Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Final Draft - Creative Writing Flash Fiction Piece - Norma

Please excuse typos.  I have not finalized the edit yet.

            The curvy, platinum blonde flounced into room 228.  She had forgotten how to walk without swinging her hips provocatively, as if to primal music.  Her essence filled the chamber, but did nothing to brighten it. She immediately drew the dingy drapes, though the universe she wished to escape was also inside this dreary hotel room.  She tossed her purse and a brown paper bag onto the bed. 
            She stripped off her tawdry clothes, again to the silent beat of the music in her head, until she was down to a lacy bra and sheer,  matching, panties.  Still wearing her 6 inch stiletto heels, she flopped gracelessly onto the bed, and began the familiar, mindless, ritual of rummaging in her fake Prada bag, seeking the soothing, hollow, rattle that had forever transformed her into one of Pavlov's drooling dogs. 
            As she lined up the pill bottles on the nightstand, like empty red solo cups at a frat house kegger, she was surprised  by how many there were. Some were uppers that brought her down and some were downers that made her fly.  There were anti-depressants that made her so very sad.  Some were for pain, others for sleep, and she thought one was actually for either a sore throat or the clap.   She couldn't remember which was supposed to do what as none really seemed to work anymore, unless she washed them down with a pint of vodka.  Gin would do nicely in the absence of vodka, as would rum.  She called them out by name, like a day one teacher mistaking her way through the roll, as she pulled them one by one from the cavernous bag. There was just enough light coming from the bathroom to read the labels:
     "Nembutal, Seconal, Chloral Hydrate, Librium, Valmid, Perco----dan, Parvate, Lomotil, Dexedrine, Redisol, Darvon, Hydrozeta, Sulfa ----thal----lidine, Phenergan," and a couple of bottles with no label at all.  It took two rows, looked like some kind of  prescription Phalanx formation. "Yes I know that word," her voice echoing in the empty cubicle.  Though no one was listening, she needed to say  it aloud.  They all thought she was dumb blonde. To them it was sexier.   She never got that and she loved to celebrate that she was neither.
            She could actually feel the oppressive weight of the darkness, but still preferred it to the revealing glare of stage lights.  The unflattering light detailed the toll that chronic insomnia and 15 years of  displaying a narcotically induced smile can take on a body racing willy-nilly towards 40.  She  tossed  a wadded up handful of singles on the  bed.   There  was a time,  she thought grimly, when  these bills would have been in much larger denominations.  Just like with Elvis, the demand was for the young Marilyn.  The fantasy that even the shadows of seedy, dimly lit, rooms could no longer sustain.    
            She thought about what had brought her to this room, this night.  Her mind drifted back to her childhood.  She had always been cursed by her beauty.  She knew that seemed vain but it was simply the truth. 
            The dirty secret she shared with her disgusting step-dad was unbearable.  There wasn't enough body wash to get the unclean off of her and no amount of Listerine could temper the lingering foulness of his whiskey tainted, smoker's breath.  You are always supposed to remember your first time.  She would certainly never forget.  More like her first fifty times.  Fortunately for him, before she summoned the courage to tell anyone, somebody slit his throat.  Another secret between them.  Unfortunately, death did not stop him from entering her nightly nightmares.  Surprisingly she felt safest in the dark.  He always wanted the lights left on.  "You are so beautiful."       
            The mean, middle school, girls hated her for  her  early development and clear skin and to the guys she was simply a conquest; bases  that  needed to be stolen, or at least touched.  The false rumors about her from boys that failed to score became her reality.  Why not?
            She had spent much of her early twenties wriggling on casting couches, auditioning for roles  that didn't exist.    And then came Marilyn.  She had always been told of a resemblance, but had never thought much about it until a sweaty studio exec, with that recognizable, fatherly, halitosis,  offered her $500 to put on a platinum wig and sing Happy Birthday off-key.      
            Then the same guy, after several more $500 performances, seeing her value, found her several other high rollers with the similar fetishes and eventually became her "agent".  Soon she was playing Marilyn at every venue from cameos in feature films, to mall openings and bachelor parties.  She can't remember when she  lost her own identity and only occasionally can she see that lonely girl through the illusion of her life, as false as her eyelashes. 
            One totally unqualified acting teacher........well of course he lacked credentials.  What reputable educator would trade sex for acting lessons?  "Probably more than you would think," she chuckled humorlessly to herself.  He had given  her  one useful piece of advice: "when you play a part, abandon yourself, and become that character". 
`           Norma removed Marilyn from her head and tossed her onto the dresser.  She shook out her own hair; shorter and thinner, brown streaked with grey.  She could stop being Marilyn with a simple costume change, but she could not divorce herself from the pain of Norma.  Marilyn was fake.  Norma was all too real.  The face she saw when she was forced to look in a mirror.   Norma had never had her heart broken,  just chipped away a granule at a time, as by the chisel of a sculptor.  And she had known a lot of  chiselers.  For Norma, life was both too much and not enough.  She would not miss it.  The lyrics to an old Bob Seger, no John Mellencamp, song came to mind:
"Life goes on
long after the thrill of livin' is gone"
            She looked at the pill bottles and reached for the green ones.  She really didn't know them  by name, or purpose, just by color.  Then she thought better of it.  Tonight calls for a tourniquet,  not a Band-Aid.   Her life was a series of paper cuts and she was finally bleeding out.  She reached behind her into  the paper bag and pulled out a liter of Grey Goose,  which she had splurged on, but tonight was special 
            It took maximum effort to unscrew the top off of the vodka and she rewarded herself with a large swig, feeling the warmth spread to her extremities.  She reluctantly set  the decanter down on the nightstand and picked up the first of the bottles, examining the capsules, tablets, and gel caps.  If the color appealed to her, she poured some into the vodka bottle, laughing at the recommended dosages.  
            When she had finished concocting her multi-colored chemical cocktail, "shaken not stirred", she propped up on two pillows, picked up the remote and turned on the television.  She knew that at 10:00 PM, on channel 17, they were showing "The Misfits".  The hotel clock showed 9:49, she would have to pace herself.   
            She looked around the lonesome alcove.  It was indistinguishable from countless other lifeless bedroom ceilings she had vacantly contemplated.  The difference is that this would be the last that she would ever occupy. Well, at least alive.  If she was really alive right now.  The morgue did not count, even though the cold drawers could not feel more soulless than room 218 at this moment. 
            The movie began and Norma marveled at how strange but appealing Clark Gable looked in a cowboy hat.  It was hard to believe it would be the last movie for both of them.  All three actually.  Time to start drinking the misery away.  She lifted the jug to her vivid red lips.  A rivulet ran from the corner of her mouth.  She did not wipe it off, but prospected for it with her tongue. .    
            When she  is found by the maid in the morning,  unconscious and as cold as a marble slab, having drowned in her own sick, there will be no headlines.  No need for a note.  Who would read it, anyway?  And Marilyn didn't leave one.  Why should she?  Norma took another  gulp, ignoring how foul her potion tasted.  Will they even notice the bruises?    
            Her last coherent thought was that she wondered how long before they found the bastard's body.  They located her step-dad pretty quickly.         

