Friday, September 27, 2013

Josh and Marjorie

A Trip to Marjorie’s

     Our wet, warm winter had coaxed the ancient azaleas to prematurely don their Easter raiment.  The days were dawning earlier each morning, and the Gulf was still pleasantly holding back the humidity that was to haunt the remainder of our spring and summer.  Florida was in that liminal state between cool and hot that the local TV meteorologists call Chamber of Commerce weather.  I was antsy, my calendar was free and it had been requested that I spend some time with my grandson. 
     Josh is at that awkward age when the skin blemishes, parents are the paramount irritant, and nobody is capable of understanding what it is like to be him.  He is artistic, athletic, intelligent, fifteen, and completely disinterested in everything but girls, skateboards and surfing.  His mother has been dogging me for months to intervene before his grades become a long term problem.  I would have to do what I could.
      Whenever it is time for me to sweep out the mental cobwebs of life’s tedium, I take a leisurely drive north to Cross Creek and the estate of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.  It makes for a quiet day of introspection and the perfect place for reconnection.  I called Joshua a full week in advance to make sure his date book was clear and that his parents wouldn't object.  I knew he would never ask his mother, so I did.  He would rather be reported missing than talk with his parents.  I had also futilely sent him a copy of Rawlings’ short stories and asked him to read a few for some background and a point of reference.

Josh today at 25
     The drive up I-75 was mostly mute.  I brought some of my classic rock and roll CD's; he liked them better than his own compilation of digital downloads.  The conversation wasn’t much more than a few grunts as he approvingly skipped through the tracks.  He wasn’t much company until we stopped in the time-trapped village of Micanopy.  The dusty streets lined with century-old cracker architecture, the sweeping beards of moss dangling from stately oaks, the festive colors of reawakening gardens, and the scent of a hot lunch platter, at last stirred the larynx of my anguished progeny.
     I kept the conversation light.  He had read only a couple of pages in the book, but those sounded “pretty cool.”  He doesn’t like reading.  We explored the numerous antique shops.  No, he hadn’t painted or drawn anything for a while.  I showed him some of the buildings that had been used as movie sets.  School is okay, except for the homework.  We stopped to enjoy the air, freshened with the scent of wild honeysuckle.  Couple of girlfriends, but no one special because they always want to spend his money.
     We climbed back into the car and drove the long country road to Cross Creek.  Josh was intrigued by the history chronicled by the docents during the tour and the sensory experience of what it would have been like to live in the old Florida of the 1940’s.  I sensed a kindled fire.  We strode the grounds, the orange groves, the gardens, and the walking trails that meander through the farm and adjacent woodlands.  I explained the factual differences between the movie Cross Creek and Rawlings’ written account.  We talked about the famous trial and how it ruined Marjorie’s writing career.  I showed off her collection of books garnered one-by-one from the authors who at one time had been her house guests.
     I hoped that the atmosphere of this remarkable place would inspire my young scion.  All I could do was open the door and leave it ajar.  He would have to decide whether he would venture through its portal.
     We ended the day at a nearby restaurant named for Rawlings’ Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Yearling.  It boasts of an authentic Florida cracker menu prepared in accordance with Marjorie’s Cross Creek Cookery.  For entertainment, they employ an old African-American bluesman who sings, unamplified, from the middle of the dining room with just a guitar and a harmonica.  He plays the post-depression period music with the emotion of someone who had lived through it.  Josh was marveled even as he explored the tastes of alligator, frog’s legs, catfish, and soft shell crab.  He tipped the old man generously: my money, of course.
     On the ride home, Joshua curled up on the back seat and slept, just like he had when he was a baby.  I couldn’t help but hope that the light that I had seen in his eyes would continue to burn in spite
of his pubescent hormonal mania.  I really wanted to see him draw again, or maybe write, or at least read.  He doesn’t need tutelage.  He needs inspiration.
     The next day, my daughter called asking more advice about Josh.  Now all he wants to do is sit around the house playing guitar and blowing his harmonica.

     Well, at least that’s a start.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Post-Mortem Bath

Okay, you can blame +kim hodges for this.  No, I cannot enter into the Writer's Challenge, but I did have a take on prompt 1. I acquiesced to posting it so that people could comment.  Kim decided that I should address prompt 2 also.  This is TOTALLY her fault. (And no, I didn't make the 500 word limit.  I told you, I can't sign my name in 500 words or less.)

The pain surprised her, she had thought it would hurt less this time. Looking down, a tear fell from her cheek and disappeared into the pool of warm blood. She knew she would have to start the bath.

She stood up from the squat stool she used during the killing and walked slowly towards the screened back door.  Bred and raised to be a good wife, there was contentment in her stride; content to be far from town and isolated from the nosey eyes of neighbors.

The killing knife dropped in the sink; she ran water to be sure the blood would not cake.  Her attention then turned to the oversized pot of water on the stove.  An extended middle finger satisfied her that the contents were warm enough for the bath, but not hot enough to scald.  She lifted her caldron of death and carried it to the edge of the back porch.  Placed at the lip above the first step, she began to assemble the ritual tools.  First she dragged a small chair to the pot, then an old square basket to catch the outer waste, a plastic bucket for the innards, a short sharp paring knife and finally a towel to dry both her hands and the corpse.

Down three steps into the yard that was more dirt than grass, she strode towards the murder scene.  Geraldine was this one’s name, but most just shortened it to Gerry.  Full of energy and always playing, Gerry was either instigating the others in an intimidating chase, or being chased in retaliation. This morning she had been vibrant and lively, but now no more than a crumpled mass of bloodied flesh.

The good wife picked up what once was Gerry by a single leg and carried the body back to the porch.  She looked to be sure there was nothing still oozing from the gaping wound at the neck and then lifted the still warm remnants over the steaming pot.

As the body sank beneath the surface, she sat heavily into the chair.  Reaching for the towel to wipe the tears from her cheek, she mentally readied herself for the long list of tasks that lie ahead.  From a distance came the pop and crunch of tires on gravel, it would be Robert, her husband, her lover, and the only reason she took these lives, time and time again.

The car stopped at the edge of the yard and Robert, dressed in dusty jeans, a sweat stained t-shirt, and a John Deere cap, stepped up on the knoll that marked the homestead boundary.  He saw his wife hunched over the great pot that was only ever used for one thing and smiled.

Without a stolen glance she knew he was standing near and watching.  Reaching deep into the water, she grabbed the body and lifted it high above bath with one hand and with the other, clawed and ripped at the scant covering still worn by Gerry.  The waste was discarded and the body was wetted again.

