Wednesday, March 26, 2008

When All Is Lost

It was the prettiest day of the year so far, though it had been officially Spring for almost two weeks. A late snowstorm and blustery winds had kept everyone inside for the past month, which for two small children trapped in a tiny apartment seemed like imprisonment, and to their mother, trapped in there with them, seemed like living Hell.

With no television, no games, and few toys, the kids relied on outdoor play to keep them busy, but Jenny, only two now, had suffered multiple bouts of asthma and bronchitis. So all of them had to stay inside. Paula couldn't afford a sitter when she wasn't working, (for God's sake, she couldn't afford one while she was working,) and with no one to watch Jenny while she took Taylor to the park, they had no choice but to wait for better days so they could all go outside together.

Today looked like it might be one of those better days. The sun was shining and it was quite warm, and though most of the foliage was still looking as if it were unsure as to whether or not it were safe to bloom, the birds were chirping in the trees as if to encourage everyone to believe.

"Taylor, could you grab Jenny's diaper bag on the way out hon?" Paula motioned with her chin toward the pink and green bag by the door, her own arms full of Jenny and her purse, her keys clutched in the other hand.

He nodded, his face all smiles as he grabbed the bag and waited for his mom to step outside so he could pull the door behind her.

Taylor was a good kid. A great kid. Eight years old and practically on his own, and he never complained. It made Paula's heart ache.

He went to school in the morning, went to the aftercare program after school (which could barely be called a care program, since all they did was make those poor kids sit at a long table and read, write or draw for three hours, there was no play time or interactivity there) and then he stayed with the neighbor, Karilynn, for the next three hours until Mom could get home.

This was the schedule six days a week, with the only difference being Saturdays when he stayed all day with Karilynn since there was no school.

Just two years ago he'd had all the normal things most parents want for their kids. A Mom and a Dad, a good school, their own home, three square meals a day, and so many of those little things you take for granted when you have them, and security.

That's what they all missed most. Knowing it would be okay.

Taylor ran around the side of the car and open the door, pulling the back seat forward so Paula could sit Jenny in her carseat. Jenny squirmed and cried out, reaching her chubby little arms out for mom. "It's okay baby," Paula soothed, "We're going to the store to get you a treat, it won't be long!"

Jenny eyed her mom, decided to believe this bit of information and settled back into the seat. She associated the car with daycare, and mom disappearing for more hours. Car rides weren't fun, they were sad.

"Can I ride up front mom?" Taylor looked at the pile of papers in the front seat and Paula smiled, picking them up to make room for him. "Sure, don't forget to put on your seatbelt."

As she walked around to her side of the car she stuffed them into the diaper bag, mentally trying not to think about how many of them were bills.

Bills she couldn't pay.

Most of them medical bills, but several were still collection notices from before when John had been alive. Of course back then they hadn't been collection notices, they had been bills they could pay. Auto loans, credit card payments, a mortgage, all those normal notices that middle class families all have. Except when those bills follow you into poverty they become something more. Like a virus that's taken on gigantic proportions and threatens to eat you when you look away.

"Mom?" Paula, shook herself from her reverie and realized she'd been staring into the pile of bills in the diaper bag, Taylor was leaning over looking up in concern. He wasn't fooled either. At eight years old he knew way too much about the state their lives were in, and was burdened more than was healthy. He handled it, picking up when no one else was there to help. It was both a comfort and another nagging anxiety for Paula, who wished she could do more as a parent, but didn't know how.

"Yeah, I am just day dreaming kiddo..." She flashed him a big grin and saw him relax with a small of his own. "You know... imagining that day when we win the lottery...."

"....And buy a mansion down by the river" he added on, familiar with this game,

"... and I'll stay home and garden all day, painting pictures of you and Jenny..."

" ...while we ride horses and play in the pool.."

They both laughed, a wishful yet glad-we're-together laugh that said they'd make it through anything as long as they were a family.

And it was true.

They'd made it through the funeral. They'd made it through the nasty nightmare of Johns family who tried to take the kids away from her when he died. They'd made it through the long lines trying to get aid from people who treated them as if they were lice infested trash. They were making it through living in one of the worst parts of town (nick-named Thug City by the locals) and hanging on to what could barely be called "making a living" with Paula working two jobs to just get by.

They'd even survived the break-in two weeks ago in the middle of the night. Nothing had been stolen, but they'd all been reminded that security was an idea, not an reality, and they'd been afraid.

