Flash: Fortee

Image is Public Domain
Portrait of a Moorish Woman – Italy about 1550; School of Paolo Veronese (oil on canvas)
Presently in a private collection (as of 2003)

 “Do hurry up child, the painter expects us before nightfall.” Fortee’s husband barked on the way down the stairs.

The Ivory Coast immigrant bit her lip while adjusting her chemise and overgown one last time. Though married over three years, she had only been living with her merchant husband for a few months after he had made arrangements to bring her home. She still cursed her father every day for accepting the bride price from the self-absorbed money-grubbing man. The marriage contract benefited her family back in Africa as well as the Brunos here in Venice, but she paid the price. Her young soul longed for a single lingering glance or soft touch. Looking in the glass, her brown eyes questioned the servant behind her. The white maid nodded a half-hearted approval, not yet comfortable with the wife her master unloaded from the boat following his last excursion.

Enough dithering, Fortee squared her shoulders, eyed the high feather to gauge its height for ducking through doorways and followed in her husband’s wake. She found him at the front door giving orders for the evening’s meal; several guests tentative about participating financially in the next trade trip were expected. Black eyes darted, measuring her like lumber, before returning to his business, and she felt every bit of the age difference between them. None of the servants bothered turning as she approached.

“The drop pearls work well,” Johannes observed without inflection in her native tongue as they pulled on their wooden platforms before leaving the townhouse.

She muttered a “thank you” in proper Italian but didn’t believe he heard it. His mind tumbled numbers, charting the course and cities for next month’s voyage to maximize profit.

The portrait painter’s workshop neighborhood required walking deep enough into the city the last lingering scent of sea disappeared into the effluvium of humans and animals too long together in too small a space. Holding a scented cloth to her nose, Fortee stepped over horse dung to enter the artist shop. Inside linseed oil and other fumes pushed back the odors of the city.

Her husband was cornered by the oldest of the men in the open, well-lit room. Upon her arrival, the youngest of those present flocked to her. Dark skin drew them. Even in an international port like Venice, the children don’t see many Africans, at least this far into the city. At port, people from her continent sometimes were the only color seen, depending on which ships were in, but here the difference was a rare treat for the young. Fortee crouched down and shifted her shawl so they could touch the skin and hair. Well-trained, the children only patted and stroked, keeping her careful preparations for the painting unmarred.

Two of the older ones darted over to some bottles on the side. When they returned, their arms each had half a dozen lines of different browns. The boys compared it with her skin, then begged her to come over to the paint area so they could figure out exactly how to get the color right. Crowded by children, apprentices, and young journeymen, Fortee allowed herself to be dragged to the work area. Soon every child had at least one stripe somewhere on them representing their best guess at her color. She laughed alongside them until her husband demanded she join him.

There he explained the portrait would take several sittings, including a number of hours today. He verified she could find her way back to their house, checked the master would provide escort, and coins changed hands before he left to prepare for the evenings negotiations.

The master introduced himself as Paolo Caliari after Johannes left, as well as his sons Carlo and Gabriele and his nephew Luigi. All four wanted to paint her, their school priding itself on the study of color and the human body. Paolo arranged her seat and lighting best for the portrait her husband had commissioned. Once she and the master were situated, the rest took various positions around the room, including one of the scamps who had been the first to try and figure out how to paint her skin color.

Several times during the initial sketches they allowed her to get up and play with the children when the youngsters had breaks from crushing stones and mixing dirts for paints. She learned far more about stretching and preparing canvases than she ever expected existed from the excited children. Twice the artists asked her to cease moving during the “rest” breaks so they could sketch a particular position.

Until sunset, she had all the laughter, lingering looks, and soft touches she had been missing.

(words 778; first published 4/14/2018; published on blog on 4/22/2018)

Notes: Writing-in-Stone, my writing group, provided the above picture for inspiration for their April challenge.

 

Flash: No Shirts

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Touch football time!” Someone yelled at the picnic.

“Donald, you’re a no-shirt.” A nearby woman assigned him to a team as he walked towards the field where everyone was gathering.

The blond twenty-year old laughed, pulling his gray T-shirt over his head and tossed it to the sidelines. “Why am I always a no-shirt?”

