A Shower in Winter

dorm.shower

Seven o’clock on a Thursday night.  Early.  A seemingly random time to take a shower, but I had drawn out dinner as long as I could with endless cups of coffee, and I wasn’t ready for the evening – meaning either gathering folks to head to the bar, or possibly studying something.  It was mid-winter, and the icy gray relentlessness had dug its claws deep into me.  I took showers at all kinds of haphazard times, when I needed to feel the profound warmth that only full immersion can bring.  Growing up, I relied on baths.  But there were no such things as bathtubs at college.  Nor were there children.  Nor dogs.  There were all kinds of things that you never saw; they simply disappeared from one’s landscape for years.

I had worked up a bountiful cloud of steam.  The shower’s intense heat within the cold of the marble bathroom cause the column of steam to shoot toward the ceiling in a swirling frenzy.  I closed my eyes and luxuriated in the feeling of my fingertips massaging the shampoo all through my scalp while the water fell on my abdomen and cascaded down my legs.  With my eyes still closed, I turned around, threw my head back and rinsed the shampoo from my hair, feeling the rivers of suds tumble down my back and pool around my feet.

shower.feet

When my hair was fully rinsed, I opened my eyes.  A pair of dark brown eyes stared straight at me, framed by the fingertips of two hands.  The top of his head, encased in a ratty dark blue stocking cap, poked up from the back wall of the shower stall.  The eyes.  All I could see were the eyes.  I couldn’t figure out what in the world he was standing on, that he would be able to look over the top of the shower wall.  I couldn’t figure out what the hell he was doing, meaning, what, exactly, was his plan?

He vanished.

The silence was deadly.

I whipped around to face the other direction.  Part of his body was raised over the opposite shower wall.  He seemed to be hoisting himself.  He seemed to be trying to crawl over the top of the shower wall to get inside the stall with me.  It didn’t seem like a good idea to scream.  I knew there was no one else around.  I figured he was probably carrying – if not a gun, then certainly a knife.  From what I could see, he seemed huge.  Six feet three, maybe six-four. It just didn’t seem like a good idea to scream.

Intruder with Knife

In the few seconds I took to weigh my options, I saw him out of the corner of my eye.  That eye again.  One eye this time.  Looking at me.  Looking through the slight space between the shower door and the door frame.  The bulk of his body was directly behind the shower door.  I put the full force of my weight into it and pushed the shower door right into his face.  Right into his fucking face.  Fast thinker, he turned out to be.  He shoved the door back toward me, and he ran like hell out of the bathroom and down the five flights of stairs and out the freshman quadrangle gate and into the night.

I stood in the bathroom, with the shower still running, shivering head to toe.  My teeth chattered.  My body, bright pink from the scorching water, felt like it had no blood in it at all, as if the terror had leached it right out of my skin.  At some point I turned off the water but felt swallowed by the silence, terrified by the absence of the sound.  I turned the shower back on, focused hard on the sound of the stream so I could hold it inside of me, then turned the handle off again.

I wrapped myself in my towel and looked at my reflection in the mirror above the perfectly polished sinks.  I needed to see myself.  I needed to make sure that I was still there, still me.  Though I had seen the man with the huge, bloodshot brown eyes bolting down the stairs after he tore out of the bathroom, I couldn’t trust what I had seen.  I stayed in the bathroom for a long time, then tentatively, slowly, cracked the bathroom door open a bare sliver and looked around for any sign that he may still be close.

Nothing.  The polished marble of the common area on the fourth-floor landing, the old staircase, four closed doors.  Wait, not all of the doors were closed.  The door to my dorm room was ajar.

intruder

 

Squalor and Stairs

Soon to be immersed in the final editing of my fourth novel, The Rocky Orchard, I continue to work on a possible fifth, tentatively entitled The Reading.  Here is a recent snippet:

squalor

That school was trying to crush me.  Right from the very first day, that school wanted my soul.  My mom and I had checked the map the college had sent before we set out that morning.  We had marked the exact route and the exact place that the official literature had said was the closest place to park for my particular freshman dorm.  When we drove down the squalid city street, we pulled the car over to check the map again.  The juxtaposition of boarded-up buildings and heavily gated storefronts set against a backdrop of lush, towering elm trees fascinated me.  The way the sun glistened from a million shards of broken bottles that lay in clumps was beautiful enough that my road-trip woozy brain considered that they may have been placed intentionally.  But it did not seem like we could possibly be close to a university, let alone on the campus itself, as the map indicated.

