Saturday, November 24, 2012


Reposted 11/24/12
in response to a prompt at
Write on Edge for the Weekend Linkup:
"Link up any post you’ve written that you’d like other eyes to see.
No word limits, no genre restrictions, and no prompts."

Originally posted 2/20/09
In response to a writing prompt on
Include a train in your writing today
and also for

Click on the link(s) above to add your own response to the
challenge(s) or to view those submitted by others

        With a sideways lurch of the train, I was jerked into consciousness from an uncomfortable snooze. My neck was stiff, my back in pain, my ankles swollen, and my mouth felt like giant roaches had been crawling on my tongue.
        I opened one eye to see if Tyrone was asleep. He sat against an adjacent wall. "Sleepin' beauty has awaked," he said in his low, resonant voice. His toothless grin was surrounded by a scruffy beard.
        "Yeah," I mumbled, rubbing my eyes. "What time is it?"
        "About six. Just started light'nin' up." He dug in his hip pocket for a match. After exhaling a cloud of smoke, he asked, "Feelin' better, Sal?"
        I rubbed my stomach and sat up. "I don't feel worse." I tried to muster a smile for Tyrone.
        We were three days out of Pittsburgh, heading toward California. We had probably traveled twelve hundred miles forward and twelve thousand miles side to side. The swaying boxcar and the foul odor of whatever must have occupied it recently, made me feel like everything I had eaten was still in my throat, just waiting for one more lurch of the train to dislodge it.

        After midnight on a chilly morning, I had hopped the train as it slowed, almost to a stop, at a crossing in Pittsburgh's West End. I wore my entire wardrobe ---five layers of clothes covered with a shabby winter coat, mismatched gloves, a knit hat, and vinyl boots from the Goodwill Store. I carried the rest of my belongings in a grubby, but sturdy, canvas bag I stole from an unlocked car. The tote held three bottles of cheap brandy, a half gallon of water in a plastic milk bottle, plus plastic utensils and packets of ketchup from McDonald's. I had pilfered a roll of toilet paper from a port-a-john and shoplifted four packs of cigarettes. I found a soggy book of matches on the street. A guy smoking behind a grocery store had given me stale bread, dried-up cheese and a bunch of apples from a pile of stuff he was supposed to throw in the dumpster. My left coat pocket was filled with panhandled change. I kept a rusty pocket knife in the other one.
        After pulling myself into the next-to-last boxcar, I had taken a gulp of brandy, then curled up in a corner, ready to sleep through the rest of the night. A voice from the opposite corner boomed, "Hey. Where you headin'?" Startled, my body twitched. The deep voice echoed in the empty boxcar, vibrating the wooden slats. It sounded like the voice of God.
        "Anywhere this train is going, I guess."
        "Toward San Francisco, I hope. Never ain't much below sixty degrees out there," said the voice. "Leave here soon's the baseball season's over or the weather turns."
        "Baseball? You a fan or something?" I asked.
        The rickety train passed a warehouse with parking-lot lights blazing. By the greenish light that streamed through the open door, I saw my traveling companion's huge eyes and white-tipped hair atop a wide, black face.
        "Hell, no. Man owns a parkin' lot near the stadium. Lets me collect parkin' fees for him. Gives me fifteen dollars. Ten, if I ain't sober. Could stay for the rest of Steeler's football, but gets too cold at night 'round here come October, so's I head out t' California." The man crawled closer to my corner of the boxcar. When he struck a match, I noticed his plaid shirt stretched tightly over his bulky chest. 
        "Why you leavin' town?" he asked.
        "I can't stand being close to my daughter and not being allowed to see her. They took her away 'cause I don't have a place to live. She's in a foster home." I swiped a tear from my cheek. "They said I was an, an unfit parent." I fumbled with the cap of my brandy bottle, then took another gulp. I wiped my mouth with the back of my coat sleeve. "I just want to go someplace far away. Someplace warm."
        "Havin' no place t' live must be hell for a woman."
        "You get used to it."
        "You ain't never get used to that," he said.
       "It's better and worse than I thought. I survived three winters, but don't want to go through another one like last year."
        After a pause, he said, "Name's Tyrone, Miss." He held out his hand for a friendly handshake. A real gentleman, that Tyrone.
        "I'm Sal," I answered.
        We talked the rest of the night. I sipped from my bottle. Tyrone drank some rot gut wine. He told me about San Francisco, the shelters, soup kitchens, and safe places to spend the night outdoors. I told him how I lost my job and then they took the house away and how we lived in the car until they found it an hauled it off, too. 
        "We stayed in a shelter in a church basement for a couple months, but they kicked us out 'cause they smelled booze and cigarettes on me and I wouldn't say grace before dinner. Hell, we had nothing to be thankful for, did we?" I fought back tears, then added, "I promised the judge I'd stop drinking and follow the rules at the shelter, but he said if I loved my daughter, I would have done that in the first place."
        In the morning, I took in Tyrone's massive frame, his worn trousers, and ripped flannel shirt with gray long-underwear peeking through the holes. A black hooded jacket lay on the floor beside him. He had a moth-eaten khaki blanket around his shoulders. His large, dark fingers poked through holes in his filthy gloves.
        I looked at my own hands, so boney and pasty white compared to Tyrone's. After sharing some of my brandy, I dozed off somewhere in Ohio, waking with an upset stomach.
        For the next two days, Tyrone forced me to eat a little bread and drink some water. Despite his intimidating size and appearance, he was real kind. He covered me with his blanket and scraped straw from the floor to put under my head. He politely looked away when I sat on the edge at the open door, to relieve myself.
        The days had grown ugly, the way it does at the end of October. Constant rain and sudden cold turned the world gray and sad. Leaves had changed to dull brown and plummeted to the ground, leaving outlines of hopeless bare branches against the ash-colored sky. The train crawled along real slow, like it had no place to go. 

