Tag Archives: family

Flat Straightaways = Easy

Last weekend’s 26-mile ride taught me something that should already be innate knowledge. It’s easier to breathe in through one’s nose when it’s not full of mucus. Blowing snot rockets the week prior became less humorous when done out of necessity. I keep learning on this journey, albeit at a fear of not being able to make it 150 miles in September. The breaks every 10 mile lead me on a hopeful path, but the hills scare me to distraction.

I keep telling myself each small trip will keep building my strength and not to get overwhelmed with thoughts of, “Well, I might be tough but …” I’ll keep going until I can’t, bottom line.

One of the great pleasures of my life has been in meeting some wonderful friends. Just like the Beatles said, we get by with a little help from our friends. These are some brave, resilient, bad-ass women.

Joedie, for whose honor I chose to attempt the MS150 in the first place. She was forced into early retirement way too young because of the disease. Years ago she laughingly warned me how she’d wake up slowly in difficulty while moving first thing in the morning. She’s the same person who, regardless of any physical challenge, helped clean my house before my baby was born. She advised me to take it easy after a surgery, with her first-hand knowledge coming from cleaning her OUTSIDE house windows after having the same procedure done years prior. Family is everything to her, and I hope she has many years left to enjoy them. She is one of the toughest women I know.

My friend, Kezia, mom of a blended family, proves a woman CAN have it all. She juggles her family life with professional responsibilities while honing a balance of the two and grieving the lost her best friend/sister just over a year ago.

Not everyone has the good fortune to have sisters and a niece like mine, three super strong women. Jeanna, Christy and Audra inspire me on a daily basis in everything they’ve endured and overcome. Christy amazed me with her strength in triumphing over health problems the last several years. Days when I’ve felt like a physical wreck reminded me how much of a wuss I was for thinking anything was tough in comparison to Christy teaching exercise classes while going through chemo treatment. Jeanna’s a runner who sticks with her passion regardless of aging’s indiscriminate attempt to slow her down. Audra seeks her adventurous la vida loca with courage I wish I still possessed.

My tribe extends to a family I’ve developed along the way. Alexis and Amy helped care for their ailing parents, served as their caregivers, but have still shouldered the societal judgement of choosing a childless life, which is their right as human beings. These amazing women rise above that nosiness with a class I could never muster.

My oldest and dearest yayas include Dena, Karen and Lisa. The other Karen, left this earth in 2011. We miss her like crazy but carry on our antics as often as possible. These girls, and I can say “girls” because I’ve known these women since we were girls, are part of my foundation and especially important in that regard.

Rhonda and Shelli support their friends even when their own self-care may wane. They’ve nurtured both the physical and emotional wellbeing of many a friend and family member.

My friend, Kay, recently introduced me to her delightful daughter, Jess. This plucky pair has endured a bout Jess had with breast cancer after losing their beloved husband and father. They did so with a style and grace I can’t imagine ever being able to encompass, and I admire them both greatly.

Marci, Shannon, Tina, Amanda, Robin, Amy & Dianne all manage households with smiles on their faces, many of whom lost their parents entirely too young. And, as everyone surely knows, Boy Moms can totally take anything thrown at them.

Another Amy friend searches for a treatment to works for her congenital heart condition while an unsuspecting person would never know there’s anything the matter with her. She’s also a Boy Mom who takes on the mental health care and sustenance of hundreds of high school students in her job and claims to love every minute of it. Who can love their job that much? I’m so jealous of her satisfaction there and the grace and hope with which she accepts the health hand life has dealt her. 

Last but, much like Baby, never ever put in the corner or last in line, is Sandy who motivates me and cheers me on, regardless of my latest hair-brained scheme. She packed her car full of sound equipment and TDed my “Brace Up, Girl” spoken-word showcase in May. Even on her own birthday, she spent the day “working” and called it fun. Not many will do that shit for somebody else AND drive them to the airport at the drop of a hat! Y’all should be jealous of me if she’s not your friend.

These women help enrich my life on the daily. They keep me grounded and grateful with where I’m at in this world. Yet I must also acknowledge those who got me here in the first place.

