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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Little Burro – FLASH fiction*

66hotel

I was pretty sure my parents were tricksters.  From an early age, I was watching them out of the corners of my eyes.

Like when we took a road trip all the way across the country when I was four years old, driving west across old Route 66 from Pennsylvania to California, where my aunt and uncle lived.  Days and days of endless barren landscapes, our brand new station wagon throwing up a dust storm that followed in our wake.  No air conditioning.  The windows were wide open, making any kind of talking sort of impossible.  It was dry, and dusty, with a hot wind blowing in your face all day long.  My brother and I bounced and blew around in the back seat in a woozy stupor.  Every so often, one of us would come out of our haze long enough to let out a plaintive whine of “How much longer?” or, even more important, “Are you sure there’s a POOL?”

I got to eat pancakes every morning.

At one of the pancake places, I got a little stuffed burro with a bell in his ear for my souvenir of the trip.  Except I wasn’t allowed to make the bell ring because it drove everyone nuts, so mostly I just held him in my lap and stared at him.

My aunt and uncle had a new baby.  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.

I was pretty sure the people next store were really, really bad and would snatch me up or hurt me if I got too close to them.  They were always trying to get me to come over to their gate to talk to them, or to show me something.  They didn’t speak English, and they wore clothes that covered them all up from head to toe, and they were older than even my grandparents.  I made sure never to get too close to that gate, even if I didn’t see them in their yard.  But that meant that I had to stay in my aunt and uncle’s garage, and that was terrifying, too, as my aunt had shown me a bottle that she swore had a genie inside.  It was hard to find a place that was far enough from the gate and from the bottle, both.  But at least I could stand there and shake my burro’s bell.

My parents seemed to think that everything was funny.  They laughed all the time in California, and I was pretty sure they were laughing at me.  But I was watching them.  They just seemed like people with a lot of secrets.  Mean people.  With secrets.

roadtrip

 

*The blog has been silent for a spell, while I have labored over the re-re-re-writes of my upcoming novel Pushing the River.  In the interim, I have become fascinated with the concept of the unreliable narrator. And I continue to be taken with the idea of flash fiction.  Hence, a little piece that utilizes both.

“Is It Possible to Fracture Your Penis?” NEW from the novel “Pushing the River”

 

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a reminder to my family and friends with wild imaginations: this is FICTION

She didn’t think about Dick as often as she used to, which struck Madeline as remarkable.

But when she did think of him, she often thought of his…boomerang.

She had long heard the giggles and rumors from the mutual friends who ultimately introduced the two of them. They saw each other every day for two weeks after the evening of their meeting, their words becoming so much chicken scratch, background noise, to a deepening enchanted spell that took hold of them both. Still, in their demure newness, she took the first shower – separately – then waited while he took his. When the sound of the running water ceased, Madeline was unable to wait a second longer.

She opened the bathroom door to an entirely pink-tiled world heavy with steam. Dick pulled back the shower curtain, wiping the water from his eyes, and opened his arms to her.

When she pulled back from their embrace and took his hand to lead him to her bed, there it was. Her eyes widened. “It’s my boomerang,” Dick said.

“Because it always comes back to you? No matter where it’s been?” she said.

Dick laughed. “No. Because that’s what I call it.”

The dazzling sun of the summer afternoon dimmed to dusk and then to dark before Madeline and Dick uttered their next words. “So. Boomerang. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

boomerang

Dick laughed and kissed her on the temple. “It got broken.”

“Oh, stop. That’s not possible.”

“Obviously it is. Possible.”

It was many years before the internet. Many years before Madeline was able to type the words “broken penis” into the google search bar and get the following from the Mayo Clinic website:

Is it possible to fracture your penis?

Answers from Landon Trost, M.D.

Yes. Although rare, penis fracture can occur when there is trauma to an erect penis.

During an erection, the penis is engorged with blood. If an engorged penis is bent suddenly or forcefully, the trauma can rupture the lining of one of the two cylinders in the penis (corpus cavernosum) responsible for erections — resulting in a penis fracture. The trauma most often occurs after accidental injury during intercourse, but can also occur due to aggressive masturbation or taqaandan, a cultural practice in which the top of an erect penis is forcefully bent.

