Words by Britt

"While I'm writing, I'm far away; and when I come back, I've gone." Pablo Nerudo

Above the Mark: Part I

Sophomore year in high school there was this teacher, Mr. Martello who taught American literature. He had this energy about him when reading Emily Dickenson or something jarring from Edgar Allen Poe; his eyes would brighten and he’d sway his hands as if conducting an orchestra. He taught me about Emerson’s lead in the transcendentalist movement and Thoreau’s adventures living at Walden Pond. He once handed out a picture of 35-year-old Walt Whitman standing in a field of grass wearing a black-top hat with a hand on his hip. He then spent the entire hour sharing stories about the war and how Whitman sought out hospitals in D.C to help the wounded. And how Whitman was one of the firsts to change the style of poetry, breaking away from traditional formats; no rhyme or meter. Like a man soaring through the sky and flying as if he were a gust of wind, Whitman wrote freely!

I was fascinated with Mr. Martello. Not in a romantic kind of way, but in a way in which I wanted to learn as much as I possibly could from him. Pick his brain and all that.

It was clear, Mr. Martello was cautious about me approaching him every day after class. At first, he always made sure to stand on the opposite side of the desk. He wouldn’t maintain eye contact for too long. And sometimes, he quickly packed his briefcase to shorten our discussion, suggesting he had somewhere else to be.

But as I kept approaching, asking questions about Ezra Pound and imagism and Sylvia Plath’s role in confessional poetry, Mr. Martello eased up, realizing my intentions were strictly platonic and geared only towards learning.

*

My mother, some would say was sweet and kind and caring, but I knew the real her, and trust me, she was no saint. She was evil. Criminal-like even.

Growing up as the youngest girl of three older brothers was like being raised in a hermitage. While my brothers played football and hockey and were allowed to do whatever they pleased, other than school, I had little contact with the outside world.

After dinner and on weekends, my brothers watched TV or played video games, while my mother made me clean the bathrooms, vacuum the bedrooms, and pick all the weeds out of her garden. She made me set and clear the table and do the dishes every night. She made me make mine and my brothers beds each morning. She only let me watch an hour of TV before having to go to sleep. She let me read, but first she had to make sure what I read was appropriate by her standards. I often daydreamed about my favorite passages from The Bell Jar, The House on Mango Street, and A Farewell to Arms, while being forced to read the slim religious pamphlets and hymnals my mother forced upon me.

It felt like my mother had fastened a tourniquet on my imagination. And after
she refused to let me go to junior prom with Matt Alvey, the leader of the French club who spoke the language beautifully, almost poetically, I had had enough of her. She must be stopped. And since my father never stood up for me, and my brothers barley acknowledged my existence, it was up to me to figure out a way to end this monstrosity so that like Whitman, I too could be wild, carefree and dive head first into the breeze.

It was a Friday after school in June. While all the other girls in my class were at the hair salon getting ready for the dance, and Matt Alvey, who I was sure at the moment was retrieving Becky Silverman’s corsage from The Flower Pot on main street, I pretended to do homework at the kitchen table.

I glanced over and smiled at my mother while she chopped vegetables and boiled water, preparing dinner. All while coming up with different ways to enact my revenge.

An entire page of my history notebook was dedicated to the things my mother loved. She loved church and all her stupid friends. She loved gardening, all the colorful flowers circling our house. She loved lighting candles, especially the vanilla-smelling ones. She loved styling her hair and bought expensive products she’d never let me use.

The question was this: What did she love so much that it would devastate her if I took it away?

It was just her and I alone in the house that night. Dad was having dinner with my Uncle. Who knew where my brothers were. My mother was upstairs doing God knows what. And I was eating a chunk of cheddar at the table when it came to me:

Poison!

There was a half-bottle of bleach in the laundry room left over from washing my brother’s sheets last night. Before I could give it a second thought, I dropped the cheese on my plate and ran to retrieve it. Pulling the cabinet doors open, I immediately found the bottle. I read the warning label: Caution – do not drink. If ingested, seek medical attention immediately.

What if I slipped just a little into my mother’s tea? Just a little bit every day. For weeks. Maybe months. What if I didn’t contact any medical help? People die all the time and sometimes no one knows the reason.

I ran into the kitchen with the bleach tucked under my shirt.
“Mom,” I yelled from the bottom of the stairs. “I’m making tea. Do you want some?”         
“Sure. I’ll be down in a few.”

My heart began to beat through my chest loud enough for me to hear it. Grabbing the teapot off the stove, I filled it with water, then placed it over the flame. Reaching into the cabinet, I took out a green mug. I poured some bleach into it, tapping my foot in a frenzy while waiting for the water to boil. Suddenly, I heard the thump of Mom’s feet making their way down the stairs.

