All these stories were written LIVE by J. R. Nichols in fifteen minutes or less, and were read on the air and published here without editing.
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“I don’t get it.”
“Don’t get what?”
“This trend to have sympathy for the bad guy in all our media nowadays.”
“You sound like a fogey. Want me to drive around the block until we see some kids playing on a lawn for you to yell at?”
Shelly sunk into silence. It had been a long time since she had been critical of a movie Roger had taken her to see, but this one really had her agitated.
She supposed, as she watched the windshield wipers ineffectively swipe over the same smudge on the windshield, that she was taking things just a bit too personally. As usual, Roger’s voice in her mind added, and she again fumed. She couldn’t stop looking at the impotent wiper blades, but didn’t dare turn to take a look at her equally impotent partner. How long had it been since she had been able to hold a good, long conversation about a film she had seen? She worked hard to recollect, and had to dig all the way into the archives of her sophomore year in high school, and the first time she had seen, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
Ah, my theater friends. Of course, she thought, the rhythm of the wiper blades now changing into the backbeat for the earworm of “Timewarp” she had contracted. Had it really been that long since she’d had a good discussion about film? About anything?
She did look at Roger now, sitting silent in his leather captain’s chair, hand on his travel mug.
“What did you think of the movie?” She finally dared to ask.
“It was good,” she said, at the same time he did.
He was a cautious driver, so the scathing glance he gave her lasted only a nanosecond.
“Are you making fun of me?” The challenge was blatant; he was daring her to say yes. How many of these challenges had gone unanswered over their ten years of marriage? How many times had she insisted that no, she would never do such a thing, she had only been misunderstood?
Not tonight, she thought. All throughout the film, she’d squirmed and huffed and clenched her fists hard enough to leave crescents in her palms. She was not about to let the bully win this showdown.
“Yes,” she said, then turned her eyes forward, sank back into her seat, and held her breath.
The reaction was immediate; Roger jammed on the gas and swerved into another lane, though he blamed the maneuver on the actions of a yellow Tundra, which he accused of almost running him off the road. The driver of the Tundra received a scathing tongue lashing Shelly knew was meant for her, but she did not react.
She’d resisted the urge to reach up and grab the oh-no bar, and now remained perfectly still. She had said what she’d had to say.
He didn’t speak to her for the rest of the ride home, and Shelly went directly to her bed and cried.
For once, however, the tears were not the hot tears of frustration, but the tears of sweet release. It was the first of many steps in the direction of honoring herself, and she knew it was the first in the journey away from her own personal antagonist.
Sometimes, Sissy and I talk about the place we will live together when we are grown up and in charge of the world.
It’s the most beautiful place on earth, though it didn’t start out that way. It started out not being much of a place at all, only an imaginary destination, far away from the mice who stole our food.
It was a place with no mice, at first. That was all.
And then we decided that since we were imagining a place, we shouldn’t just stop at imagining no mice to steal our food, but we should maybe turn this place into somewhere where the food was plentiful, where you never ran out, no matter how many times you got hungry.
Always, always in our imaginary place, there was crusty bread to eat and big bowls of hot broth to warm your insides, no matter how heartily the wind blew through the cracks in the walls.
Then, one night, as my sister lie next to me under the threadbare blanket, describing for me the deliciously warm sensation of the never ending broth, I wondered out loud why such a wonderful place with no mice and enough food should have cracks on the walls at all. It seemed to me it shouldn’t.
And so it became the place we would live when we were all grown up, and in charge of making decisions for ourselves, would be warm and airtight, which also conveniently explained the reasons there were no mice to come in and to spoil our provisions.
Then one especially bitter winter evening, when the toes and fingers refused to thaw no matter how much we rubbed them or how much we cuddled together, I imagined for us big blankets of the finest wool, and described them in intricate detail to sissy, who listened with her eyes stuck fast to the ceiling, her nose so pink I swore I could see it glowing in the moonlight that filtered into our room. And she asked me couldn’t we give our imaginary home some curtains to match, and perhaps a fine table cover. That lead me to ask how many chairs we might need (four, we both agreed, so that there was a seat for Mama, and one for Papa, whom we anticipated would be coming back at just about any minute now), and whether our table would have a place in the corner of the room, or to the side.
We imagined this most beautiful place all through the bitterness of winter, and then the spring thaw came and all its delights and the world outside our bedroom once again became the most beautiful place in the world, beautiful enough, at least to distract us from our still hungry bellies and the loneliness that nibbled at our hearts like the mice nibbled at mama’s bread left too long unattended.
And then as the weather turned cold again, we shared our most beautiful place with mama, who was too poorly to make the curtains but pledged from her seat on the rocker that she would set to knitting us the biggest blanket either me or sissy had ever seen, once she was able to get together enough wool to spin the yarn for it.
Neither Sissy nor I bothered to confess that Mama had neither the strength nor the know-how to knit us such a thing. It was much nicer to imagine with her what could be, what ought to be for the three of us.
And when Mama slipped away from us on the first really bitter night of that December, and the people from the state came and told us they were taking us away, we went silently, and took with us the tales of the most beautiful place in the world, and whispered them silently to each other through clasped hands and furtive glances. And as we were sent to live in places with no mice and big blankets and curtains so fine I could have laid one on the floor and rolled in it three times and still had room to roll up sissy in one, too, I somehow felt like we had left the most beautiful place in all the world behind us, and it was the world we created together, snuggled up together under a threadbare sheet.