Paula had taken her wedding ring the next day and hocked it at the Pawn Shop to get the money for the little 9mm handgun she now had in the glove compartment. She kept it with her day and night. It wasn't a good idea, and she knew it, but the fear was overwhelming.

Her mind never stopped turning over the "what-if's".

What if the man who'd broken in hadn't run out the other night when she cried out? What if someone mugged her and killed her some evening on her way home from work? What would happen to the kids? What if? So she kept the gun like a dirty little secret tucked away as best she could and tried to pretend she wasn't afraid. Because of Jenny and Taylor, who needed to know that they were safe, and often looked at their mom's face to see if she felt scared.

"So, it's off to the store, okay guys?" Taylor grinned at waved Jenny's toy rabbit in the air, and she giggled. It was all good.

"Can we go to the park today mom?" Taylor was making the rabbit do twirls and swoops in the air, and Jenny was watching in rapture, as if the rabbit were doing the tricks by itself.

"You betcha buddy. I have to get a refill for Jenny's antibiotics real quick first, then we'll stop by the store and get some sandwich stuff and have a picnic, maybe we'll even buy a Frisbee. How's that sound?"

Taylor grinned as if she'd offered him a brand new Play Station. "Really? Whoo-hoo!"

"Woo-woo!" Jenny echoed from the back, caught up in the excitement of the moment, even if unsure why, "woo-woo!"

Paula turned on the radio and winked at Jenny in the rear view mirror, laughing when Jenny scrunched her whole face trying to wink back. The drive was a short one, There was a Walgreen's on every corner in town, and this one already had Jenny's Medicaid information in it's database.

She wasn't sickly, but she'd had a lot of bad luck with her health, especially with the asthma. They'd been a long time without insurance of any kind until Paula had spent the day getting Medicaid. If it hadn't been for that little miracle, she didn't know how Jenny would have made it.

Inside Walgreen's the wait was short, thankfully, and they picked up a Frisbee in the toy section, and even a small kite on sale. Jenny waddled (Her diaper was surely partly the cause of the funny gait, Paula mused) from candy bar to candy bar until she picked out a short piece of chocolate, just like the one Taylor did.

The check out line was a little longer, and by now Jenny's patience was growing thin as she eyed the candy bar mom wouldn't let her open until they got outside. "Shhh... it'll be just a moment baby" Paula smiled at the cashier who grinned back with a wink, handing Jenny the candy bar instead of bagging it. Jenny grinned back with a giggle and the cashier turned to Paula "What lovely kids you have, so precious...." Paula couldn't have agreed more.

Gathering their bags they stepped outside into the sun, where Jenny begged for her candy. "Alright sweetie....Taylor, could you open her candy bar for her while I put this in the car and get her car seat ready?"

"Sure mom, here Jen... lemme help ya.." Taylor moved jenny into the shade near the trashcan, pealing back the paper carefully so she'd have something to hold while she ate her chocolate. Paula opened the door of the car and put the bag in the back seat, rolling the window down so the hot air would escape the car before they got inside. Turning to go back and get the kids she looked up just in time to see something sail through the air and hit jenny in the head hard, knocking her backwards to the ground.

"Jenny!!" Paula was running without realizing she had even moved, picking up her daughter, checking her for injury as Jenny's wails filled the air. There was a wide skinned area at her temple where her face had scraped the side of the trashcan on the way down, welling with bits of blood, not life threatening, but still painful.

"It's okay baby, shhhh, momma's got you..." Paula rocked Jenny as the child hiccuped through her tears, looking to see what had hit her little girl. Just to the right of the trashcan was a large MacDonald's bag, stuffed with trash and a glass bottle spilled out on the sidewalk. Turning to see where it came from she sighted a van right next to her car, a large obese man in the passenger seat with the door propped open, his face red in anger.

"Your goddamn kid shouldn't be standing in front of the trash lady! Next time she might get her damn face mashed in if you don't keep her out of the way!" He waved his fat fingers at her as if he was swatting at a fly.

She felt her face grow hot, her vision blurring a moment in rage. The next moments were like she was watching a movie, not in her own body but watching as if through some red tinted glass everything disjointed and murky.

She was in her car, hands fumbling at the glove compartment pulling the gun from under the papers stuff inside, moving around the van her teeth clenched as if she was pushing against some great pain, not even seeing the wide-eyed expression on Taylor's face as he watched her swing around the door and point the gun at the suddenly horrified man who sat there.

