattached?” one of the teen girls jeered.

I shook my head.  “Gotta ask.”

A man pushed a protesting girl forward.  “This her?” he asked.  She kept her head down, but her forehead was a hot, embarrassed red.

“One time,” I said, “you came home late.  You went inside and came back out and you sat in the grass for a long while.  You kept holding out your hand.  I think you were trying to feed the tomcat.”

She glanced up and her face got if possible redder.  She stammered, “How—”

I almost dropped the tambourine.  “I fell in love,” I hurried to say, “with that girl feeding the tomcat.  She seemed like she wanted a friend.  I want to be that friend.”

The woman who’d asked for the girl’s description turned to her.  “Well, honey,” she said, “you gonna tell this fella your name?”

She shook her head.

“Mine’s Lou,” I called to encourage her.

“Lou, I’m leaving,” the girl said.

“Leaving,” I repeated.  Behind me the notes of my impromptu band wavered and then stopped.

“Leaving the state,” she confirmed.

“Where?”

“Virginia.”

A big state.  “Well, can I leave you my number?  Can we still talk?  Or an email?  A Skype name?  Anything?”

She walked slowly up to the door.  A few of the onlookers gave a cheer.  She opened it.  I was in the same cramped vestibule with her (and several of my friends).  She pulled a pen from her ponytail and took my hand in hers.  She wrote her name and number on my name, then handed me the pen so that I could give her mine.

“Can I take you for coffee?” I asked.

“Not tonight.  I work in the morning.  Tomorrow afternoon?”

I nodded.  “I’ll call you.”

“After three.”

Kate Kearney is a thief!  She stole this first line to write “A Feline Nocturne,” which she posted on her blog, More Than 1/2 Mad.

Challenge: Legal Theft: Escape (369 words)

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This is the original piece from which Kate Kearney of More Than 1/2 Mad stole to create her piece, “Girls in Toasters,” this past Thursday.  Go ahead and click one of those links; her piece should be read as the sequel to mine, so you may as well have it up and ready.  I hope hers is the sequel to mine for the characters’ sake.  There’s also some continuity between this piece and the earlier “What’s In Your Closet?”

Links to all the legal theft pieces of my thieving gang can be found here.

The windows of her car were the walls of her cage, and she wanted to scrabble her nails against the glass until someone noticed her and picked her up out of that cage to take her to a new home.  Well, something like that.  She was tired.  She was tired, and the traffic was bumper-to-bumper and unmoving as ice in the winter—which only reminded her how hot she was.  The window was down on the driver’s side, but she couldn’t reach the passenger’s side crank through the several boxes and the bags and the purse stacked on top of and around them.  The A/C didn’t work well enough to be more effective than the rolled down window, and besides, really the problem was the sun, which baked the air in the car through the glass.  Till she could rid the car of that hot air, the A/C would only be hardly effective—and some of the vents would be blocked by boxes and bags anyway.  She worried about the electronics—particularly the laptop that sat in the front seat beside her, as securely as she could make it.  Would the heat melt its parts together?  That would be the worst ending to this long drive.

She’d been driving for hours, and there were still hours of driving ahead of her.  The car was stuffed tightly as a Thanksgiving turkey with everything she’d been able to fit.  She hadn’t wanted to leave behind as much as she had to leave.

There was a lot she hadn’t wanted to leave behind: the bookcase, the mattress, friends, a comfortable job, family….

But she went to friends—a few of them.  Hopefully friends who’d be glad to see her.  And this was a trip she’d made before.  She’d left her family before.  They’d been then the same number of miles away—give or take a few.

They were all growing up and moving away: she, the friends she had had in high school, the friends she had made in college.  There was no real collection of friends anymore to return home to as there had always been.  The closest she had to that were coworkers.  They seemed relatively constant, but even they were a shifting ice floe, breaking apart and shifting away from one another.  (There was that icy imagery again, reminding her of the heat, unable to cool her down as effectively as any ice cube would have done.)  She needed a constant.  And she was ashamed to admit it.

Maybe she was running.  Maybe she was going home.  She really wasn’t sure.

All she knew was that she’d be unduly glad to see the familiar, undulating horizon that framed I-81.  She’d be glad of the mountains closing her in their embrace.

Challenge: Legal Theft: What’s in Your Closet? (454 words)

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These days it seemed to be more hole than t-shirt.  She should get rid of it, she knew that she should, but there were so many memories in that weave, in the holes.  The t-shirt had seen much.

This closet was full of memories.  That glittering collection of orange organza and sateen she had bought for senior prom.  The white high school robe and the black college robe hung side by side.  That tangerine shirt she’d worn the day she broke up with her last boyfriend.  She still thought of it as a power shirt, worthy of its place beside the others.  That lavender skirt had been a particularly romantic night by the riverside.  She worried about it getting stained in the mud and the grass, but her worries were quickly forgotten when he’d put his hand on her waist.  It had fit so nicely in the dip between her hip and rib.  His arm had felt so right supporting her back.  And that t-shirt she’d worn one of the rare nights when she had stayed up too late and laughed for hours with friends while they chatted over Google+.  That one she had bought at a concert she’d gone to with a friend.

On mesh shelves above the clothes were boxes of craft supplies: extra skeins of yarn, scraps for the t-shirt blanket that she would probably never make….

The closet was arranged much as her one at home had been.  That had been mostly unconscious.  She remembered clearing out that closet in her parents’ home and finding the box of valentines from preschool and beyond that she hadn’t remembered that she’d had.  She’d taken each one out, held them in her hands, smiling at the words, though each of them was full of insincere hallmark greetings printed on pictures of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers or the old incarnations of the My Little Ponies.  She smiled at the memories, and almost regretted that she would find nothing so touching among her clutter here.

Packing was always hard.  Tossing things away was always hard.  She hoped it would get easier, but how could it when you were only adding memories?  And those memories would be more recent, seem more relevant than a box of aged valentines.

There was so much to pack still.  She’d been here only a year, but she’d collected so many memories among the books and Goodwill finds.  She’d done so much.

Her eyes paused on the black hat with its white logo, the one she’d been ignoring more than a month’s gone grocery circular.

Some memories were easy to discard.  She wondered if she could talk the housemates into one last fire in the chiminea before Saturday.

I am a thief!  I stole this first line from Bek at BuildingADoor.  Here is original story that she wrote using the line.  All of our legal theft projects of our group can be found here.