One Day, I Stepped Off The Edge of the World


ARCHANGEL_MICHAEL__by_masiani

I’ve held this inside for more than 40 years. I think you’ll see why.

It was a hot summer Saturday afternoon. The humidity was heavy, and it was like breathing through wet gauze. The leaves of the oaks that shaded the grounds moved with a discouraged droop from air that provided no relief.

I have no witnesses to what happened, but it was something that to this day, more than 45 years later, I cannot explain. Or deny. I’ve tried both. Now it just has to be.

All I know is that I walked into that room alone, my mind on something completely different and ordinary and mundane. (I was checking supplies for the evening meeting.) I was walking through a typical Midwestern summer afternoon in Indiana one moment, and the next walked into another world.

Continue reading “One Day, I Stepped Off The Edge of the World”

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Quotes About Writing


Do you have a favorite to share? (And yes, I’m procrastinating…)

A couple to get you primed:

Amy Poehler:

Dean Koontz:

Sometimes writing is beautiful, like making love. Sometimes it’s painful, like having a tooth pulled. Sometimes it’s like making love while having a tooth pulled.

 

Deadline


c0tazuexcae4r2d

I dreamt of a place, not long ago, and the dream, unusual for me, showed even the most mundane things in vivid, sharp detail. Clothing, clouds, leaves on the ground, birds against the sky, dust motes floating.

But not at first. At first I was in the dark, walking blindly on a long journey through a wood. I only knew that something big was ahead. It was my show. I was expected.

I’m a modern man, raised on science and skepticism. But the longer I’ve lived, my ancient spirit has me lurch against things I cannot understand and I’ve had to make allowances.

Continue reading “Deadline”

A Woman’s Mind


surreal-self-portraits-blended-with-landscape-photos-by-antonio-mora
surreal-self-portraits-blended-with-landscape-photos-by-antonio-mora

I won’t lie.

We like the slope of a shoulder, the lips, the eyes, the breast, the neck, the legs. We like the way your hips flare and grab our attention as you walk away with that special, unconscious sway. The glance, the flush of emotion, including anger or pain, the smile, the look that says “You’re full of it,” but doesn’t wound.

The elegant, subtle variety of the female form is intoxicating. There is no one perfect one; each is her own expression of the grand design. And…. Ah, what a grand design it is, too.

But there is more, when you let us see it. It can be frustrating, or enchanting—or both. …That surprising way your mind works, the way you see things we don’t—which is sometimes inconvenient, sometimes infuriating, but never boring.

When you live from a confident core, when this is all natural and unforced, it is the most enchanting thing of all.

Mermaids, Anyone?


Childhood
Cover
“Mermaid Sisters: First Dive,”

Just as I was going to bed last night, my iPhone dinged. (Yes, I’m one of those.) I checked and saw an email from iTunes Connect.

It took me by surprise. I didn’t recall right away what ITC was, and almost deleted the email as spam. But at the bottom was a note that a payment to my old bank had been returned, and had the name of an account I closed recently.

Then it came back to me. Two years ago, I published a children’s book as a favor to a friend with two adorable young girls. I learned a lot about the E-publishing world, which was my ulterior motive. I learned the creative phase is a lot easier than the marketing. I also learned a lot about the nature of the book business these days. Wowsers. (Did you know, for instance, that a ‘best seller’ on Amazon these days is one that sells one book a day? A friend who self-publishes told me this today.)

“Mermaid Sisters: First Dive,” was going to be the first in a series if it attracted any interest. It was designed for the iPad, or can be viewed in iBooks on a Mac. I realize now that this was, while fun to do, a mistake from a marketing perspective. Too limited.

I’ve sold six copies in two years, four of which were bought by long-suffering family members. I probably shouldn’t admit that, but  yeah, I’m a force to be reckoned with in this brave new world, obviously. But hey, Apple wants to send me $6.20, so who am I to complain? I’m getting paid for a BOOK! Woo Hoo!

If you have daughters, granddaughters or friends with daughters who are at that age when mermaids have an appeal, I hope you’ll check this out. Maybe I’ll be able to sell six more copies in the next two years! (And the kids will love it. My focus group told me so. 🙂 )

Here’s the link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/mermaid-sisters-first-dive/id776995608?mt=11

 

Bad Dreams


babe in a wood

 Dream

The Night

It’s 4 a.m.
Again.
The world is asleep and I’m not.

Again.
The dream woke me. Yes, again. I was struggling to breathe, and that always makes for interesting dreams. As usual, I have no idea what it means.

In it, I had returned to a bad neighborhood in a city. Returned. I didn’t know when I had been there, but knew that I had. There was humiliation in the past, something to be faced and overcome.

I returned to a house that was in a faded old neighborhood and where a gang of violent people lived, and from which they preyed on others. The memory surfaced slowly. I had been there before, earlier, and had somehow handed over some money to the worst of them, someone who made me very afraid.

So I was back, and this time I had a big, silver, WWII-style officer’s .45 caliber pistol with me. I didn’t know how to use it, but I went in the house and was just vaguely thinking I had to get my money and property back, and maybe stop the threat. I don’t know.

On a downstairs couch a young man was sleeping, one of the gang. One of the nastier ones, but not the one in charge. I put the gun softly to his head and the cold touch of the cannon woke him up. I told him to give me the money back.

He just laughed and sneered and coughed out threats and scorn and defiance. A gun appeared in his hand from somewhere–a .38, I think. I remember seeing it clearly, seeing the nickel plating and the snubby barrel and the dark walnut handle, and at the same second being amazed that it was there at all.

We struggled. He was screaming curses and so was I. Somehow, the other gun disappeared. But all the noise had awakened the other guy, the leader, upstairs. I heard his footsteps in the hall, and then on the stairs.

He appeared in the doorway. He was skinny and young, but I knew who, and what, he was. The officer’s pistol in my hand seemed so heavy. I felt the fear again, like a wet cat in my chest.

But I raised the weapon anyway, against all of the pull of the earth, and shot him in the heart. The ..45 slug is slow, but massive, and we were just a few feet apart. I couldn’t miss, and didn’t. This sort of gun can do a lot of damage to a man, can open his back up with a hole you could stick your foot in.

The roar ripped the air and the room filled with smoke. His chest bloomed red and he flew backwards a foot or two and went down like a suit of clothes that have been thrown on the floor. The suddeness of death always surprises me; one minute a thing is alive, and the next it simply isn’t.

The underling I’d been struggling with stopped moving, and I put the barrel against his temple. Smoke curled out of it, and I smelled the blood and cordite, and everything seemed to be moving very slowly as it mixed with his light brown hair.

“Where’s my money now,” I said.

___________________
Then I woke up.
Two hours before dawn, and I was churned up from the struggle to breathe and the dream.

This time of day has it’s own familiar frame.

The neighbors are all asleep, it seems. The quiet is absolute, and even the drunks are finally off the roads.

I have the usual debate with myself: do I drink some warm milk or take a sleeping pill, or do I just give up and warm up some old coffee that’s still in the pot.

I don’t know yet. I think I’ll go out on the deck and have a cigarette and think about it, and enjoy the still cool morning that I have all to myself.

The air is still. Fall is coming. The crickets are the only noise. There must be some clouds up there, because I can’t see any stars. I light a cigarette and pull the smoke into my lungs, and feel it scraping the tissues inside and put a bitter taste in my mouth. There’s a small, bright light in the sky, and I wonder if it’s a planet. But it moves between the leaves of the redbud tree beside the deck and I realize it must be a satellite.

I think about my wife of 40 years asleep upstairs, and remember how I worked on the bathroom remodeling earlier in the evening and how that must have reassured her. She’s sick again, and she knows I’ve been unhappy. I know how that worries her. I think of my son, and how I must give them both a feeling of calm and safety as much as I can.

We went to bed together just a few hours ago. As we settled in to sleep, she turned toward me and I put my hand between her thighs, and felt the smoothness and warmth of her skin. She sighed and relaxed and put her hand on my side, sliding it up under my shirt and touched my skin. I felt the stir of desire, and in her, too, but we didn’t do anything about it as we were both tired and it was late.

Now I’ve shot a man, so to speak, and can’t sleep. Another day is coming, and I’m all alone in a dark house, on a dark street, in a dark world that will soon be light. The neighbors will start stirring before long.

I know this time of day too well. It is as though I am the only one to see it, and see it too often.

The Cat, the Hayloft and the Boy


Memory

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Yes, I know this isn’t a calico cat. Work with me here.

The old calico cat came in from the fields whenever her belly was full of kittens again. She’d lumber to the boy’s house, hang around by the door and mooch a meal, then head to the barn. To the hayloft where she was born, as generations of hers had. It was the way things were.

Mountains of the older-style, small bales from the summer’s haying season made the perfect place to make a nest. Warm. Dry. Quiet. Mice were plentiful, and water was in stock tanks down below.

The boy learned the meanings of her fertility. He witnessed the births of several litters. Watched her as she cleaned them, nudged them to rows of nipple, stretched out and let them feed. It was just the way things were on a farm. Birth and death.

She knew him, and let him come close to her babies, as long as he was quiet. Then, later, she looked on benignly as they climbed and frolicked fiercely around and over him. Twice a year, usually. Once in the spring when the fields were greening, and again in the fall, when the land exhaled and prepared for sleep.

The boy visited and watched. He would open the small door made of weathered old wood, painted red, in the giant set of doors where the tractors would back wagons groaning with hay in once or twice a year.

At harvest times, if there had been enough rain to have more than one cutting of alfalfa, his father and uncle and cousins would swing the bales from the wagon, onto the conveyor, and stack them in walls of fragrance fresh from June’s fields, and August’s. Later on, he would join them and learn the joy of hard labor, together. The teasing. The camaraderie of men. Of family.

But when very young, he just made sure the cat and her kittens were out of the way. Then, after supper, he would spend time among the skyscrapers of summer hay. He watched the cat feed the current litter of miniature tigers, wash them, and curl her body around them while they slept. Season after season, until the kittens eventually grew and left the barn for a life of foraging and danger on their own. The barn seemed empty and more lonely after they were gone.

It marked the passing of time, and taught him the rhythms of things. The natural order of the way things were supposed to be.

When he was still small, he imagined himself curled up safe and warm, looked after, soothed to sleep with the mellow comfort of mama’s purrs.

When it was dark outside, the boy crept out of the small door and shut it tight, to keep the coldness out, and walked the long lane to the house. No one seemed to be looking for him. It was expected that he would learn to take care of himself. He knew that the calico would let him sleep in the quiet of the hay with her kittens, if he turned back.

Maybe tomorrow. It was just the way things were.

Long Road


the adventure_ByMojebory

I do not trust myself to be completely honest. About anything. Not completely. Does anyone ever become the wave sweeping across the ocean, or sink into the Ground of Being?

I just don’t know enough. Nor do I know whether it is possible to learn or understand enough.

IMG_1207All I can do is keep looking, learning, failing, hoping, healing, moving… and know the journey will probably never be finished.

Shapes, Shades and Shadows


IMG_1750
Her room.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in her room lately, up at the top of the house. There’s a finished room with plaster walls on the third floor, 40 feet off the ground, and the house sits on a tall limestone ridge. I can see for miles when the air is clear. It’s a quiet and peaceful place.

When this old money pit was new, a nameless young woman slept here. Nameless to me, anyway. A poor girl, making her way.

It’s been fixed up. I’m sure the floors then were bare boards only, with maybe a threadbare area rug.

The plaster walls were unpainted, probably. No money spent on servants. A metal bed with rough ropes for springs. An old, scratched bedside table and chair. A shallow closet with wire hooks held one or two of her things. There may have been a simple dresser, hand-made.

She must have gazed out that window—dreaming of another life when the work was done.

I’ve tried to imagine what it was like up here then.

I wonder what she saw out these windows? What she thought in the coldest days of winter, with no insulation in the walls? Or when the room roasted in the summer? None of us have known a life like this.

Lincoln had been dead for 17 years. Things were changing, but not everything. Men in their 30s and 40s, missing legs, arms, eyes—sanity, in some cases—sat on benches on the courthouse lawn and reminisced the days away. The cannon that had mowed down Virginians and Alabamians at Gettysburg 20 years before dotted the grass, helped them remember other times.

She walked past them every day to and from visits to her mother in the worker’s houses on the other side of downtown, or when she ran errands to the shops downtown. The crippled, damaged men told the old stories over and over, of youth and glory and horror in the great struggle. Their eyes spoke more, though, things they could not speak aloud.

But the girl heard their stories. She also overheard all the talk in the dry goods store when the other servant girls chatted and gossiped about people and things they’d overheard their betters discussing over the morning paper. There were political arguments made out in public, and six partisan weeklies shouting at each other.

The owner of the mansion next door had been an officer at Gettysburg, Chancellorsville and several others. He lost a leg in battle near the end of the war, a general by the time he came home. Later on, a governor of Pennsylvania.

Another girl like her worked for him. His home loomed up outside one of her windows, a different world of wealth and power and privilege. His carriage crunched down the gravel lane between the houses to the carriage house in back. On warm days, she saw him sitting in a wheelchair on his porch, reading, or walking on crutches, or on his wooden leg. She saw distinguished guests step down from carriages he’d sent to the train station for them. She knew he was an important man, and hurried past him on the street with a quick, shy greeting.

Sitting Bull had surrendered the previous July, at Fort Buford in Montana.
President Garfield had been shot the summer before her mistress had moved into the house. The news and gossip was full of nothing else for a while. Mark Twain published “The Prince and the Pauper.” And, oh, Bob Ford had killed Jesse James in April.

She probably couldn’t read the papers, though. She made an X for her name.
She was an immigrant, maybe Irish. Or German. Or Italian. Or from Bohemia. One of the floods of wretched that came in after the war for the jobs, the lands out west. Her family was here, too, but she was farmed out as a ladies maid/cook/char woman/nurse…(Whatever they called her, she probably did it all.)

Her father was a quarry worker, breaking the limestone into blocks and powder with a sledge hammer and muscle. A teenaged brother worked at an iron foundry in town. Another in an iron mine owned by her mistress’s in-laws. Her mother had two babies on the hip, the twins. There was another sister, too young to work for cash yet.

The young woman took care of a wealthy widow in a house on the hill. The old woman’s daughters had married mine and iron foundry and stamping mill owners, second-generation Irish and English, Quakers, movers and shakers making the stuff of railroads. Bridges. Guns.

I imagine her young. Unmarried. A heavy brogue, perhaps. Up before dawn every day to light the fireplaces, make the breakfast, empty the bedpans, clean the house, trim candle and lantern wicks, clean the glass chimneys. Before that, though she would take medicine and comfort  to the old woman, who was not well. The old Quaker was stern, but could be kind. She was teaching the girl to read. It was only practical, she would say. The only way to rise above being a wage slave for the rest of her life.

