Monthly Archives: March 2021

Remaining Ruth: A Short Story

This is a short I wrote back in 2013. It’s about a girl trying to hold tight her grasp on self-identity. This one appears in my first short story collection Slivers of Life.

Remaining Ruth

I heard my mother say, “It could be she’s just that kind of girl.”

I knew she meant me because my father responded, “No daughter of mine will be that kind of girl.”

I’m an only child, so forget any misunderstandings. Besides, just what kind of girl were they debating me to be?

I slipped through the back door, just inside the kitchen, crouched low near the refrigerator, and listened to their talk in the next room. I’m either a lesbian or a drug addict, depending on their deciphering of my mood on any given day.

Okay. True. I do keep my hair cut short and dyed black. I also prefer jeans and T-shirts to dresses and skirts. But that doesn’t make me a lesbian. Of course, there is that other thing…

My father said, “Maybe we should send her to one of those Catholic schools.”

“We’re not Catholic, Fred,” my mother reminded him.

“But they know how to deal with these sorts of things, Miriam.”

What sorts of things? I wondered, angling for a closer peek into the living room. I didn’t need to see, though. My father would be parked in his recliner, newspaper open and held in front of him. My mother, she’d be seated on the sofa, watching the television with the sound turned all the way down.

I’d never get past them. At least not without a hundred questions tossed in my face.

“Maybe we should just leave her be,” my mother offered. “I had my own moody moments at that age.”

A low harrumph, is all my father managed.

As much as I hated the idea of confrontation, I despised even more the notion of hiding out in the kitchen all night.

He’s the one who caught me, came right up out of his recliner as soon as I entered the room. “Let’s see what’s in your pockets, young lady.”

I knew the drill. They’d been doing this since the end of the school year, when I’d been stupid enough to leave a joint in my jacket, where my nosy mother happened upon it.

“I’m not carrying,” I told my father. “I smoked it before I came in.”

“So disrespectful,” my mother lamented. “I never sassed my parents when I was fourteen.”

“Gonna let them nuns straighten you out,” my father threatened, searching the pockets of my jean jacket.

He found nothing incriminating. I’d learned to never carry anything on me—at least not where they’d bother to look.

“Can I go to my room now?” I asked, not really looking for that argument my parents seemed to enjoy so much.

My father gave up a subtle nod I’d have missed if I hadn’t been looking for it.

They took my phone—and my bedroom door.

But I still had the bathroom.

I closed myself inside, pressed the lock. They’d come knocking in a while, demanding to know what all goes on when they can’t see.

They’ll never see what they don’t really want to see, though.

Muffled voices trickled through the floorboards, putting them still in the living room.

My mother’s the one who caught me kissing Megan Vennerhull. That’s where the whole lesbian thing came from. But we were just practicing. Megan pretended I was David Skillsky and I, well, I too imagined Megan was really David Skillsky—I just told her I’d been dreaming of Michael Kranshaw to keep her from freaking out. Megan has been in love with David since the third grade. But so have I.

Can’t tell that to Megan, though.

My fingers worked at the buttons on my jeans; I tugged them off my hips.

My father never used those multi-bladed razors. “One blade is all it takes,” he’d tell the television, whenever one of those commercials touting three blades came on.

I agree. One blade is all it takes.

I twisted the razor’s handle, retrieved the shiny blade from its open mouth.

It’s not a suicide attempt. I’ve never wanted to die. It’s just something I need, something I dream about when moments of stress find in me an easy target.

And I never cut too deep, either; just enough for bleeding.

Just enough for a taste of pain.

They never look at my hips—or my inner thighs. Nobody looks there. Nobody sees or knows.

My mother’s voice disrupted my moment of pleasure. “Are you going to be long in there, honey?”

“Be out in a minute,” I assured her, knowing full-well my father would be beside her in short order, threatening to remove even the bathroom door.

A quick cut just beneath my stomach let go that crimson release.

Better than an orgasm, this.

My father intruded; his meaty fists banged against the door. “I’ll break this son of a bitch down, Ruthie, you don’t open this door!”

“Can I wash my hands first?” I asked, rinsing the blade before returning it to its proper place of honor.

They weren’t quick enough—not this time, at least. I still owned one secret belonging only to me.

One more day I could still be the Ruth I wanted to be.

© 2013 Beem Weeks

This story, along with 19 others, is available in Slivers of Life: A Collection of Short Stories. Find it at all online booksellers.

