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Month: September, 2014

New week, new sights

I’m starting off this week with a slump so maybe I’ll end it with a whole bunch of energy, right? Last week closed on a down note, but I’ve moved away from that and have started writing again, albeit tired slow, writing. Nothing makes me happier than when I’m actively working on something. Basically I’m finishing up the Johnny Cool novelette for a collection of pieces that I’ll most likely publish in November. You never know what’s going to happen so I’m not going to swear by it, but hopefully I’ll have the collection ready to go by then. So far the title is Tales of Woodsocket, but that sounds kinda boring. I don’t know. I might call it Woodsocket, USA. I kind of love the vibe of that one, but again, we’ll see.

What I love about Johnny Cool is he just rolls and takes life as it comes, and it’s not like anything changes him—he’s pretty much set as a human—but he’s totally willing to be taken somewhere or led to another way of life as a means to learn and grow, which is probably a reflection of what I’m going through. But in general, I love characters/people who see life as a constant lesson. Johnny has a lot of weaknesses which he allows to sort of ‘divert’ him to, again, another means of thought, or rather, something he hasn’t experienced yet and knows he must in order to reach some higher realm of understanding. He’s rather comical the way he deals with things, maybe that’s what I enjoy the most. Johnny cracks me up. He’s a fun guy to be around. And, of course, I’m talking about fiction, so I’m a freak.

But, yeah, I hope to finish this by November. It’s kind of exciting . . . and scary. But it ain’t boring. Amen.

Like a train

It’s starting to be fall-like here in mid-east Kansas. After a somewhat mild summer, it’s with a bit of guilt that I gladly accept the changing of colors and cooler air. Even the sky is bluer. I love an autumn sky, I really do. But in the back of my mind there’s a voice saying, ‘Don’t trust it. Winter’s coming.’ Because that’s what fall really is, right? Pre-winter. That’s the pessimist in me talking, but I can’t help it. Winter is coming and with it there’ll be shorter days and longer nights, death cold air, and a hopeless feeling of being confined. I mean, the birds leave, ’cause they know. They know. And here we are, the humans, stuck on the ground because we have arms instead of wings.

It can’t be summer forever, and fall comes and goes like a train. I wish it would last. I wish all the good stuff would last.

A scene with Jane

Today I’m posting a chapter told in Jane’s POV. She’s kicked out her husband Grant, a used car salesman, and found a job at a local optometrist shop where geriatric Mr. Findlay makes all his female clerks wear spectacles. Jane has taken Keith shopping after receiving her first paycheck as an independent woman. It’s here she runs into the man she dreams about on a daily basis: her enigma, Eric Church.

After receiving her first paycheck Jane took Keith shopping to make up for the meager birthday he’d had. He’d never quite gotten over receiving a Stephen King paperback for a present, even though he kept repeating it didn’t matter. She knew it did. Jane was beginning to think Keith hid much more than he was saying. It kept her up at night.

Saturday mid-afternoon they stepped into the local Alco. Keith ran off to look at records and Jane browsed through racks in the ladies’ clothing department. Everything was too expensive. She’d just have to keep what she already had. There was no reason to dress up anyway, at work she wore a lab coat like Maxine and Mr. Findlay. Sometimes she felt like a nun, all covered up like that.

Another thing she must endure was the wearing of glasses, even though she didn’t need them, even if they magnified her eyes—pale like river water—so much they looked freakishly huge in the store mirrors. Jane couldn’t see very well with the damn things on, but she’d been told it was a great way to push product. She wore them only a few minutes at a time, just to keep Mr. Findlay happy. Jane hoped he’d keep her past the two-week trial period. Herbert was kind and spoke with gentle words, and his lab coat always smelled of fresh soap and spray starch.

Jane grabbed a blouse and held it up to her throat. It was cut very low. The price tag was the real deciding factor. Twenty-five dollars. A salesgirl came by and asked Jane if she was buying or looking and Jane left to go stand near paperbacks and candy. The man who’d offered her a ride outside the IGA walked past. He stopped for a moment, and then backed up. “Afternoon,” he greeted with a twist of recognition.

She hadn’t seen him since the day she’d bought The Hite Report and he’d said what he’d said about it being trash. Though the way he’d said it was more of an invitation, and not so much a reprimand.

