A Tire Swing Story is a bite-sized "imagining" inspired by an object I discover while wandering. It could be a curbside trash gem or a message sprayed on a wall. A lost mitten, or an antique store find. Anything goes. I photograph the object and post them together, the story and its inspiration. There will be a new story every Monday and Wednesday. On Fridays, I'll discuss writing, life, love, and coffee. (In no particular order and maybe all at once.)

Friday, December 30, 2011

Casual Fridays: The turtle in the sweatpants

Hi guys. It's Britt. Today I'm thinking a lot about patience.

I'm sick and feeling rotten, and so the cat and I are at home keeping our germs to ourselves. As I write this, I'm wearing a pair of entirely unattractive, but super comfortable navy blue sweatpants. There's a mug of chamomile tea and a box of tissues beside the computer.

In a few days, we'll begin a whole new year. 2012.

There was so much I was supposed to get done in 2011. Wasn't this the year I was going to start a successful business? Have a book published? Find true love? And now there are only a couple of days left to accomplish all that, and I'm sick.

Here's where the patience comes in. That old hare and tortoise story. Because, by the look of things, I am not going to so much vault into 2012, as plod into it. And that's okay. As long as I keep taking these steady steps, and doing it with my heart, I'll get there.

What about you? Are there ways you need to be patient with yourself?

Love to you, story-makers. Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Kim stares at the tray of hospital food. A disc of ham in a puddle of greenish gravy. Mashed potatoes flecked with potato skin, like a mound of dirty snow. For dessert, a dish of canned peaches, slick and glistening.

What Kim really wants is a hot dog. There's a man outside Sick Kids hospital selling them from a cart. If she raises herself on her elbows, she can see him from her bed. She can only hold herself up so long before, klunk, she drops back to the mattress. 

Kim is wearing one of her own flannel nightgowns from home. On her feet are red cotton socks. Not from home. Around her wrist is a tight hospital ID bracelet. She pulls at the plastic and her mother slaps her hand away. "Leave it," she says to Kim. 

It would be so much better if Rory, their dog were here instead of Mom. He'd lick her face and sleep at the foot of her bed, covering up those red socks. Rory would understand about the hot dog. 

All of the patients on this floor wear color-coded socks. The lucky ducks get green ones. The sort-of loosers get yellow. And then there are those kids who get red. Red means stop. It means you must stay in this bed, attached to machines that whir and beep and hiss. Don't you dare even think about popping out for a hot dog. 

Very soon, Kim will get up and walk, no, run outside. She'll tear the hospital bracelet from her wrist and let it fall to the ground. She will smell the smoke from the barbeque and stand under that big yellow umbrella and order herself a hot dog. Then she'll eat it with mustard dripping down her chin. 

She will do all this. She has to.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Maple Dip Mondays: Robinson the Christmas tree

Robinson, the Christmas tree didn't have much time to flirt with the new ornaments before they were packed away till next year.

And oh, how he loved an attractive young ornament hanging from his boughs. The porcelain doe wearing the Santa hat. The silver angel with white feather wings. Come next December, none of those adornments would be new, and they wouldn't seem quite so...appealing. 

But every December, just as he started to work his charm, there was Magda, that ancient ballerina with the chipped nose and dirty tutu, chattering non-stop. 

"Robinson, your branches look extra green this year." 
"I do hope they sing "Oh Christmas Tree." It's the best carol, Robinson. Don't you think?"
"There seem to be more presents this year, Robinson. Wouldn't you say?"

He wished the family would toss Magda into the trash. Their cat batted at some of the decorations dangling from his lower branches. "Take her," he prayed, "break her." 

But this year, the man and woman pulled Robinson from the cardboard box, shook him out, and just when they'd started to decorate him, they left. 

He felt naked and wished they'd given him some tinsel or at least a couple of candy canes. 

Then they returned carrying something. It wasn't until they'd plugged it in, and he saw the blinking lights that Robinson knew what it was. A Christmas tree. Different and strange and...new. 

Robinson was stuffed back into his box and left on the curb in front of the house. 

How could this have happened? he wondered. They replaced me. Robinson started to cry and his sobs echoed inside the cardboard box, a damp and dismal sound. 

Then he heard something else. 

"Do you think we'll have snow for Christmas this year, Robinson?" a voice asked. 

Madga. They must've hung her first, and not noticed when they threw me out. 

For the first time, Robinson wouldn't have traded that grimy old ballerina for any shiny new decoration in all the world.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Hi guys. It's Britt. 
Some of you might remember the competition I held to celebrate my 100th blog post. The winner received a $50 Amazon gift card to spend on whatever they fancied. And the winner was....