"Hey lady! What are ya doin'? It was yer kid who got in my way!" He was waving one fat leg ineffectually in the air, as if he were trying to find purchase and scrabble backwards into the safety of the van. His hair was greasy, plastered to his forehead in thin wisps to pimply skin, his chin disappearing into wobbly jowls which shook as he tried to calm this mad woman who looked as if she were going to blow his brains out with that gun. Some part of Paula noted the Handicap placard hanging from his mirror, and realized he was parked in a handicapped space. But she didn't care, the asshole had thrown trash at her kid and hurt her, and had blamed them!

"Listen here you fat fuck," she waved the gun around as if she couldn't decide whether to shoot him or knock his teeth out with it, "you get your fat ass out of this van and pick up that trash and throw it in the can!" She fairly screamed the last, and he flinched, before oozing his body out, toes seeking purchase on the ground.

"I'm sorry, really... I'm sorry! I didn't mean to hit her, she was just..." His voice thinned and stopped as he took another glance at her face, realizing that she was hanging on a thread of sanity and that his explanations were only making it worse. Sucking in a deep breath he lurched toward the trashcan, avoiding looking at the wailing child he'd just hit, or the boy who held her hand and stood mutely watching his mother lose her mind.

No other passerby even paused. This kind of conflict was not altogether unusual for this area, and healthy people who wanted to stay that way just kept walking. But Paula began to see the scene for what it was, the blood draining from her face as she glanced at her kids, and then huge man who stood near the trashcan, pushing the offending bag into the opening before looking to see what would come next.

She clenched her hands, and waved the gun toward the van. "Get back in there. Don't ever hit my kids or any other kid again. It's not our fault we have to be here. We didn't deserve you..." and to her horror she realized she was going to cry. "Taylor! Get Jenny in the car!" She walked away, not looking back to see if the man moved at all, not looking to see if anyone else was looking either. She got into the drivers seat, shoved the gun between her legs, and shut the door, looking back to see that the kids were in the car before pulling away.

She drove for a little more than two blocks before she could drive no more. Pulling over against a curb she put the car in park, and leaned her head into the steering wheel, drawing a shaky breath. "Geez Louise, what have I done?" Her hands were trembling, and she picked up the gun from her lap and put it into the glove compartment. Turning in her seat she looked at Jenny and Taylor. Jenny was sucking the remains of the chocolate bar from her fingers contentedly, Taylor was looking at his mom in anxiety. "Are you okay Mom?"

Paula drew in a hard breath and wiped the tears from her cheeks. "Yeah baby, I am okay. How are you? Did I scare you?"

Taylor shook his head and unbuckled his seat belt, leaning forward. "No, I knew you wouldn't hurt him. I was just afraid someone else might hurt you. But I knew you were just mad for Jenny."

Paula reached back and ran her fingers over her little boys cheek, "Oh sweetie, you are so brave. Yeah, I was mad for Jenny. And I was mad for you. And I was mad for me. It's been hard lately, and I can stand that if it were just me. But I want better for both of you, and I worry so much. Today I just kinda let all that take over, and I acted nuts. I am so sorry. What I did back there wasn't right... I was just..." She sighed and leaned forward to give him a kiss on the forehead.

Taylor touched his own fingers to his mom's cheek, tilting his head as if in deep thought. "Well, I understand why you'd be angry. I was angry too. A lot of people are mean to us now that dad is gone, and I know you miss him a lot." He looked over at Jenny as he continued, she was beginning to nod off to sleep, her wounds forgotten in the remnants of chocolate. "But we are okay, we are. Things will get better. I know they will. As long as we have each other, it's not all bad, right?"

Paula felt tears start to well up again, a painful lump growing in her throat and she struggled not to bawl. He was just too grown up for and eight year old.

Reaching between the seats she pulled Taylor up into her lap, adjusting the seat so they'd both fit, and gave him a big hug. Thinking about what he'd said she remembered the night they'd all gotten in the car, just one day after John had been buried, slipping away into the night to find a new home because she'd been afraid that John's parents would use their considerable influence to take her kids away from her somehow. They'd taken only what they could fit in the car and the small U-haul she'd rented to pull behind it. They'd lost everything except each other. But it had been worth it, because each other was what was important.

This new life was a hard one, and some days it seemed like it would never get better. She missed John, and with so much time spent at work, she missed her kids. But Taylor was right, just as she'd been two years ago. It was all okay as long as they were together. They'd get though it.

