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Lizzie Parker and Amanda Miska

Lizzie Parker
Amber Roads
Created using Amanda Miska’s story (below) as inspiration

Boy and Girl
By Amanda Miska

The boy.

At the bar, the lights are dim, but then, that’s the expected ambiance. As soon as he sits down, notebook in hand, shoulders slumped, Rachelle grabs a fresh glass and says, “Amber Ale?” with a wink. She doesn’t even wait for his nod before she starts the tap. He’s torn in his thoughts (as he often is): should I feel good to be in a place where I’m familiar enough that they know my order, or should I feel embarrassed to be that guy who’s a little too familiar with the bar? He really wasn’t an alcoholic. He just needed to get out of the house, to escape the four too-familiar walls of his room, the suitcase he’d been living out of since he left, the unmade single bed.

He sips his beer and sighs quietly with relief, or perhaps exasperation. He’d started writing a story that morning. Before that, he hadn’t written in a month. When he re-reads what he had written just ten hours ago, he thinks: well, maybe there’s a reason for that. This is crap. More of the same crap. The boy. The girl. The disconnect. He’s tired of showing up on his own page. He wants to write himself out of these stories. Because he isn’t sure he believes anymore that they are worthwhile. Whatever he is searching for — no, whoever — is still distant, unformed, indistinct.

He takes another cold sip and swallows slowly. Removing his pen from his pocket (where its leaky ink had already left an unfortunate stain on his pants), he continues the work:

“Is there any more room on that bench?”

It should work for two. I believe it was made for two.

“I brought the paper, we could do the puzzle.”

This is early to be up for you isn’t it?

“Every once in a while for a special occasion.”

Welcome aboard — just let that bike fall. I grab a thermos out of the side bag and push the bike over to get the handlebars off your side of the back of the bench. Would you like some coffee? I hand you the thermos and you start to pour.

“It’s got cream in it.”

Yes, yes it does.

“You don’t put cream in it.”

No, but you do.

“I was hoping I’d surprised you.”

You might not always show up, but that doesn’t keep me from anticipating it.

He jots down a few more notes and finds a good stopping place. He’s feeling a little less discouraged. He pulls his credit card out of his wallet and slides it across the bar toward Rachelle. A slip of paper flutters to the ground. He gets up off the stool and bends down to pick it up. It’s an old fortune cookie fortune (he likes to keep the meaningful ones in his wallet), which reads: Your dreams will come true when you least expect it.

“In bed,” Rachelle says as she hands back his card and receipt.

He looks up for a second, startled. He hadn’t heard her. “What?”

“You never heard that? You add the words ‘in bed’ to the end of your fortune and it makes it better. So what’s your bedroom fortune?”

He grins a little sheepishly. “Your dreams will come true when you least expect it… in bed.”

“Lucky you!” Rachelle says with a laugh.

He signs the receipt and gives it back to her, closing his notebook and packing up to leave. He is avoiding the naturally self-deprecating response, “I haven’t been feeling too lucky these days,” avoiding becoming that guy at the bar who not only has his drink in his hand before he even asks, but who also uses the bartenders as therapists. He isn’t that desperate for someone to talk to (is he?).

Outside the stars are just beginning to light the sky. The moon is a crescent and it makes him long, for a brief moment, to be held, to be cradled like a child. To say silly things and be adored. His ex’s favorite comeback had always been, “Oh, grow up!” accompanied by a slamming door in his face. He hated that they argued in clichés. He hated being loved piecemeal: she wanted a gentleman in the bedroom, an overachiever in the workplace, a saint in church, an unwavering asshole when she was wronged. But confuse any of these identities (a saint when she was wronged?) and her love was gone. Was it love at all if it was only doled out in fragments? If it was held out, like a piece of too-sugary candy, as a reward for good behavior and snatched away so easily when mistakes were made?

The girl.

Had she made a huge mistake? He hasn’t called in a week. Now it’s Friday night again, and here she is, doing the embarrassing single-girl-in-sweats shopping spree. Another more conspicuous walk of shame for the twenty-something woman, her arm strains under the weight of her basket: Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, four microwave meals, a bag of lettuce (which she purchased every week, and every week remained unopened and turned brown), a weekly gossip magazine from the checkout aisle, and a six-pack of Amber Ale. Yes, she is spending Friday night alone in her room, overanalyzing her life and filling her body with toxins (almost forgot to mention the pack of Marlboro Reds she asks the cashier for on an impulse).

