Cher’s Lunchbox

(Note: This was my entry for Writer’s Digest’s Your Story Contest #66. The prompt was: “Mommy, I don’t like this.” —750 words max. It was not chosen as a finalist, so here it is.)

Cher’s Lunchbox

by T. K. Jones

After a long day of cleaning disgusting motel rooms, all Lisa Greene could do was heat the tuna casserole she made the night before for her and her six-year-old daughter, Cher. Two cans of tuna. A can of peas. A can of carrots. A can of some kind of cream, maybe mushroom, so thick that it had to be scooped out of the can with a spoon. And probably something else, but she didn’t care to remember. Covered with instant mashed potatoes and voila! Dinner.

Cher shuffled into the kitchen just as her mother was pulling the casserole out of the oven. A long afternoon of staring into the mind-frying television made her groggy. The babysitter had gone home an hour or so before she should have. Lisa decided that it was kind of her own fault. She stupidly left her the $15 to take at her own leisure instead of doing it the normal way. But she wasn’t too mad. She felt like such a cheapskate for only being able to offer the girl $15 for three hours of babysitting.

And this was a new babysitter. Their usual babysitter, Samantha, died in a horrific car accident the week before just two blocks away. Mr. Henderson, an elderly man who lives only four houses down, had a stroke while driving home from a doctor’s appointment, and crashed head-on into her car. She was driving home from a long afternoon of babysitting Cher for chump change. Mr. Henderson made it out with barely a scratch. Lisa didn’t tell her daughter. She lied and told her that Samantha moved to Canada for college.

Cher sniffed the air and wrinkled her nose. “What’s that smell?” She dragged each syllable longer than was necessary.

Lisa felt her muscles tense up and sighed deeply. From Cher’s tone she could already tell that dinner would be a battle. “It’s dinner, Cher. Aren’t you hungry?”

“I am but this smells FISHY!” Cher climbed up onto a chair and stared down into the casserole dish, her face hovering two inches away from the steamy surface. “Mommy, I don’t like this.”

Of course she didn’t. She didn’t like her doctor because he was too nice. She didn’t like that her mother was a maid at a cheap motel. She didn’t like that her father left her and her mother for the school principal, Mr. Kincaid, and never came to see her. She didn’t like Mr. Kincaid’s strange habit of winking at her every time he saw her walking down the hallway, as if they were buddies. She didn’t like her blue lunchbox because it didn’t have any cartoon characters on it. She didn’t like her classmate, Donny, because he made it a daily ritual to kick her shins under the desk. And she didn’t like her teacher, Mrs. Crawford, because she didn’t do anything about it. Cher didn’t like a lot of things.

“What do you mean you don’t like it? You haven’t even tasted it yet!” Lisa threw the oven mitts down onto the counter. She was constantly amazed that no matter how frazzled Cher made her, she never hit her. She never throttled her. She never even screamed at her.

“I can taste it through my nose. It’s stinky and nasty. I’m not eating that!” Cher slammed her little fists on the table top. The glass casserole dish shook.

Lisa felt the sides of her cheek burning. She was confronted with images from earlier that day. Of how she scrubbed vomit off the carpet in room 14. Of how she had to fish a used tampon out of the toilet in room 9. Of how her sleazy manager trapped her in the break room and refused to let her go until she gave him a hug. She thought of her ex-husband, Bill, and Alex Kincaid having a nice quiet evening together. “Then go to your room,” she spoke in a low tone through her clenched teeth.

Cher saw the look on her mother’s face. A look she had never seen before. It scared her. She obeyed.

Without thinking, Lisa found herself sitting at the dining room table shoveling the tuna casserole into a plastic Tupperware container. She placed the container of tuna casserole in Cher’s plain, blue lunchbox. At least she didn’t have to worry about packing her daughter’s lunch the next morning.

© April 2015 T. K. Jones

A Productive Writing Week & Plans for the Future

I’ve been having one productive day after another this past week. I hope this luck continues. Or maybe it’s not luck? Maybe it’s just hard work and obsession. I’ve entered some short story and poetry contests and have been making a long list of others to enter. The hardest part is waiting for the results!

Also, I have found a few writing fellowship/residencies that I would just LOVE to go to. I should just write more and get together my strongest pieces. I need to get published. And I don’t mean self-published. Anyone can do that! (And I have.) I’ve also been thinking (dreaming?) about getting my MFA but have run into a few problems, the largest two being: Money (the lack of it, to be more exact) and Recommendations. I graduated from college in 2008, seven years ago. I hear it’s OK, but I would feel a bit strange asking professors and advisers who don’t even remember me to write me a letter of recommendation. And having been a mix of self-employed and unemployed over the past four years, I don’t really have any professional recommendations. It’s pretty depressing/embarrassing.