I thought I'd check in with Melissa and find out what she got. Here's the scoop in her own words: 

"Back in July I was thrilled to learn I won Britt’s first contest. With the prize of a gift certificate for Amazon.ca I bought a book called A Fortune Teller Told Me

Author Tiziano Terzani tells the true story of his year spent travelling the Far East in search of traditional fortune tellers and spiritualists.  

Whether in bustling metropolises or tiny mountain top villages, he seeks these enlightened men and women who are believed to hold sacred and ancient secrets.

Sometimes the stars align and a book falls into your lap that so perfectly suits your temperament you can’t help but let it guide you toward your own adventure.

On a piece of paper tucked away between the pages of this book, I quietly planned my very own fantasy trip to the Far East! A fascinating, exciting, and thoughtful read; Let A Fortune Teller Told Me inspire your adventurous side too!"


We're getting close to 200 posts, dear readers, and TSS 200th Post Prize is going to be fantastic. Look for contest details, coming soon!! 

Have a fantastic weekend, story-makers. See you back here on Monday. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Jenny's best friend is a tarantula named Lenny. 

Lenny sleeps at the foot of her bed, curled into a ball no bigger than a walnut. In the morning, he climbs into Jenny's red suitcase and they set out together to school. Jenny keeps a mirror inside the suitcase so Lenny can look at himself. (Tarantulas are a little bit vain.)

During recess, Jenny retrieves the red briefcase from the coatroom and sits under the biggest elm tree by the fence to tell Lenny what she's learned. 

After school, their favorite place to go is the library. Lenny likes Charlotte's Web best, though when she reads it to him, Jenny does change the ending, so he won't get upset.

But there are things a spider and a little girl can't do together. 

Sometimes Jenny plays catch with her Dad. He throws the ball so hard it hurts her arm when it lands in her glove, but Jenny doesn't complain. 

Saturdays, he takes her shopping at Murphy's Hardware. As her Dad walks up and down the aisles, examining the different nails and bolts and wires, Jenny follows. She stays very quiet and doesn't cause any trouble at all, so he'll want to bring her along the next Saturday too.

Jenny knows a secret and she whispers it to Lenny: Her Dad didn't want a girl. He wanted a boy. 

Lenny understands. Nobody likes tarantulas either. Most of the time people prefer they were a bunny or a kitten.

One night, Jenny woke and didn't see Lenny sleeping at her feet. She climbed out of bed and crouched on the floor, looking underneath her bed. No spider. 

Out into the hallway, Jenny went, whispering his name: "Lennnny. Lennnny." 

Her parent's bedroom door was ajar, and when she looked inside, Jenny gasped. This little girl who was not a boy did her best to be good. But now she was about to cause some major trouble. 

Because there on the chest of her sleeping father, was Lenny. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Paul's New Year's Resolutions

1. Quit job. Letter of resignation to be handed in to Mr. Robinson by January 3rd. DO NOT CHICKEN OUT AGAIN!

2. Go to the gym 5 times 3 times a week. 

3. Read things that will help me sound smarter and more appealing at dinner parties. War and Peace. Autobiography of Malcolm X. That Vagina play.

4. Buy new tie. Not from secondhand store. Learn how to tie it without help of roommate's girlfriend.

5. Get a girlfriend. Possibilities include:  

-Sheila, from Human Resources department.
-Brown-haired barista at Beans, Beans, Beans.
 Calvin's sister, Maria, the yoga teacher.
-Nice teller at Royal Bank on Roncesvalles Avenue. Donna? Dara? Denise?

6. Take exotic cooking classes. Thai. East Indian. Sushi. Possibly meet women at cooking class.

7. Eat better. No red meat, except for beef. No more coffee from vending machines at work. Can eat donuts, but no cream filled, or anything bigger than a hockey puck.

8. Make bedroom appealing to women. Throw out E.T. comforter and WWF sheets. Buy lots of pillows and good-smelling candles.

9. Cook dinner for Mom once a week using new Cooking Skills.   

10. Learn Kung Fu.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Casual Fridays: Letting go

Hi guys, it's Britt. 
Ever heard that saying: "like a dog with a bone?" 

Sometimes I read one of these Tire Swing Stories after I've published it, and a part of me cringes. I want to go back and fix something. I have to stop myself. I have to remind myself that the whole point of this blog is that the stories are spontaneous. Raw. No changes, no obsessing over this comma, or that word choice. Once a story is out there, I have to let go.

That's really hard, but I'm working on it.

What about you? What do you have a hard time letting go of?

Have a releasing weekend, story-makers. See you back here on Monday. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Pat is an architect. When he was young, he thought he'd build another Eiffel tower. But Pat designs suburban homes.

Today he is decorating the Christmas tree. He and Jake are supposed to be doing it together, but his son is stretched on the couch playing a video game. Pat doesn't mind. He's enjoying sitting on the carpet with a glass of rum and eggnog, excavating their ornaments from a battered cardboard box. 

