Eddie had moved into a downtown condo sublet right out of an eleven month stay at an institute for patients with dual-diagnosed psychiatric problems, because he was making some bucks and the state decided they needed the bed so they could get another commitment for another twelve month dole out from the feds. They accused him of making the place a free hotel for the last two months, forgetting that the treatment plan was for three to four months working in the outside world before being unleashed on them. He tried to get into a cheaper garden apartment style place, but that required references and a credit check. Eddie could get over the first, a few close friends stuck by him through his fuck-ups, but the credit couldn’t be covered by any such like financial institutions.
So Eddie took this sublet from a very enticing Cubana woman, reminding him of calmer days in the tropics years ago, who was about to marry Eddie’s mirror image, if Eddie had walked the straight and narrow and listened to his elders rather than his elder’s teachers, such as James Joyce, Bernard Malmud, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others. They also didn’t want to start off their marriage hovering nine stories atop, unknown to Eddie, of the coming two-year relentless pounding of pile-drivers and jackhammers that would accompany the re-building and expansion of the decaying downtown into one of those Disney versions of the ideal mix of old-time charm and modern convenience, all facade and no heart and soul.
As it developed, that didn’t bother Eddie much, a little city noise was welcome after an almost year sojourn amidst deer and birds and fellow travelers of self-induced inactivity. It even provided a bit of serendipitous joy as the city used the empty pit below him for their after Hootie & the Blowfish Memorial Day concert fireworks. The bombs burst in thin air but fifty yards flat across his glass enclosed half hexagon shaped balcony room one story higher and rained on him sights and sounds not seen nor heard since the days of Jimi and a tab.
It being Memorial Day, with a good meal and the intoxicating display over, Eddie decided to make his first visit to F. Scott and Zelda’s grave a few blocks away a midnight one. The grave was in an old, small churchyard, now closed to new dearly or not so dearly departed, for lack of space. It was situated in a vee formed by the angled crossing of the two major six-lane roads in the town that Eddie likened to Stern’s Oakland. It once had been part of one of the generations held gracious estates that since the sixties were slashed up and sold to developers for the mind-numbing sameness of modern utility. The institute Eddie was just released from also rested on one of these plots, the state wisely keeping the fair citizens and the guests of the state safely buffered from each other by woods and a little used city golf course.
No one else was there at such a day and hour, the beers safely in their bellies to compete for elimination the next morning with the hot sausages and burnt steaks. Eddie wanted the gratification of the company of another boat against the current, dead or alive. The graves seemed to be in disrepair, decaying a bit with time, the ships quote that was inscribed still being borne back ceaselessly into the past. The missing sounds of rude traffic and the whooshing of the few tall century old trees’ leaves in a stiff spring breeze further bore Eddie back to when time mattered here.
Upon his return, his neighbor’s head emerged from the next door as he said night to some well-dressed guests. He saw Eddie walking the hall in deep thought, and invited Eddie in for a nightcap. Not really in the mood, he figured he has to live next to the guy and isn’t this what his re-entry into the world of nowhere was all about?
The neighbor was jovial, and recapped his day with gusto. When it was Eddie’s turn he figured he would tell it backward, and wanted to tell someone, anyone, of his last hour of introspection.
The neighbor looked up with surprise when he heard the location. He asked Eddie if it was St. Mary’s.
“Yes it is, just down the street.”
“Oh! I am a priest there, part time for the last two years, in the new church right next to the old one.. F. Scott Fitzgerald is really buried there?”
Eddie later found out that there had been a large flap over the interment of Zelda in the family plot, and after reburials and threatened lawsuits, she was quietly allowed to be laid to rest next to F. Scott, left to disappear with the faded letters of their names on the cold stones, boats slowly disappearing into the void of the horizon.
“Wondered if I could get your thoughts on a matter of some delicacy?”
“By all means, dear boy. Fire away”
“About ladies’… *ahem*… bags.”
“Bags, eh? More port, Godfrey?”
“Don’t mind if I do. Most kind.”
“Bags, you say?”
“Yes. Marjory’s bag in particular.“
“Not sure I’m much of an authority on bags, dear boy.”
“Nor me. Part of the problem really.”
“What seems to be the trouble?”
“Marjory’s bag. Not what it was.”
“What it was?”
“When we met. She had a very nice little bag back then. New one.”
“Special? No, no. Quite the contrary. Rather plain, neat, very charming. Discrete, you might say.”
“This really is an excellent cigar.”
“Terrible about Fortescue, by the way.”
“And the cricket.”
“Oh, let’s not.”
“Between you and me, I’m quite fascinated by bags. Out of admiration of course, nothing sordid.”
“Of course not, who would suggest such a thing?”
“Really quite astonished at what the Missis has managed to produce out of such a tiny bag over the years. Capacity wise. All things considered it’s lasted rather well.”
“Goodness yes, sometimes Audrey produces entire picnics from hers.”
“Picnics? I…That’s to say, when I say bag, what I mean to say is…”
“Oh I see! Oh good gracious, how silly I am. Terribly sorry.”
“My fault entirely.”
“So, of course, Marjory’s bag…”
“Become a little worn. Rather thin and bashed about. Which I understand is not unusual for ladies d’un certain age. So I suggested she got a new one.”
