That time I broke a promise for over a month… (The Phantom of the Dopamine)

You might recall that I promised you, reader, and myself that I would write a blog post every single day.

Well, we all knew that was a bit of B.S. Actually more than a bit. It was about 40 days of bullshit. 40 days! How biblical.

To continue the Noah’s arc parallel, allow me to grant you this covenantal rainbow: I promise, I will flood the earth again with my ranting blog posts. No promises about the every day thing, though. We’re cutting that part from the covenant.

So, how was your Christmas? Mine was decent. The crushing weight of inexplicable depression has recently been lifted from me. However, I’ve realized that in the absence of depression I feel, quite literally, nothing. I’m emotionally numb! Happiness is something of a phantom limb for me. Or perhaps there’s a portion of my brain missing and I still sense it’s ghostly presence. The Phantom of the Dopamine.

Anyway – Expect a more interesting post than this next time. Perhaps tomorrow. (No promises, Noah!)

My First Love, Michael Ball. Bonus Story!

While researching my first love/embarrassing Michael Ball obsession exposé, I came across this treasure. Big shout out to one fabulous plot generator! Plug in some names plus a few randomized nouns and adjectives, and you get a gut-bustingly funny document.

This truly beautiful short story was created in December of 2015. Enjoy!

Brave Ashley —

A Short Story

Ashley — was thinking about Michael Ball again. Michael was a spiteful author with sticky abs and chubby spots.

Ashley walked over to the window and reflected on her beautiful surroundings. She had always loved hilly Plymouth with its gigantic, glamorous gates. It was a place that encouraged her tendency to feel ambivalent.

Then she saw something in the distance, or rather someone. It was the a spiteful figure of Michael Ball.

Ashley gulped. She glanced at her own reflection. She was a brave, intelligent, port drinker with sloppy abs and sticky spots. Her friends saw her as a tart, tender teacher. Once, she had even jumped into a river and saved a faffdorking deaf person.

But not even a brave person who had once jumped into a river and saved a faffdorking deaf person, was prepared for what Michael had in store today.

The moon shone like swimming owls, making Ashley delighted. Ashley grabbed a ribbed torch that had been strewn nearby; she massaged it with her fingers.

As Ashley stepped outside and Michael came closer, she could see the slow smile on his face.

“I am here because I want a kiss,” Michael bellowed, in a snooty tone. He slammed his fist against Ashley’s chest, with the force of 9035 goldfish. “I frigging love you, Ashley — .”

Ashley looked back, even more delighted and still fingering the ribbed torch. “Michael, I am your father,” she replied.

They looked at each other with calm feelings, like two hot, happy horses jumping at a very witty snow storm, which had drum and bass music playing in the background and two clumsy uncles loving to the beat.

Suddenly, Michael lunged forward and tried to punch Ashley in the face. Quickly, Ashley grabbed the ribbed torch and brought it down on Michael’s skull.

Michael’s sticky abs trembled and his chubby spots wobbled. He looked angry, his body raw like a mutated, mute map.

Then he let out an agonising groan and collapsed onto the ground. Moments later Michael Ball was dead.

Ashley — went back inside and made herself a nice glass of port. THE END

Please comment, telling me your favorite part of this short story. My vote’s for the line, “Michael, I am your father.” Or that shocking ending! Who knew I could be so vicious?

My first love? Michael Ball.

Yep, you read that title right. Ladies and gentlemen, I am ready to be humiliated. I bear myself before you as I admit this hilarious, adorable, strangely tender truth: My actual first love was Michael Ball.

For the purpose of this article, we’ll disregard fictional first loves, of which I’ve had many. (Mr. Darcy, Clayton Westmoreland, I’m lookin’ at you.) My first real love was Michael Ball, and I have the cringe-worthy proof coming up. First, allow me to tell you how it all began…

The Michael Ball discovery began when I was approximately 17 years old. Which means Michael was like…52? Mind you, it didn’t start with the 52-year-old Ball. (Although, to be honest, I don’t give a damn. Neil Diamond’s 78 and we all know I’d get with him any day. And Fred Astaire’s dead! Age is just a number.) I was adding musicals to the playlist for my school commute, so that I wouldn’t have to listen to the music played by the girl in my carpool. I started exploring Aspects of Love and thought, “My! Whose beautiful voice is this?” It was the voice of baby Michael Ball.

To make a long story short, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is based on a novel by Bloomsbury-ist David Garnett. It’s basically a love octagon in which literally everyone is in love with each other. Quite nonsensically beautiful though. Makes me cry. Look it up.

When I made the effort to watch the Aspects of Love performance at the Tony’s, I saw Michael and I thought, “…Meh.” There are indeed many aspects of love, one of which is seeing the guy and assuming he’s not all that. Jump a couple years into the future and I have completely changed my girlish mind.