“Who is it,” he asked.  “Gerry,” came the choked answer.  Robert smiled but with loving empathy.  “I’m sorry, honey.  I know she was your favorite.  But I love your fried chicken.”

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Song of the Siren

     If anyone participating in +Adrianna Joleigh and my Writer's Challenge finds this post before we close out submissions, don't panic.  As part of the host team, I am not participating in the challenge, but one of the two prompts, did start an itch that I had to scratch.  This is my interpretation of  prompt #1.  I wouldn't have qualified anyway due to Adrianna's 500 word limit.  Those that know me, know that I can't sign my name in 500 words or less.

The Song of the Siren

Sleet pinging against dark glass behind him, wind whipped leaves stampeding past his feet on the unlit path, an eerie howl screaming through the treetops; he knew he had trespassed against all reason and common sense, yet he walked further, bent against the storm, forward to meet his nightmare face-to-face.

A glance up at the protective glass set high in the stone wall revealed no sign of movement or light.  Assured that the progenitors of his former captor were unaware of his presence, he crept closer to the dilapidated outbuilding, the shelter of Lilith.

The weather-worn staircase creaked with each step, but the scream of the wind and the rhythmic swash of the rain cloaked the sound of his approach.  This was not his first ascent to her lair, over the past three months, enraptured by her spellbinding looks and his own overwhelming lust; he had willingly given himself at every chance.  It has only been two days since reason overcame his taste for passion, and the revelation that like Adam’s first wife, this Lilith was not there for his pleasure, but he was for hers.

His hand he carried a small bag; a sacrificial offering to appease her anger at his absence.  In the bag were a few of her abandoned relics of his incarceration and a new iPod loaded with what he hoped would be an appreciated playlist.  Music to calm the savage beast.

His knock was irresolute, fearing the consequences of both confrontation and avoidance.  He steeled himself in preparation of her seductive beauty and his inevitable enchanting avarice of passion.  He knew he had to concentrate on the words; the words were the key to his continued freedom.  He had to listen to the words, not her song of intoxication.

Barely audible through the raging storm, he heard her footsteps approaching.  Words were there, too.  Concentrate on the words; don’t look at her; listen.  The words are your only salvation.

The door opened in mid-sentence.

“…Marianne that it would be tonight, did you know she’s pregnant?  God only knows who the father is, I bet it’s that biker guy I saw her with; Randy bought a bike, did you know that? Nothing big some small little thing to go back and forth to work, Oh My God, did you hear what happened to Alice at work, it’s all over town, I have no idea how she is ever going to live it down, well that guy from accounting…”

There stood the most beautiful, sexy woman he had ever known; his ex-girlfriend, enchanting in every way possible, and she was talking.

“…Stuart, I think that’s his name, well, he was going to ask out what’s-her-name, the one with the boob job, when all of a sudden that Bobby dude just walks right up and takes her out the door, no one I know could figure out where they went, but the next day she was all smiles and a little tired looking, not like Elizabeth after one of her all-nighters, oh, you are spending the night, right? I could use a little…”

Words, listen to the words.  She hasn’t taken a breath since you’ve been here.  Listen to the words!  He thought about all of the times he had spent the night here, suffering the incantations with salacious anticipation of her physical charms.

“…and there’s cold beer in the fridge, but don’t get drunk like before and pass out, that won’t make Mommy very happy; you knew Ellen passed out, right?  She was on a date with some guy she met on the Internet…”

The realization struck that she was not talking again; she was still talking.  This was the same monologue from which he made his break.

“… so after they get her face cleaned up, she started to cry, you did say you wanted a beer, right…”

She turned towards the kitchen; he bolted for the door.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Writing in the Memoir Style -- Advice

     I have said that I have never felt as though I had the requisite talent for teaching memoir as a genre, because frankly it is as complicated, in that same simple manner, as haiku or sonnets.  There are rules, but that doesn’t mean there is a formula.  But here I will proffer a couple of basics to use as a roughly drawn roadmap.

     Differing from a first person narrative wherein your speaker is a participating observant narrator, but neither the protagonist nor the antagonist; a memoir is a brutally honest introspection of a real incident or period in your life that has since passed into history and the spiritual growth that it inspired has taken root in your personage; it is both the experience and its result. 
     A difference should be noted here also, that a memoir is not a “journal.”  The memoir has happened far enough in the past that the lesson(s) of the consequences has been learned and assimilated (by you and all relevant parties).  A journal is a self-exploration in search of answers.  Journaling is a great exercise, but don’t confuse it with this.
     The consequential outcome of your experience is the main emphasis of this kind of writing.  Choose your subject carefully so that your reader will feel fulfilled / educated / empowered / moved by your experience.  What happened to you is unique, “What’s in it for me?”
     Honesty, both in the situation and the outcome is foremost, but readability becomes an issue.  You need to take something that happened to you, or a period of your life that has had some effect (good or bad) on you or those around you, be honest about what happened and what those enriching effects were on you and everyone else.  Be hypercritical of the situation, including yourself.  If you like sugar-coating, go buy some candy, but leave it out of your story.  Be prurient if the situation requires, be gross if it was gross, be profane (literal meaning) if that was part of the event, don’t tone anything down for the sake of modesty or reputation, it will detract from the purpose of the remembrance.

     THEN, AFTER YOU’VE BLED OUT, treat it like all of your other writings, deal with structure, form, syntax, word choice, idiom and flow.  Memoirs should be written with the same serious attention as any fiction (or poetry) work. 
     As writers, we all like eyes on our work, but in this style of writing be careful of how many I’s there are.  Write first, and then concentrate on saving your poor reader’s eyes by eliminating as many I’s as you can and still tell the story.

     And finally, you may take all of the above, add some literary license, some fictionalized characters and a few imagined scenarios, and expand “your life” into a much bigger picture.  Harper Lee’s masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird, is both memoir and novel -- there are plenty of examples of memoir styling in fictionalized writings, and often they are among the most moving and inspirational, but they start as a memoir.