Annie was the old woman’s name, and she would live less than a year. After that (and the girl knew it was coming), she hoped she could get another job, unless the spinster daughter of the house kept her on. The money she earned was needed at home. Maybe she would meet a boy and get married, and start having children like her mother had.

WomansSilhouetteBut on spring nights, when the air was soft and the incredible perfume of the blooms of a Black Locust at the corner of the house filled her room, she pulled a single wooden stool over by the window to watch the moon rise over the mountain. She allowed herself to dream of something better. She may have picked up an old McGuffey primer and labored over the pictures and strange shapes of words, lighting a kerosene lamp when it got dark

And now I use her room to write. Sometimes, I can almost see  her sitting by the window, looking off into the distance. I wonder whether she ever found that boy, and whether she learned to read.

The Egg


Eye of wonder

By Andy Weir

You were on your way home when you died.

It was a car accident. Nothing particularly remarkable, but fatal nonetheless. You left behind a wife and two children. It was a painless death. The EMTs tried their best to save you, but to no avail. Your body was so utterly shattered you were better off, trust me.

And that’s when you met me.

“What… what happened?” You asked. “Where am I?”

“You died,” I said, matter-of-factly. No point in mincing words.

“There was a… a truck and it was skidding…”

“Yup,” I said.

“I… I died?”

“Yup. But don’t feel bad about it. Everyone dies,” I said.

You looked around. There was nothingness. Just you and me. “What is this place?” You asked. “Is this the afterlife?”

“More or less,” I said.

“Are you god?” You asked.

“Yup,” I replied. “I’m God.”

“My kids… my wife,” you said.

“What about them?”

“Will they be all right?”

“That’s what I like to see,” I said. “You just died and your main concern is for your family. That’s good stuff right there.”

You looked at me with fascination. To you, I didn’t look like God. I just looked like some man. Or possibly a woman. Some vague authority figure, maybe. More of a grammar school teacher than the almighty.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “They’ll be fine. Your kids will remember you as perfect in every way. They didn’t have time to grow contempt for you. Your wife will cry on the outside, but will be secretly relieved. To be fair, your marriage was falling apart. If it’s any consolation, she’ll feel very guilty for feeling relieved.”

“Oh,” you said. “So what happens now? Do I go to heaven or hell or something?”

“Neither,” I said. “You’ll be reincarnated.”

“Ah,” you said. “So the Hindus were right,”

“All religions are right in their own way,” I said. “Walk with me.”

You followed along as we strode through the void. “Where are we going?”

“Nowhere in particular,” I said. “It’s just nice to walk while we talk.”

“So what’s the point, then?” You asked. “When I get reborn, I’ll just be a blank slate, right? A baby. So all my experiences and everything I did in this life won’t matter.”

“Not so!” I said. “You have within you all the knowledge and experiences of all your past lives. You just don’t remember them right now.”

I stopped walking and took you by the shoulders. “Your soul is more magnificent, beautiful, and gigantic than you can possibly imagine. A human mind can only contain a tiny fraction of what you are. It’s like sticking your finger in a glass of water to see if it’s hot or cold. You put a tiny part of yourself into the vessel, and when you bring it back out, you’ve gained all the experiences it had.

“You’ve been in a human for the last 48 years, so you haven’t stretched out yet and felt the rest of your immense consciousness. If we hung out here for long enough, you’d start remembering everything. But there’s no point to doing that between each life.”

“How many times have I been reincarnated, then?”

“Oh lots. Lots and lots. An into lots of different lives.” I said. “This time around, you’ll be a Chinese peasant girl in 540 AD.”

“Wait, what?” You stammered. “You’re sending me back in time?”

“Well, I guess technically. Time, as you know it, only exists in your universe. Things are different where I come from.”

“Where you come from?” You said.

“Oh sure,” I explained “I come from somewhere. Somewhere else. And there are others like me. I know you’ll want to know what it’s like there, but honestly you wouldn’t understand.”

“Oh,” you said, a little let down. “But wait. If I get reincarnated to other places in time, I could have interacted with myself at some point.”

“Sure. Happens all the time. And with both lives only aware of their own lifespan you don’t even know it’s happening.”

“So what’s the point of it all?”

“Seriously?” I asked. “Seriously? You’re asking me for the meaning of life? Isn’t that a little stereotypical?”

“Well it’s a reasonable question,” you persisted.

I looked you in the eye. “The meaning of life, the reason I made this whole universe, is for you to mature.”

“You mean mankind? You want us to mature?”

“No, just you. I made this whole universe for you. With each new life you grow and mature and become a larger and greater intellect.”

“Just me? What about everyone else?”

“There is no one else,” I said. “In this universe, there’s just you and me.”

You stared blankly at me. “But all the people on earth…”

“All you. Different incarnations of you.”

“Wait. I’m everyone!?”

“Now you’re getting it,” I said, with a congratulatory slap on the back.

“I’m every human being who ever lived?”

“Or who will ever live, yes.”

“I’m Abraham Lincoln?”

“And you’re John Wilkes Booth, too,” I added.

“I’m Hitler?” You said, appalled.

“And you’re the millions he killed.”

“I’m Jesus?”

“And you’re everyone who followed him.”

You fell silent.

“Every time you victimized someone,” I said, “you were victimizing yourself. Every act of kindness you’ve done, you’ve done to yourself. Every happy and sad moment ever experienced by any human was, or will be, experienced by you.”

You thought for a long time.

“Why?” You asked me. “Why do all this?”

“Because someday, you will become like me. Because that’s what you are. You’re one of my kind. You’re my child.”

“Whoa,” you said, incredulous. “You mean I’m a god?”

“No. Not yet. You’re a fetus. You’re still growing. Once you’ve lived every human life throughout all time, you will have grown enough to be born.”

“So the whole universe,” you said, “it’s just…”

“An egg.” I answered. “Now it’s time for you to move on to your next life.”

And I sent you on your way.

Hands


(revised)

Working hands-1509What can you tell from a person’s hands?

He’s been gone for 32 years, but some of the earliest memories I have of my father were of his hands.

Easily able to engulf my little paw in his, my outstretched fingers couldn’t span much more than his palm.

He had a doctorate., and an office job during the week, but when he got home to the little farm he and my mother bought just before I was born, he reverted to his true self.

The white shirt and suit, the thin dark ties, the polished dress shoes all went into the closet, hung and ready, and he’d put on work boots, leather gloves, khaki pants and a shredded work shirt. He’d head out to the garden, or the barn, or to fix a stretch of fencing, or to tend to the sheep. He was at heart a son of the soil, and needed to keep his hands in it to feel alive, connected. It fed him and let him touch real things after days of politics, effort spent massaging egos, and playing with words. It reminded him who he came from, and where he was going to end up.

workgloves

In truth, everyone I grew up around had hands like these, battered and worn, but full of self-respect and strength. When they shook your hand, you felt the horny calluses, and the grip was like iron, and the eyes looked into yours to see who you really were.

 It’s a legacy I do not apologize for. People who grew up in cities and suburbs may not understand, or much respect those whose hands wore the marks of heavy use, when if you wanted something, you had to build it, or fix it, or wrestle it into submission, or do without. He tried to show me the honor of hard work, and I confess I did not learn the lesson while he was alive. It must have disappointed him. I avoided work, and missed out on time I could have spent with him. My loss.

I learned later, though. I tried to show my sons the same lessons, and they treated me the way I had treated him. It made me smile a little.

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A Novel is Like a Marriage


David Foster Wallace world copyright Giovanni Giovannetti/effigie
David Foster Wallace 1962-2008

Novels are like marriages. You have to get into the mood to write them — not because of what writing them is going to be like, but because it’s so sad to end them. When I finished my first book, I really felt like I’d fallen in love with my main character and that she’d died. You have to understand, writing a novel gets very weird and invisible-friend-from-childhood-ish, then you kill that thing, which was never really alive except in your imagination, and you’re supposed to go buy groceries and talk to people at parties and stuff. Characters in stories are different. They come alive in the corners of your eyes. You don’t have to live with them.

DAVID FOSTER WALLACE

We Can’t Be Anything We Want To Be


IMG_11071

Or can we? I’m not sure who started this, but I’ve heard the message all my life that a wish is as good as it needs to be. We live in a Disney fantasy. Wish to be an astronaut and it will happen. Want to be a billionaire hard enough and the dollars must — must — eventually roll in.

Well, it is all bullshit, isn’t it? I know people had good intentions and wanted to be encouraging, but this led to children getting ribbons for just showing up, and trophies for “participating,” even if they sucked at whatever game it was. I don’t think that’s such a good thing to do to a kid. I’m not advocating cruelty, but merely truth. “You are going to need to practice a whole hell of a lot if you want to play the piano in a way that doesn’t hurt people’s ears.” What do you think?

My own experience and thinking falls more in line with Pressfield’s, below. We are the sculptors of much of our own destiny, taking the raw clay of us and scraping away things that don’t belong, and shaping the rest into the true realized self. It takes a lifetime. It’s frustrating for the young, but this is something that just takes time. A lifetime.

But we can’t control everything. By no means all, as others act upon our lives and random chance acts on the paths we’re on, and the Universe has a perverse sense of humor.

But isn’t it a big enough job to just be active in our own creation, using whatever raw materials we’re born with or find around us?

“We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become. We are who we are from the cradle, and we’re stuck with it.

“Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.

“The artist and the mother are vehicles, not originators. They don’t create the new life, they only bear it. This is why birth is such a humbling experience. The new mom weeps in awe at the little miracle in her arms. She knows it came out of her but not from her, through her but not of her.”
― Steven PressfieldThe War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles

Happy Accident


We had one of those experiences recently that had a touch of magic about it. Unexpected pleasures are the best kind.

Near Flatrock, NC., just driving around looking for something to do, we passed a sign that said the home of poet Carl Sandburg was up ahead. It’s a national park, now, so the signs had the brown backgrounds and white lettering. He, his wife, daughters and granddaughter, lived there for nearly 21 years, until his death in 1967. The anniversary of that was just ten days away when we visited, actually.

He’s probably my favorite American writer, and I didn’t know he lived in the South. So we stopped and spent several hours wandering the grounds. It’s a lovely place, full of charm and history and serenity now. The house was built in 1838 and was at one point owned by the treasurer of the Confederate States of America, a slaveholder. Sandburg, a committed socialist and Unionist, was terribly embarrassed by the presence of slave cabins out back, but also believed in preserving historical things. So he had them renovated and painted, and just lived with the moral quandary they represented as he worked on his Lincoln and Civil War books. The house sits on a hill overlooking a pasture and a lake full of fish. sandburg

I took the tour of the house, and have a picture of the writing room on the 3rd floor where he wrote big chunks of his Lincoln biography and much of his Civil War history, below. And most of the extensive library of children’s stories he wrote. It’s just as it was when he and his wife lived there, just as it was on the day he died, July 22, 1967.

After he died, his wife of nearly 60 years just lost heart and moved out, giving the land to the Interior Department to make the national park. She and her daughters took just their clothes. If you ever are in the vicinity and want to stop by to touch a piece of literary history, please do.

sandburg's writing room

 

This is the poet in his own voice, reading a short poem he published in 1918.

Running Girl: Ch. 6, “The Next Morning” (excerpt)


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What’s happened so far:
Ted’s old love, Miriam, is on the run from some seriously bad people and fears she’s been betrayed, as well. She has no where to turn. She decides she can only find Ted and throw herself on his mercy, knowing he probably won’t be happy to see her, given that she abandoned him and ran away without a word. She’s run across the country by train and car, appearing across the street from the old mansion he’s restoring in the middle of a epochal thunderstorm. While deciding whether to knock on his door, having multiple second thoughts about doing this, she’s knocked down by a nearby lightening strike and nearly drowned by the heaviest rain she’s ever experienced. With her last bit of strength, half conscious, she staggers up onto his porch and pounds on his door. He doesn’t recognize her at first, but then does. 

She looked like a body that had been dragged along the bottom of a river, hitting sunken debris along the way and had been thrown up onto the porch and then groomed with a blowtorch. Her hair was plastered to her head and the face— which had an angry bruise on her forehead and the right side — was shockingly unrecognizable in the reflection from the glass of the front door. Water collected at her feet and she shook with tremors of shock and cold. She felt light-headed and sick at her stomach. A pool of red, blood diluted by rainwater, was growing at her feet. 

After staring at her for what felt like hours—but was only a couple of seconds—his expression changed. He focused on her eyes, and his  narrowed. Then, his face shifted from confusion to shock when he realized who it was standing there. His mouth opened and closed like a fish’s. He opened the door, but still couldn’t speak. 

Hi, T-t-ted,” Miriam said through chattering teeth, feeling her legs start to wobble. It sounded like someone else was talking. No food and not much sleep for nearly three days, and now electrocution, shock and hypothermia. She had the odd sensation of floating up near the porch light, watching herself and Ted facing one another. She looked half-dead, and her spirit had almost left her body, in fact. Her knees buckled and her eyes rolled back as she fell forward. 

Just before she blacked out, she felt his arms catch her and inhaled the familiar smell of him. The vague ache she’d felt for many months escaped her like an exhalation of stale air held inside for far too long. “Oh, God….” She heard someone say in her voice from far away.

She felt arms catch her, hold her up. Then everything went dark. 

 


 

4-woman-sleeping-bed-636

 

Sunlight wormed itself through a gap in wooden shutters and crept across the floor until it found Miriam’s face. Like warm fingers, it traced the outlines of cheek and jaw, caressed the bruised face and lit the fine hairs on her cheek. A light breeze ruffled sheer lace curtains with edges embroidered in silk, and gradually nudged the shutters open. More sun brightened the room, and the spring aromas of warming earth and flowers began to fill the room.

The woman with many names and many secrets lay on her back under a fluffy white down comforter in a large, iron-framed Victorian bed with the head against a wall, in a corner room. On either side were two windows facing the morning sun. A third window in a wall to her left faced west, shade-dappled by a giant maple tree. All had two sets of shutters, top and bottom, all but one were closed. The latch on that one had not been secured tightly and it was through a slowly widening crack that the the sun and spring air pushed in and insistently pulled her from the darkness.

She stirred, images  of herself floating up from the depths of a well toward a small circle of light above running through her awakening consciousness like fragments of an old movie. She delayed opening her eyes, her mind momentarily free of thought in that moment suspended between one world and the next. The warmth of the sun on her bruised skin was welcome and healing, and she savored it, content to pause and let her senses return.

Like an engine that had been flooded, her mind turned hesitantly and with effort. It was still muzzy and fitful, too rebellious to focus on any one thing at first. But as the moments passed, it gained strength and she pushed through the last of the water in the well and came back to herself, and knew she was safe.

As she had done as a child waking on a lazy Saturday morning in her mother’s house the kibbutz in the lower Gallilee, she played the waking game, kept her eyes closed and explored with her skin and nose and ears. Flowers bloomed there, too.