When We Were Kids: A Short Story

This is a short story I wrote some years ago. It’s about life and loss and the guilt of being the one who survives a tragic accident. It appears in my short story collection Strange HWY: Short Stories

When We Were Kids

I saw you again today. You were younger than the last time I set eyes on you. It happens that way sometimes. You were mowing the lawn in front of some house I didn’t recognize. I doubt you did either.

It’s the third time in a month that I’ve seen you cutting grass or jogging or playing in that park we hung out at when we were kids. You were always on the baseball diamond—even now. I suppose it has something to do with the uniforms. The colors are always different, but the style hasn’t changed in thirty-odd years.

Dana Rickleman still talks about you whenever I run into her at the Winn-Dixie. Well, she’s not Dana Rickleman these days. Neither is she hot anymore. She married Donnie Soba fifteen years or so ago, had a kid, put on more than a few pounds, and ended up deciding she’s a lesbian. But maybe we already knew that way back when. Remember how she used to say Becky Fordham was enough to turn her?

Speaking of Becky, her younger brother Todd is gone. He went to Iraq during the Gulf War and never came back. He stepped on the wrong spot and left nothing behind but his dog tags. Becky turned into a boozehound after that one. Last I heard she’d been in and out of Burnside Psychiatric Hospital.

The old neighborhood has completely changed. You wouldn’t recognize it now. All those families we knew back then no longer live there. Kids grew up and went off to college, got married, chased careers out of state. Parents became grandparents, got old, retired, moved to Florida, and died. I drove through there a few months ago. Not a familiar face among those I saw. Our old house is long gone. The family that bought it from Mom and Dad, after I moved out, lost it to fire. They rebuilt on the lot, but the house looks nothing like the original. And there are trees where there weren’t any before. Crazy how that works, huh?

I’m sorry if it sounds like I’m rambling. I don’t mean to. I’ve had a lot on my mind since, well, you know. I still struggle with things, Adam. It’s always there in the front part of my mind, where it often blocks out my view of the world around me. I think that’s why Mallory and I got a divorce. She saw those issues, tried to help me, but in the end, she just had to let it all go. It’s not her fault. Even Mom says she’s surprised Mallory didn’t leave me a lot sooner—and you know how Mom was always my biggest cheerleader.

I won’t lie to you. I’ve thought about it more times than I dare count. It’s usually when I’m driving alone, just as the sun dips below the horizon, taking the sky from pink to orange to purple, and that day smacks me in the face all over again, the pain growing only stronger with the passing of time. The way I’d do it, I’d aim my car at some far away tree, mash the gas pedal to the floor, race toward it, and be done. But then I’d hear your annoying voice calling me a selfish little prick—the way you always did when we were kids.

When we were kids. . .

There’s so much hurt wrapped around those four simple words.

When we were kids, we dreamed of playing Major League Baseball for the Atlanta Braves.

When we were kids, the only thing important to us was being able to stay outside for an hour or two after the streetlights came on.

When we were kids, we went everywhere on our bikes—and we never got tired of it.

Speaking of bikes, do you remember that time we decided we were going to be train for the Tour de France? We spent that entire summer riding all over hell’s half acre, thinking that’s all it took to win that stupid race. In your version, you and I would finish in first and second place. Of course, our versions differed as to which finished where. In my head, I was always the victor. And the prize money, well, that was spent a thousand different ways. Always on something foolish or needless—it would always be squandered on selfish desires. Mom would rein us in by taking charge of our fabled earnings. Into the bank, it would have to go. After all, we had college to think about.

I worry about Mom since Dad died. It’s not that I doubt her ability to carry on and live a productive life; she’s done that well enough in the three years since. It’s that profound sadness that envelops her when a birthday or anniversary or an old TV show worm their way into her cocoon, threatening to pull her out before she’s good and ready to deal with life as a changed species. She went out to dinner with Mr. Griffith from the church once—but that felt too much like adultery, essentially killing any notion of date number two. I just don’t want her to be miserable. It’s just her and me now, from our nuclear family. You always hated that term. You used to say it made you think that families could explode, taking entire cities with them. There’d be a mushroom cloud over our town—and it would mostly be Dad.

I miss his yelling about this and that.

Okay. So here’s the thing: I’ve never told anybody about that day. I never even told Mallory—and I told her a ton of major important things. I just can’t seem to make myself speak those words out loud. But I have to. It’s wrecking me, brother.

It was an accident. I swear on it.

I’m the one who locked you in the shed that day.

