The Iron Writer Challenge #63 – The Iron Writer Spring Equinox Open,
Anne Bronte Bracket
A Bridge on the edge of a cliff
A kitchen apron
Fruit scented lotion
Your favorite karaoke song
A hundred miles from the border they passed a Quick Mart selling “Ice Cold Coronas for 2.95”.
He pulled in. The Chevy kicked a little when he killed the engine.
“Leave it on,” she said and turned up the radio.
“Be right back,” he said.
She opened the visor mirror, licked her finger and rubbed the mascara from beneath her eyes.
The woman inside the store wore a kitchen apron. The string barely reached her backside. Her doughy face rested in one hand as she read a newspaper, eyes following finger, line by line.
The place smelled like nachos and old coffee. Coolers lined the wall.
“Any place to sleep around here?” he asked and put the pair of long necks on the counter by the register. Ice slid down, melted. He wiped his hands on his jeans and pulled out a wallet. She heaved herself up to take his money.
“There’s a place ‘bout a mile from here, Sunset Inn. I wouldn’t stay there.” She pushed dirty glasses back up on her nose.
Out past the parking lot the sun slipped out of sight. Tail lights streaked by like wayward comets.
A silhouette of the footbridge was still visible, a mile up the mountain. It had been the perfect place to hide stolen money.
“That’ll be seven-eighteen.” She took the hundred and made change with the drawer open. A security camera kept tabs over her shoulder. A two-way glass was framed on the wall behind her. He kept his head down. The only car out there other than his own was a green Ford Pinto.
He knew she was there alone.
She leaned back over the paper without looking up.
“Anyplace else?” he asked, reaching for the bottle opener.
A sheriff’s car turned into the parking lot, parked.
She glanced out and then back at the man with the beer.
“Naw. Not near here. Best to keep on until you get to Laredo. They got a Days Inn there,” she said.
The man stuffed his change in his pocket and eased back to the toiletries aisle, studied the shampoo bottles.
The heavy glass door opened. From the Chevy he heard her massacring Mick Jagger’s lead vocals.
“You can’t always get what you want… but if you try sometime….” She drum rolled the dashboard.
Back when they were about to rob the Karaoke bar, she’d made him wait until after she’d had her turn with that song, her favorite.
He set the Coronas on the shelf between the Strawberry Lotion and the miniature Crest Toothpaste and felt for his gun.
Another car pulled in, Metallica blaring. Doors slammed. One guy pushed the other, laughed. The sheriff turned toward them and spoke. They quieted.
They nodded to the man in the toiletry aisle.
“Any chicken wings back there, Rosa?” the sheriff asked.
“Got three left. Want mac and cheese with that?” Rosa was washing up in the little hand sink.
The sheriff turned and eyed the two young men, while the man with the Coronas walked right past.
Just like a regular guy.
Nothing like a wanted man.
Me and Bobby McGee
K. A. DaVur
Our beagle’s bay announced Alex’s return. I turned from deboning a chicken, washed my hands, and dried them on my flowered apron before applying apple-scented lotion, our joke for over a decade; since the night he came home bearing the elaborately wrapped package and a chagrined smile. “No more patchouli,” he’d pleaded, “the guys are giving me hell.” I met him at the door; grinning broadly, wading though our children. He handed me a newspaper.
“Thought you’d want to see this.”
“Man Commits Suicide at Tennessee Attraction” A picture showed suitably horrified tourists, the iconic red barn behind them. Suddenly, I gasped, . There he was, his face more lined, still undeniably him. “Robert McGee, 35,” the article read. To me. he was always Bobby.
Tucking the paper under my arm I walked upstairs. The cigar box nestled amongst yearbooks and powdery remains of dried flowers. I opened it, pulled out a harmonica, tried to play. Either it was rusty or I was. I stroked the items, lost in memories. Alex was my heart, but Bobby was my girlhood.
We met one March on Bourbon Street. He was busking, growling blues with his guitar case open. Drunk on romance and bourbon, I fell immediately and hopelessly in love. I stood there for five minutes before he noticed me. Finally he did, winked, and nodded to the sidewalk next to him. I didn’t see my friends for the rest of the trip, save for a tense, tear-filled visit to the hotel. They clung to me with concerned hyperbole before they saw I was a lost cause, venom after. I couldn’t blame them. I didn’t care.
I lost my virginity that night, rocking slowly on the thin mattress at the hostel, my face buried in the hollow of Bobby’s neck so as not to disturb our roommates. I returned to college. Bobby came with me, but between my friends’ influence and his nonchalant arrogance, he was shunned fiercely. So I joined him in exile, ditching class to accompany him on the harmonica he’d given me, sharing secrets and kisses. My parents begged me to stop, then cajoled, then threatened. None of it worked; I was expelled a month before graduation. We spent the next year as happy nomads, living on day labor and infatuation.
In Baton Rouge, crouched in train-shaped shadows, I began to vomit from the fumes. I was still retching weakly and as quietly as possible, when the watchman found us. Bobby was frustrated but kind, bathing my face in rainwater and flagging down a kindly trucker.
