Books are a uniquely portable magic. ~ Stephen King

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Old Man in Winter

Fiction Fridays

A friend approached me a couple weeks ago with a unique proposition. He was working on a song and he had the bones of some lyrics and wanted me to flesh them out. I told him I couldn't write poetry or lyrics and he said, no worries - he didn't want me to write the lyrics, he wanted me to write a story. Loving the idea, I set to work. Over the following weeks I will present the stories that resulted from that request.

This was the first piece:
Mrs. Folino's Man

After I presented him with that story he said - "let's try one from the old man's point of view". So I tried. I tried to write from the point of view of an old, dying Catholic man. Name four things that I am NOT... (old is arguable, I suppose) This was my first attempt. It was a little - hmmmm - precious - for my taste, but it got the ball rolling. Without further ado:

The Old Man in Winter

“Stop fussing!” I said, growing frustrated. My wife had just wrestled me out of my old pajamas and into my nicest pair. She thought the color brought out my eyes, or some such rubbish. I only knew that the collar was stiff and that it chafed against my neck. She was currently attempting to comb what was left of my hair into submission. It wasn’t going well for her. That may have had as much to do with my lack of cooperation as it did with the unruliness of my remaining hair. All the manageable hair had long since left me and what chose to remain didn’t follow her instructions well, causing her seemingly endless frustration. She was always fussing with it and patting it and sometimes I wished she’d just leave my dang head alone. The hair in my ears, however, grew in thick healthy white tufts. She didn’t seem to want to fuss with that as much, though.

“Now, Frank…” she warned, “Father Iaderosa will be here any moment and I won’t have you looking like a bowery bum.”

“Father Iaderosa. Good. I like him better than that other one.”

“Father Tim is a fine priest,” she admonished, stepping back to observe her handiwork with a frown.

“Hmmmph.” Father Tim was younger than my grandson and about twice as insolent, if you asked me. He’d slap me on the back and say, “How’s it going, Frank?” Can you imagine? A pup like that calling me Frank? As far as that’s concerned, I didn’t much care for calling him Father Tim. That collar deserved more respect than that, to my way of thinking. All this first name business and guitars at mass – I barely recognized the church any more. They call it progressive. I call it a bunch of hooey. I was glad Father Iaderosa was coming. He had a little more respect for tradition.

The priests were visiting more often these days and I took comfort in it, but possibly not the way they intended. Their increased visitation confirmed my suspicion that my last breathe was close at hand. I was ready to take it. I’d made my peace with my God and with myself and now I was just tired. I guess maybe that’s selfish. My wife and my boys – they’ll miss me I suppose. But I’ll see them again. When it’s their time. It’s my time now and I’m tired of biding it. I’m ready to leave this sick tired old body and dance with the angels. I miss dancing. I was never all that good at it, but I loved the feel of a pretty girl in my arms – spinning her round and round or just holding her real close, smelling her hair as she laid her head on my shoulder. Yes sir, that was the stuff. I felt pretty sure I’d be a wonderful dancer in heaven.

“Mr. Folino!” Father Iaderosa said, interrupting my silly thoughts of dancing on the clouds and bringing me firmly back to earth. “How are you feeling today, sir?” His voice was as big and commanding as his presence. He carefully perched his large body on the small chair my wife had readied for visitors at the side of my bed, taking my hand and looking at me with concern etched across his brow as he did so.

“If I can make it through winter, I can make it another year.”

“Ah, well!” he said chuckling robustly, “Just a couple more weeks then! Good to hear it!”

We chatted companionably for a while, then the good Father asked if I would like to receive communion and I nodded in the affirmative. I received the sacrament with even more solemnity than usual. This is not to say I ever took it lightly, oh, certainly not. But I suspected that this was the last time I’d be participating in this particular rite. This was the last winter the good Lord was going to ask me to make it through. I knew this with the same certainty that I knew my own name.

Father Iaderosa took his leave and my wife came in to stroke my head some more. Bless her heart, I understood. She wanted to touch me – to keep me real, I suppose. I imagine she knows as well as I do that my time is near. It’s not as easy for her to let go. When I leave, I’ll be going to a better place and she’ll be here – for a while, at least – to carry on alone. I took her hand from my head and held it to my heart. I lifted it to my lips and kissed it. I watched the tears brim in her eyes without spilling over. Oh, Lord, I do love this woman. Her hand became too heavy for me to hold, so I dropped both of our hands, keeping them joined, back to my chest. She squeezed my hand and looked away. I hated to see her so sad.

“I’m tired, dear.” I said, kissing her hand once more.

“Oh! Of course!” She fluffed my pillow and ran her hand across my head one more time. She paused for a moment in the doorway before she closed the door and for just an instant I caught a brief and shining glimpse of the girl I’d met almost fifty years before. Or maybe it was an angel.

I turned my head to look out the window. It was difficult to tell where the landscape ended and the sky began. They were both the same shade of dingy gray. It was February in Western Pennsylvania, all right. I could just barely make out the stacks from the steel mill off in the distance. I’d worked there most of my adult life. Everyone I knew had. When I retired, they’d given me a party and a clock. That clock was on my nightstand now, reminding me in a very tangible way of the passing of time.

The sky was gray, the land was gray, my remaining hair was gray; the whole world seemed to be gray. My bright blue pajamas were almost an assault on the dreariness. Perhaps that’s why I hated them so much. They were a bright ugly gash that didn’t belong in the picture.

