Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Blood Love

Recently, I had the honor of having my short story "Blood Love" published with Prick of the Spindle. The story came to me when I worked as an office girl at one of the automotive parts stores in my hometown.  One of the guys was talking about a car accident.  Many of the other guys knew the family, and so, they spent a good part of the day discussing it and trying to discover details.

Apparently, a brother and sister were driving down the road when a semi-truck suddenly came out of nowhere and threatened a head-on collision.  The brother was driving.  He made a split second decision.  He spared his sister's life by turning the wheel and taking the brunt of the impact.  Sadly, he perished.  But, the story of that brother and sister stuck with me.

How quickly that young man made a choice.  He must have loved his sister a great deal.

What would have happened if he had turned the wheel the other way?

That's when I began thinking about a mother and her child.  What would happen if a mother was in that situation and made the "wrong choice"?  Mothers are supposed to be self-sacrificing, always putting their children first...but, what if self-preservation was the stronger instinct?

What would a split second decision reveal about any of us?  Would it reveal anything at all?

I wrote this story trying to arrive at some kind of answer.

Here is a link to "Blood Love":

http://www.prickofthespindle.com/fiction/7.4/white/white.html

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Things We Don't Say

The rest of the country believes Midwesterners are secret-keepers, passive-aggressives who shy from confrontation.  I learned this in graduate school.  I had never thought of my bland birthplace as being so distinctive.  The more I thought about these traits, though, the more I saw them in friends, family, neighbors, and even myself.

My elderly neighbor's husband died in early January of this year.  He drifted off to the dreams only the dying know.  His decline had been steady over several months--a stroke, the nursing home, slumbering himself into Heaven.  He was 90-years-old, a lifetime of service: veteran, Mason, devout church-goer, the first person after a snowstorm to clean off his neighbors' cars. 

While it was true that I did not know the man as well as some, I liked him immediately.  He had been one of the first people to welcome me to the building and learn my name. 

Last week, his frail widow stood inside the door to our apartment. I had just learned that morning that Bob had passed away the night before.

A bunch of us were in the parking lot moving cars for the snowplows.  A heavy blizzard had dumped a foot snow on us, and we were trying to help keep our lot clear. It was exactly the type of event where my dear neighbor Bob would've been involved, laughing and joking and talking with everyone.

I felt tight in my chest.  I needed to say something.  I needed to acknowledge this loss.  I needed to not cry when I looked her in the eyes. 

His wife pretended to hold the door tight so that I couldn't enter.  I smiled.   What would I say to her?  More than that, what should I say to her?  There is an etiquette and convention to these moments, especially to those who are older, belonging to a different time and place than me.  Her husband made a person's heart happy, just the sight of him outside tinkering with one of their cars would be cause for a smile. 

He loved my little dog, spoke of how his mother used to own a little Chihuahua.  He would laugh and clap and tease my dog like he was a boy again.  It was such a delight to see that sparkle in that older man's eye.  If only for a minute or two, he was a boy again, reveling in the joy of romping with a pup, not caring who saw or what anybody thought. 

For his sake alone, I needed to find the words.

"It's cold out there," she said.

I chuckled a little, nervous. "Yeah." My nose stung from the emotions starting to stir.

We shuffled out of the foyer together into the hall of our building.  

Say something.  Now is the chance.

"I tell you," she said. "I almost slipped on these stairs earlier."

"Yeah, you got to be careful," I replied. 

Our emphatic discussion about cold and snow spoke of our emotions.  She knew that I knew and that I wanted to say something, but she took control of the conversation. 

I knew what she was telling me:

 I know you know and know that it's okay to not say anything right now.  It's too raw.  There will be plenty of time for tears.  I know you miss him.

I watched her climb the stairs.

"I'm sure ready for warm weather," I said.

"Me, too," she answered, already out of sight.