My mom labored harder than any woman in my life. She literally worked herself to the bone. I heard evidence of it through that grinding in her back with each agonizing step she took in the last months of her life as she struggled to maintain even an inkling of mobility and independence.

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accidental sorghum patch

The toughest person I will probably ever know was my dad. Beyond working a full-time manual labor job, he broke horses to ride, plowed gardens for people, grew row crops, and raised some livestock from time to time. He took care of that livestock until his cancer-ridden body would no longer allow him his labor of love and wracked his slight frame and he died at the “ripe old age” of only 55 years. I often sense his presence, even if it’s simply seeing a cattle salt lick in a field I pass or an empty cigarette pack that just happened to be his brand, and the love he instilled in me of the outdoors through which I pedal my bike.

Completing a 150-mile ride over two days this autumn is a lofty goal, but I’ll keep going until I just can’t any longer. That’s all I can try to do. The words in my head, “I might be tough, but …” need to stop. I can only try to keep getting tougher, similar to the people I admire.

I just look forward to the point when I can find some riding Zen and enjoy the process. In the meantime, my path makes me smile in rare fleeting moments.

Chicory growing along the shoulder of the road reminds me of my mentor, Bill, who served as a surrogate father for me at a time in life when I needed one. I spy other glimpses in the woods that make me think of my parents and them reassuring me how I can do this.

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Those fleeting times may get me through when the other times suck and I can’t get out of my head. Much like life, this “bike-athon” (what we’d call it back in grade school) will be full of ass-kicking hills instead of the flat straightaways I enjoy so much. Kathy tells me each person’s ride is her own. Coach Cass says she turns on her favorite song and enjoys the day. Maybe one day I can, too.

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The Chosen Ones

“Why is this jerk hanging around here?” Timmy wondered aloud. He realized the inevitable certainty his sisters would become interested in boys but still eyed their neighbor with suspicion when he showed up at the door. The visitor didn’t suit him one bit.

Luck brought the trio together by chance, finding a forever family within the foster care system never a guarantee. Timmy being younger than the twins didn’t keep him from feeling protective of their little nest of a home and hovered near them from the next room just like a mother bird.

The guy wouldn’t have a chance.

100-word challenge prompt – nest

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Mother’s Helper

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She hit the t.v. remote volume button thinking she heard a faint sound from the hallway and jumped up from the couch. Her instinct proved true.

“Hey, Tea! Tea, come here!” Her father sat atop the toilet, bluejeans pooled around his ankles, his right arm in a sling. His voice was low-pitched and barely audible, so she was glad she had heard it.  

Marty lived on her own but stayed overnight on weekends at her parents’ home to help keep an eye on things when her mom had to work. Make sure he didn’t burn the house down with an errant cigarette, a lit match on short-shag kindling. Smoking had started it all, so his lungs were the impetus but inoperable by that point.

Phillip called her “Tea Bag” ever since she was a baby with tiny drooping eyelids he claimed looked like saturated linen packets. Her father’s pet name for the youngest girl seemed to fit, so the moniker stuck.

Her birth certificate read Martha in honor of her paternal grandmother, but it was days before they settled on calling the baby Marty instead. By age 13 her mother insisted he use the diminutive instead of Phil’s pet name for her. “Come on, Phil. Other kids are going to tease her about it at school if they hear that. I’m surprised they haven’t already done it,” Mom practically begged.  

“I can’t reach the holder there. Grab me some t.p., would ya kid?” Phillip scratched out the question and jerked his head sideways to point toward the wall. Its close proximity meant nothing without a working appendage, the ulna vulnerable from a childhood break and recent radiation that rendered the arm useless. It hung limp without support, the now brown skin turned to leather, as if burned by 1000 suns.

His voice sounded like it dragged through gravel. Doctors blamed an electrolyte imbalance, so she almost hadn’t heard his weak call from the other room. Guilt feelings rose up from Marty’s imagined shirking of duties. Mother counted on her diligence. Somebody had to pay the bills. Dad’s early retirement sprang out of disability and employer insistence. He’d never work again.

