the fixer-upper (300)

remove the curtains from the windows, scrub the glass until it turns to diamond - so finely etched you'd think it was done by laser. replenish the curtain, dye bleeding through water and polluting porous other fabrics.

this, they call it, is a beginning.

move on to the body now: sweep away the dull, dingy exterior. replace with deceitful outfittings, expensively-priced purchased at forgotten name-stores. collect whimsy in a dozen shades and try them all on, add them all to an online cart for overpriced delivery; deliberate first though, pretend to be unsure for charm's sake.

lay down your vision of this before you, blueprints and sketches colliding into one portfolio of how to create perfection in fifteen short steps.

(short is a lie; it was never going to be easy)

repair the surroundings, work over the view from every angle until satisfied. be aware ahead of time, satisfaction here is impossible to attain - there's always pretending. take five steps back and jump two ahead, take shortcuts and promise there's nothing dishonest in it. reassure yourself that the end result will be worthwhile; count every step and every distraction like they're gold.

(gold-plated, certainly; how else do you justify the expense?)

clamber through a forest and call it inspiring; rechange your mind a dozen times and say every last one of them is what you want. realize that it's true, you want all of them and there's never enough time in the day to take them all. collect them all anyway, recollect your sanity when the bills come in.

remember when they said it couldn't be done and it was. tell yourself it justifies the means, promise that something's going to be different from some point on.

rethink the whole thing; you always were a good liar.

simple (400)

everyone tells her this is going to be a simple way to do things: they tell her she has to shut off the technology that thrums under her fingers and it will bring relief. they think it will run down her thoughts, slow the energy that sparks through her veins when she gets a small electric shock off the keyboard.

stupid. doesn't she know better than to drink caffeine while typing? she sits and accepts the reprimands, chips at her nail polish as though admonishing herself and then has to touch it up.

drags another fingernail down the length of the desk where seam meets seam and she digs underneath that just a fraction. the seam is old, worn, and it's easy enough to chip away as she applies just the right amount of pressure.

everyone tells her this is going to be difficult, at first, she has to unlearn all the computer work she's ever done. they begin by suggesting that she throw away her old mobile, the one with the QWERTY keyboard that she uses for taking notes because she hates tapping painstaking words into a touch screen. texting is another matter, tapping each word as she goes with predictive mode always on. reluctant, she dismantles the phone and keeps the battery elsewhere - a box within a tray within a locker, really, but this way she still has some access.

she bends her neck and listens to all the criticisms, the raptures of her now technology-free predecessors. they call it unshackled, and the term runs around the world. it becomes the newest trend, and soon enough the unheard capital letter shows up. if she cocks her head just right she swears she can hear it, Unshackled, as though that's a desirable state.

people smile back at her when she listens to a bird singing, not realizing that she has the alternative. she's spent many a night memorizing music, and now she summons up a thousand songs to tune out the world. she's studied texts that are only online, packed it all away and retreats into her mind to "read" when it suits. sometimes she has a physical book for a prop and it works even better.

she's smart: realizes this is the only way people will accept her now. remaining shackled is undesirable, and she moves, takes all her technology to the countryside.

no-one knows - no-one minds.

surface (400)

she dives into the water, the undisturbed pool barely rippling as she breaks the surface. it's cold, almost icy after the heat of the summer night. above her, the ceiling is tinted glass and she can see through to the stars if she stands in the right spot.

tonight there's a moon rising in the sky and she watches its path, tracks it as it moves into its final place. it's almost hypnotic watching how it moves slowly, and she turns away, dips back under water and sets her goggles firmly in place. the chlorine stings her nose, and she can tell the water is already logging into her ears.

she drifts under water, brushes her fingers along the surface of the floor and then uses that as her impetus to move up. be a phoenix, she tells herself, letting a lungful of air out in tiny increments as she pushes her body up, sends water flying everywhere explosively as she draws in new air. this time the water around her does ripple and she skims her fingers along the surface as it settles, drinks in the peace of it quietly swishing around her.

for a while she just floats along, sometimes rowing her arms to move or kicking her heels up just to see the water disturbed, alternates this with her phoenix-move and jumps from the pool, hurries back and forth a few times to write down new art ideas.

at the end of the night she swims hard, harder than normal just to see the water churn around her and feel the surface of the pool against her bones. this is her favourite part of the evening on a summer night, to block out the rest of the world around her: at this time of night she slips in earplugs to stop more water getting in, and considers the immersion to be a cleansing of sorts.

it's the time of night when she goes without disruption; the time when the world around her sleeps and her own personal bubble of space narrows down to a few square metres. when she leaves the pool she does so with a notepad gingerly wrapped in plastic, washes her hair over the bathroom sink so as to not wake her housemates and begins planning out.

