Goodbye, goodbye

As my editor works on my novel, The Rocky Orchard, I may have been struck with a possible idea for my next book…

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I hated that school.  That hated school in that dreadful town.  That dreadful town in the part of the world where winter was not even winter.  Not the light snowfalls that dusted each twig of each tree and lay spread out across the hills where I had grown up.  Where the tiny footprints of birds and chipmunks and squirrels left their perfect imprints across our yards.  In this feckless land, winter was nothing more than an endless gray sky that spit intervals of drizzle.  The drizzle froze on the ground, making the school an ugly and hazardous wasteland of ice.  A wasteland that tripped us and made us fall down and spit on us as we lay on the ground.

A year so bad that I passed the time mainly by drinking too much.  A year so bad that I got an ungodly amount of pleasure from barfing out the window of my fourth-floor dormitory room.  I didn’t plan this, and was likely too far gone in my misery to have thought of such a magnificent metaphor.  I had drunk most of a bottle of Southern Comfort and was, quite simply, too drunk to make it to the bathroom.  Being that drunk also meant, as it turned out, that I could not lean my head very far out of the beautiful Gothic window without losing my balance.  I held on to each side of the window frame to steady myself and leaned my chin on the sill.  Hence, the vomit cascaded down the entire length of the side wall, where the winter temperatures froze it in place.

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And where it remained for a very long time.  A slight warming of the temperature, or a sleety mix, would cause sections of the whole to rain down, creeping its way through the brick and ivy as the mass oozed farther down the wall.  Sometimes, a larger chunk would break off all at once and hit the ground below.  I checked my vomit every day, as if it were a pet, as if it were something precious whose care was my honor and responsibility.  By early spring, the last vestiges of the only Southern Comfort I would ever drink were gone.

I wanted to leave so much that I had been counting down the days, making large X’s on an enormous wall calendar like a child marking the time until Christmas, or the end of a school year with a teacher whose dislike of teaching was only surpassed by their hated of children.

It was my last night on campus.  All I wanted to do was say goodbye.  Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.  It was time; it was finally time.  I had nothing left to do but take my victory lap around the campus and hug hug kiss kiss the assorted souls who had weathered the winter of my discontent along side of me.  I was gleeful.  I was drunk.  I was pressed for time.

I could not find my friend Patrick.  John hadn’t seen him.  Sandy hadn’t seen him.  Brent had seen him earlier, but…. Charlie said, yeah, he was just here. I’m pretty sure he’s in the bathroom.  As I mentioned, I was drunk.  And pressed for time.  I flung open the door to the men’s bathroom on the floor of his dormitory, and found Patrick unzipped and just beginning to eject an impressively forceful stream from what seemed to me, having little to no experience here, to also be an impressive distance from the target.

Patrick turned his head at the recognition of my voice, as I began the delivery of my goodbye message.  Then the overall nature of the situation seemed to occur to him, as he registered – in rapid succession – shock, surprise, perplexity, amusement, and all-out mirth, as evidenced by an open-mouthed belly laugh.  My own emotions, amazingly enough, ran much the same gamut, but in reverse, as Patrick had continued to pee an enormous, unwavering stream the entire time that I had been talking and he had been laughing.

I was amazed, and felt like it was one of the most interesting and significant and noteworthy things that had happened to me in that entire year.  I remarked on this to Patrick, who continued to both laugh AND PEE.  A small crowd had gathered in the men’s bathroom, as word passed about this event; so there was, in fact, a group of people watching me watching Patrick Killarney pee while I said my last goodbye.  He zipped up and we hugged and I practically skipped back to my room knowing I would leave this awful world behind me the next morning.

Girl-in-the-Men-s-Bathroom--88354

How was I to know that forty-five years later, Patrick Killarney would tell me that I had changed the course of his life.

 

 

Whip-poor-will

Here is a new section from my WIP novel tentatively titled, The Rocky Orchard.  Enjoy!

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I lie awake for a long time.  It is the first time I have ever slept in the big bed – my aunt’s bed.

