Author Archive

The Train Dream by Melissa McEwen

June 26, 2010 8 comments

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.

Nettie’s Purse – by Melissa McEwen

May 17, 2010 9 comments

Nettie’s Purse

by Melissa McEwen

Nettie is a character and so is her purse. This is a silly short story I wrong a long, long time ago – probably seven years ago.

Nettie’s Purse

Nettie has only one purse. It is big and brown and bulges. Nettie keeps some of everything in that purse. It is not a lie.

If James, the always-fixing-things-boy down the street, needed a screwdriver because he didn’t know where his had got to, Nettie would reach down in that magic hat of a purse of hers and pull one out. And if James said, “Naw, wait, I need a wrench,” she’d have that, too!

Nettie has some of everything in that purse and everybody knows it. Sometimes, when she is busy in the pantry or the bathroom, and some neighbor or some relative is sitting in her kitchen, they might ask, “Nettie, you got fifty cent I could use?” and Nettie would holler, “My purse is on the sofa; I know I have some change in there somewhere. Dig through it.”

One time her neighbor asked, “Nettie why do you have a knife in your purse?”

Nettie said, “In case someone has an orange to cut …”

Another time Nettie’s aunt Demetra asked her, “Nettie, why do you have buttons in your purse?”

Nettie just laughed. She has needles and thread (from buttercup yellow to dark green), too, in that big, brown purse.

And what a big (and heavy!) purse it is. When she got on the bus the other day, she knocked a lady over with it and the lady shouted, “You got a sack of flour in that purse or something?”

“She just might,” said a man that Nettie knew (he was drunk at the time. He is always drunk) and the whole bus erupted with laughter. The bus driver was choking from laughing so hard.

“She’s got a radio in there, too,” the drunk man continued, “and the Bible.”

“And a pail of holy water!” the bus driver added.

“She got everything in that purse. She’s going to put Marty’s Supermarket out of business,” a young girl chimed in.  Her mother, laughing, tapped her hand and said, “Be quiet!”

“I should have made you pay fare for that purse,” the bus driver laughed.

And all the passengers had tears coming out of their eyes and streaming down their faces from laughter.

“Nettie, now I know you got tissue in that purse,” said the drunk man that knew Nettie.

And Nettie, of course, reached down in her purse and pulled out a new box of tissue. She handed the box to the closest person to her and it was passed around. While the people dried their eyes and blew their noses, Nettie pulled out a magazine and read all the way to her stop.

“That purse is going to kill somebody one day,” another man said after Nettie got off the bus.

“Can you describe the suspect?” the bus driver asked.

Someone in the back yelled out, “Yes, I can, sir. Let’s see, she was, uh, big and, uh, brown!”

The people on the bus roared with laughter as the bus rode on.

“Ah, that purse is going to be famous one day,” the bus driver said, but nobody heard because everybody was laughing so loud.

But laughing doesn’t bother Nettie none.

Everywhere she goes, the purse goes, too. Nettie is always dragging that purse around, lugging it around as though it is a baby too old be carried and should be walking.


Miss Nettie & Ms Marzy Meet, Pt 2 – Nettie Leaves for New York

May 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Nettie Leaves for New York

by Melissa McEwen & Walter Bjorkman


South of Somewhere, Alabama

Nettie and her purse and her drunk friend Snow and Snow’s work buddy Zee (short for Zed which is short for Zeddy which is short for Zedadiah) are in Snow’s long mustard colored car for the long drive to New York.

The only reason Nettie asked Snow to come is because she needed his car. She can’t drive, never learned to drive. And Snow only drives his car when he’s going somewhere far and New York is far-far. Snow invited Zee to come along to help drive. Nettie hopes Ed and his gal don’t mind the extra company.

Nettie and her purse take up most of the back seat. All she is bringing with her is stuffed in that big brown suitcase of a purse of hers. And Zee tried to squeeze back there with her because he’s sweet on her even though he’s married. Nettie made like there was not enough room. Zee made like he wasn’t going to go to New York but Snow tells him, “There are mo’ finer gals than Nettie in new york city,” and Zee hopped in the front seat so fast he almost slammed his leg in the door.

“They may be prettier, but they ain’t gonna want y’all,” Nettie says from the back seat.

“You will always be the prettiest to me,” Zee says, turning around to face Nettie who was sitting behind the driver’s side.

“Humph,” Nettie says, moving to sit behind the Passenger’s seat.

“Once you see them gals in New York, you will forget about Nettie, Zee,” Snow, starting up the engine, says. “Her purse gets more attention than her.”

