Lives Darkly in my Body

In previous blog entries, I have touched on the ephemeral, ethereal phenomenon that we refer to as “inspiration,” which the Oxford dictionary defines as “The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.”

We know that inspiration can point its magic wand at the most unexpected times; still, I was taken by surprise when the recovery from my first total hip replacement last November transported me to a “place” that became the basis for the novel I am currently writing, entitled A Rocky Orchard.  Currently recovering from my second hip replacement, I have a solid start on the novel, and am thrilled to be back at work on it.

 

You lean your head towards mine.  You are going to kiss me.  How many times have you kissed me, and my stomach still does a little leap.  Your head jerks. “What was that?” you say. “What was what,” I say. I didn’t hear anything. “I definitely heard something,” you say. “You didn’t hear that?  Sounds like someone is throwing something — balls or something like that —  one after another. Listen, you say.  I hear it. Sounds like it’s getting closer, you say.  Sounds like it’s coming from the orchard.  You hear it, right? You ask me.  Yes, I hear it.

Stay here.  I’ll check it out, you say.  Probably some kid having a little fun, you say.

Don’t be silly.  I’ll come, too, I say.

The short step down from the porch, my bare foot on the hot summer grass, I am hit by a wall of humidity.  The full, fertile feel of the air that marks a Pennsylvania mountain summer. Thick, wet, ripe with a steaming, green life. “I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul.” That poem, the Pablo Neruda poem that you recited.  The humidity reminds me. Down on one knee in an old-fashioned gesture I never would have guessed.  Holding my hand and you said, “I love you as the plant that never blooms but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers.” The wall of humidity pushes against me.  Your arm reaches out and you tell me to stay back.  Please, you say.  Please stay back.  “Thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance, risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.”

I see him, you say.

Then I see him, too. 

I wonder what in the world he is doing here. 

Without thinking I start to call out to him.  I want to laugh.  I want to wave and ask him what in the world he is doing here.

Then I see his face.  “Lives darkly in his body.”

And I know what he is doing here.  I know.

 

new writing, new newsletter

swing

Let’s start out with a new tidbit from my novel-in-progress, The Rocky Orchard:

Swing

I am barefoot.  My absolute favorite thing.  I reach down with one toe, just my big toe, to give us the barest little push to keep the swing going.  I feel tiny grains of dirt on the porch floor as my toe kisses against them.  The extra length of the swing’s chain clanks against the section of chain that’s holding the swing from the porch ceiling.  How long has this swing been here?  We have never once had to fix it, or adjust it, or anything. Not like the old wooden swing outside, with its absurdly long ropes hanging from the giant pine.  We have had to fix that swing a million times, it seems; but the porch one, never.  I toss my head back and look up at the ceiling bolt that holds the porch swing in place, ancient and rusty and painted over so many times. The thought of its strength, its endurance, amaze me. And makes me tired, exhausted. The strain of years upon years of holding up the weight of human beings. I twirl the extra chain through my fingers, I clunk it against the taut chain that is doing the work of holding us up.  I look over at you. My Eddie. 

            A line of sweat is just beginning to break out in the crease of your neck. I want to capture the expression on your face and put it in a jar.  I want to carry the jar around with me like precious fireflies from a summer night.  I have never seen you so relaxed, so contented. As if you know what I’m thinking, you reach for my hand and you kiss it.  I am staring at you and you know that I am staring at you, and I tear up, and you laugh.  You kiss my hand again.  You have that shy-but-formidable look, the one you had on our first date, our real first date.  The look that makes you one dimple sing out.  The look that made me think that maybe, just maybe, we might end up right here someday, swinging on this swing.

            Your hand in mine is sweaty.  The cool moistness of your palm against mine sends a ripple through my body, a shudder of feeling. I reach across your body to trace the line of sweat on your neck with the index finger of my other hand.  I taste it.  The salt of you.  I cannot get enough of you. 

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Architects and Gardeners

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“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is… But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.”  — George R.R. Martin

Me, too. I have often wondered if I took my college writing teacher (the wonderful poet Robert Hayden) too seriously when he strongly suggested that I stop trying to be an architect and answer my true calling as a gardener.