     It is true that there is a piece of a writer’s life in everything written; sometimes it is the motivation for the whole story, sometimes the basis for a character, or maybe it lies in the story within the story, but somewhere in there is the author’s DNA.  In Memoir Styled Fiction, the writer’s life is more than a few helixes on a gene; it is the entire fetus, perhaps even the crying baby, or maybe a whole adult body.  But a memoir is conceived, gestated, and nurtured in the truth of the writer’s experience.  By practicing this style, you become both a creator and a parent.  
    Unfortunately, this is where my proffered map ends, the roads continue, but they are uncharted; where you as a parent go with your progeny is up to you.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Brown Coffee

Southern New Jersey, February 1973; I don’t specifically remember the weather, but I can tell you what it was: it was bleak, colorless, and cold.  That’s the way Jersey winters were and are.  From late November until the middle of April, there is never any color, to the senses it is like viewing a cinematographer’s shot of a winter scene in black-and-white.  A different interpretation of Fifty Shades of Gray; not exhilarating or arousing, but bleak and depressing. 
It was February, mid-winter, and it was that time.
The time wasn’t correlated to a specific day, or week, or sometimes even the month.  It came without cause, never forewarned, planned or discussed, it just came.  Like it had for so many years that the numbers could no longer be ticked off one’s fingers while recounting past adventures.  It was time and we knew.  Not from each other, not from some sign, we knew because it was carried in our DNA. 
I was the youngest of the three, off from work and bored with TV.  I drove to the North End for a beer and a confrontation, hoping that the usual gang of bearded, flannel-clad outcasts might still be accompanied by the redhead from the A&P.   I had made an unsuccessful move to steal her away from Ugly Mike before the big fight started.  The fight wasn’t over, and neither was my interest in that cute but chubby cashier.  
I opened the side door and cautiously scanned the darkness alert to any approaching danger.  I let the door swing closed and my pupils began to adjust; in the dim illumination of beer-bar neon, I saw no Ugly Mike and no redhead, but seated at the bar, making time with the barmaid, my barmaid, there sat my two older brothers. 

I’m not even sure if I said hey.  Marianne took her cue at my arrival and went to fetch another can for the one-legged Nam Vet seated in a booth.  There were several moments of silence while I studied this riff-raff of blood relations, trying to figure out why they were at the North End, and if that meant good news or bad.  One of them said, “Cedar Lake.”  That’s the way it was in ’73.
We didn’t plan these trips.  I hadn’t seen either of my brothers in over a month, and suddenly all three of us are in the front seat of my Suburban heading to Cedar Lake.
Cedar Lake is a dilapidated camp ground, deep in the Jersey Pine Barrens, that has long out lasted its glory days.  Back in the early 60s, my brother Mark had met the owner during a deer drive.  The whispered conversation over a shared Thermos of diner coffee ended with Mark getting permission to use the camp property during the winter when it was closed.  We had permission to fish the lake for its sizable population of yellow perch and largemouth.  We could hunt the adjoining woods for quail, squirrel and woodcock.  And at sunrise and sunset, we could use the owner’s blind for the coastal migration of duck.
Here we were, three man-boys, off on our annual paramilitary masculinity test.  My under-dash mounted tape deck pounded out tunes from well-worn cassettes of Steve Miller, Derek and the Dominos, and the Allman Brother’s Band.  With Mark as the navigator, we headed south into the barrens.  Our annual excursion had strict rules, but the rules were simple: bring your shotgun, plenty of ammo; your fishing stuff (a many poles as you could muster); and warm clothes.  Provisions were kept to the minimum needed for survival; coffee, beer, and something to eat the first night when we set up camp.  After that, if we couldn’t shoot or catch it, we didn’t eat.
The pine forests of South Jersey are not to be reckoned with lightly.  There are some black bear, occasionally a bobcat, packs of wild dogs, and of course, the legendary Jersey Devil.  But it is also the habitat of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gang, some not-so friendly guys that you REALLY don’t want to stumble upon, and obviously, there are the indigenous people, the Pineys (another neighborly type). 
The Pineys had lived isolated in the forest for generations and weren’t known to be terribly friendly.  I’ve seen trucks peppered with buckshot for nothing more than driving on the wrong dirt road or God-forbid, using someone’s driveway for a turnaround.  Pineys, at least when they were at home, were to be avoided for safety’s sake. 
You did see Pineys out in civilized public; they own bait shops and gas stations and stuff, in fact, meeting them on neutral ground is part of a Pine Barrens adventure.  They’re easy to identify, almost all of them past the age of puberty suffer from a strange medical malady called the Groagy Nose.  I have never figured out if it is genetic or the result of something in the environment, but both the men and the women grow these huge, grotesque, misshapen, bulbous snouts.  Their noses get bigger and uglier with age, in fact, I bet medical science with a little research could calculate the age of an Pine Barrens resident just by measuring how groagy their Groagy Nose is. 
Once after I moved to Florida, I did see an old man with a huge Groagy Nose, but I figured that he was either victim of a cruel mutation or was some rare form of back-woods tourist.

The night we set up camp everything was in motion.  We had to gather firewood, build our primitive sleeping lean-to, fetch fresh water from the camp laundry (the only place with a freeze proof faucet, Mark had a key).  And then we would build a fire to cook some burgers or whatever, try to keep warm, drink way too much beer, and it being the ‘70s, there might have been another contraband intoxicant involved, but for the sake of my reputation, I maintain, “I never inhaled.”  During the bustle and preparation, our conversations consisted of bemoaned tales of our woeful lives, our thankless jobs, where we were getting laid or not, and most importantly, the latest news of our hunting and fishing expeditions embellished with just enough exaggeration to prove that each of us were better than any other sportsman in the world (at lying, not necessarily hunting and fishing). 
Three brothers, a pitch black night, a roaring campfire, oh yeah, we had that ritual, too.  Through bloodshot eyes and clouded minds, we unveiled carefully constructed half-truths of unsolved murderous rampages, eye-witnessed paranormal manifestations, gory corpse discoveries, and other assorted this-should-scare-the-shit-out-of-you stories.  I don’t think we ever really scared each other, and if I had ever managed to frighten one of my brothers, he must have kept it as secret as I did.  But there was one tale, one of shared memory, which we always reminisced: it was our encounter with the Jersey Devil.