In the words of my ex Fitzwilliam Darcy, “I was in the middle before I had begun.” Therefore, I can’t quite determine when or how the obsession started. It might have been with the 2014 album If Everyone Was Listening. Michael Ball singing “Stuck Like Glue” is a total dance party. My heart definitely got involved when I listened to the Original London Cast of Passion, written by my boy Steve Sondheim. Michael played the Italian captain learning about love, and I love Steve, and the music overwhelmed me, and dammit I think I started to fall for this man!

The fact that I associate Michael Ball’s solo albums and Passion OLC with my time in college does – not – help. My first years at university were absolute misery. I’ve never fit in with young people, since I’m mentally about 50-80 years old. I was always alone, always exhausted by depression and mysterious stomach pains. When I listen to Passion I see myself on a rainy day in Fall. Sitting on the steps of the art department, headphones in, eyes closed, wishing I could fall asleep forever. This Kismet medley reminds me of the first time I heard it, standing in line at the school café, barely able to contain my emotional reaction to the voice and the songs.

It’s all kind of sad now that I write it. But also sweet! And weird as hell. I became obsessed with this man. Seriously, you will not believe all the content I’ve seen over the years. God bless you, Internet. You helped me find super 80s music videos, interviews, concerts…the Coronation Street cameo, that movie musical parody with Lily Savage… THIS TV trivia contest where the winner got to roll out with Michael in a limo!!!! To this day, I have never felt such intense envy.

Now, a lot of you may be wondering… Why? I must respond with, “Why the hell not?!” His voice is unbelievably beautiful – and untrained, by the way! Then there’s the smile, the curly hair… Seriously, why wouldn’t I fall for him? Look at this video below. What the hell, Michael Ball in 1993? What the hell?

I totally loved him. I loved him, knowing at one point he sported hideously blonde hair. But I wasn’t in love with him yet. You know how that happened? I decided to ship myself out to London for a week. (Using a credit card – ahahaha, so smart.) I could not be in the UK without seeing my man Michael. Luckily, he was set to perform for the Queen’s birthday and the Royal Theatrical Fund.

So, it’s a temperate June night in the West End. I’m standing outside the Haymarket Theatre, wearing a black vintage dress and hot pink leather jacket from Notting Hill. The concert I had just witnessed changed everything. I felt like I had truly become a woman – a very unnerved, happy, pained woman, quaking in anticipation. In spite of my nerves, I knew I had to try and meet him. But I didn’t see Michael after the show.

I continued reliving the moments in my mind. I chose to hold in my tears until I stood in the hotel shower. Whatever love is, I had felt it while I watched Michael Ball sing. And, obviously, there was nothing I could do about it.

Michael Ball was my first love. And I almost wish he was my last. Mind you, I never “broke up” with Michael. I’m still a big fan, listening to his new albums and checking his social media on occasion. But the romance ended out of necessity.. You know, because he’s 34 years older than me, very happy with Cathy McGowan, and doesn’t know I exist. Then again, I’ve had a hard time with men who do know I exist…

If I’m honest, I never felt that way again. It was pure. And, much like Aspects, was ridiculously, incomprehensibly real. How real? So real, I had to tell him.

Yep. That’s the humiliating proof.

I tried to tell him. I emailed the Michael Ball Show at BBC Radio. You know, the address you’re supposed to write to make song requests and talk about music? I wrote a very long email and I told him the whole story.

Rather than try to recapture my experience in the audience at the Hayworth, I’m going to embrace my disgustingly sweet and naive young self – by sharing that exact email with you.

Oh, and I’ll be commenting in bold. That way we can laugh at it together.

I never received a response. (Thank God.) Let’s all hope that if Michael read the email, he immediately did this:

“Dear Michael, 

Where to begin? I suppose I ought to start by saying that I’m immensely fond of you, as well as inspired by your work. It’s hard not to admire the passion with which you sing and create music; in fact, your dedication to your craft caused me to rethink the limits I had set in my own life. Slightly introverted, horribly lacking in self-confidence, I had never imagined I would look forward to a future in which I would sing on the stage, not just in my car or my shower. Until I met you. 