“If I can make it through winter, I can make it another year.” I’d been saying that since I was a young man and I always meant it. Once I got too old to indulge in sledding and snowball fights, the winter months lost all their charm. The shortened days, the cold weather, the loss of color and light – they took their toll on me each year. Of course life went on. I shoveled my car out of the garage and kept my sidewalk clear so the paperboy would have a path. I went to work and I came home and I shoveled again if it needed it and I went to bed. There wasn’t much joy, but there was also always the knowledge that the sun would indeed come out again and that the drudgery that was my life in the winter would be pushed aside to make room for the joy I felt the rest of the year. Winter was just something I needed to make it through. Eventually the bulbs my wife planted would poke their way up through the ground and the lilac bush in my front yard would bloom. Eventually the world I loved would return.

Not this year, though. This year I couldn’t find that motivation. I couldn’t imagine spring flowers or sunshine on the other side of this dreary grayness. All I could see, when I looked forward on my life on this earth, was more dreary grayness. My reward, this year, wasn’t on the other side of winter – it was on the other side of life.

I rolled over and closed my eyes. Like a mantra, the bedtime prayer from my childhood ran through my head, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep…” It was juvenile, I knew, but it was an old habit. I wondered what sort of prayers Father Tim was teaching the children growing up in the parish now. “Yo, Jesus! Wassup!” I quickly crossed myself for allowing the blasphemous thought to even go through my head.

My prayers completed I allowed my thoughts to drift. I’d had dialysis three times this week, and that was getting to be more the norm than the exception. No. I didn’t want to think about that. I didn’t want to think about hospitals and machines and the gray, gray world. I didn’t want to think about the worry I saw etched in the faces of my wife and my boys and their families when they visited with me and I sure didn’t want to think about the fear and nervousness I saw on my great-grandchildren’s faces when they were nudged towards my bed with instructions to “say hello to Papa”. No. I thought instead of a big green field. The sun was shining and a band was playing. I had my best girl in my arms and we danced without tiring. Her hair smelled of lilacs.

The next thing I heard was sirens. There seemed to be a lot of activity and I seemed to be at the center of it. I didn’t want to be here, I wanted to go back to dancing in that field. I heard my wife’s voice, “If he could just make it through winter, I know he could make it through another year…”

“Not this year, my love.” And I returned to her in the sunshine.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

If You Dream of Fairies

Whimsical Wednesdays

If You Dream of Fairies
is a story I wrote for my daughters and niece last summer. I will present it here in serialized form. It was my first foray into fiction.

In case you missed something:
If You Dream of Fairies - I

When it came time to start school, Liz and Maria did it like they did everything: side by side. They held hands as they tentatively stepped onto the kindergarten bus. They shared a seat and both of them pressed their faces against the glass as they waved to their mothers until they could see them no more. The mothers waved just a moment or two longer than that before heading to the garden for their first childless coffee clutch since the girls had been born.

It didn’t take long for Maria to establish herself as a favorite among the teachers and the other students. Her sweet, kind, genuine nature was like a magnet to them. Liz basked in the limelight as well, because Maria was nothing if not loyal. If anyone so much as grinned when Liz did something clumsy or spoke without thinking, the sadness in Maria’s eyes stopped them in their tracks. Maria’s eyes were the color of violets in spring. No one wanted to be the one who clouded them with sadness or disapproval. Certainly no one wanted to disappoint her.

To say that either girl took advantage of this would not be entirely fair. Maria never asked for special favors, the world just sort of granted them to her. The path she walked just always seemed to be a little softer, the air around her just a little sweeter. As for Liz, she never invoked Maria’s name to attempt to secure favor. She merely loved her best friend. If that had some perks, well, who was she to complain about that?

As they left kindergarten behind for higher grades, school work came easily to Maria, too. She just heard or read something once and it became a part of her. Many evenings were spent in the garden with the girls head to head over a book. Maria’s hair was long then, and fell in perfect curls. She preferred gathering it up on top of her head, but a few loose tendrils always managed to escape. This only served to add to the charm of the effect. They would hold their heads so close over their books that those tendrils would become tangled with Liz’s brown pigtails. Maria had a way of explaining things to Liz so that they made sense.

Monday, February 22, 2010

In Which We Go to Texas and Uncle Frankie Goes to Hollywood

Memoir Mondays

A few weeks back I wrote a post on Keep in Touch With Mommakin that referred to my first year of grad school as 'Around the World in Eighty Lays'. This prompted my roommate from those days and I to want to relive them through writing a joint memoir. I write a chapter, she adds a 'journal entry' to show the same story through different eyes. At this point I'm referring to it as The Texas Project. I hope to come up with something better soon. Until then, without further ado, Chapter 1 of The Texas Project (subtitle: Around the World in Eighty Lays)

In case you missed something:

In Which I Lose a Love, Make a Friend and Run Away From Home

In Which We Go to Texas and Uncle Frankie Goes to Hollywood

The summer flew by as I prepared to make this huge move. I ran into Jeff and his new love at the mall once. They were holding hands. He tried to talk to me, but I just couldn’t. I ran away – allowing him to make me a fool one last time. I cried on and off for days. That little encounter proved beyond the shadow of any doubt – if there had been any to begin with – that a little distance was just what the doctor ordered. As my parents drove me to the airport I was not plagued by any form of regret. This was what I needed to do, of that there was no doubt.

