Looks

Picture of liquor store

I thought I now understood what writers mean when they say the air was ‘close;’ that you wore it like a face mask, like scuba gear.It clung to me as I walked around the liquor store trying to figure out what to buy. I had just come in because I couldn’t stand the sun anymore. I couldn’t stand it catching on shiny stuff in the sidewalk cement and making me blink or trying to turn my scalp into an itching, overheated landscape for sweat to collect in and run down into my collar. I had been surprised at first that there was hardly anyone else in there besides the young guy at the counter in front, but then I realized there was no air conditioning. There was only a tall fan blowing the dry air around as it oscillated, ruffling the edges of the tabloids in their racks every few minutes. But at least the sun was out there and not on me.

I finally grabbed some stuff at random including two or three different drinks and headed up to the register. When I got there, I was in line behind two women.

The shorter of the two caught my eye first because she was pretty. She had light brown hair that was thick and wavy and her face had that clean, smooth skin that only young women have, like a glow they are born with and that life will gradually rub off. She was standing quiet while the other woman was having an irritated conversation with the store clerk. The woman was irritated, anyway. The clerk had a goofy smile on his face that might have indicated he was over his head.

I realized that this woman was pretty as well, though you could not see it so clearly at first because of the over-sized heavy glasses she was wearing. Her hair was dark and straight to her shoulders and she dressed like a Jehovah’s Witness going out to call on householders while her companion was in neat casual wear and flip-flops. There was a resemblance and I thought they might be sisters.

The woman in glasses was tilting her head at the clerk as if she suspected that he had just made an unfunny joke. “Excuse me?”

“I said, she doesn’t have any ID so I can’t sell her the cigarettes.”

The woman blinked at him. “She’s a married woman. With children.”

“That doesn’t mean she’s old enough to buy cigarettes.”

His adversary took a step back and closed her eyes. When she opened them, she looked at the other woman, but got no help. Her companion stood, looking off into the distance, as though the conversation was not about her but about something else; something she did not find interesting.

Then the clerk said, “But I’ll sell them to you.”

The woman’s head shot around to him. “You’ll sell them to me.”

“Well, you’re obviously old enough.”

The woman closed her eyes again and sighed, although it did nothing to reduce the tension she was almost vibrating with. “Very well.” She put a candy bar on the counter and looked at her companion, who pulled a bill from the pocket of a cigarette purse and handed it to her. She laid it on the counter and scooped up the change and the candy and handed the change back to her companion, who stuffed it in a pocket with one hand while picking up the package of cigarettes with the other.

The woman in glasses, shaking her head, went to the open door. She looked back at the clerk, though it was not clear what expression she wore.

The clerk and I had stopped moving. He was looking at her expectantly.

“I’m in junior high school,” she said, and stepped out of the store into the sunlight, which made her bright around the edges and somehow diminished.

Her older sister had opened the cigarette pack and lit one with a disposable lighter. She took in a deep drag and smiled at us, a weak, dreamy smile, and she shrugged. Then she walked out herself, her flip flops squeaking on the store linoleum. The tall fan caught the plume of her exhaled smoke and dispersed it into the flapping pages of the tabloids.

Outside, the junior highschooler had unwrapped the candy bar and taken a vicious bite. “This world is fucked up,” she said as she strode out of view.

The clerk and I looked at each other from the corners of our eyes.

“You want a bag?” he asked.

 

The End

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My Jobs Now

VW New Beetle headlight

 

Power hum of bees far overhead

Traffic jammin’ in the Elder flowers.

Even the shade is hot

I try to keep my sweat out of the chemicals

I’m rubbing into the plastic over the headlights.

 

Years past this would have been your job

To go along with putting out the trash cans

Making sure the tires are inflated properly

Paying the taxes and mowing the lawn.

 

All my jobs now.

 

You were the one who wanted

To live in the country.

I the one surprised to find I loved it more

Than you did.

