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windshield note

The Perfect Day

The rain had fallen hard last night, but not today. Today was perfect. Sylvia grinned up at the cloudless, sunny sky, drew in a deep breath that smelled of wet grass and spring, and then dropped her keys. She giggled when she looked down and realised that she had neither dropped the keys on her foot nor in the mud puddle she had almost stepped in but managed to avoid completely. Of course she avoided it. Mud had no right to intrude on her perfect day. She felt almost giddy as she picked up her keys, fingers grazing against the cool, damp gravel. As she straightened, she rubbed her hand on the back of her jeans to brush the crumbs of dirt off her fingers. Then she remembered that she still hadn’t locked the front door.

“Oh, f-f-f-fiddlesticks.” Ever since the stick turned blue, she was determined to stop swearing. She’d only peed on the stick this morning after Andrew left for work. Immediately after the door closed, Sylvia had grabbed the test hiding in her handbag and rushed into their shared bathroom. Two minutes had never taken so long, and she’d surprised herself by actually whooping out loud when she saw the positive result. Followed by a jubilant “Hot damn!”, which was, rather predictably, followed by an earnest promise to the powers that be to give up swearing before the baby came.

She locked the door and turned to go to her car. She saw a piece of paper under the windscreen wiper, and both her heart and her steps quickened. Her footsteps squelched on the damp gravel, and the faintest breeze lifted her hair and brought tiny goosebumps to her arms. She knew what it was. Andrew did this every year, leaving her a little love note for her to find on their anniversary. She adored these little surprises, but she knew they couldn’t top the surprise she’d be giving Andrew tonight at dinner. As her hand reached out to take the note, a police car pulled in the drive behind her car.

Sylvia couldn’t understand what the cops would be doing here. But it didn’t matter. It couldn’t. Nothing was going to ruin this perfect day.

The car came to a stop. She noticed the crunching noise the tyres made. She saw a uniformed officer exit each side of the vehicle, and everything, including time, stopped.

“Mrs Taylor?” She heard them tell her about the car accident, about the ambulance arriving on the scene, about Andrew dying before reaching A&E. She heard it all, but she’d stopped noticing anything. Nothing made sense anymore. Nothing but the blue stick in her bathroom and the paper she clutched in her hand.

My Dearest Syl—
Happy anniversary, darling. I think this is going to be our best year yet. I’ll see you tonight.
All my love, A.

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Today is my birthday, and what better present could I get than a picture from my little boy? He then asked me to write a story about the picture, and I ask you, who could say no?

Birthday Monster Jensen Foster, age 6 Crayon, pencil, and paper

Birthday Monster
Jensen Foster, age 6
Crayon, pencil, and paper

Happy Birthday, Monster!

Written by Cate Foster
Illustrated by Jensen Foster

Jack was worried. More worried than an almost-ten-year-old boy should be. Yesterday had been Bobby’s birthday, and it hadn’t gone well. It had not been a happy day for Bobby. Not happy at all.

Even though birthdays are usually festive and cheerful occasions—filled with parties and balloons, presents and cake—that had not happened for Bobby. It was supposed to, though. There was supposed to be a party, with all of Bobby’s friends coming to celebrate and bring presents. Bobby’s mother had made a special birthday cake (chocolate, Bobby’s favourite) and his father had tied balloons all around (green and purple, Bobby’s favourite colours).

Everything was set for an enjoyable and entertaining party. All of Bobby’s friends had arrived; the candles were in the cake ready to light.

But then the Birthday Monster arrived and ruined everything. He smashed all the presents. He popped all the balloons. And he ate the birthday cake, candles and all. After that, he ran away, leaving a mess and an empty cake platter.

Bobby had been devastated. And now that it was almost Jack’s birthday, he was worried that the monster would come and ruin his birthday. He was trying to figure out how to keep the Birthday Monster away, but so far he wasn’t having any luck thinking of a brilliant idea.

Walking helped him think, so Jack decided to go for a walk in the woods behind his house. But he was so preoccupied, so worried about the Birthday Monster ruining his birthday, that he wasn’t really paying attention to where he was going. Soon he was lost.

Jack was a clever boy, so he didn’t panic when he realised that he was lost and didn’t know how to get back home. Frankly, he was still more concerned about figuring out how to keep the monster away during his birthday party tomorrow.

He decided that he needed to look around, get his bearings, and discover any landmarks in the vicinity. At first, all Jack could see were trees. And sky. And more trees. But then he could just make out a little house through the trees. Since he could not locate any other landmarks or distinguishing features, he chose to head toward the house.

