Victory Flags (Daily Post repost)

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Enough Is Enough.”

You should know:

Victory Flags are not always grand, unfurling banners embroidered with gold sigils of lions rampant, soaring eagles, flame-spewing dragons, diving falcons, and weapons of war, planted at the heads of armies, looking down into valleys of defeated foes.

Sometimes…

they’re just the right words of comfort in a time of despair,
or dirty, blood-soaked rags stanching bleeding wounds,
or taking a deep, ragged breath before making the next shaky effort…

sometimes it’s looking up the mountain at the descending hordes gathered against you

and getting back up to stand, and exhale a whispered, defiant declaration
into the howling winds and roiling clouds of your most ferocious storm,

“I’m still here.”

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

The Good News

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Once Upon a Time.”

Once upon a time…

He finally made his way home, weary from the day’s work, looking forward to some downtime, but doing what, he didn’t know.

It didn’t matter, really, as long as it wasn’t work.

He’d been to see the doctor last week, and while the overall health was good, there was an issue with blood pressure.

It was high. His hyperactive thyroid had triggered it, and while that was under control, the blood pressure was a constant tide: low, high, low, high…

The heart was fine, the pulse fine, even the cholesterol was fine, and the sugar too. He had no allergic reactions, gained a couple of pounds, but not much, and felt fine in general, no pain to complain about, but though he was not in danger, he was not entirely out of the woods.

Trudging up the steps, he saw the edge of the white envelope sticking out of the mailbox.

Sighing, he removed it: “An Important Message from Your Health Plan.”

Doctors….

He walked through the living room, looking at the envelope in his hand, pondering the possibilities of what could be important.

Without much preamble, he put down the heavy bag containing his laptop, and ripped the envelope open.

It was indeed from his health insurance, and as he scanned its message, he couldn’t help but smile, the message within making his heart glad and lifting his spirits, and lowering his blood pressure.

“This is not a bill.”

A Fireside Chat with Frederick Douglass

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Fireside Chat.”

A good, hard question for this Daily Post. I thought of several writers who I would love to hear life stories from: Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Kahlil Gibran, Octavia Butler, or from the world of music, Chick Corea, Joni Mitchell, Ella Fitzgerald, or from the art world Georgia O’Keefe, (what’s with the flowers, girl?) She did a piece called Music that I saw a reproduction of in a museum gift shop, fell in love with, didn’t buy at the time, and haven’t been able to find since.  But after the impulsiveness of the choices I initially made, I decided to go in a different direction.

I would want to talk to Frederick Douglass, not just read his books. I would like to see the expressions of his face  when he reminisced about being a slave, getting his freedom, and being sold back.

I would want to hear his voice, the strength of it waxing eloquent as he wielded words of desiring freedom like a flaming sword, cutting through the hypocrisy of the crowds he addressed, the nation he lived in, holding up the mirror to a white slave owner, his reflection Douglass’ own face, for them to see the vileness of what they’d done.

In his straightened back would be the defiance of refusing to bend under the whip, to stand firmly on the ground for those who were hung from trees, in his quiet passion the balm that would heal the burning bodies of castrated black men, the violated black women, who dared for a moment to be human again.

I would look on the scars of his beatings, and feel my spine chill with the danger as he took his books to secret places to practice reading by moonlight and lantern under threat of death, but willing to die.

In his eyes would be the sound of the spirituals ringing over the fields, the sound of chains, the sound of violins and dancing, the tears of the pregnant slave women walking at night to drop their half-breed progeny into rivers and off hilltops, or bury them silently in the woods, or suckle them in silent, tearful suffering.

From him, I would feel the will to survive the Middle Passage, the pride of fierce anger, of refusing to let go of the old ways, of holding on to the memories of ancestral tribes and customs and language, slowly eroding like promontory  rocks, or crushed and driven out like crushed and broken shells at high tide.

And as the fire died, and sleep grew heavy on my eyes, and his visage began to fade in the paling light of the rising sun, I would then have a reason, and find the strength, to go on, and on, and on…

You Might Not Like It

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Re-springing Your Step.”

I’d typed the last words to my first novel.

It was done, and I sat, in a state of amazement that after all these years of good intentions, false starts, and distractions, the effort had finally paid off, and it was finished.

It felt good; in fact, it felt great.

“Send it to us,” some of my friends said. “What’s it about?”

“It’s a fantasy novel,” I said. “You might not like it.”

“Naw, man. Go ahead and send it to my email, I’ll check it out. So proud of you, dude!”

And so I sent it out to my friends, eager to hear their response.

One week. Two weeks. A follow up email from me. “Hey guys, it’s been a cupla weeks. How ya likin it?”

