The Summer Theater (A Fiction Story)

This flash fiction story (a story that is 1,000 words or less) was originally published last year in Splickety’s flash fiction magazine.

Mia adjusted the violin on her shoulder as the conductor lifted his hands. This was her favorite part of Les Miserables, where all the actors in the production came on stage to sing the last triumphant song. She slid her bow across the strings, feeling her heart rise as if it wanted to soar from her chest. She felt her tempo quicken and looked up to match the baton. Above the conductor, she saw the cast of characters form a line on the stage. And then Jean Valjean met her eyes. In real life he was Joel, captain of the high school hockey team.

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Mia tightened her fingers on the bow and then relaxed too quickly, almost dropping it. Her stomach clenched, and she held her breath as her eyes scanned the sheet music, finding her place just in time to play the last two lines.

Applause cut into the final note, and the other orchestra members bustled around, stacking their music, and heading to the tent where their cases were stored.

Mia tucked her violin under her arm, weaving through the crowd that had come up to congratulate the performers.

Had Joel meant to catch her eye tonight, or had it been a coincidence?

For each of their four performances, she’d noticed him looking at her during the last song. Either way, they still had three more shows, and she was sick of messing up the grand finale.

Stepping behind the tent, she placed her violin under her chin and ran through the song again. The conversation and laughter died away as the orchestra members left, but she continued repeating the last two lines as the sun dipped below the surrounding trees. Finally satisfied, she lowered the instrument. When she turned, she drew in her breath.

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Joel sat cross-legged in the grass a few feet away. He smiled. “I have a hard time appreciating the music when I’m acting.”

Mia squeezed the neck of her violin. “But I was playing the same line over and over.”

“It’s my favorite part.” He stood and brushed off his pants. “Well, I won’t bother you anymore.”

Mia’s voice felt trapped in her throat. Joel had never talked to her before, so this might be her only chance. “You did really well.”

He shrugged. “I’ve always sung in the shower and my car, but I wasn’t sure I could really do it in front of people.”

Mia tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. Joel wasn’t at all how she’d pictured him. She’d always thought of the hockey players as a single entity, better than everyone else.

“So why did you try out? I never would have pictured this as your type of thing.” She didn’t think any of the other hockey players were in the musical, but since she’d never gone to one of the games, she couldn’t be sure.

He shrugged one of his shoulders. “I didn’t want to wait until the fall to see you again.”

Mia shivered in the night air, despite the summer heat, and clutched her violin to her chest. “What are you talking about?” Now that she thought about it, this last year at school she had seen Joel in odd places, like down the music hall or coming out of the restroom near her AP English class.

Joel ran a hand through his hair and squeezed the back of his neck. “You’re way out of my league, but tonight I decided rejection would be way better than not knowing.”

Mia felt like someone had scratched the wood on her violin. Was this some kind of cruel trick? But as she studied his face, she couldn’t help laughing. “If you heard the orchestra members talking, you’d think differently about your league—and mine.”

He took a step closer, and Mia saw a spot of stage makeup beneath his eye. She wanted to wipe it off, but she resisted and pressed her free hand to her side.

Joel tipped his head back, looking at the stars beginning to ease their way out. “I’ve seen the way you treat people. You’re so smart and talented.” He bit his lip. “Just all-around awesome.” He stared at her so long she had to look away. His green eyes made her scalp tingle.

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Then his words came spilling out. “Do you want to go to a bonfire with me after the performance tomorrow night? I hear they’ll have s’mores.” He pressed his lips together. Mia felt like her limbs had turned to ice.

When she didn’t answer, Joel dropped his gaze to her violin. “Do you think I could play it?” He took it as if it were made of glass.

Mia hesitated…then moved to stand beside him. She placed the violin on his shoulder, reminding herself to breathe. “You have to keep your wrist straight to reach the notes well.” Handing him the bow, she saw him clutch it in his fist. She reached over to adjust his fingers, and the warmth from his hand spread up her arm. She jerked her hand back.