Pat hasn't seen most of these decoration in ages. He and Jake have moved seven times in the last four years, and have never bothered with a Christmas tree.

Pat's work requires they relocate every six months. They set up on the outskirts of a town while Pat oversees the building of a new housing development. In Oshawa there are homes that are exact copies of ones in Winnipeg. Right down to the window frames and shutters. 

Pat opens something wrapped in red tissue and discovers a Christmas ball. On it are the words: "Merry Christmas to a Wonderful Son."
1995. She'd got this ornament for Jake the year she was diagnosed. 

There was only one Mollie. She was utterly unique. His Eiffel tower. On their first date, he'd constructed a bridge out of creamers because he was so nervous. He thought he'd never get a second date. But she'd chosen him. She told him he was going to transform the world. 

Pat sits staring at the Christmas ball for what feels like a very long time. Then he looks up and notices his glass is empty. He knows without recognizing it yet, that all their moving has come to an end. 

"Jake," he says, holding up the ornament to his son, do you remember this?"

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cheryl is reading a book called: "Woman without her Man," by Doctor Eliza R. Hamm. On page 45, Dr. Hamm tells her to release her past. 

Cheryl sits with a photo album on her lap. The album is blue and made of fake leather. On the front, in a loopy gold script are the words: "Memories are for Keeps." 

She opens the album and peels up the clear plastic sheet covering the first set of pictures. The sheet comes slowly, grudgingly, making a suck-smacking sound. 

Cheryl lifts a picture from the page. She and Jon in Orlando on their first anniversary, sunburned, sitting at a patio table, their glasses raised in a toast. 

Cheryl tears the photo, removing Jon. The Jon half falls to the floor. 

On page 78, Dr. Hamm says time heals nothing. What you do with the time is what counts. 

Cheryl rips Jon out of the next one, and the next. When she discovers a picture of him and Elizabeth together, she shreds the whole thing to bits. 

On page 103 it says: "If a man is unfaithful once, he will be again. No indiscretion should be forgiven." 

There are little Jons all over the carpet. Jon at Amber and Dwyane's cottage. Jon at her birthday party last year with his mouth open, frozen forever shouting the word: "surprise" 

Cheryl knows she should throw all these Jons out. Toss them out the window and watch them drift to the pavement. Or burn them in some kind of ceremonial purging. 

Instead, she collects each one and slides them into an envelope. She keeps the envelope in a drawer, beside the photo album.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Casual Fridays: Who wants bagels?

Hi guys. It's Britt. This weekend, my stepmom and little sister are visiting from Arizona and I'm all wrapped up in loving them, and have zero blogging time. So, today, here's what I got for ya: 

Have a poppy seed covered weekend, story-makers. See you back here on Monday. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

It is night in the Acadia Antiques shop and two cockroaches are playing aboard a model ship. 

"Ahoy, land lubbers. Name's Captain James Quick and this here's me first mate, Scab. We've sailed the nine seas, plundering and pillaging. None who've battled us lived to tell the...

What's that, Scab? There be only seven seas? Friends, pirates, forgive me first mate. He's been long into the rum. 

Legend has it... 

Scab, if you'd stop interrupting me. What's that? 

You've found a treasure? On this here ship? 

We'll, I'll be an oyster's lover, it's a golden nugget so big. Bigger than us, Scab. I've never--we're rich! 

Wait, Scab. Put down the treasure. You don't look so good. You've gone all pale. Now you're on your back and convulsing something rotten. Looks like you're in Davey's iron grip. No, Scab! Scab? 

I've lost me best mate to a mysterious sickness. I had to toss his body overboard, sent to his meetin' with Davey Jones. Now I'm all by me lonesome on these vicious waters. 

I won't touch the deadly golden nugget, though it calls to me like a mermaid's song. 

What'ya think, me hearties? What's say I take just a little? 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Maple Dip Mondays: Sherri and the Reunion

Click the link below for an audio version of this story!
It's been three days since the white envelope arrived in Sherri's mailbox. She hasn't eaten since then. She's pulled out her old exercise bike and put it to use, though every time Sherri finishes a workout, her dizziness gets worse. 

Dear Sherri Barr: 
Please join us in celebrating the St. Mary's High School Ten Year Reunion. Let's dance the night away and remember the good old days!

Don't high school reunions only happen in the movies? But on Tuesday the invitation was in her mailbox, a white envelope heavy as a stone.

When Sherri gets hungry, she pretends to eat air. She takes forkfuls of it and chews slowly. 

She lies down in the space between her dining room table and the wall. From here she can see a slice of blue sky with patches of slowly-drifting clouds. She notices a small spider in the corner of her ceiling. There aren't any bugs dotting the spider's web. The spider is on an air diet too. 

Sherri hears the voices from her past. Remembers every one of her old nicknames:

"Scary Sherri" 
"Sherri Shortcakes" 
"Butterball Barr"
or just simply, "fat Sherri."