 

Learning to polish the grime off the headlights

Sharpen the knives

Check the fusebox

Fix the plumbing

 

I can’t remember your voice

But I can hear you saying

To clean the tools

Put them where they belong.

 

The headlights are clear, look new

I clean the tools

I put them away

And wonder where I belong now.

Summer Reading List Nostalgia

Woman reading a book at the beach

Every year around this time, publishers, booksellers, and reading sites ask us “What’s on your summer reading list?”

Phooey. Or as Nero Wolfe spelled it, pfui.

This question always takes me back to the 1950s and the olden, golden days of Madison Avenue when everyone lived in NYC. While the working poor were sleeping their summer evenings off on the cool of their fire escapes, the more well-to-do were escaping to their summer digs, where the full-time mom let the children try to drown themselves in the lake or the Atlantic Ocean while she rested in the shade of a tree or umbrella with her lemonade (liberally spiked with vodka) and her Summer Reading.

Please.

These days, your summer reading is likely to consist of a paragraph or two on your smart phone hastily crammed into the short few minutes between picking the kids up from summer day camp and the dinner making, laundry doing, bedtime madness to follow.

If you’re lucky, your kids are older and you can get in a few paragraphs or maybe even some pages (!) before bed, preferably with a glass of wine.

But whatever your situation, you are not likely to be considering which book you will lovingly peruse over the next few glorious, slow summer weeks.

Kids have summer reading lists. Everyone else has the next book in their stack left over from spring, which was left over from winter, which was left over from fall, which was…

But we’ll probably never hear the end of the question “What’s on your summer reading list?” It’s a marketing ploy that has petrified roots in the book world. Every year we will be asked this question and those of us old enough to remember back in the day will sigh and hear the faint sounds of ice cubes melting in lemonade with the musical tinkling of wind chimes. And people too young to remember will wonder what the heck they’re talking about.

Driving in a Loop

02_loop_road_everglades

A friend linked to a post about being present in the moment and how doing that with her daughter made her see how much of her life was a journey undertaken on well-known roads.

It’s the well-known that makes the days blur one into the other. As children, everything is new to us and each day seems long and intense and full of discovery. As we age, there is less new to our lives and the days shorten and become bland. They no longer require our full attention.

One of the ways we can regain the ability to focus on the moment is to be shocked into it. Dramatic news can do that. Like what seems to be an unwarranted number of creative people dying before 2016 ended. Or the unanticipated shock of a surreal election result.

Another way is to do something different. As the author of the post pointed out, this can be as simple as taking a different way home.

These things I knew.

What I didn’t know but learned in the last few years is that well-known roads are only detrimental if they lead one into complacency – it’s a cul-de-sac where thinking is minimal and much happens on auto-pilot. I lived on a cul-de-sac once, and it was peaceful but boring and sometimes I thought I would go out of my mind living there.

But well-known roads only lead to cul-de-sacs if you take the turn off. And for the last 5 years, I have not. Instead, I’ve continued to drive in a loop.

I never thought this would be me. My younger self was on fire to discover the world and I couldn’t wait to get started. But then my husband became ill and two economic downturns happened. And when it was over, my husband was dead, I’d lost my house and our savings and though outwardly I seemed the same, inwardly I’d lost my courage and my taste for new roads.

I’m better now and getting stronger all the time. But I stay on the well-known roads for the most part because getting off them for any length of time makes me anxious and worried. Minor setbacks still have effect out of their proportion. While this is true, I will continue to travel the loop.

But I have come to know myself well and driving the loop forever is out of the question. Even now, I occasionally take a side road to somewhere I haven’t been before. A quick look around, and then back to the loop. Someday soon I won’t be satisfied by those drive-by experiences. I will get off the loop and mostly stay off it. For the last two years I have been planning trips I want to take and things I want to try, and though I have reasons I haven’t yet done them, I know those reasons are pretty much excuses, and I accept that. The part of me that hasn’t yet healed will continue to resist, but the part of me that longs to be off the loop will continue to plan, and poke, and prod and eventually, the wounded part – which will never be completely healed – will give up.