Or, I should say ‘saw you’. Back in June I came to London on a ‘holiday’ with my mother. I’d always wanted to come to the UK of course, but this trip I was especially interested in seeing my favorite singer perform. So there I was, front and center at the Royal Theatrical Fund’s charity event. I saw you sing “I Won’t Send Roses” and “You Made Me Love You” (two of my favorites, by the way) Still favorites! and the experience, for me, was almost indescribable. However, I will make an attempt to convey precisely what occurred there in row H, seat 7 or so: 

You walked out on stage, and I loved you. Instantly. Anyone who knows me will tell you that though I’m young, I am passionate. I fall into cheery, blissful ‘love’ easily and fully, whether it be with an actor or a novel or a song I’ve had in my head all month. This was entirely different. The feeling was intense, uncomfortable, entirely unexpected and undesired. It felt as though I were seeing one of life’s many doorways when I saw you. As if you could have shared some small or large part in my life, had things been different, had I been older, prettier, smarter, or simply in the right place at the right time. It was all downhill from there once you started to sing; I’m not ashamed to admit gentle tears were shed, though I was inconvenienced by the sting of melted makeup in my eye and the need to make conversation with the elderly woman at my right WITHOUT looking like a cow-eyed idiot. She was very nice! Bought me ice cream. Probably because she saw me crying. Also, that mascara hurt like a bitch.

The memory of that night haunted me on the flight home to Los Angeles. And it continues to come back to me from time to time, that stabbing pain in my chest and the inability to wipe the stupid, tearful smile from my face. Cringe. I never expected to be so completely and irrevocably undone. Seeing you in person changed everything for me, including my priorities for my future life. 

Though I do love you, there’s also a part of me that thinks we would be at least good friends, CRINGE if things were different or if I were a bit more intelligent. I don’t know why on earth I said this. I was and am intelligent, dammit. As it is, we both love music, – though I never realized just how much I loved to sing until I became a fan of your work. So, I’m changing my scholarly focus to music this coming school year. Though I’ve always loved it, I’ve never once considered studying it. I’ve simply never had the confidence to imagine myself using what I’d learned and doing well. The board is still out when it comes to my possible rate of success, but none the less I am doing it. Yeah, I effed that up. Literally didn’t even finish one semester as a music major. All because I fell in stupid, silly love with a man I’ll never really know. 

Oh, a part of me likes to imagine us as good acquaintances who from this day on will write back and forth every now and then, discussing our favorite things, but I know that can never be. Of course that can never be!! Such a creep. What the hell. In fact, I’ll be lucky if you don’t immediately toss this message out and pray that God deliver you from the nutty Californian girl. I assure you, I’m not a danger to others, though I’m sure I must be a danger to myself for going through with writing this letter. Anyway, since I doubt we’ll ever speak again, I want to share a few final thoughts: 

I’m not sure if you’re past that point in your life where you’re mentally pacing the floor, wondering after your value and worth. I doubt Michael needed this. But it’s sweet of me to say. Whether or not you have those days of uncertainty, I want to say that I value you, and that you’re worth a great deal. You are a gift of unspeakable rareness and quality. Handsome, gifted, intelligent and, of course, inspiring. I’m sure you’ve heard many women talk about your voice and your looks, which, we’re all agreed, are top shelf CRINGE!!; but when I think of you, I think of your unique ability to sing with all your heart. To lay yourself out on the line by courageously singing anything and everything, from Andrew Lloyd Webber to ABBA. I pray you continue to challenge yourself, and that you never underestimate your God-given talent for fashioning love through music. Saccharine. But quite true.

To finish, I must beg that you not read any of this on the air, that is if I ever summon up the nerve to send this to you. God help me, I have no idea why I’ve done this. I can only say that I had to tell you. I could not bear the thought of you never knowing. 

Thank you again, my favorite, my friend. My first and forthright love, the only one I’ve had so far in this life. Maybe, if I manage to dig up the talent, we’ll work together someday. 

If we do, I hope you won’t remember this letter.”

Michael will never fully leave my life. He’s an incredible singer, total sweetheart, and the man who graced my bedroom wall. (I bought a rare 1996 poster in a literally ENORMOUS size – floor to ceiling.) A girl never forgets her first love. Whether the memory makes you laugh or cry, it will “never, ever let you be the same.”

Comment below telling me how crazy, hilarious, or concerning this is.

Throw-down Throwback: My Savage Susan Wiggs Review

I don’t feel like writing tonight.

But I am posting something! So my promise has been kept.

Back in 2017, I was still reading romance novels. (My bitter bitch faze didn’t begin until 2018.) At the recommendation of a friend, I read The Hostage by Susan Wiggs.

The Hostage is about a recently molested Chicago debutante and a vengeful Native American man. (Half Native American? I don’t remember. And I don’t actually care.) He kidnaps her, they fight a lot, then somewhere along the way they fall in love and have a lot of sex.

I have never been so wrathful in my response to a novel.

Tonight, I gift you my scathing Goodreads review. The thought of it still brings a smile to my face two years later. I hope it brings one to yours! Don’t get too close – the heat of my criticism may cause third degree burns.

