“Pushing the River,” NEW chapter excerpt

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            Sierra is lounging around on the couch, her belly getting so swelled up it don’t look like it could possibly belong to the rest of her body any more.  She’s wearing a raggedy old pair of sweatpants that she borrowed off of my Lady and a T-shirt she borrowed off of her sister, and a giant sweatshirt she took right off the Boy’s pile of laundry while it was still sitting on top of the dryer.  That girl sure does love to wear everybody else’s clothes.

            The television set is on, just like it pretty much always is, but she ain’t really looking at it, cept every once in a long while.  I swear the child likes mostly to push on little buttons, cause every so often she pushes on some buttons to make the sound go up or down, or pushes on some buttons to switch to a different picture altogether, and then goes right back to pushing the little buttons on her little telephone that don’t need wires.

            Then she holds the little phone right up to her ear and says, “Daddy?  Hi.  Hey, what do you think I should have for lunch?”

            Of course I can only hear but one side of this whole conversation, but it goes something like this:

            “Cereal.  I had a big bowl of cereal for breakfast.”

            —

            “No.  I only like creamy peanut butter, and right now all we got is the crunchy kind.  I hate that stuff.  Plus I only really like peanut butter with marshmallow fluff, and pretty sure we don’t have any of that either.  What else?”

            —

            “No, I’ve had bagels every day cause Marie always brings them home.  Plus that’s what you said yesterday.  What else?”

            —

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            My Lady comes in with a big basket of laundry and sets down at the far end of the sofa to fold it.  Sierra puts her teeny little feet in my Lady’s lap and goes on with her phone talk for a bit.

When she pushes on the little button that makes the call come to an end, she says, “That was my dad.  I was asking him what I should have for lunch.”

            “Your dad?”

            “Uh-huh.”

            “Your father?”

            “Uh-huh.”

            “You were asking your father what you should have for lunch.”

            Sierra can see that it ain’t a question, so she don’t answer.

            “Your father, as in, the guy who put you on an airplane the minute he found out you were pregnant?  Who said that you were dead to him?  That father?”

            “Uh-huh.  He wasn’t a very big help.  MadMad, what do you think I should have for lunch?”

            “Oh, no.  No, no.  I’m not playing that game again.”

            This advertisement comes on the television just then.  There’s all these people setting around a table, completely frozen in time.  One of them is caught right in the middle of spilling a whole pitcher of water.  The first drop is just about to hit.  Another is hanging in mid-air, kicking up his heels, his hair standing straight up in all directions.  He is at the highest point, held in the split second before he starts on down.  Yet another is tipping his chair so far back you know he’s about to tumble over backwards; but he’s caught right at the tipping point, held right there in the balance.  There’s one more person.  The only one who can move.  He gets to walk all around this whole frozen scene, check it from every angle, ponder on exactly what’s going to happen next.  He can take all the time in the world to figure it.

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“Pushing the River,” new excerpt (continued)

My brother, Roy Mills Monier, would have been 60 years old on October 9.  He died outside of Quito, Ecuador on December 6, 2001.

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And I don’t just mean with them family members, and their kin and friends and pets that was constantly coming and going; and I don’t mean with all the things they gathered and put in different rooms that marked their lives neither.  I mean that it was full up in the only way that can make a house into a home.

            It was a good long spell that everything seemed to get bigger and bigger.  Not just them little ones, but life itself.

            But the tide, it surely did turn, and thence came the long stretch when everything started going the other way.  One by one, they started packing up and leaving; the Husband, then the Boy.  It was just the Little One left in the house with my Lady when she got the phone call that the very last of her kin had dropped down dead in some far off country.  She was standing right beside me, holding the phone in her hand, when I heared her gasp real loud, and her voice went all shaky.  With that phone call she had no more kinfolk, no more of the people who raised her up or stood along side her while she was doing her own growing, no more people to hold on to her stories.

            I think that might have been the moment, right then with that phone call, that my Lady began trying to push the river.

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“Pushing the River,” new excerpt

Sheesh.  I have been flattened for more than a week with some nasty virus!  These are the first words that have entered my head in all that time.  It’s a mere beginning, but I couldn’t wait to post SOMETHING and get back at it.