“Yes. Know a chap. you see: Staughton. He’s in the business, as it were, very respectable. Gave his wife a new one last month. By all accounts they’re both quite delighted.”
“Well then, that sounds like just the ticket. Perhaps I should speak to Audrey about it too.”
“Marjory was most put out.”
“She says that new bags are terribly nouveau. Said that her bag is perfectly serviceable. An extravagance, she called it. Spent the rest of the afternoon lopping the heads off flowers.”
“Good gracious. Nouveau, did she say?”
“My word, old boy, it’s a minefield.”
“How was it, old boy? Good do?”
“Yes, yes, very smart. Excellent service.”
“Good-oh. So, the penis, you say?”
“Yes. Bit of a shrinkage situation.”
“Had a chap out to look at it?”
“No. Doctors are terribly busy these days, doesn’t seem appropriate to bother them with penis deflation. Wouldn’t you say?”
“Well, yes, when it’s put like that…”
“After all, one expects some attrition with age.”
“We’re not the young men we were.”
“Way of the world.”
“Surprised, though, how noticeable the difference was. It was rather…”
“Goodness, that does sound a tad alarming, if I might say so.”
“Thought at first it was perspective; a little wide around the midriff these days.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, in percentage terms, what sort of a, um, reduction have you experienced?”
“Percentage? Oh my dear boy, there’s hardly any of it left.”
“The bare minimum.”
“Perhaps a doctor would be in order nevertheless?”
“That’s the funny thing, Not sure I want patching up. Never been happier.”
“Taken a weight off the old shoulders.”
“Yes. More whisky, old chap?”
“Wouldn’t say no. Much obliged.”
It was funny, I thought. I could actually go for a long time-15 minutes, maybe-and completely forget about it. It wasn’t until I had to reach in a certain way, or stretch backwards, or until my stomach growled, maybe, that I realized again who I was, and what I was, and what was happening to me. Those moments, those sudden spasms of forgetting where none of it had happened-were blissful, but brief.
I was driving to pick up my sister after soccer practice. I had the radio on, tuned to the hits station she liked. I really didn’t like it, but leaving it on that station was easier than fighting about it once she climbed in. I just let it play-the insipid tunes, the mindless chatter from the DJ-giving me background music for the movie of my life. Ever since my life blew up, raining down burning pieces of existence like the climax of a buddy cop film, simpler has been the goal for me.
It was a simple, stupid mistake. Not made out of sloppiness, really, or total self centeredness, just sort of a mixture of both-a mutual loss of control. I could blame him, rant and rave and curse my lot, but I was there, too. I could have insisted. And I didn’t. Blaming is pointless at this juncture, anyway. Someone on the radio was singing about how they think they are in love. Good for you, I think, turning the wheel to make a hard right turn, feeling the seat belt press against me. There’s my reminder, right on time-a routine, instinctive motion, that is suddenly less comfortable. .
Not that my mother fails to remind me of my status. I love my mother-who doesn’t love their mother, right?-but I really don’t need to be reminded. I know it was dumb, poorly timed, a burden on everyone-I understand it. Besides the routine tensions of living in a house with two other women-a notion that gets harder as my sister gets older-there is the insistence, by both of them, that I be constantly reminded that I messed up. I appreciate all that my mother does-really, I do, but still-it was an error, I get it. I felt a twinge-not a pain, just a lurch, sort of-to emphasize the point-somewhere in there.
I eased our van into line with other parents’ vehicles, waiting my turn to pick up my charge. I saw Angie at a distance, recognizing her easily among the ponytailed horde. Being an older sister, I have been picking her out of crowds for a long time. She was standing with two other girls, a taller one I knew and a shorter one I didn’t recognize. I wondered if they were talking about me, then discarded the thought almost as quickly. They have their own little trials to worry about-rumors and fears and scandals and the thousand little slings and arrows of girl life.
I felt a wave of sadness-I knew what troubles she had coming, generally speaking-not the exact source of drama, but the type would be the same-betrayals, breakups, boys-passions without reason causing heartache that feels eternal. I still wanted to protect her, as annoying as she often was, from this sort of hurt-from any sort of hurt. I knew it wasn’t possible.
She had guitar tomorrow, so I was going to see him. He wasn’t like anyone else I knew-he looked, but didn’t stare, he listened, without judging, he heard without my having to repeat. In a different world, with a different me-sure, I could see it happening. He wasn’t devastating, but he was nice enough looking, I supposed, and he was sweet and had really good taste in music. And despite what they thought, and despite what had happened, I was still a girl, and–
Just stop it, I ordered myself. Don’t even go down that road. You know you can’t. So stop. Don’t. You’re not doing that, period. You have too much on your plate. I pulled up to the curb, and, after a pause, Angela broke off from her friends and brought a pair of bags to the car door. I hit the button to unlock it, and she climbed in, shutting it behind her. I could smell the air change-mown grass and exhaust fumes and sweat.
“Hey,” she said.
“Hey,” I answered.
“What’s for dinner,” she asked. It was a lot of work to prepare dinner and clean up, but someone had to do it-she was too young and Mom was too tired. I sighed quietly.
