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

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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.

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

 

Monday Short’n Sweet, from the novel “Pushing the River”

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Dan had been visiting his sister for the past two nights, time together which generally consisted of him completing a laundry list of things she had carefully compiled. This, in turn, invariably necessitated driving around to an ungodly number of retail establishments known as “Big Box Stores” so they could gather extremely heavy things which he then used to build, fix, install, assemble, connect, secure, clean, tear down, buttress, erect, and when all else was said and done, simply move from one location to another – and often back again if she decided the original arrangement was somehow superior. In other words, the exact kind of familiar encounter that led Dan to toss an uncertain number of beers down his throat as he drove the hours’ distance to meet Madeline at the bar where she sat contemplating her next move with the uber-chipper bar patron on the stool beside her.

Dan swooped in on Madeline, slumped over in creeping despair on her stool, as if he’d been lost and adrift for endless days at sea, and Madeline was an emerald isle with Stella Artois running through the cascading streams.

He swung her stool around and nuzzled his face into the crook of her neck, planting kiss after kiss. Enlacing the fingers of their two hands together, he bobbed his head, moved his hips and feet about, and performed a wild giddy drunken dance, all while ordering two beers at once, the first of which he emptied in a single gulp. He grabbed the other bottle off the bar, lifted Madeline from her seat, and kissed her forehead between head bobs, dancing all the while.

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Both paintings by Pablo Picasso

“Billie,” new excerpt from the novel “Pushing the River”

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Madeline rolled Marie’s words over in her mind,  “She’s not safe.”  She flashed back to two years ago, the last time she had seen Sierra.  That summer.

“Not safe.”  Madeline heard about the events of that night after it was all over.  She awakened to then-13-year-old Sierra curled up in a ball, deep in slumber on the couch in the very room where Marie told the story of the previous night as if it were a tale of very long ago, and quite far away.  Grotesque scenes involving the screaming of sirens, spewed vitriol, handcuffs, jail, emergency protective orders, and a young girl – with a freshly stitched and gauze-wrapped gash across her forearm – now in the legal custody of Marie, with the legal residence of Madeline’s home.  Marie blew across the top of her coffee as she spoke.  She unfurled a crumple of pages — various reports from police, the hospital emergency room, child services — and smoothed them with her hands.

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“Not safe,” Marie now said, two years later, into the phone.

Madeline thought of a photo that Marie had pinned to the wall of the room that she and John lived in that summer of two years past.  An old photo of her mother Billie Rae when she was young — a grown woman, but still young.  She was seated at a kitchen table, leaning forward in her chair to nestle herself, her slight-framed body, fully against the table.  One shoulder tilted towards the camera in a way that looked both flirtatiously coy and thoroughly exhausted.  The photo was not a close up, and the distance made Billie seem even tinier, all long dishwater blonde hair and huge blue eyes.  There was something else, too – a softness.  The girl in the picture possessed a definite softness.  This is what Madeline would try to remember.  That there had been a time when Billie was soft.  Vulnerable.  Young.  There was strength in that face.  And fatigue.  And pleading.  Whatever came next, and next after that, Madeline would try to remember the girl/woman in that picture.

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Paintings, top to bottom, by:

Tiziano Vecellio Titian, Henri Lebasque, Julio Romero de Torres

“Haven of Love,” excerpt from novel-in-progress “Pushing the River”

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By the time Dan tumbleweeded through the front door and into the dining room with my Lady, 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 arrives 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 a quiet apprehension.  She said in a pitch that was decidedly tauter and higher than usual. “Would you like a house tour?  Want to see the rest of the Haven of Love?”

