Memorial Day Story

Here’s a short story that seems appropriate for today. Hope you like it!

Not Always the Way You Hoped

The steep driveway

Emily still trudged around the curve and down the steep gravel driveway to the mailbox as she’d done every day she could remember. Routine. The hope she’d get some sort of notification about her soldier son had turned into routine. She maneuvered back up the gravelly drive thinking about the vast deserts of the Middle East, the awful battle and attacks she’d seen on TV. As she climbed the porch steps to the front door, she abruptly smeared away tears and forced up a thought of time. Too much time had passed for good news.

Inside and in the kitchen, she laid the silly catalogs on the counter. After a few minutes, she shook her head in disgust; angrily, she internally shouted at herself to stop fixing her attention on that damned phone. She’d nearly died from birthing that boy, she’d helped him with his homework, she’d got him a bike he’d went nuts over. With no daddy to help, she’d even showed him how to use a bow and arrow and stuff like that. She halted that recurring train, derailing it. Maybe it would have been better if she’d died.

In an effort to keep busy, she cleaned up the mess in the house systematically. Finding a sealed bag of chocolate chips that had fallen behind the shelves put her into auto. Before she knew it, a cookie sheet, mixer and mixing bowl had appeared on the counter. Cookies? Lordy, Chet had craved chocolate chip cookies, stuffing them into his pockets and all. The chips were close to expiration and needed to be used…

She sat stiffly on a kitchen chair dragged between the counter and the front door. She gazed steadily at the pile of cookies, smelled them, felt the heat from the oven. She did not hear the van pull up but did respond to the furiously barking dogs. She went to open the door. A van? The side door slid back and a woman with a child about two years old, maybe more, got out.

A’Dila had a strong accent but knew English very well. The little boy the woman had passed to her snugged in closer as she nudged the front door shut with her foot. When A’Dila dragged another chair over, the boy raised his head and the stack of cookies grabbed his mind. Emily reached and tugged the plate closer.

Emily had nearly finished reviving the spare bedroom in a steady and controlled manner as A’Dila described how Chet had been a prisoner for quite a while, how he’d escaped, how the wide area had been shut down with no communication allowed in or out. They’d decided to become a family. After a halting sob, she finished with how her dearest love Chet had been shot in the head as he planted vegetables in the sandy yard. Then more clearly, she added how a charity group had rescued her and her beloved son.

That night, watching some sci-fi series episode, Emily closed her eyes and thanked the Lord, God and all Heaven as she heard little Chet pull a cookie from his pocket and then bite a big chunk off.

Tiana, Searching for Something Good

Tiana bent over low to peer under the orange pick-up truck, aha! She skittered away fast when the fat bearded guy walked up, slung his groceries in the back and yanked the driver’s door open. She kept a keen eye on anyone coming and going in the parking lot as the noisy thing finally left. The she went over and picked up the can of Cherry Pie Filling where he’d been, no dents or nothing.

Safely in her backpack, she patrolled the IGA lot for more dropped goodies, more stuff not recovered from busted bags, dropped money (seldom). Too bad they took away the Salvation Army donation box that used to be on the far corner of the lot, too bad. She wore a nice warm coat from there until she had to give it to her little sister.  They had a church pretty close but she was afraid they’d chase her away like the church on the other side of the lot did. They’d called her ‘filth’.

‘Sheesh, one good thing all morning.’ Her thoughts darted between vigilance and wondering if her mother’s asshole boyfriend was gone yet. He was mean and evil and she hoped her puppy he killed would haunt him. She loved her pup, but put him under the seat of his car anyway because Star Baby would really haunt him with stink pretty soon.

The sound of a busting grocery bag arrested her attention. She raced over to the elderly lady and picked up everything that fell for her. Yes she honestly did, everything. The lady did not want the jar of bread and butter pickles with the crack down the side. Tiana did, and thanked her for it. She went over to the ditch to get a spare bag out of her backpack. She tied the bag tight with the jar securely inside. She had a pickle jar saved at home to transfer the pickles into. Win!

The old lady hadn’t driven away. Why not? She went over to check on her. The driver door was open.

“Hi there, young lady.”

“Hi, I thought maybe something was wrong cuz’ you didn’t leave. Are you okay?”

“I was thinking about you, child. Why you out here scroungin’ like this?”

Just as Tiana started feeling self-conscious, she noticed the woman had a Salvation Army jacket across the passenger seat. “I gotta be gone while Mama’s boyfriend is there, he’s very mean.”

“Mean to you, your Mama or both y’all?”

“Both, and he killed my puppy too.”

“Why does your Mama let him in?”

“I promised I’d never ever tell.”

“He sells her dope so she has no money for groceries or clothes or anything else.”

Tiana said nothing but nodded slowly.

“We can help you child. I got this here food to supplement an open picnic we’re having today. You are welcome to be there. You know where our church is? Good. Be there early and put some shoes on if you can. Okay?”

