Thursday, December 31, 2009

Blue Moon

At the first stroke of midnight Reid landed the sucker punch. Mark fell against the bookshelf, licked the blood from his lips, and lunged.

The men did not know each other when they arrived at the party, but a few hours later, they understood that their mutual interest in the red haired ingenue standing by the balcony door precluded friendship between them.

Though shy by nature, Ginger agreed to come to her friend's festivities without a date. She had moved to the city a few months before and knew that her plans to make significant changes in her life for the new year did not include sitting in a small apartment, especially on such a special evening.

So she mingled and introduced herself to strangers, and told stories and laughed at jokes. She also flirted with Reid and Mark during different times in the evening.  While flattered by their attentiveness and desire, she knew that she would go home alone. She wanted something more.

“I've always thought that getting a midnight kiss from a special someone is one of the most romantic things ever,” she said to her friend as she accepted a flute of champagne and looked at the two men throwing punches.

Her friend laughed as Reid and Mark stumbled past.  “For me, just making out with a random person is fun too.”

At the last stroke of midnight, as the revelers shouted, blew noise-makers, and kissed, Reid and Mark ran around the room shoving each other into furniture. Ginger turned away from her battling suitors and opened the door to step outside for a look at the luminescent sky.  She smiled. At home in the country, she had never been the type of girl men would fight over.

How can anyone not love this night? she thought, and raised her glass to the new moon.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Sunsets

My first published story is up at Jim Wisneski's site for his Twelve Days of Christmas 2009 called Happy Sunsets. Please stop by and have a read. 

Monday, December 21, 2009

Baby Fern

This is newest addition to the family. Her name is Fern, and she came to us through a basset rescue group in Virginia. She is 9 weeks old and has the sweetest disposition!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sassy Love

A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold. ~Ogden Nash

Harry has lived in New York for several years now, and planned to visit his parents in Arkansas for one week during the holiday season. He does not go home that often because he is miffed at his mother -- for many reasons, though one in particular rankles him the most. Harry is the youngest of four boys, and when he left home to find fame in New York theater, his mother replaced him with a squirrel.

Yes. That's correct. Sassy the Squirrel now has the run of Harry's childhood home in Little Rock. A year ago, his mother found the baby squirrel lying injured and abandoned in their backyard and nursed it back to health. Now, she is a coddled member of the family.

Sassy sits at the head of the table and nibbles on peanuts while the others eat dinner. At night she sleeps in a towel-lined basket in what was once Harry’s bedroom.

Not surprisingly, Harry’s two best friends in New York laughed at his tale of woe but tried to help him the only way they knew. They took him to a bar.

“Is your little sister cute?” This from Mikey, who grinned when Pete sprayed beer with his shout of laughter.

“Does she say cheese for the camera at family pictures? Or acorn?”

Harry ordered another round. “Not helping, you guys. That rodent should hunt for things in the woods and sleep in a damn tree!”

The bartender brought the drinks and leaned over the bar. “Whatcha buying her for Christmas?”

Mikey and Pete sprayed more beer.

Harry left New York several days later. His friends called and wished him a “happy holiday at Sassy's house.” They also reminded him that he should be polite once there because, after all, when he finally came out to his family, the one member that took it in stride right away was...

Well, you know.

Harry will stay in the guest bedroom. As he found out the last time he was home, Sassy prefers to sleep alone.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Marguerite died at night. Lily found her body the next morning in the hen house.

“She was old,” Lily’s mother said, and tried to put her arm around her in comfort, but Lily jerked away.

I wish your stupid boyfriend would leave her alone, Lily thought as she watched him firmly grip the dead chicken by her neck and carry her over to them.

“So I’m guessing this is on the dinner menu tonight?” He laughed at Lily’s gasp.

She grabbed Marguerite from him and cradled her. “No! She’s gonna have a burial.” She didn’t add, you bastard, but her mother heard it in her tone.

“Watch your mouth, young lady,” she warned.

But Lily didn’t have anything more to say and ran off to plan Marguerite’s funeral.
* * * *

As a small child Lily’s family could not get her to eat anything more complicated than a peanut butter sandwich. She never liked the taste of meat and as she grew and collected beloved pets, she unequivocally refused such fare. Especially chicken.

Or pasta.

Her father was to blame for that quirk. When she was six years old and stayed at his place for their bi-weekly visits, her father entertained her with bedtime stories about the year he lived in Rome, including one where he and his roommate, Sam, were cooking a pasta dinner for an Italian friend. They didn’t have a proper kitchen, so they boiled water on a hotplate. When Sam strained the pasta over the toilet bowl, the downstairs buzzer startled him, and he let go of the colander.

Her father opened the door ready to confess that dinner was ruined, but was interrupted by Sam, who came to the table carrying a platter of spaghetti topped with spicy tomato sauce and pecorino cheese.

“Ciao, Marco,” Sam said to the guest. “Buon appetite!”

* * * *

It was early evening, and Lily returned to the house to find her mother’s boyfriend drinking beer in the TV room. Oh, it’s Tuesday, Lily remembered. On those nights her mother worked as a volunteer in the hospital’s emergency room and always arranged for someone to watch her daughter. It was his turn, then.

Lily stared at him and thought about her father, gone into dust for three years now. She walked over and touched his arm.

“How about some dinner?”

He looked up at her with narrowed eyes, unused to such familiarity. She gave him a tight forced smile. He relaxed. “Yeah? Well, sure kid, thanks.”

Before Lily reached the kitchen he called out, “But I don’t want any peanut butter sandwiches, are we clear?”

She glanced at him. “Sure. That’s just for me. I can cook some things.”

“Great, kid. What’s on the menu?”

“Spaghetti and sauce. It’s from a special family recipe.”

Lily sat on her bed later that night and arranged her stuffed animals. She hummed and laughed at her thoughts. Her strike against the enemy would be considered infantile in some older cliques at her school, but she was only twelve years old and this was enough for her tonight.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Hot Spot

After placing his first cup of morning coffee on the porch railing, Ben shook hands with the driver of the moving van. Just as he turned to walk inside his new home, he saw that the elderly man who lived across the street was waiting for him. Probably wants to say ‘welcome to the neighborhood,’ Ben thought, and smiled as the man cleared his throat.