Terri met me at the airport. She looked great. We were both ridiculously happy. We knew we were supposed to be, or at least look, sad and conflicted – for our parents’ sakes – as we boarded the plane, but neither of us could manage it. We were moving. We were moving halfway across the country with nothing but the luggage we could carry with us on the plane. A friend of Terri’s who went to the university had secured a furnished apartment for us, so we didn’t really need much. Plus, we’d heard rumors that they had stores in Texas. A new life deserved a little new stuff.

We were rather giddy with the excitement of it all and couldn’t stop chattering and speculating about the brand new life ahead of us as well as gossiping about the summer that was coming to an end. There were a couple boys in the row behind us who, noticing our fun and easy-going mood, engaged us in conversation and offered to buy us beers when the drink cart made its way through the aisle. There’s really only one appropriate answer when someone offers to buy one a beer, and that answer is, of course, ‘yes, please’. Terri and I were nothing if not appropriate.

These young men told us they were from England, although, being the recent college graduates that we were, we had already surmised that based upon their accents. We were brilliant and perceptive like that. What is it about an accent that is different from one’s own that is so damn disarming? We were kneeling on our seats to talk to these boys behind us. They kept the beers coming; we kept being charmed by their accents.

“Do you know Frankie Goes to Hollywood?” the lad who called himself Ian asked during a lull in the conversation.

“Of course”, I replied. It was the summer of 1984 – it would’ve been pretty hard to miss them. Their song Relax was all over the radio and the still relatively brand spankin’ new MTV, plus the fashion statement of the summer had been an oversized T-shirt with oversized letters spelling out: FRANKIE SAYS RELAX.

“Well, Frankie, he’s my uncle.”

“He is not! There IS no Frankie – it’s just the name of the band. Like Blondie.”

“Blondie’s a babe” added the one who called himself David.

“Debbie Harry’s a babe”, Terri corrected him, “Blondie’s a band”.

“Like Frankie Goes to Hollywood”, I added, in attempt to bring the conversation back to where it had started.

“No! Frankie’s my uncle! He’s the lead singer!”

“Not buyin’ it for a second. Mostly because THERE IS NO FRANKIE!”

We were becoming very popular on the plane by now, as the argument escalated; amplification by beer. No one said anything, though, and we figured we could handle a dirty look or two. Let them look! We were starting a new chapter in our lives and we WANTED to be noticed, dammit!

Now let me be clear. I didn’t trust these boys. After all, who would choose to lie about something that was such a matter of public record? But I liked them. They had cute accents and cute faces and they bought us beer. It was enough. I gave up the argument, even though I knew I was right, and resumed the regularly scheduled flirtation, already in progress. As the plane began its descent, the four of us decided we wanted to keep the party going on the ground. None of us knew the town we were headed to well, but they had friends picking them up at the airport. They gave us directions to a little bar where they’d be later that night.

Terri’s friend was picking us up at the airport. He had us drop him off at his parents’ place, and then lent us not only his car but also his apartment until ours would be ready to move into in a couple days. We threw our suitcases into his apartment and headed directly to the bar. If we hurried, we could keep the buzz we’d acquired on the plane in maintenance mode.

Our British friends were already there and they greeted us with friendly kisses as we arrived. How very continental. They pulled up a couple seats for us and introduced us to their friends. As the bar began to fill up and seating became a hot commodity, Terri and I gave up ours in favor of Ian and Dave’s laps. It seemed like the appropriate thing to do and, as I’ve already established, Terri and I were nothing if not appropriate.

“Are you guys hungry? I’m hungry.” Dave and Ian’s friends had already left and the crowd in the bar was starting to thin out.

“I could eat.”

“Me too.”

We rose to leave. The boys took care of what had to have been a hefty tab and we headed to the parking lot together, leaning on each other out of a combination of drunkenness and lustful anticipation. We tumbled into the car and the serious kissing commenced before the key hit the ignition. Terri and Ian were devouring each others faces in the front seat while Dave and I got all tangled up in the back. It was the desperate, sloppy kissing generally associated with drunken one night stands. Dave made a clumsy attempt at my bra hook and in the moment I took debating offering assistance, the whole car jerked as Terri jumped back. Dave and I sat up and Terri turned around in her seat to address me, “I’m leaving.”

“Whu….?” I was a little disoriented and a lot disheveled.

“Just – I need to go.” She was adjusting her clothing as she reached for the car door. Ian reached over to pull her back in. I still had no idea what the hell was going on, but I felt a lot more sober than I had seconds before.

“What happened?”

“HE”, she said, fire shooting from her eyes as she pointed a shaking finger at Ian, “is a presumptuous dick.”

Ian turned around and shrugged his shoulders at Dave, as if to say, “Chicks. What are you gonna do?”

“Are you coming?”

“Yeah, of course”, my turn to shrug at Dave, “but what’s up?”

“HE….” She began again, anger making it difficult for her to get much more out, “figured that if I liked kissing him, I’d probably like blowing him.”

Ian made eye contact with Dave. I didn’t speak fluent boy at the time, but I was pretty sure the message was something like, “duh”.