I was twelve, I think.  Finally old enough to go deer hunting with Dad and my brothers.  Dad drove us deep into the Pine Barrens to a pre-surveilled spot along a fire break.  We spread out at 100 yard intervals to wait in ambush for Bambi’s husband or son to wander by.  I stayed nearby the car, down a ways was Mark, then Charles, then Dad.  We hadn’t been in the woods long enough for me to lose a toe to frostbite, so I was surprised when Dad and my brothers came back almost at a run.  “Get in the car.  Get in the car.  Unload your goddamn gun and get in the fucking car!”  
Mark told me later that he had seen the Devil hanging by its arm from a tree.  He got my Dad and Charles to show them thinking it was an optical illusion.  Apparently my brothers still believe that illusions aren’t supposed to move, or make grunting noises, or climb around in the trees.  I never saw what they saw, but I did see that it scared the living shit out of my Dad, and at twelve years old, that leaves one hell-of-an impression.
After the tales were told, my conscious dimmed by alcohol (and shhh! that stuff is illegal!), I slipped through the crevice of now and became a then before anyone else.  We slept in the protection of my truck foregoing the lean-to because of a brisk winter wind that started around midnight.  It was crowded and uncomfortable, but in our condition, no one cared. 
The next thing I remember was Mark climbing out the rear door into the pre-dawn darkness.  I stretched the chill from my stiff muscles, worried a little at the way my stomach felt and then I climbed out to join him.  We had one of those silent brother conversations where we decided I was going to tend to the fire while he fixed the coffee.  He unpacked the campfire percolator, it was a perfect pot to brew brown coffee.
Yes, brown coffee.  The fresh water at Cedar Lake Campgrounds had a very peculiar characteristic.  It looked fine, smelled fine, even tasted fine, but when you boiled it, it turned brown, the same color as the cedar waters of South Jersey’s lakes and streams.  This worried us the first time it happened (we even joked with each other that the brown water might be the cause of Groagy Nose).  But hey, who among us wants to face a cold winter morning without a cup of hot coffee?  In deference to the potential risk to our noses, we drank the brown coffee each and every trip.  Besides, we discovered that brown coffee tasted better than that stuff at home; I don’t know why.  Yes, brown coffee.
With the fire bright with new flame, I wandered down to the lake to find a bush worthy of being pissed on, and as I drained the remnants of last night’s beer, across the lake a huge bird took flight from the treetops.  
“That an eagle?”  
“No.  Look at the shape of the wings.  It’s a buzzard.  A turkey buzzard.”  
I watched.  
It circled higher and higher, like a sentry climbing to his overlook post.  Suddenly, two more soldiers took to the air, and I watched.  Then several more, and then a dozen more, and then dozens more, and then hundreds more lifted high above the trees, and I watched. 
There is something spiritual about seeing a thousand winged giants silhouetted against the dawning sky.  We watched together, neither of us spoke, neither of us thought to wake Charles.

I always think of those trips to Cedar Lake as a preamble to our lives.  It would not be but a handful of years before Charles will have been married and divorced twice, and reconciled to live a life of bachelorhood.  Mark will have been married and divorced, gone through a slew of bad relationships, remarried his first wife, found a mole on his leg and died of melanoma.  Me, I got married, started raising the ex-husband’s two daughters, and fearing I might replicate the fate of my brothers, left.  My New Jersey roots were buried in the polluted soils of childhood antics and teenaged mistakes.  I felt stymied and root-bound like a plant left too long in the nursery.  I had to get free.  My wife and I, along with the girls, transplanted our family on the gulf coast of the Sunshine State.  I successfully segregated myself from the many bad influences and well-earned reputations of my early years.  We would spend the next twenty-five years in Florida where all there was to worry about is hurricanes, tornadoes, alligators, lightning strikes, and the occasional shark attack.  It was paradise.
Whenever I get depressed from the inevitable stress and pressure of life, I remember back to the camaraderie of my brothers, the satisfaction of harvesting and eating fresh game, our campfire stories, the awesome nature we witnessed, and the one-of-a-kind taste of brown coffee.  It was a wonderful time.

In the years since Cedar Lake and those adventures with my brothers, I came to realize that Florida had become stale with the same types of pollution that taints the soils of my youth.  My wife and I transplanted again into the mountaintop forest of the North Carolina Smokys.  The girls both stayed down on the peninsular raising families, reveling in the camaraderie of sisterhood, and building their own stories of life.  My oldest brother suffered with hemorrhoids for a few years before discovering that the entire cellular structure of his digestive tract was a metastasizing cancer.  My little brother and sister (not included in this particular tale) remain rooted back there in New Jersey; both parents are dead, both older sons are buried, and the middle child, the nerdy son, the rebel, the bookworm and the black sheep, now sits as the head the family.  I do my best “leading” my baby brother and sister, and as for those who are gone, I do my best to keep them alive and well in the words I write, although admittedly, sometimes I still get lonesome for a silent conversation and a cup of brown coffee.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

I don't know Jack. If you see him, please let him know I'd like to meet.

      I honestly don't know Jack, and I am not sure I can call myself a writer without knowing.  The irony is that I teach, I coach, I edit, I write and I even publish, all of that without knowing Jack...(what's his last name?).

      I have been spending quite a bit of time for these past few weeks describing, sharing, defining, illustrating, and confusing some friends with my ideas on the contrast between the Art and the Craft of writing.  Most new writers seek to be taught some magic that will enable them to be great.  The revelation of experience is that magic is magic; there is no teachable explanation. 
Both ends of that symbiotic phrase, Art and Craft, are unique to the individual writer; it can be learned, but not taught.  The story (and its purpose) is our art.  The structure, syntax, characterization, tempo, and the circular relationships between conflict and resolution, between actions and consequences, and between antagonist and protagonist, all bringing together the art of the story, that is your personal craft.  I cannot write your story, nor can I write in your voice.  My talent (if I may be so bold) is built on a thousand morsels gleaned from others and melded together into my own unique style.  But my selection of which morsels to pick and how I assimilate them, is mine and mine alone.  You, as a writer, must harvest your own.
There was a time that I thought I knew how to write.  I had published countless articles, written a monthly newsletter over several years, spent time drafting motions for legal counsel, I wrote an FTC franchise disclosure, and I even drafted a few chapters of the next great American novel.  I knew it all.
Surprise!  I don’t know Jack, in fact, I’m not even sure if that is his real name.  I’ve been chasing this concept of being a seasoned, experienced, knowledgeable writer for more years than many of you have lived.  And every day, I find there is more to learn.
Oh, I still have stories left untold, some written without re-writes, some outlined, some nothing more than an idea noted in a journal.  The art side of me flourishes.  That magical art either exists in someone, or it doesn’t; it is a gift, my gift.  I must admit that I have perused many dissertations, theses, even paper-printed books that boast of the secrets to creating a story by rote formula, but then there are also stores that specialize in assembly-line paintings.  Maybe I am too proud and ambitious, or maybe I’m a bit of a snob, but I don’t consider either of those art.  I think stories have to begin in the depths of your subconscious, and claw their way through your heart, soul and mind, borrowing a little from each, until it spills like blood from a lacerated vein onto paper, revealing its secrets to your reader.
I am a literary moralist; my stories are always based on the consequences of actions demonstrated through irony.  I witness and record ironic twists almost daily, so I guess I should just open a vein and write until I drop.  But then I think how incredibly magnificent it was that Poe identified Legrand in The Gold-Bug as a Huguenot, an old German word meaning “oath-taker.”  Subtle, huh?  Or how in spite of its enduring acclaim, I cannot enjoy Harte’s The Outcasts of Poker Flats because it is told by an observant third person narrator and no one in the story survives.  Am I too anal to think that an observant narrator had to be there to observe?  Then I think how Hemmingway proofread his writing, sentence by sentence, starting at the end and working forward to be sure the construction was not masked by the story’s momentum.  I remember the brilliance of Morrison’s Paradise, and her very first line, “They shoot the white girl first.”  Talk about a hook!  Why can’t I write like that?
No, I don’t know Jack.  I hope someday we will meet and I can get to know him, but until then I will recognize my own imperfections without self-loathing.  I will continue to practice and fail, re-write and improve, study and learn, and occasionally bleed along the way.  I will collaborate in writing circles, and workshop with others; I will share what I have learned, and learn from others. 

