Small Rebellions


Mother insisted on a pristine white dress for my former cotillion. It was traditional. The way things were always done was the way we were always to do things. She pursed her lips as she plucked away at the taffeta poofs that decorated the skirt and tugged against the tight lacing on the bodice, as if determined that her daughter’s waist should be even a centimeter thinner than all the other debutants. She plucked my hand away from the folds of the fabric where I’d buried them like a dark secret.

“Really, darling? Rose gold? I thought we agreed on rose pink.” She tutted at the color of my fingernails.

“We didn’t. I wanted to paint my nails black. You said no.” I tugged my hand out of her grasp and wrapped it back into the fabric. I didn’t like rose gold, either, but small rebellions are still rebellions.

“This is a party, not a funeral.”

“You didn’t let me paint them black for grandpa’s funeral, either.”

Mother scoffed. She picked up her wine glass from the counter and eyed me over it without taking a sip. “You’re not some hellion. What is this obsession you have with black nail polish? It’s unacceptable.” She spat the word unacceptable as if it was an insult. As if anything not normal was untrustworthy and wrong. To her, it was.

“I dunno, mom, maybe I just want my nails to match the color of my soul.”

She gasped. An honest-to-goodness gasp with one hand pressed to her sternum like a 1930s church lady. If she had a fan she’d wave it at her face and talk about how I’d given her the vapors. As it was, she set the wine glass back down a little harder than she should have, spilling bright red droplets over the counter.

I rolled my eyes. “It was a joke.”

“Jokes are supposed to be funny.”

“I’m surprised you even know what that word means.”

She flicked my ear. I smirked. Small rebellions, and all.

“I’d better not hear of you making any such jokes at the cotillion,” Mother chastised. “You have the family’s reputation to uphold.” She stormed out of the room before I could utter a word of retort.

I looked in the mirror at the soft, pretty little girl that my mother had styled me into. It’s not that I didn’t like to be pretty. I just didn’t want to be pretty like this. I didn’t feel like the girl she wanted me to be.

If I was a different person, maybe I would have torn the dress a little. Or a lot. I would leave it in pieces on the ground and run out of the room in the tattered remains. I would smear it with black eyeliner and brightly colored eyeshadow. I would be the hellion she envisioned. I would be worse than anything she could have imagined. But I wasn’t a different person. I was my mother’s designer daughter. There were expectations to be met, and no room for outlandish revolts. Only small rebellions.

My eyes lingered on the wine glass Mother left behind in her frustration. Normally she didn’t trust me around alcohol. Not that I’d ever imbibed. She didn’t trust me with much of anything, really. I traced my fingers through the red droplets on the counter, then slowly dragged the same fingers over the skirt of my dress. A streak of rose pink followed the trail of my fingers.

“Oh no! A stain!” I said quietly. Another small rebellion. Just like all the others. Little, pointless acts of civil disobedience to maintain my sanity. Some days, those small rebellions hardly felt like they were enough.

I touched the rim of the wine glass, considering. There were expectations of me. Those were important. My family was relying on me to…

To do what? To look good? To make them happy?

To be perfect. Even though I so clearly was not.

A slow smile spread across my face. The glass tipped precariously toward one edge, balanced carefully by my finger. The small rebellions were getting boring. Was it time for a revolution?

Mother stormed back into the room. “Well? Are you coming, or not? We have to leave in five minutes.”

I sighed. “Coming, Mother.” The wine trembled in the glass, still safely inside its container. There would be no revolutions today.

I wished I could shed my skin. Shed away everything that the world knew of me and live as the person that I felt like on the inside. I wished I had the strength to be unacceptable. Maybe then I could feel alive.

I had one of those days where living in my own skin felt a bit overwhelming. My whole life I’ve struggled with the feeling that I need to pretend to be less than I am in order for people to accept me. Today’s story was meant to embody that desire that exists within me to be unapologetically human in a way that I’ve never allowed myself to be. If I could find the strength to be unacceptable, something tells me I might finally be able to find the place where I can truly be accepted. But so often, just like with the character in this story, fear wins out.

Maybe one day we can all figure out how to shed our skin and transcend those limiting ideals that stop us from ever achieving the truest sense of our personhood. I hope that’s the case. Fear is our most debilitating emotion, but it’s certainly not our strongest emotion. So I’ll hold out hope.

In the meantime, I wish you luck with all of your own small personal rebellions. Thank you so much for stopping by to read my story!

Your friend,

CC Lepki

Remembering Death


The grass that swept between towering limestone monuments to the dead was well-manicured. But not too well-manicured. The graveyard was managed respectably, and the lawn was cut so that the final resting place of everyone’s grannies and uncles and whatever other loved ones they’d lost weren’t overgrown. It didn’t look bad. Just a bit tousled, maybe. A bit drab. A bit like a money pit where people were expected to pay thousands of dollars to put their family members in a patch of mildly well-cared-for dirt as if the dead cared at all where their abandoned shells ended up.

My dad’s patch of dirt was fresh. Cancer. I don’t want to talk about it. No, really. Just leave it. I’m fine.