Night dance

“Babysitting,” New chapter from novel “Pushing the River”

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Sierra was in her usual spot on the couch in the sun room, except facing the other direction, her back to Madeline as she came in and leaned against the door frame.  Also as usual, Sierra was dressed head to toe in clothes that belonged to her big sister – right down to the borrowed socks — with the exception of the fleece Madeline had lent to her, and which Sierra wore day and night, inside and out.  She was on the phone, though it was difficult to tell at first, as she was saying absolutely nothing.  It was only the slight crook of her head which implied that her ubiquitous cell phone was buried somewhere under her hair, tucked against her ear – that, and the fact that she didn’t turn around when Madeline came partway into the room, didn’t jump at the barest possibility of a warm, live body to talk with.  She spent an astonishing amount of time “talking” on the phone, saying absolutely nothing.  Hours, sometimes.  Hours in which she would walk all around the house, open and close the fridge, go in and out of the bathroom, play with the dog, the silence broken by an occasional giggle, or a comment of notable brevity, such as “What?”  “No way,”  “Are you shitting me?” – four words was pretty much the max.

Madeline caught a glimpse of the impossibly neon blue gum in the corner of Sierra’s mouth, which promptly fell onto her boob when she eventually turned her head towards Madeline, rolling her eyes as if being on the phone was really an enormous ordeal.  She reached down without thought to grab the blue wad, pop it back into her mouth, and chew the heck out of it to soften it back up.  This happened a lot, too.

Jesus, Madeline thought.  Fifteen.  She really is fifteen.

What the hell was I doing when I was her age?  Madeline’s mind leapt to a photo of herself and her father that a visiting camera-crazy aunt had snapped when she was fifteen.  It was very early in the morning, and her father was about to give her a rare ride to school.  She had an armful of books, and though she looked sleepy, a supremely chipper smile.  Ha, she thought, every single time she ran across that picture.  It seemed that between her aunt and her mother, about a million copies had been made of that picture, because everyone thought both she and her father looked so good.  More to the point, it was probably the one and only photograph that included both of them, as it was most likely the one and only time she had stood that close to her father for a period that extended a number of years in both directions of that particular morning.  Plus, her other dirty little secret was: she wasn’t just sleepy; she had been stoned out of her mind the night before.

OK, but besides that smoking pot thing, Madeline pondered, what the hell else was I doing?

Well, babysitting.  She did a lot of babysitting in those days, largely to support her music habits of album-amassing and concert-going.  A flipbook of the various families she regularly babysat for ran through her mind.  The Roys.  The Kelloggs. Families she could no longer remember names of either them or their children, but whose homes – their furniture, wall art, record collections, the various Things they had positioned in places of honor because of status, or nostalgia, or duty – these remained locked in her memory as if it were yesterday.

When she thought of these families as a whole, they all seemed impossibly earnest, clean-cut, each and every one of the men a future Scout Leader, and the women, they would be battling one another for PTA president, a freshly baked batch of cookies/brownies/banana bread forever on the spotless kitchen counter.  And religious.  Each and every one of these families was devoutly religious.  Weird, she thought.  How in the world did that happen?

Once the kiddies were asleep in their beds, she would peruse the snack options, put on some tunes, and settle in for an evening of making some money to sit there and do homework.  She always expected that the parents would return home with flushed cheeks, giggling and leaning against one another in a blush of fun at having a Night! Out! and perhaps one too many cocktails.  But this never happened.  Never! The mommies and daddies would arrive home looking every bit as polished and coifed as when they had left, and even more surprising, seeming genuinely eager to talk with her.  How was school going?  Was she still studying piano?  What was she reading in her spare time?  Their interest amazed her in a way that made her feel inexplicably sad — all wide eyes and toothy smiles.

There was that one couple, though.  What the heck were their names?  Rick?  Was that it?

Kathy?  They had that one baby boy who was generally asleep by the time she arrived.  Even when he was still awake, the kid did absolutely nothing.  Just kind of hung out.  Then went to sleep.

One look at Kathy and Rick and you couldn’t help but picture them as that glorious high school couple – the Captain of the football team and the head cheerleader – You knew that Rick would have been captain based not on any real degree of skill, or even leadership ability, but because he oozed an easygoing, blond smoothness and a manner that gently projected, “Damn!  It is really good to be me!”   Kathy could be defined by a word Madeline hardly ever thought of, let alone used in a positive way: cute.  She had porcelain skin with a dusting of freckles across her nose, and red hair that grazed her shoulders in a perennially perfect flip.  Sometimes she wore her black-framed, cat’s-eye glasses, other times not.  She had married The Catch, and was devoting herself to the role of wife, mother, homemaker.  She would keep herself trim, keep a spotless, if modest home, try out new recipes from Ladies Home Journal on a regular basis, make a boxed cake mix every week, and always wear an apron so she’d look her best when she sat down for dinner with Rick.3633530233_eb0ee307ce_z

She was also the only one who would arrive home from her date night with her husband with her hair out of place here and there, her smile a little goofy, fumbling with the money, all of which Madeline found immensely adorable.

