Monday, October 19, 2009

Steamer Trunks - Writing exercise

The steamer trunks resided in one of the unused farmhouses on the estate. In the center of the attic floor highlighted by light streaming in from the single window, they waited. Our friends, my husband and I were drawn to them like moths to a flame. A childhood dream of finding abandoned treasure, two trunks full overtook us at once. The rest of the house was void of personal belongings; just these two steamer trunks filling the immense attic. Temptation - temptation filled us to open them. Ravage, pillage, carry off, invaders throughout history had no problem with booty, bounty, loot.
Mine was the only voice who questioned ownership of the trunks. The others were too intent on forcing the locks to bother answering me. Nimble fingers prying seeking to assault the rusted devices. Mumbling to themselves, they bent to their task. Frantic in their haste to spring open the prize, my husband and his friend redoubled their efforts. Malnourished children prying open the locked pantry door to stop their driving hunger, not thinking beyond their immediate needs.
First one trunk, then the other was attacked by the treasure seekers. Twisting, forcing the screwdriver under the lock plate, success met at last by the grating sound of the lock flange releasing. Treasure revealed. Hastily heaped on the floor, the discards raised clouds of dust in their flight. Items stored for safe keeping, someone’s life treasure irreverently pawed through, strewn about by curiosity, stolen by greedy hands; precious pieces of someone’s time gone in minutes.
A fever had swept over us upon entering the attic and seeing those illuminated trunks. The disease consumed us overruling common sense, encouraged us to sneak away with stolen prizes. The others were all for leaving it destroyed, wounds agape subject to further attack by rodents seeking shelter. Scattered belongings forlorn at the disrespect given them.
My sense came back as I reverently folded and placed the discards back into some semblance of order. Not even close to the order that we found them in. Never could I equal the fondness in which the owner lovingly tucked her belongings into the trunk, however long ago; softly touching each item, each memory that needed to be put into storage.
I felt dirty, not because of the dusty attic or stale air. I felt dirty in my being for having invaded an unknown woman’s memories. Empty of meaning, I put my spoils back. A fever dream, a nightmare, I understood mass thinking; the crowd mentality which attacks integrity with a ferocious appetite when all hell breaks loose.

Egg --

Egg admired herself in the mirror. Even at this age no lines appeared in her smooth white shell. The light from the lamp cast no shadows over her perfect surface. It wasn’t a question of what to wear to the symphony tonight or what jewels she needed to adorn her. Egg’s absolute beauty would be enough no matter how simply she dressed.
That morning her beautician had suggested liquid foundation, but Egg had resolutely passed on the offer. Her shells’ natural luster would be diminished by the artificial make up. Then the hair dresser had tried to interest Egg in a tint. What had she said? “Just a simple rinse will do wonders, Dearie.” But once you did one rinse, you would be committed for a life of rinses to hide the flaws that would develop.
No, she likes herself too much to destroy the only thing she could count on: her pristine beauty there for all to admire and praise. No adornment, color tint or liquid foundation would cross her fragile surface.
Staring into the mirror at her flawless shell, Egg considered the one thing she feared in life. Just a fine line in her surface would signal the beginning of the end. A flaw no matter how minor would inevitably spread regardless of what emergency services could provide in the way of first aid. Even round-the-clock nursing wouldn’t prevent a fine line from becoming ... dare she even think of it or say it out loud... a crack.
“Crack!” she shouted the word loudly watching her trembling reflection in the mirror. Fear swept over her just from a simple five letter word. How could she face anyone with a mar? Any mar would prove fatal often sooner than later. Egg took a deep breath. “I would rather throw myself from a cliff than wait for fate’s failure of my shell. Yes, that’s right.” With her eyes glued to her flawless reflection, she continued. “I would end my life by my own decision rather than suffer slowly with hangers-on waiting for my fractured end.”
Calming herself, she looked in the mirror one last time as the doorbell rang. Her date for the evening had arrived. With as much spring in her step as she dared, Egg left the mirror and her fears behind. She silently renewed her vow to make every moment count.
Opening the door, she smiled at Bacon, her date for the evening. Tall, lean and handsome, they made a dramatic entrance wherever they went. Voices murmured how well they looked together, a perfect match, and Egg just ate up those indirect compliments.
Bacon offered her his arm as she closed the door behind her. Should she worry about his grease marks, really his only flaw? No, not tonight; tonight she wanted it all. Every moment will count; I’ll live life to the fullest and have no regrets.

EMM 4/18/98


“What tastes gritty in your mouth is time” or is it just the sand in your sandwich at the beach. The wind blown particles so small as not to be noticed until you begin to chew. As a child I decided: why chew, just mush it around and swallow. I never liked sand in my sandwiches or grit in my mouth then or now.
What I did love was the bites of time spent on Cape Cod’s sandy beaches. After I graduated from high school, my parents and I would spend a week’s vacation every summer at Brewster, then later at Wellfleet. My grandmother’s quiet brogue questioned us. “Why go all the way up there. Its nothing but flat sand and scrub trees.” I suspect that comment reflected her hurt that we didn’t spend my Dad’s vacation time with her at the family summer cottage on Crystal Lake. All the weeknights and weekends spent at the lake were somehow nullified by our yearly week at the Cape.
Why did we go to the Cape? These vacations did not start when I was a young child. I was seventeen when I worked the summer of 1965 at an Inn on the Cape. My cousin Nancy preceded me at the Brewster Inn, a modest form of nepotism. The summer job and my Uncle Blake’s enthusiasm, that’s what, first brought us to the Cape with our trusty sailfish tied to the roof of the family Rambler.
My parents started trying “new things” when I was in high school. Sailing was the first in a line of these new activities. So many times we were dumped into the water by an unforgiving gust of wind on the small lake where the summer cottage was. Tricky wind conditions combined with inexperience lead to many a nautical roll over numbering in the thousands. As our confidence grew, we sought new challenges, new horizons and new waters to sail.
My Uncle Blake introduced us to sailing at the Cape. My parents rented a cottage that summer while my Uncle and Aunt camped at Nickerson State Park. It was love at first sight. Did the Pilgrims feel that way? All that sky with no interruptions... seemingly endless. The salt water intrigued us with so much to explore when the tides went out. The mud flats revealed treasures for the picking with crabs resting below the surface in the damp sand. Did the Pilgrims go barefoot and leap upon being pinched?
As for the vast sky, I suppose the Pilgrims saw enough to last a life time on their trip across the Atlantic Ocean. Moving off the Cape they sought land that would be better suited to live on, not flat sandy expanses with scrub trees dwarfed by storm winds.
But for us, every summer after the first one in Brewster brought us back like the swallows to Capistrano. My poor grandmother did not understanding the pull of the tide on our beings. Our relationship was deeper than most parents and a daughter: three adventures marveling at the early morning sun across the shallow bay waters, walking the mud flats feeling the pull or push of the tide, sailing the bay’s expanse, listening to the cries of the seabirds or watching the night sky while curled up in blankets to ward off the salt air chill.
Our eyes searched the endless blanket of stars overhead while the rhythmic sounds of the waves upon the shore filled our ears. Our souls became one with the infinite universe. The sand beneath us, each particle ground down from ancient rock from the corners of the world, was filled with mystery. Sand brought by wind and sea to rest upon a constantly shifting arm that stretched out toward the ocean as far as the eye could see. Sand like a living entity in constant movement; under our feet, in our hair, imbedded in our clothes ... everywhere you looked sand, water and sky. The vastness and timelessness opened us up to new possibilities.
For months after the vacation, the sand remained with us. No matter how many times the car carpet was vacuumed it still worked its way up and out. Reminders of three adventurers bound together in life, not immortal but for a length of time ... a life not without grit but with limitless possibilities.