“Ah’m Ernie. You know the habanero pepper’s 100 times hotter than a jalapeño?”

“Oh. No. I didn’t know that.” Ben laughed.

 “Yessir. I can tell you wanna know what Ernie need wif somethin’ hotter than jalapeños, right?

I’d rather know if you’re a harmless old guy or not, Ben thought, but nodded. “I like spicy food, myself. But…”

“You be glad Ah’m your neighbor, boy,” Ernie said and picked up the cup of coffee.

For the next half hour Ben sat on the porch steps with him and listened.

When Ernie moved to the area called Pleasant Plains it was just after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the subsequent riots. Many homes and shops were vacant. Ernie didn’t mind. He was able to buy the house he dreamed about: one with a porch and a small front yard.

Rather than flowers he grew vegetables and habanero plants in terracotta containers. When the passing years brought gentrification and young white people to the neighboring homes, Ernie still preferred to eat from his garden rather than shop at the upscale food market two blocks west.

He told Ben now, “Them peppers better than medicine. Ain’t never been sick. Well, not serious sick.”

Ernie stood up to leave. ““Never had no heart attack. No, suh. Strokes? Nope.”

The cars parked on the narrow street were so tightly wedged in their spots that Ernie couldn’t fit between them. So he walked to the corner and crossed over to his side of the street, still talking, though Ben couldn’t hear him. When he reached for his front door handle, he turned and shouted, “Ah’ll bring some peppers over later.  Make your dinner real good.”

~ ~ ~
Ben and his wife were in the kitchen cooking when they heard the three quick knocks that signaled Ernie was at the door. For two years now, they had shared many Sunday dinners with him. They sometimes made dishes with names such as Spicy Barbados Pepper Chicken or Smokin’ Turkey Chili. On those nights, they drank beer with lime.

Ernie never brought wine, just peppers.

One early morning not long after such a Sunday dinner, Ernie shuffled over and stopped Ben on his way to work. He gave him the last of his crop.

“What’s going on?”

“Nuthin. Don’t need ‘em no more.”

“You don’t need them? I don’t understand. What’s wrong?”

Ernie sat on the porch steps and looked across the street at his little garden.

“Well, here’s the facts. Ah’m 85 years old. Now, them habaneros hurt goin’ in and comin’ out, that’s fer sure!”

He laughed and took out a handkerchief to wipe his eyes.

“So I guess my butt hole is too old for 'em!”

Ben helped Ernie stand and walked with him down the steps. “How are you going to stay healthy now?” he teased.

“Taking medicine, boy.”

 When Ernie reached the door to his house he turned and waved. “Hey, Ben,” he called out, “Don’t worry. Your butt hole is still young!”

~ ~ ~
Ernie was certainly right about one thing: it wasn’t a heart attack or a stroke that took him from the neighborhood.

It was a bullet.

The police never found the person who shot Ernie as he walked to the corner bodega to play his numbers.

~ ~ ~
“What are you doing?” Ben’s wife asked after she found him outside one night unloading several terracotta pots from the trunk of their car.

He placed them on the porch and wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. “I’m going to grow my very own fresh habanero plants.” He hugged and kissed her and returned to the car.

She wanted to say they could just go to the market and buy any spices they needed but knew her husband was not listening. He was looking across the street at the house with a For Sale sign planted in the front garden. She nodded and walked up the steps to their front door and waited.

“After all,” Ben said as he closed the trunk door, then looked up at her and smiled. “I’m still young.”

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Zoey

I was not a child who grew up with dogs or cats in my home. This was not a hardship for me since there were many friends in my New York City neighborhood that had pets and I could always go to their places and play with Scottie or Tiny or Killer.

My sister and I were allowed goldfish. But the lack of cuddle ability made them unsatisfactory. Also, the fish liked to fool us by floating belly up to the top of the tank and playing dead. It seemed to us they liked to do this too many times to count. We were not amused.

I grew up and never felt the want for a dog or cat. If I were honest, I would admit that if I did want a pet at any time, it would probably be a cat. But a scant 14 years ago I was introduced to a tiny black and white Jack Russell terrier. She came to live with us.

I did not want her at first. My family did.
Zoey. It’s Greek for life.

Oh, we’re not Greek. It just seemed like the perfect name for her.

She brought life and love and wonder to the family for every one of those 14 years since she walked over the threshold of our house.

A few weeks ago we learned that Zoey had cancer in her lungs and there was no hope for recuperation.

She was suffering.

This morning we could see she was also failing.

We wanted her to have peace.

I would like to say that I was very brave and accompanied family members to the vet for the final visit.

I can’t say that. I was a coward.

I did say goodbye to her before she left with the others and thanked her for being the best little dog ever. I also apologized for not being very welcoming when she first arrived in my life. She looked at me with glazed eyes that seemed to say, “Oh that? Pshaw! I knew I would get you to love me.”

I received a message from the family. They have left the vet’s office.

It’s over.

It was peaceful.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Not a Platonic Dialogue

It happens every year. Eating. Drinking. Stories. Hurt feelings. Forgiveness.

Better remembered as dinner at Dela’s.

But today she had a plan, a catalyst for change. Her family arrived minutes before the meal, and instead of grace, she gave a pep talk. The theme? Love. Though, just as the pilgrims probably advised everyone at their maiden meal on new land, she told the family  to check their fighting implements at the door. 

She sat at the head of the table and gathered the rest of her thoughts. Her family did not wait to hear them.

BROTHER:  Nope, don’t wanna deal with any love business. Just give me D&D. Drinks and debauchery. NOW you’re talking!

Dela frowned. This is not about boozing and one-nighters, she thought. Her brother could do that any time. This is about family and love. 

And stew.

