Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Flowers for a Dead Man

Decided I shouldn't let an entire calendar month go by without posting something, so I'm pulling out a short story I wrote about a year-and-a-half ago. It was a rejected submission (too short) but it was my wife's favorite of all my stories. She really really really liked it, which pleased me to no end, of course. 

Fair warning: The tale's just under 1,500 words, considerably longer than my typical post length.


Flowers for a Dead Man
By Jeffrey S. Hargett

Sara told me she loved me with all her heart. What a load of crap that turned out to be. Cousin Kevin said love was the brain's creation, nothing more than hormones, pheromones and trigger-happy neurons. Turns out he didn't have a clue either. Hearts and brains have nothing to do with love. They have nothing to do with hurts and hate either. That kind of stuff lives in the soul.

Need proof? Check my grave. Nothing left of Franklin David Jones but ash and bones. My baby blues turned to dust years ago, right along with my adorable dimples and dashing smile. That's how twenty-three-year-olds like me end up when the Fairlane's got a new set of whitewalls and the girls need impressing. And I did my impressing with all eight cylinders.

That's how I met my Sara.

I'm not really sure what it was about me that caught her eye. She did have a lot to choose from though. Momma raised me to be a modest boy, but still, it wasn't me the ugly stick took to beating. Leastways, I never thought so. But I suppose it could have been the Fairlane's apple-candy red. It did have a dozen or so pounds of the shiniest chrome you ever saw. Most girls like shiny. Sara did too, but I think what got her motor running was the two-hundred horses under the hood. I ain't met a woman yet that didn't like a little muscle. She had all six-hundred-forty-two of mine flexing from the get-go.

Now, Momma raised me to be honest, so I'll admit that Sara caught my eye first. Sara caught just about everyone's eye first. Men tend to notice things like a woman more beautiful than dawn with hair the color of a sunrise.

She'd just got done waiting tables at Charlie's Grill down on Worth Street next to the old Firestone. Charlie dressed his girls in yellow with frilly, white aprons cut to accent hips and hind ends. Charlie's customers were good tippers. I liked to watch from the Fairlane. Watching was free and it didn't require tipping. Besides, the burgers over on Main cost less and came with fatter fries.

When Sara stepped outside Charlie's, I lost every bit of sense I'd collected in twenty-three years. Maybe it had something to do with those hormones and trigger-happy neurons Cousin Kevin always went on about, but I thanked God for my Fairlane. If I'd not been in the driver's seat, I'd have been a red-faced fool. Those swaying hips of hers had my engine revving. Love may live in the soul, but it stirs things you can touch.

I spent the whole night wondering what her name was and where she lived. I'd have followed her, but the sheriff gets involved when guys do that. So I did what any other guy my age would do in that situation. I called Stephen, my best friend since second grade. Now Stephen always gave advice you'd only take on a dare, but she'd left me in a daring frame of mind. And for once, that low-life best friend of mine didn't lead me astray.

I put a ring on Sara's finger less than four months later. I said my "I dos" and meant them all, but just because a man's got a wife at home don't mean he can't still impress the ladies in town. I might have been a married man, but I still looked good sitting on two-hundred horses. When a girl lets her eye linger on you, she expects you to be a gentleman and return the favor. Momma did raise me to be a gentleman.

Nobody ever mistook Franklin David Jones for Ward Cleaver. Some guys got the makings for T.V. dads. Some don't. I was who I was. Folks can say about me just whatever they please. It don't mean I didn't love Sara. Maybe if I'd had a daddy helping Momma raise me I'd have been a better husband. Then again, maybe not. It don't much matter now. I'm dead and can't change a damned thing.

I've got Stephen to thank for that.

Along about September, Stephen calls. He'd found him some cute brunette from the other side of town and his Mercury was in the shop again. Far be it from me to deny my best man a lift in his hour of need. Besides, I was more than a little curious about what kind of girl dates a low-life like Stephen. I loaded Sara into the Fairlane and we set out to salvage what little dignity he had left.

Now I'm willing to overlook a few faults when a girl has a pretty face, but that Angie girl he found didn't know how to shut up. The girl yammered straight through dinner, the whole way to the drive-in and right through the pre-show cartoons.

