Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What the Tree Saw

What the Tree Saw   

(Winner- 2013 NCW short fiction contest) To be published this Fall in a collection of short stories.                                  

          Now it’s common knowledge that a town of a certain size will have a witch, if only for the purpose of eating disobedient children and thereby keeping the population at manageable levels. My grandma said that mothers of naughty boys and girls offered up more prayers on behalf of their offspring than mothers of obedient kids. To keep down the praying, witches started eating up the troublemakers who were giving their mothers extra reason for heavenly correspondence.
         “Didn’t their Mamas pray even more when their kids were et up?” I’d ask. Sometimes I’d get as much as a huff out of her, but mostly her answer’d be that their mothers forgot about them quicker than a girl my age would care to dwell on.
          I believed her, because my grandma was one of those witches.
          She lived at the edge of town—the edge of town that seemed to be downhill or at least downstream for where the wind would pile up the worst looking dead leaves—in a large grey house that backed up to the only creek in the county. That house had stood through the war. Rumor had it that a Yankee general had tried to burn it, but it wouldn’t light. He tried again and half an oak tree fell on him and his horse and smashed him dead for his effort. The part of the story that most people left out, cause it made the house and the town a whole lot less special, was that this general was burning houses in the middle of a near monsoon. It was too wet to burn a can of gas. The storm and some wind knocked that branch down on his head. Nothing more than bad luck.
            It was at the base of that very tree that my friends and I congregated today. The weeds grew high in the yards around us so we were free from the watchful eyes of adults. We’d been hunting toads all morning along the banks of the drainage ditch that ran behind the house, and once again, the sun had gotten high without us even sighting a single one. We slumped in the shade. There were five of us: me; Ray; the Treemont brothers, Finn and Buck; and my little brother, William. I was the newest to the gang and Will didn’t even count he was so little, so we were getting the least amounts of shade, but not complaining.
Thank you for reading! I've taken down the rest of the story because toward year's end it will be published in an anthology.  Send me a note if you'd like to be emailed about how to get a copy. I'll keep putting up new stories. Thanks again!

Everything on this site is copyrighted. Do not reproduce for financial gain and do not repost without giving credit to author.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Buying My First Bra