Ten years have passed and the words still shoot holes through her.

Her spider looks hungry. She can feel its desperation. Sherri struggles to her feet, and pinpricks of light cloud her vision. Her head spins, and she has to hold on to the edge of the table to keep from falling.

On Sunday, Sherri's spider is dead. Its body is curled into a tight little ball, so small you wouldn't notice it if you didn't know it had been there. 

Monday, Sherri drags the exercise bike outside and leaves it by the curb.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Casual Fridays: Introducing Maple Dip Mondays!

Hi guys, it's Britt. Click on the link below for the latest scoop.

Have a sweet weekend, story-makers. See you back here on Monday. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Louise? It's Gertie calling. Listen, I know it's early, but there's something I have to tell you. Billy, my next-door neighbour has been abducted by aliens again. 

Just now when I went to let in Mr. Whiskers, I saw lying on the sidewalk, the sole of Billy's right shoe and the butt of one of his cigarettes. 

I really can't explain why those aliens didn't want to take the sole of Billy's right shoe. I suppose you never can tell about things like that. 

Like in Zimbabwe, with those women who don't wear anything to cover their chests and they just walk around with their knick-knacks out and hanging low.

All I'm saying is, there's no accounting for taste. 

I know what you're going to ask me, Louise. No, this isn't the first time Billy's been taken. 

Once, he woke up on a ship covered in blinking lights like the Las Vegas strip. These tall creatures with slanty eyes asked him all sorts of questions without speaking.

You read me, Louise? Their voices were inside his head.

The aliens wanted to know things like what does chicken taste like, and what is the purpose of foosball, which I don't understand myself, so it's a good thing it wasn't me on that spaceship! 

Billy answered as best he could, and then the next thing he knew, he woke up in his own bed. Like nothing happened. But this time--

What's that, Louise? Yes, I have been taking my medication. I don't know what that has to do with--

Listen, Louise I don't think I like your tone. I don't think I care for it one bit. 

Well that's rich. Billy is lost somewhere in the cosmos, but you just have yourself a good morning, Louise. Sorry to have disturbed you. 


Monday, November 28, 2011

Have you ever had a "hair splinter?" It's when a dog hair gets stuck under your skin. Like a regular splinter, but with hair instead of wood. 

Today, I've had four of them. A schnauzer and two collies have humped my leg. My head aches from these twinkling lights, and my hemorrhoids are flaring up from all this sitting with dogs on my lap.

Still, it's worth it, taking this job. I've been waiting all year for my revenge and it's almost time. I can see that blonde woman standing in line with that Jack Russell terrier in her arms. When her turn comes, she'll plop the little mutt in my lap.

They make me fill my pockets with dog treats. After each photo is taken, I feed the dog a biscuit and everyone says: "Santa's so good with animals." Today, I made a special cookie for that terrier. Chicken and Drain-o. Deck the Halls. 

It's all because of Tina, who worked at Chubby's Christmas Cupcakes in the food court. Last year, I used to go there on my breaks to see her. Tina had the most beautiful smile. Like a light turning on. One time she got a glob of green icing on her cheek and I felt dizzy from loving her so much. The day before Christmas, I finally got up the nerve to ask her for a date. 

We were both off at 5, so I was going to do it then. I had one more dog to go and it was that Jack Russell. His owner placed him on my lap. I was distracted, working out what I was going to say to Tina, and then I felt this warm wet rush on my groin and thighs. 

What woman in her right mind is going to go out with a middle-aged Santa covered in dog piss? I couldn't ask her.

The next day Chubby's was closed down for the season. This year they got a different girl frosting cupcakes.

And here's that same Jack Russell. They put him in my lap and I'm all smiles. "Have you been good this year?" I ask, which gets a chuckle out of the crowd. Once the photo's been taken, I reach into my pocket. "A little treat from Santa," I say, pulling out the cookie. 

But it's too late. I can already feel the warm stream seeping into my pants and running down my legs.

Trying something new, everyone! If you'd like to listen to an audio recording of this story, click below! And let me know how it goes for you. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

3  9  17  26  32  43

Whenever she takes an apple from the bowl, she peels off the sticker and attaches it to me. As the days pass, she's slowly covering me up.

First it was just the words on my front: Lotto 649, and then the barcode on my bottom. But now it's my numbers. 3 (covered), 9 (covered).

Tomorrow will be 17
then 26
next 32
and finally 43.

Her husband doesn't eat many apples. When he ventures near the fruit bowl, it's to sit on a nearby stool and discuss their troubles. Their troubles are mostly his troubles. "He's lost his sense of direction," he tells her, "and he feels like the best years of his life are spent. He wants to take a trip, get a new job. A haircut. Sometimes he thinks about being with other women." 