“Like you don’t know,” responded one of his uncles, patting his formidable gut, “but at least you get a chance to win. We get all the girls.”

“Not this year!” sang out Eva as she raced to the no-shirt team.

All day she had been wearing a blue long-sleeve hoodie over her white shorts. She unzipped the jacket for the first time at the Fourth of July reunion revealing a very tanned, very naked, and very masculine chest complete with a perfect six-pack.

Donald blinked a moment before the optical illusion changed to show a full-print T-shirt. She tossed her jacket into the pile with the guy shirts.

Grabbing Eva, Donald swung her around and announced, “You are the best cousin ever!”

(words 176 – originally appearing at Sunday Fun on Breathless Press 4/15/2013; republished in new blog format 4/8/2018)

Flash: Relocate

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In 2013, I started as series with Kryler and Natalie on the old blog. I’ve republished them here in 2018 during tax season. I didn’t know where it was going and decided to have my fans decide the conclusion to Kryler’s and Natalie’s relationship arc. The flash timeline for their relationship would be: (1) Presentation, (2) Ride, (3) Take-out, (4) Labor, (5) Argument, and now (6) Relocate. Read on to find out if you guys and gals decided if they get a happily ever after or decide to end it.

 **************************

Dice clattered as Natalie made her way down the steps into Kryler’s man-cave. She made no sound as she went down the steps barefoot, her shoes left at the entrance. The basement, which ran the length and width of the house, had changed somewhat over the eight years since they started dating. The biggest change happened at the beginning of the second year of their marriage shortly after the birth of their daughter Mia; the area where his extensive gaming console had been located had been converted. A toybox, child’s book case, and babydoll crib now resided in the old boy toy area. The smelly, purple couch had been thrown out, the 72-inch television donated to Goodwill, and he set up the section of the basement closest to the steps for his programming.

The central gaming table where he played D&D and other time sucks remained.

Today four folding tables crowded the room, with a half dozen different laptops, cell phones, and three-hole notebooks strewn across them. But the Lost Boys, as she thought of them, were not diligently at work like Kryler promised they would be. Instead her personal Peter Pan had the three others gathered around the central table, playing, again.

All four were in uniform, the black Rodger’s Retrieval T-shirts overtop jeans. At least they had the brains not to sell merchanting rights when they gave NotGolfHobbies distribution rights. Still, she and Kryler never saw a dime from that either. The man’s damned generosity handed over all income to Andre, Efren and Will. His 401K was filled, he owned the house outright, didn’t owe anything on his car, and was debt free. Never mind they lived in a small two-bedroom, their cars were both pushing ten years, and the last of her student loans still had three months left. His friends needed the money more.

It was always about them, not her. Why the hell hadn’t he just married them?

Eventually Andre noticed her, or at least admitted he noticed her. Efren and Will were total misogynists. They gave up even pretending to like her years ago. Once Andre drew Kryler’s attention to her, his dull face lit up.

Kryler’s face never had been anything great. Sharp cheekbones, brown eyes, and floppy hair. Best she would call it is pleasant. Once or twice, maybe more, she would admit it beautiful. Like right now, love shone from his eyes.

“Hey Firebrand, welcome home.” Kryler tossed his dice behind the screen and made his way to the staircase. “Where’s Mia?”

“She’s staying with your mom tonight.” Natalie crossed her arms, first staring at him as his smile faltered, returning his face to just pleasant. He just turned twenty-nine, soon fat would overtake that gorgeous body of his; when that happened, she had no idea how she would find him sexually attractive. Her eyes then burned into the boys behind him. Her voice dripped in sarcasm, “How’s alpha testing going?”

Kryler ran both hands through his hair. The hair immediately flopped over his eyes because he yet again forgot to get it cut professionally like she constantly asked him.

“Well … it’s going well. Better than we hoped.”

“I can see that.” She continued to stare at the Lost Boys. Really, this has gone too far for too long. “Leave. Now. Just get out of my house.”

The losers didn’t even argue, too used to answering to their mommies.

Will picked up his backpack first. Efren jumped over to the tables and snapped close his computer and shoved two phones in his pockets.

Andre touched Kryler on his shoulder, not bothering to pick up anything. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“Yeah, you do that Andy.” Natalie stepped aside to let the boys stream out. “You can finish the games tomorrow.”

