A to Z Challenge — Before — #AtoZChallenge

Things To Do Before I ... Things To Do Before I ... Things To Do Before I ...
Photo by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash

Lois consulted her list and glanced at the clock on her SUV’s dashboard. She blew a frazzled breath of air through what her daughter Claire called her “pufferfish lips.” If she caught the green lights, she could make it across town, collect Claire, swing past the church to drop off the donation items for Saturday’s charity bazaar. Then they could rush it home in time to make family dinner before creating the cakes and cookies she promised for the bake sale in the morning.

As she pulled into the school parking lot, she groaned and slumped into the seat, wishing she could disappear. Too late. Sylvia Plachett was already waving, motioning for Lois to park next to her shiny red sports car. Sylvia’s daughter, Ava, and Claire leaned against the red fender with heads bent over their phones.

Dear God, I hate that woman. Lois jabbed unmanicured fingers into her unruly brown curls, attempting not to appear as if she had just rolled out of bed. A glance in the rearview mirror confirmed her hopeless situation and revealed more good news–smudged mascara.

Smartly dressed, as usual, Sylvia’s appearance was flawless. She wore her coal-black hair pulled into a neat bun, and her makeup looked freshly applied. Lois glanced down at her rumpled T-shirt and black yoga pants as she pulled up next to the girls and rolled down the window. I’ll stay in the car. Sylvia’s smiling face appeared in the open window.

“The girls asked to stay and watch soccer practice, and I thought we could grab a cup of coffee. They’ve got the concession stand open.”

“Ah, well, I need to drop the donations at the church.”

“Please, mom?” Claire cupped her phone between her palms and assumed her “Little Angel” expression.

“But the donations…”

“Ava, did you say Justin was going to the church?”

Before Lois could protest, Ava texted Justin, and he arrived to transfer everything to his car.

Suck it up, Buttercup.

Lois slid from her seat, tugging hard on the hem of her T-shirt to smooth the wrinkles and cover the top portion of her yoga pants before joining Sylvia at the concession stand. She fumbled in her oversized purse, packed with a collection of necessary in-case-of-emergency supplies in a futile search for her billfold.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got this,” Sylvia said, handing the pimply-faced teenager a crisp bill.

Lois let h purse drop, the strap dug into her shoulder, and she fought to hold back tears as she accepted the steaming paper cup.

“Oh, hon. What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

“How do you do it?” Lois sniffled.

“Do what?”

Lois waved her hand up and down in front of Sylvia. “You. This. You’re always so put together you have a successful business and a wonderful family. Ava is so sweet. I’m an absolute mess. I’m always busy, always running, always behind, and always exhausted.”

“What are you talking about? You are amazing. I can’t believe everything you do,” Sylvia said, leading Lois to a deserted section of bleacher.

“But I feel like I’m going nowhere.”

“Where do you want to go? What do you dream of doing?”

Lois dabbed her eyes with her shirt sleeve and thought for a moment.  Once upon a time, I dreamed of creating beautiful things.

“Before. Before I got married and had kids? Before we bought a house and got buried by all the responsibilities? Before all of that, I was a sculptor.”


“I loved it, and I was rather good too. I won awards, had a gallery show, and I even sold a few pieces.”

“What happened? Why did you stop?”

“There wasn’t enough time in the day. I had all these things to do before I could work.”

“What’s more important than doing what you love?”

Lois blinked.

“Well, there’s taking care of the children and the housework…”

“Yes, yes, we love our spouse and the children, but have you ever seen a gravestone extolling the virtues of the woman who kept a clean house?”

Lois chuckled and shook her head.

“Do you still want to be a sculptor?”

Lois nodded.

“Then it’s time to throw away the list of Things To Do Before you sculpt.”

This time, Lois couldn’t stop the tears. But she still smiled at her new best friend as Sylvia wrapped her arm around Lois’s shoulder.

“I think I’ve just met a Soon-To-Be-Famous Sculptor.”


Keep on writing.

Jo Hawk The Writer

A to Z Challenge — Aftermath — #AtoZChallenge 

Yellow house at night with the porch light on.
Photo by Keagan Henman on Unsplash

The final bag whizzed past Keagan’s left thigh and landed with a thump on the cracked cement driveway. Just clothes, nothing breakable. The heavy wood door behind her slammed shut, and the deadbolt clunked into place.