He set the bow on the string, and she tried not to cringe at the squeaking note as he ran it too close to the bridge. Sawing the bow back and forth a few times, he sighed then grinned at her. “I guess I missed my chance to be a child prodigy.”

Mia laughed. “I don’t know what your friends would say about their hockey star playing violin.”

He handed her the instrument. “Who cares what they think? I don’t.”

She took a deep breath. “Well then, I don’t, either. But I have to be home by eleven tomorrow.”

 

When Motherhood Feels Like Survival

Do you ever feel guilty when people do nice things for you?

Or start comparing yourself to all those who have a harder life or circumstance?

And then the next second, when you’re trying to get the screaming baby to latch on and your toddler is yelling for your help from across the house, wonder why you have to be needed (and touched) all day, every day?

These past newborn days have been filled with grace and kindness. Cards coming in the mail. People from church bringing meals. My parents staying with us and cooking food, doing fix-it projects in the house and yard, and letting 2 1/2 year old Isaiah follow them around and “help.”

There have been text messages to let me know people have been praying. Calls to ask if I need anything at the store.

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In the daytime fog that comes from each REM sleep cycle being interrupted by a famished newborn, trying to compose thank you notes doesn’t seem to be enough.

But then when we’ve just turned out the lights to go to sleep and the fussing starts, the ungrateful and self-pitying thoughts come rolling in.

Why couldn’t she schedule her gassy discomfort an hour ago, when we weren’t so tired?

Why does everyone around me have to be so needy?

The one sure thing about newborns is that they’re unpredictable, just like most of my other circumstances (including the ones that I’m living under the illusion that I control).

I often waver between guilt over the blessing in my life and frustration over the unexpected inconveniences of an overcharged internet bill and a little voice whining for a brownie for the 37th time that day.

It doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for joy.

I let my circumstances justify or condemn my feelings instead of just saying, “Ok, emotion. Here you are. Let’s go talk to Jesus about it and go from there.”

It’s easy to let my emotions force a false perception of reality into my mind—that this stage will never end, that other mothers have figured out how to do this parenting thing wonderfully, and that my thoughts will always feel this disconnected and boring.

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One gift in navigating the emotional newborn journey has been reading Gloria Furman’s book, Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations For Busy Moms.

She reminded me that every leaky diaper and temper tantrum happens under God’s sovereignty.

Every act of love and care points us to the greatest act of love: Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross so that we can be in relationship with God, adopted as His daughters, and heirs of the most glorious eternal life to come.

Gloria shares that, “In the context of eternity, where Christ is doing his work of reigning over the cosmos, we need to see our mundane moments for what they really are–worship. In the daily (and nightly) work of mothering, we’re given dozens of invitations to worship God as he reminds us of the hope we have because of the gospel.” p. 18

We are nurturing life in the face of death in our sinful, fallen world.

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When we allow ourselves to appreciate people’s acts of kindness, no strings attached, we can also delight in the undeserved gifts of grace and spiritual blessings God wants to lavish on us simply because we are His.

And when our thoughts are covered in the truth of the gospel, we are free to invite his presence into every chopped onion, Thomas the Train book, and nighttime cry, no matter how many dishes are still left in the sink.

When we feel that we’ve done little else than keeping a couple kids alive that day, we can rest in His greatest accomplishment of our salvation and daily power over the universe.

Will you invite Jesus’ presence into each messy day?

Will you let His accomplishment be enough today?

 

Thanksgiving Joy (an original short story)

tap-791172_1920Rachel pushed the frozen turkey down into the water-filled sink.

Some of it sloshed over the top onto her socks. She’d been up five times last night, and not once had she thought of thawing the turkey.

There’s no way her mom would have forgotten to buy the turkey until the night before Thanksgiving.

This morning she hadn’t even heard Patrick leave, but there must have been an emergency at the electrical plant for them to call him in on a holiday. She turned on the oven.

Pulling out the potatoes from the closet, she picked off as many of the eyes as she could and opened drawer after drawer, trying to find her vegetable peeler.