I need to balance things better (ie. don’t just write all day but find time to READ more.) I love reading about other writers and their lives. Dead or alive. I highly recommend Kindle Unlimited for writers out there. It’s inexpensive and there’s a pretty good selection of e-books you can borrow. I find myself investing in my writing more which I think is a great thing. Instead of wasting what little i have on junk that I really don’t need, I’m subscribing to writing magazines and paying for contest fees. I feel it will pay off in the future.

If you haven’t already, do check out my Twitter profile. (See the right hand column for my Twitter feed.) I’ve been posting a lot of “microflash” or “twiction” on there. Creative stories in 140 characters or less! You should try it. hashtag or no hashtag! (It’s a little difficult when you use a hashtag… every character counts! I just hope no one reads a fictional tweet I wrote and think it’s real!)

Scrumptious: A Modern Fairy Tale

(Note: This is a short, silly fairy tale I wrote back in 2012. It wasn’t a submission or anything like that.)

Scrumptious: A Modern Fairy Tale

by T. K. Jones

A young, snobby prince lived in a tower made of liver pâté. It was very slippery and no one could climb up the many steps to get to him, though try they did. He declared that anyone who could reach him would win the prize of his hand in marriage. He laughed cruelly as all the townspeople, women and even men, clamored to be with him. But they all slipped off the first few fatty steps.

One day he saw from an opening in the pâté wall what he found to be a most beautiful creature. She was the female version of himself, with piss yellow hair and rosy cheeks.

“It’s like looking in a mirror,” he observed. He shouted out to her to please come up at once.

“But no one has ever been able to reach you. They’ve tried but they only slip because of the slimy liver pâté!” she cried out to him.

He wanted to be with her so badly that he immediately hatched a plan.

“Eat your way up!” he commanded her.

So she did. For forty days and forty nights, she ate. And ate. And ate. As the days went by the prince saw that the pâté tower sank lower and lower to the ground.

The lady stopped eating when the price was finally at ground level and called out for him. The prince hopped out of what remained of the pâté tower with arms wide open to embrace his new love. But he was greeted with a most shocking sight. His beautiful maiden had turned into a large blob of a woman.

“You’re a whale! A beached whale!” he shrieked in horror.

“But you wanted to be with me! You told me to eat!” she panted.

The prince fled the now engorged woman, leaving her panting and wheezing, rolling around on the ground, unable to chase after him.

But what became of the prince? you might ask. Well, he made his way into town where he was seized and molested by all the common townsfolk. Young and old. Man and woman. He was left in the gutter, for the frisky dogs. As sloppy seconds.

© 2012, T. K. Jones

Plath and Thanatology

Plath and Thanatology

by T. K. Jones

Standing between the theatre and film building
with a girl from my creative writing class
The only one I made friends with
She always wore wooden clogs and fuzzy striped socks
She is. She is. She is.
I’m telling her about Sylvia Plath’s journals
And having read The Bell Jar in my high school Thanatology class
Thanatology? — Yes, the study of death and dying. — Wow, really?
Of course, it attracted all the goths and beatniks
The depressive types and outwardly aloof
I recalled a passage Plath wrote about picking her nose
And wiping her boogers under the furniture
The other girl laughs and I tell her it’s a must read! The novel and the journals.
“You’ll love them!”

© 2015, T. K. Jones

Kathleen Went To Art School

Kathleen Went To Art School

by T. K. Jones

“I went to art school,” Kathleen would constantly remind us. Yeah, we know. We stared at her childish renditions of Sailor Moon and Disney characters up for sale. Trademark infringement. No one spoke. I drew like this when I was seven, I thought.

Kathleen stuck her nose up at everyone else. We suspected she knew deep down inside that her work was beyond lacking. Embarrassing to look at. People scurried past her booth. Avoiding eye contact. By the end of the day, she sold nothing.

“People have BAD TASTE,” she hissed as she trudged past us to the parking lot.