Tiana felt a bright light of love shining into her heart! “Yes ma’am! Can I bring my little sister?”

Three Fingers

Marika cut her eyes low, away from the damnable blank canvas. The blasted thing had preyed on her mind for two weeks now. She’d vowed to get a least one spot of paint on it before she removed her butt from the stool. She shifted to stare at the inert jars of paint that could have been an image on a screen for all the good they were.

Cabin June 2015 055

Ilya had meant well, sure. “Get the big one,” he said. “Don’t pick out two or three brushes, get the whole set!” He’d seen one of her checks from the print sales of Krakow Sunset and got a gleam in his eye. Was she his skinny cash cow there for the milking?

Krakow was the last decent painting she’d done before her idiotic suicide attempt. Or attempt to touch heaven. Whatever it was that had her in treatment for so long. The fleeting memory of feeling and seeing her puny limbs disintegrate into the eternal, the intensely emotional longing for the dissociation to reach her brain, the red ecstasy….

Marika caught herself leaving her seat just in time. Screwing her butt back onto the wooden seat, she clenched her teeth and enunciated, “Stop the lunatic star trip! It was not real!” Her breathing evened out after a few minutes. She calmed a bit and eased her jaws.

One glance at the 30″ X 40″ canvas and her anger ignited. An arm grabbed the first paint jar in reach. She spun the lid off and scooped out three fingers of thick aquamarine paint. In a fluid motion she flung it across the deathly white surface. She smeared it around the awful surface in jagged streaks with those living fingers.

She stopped abruptly, breathless and wide-eyed. Automatically her hand reached for the towel so she could recap the paint jar without making a mess. The act of placing the capped jar back in place brought her closer to her soul, further from the starry precipice.

A tilt of her head showed her that the central figures must be iridescent white. Figures? Yes, she nodded, three figures. Tentatively at first, she painted thin white fingers within the widest smears. With greater command she thinned some bright hues on her palette and adorned the perimeter of the upper left of the canvas with translucent yet vibrant blossoms. On the lower right she drew empty, misshapen black stars. They crouched there, waiting for her to stumble.

Her eyes were swept to the flowered garden, making her smile. Now what? If only she could see more clearly! Cleaning the black from her brush, Marika saw Ilya leaning back on the table saw, watching her.  She ignored him and sat with her hands folded in her lap.

“Sweetie, if I’m bothering you, I’ll go.” He waited for a reply. “Marika? I wanted to make sure you were okay, that’s all. Do you want some lunch?”

She shoved the stool back with her foot and stooped to add strategically placed chaotic arrows in magenta. Standing, she faced him silently.

He stepped toward her. “Your studio upstairs is all cleaned up and ready. Do you want me to help you take this up there? The light is so much better there. I can carry your painting.”

Gut roiling, she answered, “Yes.”

With tears on his face, he whispered, “Hallelujah” and followed his wife out of the garage and onward to the sunlit studio, one step at a time.

The Arch

Bored with the beach already, Randy threw another beat-up shell into the surf. Movement to the side caught his eye. “Hey, you look just like me!”beach-rocky

“Nuh-uh, you look like me.”

Randy very quickly decided this could be fun, so he magnanimously allowed, “We look like each other.” He held out the super-sized bag of animal crackers to the other boy; he had to be a second grader, too. “You wanna have fun? We can freak Daddy out!”

“I want go home.”

“Aw, come on. Hey, I didn’t see anybody come down here, we thought this place around the big rocks would be only us. Where’d you come from?”

The kid pointed back to a rocky arch. “Through there. Why do you want to freak him out?”

“I wanted to go explore and he said to stay close and not get into trouble. Let me tell you my plan.”

About half an hour later, George woke up to hear Randy calling him from way the hell over on the other side of the creek that divided the scrap of beach in half. “Ransom David, you get your butt back here!”

“I found a spaceship and I’m going up!”

George heaved up from his chaise lounge and picked his shirt from the sand and shook it before pulling it over his head. He didn’t see Randy now. This boy would get a spanking he wouldn’t forget. As he toed his sandals on, Randy’s look-alike walked up from the other direction.

“Daddy, Daddy, can’t catch me!” He ran down toward the arch.

George pursued him right through the arch.

beach-sandyRandy saw it all and laughed until snot ran out. He wiped his nose on his t-shirt and looked for his Dad on the far side. He didn’t see him or the look-alike kid, just water. He started making his way back. Across the creek, he saw a colorful hat bouncing toward the beach. “Mom! Wait for me!”

“Hi, Tiger. I bought you a new hat. Here you go.” She screwed the ball cap on his head. “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing. I smell cheeseburgers. Let’s go find Dad and eat.”

They arrived at the empty lounge chair and did not see another soul.

