Grand Canyon

grand-canyon

Here is another section from the “When I Was 4, 1960” section of my current novel.

Way before we got to the Grand Canyon, I was pretty sure my mother was just making stuff up. So by the time she was making exuberant wide gestures while talking about time, and a river, and layers of rock, and millions of years, millions and millions of years — I just felt sad and confused.  My neighbor Patsy had already told me about the whole world being made in just seven short days, well six really, cause God took one day off to rest. She had learned this at church, and this story was from God himself.  They said so at church, a Presbyterian one, but my other neighbor Carrie was an actual Catholic; and Carrie confirmed this was, without question, the truth.

I felt a little better when my brother and I were allowed to feed some peanuts to the chipmunks that were running around everywhere. I was scared they would bite me, but they didn’t, and their teeny little claws felt creepy and good all at the same time when they crawled into my hand to get the nuts.  I had to keep very, very still.  I felt like there were my personal friends.

But back in the car, as we drove away from the Grand Canyon, there was a whirl going on inside of me.  Kind of like when you make those whirly paintings at carnivals, the ones where you squirt bright, beautiful colors from ketchup bottles, and then the whole thing spins around, and you think it’s going to be so so pretty; but it’s a mess. An ugly, dark mess.

Why would my own mother tell such whoppers?

After the Grand Canyon, I was cranky, and I stayed that way the rest of the return trip, heading east once again on Route 66.  Pancakes and hotel swimming pools had lost their allure, and hours upon hours bumping along in the back seat – with nothing supposedly dazzling to look forward to – were pure torture.  After the mountains flattened out in the vast, monotonous and scorching prairie, there weren’t even any more roadside attractions to bring us to a precipitous halt.  My mother packed away her movie camera one afternoon, and the next day her regular camera, and took to staring silently out the window, turned away from all of us.  My father stopped pulling over to rest and smoke a cigarette; instead he lit up seemingly continually, sending endless clouds of choking smoke to add to our back-seat agonies.

My brother and I knew that we would get in big trouble if we fought or argued out loud, so we traversed a couple thousand miles of the United States by perpetuating a stealth war of silent punches, kicks, and the occasional pinch.  It was the only entertainment we could muster.

When we got back home, I began to secretly believe that I had been adopted, that I had come from different people entirely than these two grown-ups who ping-ponged between sphinxlike impenetrability and riotous, nonsensical laughter.  I started to have bad dreams.  In some of them, we were back on our road trip vacation, and they had left me behind at one of the endless places where we had stopped.  In others, I was trying as hard as could to run away from something awful, but my legs wouldn’t work.  It was as if I was in super slow motion, while the rest of the world – and the awful threat – came closer.  And then, I died.  For the first time.

When I Was Four, 1960

thanksgiving-station-wagons-ford-countrty-squire-trumpetMy aunt and uncle had a new baby.  She was my cousin, they said.  It was a miracle, they said, because my aunt had tried so hard to have a baby and wanted one so much.  They told me that she had lost 15 babies, which I found completely confusing but nonetheless terrifying.  How could anyone lose babies?  The idea made me feel cagey about my aunt, and I guess my mother sensed this, because she kept reminding me that I loved my aunt very much, as was evidenced by the fact that I didn’t shy away from her for even a single second when she had to stick her finger down my throat and made me upchuck because I had eaten cockroach poison.  That was during our last visit to my aunt and uncle.  I was less than two years old; I didn’t know what I was doing.  I just figured that something lying on the floor in a pretty little bowl was something I should definitely taste!  Of course, I have no memory of this myself, being so young at the time, but my mother told that story so many times that it’s like a movie that can play in my mind at the merest mention.  I can picture my aunt’s pin curls flopping in front of her eyes as she held me over the sink.  I can smell the smell of her breath combined with the fragrance of her bright lipstick as she panted with effort.  I guess I didn’t upchuck all that easily, which was all part of the story of my good nature in not holding an immense grudge against someone who hoisted me under her arm and forced her finger into the back of my throat over and over.