He’d managed to cram a cartful of items in his arms: a blanket, a pair of new boots, some toiletries, chocolate bars, and a carton of cigarettes. The blanket looked just like the one Jane had bought months ago—eggshell chenille. She wanted to say something about it, but didn’t. She just kept staring.

He laughed. “You always this shy?”

Her skin felt like it was tinged with cayenne.

A package of Hanes underwear fell from his stash and Jane bent down to the store’s linoleum floor to pick it up. The cayenne tinge engulfed her. She was St. Joan of Arc, right there in front of him, holding his new briefs.

When she placed it on top of his pile, right under his chin, Jane saw him cast a casual glance to her bare finger where a ring used to be. Then Keith came around the aisle with two records and a new game book he’d been jabbering about, Dungeons & Dragons. For the first time in weeks, he wasn’t miserable. He asked if they could buy it, and Jane absentmindedly said, “I don’t know.”

An awkward silence crept around them and Jane couldn’t think of anything to clear it away. She was supposed to flirt back with this man. Maybe touch his arm, say something smart. She’d never experienced the wild urges going on inside her head, and she couldn’t figure out what to do. It frightened her. This was sex—right in front of her. She wanted him. But she couldn’t find a way to tell him.

He shuffled on his feet.

“This is my son, Keith.”

“Your son?”

“Yes. That, or I’ve got a stranger following me around asking for money all the time.”

The man laughed.

“Do you need new boots?” she asked.

“Yeah, I’m always wearing out my old ones too fast. Hate breaking in new ones, though.”

Jane agreed—he must wear out a lot of boots. He was a big man. Keith gave her a strange look, and she nudged him into silence.

“Well, see you around,” the man said.

Keith was impatient. “Mom, can I have the records and the book too?”

Jane looked down. She saw that he had picked out another KISS album and one from a band called Rush. “Don’t you already have KISS?” Keith said no. She looked at the book and saw it had a big devil on it. “What is this?”

“I told you, D & D. It’s not bad.”

Jane picked it up and read a few pages. It was all gibberish about wizards and elves. “All right,” she shook her head. “I shouldn’t. But I’ll go ahead and buy it for you.”

They walked to the registers.

The man paid for his items with a small wad of cash pulled out from his back pocket. His jeans were dirty, ripped, unkempt. His hair was wild and unharnessed. He kept looking at Jane, but she didn’t know what to say anymore. Before he left he turned to her with another glance of expectation. She didn’t know what he was waiting for. Finally, she said, “See you around.”

He returned with the same. “Yeah. See you around.”

Jane experienced a deep and damning frustration. She watched him leave.

“Who is that guy?” Keith asked.

“Someone I know.”

“You know him?”

“Well, not really.”

“He’s huge.”

She paid the clerk with her own tidy supply of cash, and she and Keith exchanged the cold store for a sweltering parking lot. The thick smell of exhaust stained the air. A rumble faded somewhere off to the west.

“Ma, are we ever gonna get a car?”

“Someday, I guess.”

“I wish we had one now. Don’t you?”

They passed behind Grant’s lot, quiet and heads down. The sun scalded Jane’s neck like a hot iron. A few dandelions poked through the chunks of gravel. She made sure not to step on each one. But Keith didn’t have the same concern, he crushed them with the toe of his sneakers.

They stopped at an ice cream stand to buy soda.

“What would I do with a car?”

“I don’t know, but I know what I’d do with one. Do you think Dad will ever let me have something from his lot?”

“Probably not.”

“I’d drive it everywhere. And I’d take you all over town so you didn’t have to walk.”

“I like to walk.”

Grant’s Chrysler was parked near the rear entrance. She used to follow him inside, some days, while he went about business. She’d always been quiet; always felt like a tagalong. She’d cleaned his coffee mug and swept the floor. She’d even brought plants a few times. He forgot to water them, and they died. Each one. The orchid; the African violet; the Wandering Jew; the fern; the aloe. Dead. Grant wasn’t good at keeping delicate things.

It was good to remember this.

