When the Door Closes

My secret life as a poet, writer, photographer…


creative writing

E – Earth, Is That You?

Devil's Golf Course, Death Valley NP

I love deserts. The sand dunes and cactus. Searing heat and the maybe mirages. I dare not visit in the summer, when boiling is balmy, but reserve my sojourns in the winter where the bitter cold is blunted by a brisk climb. Oh, the reward of such a hike upon sitting atop an outcrop! A hundred square miles of Martian terrain revealed while gobbling a chocolate chip cookie. My visits are short, unfortunately. But just enough. A little getaway to another world far removed.


Posted for the A-Z Challenge: E and NaPoWriMo and inspired by a visit to Death Valley National Park (the picture is of The Devil’s Golf Course).
©2015 V. del Casal All Rights Reserved

Moon On a Tightrope

From the ground, I gaze
at inky blankness until
the curtain of clouds
part and the moon glides along
a tightrope, stars just behind.


Inspired by a view of the moon amid a tangle of power lines and posted as a response to the Daily Prompt: Whoa!
©2015 V. del Casal All Rights Reserved

Free Write Friday – Josephine, The Beginning

Josephine’s birth was of little significance to anyone save the three people in the room: her parents, who cried and grinned at her squalling, and the midwife who quietly cleaned up the afterbirth.

As the sun shone brightly through the mullioned windows, illuminating the tiny bedroom and spotlighting the newly-formed family cuddled on the bed, Valentina carefully shrouded the placenta in gauzy cloth before placing it inside an iron bowl, murmuring softly as she worked. She then gathered all the soiled linen together, sat the bowl on top of the pile and excused herself, stopping in the laundry room before making her way outside.

Valentina walked the perimeter of the two-bedroom ranch, her low-pitched chanting never ceasing until she came to a stop beside the window to the nursery. She gently placed the placenta on the ground, paced three steps away from the house, and then quickly dug a hole a foot deep, using the iron bowl with the ease of long practice. Once satisfied with the depth, she reached into her pocket and sprinkled the newly-turned earth with what looked like dried herbs and an exceptionally large seed. She lowered the afterbirth, still wrapped in now bloody linen, into the hollow, and covered it with soil.

She washed the bowl in the kitchen and made her way back to the bedroom where the Smiths still cooed over their newborn daughter.

“She’s so beautiful,” Josephine’s mother murmured softly, cradling the neonate to her breast while simultaneously pressing a cheek against the hand her husband curled around her shoulder.

“Yes, she is,” he agreed, stroking his daughter’s cheek.

“What will you name her?” Valentina asked, smiling at the nativity before her.

“Josephine,” Mrs. Smith said without hesitation, sending a beatific smile to the midwife.

“A good name,” she replied. “I’ve placed the birthing cloths in the sink to soak, Mrs. Smith. The baby looks to be latching well, so I’ll take myself off until tomorrow.”

After hugging the mother and acknowledging her thanks, Valentina walked to the front door accompanied by Mr. Smith who pressed a bundle in her hand. After a token declination, she relented with a smile and exited the home, walking slowly down the path, out the garden gate and onto the sidewalk, glancing surreptitiously at the mound by the side of the house as she went.


Inspired by Kellie Elmore’s Free Write Friday
An offshoot from my two most recent #FWF posts: Elijah and Josephine
© 2014 All Rights Reserved

Free Write Friday – Josephine

“Josie?” The question rang softly in the gathering dusk. “Are you awake?”

Josie remained silent, trailing her hands along the grass, only to smile as a sharp elbow gently nudged her side. She turned her head and collided with Danny’s gaze, laughter lurking in the pools of blue. They’d played this game all summer, usually ending in innocent kisses, and Josie grinned expectantly, but Danny merely continued looking at her.

“Danny?” she asked after a minute, her smile fading as he stood up and walked away from the grassy bank on which they’d lain side by side the whole afternoon. Josie lay still, waiting, green eyes trained on the boy standing rigidly by the edge of the creek a mere feet from her. After a few moments, he strode back to lie once again by her side.

“I joined the army,” he said, grabbing her hand but looking at the sky whose daily battle with the descending sun splashed the heavens with violent purples and reds. “I’m leaving for basic training tomorrow.”

“How long have you known this?” She watched his Adam’s apple bob.

“Since May.”

“The whole summer…” Josie wrenched her hand from his grip, leapt to her feet and started running home.

“Josie! I didn’t want you to worry!” Danny’s voice trailed behind her, but Josie only ran faster, hoping the speed would dry the tears pouring down her face.

She ignored the rain of pebbles at her window later that night and the trill of the telephone the next morning, shying away from her mother’s glance at the unusual sight of Josie not leaping to answer. When the doorbell rang after breakfast, however, she flew to the door and pulled it open, green eyes clashing with blue.

Danny hauled her to him, sighing with relief and grief as Josie wreathed her arms tightly around his waist and laid her head on his chest. They separated only after the grandfather clock in the hallway struck the quarter hour. Josie grasped Danny’s hand and walked by his side as he crossed the porch, walked the length of the path to the front gate and out onto the street, heading to the bus depot.

