other short forms
Now and then I write personal essays, commentaries, observations, whatever you’d like to call them. When I do, they will appear here and/or in my newsletter.
Very rarely I try my hand at flash fiction or prose poetry (honestly, just typing the word “poetry” makes a rash break out, that’s how terrifying I find the thought of trying to write poetry.) On this page you’ll find my flash fiction What Would Your Mother Say, which was published in the inaugural edition of Tahoma Literary Review.
One summer day a few years into our marriage, my husband huffed upstairs from the basement, holding a hammer between two fingers. I heard frustration in his voice. “One of your cats,” he said, “peed on my tools.”
My mother always told me, “Don’t air your dirty laundry in public.” I know my stinky bit of laundry should stay in the basket, or I risk a tombstone that reads: “Here lies a woman whose cat peed on the floor.”
But there are times when the greater good trumps discretion. There are times when the cause of better relationships demands that I selflessly wash my laundry in public tubs and display it on the public clothesline. My cat’s wayward pee taught me four truths about discussions with one’s spouse. I feel honour-bound to share them.
Truth Number One: Reason will not prevail.
When your cat pees on your husband’s tools, it does no good to point out that he was a victim of his own carelessness when he left the tools on the floor beside a spare, albeit empty, litter box. Nor does it help to mention that Bailey, the alleged perpetrator, is trying to do the right thing – he’s house-trained. He will pee in that litter box whether or not it holds sand. And – especially do not mention that Bailey is aging and, like the other older male in the house, occasionally misses the intended receptacle and hits the floor. Should he be put down because he misses? Should the cat?
Truth Number Two: Timing is everything.
If you really want to make all of those comments, choose your time wisely. Do not make those comments while your husband’s favourite hammer steeps in a pungent yellow brew. While it acquires an irrepressible and distinctive aroma that will re-appear whenever his hand wraps around the hammer’s handle and warms it.
My very rational observations were met with a look that conveyed how irrational my husband thought they were. And how unwelcome. In response, my husband put forward his own observations.
Such as: How did I manage to spoil my cats so completely? Why can’t Bailey be more like a dog and go outside to pee? Why can’t Sadie (the other possible criminal in our house) puke her hairballs onto the hardwood instead of the rugs? And would I please agree, in writing, that our next house will have no doors that admit any animal with more than two legs.
Irrational, unwelcome observations.
Truth Number Three: Think before leaping.
At this point, when your spouse responds to your comments – don’t ratchet things up a notch or two. Seriously, are you really willing to tell a judge that errant cat pee and a stinky hammer are the reasons you want a divorce?
Truth Number Four: It’s for better or worse.
We all bring an extra something into a communal relationship. Some call it baggage. (I call mine payback for my husband’s sins.) Whatever you call it, your spouse accepts that he or she may encounter the fall-out from previous romances gone bad or from the trauma of a misspent youth.
The surprise, to some, is that your partner’s baggage may not be psychological. It may consist of the 22 blow-up lawn decorations, complete with sound effects, a friend’s husband puts out every year for Hallowe’en. It may be the 237 pounds of geological samples my husband stored in our basement. Or, as in my case, it may be orange, and pad into the basement, silently but so urgently, in search of a place to pee.
I implore you. The next time you are in the midst of a sensitive discussion with your mate, when you feel your blood pressure rise, when the perfect comeback is on the tip of your tongue, remember my dirty laundry. And zip it up. Your relationship will thank you.
© Charlotte Morganti
Writers’ Secrets Exposed by the Brier
I recently spent ten days watching the Brier—the Canadian men’s curling championship. If you are among the misguided souls who think curling is boring, you might wonder why I’d voluntarily give up almost sixty hours of my time. Two reasons: I grew up in a small town in northern Alberta where curling was, and still is, one of the two traditional sports (the other being hockey) so it’s part of my DNA; and it allowed me, for those sixty hours, to pretend the world is a sane, safe place. (Almost as good as reading a great book!)
The round robin games were comforting in their predictability. I never doubted which teams would finish at the top of the leader board. If there were battles, it was for the last two spots in the playoff rankings. None of that concerned me. I knew that two of my favourite teams—Gushue and Koe—would be in the playoffs, perhaps ranked one and two.
The Koe team represented Alberta. If they won the Brier, their skip Kevin Koe would set a record for number of Briers won. Word was that at least two members of the Koe team would be moving on next year, so the team was intent on securing that fifth win for their skip.
Gushue’s team had just returned from the Beijing Olympics where they won the bronze medal in men’s curling. As a result, they had probably had more on-ice practice (if you can call the Olympics practice) building up to the Canadian championship than any other Canadian team in the Brier.
During the round robin, I said I would be happy if either Koe or Gushue took home the trophy. But in truth, I was pulling just a teeny bit more for Koe, because of the Alberta connection and because of his chance to set a record.
Fast forward to the playoffs. Gushue and Koe are there, and I’m feeling comfortable. All I care about is that one of them wins the gold medal. Then the stakes are raised.
(An aside for those unfamiliar with curling: each team has four players. A skip, who throws the stones or rocks last; and a lead, second, and third, who throw stones in that order. The skip directs the action. When a player throws his stones, two others brush the rock as it travels down the ice. The brushers are so skilled that they make the rock curl or straighten, guiding it to the exact spot the skip has indicated—this is no easy task—trust me, I tried it and lived with the muscular pain for days.)