It hadn’t registered that all of the freshmen were housed on a campus that stood separate from the rest of everything.  Meaning, along the edges of a monstrous quadrangle.  Meaning, a killingly long distance from the closest place that we could park.  My mom pulled up to the curb at the end of a long line of cars lit up with emergency flashers blinking in a dazzling display of orange.  Mom gave me a weak-but-brave-smile, and we opened the doors of her little red station wagon to a day that would go on record as one of the most wretchedly hot days I ever experienced.  Meltingly, inexcusably hot.  I thought this well before I learned that Wren Hall Room 545 was on the fourth floor, the fourth floor of a building that had no elevator.  And, there was a flight of stairs up to the “first” floor.  I was not even slightly charmed by the European sensibility, nor by the staircase that appeared to be genuine white marble, the edges of the steps rounded by the footfalls of generations.  I was incensed, indignant that such a thing as a fourth floor walk-up that was actually a fifth floor walk-up even existed, let alone that I was destined to spend a year planning my days around not returning to my dorm room more than absolutely necessary.

stairs

But first, my mom and I had to get the sundry possessions that filled the back of the station wagon up all of those stairs.

Thank heavens I was more or less of a minimalist.  I hadn’t brought all that much stuff.

Meaning, thanks heavens I was poor.

I said hi hi hi to all the kids and their family members who were lugging endless numbers of suitcases, quickly scanning the faces of my classmates for any hints of who they may be.  I noted as well the high-end stereo equipment and the boxes with the names of stores I had only read about in novels.  The families seemed impermeable to the heat. I surreptitiously checked their brows for beads of sweat.  I inhaled as they passed, trying to catch a whiff of rank, locker room worthy sweat.  My mother and I were dripping puddles well before we reached the top floor for the first time.

The stereo stuff, the store names, the careful way that the parents carried various lamps and desk accessories – it was all a clue.  But nothing so much as their shoes.  I looked at the shoes of my classmates’ parents as they made their way up and down the marble staircases with the lacquered ebony wood trim, and I knew for certain that I was the only person among this group who was at this school on scholarship.

At some point two young women came out of their first-floor room and introduced themselves as my resident advisors.  One was quite tall and willowy and the other relatively short and not-so-willowy;  they both had long, very blonde hair, oversized blue eyes, bland smiles, and eyebrows that were slightly raised in a perpetually expectant expression.  I disliked them immediately, and decided I wasn’t even going to bother to try to tell them apart.

My roommate Carrie popped out of her room at one point to introduce herself.  When my mom took a potty break, I popped into Carrie’s room to have a peak.  She had arrived before I did.  From the looks of it, Carrie seemed to have arrived weeks before, as her tiny bedroom already bore the look of having been lived in for a while.  She had covered her walls with posters of two things: big cats, as in lions and jaguars and cougars, and huge tomb rubbings of medieval knights.  The rest of the room was decorated in a mishmash of floral prints – lampshades, throw pillows, sheets and blankets all with different sizes and colors of flowers.  Carrie herself wore her clearly-wild hair parted with razor-like severity straight down the middle and braided in two tight braids.  She had an overbite and kind of bad acne and looked both bewildered and ironic all at once.  She wore a plaid cotton shirt, and a quick peek into her closet revealed a seemingly unlimited supply of plaid cotton shirts.  I liked her immediately.

dorm

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…

newhaven

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.

ivy

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.

 

 

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.”

giphy

 

“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

Jewelweed

Here is a sweet little snippet from my new novel, THE ROCKY ORCHARD.

jewelweed

“Good morning, dear!”  Lula said brightly as she stepped into the porch.  “I brought you some flowers I picked along the way.  Thought it would brighten up our table to have a nice centerpiece while we played our gin rummy.”  Lula held out a bunch of wildflowers on long stems, stunning little orange and yellow spotted blooms that looked like tiny orchids.

“Oh my God, they’re beautiful!” Mazie said.

“Watch this,” Lula said as she reached out a single finger and touched what looked like a green pea pod attached to one of the stems.  With Lula’s barest touch, the seed pod burst apart and shoots of curly green confetti shot out.

Mazie gasped, then laughed. “Oh my gosh, Lula, I’d forgotten all about these things!”

“Aren’t they a marvel?”  Lula said.