“Chicken, I think.” There was some chicken thawing, and I had about 11 minutes to come up with something to do with it. My feet ached with the thought of 60, or more, minutes standing in the kitchen.
“I’m sick of chicken.” She sounded pouty-tired and hormonal. I hated the sound, but I sympathized too.
“I am too,” I said quietly and pulled away from the school.
- I looked out the window at the rain. I liked rain, actually-it is a silent signal from the universe-you may have planned to play ball, or drive to Denver, or walk the dog-but I’m going to do this to you. Deal with it. It makes people adjust. It feels like all I do is adjust to other people, so when I watch other people have to change, it makes me smile a little bit. Petty of me, I know.
- The laptop was on my mattress, my paper pulled up and waiting for my attention. It needed rearranging, cross referencing, and hours of rewriting-but when I heard the rain start to murmur against my wall, I immediately opened the window to stare at it for a while. The room started to get cold, and I was tired. Tired of working for other people, scheduling for other people, putting my needs aside so that they can have their way. Again.
- The radio was on the classic rock station, and I heard the tinkling piano and faint sound of dripping rainwater at the very beginning of “Love, Reign O’Er Me”. I always wondered whether this song would have been programmed to play since this morning, or if some clever DJ snuck it on there when he heard the rain pelting his own window. I knew which one it probably was, and which one I wanted it to be.
- I had to admit, as stuck as I was, watching the rain and not doing my work, I was thinking of her, too. She was being rained on, too, at work, maybe, or at home, feuding with her sister, perhaps. She insisted I couldn’t love her, and all sorts of reasons laid out why it was impossible. If she had one of those big pads of cream colored paper, she would probably lay them out for me, in Sharpie, made into an outline. I knew what they were-we had been over them, together and separately.
- It was romantic, dashing even, to declare that I didn’t care about them, that I wanted her beside me on this tiny mattress, complaining about being cold from the wind and needling me about getting back to my work. She’d tell me that someone needed to be the responsible one and get their degree. And she’d be right.
- But I had to wait her out, sit here and stare at the rain and wait for her to understand that I wasn’t going to run away or give up or bail out or skip out on her, that I was going to stick and keep sticking. That even though my writing was going nowhere, teaching guitar earned a pittance, and my degree seemed to recede away from me at light speed, I couldn’t breathe well when she wasn’t in the room. I couldn’t force her, or trick her, or make her come to the conclusion before she was good and ready. I loved and hated that.
- I stared at the rain, and wished for the time to go by faster.
“If he comes back here, I’ll-”
“We know, you said…”
“We know that too. You said.”
Ciara feels the movement grow within her like a balance that she dare not trust… because despite her parents’ fury, Frankie’s flight, and rancid words spewed from tight‑lipped mouths… her baby lives. Today, slumped in apathy, she does nothing more than drown herself in tea and wish for the clock to tick less loudly.
The familiar murmurs drift beneath her.
“If she doesn’t decide soon, it’ll be too late.”
“There’s nothing to decide.”
“There is. She’s our daughter.”
“She’s not my daughter. She did wrong, she has to live with it – but not under my roof.”
“No. No, love, she is our daughter…” The rustle of fabric, the adjustment of breath as fingers wrap around wrists and supplicant palms caress a chest. “We can hide this for her. Get rid of it and forget it. It can’t limit her life now.”
“It’s not her life to take.” There’s a pause, an inhalation. Perhaps he turns his palms up, trying to cup the lost words cascading from his thoughts. He loves her… but he can’t accept… and that’s not the answer…
“It is. Right now, it is.”
The slam of angry father, followed by her mother’s music: the clink of crockery chiming an uneven tempo broken by loud clanks that signal a battle’s end but a war only just begun.
Ciara stares at her feet until her eyes cloud and the day’s edges dim. She lets her mind drift as if by sliding into blurred existence, the clamours and needs that dwarf her might distil into something altogether more manageable.
The kitchen song is over and now the sitting room reverberates; the pianissimo hiss of a rug being straightened, the grunt of a sofa disturbed from its seat, the sigh of the duster.
Her mother had always set her sanity by empty filters, clean steps and timed eggs which as each child spewed forth meant escalating failure until thirty years of screaming had carved into her speech crevasses from which molten anger poured.
If you don’t… I don’t want to find… You mark my words, unless…
Unless, unless, unless… what?
Staccato wood under angry feet. The scent of polish, a squeak of a window and tendrils of cold air that reach with icy tongues to lick Ciara’s neck. But as Ciara breathes the breeze that once raged as an ocean gale, it is warmed and soothed and becomes her, soft and supine… bearing on its silent strength sweet dreams of white fleece passing under blue and the sun kissing her face while ivory gulls call, ‘keeeeeeeeeahhhh’ to speckled, flapping young.
And she wonders, even if her rug be crumpled and her steps filthy, beneath the storms of contempt and criticism could her child not float on clouds of calm? Even if chaotic, demanding and ill‑conceived… might her child not still be loved in aimless, rambling and glorious fashion? She thinks, this will be her daughter - then frowns and smiles together as she adjusts her mind: or her son.
Silence flows like summer air as Ciara rises to stand and smile. She will speak later.