Take it or leave it; that is my advice to you, too.

If you have that itch, scratch it.  Chances are there is something magical just below the surface.  Don’t worry about how your baby looks when it is first born, it will grow into a beautiful progeny of yours.  Nurture your child, teach and be taught, by the time your story reaches maturity, you will never question its DNA.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Good morning fog, or is it, Good morning, Fog!

  The morning fog lies low, a thousand feet below my perch, obscuring the valley from view and its busy commuters racing to punch some remunerative clock.  This is my rarest of days with no work in the queue, but a multitude of chores to be attended.  I have spent the last two cups of coffee posting and commenting on posts, and a few more private writings to a friend and confidant.
  I can’t know what this Tuesday will bring other than the inevitable late morning lift of the mists that roost each morning in the crevices of these mountains; a lift that will bring the masking white to block my vista on its way to join the clouds.
  The growing season has ended and the ragged remains of my summer vegetables have to be discarded, the garden soil turned and winterized, and the beds that dutifully fed my table returned to a bleak resemblance of a yard (if you can call 60 square feet of flat area on the side of a mountain, a yard).
  Once my well neglected chores are over, I hope to ride into town; there are friends there that are as unattended as my household duties.  My schedule has kept me captive for weeks in my glass enclosed office, viewing the sunrises and sunsets through blind covered windows.  It often reminds me of a writing professor’s advice to put to paper not the world you see, but just a tiny sliver, the view through a single slat in a Venetian blind.  It is there that you find the most interesting stories.  My experience has taught me that he was right, most people only can see the vast world before them and miss the important nuances that poets and writers exploit to quell their addiction’s urges.

  The cottony vapors have now risen to the tree tops of my mountain below, clawing up the grade to darken my windows.  My coffee is gone.  My day has begun.  And there are tasks to be done. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Are you crazy? You can't wear white after Labor Day!

     The Post-Labor Day

Invoice Letter to my Clientele

     I guess you have put away all of your white hats, white shoes and white belts; Labor Day has come and gone.  It’s time to winterize the pool, put the barbeque grill in storage, say goodbye to the beach, dry-dock the boat, pull out the jerseys and sweaters, and give up on seeing blue skies or feeling the warmth of the sun until next year.  No?  Me either!  I’m going to milk this season right up until the first frost, and maybe then some.  (Oh, and if you do ever see me with a white belt or white shoes, call the police and have me committed -- I’ll deal with Nurse Rached.)
     I am really not looking forward to the change of seasons, not because fall is coming (hey, I live in the Smoky Mountains, it doesn’t get any more beautiful), but this year’s incessant rains pretty much thwarted all of my usual summer activities.  We have had more than FIVE FEET of rain this year so far.  Stand up, put your hand at about five feet up on your body, look around at your visible world and think about how much water that had to be.
     Okay, swim over here and dry off.  After the last time you got one of these letters, posts, invoices, whatever, I did change to that expensive medication I talked about and (yay) no side effects, in fact, I feel better than I have in years.  The benefits are more than just not feeling crappy, cranky or sad, (I know, I know, I still get cranky sometimes, so shut up!) but once again I am enjoying spending time writing and working with other writers in a collaborative you-help-me / I’ll-help-you effort.  There’s no way I can explain how mentally, physically and spiritually good that is for me.  It does mean longer hours at the computer, but that stuff is hardly “work.”  Right now my only fear is that when you all stop your summertime goofing off and non-stop vacationing; you’re going to kill me with that other kind of tedious work.
     All of that good-for-me stuff said, I am catching some major grief from the author of my honey-do list.  It would seem that she can think of new things faster than I can ignore them do them.  Fortunately for me, she is leaving soon for a reunion trip with her high school friends in the Garden State, and when she returns, she leaves again almost immediately for a wedding in the Sunshine State.  That should stunt the growth of the list long enough that I can finally catch up (It should, but it won’t -- I stupidly taught her how to use email -- what the hell was I thinking!).
     I’m going to keep this a little short (stop applauding!) because I have to attend to some things that are happening over on my blog site.  If you get time, swing by there.  I have posted quite a few things that you wouldn’t see unless you’ve been reading it.

     As always, leave me a comment or criticism, (please) visit one of the advertisers (no need to buy anything, just visit) and share anything and everything that you find interesting or funny with as many friends as you have (both of them).  It help$. 


     For those of you looking to read another of my weird short stories, enjoy.   For those of you that I talked to about this, here are two things to look at: 
     1) The genesis of this was a writing assignment way back in the prehistoric era of my college education.  We were to take some innocuous childhood memory and craft a piece of fiction around it. For me it was the stink of Rohm and Haas (see A Smellable Memory).  It is a good exercise to practice with.
     2) I used this story to explore and use four different voices. There is the narrator talking about his childhood experiences who introduces the story and each transition of time and circumstance. There is the speaker as a preteen experiencing his first meeting and impressions of Belle.  The mid-teen speaker's observations of life as affected by Belle.  And finally the speaker as an adult.
     As is my typical style, there is the inevitable twist; this one is more implied than stated, so you have to use your imagination as to what is going to happen.
     You know how to send your feedback, email if you can, or comment at the end.


How funny it is that the simplest thing can dredge up long forgotten memories.  A whiff of some unidentifiable stench and suddenly I’m back in our old ‘62 Nova station wagon, crammed in the jump seat, face to face with my bratty little sister. 

