Books are a uniquely portable magic. ~ Stephen King

Friday, April 30, 2010

Marnie's Rung

Fiction Friday

This is the next chapter of the novel (or project, as I continue to insist on calling it) that I wrote for NaNoWriMo. It's sat dormant long enough - time for me to take another look at it - and to give you a peek at it as well.

In case you missed something:

Chapter 1: Josh's Table
Chapter 2: The Vista
Chapter 3: Transition

Chapter 4:

Marnie threw the pink box on her mother’s granite countertop and pushed her sunglasses up on her head. “Opting for the natural look today, I see.” Her mother stated, indicating Marnie’s lack of make-up and still damp hair.

“It’s all the rage.”

“Where? In the Bowery? In the Ghet-to?”

“Marnie’s been slumming again?” asked her younger sister, Brittany.

“Again? When did she stop?” added her older sister, Corrine.

“That’s enough, girls.” Mom admonished, but the slight smile teasing at her lips eliminated any hope of severity. “Marnie is – finding herself.”

“Well she sure is looking in nasty places.”

“Yep. Saw your husband in one of ‘em last night, Corri. How’s he feelin’ this morning?”

“Alan couldn’t make it this morning because he was out late meeting with clients.” Corrine said, looking down, then up, then off into the distance. Looking everywhere but at anyone. Marnie decided not to push – she hadn’t meant to stir things up, necessarily, she just wanted to take the attention off of herself. So. More trouble in paradise. How interesting.

Corrine and Alan had met in college and had gotten married a month after graduation. They were the perfect couple, everyone said so. Their wedding was two years in the making and it was the social event of the season. It had been magazine perfect. Corrine kept a perfect home and worked easy hours managing a stylish boutique. Alan quickly worked his way through the ranks of a major corporation. After two years of marriage and a cruise around the world, they decided it was time for children. Two beautiful little clones of them followed, first Evan and twenty-six months later, Elizabeth. A gardener cared for the lawn, a housekeeper cared for the house and a nanny cared for the kids. Alan cared for his young secretary and more than one stripper at the Hi-Clas Gentlemen’s Club. Corrine cared for vodka and valium. It was so cliché Marnie had a hard time believing it was true, but there it was.

Marnie’s mom set out a tray of Bloody Mary’s along with a pitcher for the inevitable refills. Marnie clicked her glass with Brittany’s. “Cheers.”

“First of the day.”

Hair of the dog always went down well. Her mom might not make a decent cup of coffee, but she could whip up a kick-ass Bloody Mary. The four women relaxed, if only for a moment.

“Hey Corri”, Brittany said, breaking the temporary silence, “Where are the E’s?”

“Evan and Elizabeth are playing the Wii in the game room.”

“I’m gonna go say howdy – how long till brunch, Mom?”

“It should really only be about five more minutes. Tell them to finish their game and join us.”

“Your wish is my command.” Brittany said, bowing with a flourish as she left the room.

As Brittany left, Corrine turned to Marnie and asked softly, “You didn’t really see Alan at one of those horrid places last night, did you?”

“Ok, couple things: Those places are not horrid. The people who patronize them are not horrid. I did not run into your husband. Who, for the record, I think IS horrid.”

If Marnie was expecting a fight, she didn’t get one. Corrine sighed. “I know what he does, Marnie. I know who he is. I’m not an idiot. But what am I supposed to do? I like our life.” Marnie raised her eyebrows at this but didn’t say a word. After a brief pause, Corrine continued, “And there’s the kids, you know? And scandal. God, I don’t want to be involved in a scandal.”

“His behavior is scandalous, Cor. It’s only a matter of time.”

“I know. It’s my greatest fear.”

“Now what are you girls conspiring about?” asked their mother upon re-entering the room. “You haven’t picked up some sort of disease, Marnie, have you? Oh God, you’re not pregnant?”

“I am both diseased and pregnant, Mom. I don’t know who the father is – probably one of the bikers from that night I was initiated into the gang. I’m going to keep it. I’m naming it after you.”

“The bastard child of a hundred criminals” Corrine added nudging Marnie and smiling for the first time since she’d arrived.

“Oh, for God’s sake. Seriously – what were you talking about?”

“It was between us, Mom. Don’t worry about it. Is there anything we can do to help get brunch on the table?”

“I think Lupe has everything under control. Go on in and fix yourself a plate.”

Lupe had been the Hammond’s housekeeper since the day they got married. She was only five years younger than Mrs. Hammond and in reality they had become companions, some might even say friends and confidants in all the years they’d been together. They maintained all aspects of decorum when anyone was around, but it was pretty much common knowledge that when her morning chores were done, Lupe relaxed next to Mrs. Hammond in matching lounge chairs in the den where they shared a cocktail or two and their stories. They were employer and employee, but they were also friends.

The Hammond’s brunches were a weekly tradition and had been for as long as any of them could remember. Mrs. Hammond would make her signature Bloody Marys and Lupe would set out a spread. There were always fruits, bagels and spreads. There were usually waffles and or French toast. There was always a variety of breakfast meats. Sometimes Lupe would make pastries, and sometimes one of the girls would pick some up on the way there, as Marnie had on this morning. There was always fresh-squeezed orange juice. The E’s, Evan and Elizabeth, loved helping with this process.

Brunch was the one time each week when all of the Hammond’s came together. It was the way they kept close. They shared news here. If one of the girls brought a beau to brunch, it was her way of saying, “this one is important”. The girls would sometimes balk at having to be at their parents’ house on a Sunday morning, but they were always glad they’d come when it was all said and done.

One Sunday, shortly after her twenty-first birthday and, as such, her public graduation from orange juice to Bloody Marys, Brittany had announced, close to tears, “I love this family so much!” She was, of course, teased mercilessly for this, and it became a sort of sarcastic family motto. Birthday cards were signed in this manner, it was often their parting greeting – it started as mocking, but it eventually morphed into something more. It became one of those inside things that define a group. It became one of those things that could break an awkward silence – one of those things that was guaranteed to make everyone who was in on it smile whenever it was uttered.

Brittany and the E’s came running up the stairs. Mrs. Hammond fixed them with a look, and they all slowed the pace, rolling their eyes at each other. The Hammonds were nothing if not champion eye-rollers. Three generations of eye-rollers and counting. They grabbed plates from the buffet, made their choices, and sat together at the big table – heads together, conspiring. Brittany loved her niece and nephew and wished she had children of her own. Her love life had been, to date, an unmitigated disaster, so that wasn’t looking likely any time soon. She would meet a new man, get very excited about him – often inviting him to brunch prematurely – and – before the initial excitement even had a chance to wear off and settle into something more permanent, he’d be gone. She was about ready to give up on the whole thing – and she would, too, if she didn’t want kids so damn much.

Marnie loved the E’s, too, but she was in no hurry to have any of her own. Her life was just too much fun right now. There was no place for kids in it. Maybe someday there would be, but not right now. Right now was just too full and too fun.

Marnie and Corrine joined Brittany and the E’s at the table. They were soon followed by Mr. and Mrs. Hammond. The topic of conversation jumped easily from how the E’s were doing in school, to business, to the state of the world, to pop culture to the single girls’ love lives to the upcoming holidays.

“How many shall I tell Lupe to expect for Thanksgiving?”

“We’ll be here.” Said Corrine.

“Alan, too?”

“Yes, Alan, too, of course.” Corrine managed to smile at her children and smirk at her mother at the same time.

“I wouldn’t miss it” said Brittany, fist bumping each of the E’s and exchanging meaningful glances with them.

“That looks like trouble! I might be a plus-one.” Marnie said, surprising even herself. The table became silent as all eyes turned to Marnie. “I love this family so much!” she tried, feebly. She wasn’t terribly surprised when it didn’t work.

“Do tell!” said Brittany, her eyes alight with the prospect of hot gossip.

“There’s nothing to tell, it’s just – I have a friend and – I don’t think he has anywhere else to go – and…” Why was she doing this? One night of drinking, dancing, and a peck on the cheek and she was going to impose her whole clan on him? Oh, this was a mistake. A very bad mistake. A mistake that hadn’t even been made yet and could maybe still be easily averted. “I’m just kidding – gosh – it’s easy to get a rise out of you people – your lives must be dreadfully boring. I’ll be here. Just me. Sheesh. I love this family so much.”

Mr. Hammond and the E’s went right back to enjoying their brunch. The women made light conversation, but kept glancing sideways at Marnie – like she might reveal something monumental in the way she spread cream cheese on her bagel or something. Marnie was more than aware of the scrutinization and speculation that was going on around her and she kept her eyes pretty firmly glued to her food. “Idiot” she said to herself. She had brought it on, fair and square. And when the women in her family were given a bone, they rarely abandoned it. And she had just offered herself up to them wrapped in a big red bow. It was at this moment that Marnie’s cell rang. Cal. A smile crossed her face unchecked before she left the room to take the call. That smile was missed by no-one. Even the E’s noticed, although they weren’t quite sure what to do with the information.

Marnie snuck into the kitchen, where Lupe had already started on the dishes.



“I’m surprised you called – what’s up?”

“Should I not have? Am I interrupting something?”

“Brunch with the ‘rents. I needed a little break anyway.”



Lupe rolled her eyes at this point. She had inherited the family trait by proximity.

“Hey, the reason I called – I was going to ride out to my brother’s farm this afternoon for a little bit. It’s a pretty day, and I thought, if you wanted, maybe…”

“You want me to ride to your brother’s place with you today?”

“Well, you know, it’s a pretty day for a ride. But if you’re busy…”

“We’re just finishing up. How soon did you want to leave?”

“So you want to go?”

“Sure. I just need to get home and find a warmer jacket. You know. So you can wear yours for a change.”

Lupe raised her eyebrows and shot Marnie a look. Marnie stuck her tongue out at her playfully. Lupe shook her head and went back to her work, mumbling under her breath about “proper young ladies”.

“See you in forty minutes, then?”




“I don’t know where you live.”

“You just want to meet me somewhere?”

“I can pick you up.”