She was warm, that registered first. She was covered in something soft and light. She heard birdsong washing in through the window, and sniffed the clean scent of spring. Her ears strained to hear beyond the twittering chorus, and heard a car’s engine and the swish of tires on a street that wasn’t too far away, to her left. A bell in a nearby church sounded nine times. She didn’t consciously count the strikes, but as usual, some part of her brain just took care of that and reported it to her. This filled her with relief; perhaps she would be OK after all.

tedHouse
Ted’s Salvage Project and Money Pit

Her body began to remind her of less pleasant things: a dull ache from her forehead and the side of her head brought back the desperate struggles days before in Henry’s house, 3,000 miles away. The skin on her forehead also felt tight and hot, like a burn. Her right hip and thigh ached. She felt the lump over her eye, wincing at the pain that conjured up. She ran fingers lightly over her temple and felt the swelling and the harsh stubble of scorched hair. Her head was splitting; she remembered the lighting strike. A slight tingle and numbness in her fingertips made her rub them together, and sharp stabs of pain from two fingers told her of damage there.

After cataloguing the injuries, she pushed them away and opened her eyes. She saw a large room with tall windows, wood trim and a pleasant feeling. Turning her head to both sides hurt, but she took in the dimensions of the room. A big wooden door, closed, was directly opposite the foot of the bed. She sensed, rather than saw, the windows behind her. The shuttered window to her left let through the moving shadows of leaves from a large tree. There was a wingback chair and ottoman by the bed on her right, and a wooden antique dresser with a marble top and beveled mirror in a tall frame sat beside the door. The room was probably 15 or 20 feet on a side, and had the look and smell of being recently repainted, or remodeled. Everything looked too smooth and fresh to be as old as the house looked from the outside.

Miriam —that was her actual name, she reminded herself—tried to sit up but the heavy bruise to her hip and thigh had stiffened. She remembered the confusing last few hours in the rain and dark. A fragment of memory of herself at Ted’s door. A shaky image of a drowned and burned woman distorted in beveled glass. An old woman patting her cheek. A train ride. A long drive to get here. Hiding in a closet. A beating. It was all mixed up and confusing.

With a second effort, and grunting against the pain, she pushed herself up to a sitting position. She lifted the white comforter to see that she wore men’s pajamas. Lifting her hips, she slipped the elastic waistband down and saw a wrap around her thigh, the edges of a  purple and red bruise peeking out from the edges. Higher up, another bruise from the corner of Henry’s counter top remained, but was darker and hurt less. Still, everything hurt, even her hair. She closed her eyes again, moaned and slumped back against the carved wooden headboard, the comforter falling down to her waist.

Alarmed, she pulled it up under her chin wondering if anyone else was there, watching.

She was alone and relaxed, but her eyes fell on the chair next and saw jeans, a sweatshirt, sandals, a bra and some lacy underwear laid out there, apparently for her. With one last suspicious glance around, she slid legs out from under the covers, dropped her feet gingerly to the carpet, limped to the chair and dressed. The things didn’t fit too badly, which made her absently wonder who had picked them out and put them there—and who had undressed her, washed her, dressed her wounds, and put her to bed. She was grateful, in any case.

She limped over to a closet door and peeked in. Nope, no women’s clothes in there, and there was nothing feminine on the dresser. It had the feeling of a guest room, then.

She walked slowly—testing her muscles, wincing at each step—to the western window, unlatched the shutter and looked out. It was one of those exquisite mornings in early spring where the air is soft and shares your relief that winter is finally over. The storm had gone, leaving a scene bright and washed clean like a morning at the beginning of the world. The sun blazed down on flowers bobbing in the breeze around foundations of houses across the street, and the whole scene looked so wholesome she couldn’t take it all in after what she’d been through. She closed her eyes again and leaned on the window sill, breathing deep the clear air and scents of blooms. There was a lilac somewhere near sending its fragrance up on on currents of air.

Turning, she stretched out her stride to loosen up her stiffness more,  and made it to the door in seven slow steps. The door, solid, substantial oak like the rest of the room’s wide trim, sported old-style brass hinges and a doorknob with an elaborate filigree pattern pressed into it. She listened at the door for a moment. Hearing nothing but with habitual caution, she opened the door a few inches and saw a wide hallway with doors— to other bedrooms?—  another hallway to her right, at right angles to the one she was examining. In the same direction was a set of stairs leading to the floor above. At her end of the hallway, opposite the door, a wide staircase lead down.

This place must go on in all sorts of directions, she mused, intrigued. There was no one in sight, but she smelled coffee—her drug of choice— bacon and other incredible kitchen smells. Her stomach lurched and rumbled, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten for a long time.

Time to go downstairs. After all, she mused, blushing a little at the thought, it was probably Ted who cleaned her up, bound her wounds and put her to bed last night. He’d gotten to meet her then, in a manner of speaking. The thought was not entirely unpleasant.

She walked toward the stairs that lead toward the smells of breakfast, taking in the details. Her near-photographic memory was both a natural gift and part of her training. Very little escaped notice and was filed away automatically. A part of her brain noted details, such as a paint can left in the hall corner, a look of recently finished walls and floors, new oriental carpet runners in every direction–and she could smell fresh paint and plaster. She could tell that this had been a major restoration. There were plaster walls, oak trim everywhere, and a marquetry floor with two or three kinds of wood. The Ted she remembered could never have decorated this on his own, so he had either hired someone pretty good, or there was another woman in the picture.

To her surprise, the latter thought sent a mini-tremor of jealousy through her. She shook her head.

“Hardly have a right to be jealous, do you?” she scolded herself under her breath. “None of your business now.” She clamped down on the emotions that had stirred and started down the stairs, her lips set in a thin line. “We’ll see what’s what, first.” Little red spots remained on her cheeks.

The plush pile of the carpet runner down the center of the stairway silenced her footfalls. She moved deliberately, holding onto the railing next to the wall, unable to reach across the width of the stairs to touch the other railing. It was a long way down—13 steps, she noted automatically. At a glance, she logged the number of spindles in the railing—26—and that one halfway down was slightly turned. She corrected that to match all the others on her way past.

The enticing aroma of coffee got stronger by the time she reached the bottom, but the stiffness in her legs made it slow going. By the time she neared the bottom, though, she was moving more purposefully. She paused on the last step to look around and listen, sniffing the air, then stepped down onto a matching area carpet on more fine wood flooring. Normally unimpressed with wealth, she was becoming aware that this place, while old, had “good bones,” as her father would have said. The place exuded 19th Century quality without shouting about it.

She stood for a moment at the bottom of the steps where a long central hallway widened as it stretched to the right and left. She took a few steps to the right and passed a large room with pocket doors partially opened, and then another larger room in the front of the house. A short hallway led to an outside door on the right. On the left were doors closed on spaces she couldn’t guess the uses of, and then another front room, this one obviously appointed as a library with floor-to-ceiling bookcases and a fireplace with an elaborate carved black marble mantle. Wingback chairs flanked the fireplace, each with a round side table of oak in an older style. A built-in window seat stretched across the front, with more bookshelves built in underneath.

To the left, at the end of the room that would easily hold two of her last apartment, was another set of nine-foot-tall pocket doors. She stepped over to the center and moved them apart with surprisingly small effort, as they were probably 300 pounds of thick old wood each. But the balance was so good that they slid apart easily. She stepped through into a dining room. An antique table of highly polished dark wood stretched half of the length of the room, with ten high-back chairs of matching color and style tucked neatly all around, four on each side and one at each end. A matching sideboard sat in the back corner, and another marble fireplace, slightly smaller that the one in the front room and faced with white, veined marble and bright brass andirons, sat in the middle of the outside wall, flanked by a pair of eight-foot-tall bay windows. Even with no lights burning, the room was ablaze with sunlight.

Stepping to a side door, she opened it and found herself back in the hallway, near the stairs she’d descended a few moments before. She heard the clatter of dishes down the hall to the right, and saw someone move across a doorway.

She took a deep breath and moved toward the sounds and the smell of coffee and food. The coffee would help with the headache and she couldn’t resist the allure of the aroma any longer.

At the threshold, she stopped again and watched Ted’s back as he worked on something at the stove. A kitchen table to the right was set for two, and more sunlight was bursting into the room from another big bay window beside it. A lanky chocolate Lab had caught her scent already, and raised his head and was watching her from his spot under the table. He unfolded himself from the floor and ambled over, tail wagging like he’d known her all his life.

She scratched behind his ears and looked up, realizing Ted hadn’t heard anything yet over the music of a radio he had on.

He looked different around the edges, but the same at the center: A little thinner, perhaps, but with some grey at the temples that hadn’t been there a year ago. The hair was shorter. He was humming along tunelessly like she remembered, something that sounded like a mixture of an old Stones tune and a little Count Basie, and completely unrelated to the song that was playing. She smiled. Typical. He wore a short-sleeved yellow polo shirt and khaki slacks, well-worn moccasins and no socks.

His arms were tanned and looked better muscled than she remembered, as did the shoulders that looked broader and solid under the shirt’s fabric. The back of his neck was ruddy from the sun. Overall, he was in better shape and had lost the flabby, disheveled, half-crazed look of his life in New York. There, he’d lived mainly on adrenaline, beer, coffee, cold pizza and vending machine food and more beer. Whatever else had happened, moving here seemed to have been good for him. She approved.

A bright red cardinal landed on a branch of a small tree just outside the window, looked sharply around a few times with a combative manner, and sounded the penetrating clear call notes that warned any competitors that he was master of this territory now.

She heard the powerful song from outside and watched him, comb flashing angrily, and felt the pride and challenge of his brash music of survival go through her. She did not realize Ted had turned at the cardinal’s call, as well, and had caught sight of her from the corner of his eye. He put a skillet down and turned the gas flame off. He switched off the radio and turned and stood, waiting. His face was not unfriendly, but impassive.

She turned her head as the music stopped and looked into his eyes for the first time in more than a year. She opened her mouth once, then closed it.

The silence stretched.

“Hungry?,” he said, turning back to the stove.

All she could do was nod once, suddenly shy and tongue-tied, then realized he couldn’t see her. The lab bumped her hand with his head, wanting her to pet him some more. When she didn’t, he sniffed her fingertips and touched them with just the tip of his tongue.

Ted pointed to the table with his hand and arm outstretched, without turning. “Why don’t you sit down. I’ll get things together. And—“ He paused, turning from the waist up and looking at her a long second “— we’ll eat.”

As he dialed up the gas flame under the skillet, he started whistling that tuneless tune again.

She nodded to his back, felt foolish, then walked over to the table and sat at the  end so she could watch him. The dog escorted her, side pressed against her legs slightly.

Ted put eggs and bacon on a platter, poured juice and two coffees, put it all on a big tray and carried it to the table. He put a glass of orange juice in front of her and the platter in the middle of the table. Abandoning any pretense or etiquette in sudden, ravenous hunger, she pulled the empty plate in front of her, grabbed the platter and scooped eggs and meat onto it, then slices of toast while he poured her coffee. He moved to the other end of the table and pulled the platter to his side and helped himself. He put the pot of coffee halfway between them.

Miriam made the food disappear with efficiency. He watched in fascination as so much food went into such a small person so quickly. She ate one helping without looking at him, chewing. He pushed the platter back to her and she loaded her plate up again. She drank the juice and coffee gratefully, then poured another of each. Ted ate without a word passing between them, finished and sat back, sipped coffee and looked out the window while she ate. His thoughts were tripping over themselves.

He had seen her the night before, of course, but she looked more like the accident victim she was than the remarkably restored woman at his table. He hadn’t been affected by her nakedness in the ways he would have been at almost any other time. Besides, Rose had been there and helped clean Miriam up, bandage her wounds and get her into bed. Rose had picked out the clothes.

He reflected on that scene, wondering if he’d have been as composed and business-like if Rose’s ex-husband had dropped in out of the deluge, babbling incoherently, the way Miriam had talked in her delirium as they worked on her together.

Not bloody likely, he knew. He’d have been more likely to stop the yammering of the man by putting a pillow over his face and holding it there.

But not Rose. She was full of surprises, that one.

But the woman he’d once loved to the point of insanity, the woman who had run away without a word, was sitting at his table.

He felt equal parts anger, intense relief, and an odd flutter of the heart.

What was he going to do now?

 

 

Ch. 4, part 2: Rose.. A Little About Rose


tardis_rose
Rose Tyler (Dr. Who)

But who, intact,
would Venus [de Milo] be?
Some standard-issue
ingénue. Give me
a woman who’s lived
a little, who’s wrapped
her arms around the ages
and come up lacking: that’s
the stone that can move me.
—“Truth in Advertising,” Andrea Cohen

Ted’s doorbell, which sounded like Big Ben, rang at 9 p.m. precisely two days, seven hours and 23 minutes after he left the old Mill’s bar floating on the updrafts of new love.

He had music playing and had cleaned things up as much as one can in a house that’s full of carpenter’s tools and stepladders, the smell of fresh paint and polish.

Rose stood outside on the porch with her hair down on her shoulders, and breathtaking in a low-cut but still modest black dress that ended just above the knees, a silver necklace and playful eyes. She fairly glistened under the light.

To say that she was well put together would be like saying Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” was just an OK little sketch.

And never in the history of little black dresses had there been such a little black dress.

His heart fluttered a bit and then flopped over. His mouth went dry. She was overloading his nervous system. He liked it.

Her hair glowed in the light of late evening and the porch lamp. She must have done some fairy magic with makeup, because all he saw were her eyes and lips, a hint of swelling bosom…and felt something break loose in his chest.  Everything about her looked understated and expensive, and he forgot his own name.

Rose looked a little worried at first that he wasn’t saying anything. It had taken a lot of work to look like this, after all. But then she looked more closely and saw the wordless appreciation in his face and then blushed at what she saw behind it, and felt a thrill run through her at what that look did to her. She laughed, held up the bottle of wine she had in her right hand, and waggled it at him.

“Are you going to invite me in, or do I have to find another guy to share this with?”

That shook the spell off, and opened the door wide.
“Hi, Rose. I’m sorry. You … . You’re so gorgeous, I forgot how to speak there for a minute. Please…. Come on in.” She smiled up at him warmly and stepped across the threshold, presenting the wine bottle.

Their fingers brushed lightly as he took the bottle.

“You look beautiful, too,” she said, a little shyly, almost too softly to hear. “What say we get started on that wine?”

He took the wine and led her back to the kitchen, opened it and filled two glasses. Then, even though they both knew they were delaying the inevitable, he played tour guide to his pride and joy renovation/rescue project, all three floors. It took the better part of 40 minutes. Back in the kitchen, he refilled their glasses, pulled a tray of cheeses and olives and meats and crackers from the refrigerator, and tried to tuck another bottle of wine under his arm. She held up a hand, took the wine from him, picked up the open one and a cork screw with her other hand and he grabbed the food tray and led her up the winding staircase to the tower room with its 360-degree view of town and treetops, where he’d earlier put some candles.