I started pulling myself together and reaching for my own door handle. We got out of their car and started walking towards our own borrowed wheels as the boys plead loudly with us to come back. Terri was so angry she was shaking. She hurled expletives at their car the whole way across the parking lot. As we settled into our car, I asked if she was ok to drive. She held up one finger – implying that she would be in a minute. It wasn’t the same finger she’d been using to gesture at Ian’s car.

“What happened back there?” I asked when her breathing had resumed a more normal pattern.

“We were making out, you know, kissing and stuff. And WHILE he was kissing me, he pushed the back of my head down towards his lap.”

“Ew. Dick.”

“Well, yeah, I guess that was the idea.”

We both laughed a little and I hugged her. “You ok now?”

“Yeah. Still hungry though.”

“Me too.”

“What do you want?”


“Me too.”

We drove around for a while, trying to find someplace that was open without completely losing our bearings in this new town, in the dark, with the remnants of a buzz. And we found someplace to satisfy our Yankee cravings for Mexican.

“Welcome to Taco Bell, may I take your order?

We ate our burritos in the car in a comfortable silence, interrupted only by the occasional muttered, “dick”.

Welcome to Texas.
Welcome home.

Terri’s Journal Aug. 18, 1984 (Holy shit is it hot here! We left Buffalo this morning and it was 80 degrees. Perfectly normal, it's Aug. We stepped off the plane and walked out of the airport and I think it's about 250 degrees out!!! I mean, the thermometer says it's 105 but it sure feels a lot more like 250 to me!! How do these people live down here without melting?!?!) Well THIS has certainly been an interesting day. Talk about some highs and lows. Jesus. The day started out great. Tammy and her parents met us at the Buffalo airport for our flight. We could barely contain ourselves, we were so excited to get on the plane and get going. Our parents were possibly not as thrilled as we were but they faked it for us just the same. During the flight, we ended up talking to some British guys who were sitting behind us. They offered to buy us beers, which almost instantly made them our new best friends. The one guy was kind of an ass and started telling us some shit about how Frankie from Frankie Goes to Hollywood is his uncle. Tammy started arguing with him that there IS no Frankie, it's just the name of the band. But he insisted it's his UNCLE Frankie. I didn't tell Tammy this, so as not to look like a total idiot, but I had no fucking clue what he was talking about. Never heard of the group, couldn't tell you if there's a Frankie or Johnny or Pete. No idea. But Tammy knows way more than I do about this sort of thing so I trusted she was right, which I have no doubt she is, and I backed her up and argued her side of the debate right along with her. Anyway, we're drinking w/ these guys (or I guess you call them blokes when they're English) and they decided we were having too much fun to let it end just b/c our flight ended. They were getting picked up at the airport by a friend. So were we. So we made plans to meet later at a bar. Mark loaned us his car, b/c that's the incredibly nice kind of guy that he is, and we set out to meet some total strangers at a bar. So far, so good. The day has been great! This is where the low part of the day comes in. So we go to this bar. Drink drink drink, laugh laugh laugh, flirt flirt flirt (which by the way, I'm very bad at). We decide to go somewhere else to get something to eat. In the car, me in front w/ Ian, Tammy in back w/ David, we all start making out. THEN, this unbelievable PRICK, grabs the back of my head while we're kissing, and starts pushing me down toward his dick. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! I said what the fuck do you think you're doing? He said, what's wrong, don't you want to? I said ARE YOU *FUCKING* KIDDING ME?! You think b/c we're kissing that I'm automatically going to go down on you?! Right here in the car, w/ other people in the back seat, when I barely know you.....I just kept listing reasons it wasn't going to happen. I felt like I was screaming but apparently I was a bit more calm than I felt b/c Tammy didn't realize anything was wrong until I started to get out of the car. She asked what was going on. I said I'm leaving. And this ASSHOLE has the nerve to look at me like there's something wrong with ME!!! Unbelievable. So once I made it clear to Tammy that I was outta there, she of course got out of the car too and we left--amid much loud, continuous cursing from me. The night got better from there. We went to Taco Bell on our way home and drowned our (my) sorrows in hot sauce.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mrs. Folino's Man

Fiction Fridays

A friend approached me a couple weeks ago with a unique proposition. He was working on a song and he had the bones of some lyrics and wanted me to flesh them out. I told him I couldn't write poetry or lyrics and he said, no worries - he didn't want me to write the lyrics, he wanted me to write a story. Loving the idea, I set to work. Over the following three weeks I will present the stories that resulted from that request.

Mrs. Folino's Man

I wrapped the last of the gobs in waxed paper and placed it with the others on a large platter. The house smelled of chocolate and the kitchen was still spattered with the remains of my efforts. This had been my first attempt and I thought I’d done pretty well. I hadn’t actually tasted one yet, but I’m not a saint – I’d licked the beaters when I was done making the filling. It tasted just right. Just like Grandma’s.

I looked around the kitchen and sighed. I was in no hurry to start this clean up job. The Crisco in that filling was going to be a greasy mess. I started tidying up and, when it could be put off no longer I filled the sink with soapy water and started the clean up task in earnest. I gazed out the window, as was my habit when I did the dishes. The snow was coming down pretty hard in huge white flakes. I had to admit, despite myself, that it was pretty. The smoke from the steel mill generally left a sort of gray film over – well – everything – so the pure virgin snow was a lovely alternative. Aesthetically, at least; pragmatically I was less a fan. It wouldn’t be pure for long, that much was certain. Soon it would be the gray heavy slush and dirty mounds from the plows that were so characteristic of winter in Western Pennsylvania. But for now, it was white. For now it was pure. For now it was lovely.