We climbed the stairs hand in hand, after everyone left: Woo, and my parents, and the little cousins grown tall and round but no less like fairies than always.  We wanted this night, our first night as married lovers, all to ourselves.  I lie here like a child on Christmas Eve, wanting to fall asleep so the morning will come faster. And being completely unable to fall asleep because I am too excited.  I listen for your first light snores.  I listen for them every night, as you always fall asleep before I do. Even when you tell me in the morning that you tossed and turned for countless time before you could fall asleep, I know better. I hear the snores.  They thrill me.  They comfort me.  They make me feel like I am safe, like I am trusted.

You shift your head and nuzzle into your pillow.  You clear your throat.  One half of one snore escapes your mouth, and your eyes open wide as you say, “Oh my God, a whip-or-will!”

I laugh out loud.  You are a collector of bird songs.  I am used to this.  You stubbornly remain in bed each morning until you hear at least one good, clear unusual bird song.  Not “trash birds” as you so adorably refer to the rowdy collection of sparrows, starlings, wrens and even robins that inhabit western Pennsylvania.  Many a morning have I opened my eyes to you saying, “Not a damn thing but trash birds this morning.  I’m staying put until something better comes along.  Even a cardinal.  Might even settle for a mourning dove.”

“Did you hear it?” you ask me.  “I mean, it could be a mockingbird.  Could always be a mockingbird who’s imitating a whip-or-will, but I’m counting it as a whip-or-will.”

I laugh again and trace my finger down the center of your face.  A fire comes into your eye.  You reach your hand around the back of my head and you pull me to you.  We make love, again.  Not like the first time tonight, not while we were still at the stop of the stairs, tearing at each other’s clothes, dropping to our knees on the raw oak floor.

We take our time.  Even in the dark of the country night, we see one another.  Our bodies are not nearly as naked as we are, in so many ways, on the night of our wedding.

I am the luckiest person in the world.

 

Painting by Kazimir Malevich

 

Different Voices

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The Rocky Orchard will be my fourth novel; it will be the third one of those novels where I have re-written a large section by changing the narrative voice from the third person to the first person, or the other way around.  The voice — whether the story is told from the perspective of “I did this,” or whether it’s told from an outside perspective of an onlooker as “they did this,” is pivotal to everything about how the book unfolds and how the story gets told.  I thought it would be interesting to post the same section of The Rocky Orchard in two different voices.  Let me know your thoughts.

First person version:

It’s been a long time since I’ve stood on this porch.  One of my favorite places in the world.  I take two more steps to my left, and I am at the exact spot where I can see the farthest in three different directions.  Two whole sides of the old farmhouse and the wraparound porch that encircles them. On the front section of the porch the black wooden swing hangs from the ceiling, a few of my grandmother’s old throw pillows still strewn across the back.  The creaky single bed with its blue-and-white embroidered cover – both there since my parents bought this place – takes up the far corner, keeping its lookout into the cave created by the copse of towering pines.  The overflow bed, for times when we had more people visiting than would fit in the ten other sleeping places scattered throughout three of the house’s four rooms.  Or when it was so hot, so unbearably killingly humid, that Woo would opt to sleep on the porch.  I never slept well when he did this.  I missed him being in the other twin bed in our upstairs room.  I felt betrayed.

Beyond the porch itself, through the slight warbly dimming of the screen’s grid, a panoramic sweep of the land outside.  Not all the much to see to the left, as the stone pathway leading from the porch door up to the dirt road runs up a steep bank.  I have to stoop down to get a glimpse of the road itself; otherwise the view is of a vertical slope, covered by a motley assortment of ferns, and a couple of tenacious mountain laurel, clinging to the slope and struggling to keep their grip and survive.