It didn’t take him long to reach the house. He knocked on the door, hoping to ask whoever lived there if he could use a phone. Jack was deciding on what he would say when the door opened. And suddenly he forgot why he needed to borrow a phone. He forgot why he was there. He forgot his name. He was too scared to remember anything.

‘Can I help you?’ asked the Birthday Monster, standing in the doorway. He looked way too big to fit comfortably in this little house.

‘Um, can I—. Uh, I mean, do you have—,’ Jack started, but he was so nervous he couldn’t finish his sentences.

The monster was fairly clever himself. ‘Are you lost?’ he asked.

‘Oh, um, yeah. I mean, yes, I am,’ said Jack, finally remembering how to form proper sentences. ‘Do you, maybe, have a phone that I could borrow?’

The Birthday Monster shook his head. ‘No, I don’t. I never have anyone to call. Sorry. But if you follow this path, it will take back into town.’

‘Really?’ Jack was excited about being able to find his way back home. ‘Thank you.’

He turned to go, ready to get out of the forest and away from this monster who had ruined Bobby’s birthday. But he’d only taken a few steps when he turned back around. The Birthday Monster was still standing in the doorway, watching him.

‘Do you need something else?’ asked the monster.

‘Well, actually, I did have a question for you. Two questions, really.’

‘Ask away,’ said the monster. ‘I like answering questions.’

‘I was wondering why you ruin our birthday parties. You came yesterday and spoiled Bobby’s party,’ said Jack, getting the words out in a rush before he lost his nerve. ‘And I was also wondering if you would like to come to my birthday party. It’s tomorrow.’ Jack waited, holding his breath, for the monster’s answer. Please, he thought, oh, please don’t be mad.

The Birthday Monster didn’t say anything. He just looked at Jack, who shifted his weight from foot to foot. Having a big, hairy monster stare at you does not, generally speaking, put a young boy at ease. Finally, after what seemed like an incredibly long time to Jack, the monster spoke.

‘You want me to come to your party?’

‘Well, sure. I mean, only if you want to,’ said Jack, trying to appease the monster in case he’d inadvertently offended him. ‘You don’t have to. I just thought it might be, well, fun?’ Jack hadn’t meant to turn that into a question, but couldn’t help himself.

‘Nobody has ever invited me to a birthday party before. They seem like a lot of fun. I would enjoy it very much. I will try hard not to ruin anything.’

‘Good,’ said Jack. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow. Thank you for telling me how to find my way home.’

Jack set off down the path. It wasn’t long before he saw the town come into view. He made it home just in time for dinner.

The next day, as the time for his party neared, Jack started getting a little nervous. What if the monster ruined the party? What if he smashed the presents? And worst of all, what if he ate the birthday cake? Jack started to think that maybe he’d made a mistake inviting the monster.

But then he remembered how happy the monster had been, and how surprised he seemed when Jack invited him. So, Jack thought, I think everything will turn out just fine.

And that’s exactly what happened. At first the other kids were a little scared when the Birthday Monster showed up to Jack’s party. But soon they relaxed. The monster explained that he hadn’t meant to smash any birthday presents, but when all the children at Bobby’s party started screaming, he got scared.

‘And when I get scared,’ he said, ‘I get clumsy. It was an accident.’ He went on to explain that popping the balloons was an accident as well. ‘No matter how often I trim my claws, they grow back so fast. And they’re so sharp. I just wanted to look at the balloons. They were so pretty.’

‘What about the cake?’ asked the children. ‘Why did you eat all the birthday cake?’

The monster looked a little sheepish, and he hesitated a moment before responding. ‘I’d never had birthday cake before. I was just going to have a taste, I promise. But it was so good. I couldn’t stop. I’m sorry.’

‘In that case,’ said Jack, ‘you are going to get the biggest piece of birthday cake today. All for you. But you have to share, okay?’

‘Oh, thank you,’ said the Birthday Monster. ‘I like sharing.’

‘Hooray!’ shouted the children. And they sang and danced and played with the monster, and invited him to all their birthday parties after that.

And the monster decided that chocolate birthday cake was his favourite flavour.

The End

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writing blog picI’m in the midst of writing a short story. Since I mostly write poetry, this is a bit of a change. Especially since I’ve challenged myself to write every day. Consistency is not my strong suit—not when it comes to my own personal schedule. But since this story has grabbed my attention I’ve written for eleven days in a row (it’s a start…).