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They was just a couple of wide-eyed kids with a little baby they took turns holding in they lanky arms when they moved into this here house.  They scrubbed at the floors and painted  the walls and dug dirt in the gardens and tickled and rocked and sang to the Boy while he gazed at the world around him like he could stare a hole right through everything and see into its very center, sort of like he was just pretending to be a baby the whole time and trying to humor the nice folks who had brung him into this world.   After a time the Little One came along, all blonde and golden and fitting right into the world like it was easy peasy and every single thing was just a pure delight. 

            The house was full up. 

            And I don’t just mean with them family members, and their kin and friends and pets that was constantly coming and going; and I don’t mean with all the things they gathered and put in different rooms that marked their lives neither.  I mean that it was full up in the only way that can make a house into a home.

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“The Elephant in the Room,” new excerpt from novel “Pushing the River”

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The Tumbleweed lay sleeping in Madeline’s bed above when she arose at the usual early hour.  The blush was still on her cheek from the night before as she made an extra-large pot of coffee and cleaned up the last few dishes from the dinner with Auggie and Bess.  When she sat down at her favorite spot in the sun-drenched room to breathe in the scents and sounds of the morning, she opened her computer to see Marie’s name in her email inbox.  Strange that Marie would be writing from Asia, she thought.

i’m sitting in a hostel in kuala lumpur and trying to reconcile the intensity of having stood in a river with my face resting against the temple of a young elephant’s massive head and my hands lost in the playful curling of his trunk with the fact that all i can think about when i’m not engaged in an active pursuit of some kind or a conversation with someone new is that i’m a terrible person and should’ve gone to be with sierra as soon as i knew she was pregnant… that i should’ve stayed in chicago two summers ago and fought for custody and maybe sierra and my mom would both be so much better off for it… that i should’ve, should’ve, should’ve… i have not lived my life the way i’ve really needed to over the last three or four years. I love john and our marriage is something i want so desperately to protect, but i don’t know how to be fair to him and our life and also be the person i need to be to be able to live with myself. I suppose i’m asking for your advice… as a friend, as a mother-in-law, as a professional woman. I don’t know how i can go back to new york and stay there without sierra. I don’t know how john would get by without me. I spent almost the entire time i’ve been gone stressing out about how not to spend money on anything unnecessary and listening to john worry about how he has no money coming in in new york and i can’t help thinking he just wouldn’t be able to support himself without me working full time. but john is a grown man with a massive line of credit and sierra is my little sister who has no support or resources- how is this even a difficult decision? I need to be in chicago. How does a marriage like ours survive a year apart? Will i only make things worse by being in chicago? Is there any chance my mom will —  no, there’s no chance. i don’t know, i don’t know, i don’t know. i’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown all the time- i’m terrified that when i get back i’m just going to fall apart completely. i’m terrified that john needs more from me than i have to give and that i need more from him than he has to give. what do i do?

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“Recon” (cont.) excerpt from “Pushing the River”

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Creatures that’s been in pain much of they lives can go one way or the other, and that includes humans, and that includes pain of all kinds.  They either take on an everlasting meanness, living all the time like a coiled-up snake, just waiting for the next chance to strike out, aiming to hit hard.  Or they go the other direction entirely, taking on their own sense life’s troubles and hardness, and doing they best to be in the world in such a way as to ease the path for others.  That was Recon.

            None of them animal doctors could ever figure out why Recon got gimpy in her font leg in the first place, let alone why she got worse and worse.  My Lady trotted her all over creation trying to get an answer; but not so very different than with me, the doctors tsk-tsked and clucked their tongues and wagged their heads and knitted their brows and sent Recon back home.  Recon just went on about her business, all the time walking a bit slower, going a bit less far from My Lady’s side, never once complaining about the pain all them docs said she was most definitely suffering.

            Ever so often my Lady would go over to wherever Recon was resting her bones, and she’d put her own forehead right against the big dog’s, stroking both her ears and whispering that she was sorry.   They’d stay that way for a time, head to head, then my Lady would dab at her eyes and get on up.