A penis fracture is a painful injury. Signs might include a cracking sound, immediate loss of the erection, or the development of dark bruising of the penis due to blood escaping the cylinder. Sometimes the tube that drains urine from the body (urethra) is damaged as well, and blood might be visible at the urinary opening of the penis.

A penis fracture requires urgent medical attention. The injury can usually be diagnosed with a physical exam, and prompt surgical repair is typically recommended.

Left untreated, a penis fracture might result in deformity of the penis or the permanent inability to get or keep an erection firm enough for sex (erectile dysfunction).

At the time, however, Madeline only knew what she had seen. And experienced.

“Does it hurt?” she asked. “Do I need to worry about hurting you?”

“Not at all,” he said.

She giggled, then said, “I’m sorry to laugh. You broke your penis!”

It wasn’t so funny when it happened. It hurt like a mother. And I heard it break.”

“You’re kidding?!” Madeline said. “What in the world happened?!” Dick took a breath in preparation to answer, but Madeline took her index finger and held it to his lips. “No, wait. Don’t tell me. No history. Not right now. Just this moment. Just the two of us. And Boomerang.”

boomerang construction

“Lachrymose.Febreze.Get Shorty,” NEW from the novel “Pushing the River”

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“Nope,” Madeline thought to herself. “Nope, nope, nope. Bathetic, mawkish, maudlin – that’s what I’m being. And, my personal favorite – lachrymose.” Sometimes Madeline was goddamn glad that she had spent part of one summer studying lists of words to expand her vocabulary. “Lachrymose,” she let the word swirl around inside her. It wasn’t every day that you could find a reason to use one of your very favorite words of all time, but when that opportunity was suddenly there, boy howdy, that was a banner day. That could turn a shit of day right around.

“I. Will. NOT. Be. Lachrymose. No sirree Bob.” Madeline marched up the staircase with intent, paused at the top to wiggle back and forth in a little dance, and two-stepped her way into her bedroom. Carefully moving aside the freshly laundered pile of clothes, she proceeded to rip the sheets off her bed with a vengeance, then crumple them into the smallest ball she could. She held the ball in front of her, arms fully extended, the entire length of two stair flights to the washing machine. “Ha. I knew I saved this for a reason,” she thought, ripping open a sample packet of laundry detergent that had arrived in the mail months ago. Tide with Febreze. Guaranteed to eliminate your toughest laundry odors, it said. “Well, then, my detergent friend, be true to your word. Eliminate, eliminate. When I lay my weary little head down on my pillow tonight – alone, in my own bed – I don’t want a single whiff, not one hint of a whiff, not a hair of a tinge of a mite of a pinch of a speck of a trace of a hint. Of Dan.”

lady.macbeth

The machine’s lid sang out as it snapped closed, making a slight symphony with the rushing water and the whistling of the hot water pipe.

Madeline decided to slam the lid again. It felt highly satisfying. But when the last reverberation fell silent, it was as if a little bit of the air had escaped from Madeline’s inner balloon. Her footfalls up the stairs sounded slow and shuffling. There was no dance.

Her intention was to put away the laundry. She swung open the side-by-side doors of the primitive armoir she used as her clothes cabinet. She ran her eyes up and down the stacks of clothes, back and forth across the three shelves. She left the doors agape, and went to lie down on the sheetless bed.

Her flat palm grazed across the mattress pad, and with the gesture, an image: Dan. Also lying on his back, the two of them facing the ceiling. Newborn Dylan, tightly swaddled and sound asleep between their two prone bodies. Their hands reaching toward one another, clasping.

Madeline leapt from the bed and threw open the door of the hall closet, tossing years’ worth of accumulated stuff around, searching for something she was certain had been stashed ever since Kate’s first big camping trip. Febreze. Spray. Mountain fresh scent.