“She had to warm him with her body heat. Like the two men under the moose hide in the campfire story. The men who had warmed each other with their body heat. Skin to skin contact.”

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Okay, I’ve considered myself a Susan Wiggs fan for a while now. Even though a couple of her books have provided me simply with mild enjoyment, rather than all-out shakes and shivers. But this book.

NO.

We begin with a rather long, desperately poetic description of the Chicago fire of 1871. I’m a patient person, but I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty damn bored. But I powered through. Because I am patient. 

We’re finally taken to our heroine, Deborah Sinclair, who Wiggs is apparently trying to pass off as deceptively simple-minded and spoiled, even though there is obviously something else going on. Something that is in fact very serious, but that I guessed within the first few pages of chapter one. (view spoiler) Deborah is intent on cancelling her engagement to the fabulously well-connected Phillip Ascot, so off we go to Daddy’s mansion to beg escape.

We’re then introduced to our hero… *looks askance around the room* Hero?… Yeah, hero, I guess – Tom Silver. He’s in a very dark place because an explosion at one of Daddy Sinclair’s mines killed his foster son, so has he come to demand retribution? Nope. He is set to flat out shoot the bastard in sleep. Will Tom be hanged for his crime? Who cares? Not Tom. Vengeance must be swift! Unfortunately for vengeance, the city-wide fire gets in the way.

Long story short, Tom misses his chance to become a murderer and decides to make pretty Miss Sinclair his hostage instead. Tom sails Deborah all the way to his home in Isle Royale, a journey that literally felt as long in book time as in real time, or possibly longer. The interaction between our hero and heroine mainly consists of “you’re an annoying brat” “you’re so cold” “stay in here with your hands tied” “you have no heart” kind of outbursts. Now this is all normal romance novel kind of stuff, except it lasts chapters and chapters. And I know what you’re thinking! It must be leading up to something big. But, people, we’re not even at the halfway point yet. No, no, excitement can’t come until the last of these four hundred pages!

Once in Isle Royale, Tom and Deborah continue to bicker about her so-called helplessness, even though both of them can’t help but acknowledge her usefulness as she helps people in the village do things like gut fish and sew. But then “ice-up” comes, and through a lot of somewhat ridiculous circumstances the two are forced to live in the same cabin together the entire winter. As a reader three hundred pages in, bored as stiff as that horse that died in the snow a couple chapters ago, this is the perfect opportunity to FINALLY have some of the intimacy and excitement build in this relationship.

I was still bored bored BORED. Even during – at last – the description of the horrible something that happened to Deborah that I already knew about the whole flipping time. I wouldn’t have been so bored if there had just been more of a SIZZLE between these two, but it was more like an awkward…broil? Tom would say and think these things that were pretty hot, but of course it would fall flat because these characters have nothing to talk about besides the things they refuse to talk about that we already know about!

And after two lovely consensual kisses shared, Deborah asks simply: “Can we?”

THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is our build up.

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And after weeks, months, who knows, of vigorous lovemaking we get this delightful little textbook conflict that still leaves great minds everywhere baffled:

“It can never work.”

….Why not?

…Why the fuck not?

Luckily, even though it CAN’T WORK, and they’re TOO DIFFERENT, Deb and Tom manage to tape everything back together within the span of twenty randomly life-threatening pages, without any verbal realization that it can in fact work. Good for them. 

But, just, no.

Needless to say, I was really disappointed by this book (and amazed by my own endurance). I’m normally very fond of Wiggs writing style, but this seemed nothing like her! Every single moment of the book, even fairly meaningless ones, were drawn out for pages. And reading from the heroine’s POV meant paragraphs of reflections that were so elaborate and poetic they almost bordered on saccharine, all while she told us things we already know! We alllllll know, Deborah.

In spite of that, all the novels “secrets” were treated as such, skirted around in the narration. I felt like I was being told a story, rather than placed within one. And don’t even get me started with the force-fed political and social inserts. I’m completely all right with an author subtly, sensitively tracing her plot line or character development with social commentary, if it’s applicable to the story. But to throw things like Darwin’s Origin of the Species in right out of the blue?? Not to mention the constant repetition of Deborah’s struggle with independence. “They always said I couldn’t do anything, I was like a doll, I felt x, y, z, I couldn’t do x, y, z” – EVERY – SINGLE – PAGE

A good romance requires tact, deep insight into the minds of the readers. And, dammit, you need a hero and heroine with flesh and blood. And you need to be willing to do some serious CUTS. What was with all the bear metaphor stuff? I don’t know. I just know I WASTED. VALUABLE. TIME.

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Rating: 1.5 Stars? 1 moose. 0.5 opera-singing bears. Asa would be ashamed.

Jobs are like men. I get the wrong ones.