We finally got to California, where everything looked unreasonably bright and like the whole world had been bleached into an eerie whiteness.  It didn’t seem like it could possibly be safe to  go outside into that sea of brightness, and I even made sure to keep clear of the windows in mid-day.   My aunt and uncle had just moved into this new house and had practically no furniture, just a lot of empty, freshly-carpeted rooms and a nervous little dog that looked like he’d been given way too tight of a permanent wave for his hair.  As for the baby cousin: I’d pretty much never seen a baby before, and I wasn’t at all sure she was real.  She just sat there doing absolutely nothing most of the time.  Every so often I would pinch her, to see if she was real after all.  She would scream or cry or something, but somehow I still wasn’t entirely convinced.

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Hope you enjoy this re-worked piece from the novel I am currently writing, tentatively titled THE ROCKY ORCHARD.

The Woman in the Orchard

Please enjoy this continuation of what I expect to be my fourth novel.

orchard

 

Mazie stood behind the chair that had always been her mother’s place at the porch’s outdoor dining table.  She ran her hands along the welted seam of the – what was it called…Naugahyde? – chair, the miracle synthetic material that supposedly lasted forever.  Mazie smiled down at the gray, marble-patterned Formica table.  Her parents would be astonished to know that the chairs and table they had carefully chosen with their eternal vigilance to thrift would one day be precious collector’s items for scores of retro-crazed home decorators.  Neither the word “chic,” nor the value it represented would ever had entered her parents’ lexicon.  They insisted that their furnishings and possessions be practical and durable enough to weather children, animals, friends and the vicissitudes of life in general with a minimum of worry or bother.

Mazie ran her hand along the Formica, and once again along the welting at the top of the chair before lifting her gaze back to the orchard.  She thought she saw a flicker of movement between two of the old apple trees on the far slope, and she unconsciously rose up on her toes to get a better look.

It was mid-morning, not a time of day that one would expect to see a deer.  It was also unlikely that a deer would decide to amble through a relatively open orchard well before the time of year when any apples could have ripened enough to fall.  Mazie saw a flash of red, high enough above the ground that she reckoned it could only be a person, one who seemed to be plodding in slow motion through Mazie’s orchard.

old-woman-stands-in-flowers-near-his-house-and-looks-at-the-camera-ukrainian-elderly-woman-in-red-headscarf-stands-near-wooden-hut-and-looks-at-the-camera-female-looks-at-the-camera-and-

Mazie stood and watched fixedly, shock, wonder and suspicion whirling within her, as an elderly, snow white-haired woman came into focus.  The woman wore a cotton print dress, much as Mazie’s grandmothers and their various sisters had worn most days, with ankle socks and well-worn walking shoes.  Around her neck she wore a red bandana, the flash of red that Mazie had seen from afar.  The woman carried a cane in one hand, or perhaps it was a walking stick, which she leaned on heavily.  She watched her feet intently, making her way among the multitude of rocks in the thoroughly uneven, hazardous orchard.  The woman had gotten all the way to the near end of the orchard before she chanced a glance upward, at which point, she immediately saw Mazie standing behind the chair at the outdoor table on the porch.

The woman raised her cane in the air, a kind of salute.  “Oh!  Hello, dear!”

Mazie was not sure what else to say besides, “Hello!”

“I’m not used to seeing anyone!” the woman said. “You gave me rather a start.”

“It’s my place,” Mazie said, “my family’s place.”

“Oh, I’m sure it is, dear, seeing as you’re standing there on the porch.  But I walk through here every day, through your orchard there.  So, you’re what’s different for me.  Never saw anyone before.”

“I was just thinking about the orchard,” Mazie said.  “Wondering why anyone would choose such rocky, uneven ground for an orchard in the first place.”

“Well, I can’t answer that one,” the woman said.

“What I’m wondering is, why you would walk through such an… inhospitable orchard, when the road is right there.”  Mazie pointed.

“The road gets a little boring after a while, lovely as it is.  I do walk on it.  This is my little foray off the beaten path, as it were.  Just through your orchard and back on up to the road.”

“You know, when we first bought this place, my parents were intent on trying to mow it, you know, tame it into a nice, grassy meadow kind of an orchard.” Mazie laughed.  “You can’t imagine the sound when a ride-on lawnmower hits a rock.  The lawnmower engine stops dead, and this…enormous…noise reverberates through the woods in every direction.  Oh my gosh, I can still hear it clear as day.”  Mazie laughed.  “Except that one time, the whole lawnmower rolled right over, right on top of my father.  That wasn’t so funny.”

Mazie observed herself, talking to a total stranger, who was technically trespassing on her old family farm.