“No problem, Daddy,” Marty answered and tore a strip of tissue from the roll dispenser while looking elsewhere. “That had to be embarrassing,” she thought. “Adds insult to injury, as if everything else wasn’t enough.”

Having cancer must be humbling.

Marty left him to finish business with tissue in his non-dominant hand in private. She stared out the living room window at dried Johnson grass rimming an adjacent field in a singular row that a mower must’ve missed. Its pale yellow hue resembled her father’s skin color, his liver affected among sundry body parts. The row, lit by a bright full moon, waved lazily in an early Spring breeze. Its motion lulled Marty’s anxiety. She couldn’t help mentally ruminating. “I’m glad Grandma doesn’t have to see her son like this.”

His mother came to see Phillip a day before he passed when his body resembled that of an Auschwitz prisoner, cheeks sunken and sallow, the disease having ravaged his body. When a mother outlives her child, an image of her beloved on his deathbed stays emblazoned on her mind’s eye until she reaches her own. The figurative retina remains forever scarred.

Noisy static and the television test pattern buzz disturbed Marty’s reverie. She followed the breaking story all night of a terrorist car bombing in an underground parking garage at the World Trade Center, what seemed millions of miles away from their farm but with damage relatively close to her aching heart. That national catastrophe seemed to parallel Daddy’s medical tragedy, personal calamity mirroring a relatively bigger catastrophe. The news day’s end meant she had to finally shut off the set and resolve herself to restless slumber on the couch.   

When the Twin Towers’ fell in 2011, longer after he was gone, she’d reminisce how that night spent with her father seemed so prescient in retrospect. The two NYC events co-mingled in a way that almost felt identical. She’d even later muse, “Was that in ‘93 or the “9-11” bombings?” Memory blurred by then.

Days later, loud barking outside startled Marty back to reality. Their beagle usually warned if someone pulled in the driveway, but she found no one there upon inspection. “Hush, Tyrone,” she admonished. “Daddy’s asleep. He needs his rest.” An epiphany later convinced her that had been when Phillip’s spirit took a last tour of his beloved farm and said goodbye to his dogs as he left. They bellowed in reply, bidding their master, “Salut … we’ll see you over the rainbow bridge, friend.”

All his kids called Phillip “Daddy,” at the risk of their peers thinking it weird and razzing them about it. Maybe it was a southern endearment or simple country slang. Marty thought how pride over the likes of that seemed so unimportant when her father asked for help with such an intimate task that night.

But the previous undertaking paled in comparison to a chore Mother demanded she assist with doing later when Phillip became comatose. A dying person’s body expels its last bit of waste before the lungs perform final functions.

“I can’t do it,” Marty begged her through tears and sniffed-back snot. “Don’t make me. His pants … I don’t want to see him that way.” The smell didn’t bother her as much as seeing her father’s nakedness.

Mother replied, “Well, we can’t clean him with his pajamas on. You don’t have to look. Just get over here and help me lift. Brace up, girl!” Daddy would’ve been mortified to know Marty helped with that job.

Tough love is a bitch. Dying is worse. Being there when to witness her father takes his last breath proved more personal than either of those duties.

He’d wanted to die at home, though, on the farm for which he still owed the bank, but in the house he’d helped build. His home, nonetheless. He died the next day on a hospital bed hospice workers set up in the dining room. A nurse warned it was just a matter of time, maybe hours.

Marty remembered the raspy, “Hey, Tea. Come here  a minute.” But Daddy wasn’t in the bathroom any more, and he’d never call for her help again. He’d never again sleep in front of the VCR tape’s 100th-plus “Smokey and The Bandit” viewing with “Eastbound and Down” lyrics blasting but never rousing him.  

Sometime prior she recalled learning about a “death rattle,” but had never heard one before. The nurse informed her, “That’s just his last breath being expelled, honey.” The elucidation didn’t soothe her.

The prognosis had been six months, but Phillip lived for only six weeks. His son was on one coast following in Phillip’s military footsteps while the oldest daughter lived on the opposite coast when he slipped into death. All his children had visited as he rested in that makeshift hospital room in the last month, though. They spent very few family meals in that room except at a birthday or Christmastime. The kids staged a dance party for him with James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” trying to coax the lyrical into becoming truth. A self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.