The rhythm of the road and the choking exhaust from an engine that always ran too rich usually inspired our best fights, but that long forgotten day we rode in silence.  The thunder of unspoken angry words, ricocheting against rolled-up windows, kept us silent with eyes forward.  Mom and Dad were mute in the front seat.
We crossed the Burlington Bristol Bridge.  That’s the smell.  The Rohm and Haas plant.  It’s that acrid chemical smell; that’s what I remember.

We were going to get Grandma Belle.  My mom’s mom.  She was retiring or something like that and moving to an apartment a right near our house.  I didn't like this and I was really confused.  Why were we helping this strange old woman move almost right next door to us?

This is a woman, who had decided, after-the-fact, that she did not want a husband or a daughter.  This is a woman, who celebrated New Year's 1933 by filing for divorce and abandoning her child to be raised by a hard working barber and his full time mistress, Four Roses Whiskey.  This woman, whose entire contribution to my life had been nothing more than a few sporadic birthday cards that occasionally included a gratuitous check for $5.00.  This woman was going to be part of our family.  This stranger was supposed to be a Grandmother.

Grandma Belle had never been around our family.  The only time we heard her name was in whispered voices through a closed door.  Every time Mom and Dad talked about Belle, Mom cried.  Everything I knew about this lady, I learned by listening through a door or through the wall of the bathroom that was next to Mom’s bedroom.
I knew that Grandma Belle had got divorced from my Grandpa Jim when Mom was really little.  Dad said it was because she didn’t want a daughter; he said she hated all women.  I knew that Dad said Grandma drove Grandpa Jim to drink and it was the liquor that made Grandpa sick and die.  My Mom always said she loved her mom; Mom said she had a “good heart.”  “Grandma Belle is gonna change,” if we all show her how much we love her.  Dad said Belle would never change; he said Mom was lucky that she hadn’t turned out to be just like Belle.

The Nova broke free from the purring metal grates of the bridge and regained its rhythmic ka-junk ka-junk of the concrete highway.  We drove south along the Delaware River towards the City of Brotherly Love.  Belle was retiring from the Navy Home where she had been the head maid; Superintendent of Housekeeping.  What an accomplishment, right?  I keep remembering new reasons why I didn’t like this lady.
Dad muttered something that was dampened by the drone of the road noise, Mom’s shoulders shuddered and I saw her wipe away a tear.  The car slowed, turned and stopped beside a guard house.  A sailor, dressed in white-on-white with a little Popeye hat, asked several questions, checked his clipboard, saluted, and raised the candy striped barricade.  Our Chevy lumbered forward into a surrealistic world; a realm of perfectly manicured landscapes, parading uniformed seamen and whitewashed barracks constructed in perfect two-by-four-by-eight dimension.  Everyone obeying strict military pomp.  I remember my juvenile disappointment that there were no boats.  This was the Navy Home, for Pete's sake, there should be boats!

The woman that opened the door didn’t look like I expected.  She was really tall and stood straight and stiff.  Her hair was the color of sand and pulled into a tight bump on top of her head.  She was kind of fat, but kind of hard at the same time.  I was thinking about how my other Grandma, my real Grandma.  She was soft and cuddly; I liked hugging her.  Everyone was always hugging Grandma, even Grandpa.  I couldn’t see anyone ever wanting to hug this woman; Grandma Belle.
The place she lived looked like a prison cell or a room in one of those crazy people asylums.  It was small and the walls seemed like they leaned in.  She had like no furniture, just a really narrow bed, a little desk and chair, a dresser, and an ugly old cane chair with black arms and legs; that chair had an extra bright yellow cushion on it.  The room didn’t have any tables, or lamps, or pictures, not even a TV, and there was no bathroom.  It was bright, but not from the little window high up on the wall, but by two bare fluorescent lights hanging from the yellowish ceiling.  Everything looked neat and clean, but scary at the same time.

I could tell by the stench that the old lady was a heavy smoker, but the ashtrays on the desk and bureau gleamed with oiled polish and no cigarette litter had been left in view.  Other than the smell, the only evidence of her nicotine habit was the slight tinge of amber that defiled the ceiling and walls.
Belle stepped aside in a stiff gesture inviting us in.  My mom took the cane chair, my dad sat at the desk, and Grandma sat on the edge of the taut blanketed bed.  Not so much as a curious glance was cast at me or my sister.  We sidled in and crouched low along the baseboard.  My sister, Mary kept looking at the open door like she was readying herself for a quick escape.
“Mom, these are the children.”  I remember Mom’s voice was pitched too high, soft and trilled with a strange vibrato.  It trailed off like she was going to say something more but didn’t.
“Yes, I could tell from their pictures.  At least they’re well-mannered kids.  I guess you’ve raised them okay.”  This was said without any gestures.  It was as though she was talking about something far removed from her tiny room.
“Bobby,” she turned directly to my father, “You look good.  My daughter looks good.  You seem to be doing just fine.  But tell me about this room that I’ve rented.” 
My father tapped a Winston on the desk, flipped open his Zippo and initiated what could only be described as a smoking orgy.  It was as if there was some sort of morbid race.  The three of them looked like drowning swimmers fighting for the safety of a life raft.  For several minutes there was not a breath taken that was not drawn through smoldering tobacco.
By the time my father started his answer, his Winston was more filter than tobacco. 
“Belle, I think you’re going to like your new place.  It’s a hell-of-a-lot bigger than this place and one whole hell-of-a-lot more like a home.”

That was the way that I met Grandma Belle, but it’s not the way I remember her.

Belle gathered all of her worldly possessions, packed them loosely in a small green hard-sided Samsonite, and climbed into the second seat of the old blue station wagon.  The five of us rode home in stiff silence, back through the smell. 

Her new apartment house was awkwardly notched into the southwest corner of a New Jersey cornfield.  It would never look like it belonged there; it was an architectural defilement of prime farm land; a blemish against Nature.

Mom and Mary ran up ahead to unlock the door.  My dad led Grandma Belle by her arm like she was gonna fall.  I had to bring her suitcase with stern orders to not to let it drag on the ground.  It was like we were in some kind of parade.  My mom even made a trumpet, “TaDaaa,” when Grandma Belle walked into her new home. 
Belle stood in one place, not smiling or frowning while my mom and my sister ran around from room to room, from this thing to that thing, gibbering and giggling about all the time they spent shopping and color matching and arranging and cleaning and painting, and “Isn’t this just the best, Mom?”