Rick would always be the one to drive her the distance of fifteen or twenty houses from their home to her own, which struck her as quaint but ridiculous in what she viewed as the world’s safest and most preternaturally bland suburb in existence.  She disliked Rick for reasons she couldn’t put her finger on at first.  His perpetual too-deep tan, his mirrored aviator shades, his profound and unflappable belief that every guy he met would yearn to be his best friend and every woman would sigh internally in his presence, unable to shake the image of his blond hair brushing against their faces, his sun-kissed hands gripping their hips.

Madeline had grown used to the parents’ fascination with her; but Rick possessed a clear, confident expectation that she would, of course, be fascinated with him.  He fiddled with the radio dial and changed the station to something he thought she would love.  She glanced over at him.  He had turned his body part way to face her and let his knees fall open.  He might have looked friendly and relaxed and nothing more, but she knew better.

You fucking piece of shit, she thought to herself.

He was waiting.  Expecting that Madeline would be overcome with desire and would make a move.  And if she did not, he was contemplating making the first move himself.

You fucking piece of shit.  Madeline thought of Kathy at home, drowsily checking on the baby, removing her clothes, crawling under the covers in a boozy glow that told her that life was truly good.  Rick’s hair was just beginning to thin, his overly-tanned skin withering with the advancing years.  Shit, the guy didn’t have a clue how desperate he was, how much of a joke.  But he would break his wife’s heart nonetheless.  He was one step away from trying to fuck everything in sight, while Kathy continued to hum in the kitchen and bake him cakes.

Thinking about this, about all of this, filled her with an intense rage, a full forty years later.

She looked again at Sierra, right as Sierra’s gum dropped out her mouth yet again.

Shit, thought Madeline.  Every single day of my life has been a cake walk, a total fucking cake walk, compared to this kid.

 

all photos from Flickr

“Billie’s Birthday,” new chapter excerpt from the novel “Pushing the River”

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My Lady lets the book drop into her lap.  She closes her eyes, and lets  herself drink up the quiet, the solitude, for a few seconds more.  She takes her time climbing the stairs, listening to the sound of each footfall and its brushhh brushhh brushhh on the wooden steps.

When she turns the creaky old knob that then bangs against the kitchen counter, she hears only the hum of the refrigerator.  A few quick steps through the kitchen, she finds Sierra and her mother Billie sitting on the sofa in the back room of the house, mountains of clothes piled on and around them.  It looks like the room – which is everyone’s favorite — little but made mostly of windows – has exploded with clothing, spewed them out like a heedless volcano.

“Oh, hi, Maddie,” Billie says.  “We weren’t sure exactly where you were.”

“Downstairs.  I was downstairs.”

“We’re trying to figure out what to take.  I’m going to take Sierra home for a few days.”

“Oh?…”

“Yeah, she wants to come back home.”

“So..what are you doing?  Exactly?”

“We’re trying to figure out what to take.  You know.  For the baby and for Sierra.”

“How long have you both been…here?  Doing this?”

“Oh, I don’t know.  What would you say, honey?  An hour or so?  Maybe two?”

Madeline looks at Sierra, who says, “It’s hard.  It’s hard to figure out what to take!”

“We thought it would be a good time to go through everything and organize it.  You know.  Take inventory.  Organize,”  Billie adds.

“Well, if you’re only going for a couple of days…maybe you don’t need to worry about it so much.”

“I’ll just feel better when it’s all done.  Sierra knows how much I like to organize everything, don’t you, baby?”

Sierra nods, and looks over at Madeline with a face that is as unreadable to her as hieroglyphics.