I kindly yanked Stephen's butt out of the car and dragged his "gonna get me some" grin all the way to the concession stand. The boy thought he was Rock Hudson out with Doris Day. Even asked me if I found Angie attractive. Was he kidding? Anything wearing a skirt's attractive when you're twenty-three. Didn't mean he was getting lucky though.

I'd have spent my whole check on popcorn, Goobers and Raisinets too, just on the chance it'd keep that girl quiet. The funny thing is, every time she got quiet I found myself looking over my shoulder. Stephen was my best friend, but ain't nobody allowed to mess around in my Fairlane except me and Sara. My Fairlane, my rules.

Angie's battery finally ran low just about the time the second feature ended. I enjoyed a good three minutes of quiet on the drive back until Stephen somehow set Angie to squealing. A sudden commotion like that startles a man. I jerked the wheel and the next thing I know I'm Park Lawn Acres' newest resident.

I always did hate cemetery names. I do have to admit though that I'm decomposing under the greenest damned grass in the county. Of course, it'd be a whole lot nicer if all the neighbors weren't dead. Some of these poor souls have been here since Moses saw God. The living might not be able to see us, but we can see each other. We're like faded Polaroids and shimmer when the moon's right.

Some take to moping about and peering at tombstones, sometimes theirs, sometimes not. I thought at first they were searching for someone. They're not. They're just doing what I'm doing. Remembering. The dead don't got much else to do but remember. And we got forever to do it. Dying's a serious thing. I don't recommend it. It takes a spell adjusting to being dead. Some never do. Some go mad. Maybe they were mad before, but now they've got angry and crazy in a gift-wrapped box. Mine comes with a pretty bow.

I never saw Angie here in Park Lawn Acres. Maybe she's staring at tombstones over in Poplar Grove or one of the church cemeteries. Maybe she's still jabbering at drive-ins and squealing in back seats. One thing's for certain. She ain't with Stephen. Stephen's with Sara. My Sara. They've been here. Together. He puts his hand on her shoulder while she plucks stray weeds and places flowers next to the headstone. Flowers! What damn good is flowers to a dead man?

I'd almost come to terms with it, being dead, being a ghost. Never did figure out why I didn't pass on to someplace else. I never really expected it to be Heaven. God knows Momma tried. I always figured I'd be dodging red devils and pitchforks. But this is where I am. The smile-flashing Franklin David Jones everybody loved stays put six feet under. The Franklin David Jones that still feels the loves and hurts and hates stays put too. Ghosts don't leave their corpses behind. Ain't a matter of won't, it's a matter of can't.

Maybe that's what stokes our anger. That, and seeing a new gold band on your wife's finger that matches the one your former best friend's wearing. I can't help but wonder which came first, them patting down the dirt on my grave or Stephen moving in on my wife. At least he don't come here much anymore. Sara does though. She brings a little girl with her. She's got baby blue eyes. Just like me. And she cries every time Sara brings her here. Just like me.

Smiles fade and dimples disappear. You're left to linger on, cling to hates and hurts and loves because you can't lay a hand to anything. The worst part about dying? It's the living that comes after. Especially on the days they bring you flowers.

 - The End

Monday, September 15, 2014

Visiting With Richard

Blogging buddy extraordinaire Richard P. Hughes has invited me over to his blog, Writing and Living, for the day. He's been running a series called Where I Live and Why I Like It.


Every couple weeks or so, Richard showcases fellow bloggers as they discuss the area in which they live. While my little spot in the road has a tough time competing with the likes of Australia and Hawaii (just to name a couple of the places we've seen so far) it's still a place I like calling home.

If you've not seen any of the posts then do browse a while. Richard is making it possible for us to glimpse places both distant and grand. Who knows, maybe your next novel's setting has already been showcased!

Monday, August 4, 2014

30 Years of Our Journey Through Forever

Myra and I would have celebrated our thirtieth anniversary today. Some might say that thirty years of marriage is a long time, but I say thirty years is just a brief step in our journey through forever.

Below are the two cards I selected to commemorate this milestone in our journey.