“Don’t let the door hit you in the ass.” The words, muffled by the heavy wooden door, lost their bite. Hurled arrows aimed at weakening her resolve came far too late to have their desired effect.

One by one, each downstairs light flicked off, and Keagan heard heavy footsteps. They tread on the worn pink cabbage rose carpet covering the narrow staircase. She felt every nick in the white-painted banister the way her shoulder slammed into the wall as she turned on the tiny landing and the smooth brass doorknob that only stayed latched when you jiggled it.

They are in the past now.

She squared her shoulders, lifted her chin, descended the front porch steps as if she were already someone, and released the screen door. It creaked, echoing the same protest she had heard a million times before it slammed and bounced in the warped jamb. The familiar sound accompanied so many memories. Heated words, accusations, and ultimatums ended punctuated with its creak and bang.

Hours later, a softer, more tentative squeak and thud heralded a barrage of pleading lies, false promises, and bankrupt vows. Belief and hope melted into agony and desperation, and a swirling eddy of dark desolation threatened to consume her. Despite her every attempt, no matter how hard she tried, nothing was ever right. And the repeating cycle left her numb, uncaring, suffocating.

None of it matters now.

Drowning people fight for each precious, life-sustaining breath. Life or death confronted her. She faced her moment of truth and declared war. Small, secret, defiant warfare, with tiny victories, gave her courage to conceive a starting point that began with goodbye. “You’ll never make it alone. Go ahead, throw your life away. You’ll come crawling back. You’re nothing without me.”

Keep moving.

She stepped outside the warm pool of light cast by the glaring, naked bulb protecting the timid from the dangerous night terrors. There was no hesitation when she took the last stride into the unknown. Her eyes adjusted to an alternate reality, and she found herself standing under a canopy of blazing stars. They twinkled, sang, and beckoned with pledges of wonders greater than anything she imagined.

In the aftermath, a sparkling soul opened fledgling wings. Freedom filled her lungs, and she flew.


Keep on writing.

Jo Hawk The Writer

2021 A to Z Challenge – #AtoZChallenge

I am biting the bullet, taking the plunge, seizing the opportunity, and crossing the Rubicon, ready to start an April that is full of promise. Late. It is my norm to wait until the last minute to commit. Once committed, I will move heaven and earth to finish what I started. Stay tuned because April is going to be an A-to-Z extravaganza.

These past months, I have been thinking about beginnings and endings. What circumstances can transform an end into the start of something new and wondrous? When does an opening conclude? And how do you know you have arrived at the beginning of the end? What happens when you arrive at the final ending?

Are you intrigued?

The story is just beginning, and I hope you will follow along until the end.


Keep on writing.

Jo Hawk The Writer

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — Roundup


The April A 2 Z Challenge was fun. For those of you following I have compiled a roundup of my 26 posts. It was a busy month and I admit I haven’t visited all the participating sites. With the master list downloaded, I look forward to continuing the cruise in May.

Congratulations to everyone who took part.

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — A

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — B

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — C

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — D

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — E

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — F

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — G

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — H

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — I

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — J

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — K

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — L

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — M

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — N

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — O

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — P

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — Q

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — R

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — S

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — T

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — U

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — V

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — W

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — X

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — Y

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — Z


Keep on writing.

Jo Hawk The Writer

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — Letter Z


Today’s Positive Adjective:
Zealous: marked by fervent partisanship for a person, a cause, or an ideal

Reginald Malcolm Trueblood III descended the creaky wooden steps leading from his one-bedroom apartment to his street-level shop. At the bottom of the staircase, he opened the worn gate and stepped onto the cracked, soggy pavement. The sodden canvas, installed to protect his short journey, concentrated the raindrops and formed a continuous waterfall under the canopy. The latch clattered, and the jamb rattled as he slammed it shut, before plunging through the deluge to the unprotected sidewalk.

He shuffled along the twenty feet to the opposite end of the building, skirted the torrent and stepped into the alcove to unlock the entrance. It was a trip he had performed every morning for the last twelve thousand seven hundred and seventy-five days. The bell tinkled as he opened the door and the familiar aroma of old books greeted him.