        The fifth morning, three others joined us during the predawn hours, two tough-looking men in their twenties and a girl who must have been about fourteen. They were three long-haired blonds dressed like identical triplets in black T-shirts, denim jackets, jeans with split knees, earrings, and high lace-up boots. B.C. and Hog drank out of a whiskey bottle and munched from white bags of generic pretzels and chips. The guys ignored us. The girl, Candy, sat beside me for a while and told me she had left home because her stepfather beat on her.
        "Shut up, will ya'?" Hog yelled across the boxcar rubbing the stubble on his chin. "I'm sick o' hearin' that crap about your old man. You're a real pain in the ass, kid. Probably deserved it."
        Candy sulked between Tyrone and me for about an hour huddled under Tyrone's blanket while Hog sharpened and resharpened a large hunting knife, then she timidly tiptoed over and nuzzled up to Hog, begging him to forgive her. Tyrone and I exchanged glances as the two fondled and kissed. B.C. smoked a joint near the open door. He sat with his back to the cozy couple watching the gray landscape pass by.
        Hog alternately smacked Candy and petted her like a puppy, calling her "Stupid", "Bitch", "Honey", or "Babe". He ordered her to shut up, sit down, or retrieve a bag of chips. I didn't like it, but I was afraid to say anything. B.C. said nothing either, but I could tell he was steaming inside about something. For hours, Tyrone stared at Hog with a look that could melt ice, but Hog paid no mind to him.
        That night, the rain finally stopped. A full moon peaked through misty clouds to create a hazy glow. Low fog spread across the ground outside our temporary quarters. Tyrone and I sat smoking, drinking, and whispering while the train lurched onward. Finally, when my speech was slurred, I dozed off to the clacking rhythm of the rails with my head on his huge thigh.
        Before dawn, I heard rustles and groans from the far corner of the boxcar. Hog's body pumped up and down over the girl. I lifted my head and fidgeted nervously. Tyrone patted my arm with a reassuring hand. When I couldn't stand it any more, I sat, covered my ears and yelled, "Stop it. She's only a child."
        B.C. jumped up and screamed, "Let her alone, you rotten bastard." His foot landed on Hog's back with a dull thump.
        Pulling up his fly, Hog leaped to his feet, then circled B.C. with clenched fists. In the dim light from the moon, two dark shapes wrestled. Silhouetted against the open door, they struggled, swaying side to side with the movement of the train. Tyrone patted me on the arm again, then slowly rose, leaning against the wall of the boxcar to steady himself, inching his way toward the men who looked so much alike, I couldn’t tell them apart in the dark. Finally, one broke loose and pushed the other backward through the open door into the foggy night. Leaning on the frame of the door, Hog yelled, "Good riddance, you wimp." He howled a devilish laugh. "The little whore is all mine now."
        Before Hog had a chance to turn around or catch his breath, Tyrone thrust his huge arms at Hog's back, pushing him through the opening. He stood in the doorway, watching, then announced, "They're too far back t' climb back on." He turned toward the girl. "You okay, kid?"
        "Uh huh," she answered, sobbing.
        "Okay, then," Tyrone said, rubbing his big hands together.
        "Thanks," I said, pulling myself unsteadily to my feet. I handed Tyrone my almost-empty Brandy bottle. Staggering toward the girl, I said, "You're going to be okay, Candy."
        I sat beside her. Then I removed one glove and stroked her hair. "Tyrone and me, we'll take care of you. You can stick with us as long as you want." I reached into my pocket. "Or when we get to a town, you can call home. I'm sure your Mother misses you," I added, folding her fingers over a handful of change.
        Looking very much like my own little girl, she fell asleep with her head on my lap, rocked by the movement of the rambling train.
(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)
This is a work of FICTION.
It is not based on actual persons or events.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Summer of 1974 - Short Fiction