Card #1 (envelope)

Card #1 (cover)
 
Card #1 (inside)

Card #2 (envelope)

Card #2 (cover)

Card #2 (inside)

Happy Anniversary, Myra!
An eternity of anniversaries to come.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ten Thousand Times

Today.  Feels like it took a century to get here, but its ominous gray has loomed on the horizon for only a year. And I've made it through every single day that it took to get here.

I'm proud. I'm surprised--shocked really. There were times I didn't think I'd make it this long. Truthfully, there were times I didn't want to make it this long. But I promised her. I said I'd live and love for the both of us.

And I have.

My year of firsts has come to an end and I'm still here. I'm still living. I'm still loving our children and grandchildren for us both. I've survived the birthdays, the holidays, the anniversaries. I've faced the quiet house, the empty bed, the missing lunchtime phone calls and the absence of her I Love My Husband messages on my Facebook wall. From the "see me off to work" kiss to the night's last embrace, I've persevered without it all.

I'm doing my best to do my best, if you follow my logic. That includes my writing. I've had two short stories published since Myra died. The Orchid, the first one I wrote after July 17, 2013, was by far the most difficult story I've ever written. Every single sentence came about as easily as a wisdom tooth yanked out of my jaw. But I kept my word.

I wonder sometimes if I'd have been able to keep that promise were it not for family and friends. Your prayers, your words of encouragement, your patience and understanding, they made the difference--literally--between life and death. I am forever in your debt.

In the eyes of society, the state and God, I'm a widower. In my heart, I'm a husband and will remain so until death reunites us. The poem below, I wrote for my wife.


Ten Thousand Times.

10,000 times I've kissed your rings
10,000 times I've whispered your name
Knowing not what tomorrow brings
Wondering why that woeful day came

10,000 times I've shed a tear
10,000 times I've asked God why
All those times in just one year
Seldom a day do my eyes stay dry

10,000 times I've pictured your face
10,000 times I've struggled to smile
Knowing that you're in a better place
And I'll join you there after my last mile

10,000 words I've penned in letters
10,000 times I've prayed for grace
To endure this grief that fetters
And find true peace as I run this race

10,000 days were we on Earth wed
10,000 times has my shattered heart beat
10,000 ways will my soul have bled
When comes that day it's again complete


The first of 10,571 days "on Earth wed"

Monday, June 23, 2014

Klingon Writing Academy


Today is a good day to write.

Rest assured, writer, we will be published, whatever the cost.

Do not approach me unannounced, especially when I am writing.

There is no honor in writing without revising.

Sir, I must protest. My character is not a merry man.

A writer never breaks his promise.

You have never seen rejection? Then look, and always remember.

Writers never quit.

I've noted that some people use writing as a shield. They tell much, but show little.

Proofread this!

If writers cannot handle a little critique, how will they handle bad book reviews?

Do not think of it as a hobby. Make it part of your day...part of your routine. Make it part of you.

I am beginning to see the appeal of this storytelling.

In writing, there is nothing more honorable than finishing.

You have fully written ten chapters. You may now publish.

Good story. Nice cover.

Words come later. It is the scent that first speaks of inspiration.

Less Facebook. More writing.

If you were any other author, I would edit you where you stand.

Procrastination should be illegal.

Writers do not pursue publishing. They conquer that which they desire.

At the first sign of betrayal I will kill him, but I promise to return the manuscript intact. 

It is true. The muse has returned.

It is a manuscript, a warning. Beware, a successful author is about to arrive.

Push! Push, writer! Push!

My writing class was not like this. That process was very orderly.

You look for validation in the wrong place. The true test of a writer is not without, it is within.

He will succeed. He is Writer, a Storytelling Master. 

I have much to teach you about revision!

Writing, I will not be complete without you.

Qapla'! You are a writer. You are capable of anything!




Sunday, June 1, 2014

My Dearest Myra

Sunday, June 1, 2014

My dearest Myra,

What little I know of history suggests that the "season" of mourning lasts for a year--particularly when losing a spouse. I'm halfway through month number ten now and I ponder what makes the anniversary marker so significant. Pain this severe doesn't heal in a mere year. Perhaps the "year of grieving" is intended as much for the mourner's family and friends as anyone. It gives them the option of saying, "it hasn't been a year yet" as though the mourner can be excused until then.