I couldn’t do it.
I thought of Esther from The Bell Jar. I kept seeing the image of her body floating atop the water. Her perpetual desire to end her life. I had barely begun mine. I wasn’t ready for it to be over.

As fast as I could with shaky hands, I took the mug and dumped the bleach into the drain. I rinsed the glass with hot water, then filled it with soap, and then rinsed it with hot water over and over again.

By the time my mother made her way into the kitchen, the green mug had been placed in the dishwasher along with the other dirty dishes that needed to be washed.

“Steph,” she said. “What’s wrong? Why are you sweating?”
I turned to her. “I feel sick.”
“Go lay down on the couch,” she said. “Geez, you’re such a burden.”

Above the Mark: Part II

          Today in class Mr. Martello told us all about Margaret Fuller. How she was born in Massachusetts in 1810 to a lawyer/politician father, who’d been disappointed she had not been born a boy. Yet instead of sending Margaret into the kitchen to cook with her mother, or out in the yard to beat-out the rugs, wash clothes and clean glass lanterns; Timothy raised his daughter in his den, homeschooling and educating her with a laborious course study.
          At three-in-a-half-years-old Margaret was reading and writing. At four, she knew arithmetic. Before she reached five, she knew English and Latin grammar. Timothy brought his daughter up to read all sorts of books from ancient history, political philosophy, travel, biographies, novels, all the great European authors and playwrights, and so on.
          He had told Margaret, “To excel in all things should be your constant aim. Mediocrity is obscurity.”
          At age ten, Margaret was learning French. At eleven, she was studying Italian and attending dance school with an exhilarating sense of how alive she really was.

          In the forty years of her short-lived life, Margaret Fuller excelled as an author, editor, journalist, literary critic, educator, advocate to the Transcendentalists, social reporter, women’s rights activist, and political revolutionist.

          *

          It was Friday night and I was stuck home with a list of chores my mother left for me to tend to. Meanwhile my brothers were binge-drinking at the pep-rally for their big game tomorrow. And my parents were out to dinner with their church friends like they were every third Friday of the month.
          I was sitting at the table with my laptop, filling out college applications. My top three choices were: Berkeley, Stanford and Harvard – all three having a concentration in American Literature after 1865. I knew I was ahead of the game, only being in the tenth grade, but I didn’t see the harm in starting the process early. I had the grades to get into any college I wanted. At least that’s what Miss Sherman, my guidance counselor had told me.
          My parents, on the other hand, said they expected me to stay home after graduating high school. Unlike my brothers who were going to North Eastern – all three of them. My parents wanted me to attend community college, get an associate’s degree, then meet a nice guy and marry him. I balled my eyes out right then and there. I told them I wanted to go away to school. They told me, if I left, I’d be on my own. They would offer me no financial help for tuition, or for a place to live.
          But I had a plan. And other than that, Miss Sherman said she’d help too. She was really ticked-off when I told her my parents intended to marry me off at twenty. She’d said, in this day and age? That’s ludicrous. Then her and I sat at the computer and began researching all the different types of grants I could apply for. She said I could probably get a scholarship.
          I glanced at the clock on the microwave: 7:30. I expected my parents’ home after nine. That gave me plenty of time. I slapped my laptop shut and made my way up the stairs to their bedroom. First thing I did was flip the top of their mattress over. I was hoping to find the thick envelope full of cash I’d been skimming off-the-top over the past several months. But this time, when I flipped the mattress over, there was no envelope.          
          The mattress plopped down against the bed. Where could the money be? I began poking around their dressers, looking under piles of folded clothes, rummaging through their sock drawers, their underwear drawers. I still couldn’t find anything.
          I opened the wooden chest below the window. It was full of stacks of photo albums and some clothes. A pair of cut-off jeans with a red heart stitched on the side and the name Nellie sewn in the middle was folded on top of one particular photo album. I reached in, pulling out both the album and shorts.
          I knew Nellie was the sister my mother had lost years ago. I pulled off my jeans, slipped the shorts on to see if they fit. They were a little loose around the waist, but I kept them on anyway. I sat beside the chest and opened the photo album, which was full of pictures of my Aunt Nellie. Her and my mother looked an awful lot like twins. I had to look real close to make sure I could tell them apart.
          Aunt Nellie also looked like a ton of fun. A whole page was full of pictures of her and my mother in flashy scarves, puckering and posing like models into the camera. I peeled a picture off the page to get a closer look. Was this really my mother? I’d never seen her smile that way before. Her lips were red, her eyes wide open, her grin stretched ear to ear. I wondered if she’d be a different mother, a better one if my Aunt Nellie were still alive.
          I continued flipping through the pages, stopping when I got to Grandma Ethel. It was way before the lung cancer caught up to her, and she still had a head full of salt-and-pepper hair. In the picture, she was sitting at the kitchen table with a cigarette in her hand, her face scrunched into a sourpuss. She looked like a real bitch. That’s probably where my mother gets it.
          I smacked the album shut and stood to change back into my own jeans. No sooner had I slid them up my legs, I noticed another picture face down on the floor. I leaned over and picked it up. It was a photo of the six of us at the shore. I’d forgotten all about the times my family and I had spent at the beach; we rented a house there every summer. The picture was of us sitting together on a picnic table, barbecuing outside by the water. I’d been sitting on my father’s lap, eating a piece of corn. My brothers sat beside my mother. I remembered being so annoyed with her that day; my brothers being ten-years-old and still, my mother cut their chicken into tiny squares for them to eat. Not much has changed, I thought, as I tossed the photo onto the floor.
          I kicked the chest with my foot, threw myself onto the bed, and screamed into a pillow. I sat up and threw the pillow at the dresser. I jumped off of the bed and ran over to it when I spotted my mother’s jewelry box. If my parents wanted to be sneaky and hide their money from me, I’d just take something else.
          Inside the box I found a row of rings. Slipping one on each of my fingers, I held my hands out in front of me to see which one I liked the most. The silver one with the coral-pink background. The white face of the woman in the foreground. If I remembered correctly, it was the ring Grandma Ethel had given my mother in the hospital before she died. My mother used to wear this ring all the time. She slept with it on, even showered with it. Then one day, out of nowhere, it was no longer on her finger. I thought she might have lost it.
          Well, here it is. And it’s mine now. My mother would be devastated when she couldn’t find it.
          Tomorrow after the game, I’ll have one of my pathetic brothers drop me off in town. I’ll have to pretend to be getting a manicure or something, but then, once he drives away, I’ll switch directions and walk straight to the pawnshop.