And, we'd said it.  Everything we needed to at that moment.  At first, I thought I should feel disappointed in myself that I hadn't had the courage to say something, but soon I realized that we had communicated everything to each other perfectly.

Midwesterners may be non-confrontational, a little passive-aggressive, secret-keepers, but we also understand, perhaps better than some, that sometimes what we don't say is the most important thing to say at a given moment.

Rest in peace, Bob.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Jesus Loves Me, This I Know


Jesus Loves Me, This I Know
I am the woman at the well.  The prostitute flung into the dust awaiting the thunk of stones to her head, her legs, her chest.  I am the Centurion pleading for the life of my servant.  I am the eunuch from my mother's womb.  I am the prodigal returned home, feasting on a fatted calf, still received with a kiss...

I Come to the Garden Alone
I closed my eyes and knelt beside my childhood bed, the same one I had for years.  I was 28 years-old, living back home, teaching at a private university--to save money, to save time, it was a one-year position. Each night, I would shout silently at my ceiling, grit my teeth and spill my heart and blood and tears all over the pages of my worn Bible.  Pages wrinkled.  Gilding tarnished.  My only answer, the wrong answer, and, yet, he tells me that "I am His own."

Doxology
Often, this was the first hymn we sang in church on Sunday morning. We rose from our pews.  We sang in unison.  We "praised God from Whom all blessings flowed."  I evened my voice and joined the monotone chorus.  We "creatures here below."  Amen.

Nearer My God to Thee
On the Titanic, the orchestra played this hymn as the ship slipped beneath the icy waters.  Here is a story of a soul breaking free of its body: "On joyful wing cleaving the sky/sun, moon, and stars forgot, upward I fly." The body, the betrayal of physical sensations, the temptations, the lusting after the wrong flesh...Yet, my spirit cleaves the sky.  I am two in one.  Is the warring necessary?  Is one dragging me into sin and hellfire and eternal burning; the other bursting upwards like an ember, like a spark?  Yet man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upwards, or so Job tells us...

I Surrender All
"All to Jesus I surrender" night after night. In the darkness.  Warm tears burning down my cheek.  "Lord, I give myself to thee;/fill me with thy love and power;" and I surrendered all over and over and over.  Jesus is the cure-all, be-all; once you have Jesus, the world is rainbows and butterflies and you never have to hurt or doubt or wander again. So, I sang. So, I believed.  So, I learned was not that easy...

I'll Fly Away
If skin melted like wax and these bones could step from the hot puddle like a flame alive, I would quiver and flicker and desire the moth.  Words whispered in fervent prayer smoke in a black plume. Flit closer. Fan me with your singed wings. Oh, Glory!

All Things Bright and Beautiful
But, still, I sang the hymns, treasured them as preciously as verses from God's Word. I held the shaky hymnal, cleared my throat, and proclaimed: "All things bright and beautiful,/All creatures great and small,/All things wise and wonderful:/The Lord God made them all."  And, he made me.  Aren't I bright and beautiful, wise and wonderful?  I'm here.  Didn't he make me, too?  Like the sparrows, the wild flowers, the creepy crawly critters of night?  I am "fearfully and wonderfully made" like a Psalm?  I sing a solo too often.

Softly and Tenderly
At the end of the service, we sang this hymn, beckoning "sinners" to "come home," and listen to Jesus' calling.  I raised my voice and sang: "Oh, for the wonderful love He has promised,/Promised for you and for me!/Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon,/Pardon for you and for me." But, I don't have a pardon.  Not for my sin.  That's what other people believe.  Gluttony, greed, inhospitality for the sick and dying...there is pardon.  I believed the hymn.  But, softly and tenderly, the hymn lied to me.  Or, was it the choir who sang it who lied? 