"Yeah, you're right. We'll be fine kiddo." She sat there in the warmth of the sun through the car window stroking his hair and gathering strength. They would be okay, she'd make sure of it. Whatever it took.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

To My Sister

You are to me so many things I cannot express. Have you noticed I try to tell you how wonderful you are every time we are in the company of one another? Perhaps you think it is the mood of the moment, or the perhaps my state of inebriation. I worry you might think I am simply trying to make you feel good about yourself. That perhaps you’ve considered the possibility that I might construct the praises I give you because I want to believe some falsehood about your personality that doesn’t exist.
The truth is, Kimberly, that I have worshipped you since I was a child. I can remember you too young to interact with me, strawberry blonde hair and pudgy cheeks, all smiles and dimples. No angel I ever studied was prettier. Later when you were older I loved all the things you were that I was not. Organized, popular, good at school, beautiful. I didn’t know you back then. Not really. I wish I had.
But perhaps we’ve come into this season of our friendship at the best time. Two people grown, fairly certain of who we are, but willing to reach out, needing a friend, love, a sister. For all that I complain about whatever fault may be bothering me at the moment, the truth behind the grievance is a fear that I will lose you. To ill health, to some mishap, or because we have some ridiculous argument that doesn't belong in our lives in this here and now. My adoration of you has only changed in that I am coming to know the person I love so dearly. More than a sister, you are the friend I can trust my heart to. I believe in God because of gifts like you. You give me smiles and hope when all else is dark and gloom.
I love you. And I always will.


Once upon a time there was an old, gnarled oak tree standing at the edge of a vast and lifeless desert. Around the oak tree was an oasis of life, a paradise palatial in its beauty. The oak tree had been there for as long as any of the other plants and animals could remember, and it served as home, haven, and wellspring of all good things for everything that flourished around it.
Upon the branches of this mighty tree were many acorns, and two of these acorns had grown up together since their birth. They were very close, sharing all of their joys and hopes with each other from day to day. They were happy, and did not want to change a thing about their lives.
The world is hard, however, and fate sometimes has other plans, even for the most fragile and kind of all souls. A terrible storm blew in one day, blotting the sun from the sky and bending all the smaller trees around the oak almost to the ground. Rain and hail lashed out at the garden paradise, and many were lost in the destruction.
The storm passed, as all storms do, and the acorns survived. This, my friends, is the good news. The bad news (isn't there always bad news?) is that they were torn from the limbs of the only home and family they'd known. Swept upward into the torrential sky, rent from one another and deposited on opposite sides of the cracked wasteland. The first acorn flew miles and miles until it dropped into a bed of sandy soil. The second acorn barely missed dropping to the bottom of a canyon, an abyss so deep that light never struck the bottom. This acorn found meager shelter between two boulders and spent the night in fear for its life.
No nurtured growth was in the future for these seedlings. Alas, the only hope left to each acorn was that the storm which had so ravaged their existence had also softened the normally hard earth and left a small puddles of moisture in which they could find some sustenance.