Featured artist at variety showcase

From Sunday March 5th – March 30th my poem “It’s written on the back of my hand” is exhibited at the Luman Winter Gallery at the New Rochelle Library.

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Honey

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-1-27-03-pmIf you are into edgy characters with a dark past looking for a bit of justice, click on the link below to read my latest short story Honey. Published today by Honeysuckle Magazine.

http://honeysucklemag.com/honey/

 

 

Coma

          I hear you. The words are blurred, sentences broken, but I’m still able to put the tattered sounds together.
          At lunch you read me my favorite novel. I know by the names of the characters: Barkley, Henry. I feel the warmth of your hand on mine when you get to the part where the two escape on a boat to Switzerland in the middle of the night. I can tell by the swift change in your voice, and tight clench of your hand, that the part where they almost get caught is near. Gently, you brush your fingers against my arm when they make it to safety, able to start their lives together. But you end it there. I hear the clap of the book fold. You never read all the way to the end.
          You grab my hands between yours and tell me that when I wake up, you and I will start our lives together. You say we’ll have our own adventures.
I respond, telling you we’ll be going home soon. Not to worry, everything will be like it once was. You never hear me. No matter how loud I scream – you never hear me. I feel your tears roll onto my face, down my cheeks, and into my mouth. I taste the salt from your body, and wonder if I’ll ever taste anything more of you ever again.
          At night you sing to me. You rest your head beside mine singing the lyrics of Bobby McGee softly into my ear, telling me ‘you’d trade all of your tomorrows for one single yesterday’. We sing the chorus together, like we always do. You kiss my forehead; brushing your fingers through my hair, putting me to sleep, like you’ve done every night since we’ve been together.
 

***

 
          The other night I dreamt you thought I was dead. You placed me in a dark wooden coffin and lowered me into the ground. I shouted, trying to get your attention.  Trying to tell you I wasn’t dead. “I’m ready to go home,” I said, begging you to get me out of there, banging my fists against the inside of the cold, dark casket. But you still couldn’t hear me and continued lowering me into the pit of the earth.
          I could hear people crying, mourning over me.  “I’m not dead,” I repeated, hollering until my voice cracked.
          I heard you speak about the time we drove out west. How you found my collecting a magnet from each town we visited irritating. But how now those magnets hold proof to my existence and our time together, and how you are sorry, so sorry for ever being irritated in the first place.
          I howled, my throat raw, telling you everything’s okay, that I’m nowhere near dead.
          And then all I heard were the thumps of dirt piling up on top of me, and still I kept screaming for you, until finally, I heard nothing.