I know this will happen.

So as I drive, I am patient with myself. I drive the loop, but I am in the moment as well, understanding that I take comfort from the well-known road and accept it at full value, knowing that it will not, cannot, should not, last.

I Had A Feeling

When feelings are facts, how are we to find our way?

Table set for two

Image from Wikipedia Commons

The two of them sat across the table from each other for the first time since they had begun dating.

It was a wrench for Chris, who had never thought they would end up so estranged, so at odds with each other. But that was what this dinner was for – to try to reconnect and come once again to that satisfying place where all felt right. To both of them.

Tracy was studying the menu, but did not seem to be finding any satisfaction in it. There was a deep wrinkle between dark brows and grey eyes moved restlessly over the offerings as though the type was not decipherable.

Chris was not interested in the menu, either, and settled on a dish that was an old standby, unlikely to be either delicious or unpalatable: something that could be eaten while being ignored.

After they had given their orders, Chris started the conversation.

“I’m glad you could make it.”

Tracy buttered a small slice of bread, looked up for an instant, then down again and began to eat.

“I felt anxious that you weren’t answering my texts.”

Tracy set down the piece of unfinished bread. “I felt confused and not sure that answering them would do any good.”

Chris winced. “Did I do something that made you feel that way?”

Tracy shrugged. “I can’t think of anything in particular, it’s more that, you know, that I felt that things had gone wrong.”

“Gone wrong?”

“Like we weren’t connecting anymore.”

Chris felt a cold spot in the stomach. This was more serious than expected. “But I didn’t do anything to make you feel that way, right?”

Tracy shrugged again. “Like I said, I can’t think of anything in particular.”

“Can you tell me when you started feeling like this?”

Tracy picked up what was left of the buttered bread slice and ate it, chewing slowly while thinking. “It would have to be just after we went to the concert.”

Chris was shocked. “But we had so much fun and I was feeling like we belonged together and really, really got one another.”

There was a sudden spark in those grey eyes. “You did? You never said anything to me about it.”

“I didn’t think I had to. I was certain you felt it, too.”

“I did, but then the next day I felt all confused and I wondered if we really felt the same. So I got really sad and sure your texts about wanting to talk were so you could dump me.”

“Tracy – no!” Chris reached out to take one of Tracy’s hands. “Of course not.”

“But I felt it was true!”

“I understand. And it was probably my fault because I didn’t take the time to make sure that you knew how I felt.”

“I see,” Tracy said. “So it was true, but not.”

“Absolutely,” Chris said, looking deep into Tracy’s eyes. “I really, really believe we were meant for each other. Can you feel the strength of my belief?”

The spark in Tracy’s eyes suddenly became a glow. “Yes! Now I feel it! I can feel the real truth of it! Can you feel my understanding?”

“Yes!”

They continued to hold hands until the entreés arrived, feeling content.

 

Three Tips for Writers Making the Transition From FanFic

Oh, so simple.

  1. Do not substitute the word orb for eye. Just don’t. It’s horrible. Saying you looked into a person’s orbs is equal to saying you have little experience with perceiving or understanding any emotions besides your own.
  2. Do not have characters plop down. It makes them sound like twelve year olds.
  3. Do not have characters storm into, out of, or around anything. It’s cliché and lazy writing.

When you spend a lot of time with a particular friend, you’ll find yourself picking up some of their verbal habits. The same thing can happen in writing. Don’t let it. Think about what you’re saying and don’t always use the first word that comes to mind to describe it. Chances are, it will be the wrong word.

Yard Sale

Author’s Note: This is the first satisfactory draft of a new story.

Picture of items at a yard sale

They were in a neat stack on top of a hospital table, one of those things on wheels that roll sideways to fit under your bed so you can eat your bland hospital food while you watch the television and try to ignore the beeping equipment, announcements, harsh light coming in through the windows.

Six boxes of them. Men’s Super Plus. Maximum Protection. Adult diapers.