The summer sun was just touching the top of the mountain to the west, filling the room with a golden glow. They had had a spell of clear, dry air settling down from Canada over the valley, with sunny days and cool nights, so the windows were open and a slight breeze moved through.

He sat on one of the couches as she took her time inspecting this last space, sipping wine without saying much. She took in the view of town below, of the mountains to the west and north, and the tree tops of the old neighborhood stretching to the east toward the gigantic old limestone open mine a couple of miles out in the forests that surrounded them. It was just getting dark enough that the glow of the university town 10 miles away over a ridge to the south could be seen blotting out the first stars. The street lights and the yellow glow of the lights below in the downtown looked more inviting. He took in her presence, smiling at how lovely she was, how she moved so effortlessly. She’d chosen the dress well, too, and he watched her body move under it, enjoying the swish and sway of the fabric falling from shoulder, and breast and hip, but stopping at two of the finest pair of legs he’d seen in a long time, bare, with no stockings.

After she paused back at the beginning, looking pensively toward the glow of the western sky, he cleared his throat.

“What’s your story, Rose Tyler?” he finally asked, breaking the silence. She turned at the question, eyes dark and serious. He indicated the tray of food and offered to refill her glass. He stammered… “You know a lot about me — God knows I’ve been doing nothing but talking about myself all evening — but now it’s your turn.”

She didn’t answer right away, but took another sip of wine and held it to her lips for a few seconds, looking at him over the rim of the glass with unfathomable eyes. She moved to the seat opposite, but close enough that he could have touched her knee if he had just leaned forward a bit.

She held the stem of the wine glass with both hands in her lap with knees together and ankles crossed.

“Let’s eat first. I’m starving, and much more wine on an empty stomach and I don’t know what I’ll do,” she said. “But then you’ll get the whole sad story.”

Later, after the food and after they shared some more of their personal stories, they sat in silence for a while, sipping wine, neither knowing exactly what to say.

He put his wine glass down and leaned forward. Might as well be blunt, Ted thought.

“I’ve been thinking about you almost non-stop since the other day at lunch,” he said. “Truth be told, I’ve been thinking about you a lot even before that. And I want to kiss you,” he said. “Almost more than anything I can think of right now.”

She put her glass down on the side table and looked at him with a frank invitation in her eyes. “If you hadn’t said that pretty soon, I was going to,” she said, her voice a little husky. “And then I want to see more of that bedroom.”

Somehow– he later couldn’t remember moving– he was next to her and the room was lit only by a candle by the time they  broke away. The sun’s glow was gone from the sky and the moon was rising, but it seemed as though no time had passed for the two of them.

They were both breathing hard. She put her head against his chest and ran her hand up and down, then back inside where buttons had been opened before. Her touch seemed infused with fire.

“Oh, my,” she said, voice husky and hushed. “Oh, my.”

He kissed the top of her head and stood, then moved around blowing out each candle. The moon was rising, filling the room with blue light, enough for them to see now. He took her hand and drew her up from the couch to him, kissed her once, touching her tongue with his. Without another word, he led her down the stairs.

The next week was a rushing memory. Rose left at mid-morning the next day and went to the restaurant. Ted met with a decorator and a plumber and some other tradespeople finishing up the upper rooms, and felt like he had a grin plastered on his face the whole time.

When he was alone he found himself whistling, something he hadn’t done for years. He also realized he wasn’t very good at whistling, but didn’t care.

Rose came back that night and brought some samplings from the restaurant, and also had a snack of cheeses at the big table in the kitchen. They washed it down with some German beer, and talked again for an hour about their lives and their losses.

She grew quiet after a while, and he could tell she wanted to say something. He waited.

“I like you, Ted,” she said. “I really do. Last night was unbelievable. But I need to be clear about something.”

“Um, Ok,” he said, wondering what was coming, fearing the worst.

“We’re both grownups,” she started again. “We know what we like, and what we don’t, and neither of us has time for games any more. That’s for kids. I’ve got issues. You’ve got issues. But I do love the way you use your hands,” she said.

“I know, I know,” he said, waving modestly. “My hands should be insured. I’m gong to call Lloyds tomorrow,” he said. “You certainly were vocal on that point last night.”

“Very funny,” she said, dipping a finger in her beer and flicking it at him. “But I’m not looking for anything permanent here. It might happen. I like being with you. We’re two people who need each other right now, who can make each other laugh. But it’s too soon for either of us to get too serious. I’m too scared about something bad happening again. The divorce was brutal. But I should warn you, I could very easily fall for you, and if that happens, it will be very hard for you to get away.”

“But let’s try to keep it loose for the time being, OK?”

As she said this, she reached over and took his hand and squeezed it.

“I get it,” he said, choosing to make light of it for now. He was feeling much the same. “You just want me for my body. And… “ he gestured at the shirt with a few cracker crumbs and the remnants of a spare tire under it…”I can’t really blame you. This is… well, it’s just irresistible.”

“Let’s just say that with the lights out, I can forget the cracker crumbs,” she said, rising and patting his stomach.

She led him toward the bedroom, although they didn’t make it all the way up the stairs on the first try.

The next hours were memorable. They dozed and then found each other again and again. At the last, she held him with arms and thighs, whispered urgently in his ear, made herself the safe habor into which the storms of his buried selves burst and were forgiven. At the final moment all of the grief and pain and doubt and anger stored inside from all those hard years of loss and disappointment left him.

Afterward, she lay quietly, fingers moving languidly over his skin, a feeling of deep contentment filling her.

They lay side by side, not speaking in the dimness of the giant old room. He let himself drift and wondered at what was gone from the day before— a darkness in his gut that he had felt so long that it seemed normal. He had a brief sensation of sliding down a warm slope. In an instant, he was deep asleep for the first time in months.

She pulled the sheet up over them and settled in under his chin, her head on his chest and one leg and arm thrown possessively over him. He stirred and murmmered something unintelligible and put his arm around her shoulder and then was still again, breathing deeply. With a strand of hair across her face and enigmatic smile at the corners of her mouth, she closed her eyes and followed him into oblivion.

  1. “Mohana Das”

  2. “Captured”

  3. “Dream Girl”

  4. “Attack in the Family Room”

  5. “Fingers”

  6. A Little About Rose

  7. The Next Morning

  8. “What will be, Shall Be”

  9. “To the Death”

Chap. 6, part 2: “To the Death” (continued)


Daggers-stiletto-59

(continued) When Ted tried to remember what happened next, he always had the feeling that it was happening to someone else. Previous scene–>

People watch too many fights on TV or the movies, and think they know what they’d do. It looks so natural, but it’s not. Adrenaline and fear are a potent mix, and sometimes they make you better, and sometimes they make you slow and vulnerable.

But unless someone is well-trained, the fear can take over. No one is the hero he thinks he’ll be. Even the well-trained know fear, but the difference is the training that kicks in.

As the women walked down the hall away from Ted, Rose was slightly ahead of Miriam, body erect and tense and thinking mostly of Miriam. All Ted saw at first was a black-clad figure jump from the side — they knew later that she had been waiting just inside the kitchen behind the door— and an arm appeared to punch Rose in the side and three bodies were a whirl of action. Miriam’s boot hit the woman’s shoulder, missing the arm. Rose folded sideways and slid down the wall. Miriam raised her weapon part way and the attacker flicked her with a knife. Miriam  screamed a guttural war cry as her Glock went off, and the noise in the confined space nearly deafened him. The gun clattered to the floor.

Without a warning sound, the Labrador at Ted’s side launched himself down the hall more quickly than Ted had seen him move in years. His powerful body was stretched out at full speed almost at once, a menacing rumble in his chest. The black figure heard the sound and swung the knife toward it. Ted saw the a long, thin blade and it seemed to twinkle and flash as the woman backed into the kitchen, eyes darting between Miriam and the dog and the gun.

The attacker — he could see it was a woman, now — took a step on Miriam in a low crouch, like a sword fighter’s stance. Miriam held her wrist and leaned against the wall, the gun too far to go for, helpless. She felt the rush of fur and wind as Sampson roared past with murderous intent, his body brushing her aside.

Everything seemed to be going in slow motion. The drops of blood from Miriam’s wrist fell in long drips. Rose moaned and a pool of red blossomed on the side of her white blouse. For some reason, Ted noticed that she had on small diamond earrings.

No more than three seconds had passed in the normal world, but to him it felt like hours. Confusion.

With barely a sound other than claws and paws pounding on carpet and hardwood, and with hair upright along his entire back, the dog ate the long hallway in a second or two and launched  himself at the throat of the black–clad attacker from three body’s length away, a hundred pounds of fury and teeth intent on killing. His charged knocked Miriam back into the wall and she hit her head hard and went down.

The assassin was quick, but he was faster and utterly without doubt. The woman had almost no time to move but out of instinct partially raised her knife at the last second.

Sampson was in the air and couldn’t turn. All he saw was her throat through a red haze of rage. The knife slid into his chest through his own momentum, and he knew it was the end. It pierced his great heart, but he crashed into her, already dying, teeth still snapping and seeking her throat. He killed groundhogs with those teeth with one shake of his powerful neck. He weighed almost more than she did, and his body’s momentum carried them both across the kitchen and into the oven. The woman struck her head and the breath was knocked out of her. Dazed, she still fought to get out from under him, with both arms and legs, and managed to scramble out, the knife still in Sampson’s chest

Miriam scrambled crablike to her gun. The assailant was dazed, she saw. But she was getting up. The trouble was Miriam was having trouble getting to her feet, too. The pain in her arm was searing, and she slipped in the blood on the tile floor.

All of this had happened in brief seconds. Ted felt oddly frozen. Then he grabbed the aluminum baseball bat and ran toward the kitchen with a roar, suddenly released from whatever had been holding him. The attacker was on one knee when she heard him screaming and saw him into the room, bat raised high. Quick as a cobra, and despite a feeing her head was splitting apart, she reached down and pulled the blade from Sampson’s chest and faced him. Her face was covered below the nose with a scarf. Her eyes still showed pain, but she raised the knife.

It did no good.

Ted’s baseball bat connected with a slender wrist and heard the sound of bone breaking. The knife clattered to the floor. A scream and string of harsh foreign words spewed from her lips, her eyes reddened with rage and flickered with pain and fear. But anger, too, and a kind of coldness that startled him.

She looked from Ted to the floor. The knife was too far to reach and her wounded arm hung useless at her side. The pain must have been enormous. But with only a second’s hesitation, she  struggled to pull something from a pouch she wore around her waist with her other hand.

Ted swung the bat again, catching her on the side of her head. He tried not to hit hard enough to kill, just stun. He had no idea how hard that was, so he put a little extra into the swing. The bat connected with a wet thunk, like smacking a fist into a ball glove.

She sank to her knees, but somehow didn’t collapse all at once. She just stayed on her knees, head down. She was muttering angrily in some language Ted didn’t recognize, and  seemed to be in some faraway place. Then she slumped sideways onto the floor like her strings had been cut.  He just stared at her, dazed.

“Pashto,” Miriam said from close behind him. He turned and saw that she had her Glock in her left hand steady on Das, but still on the floor on her side. A steady stream of blood left a trail across the floor from her right arm.

“It’s lucky for her your Little League skills showed up when they did,” she said through clenched teeth.”I was just about to punch a hole in the back of her skull. Hold this,” she said as she struggled to her feet, walked to him and slapped the Glock into his hand. She stepped behind him and grabbed a dishtowel from the counter and wrapped it around her wound, lips pressed into a white line. “She’s Pakistani. I recognize the dialect. Probably from the tribal regions.”

Ted was still staring at the woman in black. He could not move. Miriam was already moving again, looking for something to secure the wrap and stop the bleeding.

“Duct tape!” she barked at Ted. “Where?” Again, not a question, but a command. She leaned close to him and said it again, right in his face. “WHERE?”

She had the training, he didn’t; she was used to the fog of war, he wasn’t, and the training kicked in and she took command. He pointed vaguely to a nearby utility drawer. She looked at him again, realized he was in shock.

“Better see to Rose, Ted.” Miriam said, more gently, and she pushed him in that direction. His mind was a swirl of shock, but he staggered over to Rose. Between them, though, was Sampson, a circle of red spreading around him. Sampson’s eyes flickered in panic, then looked off into the distance. He lay still, weakly thumping his tail once on the floor when Ted approached and knelt  in the blood.

Ted put his hand on Sampson’s side, but realized his loyal friend was dying. Tears blurred his vision, and he wiped them away.

He heard a moan and took two long strides over to Rose. She was on her left side, legs moving slowly like she was running in slow motion, her right hand pressed to a spot that bloomed red on her side.  Her eyes, those beautiful eyes, were open but darting around in fear and confusion. She looked at him and reached up for him. Blood trickled from the corner of her mouth, and a crimson pool surrounded her body. He ripped the front of her blouse open. There was blood welling more slowly now from a gash at the base of her ribs. Some part of him noted that it was not spurting out, which meant it wasn’t an artery. Thank God. Maybe it was not so bad. But she needed a doctor right away. He grabbed another towel from the counter and pressed it against her side.

“Rose, Rose, I’m here. Hold on. Don’t….” .

Miriam moved quickly once she’d tied a bandage made from a white dish towel — Ted had sure gotten domestic, she thought. Then scolded herself for the thought at a time like this.  

Still. I mean…. 

He used to be a real slob. She felt a quick stab of jealousy when she realized who might have had that sort of affect on him. 

Pushing that to the side, she took the roll of tape, pulled the foreign woman’s ankles out from under her and trussed her with three or four rounds of the tape around the ankles, just like a rodeo cowboy tying a calf’s legs together. Then another set of wrappings around the lower thighs. 

The woman in black moaned. Miriam kicked her in the ribs. 

“That’s for the dog,” she muttered. 

She grabbed two wooden spoons from a drawer and fashioned simple splint on the broken wrist, secured them with with duct tape, then tied both arms behind the woman’s back with strips around the forearms and above the elbows. Then more around her whole body, making it extra tight. She kicked her again.

“And that’s for cutting me,” she said. 

Breathing heavily from the exertion and the adrenalin, she stood staring down at the woman for a few moments, tucked her gun into her waistband and retied the bandage on her wound.

She glanced at Ted and saw that he was holding a towel to Rose’s side. She grabbed two clean ones from the drawer and rushed over to them.

“Let me see,” Miriam said, as she pulled the cloth away from the wound. She’d been in Iraq, and had seen plenty of wounds, playing medic more than once.

“Might have knicked her lung a bit, or liver, but she’s lucky,” she said after a quick examination. “The angle was more to the front, and the blade probably glanced off a rib and may not have hit anything big. If it missed her liver it’s a miracle, but it looks a lot better than it would have been. That bitch over there is a pro, but my kick must have ruined her aim. Still,  there’s likely to be internal bleeding, and she’s in shock from all the blood she lost.”