Now, I can hear you saying “This is not possible! How could a little acorn survive in a desert?” But I ask you, have you not ever seen a tree or bush, or a flower, growing where it should not be able to grow? Sprouting from rock, cracked pavement, or salted soil? Life has a way of persevering. And that, dear readers, is exactly what happened with these acorns. The love they shared was so stupendous they could not bear to die. Each acorn huddled down as far as that small patch of damp dirt would allow them to, and drank as deeply as they could of the water that was left to them. Then they pushed. Bravely, determinedly, and without concern as to what might come next they heaved themselves upward and outward, cracking their tiny shells. That tiny bit of moisture, that blazing sun and the determination to live provided each of them the fertilization they needed. It was an arduous battle, and one they both nearly lost many times. Yet they persevered. The little green shoots they had now become struggled to breach the confining terrain until at last they spread their tiny leaves and viewed the sky once again.
Years passed, and the tiny acorns, now trees in their own right, wilted in the heat of the fiery sun. Most trees would have given up, but not these two. They used their energy to thrust their roots down into the soil and sought what nourishment they could find. Each acorn, once quite tame and coddled, was now a tree fighting for its very life.
I’d like to tell you they grew up straight and tall, and that no disease or other misfortune befell them. But you’d think I was a liar if I did, and so I would be. Though they eventually grew to be thick and sturdy and strong, they also grew to be gnarled and twisted, scarred and misshapen. The canopy of each tree was full and green, but many hollows and cracks filled the tree trunks from every hardship. The world they lived in was barbarous, and it left its mark on each of them.
You must be thinking, “How sad! How horrible!” But if you are, then you do not understand they way of the world. You see, life is made to be difficult to prepare us for what we need so we can be strong, and more able to be who we need to be. And so it was for these trees. You see, they were not theonly life forms that were tossed into this awful place. Birds and insects were now and again blown in by passing storms, and they found a home in the hollows of each tree. There they lived and died, bringing companionship, and eventually nourishment, to the trees. Seeds were swept in, or dropped by birds, and one day grasses began to grow beneath the trees, and flowers. One of the oak trees had a thriving colony of honey bees; the other was home to a family of owls.
Though far apart, the trees grew up in a similar fashion, and never forgot their childhood sweetheart. They sensed that somewhere, the one they loved still lived. Every day they dropped their roots a little deeper, but they also reached out and across for the soul mate they knew to be somewhere out there.
Years passed, more than a hundred in fact, and the tiny acorns were both now mighty oak trees standing in the center of a vast and lifeless desert. Beneath and around each tree was a thriving oasis of life, a paradise in the midst of a wasteland. Each oak now served as home, haven, and wellspring of all good things for everything that prospered around it.
This is the circle of life.
And one night while all slept, and a bright moon hung full and shimmering in a sky woven of blue velvet and silver stars ... a sigh was heard across the breadth and the length of the desert. A sigh that made every living thing smile in its soul and dream of all theloved ones they’d ever known.
At the moment of that sweetsigh, the tiny tendrils which the oaks had been painstakingly moving outward, seeking tirelessly and relentlessly, met in the midst of that desert. The roots curled around each other in a caress as much like a kiss as anything could be; grasping and binding to one another with a joy so profound that every living thing on the earth felt it. (Have you ever suddenly smiled, and didn't know why? Well, now you know.)
I won't bother to tell you they were never sad again. I won't treat you like a fool and say that they were never sick, never suffered, and never died. But I will tell you that they spent the rest of every day in their magnificent lives satisfied and never regretting what had come to pass. They discovered, as I hope you might be so fortunate to some day, that while love and faith and perseverance might not serve as a barrier to pain, they will help you through it. While they won’t protect you from tragedy, they’ll soften the blow. And while we always hope and wish for everything in our lives to be easy, sometimes some of the most beautiful things come from that which is most difficult.