Madeline bounded back into the bedroom and went to work on the pillows, nearly soaking them with spray. Then onto the mattress itself.

“Out damn spot!” She thought: “Wait a minute. Macbeth? Shakespeare?? I thinketh not. Waaayyyyy too literary. How about Ellmore Leonard? Get Shorty?? ‘FUCK YOU, FUCKBALL!!’”

Dennis Farina Get Shorty

Guest Post and MULTI-AUTHOR PROMO !!

I am very pleased to present this guest blog by my friend and fellow author Michael Fedison.  Mike is the author of the YA fantasy  The Eye-Dancers.  As you will read below, he does a magnificent job writing blog entries that tie in to his book.

Many thanks to Mike for organizing this TWELVE AUTHOR PROMOTION.  Check out the varied works that are ALL BEING OFFERED FOR FREE OR REDUCED PRICE FOR THE NEXT TWELVE DAYS.  My own novel, You, in Your Green Shirt, is FREE today through November 16.

*****************************************

In the first-season Twilight Zone episode titled “What You Need,” which aired on Christmas Day 1959, an old peddler named Pedott walks into a drinking establishment, carrying with him his sack of wares.

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He approaches a young woman, seated alone at a table, and asks her, “Something for you, miss?”

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She hands over a bill, asking for some matches, but the old man stares at her, looks into her eyes, and exclaims, “You don’t need matches, miss.  I’ll tell you what you need.”  And he hands her a small bottle of cleaning fluid, “guaranteed to remove spots of any and all kinds.”

“It’s what you need,” he assures her, and she takes it, no doubt baffled by the display.

womanbaffled

Pedott approaches the bar, where a man referred to as “Lefty” is drinking liberally.

“Whaddaya got, pop?” Lefty asks between drinks.

“Many things,” the old peddler answers.  “Many odds and ends.  Things you need.”

pedottandlefty

Lefty tells him there’s no chance he has what he needs in his bag full of merchandise–a new left arm.

The bartender breaks in, explaining that Lefty used to be “quite a pitcher in his time.”  He even pitched a couple of years for the Chicago Cubs.  But then “his arm went sour.”  Now Lefty comes into the bar each night, “looking for a baseball career at the bottom of a bottle.”

Pedott tells Lefty there are other opportunities, new career paths he can pursue.  Pitching isn’t the only way he can earn a living.  Lefty scoffs at this, his demeanor downcast, bereft of hope.

leftylaments

Suddenly the old man has a brainstorm.  “I think I know what it is you need,” he says, reaching into his bag and fishing out a bus ticket to Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Lefty laughs.  “Now, what’s in Scranton, Pennsylvania, old man?”

But then the phone rings.  It’s for Lefty–a job offer from one of Lefty’s old managers to coach for a minor league baseball team in Scranton.  He tells Lefty to take a bus to Scranton and meet the GM to interview for the job.

Lefty of course wants to know how Pedott knew he’d get a call from Scranton, but the old man has quietly departed the scene, exiting the bar.  Oh well.  Lefty isn’t about to stress over the details.  He finally has an opportunity.  He just wishes he had nicer clothes.

“I sure wish I could get this out,” he gripes, pointing at a stain on his jacket.  “I’d like to look halfway decent when I meet the GM.”

The woman with the just-procured cleaning fluid walks up to him, shyly saying she couldn’t help but overhear, and that she has just the thing.

She tries it on the spot, applying the fluid to Lefty’s jacket stain.  “When this dries, you won’t even know you had a spot there,” she says.

womantakingoutthespot

As she applies the cleaning fluid, their eyes meet.  There is an unmistakable attraction.

The old peddler certainly knew what each of them needed . . .

*********************

I am especially fortunate to be a part of a multi-author, cross-genre promotion that, just maybe, can give old Pedott a run for his money.  The talented wordsmiths taking part in this promo offer a wide assortment of stories and styles–there is something here for everyone.

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The details of the promo are straightforward.  Each of the authors involved will run their own special promo on their books, beginning today and ending on November 22.  What titles are they featuring in the promo and what, exactly, does their promo entail?  Where can you find and download their books?  I invite you to click on each of the links below to discover the answers.