DELA: You guys, just think.  Everything that happens — the good, the bad, and the…well, anything else — are like ingredients.  And, while some things don’t taste that great all alone, mixed together they can add a delicious spicing to the rest of the pot. Right?

SISTER: We’re having stew for dinner?

BROTHER: I don’t like stew!

DELA: No, no, it’s not really about stew.  It’s about how family love is a mix of all the things that happen to us and make our lives rich and bubbly and...

SISTER:  You know perfectly well that I’m a vegetarian, so don’t even think of adding any sodding meat to that pot!

She dated a man from England, so the family made allowances.

DELA: You’re not paying attention.  I’m trying to explain that though we sometimes don’t agree on so many—I mean—a few things, we really love each other and we should celebrate.

BROTHER: I’m not loving the idea of stew. Really.

MOTHER: I want turkey.  I hate it but damn-it-all, it’s tradition. I did not just drive three hours to come and eat vegetable stew!

UNCLE MARYLAND: No problemo.  I bagged a 6-point buck this past weekend. So let’s add it to the pot.  Look! I got me a photo.

He took out his wallet, which was a No. 10 standard white envelope, and passed the picture of him in camouflage attire with his victim. Uncle Maryland is grinning and giving two thumbs up. The deer is not. The family all murmured distress sounds.

UNCLE MARYLAND: Man, what a lucky day. Yeah, it was.  Hey! You can say I got game. That’s right. I got game!

He danced around the table until he had a coughing fit and had to lie down on the sofa.

DELA: Stop. We’re not eating stew. We’re not eating 6 points of deer. We’re going to spend a lovely time eating other things and drinking—God, yes, drinking—and telling wonderful stories and giving thanks for all we have.

SISTER: Actually, my investments are still at the bottom of the toilet. I don’t have all that much. So piss off!

DELA: Oh? On your investments?

BROTHER: O.k. I’m thankful we’re not eating stew.

MOTHER: Oh, good. Though I feel bad for Dela. She does love her stew. Can you imagine? Love and stew on Thanksgiving.  She always was an odd child.

Dela stared at the Spode dinnerware she inherited from Granny Edna and realized there was only one more thing to say to her family. 

In all the earlier planning, she forgot to turn on the oven

UNCLE MARYLAND: So? When do we eat?

〜 〜 〜 〜 〜

About 20 minutes later, the pizzas arrived.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cherie Takes Over

Cherie Davis took her first baby steps in an Amish kitchen on a hot summer Sunday afternoon, hours after the family car shuddered to a stop in front of the Pennsylvania farm. The women of the house took Cherie from her mother’s arms and, deciding that the baby needed nourishment, gave her unpasteurized milk to drink. Her mother tried to stop them. She considered the milk “dirty and full of germs,” but the farmers stored no baby formula. Cherie guzzled the drink all day while the men worked on the car.

Later, whenever she got ill while growing up, her mother always blamed the cow.

As a young adult Cherie took her mother’s gift of caution and anxiety and made it her own. She was a committed creature of habit. For instance, before she drove anywhere unfamiliar, she needed such explicit directions that in one case she wrote: at the third light, make a left turn past the white house with black shutters and wave at Grandpa O’Malley (who’s always rocking on the porch). Don’t worry; he never waves back.

Sometimes, Cherie would make a trial run the day before she drove to a new address, giving herself time to get lost, as she usually did.

That is, until her grandfather came to live with the family. Poppy was a retired merchant marine and worried about Cherie’s reluctance to change her routines. One midnight, while sharing milk, cake, and conversation, he asked her, “What do you think will happen if you get lost? Nothing. You’ll find another way. It’ll be an adventure.”

“Just because you loved being on the high sea doesn’t mean I inherited your pirate blood,” she retorted.

Poppy walked over to Cherie, gently pulled her face upward and kissed her forehead goodnight. At the door he turned and smiled. “I want you to be happy, you know? Be happy while you’re living, hon, for you’re a long time dead.”

“For goodness sake, why are you telling her that?” Cherie’s mother yelled from her bedroom.

“It’s just a Scottish proverb.”

“You’re not Scottish!”

* * *
Despite any maternal attempts to stop it, the day arrived some months later when Cherie left home. She was offered an internship in Washington, D.C. and Poppy convinced the family to let her go. Cherie was going to drive herself there. On a beautiful cloudless day, the family’s goodbye involved much hugging, kissing, and crying – all of it on Cherie’s part. Surprisingly, her mother was calm and accepting.

When she first left the driveway and headed south, after giving the family a smile and a thumbs up, Cherie thought about how she felt. Worried? Yes. Frightened? Yes. Ready, willing and able? Yes, yes, yes.

* * *
A few hours later, a two-mile long line of drivers on the interstate sat in their cars waiting. The helicopter, ambulances, and police cars kept everything at a standstill.

No one could have survived this crash.

* * *
Of course, Cherie missed an important turn not long after leaving her home. But remembering Poppy’s words, she stopped at a fast food joint and ate something to calm her nerves. She asked for directions from a man gassing up his car. They were simple and concise and the man assured her his way was easier and, more importantly, toll-free. Cherie soon found herself not on the interstate as the detailed note from her family advised, but on a parallel road.

She turned on the radio. She felt happy.

“Just a detour. Just another way to get there,” she encouraged herself out loud, and sang along with the music.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mojo Mama

Later, after the woman had worked two lodestones and some magnetic sand together in her hands all the while intoning feeding the he, feeding the she, Gina would remember the waxing moon.  She also would not forget her embarrassment at being in the woods, shivering and crouching at the foot of a tree with this woman who was her aunt’s friend.

A friend who believed that magic would bind Auntie’s husband and stop him from straying.

Gina was living in Argentina with her paternal relatives for a year. Her family wanted her to learn Spanish and to travel before she began high school, or so they said. But Gina believed that her mother’s new marriage to a much younger man was closer to the familial truth of the matter.

