100WordStory Photo Prompt: Van Gogh and the Wise Sunflower

(Note: I submitted this piece for 100 Word Story‘s June ’15 photo prompt. I’ve included the photo below. I guess you could call this my dedication to Vinvent Vang Gogh and a sarcastic commentary on art criticism and fame in the art world.)

Van Gogh and the Wise Sunflower

by T. K. Jones


Photo credit: Kris Williams

“Did you know that the sky is a pool, where lights can swim? Paint what you see,” the sunflower urged Vincent Van Gogh. “Though none will care while you are here amongst the living.”

“You don’t need to remind me of my failures,” Van Gogh groaned. He sucked the tip of his paintbrush.

“Don’t waste your paints on your sad, hungry mouth. You’ve so much to give,” assured the sunflower.

Vincent squinted at the synchronized swimming of yellow and white streaking against the blue backdrop. He took liberties that would be much appreciated. Only after he was dead and buried.

© June 2015, T. K. Jones

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

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

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