I’m only here because I promised myself I would post every day. And that means I have to log on.

What? Is that not what you wanted to hear? Sorry, sorry.

I’m starting a new job tomorrow – I mean *glances at invisible watch* today. It’s minimum wage, barely any hours, but will be meaningful. I hope. You know how some women attract the wrong kind of man? The kind that doesn’t care about her, gives her little or nothing to work with, and makes her feel mediocre? I attract those kinds of jobs. Oh, and those men, too. Same for both.

Naturally, I’m terrified. I can already picture that inevitable night when I come home after a long day, emotionally and mentally exhausted from the extent of my effort, and promptly collapse. Jobs depress me.

Not because I’m lazy! In fact, I like to think I’m very active when the winds of mental health blow the right direction. Jobs depress me because they lack care. “It’s not personal, it’s business!” Unfortunately for me, I take everything personally. Maybe because I am, in all respects, a person?

But – let’s be optimistic! Perhaps this suitor for my part-time hand will be a good egg. Fun, generous, genuine… Willing to consider me for a full-time position or a promotion to something that matters?

We shall see.

“Unsent message to my Ex, who doesn’t want eyes on his paper”

It’s 2am. Let’s strive to find a bit of poetry in this “Message to my Ex,” one that I coined this evening in the notes on my phone. I’ll never send it. I’d much rather show it to you.

So, the following is a copy-and-paste-poem with selections from my unsent message. Perhaps someone out there can relate.

Your quiet the past several days has me thinking…

I asked you to give me some evidence you care

And in a very distant way I guess you do.

But your jokes indicate you only want sex.

I won’t judge you for that.

But I hope you know it hurts me

To know that and say that.

It really really hurts. 

“Good enough to have sex with

Not good enough for more.”

I’ve been sitting around

Actually caring about you.

Meanwhile you’re looking for some girl

With high morality and standards

having uninhibited sex and wanting

No commitment. That girl does not exist. 

I don’t want out-of-the-blue texts

Anymore. You might be better off

Talking to someone who cares less than I do.

Someone who “has their eyes on their own paper.”

I paid 48 dollars! (Why we’re all here.)

Well, the bullet has been bitten. I have spent $48 dollars so that I may have a pretty little sight domain, no unsightly “.wordpress” anywhere in sight! This is, perhaps, a sign that I actually want to brand myself, and that there is still a fire within me… A small, but quite attractive, purple flame in a badly ventilated area.

I hope you enjoy my musings! I plan to use the “blogging” aspects of this website to write what I cannot publish with culture sites. I’ve definitely pushed the envelope in the past. Living Life Fearless let me write about a sixties movie musical short with Anthony Perkins, all about people living in a department store – ahem, ahem, Evening Primrose. Our Culture Mag lets me write about the crazy movies I watch – and love – like The Ruling Class. #INSINNUENDOES

In spite of the generosity received from colleagues, there is still much, much more I want to share. I want to write about my hardest days as a depressed, anxious, and very single woman. I want to talk to you about my deepest loves, usually men who are fictional, old, or dead.

Let’s hash out ideas together! I’ll tell you stories and you, in turn, will show some interest in my thoughts. Sound good? It’s sounds great to me. Prepare yourself for…

  • a “first love” reveal
  • adventures in therapy
  • crafty ideas
  • weird story premises

Those blog posts will be coming soon, so get ready! It’s all comin’ atcha.

“The Man and the Red Light”

Written two years ago in Intro to Creative Writing. I was asked to write about one brief moment in time, elongated by mental narration. Getting off work late one night, I sat waiting at the red light and this perverse little piece was born. Enjoy.


“The Man and the Red Light” by Ash Valente

Guy Tredinnick’s car might have made it through the light at Gable and First Street if he’d been driving a little faster. He would have driven faster if he had the nerve; but it had only been two years since he first learned to drive, and yellow lights triggered his sense of panic.

He slammed a sandaled foot down on the brake pedal and turned the radio up. Glancing idly over his right shoulder, he saw a solitary figure, its hunched back pressed against the curving concrete wall below the overpass. Guy quickly looked away, focusing on the red light in front of him. He remembered that his parents always behaved similarly with strangers on street corners, forcibly molding their mouths into straight lines while refusing to acknowledge the cardboard signs they held. “Give them money and they’ll just buy drugs,” his father always said.

Guy drummed his fingers against the steering wheel, trying to find the beat of the song that was playing but not sure there was one. (He didn’t know much about music, since his parents never taught him.) But very soon his fingers stopped drumming and his searching eyes flew to the passenger window once again.