His fresh dirt was mounded up to about the level of my shins, and someone placed a storebought wreath on the mound as if all those pretty little fabric flowers weren’t going to blow away in the wind and litter someone else’s final resting place. I stared at the wreath and wracked my brain for something to say, or some meaningful gesture that could respectfully send my dad off to the great beyond.

Nothing came to mind.

I didn’t really know my dad all that well if I’m being honest. My last pleasant memory of him was when I was six and someone commented on how enamored he was with my existence. At the time, I felt proud. My daddy loved me. Thirty-seven years later, I felt…something else entirely. I don’t know. I still don’t want to talk about it.

Rather than lift a prayer to heaven and wail loudly over the stranger I’d lost, I shifted uncomfortably on the spot and looked around the graveyard again. There were a lot more gravestones than I remembered from the last time I was there. It was like a morbid hourglass that measured time in human remains and engraved stone. Memento mori. Remember death. As if we could ever forget.

My grandma died when I was seven before I even knew to be sad when someone died. I didn’t shed a tear until my sister told me it was because I didn’t really love her. I cried a lot after that. My grandpa followed her a couple of years later. The romantic thing would be to imagine it was love that had him chasing her to the grave. It was not. Grandpa was a smoker.

I spent a lot of time in this graveyard, as a child. We would visit Grandma and Grandpa, then take walks along the winding path, counting out the lives of the people who’d gone before us. Some people’s lives were really long. Ninety-eight years. Ninety-nine. Others were a lot shorter.

Like Macie. A girl I knew in high school. We were in driver’s education together. She was pretty, popular, smart. I didn’t begrudge her for it. I did get a little annoyed that the driver’s ed teacher gave her a better grade than me, even though she was clearly the worse driver. I felt bad about it, later, after the car wreck that killed her.

My dad had already left my family, by then. I hadn’t spoken to him in months, so I never got to tell him how guilty I felt at being annoyed she got a better grade than I did. Or how strange it was to know someone who died without ever really knowing them. She wasn’t a friend. She was more than a stranger. I didn’t get the chance to ask him how you deal with a loss that isn’t really your loss. I didn’t get to ask my dad, so I asked no one. Those feelings stayed buried deep, and I held onto them like something precious.

Macie’s pink-tinted gravestone was somewhere on the other side of the cemetery from where I stood glaring uncomfortably at a thick earthworm that waved its body in the air as a temptation for any birds flying overhead. I wiped my palms on my jeans and peeked in that direction, though whether I wanted to see the gravestone or not was hard to say. Either way, it was hidden from my sight by the creepy mausoleum that contained a man-sized statue all the kids in town used to tell horror stories about.

Legend had it that if you peeked into the mausoleum at night then the statue would turn his head to look at you, his face agape in horror. He would steal your soul. He would chase you to the ends of the earth. He was the pig-man. Everyone had a different story. I remember my heart trembling as I held my breath, barely creeping up over the edge of the stained-glass window to steal a terrified glance at the mythic statue. We’ll both assume I managed to keep my soul, though I suppose it’s a pretty difficult thing to check. I can’t say I ever saw my own soul, personally, so maybe I wouldn’t notice if it suddenly disappeared.

Three more kids in my class died the same year as Macie. I didn’t know them as well, but the loss shook our entire school. There were candlelight vigils and a long line of kids trailing through the doors of the funeral home. I didn’t feel much of anything about it, really, except that there must be something wrong with me. Everyone else was so thoroughly affected by it, but it felt like any other day to me. A day with sad news: if you think about it, isn’t that all of them? My mom made me go to the funerals, even though I didn’t want to. She said it was the right thing to do. I wasn’t sure that was true. Watching their mothers weep next to their caskets felt profane.

If it were me, my mom would have wept like that. She would have buried her own heart in the ground with me. My dad wouldn’t have even known I was gone. Or he would have shown up at the funeral home three hours after the service and then shrugged and walked home. The daddy who loved me so long ago didn’t think much of his teenager. The angry, embittered person I’d become after he abandoned me wasn’t nearly as cute as the chubby little cherub who worshipped his every move. On the rare occasion when I talked to him, it was usually because my mother begged him to give me the time of day when my grades were slipping or because I was hanging out with kids she didn’t like. I would tell him that I was doing my best, and he would tell me that the proof is in the pudding and other colloquial dad-isms that made equally little sense. After each lecture, he would disappear for months, or for years or–as in the most recent case–forever.

The last time we spoke he’d admonished me for not being rich, not marrying rich, not doing anything of importance with my life, and generally being a waste of space. He couldn’t fathom why I turned out so miserably after all the effort he put into raising me. I told him I was doing my best. He said the proof was in the pudding. I told him my pudding tastes delicious, thank you very much.

Then he went and died. But I seriously don’t want to talk about it, so if you could stop asking, that would be great.