Pennies, Bullets, and Bookmarks

Have you ever noticed that as you grow older you life is full of little “bookmarks” to remind you of events that have danced across the years of your life? Smells that bring back childhood moments and emotions as if you had just experienced them? Songs that bring and ache to your chest, or a smile to your face, a subtle souvenir from a day long gone?
These little bookmarks have sometimes been wonderful for me, like a scrapbook I carry in my head and heart to ensure that memories are not just some distant dusting waiting to be swept away. But there are moments, sad and often scary-gray-wish-I-could-let-this-one-go moments, which often creep up when they are least welcome or expected.
I was seven years old the summer that my cousin died. We hadn’t been that close, my parents were divorced for three years by then, and I saw her only during my summer visits to Texas. We were the same age, less two months, but she somehow seemed to be years ahead of me. I mean, sure, we played together during the rare weekend my father took me to his brother’s home. But the main reason she played with me was because the small town she lived in afforded her so little entertainment that she was willing to spare a day or two dealing with me, despite my immaturity.
My uncle lived in one of those towns that could slip by unnoticed if you glanced at the map at the same moment you came upon it. Grain silos graced one side of the two lane road, with the railroad tracks snug against the backs of them, and the town with it’s three whole streets stretched out like cracker crumbs strewn carelessly on the other side of the street. The smell of cattle and chickens was pervasive, wafting across the miles of bean, corn, and tomato crops to conceal any other scent that might be so ridiculous as to perfume the air. The summers unyielding heat only compounded the effect, magnifying the manure odor as the day progressed until by nightfall it seemed to cling to my clothes.
My cousin was adventurous, which was probably why she found me so annoying and immature. I was acutely skittish and flinched at everything from bugs to loud noises, and often pleaded with her to play something “safe” with me, like making mud pies under the one oak tree in her mama’s back yard. I can remember her look of distain as she turned away and marched off to the newest exploit she’d decided on, ignoring me until I gave in and ran to catch up.
That last Sunday the game of choice was “squash the penny” on the railroad tracks. Laying our old tarnished pennies on the rail in neat little rows we would run and hide behind the old wooden pallets stacked near the silos and watch as the train flashed by, slinging our converted prizes out for us to find and gloat over.
I had quickly warmed to this game, dispensing my fears when I discovered how the pennies, still hot in my hand, were flattened or severed in half. By the time she pulled out the bullet she’d stolen from her daddy from her pocket and waved it in the air with an excited grin I was so caught up in the enthusiasm that I didn’t even stop to wonder if I should be afraid.
The train seemed to fly toward us as if it knew there was a new prize awaiting it’s arrival… it’s chugging-rattling shaking the ground beneath our feet with a fervor that seemed personal and imminent. When it came even with us and our hiding spot by the silo the roar of the engine and wheels almost drown out the sharp *snap* of the train finding the long bullet we had lain on the track.
I grinned and laughed aloud, the thrill of the moment sweeping me upwards so that it felt like my spirit was sweeping after the massive monster. Turning I looked to my cousin to share the joy of the moment, and saw to my surprise she was laying on the ground. My only real remaining memory of that moment is her upturned hands, dirty and smudged with Texas earth, curled lightly as if in sleep.
The funeral must have been within the following few days, though time seems to have disappeared between the Sunday of the accident and the one where I stood in my stiff print dress beneath the canopy near her graveside. It was quiet. Horribly silent. Most of the tears had been shed and there was no real expression of grief.
My dad stood with my aunt, clasping her hand. My uncle hadn’t come, was unable to muster himself out of the painful daze that was a mix of grief and whiskey. It would be years beforehe ventured out of the broken man that the death of his only daughter had made of him.
I stood alone. As much out of need as because no one was sure how to treat me. They didn’t want to blame me, but I think that somehow they couldn’t help it. The minister began his eulogy in a soft monotone that carried like dust motes in the still of the hot day.
But the worst of it was the flowers. Countless bouquets of flora, wreaths, potted vegetation… everywhere. Thick and fragrant … their perfume lay thick in the arid afternoon, mixing with the never-ending smell of cows and manure.
I tried holding my breath, and breathing low and panting out of my mouth alone, but I couldn’t escape it. My cousin lay there, dead, (oh my… and it could have been… should have been … me) and all I could smell was cow dung and flowers on a day that made everything smell as if it were simmering on a stove.
I don’t remember much after that. I threw up when we got home, as hot and feverish as the miserable day now passing behind us. I was suddenly not alone anymore, but surrounded by sympathetic murmurings and hugs, cools rags and ice cream. I would never be blamed for the death of my cousin after that, somehow my illness had given me an innocence that reality had been unable to supply.
I never spent another summer in Texas.
But as years passed I discovered that the smell of flowers was strangely repugnant. Somehow manure didn’t seem so bad, though it brought to me a slow melancholy that reminded me a summer in Texas I didn’t want to think about too closely. But the smell of flowers on a hot day has since caused me to feel as if I might strangle. Panicky flutterings sweep through my chest and I can almost swear that somewhere in the distance I can hear a train, wailing, shaking, … coming for me in the swelter of the summer sun.

Square Dancing in the Coop

This Story was written for the presents...Write & Win Contests!, topic: Music. The rules, in short, were that the story had to mention the topic, and be 250 words or less. This story took second place in the contest.
Granny loved the fiddle, and she sawed a mean tune Sunday afternoon.
The porch was small, and most of the older folk sat in the shade to be found there. The some of the others sprawled beneath trees to find relief from the sun.
I didn’t bother, the humidity was thick enough to boil crawdads in my pockets, and a little shade wasn’t going to help.
Cyrus looked like a fool, standing in the center the pen. He crouched; feet planted firmly apart, arms akimbo as if he were a wrestler at the county fair. The hen watched him from the corner of her eye, not deceived by the stupid expression on his face. He wasn’t going to outsmart her, but she knew if he were to fall on her she’d be fried up with taters and biscuits within the hour. She clucked quietly to herself, feathers smooth as if she were alone in the world.
Bubba leaned back, rolling his chaw between his lip and teeth, occasionally spitting like a grasshopper into the dirt. He tapped his foot to the music, and I noticed everyone seemed to be nodding to the jig a little bit.
That’s when Cyrus swung his dang arm at what we had expected to be lunch, and ole hen jumped just high enough to use that momentum to let him throw her outta the yard.
Well, there went dinner, and the fiddle too. Bubba jus’ laughed. He likes cornbread an’ beans jus fine.
~January 15, 2005

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Curve

I stood there, stupidly I am sure, while the car barreled around the corner.

I knew it was heading for me, but I could not seem to move. My feet were icy, and perhaps that is part of my excuse. My cold butt could not seem to send a message to my equally frozen brain to move out of the way.