It Is Well With My Soul
In the quiet, in the peace, when I close my eyes and feel the touch of the Master's hand, it is well with my soul.  He spoke; I listened.  I try to follow those footprints in the sand.  Because I may not be perfect and I may be flawed, but this know and always will, Jesus loves me for the Bible tells me so.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Best of Ohio Short Stories Anthology













I am incredibly honored to be included in this collection of short stories with so many talented writers.  You can find the anthology many places, but here is a link to Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Best-Ohio-Short-Stories-1-ebook/dp/B00GCTYW20/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385582995&sr=8-1&keywords=best+of+ohio+short+stories

Thank you, Brad Pauquette!

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Halloween Post

A year or so ago, I published my short story "Pieces" with Toasted Cheese Literary Journal.  It is a spooky story about murder, jealousy, love, and hate. The setting is the Wood County Historical Society in Bowling Green, Ohio.  This story is one of my favorites:

http://tclj.toasted-cheese.com/2011/11-1/white.htm

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Wicked Witch of Hammansburg


That's what the locals called my great-grandmother.  Whenever I hear that, I picture her as Miss Gulch from the Wizard of Oz riding her bicycle up and down the country roads, cackling, threatening "pretties" and their little dogs. 

I never met Myrtle Maud, or was it Maud Myrtle (genealogy records and her headstone do not agree)?  There is only one picture of her that I know.  She was not pretty, not that she needed to be, but even standing there in that floral print dress, she was not a woman with soft features.  In the picture, she wears a hard squint, no smile, and a rather bulbous nose.  Is that the nose I inherited?  As a teenager, I spent too much time in the mirror contemplating the size of my own nose, wishing it was smaller.  

Beside her in the picture is my great-grandfather James Henry, the father my grandmother adored.  His tie is too short.  That detail bothered me whenever I looked at the picture as a child.  By the time of the photo, I am sure he had lost his eyelids in the oil fire where he had worked.  When he slept, I am told, he couldn't close his eyes, and that slumbered stare would roll around, back and forth, following people in the room. 

James Henry and Maud Myrtle were a scandalous pair in their day.  She was 18 when they married, already seven months pregnant.  He was a 31-year-old bachelor with a colorful past--to say the least.  He had been handsome in his younger days; there were several pictures of him in the family albums.  He enjoyed drinking and cavorting.  There is a picture of him with a "neighbor's child."  The infant is perched on a stool, and he stands almost proudly beside it--a baffling photo for those times.  Why a picture with a neighbor's child?  Photographs weren't cheap.  James Henry's own mystery deepens.

But, it's Myrtle Maud who apparently rankled her neighbors.  Hammansburg isn't a town, not even much of a village. If you drive a few miles outside of Bowling Green, Ohio, or Findlay, Ohio, you will happen across a collection of about forty houses or so--like a couple of city's blocks that somebody picked up and flung like a frisbee into cornfields.

Maud Myrtle was a staunch member of the Women's Temperance League.  We have flipped through her old hymnals and tried to sing the lyrics about keeping sober and pure.  She may have also joined a less public klan, not so much over issues of race, but due to her strong anti-Catholic sentiments.  I doubt she wore the infamous sheets, or maybe she did.  You always see male members, not female, in the movies.

And, now, I picture her in a hood on her bicycle being lifted by tornadic winds...Maud Myrtle Sterling, soon to unleash her flying monkeys...

Maud had firm convictions, and, perhaps, she was vocal about them, preachy--a zealot with a view of morality and religious rightness she felt other people should practice, too?

A WASP with a stinger.

She whisked my 17-year-old grandmother into marriage with my grandfather.  Did she fear that her daughter would follow in her own missteps?  Was Myrtle trying to atone for the past sins of her husband? 

My grandmother never spoke ill of her mother.  Yet, my grandmother told me the story of how when she was a little girl and her mother was pregnant, she remembered seeing Myrtle drink something from a green bottle.  She didn't know what it was.  But, Grandmother's baby brother--named James Henry, Jr., though Grandma had three older brothers--died.  Myrtle had not wanted to be pregnant and raise another child.