After I completely re-wrote my first novel, You, in your Green Shirt, a soul-killing third time –we’re not talking about major editing, we’re talking about a complete re-write – I swore that I would architecturally plan my next novel.  I didn’t.  When I hit a dead end with A Little Birdie Told Me that stretched out for well over a year, I once again swore that I would never plant a seed again and wait to see what grew.

Though my third novel Pushing the River “showed up” somewhat more intact, as it was inspired by real events, it was, in every way, the result of long years tilling the soil and caring for the seeds.  Although I sometimes dream of note cards, and plot outlines, and lengthy character profiles with extensive back stories, I have come to terms with the reality that I am, and will always be, destined to plant seeds, tend them, watch for signs, and let them grow.

Here is the latest snippet from my fourth novel The Rocky Orchard.

figure-blueberryMazie waited at the porch door, standing on her tiptoes and watching for Lula to come through the orchard at her usual time. When Lula was close enough to hear, Mazie called out, “Lula, do you know what I just realized?  It’s blueberry time!  It should be just about peak blueberry-picking.  Right now! You probably haven’t even seen them.  They grow along the bank on the far side of the road – the stretch of road that runs right along the length of the orchard!  See what I mean?  If you’re walking through the orchard itself, you’d never even know the bushes were there!”

Lula turned her body around. “Ah, right as rain, Mazie.  Sure enough, I’ve never seen a single bush.”

“That’s because the road at the far end of the orchard – where you come in over yonder —  it’s deep in the shade of the woods.  The orchard opens everything up.  A little patch of sun hits the bank, and Voila!  Wild blueberries!”  Mazie regarded Lula, noted how heavily Lula leaned on her walking stick.  “Are you tired, Lula?  Do you want to rest up with a tall glass of water?  I was thinking I might go and pick some.  Was thinking that I would whip up some blueberry pancakes for us.  Have us a true hearty breakfast, if you’re game.”

“My word, that does sound lovely,” Lula said.

“You can wait here, if you want.  I’m happy to go and pick them.  If you want to sit a spell.”

“Oh, heavens no.  Not so tired that I can’t pick a blueberry off a bush.  Not to mention, can’t trust a weekender to tell a truly good ripe berry from a bad one,” Lula said.

“Oh, ouch,” Mazie said. “I was wondering how long it would take you to bring up the ‘weekender’ thing, me being an interloper and not true country and all that.”

“Well, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.  Just meant to say that of course I want to come along,” Lula said. “Assuming you have a proper berry-picking bucket, that is.”

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Mazie sighed playfully and did an exaggerated eye roll. “Gosh, let me go look.  You stay here and rest; don’t strain yourself trying to think up any more witty-but-caustic things to say.”

“Do you have any idea why some blueberries have that white coating-like stuff on them and others don’t?  Should I stay away from the whitish ones?” Mazie asked Lula.

“I do know!” Lula said.  That white coating is called the ‘bloom.’  It’s a slightly waxy substance that the berry produces; the bloom protects it from pests and bacteria that might harm the berry.  Isn’t that amazing?” Lula’s delight radiated from her.  “It’s also a sign of freshness.  It’s the other blueberries that we should stay away from.  The berries start out with the bloom when they’re beautifully ripe, but it fades as they sit on the bush past their prime.”

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“Do you know everything, Lula?  Cause it’s really starting to seem like you know everything,” Mazie said.

“Heavens no, dear,” Lula said.  “But like I told you, I know a lot about things from around here. I’ve always been here, like I said!”

“What’s the tenth decimal place of pi?” Mazie asked.

“Five,” Lula said.

Both women stopped picking and looked at one another. “Well, I’ve studied a few other things along the way, I suppose,” Lula said. She spread her arms and shrugged her shoulders. “My bucket is getting pretty full, Mazie.  How about yours?”

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Outhouse

 

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Here’s a new snippet from my novel-in-progress: The Rocky Orchard

Mazie rubbed her hands along the back of her chair, then along the table top.  “I guess I should deal another hand?” she asked. “I’m not really sure what to do.”