Everything about me was wet, I’d been in the snow for days, with no real place to sleep, and every part of me from one end to the other was a bedraggled mess. I hadn’t been warm for far too long, and so, I just stood there.

No, you idiot. I wasn’t trying to commit suicide.

I don’t particularly like being homeless, but neither have I ever relished being plowed under by an ugly puke green Buick during the coldest time of the year. Besides, even if I had been so inclined, with my luck, a suicide attempt would have meant I’d have ended up crippled and homeless. No thanks.

It was quick, one second it was all headlights in my eyes and screeching tires, the next minute I felt the bumper just brush against me hard enough to throw me into the embankment behind me.

Running feet assured me that whoever had been in the car was rushing over to check on me.

“Awww… dad! A dog! We hit a dog… he’s hurt!”

I breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t some teenager bent on torturing me… there were plenty of them.

“Step back Dani, lemme see….”

The voice was kind… I managed a crooked grin and didn’t make much of an effort to stand up.

“He looks okay Dani, just bruised, but we better take him home.”

Wow… I didn’t expect that. Going home with someone? Maybe some real food and a bed?

“Can we keep him dad?”

I am sure my expression much have said as much, because the man laughed as he scooped me up and headed for the car.

“Why not? What better winter holiday gift than a wet mutt?”

Well… what a turn of events.

Suddenly that old nasty wet snow looked a great deal prettier. For that matter, everything did. From homeless mutt to family pet.

You won’t hear me complaining.

~December 27, 2004

I'll Be Home for Christmas

*This is another story was written for the presents...Write & Win Contests. topic, Holidays. The rules, in short, were that the story had to mention the topic, and be 250 words or less. This story also took first place in the contest.

It was incredibly cold in the house, but that was okay. At least, Aaron thought to himself, he was home.

There was a stocking hanging on the fireplace with his name on it. His mom was there, by the fireplace, smiling happily because he was home. Dad and his brother John were at the table playing chess, and his high school sweetheart was here by his side.

What was a little chill compared to being home for Christmas, when so many others were still on the front lines? He shivered again. He'd escaped the sand and the heat and the war for a little while. He was one of the lucky ones who got to be home with his family.

His mom came over and took his hand and started singing "Silent Night", and soon everyone joined in, including Aaron.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"How's his fever Sergeant?"

"It's risen two degrees, Sir. We can't get it down. He's developed bad chills, and the shivering is making his fever rise."

The doctor looked over the young man in the cot. His face was flushed, and his lips were cracked. He was shaking even in the high desert heat. Yet, he almost seemed to be smiling.

He noticed the soldier seemed to be mumbling something…

"Sergeant, has he been speaking?"

"Kinda Sir. He's singing Christmas carols. They say he won't last 'til morning."

The doctor shook his head and turned away sadly, "Another one who won't get to go home for the winter holidays."

~December 27, 2004

The Christmas Gift

This is a real event. A memory of a day I loved, about this time last year. Dedicated to Dani, Logan and David.

Come the winter and its snows
I don’t fear how winter goes -
Because I have the best, you see…
The love of friends and family.
~Dawn Allynn

I watched them frolic in the snow from the warmth of my car.

The sled was new, made from some lightweight foam, colorful, stylish. Faster than a speeding bullet, and probably no safer. I worry sometimes, but try not to let it absorb me. I learned early to let go and keep my fears to myself. Independence is good for children, and mine certainly thrive well in its environment. Today, however, my mind was less on the possibilities of my kids becoming one with a pine tree and more on the miracle of seeing them together with their sister.

Seventeen years we’d thought about her, and wondered where she was. Beyond our reach but never beyond our prayers. We’d never given up hoping she’d come into our lives one day, and here she was. Now, just the second day after meeting her for the first time, here they were, sledding and playing together as if they’d never spent a day of their lives away from one another.

For hours I watched them play together. Even in the cold snow, their warm love was evident. This was her first time meeting us. Her first time ever seeing snow, making a snow angel, her first time sledding.

But not her last.

This winter holiday brought us all a gift that we'd cherish a lifetime.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Thief

* Written for the write and win contests, The theme, I think, was steal. This took second place.

I’d spent a full summer this year watching lovers walk hand in hand though the flower strewn park while my children cavorted with the other neighborhood kiddos on the playground.

Autumn brought school for my little ones, and hours on the internet seeking solace amongst faceless others who would engage in conversation.

It was better than nothing, but when I went to bed alone, it still felt like nothing.

