LET YOUR FREAK FLAG FLY Back in the day, back in the early ‘70s, back in high school when it was cool to be a hippie chick, Claudia read every hippie book she could find. Poetry books by Rod McKuen. Books on macrobiotics. Spiritual books like Be Here Now by Ram Dass. Be here now, be here now, be here now. Live in the present moment. Wish she could. But she can’t. Not now. After college she planned to escape her small town life, move to San Francisco, and become a Beat poet. That never happened either. The light turns red, and Claudia crosses a busy intersection. She heads down Hawthorne Street and then Tyler Boulevard and then Miller Street to Baxter Avenue. At the end of Baxter she’ll turn around and walk back. This is the daily five-mile maze of streets her doctor prescribed for stress reduction. But even though her body loves the exercise, her thoughts are anything but tranquil. As the senior editor of the local newspaper, she is consumed with endless deadlines, demanding advertisers, and a staff of headstrong journalists. No time to be here now. BOOM! Something large and hairy slams into Claudia, hurling her to the pavement. “Are you okay, lady?” her assailant asks, pulling her to her feet. It’s the old hippie on the bench outside the ice cream parlor. He sits there every day watching Baxter Avenue. “What happened?” she asks, brushing dirt from her shirt and pants. “Had to tackle you before you stepped in front of the bus,” he scolds, returning to his bench. “What bus?” she asks. Her clothes are ruined. She’ll have to stop by Macy’s on her way back. “Be here now, sister,” he warns. Claudia laughs and sits down next to him on the bench. “I owe you an ice cream cone,” she says. The old hippie smiles, staring at something across the street. She follows his gaze to the maple trees lining Baxter Avenue. It’s October, and they’re already a blaze of red. So bright they set the street on fire. Funny how she hadn’t noticed that before. MOVING OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE IS HIGHLY OVERRATED This is a fact: Nancy loves her electric blanket, the leopard-print one, the one she hates to leave every morning, the one she loves to burrow beneath on cold nights, the one that never disappoints her, frustrates her, makes her angry enough to contemplate murdering someone, like, oh, maybe her husband last month when he left on a nine-day golf vacation to Myrtle Beach with his good-old-boy buddies, where he played golf all day for nine days under a sizzling summer sun, consumed nothing but pizza, wings, steak, chocolate, and vodka (the five major food groups, according to good old boys), forgot that he had a heart condition, forgot that he’s on heart medication, that he’s on high blood pressure medication, that he’s on a low fat/low sodium/high fiber/heart-friendly diet, that he needs to stay hydrated (according to his doctor), that he’s no longer 18 but 68 freakin’ years old, so it was no surprise he landed in the hospital the day he returned from nine totally brainless days in Myrtle Beach, his body dehydrated, his heart rate sky high, his A-fib in full bloom, his heart medication no longer working, so, no, it was no surprise at all when he called Nancy to let her know he was in the hospital (again) that she hung up on him, jerked her wedding ring off her finger, flung it in the trash, walked upstairs to the bedroom, grabbed a romance novel from the bookcase, and crawled beneath her leopard-print electric blanket, allowing its warmth to comfort her like a cup of tea with her BFF (who she called later that day), because sometimes you just have to escape the stupidity of married life and pretend you’re still gloriously single, that you never said “I do” when you obviously “do NOT,” because sometimes believing that you’re still single, free, and husbandless is enough to make everything right in your world. But, then again, sometimes it’s not.
Laura Stamps loves to play with words and create experimental forms for her fiction. Author of several novels and short story collections, including IT’S ALL ABOUT THE RIDE: CAT MANIA (Alien Buddha Press). Muses Prize. Pulitzer Prize nomination. 7 Pushcart Prize nominations. Mom of 4 cats. Twitter: @LauraStamps16. www.laurastampsfiction.blogspot.com