emm 4/17/98

Ribbon Candy

The satin luster of ribbon candy resembles the reflections from the Christmas tree lights on the glass ornaments, not clear enough to actually reflect anything but the surface gives the illusion. My grandmother always had a pressed-glass bowl of ribbon candy set out for the Christmas holiday. I don’t remember her having a tree those last few Christmas’s but the overflowing bowl of ribbons was a constant. No one else set out a bowl of ribbon candy.
The McNeill family had grown so large that no one had a house big enough to hold us for the Christmas Day gathering so a church hall was rented. Hours of food preparation filed Christmas Eve with only a pause for steamed chestnuts dipped in butter and a strong cup of tea. It amazed me how the huge meal was gobbled up so quickly by our raucous clan of young and old. Then it was time for games, presents and laughter. The children took advantage of the basketball court or played with their new acquisitions. Clustered around the large folding tables, the older members reminisced. Their voices would ebb and flow creating a multi-part harmony as members joined in the chorus. A litany of voices tinged with sadness that Granddad was no longer present, filled with hope because Jane’s children were recovering from a car accident, touched with concern over Grammy’s failing eyesight, dismayed over teenage behavior and commiserated about the onslaught of middle-age.
Eventually the ribbon candy was passed around. Just as inevitably someone would knock against the tree sending a fragile glass ornament crashing to the hardwood floor. Tiny shards and splinters of glass went everywhere. Bits of reflections scattered across time. Ribbon candy is like that when you hold it in your hand and rotate it. The color changes as the light moves across the surface. Break a piece free, shards and splinters of sweet reflections scatter everywhere.
The echoes of laughter, the rustle of wrapping paper, the smells of a Christmas dinner, the small talk while cleaning up the kitchen are suddenly brought back as clear as the pressed-glass dish overflowing with colorful ribbons. Ribbons of memories looped together revealing their prism of color. Some pieces are broken evenly; some remain whole, while some are just splinters; all in a bowl waiting for selection.
Memories made of broken promises and disappointments, of life’s fulfillments and joys, or of pain and sorrow. Every life has a little of each in varying intensity and hue. All entwined, these colorful ribbons are passed around the family gatherings in a transparent glass dish for all to share and feel.

EMM 4/22/98
rev 5/19/98


What I didn’t know then was how difficult life can get. When I hear giggling girls on an afternoon visit to the library, I too remember a time when everything was a giggle. Nothing seemed all that serious to me and I wondered what was wrong with the adults. Life just was; looking back there seemed to be more sun light, more joy. I want to tell the girls to hold onto the laughter, pack some in a jar with a tight lid, for times when they’re older.
When sorting out my dad’s belongings, I came across a box of old photos. The subjects looking back out of their rectangles of frozen time were from family gatherings, friend’s get-togethers, school pictures and places we’d vacationed at as a family. Special times captured forever in their instant, better than one’s own mental recall, and able to kindle the emotions anew.
Carefree, living in the now, the occupants captured in the miniature time capsules saw only bright futures ahead. Loose plans would jell up when needed. Grown-up responsibilities were far off on the horizon. All that was important and necessary was to enjoy being with cousins and friends. Sharing these good times is what I remember most clearly, especially summer days in the warm sun with the light sparkling off the water at Crystal Lake. Floating in inner tubes with our legs connected to someone else’s tube, we’d bob along like a row of ducklings towed by the surrogate mother, a wooden rowboat full of the bigger cousins. The underwater path was worn through the lake grass from diving one after another off the same spot on the dock. The cannonball contests which were usually won by my cousin Ray who was then and still is chunky.
In high school, we hung out in a group, few of us paired off for individual dates. We had nicknames for each other, not bad or hurtful names that you’d never outgrow. Endearment’s to show you cared were based on variations of last names. Miff, Mickey or Smitty were a few. The light in our eyes seems different in the old photographs. A trick of the camera and film produced more sparkle or were the eyes not yet dulled by major disappointments, hurts or setbacks. Eyes full of life expecting the best in each situation that would be encountered.
Life was simpler then or just remembered that way. What I didn’t know then was how complex life can get. The surface doesn’t always reflect the truth. That there are a million shades of black and white. Our memories have a way of softening the hard times by surrounding them in diffused light to make them more palatable and safe to recall.
Dark days don’t spring to mind as easily, but there were some in my youth. Painful times were interspaced with the good. It takes loads of them over the years, varying in size and intensity, to dull the eyes and the senses. I had a brother whose reputation preceded me through school. “Oh, you’re Albert’s sister.” A trial before a crime this conviction greeted me each year. In high school, a crush so intense that walking past “him” in the hall was unbearable without the support of friends. No date for the Junior Prom, a rite of passage missed. Simultaneous splitting up of the cousins and the school group of friends at graduation, we knew that it would never be the same as we went our individual ways. These were just a start of what was to come.
The good and bad accumulate to make us who we are. Perspective changes us as we age but underneath it all, under all the layers of protective covering we’ve installed to pad our journey, our eyes are still bright. The laughter may not be as cascading as childhood giggles that once started are like a slow motion avalanche taking everything in its path into the chorus. When sifting through boxes of old photographs or poring over neglected family albums, we reaffirm who we are and from whence we came. Our tenuous hold on life can be reviewed and processed to assure our continuity.
What I didn’t know then was that wisdom gained gives insight into the nuances of daily trials and tribulations which then enables us to live each day fully. Strength and encouragement come from mentors, family or a network of friends, as each phase of the journey begins and ends. Full circle... the dance continues filled with laughter and tears, joys and sorrows, ups and downs with a million shades of black and white until completion.