“Ok.” Marnie took a deep breath and gave him her address. “See you in forty.”


Marnie shrugged at Lupe and returned to the dining room. “I’ve gotta take off.” She said, slipping into her jacket, “Thanks, Mom, everything was great as usual.”

“See you next week, darling” her mother said, offering her cheek up for a kiss. “Bring that new young man of yours, why don’t you?”

Marnie waved her off then turned back at the door. All eyes were on her and the eyes of her mother and her sisters were twinkling. She’d given them something to talk about. “I love this family so much!” she called out as she closed the door behind her.

Cal was right. It was a beautiful day.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

If You Dream of Fairies

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
If You Dream of Fairies - II
If You Dream of Fairies - III
If You Dream of Fairies - IV
If You Dream of Fairies - V
If You Dream of Fairies - VI
If You Dream of Fairies - VII
If You Dream of Fairies - VIII
If You Dream of Fairies - IX
If You Dream of Fairies - X

Later that afternoon a car pulled into the neighbors’ driveway. Maria had opened the back door and was bounding across the lawn practically before the car came to a complete stop. Liz jumped up from her post in the garden and the two friends met in a frenzied embrace half way across the lawn. Keebler clearly didn’t know what to do with himself. He jumped all around the girls and tried his best to get between them. He alternated between whimpering and yelping. The girls broke their embrace and Maria barely even needed to reach down to scoop him up into her arms. He squirmed there and licked her face enthusiastically as she laughed. She kissed him on the nose and put him down. He ran around the garden then begged to be held again. Maria laughed, a sound made of pure joy, and obliged him.

Liz sat down at the wrought iron table their mothers still used for their coffee clutches on pleasant mornings. Maria started to join her, then jumped up before making actual contact with the chair. The effect would have looked awkward or even amusing on most people, but from Maria it was positively graceful. It looked as though it had been choreographed.

“Wait right here! I have something for you!”

Maria disappeared into the house where her parents were still unloading the contents of the car. She emerged just a moment later with a white box in her hand.

“I hope you like it!” she said, joining Liz at the table and presenting her with the box. She performed a little twirl before sitting down. Liz opened it quickly, a big grin growing across her face in anticipation. Maria always chose the best gifts.

“Oh Maria!” she said, removing the tissue paper that had protected the delicate figure in it’s box, “It’s perfect!”

She placed her gift carefully on the table where they could both see it. It was a beautiful sculpture of a fairy, rendered entirely from sea shells.

“We met the guy who makes these at the beach. He’d made lots and lots of mermaids – and they were really beautiful – but hidden among them I found her. She reminded me of you and of our fairy door.”

“I can’t imagine anything more perfect.”

“I’m so glad you like it.”

The girls sighed contentedly and enjoyed a moment just being in each others company. For the past week both of them had felt that something was missing and that now they were finally whole once more. Keebler had calmed down, too, and was lying at Maria’s feet, his head resting sweetly on his paws.

“So tell me”, Maria asked, “how is it that I go to the beach for a week and you’re the one who gets a tan? You look really great.”

Liz blushed at the compliment. It presented as a warm glow across her cheeks rather than the bright red ruddiness from her hairline to her neck to which she was accustomed. The effect was pretty and quite charming.

“Keebler and I have been spending a lot of time in the garden. I guess I got more sun than I thought.”

“Well it agrees with you, for sure. You really do look great.”

The girls spent the afternoon chattering and catching up. Maria regaled Liz with stories from the beach and Liz reciprocated with stories about Keebler’s antics. When their mothers called them in for dinner, Liz had not yet found a way to tell Maria about her encounters with the fairies.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Beautiful Woman

Memoir Monday

Recently I came in contact with a lovely, lovely girl. She seemed to define femininity. She had perfect porcelain skin and the gentlest curves. Her belly was soft and rounded and her hips swayed as she moved. She wore a jade Buddha around her neck, and it was adorned with diamonds and gold. It should've been gaudy, but on her it somehow wasn't. But these weren't the things that kept drawing my gaze back to her. No. It was her hair. It was dark and shiny, and she wore it pulled into a high ponytail with the ends tucked back in under the elastic. It was somehow casual and elegant at the same time - a look I have often strived for and never been able to achieve.

It looked so perfect on her. It looks so silly on me.

It is the way I always drew my mother when I was a child.

My mother had a cocktail dress - a gown, really - that was red with black flecks. It was not flashy or low cut or even particularly form-fitting, but she looked so beautiful in it. Every time I drew a picture of her, whether she was going to a party, working in the kitchen, or playing with me, I always drew her wearing that dress. That dress was grown-up and sophisticated and far beyond lovely.

And I always drew her with a ball of hair on top of her head. My mother wore her hair short, permed, and wet-set. She never wore anything that resembled a ball of hair on top of her head. But in my youth, I thought that was the perfect glamorous hairdo to complement her beautiful elegant gown.

And this young lady was rocking it. So simple. So sophisticated. So feminine. She was probably 25 years younger than me, yet she made me think of my mother as I always pictured her. She did not resemble my mother in the least, and yet the feeling was there. Sophisticated. Feminine. Lovely.

When I learned to sew, I was thrilled to find a bolt of fabric that reminded me of my moms red gown with the black flecks. I bought a length of it and made myself a dress. I almost couldn't bear to wear it. It wasn't a special dress - very plain and simple, as my skill level demanded - but it made me feel so beautiful and so powerful and so feminine that it almost scared me.

I mentioned all of this to my mom at that point. She barely remembered that dress. It wasn't important to her at all. To me? It was her very essence. That, and a shiny ball of hair on top of her head.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Marnie's Rung

Fiction Friday

This is the next chapter of the novel (or project, as I continue to insist on calling it) that I wrote for NaNoWriMo. It's sat dormant long enough - time for me to take another look at it - and to give you a peek at it as well.

In case you missed something:

Chapter 1: Josh's Table
Chapter 2: The Vista

Chapter 3: Transition

Marnie was awake, but she wasn’t ready to get out of bed. The covers had enveloped her in a warm cocoon and she wasn’t ready to leave it – not quite yet. She smiled as she burrowed in a little deeper; pulled her quilt around her a little tighter. She liked the warmth of it and the weight of it. The quilt had been a gift from her grandmother, given to her upon her graduation from high school. Using it and washing it all those years had only served to make it softer. Her grandmother had hand pieced the quilt top with scraps from the dresses Marnie had worn as a baby and as a child. She’d then taken the quilt top to her church where a group of ladies hand quilted and bound quilts for a small fee, which was then donated to the church. Many hands had had a part in making this quilt what it was. That thought warmed Marnie even more.

Her nose and the small radius of face that surrounded it were the only parts of her that were not ensconced in her bedding. That one small part of her was cold. She enjoyed the contrast, but wasn’t quite ready to subject the rest of her body to it. She’d just lie here five more minutes. There was no rush. She wouldn’t drift back into sleep.

She thought about Cal and wondered if he was waking up, too.

She considered not only the loving hands that had contributed the quilt to her current state of divine and practically decadent comfort but also the actual bedding itself. She appreciated the softness of the clean sheets. She took a moment to pay attention to her not too soft, not too firm mattress – the one she’d taken weeks to decide upon, and then hadn’t spared another thought towards. She supposed perhaps that was a good thing. She had chosen well. Beds were not for thinking in, beds were for sleeping in.

And sex.

Oh well, Marnie thought, at least I’m batting 500. Then she laughed at the very thought. Describing sex – or the lack thereof – with a baseball metaphor - how original.

Besides, this was clearly her choice. Damn, Cal would look good in this bed wearing nothing but her grandmother’s quilt. She shook her head to rid it of the image. No, no, no. Bad idea. Bad Marnie.

She hugged the closest pillow. It was encased in a linen pillowcase with a hand embroidered floral border and a delicate crocheted lace edging. It was far too frilly and feminine for her taste from a purely aesthetic perspective, but she loved the tactile contrast the silken embroidery and the cotton crochet made with the crisp linen pillowcase. She also loved the fact that at some time this had probably been an important project for some girl. She wasn’t sure who had embroidered this particular piece – it had come to her as a hand-me-down when a maiden aunt had passed away. Sometimes she fantasized that her aunt had made – or had planned to make – a pair of them for a marriage bed that had never quite materialized. Perhaps her lover had died in the war. Marnie didn’t really know any of those things and the story was pure conjecture and fantasy. She even changed the war sometimes – attributing the pillowcase to an even earlier ancestral romance. Yes, personal aesthetics aside, this was a fine pillowcase. She turned to bury her face into it, perhaps to breathe in some of its story.

That never worked.

But it felt nice. She thought maybe she detected just a hint of Cal’s aftershave.

Marnie stretched – slowly – luxuriously – the way one stretches when one is in no particular hurry to get out of bed.

Marnie was in no particular hurry to get out of bed. What did she have to look forward to? Brunch with her family at her parents’ house? Ugh.

She stretched her legs to their full length then relaxed them. She rolled to her back and stretched her arms perpendicular to her body, grasped her hands, and pulled them back as far as her headboard allowed her to go. She felt the stretch first in her shoulders and didn’t relax it until it had moved all the way up to her fingertips. She pulled herself to a sitting position. Her head objected to its newly vertical state. She reached down and touched her toes, still covered by the patchwork quilt. More objections from her head. She put one hand on her head and gently stretched her neck. It didn’t help. She repeated this on the other side. Ugh. When would she learn?

She swung her legs over the side of the bed, almost ready for them to hit the floor. She located her slippers with her toes and slid her feet into them to spare them contact with the cold hardwood floors. Even on the least hung-over of mornings, that could be jarring. This was not the least hung-over of mornings, but neither was it the most. She’d woken up worse. Much worse. From her seated position she stretched her arms fully above her head one more time, pulling her back into a full arch, then began her day in earnest.

Marnie rushed through her shower and dressed quickly. She ran a comb through her wet hair and decided to let it air dry. Her mother would hate that. She grabbed her purse, her jacket and a large pair of sunglasses and headed out the door. In a less hung-over state, Marnie would’ve loved a morning like this. It was bright and crisp, just like late fall morphing into early winter ought to be. Marnie would’ve preferred a little overcast. The brightness bored through her eyes – even with the benefit of the huge sunglasses – and made her head pound.