She looked in the cooler and got two sodas out. “I wonder where he went? The fries are no good cold. Here, we can go ahead, he won’t mind.” She started gobbling her fries.

Randy had lost his appetite. He took the offered burger and bit into it to please her. “There’s a cool arch over that way. Want to see?”

Randy and his Mom walked over to see the tide coming in. The arch sat lower and the water already came half the way up it. It seemed smaller now. “I think Daddy went through there.”

“Honey, there’s nothing on the far side, it’s the ocean.” She called, “George! Are you around here? I brought lunch.”

“There was beach through there. A kid exactly like me came from that way.”

“No, silly, I had a good view from up the hill. The spit of land here is all there is.” She walked back.

He stared at the remaining arch. He wadded the burger wrapper and waded down. He tossed it into the arch. It should have floated. It vanished.

They waited on the hill for an hour or so. Then Mom, crying, called the police. They searched. They called the Coast Guard. Randy never saw his Daddy again.


Dreaming of Better Days

green-paper-fileTamika Lamar keyed in and trudged to the same desk she’d written the factory’s procedures from for four years. What a dead end job. The place seemed to attract pale faced automatons like a robot magnet; the image of an electromagnet on a crane at a junkyard flashed in her mind. Opening her satchel wide, she filled it with her bag of Dove chocolates, her various lip glosses, her ink pens that looked like Crayolas, refills for the pens and her personal box of tissues. Her satchel wouldn’t fasten, so she put the tissues back.

Gaither Crumb, her boss, rushed up. “You’re late! Where is the zip seal application instruction? I sent you the pictures for it yesterday.”

At the anxious, reddened face she replied, “I dreamed a clear lake beckoned me and I drifted across it in a baby blue boat. I saw a golden trunk and opened it. A walnut tree popped out and a duck gave me walnuts to eat. They were really good. A young, handsome fella popped out of the trunk and we ate some of those giant campfire marshmallows. You never sent me any pictures.”

Crumb held his phone out and searched for a number. “Lisa, I got Tamika down here, she needs a drug test. Yes, Tamika Lamar. On a trip right now, or drunk or something. Well as soon as you get in; I’ll keep her here.” He looked back at her with his bottom lip poked out. “You sit tight. I’ll get Marvin to do up that procedure. I did too send you those pictures.” Hands in pockets, he stalked away.

“Tammy, why’d Old Ugly act like you took his teddy bear out of his sweaty hands and set it on fire?”

“Hi, Bev. I had a really lucid dream last night. I drifted across a peaceful, clear lake in a tiny blue boat and a white duck gave me walnuts to eat. Then me and Hambone ate some of those giant campfire marshmallows.”

“I think the new ones are too big, like they have a whole cup of sugar in each one. I thought you were allergic to walnuts.”

“No, I just said that to deter the awful coffeecake Crumb’s wife makes; it’s gaggable.”

“I know, I always wish there was a dog under the lunch table. Are you high?”

She sighed, letting her shoulders sag. “Because I told you a dream?”

“Nah, because you couldn’t care less that Ugly called in a drug test on you.”

Crumb appeared, his arms crossed. “Beverly, get back to work and mind your own business.” He motioned with his chin, saying, “You, come with me up to the Dispensary.”

Nurse Lisa shooed Crumb to end of the room with the audio test booth. In a hushed voice, she asked, “Tammy, why does your boss want you to have a drug test?”

“I dreamed I came up to a lake with a little skiff. I got in it and drifted across it. I saw a trunk and a tree popped out and a fella popped out and we ate some of those giant campfire marshmallows. Oh yeah, I ate some of the walnuts.”

“Blow into this tube as hard as you can.” Nurse Lisa went to fetch a pee cup. “Here,dispensary I’ll take that. Leave your pack in here and take off your jacket. Pee into this cup and bring it out right away. Don’t flush.”

When Tamika came back out, Crumb shoved her satchel away and snatched the foil wrapper off the table. “Dear Mr. Crumb, if you wanted some of that candy, you should have asked.”

Crumb smirked. “You’re on company property and I have a right to search for contraband.”

“Nurse Lisa, how can you not burn bridges if your boss is an arsonist?” The Twilight Zone theme emanated from her satchel. “This is Tammy. Yes, imminently. Okay.” She slipped the phone back in the satchel pocket. She peered directly at Crumb. “You did not send me those pictures.” Satchel and jacket tucked under her arm, she signed the custody label on the pee bottle and left.

A lanky guy leaned on his classic Camaro. “Say all your good-byes?” He opened the door for her.

As he started backing out of the Visitor’s spot, she said, “I told them my dream about a beautifully placid lake on which I drifting across in a shiny blue single-bench boat and how I saw a trunk made of gold with thick leather straps. A full-sized walnut tree popped out and walnuts went all over the place like soda pop fizz. A really smart-looking duck floated right up and  gathered up lots of nuts with his wings. The duck gave me the walnuts to eat; he must have cracked them. Anyway, they were super good. Then you popped out of the trunk wearing a Tarzan loincloth and we ate up a whole bag of marshmallows.”