Zee laughs at that and then they are off. Before the car can even turn onto the main street, Nettie is out cold in the backseat. Her head on the seat, her purse as her pillow.

Meanwhile, back in Brooklyn . . .

“Eddie, roll over, hon, your bony knee is right in my gut an ya know I’m trying to watch my waist, my tight pants are getting tight an tell me howd’ya come to get Nettie and friend to come here? An how didya meet? I gotta worry ’bout her an you?”

“Marzy, sweets, oof – now your knee is in my never-no-mind, ouch! tell me why we can’t get more than a twin in here.”

” Cause if crazy lanlady Baumgartner sees me movin in a big bed she’ll know you been stayin’ here most nights an’ have to pay more rent an I tole ya that already moron and why did ya ask them you dont know them and how did ya come to? She planted that palm tree out front an when it started to die in the winner she brought out heating pads an when that dinnit work she just said she spent the summer in Miami Beach and you didn’t know they are in Ala BAMA comin’ all they way up here for just Sunday dinner and what’s this about Saturday pie? you know Granma bakes on Sundays I meant Baumgartner not Nettie who could grow one in Alabama.”

“I read one of Nettie’s stories and it was so funny I just said it would be cool for her to come to Granma’s and she jumped on it, I didn’t know she was way down south and not here in Brooklyn. And Nettie’s gotta be closer to 50, 55 than your 39 and my 24”

“A-hole, you know I’m not a day over 36 and you’re 26 an why do ya always bring that up do we need booze?”

“Marz its 6 am on Saturday, I don’t want a drink, let’s go back to sleep, or some . . .you know, slide the firepole?'”

“OOOOFFFF – that knee was no accident”

“I gotta bake some Saturday pie is why.”

Grandma Holmes’ Confusion – by Melissa McEwen

May 15, 2010 5 comments

Grandma Holmes’ Confusion

by Melissa McEwen

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.

Miss Nettie & Ms Marzy Meet, Pt 4 – Nettie and Eddie Explain

May 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Nettie and Eddie Explain

by Melissa McEwen & Walter Bjorkman

What you think about these folks in New York?

“Turn that flashlight off Nettie,” Snow, waking up, says in a voice rough with sleep.

Nettie, turning from the window, forgetting she had left the flashlight on, says, “Go back to sleep, Snow. I was just ’bout to turn it off.”

Snow sucks his teeth and asks Zee if he wants him to take the wheel, but Zee says, “Nawl,” and Snow falls back asleep.

“I’m just gonna rest my eyes,” Nettie says, humming along to the tune on the radio, her eyes closing. She has the map spread across her lap, the purse on top of that, for extra warmth.

But soon Nettie’s just-gonna-rest-my-eyes turns into deep sleep and Zee, after a while, starts getting sleepy, and then! A horn honking wakes them up like an alarm clock.

Snow, in a sleepy haze still, turns ’round to look at Nettie as if she is the one causing the racket, as if she would be the one to have an alarm clock in her purse. Then realizing that the noise was their own horn blaring away from Zee’s big old head using it for a pillow, he says, “Zee I thought you were good to drive a couplea mo’ hours, man, pull over and let me drive!”

“Y’all was yawnin’ and sleepin’ and snorin’, I couldn’t help but fall asleep, too,” Zee says, pulling over.

“Maybe we should find a rest stop and sleep for a while, plus I gotta pee,” Nettie says as Zee and Snow switch places.

Snow starts the car and they are back on the highway, Nettie looking out the window for rest stop signs and Zee trying to recline the seat, but Nettie’s in the way.

“C’mon, now, move, Nettie,” Zee says.

Nettie sighs and scoots over to sit behind Snow and Zee falls back and falls asleep.

“What you think about these folks in New York?” Snow asks Nettie who is staring out the window. She turns the radio down and says, “What’s that Snow?”

“What do you think about these folks in New York? Do you even know anything about them?”

“Marzy and Ed? I don’t know a lick about them. I just know they want to hear me tell my stories and you know I love storytelling,” Nettie says.

“Are they paying you?” Snow asks. He is always asking about money and Nettie was surprised he didn’t ask her to pay him to drive her to New York.

“Nawl,” is all Nettie says, turning the radio off to save the batteries.

“I mean they should. They asking you to come to their place to tell them stories,” Snow says. “They must think you famous or something.”

“I’m not gonna be the only one telling stories. They got stories to tell, too. We are sharing. And they are cooking. Reckon I shoulda brought something with me?” Nettie asks. “I got a bag of flour and sugar in my purse and baking powder and baking soda, too. I might bake a cake or something when I get there. If they don’t mind me using the oven.”