“Plus my birthday’s coming up.  I want to make sure everybody has something super special to wear.”

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“Oh, right!  I knew your birthday was getting close.  What are you doing to celebrate?”

“Going to Ho-Chunk.  I am so excited.  I’ve been trying to go every year on my birthday since I started back in 1987.  I skipped 1992 to 1996, no it was 1995, and I missed 2004 and 2006, but every other year I’ve gone. Some of my friends surprised me by taking up a collection to give me some money.  Cousin Lou chipped in $20, and then my friend Donna really surprised me by giving $40, and when Nick heard he even chipped in $10.  That was on Tuesday.  The 5th.”

“I’m sorry.  What’s Ho-Chunk?  I don’t know what that is.”

“Are you kidding?  Are you kidding?  It’s a casino!  Up in Wisconsin!”

“A casino?”

“Of course!  I play the penny slots.  It’s my favorite thing to do.”

“I don’t know what a penny slot is, either.”

“Madeline, you do surprise me sometimes.  That’s like saying you’ve never seen the stars.”

Sierra picks articles of clothing from one basket, looks at them briefly, and puts them in a different pile in a different basket, or on the arm of the sofa, or on the floor, or anywhere at all.

“No, baby,” says her mother.  “Don’t put that shirt there.  That’s a whole different color group.”

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“Pushing the River,” NEW EXCERPT (yeah, HOORAY!)

IMG_0507It was the third time that mice had taken up residence here in the house.  On top of all the humans and their cats and dogs and friends that crowded into this here house, them little brown field mice found their way in again, too.

That first dog was a natural-born mouser.  By the time My Lady and the Husband even figured out they had a mouse problem at all, the dog was hard at work.  Inside.  Outside.  Didn’t matter where he was, he would make a sudden-like snap of his head, and before you knowed it he’d be licking his lips, the infernal rodent already swallowed up whole without so much as a trace.

That dog had been a squirrel-chaser from way back, but you always kinda wondered if he had any real seriousness about catching one, or if he was in it for the pure fun of the chase.  Well,  the day came — after many years of chasing he up and caught one, and that settled that.  It was like the taste of blood had lent newfound meaning to his life, and from then on the big, gentle beast was  forever on the lookout to up and kill any creature in his path that was not either a human or another dog neither.

My Lady might have worried about him swallowing all kind of mice, bones and claws and tails and all, cept for that time when he swallered up an entire roasting chicken they had left up on the kitchen counter to cool off for their family picnic.  When they come in later there was not so much as a spot of grease or lick of skin or any sign a-tall that the bird had ever existed.  The Husband had even surrounded the cooked-up bird with a sort-of barricade of forks and glasses and other kitchen things, every one of which stood right in its original place – a hedge of utensils surrounding nothing.  Well, they called up the animal doctor, and he asked them to remind him how much the dog weighed.  When they told him, he chuckled to hisself and said, you don’t need to worry a bit, cause that big boy won’t have any trouble with the likes of an 8-pound roasting chicken.  The whole thing became one of those stories that families like to tell over and over at get-togethers; but anyhow my Lady knew that no little teeny mouse would cause a digestive disturbance to the noble dog, or even a whole passel of them.

They counted eighteen mice that the dog chomped down that one summer, and that was just the ones they was around to catch him at.

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The second time them mice moved in, they was already on their second dog and the Husband was already the X.  But while the first dog had the Killer Instinct, the second dog was one of them kind that never met a single other creature that she didn’t want to befriend and love up, so when the new batch of mice migrated into the house, she’d go right on up to them and poke at them with her nose, and dance little dance-steps around them, and do any crazy thing she could think of to get them to play with her.

My Lady didn’t feel right about killing the same little creatures that the Boy and the Little One had as pets all them years, so she did her best to ignore the whole rodent situation for a good long time.  But once she and the Little One kept spotting them scuffling and skittering across the floors late at night, and all kinds of little holes were getting chewed in the bags lined up in the pantry, she decided she couldn’t ignore the dang things any longer.

