Friday Fictioneers: Consumed

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PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

The insatiable flames  grew, devouring the building. The stench of charred beams clogged  throats and  burned eyes.

The owner stood, shoulders stooped, hands in pockets, shaking his head endlessly. Everything he owned, damaged beyond repair.  Sure, there was insurance, but he didn’t know if he had the energy to start over again.

It wasn’t just his own loss.  Jobs that had helped keep his village alive and thriving had burned right along with the building.  Countless families would be added to the welfare rolls; there was nowhere else to turn.

Such evil.  Such incredible evil.

How we Dress

Impression

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I have always been interested in the way society changes its values and habits over time. I’m talking just about America here.  I’ve never lived anywhere else, so I can’t speak with any authority about other places.

I’ve lived in America for nearly 70 years, and I’ve seen a huge change since I was a little girl.  Some would seem to be small things, not worth noticing. For example, it was always impressed upon us, growing up, that the impression one makes on people is lasting; therefore, you need to always be presentable.  For parents of the 1950’s, that meant clean clothes, polished shoes, socks pulled up and neatly folded at the ankle, and clean fingernails.

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Cute kids, right?  Notice:  The boy is wearing hard-soled shoes.  Sneakers were for gym class. The girl is wearing a dress. No girls ever wore pants to school unless it was very cold, and then you put them on under your skirt and took them off when you got to school. Hair is conservative and neatly combed. The kids are as neat as a pin. Now let’s see how different a girl looks in 2017:

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Ripped jeans, skin tight; long and often messy hair, sneakers, belly shirt.  I couldn’t find a picture of a boy, but they often look about the same as this girl. Or, they wear baggy shorts and tees, great big sneakers with laces left undone, and a backwards ball cap.

No one in my generation would have been caught dead looking like this in public. I’m still amazed that kids WANT to look like their parents can’t afford to buy them new jeans 🙂

So what happened?  Well, to begin with, the Hippie generation back in the 60’s and 70’s, when everyone wanted to be different, but all in the same way.   Long, messy hair, lots of facial hair for the guys, sunglasses, beadsbeadsbeads, tatty old hip-hugging  jeans (bell bottoms, remember?) and either sandals or bare feet.  It was the uniform of those who were rebelling against the Establishment.

Then, comfort became the mantra for what people wore. It still is, but I don’t see as much prejudice against suits for men, office apparel for women that doesn’t look like something out of the dumpster behind the Good Will store. Making a good impression has become important again, and our outward appearance reflects that.  Major changes still exist, though. It is now appropriate for women to wear pants to work, for instance, although I understand some offices frown on it.  There doesn’t seem to be nearly as much emphasis on dress codes as there used to be.

I think we’ve kind of come back to center.  The 50’s were neat and tidy, the 60’s and 70’s ushered in the grunge look.  The 80’s were all about BIG hair, HUGE glasses, shoulder pads for women.  The 90’s tamed that down, and this century, so far,  has been pretty conservative for the most part but gentler around the edges than the 50’s were.

Unless you’re a Hollywood entertainer, where the look for women seems to be as bare and/or revealing as possible while the men still wear tuxedos to walk the red carpet to awards events.

The fact is, we’re always making some kind of impression on someone.  I don’t really worry about that too much.  I dress to please myself, to be appropriate, and not to call attention to myself when I’m working.  I wouldn’t be able to help people if they were so bedazzled by my outfit that they couldn’t think straight.

And heavy women–please, if you’re going to wear the ubiquitous yoga pants, do us all a favor and wear a long top that covers your backside. You apparently don’t know how bad you look.

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https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/impression/

Weapons of War

Catapult

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These rather clumsy constructions could do a great deal of damage.  The bucket was loaded with any number of different projectiles, and could help take down a strong castle wall.
Once, long ago, I read a story in which an enemy prisoner was forced into the bucket, tied hand and foot so that he could not escape. Imagine his terror, and the power of intimidation when the defenders of the keep saw his body hurtling toward them.
We still use the principle of the catapult today in launching fighter planes from massive ships.
 
So I got to thinking about how we use words, these days, as the ammunition for our verbal catapults. We load up the bucket and then sling words all over the place:  Newspapers, magazines, and especially into cyberspace.
Every day, if I want to waste a lot of time, I could read hundreds of posts about how horrible Trump is, or how evil Hillary is. I never look at them, because I’m just plain fed up with all the ranting and raving. And please don’t read the comments.  I did for a while, until I just couldn’t stomach it any more.  Have we really devolved so far  into ignorance that we can’t think of any word but the F-bomb?
It just never stops, and the computer world has given everyone a place to vent. Journalists are among the worst offenders, putting out lies, guesses, and suppositions in place of truth.  Shame on them for sullying what used to be a respected part of our society.  The mainstream is nothing more than a vehicle to shut down anyone who disagrees with their own agenda.
We’ve become a nation whose fighting among ourselves is making us a ripe plum, just about ready to fall off the tree and into the hands of our enemies.  We use catapults of hateful, ugly lies to try to press the point. It’s a shame. We need to be, once again, the UNITED States of America.  Divided, we fall.
https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/catapult/

Not Romantic at All

Adrift

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I remember reading  Swiss Family Robinson and Robinson Crusoe when I was a kid. It seemed so adventurous, and tested the ability of those involved to survive in precarious situations.  Even Mutiny on the Bounty had a rather romantic ending, and being cast adrift seemed to be not such a bad thing.