The main aisle stretched the entire length of the building, shotgun style, to the back exit. To his right towered rows of bookshelves. They touched the twelve-foot ceiling and extended to the far wall. He had read, cataloged and loving found a home for every book in his collection.

He snapped the light switch, shaking the rain from his coat while the lights flickered, and the ballasts hummed. At the mid-point, Reggie had carved out a small space where he worked. Neat stacks of books and piles of paper graced a large oak library table at the back of the area. A tattered leather couch faced two bedraggled mismatched chairs anchored by a massive, once brilliant, Persian carpet. Behind the couch, a pair of identical lamps sat at each end of a console loaded with more arranged books.

He shrugged, freeing himself from his damp coat which he hung on the rack. He petted the coat’s folds, making sure it didn’t touch his extra sweater, or the two wool throws draped on the adjacent hooks. Satisfied, he turned, and stroking and adjusting each tall book column, he inched toward the single straight-backed chair at the table.

Reggie was a zealous reader and vendor of rare books, although he had sold nothing in his collection. Only the curious or the lost entered his domain. The former he dissuaded, and the latter soon left of their own accord. Today he was looking forward to following another clue. He sifted through his organized notes, ready to begin his work when the shop bell tinkled. Reggie tapped the papers back into place.

“Hello?” a female voice called.

Exasperated, Reggie smoothed the wispy silver hair that hung across his forehead, tugging and pulling at his black cardigan as he scuttled down the row.

“Hello? Is anyone here?”

Reggie poked his nose into the main aisle. It was empty.

“Eh,” he coughed and cleared his throat, “Who’s there?”

A slim girl popped into view from the second row of shelves. She was tall. Wiry. She wore a long dark cloak slung over the back of her shoulders with the hood covering her head. Ebony hair, brown eyes, black leather clucky boots laced up to her knees, and a charcoal colored vest covered with silver chains completed her look.

“Goth,” Reggie muttered.

“What?” the girl asked.

“Got nothing but books here.”

“Yeah, right,” she glanced around and pointed at the shelving. “I see that. But I am looking for someone named Reginald?”

She hesitated then moved closer. She closed the distance between them and extended her gloved hand.

“I’m Layla,” she offered.

“Of course, you are.”

“What? Why ‘of course’? Do you know me?” she asked as she searched his face. When he didn’t respond she looked at her outstretched hand. She turned it palm up and glared at him over the top.

“Social much? Like I said, I’m looking for a dude named Reginald.”

“What do you want with him?”

“I need to talk to him.”

“About what?”

“A personal matter.”

“Who sent you?”

“A friend.”

“He hasn’t got any friends.”

“Listen, mister, I don’t have time for this. It’s obvious you know him. His friend gave me this address and said I should ask him for his advice. Can you make it happen or not?” Layla placed her hands on her hips and waited.

Reggie stared back wondering who had sent her.

“Who are you?” Reggie’s gravelly voice broke the silence.

“I told you. My name is Layla. Remember?”

“No, I mean… Who are you?” Reggie paused, elongating each word.

The girl sighed. She scanned Reggie’s face as if she was trying to decide something important.

“I’ll make you a deal. If I tell you, you’ll let me speak with Reginald. Okay?” she asked and waited for his response.

Reggie nodded, and Layla took a deep breath.

“My full name is Layla Trueblood.”

Reggie gasped, his eyes bulged, and he hyperventilated. His knees buckled under him and he reached for the bookshelf trying to steady himself but only succeeded in dislodging books that tumbled on him as he fell.

“Dude, are you okay? Harry. Harry you’ve got to help me I think he’s having a heart—”

Reggie felt her grab his arm, as the gloom swirled around him. He tried to fight it, push it back where it belonged. His stomach lurched, and his ears rang. It was happening again.

“Please, not again,” he whispered. Terror surrounded him, as two strange faces filled his vision and melded with the darkness.
Keep on writing.

Jo Hawk The Writer

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — Letter Y


Today’s Positive Adjective:
Yummy: highly attractive or pleasing especially, delicious, delectable

“Grammy are you coming?” Christy asked as she pulled my arm and bounced on her toes.