I hope you enjoy this eclectic literary smorgasbord!

Barbara Monier –Contemporary Literary Fiction

John Howell — Fiction Thriller

Shehanne Moore — Historical Romance

Janice Spina –Middle-Grade Junior Detectives Series

Luciana Cavallaro –Historical Fiction–Mythology Retold

Evelyne Holingue –Middle-Grade Fiction

Jo Robinson –Nonfiction Publishing Guide for Newbies, Short Stories, and Mainstream Fiction

Sonya Solomonovich –Time-Travel Fantasy

Jennifer Chow –Adult Cozy Mystery (The beginning of a new series)

Nicki Chen –Historical Fiction–WWII China

Katie Cross –YA Fantasy

**************

As for The Eye-Dancers, as part of this joint promotion that includes authors from around the globe, I am discounting the e-book version to 99 cents, straight through to November 22.  You can find it at the following online retail locations . . .

eyedancers

Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Eye-Dancers-ebook/dp/B00A8TUS8M

B & N:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-eye-dancers-michael-s-fedison/1113839272?ean=2940015770261

Smashwords:  http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/255348

Kobo:  https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/the-eye-dancers

**************

I thank each and every author involved for joining together and taking part in this cross-genre event.  It is an honor to be a part of this with you.

thankyou

And I thank everyone for reading!

–Mike

Last Sunday

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My foster grandson will turn three in less than two weeks. I unexpectedly got to spend the day with him last Sunday. I had planned to attend my longest-time friend’s ballroom dance competition that day, as it was the first time it worked out that I could finally see – and celebrate – what has been her passion for several years now. As grandson D is an easy-going child who sees wonder everywhere, he has accompanied me on many great adventures in his young life. I decided to bring him along.

He was fascinated by riding in the glass elevators at the Hyatt, likewise the oversized lobby furniture he scrambled into with great triumph. As it happened to be the day after Halloween, the lavish costumes of the dancing couples didn’t strike him as particularly noteworthy or unusual. He sat upright in his chair, watching the dancers attentively. After each brief dance was over, he clapped heartily, hopped off of his chair, and said with enthusiasm, “Is it over? Can we go back to the car and go home now?”

Each time, I said, “No, not yet! Just a little while longer, OK?”

On the drive back home, he chatted about the trains we passed, the differences between various construction vehicles, and where the passengers waiting on the train platforms might be going.

He was clearly headed in a philosophical direction at that point. And make no mistake, the following conversation was deeply philosophical, with all the curiosity, underlying wonder, and joy at the ability to reflect that entails.

“Tiabuela (which is what D calls me, as in a Spanish conflation of aunt/grandmother), do you know what I’m doing right now?”

robert.henri

“No, D, what are you doing?”

“I’m picking my nose! Do you like to pick your nose, Tiabuela? Do you do it very often?”

“Um, sometimes I pick my nose. Not very often really.”

“I love to! It’s a really good thing to do! If you don’t pick your nose, how do you get your boogers out! You have to get your boogers out!”

“Well, usually I get a Kleenex, and then I blow my nose into the Kleenex.”

“Hmm. I blow my nose sometimes. It’s way better to pick it.”

“I’ve noticed that you do it quite a bit.”

“Know what I’m doing now, Tiabuela? I’m eating my boogers!!”

“Uhhhhh, D, yuck! Don’t they taste yucky??”

“No! They don’t taste yucky! They taste good in my mouth! I like the way they feel inside my mouth! And they don’t make my stomach hurt! They’re not yucky, and they don’t make my stomach hurt.”

“So, some things make your stomach hurt?”

“Yes, but not boogers!”

There was a brief lull, as D gazed out the window and…seemed to be chewing.

“Well,” he said. “What about eye boogers! Do you pick those?!?”

Picassos-Child-With-A-Dove

art, top to bottom: Henri Matisse, Robert Henri, Pablo Picasso

Short. Kinda Sweet. New from the novel “Pushing the River”

bed

The following is a continuation of the previously posted chapter excerpt. A paragraph is repeated for continuity.

