Why are birthmarks a thing?

What are we marked by? Are we not supposed to be born with moles? Is that it? And why is mine red? And do I remember right that I have (or had) two? No, it was that they switched it on me or something. I just remember growing up thinking my birthmark was this brown dot (mole) on the side of my toe, and then sometime when I was maybe even college age, seeing my birth certificate or some form from baby me time saying my birthmark was actually this reddish scar-looking thing beneath my shoulder blade and thinking, Wings!

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Work in Progress: Magicland — June Gloom

I’ve been working on this one since last summer. I blew it up once, and I’m in the middle of blowing it up again. A smaller blow-up, not like the first one when I removed the main character. After that blow-up, I finished a draft in the fall. It was fine, but it didn’t click. It felt like something I’d be proud to have written in high school, maybe early college.

I let it sit like that until a couple months ago. Then I went over that first draft for the first time, really, as a reader. I cared for the writer only insofar as I wanted the writer to have written something better for both of us. I marked the shit out of that draft.

Since then I’ve been trying to flesh out the story, writing new scenes to sketch out the story and dialogues to learn the characters. I’m narrowing in on the story, though it’s really more like penciling a sketch to be painted over and over into a texture.

Anyway I’m thinking this is the opening scene. At least it is chronologically, even if I just started writing it yesterday. I’ll share more soon.

June Gloom gone astray, Isa thought she heard someone say as they boarded the tram to the park. Dee must have heard the same because they started saying something about clouds, though Isa only half heard.

June Gloom, she loved to hear her mom say the words. Her accent bent the j into a y to make the words sound like two slugs of water, the dun-dun of a verdict sung without sentence. The sun is still behind the clouds, she would say. You’ll see it later.

Isa almost said the words herself to quiet Dee, who was still bitching about clouds as they pulled up to the park.

“What are you expecting anyone to do about the clouds?” Wendy said instead.

“Well,” Dee began in one of their mock-huffs that maddened Wendy but delighted Isa, “they could put a dome over it all.”

“But wouldn’t they have to close the park for a long time to do that?” said Jane, who was still getting to know Dee and many times missed their point.

“You’re dumb,” said Wendy. “If they put in a dome, they would have to pipe in A/C, and it’d smell like an office building in there.”

“Have you ever even been in an office building?” said Dee in a sneer sprinkled with eagerness that Wendy was in a mood to play along.

“You mean like a dentist’s office? Yah.”

Dee pretended to be affronted, dropping their mouth into a low O to sound a weakened gasp. Walking before them, little boy with a clear Winnie the Pooh backpack with red straps turned to ogle Dee, who ballooned their cheeks and trumpeted an elephant blow that nearly bowled over the boy but, as the boy twisted over his feet to fully face Dee, his parent picked him up from the ground and turned him around without looking for the source of the sound.

“They’d have to get rid of the birds,” said Isa. “And no fireworks.”

“Fine fine. No dome, no fun,” said Dee. “But is it even the happiest place on earth without sun?”

“Maybe there’ll be sun later,” said Isa.

“And if not?”

“Then I’ll buy you a blanket, little baby,” Wendy interjected. She was the only one of them tall enough to level with Dee.

“Deal,” said Dee. “I can wear it as a cape.”

“You better not make it smell like ass. I’m gonna be borrowing it tonight,” Wendy said.

“Why?” said Jane. This would be her first summer out west after moving in the middle of the school year. Also she still wasn’t sure what kind of more than friends Dee and Wendy were.

“Because it gets cold once the sun goes away,” said Isa. “But at night is the best time to be here. All the lights. It’s like a movie.”

“That’s because you can’t see all of it,” needled Dee. Turning to Jane, “they use the lights to pick out what they want you to see and hide the rest,” and back to Isa, “it’s basically photoshop.”

“Well, it works,” said Wendy, back to Isa’s defense.

“I know,” moaned Dee. “Relax. I’m not trashing Disneyland.” Nodding to the Jane he came to calling New Jane to her face, “it’s good to be aware of.”

“Jane’s never been here. Just let it her enjoy first,” said Isa. What she had wanted to say was, It’s my birthday, shut up please. But she didn’t want to be that person. “Look. They’re opening the gates.”

Mother’s Day song

She puts the card back with its envelope and away. She has no one to buy it for anyway.

She looks down at the motherless little girl standing in her Velcro-strapped shoes, flipping open and closed a card that plays music, a song she knows she knows.

It doesn’t play for very long, not nearly long enough. All she has to go off are the few notes that make the little girl giggle, which is not much to go off at all. Little girls giggle.

She tries to remember the last time her daughter giggled, but can’t, and tries to remember the last time she herself giggled, but can’t, not even as a little girl, and she remembers she doesn’t have anyone anymore to ask if she ever giggled, and she wonders if giggles are memories never made and if this song, whatever this song is, this song she knows she’s heard but can’t remember when or why or whether she’ll ever hear it again, this song that lasts no longer than a moment, no time at all, she wonders if this song has anything to do with Mother’s Day anyway.