The springhouse, off to the right in its own little valley, with its eternal smell – a pungent mixture of creosote and gasoline and a million leftover pieces and parts of a million abandoned projects that have been there forever.  Long before we got here. Useless tools, boxes of screws, cartons of nails, shell cases, gas cans, broken mouse traps, hoses, pipe sections, caulk.  We kept a combination lock on the rusty hasp on the springhouse door.  I used to test myself each spring, after a whole winter of not coming here had gone by, to see if I could still remember the combination.  But mostly, I was testing myself.  The springhouse was one of so many things I was terrified of.  I would open the combination lock, take off the old hasp, and see how many steps I could walk into the springhouse itself.  I would stand there, just breathing the acrid air, looking at the relics that covered most of the floor space anyway.  Sometimes I would touch a couple of things.  But mostly it was about standing there, forcing myself to face my own terror, maybe a few more seconds each year.

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Third person version:

“What a strange place to put an orchard,” Mazie thought to herself.  Mazie stood at the exact spot on the wrap-around porch — the one that covered two full sides of the old farm house – where she could see the farthest in three different directions. “I never could figure out why there.”

There was not all that much to see to her left, as the stone path leading from the porch door was steep enough that you had to stoop down just a tad to see the old dirt road at the path’s end.  The steep bank had always been covered with a motley assortment of ferns, with a couple of scrawny mountain laurel struggling to survive on the slope.  To her right sat the old shed, and beyond, the small, spring-fed lake her parents had dredged, and the wide expanse of field that abruptly ended at the edge of the thick woods.  In the spring, if you listened very carefully, you could hear the little creek that lay just beyond the farthest edge of the field, at the very beginning of the trail into the woods.  Full and ripe with the winter’s runoff, the freezing water tumbled over the rocks in rushing abandon.  You could hear it, even from such a distance, before it began its languishing journey from bursting its muddy banks, to flowing in a steady and patient stream, to trickling in ever-shifting paths between the mossy stones, to its eventual disappearance in the flush of summer.

Where Mazie came from, it was a point of contention whether the proper way to say the word was “creek” or “crick.”  Feelings ran strong about this.  Weekend people, people who did not live there full-time – like Mazie’s family – generally said “creek;” locals said “crick.”  But if you tried to say it like they did, to be nice when you were talking to them, they assumed you were making fun and immediately got quiet or mean.  It made Mazie tired to think about.

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Middle painting: Cathleen Rehfeld

Bottom painting: Frederic Belaubre

Saint Peter

A new snippet from my novel The Rocky Orchard.  Enjoy!

Wyeth-5

My parents wanted to drag out the weekend as long as they possibly could.  We all did.  We’d sit around the supper table, everyone getting quieter and quieter.  The cicadas’ drone swelled and then fell as the sunlight faded.  The lights of fireflies appeared here and there, sporadic, few and far between.  We’d pack our stuff into the van, each of us knowing our tasks.  By the time we were ready to hit the road, we were immersed in that blacker-than-black of night in the woods. I feel it now. The end-of-the-weekend languor, the sadness at leaving.  It’s a confusing feeling, like I am partly gone from the place I’m still in.  One foot already out; one still in.”  I say to Lula, “By the way — what would you call this? A hill or a mountain?  This piece of geography that we’re on top of?”

“Oh dear, I’m not really sure I’m clear on the difference.  When does the one become the other?”

“Whichever it is, we’re pretty much at the very top, right?  Once you get out to the main road, it’s all downhill from there, in every direction.  You know what my father used to do?   We’d pack everything up and pile into the car, drive out to the paved road and stop at the very topmost part of the mountain. My father would put the car in neutral, and he’d see if he could coast the entire way down the hill or mountain or whatever it is, going faster and faster and faster, without once hitting the brakes.  Around all those curves and bends.  Sometimes in total darkness — you know there aren’t any streetlights out here.  Sometimes he’d turn the headlights off; he swore he could get a better look at the road without those pesky headlights.  My brother Woo and I would yell ‘Weeeeeeeee Weeeeeeeeee’ and we’d hold our feet up in the air—somehow that was part of the magic: our feet had to be held high up and never touch the floor of the car.  When we got to the bottom, we’d clap our hands and bounce up and down on the car seats and whoop it up like crazy.”

laurel mountain

Lula stares at me and says nothing.  I have learned that this always hides something deeper. “What?” I ask her.