The woman smiled.  Mazie regarded her.

elderly-woman-walking-woods-400x400

“Oh.  Perhaps you’d rather that I don’t walk through it,” the woman said.

Mazie considered. “Well, I’m not sure that makes any sense,” Mazie responded.  “Seems kind of mean-spirited and arbitrary, out here in the middle of all this land.  No, you go right on walking through the crazy, rocky orchard any time you like.”

“Very kind of you, dear.  I suppose if you’re up and about, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Where are you headed, anyway?”  Mazie asked.

“That way.” The woman pointed up the road, the opposite direction from the one she had come, and began walking without another word.

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Bottom photo is of Emma Rowena Gatewood, better known as Grandma Gatewood (October 25, 1887–June 4, 1973), an extreme hiker and ultra-light hiking pioneer who was the first woman to hike the 2,168-mile (3,489 km) Appalachian Trail from Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine solo, and in one season.

 

PUSHING THE RIVER

My newest novel, Pushing the River, released yesterday (Amika Press)!!

In honor of its official entrance into the world, here are some additional teaser quotes.

The early reviews have taken my breath away.  Check them out, below!

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“Madeline stood in the street and gaped into the vast cavern of space as if it were a true miracle, as if an outline of the Virgin Mother would undoubtedly appear on a side wall, like Jesus on a piece of toast.”

“That’s my heritage, the stock from whence I come, I will put on my gloves and I will get out there in that garden and I will take no prisoners and I will damn the torpedoes and I will full speed ahead.  My family is in need.”

“Madeline became passionately attached to Jeff’s body.  She scanned its surface for changes to memorize.  She took note of differing thicknesses of the hairs comprising his beard, ran her fingers alone the crevasses of scars from a bad car accident, studied the calluses on each of his fingers from years of playing guitar.”

“My head is gonna explode, she thought. It is going to detach from my body and flay apart into a million, icky-gooey-oozy little pieces.  What’s the movie where that happens?  It’s going to splatter against the walls and slap Savannah upside the face.”

“…they would be swept up in a great salty tide [of tears] and whisked down the corridor, past roomfuls of astonished new mothers cradling infants, while Madeline swooped up Dylan and saved him.”

“By the second week of December, Madeline felt as if she had fast-forwarded through a ten-year marriage in just slightly more than three months.”

“When he shuffled off to the bathroom each night to brush and floss for an absurd amount of time, it set her own teeth on edge to such a degree she felt certain her back molars would shatter into bits.”

“Sometimes it is a smell or the particular angle of the sun’s light or the sound of a door closing – some thing that makes its way through the store of life’s memories and touches something deep, far, previously lost.  In this case, it was the movement, the precise position of her legs.”

“Taking down a Christmas tree was like a death.  The death of another year.  Pack up and put away whatever was special or memorable or lasting.  Throw away the rest.”

“I knew that we were in a race against my grandmother’s remaining time.  I thought about the possibility that she might die while we were up in the clouds, and I wondered if I might be able to see her, making her trip to heaven, if I concentrated very hard on the clouds.”

“The really gory detail is how I turned out to be a hopelessly shallow person who fell for a handsome lunatic.”

https://www.goodreads.com/b…/show/41020153-pushing-the-river

Pushing the River: FLASH flash

It was not her first foray into the parallel universe of online dating. Madeline had been divorced for more than ten years. She had braved a string of relationships that progressed from interest, to the first tingle of excitement, to the exhilaration of genuine possibility, to the frightening, heady, joyful moment when the roller coaster passed the peak of its climb and in that split second, there was no going back: momentum had taken over; it was utterly and completely out of anyone’s control, because at that moment, there was love. There was real love.

And then there wasn’t.

Madeline took time to lick the wounds of disappointment. She allowed the lesions of dashed hopes to scab over. She understood that persevering was an ongoing matter of keeping one’s optimism just enough ahead of the injury of experience to keep going.

After a time, she would go back online, pouring over profiles, scrutinizing descriptions, gathering courage. As crazy a universe as online dating was – she recalled a friend aptly calling it The Wild West – it was essentially the only path to meet people. Since Madeline worked alone, had never buddied up to a man in a bar, and didn’t attend church, she reconciled herself to the necessary methodology.