The day after Mother’s Day, Andrea said it seemed like I should write something sad. She just felt like it was something I needed to do. So I said fine. I don’t like writing sad because I feel like I do it too much and it’s mopey or sappy or just puddle-like. Anyway, I thought about my mom on Mother’s Day. She told me this year how hard it is for her, even though it’s been years. So I thought about that, and I wrote this. Maybe it’s too oblique to work, but I love it too much to let it go. If it doesn’t work, I’ll keep working on it.

Cruise control

This is something I scribbled one morning after driving before dawn, getting stuck behind a professional driver on an otherwise empty road and trying to understand why I was the one in a rush. I’ve cleaned it up a bit since that first draft, to try to tighten it. It’s still not there, but it’s closer. It could use some more description to give a better sense of place and time of day and to put the reader in the car and give a peek into the main character’s mind. I don’t think it conveys strongly enough the main character’s anxiety and how maddened they are by the nonchalant speed of the professional driver. In other words, it’s skeletal. But a good skeletal, the kind that can be built on and would hold up.

The “TCP-XXXX” decal on the back of the black SUV before him signaled this was a professional driver. Someone sent to chauffeur those well off enough to not need Uber even before Uber was ever around. He usually tried to steer clear of professional drivers. They drove for the money and too often to take care. But he had no choice here on this single-lane street away from the main road.

Anyway, what was this driver doing here before dawn driving slower than the speed limit? No way they had a passenger. Maybe they couldn’t find the pick-up spot.

Still, they didn’t seem to notice that he had nosed up behind, to nudge them along or out of the way. If they did, they didn’t seem to mind.

Eventually he let his foot off the pedals to stop from switching between gas and brake. He let the car roll as the road sloped downhill and ramped back up. The distance between him and the professional driver didn’t change. They must have let their foot off the gas too.

Still dark then

I scribbled this one a while back. It still needs work. The tone is inconsistent, the descriptions are a little too convoluted and overworked, there isn’t a strong enough sense of place, the transitions are inelegant, and it’s just not nearly as tight as I’d like it to be. I got too consumed with the flow of some of the lines, how they sound in my head, which make the ones that miss stand out even more as discordant. But I can work on it. There’s an idea here that I like.

He was one of the ones who woke before the sun returned. As he walked to his car, he thought he heard — were those waves?

He looked down to where the road ended into the dark expanse where the light left the sky. The whoosh was too irregular to be anything but waves.

As he looked down the road, he saw a runner. Not unusual for this time of day, especially here where every weekend was a 5k. But this runner stood out for the hobbled gait.

He got in his car and, while it warmed, wrote a text to his still sleeping girlfriend about the waves. After he put down his phone, he looked up to drive off and saw the runner pass on the sidewalk to his left.

He u-turned the car to turn left on the road behind him but remembered the runner and slowed in case he would cross. But he turned instead.

But there was another runner on the opposite corner who did not turn and did not stop but crossed into the street as though unaware of the car that, had it not stopped, would have run over this runner.

How lucky for this runner, he thought, that there were the waves, that there was the other runner, that he did not hit this runner. He wondered whether this runner knew too.

Couldn’t hurt as bad, the belt being intertwined

Get your belt, she said to him. Her mouth was as straight and tight as the arm she had reached out to point to where the belt was. Like he didn’t know his own closet. 

He had more than one belt though. And this time she didn’t say “get the belt.” “Get your belt” left things a little open to interpretation. He wasn’t dumb enough to get the nylon or braided cotton ones. She’d either have him go back and get the belt, or he’d get the buckle. Not the church belt; it was stiff in the way kids’ dress clothes always are from not being used enough to be broken in. He had two broken-in leather belts. One was braided and the other was wider. He preferred the braided one. He told himself it couldn’t hurt as bad because the belt being intertwined had to take out some of the sting.

He handed the belt to his mom. He shoved it carefully at her with the restrained defiance of anyone who’s already in punishment but isn’t sure when that punishment will end. 

Thank you, she said, clipping the words at their ends like that time she had asked him to get some papers out of the glove box to her car when the police had stopped them. 

She handed the belt to the boy’s father, who had been seated at the kitchen table while she stood. He had taken few bites from his plate in the time since she had first found the boy, who had forgotten to lock the bathroom door and should have known he’d been in there too long. They didn’t look at each other in the exchange.

Come here, the man said, bending in his chair to eye level and motioning the boy to his lap. The boy marched over and bent over his knee to face away from his parents.

This hurts us more than it hurts you, the father said between times. The boy turned back to see his mother who was looking at his father through tears. I’m sorry, he heard her say after he stood up and his father had walked away, leaving the two of them there with her clutching the boy’s head against her belly.