EMM 5/11/98

Inside Picnic

When it rained the adults of the family would cram around the cherry table expanded with four extensions. The damp and warm bodies crowded together in the low ceiling all purpose room of the cottage. A collage of summer colors circling an incandescent lit table mounded with food. Laughter drowned out the sound of the drumming rain on the roof.
The children were delegated to a separate table moved in from the rain swept porch; partially in defense against squabbles of “I wanna’ sit with the grown-ups!” All of us cousins were ordered there. Elbow to elbow we defended our small piece of table territory waiting impatiently for the picnic that had been forced indoors.
The plates that had migrated to the summer place were a magical collection from years of full sets owned by the different relatives; a respite before their last stop, the final journey being to the dump. We all had picked out a favorite pattern on a specific plate or cup and woe to anyone who tried to jump our claim on that piece of china. The mismatched table settings were not considered rejects. The riotous variety of patterns and colors added to the special feeling about those cottage meals whether in or outside.
The food was typical 1950’s picnic fare and each aunt had their favorite recipe that was anticipated all week by other family members. Aunt Marion’s doctored canned baked beans, Aunt Marge’s potato salad, Aunt Edna’s jell-o with fruit and my mother’s carrot pineapple jell-o salad. Dozens of hot dogs and hamburgers were grilled by my father in the granite stone fireplace built by my Uncle Alfred’s brother. All the usual accompaniments were there as well, relishes, pickles, mustard and ketchup. A myriad of half empty jars marked the progress of the summer season.
Silverware travelled back and forth between my Aunt Edna’s cottage and my Grandmothers. No one knew whose was whose as the knives, forks and spoons travelled back and forth with every weekend’s picnics. They resided during the week at the cottage where they were washed and dried. Plates were worn down to a dull scratched surface unable to reflect the high sun of noon or the evening meal sunsets of rose and tangerine. My cousins and I even had our favorite patterns of silverware that we looked for amongst the piles set out for use.
The jumble of mismatched flatware and dishes just was. No one cared or questioned where it all came from... some very expensive, some dime store variety. Like flowers in nature, all the colors, shapes and patterns blended not clashed when clustered together for use. The family was that way, different yet the same. The clashes were set aside, blended for harmonies sake. Like the variety of chairs that were placed around the extended cherry table, a peace table for the sharing of food. The sacred act, breaking of bread, makes us one with one another.
The sideboard of veneered oak stood groaning under the weight of the overflow of casseroles, bowls and serving plates filled with the summer menus. The deserts were stored on top of the cabinets in the kitchen away from sweet toothed predators. Usually the rained out crowd limited the pathway space around the table so that a few end sitters were runners filling the requests for wedged in dinners. The meals weren’t as rushed when it was raining. More time to fill up the nooks and crannies with what everyone had been up to during the last week. Too wet for the adults to swim, sail or fish, my cousins and I ached for action and movement. Sometimes crawling under the far corner of the table we bolted for the door despite the rain cooled air.
The cherry table sits in my basement now, the leaves stacked up in a corner. It’s too big to be in my kitchen or my living room. Alone it sits heaped up with boxes and other cellar offerings. My mother refinished six of the chairs, caning the seat herself over the summers before her stroke. The chairs are scattered throughout my house like my cousins scattered across the country. An end of an era, a time for reflection and memories since my parents, Aunts and Uncles who have gone on before me must have reflected over the changes they went through. Generation after generation, time moves steadily along leaving a few favorite plates or spoons, a chair or two and a table big enough to seat twenty comfortably.

EMM 5/21/98


Once I opened the door, I knew there would be no turning back. Whether into the light or dark would be conjecture, speculation, a matter for future discussions on the perspective of choices. Closing the door was something else. How many doors had I closed, never to open them again? Shutting in the light, not letting it see the natural light of day, I’d leave it in the dark forever. Friends lost through neglect of past situations remained in the grey areas of my memory.
“I’m tired of waiting,” I murmured at the threshold. “It’s gone on too long. It’s time.” My voice drifted outward across the expanse of perfectly manicured lawn. No one was in hearing distance just the growing things that inhabit any lawn some visible, some invisible, and burrowers microscopic to our regular cursory glances like thoughts of little importance going about their business undetected.
Later others would probably remark, “She rarely spoke about it.” Determined to find the reason why, they might brainstorm baffled by aberrant behavior of someone they thought they knew so well. In reality they only had seen the surface not at all aware of what lurked below or not wanting to recognize what could be within them as well. “What caused her to do it? She had it all.” I knew the comments and questions would continue for awhile until as in all things, some other preoccupation came along to occupy their time and minds. Memories would cloud the meaning of my departure. “Business as usual” - all the phrases of non commitment, society uses to buffer themselves against understanding, true understanding. The kind of truth that includes the breath and depth of one’s being, leaving nothing unturned in its path until knowledge fills the void of an empty meaningless life. Peace settles over one then. A new level of spiritual attainment is achieved leaving others in its wake.
“You’d think I’d learn” I descended the stairs feeling the polished brass handrail warmed by the sun. “Why do I trust and believe that crap about inherent good. What bull. Inherent shit is more like it.”
“It’s in your best interest.” he’d said. Again replaying the tone of his voice in my mind, I focused on the memory of his face and watched the way the words slipped soothingly out of his sensuous mouth while his eyes betrayed his actions. Walking toward the car, thoughts of the many phrases, trite and meaningless, he’d plied me with. Thinking he’d won, that I had acquiesced to his wishes, he left me alone for a time. But I had choices. There was always a choice, dark or light, shades of grey.
Never again will I grace this estate with my presence. “How dare he think I wouldn’t know about it?” The indiscretions, the lies, the little manipulative tricks he thought would cover his trail. Behind my back, he would encourage others to think as he did. That I was the one who caused his problems. How transparent his actions were. Who could I trust? Who could I believe? Sorting it all out on my own I knew it was best to leave. Starting my life again, I’ll renew my spirit by a thorough cleansing, seek to focus and balance my life force, and release the painful memories endured with him.
Get thee to a nunnery; well it was close to that. The Retreat was far removed from this life style. Wait until his family sees what I have done. To be a proverbial fly on the wall, but I’ve had enough. I don’t need to see their reactions; it was after all so predictable. Money could buy peace of mind ... especially when you gave it all away.
Driving down the expansive tree lined drive, congratulations were in order. “I did learn. I learned to let go. Let them battle among themselves to no avail.” The attorneys’ assurances that the trust was airtight made it all perfect. The conservancy, museum and foundation would stand against all who would try to destroy it. I’m free, no more waiting. In opening that door, my burden was gone. My journey toward the light has begun.