Lula shifts uncomfortably in her chair.  “Was that fun, Mazie?”

“Well, sure.  I just said how my brother and I would be beside ourselves.”

Lula looks straight ahead again for a moment, then says, “I’d certainly be beside myself.  I’d be scared half to death.”

It’s my turn to look straight ahead.  “You’re a party pooper,” I say. “Ever heard that expression?  Know what it means?”

“Of course I know what it means,” Lula says.  “Even if I hadn’t heard it before, the expression is rather incontrovertibly self-evident.  Do you know what that means?  Incontrovertibly?”

“Why are you getting so cranky about this?  I thought I was telling you about a fun adventure we had, and next thing I know you’ve gone all Smokey the Bear serious.”

We are both silent for a long while, which makes me feel sad and helpless.  But I’m also annoyed.  Angry, even.  Unreasonably so.  My own sign that something lurks beneath my surface.  “Did that honestly sound scary to you?”

“Yes,” Lula says simply.

Again, we sit in silence.

“My father drank a lot.”

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“Yes, I remember you mentioned.”

 

I swallow hard.  “He started at eleven.  Drinking, I mean.  He checked his watch.”

Lula says nothing.

“As if checking his watch and waiting til 11:00 made it better somehow.”

Lula swishes a fly from her face.  I squish a mosquito on my thigh.  He makes an ungoldly mess of bug splash and smears of my blood.  I lick my thumb and rub at the spot. “It seemed like we passed so many car accidents when we drove home. Flashing lights and total chaos.  People wandering through scenes of crushed vehicles and strewn wreckage.  Every once in a while, we’d catch sight of someone lying on the ground.  We’d all look as we drove by, and all four of us would give our assessment of whether we thought anyone had died.  Sometimes, we were in complete agreement.  It was easy to see that someone had.  Inside of myself, I knew that could be us.  My family.  It could so easily have been us. I wondered which of us might live.  Which of us would die.

A loud sigh escapes from me, unforeseen. My hands seem to be trembling.  “We were in an accident, actually.  My father lost control of the car somehow, and we careened all over the road before the car came to a stop.  My mother broke her collar bone.  The skin on my knee was completely scraped off, but I was fine otherwise.  My father didn’t have a scratch on him.  Woo, in the back seat with me, hit his head and lost consciousness, I guess.  When the first passerby stopped, he looked in and saw Woo on the floor of the car.  Woo woke up and saw the man looking down on him and said, “Are you St. Peter?”  My family laughed about that for years.  Like it was the funniest thing in the world.  “Are you St. Peter?”

coaster

Top artwork: Andrew Wyeth

2nd photo: Laurel Mountain, Pennsylvania

Wedding Day

Bride-field-flowers

I always wanted to get married at the farm. From the very first summer after we bought it. When the wildflowers and the mountain laurels burst out that first spring, and the ferns came out of nowhere with their fragile, curled fiddleheads pushing through the still-cold ground and towering toward the sky.  This is the place, I thought, where I want to join another person’s life.  I will gather an armful of wildflowers as I walk to meet my future husband.  The orange of lilies, the creamy white of Queen Anne’s lace, the vibrant gold of black-eyed Susans, the lavender of wild Phlox.  Maybe I will weave a crown of flowers to wear around my head as well.

I will to stand at the “crossroads” of the farm for the ceremony —  the patch of sloping lawn between the front and the side of the house,  the small patch of grass that links the orchard, the meadow, and the path that leads to the copse of old pines. And beyond the pines, the wide lawn that leads to the creek.  The ramshackle springhouse stands at the lowest point of this patch, built over the natural spring that feeds our pond.  Ungodly amounts of intestine-like tubes of tadpole eggs appear each spring, another astounding harbinger of life.  Of rebirth.