A scene from The Moonflowers

Late last spring, early last summer, I published a novel about a woman on the verge of divorce and a young man on the verge of falling in love for the first time. Seriously, deeply in love. Told in dual POV, The Moonflowers was written using my own personal childhood memories, and also pure, fantastical fiction. The real memories are from my mother and father’s torrid marriage, which ended the day she threatened to kill him with a piece of broken glass. As a child, my father’s departure was an open door. I could move around the house, eat, play, do whatever I wanted without fear of a whipping. The day he left was the best day of my life. My sister, however, felt differently. She looked at his departure as a blemish against the family. Now we were broken, and being broken was shameful. I mirror this scene in an early section of the novel. Jane, after an evening of stifling heat and accusations from brutish husband Grant, loses whatever thread that’s been keeping her together. She grabs a steak knife from the kitchen sink and waves it in his face. “Get out!”

Almost fourteen-year-old Keith Day jumps on his bike and follows his father’s Chrysler through town. He hates his father, he loves his father. He knows it’s time for a change, but it’s so difficult for a son to accept. Your dad, as horrible and bullish as he sometimes is, is the pillar of your existence. I really felt for Keith; his devastation and acceptance of fate was truly heartbreaking. The following is one of my favorite chapters from the book, as it shows Keith post-chase on a solemn ride through the dusty streets of small-town Stultz.

Keith walked his bike along the road. He walked far past the Stultz water tower to where the houses had acres of space between them and the lights of town faded. He watched the moon and the telephone poles. Toads made strange sounds from the ditches. Farmhouses were geometrical shadows on the hillside. He didn’t cry, he just walked. He thought how the people inside those farmhouses were dumb, happy people, and he wasn’t. He was painfully aware of everything, and he wished he could cut off his head and throw it into a field and never have to think again.

As he walked, he took stock of little things. Like gravel and beer tabs and broken glass. He even saw a used condom someone had thrown out a car window. It was all limp and seeping. It made him want to barf.

Then he followed the railroad tracks, even though it would lead to town and he wasn’t ready to go back there yet. Sure, eventually, but right now he didn’t want to exist in that town, or anywhere, and he didn’t want to face his mother, who had done the right thing, but at the wrong time. That’s what made him so mad, why couldn’t she just have waited a little?

A car approached and slowed. It was a boat of a car. A huge Dodge. A pair of teenage boys rolled their windows down and peered out. “We almost didn’t see you. We could have hit you.”

“Like I’d care.”

“What?”

“I said, I don’t care. Hit me.”

The boys laughed. One of them fumbled with a beer can before taking a large swig. Keith smelled marijuana and other sorts of things. The music they had on was piss music, the kind people liked when they didn’t have any taste.

“You want a beer?” one of them asked. It was a boy with acne so bad they’d already left pocks. The boy blinked and sniffed hard.

“Sure.” Keith held a hand out. A beer would be harmless. He’d had a few before. It would numb things and maybe he’d be happy. It would be good to be happy.

But the boys laughed and sped off without giving him the beer. Keith raised a middle finger to their taillights, and had to breathe gravel dust for a whole minute after they’d left. Some people were real assholes. They were born that way and would never change. You could always tell an asshole. They didn’t have any warmth in them; their eyes were strange. They did things to make other people feel stupid. They actually enjoyed it. That’s what made them assholes. They enjoyed it.

“Fuck you forever,” he said.

It was hot enough to have a beer and it would count as survival, not just getting buzzed. He wondered how those guys managed to buy it, when they weren’t much older than him. Some people had a gift for getting by with everything. He couldn’t even walk down the road without getting screwed by some form of the human race.

Before long he was in town again. No train had come or gone during his walk. If so, maybe he would have jumped in and let it take him away. He tried not to think about rapers inside the train cars, but they most likely existed. They were always in his mind, keeping him from doing wild shit. But the train hadn’t shown. No trains, and no rapers.

He walked by the park. It was empty. He used to play there with his friend, Louis, but Louis’s family had moved to Kentucky. That was fourth grade. He wondered what Louis was doing now, if he still had all those baseball cards and the picture of a naked Sophia Loren. Louis had written Keith in fifth grade, every week, and then every month the first half of sixth grade, and then nothing. Keith thought it was stupid to write letters anyway. There wasn’t anything to say. Louis had listed a lot of things, like, what he was doing in school, and how he’d gotten a new cat. It was all boring and useless crap that made Keith miss him. When the letters stopped, it had been a relief. But then when they never came again, he felt it was because Louis had never liked him in the first place.