She was closer than he realized. Close enough for Guy to know see she was a she, and a miserable she, to boot. Guy never understood that phrase, ‘to boot’, but the girl outside the window looked like she’d had a few kicks with one. Even in the harsh crimson glow of the stoplight Guy could see bruise-like shadows on her neck, above which sat a face that must have been beautiful before the nose became crooked and the eyes deep-set.

Actually, she was still beautiful. Guy continued to stare, ignoring his innate instinct to look away from people who wanted money. She was thin and small; he pictured her as a forest sprite (not the drink, but the fairy) and wondered how long it had been since she had that drink, with a Big Mac and fries. Her ragged hair was bathed in red light, so he couldn’t tell the real color. And he couldn’t tell the color of the shitty, probably not warm sweats she wore, though he was fairly certain her high heels were red. She sat Indian style on top of a sleeping bag, from inside which a tiny kitten poked out his head and looked at Guy’s car with glowing miniature eyes.

What exactly was she doing? She wasn’t holding a sign, and he didn’t see any squares of cardboard lying defeated on the sidewalk. He did see that she was young and hungry, and Guy wondered where her father was. He instantly hated the unknown man, certain he was a dipshit who hadn’t worked hard enough to keep the house from foreclosing. Guy thought she deserved a big, beautiful house, with a five foot long vanity and a queen sized bed.

Guy pounded his forehead with his fist. Who was he kidding? He was in massive student debt, he lived with his parents, and his job that paid barely over minimum wage was hanging on a thread. No way could he get that kind of house for his daughter; his daughter, if he ever had one, would probably live under the overpass too, eating stale Cheetos from a garbage can. “Sorry, honey,” he’d say as they left his parents’ home, “we can’t afford rent anymore.” And here he was criticizing the homeless girl’s father…

Was she homeless? She could just be sitting outside after midnight. The high heels made him think she was a prostitute, though sitting on a sleeping bag in nondescript clothing wouldn’t get her many customers. Was she gentle and willing on top of that sleeping bag, he wondered. Or was she kinky and wild, her painted nails clawing into men’s backs as she made noises to match the cars on the freeway above? If a customer didn’t like scratching she probably blamed it on the kitten. She wanted to get paid, in spite of her urges.

His last girlfriend didn’t have many urges like that. It had been three years since they broke up and he found he barely remembered her now. But he remembered her name was Paola and she used to drive him to class because he didn’t have his license then. Sometimes he’d be so horny he would force her to pull the car over and park in the grass while she touched him. Then he’d recline her seat and take her with the two of them barely undressed. Afterward, when Paola re-buckled her seatbelt and claimed embarrassment he would tell her reassuringly, “Don’t worry, no one noticed. It’s dark and I barely took five minutes.” She never did explain why she broke up with him.

Guy shrugged away the memory and watched the girl again. She was holding her kitten now, clutching it lovingly to her chest and rubbing her cheek against its tiny, furry chest. Guy felt something stir inside him, a feeling that swirled in his stomach and felt like having the flu. Tenderness, maybe? He had always thought tenderness was a myth, never having seen it at home.

His mom and dad were sort of partners, barely friends, existing only to blame each other when their son didn’t get his way. “Don’t give me that look,” Dad would say, “your mom’s in charge.” Just once, he would have liked to see his dad stand tall. Maybe if Dad had been around more, – if he had fixed the car, mowed the lawn, balanced the budget, taught his son about girls and pets before they dumped him or died, – maybe Guy wouldn’t be living at home with unpaid bills and a rubber goldfish for a wife.

Another crazed, beat-less song came over the airwaves and Guy turned off the radio with a sigh. His head felt heavy as he turned to look at the girl and her cat, regret pooling in the rims of his eyes like tears. Whoever she was he wanted to help her. Should he get her a McDonald’s meal with a Sprite to drink? Should he ask for a quick one and promise to pay her well? Dammit, nothing he could do seemed like enough.

His hand inched toward the passenger door, and he paused. He could save her. He could climb out of his car and run to her, get down on one knee on her worn, tufted sleeping bag to offer her marriage. Once she said yes he would pick her up and carry her bridal style, her and her cat, safely sheltered from the night; he would hold her all the way to Ashley Furniture to pick out her favorite dining room set, and he would carry the furniture home too! Fuck his 2013 Chevy, he was strong enough! Then the new Mrs. Tredinnick would get a house with a garden and a five foot vanity, and they could afford it because he buckled down at work and got promoted. He’d give her everything she wanted on her wedding night, and he’d hold her close in bed while she smiled like she never had before. They’d invite her father over for Sunday dinners with the kids, and when his son didn’t eat his vegetables Guy would say, “Your mother and I are in charge.” He would grow old with her, he would stand by her side, and he’d clean her kitten’s litter box and never let it die.