For now, it is enough to know.
~ * ~
The Train Dream
The train does not stop in Plumfield. It stops in Wyndsor and Heartford, but not in Plumfield. From Heartford it goes right into Wyndsor without stopping in Plumfield and Jonetta doesn’t understand why it just can’t stop in Plumfield.
When she is done with washing the dishes she sits by the window in the kitchen and listens out for the sound of the train as it makes its way into Wyndsor from Heartford. Jonetta often imagines that the train runs right behind her house. She has elaborate dreams at night about the conductor and in the dream she arranges with him to stop his train in the back of her house. She would be on the back porch, luggage and little Sarah at her feet, waiting — waiting to get on that train, after the cooking, cleaning and washing was done. She wouldn’t come back either. Even though she would miss Sofia and Jon and James Jr., and Sylvester; she’d even miss the big old dog Buster that could die any day now.
She used to dream of going on the train alone and leaving little Sarah behind, too, with the rest of them, but she always feels sad on the train, in her dream, without little Sarah. So now little Sarah is part of the dream. Little Sarah — the youngest — would not be able to fend for herself. Sofia is young, but grown, and she knows how to fight. Besides little Sarah is the one she loves the best. Little Sarah looks more like her. The others look like James Sr. — big heads, big mouths, and heavy feet.
Whenever Jonetta is in the kitchen, sitting on the cold radiator and dreaming, and the kids are off playing in the backyard, and it’s a little after five, James Sr. pulls up in the driveway and slams the car door when he gets out. He isn’t angry; that is just his way. The loud bang of the door shakes Jonetta out of her dream and she goes to the oven to fix James Sr.’s plate.
Jonetta eats standing up. The stove is her table. It isn’t because there is no room at the table to sit; it is because she hates watching James Sr. eat. She is glad that he eats with his wide back to her; she doesn’t have to see his face when he chugs down his Coke. She wonders if other men drink like that. She is sure that they don’t. She is certain that other men had more class than James Sr.
She sees men in the grocery store — they look clean and washed and wear fresh clothes. James Sr. wears stretched out tee shirts with holes under the arm. He owns more than ten sea green tee shirts and Jonetta cannot stand it. Why didn’t she get a man that liked to look good and smell good?
James Sr. never appears on the train with her in her dream. He would ruin it with his loud voice and his musty, shapeless green tee shirt, his dusty jeans and his worn-out shoes. He is so sloppy. And Jon, James Jr., Sylvester and Sofia are taking after him.
Every time Jonetta tells them to take a bath, they protest and James Sr. always says, “They are boys; they don’t need to bathe every day.”
And Jonetta complains, “They haven’t bathed in weeks!”
“They’re boys,” James Sr. shouts.
“Not Sofia … she’s no boy, but she might as well be one.”
“They’re kids,” James Sr. says.
And Jonetta would go upstairs to run the water for little Sarah. Little Sarah is too young to protest. She looks washed and shiny like an apple after her bath; Jonetta would hug her and smell her and wouldn’t ever put her down, but there is cooking to be done and cleaning, too.
If Jonetta could walk to Heartford or Wyndsor, she would, but it’s too far. She would drive, but she doesn’t have her license or her own car. She would take the cab, but she never has any money. She would take the bus, but how would she hold the luggage and little Sarah, too?
If only the train stopped in Plumfield— right behind her house.
It is good to be sober. I felt so much shame drunk! I feel much less shame at any given time now. I am still sorting out if I felt more shame for my drinking, or I believed I was shameful before I started drinking, or I drank to fulfill what I believed I deserved to feel.
It was a secret ,my drinking, or so I wished to believe. I only drank at home. I only drank beer. Towards the end, I drank 6 to 10 beers a day. Sometimes I’d drink wine. One Thanksgiving, I stood up from my father -in- laws table and fell over. I had on a short skirt. I ripped my hosiery. I felt embarrassed. And ashamed.
Shame and embarrassment are not the same. Embarrassment lasts just a short time. A gaff ,a slip of the tongue, a misstep, these we all do, and these things can cause embarrassment. We can feel embarrassment for others, too, as when somewhat farts loudly in Pilates class. I felt embarrassed once when I told a patient I had to give him an injection under his foreskin, rather than saying an injection under the skin of his forearm. He was drunk. Thank heaven, I was not.
I did drink and drive. I did drink and drive with my children in the car. I never got a DUI. I was always afraid I would. I would have deserved it . I am ashamed of such behavior. Drinking affected my ability to parent.
One evening I was drunk and I blurted out to my teenage son and daughter that I had had two abortions. I gave them the details. I think I wanted their forgiveness. It doesn’t work that way.
I would scream at my husband when I was drunk. I screamed at my sister. She called the cops. I started crying. The cops came. They knew me because the neighbors had called the cops on me for screaming before. My sister hasn’t spoken to me since 2004, when the cops came to my house for the last time.
Soon after sobering up, my writing changed. There was a clarity to it, a confidence that was not present when I drank.
“You’re serious about this!”, my family said.
“Yes.” I replied, as I wrote furiously: Seriously.
It’s not so much that ,in my sobriety, I write seriously. It’s now, that six years after my last drink , I am writing well.