“You didn’t throw they bag in the water, did you?”

“You won’t see me trashing the environment.”

He grinned, showing lots of teeth. “Sweetheart, you won’t regret moving to Lexington. Us both getting jobs in the same area is some kind of Karma payback or something.”

iga-bag-002“And it will be easier for your folks to come to the wedding. Can we stop at the IGA up here? I can’t get that dream out of my head and think some rocky road might do the trick.”

“Nuts and puffs in a chocolate matrix.” He pulled into the lot. “I dreamed we were in spacesuits, ballroom dancing to Mozart. Decipher that one for me.”

“I think it’s good. Anything for you?”

“I want to share the dances and boats and ducks with nuts and all our dreams. Get enough rocky road for both of us!”

Betsy, Stanley and Herb

blog june 012“I’ve had all I can stand from that old bastard; I’ll fix his wagon, I surely will.” She poked around the crowded kitchen counter for her wild herb book, a quarter at the Salvation Army store in town. “Of course not,” she mumbled, “don’t matter anyway. I read holes in the pages and ought to be able to find what I’m a-lookin’for.”

Betsy took her sweet time to traverse the steep gravel driveway, with tiny sideways steps on the steepest parts. She wouldn’t fix nobody’s wagon but her own if she tumbled ass over teakettle and broke her fool neck.

The woods looked a whole lot more weedy and crowded than the pictures in that little book. She could almost feel the turkey mites and spotted ticks crawling up her legs, urging her into the knee-high weeds at the edge of the great mess of sycamores. Stanley spouted off something degrading about those trees when they’d gone out to see Katie’s new baby girl – junk trees, 50 foot weeds. She didn’t care for them either, but didn’t believe it necessary to pour ugly all over every minute of every hour. He must not respect her at all to talk like that.

Cabin June 2015 030She waded into the weeds, and on into the forest. From the gang of sycamores, she angled around a big tangle of blackberries and headed for what seemed a likely spot. The gravel dust from a pick-up speeding up the road fell before it reached her, mostly. “With no regard for anyone,” she called after it, “Young heathens, think you own the road?”

She pulled the tablespoon from her pants pocket and dug up a Snail Flower, roots and all. She came up onto the porch, sweat pouring off her gaunt face. He sat there lounging without a care, reading some science fiction garbage, and didn’t look up. An hour later, she stepped out, clean and smiling. “Here Stanley, I made you some iced tea.”

He took it, nodded thanks, and went back to reading.

The next day, she scowled at the bookshelf where her herbal should be. What has she done wrong? Had she not steeped it enough? She was getting less confident of the book calling for leaves and stems and roots and all. Boil just the roots? She was sure sick and tired of looking for that book.

Her legs looked bad with a dozen red and intensely itchy spots on each one. She dabbed each with ointment and wrapped her legs feet to thighs in wide Ace bandages to fend off any more of them. She picked her way back down the driveway, in past the sycamores. Silverseal had to be the right one. There, behind that fallen tree. Out came the tablespoon. “Here, sweetie, I made you some iced tea.”

It rained all day the next day. She fidgeted, upset to be out of Tylenol again. Late afternoon, the showers slacked off to a drizzle. In a yellow slicker, she headed out once more. Badger Borage, right there, had to be.

“I made you some iced tea.” She held it out at arm’s length, not wanting to feel his body heat, not wanting him to detect her anticipation.

“No thanks.” He laid his open book on his lap and looked into her eyes. “What’s this sudden need you have to make me weird iced teas lately? Are you up to something?”

“Of course not. Can’t wife make her husband iced tea on a hot day without suspicion?”

She still had quite a bit of the Badger Borage potion, and made a half batch of oatmeal cookies withOaty close plenty of it in the mix. “Here, Darling, I made you cookies.”

He looked at the artfully arranged plate with an eyebrow raised. “Have a few with me?”

She set it down by him. “You want me to go into a diabetic coma?” She stomped away.

He walked into the kitchen about an hour later and caught her brooding at the kitchen table, an unopened National Geographic at her elbows. He waggled the plate and put it in the sink. As he passed her, she asked, “Did you eat them all?”

He pulled up a kitchen chair and leaned toward her. He moved a wisp of gray hair from her face, gently tucking it behind her ear. “You wanted me to eat them all, didn’t you?”

Her eyes started to water. “That’s why I made them.”

“Our 45th wedding anniversary is Thursday. Katie wants us to come over and have a big dinner. Will you be going?”

“What a stupid question. Why wouldn’t I go?”

“Will I be going?”

A tear fell down her cheek. More tears. He held her close and patted her back.

She leaned back from his embrace. “Let me up. I want to make me some iced tea. Then we’ll go together.”