“Can you not do that?” Kryler’s fists clenched, though his voice stayed soft. He always stayed soft; he had no fight to him.

“Do what? Tell your pals they can come back and play tomorrow? It’s not like anything I am going to do is going to stop that.” Natalie turned to storm upstairs.

Kryler’s light step followed. “We were only playing, waiting for the last of the beta testers to sign up.”

“I thought you were on alpha testing.”

“Efren already ran the full battery of the tests, plus had two alpha testers run through everything.” Kryler’s soothing tenor, perfect for calming frantic toddlers but not as good on full-grown women, followed her from his base of operations to the living room. A room set aside for the few times she needed to bring guests home. No movie posters adorned walls, no bookcases tilted from book overloads, no stupid electronic games tucked into corners. The carpet had no wear to it, no child spit up, no stains. “We learned a lot from Rodger’s Retrieval. The alpha tests he ran only needed two patches. Ebony’s Rainbow will be in beta tomorrow as soon as Andre approves the last of the fifty testers and releases it.”

“That is wonderful, baby.” Natalie’s voice could cut glass, and stopped Kryler’s needy explanations short. Listening to his constant apologies churned her stomach. She didn’t like excuses at work, she didn’t like them at home.

He shifted his feet. “So how did the presentation go?”

“Perfect.” Her voice dripped with artificial honey. “Perez liked it so much he is taking over the project.”

“Oh, beautiful. I am so sorry.” Kryler moved to hold her.

“It gets better.” Natalie stepped away from his comfort. Part of her wanted to seek it out. Just to be held and cry, but there was no point in that. “Since Perez is coming back to the US, someone will need to cover the Mexico headquarters. They chose me.”

Kryler frowned. “So, we are relocating to Mexico?”

“No, stupid boy, I’m relocating to Mexico. You stay here with Mia. No way am I going to have her start kindergarten in Mexico.” Natalie smiled, and Kryler’s heart shriveled as hope left it. “In a year, we can get a divorce without a problem. With the promotion to Vice President, and the out-of-country bonus, I should be able to easily pay child support. Don’t expect any alimony though.”

“You’ve thought this out.”

“I’ve been thinking of asking about the Mexico position for a while now. Perez has been unhappy.” She shrugged in her teal silk shirt and gray wool business jacket. “I would prefer to keep my project after working on it so long, but a promotion is a promotion.”

“Yeah, that is great.” Kryler’s face twisted. She could see he was truly happy she had gotten the promotion. The boy was such a dud.

“I’ll go pack.”

Kryler grabbed her arm. “Wait, what?”

“Perez wants to get me up to speed before he comes here. I am flying out tomorrow morning and staying the week. After that, I will make final arrangements with my project and take over by November. They want everything in place before the beginning of the year.” She shrugged off his loose hold and went to the stairs going to the bedrooms.

“What about Mia?”

“I already visited her on the way home, telling her I’ll be on another one of my trips and asking your mom to keep her another day.” Natalie projected down the step when Kryler didn’t follow her up. “You can explain the other stuff tomorrow or whenever.”

Kryler looked at his left hand and started twisting the silver band off. “Yeah, simple as pie to tell a five year old her mother is abandoning her and her daddy.” His voice was soft as it always was.

He threw the ring across the room violently. It bounced out. He heard it roll down the tiled hall, then little pips as it bounced down the wooden steps into the basement.

(words 1,303 – first published 10/16/2013; republished in new blog format 3/11/2018)

Flash: Argument

“So the boys are coming over tonight.” Reported Kryler as he rinsed the breakfast dishes.

Natalie rolled her eyes. “For video games or playing D&D?”

Kryler shoulders tensed as he put his hands either side of the sink. Blood vessels popped on his arms, despite his wiry frame. His preferred form of exercise was running after their daughter. He inhaled, picturing Mia’s laughter. She had been at his mom’s this week so Natalie could concentrate on today’s presentation, which would either make or break all the efforts she had put in for four years. With the five-year old out of the picture, the fractures in his marriage had gone from simple cracks to huge gaping holes.

“For setting up the alpha testing of our next video game product.” He was surprised the words were recognizable since his teeth remained gritted the entire time.