Then I read a true story of some people whose boat was wrecked in a storm.  I don’t remember the name of the book, but I do remember that their experience was anything but romantic and adventurous.  It was a nightmare.  Once the rations that were stored ahead in the lifeboat were used up, it became nothing more than slow torture as they drifted to nowhere.

Hot sun, no wind, very little potable water; no clothing to keep their skin from burning, nothing to protect them from whatever weather they encountered.  A couple of them died, and there was even talk among the survivors about cannabalism.  They ended up voting against it, and simply dumped the bodies over the side.

When they were finally rescued, they were all hospitalized for a variety of ills. Some of them suffered terrible nightmares, and what we would recognize today as Post-Traumatic Stress.  None of them looked back fondly on their days together in an inflatable lifeboat.

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I love the ocean, but not the idea of being adrift at sea.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/adrift

Not My Thing

Descend

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I have the common sense to stay away from these climbing walls.  I don’t have the strength to climb the basement stairs, never mind a wall like this.

Besides, even if I could ascend, I would be stuck there for the rest of my life because, to me, it is more terrifying to descend than to ascend.  I don’t like heights.  Never have. Heights make me feel as if I’m going to fall off the edge, even if there’s a stout fence between me and the chasm.  It’s as if the pull of gravity multiplies rapidly with every step upward.

No thanks.  I admire those  who consider this exercise to be fun, and more power to them. It’s just not for me.

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Busted!

Farce

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He was a farce, and he knew it. Everyone else saw his cheerful, good old boy, hearty handshake exterior. They didn’t know.

Neither did his wife, or his kids.  He knew how to cover his tracks, and he was extremely cautious.

Truth, however, has a way of coming to the surface when you least expect it.

He had preached a scorcher that Sunday morning, had the rapt attention of his congregation, and was warmly and humbly thanked by many for pointing out their sin–which, of course, he had no way of knowing about. Still, it was gratifying.  His people trusted him.

On their way home, his 16-year-old son said, “Dad, I need to talk to you. Alone.  Right away when we get home.”

“Sure, Son.  Anything wrong?”

“Yes.  But not now, not here.”

All of them were quiet the rest of the way home. His wife, his other son, his daughter, all clammed up. There was a tangible sense of tension in the car.

Finally, alone in his office, he and his son didn’t bother to sit down. As soon as the door was closed, Jeff confronted his dad from a distance of less than one foot.  In a low, quiet voice, he said, “I know what you’ve been doing, Dad. It’s so sick, I can’t stand it.  You need to know I’ve contacted the police.  They’re coming. Soon. They’ll have a warrant to take you computer, your tablet, you smart phone.

“You’re busted.  You’re nothing but a bag of hot air.  I have no respect for you.  None.

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“Little girls, Dad?  Really?  You thought no one could know, but you forgot that I’m the one who showed you how to use the internet.

“You make me sick to my stomach.”

At that moment, the door opened and two armed police officers walked in. They were holding a warrant for his electronics, and for his arrest.

It took less than ten minutes for his whole world to come crashing down on his head.

Now, they would all know.

No more secrets.

Mother’s Helpers

Precipice

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The seemingly simple fact of her husband’s death was inconceivable to Ellie. Here she stood, on the precipice of widowhood, looking down into what was an unaccountably bleak future.

“I wish I’d died with him,” she thought. “I wish it had been a car accident, and we could have died together just as we’ve lived together for nearly 50 years.”

Always able to make quick, confident decisions, Ellie found herself wandering in a desert of indecision. She couldn’t even decide which shoes to wear, dithering back and forth between two different styles.

People were forcing so many decisions on her. They had barely given her time to breathe after Tom died, acting as if her own body hadn’t been sliced right in half, and every nerve ending was screaming with pain.

“Are you going to sell the house?  You don’t need all that room.  You need to give Dad’s clothes to the Good Will or something.  What are you going to do with all his tools?”

On and on it went, and her children seemed to think she ought to make these decisions RIGHT NOW!  Nothing, absolutely nothing,  had to be done right this minute.  Tom had been buried less than 24 hours ago, and she hadn’t slept at all in that time. She was aching with weariness, loss, and confusion. And her kids were treating her as if she was no longer a viable entity; like they had to tell her what to do, as if she were just a baby.