Madeline worked hard to extinguish the flame she had carried for Jeff. But the feeling of being part of something larger than herself – everything from the ongoing sense that life was bigger and mattered more, to the immeasurable joy of small, everyday moments – was a living spirit inside of her.

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I am up to my eyeballs in re-writing/editing my novel Pushing the River.  The above snippet is excerpted from an early chapter. The first paragraph remains from the original draft; the remainder was written yesterday.  It struck me that it could stand on its own as a Flash.  It also struck me as being remarkably similar to the Flash I wrote entitled “January 2,” which suggests that I still endeavor to get it right.  WATCH FOR THE RELEASE OF PUSHING THE RIVER THIS SUMMER!!!

photo by Garry Winogrand

Heads Up

The first time I saw How the Grinch Stole Christmas was 1969, the same year that Tim was my first boyfriend. We watched it together, Tim and I, along with my brother’s other best friend Doug. My brother wasn’t there somehow, even though we were at my house.

We watched Grinch in a lightless room, something my family never did. It was believed that watching a bright screen with no other light in the room was reckless and hazardous, and could have tragic consequences, which remained vague and therefore almost mystical. Doug sat at one far end of sofa, Tim at the other. I curled up with my feet resting against Doug and my head in Tim’s lap. Every so often, he reached down and touched my hair.

The magnificently long-suffering, but loyal and philosophical dog Max. The clenched-hearted Grinch. The village of Who’s whose joy at their mutual sense of belonging transcends all evils. Snuggled between two Nice Boys, I felt safe and warm and protected and loved in a way that was precious and rare.

When the boys left and my parents said that They Had To Talk With Me, I was certain that I was gonna get clobbered for watching the television set in the dangerously dark room. A terrible wave of guilt shot through me, a pang at having been so lulled, so incautious.

“Never, ever put your head in a boy’s lap.”

This was so entirely unexpected, it took me a minute to even decipher the words. The meaning. And when I did, I was even more bewildered. “What?” I said.

“Your head was in Tim’s lap. That’s not something you can do. Ever.” One of them said while the other stood there in a rare display of rock-solid alliance.

“What?” I said again, looking from one to the other.

“It’s not fair. To the boy,” my mother said. “It’s too stimulating.”

My father bit his lip.

confusion

As I work on getting my third completed novel Out There, I have been playing around with several new ideas, and it’s possible that one has taken hold! I have long been intrigued by writing a full-length work that takes place within a time frame that is less than 24 hours (think Mrs. Dalloway, Ulysses, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, etc.). I have recently become intrigued by the possibility of telling the entire story in separate pieces of flash fiction — each of which would be entirely free standing, but all of which together would tell the tale. The piece above is the latest flash.

A Whirl of Snow, A Glint in the Moonlight

“How could this evening have taken such an ugly turn,” Madeline thought to herself. She loved Christmas, and even though she was not terribly religious and thought it kind of cheesy, caroling with her old church youth group struck her as a giant hoot.

It was much colder than usual for mid-December, and a snowstorm that had been predicted for later that night began hours before expected. Houses were decorated, lights twinkled everywhere, it was blustery and freezing and snowing furiously hard — to her mind, a picture-perfect backdrop. The cold and the fact that she didn’t sing very often made her light-headed and giddy.

Other than the fact that the hot chocolate was essentially lukewarm brown water, and that, as usual, a couple of the kids had poured a flask full of vodka into their cocoa and were using an inordinate amount of effort to not fall down, she was having a wildly good time. Singing. Christmas! A boyfriend!! They had been going together for nearly three months.

“Don’t fuck with me.” There was an edge in his voice she had not heard before.

“Of course I was talking to him. I’ve known him since I was, like, six years old.” The party. Deja vu. All over again.

“What were you saying to him?” Tim asked.

“What was I saying?”

“Yeah.”

“What was I saying? I don’t remember! I’ve been talking to everyone!” Madeline’s voice was taut with frustration.

And despite what she knew to be true, she was overtaken with the sense that she had done something very, very wrong. She must have. This was her boyfriend – her crazy-curly-haired, insanely-blue-eyed boyfriend –and he was clearly angry.

“Tim, I’m sorry. I can’t even remember what we were talking about. It wasn’t important.”

“Well, you sure looked fucking happy.”

“What?”

All of the other kids had trickled back into the church, leaving the two of them alone in the driving snow.

“Shit, I don’t have boots on,” she said. “Can we go in?”