(100 words)

© 2015 T. K. Jones

Night Falls Fast

Night Falls Fast

a poem

by T. K. Jones

Your life is a single day. Some days are long. Others are short.
When you wake up, you don’t get to choose the length of your day.
Depending on the season. Depending on the reason.
The night falls fast for some. But for others, night goes on and on. They get more time.
If night falls fast, you can become a star in the sky. You can learn to fly.
But it can be sad if anyone cares about you. If not, then it doesn’t matter, does it?
Let my night fall fast. For heaven’s sake, let night fall fast.

© June 2015, T. K. Jones

Minimalists Outdoing Each Other

Minimalists Outdoing Each Other

by T. K. Jones

Momo was into minimalism and wrote haikus about cats. Only about cats. After she finished a haiku, she would memorize it before burning the paper on which it was written because the ashes took up less space than the paper.

She lost fifty pounds to take up less space. After meeting other minimalists on the internet, she decided to lose more weight. A secret contest.

One day her fellow minimalist couldn’t reach her. Worried, they called the police, who found that she had burned her place down. With herself inside. Leaving only ashes, embers and memorized cat haikus.

She won.

© June 2015, T. K. Jones

(100 words)

Fancy Horse Girl, Zombified Classmates and an Insolent Instructor

(Note: This short essay was rejected by Writer’s Digest for their 5-Minute memoir section. Enjoy.)

Fancy Horse Girl, Zombified Classmates and an Insolent Instructor

by T. K. Jones

Years ago when I was in college, I signed up for a creative writing workshop. I dreamed of honing my craft and meeting other enthusiastic writers. What ensued can only be described as a disastrous nightmare.

On the very first day of class, instead of doing anything related to writing, we were each forced to draw a horse on the chalkboard. Our teacher, a grad student, thought it would show our personality. For most of us, it didn’t.

But there was one girl in class who took her sweet time, spending five long minutes drawing what she thought was an amazing horse. It took up the whole center of the chalkboard. OK, so she wants to be the center of attention and believes she’s more talented than everyone else. Funny though, since of the twelve or so of us, she turned out to be the most lacking in that department. It seems the people with the least amount of talent are always the ones that are absolutely convinced that they’re overflowing with it.

So we spent the entirety of the first class drawing horses. It was a complete waste of time. As one person after another was made to draw their horse, my heart sank deeper and deeper. What did I get myself into? I wondered, as I scanned the faces of my aloof, already-zombified classmates. It was starting to resemble a morgue.

I made friends with the girl sitting next to me and we both agreed that we didn’t have a good first impression of the workshop. But because we were so starved for advanced creative writing knowledge, we decided to stick with it. To the very end. No matter what.

That couldn’t be said for everyone. A few dropped out right away. The horses did them in. Halfway through the semester, a male classmate, who my new friend and I found to be quite talented, gave up. Not just on the class but on writing altogether! Apparently, the last straw was a catty comment the fancy horse girl made about his story. That it sounded an awful lot like a movie she’d seen before. Of course she couldn’t produce the title of said movie but she just had to say so. He could’ve easily gotten back at her by staying but he never came back to class after that incident.

Most of the participants could barely be called participants at all, as their participation ended with writing their stories. As time went by, it became obvious that no one was really reading anyone else’s work! I felt cheated. Angry. Week after week I took the time to read each and every story, no matter how poorly written, and add useful comments. I even proofread and copyedited for my lazy peers! I got nothing in return except the occasional one-word comment. “Good.”

The rotten cherry to top off the stale, tasteless cake that was my creative writing workshop was the instructor. When he made a comment, which was strangely infrequent for the person running the workshop, it wouldn’t be constructive, rather what could be labeled as degrading. Always blurted out with a slimy look of glee and satisfaction on his perpetually greasy face. “Awful, awful, AWWWWFUL! Ugh!” He enjoyed the embarrassed and hurt expressions and slumped shoulders he caused.

The last day couldn’t end soon enough. It was a last-day-of-class “party.” As we awkwardly sat around in our usual circle, munching on stale tortilla chips and sipping lukewarm soda, the teacher tried in vain to lift the mood to resemble a fiesta. To at least get us to speak. Too little, too late, I thought. Too little. Too late.

© April 2015, T. K. Jones

Birds: a short story

Birds

by T. K. Jones

“Lori?” Dr. Mack, my shrink spoke. Breaking the buzzing silence. “Lori, what are you thinking about right now?”