She plucks up an apple and takes a bite. Another sticker covers me while her husband's words fill up the kitchen. 

If I had words of my own, I would whisper something into her ear.

I'm a winning ticket.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Casual Wednesdays: A gang of turkeys

Hi guys. It's Britt. This week I'm doing "Casual Wednesdays," because I'm camped out at my sister's house waiting for her baby to arrive and I can't think of anything else, much less write a story. 

Aly's due date was yesterday, and although due dates are something of an approximation, we were pretty sure this little one was going to make an appearance.

No dice. Not even a little cramp, much less a contraction.

Although the waiting game is frustrating, we are having fun just being together as a family. So, in honor of families, I've decided to leave you with a list of some of my favorite collective nouns for groupings of animals. 

A battery of barracudas
A shrewdness of apes
A sleuth of bears 
A murder of crows
A wake of buzzards 
A flight of butterflies 
A poverty of pipers 
A bed of clams 
A rabble of gnats 
A quiver of cobras
A bevy of swans 
A weyr of dragons
A business of ferrets
A gaggle of geese 
A bloat of hippopotami
A stand of flamingos
A smack of jellyfish
A muster of peacocks
A knot of toads 
A mess of iguanas
A sneak of weasles
A gang of turkeys

Have a goofy day, story-makers. See you back here on Friday. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

When he was five years old, Brandon Pike realised he wanted to kill people. The urge arrived like a sudden storm, but it took him 28 years to be ready.

In school, his teachers said: "learn from those who came before you." Brandon took this advice very seriously.

He read about murderers, those killers who were caught, and those who were never found. He learned the difference between them. Brandon dissected numerous animals and made detailed drawings of their organs. Over time, he'd collected all the weapons he could possibly need.

Brandon also prepared his body, running every day and lifting weights until he was as lean and muscular as a jungle cat. It was time.

Charlotte O'Hansey pulled into the gas station just before midnight. She got out of her car, opened the hood and stared at the smoking insides. Damn thing was making that same sound again, and she'd just taken it in to be fixed.

"I'm going to give that mechanic a piece of my mind," Charlotte said, though that was a lie. She hated confrontation, and so she often paid too much, waited in lines, and never sent back a meal in a restaurant if it wasn't what she ordered.

Charlotte rifled through the emergency kit for a flashlight. Shoot. She'd used it a few weeks before when the furnace went, and never put it back. All she had left in the kit was a rope, a raincoat, and a box of flares.
It had been hard living alone this past year after she and Mike spilt up. Charlotte knew her parents worried about her. They'd finally convinced her to make the four hour drive to visit them for the weekend. And now this.

Charlotte slammed the hood of her car and noticed she'd somehow gotten a smear of grease on the front of her light cotton dress. "Great," she muttered, heading into the gas station. She bought a fountain Coke and a tube of Sweet Tarts. Then she noticed a man by the magazines, watching her. He was handsome and out of her league, but most definitely looking her way. 
In a parallel universe, Charlotte might've been bold. She might've sauntered up to this beautiful man, rested a hand on his muscly arm and asked him if he wouldn't mind giving her some help. But on this plane of existence, Charlotte merely blushed.

Outside, she climbed back into her car. The engine started easily and Charlotte decided to keep going and pray the car would make it.

She didn't notice the man from the gas station get into his car and pull out behind her. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Casual Fridays: Who needs the fashion police?

Hi guys, it's Britt. 
So as I mentioned last Friday, I've been obsessing over buying a winter jacket. When I was at Value Village recently, I found a truly amazing wool blanket coat that I fell madly in love with. It's got reindeer on the pockets!! 

The problem is, the coat is a little on the big side. Still, my deep love for it led me to proclaim: "I'm just going to decide to be someone who wears a too-big coat." 

Sometimes when I see someone wearing a particularly wacky outfit, I like to think about them in front of the mirror before they left the house saying: "I am just going to be someone who wears tear-away pants," or a Hawaiian print shirt, or a trench coat, or dangly earrings shaped like cats, or Schnauzer socks. (I love you, Jaime!)  

It's pretty wonderful and awesome to get to wear whatever we darn well please. I think different wardrobe choices make life more interesting. 

Imagine if the world were a big Catholic school and we all had to dress in uniform. How dull would that be?

So when I'm out there this winter in my too-big coat, I'll be scoping for the folks in the reindeer sweaters, the leopard print ear muffs, the velvet pants.  

And I'll be grateful for what they bring to this world.

Be yourself this weekend, story-makers. See you back here on Monday.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

She was the best, brightest thing to happen to Adam in a long time. He lived for the moment she'd come in to the Happy Market. 11:18 every night. Right after she finished her shift waitressing at the diner next door. 

She'd always get cheese Doritos and munch them while she waited in line. Sometimes she'd buy a bag of fertilizer and laugh as he rung her through. "A little snack for me, and one for my flowers," she'd say.

