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Not Dead! Plus, the Beginning of a New Challenge

EDIT: If this posts a dozen times, I apologize. WordPress is giving me some weird issues.

I’m not dead! It may have certainly seemed like it over the past few weeks, but it is not the case. I was hoping to return sometime mid-November, but life just got messy. I was majorly burned out on everything, meaning I had the energy to do the bare minimum in class, take sufficient care of my clients, and collapse into a puddle of human on the couch each night. It, frankly, has been two months filled with stress, anxiety, disappointment, and frustration, with some bright spots thrown in. Admittedly, those bright spots generally included a complete shirking of all responsibilities. Not to say I wasn’t doing anything. I did some beta reading, even editing an entire book for someone. (Interested? You can contact me about beta-reading/editing here!). I also successfully bought Christmas presents for the important folks in my life, took final exams, and traveled to visit my family and in-laws (in geographically distinct places) over the holiday. Now, life enters a new season of busy, but I at least have a little charge in my batteries.

That said, I am introducing a new topic on the blog. I always try to “write more” for my New Year’s resolution, and this year there is a project I have wanted to tackle. I’m not sure if anyone is familiar with the game Dixit, but it is amazingly fun and simple. It is a game of creativity and problem solving, played with large cards. These cards have various scenes on them, with a wide range of subject matters. They are really unique cards (created, according to the box, by Marie Cardouat). If you are a game fan, go out and buy it. My challenge to myself is to write a short (1-2 page max) story about each card over the next 84 days. I can be long winded, and so I am keeping myself to a pretty strict page limit to force myself to condense ideas and tell simple stories effectively. I also need to inspiration to write daily, and these cards seem to promise a challenge and a good base to jump from. I debated providing some visual form of the card to accompany each, but I really could not come up with something that preserved the copyright of the material while being effective, so I will simply include a verbal description. If you want to follow along at home, go buy yourself the game and you’ll be able to find most cards.

While it goes without saying, I’m going to say it anyway. This is in no way associated with the actual game itself, nor is it sanctioned or approved by the creators, publishers, or anyone. I’m doing this all on my own, without anyone’s blessing or permission. (Which also means my urging you to buy the game is purely because I really enjoy it, and like to share things I like). This is just something I am doing for myself. My goal is to make each story stand alone, without any need to reference the cards to understand or appreciate them, but to use those as inspiration. The card draws will be random, but I will not repeat a card. There are 84 cards, so I should have 84 stories in just a few months time. We’ll see how it goes. My hope it to do 84 sequential days, but life does have a way of flinging wrenches into plans. Rather than make it something that is a failure after one missed day, I want to provide myself the room to pick back up if I get off by a day or two, so I am giving myself until April 1 to finish this. That gives me six days to miss, if necessary.

Without further ado, this first card-inspired story.

Card Day 1: A gold ring around a lock of braided hair.

The ring was heavy in her hand, its gold band carrying supernatural weight. Michaela could remember a time when it had been light as air, levitating her hand into everyone’s view. She had proudly displayed the thing, simple as it was, her eyes beaming as her cheeks ached with the effort of so many smiles. Only now it weighed like a stone in her hand, and like an anchor to her heart. Her cheeks were dragged down by the weight into a permanent frown, and her eyes were dull with grief. She breathed deep, steeling herself, and let the simple ring fall into the bottom of her drawer. It hit the wood with a thunk, like the sound of fresh dirt on a sealed lid. This time, she did not cry. Her tears were well-spent.

She had hoped that sealing away the reminder would lessen the weight pushing down on her shoulders, but that childish hope was defeated y the somber reality. No, the weight remained, a heaviness in her lungs that made each breath an exercise in diligence. For what was far from the first time, she wondered what would happened if she stopped so carefully forcing her lungs to inflate and deflate, leaving them to her own devices. The logical side scoffed at such an idea, but some broken part embraced the childish hope that there would be rest.

Five months, thirteen days. Her solemn calendar made her feel all at once the immediacy and the distance between that night five months and thirteen days ago. In one sense, she was so close to those times that had been happy. She could remember the sound of his voice, the color of his eyes, and the scent of his cologne. She remembered their jokes and secrets, all the plans and dreams built on a foundation of sand. Of course, with this happiness, there was the immediacy of the pain, always seething right below the surface. She remembered the numbness replaced by searing pain as she held the phone in her hand. The cold, crisp, practiced words on the line tethering her to a reality she so desperately wished to flee. The tears, the sobs, the dismal task of selecting the perfect coffin as she played the role of the grieved not-yet widow. It was all right there in that moment, separated from the now by a few breaths.

