Your Mid-Week Prompt: Redefining Love

Hey writers,

How goes it? All is well in Promptland and Digest-ville. We just wrapped our October issue and are plodding onward toward our November/December mag, and the (most-excellent) post-wrap (brief) calm has descended. I’m working on a piece for the next issue involving literary journals and magazines, and I’m curious, since many of you have the short-fiction skills—have any of you written for any lit mags? Which are your favorites?

Also, a tip of the hat to J. Alvey and his authentic, spooky “Here’s to the Lion” story. It takes the cake as this week’s Notable Story pick. Thanks for the great tale and a great spin on the prompt and predators, Joe.

Be well and write well,

Zachary

PROMPT: Redefining Love
In 500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring:

In a scene, define love.

Also, there’s been a lot of talk around the office about the upcoming Writer’s Digest Conference on the business of getting published and selling books. Yesterday the WD event powers that be announced that all attendees can get free critiques of their work, and 10 will be selected to meet with literary agents. (If you’re interested, it’s Sept. 18-20, New York. You can read more here.)

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  2. ina Roy-Faderman

    It’s three a.m. and she’s sitting in the moonlit living room with her son. "Aren’t we supposed to save these late night talks for when you’re a teenager?" A cross between a gurgle and a snort – at least he’s not crying now.

    She lifts him eye to eye. "Well, your nose looks fine. Your chinny chin-chin looks fine. Your tummy looks fine…" Tummy is a funny word She uses his momentary grin to sneak in quick diaper check, and then noses his chin again. He slants her a glance through the curtain of his lashes; in the darkness, his eyes are forest-green, his shiny black hair. He’s like a reborn raven king, her little crow baby. "Oh, let’s look…" She lifts him to her shoulder under the scratched and warped sky light. The hazy dark rectangle frames a glowing cloud of moon. "No crows. Oh, well." After it rains, the crows use the skylights to crack open nuts and snails. When she she hears the harsh scrabbling of sliding claws on the roof at dawn, she will rush, baby on hip, to the skylights and watch shiny crow undersides and the pads on their pitchfork feet. She hopes that her son will remember those mornings – something unique to his life and hers Some people might have tried to scare the crows away. But her job is to teach him to bask in the unusual. To live it.

    Without her voice, the baby begins to make small, discontented snuffles. "I’m sorry, boo." She puts him back on her hip and paces the living room, stopping near the French window that looks out onto a hillside shadowed with cypress trees. She rocks from side to side and whispers. "That’s where the crows are sleeping. Heads tucked under their wings, and sleeping on their feet. I don’t know why they don’t fall off. Crow magic. I wish we could have them in for afternoon tea. We could make seed cakes for them and lemon for us. And maybe they’d show us their tummies" He grins and nuzzles into her rib cage. "Did you know that you grew in my tummy?" She lifts her shirt and he eyes her navel, blinks up at her, and then rests against her bare side. "Crows grow in eggs, but you grew in mommy’s tummy. Even mommy grew in a tummy. Someday you can meet the tummy I came from." She pauses. "If you want." She doesn’t add, "But you’ll be in my lap." She thinks, "In a coffee shop. Never within arms reach. No slaps, no rolling pins." She rocks the baby side to side, hearing his breathing slow. She hates having this internal conversation, but the pain, she thinks, is necessary – a reminder of what she herself is not. She listens to his even breathing, and rocks for just a moment more. Then she kisses her crow baby’s head and passes through the dark hallway into the quiet and peaceful bedroom.

  3. Diamond

    A slight breeze drifted through the open window, the cool night air licking into the house like icy flames, and gently swept its fingers through her loose hair and brushed over her arms with the soft touch of a lover.

    She stood on tiptoe, with her arms around his neck, gazing at her own reflection in the glass of the window. She could see the trees swaying and kneeling behind her very own face if she willed herself to see past the reflection and into the night. She breathed in deeply and the heady scent of his cologne mixed with the homey scent of melted butter and freshly corked wine.

    She lingered in the moment and watched her arms slide slowly, deliberately over his strong back, exposing an athlete’s body as she pressed his cotton shirt close to him. As she drew back out of the embrace, his hands grasped more tightly against the small of her back and his eyes searched into the depths of hers, willing her body closer.

    The breeze swirled through the room again, noticeably, like when an orchestra moves from playing mezzo piano to forte. The trees danced wildly to the tempo of the wind, as if to spur the lovers on.