The apartment did have the warm feeling of a home.  A small entryway opened into a suitably large living room.  My mom had furnished this with a sturdy rock maple sofa upholstered in browns and tans.  She raved about how well it worked with the gold carpet and the butterscotch walls.  There was also a large side chair and a rocker dressed in the same material.  There were three end tables and a coffee table, two tall lamps, a big beefy bookcase, and the grand prize, a huge 23” Admiral color console TV.
 To the left there was a galley kitchen.  It opened to a light, airy breakfast nook furnished with a maple dinette that could easily seat six.  I remember my first thought of that table, “Oh no, we’re going to have to eat here, too.”
The bedroom was done in dark walnut and decorated in royal blues.  It contained a queen size four-posted bed, and a matching chest of drawers with bright polished brass pulls.  There was also a dainty dressing table with its own chair and a row of lights mounted over the mirror.  Mom was especially proud of the two Victorian figurine lamps she had found for the night stands.
“Bobby, you were right.  This is a whole hell-of-a-lot better than my dorm room,” Belle’s voice was graveled and harsh.
Grandma Belle crisscrossed the suite and glancing with approval at everything.  She seemed to lose a little of her stiffness as she entered the blue tiled bathroom.  She turned on the light, studied herself in the vanity mirror, pulled the pins from the bun on top of her head, and shook her hair free.
It was the summer of 1964, and Grandma Belle retired.

I can’t tell you whether it took a day, a week, or a month, but her sand colored hair went suddenly gray.  Her pressed white uniform was discarded for a pink flannel muumuu, her military like regimen was replaced by meticulous idling, and her preoccupation with sanitation and defiant independence was well forgotten.  She made herself helpless and hapless.

Mom went like every other day to take care of her.  She had wash all the dirty dishes, take out the trash, do the laundry, run the vacuum, and even flush the nasty toilet.  Dad begged Mom not to go so much, but Mom said she was obligated.  Dad said she was obligated; she was obligated to care us and her own home.  But Mom always went anyway.  
My mom put up with some nasty stuff.  She would have to give Grandma Belle a bath and clean up the sofa after she had had one of her accidents.  Mom scrubbed her dentures and washed the smelly clothes.  Grandma never thanked her; I guess she figured Mom was obligated.
While Mom took care of Grandma Belle, my sister took care of us.  She had to keep our home clean, and Mom expected perfection.  Our house was never to stink from being unclean.  “You must learn proper housekeeping, young lady.  Someday when you have a husband, you’ll thank me.”  Mom always said, “Boys need to know their book-work, so they can get good jobs, but girls need to know their housework, so they can take care of the boys.”
For Mary, it more than just her chores, it was dealing with Mom when she came home from Grandma Belle’s.  The slightest thing wrong would bring screaming insults.  She had to listen to long fits and tirades.  When Mom was mad, she would rail about how Mary should never have even been born, that she was a mistake, and sometimes she would say she was disappointed that Mary wasn’t a boy.  Once she even said that Mary was too stupid “to do a good woman’s work.  A woman must understand her responsibilities, and you never get anything right.”  Most of the time the tantrums would go until my sister fell on the floor crying, “I’m sorry, Mom.  I’m sorry honest!”  My sister was never hit, but she was pretty beaten up regularly.
On the days that Mom didn’t go to Grandma Belle’s, things were a bit better; our lives sort of went back normal.  We could almost be happy like before, but we all knew there would be tomorrow.

Grandma Belle lived a long time.
She lived long enough to know of my Father’s death, and she was displeased that my mother would not come on the day of the funeral.  “Bob’s in a box.  What the hell does he need you for?  I got no food to eat.”
She lived long enough to know that I had graduated high school and moved (or should I say, escaped) to California.  “He was the only one of you that was any good.  Why’d you let him leave?  Now you got no man to take care of you.”
She lived long enough to know that my sister married.  Her husband Tom owned a successful lumber business and had built them a nice house overlooking a sod farm. What a great front yard.  Grandma Belle never sent them a wedding gift.  Her only comment was: “I hope she’s got a good man, Lord knows, she’ll need one.”
Grandma Belle lived so long that Mom started to feel less obligated.

It was in the spring of 1982 that I flew home.  Tom had called to give me the news, I was going to be an uncle, and I wasn’t going to miss that for the world.
New Jersey was still bleak and gray from a long winter’s hangover, but there was life in the air and glee in my heart.  My little sister was going to be a mom and nothing was going to break my mood.
“No, I’m not going to visit Grandma Belle,” I had to argue with my mother.  “No, I am not obligated.  And while we’re at it, I don’t think you should go either.  Your daughter is about to give birth to your grandchild.  Let the old biddy stew in her juices for the day.  You need to be with your daughter.”
I didn’t go to Grandma’s, but Mom was still obligated. 
The baby came and she was beautiful.  Tom needed to stay with Mary, so I was the one who called Belle’s apartment.  I guess I rambled on and boasted too much about how beautiful and miraculous and wonderful and healthy and how “Mom, you should have been here.”
Everything I said was being dutifully repeated to Grandma Belle, but without the enthusiasm.  I could hear in the background those familiar coarse grunts and hisses of the perpetually displeased old lady. 
I took a big breath.  My stomach gurgled with acidic bubbles; I winced in both mental and physical pain.  “Mom, there’s more good news, for you and for Grandma.  Mom, they’ve named the baby, Belle.”
I had argued with my sister, but I lost.  Mary said she owed it to them.
My mom said that Grandma smiled.  Looking back, I don’t know, I think there must have been something more, because Grandma Belle never smiled.
She actually sent a card of congratulations.  It included one of her infamous bank checks for $50.00.  She had addressed it to Tom.  Grandma Belle never met Baby Belle.

In the autumn of that year, Grandma Belle’s heart just stopped.  Belle was finally dead, and the next day, my mom retired.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


I don't write poetry, but sometimes I leak.  Sorry.


And then there is one.

The silence is both refreshing and uncomfortable,
the sound of one.

That place is not happy or sad,
light or dark,
crowded or lonesome,

There is just the one.


Monday, September 2, 2013

The Recoil of an Imaginary Gun

     This morning Adrianna Joleigh was soliciting "scary stories" to be shared on her website during this Halloween season: I had to confess that scary was not a genre that I write in.  But her inquiry got me thinking, and I tried to imagine how I might structure something in the horror motif.
     Unfortunately, those thoughts inadvertently cast me into the "hole" from which I write (see more about "the hole" at an old posting).  My fall pretty much defeated the day as an unnamed character dictated his tale about a life in hell.  I have the rough structure down, but that story is far from ready to be shared.
    Putting some words down today make me think back about fifteen or so years, and I remembered a shorty I wrote that is a little scary, but in a Twilight Zone sort of way.
     As a forward, you should know that this began as a memoire of a childhood event.  The first inexplicable death really happened, but the rest is just my weird imagination and some literary license.

