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.

Monday, September 07, 2009

What's Cooking?

The family wasn’t planning on driving this Labor Day weekend. Sitting stuck in traffic on the Bay Bridge to the Eastern Shore of Maryland for a couple of hours loses its fun after several years.

However, I was awakened on Saturday morning very early, earlier than even a rooster gets up. First Son wanted to—had to—go to the beach and convinced his father, Mad Hatter, that we would beat the traffic if we went NOW. I admit the drive was easy-peasey.

The plan -- brilliant in its simplicity. First Son and Girlfriend would drop us off at the house, which is 30 miles from Ocean City, and they would go spend a few hours at the beach. Mad Hatter had to edit many things and wanted to stay in the house, and I just wanted to relax and read. I do like the beach, really. It’s great—except for the sand, the crowds, the sun, that shark. Oh, ok. It was just one time long ago but post traumatic stress, you know?

Anyway all went according to plan. Then it occurred to me after a couple of hours that I should go and see what was available in the kitchen for dinner. There was…nothing. We haven’t been here in a while and hadn't stop at a store since we were beating that darn traffic, after all. Two thoughts, apparently, were one too many for me at that hour. Now I found myself in a house, miles away from town and no car. But Mad Hatter smiled, patted my arm and told me that he had thought ahead. He had brought supplies.

I should have remembered that I live in Alice world.

MAD HATTER  (taking out the goodies):  See? Here’s the stuff.
ALICE: What, this? I can’t even begin to…
MAD HATTER: Thank me, I know. You’re welcome!

The “recipe” for the evening: One can of black beans. One can of chicken soup with matzoballs. One small jar of artichoke hearts. One tin of deviled ham. One tin of chicken spread. 

What would Julia Child have done? Well, aside from slathering butter over everything. And drinking wine. Lots. Then what? Maybe I could just dump it all together and shape it into some sort of loaf and call it bon appétit!

Or, I could make it fun! We could pretend we’re at a Mystery Theater dinner. Except there wouldn’t be actors walking around asking us to guess who done it. The mystery?  Who keels over first from this culinary mashup.

Did we eat any of this? Of course not! We went out to dinner, after we dealt with a little problem First Son brought home.

FIRST SON: Hey, guys, sorry, but I wasn’t paying attention and you know that little red light that shows if the car is really low on gas?

US: Yeah, why?
FIRST SON: It’s on. But don’t worry. I think we can make the 17 miles to the nearest station. It’ll be like an adventure, right?

What would Julia Child have done?

Friday, September 04, 2009

#fridayflash - Press Goodbye

Just the two of us in the elevator. Good, easier to keep my heartbreak private. Piped music wafts from the speakers and fills the silence. I am struck by familiar thoughts of how to make myself feel better. I blame it on the tango.

How appropriate that the ludicrous Musak rendition of Adiós Muchachos fills the cubicle as she and I are falling to the first floor on the express. We are saying the final adios after two years of togetherness. One week ago, while folding the laundry, she confessed that while she “cares for me and always will” things have been changing for too long.

“We argue about nothing important,” she said.

I agreed. We were really good at hitting the wrong buttons, and exhausting our patience. But I want to make this work, I told her. I need time.

Well, the clock is not ticking anymore.

There’s another guy, she said, and asked me to move out. Unfortunately, we share too many friends who arrange too many parties too frequently. What about our poker nights? Our ultimate Frisbee games? The camping? She insisted she had no problem with seeing me at any of these gatherings. We were friends at the beginning, and we can keep up the friendship. Ok? This, however, is not ok nor enough for me. Go back to square one? No. I stopped her hands from picking up another piece of clothing.

“Look at me,” I said. “I can’t live like that. I can’t see you at Jason’s house or Leanne’s apartment or at anybody else’s place and just pretend that it doesn’t affect me. Especially if you bring…him.”

She pulled away and walked to the other end of the room.

“Then, we have to arrange something. Maybe our friends can invite us to different things.” she said.

“You want us to share custody of our friends?”

“If you want to call it that.”

People fight over children, over pets, over property. What would a judge rule in our case? I laughed at the absurdity.

I picked up my keys and walked to the front door. I knew she needed me to tell her something that would settle everything. She waited, probably nervous that I would beg her to stay.

“It’s best that we never see each other again.”

I saw sadness. I saw guilt. But I also saw the quick glint of relief in her eyes.

I turned away, and stepped out into the daylight.

We have spent this week emptying the apartment and moving my stuff to a new place. Many nights I walked from the living room futon to look at the bed we once shared with great excitement. She is never home at night, but I will not sleep in the bedroom by myself.

This last elevator ride is to be my final memory of her. She smiles. I know she is grateful that I have kept it friendly during this week of packing. Well, I have always been known as a good guy, too good, if you ask my male friends. My seemingly civilized acceptance of what I call The Betrayal, and she calls Fate, is what allows her to laugh and finally make small talk with me in unconcerned relaxation as we ride to the end. I hand her my copy of the keys and think about how happy I was when I first used them.

“Do you remember when we would go dancing on Friday nights? And how we always promised ourselves that we would learn how to dance the tango?” I ask while keeping an eye on the descending numbers. I do not have much time.

Her grey eyes look at me, and she nods. I push her dark bangs away from her face and place a kiss on her forehead. I always did this every morning before the elevator reached the lobby floor. She does not flinch this time. That is her goodbye gift to me.

We pass the fifth floor and I give her mine. I wrap my arms around her and hug her tightly. She gasps. She always does this whenever I give her what she calls my Papa Bear hugs. I am not sad, just resigned.

“Goodbye,” I whisper as we reach the ground floor and the elevator stops.

She stares at me with wide eyes. Does she regret her choice? Does she now wish she had not fallen in love with someone else?

No matter. There is no turning back for us.

The doors open and I walk into the empty lobby. I look back at her. She has slid down the wall and sits on the floor of the elevator, eyes still wide. Her white blouse is soaked with the red of the blood that seeps from her back.

I know the knife lodged deep between her shoulder blades has everything to do with that.

I turn away, and step out into the darkness.