“Mazie, gin rummy is a grand old game, indeed.  Nonetheless, I suggest we get off of this damn porch and give you a chance to feel the sun on your face, even if all we do is take a lap or two around the house.”  Lula hooked her arm through Mazie’s and tugged her gently toward the porch door.

Lula stepped off the porch.  The steep path that led to the road straight lay ahead of them. The short distance to the orchard sloped to their right. Lula bore left.  She and Mazie walked, arm in arm, across the flagstones that ran along the front of the house.  Passing under the canopy of towering pines, the two women paused at the edge of what Mazie’s family had always called “the lawn.” The swath of coarse, broad-leaf pasture grass that took up a good quarter-acre on one side of the house has always been referred to as “the lawn.”  Her parents kept the assemblage of mostly-green, low-growing plants trimmed very short, so from a distance, it presented a vast visual field of verdant green.  From a closer vantage point, the lawn looked exactly like what it was: dry, cocoa-powder-colored dirt covered sporadically by weeds, clovers and various invasive plants that had been chopped off close to the ground.

“We seem to be headed directly for the outhouse,” Mazie said.  Was that your intention?  To get me off the porch and into the fresh air and then explore the old outhouse?”

Lula laughed and squeezed Mazie’s arm.

Toward the far end of the lawn — quite far from the house but in the dead center of the grassy field — a small, wooden structure that could only have been an outhouse perched.  “Speaking of things that completely terrified me,” Mazie said.

“Really?” Lula asked.  “The outhouse?”

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“Oh my gosh, are you kidding me?” Mazie said.  “Every single thing about it scared me.  Including – and this is my lot in life, Lula; this is my lot in life that I am this particular sort of a person – I am the sort of person who worried about the people who lived at this farm before my family bought it!  Before there was a working toilet in the basement, and they would have had to actually use the outhouse for all of those outhouse-y-type things.  It’s so far from the house!  I worried: what if someone were really sick, or just waited a little too long, or there were little kids who were just learning to use the bathroom?!  Or, what if it was the middle of the night?  Although my parents told me that people used chamber pots in the middle of the night, which is just a different kind of gross and scary and gruesome.  Anyway, the basement sump pump — which, by the way, I was also terrified of – well, it would go out of whack on a fairly regular basis.  And when it did, we couldn’t use the toilet. We’d have to muster our Early Settler, pioneer spirit and do our toileting right out there in that outhouse.

I was scared just reaching for the door, waiting for the sound of the noisy spring that whined and complained when you pulled the door open, then snapped the door back lightning-quick, with a ferocious thud.  I was immediately convinced that I was trapped, that the outhouse held me prisoner and laughed at the silly, naïve trust I’d shown by having entered.  I was a goner.  But just in case I was wrong, and that my brother might try to mess with me while I was in there – which he often did –I locked the rusty old hook-and-eye latch, being convinced that it would rust in place, but not before giving me a fatal case of tetanus.”

“What an imagination you had, dear. It takes my breath away.”

“I’ve hardly begun, Lula.  Do you know that there is always a breeze that blows through an outhouse, blows right across your…bottom.   I guess I don’t know about all outhouses, really, but there was a hefty breeze blowing right across my ass in this one!  Now, how could that be?  No breeze blowing across the lawn, no breeze blowing through the little outhouse room, but a good, stiff breeze blowing across my ass. I used to get in all kinds of crazy positions, looking up and down and here and there at the way the little house was built, even looking right down into the unspeakable depths where all that bodily waste fell, trying to figure out how there could be an eternal breeze.  Only thing I could figure: had to be haunted.  Another reason to be terrified.”

“And please notice that I’ve gotten this far without mentioning the smell. Holy cow, how could you not be scared out of your mind, as a little kid I mean, by a smell so strong and so awful that it surely must spring from something Evil, something way beyond just…shit.  I rest my case.”

“Well, if that’s your way of saying that you’d rather not explore the outhouse…” Lula said.  “I thought it might be an interesting diversion.”