    She lifted her left hand and placed it on the nape of his neck, pulling his head down, while she pulled her body closer to his. Their gazes locked, and a smile that started in the soul flickered in their eyes and was quenched in a delicate, love-filled kiss.

    He released her, gently and unhurried, but his eyes lingered over her smooth skin and wine-stained lips. This was more than lust, he thought, because he wanted to lose himself in both her body and her soul. He wanted to pause time in the jingle of her laugh and in the wisping of her hair. He wanted to be like a drop of water on her back and roll leisurely down her body, lingering on her skin and being soaked up in her very being.

    She fluttered long eyelashes at him as she smiled seductively, tickling his nose with the dishtowel. He turned back around to the sink to hurriedly finish the dishes and as she wiped the last crumb from the counter, he enveloped her again in strong, soapy arms.

  4. S.E.Ingraham

    When Love is All There Is

    People are always surprised and a bit sceptical
    Upon learning that I married the love of my life
    And have remained married to him for just shy
    Of four decades – “oh well,” they’ll say – “…comfortable
    I guess…”, or, “…the devil you know is better than the
    devil you don’t, huh?”, never seeming to believe for a
    Minute that the passion that burned more than four
    Decades ago – we went together for five years
    Before we married – burns, if anything, even more
    Fiercely now; that being loved and loving unconditionally
    In a relationship such as ours is such a rarity that
    It is nigh on impossible to articulate, explain or even,
    As it happens, defend – as so often seems to be
    The over-riding impulse – when the average fool
    Wants to shred what we have with misplaced and
    Misunderstood words and phrases that have nothing
    To do with who we are, what we have weathered,
    Where we’ve been or where we’re going, the need
    To leap to the fore and start swinging in the name
    Of impassioned monogamy grows strong sometimes
    Even when one knows the futility of trying to explain
    The inexplicable to the ignorant and the senselessness
    Of attempting.

    What exactly do I think true love is?
    It’s knowing that sometimes one of you will be crazy
    And accepting that possibility and staying anyway
    Hoping that it’s never both of you at the same time
    It’s watching your partner change with age but still
    Seeing the beautiful man or woman that you fell in love with
    And being moved to tears, laughter and lust by that person.
    When one part of the union needs even questionable support
    For a project, a job, or some other endeavour – it’s being there
    To offer balanced advice or opinions, if required, but being there
    In every respect and to ultimately back up whatever decision
    Your partner makes – hard as that may be to do at times

    Love means overlooking all of the small stuff for there is no time
    For pettiness and those in true love realize that and usually
    Early on – oh, we argue, and sometimes downright fight, but
    We know, that no matter what, in the things that matter :
    Our sense of right and wrong, our values, our love for our kids
    The fact that we will always be there for each other – those
    Things are inviolate – there is a surety there that can only be
    Found when two people are deeply and irrevocably in love.

    And in the end, and I mean, in the very end, when one departs
    This life, I believe that it is extremely hard for the survivor
    Of such a union to carry on…so, I don’t expect to
    No – I shall either die of a broken heart, or lie down beside
    My love and like the old ladies you hear of in some songs or poems
    Die in my sleep days later…at least, that’s the plan.

  5. S. Petherbridge

    The shrieking of the teapot on the stove pulled her rudely away from the window that had held her gaze for how long she could not now imagine. Hurriedly, she set it to the side burner with one hand while brushing away a tear with the other.
    She then dared another glance out the window, but the young men she had been watching trudge slowly home from the fields were no longer in sight. Their heads had hung low and their shirts had been covered with dust and sweat from a long day working the harvest. She had scanned the tired crew looking for his ambling gait and ready smile, but of course he was no longer with them.
    He was no longer threshing, farming, or even living in Lincoln County for that matter. He hadn’t been for years now, and suddenly she felt foolish for gazing out the kitchen window like a silly school girl, for thinking that he would again stroll by on a warm evening such as this, or that he would stay here forever waiting for her to be free to marry.
    “Enough idleness and self indulgence for one afternoon” she thought to herself as she glanced up towards the ceiling, trying to hear if mother had been disturbed by the offending pot. She would not bother her with her tea just now, although mother did like it promptly at six her rest was much more important lately.
    As she fluttered about the kitchen readying a tray for later she again considered calling Doc Nelson. Mother seemed to be failing so quickly and Garnet was concerned that not enough attention was being paid to her fragile condition. He hadn’t been by the house yet this week had he? She was sure of it now, but decided to wait until after mother awoke before ringing him.
    As the sun began to drop in the west she lit a lamp and made her way to her favorite chair. She was too tired for a radio program and decided that she might rest just a moment before waking mother…
    The chiming of the old clock awoke her with a start. It was dark and mother had not yet eaten! She squinted as she searched the end table for her glasses to no avail. She felt for her cell phone that Kate had given her in case she were to fall accidentally, and as she flipped it open she saw eleven pm on the glowing blue screen.
    She cautiously passed thru the dark living room and into the dining room where Kate had put her bed and dresser as she could no longer hazard the trip upstairs. Now as she lay in the room where she had dined for so many years her thoughts again returned to the threshing crew and the stolen kiss on the front porch and she quickly brushed away a tear. It seemed like only yesterday that she had told him no…