 My grandma bought me my first bra.  Now if you ask my mother, she’ll shake her head and swear that she was the one who held my hand as she ushered me through this most sacred of entry doors to womanhood.  But she’d be wrong.  She brought me on my first bra shopping trip sure enough, but our hunt that day was unfruitful. And that’s when grandma came to visit.
            Looking back, I’m pretty sure Grandma’s impending visit was the reason Mom suddenly took an interest in my support wear- not that I had suddenly developed anything that necessitated underclothing - but because grandma was crazy. I know as you read this that many of you are smiling, nodding and recalling your own wacky relations.  (it bonds us; makes us similar and I appreciate that- it’s helpful when sharing embarrassing stories of puberty- but it also lessens the crazy that this woman wore like stolen boy scout pants*.)  
            “There’s a garage sale in your neighborhood.”  Grandma grinned at my sister and me as she poured the milk.
             We were both eager to go. We wolfed down our breakfasts and grabbed up our few dollars and shoved them into whatever purse was the latest one that grandma had given us. Both of these facts were important because Grandma hated greedy kids and she hated even more, ungrateful ones but she also seemed to feel a sense of loss if none were to be found and so she was quite skilled at making my sister and me fit the bill, and we in turn, wore lots of hair clips fashioned out of neon shoelaces.
          Garage saling with Grandma usually guaranteed a happy day. If we could pack in a few sales every day it an ensured an entire visit of relative peace. Here we were, only a few hours into the morning and already on our way to hunt bargains—it bode well for this visit and we could all sense it as we tromped out the front door with high spirits. I know my step faltered a bit, when we –my sister and I decked out in some god-awful Christmas sweaters that we’d just been gifted from the Ropa Usada-- realized that the sale we were heading for was not just ‘in the neighborhood’ but directly across the street. As in, we knew these people. I babysat for their kids, borrowed cups of sugar from them, just generally wanted to keep that certain respect that’s usually cultivated between neighbors that never trade nickels for worn-out socks. 
         My sister was younger and therefore had been embarrassed less by grandma’s voracious bargain hunting (like how the second deer brought down by a pack of wolves knew a tid bit less about being chewed on than the first) but even she hung back and together, the two of us dawdled our way across the street until we no longer could avoid being within the perimeters of the sale. We slouched near the “free” bin nearly in the road, not touching anything, definitely not looking at anything, in the vain attempt to make it appear that we’d just donned these sweaters and large old-lady satchels for a casual August morning walk and had only paused here because we were in the area.
                Mom and Grandma didn’t notice our reticence and set to work seeking treasures. In a matter of minutes, Katie and I were joined by quite a few other kids that we knew from school. Most of them were my age and looked just as horrified to be spotted as we were. Somehow, their misery made me feel loads better. I was, at least, used to this kind of Saturday. If the world suddenly ended and we few embarrassed teenagers at the curb were all that was left, then I would be likely be nominated as the leader for my knowledge and adeptness for the situation.
          I felt that we instantly became closer friends as we all kept our backs to the cardboard boxes of bargains and maniacally pretended that we weren’t standing at the base of a garage sale while our parents shopped. The cute boy that always sat in the back of the school bus and that I’d never had the guts to talk to even directed a chin lift greeting my way. And there, in the sunshiney day of summer and childhood and innocence I chose to ignore that it was probably my sweater that made him notice me. Today, we were all comrades ignoring our silly parents and nothing could find a chink in that armor.
           “Jennifer! Get in here,” Grandma called me up to where the Buick was parked and tables were piled with clothes. I could hear my peers snickering, grateful that the gods of the garage hadn’t chosen them as the next victim. That was fine. I’d been through my fair share of embarrassing moments and really what could a table of suburban housewife clothes have that was worse than what I was already wearing? I should have noticed when my mom wouldn’t make eye contact with me.        
             But Grandma sure did.
             For about 2 seconds before her focus dropped to my chest. 
             “Jennifer, they’ve got bras. Try this on.”
             “Grandma...” I looked to my mom to back me up here while I mentally scrambled, “we actually just had this discussion just yesterday- with real professionals, even- and I’m good.” 
            “If you’re not going to try it on, then I will.” Grandma growled.  (She wasn’t talking about putting it on her own body- she was meaning that if I wouldn’t do it willingly, then she would get it on me unwillingly.
          My panic latched onto something that might slow her. “A whole dollar a piece. That’s salty.” And I backed away. But I didn’t get far. 
             “If you’re gonna be a baby about it, then we’ll just try it on over top of the sweater.” Grandma had the neighbor lady’s ragged nursing bra up over my arms with a speed that would have stunned a seasoned cat bather. Then my mom got to work at my back girdling up all the extra wool that my ridiculous modesty had put between me and the perfect fit.
            The two of them mashed and tugged and worked in horrific harmony to take me through several bra fittings all under the stunned audience of neighborhood kids and passersby. We tried on a whole box of them suckers. I went home with quite a few and all it cost was a few dollars and a lot of dignity that I really didn’t need anyway.

*In truth, grandma never wore these pants that I mention- she gave them to me as a birthday present. They were huge and how she wrested them from the grip of the scout, I’ll never know, but when I wore them to school, oblivious in my brotherless life to all things scout, my friends were quick to inform me that somewhere in the world there was a naked boy scout holding up his three fingers and cursing my name.