“There’s that sense of humor of yours, Lula.  Such a card,” Mazie said.

outhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

 

That Thing We Call Inspiration

InspirationMuch has been thought, and written, and even researched about the nature of what we call “inspiration.”  My Oxford online dictionary defines it as “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.”  The second definition listed is: “the drawing in of breath; inhalation.”  What a magnificent concept.

Most writers have various little rituals and incantations we perform in order awaken the Muse.  Most of us also find that, however we may try, that crazy thing that we call inspiration, that deep inhalation of fresh, creative air, finds us at the most unexpected times.  Never did I imagine that, recovering from a total hip replacement surgery, an image would pop into my head, and I would know that it was the foundation of my next novel.

Here, then, is the beginning of what I have tentatively entitled “The Rocky Orchard:”

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orchard“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.  To her right sat the old shed, and 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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Smoke: Flash Fiction

It was the way she held her cigarette that I would remember. Her hands were always so small, the fingers so thin. You could not see from one end of the kitchen to the other , the density of smoke from cigarette after cigarette had nowhere to go. It choked the room. It obscured the cabinets, the floor of the room she had waited so long to redo.

It was very nearly the hand of a child.

I don’t want you to come anymore, she said. I want this to be the last time.

Was there gray in her hair when we first met? I was trying to recall. But always the pale, slender hands , the plain gold wedding band, the narrow silver watch whose face she could no longer read without her glasses, which she detested and never wore.

But I want to come, I said.

She could no longer see the cabinets, nor even the beloved built-in breakfast nook where the two of us sat. It was not the smoke. She had not seen much of anything around her for a number of years. Not since Jeff jumped.

I mean it, she said. Please don’t.

 

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As I work on the final draft of my novel, I have been playing 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 Dinner

Oops, I missed last Friday due to connectivity issues in Tulum, Mexico (!!).  Here, then, is the third installment from the “September” section of my novel PUSHING THE RIVER.  Watch for the fourth next Friday!

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A Dinner

“Now, exactly what is our role here, Madeline?” Auggie was barely able to contain his delight. “What do you need from us?”

After the walk with Ellie, Madeline’s renewed burst of enthusiasm for the prospect of Living in the Moment manifest in the form of shooting off a text to Dan: “Hey, no idea what you’re up to this evening, but having some friends over for dinner. Join us later if you’re free. I made pie.” He had texted back that he’d love to come by, but didn’t want to infringe on her time with good friends. He suggested he stop by around eight-thirty.

“Auggie, you’re being weird,” Madeline said.

“No, no. I’m serious. We want to be there for you. We just need to know what our role is.” Auggie radiated a decidedly boyish quality, in the best sense. And in his unbridled enthusiasm for the task at hand, he was adorable. Beth nearly always found him adorable, and made this obvious in frequent, glowingly loving glances at him. Across the dinner table from Madeline, the two of them radiated exuberance, good will and love. It delighted Madeline, and made her misty, and wistful, and, as her son would have said when he was a little boy, sickenated.

Auggie continued: “I mean, are we chaperones here? Do you want us to stick around until after he leaves? We would love to do that for you.” He put his arm around Beth, and pulled her head over to lean against his own. “Wouldn’t we, babe? Chaperones!” He caught Beth mid-sip with her wine, and as she gurgled an assent into her glass, he said, “Or wait. Do I have the wrong idea here? Maybe you want us to leave right away! Maybe you’re dying to be alone with him! Maybe the whole ‘why don’t you come over while I have friends here thing’ is just a ruse to make it seem innocent.” Beth could barely get her wine glass safely onto the table, she was laughing so hard.

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“Auggie, seriously, don’t do anything one bit differently than if Dan wasn’t here. Really. Stay as long as you want to stay. Leave when you want to leave! Like always!! ”

“What about a sign? Maybe we should come up with a sign – two signs – one if you think it’s going well, and you want us to leave so the two of you can be alone; one if it’s not going so well, and you want us to stay.”

“It really doesn’t matter what I say, does it? You’re deep into your own thing here.”