Madeline put her index finger into Dylan’s tiny fist so his fingers would curl around it and grip. With her other hand, she stroked his cheek, causing his eyes to flutter as he fought off sleep. She treasured these moments when she had the baby to herself, when she could lose herself in her fascination with his every minuscule movement, every slight change of expression that passed across his face. It did not happen often, but now and again at these precious times, it was almost as if the specter of her ex-husband Dick joined her. He sat beside her on the couch, and they gazed down together, lost in the miracle of the tiny life before them.

In the “real” world, the very much flesh-and-blood Dan came into the sun room and sat on the side not taken up by Dick’s memory ghost. He grasped Dylan’s other hand, so the three of them formed a bizarre human chain. Whether in response to the complexities encircling him, or strictly the result of his own inner rumblings, Dylan wrinkled his face and let out a parade of little fussy snorts. Madeline put him on her shoulder and nuzzled her face against his own. “He may be hungry,” she said. “I don’t have any idea when he had his last feeding.” She rolled her eyes. “I mean, some guy named Jose is upstairs in bed with Savannah.”

“WHAT?” Dan said.

“Yeah. He’s a friend from a couple of summers ago. I guess she ran into him again when she was hanging out in the park. With the baby.”

“You’ve gotta be kidding me. Does Marie know?”

“Yep.” Madeline said. “I texted her at work. She said she’d talk to her and take care of it. Meanwhile…I better make a bottle.”

“I’ll do it,” Dan said.

“Really?” Madeline said. She did delight in this man who had never been around a baby, never held a baby in his entire 55-year-old life. She had watched him stand at a terrified, awkward distance when he came to the hospital after Dylan was born. She had watched him thaw, gradually at first. She had seen him become mesmerized. She had heard him say, more than once, that maybe, no definitely, if he had met her earlier in his life, the two of them would have would have made a family together. Fuck. What do you say to that? And here he was, offering to mix a bottle of infant formula for a baby whose 15-year-old mother was catching up on her sleep with some lost boy named Jose, because she was pissed at her baby daddy who had flirted with another girl thousands of miles away.

toulous kiss

Art: Toulouse-Lautrec

“Low on Formula,” new from the novel “Pushing the River”

Happy mother with newborn baby

“MadMad, can you take him, please? Can you come up here and get him?” Savannah called through the closed door of her upstairs bedroom. Her groggy voice wafted down the stairway and through the kitchen, finding Madeline savoring her morning coffee at the sun room table.

Madeline opened the door to find Savannah already holding Dylan with arms outstretched. And – surprise!! — a young man, a boy really, face down and splayed across the mattress in his underwear. “I didn’t get any sleep at all last night. Is it OK for you to take him for a while? Do you have to go to work soon?”

“No, it’s fine,” Madeline said. “It’s really fine.”

Savannah had already plopped down and closed her eyes when she said, “there’s not a whole lot of formula left.”

Madeline grabbed her phone and immediately texted Marie at work:

Madeline: Um. Are you aware that your sister has a gentleman caller who happens to be sharing a bed with her right now? In my house??”

Marie: What?! OMG it must be Jose.

Madeline: Who the fuck is Jose?

Marie: Do you remember that kid she met in the park when she was here a couple of summers ago? That’s Jose. She ran into him again. Same park.

Madeline: Uh huh, terrific. I’m not sure that really explains why they’re in bed together. With Dylan. Except without Dylan now. I have him.

Marie: Do you mind taking care of him?

Madeline: Of course not. But hold on. I thought you guys told me that she had gotten back together with the baby daddy. Which I never understood in the first place since he’s 2000 miles away.

Marie: They broke up again. She’s pissed at him. I guess she caught him flirting with someone else.

Madeline: Caught him from 2000 miles away.

Marie: That’s probably why she’s hanging out with Jose. Cause she’s pissed at baby daddy.

Madeline: Hanging out in a bed.