“I used to love these!” Mazie gushed.  I remember the first time my brother and I discovered them.  The orchard was filled with them; they appeared out of nowhere.”

“That’s because they’re wildflowers,” Lula said, “All wildflowers appear out of nowhere.”

“I can’t even remember which one of us – my brother or me – accidentally touched one of the seed pod things while we were looking at the flowers, and BOOM, an explosion of…crazy seeds, right?  Crazy seeds disguised as tiny party streamers!  We spent the whole afternoon combing through the orchard and popping the seed pods.  A whole afternoon.  When we’d found every single one, we lay down on the ground, head-to-head, staring up at the clouds and making up stories. That was a great, great day.”  Mazie threw her head back and laughed.

“It’s jewelweed, sometimes people call it orange jewelweed or spotted jewelweed,” Lula said. “The common name is touch-me-not.  You can see why.”

“We never had any idea what they were.  Looked for them every year, but I don’t think we ever found them again,” Mazie said. “Made it seem like some kind of…magic.”

“Oh, wildflowers do seem to have minds of their own – they appear here and there and disappear.  But it’s Impatiens Capensis, not magic,” Lula said.

“What?”  Mazie asked.

“That’s the Latin name for the plant – Impatiens Capensis.”

“You’re starting to remind me of my mother.  She knew a lot of things about a lot of things, too,” Mazie said.

“The juice from the stems and leaves has long been used for itching – going back ages.  It can actually stop poison ivy from getting bad if you rub the juice on right away.  I’ve even heard tell that it can clear up ringworm, and athlete’s foot as well,” Lula said.

“Now you’re really reminding me of my mother.  When I was a little kid, I was convinced she had to be making stuff up – no one could really have such an encyclopedic knowledge of so many different things.  Later on, we used to tease her that she got some kind of secret newsletter that was filled with random bits of information, and she would memorize every bit of it while we were at school, just waiting for an opening to throw in some new tidbit of knowledge.”

“Everybody around here knows about ol’ jewelweed,” Lula said.

“ ‘Everyone around here’ just happens to know that Latin name?”

“Oh, well, I suppose not,” Lula said.  “Now that you mention it.”  She gave Mazie a wry smile. “How about we put these beauties in some water and play some cards?”

“Thank you for bringing jewelweed, Lula.  Thank you for reminding me of one of the very best days I ever had,” Mazie said.

 

Pushing the River interview on WGN Radio with Rick Kogan

 

Take a listen to Rick Kogan’s interview of me about my novel PUSHING THE RIVER.  I joined Rick’s iconic “After Hours” radio show from the cozy warmth of my Chicago home on a frigid January night, and we covered a whole lot of ground.  I’ve known Rick Kogan for more than thirty years, but I’m still aflutter at his gushy enthusiasm for my book.

Just click on the link below:

 

Pushing the River

 

The Hand You’re Dealt

I’m about 11,000 words into my novel THE ROCKY ORCHARD, so have not exactly perfected the elevator speech.  Here’s a stab at a synopsis, following by a new snippet:

A woman retreats to her old family farm and encounters an older woman. The two form a friendship over daily gin rummy games. As the younger woman reflects and remembers her past times at the farm, it becomes increasingly unclear exactly what is happening.

harry.lapow

Mazie and Lula cut the cards to determine who would deal the first hand.  Mazie drew the ten of spades.  Lula drew the nine of clubs, and Mazie began to shuffle. “You know I promised myself I wouldn’t talk you to death again today, but, do you know what?  These cards were here when we bought this farm. The Bishops – the people who owned this place before my family did – just walked out one day, and we walked in.  They left everything.  Everything! Like a neutron bomb had gone off.  Every sign of human life had vanished; every remnant and relic stayed behind.  The kitchen cabinets were filled with their dishes.  The drawers held their silverware, their cooking utensils, their pot holders.  Towels hung on the towel racks.  Freshly washed sheets lay carefully folded in the upstairs bureaus.  Extra ones, because all five of the beds had sheets and blankets and pillows already on them, carefully arranged.  They left their board games, and their decks of cards, even their jigsaw puzzles with a piece or two missing, in an old oak table.  I used to go around each room of the farmhouse, opening every single drawer and looking at the things inside.  It was as if my family had walked right into someone else’s life.  I mean, look at these cards!  At some point in history, somebody went into a store somewhere and looked through all of the decks of playing cards, and they picked these – the ones with the Grecian urns overflowing with fake grapes.  One deck with a watery purple background, the other deck a muted peach.  Someone thought these extremely odd cards were the perfect thing.  And here we are, two people who were complete strangers just a few days ago, who met by chance, now playing a game of gin rummy with those very cards, so many years later.”