            Recon still greeted every new day, and every person that ever walked through the front door of our house, like they was a dang miracle that she could not even believe her own good fortune to encounter.  When the Tumbleweed came for dinner and never left, and Marie left the Boy back in New York to move in and lay in wait for the imminent storm, and the giant-bellied, wide-eyed child parked herself on the couch with her gummy bears and her movie star TV shows, Recon treated the whole shebang like it was just more folks to share the pure joy of being on the planet.  Of course when the Little One came back, and finally the Boy, Recon was like a mama whose babies had all returned to the nest, wagging her whole body all the day long.

            Strange, though, that for some infernal reason when the little tiny infant was brought in and added to the mix, Recon started doing something she ain’t never did before.  When nobody was looking, she would go over to the couch, grab the corner of one of them fancy pillows in her mouth, gentle-like, then hump the dang pillow for all it was worth!

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“Recon,” excerpt from novel “Pushing the River”

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It’s taken me near on my entire one hundred years to learn a thing or two about the creature known as a human being.  One of the things that has always been a perplexity to me is the whole notion of keeping animals inside the house and giving them the name of “pets.”  Both the Boy and the Little one went off to elementary at a school that was supposed to be special in science; and somehow that meant that every year they studied, and then brought home, some infernal thing or other to add to the general household menagerie.  First year, the science project was a teeny little guppy fish swimming around inside of a sawed-off plastic coke bottle.  Next thing you know that one teeny fish was swimming around with a whole passel of even teenier little ones, so small you had to look real close to even see them and make sure they was real.  That’s how the Boy ended up raising guppies for a time, ‘cept it turns out they ain’t nothing to do for the “raising” save wait a bit for some more teeny ones to show up in the coke bottle and then scoop them up and take them on over to the local pet store.

            Next year it was meal worms.  Two maggot-y looking things came home from the school in an old peanut butter jar that was half full of oatmeal.  They was just about the same color as the oatmeal too, and would stay buried way deep down except for once or twice a day when the Boy and the Little One would shake the jar around just a tad til they could see them bugs wiggling and waggling, and the kiddies would be all excited.  Course how long do you suppose anyone can stay excited about a couple of maggots even if they got a fancy name, and the answer is not very gosh darn long.  Soon enough, the kiddies more or less forgot about them, and my Lady tried to remember to check in on them once in a while just to see if they had died yet and she could throw them and their oatmeal home on out.  Well, one day, sure enough she did check and was surprised and amazed to find that they wasn’t any meal worms at all, nor their carcasses, but two big, dark beetles.  Course this led to all kinds of hoopla and whoop-de-doo until it dawned on somebody to consider what the heck do you do with two bugs in a jar of oatmeal.  Everyone was still pondering on this when the bugs up and died because they had come to the end of their time.

            The last year of the science project was the year everyone was most excited about, the kiddies talked about it for years, from the time they started at the school as kindy-gardeners until they finished up after the fifth grade.  Hermit crabs. 

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            Maybe I just can’t wrap my head around anything that doesn’t have warmth running through it, but somehow the hermit crab struck me as the most useless of all the so-called pets.  Scritch scratch scritch scratch all the night long.  And if you ask me he smelled funny.  Day after day the Boy would take the hermit crab out and hold him in the palm of his hand, and the Little One would hold her breath and wait for the creature to do something magical and wondrous, but the scoundrel would just sit there, and they put it on back in its home after a time, trying hard to act like they wasn’t disappointed.  One day they got the idea to put the crab down on the floor, and lo and behold, the creature skedaddled across the carpet like it had been shot from a cannon.  The kiddies whooped and hollered and had their friends come over to witness the miraculous spectacle.  Well, it seemed no more than a blink of an eye that the crab up and died, and I swear he did it out of pure spite.  I never trusted him.

            Of course there was a whole bunch of cats and dogs around here, too.  I never paid them much heed, until this last one that came into the house as a little rescued puppy named Recon.  The husband was ancient history, the kiddies was about to scatter, and all the other animals had died off by then.  I knew my Lady needed company, and she needed it bad.

            Creatures that’s been in pain much of they lives can go one way or the other, and that includes humans, and that includes pain of all kinds.  They either take on an everlasting meanness, living all the time like a coiled-up snake, just waiting for the next chance to strike out, aiming to hit hard.  Or they go the other direction entirely, taking on their own sense of life’s troubles and hardness, and doing they best to be in the world in such a way as to ease the path for others.  That was Recon.