EMM 5/12/98
rev 5/19/98

Mr Johnson's Demise

She was being smug today. I hate the cliché about the cat who swallowed the canary but every time she spoke I expected cheery yellow feathers to puff out of her mouth to float gently into the air. Her hot pink lips were blindingly glazed. The desk lamp intensified the glare. The interview was almost complete; she had been brought in for a second round of questioning. You know the theory; the one who stands to gain the most when a husband or wife is murdered is the remaining spouse. Her artificial lashes flickered open and shut over eyes the color of fresh grass sprouting in spring. Obviously enhanced by contacts, the shade of green was too bright for hot pink lip gloss that was puckered into a pout.

“I told you everything I know… I’m really going to be late for the salon. I have to look my best for the wake tonight.” sighing she added, “I just haven’t had a moment to fix myself up since it happened.”

She emphasized the pout by tapping a perfectly manicured inch and a half pointer fingernail on my desk. The florid hot pink clashed with the olive drab surface of the metal topped standard issue police desk. I wondered how much she spent each week to maintain this perfected look. How many hours went into her beauty regime? How many people at the salon were kept busy meeting her quest for this perfect look?

His eyes drifted slightly to the right where the photo of his wife resided. Wind tossed hair, makeup free, resplendent in a flannel shirt standing in front of their tent. Some comparison, his wife would no sooner waste her time by allowing others to manipulate her outward appearance. His eyes shifted back to the mask before him with its cajoling voice repeating…

“Look… I told you again and again where I was. Now I really must go.”

“Thanks for your time, Mrs. Johnson. We’ll be sure to inform you of any new developments in your husband’s death but like wise if you think of something else… please be sure to call us.” Extending his hand with his card, she reached across the distance to snap it free. Her high gloss nails closed onto the business card with the speed of a viper striking its prey.

He watched her retreating back saunter down the aisle. Actually so did half the staff… that is the male half. Her trim figure fully encased in a leather jumpsuit teetered on impressive high heals. The effect was hormonally electric; he could practically taste the testosterone level in the office.
“Get back to work….” He called to bring them back to focus. “Richards, what’s new? Bring me what you have.” “Unreasonably tight alibi, not unlike that leather outfit she had on, sir.”

“Well, I guessed it would be but some where there is something to expose… I don’t mean that surgically enhanced cleavage either.”

“Got you, its all to antiseptic: too obvious. No one can know such exact times.”

“Its definitely an inside job. No one saw anything unusual other than the usual spat before he left for the office. I can’t imagine what I’d do if Elaine even went once a week to the salon. Criminy, that woman practically lives there or at the plastic surgeon’s office.”

Maybe… maybe it’s just too obvious. Maybe the answer is staring us right in the face.”

“Well check with the limo driver and salon owner again. Maybe she slipped a fast one over on them as well. The insurance payout let alone the estate value is more than enough reason for temptation but her “remodeling” surgeries must have been costly.”

“Yah, not on my pay check...” Richards turned to follow the scent that still lingered from the expensive perfume that still hung heavily throughout the investigation unit office.

Picking up the phone, Adam punched the number for the Johnson attorney. He needed to know about any recent will revisions. Whatever would nail her for her husband’s murder was right out in plain sight… he just knew if you got past the layers of make-up, designer clothes, priceless jewels, and surgery enhancement.

“No, Mr. Johnson hadn’t recently revised his will. There was no pre-nup agreement, no hint of divorce, no legal problems. Look detective, everyone knew the old man had a bad heart. Christ, he was 81. How long do you think he could keep up with that living Barbie Doll he married five years ago?”

“Well how about the benefits to his first wife or the children? Heck they’re older than their step mother… must be some bad blood there.”

“All that was settled years ago, that’s what is so odd. He set up the boys as heirs to his corporate business. They’ve been running it with little advice for ten years. His daughter is successful in her own right as an artist with a designer line of clothing, house wares, original art that was backed originally by her father. The children seemed to have no bad feelings toward Nanci as their father’s last fling with passion in his old age. Hell their mother has been married three times and the last husband is quite young. Afraid I can’t help you make a motive type connection her from my office.”

“Thanks, attorney Kingly… Just let me know if something comes up that strikes you as odd.”

“As I said my client lived a long full life. What’s it matter now that he’s gone?”

“Someone has to pay for the crime attorney. I can’t turn away: murder is murder and someone needs to be brought in.”

Swinging his chair around to face the viewless window he shook his head. Maybe the Johnson attorney was right; the guy was 81. Probably older than I’ll get with the rate of this job stress and high cholesterol; Elaine was right he needed to chill out and eat better. Eyeing the box of doughnuts, he hesitated only for a moment. The jelly started to dribble down his chin, catching it quickly; he licked the glob of raspberry off of his pointer finger.