“Turn that off, girls. You’re making him nervous,” Mother admonished.

They kissed him as he lay on those sterile sheets where he’d withered away to nothing, cancer having eaten away at his already slim frame. He died in that house as he’d wished, the hospital bed soon afterward removed from the dining room.

Phillip’s family never ate in there again.

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Silenced Song

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Norman actually bragged on his body’s ability to create such an incredible level of stench. “I damn near ran everybody outta the bathroom at a bar in Dallas,” he laughed and hooked both thumbs in belt loops to hike up the waist of jeans trapped under his burgeoning girth. “That’s what they get on burrito night!” The man had no shame.

People joked about those generous bodily functions, even when they were canvassing the shoulder of the road for trash along a stretch emblazoned with a highway cleanup sign that read, “Sponsored by the Friends of Norman Blevins.” When the fellas down at the MFA heard about his passing, one commented, “That ornery ol’ cuss had a heart of gold. We all just loved him.” They’d slap him on the shoulder and laugh at his bad jokes. Many people felt the same way and ignored his flaws in favor of his endearing, if not slovenly, charm. He’d help anybody if their dead battery needed a jump or give them a hand with livestock.

Norm’s entrance at the tavern seemed an episode of that old show Cheers, with people calling his name when he walked through the door. He’d holler, “Lemme buy you a beer,” upon seeing a friend. Someone else would show up, so they’d have a few more. Most patrons thought the world of Norman and thought nothing at all of his getting behind the wheel to drive himself home.

They couldn’t believe the tragic newspaper headline announcing the accidental deaths of Norman Blevins and Brian Johnson..

Mrs. Johnson didn’t know Norman. She never met him since they lived in different parts of town, she on the opposite side where mostly black folks lived. The white patrolman who told came to deliver the news of her son’s death didn’t know her either. He’d only been in that neighborhood on past calls. If not for a few boys from there playing high school ball, cops only knew the ones who caused trouble.

Brian was a shy kid who made good grades. He hadn’t arrived home from band practice when his mother opened the door to find a state trooper who asked, “Are you Mrs. Johnson?” She didn’t hear anything else he said after he first uttered those words every parent dreads they might. They felt like a blow to her stomach.

Brian died at the hospital after being hit by a truck on his way home after school. A witness going in the other direction saw Norman Blevins’ truck tires drop off the shoulder and him swerve across the road and over-correct. A black teenager walking on the opposite grass shoulder got struck, thrown into the air, and propelled into the ditch. Much like the discarded bottles thrown out of vehicle windows and strewn along the road. The boy’s trumpet case lay hidden in the tall weeds until his younger brother found it while searching a few days after the funeral.

Norman had been headed back to town, set out for home from a bar he frequented out on the highway. His friends said with the twilight at that time of day he may not have realized he hit anything. The man they knew would never even hurt a fly. Blevins’ friends had the highway department put up a memorial sign within just a few weeks.

It disappeared in a couple days, though. Blades of foxtail later grew up through holes in the metal “Friends of Norman Blevins” signpost that stayed there in the ditch where Brian’s brother threw it in desperate anger and grief. His brother replaced it with a cross made of sticks, wound together with handles torn from Brian’s backpack he would never carry again. The boy meant the marker as a clarion so people might notice his brother’s absence from the world.

Brian didn’t hold a position like Blevins or his friends, but Brian’s brother wanted to show that he’d still been there. He just didn’t have the time to make as big an impression as the man who killed him. Only his teachers and their neighbors knew Brian, but his brother wanted everyone else to remember him, too. Although he would never play his trumpet again, it would still be heard.

*Writing prompt – ornery from Our Write Side

photo: Karen via Flickr

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Keeping House

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Patrice wouldn’t exactly call herself the domestic type, but James recognized that when he married her. Practically everyone who knew her realized the woman didn’t care to be a perfect housekeeper and cook.

That just wasn’t her thing, and she couldn’t understand how anyone could possibly be content to just care for her husband and kids. So many other activities tugged at her mind and begged, “Come this way. Do this instead.” Having a restless soul meant she agonized at staying still, and household duties dulled the senses, as far as Patrice was concerned.

