1. Here is an unedited version of my flash fiction piece, "All Hallows Grieve," written for my Introduction to Creative Writing course. This writing is about 1900 words and is Copyrighted (2012).
All Hallows Grieve
by Stephani Damato
Louis pulls five, trembling fingers through his hair and lets out an exasperated sigh even though the night has only just begun. October 31st makes an appearance every single year, repeatedly, inevitably, and yet he still has yet to grasp such a concept. This is the night he loathes—the night that keeps him awake in a cold sweat for hours on end. The night that leaves his pillow torn to shreds come morning light. There is no better coping mechanism. For Louis, that is.
Louis clasps his hands together to hang on his lap. The cool autumn breeze numbs his face but it’s the crunching of the leaves coming nearer that pulls him back into reality. He meets her gaze—his mom’s crystal eyes. She smiles at him, but only half-heartedly. Maybe it’s because of her grief as well, or maybe it’s from her contempt.
“Hey,” she breathes, and the wind picks up so mightily it’s hard to hear her soft tone.
Louis replies with a half-smile, scooting nearer the railing to let his mother pass. She’s carrying two paper bags—Halloween candy spilling out of one—and Louis realizes he should assist her but his brain has given up on his physical body, so instead, he breaks eye contact.
His mom pads up the stairs and says in passing, “You should help me carve the pumpkins.” This brings a genuine smile to Louis face, but it dies as quickly as it appears. He remembers a time long forgotten when carving pumpkins was the main attraction at the Bolder household. He and Sarah used to carve them together, though Louis had done most of the crafting since Sarah was too young to hold a knife on her own.
Before he can respond, however, his mom insists. She enters the house without his response, knowing he will follow. And so he does.
Louis disregards the painting on the fridge of two stick figures holding hands as he grabs the carving knives from the drawer and sits across the kitchen table from his mother. She plasters a smile to her expression and it makes his mom appear younger; Louis remembers a time when her face was bright and smooth—it used to display pure happiness that would seemingly emit into the atmosphere, lightening everybody’s spirits. Ever-present wrinkles have formed since that time and her under-eyes carry baggage just as much as her heart does.
As Louis gets to work, his mom reminds him, almost reprovingly, “Don’t forget to carve one smiling this year.”
“Halloween isn’t for happiness, though,” he mutters broodingly, keeping his eyes glued to the knife as it slices the orange exterior.
Louis’ breath catches in his throat momentarily as the knife slices the skin of his index finger. Immediately he moves to the sink to run it under cold water.
“Wait, what happened? Are you okay? Did you hurt yourself?”
He dries this finger with a paper towel but the bleeding persists. He brings the wound to his mouth to suck on it, hoping that will halt the bleeding. He doesn’t want to see blood. He doesn’t want to think about it. He doesn’t.
“Let me get you a band-aid for that, sweetie.”
“I’m fine, Mom.” But she ignores him and continues to the medicine cabinet.
Only a few minutes pass by, with Louis’ finger-wound secured in a bright blue wrapping, before the knock on the door sounds. Louis and his mom catch each other’s stare but his mom pushes away from the table first.
“Looks like we have our first arrivals.” She saunters over to the bag of candy and dumps it in a black cauldron positioned in the entranceway. When she swings the door open, she’s welcomed with a chorus of “Trick or treat!”
Louis’ eye twitches and he has to remind himself to breathe before he accompanies his mother at the door. Grabbing a fistful of candy, he throws it in the three kids’ baskets and walks away.
“I think we should only give them a piece or two, you know, so we can hand out candy to more children,” his mom suggests timidly but Louis already has his back turned and is lighting a candle to place in his jack-o-lantern.
His mom’s face contorts into an expression of surprise and curiosity when she examines the face of her son’s pumpkin. It is different than other years. It’s broad smile and squinted eyes remind her of a face other than the pumpkins’. She concludes Louis did not create this image from his imagination, but evades the subject and says, “That’s great.”