As I gazed out the window, I caught a glimpse of my elderly neighbor lady making her way to her mailbox. She was wielding a snow shovel that looked like it weighed as much as she did. She was making no attempt to shovel the whole driveway; she was just trying to clear a path. She looked weary but resigned in her old cloth coat with a scarf double wrapped around her head and her polyester pants tucked into what looked like her husband’s boots. I wondered if she’d be offended or relieved if I offered to help. I hadn’t even begun to clear my own driveway yet, but I figured it was inevitable. I caught a glimpse of the batch of fresh gobs on the table and was struck by an inspiration. I would head over to offer her some gobs, then I’d casually take over the shoveling while she took them into the house. I found a small Tupperware container and put four gobs in it before donning my parka and an old ski hat. It bore a Steelers logo, as did almost all of the winter gear in the cardboard box in my closet. I pulled on some weatherproof gloves – black and gold, of course – and tied my hood tight. I picked up the Tupperware and braced myself for the cold.

I waved at her with my gloved hand and made my way carefully across my snow covered yard. My boots were warm, but this snow came higher on my calves than they did. If the snow made its way over the boots, any chance of maintaining warm dry feet was shot.

“Mrs. Folino!” I hailed. She looked up from her task and waved back at me. She leaned on her shovel as she watched me pick my way through the snow.

“Careful, dear!” she said, as I nearly lost my balance when the terrain under the snow changed from my lawn to her driveway. I smiled at her and extended the Tupperware container.

“I made gobs today, Mrs. Folino! My first attempt! I was hoping you and Mr. Folino would try one and let me know what you think.”

“Why thank you, dear! Let me just…”

“Here.” I said, gently removing the shovel from her hand and replacing it with the treats. “You take these in – I’ll finish this up and bring your mail in.”

“That’s very sweet of you, dear. Will you join me for a cup of coffee and a gob?”

“That’s a deal.”

“I’ll put the coffee on.”

I finished shoveling her path to the mailbox quickly. I was glad to be helping her, but sorry that her path as well as my footprints had already marred the purifying blanket the snow was providing. Oh well. It couldn’t be helped. I removed the mail from her old silver mailbox and made my way back to her house. I removed my right glove so that my knock would be heard. Nothing so new-fangled and fancy as a doorbell for the Folino’s.

There was a carpet remnant by the door, and Mrs. Folino indicated that that was where I should leave my snow-covered boots. I hung my coat on a wooden coat rack near the door and pushed my gloves into one sleeve and my hat into the other. My hostess led me into her kitchen, which was truly the hub of her home. She pointed at a chair – silver with a red vinyl seat – and advised me to “make yourself t’home.”

I did just that. It was easy to feel comfortable here – it felt a lot like my own grandma’s kitchen. She had the gobs I’d brought set out on the table on what I felt sure was her best china; her company dishes. She had set out two smaller matching plates for us as well as a sugar bowl and a small pitcher of milk. She brought two cups of coffee to the table in the tea cups from the same set and she placed one before me as she sat down across the table. She smiled at me and we both relaxed as we went about adding sugar and milk to our delicate cups.

“Your china is lovely.”

“Oh, it’s old.” She said, feigning modesty but clearly proud. “Frank’s aunt gave us that as a wedding gift – Lord, all those years ago…” her voice and her eyes drifted off for a moment. In that moment something shifted in her visage. I caught a brief glimpse of the young girl she’d been before the world got its hold on her. It was lovely.

“How is Mr. Folino?” I asked when her face had morphed back into its normal state, leaving the dreamy young girl behind.

“Oh, well, you know. He’s not been doing so well presently.”

“I’m sorry! Is there anything I can do?”

“Oh, don’t you worry yourself about it. Is your coffee ok?”

“Oh! Yes, it’s perfect. Thank you! Just what I needed to warm me up on such a cold day.”

“Did you want a drop of something stronger in it? To take the chill off?”

“Oh no! No thank you, not today.”

“Frank always liked a drop of something to warm him up.”

“Now tell me, Mrs. Folino, if I’m not prying, just what exactly is going on with that handsome husband of yours?”

“Oh.” She sighed, “He’s been getting the dialysis up to three times a week lately. It leaves him feeling awful poorly and to be honest with you, we just don’t see much improvement. It’s the only option we have, though. What else are we gonna do?” She sighed again and took a long sip from her cup.

I reached across the table and patted her free hand. I wished I could offer more comfort, but a lump was forming in my throat and it was hard to find words that would make their way out around it. Just then we were interrupted by a low moan from an adjoining room.

“Excuse me, dear”, she said, extracting her hand from under mine and scooting off in the direction of the moan with more speed and agility than I thought she would have been capable of. I realized in a moment of clarity as pure as the snow that she was not rushing off to tend to my neighbor, old Mr. Folino. She was rushing off to tend to her man. The difference was both subtle and glaring.

I had little more than a passing relationship with the Folino’s. We were friendly enough, but we weren’t what you’d call social. They were, after all, older than my grandparents. I didn’t figure there was much common ground. Sitting here with Mrs. Folino today – me showing off my baking and her showing off her fine china – I wondered if I might have been wrong about that. Maybe there was more common ground than I knew.