“You don’t give a shit about me.”

He reached one hand into an inside coat pocket, and pulled something out she strained to see. The moon — or maybe it was one of the streetlights that flooded the church parking lot and lit up the whirling snowflakes — glinted off the object in Tim’s right hand. It was a razor blade, a very old, very rusty razor blade.

Before she could react, before she had time to consider being afraid, Tim had spun on his heels and was loping through the shin-deep snow, the long fringe of his buckskin jacket flying everywhere.  A final flash of metal and moon. His arm fully outstretched. The silhouette of his back quickly vanishing against the mad snowflakes and the black winter sky. She ran after him, ten or twelve steps perhaps, before her feet were thoroughly soaked and freezing, and there was no sign of him at all.

She gripped the edges of the stainless steel sink in her kitchen, not sure whether she would vomit. But when her mother asked her how the evening had been, she said, “Fine. Fun.”

That was as much of an answer as her parents would expect from their fourteen-year-old daughter, and they beamed widely at her as she brushed past them, not noticing that she clutched her stomach with white-knuckled fingers as she climbed the stairs to her bed.

ygritte

Jon-Snow-in-snow-345198

As I work on getting my third completed novel Out There, I have been playing around with several new ideas, and it’s possible that one has taken hold! I have long been intrigued by writing a full-length work that takes place within a time frame that is less than 24 hours (think Mrs. Dalloway, Ulysses, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, etc.). I have recently become intrigued by the possibility of telling the entire story in separate pieces of flash fiction — each of which would be entirely free standing, but all of which together would tell the tale. The piece above is the latest flash.

hope you get a kick out of the photos…

First Party

It all began with that party. The first one she had ever been to, well, a party that was anything like that one. She didn’t even know the girl– the one whose parents were away that night– but she knew that Samantha had legendary status somehow. For Madeline, it was a rare chance to be out with her new boyfriend– her first– without any grown-ups around. They held hands. They wandered from one dark candle-lit room to the next in the little house with no adults. Intoxicated, awed, and tamping down her trepidation all at once, Madeline thought to herself: so this is what people do, when they can do whatever they like.

She thought she may faint when Tim introduced her to Chad Howe, whose grandfather had founded a military academy. Chad had parlayed that heritage, together with his skinny-boy looks, Buddy Holly horn rims, and shockingly deep, authoritative voice into a high school persona that shot him into the stratosphere of Hippies Who Mattered. It felt like Chad looked straight into her soul as he said a quick hello before helping his girlfriend – who had a plaster cast from her toes to her mid-thigh – into the back of a friend’s van. He ceremoniously closed the door, leaving a number of hangers-on standing around, staring at the ground.

Oh my god, Madeline thought: He’s having sex in that van! I am thirteen years old, and I am at a party where Chad Howe is fucking his girlfriend in a van! How totally cool is that?!

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Tim wrapped his arm around her shoulder and whispered in her ear, “I’ll be right back. Gonna go talk to a friend.”

“Oh, I’ll go with you,” Madeline said. “Want me to?”

“Nah, something I got to talk to him about. Be right back.”

The time that Tim was gone blurred. Samantha sitting in an old arm chair, by herself in a dark corner, head hanging down so her long, deep brunette waves fell completely across her face, nodding ever so slightly in time to the music. Madeline wondered if Samantha was ok, thought perhaps she should ask her, but then got worried that she might be bothering her, interrupting something Madeline didn’t understand. Plumes of incense twirled madly whenever someone moved. A guy wore round blue sunglasses in a night black house.

When Tim wandered back beside her, he was different. Woozy-seeming. He chuckled a little, to himself, and mumbled something she couldn’t understand.

“Sorry, what?” she asked him.

“What the hell were you doing talking to that guy?”

“What guy?” she said.

“Don’t fuck with me. You were definitely talking to him.” Tim held up his hand, his palm facing her. In the dark of the room, it was hard for Madeline to tell what she was looking at. 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?” Madeline said, grabbing his hand to look at it more closely.

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

“Hey, is there somebody here named Madeline?” said a guy who was standing at the front door.

“Your dad’s here. To take you home, I guess.”

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As I work on getting my third completed novel Out There, I am playing around with several new ideas — such as the one above.  Perhaps one or more of them will come together into the next long[er] work.  Stay tuned!