She loved her flowers. "There's something special about watching things grow." Adam didn't know her name, and so he called her 11:18. 

Then one night, she told him she was sick. She'd said it to explain why she fumbled counting her money. 

"Gosh, I'm sorry. It's the chemo. It's making my brain fuzzy." 

When 11:18 had gone, Adam escaped outside for a break. He hid behind the dumpster and cried. He felt like his heart was breaking. She'd lit up his life like a sudden unbelievable sunrise he'd never see again. 

Sometimes she still came in to the Happy Market for the chips, but she stopped buying the fertilizer. 

"What about your flowers?" Adam asked. 

"Don't have energy these days for flowers," she said, shaking her head sadly. 

That night, he followed 11:18 home. He stood outside her house. Her back patio was covered in planters filled with brown, crusty plants. Adam didn't know how to grow her flowers back. But there was something else he could do. 

The next night, he planted plastic windmills in the soil. He hoped that in the morning, she would look out the window and see the bright spinning colors and feel better, even for a little while.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Salt kills slugs. It says so in Better Homes and Gardens, and when Russ read that, he thought: "I will have a Better Garden when those devils aren't devouring my cabbage."

And so, without bothering to to either finish reading the article, or consult his wife, Lynn, who would most certainly object, Russ plucked the green and brown salt shaker from the kitchen table and went outside to reckon with the beasts. 

He hunkered down in his garden and waited. Russ got hungry waiting (he hadn't eaten breakfast), and so he munched on some kale and took in the beauty of the morning. It was a lovely one. The kind of morning where it was almost possible to believe you were a man who ruled his own fate. 

Then Russ looked down, and there beside the toe of his right boot, sitting on top of a purple cabbage leaf, was a slug. Russ raised the salt shaker and was prepared to sprinkle damnation, when something inside him hesitated. 

It wasn't really the slug's fault, was it? The slug could no more change its "slug-iness," than Russ could become a different man. And most days he knew Lynn wanted him to be a different man. Tidier. More Handsome. Less Impulsive. Better in Bed. She never hesitated to tell him what he ought to be. Russ lowered the salt shaker. 

After that, he didn't much care about the state of his cabbages. And every morning before breakfast, he'd return to his garden to visit his new friends. 

He didn't mention it to Lynn.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Casual Fridays: Those squirrels are nuts!!

Hi guys, it's Britt. Have you seen what's happening to the squirrels? It's that time of year when they become even more, um...squirrelly.

 They're racing around, clinging to tree trunks, hanging upside down like little furry ninjas.
Of course, the squirrels are getting ready for the cold weather ahead and preparing themselves for the scarcity of food.

What about you? What strange things do you do at this time of year? I've been obsessively shopping for a winter coat. Like, obsessively. I also can't seem to get enough wool socks and I'm filling my freezer with soup like the apocalypse is coming.

How do you start acting a little squirrelly when winter is on its way? Don't be afraid to share your comments here!

Might I introduce you to a special squirrel? He's from the mind and pen of artist, Ryan Berkley. (click here to say hello.) I adore everything Ryan does, and dream of owning tons of his work someday soon.

Gather some nuts this weekend, story makers. See you back here on Monday. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

That monkey is taking liberties, I tell you. He's got no respect. We're in this burlap bag together for not even ten minutes and his paws are already wandering south. 

Maybe he can't help it. It is a tight fit in here. You think I'm being too sensitive? True, I am feeling out of sorts.

It's just that I gave that human boy the best years of my life and once I got a little long in the tooth, it's "bye-bye, Panda." Out to the curb. Out to the curb with a flag, a purple creature who is, let's be honest, a bit of an idiot, and a no-good monkey.

What's going to happen to me in my old age? I've never been concerned with that before. Sure, I've coasted by on my looks. What young stuffed animal hasn't?

But now it's a future collecting dust at the Goodwill for me, or (gasp) used as a dog toy.

Wait, here comes a lady. Oh, she looks nice. She's smiling at us and it's a warm smile, a "I want to put you on my shelf and not feed you to my dog," kind of smile. 

Looks like I've still got a bit of that ol' Panda magic left in me. Ho! ho!

Wait. She's taken the monkey and is walking away. No! I'm the one you want. I'm the one. 

Now it's just me and the purple guy. "You come here often?" he asks me.


Monday, November 7, 2011

You Will Need:
1 1/3 Cups Water 
1/2 Cup Vegetable Oil 
3 Large Eggs

After school, Randy buys Devil's Food cake mix at the Price Chopper. At home he stares at the oven. He's never baked anything before. And so he moves slowly, carefully following the directions on the back of the box.

1. PREHEAT oven to 350 F for metal or glass pans, 325 F for dark or coated pans. GREASE sides and bottom of each pan with shortening. FLOUR lightly.

