“Forget Me Not” (Short Story as published in The Upper Mississippi Harvest)

Forget Me Not
by Stephanie Dixon
Published April 2017, Upper Mississippi Harvest Literary & Arts Magazine


The hard rain pattered on the car window and bounced off the hood of the rusted 1988 Jeep Cherokee. Mason felt small droplets land on his arm as he listlessly held his cigarette near the barely open window. He leaned back in the driver’s seat as it creaked under him. The damp smell of rain mixed with the musty dust that lingered in the old SUV. Dark brown eyes peered out of the windshield as Mason took a puff of the same cigarette that rested between his rough fingers. While frustration was apparent in his expression, he used his free hand to brush back his wet hair from his face.

He was parked on the side of an overlook. This time of year, it would often be busy because of the seasonal visitors, but the storms had chased off any sightseers. It was a solitude that Mason enjoyed. He watched as untamable waves crashed against the rocky cliffs that lined the shore of Lake Superior. The pine trees on the opposite side of the Superior Scenic Byway swayed and bent helplessly in the raging winds. Late spring on the Northshore of Minnesota came with a vengeance of nature. An attitude Mason shared since he was young.

Listening to the weather howling, he finally tossed his spent cigarette out the cracked open window. He closed his eyes and put his hands on the steering wheel. His knuckles were still smudged with grease from repairing a log splitter earlier in the day, but he had forgotten to wash them off. He peered into the rearview mirror and saw his own tired eyes staring back at him. The dark circles seemed to mock him. He turned his gaze to the passenger seat where a worn leather journal and his pack of Marlboro Red’s sat. Part of him wished he could sit there forever, but deep down he knew he couldn’t stay. His mother was waiting for him to pick up his dog, Gunner. For however long he could manage, all he wanted was to drink in the isolation.

“God damnit anyway,” he sighed. He turned the key in the ignition and pulled back onto the winding road.

“Ma, I’m here,” Mason shouted through the entryway of the beaten down house. It was falling apart, and he knew he should have spent more time working on it for his mom, but he preferred to spend his time in the shop. He was greeted first by his dog, who exuberantly ran to him. Gunner jumped on him, his paws wet and dirty from playing out in the rain.

“Oh Mason,” his mother cried from the kitchen, “we lost another tree! These damn storms… I don’t know why I bother.”

“They’re just trees, ma,” Mason said, stepping into the kitchen. “I’ll bring the saw by tomorrow. If it dries up, anyway.”

“I know, I know,” said his mother. She sat at the table, stirring her coffee that was barely warm. She didn’t like the taste, but she loved the idea of drinking it. There was a silence, a tension between the two. Gunner sat on the cold linoleum floor, wagging his damp tail and panting.

“Well,” Mason said before his mother cut him off.

“How’s treatment, Mason?” She asked, biting her bottom lip.

“It’s fine,” he replied.

“Oh,” his mother said, “that’s good… Are you still going to AA?”

“You know I have to,” said Mason, shaking his head. “Can I go now?”

His mother fell silent but nodded. She finally managed to find her words, saying, “you really should go visit Maggie. It would be good for you, honey.”

“I know,” Mason said, as he turned to leave. Of course, he wanted to call Maggie, but he didn’t want to face her. A sense of guilt and fear washed over him each time he saw her phone number on that worn out piece of paper his mom kept on her fridge, but he wasn’t sure why. He didn’t want to put her through more than she had to be while involved with him.

Gunner ran to the car, anxious to jump in. Mason opened the back hatch, though, the hydraulics were worn out so it didn’t stay up. The dog sprang up into the Jeep and shook, water dowsing the interior.

“Great, wet dog smell is just what this thing needed,” Mason said as he teased his dog.

Mason would wake up at night, usually more than once, sweating and gasping for air. The nightmare was always the same. He was haunted by shattered glass, screaming, blood, the crunch of metal and car parts colliding, and ultimately the smell of whiskey. Sometimes, he’d instinctively reach for the bottle that was once kept on his nightstand, but he knew it wasn’t there. Other times, he’d reach over to hold Maggie, who had kept him company in his darkest moments and consoled him when he needed it most. She was more than his best friend, but they were never officially together. The two of them hated the idea of labeling their relationship. Just like his bottle of whiskey, Mason knew she wasn’t there anymore, either.