On one occasion a man asked her, “Do you work outside the home?” She had to stifle a laugh before answering him. “Shit, as if working inside that place isn’t enough? And taking care of everything at the hardware store is just a trip to the carnival,” she mused. “Isn’t that a humdinger? I’ve got two full-time gigs going.”

True, their home had the trappings of a lower-middle class lifestyle – a front screen door with holes, manual garage door that didn’t open if it rained, and a taped-up window pane here and there —  but the man’s expression turned so sour when Patrice answered in such a surly manner. To her, having a job meant a steady check to manage the co-pays and balance left of what insurance didn’t cover from the doctors.

“Humpf, maybe he thinks you married the Queen of England, James. She just wanted to live in the country ghetto,” she muttered. Her husband shook his head but said nothing in return. He knew better with that mood showing. “It’s not like standing behind that counter listening to good ol’ boys grouse about nonsensical shit for eight hours straight isn’t bad enough.” Three extra-strength pain relievers didn’t even touch the headache she’d nursed all day.

Regardless of its center sinkhole, the mattress felt pretty soft when her head hit the pillow around 6 o’clock. Other nights it was as early as 5:30. Finding her with a washcloth drying across her forehead, a book splayed on the bed beside her, and eyes closed, James might leave a warm cup of broth on the night table. Many times, he just sat and rubbed her back before he left a glass of water there in case she woke up thirsty in the night.

Patrice contended somebody didn’t have to keep a meticulous house to be a whole woman. Theirs wasn’t actually a sty, maybe just more “lived-in” than others who hired a weekly cleaner. Having her in-laws look down their noses at her about it didn’t set well either. So what if dust crusted a few ceiling fan blades and little cat-hair tumbleweeds wound in behind the t.v. cabinet?

Priorities changed, and the couple no longer joined everyone for holiday dinners and birthdays. “I don’t appreciate their condescension, James. They think you’re Ethan Frome or something, I swear!” He felt for her and did as much as possible to ease her worry and suffering. Daily life became a shared effort in their home, as it should be anywhere, in Patrice’s opinion. Why shouldn’t everyone play a part?

Family members weren’t as vocal about Patrice’s taciturn inclination once she went into hospice care.

“She woulda liked to see you and the kids a little more while she was living. ‘Specially since she thought so much of little Annie.” James rubbed the brown curls on his niece’s head.

“At least the day turned out nice for her service, though” he said leaving the graveside. Gravel crunched under his dress shoes and covered the siblings’ awkward silence on their way to separate cars. His sister’s furrowed brow hinted at remorse. He thought to himself, “Wouldn’t Patrice have snickered at that?”

James drove home in dread of a floor that needed swept and dirty dishes that awaited him there. Those things and a pile of unpaid bills on the table in an otherwise empty kitchen.

Our Write Side – Two Word Tuesday

(photo courtesy Old White Truck)

 

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Consequence of Time

a houseTen children were born in the two-bedroom house over the years, with indoor plumbing installed only after the youngest became a teenager. They were all born and grew up in that tiny place their father built. Talmadge, Iris, Talbot, Ernie, Loretta, Pearl, James, Frank, Myrna, and little Minnie.

Mother kept house as well as she could, in between having babies, and tried to put meals on the table with the meager means her sporadically-employed husband provided. Ernest, a sullen man, began to bald early. His worries of finding work as an uneducated laborer and supporting his growing brood aged the man sooner than his time. Mother birthed children for so long she looked like a grandmother by the last baby’s arrival.

Their ages spanned so many years that Iris, much an adult herself by then, was left to name Minnie, choosing the moniker from Disney’s famous character of the time. Their parents’ preferences ran dry by then. Some cried themselves to sleep at night without enough to eat.

Iris resented her father for making Mother have so many children. “You’d think she was a dog with that many puppies in a lifetime litter,” she said. “Worked like one, too, caring for us all.” She remembered the want all too well.