I'm sitting on my deck this morning and I wonder. What happens afterwards? Will my license to grieve expire? Will my mourning privileges be revoked? Does sympathy become derision, an accusation that I refuse to move past it and get on with my life? Do they expect the hurt will magically cease on the 18th of July?

To this very day, tears come from nowhere in the span of a few blinks of the eye. Even now, the agony that simmers within boils to the surface without warning or even a logical provocation. When will I reach the day that I can rein in these unexpected emotional eruptions? Ever?

Perhaps "moving on" really is just choice. I don't know. I just don't see how healing can co-exist with these memories I dare not lose. I want nothing more right now than to wrap my arms around you and squeeze forever. Nothing! Just to whisper in your ear and see the answer in your eyes, I would trade the rest of my life for that one brief moment. God as my witness, Myra, I would.

I look back on my life with you and find that I am so very grateful for so many things. As with any marriage, we had our share of trials and hardships, but we had a rare devotion, one not experienced by many, I think. Nothing separated us. Nothing beat us. Every problem we faced made us stronger, more committed and made our bond of love deeper. Our mutual triumphs brought us mutual joys and enriched our union.

I do not have many of the regrets that other widowed spouses have. I see little shame and much satisfaction in our twenty-nine years. I see how we each made the other better. I see our mutual appreciation for what we both brought to our relationship and how we each enabled the other to grow and blossom, becoming the beauty we each saw budding within the other.

Is it then any wonder why I still grieve? How can my days in mourning be any fewer than the days that lie before me? And how can I hurt less on the year-plus-one day than on the first day I lived without you by my side? Some pains lessen with time, but this ache will last a lifetime.

Eternally cherishing you,
The one whose heart you'll always hold,
- Jeff

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

WRiTE Club Submission Deadline Approaching



First off, I’d like to thank Jeff for the opportunity to talk to you today about something near and dear to my heart…WRiTE CLUB. My modest writing contest has proven so popular that the DFW Writers Conference is now considering incorporating it into their agenda for 2015. 

For the newbies out there, let me explain what WRiTE CLUB is? It’s a modest writing competition whose inspiration was derived from the movie FIGHT CLUB. There are numerous versions of this concept around the internet, but nothing like we do it. Its essence embodies simple, good-natured competition, with lots and lots of fun sprinkled on top. 

Over the course of eight weeks I hold twice-weekly bouts in which the winners advance to the play-offs, which will ultimately lead to a single champion. Bouts between who…or what…you ask? Anonymous 500 word writing samples, submitted under a pen name by anyone who wishes to take part, that’s who. The writing can be any genre, any style (even poetry) with the word count being the only restriction. It’s a way to get your writing in front of a lot of readers, without having to suffer the agony of exposure. 

And the winners are determined by WRiTE CLUB readers!

To find out how to become part of the fun just head on over to DLHammons.com and click on the WRiTE CLUB tab. 

Submissions are open until May 31st. After that date a panel of a dozen judges will read all of the entries we received and pre-select 32 of the best writing samples to climb into the ring. Those 32 participants will then be randomly matched to compete over the next eight weeks, each of them hoping to make it into the play-off rounds and moving towards the ultimate goal – WRiTE CLUB Champion. No one (other than my wife)…not even the judges being used to pre-select the 32 contestants, will see the true identity of any sample. Unless you win, of course.

Again this year, the most exciting part is the winner of the final round will be chosen by a panel of publishing industry professionals! Judges include New York Times best-selling and multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning horror and thriller author Jonathan Maberry, Agents Katie Grim of Don Congdon Associates, Margaret Bail of the Andrea Hurst Agency, Sarah Negovetich of the Corvisiero Literary Agency, Brittany Booker of The Booker Albert Literary Agency. Also included is Candace Havens, Editorial Director of Entangled Publishing Covet line, Authors Les Edgerton and Lydia Kang, and previous WRiTE CLUB winners Tiana Smith (2011), Mark Hough (2012) and Tex Thompson (2013).

Are you willing to WRiTE for what you want? Then crack those knuckles and get ready to flex that imagination. And whatever you do, tell your friends!

WRiTE CLUB – The contest where the audience gets clobbered!