Guy’s adrenaline soared as he put the car in park, tugged the handle of the passenger door and leaned over to push it open. The girl instantly looked up from where her face was buried in the kitten’s fur, her red-soaked gaze alarmed. “Hi,” Guy called, pleasantly surprised to hear strength and assurance in his voice as he said the word. He reached to unbuckle his seatbelt, smiling as he wondered how he would begin to offer himself as her guard, her friend, her man, when the red light suddenly vanished.

With the abruptness of a slap Guy was startled by the appearance of the green light above his head. All around him the night was suffused in the riotous color, sending signals screaming through his nerve endings, Go, go, GO! He reached for the buckle again and could feel his heart pounding through his blood to his fingers, against the button that would release the belt.

Behind him someone slammed on their car horn. The long, bellowing sound blocked his ears, but Guy could imagine the sound the cat made as he watched it rear up on its tiny pads, back arched and fur raised in fright. It leapt out of its mistress’s arms and made a mad dash off the sidewalk into the street. Guy could almost hear the cry that rose from the girl’s thin lips as she threw herself off the sleeping bag, arms outstretched. She ran after the cat, blindly throwing herself in the pool of green light, running across the horizon of his windshield toward the line of cars beside him.

He wasn’t blocking the next lane. Guy realized in an instant of panic that every car was driving straight through the intersection at Gable and First toward the shadowed girl and the black cat. Full throttle. They didn’t see her. No one would stop it. The car behind him stopped it’s blaring horn-blowing, and the world held itself in momentary silence. Then he heard brakes screech, a feminine scream, a tiny, mewling kitten-squeal.

Guy threw his hands over his eyes and screamed over the resounding chorus of horns, picturing himself as the hero he wasn’t. “I can’t do it!” he cried into his soft, young palms. “I can’t…”

“Wedding Vows”

This story was inspired by a writing prompt: “Two people remember the same memory very differently”… Or something along those lines. I think I took the prompt a bit further than intended, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. What memory have my characters confused? Their wedding day.

“Wedding Vows” by Ash Valente

“Layla,” she heard him call from the other side of the host’s desk.

            She approached him with a wistful ‘hey’ and half-hearted hug. He had the audacity to kiss her cheek and say she looked great, to which she replied, “Thanks. You look great too, Rich.”

           They were led to what the waitress called the diner’s most romantic table, and Layla wondered what the starry-eyed girl with ponytailed hair would think if she knew the truth – that this table was seating the end of a romance instead of the beginning.

            Rich ordered the drinks, remembering with his usual efficiency that she liked her coffee with hazelnut creamer and asking that the waitress bring some when she had the chance. Then he looked at Layla with a distant version of his old tenderness, and Layla thought, ‘My God, can this really be happening? Are we really getting divorced?’ They were silent until they ordered dinner, the raindrops pattering on the diner window under the waitress’s cheery questions and Layla’s turbulent thoughts. The girl stepped away; Rich’s voice filled the calm like a crack of thunder. “Well, I guess we both know why we’re here.”

            Layla stirred her coffee. “Did you ever think it would end like this?”

            “Not in the beginning,” he replied. In one prolonged movement he took her hand, his right grasping her left so the pair lay clasped on the tabletop like the hands of teenagers. “Remember our first date?”

            “Of course,” Layla said, feeling pain at the smile that rose unwillingly to her lips. “You were a half hour late.”

            “Forty-five minutes,” he corrected.

            “Forty-five minutes, that’s right. I can’t believe I forgave you.”

            “But you did.”

            They fell into silence until their food arrived. Rich knew at once that her steak was rarer than she’d like and sent it back. The bittersweet talk continued as Rich cut his country fried steak. “I was on time every date after that,” he said.

            “Yes,” she said, “and the wedding came soon after.”

            He nodded and swallowed a forkful of corn. “I can see us now, quaking in front of the altar.”

            “I couldn’t look at you at first. Just stared down at my shoes.”

            “But then you looked up. And that flower crown on your head was crooked.” Rich chuckled. “I straightened it.” Layla giggled back. It was an irresistible exchange that warmed them under the heating lamp of memory.

            It was then that Layla became solemn. “Then the vows,” she muttered, eyes shuttered and moist. “The priest said… ‘Do you, Richard, take Layla to be your lawfully wedded wife?’”

            “And I said yes,” Rich whispered back.

            “Then he said, ‘Do you, Layla, take Richard to be your lawfully wedded husband?’”

            Rich nodded slowly, raised his glass to his lips. “Yes,” he breathed, raising his glass to his lips. “Then you said no.”

            A set of plates clattered loudly as a busboy dropped them carelessly into his plastic basin. Layla jumped. When the diner was all quiet except for the sound of Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues” her body was still tense, her mouth gaping. “What did you say?” Layla finally croaked.