There it was, her pride and joy, her fully restored 1968 Shelby Cobra. It had been a gift from her dad on her 16th birthday and she’d never driven another car. It was her sincere hope that she’d never have to. It had already been fully restored when her dad presented it to her, and Andy helped her to keep it in tip top shape, painstakingly attending to every concern both real and imagined. Sometimes she thought Andy loved this car as much as she did. Nah. That would be impossible.

She threw her bag in the passenger seat and sunk into the driver’s seat. She pulled into the local pastry shop and ordered a cup of coffee and a dozen assorted Danish. This place made the best coffee in town – far better than all of the big chains, and far, far better than her moms. She savored that first sip. It was a little too hot, but that added a little aspect of penance. She really didn’t deserve to feel as good as she did half the time. She was a lucky girl, and she knew it. She took another sip – wouldn’t do to have the cup too full when she put it in the Shelby. Josh knew a guy who did great detailing, but she’d just as soon not have a pressing need for that particular service. She moved her bag to the floor and put the pastries on the passenger seat. They were in the signature pink box of the bakery, tied with a length of white string. Another sip – the coffee was just the right temperature now. It was amazing how quickly it cooled off on such a brisk morning. She took a longer sip and enjoyed the way it warmed her from the inside out. She felt almost normal. She felt almost ready to face her mother and her sisters. Almost.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

If You Dream of Fairies

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
If You Dream of Fairies - II
If You Dream of Fairies - III
If You Dream of Fairies - IV
If You Dream of Fairies - V
If You Dream of Fairies - VI
If You Dream of Fairies - VII
If You Dream of Fairies - VIII
If You Dream of Fairies - IX

The night before Maria was scheduled to return, Liz dreamed of fairies again.

She woke before dawn and quietly crept out of the house so as to not disturb her parents’ sleep. Keebler seemed to somehow grasp the importance of this and he didn’t make a sound either. Together they made their way to the garden. The dew was still heavy on the grass and the flowers and Liz loved the cool wetness on her bare feet.

When they got close enough to the tree to see the door, Liz was not at all surprised to find that it was open. She had known – known in the way that one knows something with one’s entire body – that it would be. She didn’t know how she knew; only that she did.

She spotted the first fairy at the same moment that the fairy spotted her. They both froze for a moment, Liz in her bare feet and pajamas with her mouth agape and her eyes opened wide with wonder; the fairy looking a bit frightened and stunned. The trance was broken when Keebler barked at the wee flying creature. She made a circular motion with her arm and suddenly the entire garden seemed to take flight. The fairies were moving fast so that the effect looked – to Liz’s eyes – like a blurry pastel windstorm. A flutter of wings in the palest hues of pink, lavender, peach, blue and yellow rose from the flowers and flew quickly through the door in the tree, sprinkling fairy dust haphazardly onto the dew-laden garden below them. When they were all safely inside, one small fairy with lavender wings and a dress that seemed to be made from the petals of a flower Liz couldn’t quite identify – the same fairy that Liz had initially seen when she’d walked into the garden – peeked out as she closed the door. It was hard to tell on such a tiny face, and it had all happened so quickly, but Liz thought the expression on the small fairy’s face said, “sorry”.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Coal Miner's Granddaughter

Memoir Mondays

I was in my twenties before I knew my grandfather's name. It wasn't a case of the sweet naivete young children express when they say their mother's name is Mommy - I knew he had a name, I just wasn't sure what it was. His cronies called him Charlie and most of his nieces and nephews called him Uncle Charlie; but my grandmother, as well as most of his siblings, called him Harold. To confuse matters more, I heard my grandmother referred to as both Annabelle and Dean. Even their dog was sometimes ChaCha, sometimes Chopper, and sometimes Peanut Butter. Three souls resided in that house, with seven names between them.

I asked my mother - his daughter - what the heck the deal was. She said, "Well, you know your grandfather and my Uncle Bill are twins, right?"

I did. I loved the story of their birth: Back in those days, of course, there were no ultrasounds available to women who found themselves in a family way. (Pregnant was still a crass word which wasn't spoken in polite company.) My great-grandmother had no idea she was carrying twins. When she went into labor - or, you know, when her time came - on the afternoon of April 1, 1911, the doctor was summoned to their home where he delivered not one but - surprise! - two fine baby boys.

Now my great-grandfather finished up his day at work and headed to the beer garden for a cold one. Some one came in and said, "You have to go home right away! Your wife just had twins!"

"Right!" he said, taking a long pull on his draft, "My wife had twins! On April Fool's Day! And I should abandon a full beer to run to her side! I'm not your fool!" He finished his beer and ordered another before heading home to find his wife in bed holding his twin sons.

This time, though, my mother added a few details she'd never added before. Seems like I wasn't the only one curious about the Charlie/Harold thing - and the real story had come out recently in a family history. Apparently my great-grandmother was asked for names to put on the birth certificates. With her husband not there to consult, she wrote three names she liked on slips of paper: James, Harold, and Leonard. She pulled out all three names in a different order for each of her boys. Grandpa was Harold James Leonard. His brother was Harry Leonard James. This is how it was recorded officially on their birth certificates. When my great-grandfather finally made it home from work, she introduced the boys to him by name. He shook his head. "No. They're Charlie and Bill." So Charlie/Harold and Bill/Harry had dual names all their lives.

Now the bar where Grandpa spent most of his non-working hours when I was growing up was one of those places where he was known as Charlie. "Hey Charlie!" the bartender and proprietress, Helen, would call happily from behind the bar while the other patrons shaded their eyes from the uninvited sunshine the open door had allowed into their cave, "Whadaya know?"

"Not much," my grandfather would reply as he took his perch on a stool in the middle of the bar. She pulled a draft for him before he ordered one. My sister and I would sound out the labels on the bottles of amber liquid displayed behind the bar: Old Grandad, Johnnie Walker, Wild Turkey. Our parents were teetotalers and it all seemed very forbidden and exciting.

"Here," Grandpa would say, handing my sister and I a handful of quarters pulled from the pocket of his work pants, "You go and play the machines and Helen'll get you a bottle of pop." He'd nod at Helen and she'd rush off to get us a couple RC's in glass bottles. Grandpa had a way of making women rush off to fetch him things. He wasn't exactly charming, and he didn't exactly incite fear; it was just a clear expectation. Fetch me what I require, woman.

My sister and I loved playing the old wooden bowling machine. She was better at it than I was. She was better at anything that involved physical skills than I was. As long as she could refrain from shoving that in my face, I was comfortable with it. We were given different skill sets. She usually refrained.

There was an old pinball machine in the corner as well. She usually beat me at that, too, but sometimes I got lucky. Since my win column wasn't as crowded as hers, I did not always practice restraint in the face of a rare victory. She'd just redirect the course. "I'm tired of pinball. Let's bowl." Cocky from a win, I'd always agree. It was always a mistake.

When I got tired of losing bar games, I'd make my way to the juke box. Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline and Merle Haggard, Hank Williams Sr. and Johnny Cash - five songs for a quarter. It wasn't the music I loved, but it was exactly the right music for this dark beer and a shot bar. This bar was in a coal mining town where, if people had been inclined to tell their stories, they would have probably sounded a lot like a country song. People were not usually so inclined. They just sat at the bar in a companionable silence; a silence interrupted periodically by the melodious tone of a well-aimed stream of tobacco juice hitting a spittoon.

Every now and then the old guys at the bar would give Wendy and I quarters or buy us candy. We liked Grandpa's cronies just fine.

We'd leave after a while, carrying a couple white pizza boxes. The pizza was nothing particularly special, but we loved it. We'd take it back to the house my mother grew up in and Charlie would become Harold as we sat down to eat with my grandmother on TV trays while watching Lawrence Welk and Hee Haw.

What a brilliant bit of scheduling that was, no?

Bobby and a Sissy and a one and a two and Geritol - my wife, I think I'll keep her - and I'm a pickin' and I'm a grinnin'.

That's what Saturday night sounded like, when you were Charlie/Harold's granddaughter.

That bar is a day care center, now. I hope it's brighter. I hope the spittoons are gone. I hope the kids who go there every day grow up to have half as many happy memories of that place as my sister and I do.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Marnie's Rung

Fiction Friday

This is the next chapter of the novel (or project, as I continue to insist on calling it) that I wrote for NaNoWriMo. It's sat dormant long enough - time for me to take another look at it - and to give you a peek at it as well.

In case you missed something:

Chapter 1: Josh's Table

Chapter 2: The Vista

Cal’s bike had started this incarnation of its life as a bike in a box. Andy had been helping someone move and had found it in the garage. He asked what to do with it and the owner told him to pitch it. They didn’t know what they had. Lucky for Cal, Andy did. He took the box as well as the frame and wheels back to his shop and the next day he showed it to Cal. Cal’s eyes lit up like a kid on Christmas morning. “Is this what I think it is?” Andy nodded. “Can you help me with it?” Another nod. “Can we work on it here?”

“I insist.”


They’d worked all winter and by spring – the unofficial start of riding season – Cal had a serviceable road bike. It wasn’t much to look at, but it ran great. Over the course of the next couple years they’d cleaned it up and done a lot of customization. It was unique and it was gorgeous. Cal’s pride in it was not misplaced.

Cal hopped on and got it started. He put on a helmet and handed one to Marnie. He always kept a spare bungeed behind his seat. She strapped it on and swung her leg over the bike to take her place behind Cal. He didn’t have a back rest on the bike, so, even though she was not an experienced rider, this was easy. Cal turned around and yelled, “You okay?” Marnie didn’t really hear him, but she knew what he’d said. She nodded. “Hang on!” Cal said, as he pulled away from the curb.