The day you died.

I did it. It was supposed to be a joke—a prank. I padlocked the door, expecting you to pitch a fit at being locked in. I’d leave you in there for a few minutes, before letting you out. Then you’d sock me in the shoulder and we’d have a laugh about it. But Donnie Soba showed up with a pocketful of firecrackers. I didn’t mean to leave you in the shed. I meant to unlock the door. I got sidetracked.

I didn’t know it could get so hot inside there.

I swear on it, Adam.

It was Dad who found you. He’d called the police after you failed to come inside once the street lights came on. He stomped around the living room, threatening to ground you for a hundred years, every so often yelling your name out into the night. Once Johnny Carson came on, the police were called. They drove the neighborhood, spotlights trained in the dark corners, searching for a wayward boy. I don’t know what it was that made Dad go out to the shed. It didn’t occur to me until he grabbed the key for the lock.

“I killed you, Adam.” There. I said it out loud.

It doesn’t make it easier.

I’m not just a killer. I’m the guy who killed his own brother.

I need to hear your voice, Adam. I need to know your thoughts on my transgression. Where are you? What do you see? What do you know? Have you been watching these thirty-odd years? Is everything I tell you already known?

Have you seen God?

Does He hate me?

Sometimes it’s like coming down with a cold. My body aches, my head throbs, and I can’t bring myself to get out of bed. It’s as if joy ceased to exist when you left. But I know that’s not true. Other people still experience joy and happiness and laughter. I’ve heard it. I’ve seen it with my own two eyes. I’ve just never grabbed hold of it for myself—no matter how hard I try.

There really is no need for you to worry. Notions of wrapping my car around a tree are greatly exaggerated. I can’t do that to Mom. Neither can I put myself in front of God before my proper ending. For all I know, I’ll have to continue on well past the century mark, carrying the years as a burden.

Can you put in a word for me—the way you did when we were kids?

But would a simple word really count for anything?

I’m the reason you died, Adam.

Please forgive me.

Please.

Maybe it’s desperation that has me hearing your voice.

“Let it go, twerp.”

It comes audibly to me, as if you’re standing right beside me, speaking it directly into my ear.

My left ear.

“Is that you, Adam?” I ask it aloud, hoping for more.

But there’s nothing else.

“Tell me again—just once more.”

I think of Mom. Of telling her. Of unburdening my soul.

I won’t, though. I cannot.

It’s you I needed to tell.

It was always you.

And tonight, you heard me.

Of that, I am certain.

My burden isn’t gone just yet, but it sure feels lighter.

“Thank you, Adam.”

© 2018 Beem Weeks

This story, along with 18 others, is available in Strange HWY: Short Stories. Find it at all online booksellers.

New Look, New Groove: Grace VanderWaal Grows Up!

Rating: ★★★★★

The world has been a dark place for the past year—probably longer. But things are finally beginning to brighten up. Grace VanderWaal has dropped new music tonight. And when I say new music, I mean that in every way possible. The song in question is called Don’t Assume What You Don’t Know. It’s as much a statement as it is entertainment. This young woman has grown up and is putting the rest of the world on notice: she’s playing for keeps!

Those who follow her on social media know she’s recently made changes to her appearance. This has caused some to question her mental state—with some even suggesting a potential drug problem. A listen to the new track will reassure those gainsayers Grace is in full control of her faculties. She knows exactly what she is doing.

Don’t Assume What You Don’t Know is a major departure from what most FanderWaals may expect from the now 17-year-old songstress. But then again, this is Grace VanderWaal we’re talking about. She has a way of surprising her fans—and her detractors. She never settles into a safe comfort zone, travelling the same old familiar path. This has served her well—and will continue to do so.

On the new song, VanderWaal steps up her game in a huge way. Her voice comes at you with attitude, swagger, and full of confidence. Her words are sharpened to a point and will not be dismissed. Perhaps they are even a shot at her critics—you don’t know this young woman at all, so sit down and shut up.

The track’s music is what really has me hyped. I downloaded the song from iTunes at midnight and have already given it multiple plays on my iPod. Catchy as hell and stuck in my head, this one. It’s a new sound, a new groove—and heavier than anything Grace has offered to this point in her career. From the raw guitar riff cutting through the heart of the song, to the funky bassline traipsing buck naked underneath, this track proves VanderWaal is not just another pop flavor of the month. It shows the world the girl can rock. I am eagerly anticipating a new album or EP this year.