Outhouse

 

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

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

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

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

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

Lula laughed and squeezed Mazie’s arm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jewelweed

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

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

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

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

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

“Aren’t they a marvel?”  Lula said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”  Mazie asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Hand You’re Dealt

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

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

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

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

“Point taken. Your turn,” Mazie said.

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Top photo: Harry Lapow

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