  6. Loveskidlit

    Fishing at Lakeside Park

    My daughter cries, her feet stamping in place,
    her face mottled and laced with snot.
    I tell her she is fine, those geese
    are a ways off. We are bigger than they are.
    They should be scared of us.
    I tell her to stop it; she is being silly.
    I say, Sit down if you’re scared.
    Sit over there, on that bench.

    I have a hook in my hand,
    A bleeding piece of worm.
    There is slime and muck and worm shit on my hands.
    I watch myself being brave,
    apologize to the god of worms.
    The mangled worm writhes away from the barbed point,
    flays itself in my hand.

    When the goose approaches, she cries harder.
    Nearly hysterical.
    I tell her to go. Sit. For goodness’ sake!
    I hear myself sounding strong, a bit shrill,
    Like those mothers who brood over swing sets
    at the park dispensing harsh, reliable justice.
    Fathers, who thread worms swiftly onto hooks.
    Who call it bait, and don’t apologize to any god.

    I spread my arms wide, and me and the worm and the hook,
    we sweep the goose from the path.
    It skulks into the water, without grace.
    There,
    I say. I told you so.
    My daughter sits, and cries. I stab the worm,
    Sliding the barbed point up, through its body.
    The hook shimmers through the murky skin,
    gleaming in its guts.

    The goose clambers aboard a female. Look,
    she says. It’s on a ride!
    The female’s head is pushed down, under the water. When
    she writhes out from under him
    they fight.

    I stare at the pink thing, jutting from its rear.
    It wriggles, searching blindly.
    I think it’s obscene. She laughs.
    That’s a goose penis, I say. She laughs.
    It doesn’t sound like anything
    a mother or a father would say.
    I have never seen such a thing. I think,
    Well, she was right.
    There was something to cry about all along.
    But she laughs.

  7. J. Alvey

    "The Way That You Love Me"

    I said, "Meredith, I’m off to Vermont! I have an offer to be a caretaker on this old man’s farm up there, and it’s the golden opportunity!"

    She said, "Opportunity? What opportunity?"

    I was surprised by the look of shock, followed by disappointment, on her face, and was shocked and disappointed by both.

    "It’s my dream, Meredith! It’s right in front of me, and I can grab it and go! I can take care of this guy’s property, get free room and board, and write! I can write! Unencumbered, really! I can write!"

    She said, "You aren’t going anywhere without me."

    I said, "Meredith, we’re friends, the best of friends, I care for you deeply, but I have to do this."

    She crossed her arms and repeated, "You aren’t going anywhere without me."

    Standing there in my apartment, where I thought she would receive my news with the same excitement that I had, I realized it was time for a reality check.

    "Meredith, I quit my job. I resigned. I have two weeks left. And then I’m gone. I’m gone to Vermont, where I have a room and some meals, and that is it. I’m gone. I’ve already done it, Meredith. I quit my job. I got out of my lease. I’m gone. I’ve done it. I had to do it, and I did it. It took balls, but I did it. And it’s done."

    "You aren’t going anywhere without me," she insisted.

    "Meredith," I asked, "what are you talking about? We wouldn’t get across the state line before we had to pull over and make love, you know that, don’t you?"

    "Yes," she said, arms still crossed, a stubborn pout on her face.

    "You think you are up for that?" I asked, thinking I had an out.

    "Yes," she said.

    "Well, then, let’s do it now, Meredith," I responded, assuming it would end the conversation.

    "Okay," she said.

    ………

    Twenty-five years and two children and much, much happiness and history later, I said to Meredith, "I’m gone."

    She said, "Where are you going? Have you found another Vermont?"

    "No," I said, with tears in my eyes. "I want to find someone to love the way that you love me."

