Thursday, July 01, 2010


Stars pepper the sky. The solemn swells of the orchestra fuse with the crowd’s low drone and the gentle slap of water against the boats. A breeze passes over the darkened river and stirs in the flaccid sails. I lace my fingers through Phoebe’s, and wait.

A light flickers on the picnic table and levitates towards us. Althea cradles the sparkling cupcake, singing “happy birthday” in her breathy voice. She totters over the boat, holding the cake for Phoebe.

“Make a wish, girlfriend!”

Phoebe concentrates, and blows; the flame splutters out.

“Happy birthday, Phoebe.” Althea weaves on the dock’s edge. “I’m glad you’re with Ben, he’s good folk, deserves the best. And you’re the best too, girl, cuz you make him happy, keep him outta trouble. He’s one crazy guy, but good as gold as long as he takes his lith--”

“Shut up, Al.” The boat pitches when I stand. My hands draw into tight fists. “Just shut the fuck up. You’re drunk.”

“Oh shit.” She covers her face, her giggles. “So sorry.”

A low whistle screams overhead. The sky erupts in red and orange, incandescent streamers shower into the river, fizzing into smoke. In the light-splattered night, Phoebe’s eyes glitter, questioning me.

“She’s toasted,” I say. Her fingers squeeze mine, seeking more, but I look away, into the shivering sky, and breathe, just breathe, until the only noise is my pulse thumping through my brain and all I see are smoky-white trails of spent fireworks echoing against my closed eyelids.


This week's theme from 52/250 -- corrected vision. Spent Fireworks launches off a scene from my novel BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT. Here, I intend to show how one word almost uttered with carelessness -- lithium -- can change one's view of another, indeed, can shift an entire world, when saying it reveals harbored secrets.

And hey, I had to work in the Fourth of July somehow! It's Phoebe's birthday, after all, and both my real kids are born this week. Happy 4th! Peace, Linda


  1. Very true...there is still such stigma against seeking help that many are unwilling to go there. Another excellent piece.

  2. Beautiful prose here. Love the realistic dialogue. So very in-your-face you have to keep reading. Love it.

  3. wow there's so much in this I loved - the chemical link of lithium with sodium which I think they put in fireworks, the fact that someone is likely to be looked down on for having lithium treatment, yet we excuse people bombed out of their heads on ethanol...

    My father had lithium treatment, it was like injecting poison straight into the bloodstream...

    Great job Linda

    marc nash

  4. As always, I feel quite awed and humbled by your writing.

    You are just so very good at this.

    Happy birthday to your kids!

  5. Wow! I was totally lulled by the beautiful, lyrical beginning, then POW, it explodes in words right before the fireworks explosion. This story was such a powerful moment in such a short piece. Geez, can't imagine a whole book like this, your novel is going to self-combust, please keep away from flammables.

    Happy Birthday to your family members - such a great week to be born - wink!

  6. I love these excerpts. I think you captured the fear and stigma associated with admitting one has mental illness. Really well written.

  7. Lithium makes a mean firework when tossed into water, if I recall.

  8. Nice job of bringing all these elements [pardon the pun] together.

  9. Eek! I hate it when drunk friends get garrulous. You do such a good job in this excerpt (and in many others I've read) of keeping the tension just under the surface. As a reader I know that any minute it's gonna blow.


  10. Love it. I love that Ben's best friend knows about his lithium but his girlfriend doesn't. I just find that very...real. The question is, does Phoebe catch what Althea said or was there enough going on that she didn't really? And whether she did or she didn't, what is going through her mind? Just one more reason to keep reading :)

    And happy birthday to your kids! I always think of this time of year as "birthday season" b/c so many people I know have birthdays around this time! How old are the kids now?


    P.S. I may actually flash this week...

  11. Good story. Great dialog and excellent descriptions.

  12. Yes, and like Anne said, the word "lithium" pops their whole celebration apart.

  13. Nice holiday tale, and I like how the lithium part punches into the fireworks.

  14. The half-spoken word worked great here, and his reaction is bound to make Phoebe all the more curious. Perhaps the web begins to unravel. Beautiful prose, as always, Linda. Happy birthday to the kids. I recommend chocolate cake with chocolate ice cream. I know, no surprise there. ;)

  15. Amazing that you got this from a prompt. Actually, not so amazing considering the writer.

    Perceptive and searing, Linda.

    Happy birthday to all!

  16. Great story, Linda.

    It's amazing the stigma that's attached to mental illness. I would bet that there isn't one of us who doesn't know someone benefitting from medication to help correct a condition.

  17. Thank you all for your reads and generous words -- all so much appreciated.

    Marc, you always find some little detail I never know about my own words. For so many people, lithium is a life saver; for others, it is, literally, poison. I'm sorry your father didn't benefit.

    Chrys, as you've read the entire story in its earlier form, you pick up on nuances no one else can. I always appreciate your thoughts on BTB.

    Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, says substance abuse is a 'brain disease'. Ditto for mental illness. Just as diabetes is a 'pancreas disease', cancer is a 'cell disease', emphysema is a 'lung disease'. Just another body part - right?

    To all of you touched with or by disorders of any kind -- peace...

  18. Cool story, Linda. Perfect for the holiday. Always nice to read about Ben. And hope all your birthday celebrations were happy ones.