Who was this woman who gave birth to the woman who would give birth to my mother?

The older I get, the more I am convinced I might've inherited her nose. What other parts of me are hers?  Her hypocrisy?  Her fear that other people were like her?

Late in life, diabetes would claim one of her legs and confine her to a wheelchair.  I wonder how many people mourned her when she passed.  Did Hammansburg gather together, hold hands, and dance in the road, singing "ding, dong, the witch is dead"? 

Nobody mourns the wicked, the famous song lyric tells us.

But, of course, we do.

Maybe we mourn them most of all because they are too hurt, too broken, too afraid to enjoy life and simply allow other people to trip and fall and fail--misguided love with a wicked twist.

When I watch the Wizard of Oz these days, I relate to the poor Wicked Witch of the West who loses her sister.

We're all a bit wicked but still worthy of understanding...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Straying

Recently, I had the opportunity to publish a 100 word story with 100 Word Story.

Here is the link:

http://www.100wordstory.org/3204/straying/

Thanks!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Thoughts at Lincoln's Tomb


Inside the tomb, there is the humid, earthy smell of damp stone, millions of trapped breaths and prayers.  Echoing in the chambers leading to his headstone, you hear the babble of languages, Spanish overlaps German, Japanese mingles with English and French. 

And, then, the silence. 

We all stand and stare at the large stone with only his name, birth year and death year.  Simple.  Written just beyond the stone are the words: "Now He Belongs to the Ages."  A heavy heart lurches.  

Dead 148 years, yet the struggle lingers, the Civil War smolders, the embers of hate glow through the ash.  This man and his words still feel relevant: his virtues and beliefs, his flaws and his failures.  States are divided on marriage equality, red state, blue state, black state, white state, brown state--brother against brother, friend mourning the loss of friend, morals clashing with morals.  Differences and disagreement groove into deep divisions where patience and tolerance are seldom sought.

"A house divided against itself cannot stand," he said, quoting an even greater Teacher (Mark 3:25).

Violence ended his life, a bullet to the back of the head.  Violence and bullets still end lives filled with potential.

To stand in that tomb, I was unexpectedly moved by Mary Todd Lincoln's vault.  A woman who probably would've been happiest to stay in Springfield, host social events, walk the streets a prominent wife of a prominent husband.  But, her husband was ambitious, and her dream life became a nightmare of death and loss and instability.  I mourned her.  So vilified in life, misunderstood in death, most often represented as a unbearable weight around her noble husband's shoulders. 

Her old bones sleep soundly with his now.

We all stood against the ropes barring us from stepping closer, the closest we can ever come to being near this mythic man--just dust now, interred ten feet below the large headstone, beneath the almost ostentatious monument to a humble man.

He is grieved, and if those mummified remains woke, his own grief would be immense.  What would he tell us now?  This man known for elegant brevity.  What would Father Abraham tell his children?

He does not tell us anything anymore, only shows us.  Life is fragile, no matter how great the person.  We are vulnerable and mortal.  Presidents, first ladies, children of privilege, teenagers in hoodies, elderly men and women who beg for food, babies left on doorsteps and in dumpsters, middle class middle-aged English teachers--we will all become unified in the end, fodder for weeds and wild flowers.

All flesh bleeds red.

All last breaths are warm.

All bones are the same color.

So far, so far, and still farther, how much further do we have to go to finally be united and equal and free?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Confessions of a Middle-Aged Tomboy


 
Baseball cap, black leather belt around my waist with a plastic knife and toy tomahawk stuffed into either side, tank top, scabbed scrapes on elbows and knees--such was my usual gear when I was a little girl.  I climbed trees, scampered onto the garage roof, played p-i-g and h-o-r-s-e, Capture the Flag, tackle football, dodge ball.  Summers were filled with gritty necks and sweat and laughter.

