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 jalapeƱo?”

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

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