“Lift her up,” she said, more gently this time. He did. Miriam replaced the soaked towel  with two clean ones..” “Now, raise her arms and her blouse.” Rose clamped her lips shut at the sudden pain in her side, just moaned deep in her throat. She was pale and sweating.

“Atta girl,” Miriam said to her. “We’re going to fix you up. Hang in there. I’ll be quick.”

Using her teeth to find the end of the tape on the roll, Miriam held the makeshift bandages on with one hand and pulled and arm’s length of tape off with her tape and her free hand. Ted saw what she was doing and helped her secure an end of the tape against Rose’s bare skin on her back, and the two of them managed to quickly cinch the temporary pressure bandage with with two body-circling bands of tape. It was only five or six miles to the emergency room, but minutes counted.

Judging from the wound, it would be better to take her and not wait for an ambulance. Besides, this kitchen needed to be cleaned up, and they didn’t need EMT’s seeing any of it and asking questions. She was making plans, and by the time she tied off Rose’s wrapping and Ted had brought a blanket from a guest bedroom down the hall, she knew roughly what she would do.

Ted’s mind was in shock; none of this made sense. But he knew he had to get up, to do something, to get Rose to the hospital. He was grateful that Miriam was taking charge. The way she seemed to be able to function at a time like this amazed him, and he was becoming aware that there was a lot more to her than he knew.

He gently closed Rose’s blouse the best he could, knowing she would be embarrassed later at being so exposed and sat her up, pulling her away from the pool of her blood by her armpits. Supporting her with his knees, he got her arms into the coat and lifted her over to the table, glad he’d decided to get the big country kitchen size. A coffee cup and saucer from breakfast fell and shattered on the floor. He laid Rose down as carefully as he could and covered her with the blanket.

“You’ll be ok, love,” he whispered in her ear. “We’re going to the hospital.” She opened her eyes and smiled weakly and said. “Who the fuck hit me?….”, but then closed them again and seemed to drift away.

Suddenly remembering Sampson, he looked over near the stove and saw the dog was still alive. Rose was OK for a second.

Miriam was already kneeling beside the great body when he joined her. Frothy pink bubbles formed at Sampson’s mouth, and his breath bubbled and labored, but he looked up at Miriam with soft eyes, trusting her and thumped his tail once again on the floor. He even tried to get up, but she held him gently down with his other hand.

“Stay down, boy. You’ll be ok,” she said, trying to sound soothing. The floor around Sampson was covered with his blood, and she knew he would not be OK.

In a moment, Sampson’s eyes went still, and the great, courageous heart pumped the last time. Miriam knelt beside Ted and ran her hand down the dog’s flank one last time. He had probably saved her life. And he would do it again, she knew. And again. And again. Dogs were fearless.

She looked over at Ted and shook her head, once. It’s over, the look said.

He looked ashen and she saw his eyes fill with tears. She understood, but had to be the one to run things right now. There would be time to grieve later, if they were lucky.

“Keep her warm, and go,” Miriam said. “She’s lost a lot of blood and is in shock, but you’ve got to get her to the hospital.

_________________

Miriam had seen for herself what had been between Ted and Rose. She felt an ache that he no longer felt that for her. Well, she told herself, he may not know it, but he needs me right now. And she resolved to do what was necessary to help him through it. She also still had some major problems to resolve. Broad shoulders. I am woman, hear me roar, she thought wryly. Oh, what was one more set of problems?

She was suddenly more exhausted than ever in her life. 

“Yes,” she said to herself, “you need me more than you know. What have I gotten you into?”  Then she walled her feelings off in a secret place in her mind and turned to the matters at hand. 

Ted just nodded, his face set. He carried Rose to her own car and Miriam heard the engine roaring out of the little lot, down the alley and onto the street, engine screaming. 

“Still with us?” Miriam asked, tapping the woman’s forehead with the toe of her boot. 

She heard words in Pashto that made her smile. 

“Same to you,” she answered in the same language. “You are mine, now, and forever. Allah is not pleased with you. And I am not pleased with you. We will talk, you and I, and you will tell me everything, unto the time when your grandfather stole your grandmother from her village and raped her and made her his whore.”

The woman glared at Miriam with a crazed fury, and twisted frantically but helplessly against her bindings, but fear flickered there, too. 

Miriam took a couple of steps and knelt down by Sampson and put her hand on his ribcage. The utter stillness of death was all she felt. But she whispered to him anyway.

“You were magnificent, Sampson. You did your job. You were the best. Rest now. I will remember you. ”

A tear fell down onto the reddish hair and she stroked his side.

 

 

 

Running Girl, Ch. 6 excerpt: What Will Be, Shall Be


Part 2: “To the Death”

In the silence, Rose walked into the room. She had been standing in a side doorway and neither of them had noticed. She’d heard most of what they’d said, enough to scare her. Walking over to Ted, she put a hand on his arm and left it there.

She looked back and forth between Miriam and him, frowning.

“What does all of this mean?”, she said. Ted felt a quiver go through her body and he pulled her to him.

“It’ll be OK, Rose. Miriam here is a federal agent, and she’s got enough artillery in the back there to take down anything,” he said. But we may have to leave soon. It might be safer that way.”

She straightened and looked up at him, then at Miriam.

“If it’s that bad, then let’s go,” she said. Calm. He looked at her for a second, and then laughed.

“You are one interesting woman,” he said.

“I’ve got to get something from my car first, and then we can go,” she said.

She would deal with whatever had happened, would happen between Miriam and Ted. She at least knew her own mind and heart, now. What his choices would be would be his.

But this other thing was much more frightening, what she overheard about the woman that was after Miriam to kill her. And maybe Ted.

“What will be, shall be,” she said to both of them.

Che sarà sarà. ‘What will be, shall be. 

She’d heard it a number of times from an elderly Italian diplomat at the UN, where she had worked for a few years as a translator. He was in his 70s, but had charmingly tried to seduce her with attention and invitations to quiet conversations with wine and walks and talk of the world and of books and music. 

He was generous and courtly and gentle, and showed genuine appreciation for her beauty and brains. Or, at least, that’s how he made her feel. She ate it up, but always turned  down his gentle propositions to come to his bed with blushing good humor. The old rogue graciously accepted her refusals, sighing as he kissed her hand, invariably murmering “che sarà sarà”

“You have broken my heart, but I am only delayed, not deterred,” he would say, every time. She adored him, but never relented. The last time they met, she asked him why he made such an effort when he knew she would say no.

“Ah, mia cara Rosa,” his mellow, deep voice slipped back forth from English to Italian. “—A name never blessed another so well as it does you, and I mean that most sincerely.

“A woman is always a woman first. She is a woman before she is a mother or wife. And there is nothing more beautiful, no matter her physical gifts, than a woman who is loved for her truth.

“It is only then that she blooms like the rose and spreads light and happiness all around her. Women are wonderful beings, and I do what I do so that the world has more love in it, not less. I do what I can…’ and with this, he always finished with a shrug and a very Italian palms-up gesture of resignation.

She remembered clasping his thin hands in both of hers and kissing him on the cheek with great feeling. He was a hopeless chauvinist and still saw women as best suited for motherhood, but it was hard to resist the charm and genuine admiration and desire he projected.

The last image of him was as she walked away and looked back. He stood in a doorway, tall and thin, impeccably tailored as always in a $4,000 grey suit, blowing her one last kiss, waving with a rueful smile. If she did not have a ticket for the train, she might have turned back.

The memory warmed her still, and she found herself wryly hoping he was still up to his own tricks. She was sure he would be, even with his nurses on his death bed.

What will be, shall be. She felt herself smiling, wistful.

Time enough to sort this out later. She had a business to run, and with a last glance and a smile back at Ted, she turned, nodded slightly to Miriam, and headed down the hall to the kitchen and the back where her car was parked. Her purse. She’d left it there last night. She found herself humming the old Doris Day song, based on the phrase as she went.

“Wait.” Miriam’s voice called from behind her. “I’ll go with you.” Rose paused and Miriam was soon beside her, the Glock in her hand.

“I’ll explain it all to you later, but I need to go with you. And this—“ she raised the gun and showed it to Rose —“is necessary.”

Ted was standing in the hallway, just outside the door to the study by the front entry, the Lab by his leg. He just nodded to Rose and the two women walked down the long hallway toward the kitchen. The sight distracted him and he was full of conflicting emotions all of a sudden.

When Ted tried to remember what happened next, he always had the feeling that it was happening to someone else.

Captain Obvious Talks About Rewriting


editor

Writing is rewriting.

This is not an original thought, but worth repeating.

The real point of any piece, the inner crankiness of malformed intent that pushes me to write, doesn’t emerge until the sixth or seventh draft, usually. (I’m writing for the terminally ill, after all —we’re all gonna die—and I don’t want to waste our collective valuable time with frilly froo froo stuff.

Don’t you have enough crap in your life already? Yeah. Me, too.

Writing is mostly staying at the chair and getting the first five versions out of the way so I can really begin to work, to follow the scent, to hone and polish and revel in the craft and mystery of it. I murder my own words for the greater glory of the correct ones still caught in a holding pattern and unable to land.

The final piece may look nothing at all like the first — or fifth, or eighth — draft. That’s just how it works.

The stuff I’m most unhappy with are the things that I pushed out into the light of day too soon.

Like this post, for instance.

This was only the fourth draft, and it shows. I should probably go back and cut about 20 percent more. 🙂

Happy Birthday, Master Wil


shakespeare

To add to the day’s flood of Shakespeare news stories….

From “The Writer’s Almanac”, by Garison Keilor

 

It’s the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare, who is traditionally believed to have been born on this date in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. He left behind no personal papers, so our knowledge of his life comes to us from public and court documents. His father, John, was a glove-maker and alderman, and his mother, Mary Arden, was a landed heiress. The baptismal register of the Church of the Holy Trinity in the Shakespeares’ parish shows an entry on Wednesday, April 26, that reads, “Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakespeare.” Babies were traditionally baptized on the first Sunday or holy feast day after their birth. The Feast of St. Mark was on April 25, and although normally that would have been Shakespeare’s baptismal day, it was also considered an unlucky day, and that may be why the child was baptized the following day instead.

Shakespeare studied at the well-respected local grammar school, and married the older — and pregnant — Anne Hathaway when he was 18 and she was 26. She gave birth to a daughter, Susanna, six months later. Twins Hamnet and Judith followed two years after that. Shakespeare was no doubt deeply affected by the death of son Hamnet at age 11; he began to write his tragedy Hamlet soon afterward.

He moved to London around 1588 and began a career as an actor and a playwright. By 1594, he was also managing partner of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a popular London theater troupe. The 1590s saw the production of his plays Richard III, The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, and The Merchant of Venice, to name but a few. His greatest tragedies — like Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear — were all written after 1600. He wrote his last few plays back in Stratford, where he retired after an outbreak of the bubonic plague caused the London theaters to be closed for long stretches. He was popular during his lifetime, but it wasn’t until after his death that his collected works were published in print form. That volume has come to be known as the First Folio, and it was published in 1623.

In 1611, he made out his will, leaving most of his estate to his daughter Susanna, and bequeathing to his wife, Anne, his “second-best bed.” He died on or around his birthday in 1616 and was buried in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford, leaving a last verse behind as his epitaph: “Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbeare / to dig the dust encloséd here. / Blessed be the man who spares these stones, / and cursed by he who moves my bones.”

Shakespeare wrote 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and a couple of epic narrative poems. He created some of the most unforgettable characters ever written for the stage, and was a master of the language of various social classes. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, he coined 3,000 new words, and he has contributed more phrases and sayings to the English language than any other individual. Shakespeare gave us such commonly used phrases as “a fool’s paradise,” “dead as a doornail,” “Greek to me,” “come what may,” “eaten out of house and home,” “forever and a day,” “heart’s content,” “love is blind,” “night owl,” “wild goose chase,” and “into thin air.”

Sonder


I love this concept, this thing, this noun. If we’re looking for stories, they’re everywhere. The only problem is that a lifetime is not long enough to explore them all. The word, Sonder, is a noun. Whatever exists can be named, and that name is a noun. Stories are like verbs, actions that move this idea around on the page. 

Image Credit: www.oddman.ca

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This is Not a Guest Post. This Actually Came From My Mind.


This is so well said, but the imagery of the failure pill was what grabbed me.

You've Been Hooked!

They say failure is a bitter pill to swallow.

So don’t.

Take the pill of failure upon your tongue, roll it around until the flavor fills your mouth and penetrates your senses and mind, but never, ever swallow it whole. Let the taste flow through your consciousness, store the memory for days to come and spit it out when you’ve taken what you need.

Never let failure enter your system fully or it will be with you forever. Let the sensation return when you need it most, when the days grow dark and cold, and when you feel the icy, numbing touch of personal crisis around your throat. Use your failure to fuel your hunger for success. Let it be your companion all of your days, but refuse to let it take root in your center, lest it consume you.

And yes, I carry luggage for a living – and…

View original post 34 more words

Running Girl: “Fingers” (excerpt)


  1. “Mohana Das”

  2. “Captured”

  3. “Dream Girl”

  4. “Attack in the Family Room”

  5. “Fingers”

_______________________
Fingers

Her name was Rose Tyler, like the 10th Dr. Who’s  traveling companion.

This Rose was from New Jersey, though, and was part owner of a bar and restaurant in the old mill. She moved to Mossy Creek from a working-class neighborhood after a bad marriage ended. She’d worked as a translator at the UN. No one could learn more than that. Several had tried.

She had the air of someone who had been let down too many times. While she was friendly and exchanged sometimes vulgar banter with regulars, her eyes were always a little watchful and wary behind the smile.

Ted read her that life had not been one that lent itself to easy fantasies. More than one half-drunk male customer had learned some choice New Jersey words, too, if he laid a hand on her.

He met her the first day he was in town, listened to her conversation and quickly placed her origins and attitude. He kept his distance at first, but found that he ended up there a few nights a week after working on the house. He didn’t share much of himself, either, and resisted enough of the ways the locals had of prying without being rude. He and Rose had both been let down too many times, and each had learned to value their privacy. They circled one another, closer and closer, without words.

After a week of almost daily visits and neutral pleasantries, though, he hurried to lunch more than he used to, and she looked up and smiled when he came in, a little more than was really required. That made him happy.

On a sleepy late April afternoon, he was later than usual, held up by an argument with a painter about an estimate that had ballooned out of control. By the time he got to the Mill, he was hungry and grumpy.

The parking lot was empty, as was the bar. Rose had her back to the door and was cleaning glasses, listening to music on a stereo and obviously lost in some private thoughts. Ted recognized the song she had on, one of his favorites, “Suite Judy Blue Eyes,” by Crosby, Stills and Nash. The lyrics at the beginning were wafting around the dark corners of the old room:

It’s getting to the point
Where I’m no fun anymore
I am sorry
Sometimes it hurts so badly
I must cry out loud
I am lonely
I am yours, you are mine
You are what you are
You make it hard….