A car turned off Jefferson Street and began to chase Keith down. A big-ass Lincoln. The person behind the wheel beeped in a staccato rhythm, and then pulled up beside him with a swerve that almost knocked the bike handles out of his hands. Keith recognized the people inside, and he knew the car too. Suzanne Brandenburg leaned over her husband Sasha to speak out the window. Her breasts were peach Jell-o molds barely held in by a black nightie. “Your mother’s worried about you.”

“She is?” Good.

“Get in,” Suzanne said. “We’ll take you home. You can throw your bike in the trunk.”

Keith saw Sally Brandenburg staring at him through the back window. Her hair was kind of messy and her brother Danny was next to her upside down in nothing but Spiderman underwear. Keith didn’t want to get in the backseat with those two. And he didn’t want to go home.

“Tell Mom I’ll be there in a while.”

Suzanne laughed. “You can tell her yourself. I’m not going to call her now, it’s midnight.”

He straddled the bike and rode around the Lincoln a few times. The eyes of the people inside followed him surreptitiously with every pass. Soon Suzanne lit up a Marlboro and hung an arm out the window to flick the ash. “Come on, get in. You can stay at our house if you want, but you can’t stay out here.”

Sally watched with those big eyes of hers from the backseat. Like a real weirdo. When he did a pop wheelie to scare her, he fell to the ground and heard laughing inside the car. This is when he would die. It had all ended—his life and everything. What was the use?

“Hey, get up, kid,” Sasha said. The behemoth hopped out of the car and helped Keith up, even though they both knew Keith was okay. Then Sasha grabbed the bike and shoved it into the trunk next to some tools, and Keith slid in next to the Brandenburg brats. He’d given up fighting. They drove across a quiet Stultz that could be a graveyard if there weren’t houses instead of headstones. The radio was off. The only sound in the car was Suzanne sucking on her cigarette.

Inside the house, which was cold and dark and clean, Danny said they could have a sleepover and watch cartoons and eat Cheetos. But Suzanne said Keith needed to be alone, and it was time for bed anyway.

“You can sleep in the den. Is that all right?” Everyone else had gone upstairs.

Keith shrugged. “I don’t care.”

She went to a closet down the hall and Keith heard a door open and close, and then she was back with a pair of sheets, a pillow and a light blanket. “I’m going to call your mom anyway, even though it’s late. She’s worried about you.”

Keith grabbed the blankets. The couch he was supposed to sleep on was ugly and it smelled like chemicals. Now he wished he was home, and not at the Brandenburg’s, but it was too late. Something heavy settled inside of him like tar. He couldn’t breathe. As he lay in the darkness, he heard Suzanne in the kitchen, and he knew she was speaking to his mom.

His mother.

That made him sad and he tried not to think about it.

Keith pretended to be asleep when Suzanne came to stand in the doorway. She watched him for a long time and he wondered why. What had his mother said?

“Keith,” she said, in a soft voice. “I know how you feel. I had the same thing happen to me when I was your age. Do you want to stay up and talk?”

“No.” He rolled over, away from her. But even then she didn’t get the hint. His throat still burned so bad he could hardly swallow.

Why don’t you go away?

She finally did. She went upstairs and a door closed. Then it was so quiet you could hear the air conditioning come off and on.

 

 

Threads; broken, unbroken.

Sometimes I think the harder we push at life, the harder it pushes back. We don’t see it happening, we think any moment we’ll break through, but it isn’t so. Life is a stubborn vessel, much stronger than us. So much stronger. I’ve been learning to meditate and have found that one of the most difficult things is letting go. Stopping my brain from its incessant activity isn’t easy. Afterwards, there is a sense of peace that is very pleasing, very joyful. So far I have learned that I am not, and should not be, in control. It’s best to leave things to my higher self. So often I am filled with fear, and make decisions, or non-decisions, based on fearful thought processes. It’s a relief to let go. I was white knuckling it through my entire existence. I needed a break.

The old saying that life is a river and you must follow it wherever it goes is true, however cliché. The problem is I am so sick of failure and loss that I pull tightly on the reins with bloody fingers and blistered palms. But now I find I was steering myself into the gutters. Let go, let go.

I also know now that time, in all its quantitative measurements, must not be taken for granted. Do not squander that which is given, because once gone it never returns. Opportunity is the same. Do not leave a leaf unturned, as you never know which one yields silk.