Most of the things at the yard sale seemed like a man’s things to Claire.  Sports magazines, tools, a small television. Individually, they were all things that a woman might also like, but taken together, they said ‘man’ to her. Older man.

There were a couple of stuffed and mounted trout, a scarred, near-shapeless baseball glove and a bat so dry it looked ready to splinter. There were maybe half a dozen hard cover books, mostly biographies, a rack of plain and sturdy shirts and pants in browns and blues. A stack of vinyl record albums, a moustache cup.

Claire imagined the man watching a baseball game, wearing one of the blue shirts, drinking a beer. His fish trophies were on the wall, the stack of sports magazines near to hand. The vision seemed so familiar somehow, as though it was a dusty memory rather than something of her imagination.

She fingered a box of dominoes. Next to it was a narrow wooden game board with a lot of little holes and numbers marked on it. Cribbage. She remembered her father had played it . Like many of the games he had played with his friends, it involved cards and beer and quick calculations made among high shouts and laughter.

Further down the table was a man’s jewelry box. Plain, dark brown vinyl colored to look like leather, then stamped with gold to try to make it look rich and exclusive. It was a drugstore item from the days when drugstores sold jewelry, had lunch counters and candy counters. The gold stamping was worn away in spots. Inside was a tired watch that wasn’t running, a few mismatched cufflinks of silver and gold with large fake gemstones of aquamarine and tiger’s eye. And one gold tone tie clip with a set of initials engraved into it. It had tiny spots of rust on it.

Next to the jewelry box there was a small collection of ceramic coffee cups with various inscriptions: “World’s Greatest Dad”, “World’s Greatest Fisherman”, “#1 Dad”, etc. They were the kind of gift you got when no one knew what to get you. He had probably had a lot of Father’s Day ties, too, and been the sort of guy who hated to wear a tie.

Suddenly Claire stopped, stood still in the too-long grass of this man’s front lawn.

He was likely dead, this man she had been imagining, or in a condition where he no longer needed what was being sold off. The realization struck her like a slap and sent her heart beating faster. She pivoted, the grass squeaking under her shoes, and she did not know what she was looking for. But then words curled underneath her tongue, seeking exit.

At a table next to the street, a tired looking woman was collecting money, smiling and thanking people. Claire imagined herself walking up and asking the question she now inexplicably wanted the answer to: Did he like his life – had he been content?

To keep herself from doing just that, she looked again at the tables and forced herself to concentrate on what she saw. He had kept the coffee mugs; one or two had even been mended. So there had been meaning for him in even these generic gifts. Unless he had just been frugal. Her own father had been raised by someone who had lived through the Great Depression and Claire remembered how he had hated to throw something useful away, especially if it could be repaired.

The tables said he had had hobbies. He had had family. He had been acknowledged by them. But none of tables held the answer to her question. Had he been content? She would not expect happy, not many people had truly happy lives. But satisfaction that work had been done, that responsibilities had been fulfilled, that affection – love – had been present… had he had that?

She looked around again, feeling oddly off-balance, attempting to find her footing in a new perspective. About her, people moved to pick up and put down, to verify a price, to ask for a lower one. Cars pulled up to the curb and left again.

She took a deep breath and let it out, feeling something tight in her throat ease a little. Saw the hospital table and the boxes. Took another breath. She walked to the woman who was managing the sale and said, “I want to buy all  of the men’s diapers.”

Light brown eyes, which had been looking somewhere over Claire’s right shoulder, suddenly snapped to her face. For a moment they just looked at one another, then the other’s expression became something Claire did not care to see and she busied herself getting out her wallet and counting out the cash. When she handed over the bills, their fingers brushed and Claire pulled back from the touch, but the money had been taken.

“Thank you,” the woman said to her quietly. “And good luck.”

Claire nodded and turned away to go gather the packages into her arms to take home.

Six boxes. Men’s Super Plus. Maximum Protection. Adult diapers.