“Where did you want to go?” I teased.

“You promised we could make cookies today,” she said as she tried to drag me toward the kitchen.

“Oh, I plum forgot.”

Christy dropped my hand, placed both hands on her hips and glared at me.

“No, you didn’t. You never forget nuttin.”

I laughed at her pouty expression and petted the tight auburn curls that bounced on her head.

“No, child, you’re right. I was joshing. I’ve been waiting for you.”

A grin spread across her face, her brown eyes twinkled, and she winked at me before turned to race into the kitchen.

“No running, in the house,” I called after her.

I made a special trip to the store for pink sparkling sprinkles and red food coloring. Baking sheets and mixing bowls stood next to canisters of flour, confectioner’s sugar, and spices. I had set out my stand mixer and butter earlier to let them come to room temperature, knowing she wouldn’t wait.

On a whim, I had whipped up a batch of chai spiced butter cookies for Sunday dinner. Christy had fallen in love with them. However, she insisted they would taste better if they were pink, her favorite color, and if they also had sprinkles. But, they had to be the pink sparkling kind, and she wanted to help me make them. Her mother agreed. Outnumbered, I complied with the request.

So, we spent the afternoon grinding cinnamon, cardamom, clove, and nutmeg to create our Chai spice. We creamed butter and sugar until the ingredients were fluffy, before adding the spices, flour, and the food coloring. Christy petted and rolled the dough, creating perfectly shaped cookies before she pressed the all-important sprinkles onto each round. She examined each one to ensure they were evenly covered.

We rotated trays of the pale confections around the kitchen and she supervised while they cooked. Peering through the glass window she made sure none were over-baked. At last, we deemed the first batch cool enough to test.

Christy took a huge bite. Sprinkles and crumbs tumbled from the cookie and bounced from her shirt to the floor.

“Grammy these cookies are yummy,” she said around a mouthful of morsels.

I smiled and let the crumbs fall where they may.
Keep on writing.

Jo Hawk The Writer

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — Letter X


Today’s Positive Adjective:
Xenial: of, relating to, or constituting hospitality or relations between host and guest and especially among the ancient Greeks between persons of different cities

Greek fire followed the drought. Desiccated vegetation flared and searing flames touched the skies. Hestia heard her devotees cries and took pity on them. She decided to visit them, test them to determine who deserved her grace.

Disguised as a crippled beggar she went from house to house, asking for shelter and a scrap of bread. At homes of wealthy families and businessmen, they told her the same story. There was no food to spare. She wandered through the entire town, but no one answered her plea. Hestia took the road toward the next settlement. Behind her, a fire destroyed everything.

She walked through the night. As dawn broke, she approached a hovel and knocked at the door. A woman greeted her warmly and invited her to join her household for breakfast. She sent her son to search the chicken coop for any eggs, then she bustled around her meager kitchen preparing the meal. The family didn’t have much. But they prayed and offered the gods a small sacrifice before they ate, sharing the sparse fare with their guest. Hestia asked her hostess about her generosity.

“I follow Hestia,” the woman replied. “She teaches us to honor our xenial duties.”

“Aren’t you worried you might starve?”

“The goddess will provide,” she said as she shrugged her shoulders and smiled.

“Everyone is welcome, my family,” she motioned to those sitting at the table, “my neighbors, and even travelers.”

Hestia nodded and finished her meal. She rose and kissed the woman’s cheek. The woman embraced Hestia, called her sister, and told her she would always be welcomed. They wished each other a good day and Hestia resumed her journey.

As she walked away, the family shrieked with joy,  and praise the goddess. Rain fell, transforming the land into a verdant oasis. It washed the dirt and grime from the hovel, revealing the family’s sumptuous home. The woman and her family never forgot to honor Hestia for her favor.
Keep on writing.

Jo Hawk The Writer

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — Letter W


Today’s Positive Adjective:
Whimsical: resulting from or characterized by whim or caprice especially, lightly fanciful whimsical decorations

Arianna grew up flipping through architectural and design publications. While other girls worried about the perfect manicure and impressing the boys, she plotted trips to Taliesin and dreamed of attending Bauhaus.