Marnie put her arms around his waist. She had pulled her hands up into the sleeves of his jacket in an attempt to keep them warm. It wasn’t working very well. Cal didn’t seem to be affected. He kept turning around to smile at her. The overall effect was completely disarming. His smile, the way his hair curled under the back of his helmet, her arms around his waist, her body pressed into his, the power of the bike itself – it was all so overwhelming that she barely noticed the cold air stinging her face. They arrived at The Vista way too soon for her tastes. She could’ve ridden with Cal all night.

She swung her leg over the back of the bike and whipped her helmet off in one swift motion. Cal did the same. “You’re a natural!” he said.

“A natural? I didn’t do anything.”

“Seriously. Not everyone is a good passenger. Some people fight the curves and turns, but you leaned right into them with me.”

“And that’s good?” Marnie asked, not adding, “I would’ve probably leaned into hell with you…”

“That’s very good.”


The Vista was a bar on the edge of town with a dance floor. They had a great outdoor patio, too, but in the colder months that was just used by smokers since the smoking ban in public places had been enacted. It was a popular destination on Friday and Saturday nights, as they usually had a live band. People from every walk of life showed up at The Vista. It was almost never dull.

Tonight seemed to be hopping. The parking lot was full and they could feel the throb of the bass before they even got close to the door. “Who’s playing?” Marnie asked, handing Cal’s jacket back to him and shivering.

“I can’t remember. Someone told me, but I’d never heard of them before.”

Cal opened the heavy wooden door and held it for Marnie. She smiled and thanked him. Josh never did shit like this. Cal was a class act. An unemployed recently dumped class act, she reminded herself. A very vulnerable class act. Tread carefully. An unemployed recently dumped insanely good looking vulnerable class act. Oh boy.

Cal headed to the bar to buy them a couple beers and Marnie worked her way through the crowd towards the dance floor, greeting people – mostly casual acquaintances – along the way. She’d buy the next round. She knew it was wrong to let Cal pay for her drinks when he was out of work and she was quite gainfully employed. She also knew that his ego would never recover if she said or even implied anything like that. She’d let him get the first round, then she’d just grab the next couple.

It didn’t take long at all for him to catch her eye across the crowded bar. He raised the bottles over his head and smiled at her like he hadn’t seen her in a year. His teeth were so straight and white and his smile was so genuine. Marnie was coming undone, and the feeling wasn’t even remotely unpleasant. “God help us all”, she thought. Women turned their heads, trying and failing to look casual, when Cal walked past them. They knew he looked good on the approach and wanted to watch the departure, as well. Their appreciative glances and nudges to their girlfriends proved that they were not disappointed. Marnie couldn’t blame them. Cal didn’t notice. He handed Marnie her beer and they clinked their bottles together before taking a drink. Good God, he was charming.

The band was good, but loud, so conversation was kept to a minimum. Hot bluesy guitar riffs, a cold bottle of beer, an amazing looking and attentive man by her side – man – it just didn’t get any better than this. The coke buzz was starting to wear off, but a nice mellow beer buzz was taking its place. The only thing that would make this night better would be - “You wanna dance?” Cal had interrupted her train of thoughts with – well – the only thing that would make this night better. She nodded her assent, put her empty beer bottle on a nearby table, and took the hand Cal had extended. He led her to the dance floor and she let the music take over. The guitar player was quite accomplished and his licks were hard and fast. Marnie’s head started moving first, then her shoulders and hips. Cal came up behind her and slipped his hands around her waist. He met her move for move. It was exhilarating. Marnie had never danced like this before. If it’s true what they say about the correlation between the way a guy behaves on the dance floor and the way he behaves in bed, well, maybe taking him home just this once wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

Of course she knew it still was. A bad idea. Still…

Marnie broke the spell by pointing to the bar. He nodded and they both made their way through the crowd once more. Cal had stopped to talk to a friend, so Marnie ordered two beers and a couple shots of tequila. By the time Cal made it to the bar, they were set.

“Dude! Seriously?”

Marnie nodded, licked the back of her hand between her thumb and pointer finger, and shook salt liberally over the wet area. She passed the salt shaker to Cal, who did the same thing.

“Cheers!” she said, quickly licking the salt from her hand, throwing back the shot, and grabbing one of the lime slices the bartender had put on a cocktail napkin next to the shot glasses. She sucked on the lime slice and grimaced, shaking her head. “Whoo!” She shook her head again and downed a long gulp of beer. “Hell yeah!”

They repeated this process several times – dance, panic, drink. Every drink made the panic less pronounced. Marnie leaned in closer and closer the longer they sat and talked. She had just let her hand find it’s way back to his knee, and he didn’t seem to have any objections.

“Hey, Marnie! Marnie Hammond! Is that you?”

Marnie turned around to see three girls she’d gone to high school with. “Oh, God”, she said, under her breath, then, “Mary! Katy! Julia! How the hell are ya?” Marnie couldn’t believe these three could still tolerate each other. They had been obnoxious little twits in high school and her quick perusal of them didn’t give her any reason to believe that much had changed.

“Julia’s getting married next weekend, if you can believe it”, Mary screamed over the music, “so we’re out celebrating her last weekend of freedom. Have a drink with us!”

“No more slutting around!” added Katy, slurring the words in a manner Marnie could tell she thought was charming and adorable, but in reality, was just the opposite. “Here’s to you, you, you, you slut puppy you!” shot glasses were raised and Marnie found one in her hand.

“Cheers!” she said, downing it in one gulp. “That was good! What was it?”

“A red-headed slut. Not unlike our Julia.”

The bride to be had made her way to a table top and was inviting bar patrons to take the life savers that had been stapled to her outfit – a thrift shop wedding gown – off with their teeth. Marnie thanked them for the shot and made her way back to Cal, who was watching from the bar with an amused expression on his face. “To Marnie!” Katy screamed, attempting another shot but getting more of it on her shirt than down her throat. “To Marnie-fucking-Hammond!”

“Friends of yours?” Cal asked.

“I went to high school with them. We were never what you might want to call friends. Stupid bitches.”

“Be nice.”

“Oh, I wasn’t being mean, necessarily. They’re stupid. And they’re bitches. Ask them – they probably won’t deny it.”

“I’ll take a pass.”

They both glanced back at the bachelorette party. Julia was dancing vigorously on the table and lifesavers were flying everywhere. Mary was sitting on some guys lap and kissing the top of his bald head. Katy was knocking back another shot. Lovely.

“You ready to get out of here?” Cal asked.

“Probably should. While I’m still ok to drive.”

“I’m not taking you home?”

“Not tonight, cowboy.” She was amazed at her own restraint, “Just back to my car.”

He took off his jacket and once again offered it to her. It was warm from his body heat. There was still time to change her mind…

She jumped on the bike and, once again, hardly noticed the cold. When they arrived at Josh’s house, all the lights were out. Sonya’s car was in the driveway. Marnie jumped off the bike and took off Cal’s helmet and jacket. She was surprised that he got off the bike as well. He helped her into her car and kissed her chastely before she sunk into her seat. He put his jacket back on and headed back to his bike. He thought the jacket smelled like Marnie’s shampoo. All the way home she felt the warm softness left behind by his lips. She wasn’t going to be able to resist this for long.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

If You Dream of Fairies

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
If You Dream of Fairies - II
If You Dream of Fairies - III
If You Dream of Fairies - IV
If You Dream of Fairies - V
If You Dream of Fairies - VI
If You Dream of Fairies - VII
If You Dream of Fairies - VIII

The next day, two post cards arrived in the mail. One was addressed to Keebler. “Only Maria.” Liz thought, smiling, as she dutifully read the card to her pup. On one side of the card was a picture of a dog running across the beach with a bikini top in its mouth. Running behind him was a distraught looking woman wrapped in a towel. The note read:

Be good, Keebler!
I miss you so much!
Maria (Mommy)

The other was addressed to Liz. It was a picture of tropical flowers in varying shades of reds and bright pinks. She read the brief note in Maria’s distinctive and beautiful handwriting. It simply said:

The beach is nice, but I miss you like crazy!
I can’t wait to come home and explore the mysteries of our garden fairy!


A wave of loneliness passed through Liz. She missed her friend and couldn’t wait for her to return home. She felt that familiar heat behind her eyes and knew she was going to cry.

One single tear made its way from her eye to her cheek.

One single, perfect tear.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Nothing unusual happened the rest of the week. There were no more incidents at the fairy door, although Liz certainly kept her eye on it.

Liz’s mom was a little surprised when the time came to clean the bathtub and, not only did she NOT find the dirty ring around the tub that she expected, but the tub was positively gleaming. She chalked it up to Liz growing up and becoming more responsible. Clearly she had taken it upon herself to scrub her own tub. Maybe it was time for Miss Lizzie to get a little raise in her allowance.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Marnie's Rung

Fiction Friday

This is the first chapter of the novel (or project, as I continue to insist on calling it) that I wrote for NaNoWriMo. It's sat dormant long enough - time for me to take another look at it - and to give you a peek at it as well.

Marnie's Rung - Chapter One
Josh’s Table

Marnie wrapped her sweater around herself more tightly to ward off the chill. If she’d known Josh was going to make her wait in the car, she would’ve grabbed something warmer. What the hell was taking him so long, anyway? In, out, boom. It should’ve been that simple. She glanced at the door and then at the dashboard clock. Again. He’d been inside four minutes. It felt like an eternity. She shifted her position, put her feet on the dashboard and reclined the seat. She thought about how it would look to Josh if she were reclined when he got back and moved the seat back into an upright position. Legs down. No, up. No, down. She sighed and looked at the clock. Another minute had passed. Come on, Josh. Jesus. He could have at least left her the keys so she could listen to a little music – maybe even have a little heat. But that wouldn’t occur to Josh, oh, no. She tapped her fingers on the dashboard and took a second to enjoy the way her nails looked. They were long enough but not too long. Freshly manicured and painted a maroon so dark it looked black with only the moon for light. She smiled – then looked at the door again – then the clock. Her smile faded. Come on, Josh. You’re scoring some blow, not negotiating world peace. It just shouldn’t take this long.