The crossroads-lawn is a mere few steps from the house, so I can be barefoot.  I will feel the grass underneath my feet, the blades that I will tamp down with the soles of my feet; but they will stand again.  They will feel the sun’s rays, and they will grow.  I want to be in touch with the ground, with the earth, when I marry.  I want to be tied to the world, to connect with the nature of the things – with my feet touching the grass that is rooted in the dirt that is the top layer of the earth that is part of a universe.

And now here it is, it’s today, it’s today.  I am getting married.  It’s my wedding day.  I will marry Eddie, my Eddie.

I look at myself one final time in the little mirror on the kitchen wall.  I grab the orange and white and purple and yellow bouquet of flowers that Eddie picked first thing this morning.  He surprised me, tickling me with the tallest flowers while I still slept, then handing me a cup of coffee in my favorite crazy, chipped mug.  I ran to the kitchen and put the wildflowers in an old mason jar filled with water and ice to keep them fresh.

bouquet

I look down at my bare toes.  This is so much like I always pictured it.  How did I get this lucky?  How did I  find a man to love, to love me back. A man who not only fell in love with me, but with my childhood wish to be married at my family’s farm?  Who got a tear in his eye when I told it to him, who kissed my hand and said: how could I not want to honor this dream of yours?

Eddie, my Eddie.  I step across the threshold between the kitchen and the porch, and I get my first glimpse of you.  Our families are scattered about the lawn.  I hear low voices, laughter.  Your brother clears his throat and coughs into his hand.  My brother pats him on the back.

As if you can sense my presence, you turn your head.  You see me.

I will step off the porch and I will feel the grass underneath my feet and I will say the  words and you will say the words and our eyes will stay locked to one another’s and we will be a woman and a man who are united.  With our families and the universe watching, we will be united.

I take a deep breath.  One last look the scene before I am in the middle of it.  Woo picks up his violin and starts to play.  It’s time.

I swear I see movement at the edge of the orchard.  Moving away from the gathering. Like someone was here and decided to leave, but who in the world would do that? No one; that’s who.  I must be more of an anxious bride than I thought.  The old scaredy-cat me rearing her ugly little head.  Wait, is that fringe I’m seeing?  Long fringe, like from a jacket, fluttering every which way?  I know that fringe.

But Woo is playing.  And I am imaging things.  It’s time.

Bride-3

Each of these excerpts from my novel The Rocky Orchard is meant to be a stand-alone snippet that piques your interest.  Like the majority of my writing, the past and present intermingle freely; memory and “reality” can be indistinguishable. It’s not meant to be a jigsaw puzzle to figure out, but rather, an aperitif to whet your appetite for more.

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Fates

Each of these excerpts from my novel The Rocky Orchard is meant to be a stand-alone snippet that piques your interest.  Like the majority of my writing, the past and present intermingle freely; memory and reality can be indistinguishable; both first- and third-person narration are used to underscore these themes.  It’s not meant to be a jigsaw puzzle to figure out, but rather, an aperitif to whet your appetite for more.

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Three little girls.  After my aunt lost all those babies – fifteen, I was told — she had three in a row, bang bang bang, all girls.  First a blonde with piercing grey eyes and an old-soul seriousness.  Once I got over my initial inexperience with babies in general, and my cousin in particular, I thought she was fascinating.  Next came a dark brunette, with huge brown eyes and round red cheeks who grinned ear-to-ear at everything.  Another blonde arrived third, but not the white blonde of her oldest sister.  This one’s hair looked as if it had been painted by hand, the streaks of varying yellow tones perfectly drawn.  She sucked her middle two fingers, not her thumb, which I thought was the most adorable, heart-melting, and wildly exotic thing imaginable.  I watched her in her highchair, the sun doing magic with her the bands of color in her hair, sucking her tiny fingers in between bites of food.

They were like fairies to me.  Perfect little creatures from some other world where they had their own secret language and habits and riddles.