He wanted to scroll through his phone and call her. He wanted to hear her voice and awkward laugh. He wanted to see her pretty green eyes and her soft lips curl into her quirky smile. Though, he couldn’t let himself. Instead, he started at the open letter from his lawyer on the desk adjacent to his bed. He had one more week until he had to face the judge, a nightmare of its own.

In the morning, he had to go to the grocery store. Gunner was out of dog food. There was a fog hanging in the air coming off of the lake. With a sigh, Mason pulled up his hood and shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his Carhartt jacket. He used his sleeve to wipe the mist off of the inside of his windshield, it was common for him to forget to roll his windows up. The Jeep started with a raspy roar, the battery was going out, but he figured he had no use in fixing it. His court date was approaching and fixing his car was the last thing on his mind.

The grocery store was relatively empty for a Friday morning, but Mason didn’t mind. He preferred not to be recognized in public after the accident. Too many questions and too much attention were exactly what he wanted to avoid. As he stepped through the automatic doors, he saw a face he used to know. That face belonged to Maggie.

She was checking out, coffee in one hand, her phone in the other. Mason wondered who she had been talking to lately, besides her little sister. Her hair was darker than the last time he saw her and even though it was hidden underneath a beanie, the curls hugged her rosy cheeks. Mason had almost forgotten the little details like that. He noticed he was staring, so he turned to the bags of dog food that lined the storefront, hoping Maggie wouldn’t recognize him. He looked over his shoulder, but she was already gone. It bothered him that she didn’t say hi, let alone notice he was there, even though he had been avoiding her. Mason looked out the store front window, looking for her car, but his eyes couldn’t find her. It was as though she too had been avoiding him.

After he paid for the dog food, he walked out of the store in a frustrated demeanor. With the bag slung over his right shoulder, he opened the hatch of his Jeep and heaved the bag into the back of the car. A frustrated groan escaped him.

“Hey, Mason,” said a man from behind him. It was an old friend, Darren.

“Oh, hey man,” Mason said. “Sorry, didn’t see ya there.”

“God, I haven’t seen you since-” Darren said, his voice trailed off.

Mason knew he meant since before the accident, but offered a courteous smile, and said “yeah, I know.”

“So… How have you been holding up?” Darren asked.

“Just making the best of everything, I guess,” said Mason. He was curious about Maggie, and he knew she hung out with Darren’s girlfriend. Girls talked, and Mason wanted to know if his name had been coming up at all. “Do you know how Maggie’s been since everything? I haven’t seen her since, you know.”

“Oh, err, yeah. I guess,” Darren said. His face lost its color and his eyes showed a certain apprehension. “Look, man, I gotta go. Emily is looking for me, nice seeing you.”

Mason stood there, speechless. Something made his stomach turn, as though someone reached in and was kneading it like a piece of dough. First, he assumed that Maggie was in some sort of trouble, maybe with a guy, or even hard drugs. It also crossed his mind that she was falling into other old habits of self-destruction, alcohol, cutting, anorexia. The guilt hit him as if he had been sucked into an undertow. He couldn’t breathe.

Another panic attack, he thought. With each attempt to take a breath, he felt his chest tighten and his arms shake, something that had been happening more frequently than he would have preferred since the accident.

It was 9:30 at night when Mason parked outside of Maggie’s house, where she lived alone since her parents had moved to the cities. He wondered if she had rearranged the furniture, or left it how it always had been. Did she ever replace that broken coffee table? Or paint the walls in her bedroom that turquoise blue she liked so much? The curiosity made a small smile escape from his lips. Mason hoped that Maggie was doing as well as he wanted to imagine, but how Darren acted made him worry.