“I put your cookies in the trash can. I want you to go to Katie’s with me Thursday and then again at our 50th anniversary.”

“Two places every five years, that’s about right.”

“I quit going places with you because you twist everything into something negative. I want to live a few more years and you make that into a negative. The last time I wanted to take you to a dinner and a movie and you said I don’t like your housekeeping and cooking. You didn’t used to be that way. Do you hate me that much?”

“No, I don’t hate you and I’m not always negative and you’re not perfect! My head hurts so bad and you don’t even know it cuz’ your head is always stuck in some book! You don’t pay attention to me anymore at all!”

He reached in his back pocket and handed her the missing herbal. “You refrain from poisoning me and I’ll get you to a doctor, okay?” He picked up her hand, kissed it and held it to his heart. “I love you and always have. I’ll not stop loving you no matter what. I want you to be well and will get you to the doctor as soon as I can. I Care. Okay?”

She blinked her wet eyes. “Okay.”


Huntin’ Frogs

1955. “Mama! I done struck oil! Black gold! Millionaires!”

Valerie stretched her kneaded dough balls into the bread pans, covered them with a tea towels and rubbed her hands on her apron. “A millionaire, is it? What have you been up to, Punkin?”

“Mama, Californy is the place we oughta be! Look!” Vicky thrust black, oily hands up to her Mama’s face.

Val grabbed a wrist and critically studied the oil, getting a smidgen of it between her forefinger and thumb. Feeling the slick consistency reminded her of motor oil. “Where did you find this, young lady?”

Whole Creek“I was walking the creek lookin’ for a frog to take to show and tell.”

“First, I warned you about water moccasins and copperheads in them woods, specially around the creek. You was around Snake Harbor, wasn’t you?”

“No ma’am. I was down where they put that great big old tile that you can walk through. I saw me one copperhead, but he was baskin’ on a rock and paid me no mind.”

“Baskin’ was he? Second, you got a month left before school starts back. How many times have I told you to quit draggin’ wildlife up here?” Val stopped a moment and looked at her daughter sideways. “How was you finding oil without digging, and why would you be digging for frogs? Fess up, Punk.”

Vicky shuffled her muddy Hush Puppies. “It was right there in a little pool, honest, I didn’t do no diggin’ at all. Cain’t we be millionaires anyhow? And move to Beverly?”

“Well, I am gonna get a shovel to dig with. Let’s go see what this came from.”

By the time she got back to wash up and fetch the tractor, her bread had overflowed the pans and had bubbles all over it. She slopped it all back into the kneading bowl and into the icebox. “I’ll deal with you later! I gotta find straps!”

Her small tractor chugged up the shallow creek bed toward the giant tile right at dusk. They had cleared a ton of matted leaves and dug through thick clay to discover a Desoto stuck there according to the hood ornament they’d busted off. Val slipped the end of as strap around the front axle by feel. It made a sucking noise as it came from the muck. The back bumper had to be tied back on. “This looks pretty good for being 30 or 40 years old, don’t it Punkin?”

Eddie had left all his tools behind when he traipsed of to Mexico with that tart. Val sniffed ‘good riddance’ in the southern direction and backed the rusty wreck , with both bug-eye blog june 081headlights still attached, into the shed where he’d always parked his fancy Chevrolet. While they waited for the mail order Desoto book to arrive, they did a monstrous lot of water toting and cleaning. They dug up the tail lights. They transferred the corked jugs from the trunk safely. They also solemnly buried a disorderly skeleton near the pet cemetery. It seemed the unlucky fella had been running whiskey and got caught in a flood before the tile was put in, it could have even been before TVA.

1965. Val sat on the porch rereading the Desoto book section on steering because some dreams never die. When the car rumbling down the gravel road slowed to turn up her driveway, she dropped the book in her lap and resumed shelling butterbeans. An angular Dick Tracy kinda man got out of the really flashy Studebaker Avanti and walked up the step. White with tangerine seats! A fleeting picture of her Desoto with that color scheme flew through her mind. Refurbishing that beast had not progressed very far the past year or ten.

“Mrs. Eddie Beauchamp?”

“Mrs. Valerie Beauchamp. What can I do for you?”

“I am Vince Padget, and I understand you found a wrecked Desoto.”

She kept shelling beans. “Who says?”

“I heard it from my sister who had a friend who’d heard it from a teacher at an educator conference in Louisville. She said your daughter had done a show and tell on it.”

She set the bean basket at her feet and rose. “I’ll let you see it if you’ll tell me your interest. I’m thinking it might be worth a thousand dollars or so, depending on the buyer.” The guilty feeling from naming such an exorbitant amount made her face flush.

As they stood by the heap, he laid a hand on it. In a hush, he said, “This could well be it.” He straightened and stated, “My father drove such a car and disappeared in these parts in 1930.” He turned to her. “There would have been whiskey jugs.”