While Buenos Aires was a very beautiful capital city with many areas of old worldly charm and new sections of posterity and modernity, Gina felt lost. Everything was strange. Wonderfully strange. But at that time, she was a girl who preferred the familiar. At her home away from home she liked to stay in her room reading or playing online games. Her aunt, however, would open Gina’s bedroom door with a “This is not a hotel. We do not stay hidden away from each other. We share la vida!”

Because Auntie had many friends, there was always an event to attend, a dinner to eat, afternoon teas to consume. It was at one of these teas where the plot was hatched.

After the other guests left, Auntie’s best friend Mirta stayed to talk. Gina’s Spanish was still rudimentary but she understood that Auntie worried her husband might be swayed to have an affair with his secretary. Mirta said she knew a very good love spell.

Gina was clearing the table and caught a teacup before it fell from her hands, her shoulders shaking, not with shock, but mirth. Her uncle? Never. She may not be experienced in la vida de amor but she knew that her uncle’s little everyday courtesies and the happiness carved on his face when he came home and kissed her aunt hello showed he was besotted with her.

Oh, he was tall and trim with salty peppered hair and he did have a beautiful smile and mesmerizing green eyes. He was very rich, and very charming –  maybe too charming for his own good. But cheating? Love spell? 

She made a mental note to ask her aunt to stop watching those silly telenovelas.

Mirta walked over to Gina and grabbed her arm and her attention. “I need your help tonight.”

“Mine? Don’t you mean Auntie?”

“No.” She let go of Gina’s sweater. “I have everything I need from her.” Mirta looked at the comb that Auntie gave her earlier.  “And from him.”

A few dark hours later, they were in the cold countryside.

It only took a flash of movement before the spell was cast. When they reached the car, Gina’s uncle stepped out from the driver’s seat and opened the back door for them. He put his hand out, palm up, and smiled. “Adventure over? Let us go home.”

Later, when Gina thought about her year with her paternal relatives, she would remember the waxing moon, Mirta, and her uncle who cared for Auntie so much he would join in whatever nonsense she desired. So wonderfully strange.

They are still married after many years. Gina calls it love.

Mirta says it’s magic.

Friday, November 06, 2009


It was one of the darkest times of her life. The heavy rains added an appropriate dirge to the wintry early morning sounds. While she waited for the bus, Homeless Reggie, towing a toy wagon filled with plastic bottles, came up to her singing and offered a new refrain: You’re like an angel, honey.

Of course she had to pay him, for that was his self-appointed job. Compliments. He walked over to the others -- the usual commuters at that hour -- and said something to each that would lift the spirits. Love your hair, dear. Sir, that tie is a good one! New shoes? Good taste!

It usually cost them a dollar apiece. Not every day, only on Mondays, for Homeless Reggie had other corners and other compliments to bestow. 

It was one of the darkest times of her life, but for the briefest of moments there was light.

A dollar well spent, she always thought.

The bus arrived and she sat by the window in the back row and sniffled as quietly as she could. She had a plan if anyone asked: “Sorry, it’s my allergies.” But the few people seated at the front kept their eyes on their newspapers, and their ears minded their own business.

Her lover’s words to her this morning were as goodbye as they could get, “I’ve got to go away. Sorry, but I can’t come back.”

He looked in the mirror while he dressed, and spoke to her reflection as he knotted the tie she never liked: a pink silk that was as thin as a tongue. “I do want to be here but my wife needs me more.” Oh yes. The tie had been a gift from his family.

But today was their anniversary. One year. 

Apparently, a time misspent.

Later, when she returned to her small empty apartment after a trying day of work and sorrow and scanned the room, her eyes stopped at the slate fireplace in the corner. Her ex-lover’s picture still sat on the mantle next to the one of her as a small child. In her photo she is seated on a dark velvet-covered chair, and is wearing a simple white lacy frock and an antique cap, handed down from some ancient ancestor, no doubt. Though she is smiling widely, one can see tears in her baby brown eyes.

Smiling through her tears. Nothing has changed.

Outside, several cardinal birds perch along the telephone wire that extends to the back of the alley, their garish red plumage appearing as bloody slashes against the grey and cloudy dusk. She turned away. She refused to think about tomorrow.

After all, Homeless Reggie will not be there either.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Dia de los Muertos

My sister is a collector of Day of the Dead tschotskes. She isn't Mexican, and she doesn't have an altar set up in her stylish NYC apartment, with favorite foods and drinks of the departed strewn about. At her office, however, she does have a collection of skeletal icons including a bride and groom calaveras, and a diorama of a Mariachi band with their bony fingers holding onto their instruments. Why? Don't know. She just likes the art.

After reading about the origins of this celebration, I was excited to learn that if one had an altar set up, this might lure the souls of the dead to visit and hear the prayers and comments from the living. I thought of a plan!

ME: Sis! I have a great idea! Why don't we set up an altar and lure Dad to come and hear us out!

SIS: WHAT! Hear us out about what?

ME: Well, you know how he always joked to us that when it was his turn to go to the other side, he would let us know the lottery numbers? Today's our chance!

SIS: Oh. Well, let's see. ARE YOU MAD! That is the most ridiculous thing I have heard from you. Er, so far, because you have many more years to be as ridiculous!

ME: It seemed like a good idea when I first thought it. But I guess you're right. I mean how would he even know the numbers ahead of time...


Well, it seems that the only way I can get richness in her life today is to take granulated sugar, meringue powder, and water. And hope that it turns out like this:

And, maybe a little altar, because --who knows-- Dad might be willing to ...

Friday, October 30, 2009

Hocus Pocus

When Celeste cut his head off, which took a long time because she used a small hacksaw, she decided to arrange the body by the front door. She wanted it to be the first thing the others saw when she answered their knock. The head sat on a small table next to the tray that held her keys, phone, and vial of tin-white powder. 

Everything was almost ready.

She could hear the others talking and laughing as they walked up the street to her door. They’re here. Celeste looked at her wet hands. There was no time to wash so she rubbed her face and her tattered clothing with her palms, and raked her fingertips through frizzy blonde hair.

She counted to five and opened the door, and laughed when she heard the cacophony of screams and shrieks.