She told, “Aunt Mertie sent us a few staples. Things we could use. We’d pull our wagon up to her house a couple blocks away when the water got shut off. Musta had the utilities come due and couldn’t pay ‘em. Had to fill lard cans with water and haul it on home to cook and wash with it.”

That’s what families did, helped during the hard times. No amount of ridicule from neighbor kids riled them much. Iris recounted, “We was just kids. Didn’t know any different.”

She relayed stories of siblings dropping out of school, some of the boys joining the military, other brothers following their father into menial labor. Only little Minnie ever graduated from high school. “With no money, us girls had to go to work right away or else get married. Couldn’t stay with Mother and Daddy in that ol’ house with all those kids piled on toppa each other. Too many mouths to feed.”

Iris grew wistful and looked up at the ceiling, deep in thought. Finally, she said, “Talmadge disappeared after a spell. Nobody saw him for ages, so we were left to believe he either went to jail or got killed. Broke my mother’s heart to not know what happened to her boy.” His name couldn’t be repeated at home, either because of the grief of his absence or their father’s anger at him leaving them all guessing.

“My mother cried when telling me how James left for the rails, though,” said Iris. Her hands twisted around upon each other, and she picked at her cuticles in nervousness. “I already married by that time but still loved my little brother,” she explained. “He weren’t worthless like Ernie, who couldn’t put his mind to hard work and ended up in a den of thieves. Not an ambitious bone in his body.”

Iris sniffed back a sob, pulled a tissue from its box, and continued. “I miss that James the most. He wanted to see the world and figured jumpin’ freight cars to be the easiest way to go about it. We got a telegram from a hospital in Pennsylvania to let us know he’d died. Nurse found a note in his pocket to notify us of his whereabouts. We all mourned.” The woman’s weary face resembled her mother’s in later years, eyes still wearing their mutual sorrow. It’s hard to tell truth from what’s imagined.

The staff refer to her demeanor late in the day as “Sundowner Syndrome.” Iris gets agitated at the remembering, and her mind wanders when she re-tells family stories. Details hint at actuality, but the dementia often brings out more fanciful tales.

“Yes, little Minnie.” She shook her head slowly back and forth. “Minnie didn’t know James like I did, was too young when he left. The girl only knew from what we told her. Just like I’m telling you now.” Iris fidgeted in her faded blue glider, the seat’s padding molded where her backside rested most of the day.

She’d once been quite a looker, fully coiffed at the beauty parlor every week, nails freshly painted – the epitome of a kempt woman. Brushing her short-cropped gray hair back from her face, she turned toward the dining hall. “About suppertime, ain’t it? I can tell you more later if you still wanna listen.”

Upon returning to her room, she wouldn’t remember where she left off.

***

s30pStudio 30+ writing prompt – ridicule Image: US National Archives

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Role Reversal

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The bathroom faucet ran full blast while Ann Marie scrubbed her hands with antibacterial soap, wringing them over and over and willing the foam to cleanse her system of any germs she might happen to miss washing away. All the water being wasted never entered her mind as she muttered to herself, “Gotta get under the nails.” Her obsession to get them clean overrode even her previous distraction with the tasks that first dirtied them.

She swore she’d never admit it aloud to anyone. Not her mother or even her friends. She didn’t feel any natural inclination toward caretaking whatsoever and was ashamed of herself for it.

Fully realizing she wasn’t cut out for this type of work, she felt a responsibility to help out anyway. Ann Marie just loathed the aroma of it all. Such a noisome bother to her delicate sensibilities.

Cleaning up after other people’s bodily functions made her almost sick to her stomach, no matter how close the familial connection. Nursing was not Ann Marie’s forte.

Even a faint whiff of vomit or just the sound of another person breaking wind triggered her gag reflex and sent her scrambling for a waste basket. So helping care for her grandfather, at her mother’s insistence, exceeded her comfort level. She begged for any other task than his personal care – manicuring the lawn, cleaning out gutters, dusting the ceiling fans – anything except clipping ear hair or rinsing bed pans. Hearing other people’s bodily functions was just too intimate, especially at such close range in his tiny little house.

It broke her heart to so loath such closeness. The sights, the sounds, the smells.