I found my heart
on the borderline
of too late
and paper thin -
© Copyright 2009 Jodine Derena Butler. All Rights Reserved
My lover and I spent most of the summer of 1979 living in a tipi in the White River National Forest in central Colorado.
We crafted it ourselves from #10 canvas duck that we purchased from the Sears catalogue store on the corner of Harrison Avenue and West Sixth Street in Leadville, across from the courthouse. I don’t remember how much fabric we ordered. I recall its shipping weight as seventy two pounds
The canvas had to be sealed, or it would rot. The book we used as our guide, written by Reginald and Gladys Laubin, recommended house paint as a cheap sealant. We were living in a rental house the color of icing on a lemon cake. There was some leftover paint in the detached garage.
I purchased calico cotton blend for the liner from the Ben Franklin that sat on the same block as the Golden Burro. Locals still referred to it as the Five and Dime. I cut the panels to Sam’s specifications. He was very good at math. He had graduated from high school in Manhattan at 16 and enrolled in UC Berkeley in 1963. He was now thirty two. I was twenty three.
When I had arrived in Leadville in September of 1978, I got off the bus with a paper bag of clothes, $11.04 and my Singer sewing machine. We used this machine to sew the tipi and liner. I remember my mother using that machine when I was in kindergarten. My father had paid $400.00 for it. She had been furious at him!
The canvas was thick and Sam was careless. The cam shaft broke before I had finished sewing all the panels of the liner together. I had to complete it by hand. I used a whip stitch. My sister Seana showed me how. She was visiting from Connecticut, but soon took up with a painter, sleeping at his place all day and night. I had been hoping she would stick around, but she went back east.
The liner came out quite well. The tipi was acceptable. The poles were made of lodge pole pine. We purchased them from a friend of Sam’s named Steve. Steve was a miner at Climax, and had a piece of land up towards Mosquito Pass where he had built a shanty typical of those times, made mostly out of scraps. Parts were beautifully wrought, and parts were like shit. He had a remarkable outhouse. He lived with a woman who was his sister. She, too, worked at the Climax Molybdenum Mine. I want to say her name was Judy. I always had a feeling they were having an incestuous relationship.
The poles were well seasoned, which was good, because green poles would have warped under the weight of the canvas. It was a big lodge, 18 feet in diameter. I soon started calling it a lodge instead of a tipi. Then I referred to it as an Arapahoe lodge, because the door hole was too large. Sam was inpatient by nature and didn’t believe in the old carpenters adage of “measure twice; cut once.” People called Sam intense. That was just an adjective used frequently at the time to describe anything frighteningly quixotic.
We had a 1964 Chevy pickup, agua, with a long bed. The poles we stacked in the bed on top of the folded canvas lodge, inside of which was the liner and two down sleeping bags. In the cab with us was the cardboard kitchen with cast iron skillet, Dutch kettle, Swedish saw and axe. The interior of the cab I had painted with hearts, pines, peace signs ,clouds, rainbows, diamonds. As well, the poles had to be lashed to the roof of the cab. It was slowing going; our good- running truck like a rock.
We were headed north on Route 24, following the contours of the great divide over Tennessee Pass. I no longer kept a journal. I stopped soon after moving in with Sam. He was like an orphan, hovering nearby if I tried solitude. He had written in my journal, drawn on my drawings. Each night he entwined me, closer than a second skin. During the day I’d wear his clothing.
I could not see the big picture. I knew only that I wished I could spend the rest of my life here: WEST. The sky was bigger and bluer, the mountains were Gods and Goddesses, the deep snow could be swept from a porch or truck bed with a broom. I didn’t often know what I thought but knew what I felt. I was adrift, allowing things to happen to me. I hadn’t yet learned I had the power to make things happen for me.
The lodge was erected with the principles of physics coupled with muscle, and the utility of the tripod. It was stable in the wind, warm at night.
Reginald and Gladys: “The fire is laid by placing four pieces of firewood, about three feet long and several inches in diameter parallel on the ground and pointed east/west.”
Yes! The smoke flew up and away magically through the smoke hole. The smoke flaps were easy to adjust with their dedicated poles. The only difficulty was having to go outside to do so!
We followed the guidelines in our bible, it’s paperback spine becoming soft, it’s pages sooty. We were near a spring, had plenty of firewood nearby. Sam would drive to work and I would stay and take care of the lodge, cook, gather and chop wood; mostly pine, occasionally aspen. I painted the lodge much as I had painted the cab of the truck. I had freckles on every square inch of my skin. Once a week I hitchhiked to Leadville to take a bath at the Delaware hotel. The big porcelain tub was up on claws. I could submerge and recline simultaneously, it’s size was that generous.
If Sam had money in his pocket, it burned a wicked hole. I figured I better be quick if I wanted anything It seemed like a fair enough request to go to the movies in Minturn. Sam obliged me. We went to see The China Syndrome, starring Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas and Jack Lemmon.
It was no longer twilight when we exited the theatre. At least eight inches of snow had fallen. It was still coming down, briskly yet quietly, soft as ash. It was the middle of June.