“Happy Halloween!”
“Trick or Treat!”

The Grim Reaper, otherwise known as her neighbor Freddie, was the first to enter. He gasped as he looked around the room at all of its gory décor.

“You outdid yourself this year! And, wow, couldn’t figure out why you wanted that old mannequin from the dumpster. But, man, it’s freaky.” 

The others agreed that they were frightened witless though they laughed and walked to the tables shrouded in misty white vapor trails from the dry ice, and helped themselves to the food and drinks.

At the end of the evening, vampires, witches, French maids, gargoyles and all the other costumed people from Weeping Willow Lane raised their glasses and toasted Celeste on being the scariest person in the neighborhood on this night of all nights.

* * * * * *
Celeste didn’t feel like cleaning up after everyone left, though she did have them take the mannequin and set it by the curb for the garbage collection tomorrow. She went to her bedroom and locked the door behind her.

He was there.

He was lying on plastic sheeting under her window.

All trussed up.

Celeste would never forgive him for telling her that morning that he wanted nothing more to do with her or their relationship – that she was a freak.

What I am, she thought, is a do it yourself type of woman.

She drew the blinds. She picked up the hacksaw.

Friday, October 23, 2009


During the years that I lived there, my wife kept every light on in the house at night. I wasn’t happy about the bills, but she’d shake her head and say she needed to keep the shadows erased. What she meant was she wanted to know my every move – for protection, you see.

I loved her very much, once. But I fell crazier in lust with drugs and alcohol, and they became more important to me than anything, even my family. I used an awful lot, you know, and I can’t take that back. It was fun at first. Now, drugs are the only things that keep my darkness away.

We have two children – both of them boys. At the beginning, when they were new and soft and I was clean, I would tell proud tales about them to all my friends. The kids really are chips off the old block, I’d say. Then, later, when I forgot to pick them up from school too many times to count, and when I didn’t pretend to be looking for work no more, their mother asked me to leave. I did. I never contacted her – them – again.

Oh, I knew about their illnesses, their schooling, their sports, their happiness at growing up with a great mom, as well as their questions about having a dad who couldn’t be bothered. I turned to a few friends who kept me up to date. My ex never asked about me, and I guess I’m okay about it since I did throw that life away. You want the cross my heart and hope to … well … the truth? I wouldn’t change a thing. I have everything I want, everything I need. Yeah. I know.

So one cold rainy autumn evening, I’m standing across the street smoking and looking at them through the kitchen window. I catch a glimpse of my oldest boy. He’s carrying dishes to the sink and laughing at something his brother said. Their mother’s dancing around the room while she turns off lights.

It’s time for me to go. I flick the smokes to the curb and its little flame goes out as soon as it hits the oily puddle on the ground. I won’t come back to this corner any more, I decide. As I turn to leave, I’m startled by the sound of the front door opening. I don’t want them to see me so I quickly walk to my car. When I reach for the handle, I can hear the kids saying bye to their mom. She waves and calls out, “Make sure you take care of your brother. Have fun at the game.”

The youngest shouts back. “Mom, come on! Don’t worry. We always do.” He runs ahead to catch up with his brother.

I sit in the car and take one last look through the rearview mirror.

My boys. They are nothing like me.

You know what? That makes me proud.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Call of Duty

A disheveled young man came up to Valerie and shouted. “Hey. Wadda ya mean standing here lookin’ like that!  I wanna know why ya in my way?  I wanna take a picture here.” 

He was holding a radio with a missing battery cover. Valerie, not turning her head to him said, “You have no film in the camera.” 

He looked at his hands. “Well. Then, ya have any spare change?” 

The bus was ten minutes late and Valerie’s eyes kept scanning south, as if through directed strength of gaze, the bus would be pulled along, unable to stay Local and become an Express.

She had to get away from this crazy guy. A cab driver obeyed the come-rescue-me pull of Valerie’s finger and without waiting for the door to be fully closed took off.  He tried to make small talk with his passenger but she did not have the look of someone who wanted to hear his words.  He turned on the radio and did not say anything until he dropped her off at a house. 

“Have a good day.”

Valerie turned to him. “It’s seven o’clock in the evening. I had my day and it wasn’t good.”

The women at the house were already seated in the den and drinking. Mimi, the oldest, opened the door. “You’re very late but The Affirmation Society Meeting can now begin.”

The other four stood up and formed a circle with Valerie and Mimi. They began chanting as they did every week.

“I’m valid. You’re valid. We’re valid.”

Mimi motioned for everyone to sit. “Ladies, here is the plan for tonight. First, we will hear a very nice little story from Lucy about her neighbor’s mother who was in the shower when her uterus dropped.”

She sat down and nodded at the frail woman seated across from her who stood up and cleared her throat for a few seconds.

“For our Design and Conquer portion of the evening, we have underwear, fabric glue, sparkles, beads and, oh I can’t remember. Well, nothing else. Wait! There’s also a prize for the best one.”  She sat down quickly. The other women, except for Valerie, clapped.

Mimi took over again. She smiled at Valerie. “Dear, for our Open Up and Let your Heart Show segment, you will tell us about your problems with that horrible man? The others nodded vigorously and applauded some more.

The women were waiting for her to begin so Valerie sat and took out five yellow files from her briefcase. As a caseworker, it was her job to make weekly visits to this group home and to make sure that the residents were well. She would not call them crazy, just –
diminished. They had already forgotten their plans for the evening. They always did.

When Valerie walked to a taxi an hour later, she heard her name and looked up to see the elderly Affirmation Society waving and smiling at the door. Mimi blew her a kiss. Valerie knew that after the women closed the door, they would turn to the orderly waiting for them with their last cups of juice. They would sleep very well, the drugs would see to it.

As the car moved away from the curb, the driver spoke. “How are you tonight?”

Valerie looked at his weary face, and smiled.

“Well, actually, I’m valid.”

He laughed. “Aren’t we all.”