The Recoil of an Imaginary Gun

     Indian summer was struggling to stand its ground against the onset of seasonal change.  The old man had predicted cold and snowy weather by November, and he was hardly ever wrong.  This would be their final fishing trip of the year.  It would be the last time the sun’s warmth would suffice to raise the bass and perch from the lethargy of their deep holes.  The brothers, anxious to take advantage of the waning season, set their skiff onto the water behind the Mill dam. 
     They planned on spending the whole day on the water and had spent the bulk of the prior week preparing for this day.   Afternoons were spent racing carelessly through homework and chores, and later whining at Pop’s rule about supper being eaten at the table with the family.  Their later evenings were busy oiling reels, re-spooling line, organizing spinners and spoons, and mentally mapping this summer’s final assault on the Rancocas.
     The brothers preferred to fish between the dams.  The creek was stopped in two places where generations ago, New England wood was sawn and Southern cotton woven.  The water between the dams flowed with years of quiet innocence, undaunted by the tides and flood waters that could not breech the antique barriers.  The dark, serene, cedar water carried the brothers on adventurous expeditions past mysterious neighborhoods of frugally constructed summer cottages and expansive creek front manors.  The younger brother always wondering what road led those unseen privileged inhabitants to this secret haven.  He never asked, because on the creek, talk was discouraged, in fact, all unnecessary noise was considered the worst kind of sin.  Even the sound of water dripping from a retracted oar seemed an affront to this Eden.  Here, Nature demanded silent respect. 
     The brothers scurried back and forth from the car to the water as the poles and tackle were stowed aboard.  With the boat loaded, the older brother lit a cigarette and puffed great clouds of smoke that would one day carry him off into the next life.  The younger brother stood watching, holding their lunch cooler and two thermoses of coffee.  One was sugared; one was not.  The younger never understood how the older could endure the bitter taste of that unsweetened swill.
     The empyrean sky would be the last of the year.  In a week, the world would don its gray, wintry hood and the rods and reels would be replaced by shotguns.  Weekend suppers would change from the flaky, sweet taste of pan-fish, to rich, musky game-meat.  Even on this last fishing day, the brothers' blood ran warm with the anticipation of the start of hunting season.  Mother Earth always provided.  Eat what you kill.   Kill what you eat.  Remember, it's a sin to waste a life.
     The younger stood beside the boat and inhaled deep.  "Smells like hunting season already." 
     "Yeah," came the reply from behind a pillow of smoke. "Tomorrow we’ll check the basement and see what we've got.  Maybe we'll load a box or two of shells." 
     The younger pulled his arms up like he was carrying his twelve gauge and took aim on a morning dove that was flitting right to left.  "I can't wait."  He steadied his imaginary gun, and led the speeding fowl with a practiced eye.  "Bang!"  He gave his gun a sound.
     The dove crumpled, shuttered, and fell into the water.
     "What the hell?" the older snickered.
     "Killed it!  I'm so damned good, I don't even need my gun."
     "Yeah, right!  Ain't dead," declared the astonished, older brother.  "Come on, I'll show you." 
     They released the boat from its mooring and rowed to the middle of the cove.
The dove was dead.  It floated just below the surface.  A broken wing jutted above the water; its damp feathers fluttering like a flaccid sail.
     "Grab it before it sinks."
     "Can't take it, dipshit.  Season ain't open.  We'd sure to get busted by the warden."
     "We can't waste it!"
     "Can't take it, man.  Besides, we don't even know what killed it."
     "What-da-ya-mean?  I killed it!"
     "Right.  Ya can't kill somethin' just by thinking about it."  The older pushed the dove under the water with his oar.  "Leave it for the turtles."
     "But that ain't right," the younger muttered.  It's a sin to waste a life.
     The boat turned and the brothers pushed their oars against the dark current of the ancient water.  The younger worried at the aqueous grave until its ripples dissolved into a miscellany of memory.

     In the years since, the younger brother had given away his guns and told friends that he was done shooting things.  He had moved on from a life of subsistence to the inanimate plastic wrapped meats of Shop Rite.  With age his memory changed, that dove was the only kill he could ever remember.  Bang!  With an imaginary gun.       He never gave thought to the hundreds of rabbits and quail he had killed and eaten.  He didn’t think about the pheasants or squirrels or ducks over which he had said Grace and then fed his family.  He forgot about the hours standing numb-toed in a tree-stand, waiting in ambush for a venison meal.  There was only one kill that he ever thought about.  The imaginary kill.  And for the last two days, it was the only thing that he thought about.  The wasted kill.  The sinful kill.  It was not something he wanted to think about, but it was better than the alternative. 
     "Coffee!” he groaned, talking to the empty room, “I forgot to make the damned coffee."  He rolled onto his back in a bed that was too big and too cold for one person.  Coincidence; it had to be.  You can kill with your imagination.  He hated making coffee and knew that the pot was sour with yesterday's stale grinds.  He also knew that to wash the pot, he would have to clear the sink of dirty dishes.
     "Forgot to feed the dog, too.  Damn, I’ve got to get it together!"  He scissored his legs wide feeling the cold sheets and wondering when or even how often they would need to be laundered.  The dove just died.  I didn’t kill it.
     "Got to get moving," he stretched and yawned.  "Oh shit, no!"  He shuttered at the thought of his kids arriving this morning.  "Shit, shit, shit, this is not going to be good."  He swung his legs over the side of the bed.  There was no way to explain what had happened.  He couldn’t even explain it to himself.
     He pulled on the jeans that he had left on the floor.  His dog appeared at the door with a nervous look.  "You need to go out, don’t ya?  Come on, boy.  Potty outside and I'll get you something to eat."  The dog cowed with his tail between his legs.  "Better watch out, Buddy.  It might be you the next time." 
     He scuffed his bare feet into the hallway lined with decades of family pictures.  The memories washed over him in a sudden wave that buckled his knees.  His body contracted defensively.  He fell to the floor and wept in convulsions.
     Buddy crept down the hall and peed on the leg of the dining room table.

     "Are you watching that grill!  Don’t let it catch fire.  I hate it when you burn the chicken."

     "Oh drop dead, honey!  The chicken 'll be fine.  I'm jus’ gettin’ another beer."