There are some people who, whether by accident or design, find themselves traveling left of center. Unable or unwilling to seize control over their lives, they allow fate to dictate the path they take—often with disastrous results.
TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER details characters in life situations for which they are emotionally or mentally unprepared. Their methods of coping range from the passive (“The Healer”) and the aggressive (“The Clock”) to the humorous (“Traveling Left of Center”) and hopeful (“Skating on Thin Ice”).
The eighteen stories in TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER depict those types of situations, from the close calls to the disastrous. Not all the stories have happy endings—like life, sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t.
In these stories, the characters’ choices—or non-choices—are their own. But the outcomes may not be what they anticipated or desired. Will they have time to correct their course or will they crash?
ALICE IN WONDERLAND—Alice is constrained by circumstances and unwanted obligations to live an unfulfilling life. Books are her only way to escape, serving as sustenance to feed her starving soul. But what will she do when there are no more pages left to devour?
ANNABELLE—A lonely young woman, all Annabelle wants is to love and be loved. But she’s fighting by the twin emotions of fear and guilt, unable to let go of the past and embrace the possibilities of a future.
ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN—Sometimes, what one fears most comes to pass because of those fears. If Charlotte hadn’t been so afraid, would the outcome have been the same?
BEAUTIFUL DREAMER—For Eleanor, it was becoming increasingly more difficult to tell the difference between being awake and dreaming, reality and fantasy. The boundaries were blurring. Would she be able to see clearly again?
EXIT ROW—He wanted an escape. After all these years, he was ready to go. But could he get away before it was too late?
MISCONNECTIONS—Anna’s recurrent dreams echo through her day, as she attempts to reconcile her inexplicable feelings of loss with what would appear to be a “perfect life.”
OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND—Despite being more than three steps over the mental health line, he’s holding fast to his belief in his own sanity. Or is the rest of the world crazy?
SKATING ON THIN ICE—Is it possible to overcome childhood trauma? And, even if you do, are you ever really “cured” or simply skating on thin ice, waiting for it to crack? Sarah is trying to skate across the thin ice. Every day, she makes a new path on the surface of her life. So far, the ice has held.
STILL LIFE—Mirror images of her life: how she wants it to be and how it is. Which one would be her true reality—and does she even have a choice?
THE CLOCK—Everyone has a breaking point. For Harold, it came one fateful evening when the clock once again stopped ticking.
THE HEALER—Cassie didn’t ask for the gift. She didn’t want the gift. For all the good it had done other people, it was killing her. All she wanted was her own healing.
THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS—Mona was relying on the kindness of strangers to rescue her. One stranger, in particular. However, thanks to the interference of others, her plans keep going awry. But she’s not giving up yet.
THE SHOP ON THE SQUARE—His attitude of superiority had gotten him quite far in life. Until a chance stop at a small Mexican town illustrated that he had much to learn.
THE STORYTELLER—Connie makes up her stories as much for the children’s sake as her own. But even her stories can’t stop the pain of reality from hurting her listeners—or herself.
THE SUGAR BOWL—Although Chloe’s life story changes with every listener, each time her tale has achieved its intended purpose. Until she chooses the wrong person to tell it to.
TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER—Her mama was forever telling her that, on the highway of life, she was always traveling left of center. She wasn’t a bad girl, mind you—just incapable of looking down the road and seeing where her actions are taking her.
WAITING FOR SARA—Her daughter Sara is gone, and while it was by her own choice, it was a decision ill-conceived and poorly executed. And so Sara’s mother waits, alone and fearful, hoping against hope that someday her daughter will return, safe and unharmed.
WATCHING FOR BILLY—Agnes was all alone until Billy came to stay. Would he bring new purpose to her life? Or take what little hope she had for companionship?
Brief excerpts from reviews for TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER
About TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER
“As a creative writing teacher (for over 30 years)… and fiction editor for THE CHAFFIN JOURNAL, I have read more manuscripts than I’d like to remember. In honesty I can say that I enjoyed reading Christie’s collection of stories as much as anything I’ve read in many a year. Her style is fluid, and her use of detail really brings the stories to life. These stories need to be read by as many as possible.” Hal Blythe, fiction editor, THE CHAFFIN JOURNAL
“…the stories were beautifully written, with brilliantly developed characters and settings… Nancy Christie has written my perfect summer book, short stories that I couldn't put down.” Sylvia Bradley
About “Alice in Wonderland”
“A mere 14 pages… this story was packed with power, emotion and punch…Beautifully written, this tiny little vignette draws the reader in…” Suzy Wilson
“I am full of admiration for Nancy Christie’s writing. In a few short pages, she created characters that I can picture and a story which drew me in, leaving me wanting more.” Angela Thomas
“Beautifully written with a sense of exclusion and focus in the description of the relationship that existed between her parents, there are oblique references to the sexuality and eroticism of the connection without truly delving into the deeper issue of a child looking in on a situation she is far too young to understand or process. Christie has managed to open a window into a tortured soul with [ANNABELLE], one that is not soon forgotten.” Gaele Hince
“Nancy Christie adroitly describes a remarkable journey through the mind of a woman lost between desire and guilt, unable to formulate a pathway through life that adequately resolves love and sexual desire. This spellbinding short story will mesmerize the reader with powerful character development and a tale sadly familiar to many women. It’s hard to imagine anyone who will not read this excellent book through on the first attempt.” Charles S. Weinblatt
(Read more reviews on Nancy Christie’s BOOKS page)
TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER select story teasers
(From “Traveling Left of Center”)
“Girl,” my mama had said to me the minute she entered my hospital room, “on the highway of life, you’re always traveling left of center.”