And yet, it was all so distant, as if viewed from some satellite orbiting above. Decades had passed since that phone call, wearing and eroding her heart and soul with the cruel passivity of time. Her body felt the ache of his missed presence, and the small token she had sequestered around the hat—his favorite sweatshirt, his pillow, the baseball cap her wore religiously—had already lost his scent. The season had changed, cool spring winds wiping away the winter tragedy. The world spun, steadily erasing him as each day passed. And so, she felt his distance even as she felt that she would, at any moment, awaken from this dream that had held her so long captive.

But today, she had put away his ring, tucking it along with the notes and letters, the small tokens of early love that remained a touchstone of overwhelming emotion. She had placed her letters along with his, creating a sacred space for a love that once was and had been swiftly extinguished. In some fantasy, she imagined that the drawer held some secret time capsule, some reality where the words of her letters blended with his even as the little drawings and strange gifts –like the plastic spider from the Halloween party or the photostrip from their first date—rewrote and gilded their history, preserving both lovers into eternity. An eternity they had planned to pledge this very day, five months and thirteen days from when it all fell apart.

Silence was the enemy. Michaela had learned that early in her grief. In silence, her thoughts had free rein to twist her memories and her longings back to times that had been brighter. It obscured the present under a haze of nostalgia, paralyzing her to her spot. She rose from her seat of dutiful grief and turned on the radio, finding some station filled with the buzz of guitar and nasally singing. The words and sounds mattered less than their presence, and she felt her protective barrier of avoidance close in once again. Her ring finger felt bare, naked, weightless, but she carefully redirected her thoughts. She needed to make the grocery list.

‘Bread, milk, tea…’she dutifully recited in her mind, running through her cupboards carefully, ‘a box of pasta, two cans of sauce, cereal.’ Her thoughts paused, suspended in the minute decision of which brand to write down. He had always loved the name brand with those tiny marshmallows, something she had always hated but nevertheless devoured over the past five months. She kept the box there just for him. Her pen hovered over the paper, and she felt she was suddenly at a crucial crossroads. ‘Cereal-Cheerios.’ She wrote it without thinking, without pondering the implications. She immediately redirected her thoughts back to the music playing, letting the dangerous grocery list lie dormant for a moment. It was some sugary pop song, blaring enthusiasm and recklessness to cover what Michaela assumed was deep-seated pain.

She couldn’t sit still. For five months, she had been a ghost wandering her home, floating from room to room with no purpose other than to remain moving. It was a pattern she did not foresee soon breaking. She pushed back from the table and walked towards her room. Perhaps a shower would wash away the heaviness of the day, freeing her to continue her well-practiced avoidance.

Michaela froze in the doorway. On the top of the dresser was the ring, resting accusatorily atop the flowery invitation for their wedding. The looping words spelled out the day’s date, a cheery font chosen in a happier time. While this caused a pang of grief to slice through her, it was the mirror that made her freeze. Written in a thick, brown dirt, the word” forever” scrawled its way across the glass with shaky and broken strokes.

Over the sound of the music, Michaela heard three strong raps on the apartment door. She trembled as she walked down the long hallway to the door, past the smiling faces in dusty picture frames. She peered through the peephole as his eyes stared back. Michaela placed her hand on the strangely cold doorknob, her eyes wide with a mixture of fear, hope, and panic. Grief, she reminded herself, could easily play tricks on one’s mind. That was one lesson she had learned from her counselor early on, after many nights of waking with the certainty those were his footsteps in the living room or his weight in the bed next to her. She tried to calm her breathing, prepare for the inevitable disappointment of a deliveryman or well-meaning neighbor. But some part of her, the part that could not explain the ring or the cemetery script, hoped and feared.

Michaela opened the door.

Creative Commons License
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

One response

  1. Greetings, Katherine C.!

    I’ve never heard of the game, Dixit, but what a monumental undertaking!

    I thought this was a wonderful little piece, in the vein of “The Monkey’s Paw” by William Jacobs. The mood of the story was well established from the get-go, and well carried throughout by Michaela’s longing and grief, as well as your knack for writing distinguished, haunting detail. Bravo.

    January 4, 2015 at 9:53 pm

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