She was somewhere in her early 40s, but was fit and curvy, and her partner in the business was the chef. Ted discovered eventually, and to his delight, that Ronald already was involved with Elliot. Elliot lived in Pittsburgh where he was a TV producer, and commuted on weekends.

Rose wore a simple black skirt that flattered her hips and legs, and a starched white blouse. Her sandy-blond hair was tied up in a bun and held with a carved wooden pin, but some hair escaped confinement in a borderline wild way that he thought was charming. As she turned to put the wine glasses into the overhead rack, she turned slightly and her breasts strained against the fabric in a way that he approved of completely. He noticed she wore a plain gold chain necklace with a small cross that rested in some cleavage that was showing. He noticed that more this day because the second button was undone more than usual. He smiled to himself. Not that he hadn’t noticed her before, but that day he realized that his interest in her was something that needed to be admitted. He realized that he had stopped just inside the bar’s door and was staring, just as she caught him out of the corner of her eye, saw how he was looking at her and slowly lowered her arm smiled.

At that moment, the song slid into the next to the last stanza —

What have you got to lose?
Chestnut brown canary
Ruby throated sparrow
Sing the song, don’t be long
Thrill me to the marrow
Voices of the angels, ring around the moonlight
Asking me, said she so free
How can you catch the sparrow?
Lacy, lilting, leery, losing love, lamenting
Change my life, make it right
Be my lady

They both laughed at the same time. And then did what two people do at times like that: they pretended the moment hadn’t happened.

“Hey there,” she said, a little too brightly, “I was wondering if you were going to be in today. The usual? ”
Ted tried to move, but only managed to bump into one of the chairs at a table near the door, nearly knocking it over. He fumbled it back upright, feeling as clumsy as a teenager at his first prom. Rose seemed amused.
“Um, yes. Let’s start with an Ayinger. And could you ask Ronald to whip up a corned beef platter?”
“Of course,” she said, slight color tinging her cheeks, fumbling a bit herself as she put the order through on the computer to the kitchen and filled a frosted glass with the Bavarian wheat beer.

She slid the beer across the counter and leaned in against the inside edge with both hands.
He caught a whiff of her perfume and noticed a strand of hair dangling by one ear. It suddenly got a little harder to breathe.

“How’s the work on the house going? Still fighting with Harold about the painting bill?”
Nothing was secret in this town, especially if you were a barber or bartender.

“Harold’s been sniffing paint fumes too long,” Ted said with a wry smile, gratefully sipping the ice-cold liquid and wiping the foam from his lip with the napkin she’d put by the glass. “But I think we’ve finally got it settled. That’s what I was just finishing up. He says he’ll be done with the upstairs bedrooms in a couple of days, and that’s about all there is to do. He’d better be, too. The decorators are coming Monday to hang curtains, put the carpets down and make it all pretty and such.”

“I’ve been waiting to get an invitation to see the place, and I’m tired of waiting,” Rose said. “When can I come over and see if I approve?”

He was very aware of her proximity, and his hands felt like he was wearing boxing gloves. Picking that sandwich up was going to be a problem.

“Harold just had his deadline moved up. Give me two days. How does Thursday night sound, around 7 for a dinner? I’ve learned to be a pretty good chef since living alone.”

“I’d love that. But it’ll have to be a little later, after nine. Ronald closes up Thursdays for me anyway. Would that work? I’ll bring the wine. We just got a very nice Sirrah in from California, and I’ve been wanting to try it out.”

They talked for a bit about a wine and cheese tasting in the restaurant later in the week, and about the house. The feeling between then had subtly shifted, and both were aware of it and felt comfortable, and excited, although neither said it out loud.

Other customers came in and they broke off the conversation while she took their orders. He ate his sandwich. The dim, aged stone and wood atmosphere of the bar was comforting. It had been absorbing such moments for nearly 200 years.
Another old song was playing, a quiet instrumental he couldn’t quite place. He was tired, but found he was thinking about Thursday night with anticipation. He leaned on the bar and watched the bubbles rise in the liquid in his glass, bits of foam clinging to the sides. He took another sip.

He felt Rose’s presence return from the other side of the bar, which was in a “U” shape around a central wooden support beam and cash register. His awareness of her was of a rustling sound of cotton, a sensation of heat and a fragrance both subtle and disturbing. Rose was looking at him with an expression he hadn’t seen in a while. A nice one, one that hit him right in the male part of his brain. She was resting her hands on the bar, and moved one hand with a bar towel in a slow, back and forth motion. The surface was already spotless.

Her fingers drew his eyes for some reason. Part of his brain registered mild surprise at that. His heart beat a tune he hadn’t heard in a while. There were many things about Rose that he liked looking at, but what he looked at just then were her fingers. He was a connoisseur of such things.

It’s just like you can never mistake a girl’s knees for a woman’s. Young girls might have perfect skin and no signs of wear and tear, but experience in life is underrated when it comes to beauty. For one thing, there’s the confidence. That’s a real plus. That and no giggling.

And their knees aren’t as nice as a woman’s. These things matter to a man after a while, if he’s paying attention.

Rose’s fingers….  were not pudgy, young-girl fingers, but …womanly. The kind that comes after living a little. The kind that know what to touch, when to touch, and how long to touch; when to grab and hold on, and when to let go. Long and slender, with well-trimmed nails with a clear coating. Languid, graceful, with the beginnings of a few wrinkles. Hands that had seen hard work, but would just as naturally cradle a baby or slide beer across a bar.

Details matter.

All of this flashed through his fatigue and beer-mellowed mind in less than two seconds. Her fingers absolutely mesmerized him.

God, the raunchy truth of it was that he loved women and women’s bodies. The whole and the parts. They fascinated him. And it had been a long time since he’d thought much about that. Too long.

He reached out without thinking about it and took her hands up in his, and held them.

“You have lovely hands,” he said.

Wow, he thought. How original.

She appreciated the impulse, if not the dumb delivery. She laughed and flushed. That was a good sign, wasn’t it?
She stammered a little and managed an “oh, they’re so dry”. But she didn’t pull away. After a second’s hesitation, she rubbed her fingertips on the palm of his hand and moved her hands inside his, and then clasped his hands with an intensity that surprised him and stole any words he might have uttered.

“I’m feeling warm,” she said with a nervous laugh, and looked a little unsure. But in a flash, her body was still and her large, dark brown eyes looked right into his with a serious, but twinkly look. He had the giddy feeling that he was falling into them.

“I wonder why?,” she said.

“I’m feeling pretty warm myself.”

He actually blushed, probably for the first time since he bumped into Linda Vogel’s new boobs in the sixth grade. But he wasn’t in the sixth grade any longer, he knew what he wanted to do and, what’s more, that Rose wanted the same thing. The realization sent an electric shock clear down to his toes. She smiled a little at the corners of her mouth and tilted her head to the side a little, watching him.

Without quite realizing he was doing it, he found his fingertip gliding over the fine hair of her forearm, on the way to other things. He didn’t care who else was in the bar, even though they were alone. The feeling of her was electric to his fingers and he was aware of every detail. She leaned closer, her eyes closing a little.

Then the phone rang. Her eyes opened slowly, regretfully and she gave a little shrug that said ‘what are you going to do?’.

No more for now.

But soon. Soon.

They smiled at each other knowingly as she answered the phone, which was right behind the bar next to the cash register. He softly kissed the back of her free hand, which he still held, gathered his things and stood to go. Her throat flushed and her eyes darkened and softened. She stopped listening to whoever was on the phone.

At the door, he paused, half-turned and looked back, and pantomimed that he would call. She nodded and her smile lit up her face. Her eyes lingered on him, shining, but a little troubled, too. Then they cleared. Her lips mouthed the word “Yes.”

Outside, he felt like a schoolboy again, lighter than air. The sun was a little brighter and the birds were singing. He could feel the stock market rise, except it wasn’t the stock market.

Ah, life, he thought, giddy as a 17-year-old after his first kiss. What a grand thing it is.

Writer’s Almanac


I’m a subscriber to “The Writer’s Almanac,” a daily digest of book links, poems and historical tidbits compiled by Garrison Keillor. If you want to check it out, go to

http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org

To subscribe: http://info.americanpublicmediagroup.org/LP=56

From today’s email:

“It’s the birthday of lexicographer Henry Watson Fowler (books by this author), born in Tonbridge, Kent, England (1858). He studied at Oxford and taught Latin, Greek, and English at a boys’ school in northwest England for 17 years, then resigned and moved to the island of Guernsey in the English Channel, built himself a one-room cottage, and began living like a hermit.

Though he spent all his time writing essays and produced enough to fill two book-length manuscripts, he could not succeed in getting them published. He then came up with the idea to write “a sort of English composition manual, from the negative point of view, for journalists & amateur writers.” Collaborating with his brother on the work for Oxford University Press, he wrote The King’s English (1906), which begins:

“Anyone who wishes to become a good writer should endeavour, before he allows himself to be tempted by the more showy qualities, to be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid.”

The Law of Unintended Consequences


campbell quote
Joseph Campbell stole this idea!! (Kidding)

 

I wuz robbed. I coulda been a contender.

My festering resentment was brought to the surface again this morning when I saw this image on another blog. Maybe I ought to listen to it, huh? You decide.

Let me set you straight first. I came up with the term “The Law of Unintended Consequences” in the late ’70s—I vividly remember when, too. It was during an episode of “Rhoda”. Don’t ask me why or how.

It just hit me that in life, one can plan like a compulsive fiend, make lists, pursue absolutist goals like the Wehrmacht sweeping across Poland, but the odds are that something unexpected will trip you up. There are just too many variables in this world, and you can’t account for all of them. And odds are, one of them will send your life careening off in some unintended direction to the sound of your wails. “Noooooooooooooo”.

But as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans.”

Like an idiot, I didn’t copyright LoUC and now it’s in the public domain and I have missed out on yet another fortune. Campbell and Lennon have ripped me off. LoUC drifted out into the great conversation and I haven’t made a dime off of it.

My family laughs at me every time I bring this up. They treat me like you treat someone who has any harmless delusion. I can feel them giving me virtual pat on the head. You might as well join in.

But I wuz robbed.  /Shrugs. Whaddya gonna do?

 

‘Running Girl’ Ch. 4 excerpt: “Attack in the Family Room”


NOTE: I’m doing some heavy revisions on this and the other excerpts. This scene will remain fundamentally the same, but I’m seeing Eleanor in this version now as a little too much the bimbo. She’s not that at all, really. So I’m removing the more graphic sexual overtones, as i don’t want that part to give the wrong impression about her.

Ch. 1: “Mohana Das”

“Captured”
“Dream Girl”
“Attack in the Family Room”
“Fingers”

‘Aegroto dum anima est, spes est.’ : “Where there is life, there is hope.”

Her captor moved Eleanor, half-walking, half-flying, from the bedroom to the family room and threw her face-down on the couch. Her head throbbed and she almost passed out again. She turned her head a bit to see him from the corner of her eye. His strength made any resistance pointless.

He pulled a pistol from under his jacket — probably a holster in the back on his belt, she noted automatically. All she really wanted to do was let the blackness overwhelm her, to make the pain stop.

But the training, and the way her brain was wired, meant she couldn’t NOT notice these things. They used to call it a photographic memory. It was just a thing she was able to do, like breathing. Noted and filed: A black Beretta 92. Sixteen rounds, if he had one in the chamber, she thought automatically. Not everyone did, for fear of accidentally shooting oneself in the butt or leg. So, 15. Probably.

“Don’t move,” he ordered. From a side pocket of his jacket, he pulled out plastic zip ties. He cinched one too tightly, around her ankles.

“Put your hands behind your back,” he barked. She slowly complied and he cinched another zip tie around wrists. Her knees were on the floor now and her ankles were secure and he had the gun on her.

“Turn over,” he said.

She rolled to her right with difficulty and slid her rump onto the carpeted floor, her legs bent to the side. It was uncomfortable, but she could stand it. She shifted until her hands were in a less painful position and got her first good look at him.

The guy was about six feet away, feet apart for balance, up on the balls of his feet. He was 6’2” or 6’3” and around 235 to 240 pounds, she guessed. His shoulders were broad, but he stood with a slight hunch, the parts of his face she could see through the mask felt as though it was  crimped in a perpetual bad mood. The eyes were brown and sunken in rolls of skin, and at first seemed to miss nothing. But then they’d occasionally lose focus and dart around.

Weird. She could feel the anger and sadism in him. That gave her an idea.

He was strong, she knew that, but had gotten a little thick around the middle. His legs were short and the muscles of the thighs were tight inside his cargo pants. He wore the same black outfit as the other man: ski mask, black military style winter parka with no markings, black pants and laced black military-style boots. Gloves. Thin leather ones. He carried himself like he’d had military training, but had let himself go a little.

She looked again at the eyes — brown, flecks of gold, a little crazy — and saw that he was watching her.
Stepping closer, he used the barrel of the pistol to flip both sides of her robe open, uncovering the full length of her legs. He let out a little sigh.

“Nice. Very nice.” he said.

OK, so this was how it was going to go.

Guys had been hitting on her since she was 11. They usually weren’t pointing guns at her, but that was just a minor detail at this point. She knew the urges in those eyes very well. She’d never been raped before, though, unless you counted that one time in college when she’d gotten too drunk at a party and… well, she just wasn’t eager to find out what the real thing was like.
She looked down, put a look of fear on her face, then slowly looked back up. “I hope this looks scared,” she thought.
“Don’t hurt me, please,” she said. “I don’t know why you’re here”—which was true—“Let me go, and I won’t say anything.”

Fat chance of that, she thought, but it was worth a shot.

“Shut up,” he said. “You’re not going anywhere.”

But he kept looking at the parts of her peeking out from the silk robe. The fabric didn’t leave a lot to the imagination, either. She leaned forward a little and her robe fell open more.

His eyes widened involuntarily.

“Gotcha, pervert” she thought to herself.

“Just don’t hurt me,” she said out loud, wriggling a little for effect.

“I’ll do whatever I want, sweetheart,” he said, licking his lips involuntarily, red spots starting to bloom in each cheek.

“I—I know,” she stammered. “I already know that. You’re strong, I’m tied up and you have the gun. You can do what you want and I can’t stop you. But…” she hesitated.

“But what?” he asked, despite himself.

“But it doesn’t have to be bad for me, does it? I mean, you like me…I can see it. I would rather cooperate than get hurt any more. I don’t have to draw a map, do I? Do what you want, and then let me go, OK?”

He just snorted.

“I don’t need your cooperation. I think I’ll just take what I want from you. And we’ll still do what we came here for. I know about you, Eleanor…. Or whatever your name is. Ex-water-rat, right? You’re just a Navy whore, trying to do a man’s job. So drop the coy young thing act. It ain’t gonna work.”