Randy's hand covered in butter slides along the bottom of the baking pan. He thinks of Dara, imagines her eyes widening in surprise at the sight of this cake. He sees her smiling, and hears her say: "Randy, it's so beautiful."  

2. BLEND dry mix, water, oil, and eggs in a large bowl at low speed until moistened (about 30 seconds). BEAT at medium speed for 2 minutes. POUR batter in pans and bake immediately. 

When the cake is in the oven, Randy sits cross-legged on the kitchen floor. Through the small window in the oven door, he watches. He can feel the warmth radiating from the oven and thinks of Dara's body.

3. BAKE following chart on box. Cake is done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. COOL in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.

Randy takes out a tub of chocolate frosting and begins to ice the cake. He makes sure to apply the icing evenly on all sides.

It's 5 o'clock and Randy's Mom will be home soon. He doesn't have much time. He removes a fork from the silverware drawer and lifts a forkful of cake to his mouth. 

The cake is warm, the frosting slightly melted and sweet on his tongue. Randy closes his eyes, savoring it. He eats another forkful. Then another. Randy finishes Dara's cake and washes the pan before his Mom gets home. 

When you bake a cake, it's a special treat for the special people in your life. You care enough to take the time to bake a cake, so make it the most delicious cake you can.

Randy sees Dara every day in the halls at school. He hopes that someday he will be brave enough to talk to her.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Casual Fridays: Our lives are important

Hi guys, it's me again. I just read something that I want to share. 
It's from Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. Sometimes when I'm working on a story, I pick it up Natalie's book, read an excerpt, and keep going. She inspires me.
I think I'm going to copy this down and put it over my desk.

"Our lives are at once ordinary and mythical. 
We live and die, age beautifully or full of wrinkles. 
We wake in the morning, buy yellow cheese, and hope we have enough money to pay for it. 
At the same instant we have these magnificent hearts that pump through all sorrow and all winters we are alive on earth. 
We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded."  

Feel how beautiful your life is this weekend, story-makers. No matter how ordinary it might seem at moments, your life is yours, and it matters.
See you back here on Monday. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

There are a lot of things people don't know about sewers. And Andrew Moses is going to show them. 

Starting with his Mom. He's just picked her up at the airport for her yearly visit. When he helps her into the car, she wrinkles her nose and says: "gracious Andrew. What's that smell?"

Mid-afternoon downtown traffic is bad. The car inches forward.
"Have you decided where you're taking me for dinner tonight?" she asks him.
"Uh. Not yet," he says, and she clucks her tongue in disapproval. 

Andrew can't think of much right now, because they're getting closer to his storm sewer. He's on the maintenance department for Public Works. On his latest survey, Andrew discovered this sewer was badly clogged and in need of replacement.

He ordered the parts and helped to install it. He was so proud of what he'd done, he poured a bottle of water onto the pavement, just to watch gravity take it smoothly over the fresh grates. 

And now he wants his Mom to see it. He needs her to see it. Yesterday, he got a can of white paint and sprayed: NEW in front of it, so they'd know from the car which sewer was his. 

"It's awfully cold here," Andrew's mother says. "Is it always so frigid?"
"It's Canada, Mom."
Four years ago, she moved down south to a place called: Casa Grande, which Andrew has never seen, but imagines has a lot of horses and folks with guns.

"My poor bones are aching already" she says, fiddling with the heater. 
"The heater doesn't work," Andrew says, and then realizing how close they are to his sewer: "Mom, there's something I want to show you." 
Her head is bent, face close to the dials so she can read the buttons, "Work doggonit," she says, smacking the vent with her palm.

She'd wanted him to be a lawyer or a dentist. Something where he'd have to wear a clean coat.

"Mom, forget the heat. There's something important..."

Someone behind them leans on the horn telling Andrew to move. Another car joins in, and soon there is a chorus of honking all around them.

It's not until they've driven past his sewer, that Andrew's Mom finally lifts her head. "You need to get that heater fixed," she says. 

Andrew says nothing.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Diane is smoking a Players Light and waiting for the bus. Her feet are killing her in those heels. She wants to take them off, but doesn't because she's scared of the dirty pavement. Spit pools. Wads of gum. Or worse. Syringes, broken glass, Anthrax disease.

Diane pulls on the cigarette and inhales deeply. She feels her body relax. 
She'd told Grant, her date that she didn't smoke. She also told him she wasn't really hungry, and only picked at her dinner. At the end of the meal, her food looked gnawed on by vermin.

When she gets home, Diane will heat up a Michelina's frozen entree and eat in front of the computer. She'll log onto Match4U and see if anyone's messaged her. There are a lot of singles out there. Plenty of fish in the sea. But some are sharks and some are sardines.