Louis rubs his head and shuffles past his mom, making his way to the porch where he sets his artwork on the bottom step of the porch—the same step he sat on four years ago.
Upon examining the streets he realizes there are not as many kids out this Halloween as in past Halloweens. Maybe this is better for their welfare—they won’t get lost easily. Or perhaps this is detrimental—cars are more likely to see a group of upcoming children instead of one or two. Louis shakes the thought away as a young girl and her parents approach.
His mouth is smiling but his eyes aren’t and Louis assumes he probably appears bored or annoyed but reaches into the cauldron, which his mom has moved to the porch table, and prepares to tell the little girl, “Happy Halloween,” but it gets caught in his mouth—hangs at the tip of his tongue—and is quickly swallowed hard as if taking a large dose of cough syrup. A gust of wind rushes past, clattering the plastic luminescent spiders and ghosts that dangle on wires above.
“Trick or treat!” the petite, blonde girl announces, smiling ear-to-ear, but blushing immensely. She turns back and is encouraged with a nod from her father, praising her for approaching a stranger alone. Louis doesn’t believe this is praiseworthy at all.
After his eyes shift indignantly from the man to girl, he can’t help but wear a smile once again—a genuine one, though, and this surprises Louis; frightens him, even. He hasn’t smiled like that in a very long time.
Louis bends down to the girl’s level and her eyes meet his apprehensively. “Are you having a good night?”
She nods and bats her eyelashes.
“I’m going to give you this candy here, but I want you to listen to me, okay?” he begins softly. “Stay with your parents at all times, never stray from them. There are bad people in this world.”
“Honey?” the girl’s mother speaks up, probably wondering what kind of lecture this twenty-year-old is giving her daughter.
“Okay,” she replies in a squeaky voice and accepts the candy Louis deposits into her bag. She skips back to her parents, flourishing her light-up wand as she cascades down the cement stairs.
“Let’s go, Sarah,” her father beckons as they turn away from the house. Louis grits his teeth, momentarily paralyzed. A common name, he thinks condolingly. Very common.
When Louis snaps back into reality, he feels a presence behind him. It’s his mother standing in the doorway, leaning against the wood frame. Her expression is proud and sympathetic. Louis ignores her and slips into the house. He begins cleaning up the aftermath of pumpkin carving but his hands feel like leaden weights, inducing him to unwind for once in his life—maybe relax his shoulders—ease his conscious. But Louis is adamant and keeps his thoughts fixed on the task at hand.
“I can do that.”
“No, Mom,” he snaps. “I’m not sixteen anymore. I can focus on things myself—finish what I start.”
“I never said-,”
“You implied.” And somehow they both know that is the conclusion of the brief altercation.
His mother pinches the bridge of her nose and busies herself with organizing the cupboard above the sink. Louis keeps in a state of oblivion, although maybe he should be more peculiar handling knives as his earlier incident proved. After the clanging of glass subsides, he hears his mom announce, “I’m going to bed. Hand out the rest of the candy, please.”
Louis catches a glance at her before she reaches the table he stands over and holds out his arm as a barrier. Their eyes meet only for a second but in its brevity thoughts and emotions are exchanged even with the lack of facial expressions or bodily movement. Just by the manner in which his mother stealthily conducts herself in passing causes Louis to realize something he’d much rather ignore.
Slowly his icy fingers coil around the bottle and extract it from his mother’s grasp without even looking at it.
With his mother on his heels, he brings it to the sink and purposefully empties the clear liquid into the drain. “Pretend this liquid is your life,” Louis explains sullenly. “Shouldn’t be a hard concept, for you.”
“You’re being cruel.”
“You’re being selfish.”
“You’re being-,” her mouth stays poised open, ready to retaliate, but it takes a few seconds and a few gulps of air to reply, “an asshole!”
“It’s not my fault, Mom. Why can’t you forgive me?” His fists tighten at his sides.
His mom plows her fingers through her thin hair so hastily Louis is sure she’ll rip out a chunk or two. Her mouth is open again, but only a muffled, unidentifiable sound escapes.