He puffed a cigarette, in an attempt to calm his nerves. All he could think about was what he’s say to her when she opened the door. It had hardly crossed his mind that she might not answer, or want to talk to him at all. Shifting his weight in the driver’s seat, he looked at his face in the rearview mirror. The way his eyes looked restless and his hair messily pushed back from his face made him realize he hardly looked recognizable. He put out his half-smoked Marlboro and made his way out of the car.

“Here goes nothing,” he said to himself. He approached the door, adjusting his jacket and letting out a deep breath. As he raised a hand to knock, he paused. What if someone else answered the door? Mason knocked anyway, three quick taps of his knuckles. The door opened and he held his breath.

“Yeah, can I help you?” a man said. He was unfamiliar to Mason, but looked to be around his age. Late twenties, muscular arms, facial hair, strong cologne? That was Maggie’s type, which made Mason’s heart sink and his blood pump with jealousy.

“Is Maggie here? I need to talk to her,” he said, trying to hold his composure the best he could.

“I think you’ve got the wrong house, buddy,” the man said.

“What are you talking about?” Mason asked.

“I’ve lived here by myself for 8 months, don’t know anyone named Maggie, sorry,” the man said before closing the door. Mason felt a flush of insult come over him. It was unclear to him whether it was the way the man said her name as though she was just any other girl, or if it was the way Maggie had moved without even mentioning it to him.

As he returned to his car, he lit another cigarette. Agitatedly, he reached for his phone from the passenger seat. He typed her name in and pressed the call button. The only answer he received was from a dial tone telling him that the number he was calling had ben disconnected.

“GOD DAMNIT,” he shouted, as he threw his phone out the open window. It smashed against the pavement. The cigarette he had lit fell into his lap and burned through his jeans, causing him to yelp in surprise. He flicked it off and extinguished it before laying his head on the steering wheel. Maggie was gone, and he knew he was too late.

The next morning, he had to bring Gunner back to his mom’s house so he could drive down to Duluth to replace his phone. The sun was shining, and the rain seemed to finally have subsided, but Mason wasn’t enthused. The rainy weather was more preferable to him because it meant fewer people would be out and about.

When he reached his mother’s house he let Gunner out. The dog ran straight to the lake to jump in, which made Mason laugh to some extent. Damn dog. 

“Oh, honey!” his mother exclaimed, walking out of her house. “I have been trying to call you!”

“Sorry, phone broke. I’m running down to get a new one and was hoping you’d watch Gunner,” Mason said, crossing his arms.

“Of course,” she said.

“Ma, did you know Maggie moved?”

“What are you talking about?” she asked, her eyebrows raised.

“I went to her place and some guy has been living there for eight months, tried calling her and no answer either,” he explained. His mother put her hands on her hips and looked down. Mason noted the disappointment in her eyes, or was it sadness?

“Right, yeah, I think I have an address or something, somewhere,” she said, “wait here.”

When she returned, she didn’t look Mason in the eyes, she just stared at the paper in her hands as she held it out to Mason. It was a messily written address, not Maggie’s handwriting or his mothers. It was just a street name, 3rd Ave. Two Harbors, MN. Site #213 

“I’ll watch Gunner, but you should go see her before you head to town, it’ll be good,” his mother said, giving him an unwarranted embrace.

He didn’t have the luxury of a GPS app, so Mason used a tattered old map that was buried in the bottom of his glove compartment. The radio hummed an old Rod Stewart song that was uncannily called Maggie May. Mason caught himself humming along, though he noticed a lump building in his throat as he finally began to realize where his destination was.  He pulled into the Holy Spirit Catholic Cemetery, the entirety of his body trembled. There was an overwhelming sense of pain pitted in his core as he finally started to realize the truth. The last thing he wanted to remember was right in front of him and all he wanted to do was continue to deny his unrelenting reality.