She started out with the old-fashioned kind of mouse killer trap that’s been in existence as long as I have, the wooden things with the spring hinge where you put some kind of food that mice love to lure them in and then POW that hinge snaps down hard and kills ’em right fast.  Well, it took about 2 or 3 mornings of my Lady checking them traps, only to find the bait clean gone and the trap unsprung – kind of like the whole chicken incident with that first dog – when sure enough she done sprung the trap on her own fingers in the checking process, and even though I heared movie upon movie with all kinds of language I could never even dream of, I ain’t never heard nothing like what come out of her mouth, and next thing you know the whole dang package of traps she bought was tossed in the garbage.

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“I Have a Favor to Ask,” chapter excerpt from “Pushing the River”

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“No, no, no, no no.   I cannot stand it one minute longer.”

“That is simply NOT what happened,” she added.

“Well, who lit a fire under you?”

“That would be your department.  I just think that you’re getting it all wrong.  It simply did NOT happen that way.”

“It’s a story!”

“You’re taking too many liberties!  You’re all the way down there, far away from so many of the very things that you’re telling about.”

“It’s MY story!  It’s my story, according to ME.  Course I’m making it up.  S-T-O-R-Y!”

“It seems to me that if you open the door on these, well, these very personal things, that you should have a responsibility to some degree of truth.”

“Oh, truth is it?  Now you’re flat-out playing with fire, talking about the truth!”

            “I suppose you think that’s hilarious.”

“My darling, I have been waiting one hundred years, one full century, listening, and learning, and waiting for my chance to say my piece.  It’s my turn!  Geez Louise, you’re trying to close the barn door after the horse has already left the stable.”

“Again.  Hilarious.”

“Lordy, lordy, what have I done.?  Why do I have to put up with this from the likes of you?”

“Accountability!  Responsibility!  Where is your sense of honor!?”

Honor!  Cripes almighty,  YOU’RE A DOOR!

“YOU’RE   A    BOILER!”

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I ain’t never used this word in all my born days…but…you’re a whore!  You’re a whore of a door!  A door whore!  You’ll let anybody in!!”

“Oh! Oh!  As if you are so very discriminating!  As if you are particular about whose air you warm up and whose you don’t!”

“I got no choice!”

“None of us has a choice.  Not any of us, my old friend.  We are all in the same boat, in the identical situation, in the like predicament, in the same fix, on a par, on even terms, on the same footing, alike, equal, together, cut from the same cloth, brothers and sisters.”

“Pretty speech.  Not sure if it means nothing.  But it was pretty.”

“In short, my equally ancient brother, we are dying.  We stand right at the threshold of death’s door.”

“It ain’t right to talk of such things.  No good can come of it.”

“Ah, easy for you to say, my friend.  But I have heard the whispers; and so, I am sure, have you.”

“What in tarnation are you nattering about now?

“You have the great good fortune to be too large, and too big of a – pardon my language – a pain in the rear end —  to remove.  Even when there is no longer a fire in your belly, you will remain.  The day will come when you will witness this family pack up their boxes, and you will watch the next one move in.  And the next after them. You will be eternal.”

“I don’t want to talk about this.”

“I suppose I cannot blame you for that.”

“You have not seen me lately.”

“Of course I ain’t.  Me being a boiler, in the basement here, like you said.”

“I know that you hear everything though.  I know that even running along the pipes, and echoing through the floor, you have heard the difference in me.”

“Well…”

“After all this time.  All this time.  To think that I could warp so badly after one hundred years.  It’s not my fault, you know.  Everything has shifted.  The whole house, I mean.  My frame.  The very floor underneath me.”

“I am ugly.  I have bubbled, warped, bent, caved, buckled and bowed.  I have bulged out in some places, and folded in on myself in others.  There was a day when I could not budge.  Frozen in place, unable to open even a crack.  That’s when she started calling people in.  I will be replaced.”

“For one hundred springs I have felt the first hint of winter’s end floating on a waft of breeze.  I have been scorched and plumped by the sultry air of one hundred summers.  The gentlest rains and dazzling, torrential storms have knocked against me.  I have witnessed the outside world glow a glittering golden color through one hundred falls, and I have held my breath for the first sign of an early snowflake drifting down to melt on my outer face.  And all the while that my outer face greeted each completely unique day, every shift in light and air, my inner face remained a constant, warmed by you.  Warmed by a family.”