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Indulgence - #fridayflash

It’s not like I killed anybody. Or cheated with my neighbor, for God’s sake! I’m here because it’s the end of the week. You know that. 
So, what should I tell you? Oh! I’ve managed not to go camping with my friends this year. It’s not easy because everybody I know loves to pitch tents and hang out with Nature. Me? I don’t like crowded living spaces or the lack of privacy or the stupid bugs or that burying of human waste. Yeah. Not good. 
Once there, there’s so much work to do! It’s not relaxing. First, you have to find the perfect spot. This takes us all morning, and then we have to set up the tents. Directions claim it’s easy: just put a into b, then twist into c, then – several hours later – point to q. Then scream and throw into the stream.  
Well, that’s how I do it. 
At this point it’s dusk, and it’s now that people figure out something’s missing. Hot dogs? Marshmallows? Scary stories? Vodka? Hope not. After all, Grandma is with us. Oh, please, not…toilet paper?  
It’s matches. Apparently no one smokes anymore.
Of course my friends want to fish for dinner. You would know all about fish, right? Anyway, this part sounded like fun that first time. I thought, how hard is it to stand on the rocks of the rushing water and catch the fish as they jump into your arms? I’ve seen the nature shows, and the bears do it all the time. I was sure my friends were smarter than the average bear. But that’s not how they do it. They prefer the hard way.
Once, I was forced to read a ‘How To’ dig a latrine. It said the hole should be six to eight inches deep. Ugh. I mean, unless I had a ruler, how would I know when to stop? Though I guess I could walk around and look at the guys at the next camp and figure out which one might measure up to … um… never mind.
Oh, sorry Father Thomas. No, I didn’t forget or suffer a stroke of stupidity, why do you ask?
Of course I know I’m supposed to be confessing my sins! But I’ve been really good since that last time, and don’t have anything to update in the evil department. So my thinking was that…
What? Surely not!
Sorry. I’ll go start on all those penances right away.
I mean, Amen.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Let Go - #fridayflash

Adam was on his way to break up his lover’s marriage.

A few minutes before, he found his phone under the bed and listened to the message asking him to come over to the house right away. He guessed that everything was out in the open now, and they could begin to make real plans. He thought about stopping at their favorite bakery to pick up…something…but this would not be the place or time for celebration. This was going to be hard, not happy.

But he smiled as he walked the short blocks to the other house. They had returned several weeks ago from the most wonderful trip to Italy. It was unexpected luck that they were able to stay at a friend’s house in Umbria for a week. They spent the time there relaxing, and eating all their meals outside under a pergola covered in Virginia creeper just off the kitchen. An ancient elm tree provided shade during the day, and the climbing roses colored everything romantic.

They made promises.

When they came back, they agreed not to see each other for a while. But this morning Adam’s first thought when he woke up was that he did not want to wait anymore, so he was very relieved to get the call. He also felt guilt for the anguish it would cause, but he pushed it away.

The door was not locked so Adam just walked into the living room, and was puzzled when he saw about a dozen people standing around talking. Laughing, too. Then he saw her. Angela. She was seated on the blue couch he knew so well. She looked ill, and he felt guilty again.

“Are you alright?” he asked.
“Of course I am!”

Her husband was leaning over her but straightened quickly when he saw Adam. He looked shocked. The flush creeping up his neck showed that he was also angry. “What are you doing here?” Evan asked. Angela touched her husband’s arm. “Adam is our oldest friend. I needed him to be here.”

Her mother came into the room carrying champagne. Adam could not understand what was going on. Champagne? For the dissolution of a marriage? He accepted a glass and drank it quickly. He accepted another.

“Oh, isn’t it wonderful, Adam!” This from Angela’s aunt.

“Wonderful? I really don’t know what’s happened.” Several people spoke at once, shouting the news – Angela was finally pregnant. She flashed him the happiest smile he has seen in a long time. “We’re over the moon about this! We’ve been trying and hoping for so long. You know that. I'm sorry I didn't say anything sooner, but I wanted to be…”

She stopped, unsure. Adam’s grip on the champagne flute helped it stay in his hand, though he really wanted to fling it. The surprise on his face, his ashen pallor and unblinking stare made her uncomfortable, and she frowned. But it quickly turned into a small smile. “I’m hoping you’re happy for us?”

Adam nodded and turned away, then placed the glass on the fireplace mantle. He needed a few moments to himself. So. There wasn’t going to be a divorce. A baby! A little bump in the road, so to speak, has stopped everything and there wasn’t anything he could do.

“Adam?” Angela called. “Aren’t you going to say anything, for God’s sake?”

He turned, and gazed at his love, whose flush now reached higher on his face.

“You promised. We promised.”

Evan looked at him with tear-glazed eyes. “I can’t now, Adam. I can’t.”

Everyone stopped drinking, except for a cousin who took the bottle and swigged the liquid. He wanted to drink away what he hoped he was misunderstanding. Angela stood and stared at her husband. She walked over to Adam and put out her hand, then let it drop to the side, wringing and wrinkling the hem of her blouse.

“What…what are you two saying?”

Adam turned to the door and opened it.

“Just goodbye.”

He walked out.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Take Five

Working on fridayflash story. Yes, yes I am. Trying to find my little notes to help me along. Some blew out the window but didn't lose these.






Thursday, September 24, 2009


After lying on my bed for ten days waiting for death, I looked around my room and thought—well, maybe it isn’t coming.  Almost a month ago I was here, packing for a move to a new apartment.  The stranger’s voice on the telephone told me three things I’d like to forget: there was an accident, it involved my husband, and he didn’t make it. He was killed instantly by a taxi that swerved to miss a stalled car, and jumped the curb. Witnesses said my husband managed to push a woman out of the way but was crushed against the office building he had just left. When told he was dead, I knew that I was going to die, too, because Theo and I always did everything together. 

That’s why I took to my bed and waited. 