Mama was always saying things like that. She had a phrase for every occasion, and would pronounce them with a certainty that, in my younger days, I accepted as gospel. But that time, I didn’t pay her no mind. I just went on painting my nails “Passionate Purple,” hoping that the sexy polish would catch the doctor’s eye.
I was justifiably proud of my hands, especially since, at that particular time, they were the only part of me that was skinny. A girl’s body sure takes a beating from having a baby. It had taken me at least a year to get my shape back after Robert Nicholas, and it looked like Rebecca Nicole wouldn’t be any kinder to her mama than her big brother had been.
(From “The Sugar Bowl”)
Chloe would tell men that the slightly battered and tarnished sugar bowl was a legacy from her grandmother.
“Granny,” she would say, her eyes fixed on a distant spot in the small apartment, “had to sell all her possessions to keep my mother fed and warmed. But she saved the sugar bowl for better times. And when she died,” here, her voice would quiver and a brave smile would slip across her face, “she left it for me, for my ‘better times’.”
The story always worked on those older men who would bring her home after a pleasant dinner in a quiet, expensive restaurant. They would listen to her story as she poured freshly-brewed coffee into delicate porcelain cups, her light brown hair falling softly around her face.
And they would be overcome with feelings of protectiveness for the young girl, so unlike the hard brittle career women they were used to. It would be almost obscene, they would find themselves believing, to think of taking this fragile flower to bed.
Instead they would kiss her chastely on the cheek and then leave, never understanding that it had all been carefully orchestrated—the dinner, the story, the quiver in the voice.
And if they should call again, she would be politely unavailable. Chloe could not support a return engagement. Her story was only strong enough for a single run.
(From “The Shop on the Square”)
The dirt road was bare and rutted, bedraggled chickens scattering before the car’s approach the only sign of life in the isolated Mexican town.
The young man stopped the car, and stepped out into the oppressive stillness. The heat and dust surrounded him, settling into the creases of his gray trousers, on his eyelashes and in his mouth. Everything tasted of the hot baking sun and the dry ground, and he had to swallow twice before his parched throat felt any relief.
Squinting in the brightness, he saw a shop nearby, the open doorway inviting him to enter, the shadowed interior promising escape from the relentless sun. Carefully locking his car against intruders and thieves, he moved toward the darkness.
Inside the store, the walls were hung with Mexican sombreros and brightly colored skirts, splayed out like three-dimensional paintings glowing against the whitewashed walls… But the dust from the street had invaded the shelves, dulling the bright colors. The store seemed to have few visitors—hardly surprising, he reflected, since he himself had stumbled across the town only because of several wrong turns during the long night of driving.
“What kind of people can live in a place like this?” he wondered aloud, and, as if in response, footsteps came from the silent darkness at the rear of the store: the shopkeeper coming to market her wares.
(From “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”)
Let me just say at the outset that, in the words of the immortal Bard, this is all much ado about nothing. I pay my taxes—well, I used to pay them when I had anything to pay taxes on—anyway, the taxes I once paid supported public institutions. Like the library. Which means, I maintain, that the aforementioned library—and its roof, in particular—is as much mine as anyone’s.
So if I choose to spend one summer night on the asphalt shingles nailed to the library roof, it’s entirely my own right and affair.
Besides, I had such a perfect view of the fire from there…
I found the whole scene quite exciting and more than a little entertaining, especially when it became apparent that the fire was getting the best of the firefighters.
No matter which side the fire truck rolled to, it was a safe bet the flames would burn more fiercely on the other side. And how the firefighters ran for cover when the gas line ruptured! Certainly better than anything offered on television, and definitely worth the applause I awarded it.
But I was not laughing insanely on the library roof, nor did I shout “Encore!” “Encore!” when the flames died down. Those damned reporters are notorious for exaggerating the truth.
Nancy Christie is a professional writer, whose credits include both fiction and non-fiction. In addition to her fiction collection, TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER, and two short story e-books, ANNABELLE and ALICE IN WONDERLAND (all published by Pixel Hall Press), her short stories can be found in literary publications such as EWR: Short Stories, Hypertext, Full of Crow, Fiction365, Red Fez, Wanderings, The Chaffin Journal and Xtreme.
Her inspirational book, THE GIFTS OF CHANGE, (Beyond Words/Atria) encourages readers to take a closer look at how they deal with the inevitability of change and ways in which they can use change to gain a new perspective, re-evaluate their goals and reconsider their options. Christie’s essays have also appeared in Woman’s Day, Stress-Free Living, Succeed, Experience Life, Tai Chi and Writer’s Digest. She is currently working on several other book projects, including a novel and a book for writers.
A member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and Short Fiction Writers Guild (SFWG), Christie teaches workshops at writing conferences and schools across the country and hosts the monthly Monday Night Writers group in Canfield, Ohio.
Finding Fran http://www.nancychristie.com/findingfran
The Writer’s Place http://www.nancychristie.com/writersplace/
One on One http://www.nancychristie.com/oneonone/
Make a Change http://www.nancychristie.com/makeachange/
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