“I’m sorry.” Desperation borders his tone. It’s been four years.
To his utmost desire, Louis wants to hear the words. He yearns for it to be final—to be set in stone—to be official. He’s heard it in his dreams, in his thoughts, but never in his reality.
“I’m sorry too.” She turns away and jogs up the stairs, shielding her face from her son.
Louis shakes his head and slams the empty glass into the metal sink and hovers over it, breathing heavily. Suddenly, a crash sounds outside followed by laughter. He doesn’t take the time to peer out of the window above the sink but instead runs straight for the door.
He is too late.
On the sidewalk below the stairs, his jack-o-lantern, his masterpiece, his final grasp on this unbearable situation, lay in pieces in front of his home. He lets out a breath and cautiously walks down the stairs as if a lingering threat may be lurking in the shadows—lands on the step where it had previously sat—where they had previously sat—and pauses only to accept the unacceptable.
When Louis makes it to the smashed pumpkin, longing becomes instilled in him. If only he could have been there to pick up the pieces every time. Some mistakes can be handled—happiness replaced—others result in damaged goods like a broken cassette beyond repair.
Louis drops to his knees and takes the mangled pieces in his hands and knows, mentally, this can’t be taken for much longer. He feels his fingers begin to clench and squeeze the pumpkin into even smaller pieces, but instead, involuntarily, he begins to gently stroke them, like one would a child’s head. When he looks up he sees the little girl—Sarah—barreling toward him with a look of sheer terror—Louis has to turn away from such an expression.
“I wanted to stop those guys but my parents wouldn’t let me run!” she says quickly as if compensating, “I’m sorry!”
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Louis assures as she bends down to help him gather the remnants. “I’m sorry too, Sarah.”
2. This is a poem I wrote symbolizing infidelity.
By Stephani Damato
And in the shadows, he’ll write a song
He’ll play the keys until they’re gone
He’ll tap the drums until they shake
He’ll pluck the strings before they break
A lonely tune; a nightingale
Won’t leave his side, and without fail
She’ll sing the bridge, and sing it well
She’ll sing until it falls to hell
And when the chords will sound no more
He’ll know that he has done the chore
And in the dark he’ll begin to write
Again, once more, as she takes to flight
3. This is a "brag" poem, with repetition, that I had to write for my Creative Writing class.
Tell Me a Story
By Stephani Damato
I used to sit on a throne of imaginary thoughts
That were nothing but reality to me
I used to stare at the ceiling,
Telling my subconscious the story of a girl who never existed
I used to spend laborious hours aching at my parent’s desktop
Until the words bled out onto the keys
I used to spend my nights reading the words of others
Those I admired and vowed to catch up to
I used to sing the song of worlds beyond the rainbow
To the eager ears of my family who would shake their heads and smile
I used to listen to songs that reminded me of life
But not my life, the lives that I’ve created
Now, I am a mother, not of a child
But of the many characters I’ve nurtured and have watched grow
Now, I sit at my own desk with my laptop
And the words that bleed are more structured and planned
Now, I glance at my hard work, sitting vicariously on my shelf
Leaning against Rowling and Sparks
Now, my passion is aflame more than ever
My knee-high expectations have rapidly sprouted and grown
Now, I see a future where I don’t have to write at four o’clock in the morning
And will never have to keep my fabricated lives trapped behind a screen
Now, I am an author with a burning desire
And the incapability of impeding all that I have to share with the world
My mom used to say, “Tell me a story” when I was learning to speak
And now, I haven’t stopped doing just that.
By Stephani Damato
So Hell hath opened up the gate
The Devil took me by the hand
And though I nearly walked with fate
I still prevail to stand
The rains flood my heart and mind
The storm brought down the skies
And though the path lay hard to find
I still prepare to rise
The earth shook the mountain tops
And violently split the ground
Though balance wavers between the rocks
I will not turn around
A symphony of bullets shed
From mouths with only hate to give
While hurt and even left for dead
I know in time, I'll live