“Shit!” she thought, again, then took a shot in the dark. This guy had a certain feeling about him. Maybe it was the body language.
“Ah. A jar-head,” she said, leaning back a bit and trying to project as much arrogant contempt as possible. “Thought I smelled the stupid. You reek of it.”

The age-old insult of Navy to Marine hit home. He tensed and his beady eyes narrowed some more.

Bingo. Now to work this a little.

She was the daughter and sister of Marines, and had heard the stories all her life. They thought Navy officers were stuck up preppies, and saw red when talked down to. She joined the Navy, over their half-hearted objections, because there were more opportunities for women at the time. So, they conducted a little training and orientation program of their own before she left for Annapolis. Where to go, and not go; who to avoid; when to fight and when to run; and how to fight dirty when cornered.

They also taught her to take the initiative, especially when in a weak position. Surprise and aggression, especially when coming from a woman and the adversary is male, were always advantages. A bold move can change your luck.

She sighed a little to herself, knowing what was coming next.

“This is going to get ugly, father of mine,” she said in her head.

“Let’s hope you’ve learned how to take a punch, daughter of mine” she heard her father’s voice say in her ear.

“I’m about to find out,” she answered. “I’ll get back to you.”

She straightened up and pinned Brown Eyes with The Look, the command look of superiority and dismissal: me big shot officer, you toe-jam-moron-cannon-fodder inferior, it said.

“Yeah, I was in the Navy. But even as a woman I’m a better man than you, Jar Head. Did your partner dress you today, or have you learned how to do that yourself? I like your style sense, though. Very feminine. ”

She never saw him move, just had the impression of a blur. He grunted once and a vicious blow exploded against the side of her head and she fell over again. She passed out for a time, but woke as his arm circled her belly and he lifted her body roughly onto the couch, her knees on the carpet and face mashed into the cushion. He flipped the hem of her robe up above her waist and ripped her panties off.

She heard him loosen his belt buckle and pull his zipper down and forced one last insult out. Or thought she did. It seemed like she was in a dream again. She turned her head and sneered out of the side of her mouth, every word causing pain stabs in her head.
“So it’s rape now? Christ. Fine. Get it over with so I can compare you with a real man. If I can even feel it. But the least you could do is loosen my ankles. I won’t put up a fight, but at least do that,” she snapped, trying to sound bored and contemptuous at the same time.

He paused. She could almost feel him shrug and then he cut the thin plastic strip from her ankles. She gritted her teeth and tamped down the shame. Just get through it. Stay alive. Get loose. Escape. And maybe kill this guy. That would be a bonus.

He kicked her knees apart with his foot, the soles of his boots smacking the bones. More pain. His aroused breathing was loud. She steeled herself for the next pain, reminding herself that it really wasn’t a big deal, being raped. She’d get over it. It would be just like the gyno exam, without the fun parts. She was on the pill, so wouldn’t get pregnant.

“Any help here, father of mine?”

“Where there’s life, there’s hope, daughter of mine. Stay alive. Whatever you have to do, stay alive.”

This raced through her mind, just ahead of the fear. She was in charge. She was no victim. At least she would stay alive a little longer. She briefly imagined the look on Brown Eyes’ face when she cinched his balls with one of those zip ties. Sheep farmers used rubber bands to castrate ram lambs. Seemed appropriate to see how it worked on a grown man, she mused, consciously thinking of anything other than what he was about to do to her.

The voice of the other man yelled from the bedroom.

“Hey, what’s taking so long out there? Get your ass back in here. She’ll keep.”

“Goddammit!” Brown Eyes growled through clenched teeth. “Goddammit!” His hand was on her hip, he was up against her and she felt his hardness and his body trembling.

He hesitated, fumbled with his pants and belt then cursed again. He was afraid of the other man, that much was clear. He put another plastic handcuff strip around her ankles, but she held her feet as far apart as possible and he wasn’t careful. There was some slack this time. He thrust his hand between her legs and grabbed her there roughly and squeezed hard. Pain shot up through her stomach.

She rolled over and sat on the floor again, ears cocked intently until she heard the voices in the bedroom. They were far enough away that she couldn’t make out all of the words, but soon she heard Henry’s voice raised in fear and there was the wet, thwunk of fist striking flesh. Henry grunted loudly followed by the sound of retching.
Henry. He was a crooked banker and twisted in some other ways that repelled her, but these guys were seriously evil. He had no chance.

As the sounds of angry questions, hitting and sobs and grunts continued from the bedroom, she got her feet under her enough to leverage herself erect. Listening for a moment and hearing no one coming, she hopped tentatively to the end of the couch, leaning against it for support. With a little work, she managed to slip one foot and then the other out of the restraint. She stopped to listen and then hurried five feet across the open tile to the kitchen. One foot was nearly asleep and tingling, and she nearly fell, her wrists were still tied behind her, and she couldn’t stop the fall. The counter corner’s point jabbed her hip hard enough to make her clamp her jaws to keep a cry of pain from escaping. She worked her way around to the drawer with the knives.

Opening it as quietly as she could, she backed up to it and clawed fingers around until she felt the handle of a knife near the front. She flipped the blade vertical and quickly sawed through the plastic strip holding her wrists. She stopped again to listen to see if she’d attracted any attention, rubbing feeling back into her hands as she did so, but the voices from the bedroom continued. Eleanor stepped to another drawer, holding the knife pointed in the direction of the bedroom, and grabbed the spare keys for the SUV. Then she saw the Sig sitting on the counter where she’d left it, dropped the knife and pulled the gun out of it’s holster.

She heard Henry’s voice rise to a scream, cut off abruptly by the unmistakable sharp hiss of a silencer. Then another shot.

The short, unhappy life of Henry Bouchier had ended, just like that.

They would come for her next.

Time to go.

She sprinted on bare feet across the family room, through the mud room and into the garage. She reached the SUV in three strides and opened the weapons bag she’d put under the driver’s seat. She pulled out one of the Glocks, checked that it was loaded and pulled the slide to put a round in the chamber.

She closed the door softly, locked all doors with the remote on the keychain, tucked the Sig in the robe’s left pocket, leapt to an outside door beside the overhead garage door and opened it. A gust of cold air swirled in with a cloud of fir needles and dead leaves.
The dry ground wouldn’t show tracks but they might think she’d gone that way. A trackless forest of fir trees was across the road, too. Glancing quickly outside to make sure one of the men wasn’t coming on her flank, she turned and headed to an area next to some open metal shelving on an inside wall of the garage.

Pushing aside a calendar hanging from a hook, she pressed a small button that looked like a pine knot. A soft click sounded and a panel in the wall popped open an inch. The edges of the opening matched the lines of the pine paneling that covered that wall, and when closed were invisible from the outside. It had taken her the better part of an hour to find it earlier, and even with the help of the blueprints, she’d missed the cleverly disguised button twice before she saw it.

The bottom of the compartment was two feet from the floor, its top less than four feet above that. It extended left of the opening, about three feet wide and too short to stand up in. But, it was large enough to hold two or three large suitcases—or a federal agent, if she doubled her knees up to her chin and backed in, squeezing her body in tight.

She hopped on her butt into the opening scooted back until she could pull her legs and feet in and gather in her robe. She realized that there was nothing on the inside to use to pull the door shut at first, and began to panic. Then, frantically scanning around the edges, she saw a screw head sticking out a half-inch, about halfway up the door’s outer edge. She pulled the door shut with just two fingernails clutching the screw and gratefully heard the latch click just as her attacker’s angry voice boomed a foot away, outside.

“Come to Papa!”

She heard the sounds of violent searching in the garage, doors opening and slamming, objects crashing to the floor, cursing.

Something heavy slammed against the door of the compartment. She raised the gun in the dark and held it steady where she pictured his head would be— just in case the latch opened.  She had a vision of the perplexed expression he would have on his face when she put a small round hole into the exact center of his forehead.

She rested arms on knees, both hands holding the gun steady at the height she thought would be about right, took a deep, shuddering breath or two to calm her heart and waited.

One corner of her mouth twitched upward, and she waited in the darkness.

“Running Girl” Ch. 2: “Captured”


Previous chapter excerpts:

Ch. 2: “Captured”

 

The British Airways jet with Das aboard hurried up and away from the simmering city, as eager as its passengers to find its natural frigid, silent and pure habitat five miles above. In minutes, it reached its cruising altitude and leveled out, the endless brown wrinkles of the Earth’s dry crust creeping past far below. The pilot radioed position and altitude and let the autopilot steer the nose unerringly toward London.

The crew relaxed and called for coffee. The co-pilot winked at the dark-skinned flight attendant who brought it, making sure the captain was looking away. She smiled and leaned to the left to give the captain his coffee. As she did, she felt a hand slip up her skirt and almost giggled. Then flashed a mock-angry glare at the copilot. Wait until we land for that, the look said.

The captain pretended not to notice, and thought of his son in London, wondering if he had gotten to school yet, and then whether the co-pilot and attendant’s affair would become obvious enough that he would have to take some action. That reminded him of his own dalliance 20 years before with another black-eyed beauty, dead these many years in a car accident. The memory of her still hurt after all these years. He hoped these two beside him had a happier future.

As the plane cruised toward the North Pole and Heathrow, a man slept fitfully in a darkened bedroom a few miles north of Vancouver, Washington. He snored, one foot twitching under silk sheets.

Henry Bourchier’s house was silent save for the ticking of a hallway tall clock. A full moon glowed in a black sky upon which shards of stars glittered and danced. The house squatted in a woodsy development of fat, cheaply-built boxes financed with creative mortgages.

The homes were a splatter of faux-French country styles, pseudo-Victorians, and utterly bland modernistic pretensions with concrete and glass walls trimmed in wood-grained vinyl siding. Each was a discrete distance from its neighbor—set at angles and with strategic hedges and plantings to maximize privacy— so that each was just barely visible through trees. The housing market was still dead there, and most of the houses were worth a fraction of the debt the fools within carried. Appearances were important, though, and it was still possible to pretend they were well-off, even those who had lost their jobs two years before and were merely squatting until the eviction notices were enforced. Everyone knew who they were.

More than one resident lay staring in the dark, fear slithering into their ears like worms from the shadows.

Struggling dwarf ornamentals from a bankrupt garden center, more aliens in this wilderness land, clung guiltily to the margins of the lawn. Douglas firs, so tall they seemed to touch at the tips, marched hundreds of miles into the unforgiving mountain crags beyond, looming over the suburban intruders below with deep-green, powerless resentment.  The trees swayed in the nighttime breeze. Air muttered around the black trunks and rough bark. A few yards into the forest, where needles lay in thick carpets, noises of the civilized world gave up and disappeared.

A paved driveway led from a country road to Bourchier’s faux-villa. His was safe from the predations of bankers, though, because he was one of the predators. His home was also better-built than the others, and both factors gave him great satisfaction. His bank held the mortgages on a few of his neighbors’ houses, but he did not concern himself with their worries. He had lawyers and a corporation and other, worse men behind him; they did not.

He was also a thief in the traditional sense, although these days the two occupations were almost the same thing. Money and debt were the least of his worries, or so he thought. His dreams were free of the living nightmare that would momentarily rip his brief, shallow, amoral life apart.
Two cars sat on virgin concrete in front of the three-car garage: a midnight blue BMW and a small SUV.

Bourchier drove the BMW  between the house and the suburban Vancouver bank where he was vice president—and secret money launderer for Seattle drug bosses and other, even more shadowy connections.

But he did like nice things. Oh yes, he surely did.

His silk pajamas boasted a label from an exclusive Seattle boutique that catered to those who equated price with quality because they didn’t know any better and had too much money to care. The bed sheets and cover were of similar impressiveness, as was nearly everything in the house. Some of it was even good. He hoped his expensive tastes were just inconspicuous enough to avoid tripping any wires at the IRS.

He was careful.

Unfortunately, he made mistakes. Little ones. But wires had been tripped. He wasn’t as careful — or nearly as smart — as he believed he was.

His mistakes were exposed by a former employee he’d slept with. Unfortunately for him, and still seething with anger after he dumped her, she started sleeping with a small-time drug dealer and appliance repairman. The two were busted during a nooner in a motel room one weekday afternoon.

She’d offered information about Henry in exchange for leniency. The local DA, who was hoping to get noticed at higher levels, let her off with a suspended sentence and a blow job,  but bounced the information up to the US Attorney. They’d both gone to Stanford Law, and he hoped his old classmate would overlook certain personal failings in the drinking and carousing departments, and rescue him from this backwater job.

Details of Henry Bourchier’s life had been filling electronic files in Seattle, Portland and Washington for six months, like little flakes of snow drifting against a door until millions of them push the door down.

Initial interest led to secret spot audits, which yielded enough to get a referral for further investigation — all done as silently as an owl swooping down on an unsuspecting rabbit.
He slept, serene, although his slumber had also been given some chemical assistance.

A Treasury agent, on loan to the FBI interagency task force, roamed the home after putting a little something harmless in his drink. Henry believed she had come to his home from the bar, and after going to a shooting range, for a little frolic between the high-priced sheets. He also thought coming here had been his idea. She had made sure that no one else knew she was there.

Eleanor—that was the name she gave Henry— spent two hours examining the house inch by inch, and found piles of cash, many, many piles, hidden in nylon duffels in several cleverly concealed compartments around the house.

This was expected, and blueprints obtained from the architect were of great help. The SUV was hers, and it carried what she needed. She lugged identical nylon duffles from in from it, each holding many, many new bundles of cash impregnated with electronic “fairy dust” that turned each bill into a radio transmitter. She exchanged the treated currency for the old bundles, which she wrapped in plastic using disposable gloves, and packed them in the zippered bags. It took several trips to complete the exchange, but finally the SUV had nearly $300,000 stowed under the rear compartment’s floor where the spare tire usually rode.

The rear floor of the SUV held another bag that held Eleanor’s other tools: a shotgun, a new Glock 20 10mm auto with a 15-shot magazine and laser sight; a  Glock 17 with ammo. An older, compact Sig Sauer 1911 pistol in it’s holster rested on top. The latter was not government-issue, and was untraceable. She usually wore it tucked at the small of her back, and while it was a bit heavy fully loaded (almost two pounds), and only held seven rounds, it was both a last resort and a throwaway if thinks got seriously fucked.

She left the weapons in the SUV, took the Sig and a travel bag from the back seat and went inside to do a final cleanup tour and change. Henry would wake up refreshed, if somewhat confused and with no memory of the time just before he took the drugged drink. She planned to leave no clues that she had been there. The stuff she’d slipped into Henry’s drink wouldn’t wear off for a while longer, she decided, glancing at a wristwatch and feeling pleased with her work.

A grandfather’s clock — an 1800s Philadelphia model restored at great expense — struck 2 a.m. from its post in the front room. She didn’t know when she’d have the chance again to get clean — and the work she’d just done had been hot and she was starting to notice her own odor— so she took a quick shower in a spare bath.