 Everything on this site is copyrighted. Do not reproduce for financial gain and do not repost without giving credit to author.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Don't Feed The Bums

This little story got an honorable mention in the 2013 Delizon Short story contest and will be published this Fall.
      The first real house that my husband and I bought was in Albany, New York. Deep in downtown, like I could see the capital from our window. City buses, taxis, singing whinos, cracked concrete sidewalks, graffiti, all of those things you associate with city living we had in spades. This story is about one of those middle things- the singing whinos.
       We’d moved to New York for my husband to start medical school. I’d landed a job at the Jewish Community Center and the pittance they’d be paying me would be what we’d live on for the next four years. But the stars of my poor pay and the depressed housing market of the area aligned and on our first day there, we opened the realtors'  Housing For Sale page to a ray of heavenly sun and a section entitled: “Under $5,000”.
     There were homes- entire homes with bathrooms, roofs, walls, stairways, and carpet complete with quaint cigarette burns- for less than the cost of a car.  (Not any car that we could afford at the time, but still, that’s the perspective we framed these treasures in.) That first night in town, before we’d even gone out with a realtor, Chuck and I sat up late picking out our favorites and giggling about how we could go totally Daddy Warbucks on this town and buy two.
            Then dawn came and with it, actual physical visits to meth houses and the reality of a realtor that wouldn’t even get out of his car in the neighborhoods we requested, asbestos waivers to sign and crime tape to duck under.  It was a fun-filled week but in the end, self preservation wrung a few more dimes out of our tightwad paws and we sprang for a $30,000 house in a neighborhood that the local cops gave a shoulder-shrug rating of what we interpreted to mean, “so-so.”
            It was a two story brick row house the color of burnt chocolate and I swear to you in a most ardent fashion, that it was love at first sight. There’s really no other way to explain why I would have fought to buy it. It had been abandoned for 30 years. No water, no electricity, a few radiators remained but all of them had long ago exploded leaving the walls pitted with shrapnel and sprayed with what I first assumed to be blood (again, I’d been on the home tour of Dante’s Inferno for a solid week and this wasn’t even remotely a deal breaker) but what I later learned was heating oil. We couldn’t even walk down the main hallway on our initial visit because the lead paint was peeling in such thick massive curls that it truly resembled a gauntlet. There was no kitchen and where the bathroom should have been there was just a massive sagging hole where the roof had leaked, the bathtub had overflowed (for decades!) and finally the floor had just given up and fallen through. I took my first peek into the abyss where the bath should have been and there, 14 feet down, was a Volkswagen Beetle crushed by a toilet. And my thought was not to run, but to rush and put in a bid on this house before the seller realized they’d forgotten their car.
    I should have just titled this thing, “Being greedy and my weighty lessons in Karma”. We bought the house and a month later, moved in. Maybe someday I'll write a book about all the adventures surrounding that address, but for now I’ll just share the story of my first day as mistress of 77 Spring Street.
      On our initial day of home ownership, Chuck had medical school orientation so I was to go and get our place move-in ready on my own. Our realtor gave me keys to our new home, but those slacker pieces of metal were about to get fired when I realized what a crap job they’d been doing for the past few decades. As I opened my door for the first time I was greeted by half a dozen bleary-eyed men who I’d evidently awoken.  (The sleeping bags and their yelling is what tipped me off.) I think I went out and cried for a bit and then, realizing I didn’t have a whole lot of options, re-entered my home and tried again. This second time they were actually very nice and after the initial awkwardness of kicking them out, they seemed to understand that I had just bought the house and would not want them creeping in through the broken windows anymore.