She came out of her reverie with a snap.  One of her sons had practically yelled, “MOM!”  Pay attention here, would you?  There’s a lot that needs to be done!”

She stood, and even though she was quaking inside, there was fire in her eyes.

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“You all need to go home and leave me alone. I don’t want to make any decisions today, and maybe not tomorrow or next week or next year.  You’re all being incredibly rude, and you didn’t learn that from your father and me!  Stop treating me as if I’m an imbecile who no longer has a brain.

“I’ll make decisions when I’m good and ready.  And I’m telling you, the more you push me the harder I’ll resist.  Now, I want you all to go home. Leave.  Take your superior attitudes with you.  I’ll call you when I need you, and you’d better have settled down before that happens.

“Keep in mind that I’m the one who reared every one of you. I taught you to use a spoon and a fork, and I taught you to tie your shoes.  I cared for you when you were sick, and I listened when you had a problem. You didn’t think I was an idiot then, and I’m not an idiot now.

I’m going to bed.  Make sure you lock the door on your way out.”

Shocked and speechless, they all gathered their coats and their children, avoiding each other’s eyes.  Finally, as they were filing out the door, the eldest daughter said, “I don’t understand why she was so upset.  After all, we’re just trying to help!”

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Fear and Shame

Collaboration

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During World War II, this word referred to those who secretly or, sometimes, overtly worked with the Germans  who had invaded and taken over their countries. After the war, those who were accused of having collaborated with Germany were treated to haircuts that left them bald. This punishment was particularly shameful for the women.

There wasn’t much mercy for collaborators. Often, they were simply rounded up and shot.

So why did they do it, those who cooperated with Germany?  I’m sure their motives were widely divergent, but I suspect that one motive was their belief that Germany was going to prevail, and they wanted to be on the winning side when the war was over.

Another reason could have been that collaborators were often rewarded with food, which became more and more scarce as the war dragged on.  Women whose husband, fathers, or brothers were fighting, or who had died, were left to their own devices when it came to feeding their families.

We’ll never know what went through the minds of those who collaborated. They knew the dangers, and made their choices.

War often makes people do things they would never have done otherwise.

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Finishing Well

Final

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“Could you turn your music down, PLEASE!  I’m trying to study for my finals, and the music is very distracting.”

“Aw, who cares about stupid old finals,” responded Carly, Joanna’s roommate. “I’m sick of studying, and besides, it’s a gorgeous day. You should get out of your books in into the fresh air.  C’mon, walk with me!”

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Joanna shook her head as she gathered up her books, notebooks, and computer. “No, thanks. I can’t. These finals matter. They’re my ticket into law school. You’re so smart, Carly. You should be studying too, if you want to keep that funding for your master’s degree.  I’ll see you later.”

Joanna did, indeed, see Carly later. . . much later. They lost touch after graduation as Joanna headed to law school and Carly headed into a serious relationship with the latest boyfriend—who turned out to be a loser.

Joanna had been practicing family law for three years, and she loved it.  She didn’t love the divorces that were part of her case load, but she loved being a part of the system that brought families back together. Sometimes, even the divorces were worth the battle. When someone was experiencing violence at the hands of a spouse, and there was no remorse on the part of the batterer, then separation or divorce was the best remedy.

She sat at her desk one morning, glancing over a new file. The woman wanted a divorce, Domestic abuse, drunken spouse, two children. The woman’s name was Carly, and of course Joanna wondered.

When her secretary opened the door and introduced the new client, Joanna got up from her desk and enveloped her old roommate in a lingering hug.

“I’m glad you studied for your finals,” whispered Carly.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/final/

Pinking Shears

Pink

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Long before I could sew, I used to enjoy watching my mom as she worked at her sewing machine.  She was an excellent seamstress.  She had many tools unique to her craft, but there was one thing that always made me curious.

Pinking shears.  Scissors with teeth that left a saw-toothed edge on the fabric.

Why were they called pinking shears?   When I asked, she laughed and said she really didn’t know.

So, of course, I looked it up. Here is what Wikipedia has to say:

The cut produced by pinking shears may have given its name to (or been derived from) the plant named pink, a flowering plant in the genus Dianthus (commonly called a carnation). The color pink may have been named after these flowers, although the origins of the name are not definitively known. As the carnation has scalloped, or “pinked”, edges to its petals, pinking shears can be thought to produce an edge similar to the flower.

The word “pink” can be used as a verb dating back to 1300 meaning “pierce, stab, make holes in”.

And here is a pink dianthus:

So, there you have it.  I love words.  There is so often an interesting story behind a word; a story that brings the word to life and makes sense to something that otherwise made no sense at all.

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