Marie: I’ll talk to her. I gotta go.

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Madeline’s own words rang in her head. From the conversation she’d had with Marie when the inevitable happened. When it became clear that Savannah and Dylan needed to move into the house.

“I can’t be a mother to her, Marie. I won’t do that. I’ll give them a place to stay and I’ll help out with Dylan however and whenever I can cause I’m totally madly in love with him and because he deserves the absolute best beginning in his little life that all of us can possibly give him; but I’m not gonna be her mother. Not in any way. You’re gonna have to set the rules and whatever else. I’m not getting into any of that with her.”

Madeline put her index finger into Dylan’s tiny fist so his fingers would curl around it and grip. With her other hand, she stroked his cheek, causing his eyes to flutter as he fought off sleep. She treasured these moments when she had the baby to herself, when she could lose herself in her fascination with his every minuscule movement, every slight change of expression that passed across his face. It did not happen often, but now and again at these precious times, it was almost as if the specter of her ex-husband Dick joined her. He sat beside her on the couch, and they gazed down together, lost in the miracle of the tiny life before them.

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“Elephant Lullabies,” new from the novel “Pushing the River”

elephant

“That was when you taught me about sex, Marie, remember?”

That’s what emerged from Savannah’s mouth just as Madeline entered the room. Savannah laughed a hearty, open-mouthed laugh. Her great round belly bounced up and down, requiring her to arrange it. “We were just talking about that time Marie told me all about SEX. Don’t you remember, Marie?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. This is nonsense,” Marie countered.

“No. It’s true. We’d been waiting for Mom for so long, don’t you remember? It was, like, hours and hours,” Savannah said.

“Waiting for her where?” Madeline asked.

“At the casino,” Marie said.

“What do you mean?” Madeline asked.

“Well, wait, let’s get back to the story here,” Savannah said. “I can’t even believe you don’t remember this, Marie. We were sitting on the curb, cause we’d already played in the car and taken turns playing taxi driver, and then you went all through your purse trying to find all the little crayon stubs, and you let me draw pictures on all the little scraps of paper you picked off the floor of the car and from the glove box, and you made a story up about every picture, and still we were waiting. So we went outside and sat on the curb, and you had me drawing pictures using just my toes in the dirt, and you’d guess what they were. And you were being silly and making me laugh, guessing that the pictures were crazy things like a bunch of angels gathered around a brand new baby elelphant singing it lullabies so it could sleep through the roars of the angry lions. I mean, I drew something like a circle, and that’s what you’d guess.”

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec - Cha-U-Kao_ Chinese Clowness_ Seated

“Angels singing to a baby elephant?” Madeline arched her brow.

“Whatever. Shut up.” Savannah said.

“We’d been waiting a really, really long time. I just remember being so sleepy. It was dark already. And then I said: ‘Marie, this girl in my school said her older sister is gonna have a baby. And my friend asked her sister where the baby came from, and her sister said that her husband stuck his wee-wee inside of her and went pee pee, and that’s where the baby came from. And I said, is that true, Marie? Is that where babies come from? Is that where I came from?’ And you said, I swear to God you said: ‘Well, that’s close enough.’” Savannah wrinkled up her nose and laughed loud.

“Nonsense,” Marie said. “Never happened.”

“Oh my God, you’re the worst,” Savannah said, picking up the sofa pillow and tossing it at her sister. Both of them burst into unfettered laughter.

“That’s what I thought for years, Marie. Years!”

“You were a little kid! What was I supposed to say?” Marie said.

“Like, how old?” Madeline asked.

“I don’t know.” Marie considered. “Probably 4 or so by then. This kind of went on for a long time.”

“This what went on for a long time?” Madeline asked.

“We’d all be out running errands, or getting food, or whatever, and my mother would just sort of…drive over to the casino and say that she’d be right back. And she’d leave us there. In the car.”

Marie’s tone was strangely untroubled, but her voice became softer. She shrugged one shoulder. “She was basically bringing me along to watch after Savannah. Savannah was pretty little when this started.”