Outside the stars are just beginning to light the sky. The moon is a crescent and it makes her long for someone to sit in the dark and look up at it with her. The smell of fried food from The Golden Dragon wafts through the night air, and she realizes, as her stomach growls angrily at her, that she hasn’t eaten dinner. She tosses her grocery bags in the car and runs in to order some General Tso’s and crab Rangoon. She knows she will regret both decisions later, like most decisions she’s made lately, decisions which she can easily see will be harmful in the long run, but in the moment, feel better than being empty and alone.

She only has to wait five minutes for her food, and then she’s back out to the car. She sits down and turns the ignition so the stereo starts (Ray LaMontagne singing something sweet and low). Often, she gets in the car and thinks, before turning the key, Whatever song comes on when it starts up is the song that says how fill-in-the-blank feels about me. Her own little game of fortune telling.
Oh — fortunes! She almost forgot. She rustles in the brown bag and feels to the bottom for the plastic-wrapped cookie and cracks it open. Tonight’s fortune is a tiny bit hopeful, at least, better than others she’d gotten recently (“Friendship is important to you” and “The crow always finds the apple in the grass” — wtf?). It says: Your dreams will come true when you least expect it. She folds the little slip of paper in half and sticks it in her wallet. Even though she doesn’t really like the lemony stale taste, she has a superstition that if you don’t eat the cookie, the fortune won’t come true. So she partakes of it like a communion wafer, eyes closed, believing.

——————————————————-

Lizzie Parker
Inspiration piece provided to Amanda Miska

Redemption:  A Story in Pieces
By Amanda Miska

I.

Gray sky, mid-afternoon, a Tuesday.  The breeze moves an empty swing back and forth.  The public park is quiet and mostly still now that children have gone back to school, to school playgrounds and recesses where no running was sometimes a rule.  An occasional group of stay-at-home moms pack and eat lunch at the picnic table next to the sandbox on sunny autumn days, but today looks like rain.

II.

Several blocks from the park, a brisk, crispy leaf-walk away, Olivia Sparrow lives with her father, George.  She is thirty years old.  He is sixty and showing signs of dementia.  Her mother had died three years earlier. It had all been so sudden.  Margaret was told she had a week to live.  Like some TV movie.  Except when you really only have a week to live, there aren’t days of adventures, traveling, and making amends.  There is only this: preparing to die.  Getting sicker and sicker with every passing hour. Olivia had been living in Pittsburgh at the time, an hour away, with five years of work under her belt at a clothing boutique, a familiarity with the small, industrial city and its many quirks, and a steady boyfriend whom she lived with. He’d gone to the funeral with her to pay his respects in his only suit, a leftover from college graduation, too short in the leg.  At night in her old childhood bedroom, he would offer to make love to her, the best solace he knew.  But she refused his touch.  He left the day after the funeral.  She stayed another week, cleaning up, making arrangements for her father, trying to stabilize herself a bit more before returning to her old life.  When Margaret Sparrow died, a slow unravel of Olivia’s life began, like a small snag in a sweater you don’t notice.  At first, her mother’s death looked like any other death:  a funeral.  Tears.  Grief.  But when Olivia returned to Pittsburgh, something had changed.  The nub on the sweater had become a loose string and began to catch on everything.

III.

This was not the only tragedy in Apollo.  Nine months ago, Jon Wright brought his stained glass window business to town, working out of a old, restored farmhouse.  His wife, who taught History at the community college, was hit by a car and died suddenly.  The women’s group at Apollo Methodist had spent the last six months bringing him casseroles and baked goods and placing him on prayer lists.  But there was something they didn’t know:  he didn’t love her.  They hadn’t loved each other for years.  He wasn’t even sure why they had stayed together.  Maybe out of habit.  Maybe they were both just waiting for something better to come along.   But now he felt guilt, like he’d gotten away with a crime and she’d been given a life (death) sentence.  No messy divorce to agonize through, no judgment, no big announcement to their respective families, just pity and a clean slate.  He found himself wishing he had loved her, daydreaming about imaginary moments or conversations they might have had:  nights on the back porch with a bottle of wine and the moon, making love on the floor of his office in the afternoon when business and company were slow, a vacation to the Southwest, painting a nursery.

IV.