Something clicked, he visualized Nanci’s perfectly manicured fingernail tapping on his drab desk top. She said she hadn’t gone to the salon since her husband’s death but those nails held nary a nick. Acting on a hunch, he pulled the file folder on the Johnson murder. Flipping through the file, he located the part of the report about his fingernail scraping, the scratches on his neck and incidental fibers. The autopsy indicated the scratches were feline in nature but couldn’t explain a residue of hot pink flecks.

Calling the cell phone number of Nanci Johnson, he received the typical “not within cell area of operation” message. Dialing the mansion, the phone was answered promptly by Mr. Johnson’s man. The question was simple. “Does Nanci have a cat?”

“Mr. Johnson made her give up her cat due to allergies.”

Hanging up, he grabbed his suit coat. The other question would certainly be answered as he expected. That Nanci had been a nail specialist before her fortunate marriage to Mr. Johnson. He was willing to bet she had done her cat’s claws in a matching hot pink. He only hoped that remnants remained… digitalis dipped nail polish most like had speeded the end of eighty one years of life.


Vegetable Barley Soup

One on my early forays into the art of cooking on my own was a big batch of vegetable barley soup. Checking over the recipes led me to believe that it wasn’t a big deal. Vegetables, broth and seasonings were all that was needed. I even did the old fashioned way with beef bones slowly simmered for the stock. The wafting aroma carried by the stove vent to the chill outside air must have had the neighborhood hounds chafing at their chains.
Saturday morning chores were completed while the stock cooled. Teaching art full time left the weekends for cleaning and cooking which was normally accomplished by noon. Various pursuits filled the remaining free time, but back to the soup. The cooled broth was skimmed on schedule. Disposal of the fat proceeded to the vegetable preparation. By the time my laundry was retrieved from the basement, the vegetables and quick cooking barley were finished cooking.

This soup was for Sunday dinner so the flavors would have time to season and bloom in the hearty broth. Little of this... a little of that, salt, pepper... something was lacking. Even with the beef broth the soup was bland. A quick call to my mother produced a possible answer. Lea & Perkins Worcestershire Sauce would enhance the beef broth. With a quick grab to the pantry shelf, a judicious tablespoon was added, but considering the amount of soup I decided that two would be better than one.
Free from the list of Saturday chores, I went off to do who remembers what for the rest of the day and most of Sunday. The soup was doing its own thing in the refrigerator. Seasonings seasoned while vegetables soaked the flavors up.
This Sunday dinner with family was the first at my first apartment. A last minute check list clicked off in my mind as I surveyed the tidy apartment. Extra toilet paper roll, special guest hand towels and soaps, flowers in vases, candles lit, table set, muffins cooling, designer salad, soup warming, and desert plates on the sideboard. All the usual stuff to do when trying to show the family how well adjusted to domestic life on your own you were.
Once the guests were made welcome and comfortable, the cheese and crackers were served with wine. Ushered to the table, my family ooo-ed and ahhh-ed over the salad presentation, so artistically arranged at first no one wanted to disturb the masterpiece of my creation. Enticed by the seasoned aroma, all were waiting on the main course as the salad was cleared. Carefully ladled into pre-warmed bowls the vegetables danced in the broth, their bright colors like evening gowns with brown velvet capes of thick broth. Small talk was hushed in anticipation as the last bowl was served. Steam rising from the deep bowls added to the peacefulness of evening as the winter chill settled on the closing day.

“Oh my God that’s hot!” “What did you .... put in this?” Various cries from flaming mouths shattered the serenity as spoons clattered to the plates. Tears rolled down faces as lunges for water glasses created havoc to the pristine table cloth. “More water... please” “This makes the Ellington Fireman’s chili taste bland!”
Sheepishly downing a third glass of water, I went to the pantry to check for the culprit. Pulling out the bottle of Worcestershire Sauce... Tabasco... Oh no I put two heaping tablespoons of Tabasco. The garbage disposal worked wondrously well after ingesting the fiery mix.
After a brief respite of nose blowing, throat clearing, eye dabbing and laughter, we proceeded directly to the desert. Apple pie Ala mode was served with an extremely generous ala mode of soothing vanilla ice cream. My name was entered in the family dietary fiasco logbook under H for Hot too Hot.

EMM 5/12/98
re 5/19/98

The Sentinel

Glowing in the corner of the front living room like a temple sentinel, my grandmother’s television watched all that went on in her home. The magic of the images that somehow appeared from the air into a large veneer box of wires, tubes, speakers and small glass screen seemed innocent to all the family. What a marvel of technology this new invention named television was that my Grammy had purchased, not everyone could afford to own one. Those that could were envied by some, while others questioned the need for such a device. What was wrong with the radio? Why was the television so special? The naysayers were possibly correct. This new technology was the object of our attention, but at what cost to the family and not monetary cost.
Instead of gathering around the kitchen table, elbow to elbow, knee to knee, with laughter circling around the perimeter while voices bubbled up from the edges like water in a tea kettle beginning to boil, we clustered in front of this object. Gathered before it like an alter, sitting in a loosely in a semi-circle of stuffed furniture, the conversation was disjointed as the lure of the image became our focus. Even the advertisements bought our attention. Sentence structure became stilted as the bombardment of images continued long into the night. The eerie glow lit the darkened room and sent odd shadows against the walls. Even during the bustle of goodnight hugs, kisses and collecting of personal belongings, the television blared out from its corner beckoning us back to its flickering images.
Eventually most of the family purchased their own TV’s. The design, size and quality changed and improved. We spent less and less time visiting with Grammy during the week or weekends. School activities increased as well as homework amounts as the grandchildren progressed through the various grade levels. Family life evolved and there was less time for family get-togethers. Favorite family stories were heard less and less as the tribe broke apart slowly. When visiting at Grammys, the familiar orb glowed and blared from its corner, playing its same old programs to less of an audience.
For a long time the summer cottage was the only respite from the challenge of television. A radio sang out the Red Sox games on Sunday afternoons, while family sat in a wide assortment of cast off chairs to listen. The younger folk were shushed out the door to play so the grown-ups could catch the play by play action. Visions from TV games fuelling their imaginations as the sport casters’ voice described the baseball game.
When I was a freshman in college, the first TV was brought in the bumpy dirt road that leads to the lake site. Carefully down two flights of stairs, the magic box was reverently carried by my uncle and my dad. The radio was moved to a place of less honor as the TV took center stage. The ladder clanged against the chimney as the antennae was hoisted into place. Directions yelled up from the main room encouraged the adjustment of the life line for the God awaiting its eager audience. Now between swims, we could watch cartoons or a movie. Instead of the sunset, we could watch flickering images of sunsets elsewhere. The grass began to fill in the bare spots in the yard as we spent more time inside. Eyes filled with unnatural light, reflections of time’s changes.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Spring surrounds me. The lime-aide colored leaves, healthy and vibrant emerge from the dead wood. Lifeless a week before the woods and fields birth the season. Returning birds fill the air with mating calls, territorial warnings, and songs welcome each sunrise.