Tears flowed from her eyes as water rushed into the kitchen sink. Having her hands submerged in floating food particles and dinner’s remnants didn’t compare, because she couldn’t see anything gross. Soap suds across the surface made washing dishes a thoughtless and impersonal action, one that lacked any human offal. Only imperceptible organic leftovers. No gas, urine or mucous.

She would willingly complete any other menial chore, clean the house or take out the trash. Flashes came to mind of how her parents left her with her grandpa when she was a toddler. He read her stories and helped teach her to ride a bike. No doubt he’d changed his share of her diapers, but she couldn’t fathom doing the same for him. Life’s circle brought her around to reciprocate nonetheless.

He called from the bedroom, “Ann Marie, come in here please.” His voice resounded with the pain that wracked his withering body, no longer the sturdy frame that previously towered above everyone throughout her comparatively short life span. An overwhelming odor took over her senses in crossing the door’s threshold. She blinked back a reaction so he couldn’t sense her disgust.

She feigned a smile and asked, “What do you need, Grandpa?” His kind eyes and gentle smile reminded Ann Marie how much he meant to her, how much she loved him. That’s why she was there. The phrase repeated in her head, “I can do this. I can do this.” Flipping on the table-top fan to sweep the smelly air in the opposite direction, she told him, “Let’s get you cleaned up.”

*The writing prompts “noisome or smelly” came from Studio 30+.

Studio30(top image: goodhusbanding.com)

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L’chaim

The usual fodder here is fiction, my random musings generally prompted by online writing communities. Today I’m unnaturally reflective, as it’s my 48th birthday. Big deal, right? Aging may suck, but it’s better than the alternative.

Having recently been diagnosed with beginning stage osteoarthritis, I feel like whining. My fingers and palms ache every morning when I wake up.  BUT … I wake up. I can move. I can go to work. Life is good.

Even though I’m not an outwardly demonstrative person, emotion got the best of me over the weekend. My seven-year old insisted on knowing whether or not Santa Claus is real and gave me several possibilities of who first presented the possibility to him. After pressing me several times, I fessed up, and he got pretty upset at the reality. I couldn’t uphold the façade when he asked me not to lie to him. So we both cried, inching so much further to the total erasure of innocence. He told me that his “imagination was closed,” and the statement almost broke my heart. I want him to stay as young and unaffected for as long as he can.

We are so fortunate to have such a great kid, no matter how old we are. My biggest fear in life is to miss seeing him grow up and pass all the milestones people take for granted are guaranteed to us.

My friend, Mary, recently received a lung cancer diagnosis. She is also 48 years old and full of life. Although we only converse via social media any more, I doubt she will dare utter any negativity about her precarious situation. That’s not her style. The woman is fierce, and I admire her bravery.

I raise my proverbial glass to another year of possibilities – cheers!

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The Weight of Blood – book review

McHughCountry noir — as dubbed by one of my favorite authors, Daniel Woodrell, is on my top shelf of genres.  So I don’t mind dark brooding stories. Living in the same part of the United States as the fictional town of Henbane, we are lucky to be somewhat oblivious to the realistic base for this type of crime. The author began her book tour locally and mentioned at her first signing how she got the idea from a real life crime scenario that happened not too far away from here. While this particular tale is about some people who are seriously creepy and depraved, the events are told in such a way that a more desensitized reader (like me) continues eagerly turning pages.

Although the “culprit” emerged early on, I kept grasping at Lila’s outcome and her daughter Lucy’s future. My curiosity was piqued by more than just the beautifully crafted descriptions of Ozarks’ scenery I’m used to but that some people aren’t privileged to see. These characters became real women whose predicaments made me cringe, and I hoped in vain for the best for both protagonists.

The scenario in this book was more palatable than some to which it’s being compared. McHugh’s characters meant more to me than most of those in a Daniel Woodrell or Gillian Flynn story, because I wanted to like them. As far as the connections to those authors being drawn, there was more hopefulness for the women of Henbane regardless of its misery. Even though I realize the fuller desperation of Woodrell’s and Flynn’s females, my overall impression of that work may (unfortunately or unfairly) fall on how well they draw unlikable people. McHugh’s main characters are sympathetic, while Flynn admits to creating the lesser-seen female villain, and Woodrell many times pens women for whom there is little hope at all. Who’s to say which is more realistic of the three styles? McHugh is a burgeoning author who deserves her own kudos if she can ever escape the comparisons.