I miscarried in California and didn’t imagine the relief on Bobby’s face. He tried his best to comfort, but still I knew, and for me, the need to settle seeded by the pregnancy never left. “I haven’t found home yet,” he would say. We began to argue, then fight. It finally ended in Salinas and I wept for months, bargaining tomorrows for a yesterday, until I looked up one day and saw Alex, whole and real.
I wiped away tears and closed the box.
“I hope you found your home” I said, and walked back downstairs to mine.
Don’t Stop Believin’
Hundreds of feet above the jagged rocks, he recalled Susan’s words, “You’re an idiot, Dan, and you’re gonna get yourself killed.” She’d wiped her hands on her cow-spotted apron and took his hands in hers. “You always do this, you always let your jackass friends talk you into the craziest stunts. For what? You’re just a city boy. Leave the foolish stunts to those rednecks.”
His teeth clenched at the memory of the fight. His wife always questioned his adventures. Everybody wants a thrill.He placed one boot in front of the other on the narrow plank bridge which clung to the side of the mountain. A series of great iron stakes had been driven into the cliff. They were all that held up the bridge. The wood bowed and creaked with every step.
Dan’s mouth dried up, his stomach filled with icy fear, his toes were numb with the physical cold of the air at this altitude. To his left hung a massive iron chain to grab onto for safety. Except the guys had ruled that only wimps needed a chain, and if you grabbed it, you lost. Dan wanted so much to grab the chain, but he could feel his buddies watching him from behind. Some will win, some will lose, they’d said. And he couldn’t lose.
Why’d I have to go first?
He knew Susan would have an answer for that.
Music came to his ears, though he knew it had to be in his head. A tune so familiar, but without words; a soaring ’80s rock guitar solo.
Dan stepped over the next iron stake, onto a new set of planks, which groaned as they took his weight. He froze as the boards uttered a long, low moan, followed by a sharp crack. His hands flew toward the chains in involuntary panic, but stopped in time.
Still, the guys clucked behind him, laughing at his peril.
In Dan’s mind’s eye, Susan frowned, smoothing lotion up and down her arms, rubbing her hands together. Her sad eyes begged him to go back. The lotion’s apricot scent came to him, real, as though she were here.
The far board gave way under his right foot and he leaned hard into the cliff face, the cold of the rock seeping even through his down coat. His breath came in ragged gasps, adrenaline burning in his blood, heart pounding in his ears. His buddies whooped and hollered behind him. The chain beckoned. Are you a man, or aren’t you? The remaining board groaned. Go on, or lose the bet?
The music came to him again, and now he sang a duet with the Susan of his mind, like they had at that office party years ago.
The cold fear became hot determination. He grabbed the chain and turned back. Let the guys question his manhood.
As he stepped away, grinning at the guys, the board fell away. He missed Susan, but he wasn’t ready to join her yet.
Black horse & a Cherry Pie
Serena wrapped the plush towel about her dripping form, tucking the top corner against her skin. The cool tile sent gooseflesh up her clean-shaven legs but she paid no attention as she selected the peach blossom lotion from the vanity. Serena hummed to herself as she applied the thick cream liberally to her appendages, inhaling the oh-so-familiar scent.
No, no, no, no-no-no
I said no, no, you’re not the one for me
Serena slipped into black yoga pants and an old Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers tour t-shirt from her days in Chicago. It seemed like a lifetime ago but she clung to some of the memories, the fond ones. Serena plucked her phone from the docking station and made her way to the kitchen.
And my heart it a problem, in the early hours,
So I stopped it dead for a beat or two.
Without missing a beat, Serena connected to her wireless speakers and slid the phone across the counter. She donned her cupcake apron and whizzed around the kitchen pulling ingredients from cupboards, deftly juggling multiple items and kicking doors closed without missing a lyric.
So I sent it to a place in the middle of nowhere
With a big black horse and a cherry tree.
Company was on its way and she thought it only polite to have a nice dessert prepared for them. Serena kneaded the dough in rhythm to the lyrics, drinking in the mountain-view through the wall of windows. She pushed some stray hairs from her face with the back of her wrist leaving a streak of flour along her forehead. Chains creaked in the distance followed by a long, low scream that faded to an echo. Serena stopped singing and smiled to herself.
Big black horse and a cherry tree
I can’t quite get there ‘cause my heart’s forsaken me.
Sliding the pie into the oven, Serena bumped the door closed with a swish of her hips. She leaned forward and set the timer with another flourish, reaching the crescendo of her song.
Big black horse and a cherry tree.
“Still that song?”
Serena did not turn. She counted the footsteps filtering in around her. “You lost one.”
“Of course we did. That’s a death trap and you know it.”
“You should have brought your best, Aidan.”
“I did, Serena. I did.”
Serena spun to face her ex-husband. Wiping her hands on her apron she smirked at him. “You think so?”
“I’m wearing my favorite apron.” Serena faked a pout before throwing open the refrigerator door with extreme force resulting in the familiar crunch of a nose shattering. She kicked out behind her and connected with another intruder’s gut. Whirling about the kitchen, Serena took down one after another until she was left staring down Aidan amid the unconscious, black-clad bodies.
The timer buzzed.
Serena smoothed her apron. “Go back the way you came, Aidan.” She sneered and turned toward the oven. “Oh, and don’t watch your step on my bridge.”