            While I moved in my broom and box of black trash bags, the bums gathered their meager supplies, waved good-bye, and each seemed to take a different exit from the house-- kitchen window, rear window, porch fire escape, through useless back door and the last one, by shoving out the doorknob (and then kindly replacing it) of the door I was holding the keys for. It was like watching one of those night vision videos an exterminator would make to show you all the ways the mice are breaching your home. Well, my fortress was definitely not a secure one, but as the last bum wished me well, I was now mistress of my first home.
            The broom and trash bags- I mention them because they illustrate that even as I took up residence in this house-- even after I’d signed on the dotted line and mentally committed to potentially raise children in this husk of a home-- that I didn’t comprehend what I’d gotten into. I’d just evicted vagrants that spoke as if they’d been there for generations. I will tell you right now, that structure didn’t reach a broom and trash bag level of cleanliness until months later. On that first morning, I made a circuit of my new hellhole while dragging those naïve supplies. I don’t think I’d even made it to the sans kitchen before I pitched those futile tools into a corner, bought myself a snow shovel and work gloves and hired a dumpster to be delivered every week.
            Needless to say, that first day was a doozy. Luckily, Chuck and I hadn’t been sure that we’d be able to get a key to get into the place on the first day (yeah, I find it funny to realize that any sketchy guy on the street probably could have shown me how to get into the house), so we'd gotten a hotel room for the night. We met up that evening- me filthy and rushing to the first running water I’d seen all day, and him, shell shocked as a flag boy after hearing how med school intended to crush his soul- and we planned our attack on the next day.  The hole in the bathroom floor was bigger--well, it was the whole bathroom floor and fixing that would be first on the agenda.
            The next morning when we pulled up to our house, my bums were sitting on the front stoop. I think they assumed that I wouldn’t come back. If I had to guess/translate their silent gawks, my money would be on: “What she doing back? Who’d choose to live here? Slappy didn’t even stay a night before he went back to sleeping under the bridge. I mean, man, I claim no address before I’d admit to this place.” They shuffled off but not before I tried to introduce myself. In a way, they were my first neighbors and I was sort of new at all this, but I was eager for some friends.
            Those thoughts stuck with me for the rest of the beastly, heinous workday. Have you ever pulled a rotting toilet off of a rotting Volkswagen? Have you ever been near ceramic so fouled that it actually rotted? I blame my wandering mind on those surroundings. I got to thinking that the homeless men weren’t just sort of like my neighbors; they were actually my neighbors. The one who seemed the most sober had mentioned that they’d see me again tomorrow. One of the least sober ones had explained that our address is where they met every morning. I got a little thrill at hearing my house being described in the framework of being a community hub of sorts. A gathering place.
            I pictured me being one with the people of Albany; fist bumps and jokes and them helping me carry in my groceries and me getting them to give up drinking as we had evening talks on lawn chairs near the cobblestone street. I decided that I better get all these future relationships started on the right foot. The third morning, though we had ZERO money and I’d eaten nothing but potatoes for weeks, I blew a portion of our renovation budget on McDonald’s breakfasts for the seven neighbors that I expected on my front stoop.
            Morning came and so did seven of my friends. They gratefully took the breakfasts and more grunted than chatted with me as they wolfed down the egg McMuffins. I didn’t want to push the relationship too fast, so I excused myself to work on boarding up one of the upper windows. It didn’t take me long—a mere 48 hours in that house had trained me to be pretty good at boarding up openings-- so I was gone maybe 10 minutes before I returned to check on my guests.
            When I walked out onto my front steps, I was greeted with more vomit than I’ve ever seen in my life. You could work at a vomit store and never witness the volume that I saw. The bums were long gone, but they had left enough puke enough that it literally rolled down the sidewalk. 