“You mean to tell me you don’t have an oven in that purse?” Snow jokes but Nettie doesn’t laugh. If Zee was awake, Snow says in his head, he’d be laughing — coughing with laughter. Snow smiles at the thought of Zee laughing and how he puts on a show when he laughs that people laugh at him laughing even if they don’t know why he’s laughing.

Nettie is going over in her mind what she’s going to make. She forgets she has to use the bathroom and Snow drives on in the night-morning, rolling the window all the way down so the wind can blow hard in his face and keep him awake.

In Maitland’s as Marzy bakes . . .

“So Eddie, we’re not in here before noon on Saturdays, what’s the big rush to get out of the house?” Sid was sucking the foam off the top of a short, not used to beer at eight in the morning. Well, not every morning. Usually when so, the group would wind up cursing the gods they didn’t believe existed, while relieving themselves in a city churchyard, or some other foolishness that seemed to have deep import at the time.

“Marzy and Granma are baking” Eddie shuddered.

“’Nuff said” Sid had no idea if Marzy could bake, never heard of such a thing, and Granma’s peach cobbler was more fit for the sole of a shoe than for eating. Whatever the result, he knew getting there would be circuitous, if not outright calamatous.

“Mitch! Chalky! C’mon grab your chairs, Eddie’s got a tale to tell, he’s buyin’ and probably gonna be drawing bust hands if we’re lucky.” Sid was ready, he hoped the others were.

“Not much to tell, Marzy heard that I heard about this story-teller, Nettie’s the name, so she got this idea to invite them over for a Sunday dinner, and when she found out that they were in Alabama and actually were driving all the way to Brooklyn just for the dinner and something called Saturday Pie, which they have no clue as to what it actually is, well, then she puts the whole thing on me. You guys are invited, by the way.”

“I don’t know, Eddie, I mean Marz never really forgave me for getting all hopped-up about her killin’ my snakes.” Chalky hung his usually ashen but now reddened face balefully to the ground, always looking for an edge in the sympathy department, which had long since lost its sway with this group. Out of force of habit he was inclined to do so anyway. Chalky would take bi-monthly jaunts to visit his mother in Miami Beach, come back sun-burnt, which would disappear in two days, going back to its pallid color, never a trace of tan.

“She didn’t kill your snakes, Chalk, a cop in the property department did, when they were held in evidence after Marz used them to catch the scam artists that bilked Granma and sent her to the hospital, by hiding them in her own purse and cruising as bait. One bit the cop, I would’ve done the same.”

Eddie was tired of Chalky’s screed of how he lost his “reasons for living”, always omitting that he intended to sell them for thirty a pop to pay off a gambling debt he incurred on the plane back last year, holding out from the initial offer of twenty each. So there was some concern there, for his wallet, not the snakes. The lawsuit against the city and the police force never went anywhere, and he was slapped with a $500 fine for keeping unlicensed poisonous pets within city limits.

“Never heard all the details” Mitch, preoccupied with his own fiasco a few weeks earlier, muttered, although he had heard the story almost as much as Eddie had lived it.

Mitch was a classical composer and choral director, with a slightly odd bent. He had thought it would be a good idea if his ensemble, “The Euterps”, at their Little Carnegie debut, perform semi-naked while singing Gregorian Chants while he belted out a rousing rendition of Billy Rose’s “The Stripper” on organ, afterwards ala Kauffman inviting the audience of sixty not to a school cafeteria for milk and cookies, but to a schoolyard for beer and games of Kings with the spaldeens. It was bad enough, but when the local thugs mugged all of the twenty that showed, including the reviewers from the likes of the Sunday Times and Village Voice, it would be lucky if he ever worked again in this town. Mitch was contemplating a move to Munich, or Berlin, where he heard they were more open to that sort of thing.

Halfway through, the game was decidedly going Sid’s way, as he was the only one with no relationship, financial or career threatening possibilities in his life at the time. His only worry was continuing his life in academia, bouncing between one grant, grad school and another, before landing a job crunching monotonous data from the Big-Bang cosmic background radiation, his specialty. Sid loved the concept of astro-physics, couldn’t stand the minutae.

Eddie suddenly folded, throwing down three aces, a hand that would have easily stood up.

“What’s up Eddie?” Chalky’s eyes popped at the three bullets, two of anything were all he ever mustered up in any game, anywhere, anytime.

“I smell somethin’ cookin, or maybe burnin’, and the bread factory’s been shut down for months now.”

“C’mon, Eddie, Marzy’s place is five blocks away!” Mitch was pulled from his reverie of Bierkellers in Oktober, with this abrupt turn.

“A little distance never stopped Marzy before, guys. I gotta go.”