More than one person called me a "tomboy," and even as girl, I bristled at the term.  I wasn't a boy.  That much had already been determined when my older brother Matt rather gleefully corrected me once that "girls have vaginas, not penises."  I verified the information with my father that night when he tucked me in.

With my brown eyes large and inquisitive, I ambushed my father by a sudden burst of maturity, "Do I have a vagina?"

His lips rippled into a smile somewhere between amusement and horror.

"Yes," he said matter-of-factly. "You do."

Click.  Lights out.

After that, I was given "the little yellow book."  When Matt and I reached the appropriate age, we were allowed to read "the little yellow book" written for curious children.  We weren't to talk about it with the other kids or pass the book around.  It was a private rite of passage in our house. 

So, I zipped myself up in my Spiderman sleeping bag, flashlight in hand, and absorbed every scientifically explained detail about sperms and eggs and babies.  I stared at the pictures of naked Grecian statues lacking adequate genitalia--still feeling scandalously thrilled at being "allowed" to look at naked people.

Being armed with this adult knowledge did nothing to change me.  I still hated dolls, leaving one out in the rain once.  It was a fancy type of doll you could feed and it could pee.  Well, that doll peed for days after that.  I tugged barrettes out of my hair.  I wrinkled my nose at pink and frilly clothes. 

People continued to call me a tomboy, a term I hated and still do. Tomboy makes me think of  the word "tomcats" and I view tomcats as frisky male felines on the prowl, yowling, marking territory, leaving litters of kittens in their wake.  And, being called a tomboy wasn't exactly complimentary, either, at least not in the 70's. But, this supposed "boyness" in little girls is tolerated because people think they will outgrow it, eventually to wear skirts and pine after boys.

To me, it meant I was "other," not quite a girl, that something was "boy-like" about me.  But, I didn't feel boy-like.  I was just being an active girl whose parents allowed her to express herself.  Matt liked needle point for a while, enjoyed cooking, loved singing with my mom--he wasn't called a tomgirl.  I know he was teased, though, probably called a sissy or gay or a host of other things.  As he got older, he became paranoid about gender markers--he wouldn't even carry pink tissues in his pockets when he was sick.

I learned to dislike categories, dichotomies, little check boxes that tried to construct my behavior and define it.  Girls who wear ball caps and enjoy physical activity are not being masculine.  They're being as female as the little girl in the dress who sits around and dreams of her perfect prince and plans to make lots of babies.  I learned early that I didn't have to "feel like a girl."  I have a vagina.  I am a girl.  I only ever have to feel like me.

On the cusp of forty-years-old, I still wear a ball cap now and then.  I enjoy a good sweat.  I don't mind the grit that comes from mowing a lawn or spending an afternoon playing sports.  I like to watch football.  I wear skirts when I feel like it.  I wear jeans when I feel like it. 

Expected gender behaviors have always bothered me, maybe because they always dogged me from childhood up, society dictating how I should feel as a female, act as a female, look like as a female.

You're a woman.  You should dress up, wear heels (I can twist my ankle just walking, so, no thanks, Jack), wear make-up, make yourself appealing to the opposite sex, wear jewelry, style your hair, modify yourself into something you naturally aren't. 

That's fine for people who enjoy doing such things.  I didn't "play dress up" as a girl.  Why should I "play dress" now?

People might call me a middle-aged tomboy, but I'm not and I never was.  Not a boy.  Not a tom.  I'm just a middle-aged woman not willing to apologize or conform to someone else's notion of what I should be, and when I see little girls romping with the boys, I smile.  There's another one, I think. 

I just hope she can always stay that open and unbounded and free.
 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Sleepwalkers

I plan to update my blog soon, but in the meanwhile, I thought I might share a story I published a bit ago with The Smoking Poet. This story was also nominated for Best New American Voices 2008, but, alas, it didn't make the cut.  Still, as I work on new material, I thought I might share this story again.   Thanks for taking the time to read it!

http://thesmokingpoet.tripod.com/winter201011/id20.html