Olivia found it harder and harder to focus on her work, always losing her place, cutting fabric pieces too small, using the wrong color of thread.  She gained ten pounds without any noticeable change in food consumption:  she felt heavy, lethargic.  She began to wear dresses on a regular basis, as their cut was more forgiving than a pair of jeans, and they were easier to alter (her specialty).  One of her college mentors had once told her that dressing up like you were doing well was the first stop on the road to doing well again.  Olivia bought lipstick, tights with seams that ran up the back, high heels, fur stoles, lace gloves.  She wanted a new style to represent this new self.  She looked nothing like the girls her age she saw at the store in Steelers jerseys and jeans.  She got strange looks.  She felt herself becoming strange, but then wondered if maybe she was just becoming herself—now.  She felt constantly restless, even about Robert, her steady-as-rain boyfriend, a civil engineer, lover of murder mystery books and organic cooking.

V.

Jon had just started on the last piece of stained glass to finish the old house—a medium-sized attic window, oddly shaped like a raindrop.  Curves were especially difficult to make precise.  He’d already thrown out his first two attempts at the window.  They hadn’t fit correctly.  He found himself tossing them at the far wall, to hear the sound of the glass breaking, to watch it fall and litter the ground in various colors.  He couldn’t sleep anymore.  He felt too tired.  Some nights, he’d walk over to the park, sit down, and swing on the swings, flying as high as he could go.  Even if there was rain.  Even if there was no moon and it was pitch black.  He’d listen to the small stream and feel peaceful for a moment or two.  He’d go back home and try to sleep, but sleep would never come.  He wondered if it was his wife’s absence that he was not used to.  He bought a body pillow to fill the space.  He kept the house warm, overloading the woodburner.  Nothing worked.  He became a voracious reader with nothing better to do all night.  The casseroles had stopped and he wondered if the prayers had too.  He was fifty years old.  Maybe it was too late to start over.  Maybe he’d just have to abide until he met the same fate as his late wife—to die without knowing his purpose.  Without knowing love.  But he didn’t believe that.  He refused to.  There was a part of him that was still alive and beating.  A restlessness that kept him from immobility.  A reason for living that he did not know, but only knew existed.  Somewhere.  And close.

VI.

Olivia’s parents got married in a little country church, the same one George’s grandparents had been married in.  The church membership was no more than 100 people, so the chapel was simple, except for one stained-glass window in the entry: a memoriam for the first pastor who preached there and passed away.  The pastor’s parents had been wealthy—they disowned him when he chose to join the clergy over the family dentistry business. The gift of the window was their penance. The window was beautiful, but simple:  the face of an angel all in white, framed by the colors of the rainbow.

“I want that window,” George said to Olivia one night, out of the blue.

She didn’t know what he was talking about.  This was the only common thread of their conversations.  The first conversation they had like this, where Olivia knew he could no longer be alone in the house, came by telephone in the middle of the night:

“I can’t find your mother.  She didn’t come home from work today. I didn’t know who else to call.”

Olivia had begun packing for Apollo the next day.  She gave her job—and Robert—two weeks’ notice.  Robert did not come with her.  She barely noticed his absence.

In Apollo, she got hired at an alterations shop, mostly doing weddings and formals.  She had a little room in the house where she would still work on her own designs. She had to create.   It was the only thing that kept her sane.  She never thought she’d end up back in that little town, but everything in her led her to believe there was a reason, beyond her father’s care.  A good reason.  She wanted to believe.  She stayed alert.  Watching.  Waiting.

VII.

There is a connection in creating.  A sense of knowing and being known among artists.  A kinship.  A magnetism, the way every element in the outside world orchestrates their coming together or their falling apart.  Powerful synchronicity.

The scene is set now. They are blocks away, and have never met, but their time is now. What will happen next is inevitable:  Olivia goes to Jon’s shop to order a window, a replica of one in the little church her father and mother were married in.  There is that moment of eyes meeting, where the two of them feel that they’ve met before, that they know each other somehow, that they share some common uncommon ground.  Strange and breathtaking, the fall is sudden, but not scary.  From that day forward, they do not spend a day apart.  They piece things together.  Fabric.  Glass.  Furniture for their home.  The life they’d always longed for.  They fix what’s broken in each other.  They create, and the Creator smiles.

VIII.

What is it that makes two artists love each other so intensely?  a wise man was once asked by a skeptic who had seen the phenomenon time and time again.

A shared desire to make the world new, the response.

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Note: All of the art, writing, and music on this site belongs to the person who created it. Copying or republishing anything you see here without express and written permission from the author or artist is strictly prohibited.

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