Behind him the chair scraped as Natalie stood. “Planning on actually selling this one or giving it away like the last time?” The sneer dropped his wife’s voice an octave.

“For the last time, NotGolfHobbies was a legitimate games distributor by every resource we had available.” He turned around, crossing his arms protectively in front of his chest. “Only after they got Rodger’s Retrieval did they stop paying anyone.”

“Which you didn’t figure out for nineteen months!”

“It takes time for video games to find legs and royalties to come back.”

“When you first decided on playing games as a career, you said feedback was nearly instant.” Natalie walked towards the front door where everything she needed was precisely laid out.

Following her, Kryler dug his hands into his elbows. “Yes, feedback is instant. But, as I have since learned and I keep telling you, royalties are not.”

Natalie snapped open her briefcase for one last check. “Well, I can’t keep being the only one bringing in money. Would it kill you to find a real job?” She snapped the briefcase shut.

“We agreed I would do programming until Mia is in school.” Kryler eyes stared off to the side; he blinked back tears of pain. “That way one of us would be home.”

Shifting the briefcase to her left hand, Natalie turned the doorknob with her right. “Well, it’s July and she starts school in two months. Why don’t you start working on that resume?”

The door slammed between them.

(words 393 – originally appearing at Breathless Press 9/8/2013 for the 2/12/12 Sunday Fun (original photo of unknown copyright so not posted here; republished in new blog format 3/4/2018)

Flash: Labor

Natalie gripped Kryler’s hand so tight, he felt bones move out of position. Finally, the contraction released and his wife’s quick panting filled the room. Grabbing a tissue, he moved to the head of the bed to dab her sweat-covered face. If he could take the pain from her, he would. Instead he did what every man has ever done, offer external support while covering all his internal worry.

Their daughter was coming too soon, nearly a month early after weeks of spotting. The doctors had sentenced Natalie to bed rest for most of the final trimester to reduce stress, and discovered instead her levels went through the roof.

When her job first found out she was pregnant, they pulled her off the fast track and moved her into the mommy track.

Not officially.

But the Spanish classes, they had been underwriting. Poof. So, sorry, budget cuts. Strangely no one else was removed from the tuition program. The mentoring program changed her mentor to “better suit her personality.” The vice president with whom she lunched weekly was assigned a new protégé and Natalie’s new support person was a manager in the customer service department where he worked. Wasn’t even the best customer service manager, but the one restricted to nights because there was less to screw up. The one he worked under.

His ball-busting, type-A, inferno of ambition stormed into HR and nailed the director to wall. All her privileges were restored within hours. Her vice president, reassured of her dedication, was leveraging a special project for her to head as soon as her maternity leave was over.

Bedrest had pulled her away from the moving and shaking. And she stewed. The doctors eventually relented and let her work half-days in the office, if he drove her in, and the balance of the day remoteing in. Her stress levels dropped to manageable levels.

Her breathing took on a regular pattern.

“My fireball.”  She was the most beautiful, bravest, incredible person he ever known. He leaned over and kissed her, barely brushing her lips from his upside down position.

Natalie smiled weakly. “You really shouldn’t have turned in your resignation yet.”

Always figuring the best angle, the best benefit. He shook his head at his wonderful wife. “Two weeks notice. Gives you time to recover and then I will be home with the baby.”

“You sure you want to stay home? I’m sure we could get your mom to sit.”

Walking back to the side of the bed, Kryler removed the ice water glass the nurse had dropped off last time she passed through the labor room from the bed stand and placed the straw on Natalie’s lips. “I’m sure. We just about have Rodger’s Retrieval ready, and the guys already are bouncing ideas for our next game around. Can’t wait to start animating it. Trust me. Between the game and the baby, I will not be bored.” He smiled at her confidentially.

Suddenly her eyes grew round. Dropping the glass, Kryler nearly missed the surface of the stand. He pushed the glass until it was balanced.

Natalie’s hands unerringly found his as another contraction took her.

He looked at the clock as she screamed in pain. Too long. Had she been in labor too long? He had no reference.

(words 549 – originally appearing at Breathless Press 9/9/2013 for the 5/20/12 Sunday Fun (original picture of unknown copyright, so not copied here); republished in new blog format 2/25/2018)