This is in response to a writing prompt: SILENCE at
Sunday Scribblings blog.

This is a slightly-altered scene from an in-progress novel in which the main character in 2004 reminisces about her life, thirty years earlier. In the novel, scenes alternate between the two time periods. Because the scene below takes place in 1974, note the lack of computers, cell phones, e-mail or text messaging.

Intaglio Printing Plate

The Summer of 1974

        Cali hadn’t uttered one word for three weeks. If others spoke to her, she nodded, shook her head, shrugged, or ignored them. Those who knew her thought she was being her usual introspective self, concentrating on her assignments.  Those who did not, chalked up her behavior to an artistic temperament.
        Cali felt like a robot. She told herself to get out of bed. She did. She told herself to walk to her art classes at the far end of campus. Her body obliged. She instructed herself to complete her printmaking projects. She signed and numbered her prints. She commanded herself to go to the cafeteria. She nibbled on tasteless morsels. She told herself to return to her dorm. She spent evenings there, alone, waiting for the phone to ring. 
        Yet sometimes, her mind would skip from one action to another causing her to wonder how she had arrived where she found herself, doing what she was doing.
        Tyler had returned home for the summer, but he hadn’t called nor written, hadn’t acknowledged her correspondence. His parents had no answering machine, so she was unable to leave a message. Eventually, her letters sounded like groveling. She stopped writing to him. 
        She couldn’t believe that Tyler wouldn’t at least tell her if he didn’t love her anymore. Ignoring her was cruel. Tyler had never been cruel. He admitted he had slept with Dawn, just that one time. Why couldn’t he be forthright enough to tell her the truth again?
        Tyler had hurt her then, but this time he had annihilated her spirit. Yet, she hadn’t shed a tear. She was dead inside.
        Each night her dreams conjured up scenarios, both possible and impossible. He had been in a terrible accident. Surely he was in a coma. He had been abducted by aliens. He had run off to South America. Someone had kidnapped him. He was in prison. He had been a figment of her imagination. He had spontaneously evaporated. He had amnesia and couldn’t remember who he was. 
        The image that seized her mind was that of the dark woman with intense black eyes she had seen exiting Tyler’s off-campus apartment. She caught herself imagining a naked Dawn on Tyler's bed.
        She wished she could use an eraser to wipe that picture from the insides of her eyelids, but the image was there permanently, as if etched in acid on a copper intaglio plate.

Friday, November 16, 2012

RAIN DANCE - Short Fiction

This week's writing prompt from Write on Edge is: a 400-word fiction or creative non-fiction piece influenced by the idea of RAIN.