“Two people who at some point may play gin rummy,” Lula said.  “Or may not.”

“Point taken. Your turn,” Mazie said.

tandy2

tandy

Top photo: Harry Lapow

Bottom photos of Jessica Tandy, the image I have of Lula.

 

Dew

Early morning dew on grass

I hope you enjoy this snippet from my novel-in-progress, “The Rocky Orchard.” And if you’re in the same general vicinity of the U.S. that I am (Chicago), I hope this snapshot of a glorious summer day provides a bit of comfort against the brutal cold!

There was not a cloud in the sky the next morning, the sun dazzling the first second it burst over the horizon.  The morning dew, heavy on each individual blade of grass, lit up into a sea of sparkle as millions of dew drops reflected the sun’s rays.  Mazie opened the porch’s screen door and let it slam its completely-familiar slam behind her.  She needed to feel the carpet of wet grass outside on her bare feet.  She kicked a foot hard into the grass, sending a fountain of droplets into the air.  She watched their arcs of ascent and fall.  The power of the early sun combined with the chill of the dew on Mazie’s feet sent a thrill through her entire body.  The eerie silence of yesterday’s fog had been displaced; the forest erupted into raucousness, birds seeming to have increased their volume in jubilant recognition of the day’s beauty. An industrious spider had spun an intricate web that ran from the screen door to the nearest bush, and each of the delicate strands glistened with dewdrops.

dew.spider

Mazie kicked once again into the grass, and when she looked up to watch the droplets spray into the air, there was the old woman, walking stick in hand, standing at the near end of the orchard, no more than twenty feet away.

“Oh, hey!  Hey there.  Hello.  Sorry, I don’t know your name,” Mazie said.

“Lula, dear. My name is Lula,” the woman said.

“Holy Cow,” Mazie said.  “My mother had an Aunt Lula – my great aunt!”

“Well, it was actually a rather common name way back.  Sometimes short for Luella and sometimes for Lucretia, even Louise or Talullah.”  Lula tapped her walking stick against the bottoms of her shoes to knock off the clumps of dirt, and she adjusted her hat.  “Funny thing is: my name isn’t any of those.  It’s Eulalia.”

“Eulalia!” Mazie said.  “That’s beautiful!  I’ve never known anyone named Eulalia.”

“Oh, I’m glad you like it, dear.  Can’t say that I was ever nearly as excited as you seem to be.  Not that I ever heard anyone call me that.  I was Lula as long as I can remember.”

“I’m not sure that I can call you Lula,” Mazie said. “Sometimes we just can’t stray too far from the ways that we were raised, I guess.”  Mazie smiled.  “My parents would faint if I called an older person – a person who was older than me; I hope I’m not offending you – my parents would die if I called you ‘Lula.’”

“Are they here, dear?”  Lula pretended to crane her neck and did a quick, exaggerated scan of the area.  “I hadn’t seen them.”

“No,” Mazie laughed.  “All alone here.  Just me.”

“Then I think you should call me Lula, and I should call you…?

“Mazie.  My name is Mazie.  Not short for anything.”

 

Void

Another excerpt from the novel I am currently writing, tentatively titled “The Rocky Orchard.”  Also an homage to Mary Oliver, and all those who find the natural world transformative.

beenwoodward.fog

The following morning, Mazie looked out the kitchen window above the sink to a dense, gray nothingness.  She filled the ancient aluminum coffee pot with cold water and strained her eyes, but the fog was pea-soup dense. That was what they called it in that neck of the woods, as Mazie recollected, and she had not seen a fog of its like in a long while. Looking out the window, she could not see to the edges of the farm house.  The walls faded and bleached into nonexistence, vanishing into the gray.  Fog as thick as this drank up all sound, except for the intermittent plops of water, the humidity so high that droplets condensed out of thin air and fell heavily to the ground.  It reminded Mazie of being in an airplane, flying through an impenetrable cloud bank, surrounded by an utter void, feeling as if she were being propelled deeper and deeper into nothing at all.