She returned alone, eyes red-rimmed but with a small smile tugging at her mouth as she glanced at the opened letter in her hand. The postman delivered another the following day and another the next and the next and the next. Until one day six months later, as February rolled in with blistering winds and snow, the letters stopped.

She knew why even before the call came through and was already putting on her heavy winter coat, hat, and gloves when her mother answered the telephone. She trekked to the Town Hall, uncaring of the snow swirling furiously around her.

On February 15, 1969, Josie died with a stroke of a pen and emerged from the marble building as Josephine Valentine, Mrs. J to her boarders years later.


Written for and inspired by Kellie Elmore’s Free Write Friday: Quote Prompt
*an off-shoot from last week’s #FWF post: Elijah
© 2014 All Rights Reserved

Free Write Friday – Elijah

Elijah wasn’t a superstitious man, but as he walked home shortly after midnight on Saturday, he couldn’t help but recall the warning his landlady imparted Friday evening. 

“It’s unlucky to be out on a night like tonight,” she’d said as he handed her the rent for the month.

He looked at her blankly. “Why’s tonight different from all the other nights?”

She stared at him for a minute longer than was comfortable, green eyes intently surveying brown. “It’s a blood moon.”

“That’s just a lunar eclipse, Mrs. J. Something to do with the atmosphere and light dispersion. Turns the moon red.”  Elijah swallowed his laughter at the look on her face and unconsciously held his breath.

Mrs. Josephine Valentine was a diminutive woman whose bottle blonde hair was teased to give her an extra 3 inches in height. Always perfectly made up and dressed elegantly in flowing dresses suited to the humid New Orleans weather, she was the picture of southern gentility. Until provoked. Then, her easy-going charm receded to reveal a biting sarcasm which reduced the unfortunate receiver to bits. Elijah waited for the barrage of words to hit him, but beyond staring him down, his landlady didn’t utter a sound.

He cleared his throat and dropped her gaze. “I’m … uh … sor-”

“I have your laundry,” she interrupted, turning away from the reception desk and stepping to the built-in behind her, rifling through the stack of folded clothes from other boarders.

“Thanks, Mrs. J.” Elijah reached for his shirts, grateful that he’d have a clean one to wear tonight. She merely nodded before returning to her book, clearly dismissing him.

Now, with the echo of his boots on cobblestones as his only companion, he began to curse at the folly of finding himself alone on a deserted street in the dark of night.

Clouds blotted the moon, forcing him to navigate the streets in pitch black. But, as he turned the corner, the cloud cover eased away, revealing a coppery-red moon. A shiver whispered down his back, especially when he realized that the night had become unusually silent. No occasional call from a restless mammal. No caterwauling from the neighborhood strays. Nothing.

“Ridiculous. You just had one too many mint juleps.” Nonetheless, Elijah quickened his steps, the blood singing through his veins as his heart beat a rapid tattoo.

He could never explain what happened next, even years later. One minute he was hurrying along the street, sighting with relief Mrs. J’s neat Victorian boarding house, the next he was flat on his back on the gravel. He blinked up at the night sky; stars winked back at him, the moon once again its normal eggshell color.

Carefully, he sat up and, for the first time, noticed that the breast pocket of his polo shirt wasn’t empty. Reaching inside, he grasped at something that felt like a teabag. Bringing it out to the light, Elijah looked at the small sachet with confusion. The aroma was complex; he thought he smelled rosemary and perhaps garlic. Clouds came over the moon again, and Elijah decided now was not the time to investigate his find. He got up and ran the rest of the way home.

Several hours later, on his way out the door, he passed by the reception desk where Mrs. J sat at her usual spot, reading.

His landlady looked up from her book. “Good morning, Elijah,” she said. “How was your night?”

“Fine,” he answered automatically. “Erm…just fine.” He turned away, trotted the ten steps to the front door and stepped through it to begin his morning jog. 

Josephine watched him make his way down her porch, nodding with satisfaction when he brushed against the abundant growth of rosemary planted on either side of her front gate.


Written for Kellie Elmore’s Free Write Friday: Word Bank
© 2014 All Rights Reserved

IWSG – Juicing

I fear writing is akin to juicing. After the last sweet drop is wrung out, the once plump fruit of ideas becomes a messy pulp. I mean, you can only wring so much until you’re juiced out, right? I definitely thought so. In fact, along with my inner critic, I let this fear stop me from writing anything down. No writing meant a steady supply of ideas always remained at the ready. Yep, I somehow thought dam = free-flowing river of words.

The last few years have taught me a couple things, though. Unlike beavers, I’m awful at damming. At some point, I’m compelled to write, because – though I tried not to – lines, sentences, phrases, and ideas just kept nagging and nagging until I realized them into words. Besides, keeping away from pen and paper started feeling like a loss. 