The neighborhood was old but reasonably well maintained. It was just past Halloween and not yet Thanksgiving, yet the house Josh had entered had a little wreath on the door and multicolored lights strung along the roof of the porch. A few of them had burned out. There were lights strung over the bushes, too, but this had been done in a haphazard manner. Some of the bushes blinked; some did not. The attempt to be festive had missed its mark and just landed on sad and a little pathetic. “Perfect”, Marnie thought. A lifesized faded plastic Santa waved to her. He knows if you’ve been bad or good… yeah… this was probably a good neighborhood in which to keep track of that sort of thing.

Two eternal minutes later, Josh emerged from the house. Marnie took a moment to appreciate his rugged looks before she remembered she was angry with him. She had worked up quite a scowl by the time he’d opened his door and swung into his seat. “What took you so long?”

“I was only in there a minute.”

“Try nine.”


“Well, eight. Maybe eight and a half.”

Josh smiled at her precision. She was cute when she was annoyed. “I guess you really missed me.” She wondered if you could actually hurt yourself if you rolled your eyes too hard. “There were a couple guys there. I had to be sociable.”

“Did it occur to you that I like being sociable, too? And that it’s fucking cold out here?”

“Matter of fact it did not.” Josh’s tone changed from flippant to sincere as he noticed how tightly she was hugging her sweater, and he added, “I’m sorry about that. I didn’t realize it had been that long.” His tone changed once again, “Time flies, and so do I, baby!”

Marnie rolled her eyes. She rolled her eyes a lot around him. Josh was such an ass. A good looking ass, to be sure, but an ass all the same.

Josh reached into his coat pocket and produced a small packet of white powder. “Little taste?”

She nodded, her anger fading more quickly than she’d intended for it to. She’d intended to stay angry at him for a just a little bit longer. But he looked so damn sincere as he carefully filled her pinkie nail with coke, holding her hand to keep it steady. She held her left nostril shut with her other hand and sucked that sweet powder in with her right. She closed her eyes and held her pinkie out for more. He obliged and she repeated the procedure on the other side. It would be so unfair to leave one side out. Josh might be an ass, but he was fair. By the time she’d snorted through her second nostril, that delicious drip had already begun along the back of her throat. She closed her eyes for a second and leaned back to enjoy this. She absentmindedly rubbed her pinkie over her gums, enjoying the way they went instantly numb.

Josh smiled at her. She smiled back. “Better?” She nodded and kissed his cheek.

“Sorry I was such a bitch.”

“We’re all bitches when we’re jonesin’, babe.” She wished he wouldn’t call her babe. “Ready to head back?” he added. “If you were that pissed about the time, imagine how antsy everyone back at the house is gonna be.”

“Yep. Let’s roll.”

The ride back to the house didn’t even take long enough for the heater to kick on. Marnie had stopped complaining about the cold, though. It wasn’t really so bad anymore.

Josh’s house wasn’t so very different from the one they’d just left. It had originally been a double house but he’d purchased what everyone still referred to as ‘the other side’ years ago. There was a lot of space, but the floor plan was weird. Most folks thought that just added to the charm. Josh headed up the sidewalk to the front door. Marnie opened her own door and followed him. She knew she wasn’t living in the 1950’s, but she still thought it might’ve been nice if he’d opted to open her door. It was just good manners, for Pete’s sake. Then she remembered where she was and laughed at herself a little bit. She caught up with him before he opened the door. They could hear music from the porch, but they hadn’t heard it on the street. That was good. No one would be complaining about the noise tonight.

There was a motley crew assembled around the heavy old table in Josh’s dining room. There weren’t a lot of folks who still liked to do coke. The world had moved on to different drugs of choice. This small group had not. They let up a little whoop when Josh and Marnie entered. “What took you so long?” asked Sonya, her eyes narrowed and more than a little bit of suspicion and panic in her tone.

Marnie looked at Josh and debated screwing around with Sonya a little bit. Sonya and Josh had hooked up a few times. In her eyes that made them a couple. In his eyes, that made her – well – it didn’t make her anything. It made her Sonya. The chick he sometimes partied with who sometimes crashed after the party. Marnie decided not to push it. Not tonight. “I TOLD him it was a long time! Asshole made me wait in the frikkin’ car. It was freezing!” Sonya relaxed a little bit upon hearing that Marnie had been treated less than well and her defenses visibly dropped a little bit. Sonya approached Josh and punched him playfully on the arm.

“Asshole.” She said, “Making a lady wait in the car when it’s cold.” The tone in her voice was admonishing, but the look in her eye was pure adoration.

Marnie made her way to the table and greeted the folks sitting there. She pulled up a chair between Cal and Andy. That made Sonya relax even more. This was good. The last thing she was looking for tonight was a lot of drama. “Hey, Cal! What’s the good word?” Cal was out of work. His long term girlfriend had recently left him for someone with a little more money and stability. She took both of their kids with her. He was, what you might want to call, down on his luck. He was also, what you might want to call, devastatingly good looking. What he lacked in education; he made up for in cheekbones. What he lacked in breeding; he made up for in thick wavy hair. What he lacked in money; he made up for in a naturally – almost casually – muscular physique. Marnie always had to make a special effort not to flutter her lashes and blush and stutter when she was around him. He got enough of that. She always just tried to treat him like the nice guy that he was. It wasn’t her fault if this nice guy was attached to a particularly nice ass.

“Not much, Marn. Andy here says there may be some extra work at his shop soon, so I’m hoping…” he trailed off, “you’re lookin’ good.” He added, almost as an afterthought.

“You too.” She answered, avoiding eye contact. She touched his knee and said, “Something will work out.” His jeans were soft and worn and she had to remind herself not to let her hand linger. She didn’t like that he had an effect on her. Good looks were nice, but not exactly something you could build a future on. She tried to hold on to that notion, but it set a thought train in motion. Future. Cal would sure make good looking babies. She could work and support them both and Cal could stay home and be beautiful and take care of the beautiful house and the beautiful babies. It wasn’t such a ridiculous plan…

Luckily, this particular train of thought was cut short by Josh pulling that little packet out of his coat pocket.

Conversation ceased as Josh poured a small mound of the white powder onto an old hand mirror. He carefully cut it with a razor blade into eight thick lines, one for everyone at the table, dividing it as evenly as he could. He cut one of those lines in half, cross-chopping through it with the blade as he did. He used the blade to cut about a two inch length of drinking straw and snorted those lines, first one, then the other. He passed the mirror, the blade and the straw around the table. Most people did the same thing, with only slight variations – it was vaguely ritualistic. Andy snorted the whole line in one nostril, saying he’d even things out next time around. Sonya dabbed at her nose after each snort with a damp washcloth, swearing that the moisture from the washcloth alleviated some of the harsher physical effects of the drug for her. Cal tapped the razor blade three times; no more and no less after splitting his line into two. Everyone had their little idiosyncrasies; their own little personal way of doing things, but the general ritual remained the same.

Marnie considered the folks around the table as the mirror made its first round. She spent a lot of time with these people and considered them to be her friends. But it was a situational sort of friendship. None of them had ever met her family, nor were they ever likely to. If she needed a date for a wedding or a work related event she would never consider inviting Cal or Josh, even though they would both make a great looking and age-appropriate companion. She’d never call any of the women at this table if she just needed someone to talk to. It wasn’t like that. She had called on Andy once to help her move, though. He was the only person she knew who had a truck. People with trucks, she assumed, expected this.

Everyone here was from a different world, and they were drawn together by two things: A love of the blow and Josh’s charisma. And yet… and yet Marnie enjoyed this group more than she enjoyed the people she’d grown up with. She suspected the same might be true for each or them. She felt comfortable here. She knew these people, and they knew her, in a way that was much more than superficial. They’d been meeting like this for years. Different folks floated in and out, but the core group remained the same. And it felt like a family; a beautifully misfit dysfunctional family.

Take Andy, for instance. Andy was a little older than Marnie, Josh, Cal and Sonya. Marnie had always thought he was a lot older, and was surprised when his actual age had been revealed on his birthday last year. Life had been rough on Andy. He ran an auto body shop he’d inherited from his father. He’d worked there from the time he was fourteen. His dad had gotten too far into his love of the bottle to effectively run the shop himself and by the time he was sixteen – the age Marnie first gave any real consideration to cars – he was pretty much running the shop single handedly. He dropped out of school that year and earned his GED several years later at night school. He’d met a girl while attending night school and they fell in love and said love resulted in a beautiful baby girl. Andy was very devoted to them and worked hard to support the three of them, no small feat for an eighteen year old, to be sure. In her eyes, he failed. She packed up the baby and they both moved out while Andy was at work one day. He hadn’t seen it coming. That was twenty years ago, and he’d never seen either of them again. He carried a picture of his daughter as a baby in his wallet. It was worn and faded and a briefly sad expression passed across his face every time he looked at it. She’d be twenty, now. Almost the age of some of the younger girls who came to Josh’s to party.

Andy had the sort of looks you’d call ‘solid’. He was a big guy in every direction; a great big hulking teddy bear. His hair was a fading blonde and it was quite unruly. He had a beard which went ungroomed. Marnie had never seen him in anything other than work pants and a shirt with his name embroidered over the left breast pocket. The black stains under his fingernails were probably more permanent than temporary.

He was possibly the nicest guy Marnie had ever met, but he could never seem to catch a break. Luck seemed to have a bone to pick with Andy, and it was kicking his ass.

On the other side of Andy, there was Joan. Joan was around Andy’s age but wore it a little better. She was a beautician by trade and whoever sat near her at Josh’s big table could count on having their hair stroked, played with, and generally contemplated. She really wanted to get her hands on Andy’s hair and beard and was constantly telling him how handsome he was underneath ‘all that mess’. “For God’s sake, Andy”, she’d say more than once a night, “You could be such a hunk. Is this man not a hunk?” she’d ask of Marnie or Sonya or any other female who happened to be at the table that evening. Stifling giggles at her use of the outdated term with varying degrees of success they would answer, “Joan’s right. You’re a total hunk.”