Crickets.

Another two weeks, another email. More crickets.

“I’ll read it,” a young man I worked with said. “Not sure you’d like it,” I said. “It’s a fantasy novel.”

“Well, I’ll be honest, Alfred. I’m not much of a reader, but if you send it to me, I’ll read it and tell you what I think.”

Why not?

He gave me his email, and I sent it.

He kept me apprised of his progress, what he liked, what he wasn’t sure about, what was I thinking when I wrote this. It was good so far, he was enjoying it. He could see the descriptions in his mind. He was reading it in the email app on his phone during downtime and lunch. He read it on the weekends.

And then he told me something that sent me to the moon and around it several times:

“I finished it, and I’m looking forward to the second part.”

In that moment, if no one else ever read it, I considered myself a writer.

I got an admitted, self -confessed non-reader to finish my first novel, and he remains, to this day, the first of two who have the unpublished manuscript in their possession.

It was more validation to me than if all my friends had read it and offered their thoughts and opinions.

I was (emotionally) high for a week. I shared it on my fb status, I called my best friend, (a published author, whose book actually contains a line I gave him, but he didn’t pay me. Some friend, huh?) I told my sister.

They congratulated me, they understood what I meant, but they didn’t, well, couldn’t feel the elation that came with hearing those words.

A non-reader who doesn’t read fantasy enjoyed my work, told me to let him know when it was out so he could order it, and was looking forward to reading the second part. And he will order it, because he’s kept his word to me all along.

If that doesn’t put a re-spring in your step, I don’t know what would.

Leaving Letters

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Pens and Pencils.”

She was too special to text, to email, to send a selfie.

This had to be from the heart, and would likely be a ‘novel’ experience; he chuckled to himself, being a writer…

There were people about, but he was able to focus.

He even bought a special fancy pen and stationery at the bookstore, just for the occasion; the ink was distinctive, seductively dark, he thought; the yellowed ivory look of the paper gave it just the right look of antiquity, and she would immediately, upon seeing it was his writing, be duly impressed.

The coffee shop, however, was full of college students, much like he’d been not very long ago; loud, boisterous, sure of themselves and their world-changing ideas.

He smiled.

How his world had shrunk, so suddenly, so magically, down to two, and if he had his way, down to one: to her.

This letter, to her. His heart, to her. All that he would be, to her.

He left the coffee shop behind, its murmured ‘walla’ of earnest conversations became meaningless, like the prayers of rabble in the church courtyard to the consecrated priests within.

***********************

Somehow, he found a quiet spot, on a hill where few joggers and dog walkers, parents, and couples out for a romantic walk bothered to venture.

It wasn’t complete solace, but it was the best he would do, and while he burned with the passionate prose he’d composed in his mind, the day was fleeting;  soon the night would come, and she’d be home, the element of his elegant surprise lost.

******************

He filled the paper by the light of the westering sun, laboring, reading, reading again, a small mound of pricey parchment in a pyramid of circles on his left, the envelope waiting patiently, resting on blades of grass on his right.

There. It was done. Well and truly done. If he were a girl, (pardon, a woman) who received such a letter, he would surely swoon. Cyrano at his best was a hack compared to this.

*****************

Romantically cryptic, he did not write his full name, just his initials, on the envelope, and he placed it with trembling hand in the mailbox, as if in offering to a god smiling benevolently, condescendingly, upon such a meager, but heartfelt offering.

He left in a high state of anticipatory bliss.

********************

His phone rang at eleven that night.

He’d been pacing, waiting, slowly going out of his mind, but he let it ring four times before he answered it, lest she think him desperate.

“Hello.” His voice came out steadier than he’d hoped for; that was good.

“Is this some kind of joke?” she said.

“Joke? You think I’m joking? You read everything I feel about you, and you think I’m joking? What’s wrong with you?”

Taken aback, her tone softened. “How you feel about me…? But …there’s nothing on this paper.”

“How could that be?”

“I don’t know, but it’s blank; there was a blank envelope too, but I figured with all that, it was probably you, playing a prank on me.”

“But…”

He rifled through his desk, found the pen, hastily scratched the word ‘pen’ on a sticky note, and told her,

“There’s nothing wrong with the pen I had, nothing wrong with the paper.”

They proceeded to talk about what could have happened, and as they talked, he walked through the house, but when he returned to his desk, the word ‘pen’ was gone from the sticky note.

“I’ll call you back…” he said, and hung up.

He took the cartridge out, but there was ink.

He shook the box, and a booklet fell out, splattering on the desk like an blot:

‘Jim’s Novelty Shop: fancy pen with disappearing ink.

Fool your friends…’