“Little…like…?” Madeline asked.

“Oh, one and a half? At least one,” Marie said.

“So you were taking care of a baby inside of a car in the parking lot of a casino. By yourself,”

Madeline said.

“Uh-huh,” said Marie.

“It was fun!” Savannah said. “Marie made it really fun.”

“How long would she be gone? In the casino?” Madeline asked.

“Sometimes not very long. You know, an hour. Sometimes…pretty long. That time Savannah’s remembering is probably the longest. I think my mom drove us there right after lunch. It was dark when we left.”

Savannah laughed. “It’s all your fault, Marie,” she pointed to her enormous belly. “You ruined me with that story.”

Henri de toulouse-lautrec-382924

Art: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

“Herding Cats,” new from the novel “Pushing the River”

herding-cats

The expression “herding cats” does not even begin to cover the travesty of attempting to gather six adults (well, five adults and a 15-year-old mother of a newborn) into one room for long enough to reach in and pull out painstakingly-chosen treasures from Madeline’s hand-knit Christmas stockings.

Pots of coffee were brewed and drained, favorite Christmas CD’s from long years past rang out on the stereo one after another – and still, no more than four people at a time managed to amass in the general vicinity of the tree, the stockings, the waiting slew of piled gifts.

The only person in unfettered good spirits was, as usual, baby Dylan. As a one-month-old newbie who had every reason to express general difficulty in his adjustment to the whole world outside of a warm, dark, wholly embracing womb, he rarely did. The bright lights, noise and general chaos that he had been born into seemed A-OK to him. Madeline regularly said to Savannah: “He’s not a real baby, you know.” Savannah of course had nothing to compare him to. She had no idea that sleepless nights were the norm, not in infant who nestled into his mother’s ample chest and snoozed the night away.

Kate planted herself in the living room, turned off the Mormon Tabernacle Choir mid carol, and opened her violin case. “John,” she shot over her shoulder, “let’s play until everyone’s here.”

“I was just—” John said.

“Let’s play.” Kate’s breathing was faster than usual.

John wandered back and forth in the room, as if trying to remember what her words meant.

“Oh, great!” Madeline said, rushing into the room and plopping down on the sofa. “Best idea ever. More impromptu carols!” She knit her brow and continued, “Hey, anybody seen Dan? What the heck is he doing?”

“What the fuck is anybody doing,” Kate said. “Seriously, what the fuck is everybody doing.”

Herding-Cats

“DAN,” Madeline called out. “DAN!”

A door on the second floor opened. “Yeah?” Dan said.

“Hey, can you come down here?” Madeline asked.

Footfalls on the staircase, Dan standing on the landing, uncommitted to the remaining six stairs and exhibiting slight annoyed bewilderment.

“Whatcha doing up there?” Madeline inquired.

Dan shrugged. “Well, come down and sit with me. Listen to the kids with me. Come on,” Madeline chirped.

Dan padded down the remaining steps and took his place beside Madeline. “Here? You want me here? Like this?”

“What’s up with you?” Madeline asked.

“Nothing. Here I am.”

“Oh my God,” said Kate. We actually have four people here. All we need is Marie and Savannah.”

“I’m pretty sure Marie’s in the basement. On the phone or texting someone. Savannah’s upstairs. Also on the phone.”

“Let me know the next time and place that my services are required,” Dan said, standing.

“No no no no!” Madeline said. “Stay here! I’m gonna see if I can rally the troops.”

“I’m around. Once the troops get rallied, let me know,” Dan countered.

“Hey! Come on! This is fun!” Madeline said.

“Do you know the New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast?” Dan asked.

“Yeah…” said Madeline.

“Cartoon title: Pollyanna in Hell. Cartoon caption: ‘No more down jackets forever!!!’ ”

Madeline made an excellent attempt to demonstrate the expression “shoot daggers” with a glance, but Dan pre-emptively did not allow for eye contact as he left the room.

Pollyanna_in_hell_short_3838

Cartoon excerpt: Roz Chast, originally published in The New Yorker