F I N E,” Auggie said. “Mission aborted.”

“More pie, Auggie?”

“You betcha.”

By the time Dan tumbleweeded through the front door and into the dining room, Auggie and Bess had pushed their chairs back from the table in healthy respect of keeping a certain distance from the remaining rubble of pie. Auggie and Bess looked Dan up and down while Dan looked the tumult of plates up and down, and before fifteen minutes of interesting conversational tidbits had criss-crossed the dining table, Auggie turned squarely to face his wife and said, “Well, honey, we really need to get going.”

“What?!?” Madeline said, nearly before the words were fully out of his mouth. “Really?!?”

“Really. Come on, babe.” And with an incredible efficiency of movement, he grabbed Bess’ hand, pulled her up from her chair, and led her towards the front door while both of them exclaimed the virtues of the food and the wine and the company, until the door shut behind them and their continued words drifted into the evening air. On the other side of the door, the entire atmosphere inside the house shifted by the time Madeline took the twenty or so steps back to sit at the dining room table, side by side with Dan.  He gave a faint chuckle. “Nice folks.”

“The best.” Madeline said.

They sat facing the table laden with the evening’s detritus.  As if he had read the crusted plates like so many tea leaves, Dan said, “This house is so you.  You are everywhere.”

“Really?” Madeline retorted, more than a tad skeptically, as he had arrived less than a half hour before and seen only two rooms.  “How’s that?”

“It’s so clear what this house is.  It’s the place that you created, and have worked hard to protect – a haven to encircle all of the people you love.”

“Geez,” Madeline thought to herself.  “Just how much longer do I have to wait to fuck this guy?”  But what she said aloud was, “Huh.”

“There is love everywhere,” Dan said, still looking down at the plates.

“Maybe not quite yet,” she considered.  “But soon.  Very, very soon.”  The thought exhilarated her, thrilled her, yet also filled her with quiet apprehension.  She said in a pitch that was tauter and higher than usual. “Would you like a house tour?  Want to see the rest of the Haven of Love?”

Strolling the myriad of rooms, Dan remained decidedly quiet.  Madeline ran her fingers along walls and gestured with giddy abandon as she dug up tidbits of historical facts about the 100-year-old house, and recounted treasured memories of her thirty years within the confines of its walls.  Dan nodded once or twice.  He knit his brow now and again.

The house tour completed, Madeline plopped down beside Dan on the sofa, their thighs pressed together.  The arc of the evening – the deep pleasure of Auggie and Bess, the astonishment of Dan actually getting it about her house, the chance to tell its stories – had left her in woozy, buoyant spirits.  She sighed aloud and rested her head against Dan’s shoulder.  He reached his arm to encircle her, kneaded her shoulder, then withdrew it.

“Are you feeling it?  Are you as totally uncomfortable as I am?”

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For a split second Madeline thought he must be pulling her leg.  An attempt at a bit of ha-ha hipster ironic humor; but one quick look at his face persuaded her that this was not the case.  “What?” she said.

“You can’t tell me you’re not feeling the same.  How completely different this is from last night.  How awkward.”

“No…I…I’m so sorry that you’re feeling uncomfortable.”

“Last night just flowed.  Every minute.  Flow.”  Dan sat forward on the couch, leaning as if ready to spring.

“You look like you’re thinking pretty seriously about leaving,” Madeline said.

“I am.  Thinking about it.  This is just so…weird.  I’m not sure what I should do”

Something old, and very deep, within Madeline felt a profound shame.  She tamped down the instinct to apologize over and over, to do anything, to do everything, that might possibly make Dan feel better, like her, want to stay, want to hold her, want her.  She was also aware of a flash of rage, an intense desire to slap Dan’s flow-spouting face.  Inside, a part of her screamed, “Fuck you, you arrogant fuck!”  Alongside the shame, and the blind anger, the most profound feeling of all was a wish that something, just one thing, could be simple.  Clear.  Easy.  Known.