Joan was married to a cop, which made her involvement in this little group both dangerous and awkward from time to time. She wore her nails wildly colored, her bottle red hair big, and her jeans tight. It would’ve been easy to stereotype her based upon her looks, but to do so would’ve been a mistake. That was one thing time with this group had taught Marnie – don’t be so quick to put people into boxes. Don’t assume you know someone because you know their type. Joan, for example, might’ve looked for all the world like an aging bimbo, but what you wouldn’t know by looking at her was that she was a classically trained violinist.

She could saw on a fiddle with the best of them, and Marnie had heard her do just that, but her real love – her passion - was with classical music. Niccolo Paganini was her hero, idol, and inspiration. She had named her first son Niccolas in his honor. Nobody she knew got the reference and Nic grew tired of having to explain the odd spelling to people. She had wanted to attend school for music and pursue a career in that direction, but it hadn’t been in the cards for her. She sometimes expressed regret over the road not taken, but never bitterness.

Joan passed the mirror to Mike. Mike had been paralyzed from the waist down in the Gulf War. The stories as to how this came about varied from telling to telling. Marnie was never sure if that was because he really didn’t remember, because he really didn’t want to remember, or because he was a pathological liar and an insufferable jackass who had been hit by friendly fire. Marnie liked Mike cautiously. She never trusted him. Something about his eyes didn’t sit right with her. He always seemed to be plotting his next move. Mike was a mean and violent drunk. When he started getting his drink on, Josh usually tried to get him out of the house. That usually did not go well. Everyone else knew to leave, and when there was no one left to throw insults, fists, or decorative knick knacks at, Mike would leave, too.

Kristen rounded out the crew on this particular night. Kristen was a little younger than the rest of the folks at the table, but she never seemed to be intimidated by that. Kristen wasn’t intimidated by much of anything – a point well made by her inclination towards liking to sit next to Mike. She was attending community college and hoped to make a decision soon about where she wanted to continue her education and what to major in when she got there. She was waffling between several incompatible options. This did not feel contradictory to her.

From Kristen the mirror returned to Josh. He let it sit in front of him for a few minutes. “I’m getting a beer.” Sonya announced, “Anybody need one while I’m up?”

“I’ll take one”

“Me, too.”

“Beer me.”

“Anyone else? Kristen? I think there’s some light beer in the back there…”

“Do I LOOK like a pussy?” Kristen replied without missing a beat. “Bring me a real beer, for God’s sake!”

While Sonya retrieved the beer from the kitchen, Josh started setting out the next round of lines. The conversations were easy, familiar, and, for the most part, monosyllabic. The beers went down easy while the mirror made its way around the table once again. Josh, slow and deliberate to Sonya, sniffing at her wet washrag to Cal, tap tap tapping to Marnie, eyes shut and head back to Andy, one big snort to Joan, nasal honking to Mike, quick and shifty to Kristen, meticulous and exacting.

The mirror made two more rounds of the table before Josh’s little baggie was empty. He made quite a show of tapping it on the mirror to make sure everything was out. Then he put his tongue in the bag and licked it clean. Sonya watched him perform this particular little maneuver with just a little more interest than might have been deemed appropriate in more polite company. “I’m gonna make a beer run” he announced.

“No more for me”, Marnie said, standing up and stretching. I wanna go dancing. She raised her arms in the air and did a little grind to bring the point home.

“You headin’ to The Vista?” Cal asked, standing up himself.

“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.”

“Me too. Want a ride?”

Cal rode a beautiful bike. Marley had never ridden with him before. He was so good looking and she was a little high and a little drunk and maybe wrapping her legs around him while 800 pounds of bike vibrated beneath them was a bad idea and “Fuck yeah!” she heard coming from her mouth. “Let me just fix my make-up quick, and I’ll be good to go.”

“You look fine.”

“I have to pee, ok? Geez, ya try to express a little fuckin’ decorum around here…”

Cal smiled and watched her walk up the stairs. Although Josh’s house had many rooms, it only had one working bathroom, and that was upstairs. There were evenings when that became particularly challenging and once up the stairs people sometimes never made it back down. This was not a huge problem, as Josh had several bedrooms. Everyone knew if they couldn’t make it down again, they could crash, as long as they didn’t crash in Josh’s bed. Sometimes someone would think they could make it back down and find out that they were mistaken. That happened a lot, actually. Usually someone else would have enough presence of mind to move them from the bottom of the stairs, but sometimes folks would just opt to step over them.

Marnie went into the small bathroom and shut the door. She looked in the mirror and touched up her lipstick. Everything else looked ok. She shook her hair out and ran her fingers through it. She turned sideways and looked at herself in the full length mirror. She lifted her shirt to reveal her belly, which was flat to the point of being almost concave. She loved this. She had never been this thin before and it surprised her every time she caught a glimpse of her reflection. Cal sure had caught a good glimpse, she told herself as she smiled at the girl in the mirror. She tucked her shirt back into her jeans, jeans which, she was aware, cost more than anyone else at the table downstairs made in a week. She knew this. She hoped none of them did.

She ran down the stairs and found Cal holding her sweater.

“This won’t be warm enough – wear my jacket.” He extended his leather jacket towards her.

“I can’t take that, then you’ll be cold. You’ll keep the wind from hitting me too much. It’s not that far, anyway.”

“If you won’t put the jacket on, I won’t let you ride with me.”

Marnie reluctantly accepted the jacket from his outstretched hand. The fit was big. The collar smelled like Cal’s aftershave. She was heading into a serious danger zone here.


“I was born ready, baby.”

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

If You Dream of Fairies

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
If You Dream of Fairies - II
If You Dream of Fairies - III
If You Dream of Fairies - IV
If You Dream of Fairies - V
If You Dream of Fairies - VI
If You Dream of Fairies - VII

“You look even prettier than usual today, Lizzie.” her father remarked over dinner. “I guess being out of school and spending the day out of doors agrees with you.”

Liz looked down at the table and smiled shyly at the compliment. The truth of it was, when she’d checked her reflection in the bathroom mirror before heading down to dinner SHE’D thought she looked prettier than usual, too. To agree with her father’s compliment seemed immodest, so she turned all of her concentration instead towards the remaining food on her plate.

“Ole Keebler looks good, too. You must be taking real good care of him.”

It was true; Keebler’s coat seemed extra lustrous and shiny. She figured her father was probably right. They’d both had a higher dose than usual of sunshine today. That explained everything.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When Liz went to sleep that night with Keebler curled up next to her even though Maria had told her to not let him sleep on the bed, she dreamed of fairies.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Whoa! Lizzie! Breakfast first!” her mother called as she headed out the back door that led to the garden. She had already fed Keebler and was more anxious than her mother could’ve imagined to get outside. Breakfast did not interest her in the least, but she knew her mother would never let it drop if she didn’t have something. She poured herself a glass of milk then threw a handful of cereal into it.

“Ok?” she said between mouthfuls as she quickly devoured her makeshift breakfast.

“Elizabeth Renee” her mother sighed, “summer is only two days old. You don’t have to do EVERYTHING the first week.”

Her mother was speaking to an empty room. Liz and Keebler were already halfway across the yard and were making a beeline for what Liz found herself referring to in her mind as ‘the fairy tree’.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Liz knelt on the ground and leaned her head forward so that her eyes were level with the door, or as close to level as she could get them. Knocking hadn’t worked before, but she really didn’t know what else to do. She rapped on the door three times in quick succession with the knuckles of her pointer finger. Nothing happened. She used the same finger to try to pry the door open, but her fingers were too large and clumsy to manipulate the tiny door. She scrunched up her face and tried to come up with another plan of action.

She wished Maria was there. Maria would come up with a wonderful plan. A foolproof plan. She always did. But Maria WASN’T there and Liz was left to her own devices.

She found a small stick and tried to use it to wedge the door open. It didn’t budge. She threw the stick out into the yard and Keebler happily retrieved it. She threw it again. Once more, the pup returned it to her. Both girl and dog shifted their interest from the tree to their game. When she became tired, Liz returned to the tree to rest for a moment.

She stopped a few feet short of her destination and rubbed her eyes in disbelief.

Propped against the door was a little envelope.

In a beautiful script which was somehow both ornate and simple at the same time were two words:

For you

Liz’s eyes were wide and her hands were trembling when she reached for the little envelope. She picked it up as gently as she could manage. The moment it was in her hand, it dissipated in a beautiful puff of iridescent powder. The powder covered Liz’s hands and made them glitter and glow.

Liz didn’t have to think about it at all. She knew instinctively exactly what this was. She had been given fairy dust. She rubbed her hands over her hair and face. She hugged herself. She did a little spin and a dance; turning her face up to the morning sunshine. It was grace personified. If anyone had been watching, they would have sworn it was Maria. Physically, Liz was still Maria’s polar opposite, but she was suddenly moving with such poise that it made it easy to forget such mundane details as height, build or hair color. Liz had never felt so happy or free before in her whole life. And she had certainly never felt so beautiful.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Everything's Better

Memoir Monday

One day when I was very young we were having a typical family dinner when my father literally fell out of his chair in sudden pain. He was on all fours beside the table and the pain was so intense it had rendered him speechless. It was the sort of pain that should have been really scary for two little girls to witness.

But it wasn't.

Because we were two excessively silly little girls.

As my mother jumped from her seat in a panic to call an aunt over to watch us while she took my father to the hospital, we danced around his helpless form like we were performing a pagan ritual. We were giggling uncontrollably and dancing when my mother re-entered the room; too panic stricken to deal with our inappropriate behavior. She told my dad she'd reached one of his sisters and as soon as she arrived they'd head for the hospital. He nodded weakly in response.

My aunt arrived quickly to watch us.

Which was not surprising.

We were delightful.

As the story goes, when they arrived at the emergency room, my mother helped the nurses undress my father and get him into a hospital gown. His skin was quite ashen, which surprised no one; what DID surprise them was the huge quantity of small white particles that fell from his skin as they freed him from his clothing. He was, at this point, still in too much pain to explain.