On one of their visits to our old farm, when they were around 7, 8 and 9 years old, the cloudless summer sky suddenly changed hue to a slight gray.  In less than an hour, the sky was a solid ceiling of deep steel. You could not see individual clouds, but rather feel that the sky had moved closer to the earth, and was threatening to cause menace.

Was that a flash, a suggestion of light through the thick wall of clouds?

The faint rumble a number of seconds later affirmed that it was.

My little cousins had never seen a thunderstorm.  There was no such thing where they came from.  And though they had heard about the storms, and read about them in books, they could no more imagine the reality than I could understand their secret language.

After the first, faint rumble, my aunt gathered her daughters.  They stood on the porch of our farm, waiting.  The first few raindrops plopped, slowly enough that you could hear each one hit the leaf, or branch, or patch of ground where it landed.  The rain turned into a gentle, steady shower and a more distinct flash of light lit the cloud cover.  I don’t know which of the little cousins let out the first scream when the thunder came, but they all followed suit.  The shower became a downpour, a rain unlike any they had seen.  The girls grabbed one another’s hands and stood in a tight circle.

3girls

A bolt of lightning shot through the air at the edge of the orchard, not fifty yards from where we all stood, so close that we heard the sizzle as the massive electricity seared through the air.  The quick-following clap of the thunder was deafening, but not so loud that it drowned out the little girls.  They screamed and laughed and clutched tight to each other’s hands and danced  and jumped and screamed some more.

The next lightning bolt came right on the heels of the last, and was even closer.  We saw it stab into a high branch on one of the tallest trees at the orchard’s edge.  The branch crashed to the ground, the sound completely obliterated by the roar of the thunder.  The porch shook beneath our feet.  I had never felt the ground beneath my feet move before, and I could not understand how this could happen.  But my cousins had grown up where there are earthquakes, and did not bat an eye.

It was a day of magic.  Of the once-solid earth moving beneath me, of electric bolts lighting up the sky.  Of the air around us dividing in two and crashing back together in a earsplitting roar.  The little cousins. The Weird Sisters.  The Three Fates.

The kind of magic that is always here.  At the old farm.

lightning2

lightning

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Doorbell

For those of you who are following the blogs postings of my fourth novel, The Rocky Orchard, each one is meant to be a stand-alone snippet that piques your interest.  Like the majority of my writing, the past and present intermingle freely; memory and reality can be indistinguishable; both first- and third-person narration are used to underscore these themes.  It’s not meant to be a jigsaw puzzle to figure out, but rather, an appetizer to whet your appetite for more.

 

My brother looks at the floor when he has to walk past me so he won’t have to make eye contact.  I don’t need to see his eyes to feel the fire that is there, the disappointment, the stony disapproval.  He is furious.  At me.  Doug is, too; but at least Doug will look me in the eye once in a while. I see weary pity for me.

My brother chose sides, and he didn’t choose mine.

I was born with my eyes locked onto my big brother.  I followed him around and watched everything he did and wanted to do all those things myself.  And now, it’s like I am forced to watch as he gets into a car, locks the doors, and keeps driving farther and farther away while I just stand here.

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Of course our after-school foursome broke up.  I am home by myself today, just like I am every day while my mother picks up my brother from his after-school stuff.  The doorbell rings.  The doorbell rings at 2:30 on a weekday afternoon, and I am sure to the marrow of my bones that it’s Tim.  I’m sure because Tim always hits the doorbell button twice in a row, with no pause in between, so the bell dingdongdingdongs in a manic blur.

My heart pounds. I have a hard time swallowing the lump that’s blocking my throat.  I’m terrified  to turn my head toward our front door, to see if Tim has already seen me, if I’m directly in his line of vision as he stands at our front door, and I sit on the couch in our living room, having thought that I was safe, safe in my own house on a random afternoon.

I stare at the living room curtains, floor-length, heavy old drapes that I picture wrapping myself within, smelling their pleasant smell that enfolds all the smells of our family’s cooking, pets, fireplace, fresh laundry, dirty socks.  If only I can get to the drapes without Tim seeing me.  I can envelop myself, clutch them in my hands, breathe them so deeply into my nostrils that—

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The doorbell rings again, two more times.