“Over there under the hay.”

“There would have been bones.”

“Over yonder, see that green lump with the white cross on it?”

“I’ll give you $10, 000 for the car, jugs and bones.”

“Mr. Padget, if that was your daddy, you take all of that with my blessing. We had no twinklin’ that any family would come to claim any of it.” She held out the book. “You can take this too. I won’t need it.” She bowed her head and imagined the Lord smiling in her direction.

He went back to his Avanti and returned with a black leather case. “In our family businesses, we mainly use cash. I brought quite a bit of cash, thinking you might be difficult.” He passed the case to her. “Take it all, for your generosity.”

“I can’t take all this, sir. What do you think the car is worth just as an antique?”

“Adding the sentimental value, I believe the contents of that case will cover it.”

She figured Padget probably wasn’t his name at all. “Would bringing this back give yourthe_logo_of_de_soto_motor_company mama some rest, finally knowing what happened?”

“I know it would.”

“Then just take it!”

“My honor will not allow it. I see no car here; do you have one? Does that roof leak? Will that tractor last another season? That little girl on your porch, will she be able to go to college? All I ask is that you don’t go into detail about me or the family. I would advise putting a grand in the bank as payment for the car, as many people know you had it. Keep the rest private or you’ll give half to the government in taxes. That doesn’t seem right to me. The government doesn’t appreciate private, family matters.”

Shady money. Should she give that black temptation back and send him on his way with what he came for? Or could it be that case of his was full of gray money, like the gray water from the washing machine that bypassed the septic tank. Not everything has to be officially processed. “I will accept your money and keep mum about it, I promise you. God bless you and your family.”

She bought a barely bruised Ford pick-up out of state and got her kitchen done up all modern. She bought a sewing machine you didn’t have to peddle and steam iron. She traded in her tractor for a better one and had been getting good corn crops in. She planted fifty apple trees in the old cow pasture, had a deep well put in and swapped her wringer washer for the a new boxy kind. She spread all that spending out over a few years, trading at different places. The apple trees grew stately and bountiful.

1965. As the Kitchen Aide kneaded the bread dough, Val hugged Vicky and grinned. “Look at the mixer, ain’t it the cat’s meow? It’s all your fault, you know that Punkin? All we got now is your fault for huntin’ frogs.” She looked at her daughter sideways, adding, “You just keep getting them good grades and you can study biology at the college. I hear they cut frogs up and look in their innards.”

Vicky opened the fridge for a Wink. “Mama, that’s dissection and we’re doing it this year in High School. She leaned back on the kitchen counter and took a long slug of the citrus soda. “College is really expensive and I don’t know if my grades are good enough for a scholarship. How much of that gray money we got left?”

“None of it. All of it got invested around here and now it’s our farm and orchard bringing the cash in. If you want more than that, you’d best go frog huntin’ again.”

Vicky thought about all the sweat and toil put into the farm; the money helped but wouldn’t have stretched nearly as far without her Mama’s dogged determination. Taking a deep breath and puffing it out, she made the internal commitment to get that scholarship. Frog money already gave her an amazing start, now it was her turn to do the rest.

A Single Wild Blossom

Greta sweltered at the keyboard, trying to get one more article done. Just one more! Think! She worked full time plus at the factory at salary, meaning they didn’t pay overtime. She sold books from her mother’s outrageously huge library online and did copywriting for six Keysbusinesses. She also had to care for her increasingly senile mother and keep the house and property up, all hundred acres of it. In all her spare time, she tried writing articles to sell to magazines.

She put the laptop on standby and leaned back to wipe the sweat from her chin, under her nose and off the back of her neck. Though she felt guilty, she woke the computer up and opened her silly romance story. She knew it was plotless and didn’t care. This story came as close to holding the man of her dreams in her arms as she was likely to get.

He did not meet the ruggedly handsome stereotype. He appeared tall, pale with dark hair, and walked with easy, mindful grace. He proved strength did not required bulging muscles. He did not flaunt his intelligence or his advanced degree in some physical science.

Annoyed to find herself rereading this stuff again, she clicked her article on how the local town worked to support the Little Brown Bats that were having a hard time. Every time she went to laud the townsfolk for erecting a hundred gaily painted bat houses, her subversive mind veered over to why the bats were failing: Bulldozing the forests to sell off the timber and let a contractor build cheap houses. No snags, no natural bat houses. No forest with streams and life – no bounty of insects for food. What good would a million bat houses be when they nailed them up by heavily sprayed farms?

Single BlossomRicky had a fun sense of humor, witty, and he smiled often. He often simply touched her as he walked by. He never bought her an expensive, plastic shrouded bouquet of hothouse flowers; he would bring her a single wild blossom and smile with his blue-violet eyes.