Tennessee Pass would be treacherous under the duress of a late snow. We were silent as Sam navigated. Battle Mountain was reduced to what I could make out in the cockeyed headlights of our Chevy. Part of our silence was certainly from the grave plot line of that now- forgotten bit of Hollywood I had subjected us to. Still ,having learned that his silences were none of my business, I was becoming skilled at invisibility.
What a reliable truck that was! Having made it back to camp, we needed to hike a bit through the snow, but it was dry. Locals called this unusual precipitation corn snow. You could hold it in your hand like crushed peanuts.
Up a small rise, and I caught site of the lodge. I felt a moment of pure astonishment. The fire still burned. The clearing was lit as if by a huge lantern of transparent gold, the glow within like a steady heart. The red bandana liner I had labored over ringed the bottom third in a perfect circle. The lines of the poles were outlined strong and black against the bright yellow skin dusted with snowfall. The designs I had painted now appeared as tattoos, glyphs, charms. The nature of it’s powerful architecture was revealed to me, and I was astounded. Nothing short of marvelous, I had never seen anything quite so beautiful. Together, we stood for a time and admired it, then went in.
For awhile, I was home.
is unsure of
which way to go
wanting either that red frisbee
or that green kite
to play with but
settles for several voices
to toss around.
If you were sitting
we could feed ducks
corners of our
sandwiches and not have to speak
except to laugh
and sigh and maybe
hold fingers. The clouds have all
bowed so low that
all the blue of
our streaming hearts has come rushing
in to fill every
every branch or leaf or arm or strand
of hair with its
large bright goofy
face. I don’t care if any of
this matters in
the grand scheme of
things not right now. I want you to
know this place because
I think it
would like to know you. Again if
you were sitting
here next to me
we could put our shoes together
in a kind of
huddle for warmth
the kind that makes life seem worthwhile.
what is lost with the disavowal of youth, the sickness of our twenty-one
as swifts through doorways, music and ecstasy made rabbit this
and rabbit that, and what potion to make me small and bits of clothing fallen
the sweat licked from a troubadour’s hip ambrosial, a hotel shower curtain
the purest white ever known, the sludge on a stiletto heel, a mystery
to be solved by curious test, a sniff then cursed for its stench and tenacity
the city that would follow when finally we slept, amidst duck ponds
and limber wrists, invisible stamps that illumine by ultra violet lite, a park
with that one dear friend reckless and innocent as I, curled as ivy around
the other for warmth and joggers and walkers and horse mounted policemen
simply watched over, rose white and rose red, the communal slumber
on a picnic blanket, two melodious, snoring girls, recently from the sticks
mute in the light of insane naivety kept a hush, kept their distance
from a tableau almost perverse spectacle but for the dozen white duck
that surrounded us with gentle bird bon mots, plump little cracker fed fowl
a shimmering guard that moved away when finally the sun fell full on our faces
by Michelle Elvy
Inspired by Christian Bell’s This is Not A George Saunders Story
It’s dark in here.
Well what do you expect?
Yeah, I know, it’s just that, sometimes,
I’d like to get out.
It’s your choice.
I mean, I read. I’ve been around.
You’re from Oklahoma.
So they say…
What d’ya mean?
Huh? Never mind, it’s OK: no one remembers
Yeah, but most people remember some
things, don’t they?
Of course, but so do you.
Well, what did you last read?
You said you read, so what do you read
regularly? The NYT?
Do you live under a fucking….?
Never mind. The WSJ?
I once read a book by George Saunders.
That objectivitst writer?
No, he’s not objectivist any more –
he denounced Rand and her neo-cons.
Woah, you do read.
Can’t fit too many books under here, can I?
That Saunders: he’s smart, eh?
Well they don’t call it a genius grant for nothin’.
* * *
Hey, you know what? We should go out.
Well, yeah, don’t you ever think
you might wanna?
Is that a trick question?
Well why not? What are you waiting for?
Turnips? Radishes? No, carrots! Just a
You’re being obtuse. Let’s go meet
Don’t know the local language.
I can teach you. Say ‘bonjour.’
They speak Spanish here?
Good lord, man! This ain’t Spain!
Well how should I know?
Jeez, you’re a regular Eliza Doolittle.
Hey! I’m a guy, dude.
So? still the same idea. Rain in Spain
and all that.
Well I never been to Spain.
That’s not the point.
But I kinda like the music.
You don’t play any music.
Naw, but I used to have a tape deck.
You mean a CD player.
Naw, man, 8-track.
Good lord, you need to get out.
You at least need company under here.
Two can be as a bad as one….
* * *
OK, fine. Play me something.
Anything but your old 8-tracks.
Wait, let’s play Mortal Combat: Annihilation.
You know I hate those games.
Dysfunction, dysfunction, dysfunction is a function.
You are dysfunction.
If dysfunction is a function, then I must be
some kind of ge-ni-us!!
Come on. You’re too alone under here.
* * *
You know, you can make this world
whatever you want it to be.
It’s too dark.
So make a little light.
Can’t — but maybe that guy in that cave
will lend me his torch.
Suit yourself. I’m gonna name my rock,
by the way — call it ‘genius granite’.
You never even read a Saunders book.
So? I got internet, dude.
Come on, I’ll take you to the library.