Cassidy stomped into the kitchen, her blanket squeezed between her crossed arms. “Bryce told me I was too little to play cars with him. He said I always mess everything up.”

Rachel wrapped Cassidy in a hug, but the girl stood firm as a tree trunk. “Maybe you can help me find my vegetable peeler.”

“You’re just going to let him be mean to me?”

Rachel took a deep breath and let Cassidy lead her to the bedroom. Bryce was on his stomach, piecing together a race track. “Have you seen my vegetable peeler?”

Bryce bit his lip. “Um, me and Kirk were digging trenches for the ants yesterday and one of us kind of snapped it.”

Cassidy put a hand on her hip. “Mommy, you’re supposed to be giving him a spanking.”

Rachel bent down, but couldn’t think of what to say. She heard squeaks coming from the other room, followed by Grace’s wailing from her bassinet.

feet-946366_1280Rachel leaned her head against the doorframe.

Even in her first three weeks of life, Grace seemed so much needier than the other two had been . . . unless she had blocked those first newborn weeks out of her mind.

If she waited much longer, Grace would have an even harder time latching on. She winced as she stood and scooped Grace into her arms.

Sinking down into the recliner, she heard something whack the wall, followed by a “Go away!”

At least Grace was content, and Rachel wasn’t as sore as she’d been yesterday.

A charred scent filled the air. Not wanting to disturb Grace, she tried to use her free hand to stand. Grace whipped her head to the side and crunched her face as if Rachel had pinched her. Sighing, Rachel set her down and bolted over to the oven.

She pulled out the cookie sheet of three leftover chicken nuggets, which now resembled charcoals. Dumping them outside, she opened some windows and tried to coax Grace from her anguished state into nursing again.

Cassidy and Bryce’s voices crescendoed from the other room, so she threw together peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and set up a show for them.

The turkey still felt like an iceberg in the sink.

How had her mom done it with three kids of her own? Dad hadn’t let them get a TV until they were teenagers. Rachel had always been annoyed when her mom made her work in the kitchen all morning, especially since her brothers only had to help Dad put up the Christmas lights.

Christmas lights. She hadn’t bought any new ones in three years, since there had been a short in part of one string.

She grabbed a glass dish. She could at least put together her green bean casserole while she was waiting for the turkey and avoiding the fact that she’d have to peel the potatoes with a knife. Pushing aside cans, she finally sat back on the floor as she realized she’d used her last can of mushroom soup two nights ago.

When she closed her eyes, her hunger came on her like a bear, so that she hardly knew what she was doing until the bag of Cheetos was empty. She’d never seen her mom nibble on anything while they were cooking the big meal.

Crumpling the bag into her fists, she tossed it onto the floor. If only she could call her mom now. She’d know how to whip it all together.

Rachel wiped her eyes. Giving birth to Grace had made her even more emotional than she thought was possible. Lots of people lost their moms, and many more of her friends would in the next fifteen years.

But no one else knew what it was like to lose her mom. She just wanted the meal to be like she’d had growing up, since it was the first Thanksgiving without her. Why had she invited her mom’s best friend instead? So that she’d have someone else to witness her failure?

The doorbell rang, and she dived for the Cheetos bag, stuffing it into the bottom of the trashcan. When she passed the wall clock, she thought for sure it was broken. It couldn’t possibly be 3pm. That meant that if she put the turkey in now, they might be able to eat by eight. The thought made her throat constrict, but she swallowed hard before opening the door.

hands-195653_1920Marilyn stood outside, clutching a tin-foil covered pie pan and wearing her plastic rain bonnet, which she tied on even if it wasn’t calling for rain.

She stepped around Rachel and across the living room into the kitchen. Rachel saw her survey the surroundings as if it were a crime scene.

“I thought I’d come over a little early to help get things ready.”

Rachel shuffled toward her. “My vegetable peeler is—“

“Of no concern. It just so happens I put a few things in my freezer when I thought my niece and nephew were coming. I’ll be back in twenty minutes.” She steered Rachel out of the kitchen.