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“Sierra Arrives” (cont.), excerpt from “Pushing the River”

3320928533_b0f4f2a6fd_z            “Does he know that Uncle Steve has been dead for fifteen years?”

            “He knows.”

            “And this clown thinks it’s totally OK to send Sierra back.  With your mom. Who’s having long conversations with a dead guy.”

            “You know how this works.  She’s not a danger to herself or others.”

            “Really.  So how does he explain Sierra locking herself in the bathroom because she was so fucking scared?”

            “He’s not a bad guy, Madeline.  I’ve been talking to him for a really long time.  He’s been there with my mother for a really long time.  There’s no choice here.  He’s gotta do his job.  Once my mom calls the police and reports Sierra gone, she’s officially a runaway, and you are then harboring a runaway.  He tells me this is a Class A misdemeanor.  He tells me you could end up going to jail.  For a year.  So, you gotta take her home now or he sends the cops over to haul you off to jail.”

            “Fuck.”

            “Exactly.”

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            “So he is totally convinced that your mom is OK?  He is willing to put his ass on the line that a pregnant fifteen-year-old is gonna be safe with her?

            “Yep.  That’s pretty much it.”

            “OK, tell you what.  You get his name, and his badge number, and you tell his ass that it’s his decision, and it’s his ass.  Put me on speaker phone if you want, and I’ll tell him myself.”

            “Um, I’m pretty sure he can hear you already.  I got the other phone right here.”

            “Great.  Saves time.”

            “You gotta take her home.  Right now.”

            “Does she know all this?”

            “Yeah.”

            “Is she OK with this?  I mean…”

            “She knows there’s no choice.”

            “Well, I’m not taking her home.  I’ll tell you what — if I am ‘harboring a runaway’ and am very nearly a felon, I certainly should not be putting this kid in a car and driving her anywhere, right?  And what’s more, if Billie’s in such great shape and all fine and dandy and ready to be a mom and not scare the shit out of her daughter in the middle of the fucking night, she can figure out a way to get here and get her Sierra herself.  Let’s see her do that.  We’ll be waiting right here.”

           In a reversal of events from a half hour before, it is Madeline’s turn to tread lightly down the hallway towards the blackness of the room where Sierra lays.  She stands for a moment outside, but through the three-inch opening of the door, a little voice says from the nothingness, “It’s OK, MadMad; I’m awake.  I know…”

            “I’m sorry, Kiddo.  Are you OK?”

            “Yeah.”

            “Anything I can do?”

            “No.”

            “Nothing?”

           “It’ ll take them a while to get here.  I’m gonna try to sleep.”

            “OK.”

            “OK.”

            “Then we’ll make a plan.  You’re not leaving here unless you feel safe.”

            Madeline waits outside the door, but no answer comes.

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“Sierra Arrives,” excerpt from novel “Pushing the River”

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Marie hardly ever called.  She apologized on a regular basis for being a lousy long-distance correspondent, feeling helpless as she watched all of her cherished Chicago connections eluding her grasp, her own ardent desire to keep them close set against a paralysis at doing anything that might stop them all from receding more and more into her corners.  So it was particularly unusual for Madeline to see Marie’s name, and her pixie-of-steel face flashing across the phone screen at 10:00 pm.  No way this can be good, Madeline thought to herself.

            “I don’t know what’s going on exactly.  Sierra sent me a text yesterday saying that Mom was acting weird, and now she’s just texted me saying that she’s not safe.”

            “Oh, shit.”

            “I think Sierra’s locked herself in the bathroom.  I think my mom’s talking to Uncle Steve.”

            “Oh, shit.”

            “I know this is a lot to ask, but is there any way that you can go and pick her up?  Bring her to your house?  I’m so sorry.”

             “Problem is I’m working tonight.  Til midnight.  I’m on phone duty, so I can’t leave.  Let me think.”

            “She doesn’t have any minutes left on her damn phone, so I can’t call her.  Can’t talk to her.  This is all through text.  Madeline, you’re not the first person I called.  I called everyone else I can think of.  I can’t reach anyone.  No one.”   Marie took a breath and said, “I’m so sorry.  I so didn’t want to drag you in to all of this.  I was so hoping my mom could hold it together just a little while longer.  Just til I move back.”

            “It’s OK, Marie.  If Sierra’s not safe, that’s all that matters.