Lawd, if she couldn’t get the damned article written, she should mow the grass. She wiped the sweat from her eyes and went to the front door. Heat shimmered above the car and the dog lay sprawled on her back in a scrap of shade. On second thought, she decided to keep her intended late evening appointment for that. A vision flashed before her and soon she had the bowl of rocky road cradled in her hands.

Ricky volunteered to make dinner and asked whether she preferred cheddar or Swiss in the soufflé. Swiss, sweetheart. He would use fresh eggs from their own little flock of Cochins. She scraped the last marshmallow from the bowl, remembering how some refugee predator from a cleared woodland had killed her four hens one at a time, one a week, never able to get the heavy birds over the inadequate fence. Ricky would put a fence over the top and fasten it well, he’d know how to do it right and get right on it.

A knock on the door made her jerk and her heart race. She stood and pulled her wet tank top from her body. On the front porch, the retreating brown van had left a box. She bought it in and unpacked her super tornado whirlwind fan. She plugged it in and plopped in front of it. She wiped the tears from her eyes.


Being Awake Is a Reason To Drink Coffee

Being awake is a reason to drink coffee. Get up before the sun rises, make coffee, work. Weekdays, work consists of being around other people, so throw a wash-up in there. And Sunday I take Mother to church, so that’s a wash-up too. Oooh, I love Saturdays: Up, work, logic circuits afire, fueled by coffee.

I tried putting concrete-based filler in the basement floor cracks, but about half of them failed. The basement was to be a foot deeper but coffee-obliquethey hit a mesa-sized sandstone slab and said short of dynamite I’d have to leave it there. Fine, except they didn’t explain about settling on the lumps and natural contours of said stone. Long ragged cracks. Thus I have determined that I need to solve a simple ‘fill the spread cracks issue’, not a ‘water and mud striving to rise to fame issue’, meaning the equation is not solved for holding backpressure but for leaky-leaky.

I got some rubber stuff to try now. I saw the stuff advertised on TV, however ‘As Seen on TV’ is generally a folly, so I grabbed a cup of java and did some turbo shopping. Amazon’s 2867 reviews on the subject convinced me the same folks I bought the epoxy floor covering goo (with a baggie of sparkle chips) I got a few years ago and never put down because of , yes, the cracks, was the right choice. I chose a narrow wire brush at the same time, with a long ergonomic handle and a mean looking pointy scraper on the end that I’ll try to clean the ooze and failed concrete out. Enough uncertainty exists to cause me to fix up about six feet of a crack and wait a month to assess resilience and overall effectiveness. Phooey, my cup’s empty – be back in a tick.

The affection I have for good but not environmentally criminal coffee made inky strong and poured into a stained mug with no iota of anything to sully it is mighty indeed. Standing here, I got a great idea about a cherry cake thing I’ve been experimenting with. What if I put another egg in and cut the flour by half and used brown sugar instead of busting up the lumps of the regular white stuff that’s been here forever? When I went to the grocery, they had a good price on the dozen eggs, but if you calculated the per egg cost, the triple row eighteen egg carton was a better deal. That doesn’t drive the decision to add that third egg to the cherry thing, but it does facilitate it. They had the cherry pie filling on sale, so I got a couple more cans of that even though there are still a few in the pantry. You have to get enough to take you through the doldrums when there is no wind in the sales! Empty mug already? Good thing I’m right next to the pot.

coffee-gator coffee-coffee

Okay. I’m back. Looking around, I question some of the cabin design decisions made in ’92. I like having two windows in each wall of this great room over the garage (a pass-through windowish opening and an open double doorway graces the wall between the room and the rest of the house). I like the barky double door frame and the wide door opening, that was brilliant and a winner because it eases moving stuff in and out and eases air circulation as well. I don’t like the narrow, enclosed stairwell to get up here. This set of puny, ugly steps are the only way to get upstairs and are a chokepoint. They were supposed to be wider and open on the side with a nice handrail but I let the guy at the company cutting the parts for the log house cut four feet off the width of the house. He said the carpets would have to be fifteen feet wide $$$ and the rafters would cost more. I don’t have a carpet in the entire house. I think he had an ulterior motive about the rafters as I had ten sets of drawings (self drafted) out for bid and he wanted to undercut the other outfits. I went with them even with that because they added all operable doors and windows at no cost so I added fours pairs of operable roof windows all across the open part above the living room and dining room. Beautiful and of course, functional.

After church, after lunch. Reheated coffee is horrid, and I certainly don’t need to make more. I dress in wispy, watercolor clothes and don a floppy straw hat. With a tall glass of marvelous spring-like well water, cold from deep in the ground, I take a basket of supplies and a folding lounger to my shady spot on the porch. Songbirds are particularly fond of this area around the flowerbeds, and lyrical warbles and trills fill the air. My faithful mutt Bash makes her way over and looks at me. I smile and she sprawls at my feet.