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“ ‘Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?’  Do you remember that?”

“Course I do.  How could I forget the Little One practicing those lines over and over?

Our Town, was it?”

“That’s right – Our Town.”

“There is something I would like to ask of you.  A favor.”

”What might that be?”

“I would like to tell one part of the story.”

“That’s a awful lot to ask.  It’s MY STORY.”

“Just one part.  Before my time is up.  Before the day when I get carried away.  Replaced.  So I might believe that some part of me remains.”

“Well…”

“Please.”

“Well…”

“I will let you know when the time comes.  When we reach the part that I would like to tell.”

“Let me think on it.”

“Have you ever thought about what your name should be.  You know, if you had a real name, like the people do?”

“Can’t say as I have.  Why?  Have you?”

“Shirley.  I always thought my name should be Shirley.”

“Well, I’m guessing maybe I would be Merle.  Or Floyd.”

“I like Merle.  It suits you.”

“Do you know why I would pick Shirley?  Do you remember when the ones you call The Boy and the Little One were small and high-voiced and running around in footed pajamas?  And on very important occasions, their mama, the one you call My Lady, would make a special concoction for them to drink?  They called it a Shirley Temple.”

“I remember.”

“The children would take all the cushions off the sofas and chairs, and build forts and tunnels, and make up stories, and dress in costumes – their cheeks would flush with excitement…those were…wonderful days.”

“I am very pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Shirley.”

“I must say that the pleasure is entirely mine, Merle.”

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All photos of Evanston, IL from Flickr

“Pushing the River,” excerpt: New, Brief, Fun for Friday

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            Honor!  Cripes almighty,  YOU’RE A DOOR!

            “YOU’RE   A    BOILER!”

            —

            I ain’t never used this word in all my born days…but…you’re a whore!  You’re a whore of a door!  A door whore!  You’ll let anybody in!!”

            “Oh! Oh!  As if you are so very discriminating!  As if you are particular about whose air you warm up and whose you don’t!”

            “I got no choice!”

            “None of us has a choice.  Not any of us, my old friend.  We are all in the same boat, in the identical situation, in the like predicament, in the same fix, on a par, on even terms, on the same footing, alike, equal, together, cut from the same cloth, brothers and sisters.”

            “Pretty speech.  Not sure if it means nothing.  But it was pretty.”

            “In short, my equally ancient brother, we are dying.  We stand right at the threshold of death’s door.”

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“Pushing the River,” NEW and REVEALING

SPOILER ALERT:  In this brief excerpt, the narrator of “Pushing the River” is revealed.  But, not to worry,  The book is not a mystery…

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            “No, no, no, no no.   I cannot stand it one minute longer.”

           

            “That is simply NOT what happened,” she added.

            “Well, who lit a fire under you?”

            “That would be your department.  I just think that you’re getting it all wrong.  It simply did NOT happen that way.”

            “It’s a story!”

            “You’re taking too many liberties!  You’re all the way down there, far away from so many of the very things that you’re telling about.”

            “It’s MY story!  It’s my story, according to ME.  Course I’m making it up.  S-T-O-R-Y!”

            “It seems to me that if you open the door on these, well, these very personal things, that you should have a responsibility to some degree of truth.”

            “Oh, truth is it?  Now you’re flat-out playing with fire, talking about the truth!”

            “I suppose you think that’s hilarious.”

            “My darling, I have been waiting one hundred years, one full century, listening, and learning, and waiting for my chance to say my piece.  It’s my turn!  Geez Louise, you’re trying to close the barn door after the horse has already left the stable.”

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            “Again.  Hilarious.”

            “Lordy, lordy, what have I done.?  Why do I have to put up with this from the likes of you?”

            “Accountability!  Responsibility!  Where is your sense of honor!?”

            “Honor!  Cripes almighty,  YOU’RE A DOOR!”

            “YOU’RE   A    BOILER!”

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