            “I think she needs to get out of there now.  Like, now.  If I can get a ride for her, can she stay with you?  Can she come up there?  Tonight?  Right now?”

            “Of course,” Madeline said.

            “I might have to call a cab.  I might have to see if I can charge a cab, if they’ll take my credit card from here.”

            “What!?  That’s insane.  That’s gonna be a fortune!  I’ll be off work at midnight…”

            “Too long.  As long as I know it’s ok for her to come up there, I gotta go.  I gotta take care of this.”

            “It’s fine.”

            “I’m so sorry.”

            “You’re gonna really piss me off if you keep apologizing.”

            “Bye.  Sorry.”

            At fifteen minutes after midnight, Madeline opened the door, and only then did it occur to her that she had not seen Sierra for  two full years, four years since she had seen her without a heavily and carefully painted face.  Even the wildly striped hair did nothing to dilute the impact of seeing a child, a very small, very young, very sad and scared child standing there.  A child who happened to be seven months pregnant.

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            All Madeline could see in front of her was the giant-eyed little girl sitting in her big sister’s lap the night they met, rocking crazily back and forth on the floor in utter jubilation.

            “Whoa, you’re pregnant!”  Madeline quipped gamely.

            “Ha ha.  You’re hilarious.”

            “Look, you must be exhausted.  We’re not going to talk about anything tonight.  Not a thing.  You’re going to get a good night’s sleep.  Your sister told me you can’t make any phone calls cause you don’t have any ‘minutes,’ so I charged up my phone for you.  I’ve got unlimited minutes, so go wild.  Call anyone you want to.  Are you hungry?  Do you want something to eat?”

            “I’m pretty tired.”

            “Want to just go to bed then?”

            “Yeah. Well. Do you have any milk?  Not the weird organic stuff you used to get, just regular old milk?”

            “I still swear you cannot tell the difference in the milk.”

            “That’s what you always said about the gummy bears, so ha.”

            “I only have organic.”

            “Do you have chocolate I can put in?”

            “I do.  Your sister left about a gallon of it.”

            “Can you make it for me?  Can you warm it up?”

            “Gawd, you’re high maintenance.”

            “Can you bring it upstairs when it’s ready?  I gotta make a call.”

            “Sure.  You go on up.”

            Halfway up the stairs, Sierra stopped for a second, turned part way around, and said very quietly, “Thank you, MadMad.”

            “Yeah, yeah.”

            “A lot of chocolate, OK?  Really a lot.”

            A thousand memories merged when Madeline heard, deep in a hard-won sleep, the sound of faint, small footsteps coming down the hallway towards her room.  For many years, the Boy believed that his mother never slept a wink, but lay there all night doing nothing more than observing some quaint custom; how else to explain that by the time he reached her bedside– each and every time for a whole childhood — by the time he got close, she said in a full, wide-awake voice, “What’s wrong, honey?”  Not a drop of sleep remained when Sierra whispered into the darkness, “MadMad.  I’m really sorry.  Marie said I had to wake you up.  She’s on the phone.”

            “Madeline, my mother called the police.  She reported Sierra as a runaway, and that means you’re harboring a runaway, and that means you’re gonna get arrested.  The policeman is there with my mother right now.  I have him on the phone.  In my other ear.  While I’m talking to you.  You have to take Sierra home right now, or the police are gonna come arrest you.”

            “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding.”

            “No.  Most definitely not.”

            “Does this cop know about Uncle Steve?  Does he know that Billie is talking to Uncle Steve?”

            “Yes.  He knows.”

            “Does he know that Uncle Steve has been dead for fifteen years?”

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“This Is,” new excerpt from “Pushing the River”

 

Greetings to all new followers.  THANK YOU so much for your interest and support of my blog and my writing.  Thank you for helping me reach more than ONE THOUSAND FOLLOWERS!

 

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            There was something about that particular time.  They lay together afterwards for a very long while, not one word passing between them, wide awake.  Occasionally she would bury her fingers in his chest hair, or inhale deeply the scent of his skin.  Their breathing did not slow down, long after it should have.  When one of them finally said, “I’m starving,” they both leapt up, and stood facing one another across the bed, breathing heavily, eyes fixed on one another in the gathering dusk, neither moving, as if rooted to the spot, the moment, one another.