 When I finally appeared in my living room and saw the ashen, stricken pallor of family and friends, I said to them, “I don’t want to live anymore, but it seems that I must.  I don’t want to do this.  I don’t know how to do this.” As the voices assembled there murmured about the extent of their sorrow over Theo’s loss and offered to give me whatever I needed, I stood uncertain about what to do next.  It was then that I saw the boxes.  Ah, right. Moving day. So I walked over to a bookshelf and started packing Theo’s books. This I can do, I thought, just move my hands from shelf to box. This I can do. 

When I first saw Theo those years ago, I was a freshman at an all-girls school in the Finger Lakes region of New York.  He had come to visit his best friend, my professor in World Literature, and was to be a guest lecturer in our seminar. We were so excited that a real writer was coming to talk to us about his books, which invariably centered on protagonists who were imbued with a sensual passion for life and sexual adventure. 

On the day of his talk, not one student was late, even my best friend Cecily had managed to make peace with her alarm and was sitting in her seat with her hair combed and her clothes properly straightened, something we never thought she knew how to do.  At 9:30 sharp, we heard the approaching footsteps and held our breaths and looked at each other with isn’t-this-exciting fervor and then turned to the door. 

First impressions?  Theo was rather short and round.  He had cerulean blue eyes, a beautiful nose and thick dark hair that curled around his head.  From the neck up he looked like Michelangelo’s David. From the neck down he resembled Danny Devito.

* * * * * *

“No, NO, NO! This is awful!” Kat said. “What am I going to do? What am I going to write?” 

 “It’s not that bad,” her friend Alicia said, then immediately ruined the moment by choking back a laugh. 

“Really? You think so?” 

But Alicia could not stop the heaving of her shoulders and just let go, laughing until her tears washed away the sight of a not amused Kat Alicia has to leave. Now.

A few minutes after Alicia blew her a kiss and closed the door behind her, Kat returned to her story of Theo and his tragic demise. She couldn’t start over, she just couldn’t.  Minutes passed, then hours. She had to have something, for goodness sake, and soon. It’s Friday, after all! Some of the people in her online writing community said they had even written theirs at the beginning of the week. By the way, who are these people? And why wasn’t she one of them?

Kat looked at the computer screen and became hopeful.  It’s not that bad, right? What if Theo had the body of Michelangelo’s David and Danny Devito’s face?

After a moment, she hit the delete button and started over.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Flash Fiction Ready?...of course...not

He pities me.
Oh, yes, working on flash fiction. Well, maybe not this minute. During a very short break that has lasted…um…about three hours, I found another diversionary tactic. I kid. I’m researching. Really. Even though it would seem that I’m just reading silly things on the net.

This is true: I once worked in a private school and would help the administrators fill out student absentee forms, among a billion other things. The letters from parents telling us why their child was not coming in that day were not particularly amusing. These are. I found them when I was goofing researching on a rinkworks site.

Megan could not come to school today because she has been bothered by very close veins.
-Those uppity veins! Should just mind their own business and get blood around and not harass people.

Chris will not be in school cus he has an acre in his side.
-Not following the diet yet, eh?

Please excuse Ray Friday from school. He has very loose vowels.
-Oh? Not British, then? Clip and tighten. Repeat.

Please excuse Tommy for being absent yesterday. He had diarrhea, and his boots leak.
-Tommy, I think I know what’s on your Christmas wish list.

Please excuse Jimmy for being. It was his father's fault
-Yes…and the Trojan missing in action?

Please excuse Jennifer for missing school yesterday. We forgot to get the Sunday paper off the porch, and when we found it Monday, we thought it was Sunday.
-I hate when this happens! Well since today is Tuesday, I guess I have plenty of time to write. What? Not Tuesday? Damn.

Sally won't be in school a week from Friday. We have to attend her funeral.
-It’s always good to know your plans ahead of time. Makes life easier.

My daughter was absent yesterday because she was tired. She spent a weekend with the Marines.
-Ah, bootcamp.

Please excuse Jason for being absent yesterday. He had a cold and could not breed well.
-Did he miss the show and tell from last week? Better luck next time. And study better, not harder.

Please excuse Mary for being absent yesterday. She was in bed with gramps.
-Ok. Enough said.

Gloria was absent yesterday as she was having a gangover.
-Those study groups really take a lot of work.

Maryann was absent December 11-16, because she had a fever, sore throat, headache, and upset stomach. Her sister was also sick, fever, and sore throat, her brother had a low grade fever and ached all over. I wasn't the best either, sore throat and fever. There must be something going around, her father even got hot last night.
-Love is blind. I sigh at the romance of it all.

Please excuse Burma, she has been sick and under the doctor.
-So glad to see doctors are making house calls now! Don’t have to bother with the getting undressed part at the office…

Friday, September 18, 2009

Résumé Blues

It was the tenth rejection in a month. As she closed the office door behind her she realized that, today, she just didn’t have the will to summon up any disappointment. Anger? Yeah. She could bring that to her thoughts. What the hell more do they want from me anyway, damn it? She was well educated, dressed nicely, and certainly knew her way around the field. It was communications, for God’s sake. She was born to do that!
But this last HR manager, just like all the others, told her that she would not be a good fit in their small medical journal department. Why? He told her that her writing would be a problem for their clientele. How can that be? She had always been told that her writing was in a class by itself. Sui generis. See? She even knew the fancy term. She was no fool.
On the walk home, she thought of all the interviews she had arranged during the last 30 days. Well, there was the law firm, the investment bank, the university academic journal, and the – no, I won’t think about this anymore for the evening.
She lived with her parents, of course, since she didn’t have a job and couldn’t move out, but they didn’t mind and she never really wanted to leave. Now, she was worried about bringing them bad news again. She knew they would be waiting when she opened the door. Yes, there they are. Smiling. But their smiles faded as she shook her head slowly.
Her dad sighed and her mom came over to pat her arm, and then left for the kitchen. She thought that a favorite dinner might cheer everyone. While she supported her daughter in all her endeavors, she privately felt that it was time to face reality. Her child had to look for work in less exalted areas. Her face was just too different.
She heard her daughter sobbing.
“Oh, Daddy, why can’t I ever be taken seriously?”
Her father sat her down.
“It’s a tough world out there. I know that’s hard to accept. But, sweetie, if you’re not born a Courier New or Times New Roman or Helvetica, you’re not gonna be able to join the others in the big league.”
Comic Sans dried her tears. Tomorrow she would try again. Maybe Beanie Babies has an opening.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Kick in the A**

When I was a student those eons ago, Sister St. Cornelia would write on the blackboard whatever assignment needed to be completed for the week. Then she had us copy it down in our little notebooks. This would ensure that we students could not claim that we did not know about it, or any other excuse for not doing the work and handing it in on time.