Mazie fretted that she would not be able to see the older woman when she came walking through the orchard.  Or, Mazie thought, the woman may well decide to bypass the orchard altogether, as she would not be able to see the treacherous rocks endangering her path.  In this kind of fog, people and things appeared out of nowhere, without hint or warning, when they came close enough to emerge from the fog’s grip.  They disappeared just as fast.

Mazie wrapped a light sweater around her shoulders and grabbed her coffee cup from the porch table.  She held the screen door and closed it gently behind her, barely making a sound.  The door’s usual slam seemed like it would be an intrusion into this silent, featureless world.  Mazie wandered the short distance to the near end of the orchard, where the ancient apple trees appeared out of the gray, one by one.  She ran her hand along the craggy bark, ran her finger in the grooves between the bark’s scales.

Mazie took a couple more steps into the orchard.  On one of the low-sitting but jagged rocks, she made out the faint remains of white paint.  Even in dim and fog, the old paint produced a chiaroscuro of light and dark in the deep crags.  Her father had painted a number of rocks throughout the orchard, a warning for himself and anyone else riding one of the family’s ride-on lawnmowers through the obstacle-course orchard.  Mazie was fairly sure she had never mowed the apple orchard, never wanted to try. But her father approached it as a challenge, a game, to see how fast he could go, careening around, turning sharp corners, timing himself.  She could picture him in his perennial work outfit – a plain white tee shirt and light blue pants – perched high on one of their two mowers with a whisper of a smile on his face.  He hit various rocks many, many times.  Mazie could never forget the sound.  The noisy, constant engine halting in an instant, giving way to the thunderous scrape of metal against rock that seemed to shake the surrounding woods to their core, then stop dead in abrupt silence.

One time had been different.  The metallic crash was not met by silence, but by the continued whirr of the engine and within it, the sound of her father screaming “Help!  Help me!” with panic in his voice.  On one of his daredevil sharp corners, the mower had tipped completely over, on top of him, and the blades had kept on turning.

Mazie shuddered, though her father had been fine.

She wandered back toward the house, and climbed the path to the dirt road.  Mazie looked in both directions, taking her time, in case she might see the older woman walking along the road.  She saw a slight movement at the very edge of visibility the fog would allow, but it vanished.  It may have been the woman, Mazie thought; but she could not be sure.

thick-fog-wraps-delhi-rains-likely_150114123636

top photo: Ben Woodward

Crazy Boy

I think this section from my new novel THE ROCKY ORCHARD makes an especially good flash piece.

Teenage boy with thick curly long hair blowing in the wind, serious look

Sick. I felt sick, fucking sick, when the telephone rang. I wanted to snatch the old 20-pound, rotary dial monstrosity of a phone right out of the wall and fling it through the window. I wanted glass to shatter and fly in a million directions and create rainbows of light in mid-air. I wanted the shards to rain down razors and cut the room into little ribbons. I’m too young for this, I thought. I’m fourteen years old and I am too young for this. For this shit, for this utter shit.

“Hello,” I said into the receiver.

“I’m pointing a knife at my stomach,” Tim said. “Tell me why you broke up with me.”

Suicide was just a word, a vague concept. Something whispered, read about in books. Nothing that had ever come near my own world, just a specter keeping itself hidden and far away. I had not even read The Bell Jar, hadn’t thought of Sylvia Plath turning on the stove in the apartment where she lived every day. Had not been stuck with the picture of her putting her head into the oven with the gas jet running, her two young children sleeping in their beds on the other side of the wall.

Daddy Mommy, I thought. I don’t know what Tim is going to do. I’m scared. I think he’s going to do something to himself. Help me, Daddy Mommy. I need your help, I thought.

But I didn’t say anything.   Not to my parents, not to anyone.

Tim’s younger sister, the one that was in my grade, the one that I knew, was the first one home that night.  She found him.  Still alive, but unconscious.

It’s a blur after that.  I can picture flashing lights and sirens and a lot of people and a lot of running around, but that doesn’t really make sense, does it?  They wouldn’t have been at my house; all of that would have been at Tim’s house.  Still, I have a sense of a million faces looking at me.  It seemed as if the whole world was staring at me – a vast sea of expressions.  Such concern.  Some people blamed me; I could see it in their faces.  Most people were torn, anguished even, between the part of them that wanted to stare at me, and the part of them that wanted to look away. I’d become scary to people somehow.  So many different things that people felt when they looked at me.

All I’d done was broken up with a boy.  A crazy boy.