Strength returns to me as the light increases daily, filling my soul cloaked in winter dark. All my senses soak up the minute changes. Changes perceived through sight, smell, touch and hearing. I can taste spring as I breathe in the awakening life around me. As a seven of Wands page wields his staff against six, I stand steadfast, barring any who would drive me back into despair. Six phases of my life, six sets of choices have brought me to this spring.
Three cups overturned spilling their contents onto the ground while passive handmaidens look out to the future. Three deaths in six years began with my mothers, next my sons, and now my fathers; each death different but alike. My son’s rite of passage to eternity was broken. Pulled back into this life, he struggles to renew his soul residing in his injured body and damaged mind while I look out to the future.
Reversed… I wish his brush with death could be reversed. I requested too late to skip this lesson but there is balance in turmoil. The night moon illuminates our landscape differently. The wild urge to survive is balanced by the domestic drive to have everything be neat and tidy. The primal nesting instinct, the dominant drive to protect one’s young at all cost taught me to fight, to be assertive with his needs, our needs. Moonlight on the water of our consciousness, the concentrated light passes into murky depths showing clearly which way to proceed.

As high priestess I sit enthroned weighing life’s meanings, seeking to unroll the scroll that contains the answers, attempting to put a “why” to life’s burdens. The ancient document is fragile. Unrolling the faded brittle paper might destroy any hope for understanding. So I sit calmly, nesting in the cobalt robes that drape my aging body. Cycles of time reveal glimpses of meaning, threads of light from a sliver of new moon in a star encrusted night sky.

Blindfolded enough to not see the eight two-sided swords that surround us, we make our way through each day, each month, each season reversing what has befallen us as “Fate”.
EMM 5/27/98

Family Farm

Moonlight almost as bright as day was coating the fields and woods like frosting on a layer cake. Deer worked the shadows cast by trees bordering the field wary of the occasional headlights that washed over them. Returning to their nightly business they kept watch as they looked for succulent morsels among the dried grass.
From a lofty perch in a field oak, a horned owl glided out over the bright night landscape. The air not disturbed by his flight, a silent glide, a stealth glide for hunting. Cruising over the field like a heat seeking missile the owl zoned in on its mark. The field mouse was history. The sycamore tree next to the farmhouse became a temporary all-night dinner as the owl settled in with its prey. The children often discovered owl pellets under the massive tree, reminders of success in the long hours of darkness, of the struggle between life and death, another circle completed.

Their farm life gave them insight about the true nature of life; a living ecology project that was constantly redefining itself with the onset of every season. A new list of chores to fit the current needs, a new set of learning experiences about life around them, wild or domestic, beginnings and endings.
With no close neighbors, the children had to be friends with each other. Alliances switched weekly as the family dynamics were in constant motion, reflections of the cycle of seasons that surrounded them. Constant reminders of how swiftly life changes from one minute to the next, hour by hour, day by day.

The worn path that wound its way through the pasture ending in a turnstile was an important part of their daily routine. Traversed at least once a day by some family member over the years as they trekked to the older generations adjoining farm, the path became more a dry bed of memories. The farms handed down through the family had been worked at first by draft horse then modern equipment as each generation poured their love into the earth. Every walk along the path revealed new information about the microcosm that the farms occupied. Depending on the season, the clues given to the various travelers might be revealed in the mud or snow, observations of sky, seeing of seasonal birds or animals. Living on the farm was a slower way of life but hectic in its own way.

The race to complete each season’s tasks put the whole family under the thumb more than once. The unpredictable weather to unexpected emergencies caused as much stress as any high risk job in the city. The family was attached to the land in a way that regular family could not understand. Like a developing fetus that depends on the umbilical cord attached to the placenta as its life line, so generations of this farm family needed the land to continue its life. Nothing else nurtured them as well as the ritual of the seasons. The cycle of life was spiritual to them. There was no need for a building with a spire to make them feel holy and good.

Year in year out the land was replenished. What was taken out was returned in one form or another. The family graveyard overlooked the pasture and fields. Having worked the land all their lives, the past generations continued their watch from the hill extending from beyond the grave a protection over the beloved land.

Some family members tried to break the tie, this bred in attachment to the tangible. Off they would go with a different set of dreams in their minds, but their hearts always brought them back. Not beaten by the outside life, but with a sense of relief to return to the reassuring rhythmic cycle that seemed to be in their blood and ruled out any other lifestyle. They turned their talents to expanding the operation in a new direction to suite their altered dreams to blend with the old their own energy.
Each generation passed on to the next a firm commitment to the land and to the family. Picture albums and journals denoted the family history. Generation after generation, season after season, from birth to death the lives entertained with the land.
EMM 5/19/98

Emergency Room

Wringing my hands, I sat frozen in a windowless room. Wringing my hands, they had me locked away from emergency room action: mind numb with images, emotions overloaded by the bombardment of recent events, visual recollections ricocheting around the corners of my mind. The force of thoughts slowed my body to a motionless state. Lips sealed tight against sound. Too filled with apprehension to pace, I sat glued to an arm chair of standard hospital issue. Waiting, waiting an eternity for the word trying to catch a thought, thoughts made slippery from the friction of motion.