Everything changed when her parents died in an auto accident. Devastated and grieving they uprooted her, turned her world upside down and sent her to live with her only surviving relative, an aunt she had never met. Aunt Mara lived alone and resented intrusions and the responsibility of caring for a teenage girl. Arianna felt helpless.

Aunt Mara’s house was a one-bedroom vacation cottage she occupied throughout the year. The property was so overgrown it was impossible to tell the home sat on a crystal blue lake. Mara pulled a cord hanging from the ceiling and unfolded a set of creaky attic stairs. The bare, raftered space housed boxes of Christmas decorations, long forgotten trunks and now, Arianna’s bedroom. She suspected the uninsulted room would freeze in the winter and blister in the summer.

Aunt Mara considered her duty done and returned to her office job, leaving Arianna on her own. The nearest neighbor was a mile away, and the town was further. When her aunt left for work, she breathed a sigh of relief and explored her new world. The porch sported peeling paint and overlooked brambles and weeds. Hidden behind a stand of trees she discovered an old garage and several sheds in various stages of decay. A peek inside revealed odds and ends, with boxes and tools piled to the rafters. Arianna imagined abandoned treasures concealed in the cluttered mess. With hours stretching before her, she studied her surroundings.

The transformation was slow, but bit by bit the home and the property changed. Old wheelbarrows and toolboxes became unexpected flower containers. She established meandering paths with tantalizing views of the lake and built fairytale vignettes along the way. Arianna repainted the cottage with discounted miss-mixed paint samples, which highlighted gingerbread trim and shaped clapboard. Her dedication created a whimsical place full of nostalgia, and magic sprinkled with a touch of regret.

Aunt Mara saw the changes, and she changed too. She made contributions and interacted with her niece. Others noticed. Strangers stopped by to look and ask questions. It was the project which would launch her illustrious career.

Keep on writing.

Jo Hawk The Writer

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — Letter V


Today’s Positive Adjective:
Vivacious: lively in temper, conduct, or spirit,  Sprightly

My Dearest Mama,

I hope this letter finds you well. It distresses me to realize it has now been many months since I last wrote to you, and I am truly sorry for my lapse. As you no doubt have heard, I have been afflicted with the melancholia which has, at times, confined me to my bed for extended periods.

My recovery has been in no small measure, attributable to Mr. Sorenson. His attentiveness has, I am convinced, been the sole reason my illness was not much prolonged. He is most devoted, and I fear his attention must have kept him from more pressing business matters, although he assures me this is not the case.

I confess to you that my previous disdain for Mr. Sorenson has been completely reversed. Indeed, where once I perceived him as cavalier, petty, and frivolous, I now see the truth of his character. He is in my estimation, the epitome of kindness and concern for his fellow man. I have come to appreciate his intense optimism, his cheerful disposition, and his vivacious will. I finally understand why my beloved Jacques considered him a brother.

My grief at Jacques untimely death has eased somewhat. Though I doubt I shall ever think of him without pain and profound sorrow. I weep daily for the loss of the years of marital bliss we once envisioned and for the children it denied us.

Now that my health has improved Mr. Sorenson has proposed a trip to the seashore. While I am concerned with the exertions of such an adventure, he further suggested that you and perhaps Annabelle might be persuaded to join me. The very thought of seeing you has lifted my spirits beyond measure. If you were able to make yourself available, I would rejoice at the reunion. I will write Annabelle directly to see if suitable arrangements can be made.

I am eager for your reply.

Your loving daughter,

Keep on writing.

Jo Hawk The Writer

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — Letter U


Today’s Positive Adjective:
Urbane: notably polite or polished in manner

Sorcha didn’t remember when she first met Alastair. He somehow appeared, lurking in the background. He rarely spoke to anyone, and when he did his words were laced with bitterness. But when they asked, he would play his guitar and sing. It was the reason everyone attended these events.

Captivating and complex he embodied contradictions. Sorcha saw sorrow in his eyes, even when he sang of love. A consummate performer, his had crafted his ad-lib comments honing them over the years for maximum entertainment value. He was urbane, funny, melodious, and the crowd loved him.

When the applause died, and his encores completed, he returned to the background to fight the bitterness, alone.

Keep on writing.

Jo Hawk The Writer