The doctors did their examination and quickly determined that he'd had a gall bladder attack. They did emergency surgery immediately and it was quite successful. As he recovered, they relayed to him their questions about the white stuff that had fallen from his clothing hours earlier in the ER.

"Those damn kids..."

"The kids? What did the kids have to do with it?"

You see, my father had been on a low sodium diet for some time preceding this incident. When my mother made adjustments to her cooking to accommodate his dietary needs, my sister and I didn't like the way anything tasted any more. When we complained, she always told us, "A little salt makes everything better."

You see where this is going, right?

Along with laughing and dancing around him, we were sprinkling him rather liberally with the salt shaker while chanting, "Salt makes everything better!"

Good thing my mom wasn't a proponent of the "everything's better with butter" school of thought...

Friday, April 2, 2010

Last Request

Fiction Fridays

A long one, today, kids. My second attempt to take Matt 'back to the beach'. I don't think I'm hitting the notes he needs on this venture (so to speak) so there may not be another wonderful song to finish up this series, but I think the story is worth sharing anyway. Without further ado, The Big Chill inspired Last Request.

Last Request

“Who’s John Carter?”

My heart missed a beat and it took me a moment to remember to breathe. “John Carter? Wh-why?”

“There’s a message on the voice mail from a John Carter.” Ted smiled wickedly before adding, “He wanted to talk to Kat.”

I reflexively raised my hand to my heart in a symbolic attempt to keep it from leaping right out of my chest. I mostly go by Katherine now; sometimes – rarely – Kate. Kat was buried somewhere with my rainbow collection of hair scrunchies and my acid washed jeans.

Ted was laughing out loud at this point – the mixed emotions registering themselves must have been quite a sight. I prided myself on remaining in control at all times, but John Carter. Damn.

“Did he leave a number?”

“I left it on voicemail – you can listen for yourself.”

I listened to the message, the sound of John’s voice taking my breath away once more as I sunk into a kitchen chair.

“What’s up with Mom?”

“I believe your mom is experiencing what we call a blast from the past.”

“She looks funny.”

“He says it’s urgent.” I told Ted, “Do you mind if I call?”

“Is this an old boyfriend?”

“Oooooooh! Mommy has a boyfriend…”

“No. Sort of. I don’t know – it’s – it was a long time ago.”

“Do I need to worry?” Ted asked with a twinkle in his eye.

“No, of course not. But – you know – urgent can be – um – urgent.”

“Come on, kids. Let’s give your mother some privacy. Who wants me to kick their butt on the Wii?” The kids giggled as he corralled them out the door. I mouthed “thank you” and he waved back at me, brushing it off.

I dialed the number I’d jotted down, hesitating for a moment before hitting the last digit. One ring. Another.

“Hello?” Oh my God. John. I hadn’t thought of him in years. Our friendship had tapered off, ending with a whimper rather than a bang. How can someone who was such an integral part of your life become nothing more than a fond memory?



“Kitty Kat.” There was a pause. I shut my eyes and allowed the sound of his voice – the sound of my old nickname, almost forgotten – wash over me, removing time and distance and history. “I got this number from your mom – I hope it’s okay that I called.”

“Oh! Yes, yes, of course. Very okay. But John?”

“Yes? God it’s good to hear your voice, Kat.”

“Oh, you too. I can’t tell you. But John why DID you call? You said it was urgent.”

I heard John suck in his breath then let it out slowly before responding, “It’s about Mitch.”

“You’re still in touch with Mitch?” This name brought back as many memories as John’s had.

“Mitch passed away, sweetie.”

It felt like I’d been punched. I hadn’t thought about Mitch in years, and in the last five seconds he’d come back into my life, only to be taken away again. I was having a hard time processing it all. “What? How?”

“AIDS. He fought it for a long time, but it beat him. I’m so sorry to be telling you this, Kat. Are you okay?”

“I don’t know what to say. Thank you for telling me. It would’ve been worse not to know. I think.”

“Anyway, he had a last request, and that’s the real reason for my call.”

“Oh, God.”

“He wanted us all to get together back at the old beach house and scatter his ashes there.”

“Is that even legal?” It was a horrible thing to say. I regretted it the moment it was out of my mouth. But I didn’t want to chance being arrested. There was my career – and Ted – and Ted’s career to consider. And the kids – oh, God, the kids. How do you raise kids to follow the rules when their mom is on probation? Or worse yet, in jail…

“I don’t know.” John answered, obviously perplexed, “Probably not. But I loved Mitch, man, and I want to do this for him. You certainly don’t have to join us.” His voice softened as he added, “But I hope you will.”

“No, yeah – no – I’ll come. I’ll be there. Who else is coming?”

“Dig this: Chuck still lives there. And. Are you sitting?”

“Oh yes. I am most assuredly sitting.”

“He bought the house.”

“THE house? OUR house?”

‘Yep. He – it’s a long story – but he won a major law suit and bought the house with the money.”

“Holy shit.”

“I know. So he’ll be there, obviously. He says we’re all welcome to stay there if we want.”

“Wow, John. This is – a lot.”

“I’ve left messages for Marnie and Gretchen. Haven’t heard back from them yet. Gretchen’s been married three times, can you believe it?”

“Yes!” I said, somehow I found myself laughing. So inappropriate Katherine! Stop it! Luckily, John was laughing, too.

“So good to hear your voice.”

“Yours.” I answered, regaining my composure somewhat.

“So Chuck and I were thinking maybe not this weekend but next? Is that enough notice for you?”

“Yeah – I’ll work something out. I’ll be there.”

“Will you need a ride from the airport?”

“Oh! Yeah, I guess I will…”

“Chuck said he’d pull something together.”

John gave me Chuck’s contact information and his own. We talked for a few more moments, then said our good-byes. I headed to the game room to tell Ted about my travel plans and the reason for them. He was wonderful. Ted was always wonderful.

Over the next few days I made travel arrangements and I packed. I found myself listening to music from those summers as I did my chores around the house. I pored over my photo albums, boring Ted and the kids to tears with stories of my life before them. Yesterday, a million years ago. I packed the photo albums in my bag to take along. I packed a mix tape Mitch had made for me that last summer. It had been in a box with my photo albums. I doubted anyone still had the technology to listen to it, but it should be good for a laugh.

My emotions were all across the board. I mourned Mitch, certainly. Forty-six is too young to die. But I hadn’t known Mitch as a forty-six year old man. The last time I’d seen him he was barely twenty-two. I was mourning the death of a twenty-two year old forty-six year old man. I felt almost guilty about the growing excitement I felt over the prospect of seeing John and Chuck and Marnie and Gretchen again. The six of us had been so close – how could we have fallen out of touch so completely? Why had it taken a tragedy to bring us back into each other’s lives?

Every now and then I’d remind myself of how much I’d changed and I’d wonder about how they might have changed. We hadn’t seen each other in twenty-four years. I remembered them – us – as kids, just starting out – just feeling our way around. I knew what had become of me. I wondered what had become of them.

These were the thoughts that continued to occupy my mind as I kissed Ted and the kids good-bye at the airport. Ted had been so understanding about this whole thing. I wasn’t sure I would’ve been equally understanding if the situation had been reversed. “Do what you need to do,” he’d said, “but hurry home.” I boarded the plane and listened to my new playlist – a song for song replica of the mix tape I’d found in that old box of photo albums.

It felt less like an airplane and more like a time machine.

As we landed, I ran my hand through my hair. I wear it in a short sleek bob, a far cry from the signature look these folks would remember – crinkly, sun-bleached, and pulled loosely into a high ponytail. With a scrunchie that matched my outfit. I must’ve had a hundred of them. I shook off that thought, grabbed my carry on and headed for the baggage claim. I didn’t get half way there before I heard, “KAT!!!”

I turned to see Chuck rushing towards me. He was a couple decades older and a couple pounds heavier, but I would’ve known him anywhere. “Chuckles!” I exclaimed, barely having enough time to drop my bags before he embraced me so enthusiastically my feet left the floor.

“Ah, Kitty Kat, let me look at you”, he said, holding me at arms length. “You are lovely. As always.” He picked up my bags in one hand and threw his other arm around me companionably. I wrapped my arm around his waist as he led me first to the baggage claim then into a waiting area. “Got a surprise for you…” he said, leading me around a corner to where – oh my God – it couldn’t be. I mean, it WAS, and I knew it was, but –

“Marnie? Gretchen?” Chuck smiled as he nudged me in their direction. I ran into their waiting arms, the three of us hugging, squealing, and jumping up and down like a bunch of pre-pubescent girls. I hadn’t even gotten a good look at them yet – it didn’t matter – it was THEM – it was US – all these years, all this time, and here we were. When we broke the embrace long enough to pull Chuck in to it, I could see that I wasn’t the only one crying. Crying, laughing – these were my GIRLS – these were my PEOPLE. Now that I had them back I never wanted to let them go.

“I can’t believe I’m going to say this”, Chuck said, gently extricating himself from the group hug, “but we need to break this up. John’s going to wonder what’s keeping us.”

John. One more reunion ahead of me.

Chuck led us to his SUV and piled all of our luggage in. Ever the macho man, he wouldn’t let us help. We’d packed light, but there WERE three of us. He didn’t care. He could take care of his girls. Marnie and I climbed into the back seat as Gretchen had called shotgun. There was so much to say, no one knew quite where to begin, but we all decided we’d try to hold on to most of our stories until we were back at the house with John. That, of course, was easier said than done. Amidst stories of husbands and divorces and kids and affairs, I managed to find a moment to text Ted to let him know I’d arrived ok. ‘have fun love u’ was his response. Listening to Gretchen’s stories, I know I could’ve done a LOT worse than my Ted.

Chuck remained relatively quiet until we were pretty close to the shore. He then took the opportunity to point out all the things that had changed. We weren’t as interested in that as we were in how things had remained the same. We squealed in unison every time we passed a familiar landmark – “Look! The Donut place is still there!”

“Is that – oh my God it is! – that’s the same miniature golf course!”

“Remember when you dated the lifeguard who worked at the pool at that hotel?”

“Don’t remind me!”