She returned to the table and shook her head. “He was uncomfortable. It was time for his pills. I just stayed and rubbed his temple till he went off again.” She said, her gaze looking right past me, “Bless his heart,” she added.

“Now Frank was already retired when you moved in, wasn’t he?” She wrinkled her brow, obviously trying to recollect when exactly I’d entered the picture.

“Oh yes, I think so. He worked at the mill, right?”

“Sure. Retired before the big lay offs started. Oh, he was a good worker, Frank was. Loved his job, too.” Her eyes softened, and in them I saw a young Mr. Folino, heading to the steel mill with a silver lunch bucket in his hand.

I nodded and took her hand again, imploring her to continue.

“Did you know" – she started with an enthusiasm she hadn’t demonstrated up to this point, “that after he retired they still used his stamp from time to time because customers would specifically request Frank Folino’s steel?”

I had heard my own grandparents talk about the practice of stamping. Each foreman stamped his own work by way of a physical seal that was cast in the finished steel. I’d never heard of anyone’s seal being used once they’d left the plant, so I figured this must have been quite an honor indeed. Mrs. Folino’s face reflected the truth of that assumption.


“Cool.” She responded without a trace of irony. “Oh yes, all the fellas at the mill loved Frank. Hated to see him go. ‘Course he’d still see them down t’the beer garden from time to time. Before…” her gaze drifted off in the direction of the bedroom where Mr. Folino was currently resting. I patted her hand. It was a small gesture, but she seemed to appreciate it. She took a deep breath and continued.

“When’s the last you saw him?”

I tried to remember. As my relationship with them up until this very day had been one of nodding acquaintance, it was difficult to pinpoint. “It’s been a while, I guess.”

She nodded. “Ever since his diagnosis, he’s been fading fast. He’s skinny now – so skinny you might not recognize him.” Mr. Folino had never been a heavy man, but he’d been robust. It was difficult to imagine him wasting away in a sick bed.

Mrs. Folino filled the rest of my afternoon with tales of her life with Frank. She told me about their courtship and about her struggles as a young bride. She talked about raising their children, then watching their children move away. She told stories that made me laugh and stories that made me cry. While the stories were all different, one thread remained the same: these were stories of love.

“He never cared much for the winter.” She said, looking out the window at the still falling snow. “I don’t reckon there’s many that do. Always said, ‘if I can make it through February, I can make it through the year.’ How ‘bout that? ‘if I can make it through February, I can make it through the year’.”

I thought about the dark moods that plagued me in the cold, short winter days and I thought I could see the wisdom in that. Just get through February – that’s the hard part – if you can get through that, the rest is easy.

Daylight was beginning to fade when Mrs. Folino’s stories were interrupted once again by Mr. Folino’s low moan. As she jumped up to tend to him, I got up as well. “It’s getting late, I should really be going.”

“Oh, well, if you must, then,” she said, glancing anxiously in the direction of her husband’s room. “Thank you so much for stopping by – I hope I didn’t bore you too much with all my old stories. Here I’ve wasted your whole day. Lord, I do go on.”

I did something then I hadn’t really intended to. It didn’t fit with our relationship up until that day, but it suddenly felt so organic now. I threw my arms around her in a quick embrace. “I should be thanking you! I had a lovely afternoon.”

She invited me to come back anytime as she ran off to tend to her husband and I once again donned my snow gear. The cold air hit my face like a slap as I left the literal and figurative warmth of their house – their home.

A few days later, I heard the ambulance stop in front of their house before I saw it. I ran to my window in time to see the squad putting Mr. Fulino into the ambulance on a gurney. Mrs. Folino followed closely behind, wringing her hands. As predicted, the snow was piled in big ugly gray heaps on the side of the road. Any beauty that may have once been evident in the winter’s snow was long gone. The sky was as gray as the snow beneath it.

It was the last week of February.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

If You Dream of Fairies

Whimsical Wednesdays

If You Dream of Fairies
is a story I wrote for my daughters and niece last summer. I will present it here in serialized form. It was my first foray into fiction.

If fairies were real, Liz thought, they would look like Maria. She had delicate features and long slender limbs. Her nose turned up just a bit on the end and there was a gentle sprinkling of light freckles across it. She wore her strawberry blonde hair cropped close and tousled. The overall effect was ethereal. She moved with such grace and ease that sometimes people around her didn’t notice how she got from one place to another. When she spoke, her voice conjured visions of gentle waves lapping over seashells on the shore. Her compassion for other living creatures was boundless. She showed the same amount of careful attentiveness whether the needy party was a lonesome older person, a heartbroken younger person, or an injured sparrow.

She was, in short, lovely.

Liz was quite sure, in fact, that Maria was the loveliest being to ever exist. Liz was her opposite in every way, yet they had been best friends for as long as either of them could remember. Their parents had been neighbors when they were but wee and the two young mothers would clutch their cups of coffee or tea and gossip while their babies napped side by side on a blanket they’d spread near the garden.

Even then, delicate, fair Maria would lie on her side, curled gently into herself, her tiny fist posed charmingly beneath her chin, her lips sweetly pursed. Liz would sprawl out in an archers pose on her belly, a thin line of drool marking a steady path from her slightly open mouth to the blanket they shared. She was what people liked to call a hearty baby.

As they learned to sit and then to crawl in the same garden, Maria would gently explore the flowers, barely grazing them with her curious fingers as she brought their colorful petals to her nose for a sniff. Liz explored the garden, too. On many occasions one of the young mothers had had to extricate flowers or dirt from the maw her chubby little hands had eagerly stuffed full.