“She’s in here” a peering face from partial open door announced to the hall. Crisply stated in my direction, “You can use the phone, bathroom is across the hall.” Mechanical rules delivered without thought. No comfort. No word. The face disappeared. The door shushed a reply.
Coiled like a viper, the phone sat ready to strike. Black, menacing, backed into a corner. Light reflections, fluorescent flickering, illuminated its round edges. The spots of light on the sleek surface drew my hand to the only object for communication. Numbers, trying to pull phone numbers to feed the uncoiled serpent cradled in my hand. Maniacal thoughts raced on, unstoppable. Thoughts set in motion creating a life of their own, perpetuating them by careening off each other: energy begetting energy.

Forcing past the whirling dervish vortex, I located a darkened section where names and phone numbers were scattered. Shaking uncontrollably, my dialing digit spasmodically jumped from number to number. Answering machine, an answering machine… A voice sobbing, I heard a voice sobbing relating the debilitating event to a machine. Totally incoherent babbling to be interpreted by whom... who did I dial? Brigitte... the goat woman... Brigitte, the pragmatic German picked up disconnecting the recording. Picking words from my gibberish, making sense enough to respond with words of courage and strength. Her familiar voice helped in pulling me back from the brink.
Amidst total chaos, another number floated to the surface. A gasping, choking voice passed over wires, electronic impulses invisible to sight, wires to wires to Eileen. I longed to be in her kitchen, a safe haven filled with seasonal scents. Idle chats enhanced by cups of Almond Sunset Tea... mundane moments of sharing. Wired to her sunny yellow kitchen, her calm soothing voice travelled to my blue fluorescent cell. A spot of sun radiating warmth; sobbing, I wait for the word.

Drawing a Blank

Drawing a blank; the immensity of the 24”X36” watercolor paper overwhelmed her today… brush poised she sat and waited for inspiration. What were the muses on vacation? Did they go south to soak up some rays instead of staying to encourage her brush? The paint dripped to the floor in slow motion… splat, splat, splat equaling the sound of the rain dripping from the eves. The grey and gloom seemed to permeate her thoughts; chilling her to the bone; and making movement impossible. How long had she sat like this before the white paper? She never kept a clock in her painting room or wore a watch. Time meant little to her but still she wondered. Thoughts traversed her mind but none stuck; none struck the nerve to send messages to her arm - to her hand to make the brush glide across the paper. The glare from the paper reflected off the windows, the water jars, her glasses. The white seemed to saturate everything around her, silence and whiteness, whiteness and silence. Time stood still. Her arm didn’t ache; it just hung in the air above the page.

The last drip descended to the floor to join the others flattened upon impact. Splattered against the white linoleum, the perfectly round epicenter of each dot was surrounded by an aurora of fine spatters. The past drips overlapped, the color lessened in intensity as they dried on the floor. Still she let her thoughts rush; she was in no hurry. She learned to wait patiently for her inspiration. Would it come? Did it matter? No phone to jangle and break the moment. The music of the rain on the roof was absorbed into the movement of her thoughts. She waited, poised, the brush dry; the paper blank. The process of creating put on hold; she closed her eyes while she stilled her breath even more; no longer counting to keep the rhythm of in and out in balance. Everything physical was ready: the paper, the brush, the easel at the correct angle, the painter’s chair the proper distance from the paper; the rinse jars and palette were within easy reach; her mind at peace with the constant bombardment of needless thought but still no direction of movement. No projected line on the paper to follow with quick sure movements.

Her husband rarely entered the studio if the door was closed. He deferred to his wife’s need to be closeted away while painting. He busied himself in the kitchen; his relaxation after his work day filled with hustle/bustle was to prepare their evening meal. The sound of his knife to cutting block matched the sound of the rain on the sky light. He didn’t notice the lack of sound or movement from the studio; the absence of lunch dishes set by the sink or lack of light beneath the door. Vivaldi filled his background as the rice cooker steamed a steady plume to the ceiling. The vegetables were all prepared to stir fry as the rice cooker flipped to warm. Still no acknowledgement of his presence from the studio, he was sure the smell of spices would seep into her inner sanctum drawing his wife out to eat. The wok oil crackled as vegetables hit the pan; within minutes the meal was completed. He was relaxed as he artfully arranged the food on the porcelain plates, chopsticks sat on their rests and sparkling water was slightly bubbling in their long stem water glasses.

He listened at her door; slowly he opened the door a crack; puzzled by the relative darkness of the room, he called her name in a whisper. Widening the gap in the door, he saw his wife engulfed in the glow from the lamp directed at a blank piece of paper. Her back was toward him but the light bounced off the page, reflected off the window turned mirror in the evening darkness. Frozen in time and space, on the floor at her feet her brush lay rigid and dry while she sat perfectly still. Panic rose in him. Calling her name softly, he eased himself into the studio. Quietly he approached his illuminated wife. Reaching out he touched her cheek with his finger tips; brushing along her chin, his receptors felt nothing but cold immobile mask. Looking into her face, he noted a glowing peacefulness, eyes wide open but without fear looked thru him to the page with a single brush stroke. Dry paint trailed into a rough heart shape. Before the brush had fallen, she had managed to create her last message to him.

Not disturbing a thing, he lifted a chair form the corner to sit in the quiet studio and admire the rough heart. Time to make calls later; he silently breathed in the love.


David the Perfect

One more glance around the room revealed candles, lighter, Waterford champagne glasses placed next to the chilling Dom Perignon as the soft firelight danced across the teakwood floors and vaulted ceiling. The Apple wood scent filling the room into the far corners was subtle sweetness. All was perfect. Fluffing the pillows and arranging the objects ‘de art one more time, he admired his romantic creation, “Better do one more sweep.”
Controlled perfection radiated from each vista he viewed. “Well that’s as good as it gets.” He smugly remarked as he glimpsed the last room.
More than picture perfect each immaculate scene was right out of Architectural Digest. The perfection of a lifeless life, a still life frozen in time before the flowers wilt or fruit begins to decay, perfect enough to make your skin crawl, a truly sick perfect.