Tim’s face is pressed against the small glass pane of our front door.  He’s staring directly at me. He has that wry half-smile that used to stop me in my tracks and melt me into a heap. My legs shake when I stand.  I run my hands along my jeans as if I were smoothing a skirt, which is completely inane.  I clear my throat but have no confidence that I’ll be able to utter sound, form words, talk when I need to.

My hand grabs the ancient glass doorknob on the inside of the front door.  I don’t turn it right away, as if I still believe I can prevent this whole scene from going any further.  But the door is open, and Tim says, “Hey, I thought I’d hang out with your brother.”

I nod.  I feel like a complete idiot for being so scared.  But just for a split second, because I realize that Tim knows my brother isn’t home.  He knows he stays late after school.  He knows that my mother goes to pick him up because there aren’t any buses.

He knew that I would be alone.

He meant for this to happen.

teen.boy

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Prologue

The “one paragraph” from my previous blog was a big hit with readers.  I hope you enjoy this brief passage which I expect will be the Prologue of The Rocky Orchard.

older-woman-bedI’m ready, Lula thought.  She looked down at her hands, resting on top of the thick blanket.  They no longer looked like hands to her. In the craggy blue veins she saw the branches of ancient, sturdy trees lifting to the sky.  She saw their deep, formidable roots, reaching down, down into the earth.  She saw water flowing through creeks, and streams, and rivers.

I am ready to go.  There is one more thing I must do.  Mazie will come to visit.  She will sit next to me on this bed.  I will touch her hand.   I will tell her that I dreamed of her.  She will be frightened, but she will always remember.  She will remember the feeling, the peacefulness, the comfort. Far from here, she will meet another old woman with my same name.  She needs to trust Lula.  If Mazie is to have a life, she needs to trust her.

hands

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Just Like That

convertible.girl

The summer that we were twelve years old, my girlfriend Karen and I spent the whole afternoon at a swimming pool I’d never been to before.  We sat in the sun, and talked about boys, and laughed, and swam, and splashed each other, and waited for our favorite songs to get played over and over on the transistor radio we’d brought with us.  By the end of that afternoon, I felt a kind of deep peacefulness.  Like my insides had uncoiled and lay still in a new way. Karen’s mother had rented a convertible for a special date with Karen’s dad, and she came to pick us up from the pool in that convertible.  First time I’d ever been in one.  The three of us sat crowded into the front seat together.  Karen’s mom had gotten her hair done in a fancy French twist for the date, and she tied a chiffon scarf around it for the ride home.  Karen turned on the radio, and her mother cranked it up even louder.  My body had that cool feeling that stays deep inside of you when you’ve been in the water all day.  But your skin heats up from the warmth of the sun, and you feel the hot and the cool all at once.  When we hit the road, the wind tossed Karen’s and my long, soaking wet hair all over the place, occasionally smacking ourselves and one another in the face.  All of those feelings together, it was thrilling, like nothing I’d every felt before; but the peacefulness was still there, too.  That’s what it was like meeting Eddie.  Just exactly like that.

girl.convert

This is one of the latest sections of my novel The Rocky Orchard.  Once in a while you have a good writing day, a day where one single paragraph works exactly the way you wanted it to work when the idea appeared in your head.  That’s how we keep going. 

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Flames

Here is a new section from my novel-in-progress The Rocky Orchard.

candle.gif“Don’t fuck with me. You were definitely talking to him.”  Then, Tim held up his hand, with his palm really close to my face. In the dark of the room, I couldn’t tell what in the world I was supposed to be looking at. Then I saw it. A circle. A perfect circle, faintly reddish-brown, traced the periphery of his entire palm. “It’s from a candle. I put my hand right on the candle and held it there.”

“What?” I said, grabbing his hand to look at it more closely.

“I did it to prove my love for you,” Tim said.

“You did what?” I said.