  8. Kathrine Shelton

    First (Almost) Kiss

    “Ready to practice our kiss?” Evan cooed teasingly as he bounded onto the stage for their quick private lunchtime rehearsal of the school play. Kylie blushed and looked to her friend, Liz, plunking on the piano. Evan wove his way through various half-constructed set pieces and plopped down in a leather office chair. “So how pissed is James?” he wheeled his way over to the girls.

    “Um, well, he’s still saying that it’s not going to happen. He’s trying to talk Mrs. D out of making us do it. What’s Darcy think?”

    “Well, I – uh – I haven’t told her yet,” he ran his hand through his short blonde hair and grinned nervously.

    “I don’t see why either of them should care,” Liz snipped. “As far as Mr. Darcy’s concerned, everyone knows she’s a huge lesbo anyway, no offense Evan. And it’s not like James hasn’t kissed a handful of girls behind your back anyway, Kylie, so screw him. Who cares what they think? It’s not like it means anything to you guys anyhow.” She hopped off the bench and walked to the stage door. “I’m gonna go find Mrs. D.”

    “So, uh,” Kylie started, then blushed, staring at her feet. Evan grinned at her, wheeled himself closer, grabbed her by the hips, pulled her onto his lap, and began spinning them around in circles on the smooth concrete stage. Kylie was giggling. “So how’s this gonna work?” she was finally able to ask.

    “What?”

    “This, you know, this kiss.”

    “Well, I’m thinking —” he stopped spinning them, lifted her up, and set her delicately on her feet. World still spinning, feet barely on the ground, she felt her back bend and stared up at his blue eyes, hot stage lights behind his head only adding to her flush. His hand pressed against the small of her back, holding her steady when she thought the world had turned upside down. Her heart had lifted from her chest when he had dipped her back and now rested amongst the lighting rigs, looking down on them in joy. Images spun in her head. Meeting him freshman year in English class, afternoon sunlight illuminating sparkling dust around his head. Reading Juliet to his Romeo. Teaming up in Geometry even though they were both terrible at math. Staying all night at the diner with him when Darcy had broken up with him last year. All the letters shared, full of encouragement and advice. All the times he told her she deserved better than James.

    His smile beaming from above her seemed warmer than the hot stage lights. She waited to feel his soft lips against hers, but before she knew it he’d lifted her, moving his hand up to her shoulder blades. He grinned at the surprised but tender look still stuck on her face. “Well, what do you think?”

    “I, uh – I —” she was breathless. “I need to sit down.” And she plopped into the office chair.

    Kathrine Shelton

  9. Patricia A. Hawkenson

    DRAFTED

    "I want to smoke."
    She sighed. "You know you shouldn’t."
    "I want to smoke." His voice was labored. "Doesn’t matter now."
    "Okay. I’ll help you." She set his hands firmly on the potty’s side grips curling his fingers around to help him hold on. Her feet shuffled quickly into the living room reaching for the opened pack of cigarettes next to the recliner before rushing back. She took another deep breath, thankful he hadn’t fallen off. Their eyes met and she blinked back tears before pulling a cigarette out and lighting up for him. Her fingers held the cigarette to his opened mouth and his lips settled around it. She waited watching the smoke curl past his closing eyes.
    "Aren’t you going to smoke?"
    His head turned slowly away. "I can’t. I can’t. I need to lie down."
    She snuffed the cigarette out next to the others unsmoked in the ashtray. Then she began the task of cleaning him up. Her shoulder ached with the memory of all the other times he leaned on her, but this last week felt different. She could feel his emancipation, his shoulder bones pressing against her with little soft tissue between them. When she was done her lips kissed twice the cheek she shaved earlier that morning before passing her arms under his armpits and entwining her fingers together to lift him to standing. They stood together for a moment, each gathering what strength they could before she reshifted her support. They shuffled to the couch where the indentation of his pillows welcomed him back. His arm waved in the direction of his oxygen machine so she connected his tubes and turned on the familiar hum before sitting down in the recliner next to him. His eyes closed and she watched his chest rise and fall quickly in comforting sleep. She allowed herself a minute to watch the morning birds through the window pecking at seeds on the lawn before she caught a quick nap as well.
    Choking, gurgling sounds woke her minutes later and she was again at his side. She pulled off his oxygen mask and tried to get him to sit up, but he pushed her efforts off. "No. No." She could feel his fear and her mind raced with the uncertainty of what she should do. His hand reached for her and she held it to her cheek. "I’m afraid," he said.
    "I know. Should I call again?" The number to hospice lay next to the phone within her reach.
    "No. No. Just you."
    Her eyes had to blink the flash flood away, and she talked through guarded breaths, "Yes. Yes, just us."

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