(they never ask what's under her facade and she never tells them)

death of a promise (300)

remember the time you promised eternal creativity?

you said there needed to be something to do during the eternity that lay ahead, and so you got into photography. i took up painting, bringing your photos to an easel, repainting them in a dozen ways and sometimes making profit.

i got into music, writing wordless songs and you'd choreograph a dance for each one. at least, you tried to, and we'd pretend the dance was a new one, never seen before. when i searched it later, there was always some equivalent which had been around for three centuries minimum.

then one day you abandoned creative. it'd been two hundred and seventeen years, and people were inventing new creations all the time. you couldn't go online without finding a series of how-to guides and carefully curated photos documenting every stage. i came home with a new tray of paints to find every trace of your work gone.

on my desk was a note, handwriting barely recognizable - you'd ditched the cursive you adopted in your third decade of eternity, going back to an old blocky print. the note was quick to crumple in my fist, the paint tubes slashed open in anger and paint splattering the entire room.

gone - the symbiosis of creativity was gone.

for a few minutes, there was catharsis in smashing paint jars and burning various sketches. at the end of it, there was nothing left to give away that the apartment was ever occupied - nothing, that is, but for a room stained in a multitude of colour. all the various decorations were gone, two centuries of work destroyed.

i collected my bag and the few items i couldn't bear to be without; then walked out the door -

abandoned the apartment, and my side of our symbiosis.

The Painter (400)

challenge here.

It's become habit, buying new glassware every so often. These days, I can't walk into a department store without drifting over to the cups and glasses, can't shop online without selecting new paint and brushes so thin you'd be afraid to hold them for fear of snapping them.

Each time I come home, unpack and then go straight to the paints. There are so many tubes and half-tubes, partially mixed and lining the shelf with splotches that come from lack of care taken. I've forgotten what colour the palette is underneath.

At my table, I sketch out my newest outline, meld together colours on paper. Flip the newest coffee mug upside down and begin a Sharpie outline on the base. My hand trembles, shaking for reasons that I can't explain - it's nothing to do with the creation, or the permanence of marking something with my own stamp.

These eyes are exaggerated, they always are, and tonight the iris is too big, the pupil a thin line around them. There's no need for eyelashes, because these eyes are not for beauty's sake. They are for superstition, even though I have generally never been superstitious. Somewhere along the way, this concept was one which began to appeal to me, appealing more and more when I learnt to create my own designs, silently invoking my own words as I worked.

In a way these eyes are grotesque, bearing no apparent expression or liveliness. Even so, they compel you to look - these ones are inky dark mixed with something else, the kind that drives you mad trying to figure out the name of the colour and leaves you disappointed when you can't. They are huge, bigger than the average human's, and you might almost think there something monstrous about them. If you'd had a few to drink, you might start imagining them come to life, watching you.

You'd be right, in a way: they are watching you for safety, for protection.

I finish with a slow swoop of a slightly thicker brush, drawing the eyebrows in almost comically. It softens the overall effect a bit, and I leave it to dry as I clean up, invoking the familiar words.

Tonight, I will reperform the words, laying the mug on an altar and offering a gift. Perhaps it works; perhaps it does not.

Either way, it is comforting.

ovation (150)

the red curtain falls, hem skimming the stage; the play ends, and the doe-eyed ingenue looks briefly unsure of herself. she recovers quickly, swirling curls over her shoulder and hastily rearranging the line of her dress over her knees.

it's her last performance of the year and she listens, tries to pinpoint the exact moment when the applause starts. it's been a game she plays with herself since the first night, and she never wins. tonight is no exception, but when she peeks out from the edge of the curtain, people are starting to rise to their feet.

from the other curtain there's a tiny motion, barely noticeable if she wasn't looking for it. standing ovation, mouths her co-lead. the words sparkle through her brain, shimmer in the air as if she's written them with a firework.

the curtain rises just as the cast finish lining up.

The Mirror (150)

There's a girl in the mirror.

No - that's not quite right. There's a reflection. She... she's not living in my mirror, but she's there.

I try not to look. Once, I covered it with a scarf; the material was thick enough to conceal it. Later, the scarf had fallen away, torn at the hem. Had it been near an open window, I might've thought nothing of it, but the room is windowless. I live alone.

There's never anything to hear - she says nothing, just watches as though waiting.

Seeing is entrancing. Looking to see my reflection to brush my hair lost me an hour once. I have no true memory. My only recollection is that I awoke and found an hour had past.

After I see her, I feel drained. Of blood, or energy, I don't know. I only know the feeling.

I have to go.

She is waiting.

lucky thirteen

let's hit the road. (you never say it, but we go anyway)

and so we drive, winding through towns and cities. i left my sunglasses in that tiny cafe, and you bought coffee even as you said you don't drink it.

we're not running from anything but time.

skipping a day here, ignoring train timetables and boat routes in favour of museums and galleries and libraries. we're cramming in a lifetime here, packing up years of memories into one month.

it's our last month.

so we're roaming the world, city-hopping at will and stumbling into motels at dawn.

we're twelve countries in and time is running out, days blurring together like a movie motion. (if i stay awake long enough i can watch them flipping past)

and it's the thirteenth country (but who's counting?), we're splitting breakfast to make money last -

you look at me:

"stay," you whisper.

purple detriment (150)

she stitches the gown in layers of purple, four different shades of dark and hand-dyed to suit her exact criteria. it all but ruins her eyes; she stares so long, so hard at the stitching in fading light, rousing herself when she truly cannot see any more.

embroiders patterns across in gold, luscious patterns crafted in her mind but failing to come across on fabric. the embroidery makes the fabric stiff, awkward to wear. she wears it anyway, so stubborn to think she's finally created something for herself. wears it daily, for pride and delight, ignores all the sarcasm that bleeds through others' comments.

she cares for it tenderly; launders it all by hand, painstakingly works loose threads back into place. doesn't notice the dye staining the water.

the gown becomes aged, progressively shabbier; gold threads get muddied, dark purple turning pale sickly gray.

embarrassed one day, she burns it.