      This was the moment I became a city girl.

      The crime scene tape, the pitbulls, the broken car glass on the sidewalks, the hair weaves sold at the grocery store, none of it made me cynical because I truly believed that I could find a silver lining in all of it. But in that moment of putrid reality, of realizing that I owned no garden hose and even if I did, that had no water to turn on anyway and that I had zero ways to spray that filth off my doorstep --in that moment, I would have used my worthless house keys to stab the next drunken bum that tried to “attend their daily meeting”.

     That morning I became a student at the school of cold hard facts:

       You feed a drunk homeless man a greasy breakfast and they’re going to puke it up all over your front steps. And there ain’t no silver lining to that.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

That Wilson was a fine actor

The writing prompt was: you are stranded on a desert island with a dictionary, a coconut and a mask. How do you escape? 800 word maximum.

That Wilson Was a Fine Actor

Ever since that Tom Hanks cave-manned his emaciated arse (p.1) across the sand in Castaway, people are so quick to assume that every roundish object on a desert island is a friend to be made. Those idiots never spent 114 days with that selfish coconut. The smug ball was sitting in the sand, not saying a thing, when we both knew good and well that his insides were likely turning to cheese in the hot sun. I flung myself back onto my side of the island putting the solitary palm tree between us and forced my eyes to look everywhere except his side of the beach. The boat on the horizon was definitely getting closer. The knot in my gut tightened as I realized that he was no closer to telling me the answer. 
             114 days ago I’d been living it up on a Disney cruise boat with my cousin. We’d just filled our bellies with cookies and were about to try the big water slide- wearing snorkeling gear this time, because yesterday it nearly drowned us. When my cousin says, “I got a riddle for you. What’s a pirate’s favorite letter?”
            Well the truth is, I didn’t have a clue. But I‘d seen in the ship’s gift shop, a book entitled: Dictionary of Pirate Lingo- talk like a matey before you hit page eighty. I’m not proud of this fact, but after nearly drowning on that wicked slide once again, I went and stole that book. Jimmy wouldn’t tell me the answer and if I was ever to learn the truth, that book held my best chance. I slipped the tome into the back of my wet trunks and then draped a couple pool towels around me Julius Caesar style.
            And then I took off running. My only problem was that the wet shorts, towels twisting around my ankles and a scuba mask impeding my view made for a sloppy getaway. Before I knew it, I was tumbling headlong over the brass handrail and into the waiting arms of the salty Pacific.
            Twelve hours of battling Davy Jones (p. 16) and I found myself sputtering on this island no bigger than a postage stamp. By nightfall I’d read the entire pirate dictionary twice and was no closer to finding the answer. By morning, I was lonely. That’s when the sun rose, bright and beautiful, and lit upon the few stringy hairs of what was to become my best friend. A coconut. I still remember the first time I saw those three brown eyes of his. And how I felt.
            It had actually been his idea to send out the distress messages. We didn’t have much to work with, but we did have a pirate dictionary. Each evening as the sky became alive with color, we’d tear out seafaring terms that would make a good “rescue me” note. Many of them had something to do with a scallywag. Most of them came out sounding more like hostile threats than pleas for help. But each night, as the sun set fire to the sea, we’d toss our messages into the tides in hopes that, someday, we’d be rescued.
            During the days, the two of us would hunker in the shade and pour over the few clues the dictionary could offer. I’d told him of the riddle and together we would find the answer, come black spot (p.4) or Fiddler’s Green (p. 13).
            113 days we spent searching for the truth. Then, this morning, he admits that he figured it out.
            I begged him to tell me, but he wouldn’t. He just plunked down in the sand and stared off at the rolling waves. It made me furious.
            The rescue boat was now close enough that I could hear the hum of its motor over the toss of the waves. A tear, as saline as our salty prison, slipped silently down my cheek as I accepted the fact that he might never share the secret with me.
             I let my rescuers lift me over the lip of the speedboat, swearing that I wouldn’t look back. I allowed myself one final glance toward that stubborn, brilliant, spoolly brown head staring off at the ocean.
             Arrgh! (p.1)
             And then suddenly, I understood. He’d been telling me the whole time. He was staring out at the ocean; the sea.
             Question: what is a pirate’s favorite letter? 
             Answer: you might think it be arrrgh, but it’s truly the sea.

***Dedicated to my scallywag bro, Danny

Saturday, May 11, 2013

I did something well!

This is my own little plot in cyberspace and as such, I hereby proclaim that it's okay for me to be happy for myself-- and to brag up myself a bit.

I just placed third in the NCW fiction short story contest for my entry entitled: What the tree saw

And I just got an honorable mention (11th place) in the Delizion Annual Short Story Competion for my story: Don't Feed the Bums

whoot, whoot for myself!

I can't post these stories here so as to not compete with the publisher's rights, but I'll get you links to read the stories as soon as I can.  And if you're in the neighborhood, stop on by and we'll celebrate with cookies!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Mini Felt Monsters

 These guys are super simple. Cut front and back of your monster out of felt.

Embellish the top with embroidery loss details like two eyes, one eye, a snaggle tooth, the monster world is wide open to let your imaginations romp.

I've even heard that monsters are happy to give up the drudgery of haunting under beds in exchange for a promotion to the world of bookmark servitude.

 Fit the front and back pieces together. Stitch leaving base open so you can stuff with bits of fluff. Stitch closed.

Scary cute!