After exiting his vehicle, he noticed his footsteps grow slower as they approached the grave site. A black granite headstone decorated with turquoise forget-me-not flowers sent shivers to each one of his nerve endings. Through blurred eyes, he read the name and date:

Margaret Annabelle Claybourne April 27, 1990 – February 18, 2016

Mason fell to his knees, shaking as he began to sob. It finally made sense. Everything made sense. February 18th had been the date of the accident, and that was enough for him to remember. Maggie was with him the night of the accident, insisting that she should be the one to drive. Mason, as stubborn as he was, wouldn’t let her even though he knew he had had too much to drink. He was the reason she was gone, and he never had the chance to tell him how he felt. Every repressed moment from that night engulfed him, and all he could do was sit there and accept what he had done.

He stared at the headstone, silently searching for anything he could say, until finally he whispered, “I’m sorry.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Project. 

As said in my other blog,

I’ve been busy and am proud to announce that I am finally graduating! So, what am I doing after I graduate? I am starting my own independent online publication endeavor. That’s right. An online journal dedicated to art in the forms of creative literature and media of all types. It’s a big project to undertake but I am more than thrilled to be pursuing this dream!

Here’s a little bit of an explanation of what this is all about:
“I believe everyone has a story to tell and everyone should be given the opportunity to tell it to the world. This is how I aim to make that possible.

Based in a small Minnesota town, Crow River Ink: Literature & Media is an independent online publisher that is dedicated to local writers and artists. It is my goal to promote and encourage all those with creative ideas to pursue publication. Because of big name publishers being so competitive, it is often hard for new writers and artists to find a starting point. This is why Crow River Ink will seek to make sure anyone with a story to express has that opportunity.”

The website is under construction and I hope to launch it by April of this year (only weeks away!) But, in order to do this, I need help. That’s why I have set up a fundraising page. So, if you wish to donate and support my cause, please check out my GoFundMe page here!

I am grateful to all of you who have supported me this far in my creative career. Let’s make something beautiful happen.

x
Stephanie 

2017’s Seventeen Things

It’s almost March and I have meant to do this list since the start of the year. So, here are 17 absolute necessities to my life this year. These are definitely what make me “me” sans obvious things such as my dog, phone, etc.

  1. My Jeep (2002 Grand Cherokee Limited, until I upgrade to a Wrangler within the year…)
  2. Aviator sunglasses
  3. My classic rock mix CDs (Led Zeppelin & CCR mainly)
  4. Mascara, lipgloss, bronzer, & highlighter
  5. Taco Bell, Chik-Fil-A, & Panda Express
  6. Cherry Coke & Mountain Dew
  7. Flare jeans & Daisy Duke cutoffs, V-necks and tank tops
  8. Having some sort of red in my hair
  9. Grand Theft Auto V & Skyrim
  10. Snapbacks
  11. Country music festivals/shows
  12. Bass fishing & deer hunting
  13. Instagram & Snapchat
  14. Cowgirl boots, Timberlands, slippers & flip flops
  15. My Nikon DSLR camera
  16. Supernatural (TV Show) & anything Tolkien related
  17. More journals than necessary

(As organized by categories.)

To those obsessed with Social Media.

Most of us would like to think that social media is unimportant and a waste of time. In some ways, it really is. That doesn’t change the fact that it has become one aspect of our daily lives that can strongly impact us in ways we never expected. However, it can also open many doors, as well. Social media can bring out the best in people, but also the worst. It can uproot friendships and relationships, unleashing jealousy and lack of trust. But, it can also be an opportunity to share precious moments with the people in your life.

In my opinion, I think the most important idea behind social media is much too overlooked. We are not supposed to let it engulf our lives, nor let it define who we are as people. We don’t need to share every moment of our lives. People take numerous selfies (I am guilty, everyone already knows this,) just hoping to capture the attention of the people on our “friends” list or even people we might assume might stalk around on our profiles. People obsessively keep track of who is “liking” or “friending” who, when in reality it doesn’t mean anything but the 3 seconds it took to scroll past a post.

At it’s core, social media is meant to network and to keep in touch with people you might not see often. I’ve noticed that more often than not, it’s simply an engine for drama and low self esteem.  You don’t need the approval of others to validate your life. You don’t need 50+ likes on your photos to know you’re beautiful. You don’t need to obsessively stalk your significant other to know you can trust them.