“Did those sores ever heal up?”

“Did YOURS?”

“He was cute, though…”

“Oh, you guys! Look! The same old salt water taffy place! I want salt water taffy!”

“Me too! Oh! And Caramel Corn!”

“And Pizza!”

“Ooooooh! Pizza!”

“Remember the time you hooked up with the pizza delivery boy?”

“Shut up!”

“Did those sores ever heal up?”

“You’re hilarious.”

Chuck continued to drive – past the T-shirt shops and the tacky beach souvenir stores, eventually turning onto our old street. We stopped squealing at this point and adopted an almost reverent silence. This was it. He pulled into a gravel parking spot and we piled out of the car.

“It looks just the same…”

“Oh, Chuck…”

Chuck beamed with pride as he unloaded the car. As we headed up the wooden steps the screen door opened. John. He stepped out onto the porch, looking exactly like he had twenty-four years ago. That probably wasn’t true, but that’s what I saw. Barefoot, windblown hair, bedroom eyes… none of the girls could resist John. God knows I never could. I tried to pull up a picture in my mind of Ted as John made his way across the porch in slow motion. Ted. Ted and the kids. I’m a mom now. A wife and a mom. A mom and a … “John…”

Marnie and Gretchen had already thrown themselves into his waiting arms. I crossed the porch slowly. I ran across the porch. I don’t know how I got there, but there I was. Marnie and Gretchen had followed Chuck into the house and I was on the porch in John’s arms. “Ah, Kitty Kat…” he said, stroking my hair.

“It’s all short now.”

“I like it. You look great.”

“So do you.” I lingered another moment, my head comfortably nestled in his shoulder before adding, “We should go in…”

Chuck had put our luggage into the rooms he’d prepared for us. The house had four small bedrooms. He put himself and John in one and each of us girls in one of our own. He figured his house was close by – if he and John started to feel crowded, he could always go home. We sat for a moment on the front porch, reminiscing. No one had brought up the reason for our reunion yet. The sun was fading away – it was nearly evening. “Hey Chuckles,” Gretchen asked, “Is The Sand Bar still around?”

“Not only is it still around, it’s actually one of the few beach bars that’s open.” It was early Spring, and many of the seasonal businesses hadn’t opened their doors yet. “You wanna head over there?”

We all agreed that that would be the thing to do. Go to The Sand Bar, have a few drinks, some pizza, maybe play a little pool – it was always the first place we went our first night at the beach. We grabbed sweaters and sweatshirts against the night breeze and set out. Walking to and on the boardwalk was a slow motion replay of the ride from the airport. Memories were hiding on every bench; in every storefront.

“Remember when Mitch got that huge slice of pizza from Franco’s and that seagull swiped the whole slice before he could take a bite?”

“Remember how Chuck ate, like, three large buckets of fries trying to get that chick who worked there – right there – to notice him?”

“Hey, it worked.”

“Sure did. Did those sores ever heal up?”


“Remember the guy who used to always stand on that corner selling cheap weed?”

(in unison) “SKINNY LANCE!”

“Remember when Gretchen made out with him ‘cause she couldn’t afford a joint?”

“Ewwww! Did those sores ever heal up??”

“Remember when that old dude tried to pick Kat up – right over there by the pier…”

“Ewwww! That was so gross!”

“I bet he was younger than we are now.”

“Well that added a little unnecessary perspective.”

When we finally made it to The Sand Bar we were completely comfortable with each other. It was like no time had passed at all. “Let us have a pitcher of Snake Bites!” John said to the bartender. She cocked her head to one side and glanced skyward, as if solving a complicated problem.

“I don’t think we have that.”

“Come on! It’s Yukon Jack and…” her expression became more clouded rather than clearer.

“I really don’t…”

“Just give us a round of Jaeger Bombs.” Chuck interrupted.

“Oh hey, Chuck!” she said, her face lighting up in a smile of recognition.

“Jaeger Bombs?” John said.

“Different transportation; same destination.” Chuck said, shrugging. “Besides. Heather knows how to make them.” Heather set the glasses in front of us and we raised them in a toast, “To Mitch!”

“To Mitch!” we answered in unison.

Several pitchers of beer and rounds of Jaeger Bombs later, we found ourselves back at the house. It was a little too chilly to sit on the porch, so we gathered in the tiny living room. Marnie, Gretchen and Chuck sat on one couch and John and I sat on another. There used to be more symmetry to our little group, and I think we were all, in our maudlin drunken states, acutely aware of it. That symmetry gave my parents pause when I first proposed the idea to them, but they eventually gave in. I think we would’ve found a way to do it with or without their blessing.

“So how’d it happen? With Mitch?”

“He was actually diagnosed in ninety-five.”

“You guys never lost touch?”

“Not really.”


“We talked about you all a lot – always wanted to get something together like this – but things always came up. Anyway. After the diagnosis – he was so ashamed, you know. ‘These sores are never gonna heal up’ he’d say to me. He didn’t want to see anybody. He tried to shut me out, too, I had to really fight him. He responded well to the treatment and his doctors were pretty pleased. He lived a pretty normal life till – till about six months ago. When he started to deteriorate, he went fast. About a month ago he told me about wanting this. He wanted us to be together. He wanted us to remember him. He didn’t want us to be sad.”

Tears were spilling over my eyes at this point and I heard sniffles from the other couch as well. “I have something.” I said, and I ran up the stairs to my room and returned with my photo albums and the mix tape. Our tears mingled with laughter as we looked through the old photographs together. Eventually – exhausted and content – we all headed to our respective beds. It was late, so I didn’t want to call home. I texted Ted : all is well – good dreams – love u. His response was immediate: love u more.

The next morning I got up for a morning run. I had always been an early riser, I liked to watch the sun rise. I tried to sneak out quietly, but John was sitting on the porch. “I had a feeling you’d be heading out early.”

“Gettin’ in a morning run. Want to join me?”

“Make it a walk and you’re on.”


We walked to the beach and slipped our shoes and socks off once we hit the sand. We didn’t speak much as we let the little waves tease our bare feet. The sky was putting on a beautiful show in preparation for the arrival of the sun. John and I walked further up on the sand and sat down to watch the main event. He put his arm around me and I snuggled in comfortably. What could be more natural than this? John had been my first love and my first lover. I was his, too. We figured it all out together. That had been our first summer at the beach. After that, the romance fell apart, but the love remained. Those four summers living and working at the beach, John had been my best friend. Sitting here with him again after all these years, it was easy to see why. We were connected. The sun rose quickly in the sky and I rose as well. “We best get back. People will talk.”

“Let ‘em.” He stood and pulled me in for a kiss. It was sweet and gentle and full of lost time and promises. Breaking that kiss – STOPPING at that kiss – was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

“I can’t do this, John. I love my husband.”

“I know. But I had to try.”

“I’m glad you did.” We walked the rest of the way back to the house in companionable silence. That was the thing with John. No matter what happened, it never got weird.

When we got back to the house, the other three were having coffee on the porch. We grabbed cups for ourselves and joined them. Everything was quiet Peaceful. Comfortable. John broke the silence. “So, about Mitch…”

We all threw out ideas as to how to handle this ritual. We eventually settled on sunset on the pier behind The Sand Bar. The Sand Bar’s pier was on the bay side, so the sun set over the water. The six of us had watched a lot of sunsets from that pier. It made sense.

We spent the rest of the day reminiscing about old times and catching each other up on what we were doing now. Marnie’s life had taken a course very similar to mine, just in a different part of the country. Gretchen had moved around a lot; never able to stick with the same man, job, or location for long. She had never had kids. Her story was certainly more exciting than Marnie’s or mine, but I couldn’t help feeling like ours was nicer. Chuck, of course, had stayed here. He had a house on the mainland. He married a local who was a little younger than us and they maintained this rental property as well as a few others. He had a day job as an accountant. John, like Gretchen, had moved around a lot. Unlike Gretchen he’d never married. He had been a perpetual student for a while and now he was teaching and writing. – freelance so far, but a publishing house had taken a preliminary interest in one of his stories.

Marnie still played guitar, and as the stories began to wind down she brought it out. We sang along to songs from our youth – amazed when she’d play the opening chords to a song we hadn’t heard in years and we found that we all remembered every word. Being together, singing together was like retrieving muscle memory.

As the sun rounded the sky heading west, we began to prepare for the real purpose of our trip. John pulled out the vessel containing Mitch’s ashes and showed it to us for the first time. It was surreal. Mitch had been with us when we were laughing and when we were singing – Mitch wasn’t in that jar. I couldn’t reconcile that. I don’t think any of us could. The walk to The Sand Bar was quieter this time, various configurations of us holding hands then reconfiguring. We let Heather know we’d be on the pier, and she brought us a pitcher of beer and a round of Jaeger Bombs without being asked. As she left, John pulled the vessel from his jacket where he’d been concealing it. He carefully poured some of the contents of the jar into his left hand, then picked up his shot with his right. He raised his glass and said, “I love you, man.” As he opened his hand and allowed the contents of it to be blown away by the cool ocean breeze. He downed his shot and returned the jar to the table. We all followed suit and when we’d each said good-bye John overturned the jar and let what was left float out into the sunset.

We nursed our beers and did another round or two of shots, but our mood was much more subdued. The passing of a friend - a peer – is such a tangible reminder of our own mortality. We mourned as we had celebrated – with a sense of comfort and community that denied the years we’d spent apart.

The next morning Chuck ran us to the airport early. We were all leaving at different times, but we wanted to stay together as long as possible. We vowed to repeat this trip annually at LEAST. We vowed to never lose touch again. Marnie and I vowed that we’d bring our families back to stay in one of Chuck’s rentals next year. Chuck told us to get our reservations in early. We hugged, we wept, we refused to say good-bye. It was very different from the end of that last summer together – when we just assumed we’d always be in touch. Now we knew how the world could get in the way. Now we knew it required work and dedication. Now we were ready to make the commitment.

As I boarded the plane, I texted Ted: on my way home

He responded before I had to turn my phone off: missed u

I realized I’d missed him, too.