Well I guess if I gotta go somewhere,
that ain’t a bad first choice. But let’s stop
and eat, too — I’m starvin’, man. But I don’t
eat fast food. Could do with some tapas, though.
Have you been sneaking out?
No, just fancy the idea of tapas… Spain an’ all.
OK, come on, let’s go.
Alright… but I’m a little nervous…
fuck it’s bright out here! …
Oh, look, a daisy!
That’s not a daisy, you idiot.
It’s a jonquil.
What does it matter?
What does it matter?
This Is Not A George Saunders Story
This is not a George Saunders story. It’s not that story “Pastoralia” where people are living in a simulated theme park cave. No, it’s just me living in a cave, and I’m nowhere near as clever as George Saunders. You might be here looking for something else, something more profound or even biting satire of absurdism but, nope, just me in a cave.
If you come by, which I don’t recommend, I’ll be sitting there, staring at a dim crackling fire, listening to Nirvana feedback with my makeshift stereo system. Call this my navel gazing. Call this my whatever you want. If you reach the end and say, I like the conceit of this, I like how he uses himself and George Saunders and so on, you’ve missed the point. Remember, this is not a George Saunders story. It’s just me. In a cave.
Now, here’s the part where I complain. I need a vacation or, ideally, a paid sabbatical, but I am not getting one. So, this is how I ended up in the cave. I’m burned out. Like the flickering flame in my fake cave, my spark is dying out. You’ll read this and refer back to the previous paragraph and you might also be tempted to make a Kurt Cobain connection but don’t do that. Just remember, it’s me in a cave. I need time off. I need a new perspective.
Now this is where I clumsily stumble toward an ending. I turn down the audio graffiti of “Endless Nameless,” a pointless reaction akin to turning down the car radio when you see a traffic accident. I look up at the cave wall and notice previously unnoticed writing in paint. Someone has lived in this cave before, it seems, and has written a narrative. It’s a story about people living in a simulated theme park cave.
But remember this is not a George Saunders story. This is just me living in a cave. I need a vacation. Cobain screams, silence, hear I am, hear I am, silent. The squeal of guitar drowns out voice. You might be looking for something else.
They say we can’t jump, and they’re probably right, but I’ve never tried truth be told.
They say they’re in charge. They say.
They say they believe in conservation, in protection; they want to save the environment. They say.
They make Animal fucking Planet but I never watch it. I’m busy here with too much sun and sky and not enough water for my baby.
They say they love animals, and they got details to prove it. They collect lists. Bulls are colorblind. Butterflies were flutterbies. Polar bears are lefties, snails like to sleep.
Do the details matter? Do the details make them feel better, feel more? Do they recall the massacres, the bodies, the wretched reek of death? Do they know my grief? It’s not in their fact list, but it is real. I am a whale of a being, and I barely exist.
Here’s what matters. I have been here for millennia, my mind stretches across space and time and knows the softest part of skin, the smell of life, the touch of memory, the taste of my mother, the sound of my brother.
Urine is essence. I piss gallons on what they say.
And I never forget.
Advice from Topeka
(initial version published in Yankee Potroast)
“Never trust nobody & you’ll live a long life.” — Alma Peatree Price
A woman slips a note into a copy of the latest “Reader’s Digest” on sale at a shop at Dallas airport. The note says: “Hi. I’m Muffy. I’m young and gorgeous but lonely. Please write to me!” firstname.lastname@example.org.” Edna Appleby finds the note and responds, as follows:
Dear Miss Muffy:
My name is Edna Appleby, from Topeka, Kansas. My granddaughter, Dotty, bless her heart, gave me that Reader’s Digest with your note in it because she knows how much I love Reader’s Digest, dear. She herself never reads it because she’s a fashion designer in Los Angeles. I’m much older than you, I suspect, and I’m very very concerned you might be slipping this contact information in other magazines and it will fall into the hands of a ax murderer, one with brains enough to figure out where you live. And I know all about ax murderers because Elmo, my uncle by marriage to my sister who never had any sense was one. He done killed six women in a farm outside of Topeka in the space of they say three minutes, including my sister and her bingo friends, because he was a very big horribly strong man with a vial temper and no control at all and ugly as a dungbeetle to boot. And they fried him, thank the Lord, so he’s been getting his just deserts for years.
Your a very lucky young lady, Miss Muffy. I just got this Web TV thing in the mail from my grandson Bobby and my naybor’s son Billy teached me how to use it and I’m having so much fun. Just imagine yesterday I found one of my elementry school classmates what lives in Baton Rouge and she writes me all about little Joey Figs, what used to be class clown, so she tells me all about how he’s been indicated for securities fraud. You never can tell about people I always say which is what you should always be baring in mind, dear, because the world is full of all sorts of terrible people and I don’t know why but the Lord has a reason for everything. Amen.
Now my husband, Willy, who passed away five summers ago, bless his heart, was a good man and he worked hard while the babies came bursting out of me like little popovers. We fed those babies and I took a job in the tire factory and they all growed up in good health except for two who was still born. And except for Elmo and my nasty drunk daddy, I can’t really say I got too many complaints about my life because I was very very careful to never get mixed up with dangerous mean fruitcakes so now I’m ripe as an apple what’s already fallen from a tree, but a little bored but don’t you be telling anyone that.