These days, Diane feels like giving up. She wants to stop going on dates, stuffing herself into tight shirts, jacking up her breasts with a push-up bra and applying her: "Kiss me Coral" long-lasting lipshine. 

The bus is late. Diane shifts her weight from one foot to the next, considers removing her shoes again and lights another cigarette. 

Then she notices, among the dead leaves and bits of plastic and trash at her feet, a rose. And it's huge and absolutely bursting, the reddest rose she's ever seen. 

A song comes into her head: "Dance me to the End of Love." 

And Diane starts humming and even though her feet are about to fall off, she begins to sway. 

"Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin. Dance me through the panic till I'm gathered safely in"

She performs a turn and feels her skirt spin out around her legs. The burning cigarette arcs with her arm, its tip turned into a flare.

"Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove"

Diane's out of breath now, but she keeps dancing.

Click here and sing along with Diane. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Casual Fridays: Love is alive and well.

Hi guys, it's Britt. 
Love is alive and well on the streets of this city. Doesn't it feel good to be reminded of that? Especially when things get, um...tough.

 Thanks to, artist, Gregory Allan Elliott, who I suspect is responsible for some of this "love graffiti." Read my previous post about him here.

Have an amorous weekend, story-makers.
See you back here on Monday.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Alex is pacing in front of Pacos Tacos. The people inside are staring at her. One of the cooks just rapped on the glass and told her to move on. 

But she won't leave. In this moment, Alex wants a bean and cheese burrito more than she's ever wanted anything in her whole life. She tried to buy one earlier, but they took one look at her pregnant belly and sent her packing. 

Alex isn't sure what exactly is in the burrito that she's not allowed to have. She considers telling them it's for her husband, Peter, but knows they'd call her bluff.

Her back is starting to ache and she's out of breath from circling back and forth on the pavement. She lowers herself onto the curb. 

Then a teenage boy approaches and Alex flashes him her most winning smile. 

"Hi there," she says, fishing a twenty from her purse, "can you help me out?" 

The kid eyes her uneasily. He lifts his ball-cap from his head, looks inside as if there's an answer in there, and then re-plants it on his head. He takes her money. 

"Combo three," Alex hisses, "with extra hot sauce." 

The kid reappears a few minutes later, thrusts the paper bag into her hands and hurries away.

Alex ducks into the alley beside Pacos and hunkers down onto a flattened cardboard box. First, she sniffs the outside of the bag, inhaling the aroma of chili peppers and hot cheese. Saliva rushes into her mouth and she wants to tear the bag with her teeth, like a lioness on the serengetti, ripping open the stomach of a downed zebra.

Next, she takes out the little containers of hot sauce and lines them up on the cardboard. Three red sauces and four green ones. The perfect amount to set her tongue tingling. 

Then, Alex lifts the waxed-paper covered burrito from the bag and feels the weight of it in her hands. When she unwraps it, she wants to cry because it's so beautiful and perfect.

Of course, Alex can't eat any of it. She knows this is as far as it goes. Her heart is racing as she returns the burrito to its wrapper and then back into the paper bag. She'll toss everything in the trash before she gets into the car.

And she'll be back again tomorrow. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Danny was King of the Lanes. The other bowlers called him "King," and when they asked him questions, it was: "King, what's the score?" or "How's my form today, King?" 

He didn't look like a bowler. He had tattoos running up both arms and long black hair streaked with grey. He was six feet, three inches tall and two-hundred and forty seven pounds. But when King stepped onto the lane and sent that ball rolling, he was a ballerina in bowling shoes.

Today is the final game of the regional championships and King is nervous. His team, the Silver Bullets are down by twenty pins.

Beside them, the the Holy Rollers are already victorious. Their captain, Zeus tips his bottle of beer in King's direction and grins. King cringes at the thought of that weasel and his gutter gang taking home the trophy. 

It's the last roll and King and Zeus are up. 

Zeus is now leading by only eight pins. King just needs a strike to win the match. He lifts his ball from the rack and strides forward. 

At that moment, one of the Holy Rollers yells: "Hey Danny, don't choke." Laughter follows, and during this laughter, Zeus removes a small bottle from his pocket and squirts baby oil onto the lane in front of King.

No one sees it happen. But everyone in the bowling alley witnesses what comes next. King slips in the puddle of oil and comes down hard, all two hundred and forty seven pounds of him. His nose smashes into his bowling ball. Pain shoots through his skull and blood gushes from his nostrils. He can barely see, but he struggles to his feet. 

Through the blood and spittle and tears, the King bowls. 

His arm swoops like the wing of an angel. The ball is released at precisely the right moment and sails down the lane like judgment day. The pins don't so much fall as scatter. 

Shouts rise up all around him. Someone clasps him by the shoulders. Another person kisses his cheek. The Silver Bullets have won the championship.

They don't call him the King for nothing.