The muddied uniformed woman walked into my kitchen, a steel cup of congealed redness in her hand. She tried to pour it into the sink.

I shook my head.

She sat on the floor, resting her head against my right thigh; darkened blood, flowing from her left ear, seeped through blue denim to chill my skin.

I rubbed my arms.

“Cold?” my fiancé said, frowning at me from across the table.

I glanced down at the woman.

Setting his fork down, he walked by her to stand behind me. “I’ll give you privacy.” He kissed my forehead, nose, lips… and spoke a soft “I love you” into my mouth.

“I need to clean up,” I said, after my fiancé left the room.

“Sorry,” the woman said.

“No need to be sorry.” I headed towards the bathroom.

I pulled my t-shirt over my head, and walked into the shower with my bra and jeans on.

Through the semitransparent shower curtain, I watched the woman sit cross-legged in front of my tub; her eyes fixed on the contents of her cup.

Once all the red had washed out, I struggled out of the wet clothes and wrapped myself in a towel.

The woman was trying to empty her cup in the toilet bowl. “Please,” she said, her marred hand extending the cup my way.

“You need that,” I told her.

“No,” she shouted, standing up and rushing through the door.

Hours later, the sound of steel landing hard on wood startled me awake. I smelled the woman. Keep your eyes shut. Think her away. But that never worked. I opened my eyes slowly, and rays of moonlight trickled through the bedroom window to outline the woman’s eyes—full of tears, blood and dirt, and just inches from my face.

I screamed.

My fiancé jumped out of bed. He knew not to touch me when I was like that. He called my name, from three feet away. “Look at me,” he said. “See me. I’m with you.”

“I see you. I’m okay.” My heart pumping wildly, my eyes averted from the woman and her silvery cup of blackened blood on my nightstand.

“You scare me sometimes,” he said, lying next to me.

“I scare me all the time.” I managed a grin.

“It’s frightening when I call your name, and your eyes are listening to things thousands of miles away. What if you stopped seeing me? Or… stopped loving me enough to want to see me at all?”

“I love you everywhere,” I said, “all the time.”

“Why?” He asked infinite questions with that word.

Wondering if he truly didn’t know, I said, “Because you ground me. You help me hold myself together. You know how to kiss my screams into song and fuel the bright that balances my dark. You remind me how amazing it is to be me. I’ll never stop loving that.”

He pressed his face between my breasts, and breathed.

I held him; and watched my eyes watch me, from a clean face, a torch overflowing with light in my healed hands.

Inspired by “Always”, winner of From Blackout Poem Bit to Flash Fiction or Full-Length Poetry, 2; because there was a tie between poetry and fiction, I let Shelle’s comment make the final choice, and went with fiction. She suggests “‘Always’ is so perfect as a stand alone [poem], delicious word food already, without needing the extra aioli…”.

a wee note on tardiness and stuff:
I’m a day late… and 200 words over my self-set limit of 313 words or fewer. The first was unintentional; I had an appointment that left me exhausted, and ended up taking a nap that lasted about 5 hours too many. The second bit was the cup’s fault… I’m not exactly sure where the cup came from… But once it got into the tale, it wouldn’t go away without morphing into something it liked—you know cups, my Luvs, stubborn like bloody mules.

Antique Always (Snape)
“Always” (quote from Snape, in Harry Potter) Antique Style Bronze Ring


When Life Squeezes Flesh and Bone, I Do Like a River… and Flow

When a person who has never been ill is diagnosed with a life changing disease, the first days after the diagnosis can be hell… particularly when the person in question is young.

The grandmother of an old friend of mine emailed me to say her grandchild had been diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma. The cancer has spread, and the recommended surgery will cause serious damage to one of her lower limbs and immune system. She is only 34. The changes to come will be even tougher on her because she has been a performer since she was a preteen. She won’t be able to do her job anymore. Some of the people in her circle have started to distance themselves from her.

She called me yesterday afternoon. I could hear tears in her voice. I let her talk about her latest doctor’s visit… gave her time to cry… waited until she asked specific questions… She made many inquiries, but in truth her last question was the one that really mattered. She wanted to know, “How will I continue to be myself when this shit is taking away all the things that make me who I am?”

“This might sound somewhat silly,” I said, “even a bit patronizing. But we aren’t what we do for a living; we are much more than that. Time will show you different ways to keep on being yourself, or to evolve into a different self that you can be proud of.” She didn’t say anything, just sobbed quietly. So I kept on going, trying to soothe. I told her about the sadness I felt when my shoulder, hip and back worsened and I could no longer do the job I loved. “But I found different things to do. You have so many great people in your life,” I said. When her sobs got louder, I stopped talking.

“He told me he needed time,” she said after a while. “He won’t call. And when I call, he lets it go to voicemail.”

I didn’t ask who he was. I knew she had been living with the same guy, on and off, for a few years. To be honest, I wanted to be a coward and just talk about something else. But I went for it. “You know, I’ve had to walk away from a lot of people over the years. Not just because of living with chronic illnesses, but because our interests have changed. Also, because I kind of had to accept that I don’t have enough energy to shoulder my pain and their anxiety. Sometimes you just have to let them go and move on. It might not be as—”

“That might be easy for you,” she said, “but not everybody can be as cold as you are.”

Her harshness took me by surprise, but I just kept on talking. “Sometimes, you’ll feel the need to lash out at people close to you. Those who care about you—and who have experienced similar situations—might even let you abuse them for a while. But the moment the mistreatment becomes too much for them to bear, they might walk away. One of the most difficult side effects of being severely ill is not physical. Even though it hurts, you’ll have to find a way to let go of those relationships that are impossible to maintain, and hold on to those willing to walk through the shit with you.”

The conversation ended shortly after that. She was no longer crying, and I could almost hear her brain-housing group processing what we had just discussed. I’m not sure how she’ll proceed from now on, but I emailed her when I woke up this morning; told her that I’m here for her… She replied with a picture of a huge black and red heart, cradling a wee pink glittery heart with stitches on it. The message made me smile. I replied with a painting of a girl flying with a giant crow, and wrote, “If your legs ever grow too weak, those who love you will be there to help you fly.” I’m hoping this wee bit of truth makes her grin a little.

Girl with Crow“Crow Girl”, by SunshineShelle