Sick? Send her the assignment with your mother. 

Dead? Leave it to her in your will.

So, today I give a shout-out to that little lesson. 

Sister St. Cornelia is not here but if she were, I would tell her that I don't need her to write any reminders for me on the blackboard.  I can post it on the refrigerator. Also, I can see the others who tweet -- days before the deadline -- that they've finished their assignment. What? Oh, how I hate envy admire them!

So, here I am. Thinking. I am kind of tired, though, and  I need something that will jolt me into action.

Oh. OK. That's a good start.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Breaks - #fridayflash fiction

Jimmie knew that dressed or undressed, she wasn’t going to get money from her husband. But she had to ask just the same.

“Could you leave me maybe a twenty?”

“Nope. Don’t have any money,” Walter said and left.

While vacuuming the rug later that morning, the frayed edge of one corner got caught up in the machine. When Jimmie lifted the rug she screamed. She was looking at a wad of money.

“Why that bastard told you he didn’t have it,” Momma, her mother-in-law, said. She loved Walter but she loved Jimmie better.

Late in the afternoon, Jimmie, Momma, and Fatsy, were sitting on the porch after shopping. They had some fun spending several of those bills, if fun included getting basic products for the kitchen cupboards. But they also bought some lottery tickets. Momma felt lucky.

“Don’t worry, Jimmie,” Fatsy said. “If my brother tries anything with you, I’ll kick his ass.”

That was not an idle threat. As Momma always warned anyone who tried to pick a fight with her daughter, “she has a size 12 foot and she don’t play.”

Walter never did say anything about the missing money. But the next time Jimmie went to look, the remaining bills had been removed. However, she would find money left on the bureau from time to time, so all was good enough for her.

There was only one time that it wasn’t. Jimmie was getting ready to go out with her husband and Fatsy. The neighbor was coming over to baby sit. She had taken care of little Maggie before, and knew how to keep a baby with cerebral palsy safe and happy. Jimmie was applying the finishing touches to her make-up at the bathroom mirror. Walter was in the living room already buzzed from communicating with his favorite bottle. When Jimmie came in looking real curvy in a red dress, he barely looked her way.

“You know something?” he said. “I think it’s stupid that your sister had another baby and she’s not even married.”

“So what? Your sister had a baby and she wasn’t married. And what about your Momma?

“That’s different!”

Walter finished off the bottle.

“Well,” he said, looking at her. He didn’t need sticks and stones, his words would hurt too. “At least her baby ain’t damaged.”

Jimmie turned her head to the room where little Maggie was sleeping. “You know what?” she said softly, calmly. “You don’t have to worry no more ‘bout seeing your damaged child.

“Is that a fact? How you figure that?”

“Because tonight I’m gonna kill you!”

It was said later that Jimmie had hit Walter with everything in the room that wasn’t glued down. He didn’t even try to fight back. When Maggie began to cry, Walter ran out of the house.

The next morning the living room looked as if nothing had happened. Jimmie and Fatsy were sipping coffee and talking. The doorbell rang. Grandma stood there standing tall and scared.

“Grandie!” Jimmie said and hugged her. “What are you doing here so early? Did Grumples bring you?”

“Girl, I get to ask the questions,” she said putting out her palm as a stop sign to Jimmie’s words. “I got a call from Walter last night, and he told me you finally lost your senses. You were trying to kill him?

“Grandie, I can’t spin it different to you. I tried to hurt him but I sure wasn’t crazy. I was as sane as I’ll ever be.”

“You ain’t lying,” Fatsy said.

Grandie didn’t ask for details; it made no difference to rehash the bad. If you wait long enough the bad makes a return visit when you least expect it.

“Well,” she said, “What now?”

“Don’t really know. Though when he comes back, I’m gonna expect…”

“When he comes back? Are you letting that fool stay here?”

“You ain’t all that sane!” Fatsy said.

* * * * * * * * * * 
The phones ring and the women know it’s back to work. They have heard Jimmie’s stories for many lunch breaks now. When she talks about the past, no one feels the need to take a turn.

“Your new grandson arrives pretty soon. Has your daughter thought about names?” one of the women asks Jimmie.

“Yeah. She wants to call him James Alphonsa King.”

“Alphonsa? You mean like Fatsy?

“Uh huh. My daughter loved Fatsy and wants to honor her memory.

“Forgive me, Jimmie,” another asks with some anxiety, “but isn’t Alphonsa such a… female… name to give a boy?”

Jimmie shrugs. “Oh, you know this family and crazy.”

“Will he be called Alfie, maybe?” offers another.

“Nope. It’s Junior.”

* * * * * * * * * 
Jimmie sits in her office. She sees a picture of her family on the desk and remembers the night she told Fatsy that she, Jimmie Boyd, was the woman Walter Barnes would marry. This news had troubled her friend. She told Jimmie it would mean more heartache than not.
“Remember,” Fatsy said. “If you change the name and not the letter, you marry for worse and not for better.”

“ Nah. Just a rhyme we used to say as kids; it don’t mean nothing.” 

Jimmie looks at the picture and thinks that Fatsy's words had turned out to be not too far off the mark. But she shakes her head and laughs at a thought, pushing away any others. Next time, she’ll tell the ladies about the night she cooked a stew for Walter, and met him at the door naked and wearing 3-inch heels and Nerf reindeer horns. She got that tip from a tv show on how to spice up your dinner. Walter had asked for seconds.