Monday, February 15, 2010

In Which I Make a Friend, Lose a Love, and Run Away from Home

Memoir Mondays

A few weeks back I wrote a post on Keep in Touch With Mommakin that referred to my first year of grad school as 'Around the World in Eighty Lays'. This prompted my roommate from those days and I to want to relive them through writing a joint memoir. I write a chapter, she adds a 'journal entry' to show the same story through different eyes. At this point I'm referring to it as The Texas Project. I hope to come up with something better soon. Until then, without further ado, Chapter 1 of The Texas Project (subtitle: Around the World in Eighty Lays)

Chapter 1: In Which I Make a Friend, Lose a Love, and Run Away From Home

“Thank God you’re here!” My friend Terri had just shuffled in to Teaching Biology. She raised her head at my voice and I watched her expression change from one of eager greeting to concerned dismay as she took in my appearance.

“What the hell?” She made no effort to conceal her reaction. I was dressed in over-sized gray sweats with the hood pulled up in an attempt to conceal as much of myself as possible. My hair was unwashed and uncombed under the hood and my face was red and swollen. The overall effect was, I imagine, rather manic.

“Jeff left me.”

Concern remained fixed on her countenance, but now it was tempered by something else. It softened. “He’s left before.”

“It’s different this time.” I absentmindedly rubbed the finger the tiny diamond solitaire had occupied for almost a year. “He took his ring”, I added unnecessarily, waving my excruciatingly naked finger at her before thrusting my hand deep into the pocket of my sweats. “There was no screaming or fighting. He even seemed a little sad. He says he loves her. It’s over.”

Terri glanced furtively at the front of the room where the professor was preparing to take his place behind the podium. Students were bringing their small talk to a close and were beginning to take their seats. “Let’s go”, she said, throwing her arm protectively around my shoulder and steering me towards the door.

We may have talked as she guided me through the oak grove to my off-campus apartment. We may not have. I don’t recall. I only remember her presence and her support. She was going to be there for me. I wasn’t alone.

Now Terri hadn’t always been my best friend.

Three years earlier I was one year into my relationship with Jeff. I loved him with the sweet, slavish devotion which is generally reserved for nineteen year old girls who are certain with their unique brand of certainty that they have found ‘the one’. He loved me with the same sense of devotion, but he didn’t allow that devotion to preclude him from extracurricular dalliances when the opportunity arose. And it arose a lot. Jeff was charismatic and charming. People liked him. Girls liked him. I grew to hate the sight of him walking up my street with a rose in his hand. It was always the same. Tears in his eyes. A heartfelt confession. “Bottom line is, I love you and I don’t want to lose you.” Yep, young Jeff was a bottom line type of guy. I accepted his apologies, because, the bottom line was, I loved him and I didn’t want to lose him. I would forgive him anything if he would just stay with me. Pitiful, I know, but try telling that to a nineteen year old in love.

One fall day, early in the new semester, I looked out my window and saw that familiar Member’s Only jacket and the even more familiar red rose.


I braced myself. When I opened the door and he leaned in to kiss me, I turned to offer him my cheek rather than meeting his kiss head on. That was my nineteen year old version of being cold and tough. It needed a lot of work.

“Bottom line is…”

I held up my hand and shook my head to stop him from explaining further. I knew the story. Variations on a theme.

“Cut to the chase. Who? Where? And who knew about it? Who do I need to avoid for the next couple weeks?”

“You don’t need to avoid anyone, baby. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Don’t ‘baby’ me - it’s so humiliating. Asshole. I don’t want to face the people who know – the people who SAW you making a fool of me. They always look at me like they pity me. Like they think they know something I don’t. Just have enough respect for me to tell me who to avoid.”

“Oh, baby,” he said as he tried to hug me. I shrugged him off. “That’s not going to be easy.” This was getting way old. Cue the tears; his, at this point, though mine would follow soon enough. “Last weekend? When you went home?”

“To teach Sunday School?”

“Yes” he answered, squirming a little bit.

“When I went home TO TEACH SUNDAY SCHOOL?”

He nodded. “Well, I missed you, you know – and your roommates were having a party – and I figured if I couldn’t be with you, I could at least be where you lived…”

“Oh my sweet loving God…”

“I just – this one chick…”

“In my HOUSE?”

“No, God no. The party was at your house, we sort of, you know, got to talking and whatever and I took her home.”

“From MY house.”

His silence was all the answer I needed. Well this was just great. How was I supposed to avoid the people I lived with?

“Who was it?”

“It doesn’t matter, we were drinking, it was – look – the bottom line is…”

“Who. Was. It?”

“You don’t know her. French Horn player.”

“Long dark hair? Really pretty?”

He looked up now, slightly panicked, and nodded. “You DO know her?”

“Not really, but I know who she is. She’s in my MAJOR for God’s sake. We have CLASSES together.”

“Shit, Tam, I’m sorry.”

“So everyone in my house knows. And I have to look at this chick in my classes every day.” I put my head in my hands. He’d really done a number on me this time. There was nowhere to escape knowing eyes. He rubbed my shoulders in an attempt to comfort me and I allowed it. He kissed my hair and I allowed that, as well. He looked at me and expressed his undying bottom line love with such sincere remorse that I allowed quite a lot more than shoulder rubbing and hair kissing. He was always especially romantic and unselfish after an indiscretion and it was time for that part. I always liked that part.