I don’t want to talk about the things I never got to yell at him about. Or all the memories of my life that he missed. He never showed up at my high school graduation. He wasn’t there when I got my associate’s degree, then my bachelor’s, and then the master’s. Dad didn’t console me when my pet mouse died when I was eleven. When no one showed up to my thirteenth birthday party, he hadn’t even remembered to call. There was no comfort from him when my best friend tried to kill herself when I was in college, or when she finally managed to finish the job ten years later. And I don’t want to talk about any of it. Not even a little. Because if I talk about it, I might end up resenting him. People say you’re not supposed to resent the dead. Even when you do.

I stood over my dad’s fresh patch of churned earth, thinking all the things I wasn’t supposed to think about him and struggling to understand what it all meant, in the end. Memento-ing mori. So many people at his funeral had so many pleasant words. His third wife cried as if the sun would never rise again. My aunts and uncles waxed poetic about how he was a loving husband and dedicated father. I stared dead-eyed at the horizon until the platitudes had passed, bearing the dastardly weight of people’s consoling hands on my shoulders as I wished that I had been anyone else’s child.

Long after everyone else shuffled uncomfortably away to do whatever somber activity was acceptable after a tasteful funeral, I stood by my father’s side. Without any pleasant words for the man who’d participated in my very creation. Dry eyed. Because, as my sister so wisely declared, maybe I didn’t love him. I scuffed my foot over a stray dandelion that grew at the edge of his burial plot. No answers revealed themselves in the dirt. I waited until the sun wavered over the horizon and the grass started to grow damp, but the burden of the unsaid only grew more oppressive with time. With nothing better to do and no easy answers, I decided to follow the example he’d set for me: I left.

This was a long one, but I was really happy with how it turned out. I wanted to tell a story about a character who lost an estranged family member and remembered their experience of that family member through tales of death. The purpose wasn’t to be morbid; I wanted to evoke feelings about the inevitability of death and allow the reader to feel the bitterness of the living. The main character in this story avoided their feelings, left too many things unsaid, and was eventually left dissatisfied with how things ended between them and their father.

I also thought this was a good opportunity to write a genderless character. More important than the sex of the protagonist, I wanted this person to feel very human. I was careful not to provide too many details that might sway the reader in one direction or another, and the end result is someone that I believe is easier to connect with on an emotional level. At least, I hope that’s the case

Thank you so much for stopping by to read my story!

Your friend,

CC Lepki

The Wind Passes by


“I wish you wouldn’t watch that crap.” Anabell fell onto the sofa next to her husband, scowling at the news reporter on the television.

“The world’s falling apart. We should be witnesses to it.” Another report scrolled across the screen. Something about fires, faithlessness, fighting in the streets; all in places they’d been to, once upon a time. Places they once thought would never be touched by such things.

Anabell scoffed. “It won’t fall apart any faster or slower, regardless of how long you watch.”

“But it’s meaningful. Isn’t it?” He finally turned from the screen to look at her for the first time that day.

There were wrinkles at the corners of her eyes that didn’t exist when he’d first met her. Her face was a little rounder. Her shoulders a little heavier. He loved the person in front of him even more now than he had when they’d first uttered the words. His feelings back then didn’t even compare.

Anabell took his hand. “This is meaningful,” she said.

“This won’t be written about in history books,” he pointed out. “No one will remember our names.”

“Then they won’t remember if we witnessed the end of everything.”

He turned back to the TV. Fire turned the sky black above government buildings and angry mobs. “Is it right to look away?”

“I don’t know. But it’s just a moment in time. Whether the wind is gentle or harsh, it’ll pass us by either way.” Anabell leaned against him.

Another urgent report crossed the screen. It was probably something important. He looked at Anabell, who smiled sadly at him, then turned off the television.

He lifted her hand to his lips and gently kissed her fingers. “I always hated the news, anyhow.”

It took me a while to get back on my feet after my last post, but I’m finally back to feeling better. I’m thankful that I had so many stories scheduled ahead because it took a lot of the pressure off and allowed me the time and space I needed to feel better.

This week’s story is based on my favorite book of the Bible. I’m a huge sucker for Ecclesiastes, which I’ve had described to me as the most depressing book in the Bible. Despite the unwarranted criticism I’ve heard regarding Ecclesiastes, I’ve always found it especially hopeful. On the surface, it’s a book that continuously stresses how life is meaningless. As you read, however, the writer reveals that joy can still be found–not in pursuing treasure, fame, or any of the innumerable things we think makes life enjoyable, but in the simple act of doing something you love and worshipping God. There’s a certain kind of peace that comes with this kind of philosophy. The things that make us feel as if the world is ending don’t matter. They’re pointless. In the end, all we can do is seek the thing that is truly meaningful: a life well-lived.

As I wrote the story, I was trying to call to mind those feelings that we can get while trapped in a doom scroll. In this regard, the husband in the story is a lot like me; he sees the terrible things in the world and a big part of him feels as if it would be wrong to look away or pretend that it’s not happening even if there isn’t anything he can do to fix the situation. Anabell, on the other hand, is the voice of Ecclesiastes that speaks to me when I’m spiraling. She says the world will do what the world does, and the only thing I can do is pay attention to the real life that exists in front of me.

I hope you find this story meaningful. Thank you so much for dropping in to read my work. Until next time:

Your friend,

CC Lepki