She checked Henry to see if he was stirring and, hearing only low snores, decided she could pause for a few moments. She donned panties and bra and a silk robe from her travel bag. The silk was warm for it’s weight, and it packed in very small package. Her dark hair, still damp from the shower, tumbled over the collar.

She put the Sig on the counter and looked through Henry’s extensive liquor collection. She mixed a Godmother, a favorite—an expensive Italian amaretto and a couple of fingers of A-list vodka in a tumbler, added ice, and swished it around in the glass until it was cold. The sweet aroma of apricots and almonds touched her nose as she sipped, and she savored the burn of vodka as it slipped down the back of her throat. She padded silently to the family room across a wide tile area that led to a sliding glass patio door and stood looking out. Another sip.

The floor-length white robe swayed from the curve of breast and hip like something from a 1930s Hollywood film. Tall and full-figured but trim, she glided with a natural, sensuous grace that could turn heads even in Monaco’s casinos. In fact, on one assignment, she’d done just that. No one expected someone that looked like she did to be as deadly as she was, which came in handy more than once.

The kitchen waited in gloom. Vague shapes of appliances and counters and hanging pot racks—all seldom used—were just visible. Before her, the double French patio doors framed a deck with a gas grill, outdoor chairs and a table still shrouded in their winter plastic covers. The moon lit a few yards of grass, bleaching it of all color. Shadows of the fir forest fell across the lawn halfway to the deck, as the moon was fairly high in the sky. The edge of the woods was as black as a mine shaft. She stood close to the door, sipping her drink and soaking in the scene. The moonlight draped her form in the same pale aura as the lawn. Her pose in the window conjured a marble statue of some long-forgotten Greek goddess.

The tall clock ticked softly in the background. She held the glass below her lips in one hand, with the other arm folded across her waist. She swirled the liquid in the glass with small movements, taking a sip every so often. It was the first quiet she’d had in weeks, and the liquor and the moonlight lulled her into dreaminess.

The drink was almost gone by the time the clock behind her bonged three times, the sudden sound filling the room. The SUV was packed, her gear was stowed, and the vehicle was fully fueled. It was time to get dressed. Henry would be waking soon wondering what had happened. By that time, she would be miles away.

****
As the last echoes of the chimes died away, a whisper like a feather touched her ear, but so faint she was not sure she heard it.

She took a final sip of the drink, tipping the glass up to get the last of the sweet, golden liquid. She sucked a piece of ice into her mouth and crunched it between her back teeth, enjoying the shock of cold and the noise, just like when she was a little girl.

A shadow flitted through the air beside her. Before she could react, an arm clamped around her throat like a steel hawser, cut off her air and pulled her back, off-balance. A vice crushed her wrist and pulled her hand and arm painfully up between her shoulder blades. In the same moment, the unseen hand and arm turned her body over and her bare feet were kicked out from under her.
The floor rushed up at her in slow motion. She heard a wet crunch and felt a sickening hot jolt as her forehead bounced on the cold tile. Pain exploded behind her eyes and shock surged through her body. A knee jammed in the small of her back, knocking the air from her lungs. She felt her cheek pressed into the cold floor and smelled blood and male sweat just before a wave of nausea rippled through her and a reddish-black mist filled her vision.

“Bring ‘er,” a voice snapped from somewhere in the fog.

Eleanor gasped for air as the weight lifted from her back. In almost the same second, a hand clenched into her hair and pulled her to her feet, the other arm still pinned painfully at her back.

The room whirled. She vomited as spikes penetrated into her brain.

The hands controlling her shook her like a rag doll. She was dimly aware that her unseen master moved out of the way of the puke and then yanked her down the darkened hall through a doorway into Henry’s bedroom. Her legs rubbery, she felt like she was out of her body and flying along like a leaf in the wind….

Delicious slice of evil


Found this quote on the blog EsoterX, and it struck me as a central truth. The tracing of evil in otherwise good people is a delicious line that runs through the heart of mystery and crime fiction. It’s easy to paint a villain as totally despicable, but much more difficult — and more true to life — to deal with someone who is a 49-51 mix of good and depravity.

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
-Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

‘Running Girl’ Ch. 3 excerpt: Dream Girl


  1. “Mohana Das”
  2. “Captured”
  3. Dream Girl
  4. “Attack in the Family Room”
  5. “Fingers”

Dream Girl
He knew her— or rather, his body did —instantly and dramatically. The familiar softness of her skin, bare hip and breast, her lush warmth against the length of him, leg thrown over his thighs, possessive and provocative and wanton. Every nerve ending seemed to be on fire where she touched him, and the flame spread.

He tried to say her name with lips that would not move, to raise an arm to pull her into him. The heat and smoothness of the perfect skin of her perfect, bare leg was the sweetest feeling he could remember. He wanted it to last forever. He wanted to feel the rest of her, surround her, fill her and make love to her forever. The sudden rage of lust consumed him.

Her eyes were large and dark, simultaneously calculating, teasing, sad and amused. He fell into them. Head tilted back, she parted her lips slightly.  She rolled halfway onto him and kissed him with lips and tongue. Then the kiss changed, became slower and more tender, and a look of sadness crossed her face. Her eyes closed, then opened slowly, her hand softly on his cheek. She pulled away, face back in the shadows. And then she was gone. A feeling of loss and panic overwhelmed him.

“Miriam….No!” At least, that was what he wanted to say, but it came out a strangled cry.

The big Lab sleeping on blankets in the room raised his head at the sound.

Ted smelled faint perfume, her perfume, fading fast.

He sat in the half-light, fighting to come out of the dreamworld, and looked around, legs tangled in sweaty sheets, heart pounding.

Bluish-white moonlight cast distorted shapes from the bay windows onto the  marquetry floor. A wing back chair, his clothes draped over the back and heaped on the floor beside it, lurked along another wall. An old armoire and matching dresser huddled darkly on the third. His bed was in the middle of the wall opposite the big, solid mahogany door, now slightly ajar.

Chest bursting, he leapt, naked, to the floor and spun around. She was nowhere in the room. He ran to the hallway, down the house’s formal center stairs and out onto the lawn. The grass was cool on his bare feet.

Nothing moved in the late-night silence. The air was still, cold and silent. A sound escaped his throat, something between a grunt and a cry.

Nothing was there. Loneliness and grief were cold fingers around his heart. A dog barked in the distance, the sound echoing between the walls of old houses.

Ted Brown became aware of the sound of someone sobbing and then slowly realized it was himself. His cheeks were wet with tears, and he touched them with one finger. The lawn was damp with dew. He shivered, becoming gradually aware that he was outside on his lawn, au naturel. The eastern sky was just lightening but the streetlights in the next block were still on.

“Again?”

Shocked awake and self-conscious, he hurried on bare feet up the stone stairs to the open front door, hoping no one saw him. Sleepwalking during the nightmares meant his grieving was anything but over. It was embarrassing. He glanced around and saw that the windows of all the nearby houses were still dark in the pre-dawn. He hoped his new neighbors hadn’t seen him on another of his nocturnal episodes, but couldn’t count on it. Small-town people tended to be observant — most would say nosy— and he could imagine someone tossing out a snarky question at the coffee shop, to general chuckles. Some would just look at him and shake their heads, if he happened to be there. Others would exchange knowing glances and smile to themselves, tapping their finger to temple.  As a newcomer to the community, he was automatically assumed to be a bit odd; he didn’t want to add to the impression. But incidents like this weren’t helping.

He slumped up the big central staircase of the old mansion he was restoring, turned down the hall and hurried past buckets and drop-cloths, step ladders and stacks of paint cans and re-entered the bedroom. The musty but pleasing smell of fresh plaster was fading after a month. Soon, the painters would come and work on the next phase of the restoration.

The lanky old chocolate Labrador rose stiffly from his jumbled bed of foam and well-worn blankets near the chimney wall and padded over, toenails clicking on the hardwood to meet Ted at the door. He touched a cold nose to Ted’s hand and flicked a tongue tip to his fingers in greeting.

Brown absently scratched behind the big ears and stroked the wide head. Happy to get some response, the big dog glanced up with raised ears and inquisitive eyes to see if there was any chance of an early breakfast. Ted looked down at the silent pleading and smiled, then shook his head.

“You’ll have to wait,” he said sleepily, trying but failing to sound stern.

Ted  flopped back into bed, the damp sheets cold and clammy. He didn’t shift them around, welcoming the cold as a kind of reality that seemed to never be far from his life. Hearing the “wait” word he hated, the big animal realized there was no chance of food yet and moved back to his own bed. He collapsed with a disappointed grumble but held his eyes on Brown for a few seconds, unblinking. His eyes drooped and he plopped his big head down, tucked his nose behind curled paws and was asleep in seconds.

“Wish I could do that,” Brown said, glaring at the dog and then stared back up at the fine cracks in the horsehair plaster overhead. He knew it would be some time before he could do the same. Seeing the cracks depressed him, a reminder that the long process of restoring the house was not finished.

The red LED display of the clock radio said 4:47 a.m. He rolled out of bed, slipped into a T-shirt, robe and sweatpants, stuck his feet into a pair of slippers, and wandered out into the hall again and down the wide flight of stairs to the kitchen. A window taller than he was let more moonlight in to bathe the hall in blue and grey. There was enough light to see by.

As he descended, he remembered the dream and the memory of the woman. There was seldom a day that he didn’t think of her, or wonder where she was, whether she was safe and whether she ever thought of him.

He sighed once, put the tea kettle on the stove and sat at the kitchen table without turning on a light. The moon lit the room through the tall Victorian window, and he stared up at it, sadness settling in his gut.

The tea was ready. He poured and sipped it with no cream or sugar.

Bitter. The hot liquid burned his tongue.

He welcomed it.

Tired of the magazines in the waiting room


I’m writing  a book.

No, I’m not; I’ve started, but for months I’ve been telling myself I’m doing it, when in fact I’m just circling at 30,000 feet. Talking is not doing. Time to land the damned plane.

There’s fog and a wicked 20-knot crosswind below 800 feet. The carb is icing up. Are those geese milling around halfway down, just where it’s too late to gun it and go around again? Yes. Of course, there are. Perfect.

F*ck it. I’m going in. The fuel gauge is kissing the big E and I swear there’s smoke coming out of the starboard engine. I have to take piss. No choices left.

I’ve got characters waiting for me to get back to them. They’re looking at me, and at each other, killing time, waiting. Toes tapping. Knives being sharpened. Lives on hold. They are not happy with me. And with this bunch of psychos, this could get ugly, fast.

So.

I’m happy I started. I’m proud of getting 60,000 words into a draft (maybe a leetle too proud. I may need to murder a lot of them.) I like the characters and want to let them live out the stories I’ve put them in. That’s not enough. Time to finish. There’s mystery in there, questions, breathtaking stupidity and evil and sex. Lots of sex. What’s not to like?

“Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstance.” — Sun Tzu.

It is time to ride to the sound of the guns, ” ‘Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war.”

The Versatile Blogger Award


As some comedian once said, “Well, ain’t this a kick in the pants?”

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Someone who’s a lot better at this than I, the sexy young thing who writes “The Migrane Chronicles,” just nominated this blog for the “Versatile Blogger” award. That is really gratifying. You should read her poems, you’ll see what I mean. Ripping good stuff. I think she may have a thing for older men, though. I know I have a thing for her.  🙂

I hate false modesty and humble bragging, so let me express how I feel this way:

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Rules of the award: I will tell you seven things about me, and nominate 15 others.

1. I’ve thought I was a writer since I wrote a fire safety play that was performed in front of the whole school in the third grade. It was mostly “adapted” from a book my teacher gave me, but I did try to make the dialogue edgy. I added a scene about a fireman saving a puppy, which I was real proud of.

2. I sent some jokes and a short story in to the Readers Digest back in my distant childhood, and they published them. I got a check for $10. I don’t remember the jokes, but the story was about my grandfather who kept bees and chewed tobacco. Once, he forgot to tie the mask around his neck, some bees got up inside and he got a bit agitated and spewed tobacco juice all over the inside of the mesh. I thought it was funny when I was 8. Still do; that should tell you about my maturity level at age 64.

3. Oh, yeah, I’m in my sixth decade. I embrace it, but gently. I just took one of those Facebook quizzes that said my emotional age was 25. So. There. Bite me, Grim Reaper.

4. I lived overseas in high school. Two years in Karachi, Pakistan. Best experience an Ohio farm boy ever had. I visited places that were old when Europe was just coming out of the Dark Ages, saw a skeleton of a soldier that had died in an attack on Mohen Jodaro 1500 years ago, and stood in the Taj Mahal. I went to high school with the greatest kids I’ve ever known. We world travelers like to hang out, you know?

5. Our flight to Pakistan was supposed to leave on Nov. 23, 1963. We got as far a Washington, DC, but stayed on for two weeks because the country was shut down following the assassination.

6. While I was staying there with my sister in Alexandria, I spent a day on my own down around the Mall. I saw men with submachine guns and shotguns lining the street. They all had skinny ties and dark suits on.  Then motorcycles and a big black limo roared by at 70 mph. It was Lyndon Johnson on the way to Capitol Hill a week after the JFK killing. Later on that day I met Jimmy Stewart’s grandson and did stuff boys do. We climbed the steps of the Washington Monument. (You could do that then, especially if you were 14.)

7. I am a student of the human experience, despite having a mixed record at being human myself. I love wine and women, not necessarily in that order. I love the very idea of them, even though I’m married 43 years. (Hey, I’m married, not dead!). But everything we people do seems fascinating. I am afraid I’ll run out of time to tell all the stories I see all around me. I wonder about what it would be like to fall in love again, one more time, too. I think that’s when we feel most alive.

But the love of my life would probably kill me, which would make the experience rather brief. Still…. :-).

Nominations for other really good blogs

  1. Rambling Rowes
  2. Mike Steeden
  3. Must be this tall to Ride
  4. Blue Venice: Lost in the Midlands
  5. The Trouble with Kids Today
  6. Carrying the Gun
  7. Is This Gentleman Bothering You? 
  8. Plan-B_each
  9. Lightning Droplets
  10. The Wandering Poet
  11. A House of Pommegranates
  12. The Ancient Eavesdropper
  13. Beautiful Chaos
  14. The Prodigal Londoner
  15. The Public Blogger

There is a reason for the lies


“It is not true that people have nothing to fear if they speak the truth. They have everything to fear. That is the reason for falsehood. And, familiarity breeds contempt, and ought to breed it. It is through familiarity that we get to know each other.” ( Ivy Compton-Burnett, British novelist, 1884-1969)

The biggest challenge for me right now is conjuring up characters with the right mix of good and evil. Any of us is both, depending on the circumstances. But the darker impulses are always there. I want to believe the best of people, but have learned the better angels of their nature might hide a devil or two. How do you all approach this when you’re working in fiction?

As Stephen King said: “Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie.” So, lies are also the reason for fiction, and fiction is one of the best ways to expose them.