Maybe you’d like to corespond make a lonely old lady like me happy because the kids and the grandkids don’t write or visit much because their very busy and to tell the truth they try not to speak to me probably because I lost most of my hearing and had to get a hysterectemy, and then decided to go for a sex change, you know life is a bitch when your a woman. Anyways, I look forward to finding out where you live and what you do and whatever else you want to tell me.
Grandma Holmes’ Confusion
These are the first few paragraphs of a story I wrote two years ago. I am rereading it and laughing at myself and wondering why I wrote this story. I think a sign I saw posted in a closed down gas station sparked the idea.
Grandma Holmes’ Confusion
Any other time Grandma Holmes would threaten to beat Mary-Helen if she came running into the kitchen slamming the screen door behind her, but this is the third time today that Mary-Helen let the screen door slam and Grandma Holmes didn’t say a word. Not even a “I done told y’all about slamming that damn door!”
Mary-Helen wasn’t even worried, either. Usually she’d cover her mouth and say “Oops” while waiting for Grandma Holmes to say something. She knew something wasn’t quite right with Grandma, but she wasn’t going to go check on her. She was happy to be getting away with something and not being bothered. Grandma could’ve been dead in her room and Mary-Helen would have went on about her business, playing and running in and out of the house. But Mary-Helen’s sister Rosa-Lee knew what it was that was causing Grandma Holmes’ change in attitude.
Because this is the fifth time today that Grandma Holmes let something slide. And Rosa-Lee knew of only one thing could make you go from cranky to nice in a heartbeat. She wasn’t even making them clean up or nothing and Rosa-Lee knew why that was, and in the middle of the kitchen she told Mary-Helen why, she said, “It’s love — simple as that.”
And Mary-Helen laughed till she hiccupped, slapped her knee till it hurt.
“She may be in love, but who in their right mind gone be in love with Grandma Holmes?” Mary-Helen said after she was done laughing and hiccupping.
When you take her grocery shopping
take a list and make her stick to it
as she forgets and duplicates a lot
She is also very generous
and will insist on buying you something
I think she cannot live without fresh flowers
or plants that are blooming. She loves a garden
and has no seasonal sense
About privacy – set limits right away
or you won’t pass your exams
You may have to remind her daily for awhile
Fortunately her bedtime is around 7 p.m.
When she visits in the early a.m. I send her home
but then often find her crying
With a little supervision she can make her own coffee
She needs a small fridge to store OJ, milk, ice cream, diet Coke and fruit
especially grapefruit and tomatoes
She loves cookies, candy and bear-claws
and munches a lot
I figure nutrition is not her problem
Her meals consist of one generous tablespoon
of three or four items, especially tomatoes peeled
and cut small, and peeled cucumbers
If she doesn’t have a sliver of some meat at noon
she “hasn’t eaten”
Thank God she loves baked potatoes
She will also eat Marie Callender’s pot pies
She’ll split half with you
Supper she will eat what you do, only small portions
She eats more if she eats with someone
Tapioca pudding and chocolate pudding
watermelon, and cantaloupe are favorite desserts
and if she eats ice cream
she likes a bit of coffee to warm up
Make some excuse, but don’t let her loose in your kitchen
She will act furious if you offer to do something for her
She can help chop, or setting table
and at night I sit her down to a glass of wine
that I buy in a big box – White Zin
She occasionally likes a Budweiser
Left alone, she forgets to eat
clean up after herself, change clothes, loses her shoes
and forgets who you are and where she is
She’s a loving 4-year-old, and you must say NO and mean it
no mater how much age difference there is
If she says she is lonely, she’s probably bored
She likes picture magazines and short, light books
and peruses catalogs. She likes short drives
and will wait in the car if it’s not too hot
Wal-Mart is fine if you give her a sundae
and tell her to stay in the food section. Also Costco
She will never nap lying down
but all the time sitting up
Put a thick towel on the seat
She is safe with knives and is very careful of steps
if she has nothing in her hands
Both hands should be used for balance
Also getting in and out of cars
she must have her hands empty as her right knee
hurts with bending or bearing weight
She has a cane and should be encouraged to use it
I have her trained not to carry her purse in the store
it’s too heavy and cumbersome
If she falls, she falls –
you are not God
and she has lived her life
copyright (c) 2010 by Jerry Ratch
Woody Allen, from Love & Death
“Natasha, to love is to suffer. To avoid suffering, one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer. Not to love is to suffer. To suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be unhappy one must love, or love to suffer, or suffer from too much happiness…I hope you’re getting this down…”
“The place is great,” we told the rental agent, “except for one thing.
“Pigeons are nesting on the air conditioner in the bedroom window.
“At 7 a.m. the pigeons were having sex on the air conditioner.
“They started getting really wild and throwing themselves against the window. The noise of their wings flapping against the window panes kept waking us up.
“It was only 7 a.m.” we emphasized. “7 a.m.!”
“Well,” we asked. “What do you have to say to that?”
There was a pause while you could distinctly hear the rental agent swallow.
He cleared his throat.
“That sounds kind of hot,” he said.
copyright (c) 2010 by Jerry Ratch