Back to the Brier and the raised stakes. Disaster strikes on the first of the playoff days when Gushue’s third (Mark Nichols) tests positive for Covid and must self-isolate for the balance of the Brier. A disaster, first because he has Covid. But also because Nichols is an unbelievably skilled curler. Imagine a drinking game where everyone downs a shot of tequila whenever Nichols misses: it will be a bust because everyone will be stone-cold sober at the end of the game. To add to the Gushue team’s challenge, most curling teams have a fifth member, an alternate, who can step in when Armageddon happens. Not the Gushue team. They have four members. Period.
Now? They have three.
Now they face the playoffs against some excellent four-member teams. Now, when a rock is thrown, they will have only one person brushing. One person brushing, carving, guiding the rock. Plus, to win gold, they must play and win three games while short-handed.
I had been so comfortable. Things were going according to plan. Predictably so. I was able to multi-task while watching some of the games. You know, lounge on the sofa and play the occasional game of solitaire on my iPad while keeping an eye on the competition.
Nichols tests positive and now I’m sitting straighter. I put the iPad away. I am engaged. I’m pulling with all my energy for Gushue’s team. They are up against it. They face incredible odds. Where every team in the playoffs can be expected to curl at near perfection, Gushue’s team must actually be perfect, for three games in a row.
Gushue’s three-man team wins the first two games. Unbelievably, they are in the final. Facing Koe’s team. The Alberta powerhouse. My other favourite team. But you know, when the stakes became so high for Gushue, I realized that I wouldn’t be happy if either of my favourites won the gold. Nope. I was all-in for Gushue (sorry, Alberta).
Did I expect Gushue’s team to pull it off and beat Koe? Not really.
Did I hope they would? Absolutely.
And did they?
I promised you writers’ secrets would be revealed. Here they are: “Raise the stakes” is the mantra of every good writer. They create characters that readers can care about, give them a goal, and then make things incredibly difficult.
The writer will pitch those characters (say, a Canadian curling team) against powerhouse competition. Perhaps she will disable one of their prize weapons. She will make that weakened team play two games in the same day — approximately five hours of moving granite up and down the ice.
That writer is intent on making readers sit up straight, stop multi-tasking, and become engaged. When you stay awake late into the night, turning pages to get the characters to the finish line, when you close the book with a satisfied sigh at the end, that writer has done her job.
© Charlotte Morganti
In Which I Contemplate Being Penniless
It’s April, 2012 and I’m about to become penniless. I’ll not be without means, mind you. My jeans will simply be without copper coins.
Last month the Canadian government did away with the penny. Come the fall, the Mint will stop producing pennies; and those in circulation will eventually make their way to the melting pot.
Then, the smallest denomination coin will be the nickel. In cash transactions, apparently, amounts will be rounded to the nearest nickel. Some items may cost you more, some less.
The reason for murdering the penny? It’s a burden on the economy, they say. It costs more to produce the penny than a penny. 0.6 cents more in fact.
I say: Pahhh.
There’s more at stake than 0.6 cents. Such as:
- Five-year old children across Canada will never know the delights of penny candy.
- Trivial things will no longer be penny ante. They will be nickel ante. Imagine how the nickel feels about is demotion to triviality. It’s enough to make the beaver smack its tail in disgust and move to another coin.
- It will be more expensive to think. No longer will you be able to offer a penny for a person’s thoughts.
- And my two cents’ worth will be rounded down and be meaningless.
I don’t deal well with change. Thirty-some years ago Canada switched to Celsius and metric measurements, and I am still hoping that soon the government will realize it was a huge mistake. Until then I will continue to think in Fahrenheit and Imperial, and do the math to translate temperature and measurements to the “foreign” system.
Now they’re going to do away with the penny. That small round copper disk with the maple leaves backing the Queen has been a constant in my life. For all of my life.0
This change, unlike the move to metric, is not one that I can manage with a mathematical formula. Except to round things to the nearest nickel.
There are a few months yet before the penny becomes obsolete. I will mourn its passing, but until then I plan to offer my two cents’ worth frequently. While it’s still worth two cents.
© Charlotte Morganti
What Would Your Mother Say
What would your mother say if she knew she left the back door unlocked one night the winter you were three and you went looking for her, you in your nightie and Teddy in his brown fur coat. If you told her you had to stop searching because Teddy was afraid of the dark and your feet were cold and the nice men with deep soft voices and the car with the blue and red lights gave you and Teddy hot chocolate and a doughnut.
If you explained that it wasn’t the religion but the kindness of the sisters that mattered, and others like you were at the home too so you stayed there, because if you and Teddy left the others would be alone.
If she had come to parent-teacher night and heard what promise you had and how, with not even a miracle, you could be anything you wanted. If you whispered to her what it was you really wanted.
If you told her you gave up school to be a wife three years ago.
If you confessed about the baby and her daddy who married you so the baby could stay with you, and that he doesn’t mean to but sometimes the worry of a family makes him strike out and how last night he got so worried that they had to keep you in hospital. If she knew he left the back door unlocked and your little girl went out into that cold wintry night, searching for you.
What would your mother say, if she had chosen your warm hopeful hugs in the single-wide over the hot sloppy embrace of the man in the tavern so long ago?
© CA Morganti
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