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Creative Writing Flash Fiction Final Draft - Final Approach

Final Approach

            Slouched in the bar in Concourse B, in the midst of strangers speaking a Babel of indecipherable languages, my mind drifted back twenty years:
"Daddy, there is a monster under my bed."
"Let me have a look.  Nope, nothing there."
"I'm 'fraid of the dark"
"Everyone is afraid of the dark."
"Even you, daddy?"
"Even me."
            Unsurprisingly, the connecting flight that would eventually take me to Dulles International was delayed, leaving me alone with my misery among throngs of travelers.   Memories, flushed by the three $11.00 bourbons that I had swigged down,  swirled, engulfing me:
"You have to step towards the pitcher, son.  If you pull back you take your eye off the ball."
"Dad, I'm no good at baseball.  I can't hit." 
"Don't give up.  Everything is hard in the beginning.  You are ten, you will get better."
"I am afraid of the ball."
"Everyone who plays baseball is afraid of the ball."
"Even you, dad?"
"Even me."
            Snippets and snapshots of time that passes exponentially faster, accelerating towards the end, like a stable horse heading back to  the  barn. 
"Dad, is grandma in heaven?"
"I don't know, son.  I hope if there is such a place, she would be there."
"Am I gonna die?"
"Not for a long, long time."
"I am afraid of dying."
"Everyone is afraid of dying."
"Even you, dad?"
"Even me."
            The flight was finally called to board by someone much too close to the microphone, reminding me of the baffling bus station destination announcements.  I erratically staggered up the jetway, boarded the flight, not acknowledging the vacant, spurious, smile of the flight attendant. She had  obviously been practicing that simper since she was referred to as a stewardess.  I plopped down in 18F.  I was oblivious to the cacophony of the preflight ritual:  ceremonial storing of items in the overhead bins and the obligatory emergency instructions should our pilot choose an unlikely water landing in the heartlands.  My mind continued to relive our too  few precious moments together.
"Dad, I just got called up to the majors."
"There is something I need to tell you."
"You got me season tickets?"
" I am joining the Marines at the end of the season."

"It is something I need to do. Only for a couple of years.  Baseball will still be here when I get back."
            I am not sure if the haze that partially obscured the skyline silhouetted against the Rocky Mountains was due to the perpetual Denver smog or Jack Daniels. I dozed off or passed out after the drink cart purposely passed me by, the cheery flight attendant micromanaging my methomania.    
            Sober now, though a state trooper would not agree, I trudged down an identical jet bridge, skipping baggage claim as I had hand carried the few things I had hurriedly gathered for the trip.   The middle man in a trio of uniformed men was holding a small sign with my surname on it.  Uncomfortable, but sincere, pleasantries  were exchanged and I was led to a spotless and shiny navy blue Crown Victoria with a placard containing  four stars.  It is my experience that a Crown Vic never brings good news.  It was a quiet ride to Arlington, as I was hung-over, and suffering from a time  lag of years, rather than hours,          
            I barely heard the  words read from  the Citation to Accompany the Award of  the Medal of Honor to Staff Sergeant Brian Gehrig Johnson, USMC.  My mind was still replaying flashes of his life. 
            It was the last time I  saw Brian.  He had come home for the weekend and it was a moderate  Sunday evening, a welcome break from the oppressive Pueblo sweltering summer .  We had grilled steaks and he quaffed ice-cold  beer, and I sipped my customary over sweetened  iced tea, my twenty year chip securely in my pocket.  I knew he was struggling with something that he wanted to say:
"What's up Brian?"
"Dad, our  unit is deploying to the Middle East.  I have to report tomorrow."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't want to upset you.  You know how you get."
"Son, I'm afraid for you."
"Every warrior is afraid."
"Even you?"
"Even me." 
            I will never forget the acrid aroma of the gunpowder and the sad sweetness of the bugle as the officer bent to hand me the triangulated flag:
 "Mr.  Johnson, I am sorry for your loss.....our loss.  There are a dozen Marines, maybe more, that are alive because of his sacrifice.  I was... am,  his commander and I asked to be the one to present this to you.  Your son was the most fearless man I have ever had the honor to serve with."
I nearly collapsed the flimsy, folding chair as he snapped to attention and saluted me:
"Semper fi, Mr. Johnson."        
I stood  up, unsteadily, and, though I had never been in the military, returned his salute and said in a fissured voice, "Semper fi."