Not many nights later we walked into a party together, and who was there, sitting at a table playing quarters? Why, none other than his paramour and my classmate. He blanched and tried to lead me out the door, but I pulled up a chair to her right and got in on the game. He backed up helplessly against the wall. It felt as though all eyes were on us, just waiting for the inevitable drama. The quarter came to me and I bounced it into the glass. “Drink.” I said calmly, raising my left elbow to indicate her, as everyone knows it’s considered bad form to point. She complied and the quarter was passed to her. She bounced it into the glass easily. She didn’t say a word as she raised her right elbow to indicate that it was my turn to drink. Apparently she, too, knew it was bad form to point. Too bad she didn’t know it was bad form to sleep with someone else’s man. The intense dislike between us was almost palpable. Jeff didn’t know what to do, so he opted to do nothing, which was pretty typical. He watched us battle, prepared to pick up the pieces when the inevitable cat fight ensued.

Looking back on it, I feel a little bad for everyone else at the table. It had definitely become a two woman game. Now the problem with using drinking games as a tool of vengeance is, by nature alcohol tends to soften one up. At least, that tends to be the effect it has on me. Your mileage may, of course, vary. As we both started feeling the effects of the booze, we started to notice – each of us – that the other wasn’t so bad. I started to realize that he hadn’t only made a fool of me that night; he’d made a fool of her as well. She came to the same conclusion at roughly the same time. And that is when our demands for the other to drink became sprinkled with giggles. Jeff sure didn’t know what to do with that development. She and I noticed his unease and reveled in it. Why had I been so quick to judge her? She hadn’t cheated on anyone. She’d just seen a chance and taken it. Shit, Jeff had had a girlfriend when I’d met him the year before. Nope, the wrongdoing was all on him. Why had I – even for a moment – tried to place it on her? She was awesome. He was a dog. Before long we‘d thrown our arms around each other and were looking at Jeff with our newfound realization that he was the common enemy – she and I? We weren’t so far from the same boat. And that boat was adrift in cheap college issue beer.

It wasn’t long after that that Terri had cemented herself as my best friend. It started as a means to keep young Jeff in a constant state of discomfort, and quickly morphed into a deep and lasting friendship. Suck it, Jeff.

“So what are you going to do?” Terri asked, pushing my hood back and brushing back my disgusting un-groomed hair without so much as a grimace, “How can I help you?”

“Well”, I began tentatively, “Were you looking for a roommate in Texas?”

Terri had been accepted into a graduate program at Texas A&M and would be leaving our home in Pennsylvania to attend there in the late summer. It had not been my intent to join her – the words surprised me as much as they did her when they escaped my lips. Of course it had been my intent to get married and live happily ever after, so, that offer off the table, I was sort of left – one week before graduation – with no intentions whatsoever. When she reacted by jumping up and down and hugging me and saying, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” well, there was really no question of turning back. I needed to put a lot of geography between me and Jeff. Here was an opportunity, presented to me on a silver platter.

It would be fun.

It would be an adventure.

Texas or bust.

Terri’s Journal

May 15, 1984
Hard to believe I'm actually graduating from college next week. I somehow thought I'd be on this campus forever. Although I admit I can't wait to move on to the next chapter--graduate school at Texas A&M!!!

The greatest thing happened today! I walked into Teaching Biology today and as soon as I looked at Tam, I knew something was wrong. She'd obviously been crying and was wearing her "I'm so depressed" outfit of all grey sweats. Of course, the first thought that popped in my head was "What the fuck did Jeff do THIS time?!" And I was right. Only this time he didn't just cheat on her--AGAIN. He ended it. He's 'in love' with someone else, if he's even actually capable of such a thing. Personally, I think Jeff doesn't have any room in his heart to love anyone but himself.

So we walked, we talked, Tammy cried. She told me what he'd said and how he'd asked for his ring back. It all fills me with the urge to find him and cause him physical pain. Severe physical pain. So that it will not just meet but exceed the pain he has caused my best friend over the past 4 years. Naturally, I ignored the urge to maim and instead asked Tammy what I could do to help her. Her answer shocked me. And thrilled me! She asked if I need a roommate in Texas and if she can move there with me!! I can hardly believe it and I hope she's actually serious about this. I hope she doesn't have second thoughts or change her mind.

Tammy and I in Texas!! Thousands of miles from home. My best friend is going with me! I'm so excited! And the entire state of Texas had better look out!

Once Upon a Time

I like to write.

I like to write on my main blog, Keep in Touch With Mommakin, but I have started several splinter blogs as well, because there are just things I like to write about that don't fit the tone and scope of that forum. The purpose of this particular blog is to present some of the fiction and memoir-type writing that seems wrong for Mommakin. Some of it will be polished. Most of it will not. Constructive criticism is always welcome. Flat out meanness is not.

My goal - for now - subject to change on a whim - is to post three times a week. Some posts will be stand-alones, some will be serialized stories. For now, the loosely held to themes will be: Memoir Mondays, Whimsical Wednesdays, and Fiction Fridays. I'll see how it goes and take it from there. I may take advantage of the forum to write about writing from time to time or even to review a book or two.

I'm glad you stopped by. Grab a cup of coffee. Read a story or two. Let's go...