            “You know what this is, don’t you?”  Dan said.

            “What?”

            “I mean, you know what’s going on here, right?”

            “What?” Madeline said again.

            “This is love,” Dan said.  “There is love here.”

            “W H A T ? ! ?” Madeline shot back.  “I mean, W H A T ? ! ?”

            “Stop saying ‘what.’  You know there is.”

            “Shit!”

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            Madeline paced along her side of the bed within a roughly two-foot square, more  like a crazy dance, while Dan gazed into the now-dark room with a thousand-mile stare.

            “That was most definitely not the plan!” Madeline said.

            “The plan was to have no plan.”

            “Yeah, but the plan was definitely not…this!”

            “It’s not in anybody’s control here.  It just is.”

            “Well aren’t you just the zen fucking master.”

            Dan laughed, and Madeline said, again, “Shit!”

            “Come on.  I thought you were starving.”

            “I thought you were starving.”

            “Let’s get some food. You. Me. Us.”

            “For the record, I feel compelled to state that I am not happy about this.”

            “Duly noted.  How about Chinese?”

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“Pushing the River” excerpt

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From where we left off with Sierra…

             No one knew quite what to make of her when she first arrived that summer – whether they should talk to her just the same as always or treat her like the entirely different creature that she looked to be.  But other than spending sizeable amounts of time trying to straighten out and generally tame her long mane, she proved very much the same.

            At least that’s what everybody thought at first.

            She spent pretty near all day sitting on the sofa watching hour after hour of TV about movie stars.  Once in a while, she’d walk to the store a few blocks away to get herself a cold drink, or a packet of gummy bears.  Her favorite color was orange, followed by red, then yellow then green.  My lady always teased her, saying that they didn’t have different flavors at all, just different colors.  Then Sierra would make my Lady test her by giving her different colors with her eyes closed, which she could always make out, and then say Ha Ha, so there.

            It seemed like every time she’d walk to the store, she’d come back home and spend a whole lot more time on her phone.  She would sort of curl herself around it, like it was some precious, secret thing she was trying to protect,  her eyes just a couple of inches from the little screen, thumbs flying, and her lips moving every so often.

            The whole clan ended up living here that summer – my Lady, of course, the Little One, the Boy, his wife Marie, and her baby sister Sierra – before everyone except my Lady was set to scatter to the four winds come the end of August.  My Lady loves nothing so much as a house full of kin,  and she drinks up their very presence like a hungry cat with a bowl of fresh warm cream.  The place was a damn mess, what with the Boy setting up a bike fix-it shop right in the middle of the living room, and Marie cooking all sorts of the most infernal-smelling substances at all hours of the day and night, and the TV going non-stop with Sierra’s movie star channels, and the Girl practicing her fiddle.  Dear Lord, I went for an entire summer without hearing those things I look forward to all the rest of the long year – the chirp of a cricket, the breezes ruffling the leaves on the ripe trees, the sounds of little ones playing long into the evening, giving you the sense that life does go on, no matter how old and broke-down some of us may be getting.

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            My Lady acted for all the world like every wrench set strewn across the living room floor, every pile of pots and pans, every gummy bear candy wrapper stuffed between couch cushions was a buried treasure.  She got into the habit of doing everybody’s laundry, insisting that it was just as easy to toss theirs in as long as she was doing it, and way more efficient to do full loads, besides.

            One afternoon, my Lady is taking things out of the dryer, sorting, and folding, and humming a medley of tunes from West Side Story, when she screams out, “Marie!  Marie, come here!  Marie!!

            Well, Marie cannot even imagine what catastrophe has come to pass, but she hightails it down the stairs and into the laundry room, where my Lady holds a pair of black lace panties in her hand like it was a dead rat who carried the plague.

            “Are these yours?”

            Marie laughs.  “No.  Definitely not.”

            “They aren’t Kate’s.  I buy all of her underwear, so I can tell you this for a fact.”

            Marie takes them in her hand and flips them over, revealing that the back side of the panties is laced up, top to bottom, with a shocking pink ribbon.

            “Shit.”  Says Marie.

            “Marie, we gotta get that kid on birth control.”

            “Shit.”

            “NOW.  Right now, we have to.”

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