With swift and precise movement, Madeline pushed Dan backwards on the couch, threw her leg across his lap so she fully straddled him, and gripped his head between her two hands.  “Want to know what I think you should do?”  Madeline moved in, her lips, tongue, teeth showing all of the threat, and all of the promise, of a wild and starving animal.  She threw her head back, panting hard.  “Any questions?” she asked.

Taking Dan’s hand, she led him to the staircase.  With her back to him, Madeline ascended with measured, deliberate steps, resting their entangled fingers against her ass, with every intention that he pay keen attention to it.  She took her time lighting the two candles on her bedside table, her back still to Dan, waiting for the match to burn all the way down before she blew the slightest puff of air.  Standing behind her, Dan reached one hand out to caress her buttocks, took a step forward, and cupped her breast with his other hand.  They stood for a time, motionless, listening to one another’s breathing; and that marked the last instant of anticipation, or of anything languorous.  Madeline ground her ass into Dan’s pelvis, hard, and rocked it from side to side.  His fingers dug into the crotch of her jeans.

Clothing flew.  Hands could not explore fast enough, could not cover enough ground.  Lips, tongues, saliva were everywhere, all at once.  The air in the room thickened to a fecund hothouse from the blossoming of body parts and ooze of fluids.

Dan gripped her haunches and pulled her onto him, astride him as she had been on the couch.  Madeline ran her hand along his cock as she slid him inside her, and shut her eyes tight to block out any thought, any hint of any sensation, that was not the feeling of his cock reaching into her.   Dan seized her hand and enlaced his fingers with enough force that Madeline’s eyes snapped open.  Her first inclination was to gasp. She had never seen a look quite like the one on his face.  His impossibly blue eyes wide open, his body trembling, Dan looked right at her, right into her, with a hungry yearning that pronounced there would be no place for a single part of her to hide.  A sound arose from deep in her gut, a sound she was not even sure was her own.  And when that sound reached up through her body and spilled from her mouth, she was gone.

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A first draft of this chapter was originally posted in 2013, in three installments.

A Walk

This is the second chapter from the “September” section of my novel PUSHING THE RIVER.  Watch for the third chapter next Friday!

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A Walk

“Ellie, what in the world am I doing?” Madeline said.

“You,” Ellie said, “are taking a much-needed break from what you’ve been trying to do ever since Dick left – secure a ‘forever’ future.”

“Huh.”

“And I, for one, am damn glad.”

“Huh.”

“You need the break.”

“Huh.”

“ I think this is a great thing.”

“Huh.” Madeline added, “I think you need the break.”

“OK, Maybe we both do.”

How many walks just like this one had Ellie and Madeline taken over the past ten years, Madeline wondered. How many times had they clipped along on some pathway, beachfront, nature preserve, botanic garden; how many cups of coffee had been sipped in little cafes, student centers, large malls, bookstores, while they deconstructed Madeline’s latest date, possible romance, new romance, budding relationship, full! rosy! cheeked! blush! of ! love! first stagger,

swaying, reeling, crumbling, dissolving, dissolving, dissolved.

The thought of all this exhausted Madeline. She was utterly bored with herself. Bored and worn-out and miserable about how much time, and brain space, and thought, and conversation the whole subject of dating and relationships had consumed, had sucked from her life. She had a nearly overwhelming desire to lie down in the grass, right then, halfway along the trail, right there, in the middle of the sculpture garden, and resolve to stay there, not move, not continue, until something changed. The blades of grass would soak up the late summer sun and caress her with their easy warmth. She would watch the wispy clouds drift lazily across the sky, she would search for the pictures in them, then make stories out of the pictures. The air would turn cool, the leaves would start to change, just barely at first, a tinge of color lost. Cyclists would whiz past her, thinking, “Huh. I don’t remember that sculpture being there before.” The first tiny, barely perceptible flake of snow would drift onto her cheek—

“You’re not re-thinking this, are you?” Ellie said.

Madeline considered for less than half a second telling Ellie what she had been thinking, but said, “Nope. Not.”

“Good. Be here now,” Ellie said.

“I’m all about it.”

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A first draft of this chapter was originally posted on August 5, 2013 with the same photos.