“But—“

Cassidy came bursting into the living room. “It’s my turn to pick a show. Bryce always picks boring ones.”

Marilyn bent down. “I’m going to need your help soon. Can you start setting the table while I’m gone?”

Cassidy’s eyebrows lifted. “How did you know that’s my job?”

Grace started to whimper, so Rachel picked her up.

Marilyn turned to Rachel and nodded toward the kitchen. “Remember, not one foot in there unless Cassidy can’t reach something.”

By the time Rachel had finished nursing Grace, Marilyn was carrying in grocery bags. She took Grace from Rachel’s arms and set her in the baby swing. “What perfect timing. Now you’ll be free to lay down until supper is ready.”

Rachel grabbed a bag and started setting dishes on the counter. “What are you talking about? I can’t let you do it all yourself.”

Marilyn’s eyes wrinkled. “Who do you think helped your mother out when you were Cassidy’s age? And I can assure you a Norman Rockwell turkey was not on the menu.”

 

Rachel woke to a soft knock on the door. She’d only planned to lay down for a few minutes before helping Marilyn. When she opened the bedroom door, the smell of turkey made her mouth water.

“How did you—“

Patrick took her arm and pulled out her chair. She sat down, feeling like she was in a dream. There was even a small candle lit on either side of the platter of turkey loaf. Her eyes scanned the paper table cloth where Cassidy and Bryce had drawn pictures of turkeys and pilgrims.

A can of cranberry sauce. Greenbean casserole. A small dish of mashed potatoes in a foil pan.

Marilyn handed her a paper napkin. “They make it pretty easy these days.”

“You said when you helped my mom, you didn’t have turkey. But I wanted to make it just like I remembered.”

Marilyn laughed. “You think she did a whole turkey dinner with three little kids running around? She didn’t start the real fixings until you were old enough to help.”

After a few minutes, Bryce pressed his lips together. “Can we have pie now, or do we have to wait?”

squash pieMarilyn took off the foil. “I think I have a little extra room in my hollow leg.”

Cassidy peeked under the table, gently poking Marilyn’s knee until Marilyn put a slice of pie in front of her.

Rachel let Marilyn dish her up a piece, too. When she took a bite, she almost choked. She’d thought it was pumpkin. Tears burned her eyes. “It’s just like hers.”

“Your mom always made the perfect squash pie. I was a little worried I wouldn’t be able to follow her recipe exactly.”

Rachel let the last bit of crust rest on her tongue before chewing. “I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t come. You fixed everything.”

Marilyn placed her wrinkly hand over Rachel’s. “Can’t you see that nothing was ever broken?  Your mama would have loved sitting at this table. I see so much of her in you. But sometimes you both needed to just see the elegance in a microwaved dinner. “

Rachel stood to help clear the dishes, but Patrick tugged her over to the couch. “I’ll take care of it. I think the kids need to hear a little more about all the work you had to do when you were helping your mom with Thanksgiving dinner.”

Cassidy bounded over to the couch. “Can I hold baby Grace?”

Rachel tucked pillows around her and placed Grace in her arms. Bryce snuggled into her side while she rubbed his back. “Hey Mom, do you think we can have this food again sometime? I could help you even.”

Rachel laid her head on top of his. “I’d like that.”

Jedaiah’s Secret

Jedaiah's SecretJedaiah scanned the temple’s hall before slipping his hand underneath his white sleeve. The spots itched more each moment. That morning when they’d met to discuss the accommodations needed for the influx of pilgrims, he’d had to bite his cheek around the other priests to keep from scratching. He’d thought the white spots were merely callouses from working on his house, but then the itching had started.

He stepped onto the ladder. With people flooding into the city for Passover, they all needed to pitch in to handle the hundreds of extra sacrifices. Grabbing a handful of tongs, he balanced them in his elbow and started back down. . .

Click here to read the rest of my story published in the Sacred Cow magazine.