Now, with the winter holidays all but past, the last degradation was this New Years Eve party my neighbors had begged me to go to. I’d gone as requested, but felt out of place. I didn’t want to go in and stopped just short of the doorway.

I was just about to turn tail and run, when I heard the tinkling of bells above me. Looking up I saw mistletoe wrapped in red ribbon and bells an instant before I was spun and around and kissed.

I should say that I pushed him off me - and that I didn’t close my eyes and sink into the kiss with a sigh born of need. I should say I didn’t love the smell of him or the way the kiss made the heat rise from my toes. (Snow would have melted beneath me.) Instead I savored the beauty of it, and open my eyes with a smile.

“You’re home!”

“They gave me leave; I don’t have to go back for three weeks. Can I steal another kiss?”

“Oh… yes…”

Friday, October 07, 2005

Nudglings from a Dollar Bill

"What is deservedly suffered must be borne with calmness,
but when the pain is unmerited, the grief is resistless."
-- Ovid

I hold the dollar bill in my calloused fingers. It is a rather new bill, and I can almost imagine it still smells of the treasury press.
I have had possession of precious few dollar bills these days, and I feel a sense of wonder at this one, brand-new in my hand, crisp. It brings to mind other things I had once enjoyed that were equally crisp.
Such as my shirts, once starched so heavily that I used to joke you could cut your fingers on their newly ironed edges. Or the air; crisp and cold outside my New England home, where my family and I used to live. The crisp way I once walked, full of confidence, my future ahead of me.
Before the fire.
Before all that I knew became so beyond crisp that it lay in ash.
After that I had nothing left to hold as I mourned my grief to the screaming sky. Now, crisp is the scorched remains of everything I once loved. Crisp is my burnt skin, scarred and ugly. Crisp is my mind, unreliable at best.
I pocket the dollar, pushing it beyond the reach of my fingers into the depths of my jeans and turn my attention to the passing crowds waiting for more change. What is left of me is worn, tired and wilted … all used up.
Just as this dollar bill will soon be.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


When I was younger I wern’t afraid of so much. Dag, I reckon I wern’t afraid a right-near-nothin.

I were always perty good with a gun of any kind, I was eagle-eyed and had the hands of God, my Pa always tolt me. But I ‘spect if he’d known that I’d growd up to be a murderer he wouldn’t of been so proud.

I was sixteen first time I shot a feller.

I’d been smartin' off in front of all the men during a cattle drive, where I’d gotten my first good payin’ job. I was gawing on about how I could outshoot anyone … anyone mind you, and ole Tom Hucker got all fired up and called me a wet-pants-cry-baby, and I shot him before he could say much else.

Then I ran before they could have me at the Sheriff next day and hung. Weren’t much point in getting another job, after that. So I learnt to hone my skills. And in just a few years I was infamous.

I was a lucky feller, so I thought.

But now I am an old man, with hands that shake like a leaf, and can’t holt a gun steady for half a second. I ‘spect that I don’t have long b’fore someone catches me. Funny, I always reckoned it’d be another gun-slinger that’d get me kilt, or see me at the end of a hangman’s noose.

I never figured the fellers to betray me would be my own hands.

~August 2003

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


This Story was written for the presents...Write & Win Contests, and the theme was based on a photo of a broken and smashed computer. The rules, in short, were that the story had to be about the photo, and be 250 words or less. This story recieved first place.

"Fix it."

"Do what?"

I was shaking like an unbalanced load of laundry in a washer. But not the old lady. Man, she held that gun steadier than a concrete wall. Straight toward my chest. Her grip was so tight that her fingers were flat on the handle, squeezed white from lack of blood.

The blood, it seemed, was all in her face.

She was flaming red … man-oh-man that crazy old biddy was in a rage.

"You heard me. Fix it."

"But lady, I can't fix it… nobody can fix it… it's in more pieces than the beach has sand! I wouldn't know…"

"Make it work, or the only thing you're gonna know in a moment is that you won't look much better than my computer does!"

I swallowed hard, and then dropped to my knees. How long did I work on it? Geez, sixteen hours at least. I bent that dang tower back into shape with my hands, and checked every circuit a hundred times until the thing was running. When I pushed the button and it hummed to life, I held my breath until the monitor gave her proof that she could get to her eBay once again.

When she lowered the gun, I fell to my butt, not sure whether to cry from relief or dance with pride.

She patted me on the head as she sat down.

"I knew you could do it! You just needed a little motivation!"

I'm getting another job.