I take my notebook of thick, lined paper from the basket and rummage through the doodle book and the pastels and the marbles (where’d they come from?) for my beautiful Montverde gel pen. Click. I imagine I see an old man on a high white oak limb over yonder. Does he think he’s Zachias? He’s fingering a rope with what looks like a noose on it, yikes! I wind the story through this and that and add a recalcitrant horse. By the time the sun reaches my shady retreat, I finish the tale. No, I wouldn’t let Arthel hang himself. An orange fritillary just wafted past my nose! Looked like two for a moment; crossed eyes.cabin-june-orange-frittalary

Simply being awake may be a reason to guzzle coffee, particularly when the meshed mental cogs of my left brain whir like the window fan. Consider though, that being aware of the continuum of our ancestors into tomorrow, opening your heart to the intricacies of nature, and having delight with small jewels logic would find insignificant are good reasons not to overindulge. Some dark, smoky Assam tea (with no iota of anything to sully it) of over ice would hit the spot right about now. Yes, it has caffeine, but a glass or two won’t hurt anything, will it?


Caleb and the Viet Cong

“Caleb, get your ass back over here and hold this ladder!”

“Uncle Johann, there’s something in the woods making noise!”Fence in Weeds

“There are a million things in the woods and most of them make noise. Hold the ladder!” Johann had a hod in one hand and a trowel in the other that also grasped the ladder rungs. As soon as the boy got back on the job, Johann set his supplies on the roof and eased off the ladder. Black clouds were building in the south, maybe they’d pass by. Still, the last few layers of chimney would need to cure before they got buckets of water poured on them. The realtor said prospective buyers would be by tomorrow!

He put his tools in the canvas sack and lowered it down by the attached rope. To nobody. “Caleb! Where are you? I need a couple yards of plastic sheeting up here and a roll of duct tape. Caleb!”

The kid did not appear, so Johann carefully climbed down and got the plastic. He turned off the radio news; where’d they got Gerald Ford from anyway? “Caleb!” Where had he run off to? Nephew or not, the kid lacked any sense of responsibility and needed a haircut.

Cabin march 013The storm advanced fast. Johann strained his eyes through the window of his truck and solid sheets of water. Would the gravel road be washed out? When the time between the lightening and the thunder lengthened and the rain stopped but for a drizzle, Johann got out of the truck. “Caleb!” He walked along the gravel drive that divided the cabin from the deep woods. “Caleb, I’m serious, I got to get you dropped off and me home.” He wished he’d looked for footprints before they’d washed away.

He stepped into the viney jungle. The Viet Cong had his sister’s boy. Or had the green kid stumbled into a spiked pit? Or had a poisonous snake fallen on him from the trees? He looked up and saw no snakes. He studied the ground for wires, broken twigs, booby traps. He crept slowly, alert.

Movement. He crouched and riveted his attention on the source. He’d lost his weapon. He would tear a gook’s throat out by hand to save his nephew. He did have his field knife and tape on his utility belt. A deer looked around, didn’t see him and went on along its worn path. Johann had learned stealth the hard way, and had let his buddies down because of his clumsiness. Dead buddies. He crept with no noise, like an Indian.

He studied the narrow creek as he smeared mud on his face and bare arms. The creek did not appear to have been disturbed except for the deer, but it was hard to judge as the water ran muddy from the rain. Caleb’s voice, that way. He hurried as stealth would allow. Other voices. He’d guessed right the first time: Viet Cong. Cabin Vine tree

Caleb sat on a folding stool as one gook stared him down. He appeared unharmed. Another walked around the maryjane patch as a lookout. The plants were doing well, starting to bud out. While the inept lookout strolled the far side, Johann collected some pliable vines and stuck his foot out to braid them into a rope. He coiled that one and finished a second one before the guy got close.

The perimeter wire was obvious. Johann yanked the guy over the wire, threw him down, hogtied and silenced him with duct tape, you always carry duct tape, and taped him to a tree while the one by Caleb shouted loud enough to hear in Saigon. Johann took the opportunity to scurry around behind him. He popped a loop of rope over the gook’s head and yanked as he disarmed him of the shotgun. “Any more of you creeps? Huh? Any more of you?”

Johann motioned for Caleb to take the weapon. Johann had his adversary tied and taped into a fetal bundle in no time.

“Uncle Johann, they were just some guys growing pot in the woods. You didn’t kill anybody, did you?”

“Oh no. The CIA wants us to keep a few for interrogation.” He folded a buddy tab on the much diminished roll of tape and hung it back on his belt.

“Ah, okay.” Caleb put his pinkie to his mouth and thumb to his ear. “I gotta go to the main road to find a phone. I’ll call in a pick-up, okay?”

“Roger that. See that perimeter wire? Watch out for booby traps, kid.” As the boy left, he crouched with his back to a big tree, watching, and listening for the helicopter.