When Richard woke, it was still dark. After untangling himself from his mosquito net, he threw on his robe and slid into loafers. Grabbing a flashlight, he rushed through the rain to the outhouse. His hopes for a modern bathroom at the pensão had been dashed the previous night when the other volunteer had delivered him to the boarding house at his Peace Corps site. The side-by-side stalls in the privy were crawling with roaches.
Holding his cramped stomach, he returned to his room, glad that his vomiting had finally stopped. Despite being only ten degrees from the equator, he donned socks and pulled a sweatshirt over his cotton pajamas. Wriggling into bed, he wondered why he had expected a real mattress. What he got was a huge cotton sack stuffed with straw. Eventually, he fell asleep again.
When he woke, he heard splashing raindrops. He shoved the mosquito net aside to discover water dripping from the red-tiled roof into his right loafer and dancing onto the mud-brick floor. 
Outside his door a female voice said, “Seu Ricardo?”
“May I come in?”
A dark, homely teenager dressed in a faded green shift tiptoed into the room. With her eyes lowered to the foot of Richard’s bed, she asked, “Seu Ricardo, my mother wants to know if you want breakfast?” 
Não, I do not have hunger.”
“Will you have lunch here?” the girl asked, pulling at her kinky hair, never meeting his eyes.
Not sure if he would ever want to eat again, he said, “I want sleep.”
The girl shuffled toward the door in her plastic sandals.
“Wait,” Richard said. He couldn’t remember the Portuguese word for rain. “The, uh, water comes from the, ah....” He pointed to the tiled roof, then to his overflowing shoe. The girl’s broad face looked like a blank brown canvas. Again he pointed to the roof and the shoe. 
Bending at the waist, the girl pulled a chamber pot from under the extra bed, removed the lid, and placed the enameled pot under the leak. She emptied his shoe into it, then quietly moved to the hall, closing the door behind her.
At first Richard thought the girl had believed him to be an idiot because he couldn’t remember the words for rain or ceiling. Then he decided she thought he had foolishly placed the shoe there to catch the water. 
He curled up in a ball, wondering what in the hell he had gotten himself into.

This story is a slightly-revised excerpt from CJ's in-progress novel: A Little Slice of Heaven. The story takes place in a fictional, Portuguese-speaking country, in a small town much like the one where CJ spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Richard, at first, decides he will stay for a few days, then find an appropriate opportunity to resign and head home. Eventually, he is drawn in by the culture, and especially the warm, outgoing citizens, but there are still a multitude of obstacles to overcome in this foreign land.

Read the author's non-fiction stories about her experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Brazil on her other blog: A Little "Peace" of Brazil

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Little White Dress

This week's prompt on Mama's Losin' It was to write about something you once wore.

The first thing that popped into my head was the high school graduation dress I almost wore.

It was 1963. All the girls in my senior class had to wear white dresses, because colors would show through the cheap, thin material of our graduation gowns.

My mother and I started looking for a dress months ahead of time. I liked clean, simple lines and we found the perfect white dress ---and it was on sale.  It was a sleeveless, double-breasted, A-line dress, with a collar in a white-on-white waffle texture.  Although I'm not positive, it may have had fake pockets. The style at that time was for dresses to just about touch the top of the knees. It fit well. I looked good in it. And the price was right.

I loved that dress. (My illustration doesn't do it justice.  It was actually the white version of a little black dress ---and rather elegant.)

The sales clerk placed it in a plastic bag like the ones used at dry cleaners and I stuck it in my closet when I got home.

A week before graduation, I removed it from its bag and tried it on again, so I could decide what shoes and jewelry I would wear with it.  However, I noticed it had an odd odor, sort of like rotten fish.  It was probably from the sizing in the fabric, intensified by being in a plastic bag for several months.  So my mother hung it on the porch to air out. But after a week, it smelled just as bad.  She was afraid to wash it, because if the odor didn't go away, we would not be able to return it.

So, the day before graduation, we headed to the mall to return the dress and find another. The stores had almost nothing suitable ---probably because almost every female graduate in the tri-state area needed a white dress ---and I had to settle for something I didn't like.  In fact, I wore it to the ceremony and the party afterward, but never wore it again.

I must have really loved the dress we had to return, because even though I had it on only twice for a few minutes each time, I still remember it fondly. Next year will be my 50th high school reunion.