I wondered what good it was asking me that. Would it help with my diagnosis? Or did he already have a diagnosis? If I told him what I was really thinking about, I would most definitely be diagnosed with something like psychopathy or antisocial personality. Like any of that really meant anything. When did they decide to put people into groups? And who are “they” anyhow? I lied and told him I was thinking about the birds in my yard. The ones that I feed every day. Or at least almost every day. Some days I forget. What I was really thinking about was dying in a plane crash. Would I ever experience a plane accident? What does it feel like to crash in an airplane? And do they give you oxygen to get you high? Do you black out as you rapidly descend to the ground? It’s the small, gory details I ruminated over. I couldn’t help it. Once such thoughts entered my mind, it was hard to do anything but sit and think about these things. Often for long stretched. Hours at a time, in fact. Uninterrupted.

“The birds in your yard?” Dr. Mack asked, skeptical, as if there was a reason not to believe me. I didn’t lead on that I was lying. I’m good at manipulating people like that.

“Yeah.” I would have preferred that he drop the matter but knew he and his kind are known to beat a dead horse and get paid well for it.

“What about the birds in your yard?” he went on, jotting something on his clipboard, hidden from my view. Tic-tac-toe? Stick figures? Private parts?

“I just see them in my mind,” I explained warily. Now this was true. I did see those little birds in my mind. The red cardinals, the blue jays, and mockingbirds. Pecking away at the feed I toss out by the handful. Some on the driveway and some in the dying grass. “I wonder how they can even see the millet in the grass.” I really did wonder this. How did they? I went on, more to myself than Dr. Mack. “Even in the snow they just keep pecking away. Eating.”

Dr. Mack sighed and caught himself too late as he realized that I noticed he really wasn’t interested in hearing my musings on the wild birds in my yard. He wanted something more off-the-wall. Something extravagantly insane. Quickly he offered up some thoughts. “They’re low to the ground. Small. To them, I’m sure the pellets are quite large.” He waited for a reply.

I sat staring at him. Well, through him really. Now totally engrossed in the thoughts of my little birdies. What were they doing now? I forgot to feed them this morning. Are they hungry? Can they manage without me? Have I spoiled them by providing easy food? Are they all accounted for? How would I even know? I never bothered to count them.

“You’re grimacing,” Dr. Mack noted aloud. So I was. I did this often, apparently. Strangers in public often told me to smile. I’m always tempted to tell them to mind their own business. Maybe I just found out I had cancer. Or I just went to a funeral. Or lost my job. Don’t tell me to smile! “What were you thinking about just now?” he asked again.

“The birds in my yard,” I repeated. He did not believe me for he asked me if that was really what I was thinking about. Always trying to get into my head.

“Yes!” I insisted. Vexed. I was really thinking about my little birdies. Dozens and dozens of them. All mine. Because I feed them. They stay in MY yard. I pay for the feed with MY money. THEY ARE MINE! Period.

“What are you thinking about the birds? Are they the same birds?” He looked at me with his beady eyes.

“I don’t understand. Of course they’re the same birds. I said the birds in my yard. Like the first time. How would they be different birds?” I couldn’t help but sneer at him. Him and all his stupid questions.

Dr. Mack leaned forward like he had some big secret to share with me. He lowered his voice. “How do you know for certain that the same birds are visiting you every day?”

My mouth hung open though I had no answer to offer. I didn’t know. Not for sure anyway. I just assumed that the birds that showed up every day were the same birds. Why wouldn’t they be? I crossed my arms. Fed up. Shutting out Dr. Mack. “What are you getting at?” I mumbled and turned my head away from him.

His beady eyes were upsetting me. Almost as much as his ignorant, pointless questions. The blinds were down so I could not see the birds that were probably perched on the branches just outside the window.

“They knew.” A thought popped up in my head. Maybe they knew the birds in my yard. Or maybe these were some of the same birds. I could feel Dr. Mack staring at me. Watching me carefully as I tried so hard to look through the little slits in the blinds. Are you there, birds?

“My friends are outside,” I said nonchalantly.

Dr. Mack raised an eyebrow. Friends? Tell me about these friends of yours.” He got his pen ready.

“See them for yourself.” I got up and pulled the blinds up slowly. Dr. Mack approached the window, his heart full of excitement and curiosity. He peered down to the street below.

“Who is he?” He pointed at a lone elderly man, sitting at the bus stop.

“I don’t know,” I answered honestly. “Some old man waiting for the bus.”

Dr. Mack looked at me. Tired of games. Only I was serious.

“Are these friends of yours imaginary?”

“No. They’re right in front of you.” I pointed to the three red cardinals perched on the thick branch by the window.

© 2010, 2015 T. K. Jones