It might be hard for my generation to understand this, but a life outside of social media is much brighter than one spent scrolling on Facebook, editing your Instagram selfies, or cultivating your newest Tweet. If you spend all your time on your phone or computer, you might be missing out on some of the most important memories you are supposed to make.

Get out and enjoy real life, know you’re beautiful, trust the ones you love.

Don’t let what’s on your screen tear you apart.

x

Thoughts of a Scatter-Brained Creative Writing Major:

WRITE, they say, JUST WRITE.

But suddenly, you’re drowning in a sea of empty thoughts. There is an anchor attached to you, that anchor is called writer’s block.

That’s my life right now, anyway. I have a hundred ideas, until I sit at my computer, tablet, pen & paper, primitive cave drawing, ect. and realize the words are trapped in the deep crevasses (or crevices, I’m not really sure what’s actually up there,) of my brain.

I become overwhelmed by the abyss of nothingness in my thought-processes, and sit there with a blank face, staring at the blank page until finally I open up an internet tab to distract myself with baby animals, DIY pallet projects, or miscellaneous quizzes with no relevance to anything of substance. It’s time to wake up and smell the Pumpkin Spice Latte’s of the cramped and crowded coffee shop I sit in on campus!

GRADUATION is t-minus one semester and two additional courses away. GRAD SCHOOL isn’t far behind that.

Grad school?! Shit. What were my top choices? Am I actually going to get accepted? WHO WILL WRITE ME A LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION?

By now, my head is spinning like a load of heavy towels in the dryer on the highest speed. I laugh nervously and pretend that my Midterm for Advanced Fiction is going well, but in reality I’m scribbling doodles of bats and spiderwebs for Halloween in my planner instead of progress notes.

It’s October. I NEED to pass my classes. That’s all I need right now. But, a Chick-fil-A just opened and that sounds more enticing than staring at a blank page.

FOCUS.

You can do this, you can write the shit out of that midterm. You can analyze the shit out of that 17th century American Lit. assignment as though you actually read the weeks readings. You can do anything, but first, you better go grab another overpriced-venti-double-something-mocha that you probably can’t afford anyway. But tea is better for you, and it’s cheaper. Better do that. OH DEAR GOD… I’m becoming my mother…

Or, I mean, I could just write my Midterm.

 

Fall 2016 Bucket List

Because my Summer bucket list was an epic failure, let’s try this again. Who’s willing to cross some of these off with me?

+ Visit a winery
+ Spend a weekend on the Northshore
+ Watch the stars by a campfire
+ Go to an orchard/pumpkin patch
+ Carve pumpkins
+ Go for a drive to see the changing leaves
+ Hike around some state parks
+ Renaissance Festival
+ Visit the zoo
+ Watch scary movies while drinking apple cider
+ Zombie Pub Crawl
+ Haunted House
+ Valley Scare

What I’m striving for…

I’ve always been the kind of person to plan. I shoot for my goals and don’t give up easily… But, with that in mind, I’ve also always been the person to come up with back up plans too.
Here are some goals I have put in place for myself in the next year in no particular order (and a half? I mean… wiggle room is great.)

  • continue to achieve my fitness goals (I’m proud to say I’ve been consistent so far, so lets keep that up!)
  • get some of my work published (short stories, poetry, and non-fiction.)
  • graduate (this one is a given, and on track.)
  • get  an internship in editing/publishing (or a full-time job preferably.)
  • buy a Jeep Wrangler (and hopefully start customizing it.)
  • surround myself with positivity (no more insecurity, no more toxic people.)
  • be confident in myself and my abilities without second thoughts (getting better already!)
  • travel (anywhere, anytime. I crave adventure.)

I try to set goals that aren’t outlandish or unrealistic. I try to live within my means and do all I can to be a better person. For most of my life, I have not focused on myself very well. So, why not start being better about that now?

I hope this has maybe inspired some of you to also make a list of personal goals that you’d like to achieve in the next year or two. Good luck to you all!

x