Meet Fannie

 

Fannie holds a BA in bagpiping from Carnegie University where she currently teaches bagpipes to a selective group of teenage rebels in the basement of her mother’s house in hopes to keep girl’s safe from a man named Drexel, who wanders the street in a fur coat and a gold staff in hand. (Although Drexel comes off as a hard-ass, looking to add names to his roster, he’s really just a professional procrastinator who hates high-pitched sounds, and wears glasses when no one’s looking). Outside of teaching, Fannie takes a night class on competitive dog grooming, eager to win the 30,000 cash prize this summer. She believes this year, she may actually have a chance now that Brutus, her brown and white Schnoodle, no longer chases his tail. Fannie’s other interests include eating chocolate between breakfast, lunch and dinner, messing around with Drexel (even though poser-whore-mongers are not her thing), and marching in protests against caging animals, shark extinction and everything Donald Trump. A broken leg survivor, Fannie lives vicariously through Brutus, who naps, rolls around on his belly, and barks at the food he wants brought to him.

Fannie maintains a blog at kissmyfannie.wordpress.com.

Instagram @Fanniefresh.

 

Survey (at local café): Analyst pays random woman $100 to answer questions for human research study.  

“What was your first thought this morning,” he asks.

“You mean when I woke up? Coffee. It’s always coffee.”

“No, no, no,” he shakes his head. “What’s your greatest strength and weakness?”

“What does that have to do with my first thought?”

“It doesn’t. Different question. Just answer it.”

“Every weakness has a strength and vice versa.”

“Your avoiding the question.”

“The answer’s rhetorical.”

He puffs out a breath. “Would you rather be ugly and live forever? Or attractive and die in ten years?”

“Are you serious? What the hell kind of–”

“Just answer.”

“Be ugly and live forever.”

“If you could be any age for a week, what age would that be?”

“Why one week?”

“I don’t know,” he flips through the pages. “It’s part of the study.”

“Choosing one specific age for one week has no impact on anyone who can already vote and drink. Stupid question. Pass.”

“You can’t pass.”

“I just did.”

“What quality in people do you find the most annoying?”

“Entitlement.”

“Give me an example.”

“Someone who drives a BMW or Benz thinks they have the right to take up two parking spaces.”

“Anything else?”

“Someone in a major rush behind the wheel cuts me off and I have to slam on my breaks just so I don’t crash into them, or someone else. As if they think their life’s more important than mine. It’s infuriating.”

“I know the feeling,” he says. “What about in your home?”

“What’s the question?”

“What annoys you inside your home?”

“I can never eye just the right amount of ketchup for my french-fries. I always seem to overestimate and then it goes to waste. I’m working on it.”

“Who annoys you?”

“Didn’t you already ask me that?”

“Not in the same form. Go. Off the top of your head, who comes up?”

“Jim Gaffigan.”

“Why him?”

“Cause we get it Jim; you like food. Join the club. You don’t have to beat us over the head with it.”

“If you had all the money in the world how would you spend your time?”

“Enough money that I wouldn’t have to work?”

“Yeah.”

“I’d volunteer at a hospital or something else children related.”

“No designer purses, trips to the hair salon or lavish jewelry?”

I eye his gold watch. “No.”

“And what would you do with these children?”

“Roller-skate, doodle on walls, play hide and seek. Fun stuff.”

“Have you ever lost someone close to you?”

“Of course.”

“How did it make you feel?” He scratches his nose.

“Curious.”

“About what?”

“The meaning of their life.”

“Have you figured it out?”

“I’m working on it.”

“Do you believe in second chances?”

“Wow, you really bounce around?”

He taps his finger on the yellow pad.

“Two chances. Never three,” I say.

“No matter who it is?”

“My family can have as many chances as they want.”

He nods and reads the next line. “What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done?”

“Live in the wilderness for two months.”

“Really in the woods? What was that like.”

“Liberating.”

“Would you do it again?”

“In a heartbeat.”

“What holds you back?”

“Student loans.”

“What do you think about when you’re alone?” he asks.

“I don’t know. I mostly pick up around the house, play music, read or watch a movie.”

“Yeah, but what do you think about?”

I sigh and rub my chin. “Different things.”

“What mostly?”

“The future.”

“What have you always wanted? Did you get it?”

“No yet.”

“What it is?”

“Next question,” I say.

“Okay,” he says and flips a page in his notebook. “Last one. But you have to answer it. No passes.”

I stare back at him and wait.

“If you can choose one thing to change about the world, what would it be?”

“That’s tough,” I say. “I can only choose one?”

“Yeah, what would it be?”
I take a moment to sort through my thoughts.

“Come on quick, off the top of your head.”

“Fine,” I say. “I’d change people’s limitations.”

“Limitations?”

“Yeah, I’d make it so everyone is capable of communicating and understanding one another’s point of view.”

“Interesting,” he says and jots down my answer.

“Is that it?” I ask.

“Yeah.” He reaches into his pocket and hands me the hundred-dollar bill.

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