            Though she barely understood herself, Rich seemed to hear her perfectly. “He said, ‘Do you, Layla, take Richard to be your lawfully wedded husband,’ and you answered, ‘No.’ Remember?”

            Layla could barely think over the furious pounding of her brain. She managed to sputter, “N – No, Rich, I said, ‘Yes.’ I said yes, and you kissed the bride. Then we had three miserable years together. Remember?

            Rich chuckled and dabbed his lips with a napkin. “I know I’m laughing,” he said, body shaking, “but that’s not funny. I know we were together a long time, but that’s not marriage. Not even common law.” He looked totally in earnest.

            Layla threw up her hands in disgust, disregarding her newly arrived steak. She hollered over Rich’s thanks to the waitress, “Are you trying to say we’re not married? That we were never married?”

           Rich shushed her and clasped her hand once again, this time a bit too tightly. “I know our relationship felt a lot like a marriage, but – ”

            “It didn’t feel like a marriage,” Layla snapped, trying in vain to pull away from him. “It was one! What about the reception? The honeymoon?”

            “We couldn’t very well turn away all those guests or get the deposit back on our trip! We let them be celebrations of us.” Eyes wide with apparent concern, he still managed a nostalgic grin. “I think we enjoyed both all the more. We were totally relaxed, free from newlywed jitters. We included everyone in the first dance. And on our third night in Venice I pretended I was a charming gigolo, picking up a pretty stranger in the plaza. Remember that?”

            “Well, yes,” Layla reluctantly replied. She sat stupefied. Rich was so competent in everything, so unquestionable. And his memory was so sound. Layla herself had forgotten the roleplaying in Venice. “No,” she asserted again, but her voice lacked conviction. “You’re playing some prank. I said yes.”

            Rich patted her hand, comforting her as he might a geriatric woman or an invalid dog. “You said no. You weren’t ready for the commitment. You started to cry in front of everyone, you even faced the congregation and apologized for wasting their time.”

            She knew she had cried but had thought the tears were happy. She remembered apologizing to their guests but remembered being sorry for her struggle to speak with joy lodged in her throat. “I could have sworn I said, ‘I do,’” she whispered. But even to herself she sounded crazy.

            “But you didn’t,” Rich replied plainly, bluntly. He relaxed in his side of the booth, gestured smiling toward her plate, “Shouldn’t you start eating?”

            Layla fell mute and began obediently cutting pieces of steak. ‘Maybe I did say no, she thought. ‘Maybe after we exchanged the rings – ’

            “The rings!” Layla shouted, throwing down her for knife and fork in triumph. “That’s proof we were married!” She raised her left hand in the air.

            But her ring finger was bare.

            Rich lifted his arm to show her his left hand. He even wiggled his fingers for emphasis. There was nothing there.

            “I – I…” Her eyes filled with tears, she lifted them to look at Rich with pleading. “I had it on, I did. But now there’s nothing.” Was that the sum of all her memories, of the pain and heartache she endured these three years? Nothing?

            “There wasn’t a ring,” Rich said. “But hey,” he added with a pitying grin, “that makes this easier, right?” He stood up, pulled some cash out of his wallet and left it next to her plate. “That should cover everything. I’m finished here.

           “Take care of yourself.” Those were his last words as he left the diner, walking with the ease of any bachelor. No one but the waitress noticed as he passed his left hand buried in his pocket, fingering something as he gave her a tip and a lingering smile.

“A Novel Deposition”

Written as I reflected on the disaster that is my minimalistic love life. I thought to myself, why did I read all that romance? I screwed myself up in the head. I was too easily drawn into what you might term ‘consent’. But what is consent when men use persuasion to attain it? Who’s to say Mr. Darcy and Heathcliff didn’t use that look to bring Lizzy and Cathy around? Thus this poem was born.

“A Novel Deposition”

O why oh why did you not tell me that?

That aye I ought to heave the girls away

These heroines have hardly good to say

But praise the pound and arch, heart’s pitterpat

O why oh why did you not tell me that?

Did you forget He’s fondle with an eye

To win cat’s cream by cleaved and clever tale

Of coming love if lady leaps the rail

Or lifts her clothes without a thought or cry?

Nay that I was not told, Countess, not I

I query every prophet old and wise

“What is consent when novel words call ‘Bed’?”

Was Lizzy B. a doll who popped her head?

Was Cathy raped by Heathcliff’s gypsy eyes?

Why fits a pair of breeches fair disguise?

For men faire all the same tie or cravat

They make a milk that Marian girls lap­­

And – ‘Ah-ha!’ – turn you into (here’s the trap)

A wino – Why? No! Why’d he tell me that?