Even though I sing praises for McHugh’s ability to build tension, her characters aren’t 100% flawless. I had a hard time believing the implicit loyalty between the Dane brothers, family ties be damned. That much sociopathy surely limits the ability to truly love other people, even family, so the fierce devotion did not ring true. I, however, loved the juxtaposition of that loyalty with moral conscience and how the two concepts competed against each other in all the interlaced characters’ lives. The way McHugh weaved those ideas throughout this too-true-to-life crime story was done very well.

Truth is truly stranger and sadder than fiction, but we can’t live in constant fear of the criminally anti-social elements in our midst. I prefer to remain mindfully unaware, at the risk of living in denial, of that ugly felonious sort and just read about it through the creative capacity of writers like McHugh and Woodrell. People like the Henbanians (Henbanites?) are everywhere, and I carelessly choose to believe in the good (ala Lucy) and middle-of-the-roaders — those long teetering toward the good side (Jamie), even if that road is paved with gravel out in the middle of nowhere. Besides, it’s pretty out there.

I’d rather think the Birdies out-number the Joe Bills. Naive as it may be, I want to believe more quality citizens exist than degenerates. Let’s hope they’re the out-liers, the miscreants just laying low, hiding in plain sight but concealing their actions from detection, left to speculation within a good book like The Weight of Blood.

 

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Shopping

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via teedlo on Flickr

Ed raised his head upon entering the building, was shocked to see his brother-in-law, and asked him, “What are you doing here?”

The reply was not what he expected. Gary’s eyes widened, and he countered with, “What do you mean what am I doing here? What are you doing here?”

Both men were taken aback by the other’s presence at the adult bookstore, and they glanced around the place to see if anyone else was there who would recognize them. Embarrassment radiated from their mutually crimson faces.

Ed blocked the doorway behind him with his imposing frame and maneuvered himself between the exit and the cash register where his wife’s brother, Gary, stood. Ed didn’t want Gary to see his younger sister waiting in the parking lot outside the porn store. He felt as if he was caught buying condoms on their first date.

The couple’s sex life, and any intricate details of it aided by items procured from the premises, were none of Gary’s business. Ed’s mind instantly flashed to how he could hide Regina’s presence there and save face no matter how impossible it seemed since Gary was paying for his purchase as they spoke. He’d leave momentarily and see Regina awaiting her dirty-movie-renting or KY-Jelly-buying husband’s imminent return.

Theirs was an otherwise stunted and awkward conversation punctuated with an atypical silence before it ended with the two otherwise confident men left shuffling their feet and staring at their shoes. Normal banter centered about the latest football score and whose team was bound for the bowl game, a rivalry between their favorites normally spurring their competitive natures, but the weekend’s cold snap was the only safe topic to be found. Gary finally took his leave with an uncomfortable, “Well … that about does it.” He gave a quick nod and added, “See ya.”

Hands in his pockets, Ed nodded back and offered, “Yeah, see ya around.” Seeing his brother-in-law at the porn shop while he checked out a raunchy DVD was not the place Ed had mind. So sheepish at the surprise that he totally forgot what Regina had asked him to get — strawberry flavored something, Playgirl magazine, sex swing — he had no recall whatsoever. Shaking his head in disbelief, he snickered to himself and turned back in retreat to the car.

The man was shocked to discover what waited for him outside the glass advertising-covered door. Gary’s wife and Regina both sat in the cab of Gary’s truck grinning like two Cheshire cats. Funny, Ed didn’t notice the truck there when they first arrived.

His brother-in-law hadn’t yet worked up enough courage to get back into the truck’s driver seat and turned back to Ed, shrugging his shoulders in deference to the women. Gary lifted his hands out to his sides, chuckled, and shouted back to Ed, “So who do you think is gonna win that game on Sunday?”

*prompted by “What are you doing here” from Studio 30 Plus

s30p

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