And you know what? In giving in to the urge, I happily discovered that writing is a prolific re-gifter. Starting new projects became easier with each successive completion! … Ok, well, this may be a bit of a lie. There are still days when I want to tear my hair out, panicking at the thought that I’ve completely sapped myself out of stories and poems. But, blogging helps, as does being nosy. Loud conversations overheard in the streetcar, little scenes played out on the skybridge on the way to lunch. These definitely bolster the coffers nicely.

So, maybe writing really IS like juicing, and writers are smack in the middle of a green grocer’s fruit section, a.k.a. life. I (we) just need to look around and start picking up all the succulent tidbits thrown to the wayside. And I should probably duct tape my inner critic shut as I do this.


Written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group – April 2014

© 2014 All Rights Reserved

Free Write Friday: Jo’s Story Begins

FreedomJo huddled more snuggly into her blanket, seeking comfort in the familiar coarse wool but knowing that solace was fleeting. Soon, the familiar scent of home would disappear altogether, the life she left behind fading along with it. 

“Jo!” A slither of sunlight pierced the damp darkness of the ship’s hold as the hatch was opened from the main deck. “Jo! Jo! JO! Do not play games. Answer me at once.” 

Jo merely scooted farther away from the ever widening circle of light, shuffling until her back hit against one of the hundreds of barrels stored in the cargo hold. She caught a glimpse of azure sky dotted with fluffy white clouds before her father’s lower half obscured the opening. As his leather-shod feet touched upon the top rung of the ladder which led to the ship’s bowels (and her hideaway), an excited shout rang out.


Jo froze. Less than two months was all it took for England to disappear from her life. Just last night, she and her father had calculated the days of travel they’d endured, unsure of how many more. Today, 27 October 1682, the answer was clear: zero. And Jo was scared.

Response to Kellie Elmore’s Free Write Friday: Time and Place

© 2014 All Rights Reserved


Jenna and the Train to Paris – A Continuation

Gas Lamps in Fog

Jenna absolutely refused to believe this was her fate and heaved a sigh of relief as the fog rolled into the city, shrouding its streets and buildings in cold mist. Fog meant cover, and upon hearing the footsteps which had been shadowing her for the past few minutes echo closer and closer, she was extremely glad of it.

Yes, she thought, ducking into a recess built into the side of a building, she’d rather be shivering with cold in her thin sweater than warmed by the sun whose light would lead them to her easily … and quickly.

The footfalls stopped short of her hideaway and soon receded back down the street. Jenna waited another 10 minutes before cautiously peeling away from the building and began to make her way to the quay, carefully skirting the dim glow of the gas lamps which lined the street. If she could make it to the boat, she was safe and that much closer to home.

Any other outcome was swiftly shoved out of her mind. No, having come this far, she was determined to get through the nightmare and return to her boringly sheltered life. Whole. Period.


Inspired by the Daily Prompt: Que Sera Sera

© 2011 All Rights Reserved (photo)

© 2014 All Rights Reserved

Chapter … 1?

Berenice “Berry” Small was having a horrible day. It had started well enough. She woke to the soft ding of the off-shore buoy and the warm rays of the sun slanting across the bed. Stretching like a cat, a small smile curved up the corners of her full lips as the contentment of a good night’s sleep slowly ebbed under the sun’s beams. Beams she swiftly realized were too bright and too warm to be anywhere near 4am.

“Oh, no!”

She jolted from the bed, checked her alarm, and confirmed what she already knew. She had slept through the buzzer … again… and the happy glow she woke up with quickly turned to dismay and panic. Foregoing everything in her normal morning ritual, she dressed quickly and ran out to her car, popping some breath mints along the way. Berry knew the rush was useless; she was 3 hours late for the bakery. Driving crazily through the Silver Strand to Coronado wouldn’t change that. But she had to try!

She pulled up to the Sugar Cube’s last staff parking spot and sprinted to the back door, pulled it open and entered the sweet warmth of the heart of the bakery. Four pairs of eyes turned to her as she bent over double trying to catch her breath. Four pairs of varying shades of sympathy, because they all knew that Berry might as well not have shown up. 

“Berenice.” Berry straightened at the sound and winced at the tone. Her aunt Lila never used her full first name unless she meant business. This tone was definitely business. Berry looked up and met stern brown eyes. “Come help Hazel at the front so I can give Tess a break.”

Berry hung her head as she walked the length of the back of the bakery to the counter at the front, mumbling an assortment of apologies and good mornings as she passed the bakers and pastry chefs. When she stopped by her aunt, Lila gently cupped Berry’s chin – the ever-present perfume of baked goods wafting around her – and brought her niece’s gaze to hers. Berry didn’t squirm so much at the stern look but at the compassion and understanding.

“We need to talk when the morning rush is over,” Aunt Lila said softly. She then leant forward and kissed Berry’s forehead before heading briskly to the ovens. Berry took a deep breath, stiffened her spine, pasted a smile on her face, and turned around. She stepped up to the counter to ring up the next customer.

******* I’ve been playing around with this opening scene for a few weeks now…I wasn’t sure if it was worth continuing. What do you think? *******

Inspired by the Daily Post: Sixteen Tons

© 2014 All Rights Reserved

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