I think I read somewhere that you need to do something for at least twenty days in a row for it to become a habit. As much as I love to write, I’ve been inconsistent and haven’t made writing time a true priority. This was part of the reason for setting this challenge for myself—how can I seriously call myself a writer if I don’t take my writing seriously? I guess it’s not that my writing isn’t a habit; it just isn’t a very consistent one. That’s something I’d like to change.

Something I’ve learned during these past eleven days: I kinda’ understand why some authors drink. Ha! There have been moments, and tonight is one of them, when I’ve been nervous about writing. Not because I don’t know what I’m going to write, but because I’m not quite sure how it’s going to come out. I can totally see how a drink or two would relax you before you take to the pen—or keyboard, as the case may be. (Please understand that I’m writing this tongue-in-cheek. I’m not advocating alcoholism for anyone, author or otherwise.)

So tell me, does anyone else get nervous about writing a particular scene? I’ve been getting actual butterflies in my tummy at points. Typical? Or am I more neurotic than I thought?

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So, after some encouragement from friends and support from my 6-year-old—who is also a writer—I’ve decided to continue the story that I found a bit ago. The writing is going slowly, but steadily. I’m curious to see where this goes. Perhaps the title will even come to me soon.

story graphicEmma rolled over to turn off her alarm. She’d set it earlier than necessary because she knew she’d be getting off to a slow start today, making ample use of the snooze alarm. But now it was time to start the day—and this new chapter in her life—in earnest.

She went through the motions of preparing for her first day back at work. A part of her missed her co-workers and was looking forward to having a little human interaction again. But she wasn’t looking forward to the looks of pity and the awkward condolences that she knew were coming. Just the thought of hearing “I’m so sorry…” or “If there’s anything I can do…” over and over was almost enough to make her stop brushing her hair and crawl back into bed. But she didn’t. “Emma,” she told her reflection, “it’s time you rejoined the land of the living.”

She moved to turn off the light as she left the bathroom, but stopped—hand reaching toward the light switch—and turned back to the mirror. “Even if you do wish you were with Oliver instead of here.”

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unlocked
unblocked
free writes
lead to
re-writes
and re-writes
lead to
me

Just go with it. This is an expression favoured by my 6-year-old son of late. I’m not sure where he picked it up, but he has embraced it fully. He also seems to utter it just when I need to hear it most. I think it’s part of why we make such a good team.

Adults can learn so much from children. Being present. Being in the moment. Not being self-conscious. Appreciating what you’ve got right before you.

As a stage manager, I frequently tell my actors that if they want a lesson in commitment, they need to watch a young child eat an ice cream cone. Especially if it’s hot. Do they care about the ice cream running down their hand, down their arm, to their elbow? Do they care that their face is a mess? No. The mission is clear—eat as much ice cream as possible, minimise loss. Everything else is secondary, inconsequential.

It’s so easy to get caught up, as a grown-up, with inconsequential matters. I do it. You do it. And sometimes, when things aren’t going as planned or as hoped, you have most likely not been presented with an insurmountable problem. It’s helpful to remember life wisdom as seen by a 6-year-old.

Just go with it.

N.B. (added the following morning) Last night, as we were getting ready for bed, my son complained that his nose felt ‘uncomfortable’. I handed him a tissue and suggested he try blowing. He did try, but told me there wasn’t any snot left in it. Then he crawled back into bed and said, ‘I’ll just go with it’.

Oh, he makes me laugh.

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She was amused by the boy who, after loading the groceries into her car, wished her a good day in a tone that said he really couldn’t care less if she won the lottery or was eaten by rabid wolves.

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Yesterday I went to one of my favourite stores. Ever since I was in high school, Pen & Pad has catered to my love of fine writing instruments and beautiful journals. Luckily this store is, decades later, still a part of Albuquerque’s fairly fixed and little-changed retail landscape.

I enjoyed browsing amongst the pretty blank books and the pens. Oh, the pens. Especially the fountain pens. There were some truly divine specimens on display, and I wanted to take several of them home with me.

And then I found the Visconti collection. Oh, my goodness. A lovely grouping of beautiful fountain pens whose designs are influenced by Vincent van Gogh. My favourite writing instrument and my favourite artist combined. Unfortunately, the collection of twelve pens are sold as a group, for $2,950.00. Yes, almost three thousand dollars. Granted, that works out to $245.83 per pen, which is not too bad for a fountain pen. But still. Buying all twelve at once is a bit of a financial setback.

Since I couldn’t take just one home—and had that been a possibility I very well might have made the splurge—I considered snapping a quick photograph. But there are some objects in this world that are simply too beautiful for pictures. These pens (and the word combinations I would create with one) are just such objects.

Sigh.

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