Just then, this guy standing at the front door yells out, “Hey, is there somebody here named Mazie?”  For a second, I didn’t even move.  And the guy added: “Hey, Mazie, if you’re out there somewhere, your dad’s here. To take you home, I guess.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m Mazie,” I said, and sort of raised my hand like some sort of dork who the teacher was calling on.  I made a straight line for the front door, didn’t even say goodbye to Sam, still sitting in the same chair examining the hell out of her split ends.  I walked out that front door in a stupor of confusion.  Tim’s voice behind me called out, “Hey, Mazie, you forgot your jacket.” He handed it to me then raised his hand to my father, “Have a good evening, Dr. Mills.”  Jesus, he sounded so normal!  So utterly and completely normal, not even a hint of the woozy guy who had just shoved his burned hand into my face.

One look at my father’s face and I knew that he was pissed.  Really pissed.  He had that look of tightly-but-precariously controlled rage, like any little thing could cause him to fly apart into a million billion pieces and rain down razor spikes on anyone nearby.

angry.dad

I debated whether it would be better for me to talk first or to wait it out.  There’s no right answer to that.

The second my car door closed, he said, “You’re grounded.  For a month.”

“What!?”  I said.  I had never been grounded before.  Not once.  “Why?  What did I do?”

“We had no idea where you were.  No idea!  You never asked us if you could go out tonight.  You’re home for a month.  Period.”

“That’s not true!” I said.  Jeez Louise, this whole evening was bizarre beyond belief to begin with, but now this?  I knew that I’d asked my parents if I could go to this party – well over a week in advance – and I also knew that they had said yes!  This is a really tricky one to know how to play.  Did they really forget that I’d asked?  Well, they drink a lot.  A real lot.  So that’s always a good possibility.  But it’s not like I can point that out, that maybe they “forgot.”  No question that would make my situation worse.  I’m pissed!  I ASKED them.  But showing that I’m pissed is also going to make my situation worse.  I take a deep breath, I gather all of the calm I can muster and I say in a really nice sweet gentle voice, “Dad, I’m really sorry that we seem to have gotten our signals crossed here.  I’m super sorry if you and Mom were worried, but…think for a minute.  I asked you about this party at the dinner table last week.  It must have been last Thursday, because we’d just been talking about my math test.  Remember?  I told you about the math test, and then right after I asked you about the party – because Tim had helped me study for that test, and it reminded me to ask you.”

exasperated

My father remained icily silent.

“Did you and Mom think that I just…disappeared tonight?  I would never do that!  Come on; I would never do that!  Tim’s friend picked me up, just like I’d told you he would.”

I halfway expected the steering wheel to break, what with the death grip my father had on it.  We were most of the way home before my father spoke.

“Did you really ask us?  Are you telling the truth? Because if you’re lying now, I can’t even imagine…” he said.

“Not lying.  Math test.  Time helped me ace it.  Reminded me to ask about the party,”

“You didn’t say good-bye when you left tonight,” he said.

“It’s possible.  I acknowledge that I may not have said good-bye when I left.  Am I grounded for a month for that?” I asked.

“Let me speak with your mother,” he said. “I make no promises until then. Not to mention how hard it was to even find out where you were tonight. Jesus Christ.”

“Yeah, I don’t actually know Samantha real well. That’s her real name, but everyone calls her Sam. Different schools.  I know a lot of people who know her, though, like Tim and a lot of his friends.  I think they all went to the same church or something.”  OK, that was a big fat lie, and I knew it, but I thought the circumstances justified my throwing it in there, seeing as how I had been falsely accused.  I’m not a liar, generally speaking.  That’s a bad way to live. I mean, I’m a teenager, and I have parents; so, of course I lie.  But I don’t usually go out of my way my make stuff up and toss it out there.  This was different.

Bullet dodged.  I did not get grounded.

Pretty soon after that, I turned fourteen.  Tim bought me this giant, apple-scented pillar candle for my birthday.  I couldn’t believe it.  A candle.