One more trip to the bathroom to release the building tension, he gazed upon his impeccable reflection in the wall to ceiling mirrors. Snappily dressed for causal comfort, he oozed Armani confidence. Checking his teeth, he flossed imaginary gunk from his smile. The ticking Louie the 14th mantle clock kept his mind in tune with the time. Its sound resonated with his heartbeat.
“She’s late... again.” He smoothed back his hair, brushed off his broad shoulders. “Late again, even with that Rolli… She could at least look at it.”
The fire burnt low, the chill was off the champagne as he sat utterly still staring at the mahogany door. The pillows, still perfectly fluffed, remained ready but the ramrod straight figure couldn’t relax. The pristine mood had turned sullen. The twisted shadows loomed from the corners to darken his mood even more. The small ring box sat with its hinged lid open displaying a 40 carat diamond surrounded by emerald baguettes.

He would never forgive her for this. His mind that was always locked with his own importance became narrower by her exploit. Images filled his mind of her death which would be the only excuse that he would accept for her rude behavior. Maybe the car broke down, but the Mercedes XL was brand new and the cell phone the best there was on the market. Maybe there was a car accident; after all she was very unfocused. Image after image trudged through his mind all night long. The morning light found him red eyed from lack of sleep and alone.
The Mercedes hummed along headed for Vancouver. The wind whistled through the skies on the roof rack, steam rose from the Hilton’s breakfast bar coffee and the suitcases settled in the trunk from the hasty packing. The early morning light touched her diamond wedding band sending rainbows around the interior. Who would have thought she’d get hitched in a Vegas wedding chapel? Cruising along, she pictured David, the Perfect, sitting still waiting for her. He was so predictable and she had gotten what she needed from him: new Mercedes, new designer cloths, new ski instructor. David had insisted upon private lessons the only perfect way to learn how to ski. Private lessons - very private lessons that lead to this very private quick wedding and honeymoon. She couldn’t wait to tell her friends after all they had told her to dump David.

Jean Paul offered her so much more than David ever could. Even with all David’s money, especially his money, he could never buy the imperfection of love. Reaching across the seat she held her new husband’s hand as the impacted deer smashed through the windshield.
The police investigation team noted the lack of skid marks as the wrecker pulled the totaled Mercedes from the crash site. The game warden had counted 16 points on the buck’s rack. The shattered body would feed the shelter folks for a time. Meanwhile the road crew collected the scattered belongings including the “We’re on our Honeymoon” sign. The hearse heading for the morgue pulled past the crew and their small tangled heap of ruined worldly goods.

Circle of Oaks

It happened in the woods, far from the nearest dwelling. Removed from civilization proper, the forest primeval was deep, dark, silent. So remote, little human contact had been made with this section of forest. It stood untouched, sacred in stance. The eldest trees scratched the sky with tender twigs. The sunlight filtered through this ancient stand’s thick trunks and massive branches to the moss covered earth rich with centuries of leaf droppings.
She sat still, frozen in place, except for her heaving chest as she struggled to catch her breath. A faint finger of light slide through the tangle of forest canopy brushing her ebony hair barely giving form to her shade cloaked body. The forest sentinels surrounded her, their tight circle hid her from view, not that anyone was watching. She’d eluded them all, managed to find her way into this deep space. Sweat glistened on her pale skin; dark patches on her clothing disclosed her recent labor. Her ragged race was a desperate last measure to find freedom at any cost. Exertion ended, her breath gradually returned to normal. The sound of it whispered off the encircling trees, barely audible to even her. She listened, strained with her whole being to hear, dreading the possibility. When would they come?

She wished she could become invisible, disappear totally, sink into the soft earth, and become covered with a blanket of velvet moss. Her pale skin would shift to emerald green, delicate roots binding her to the soil in this new form. She wished she could slide into a tree, become immersed in the sturdy structure. Weren’t the Druids able to do that? Become so still that they could turn their cells to match the ancient wood, blend with ease into the heart of the oak.
Would they send the hounds racing ahead of them? The baying would echo back to the trackers leading them forward to their catch. Would they wait? Wait until she gave up, came crawling back to them out of this circle of oak. Their punishments from lesser crimes marked her tender limbs. They had warned her. She recalled tales told of her predecessors, sisters by the havoc wrecked upon them. Either way, her life had been made hell by them from day one. Any transgression no matter how small was dealt with immediately and cruelly.
No sound. Still pushing her entire body to the act of hearing, she heard nothing. Her exhausted body bruised and beaten, twitched uncontrollably in the dark shadows. The muscles strained to the limits from flight now renounced the lack of movement. The bark felt comforting against her back, she leaned forcing her trembling body to relax. She forced her mind to surrender to the silence, the peace, the comfort of the forest womb.
The faint light shifted, small breaks in the forest canopy trickled the light from her head to her chest. The sun was moving across the sky. How long had she been here? Leaves moved overhead, ruffled by a lofty soft breeze. She focused her sight onto her body, her breathing steady and deep. So dark, the gnarled oak’s roots seemed the same texture as her legs. She tried to move, to gently brush away a pesky black fly. No movement came from her stiffened limbs, her eyes flitted from side to side, and the bark encompassed her. A sigh as quiet as the sound of mosquito’s wings escaped her enclosed contour.

The yelping dogs moved toward her in the distance. Muted by bark, she relaxed deeply, melding with the ancient spirit of the massive oak. Safe at last, safe from constant fear, safe from their retribution, she was indistinguishable from the tree’s trunk. Peace enveloped her as the rough textured surface became her own.

The searchers lingered by the base of the tree puzzled by the distorted trunk. They had rarely ventured into this forest, its lack of light and steep terrain made it forbidding. The dogs kept working the area, pausing again and again by the disfigured trunk. The men focused their bright torch lights onto the forest floor since the flaming lights hardly penetrated the depths of the old forest. A reflection off of smooth metal radiated from the moss. Stooping the leader picked up the wedding band. “She’s been here. We’re closing in on her.” Holding his prize in his palm, he looked at the other men. “She can’t be far”.
The dogs milled around uneasily. Sniffing at the bark, making odd sounds, they refused to go further. The men fanned out into the surrounding area while the dogs curled up against the oak’s trunk.

Returning empty handed, the frustrated men took it out on the dogs. Yelling at them to go on, they waved a sweater with her scent on it under the hound’s noses. The dogs scratched at the bark, ripping their pads on the rough texture. Curses resounded and became absorbed by the sentinel trees. Leashes were snapped into place on the collars of the reluctant dogs that were then dragged from their worried site. The last curses faded, as men and cowed dogs retreated. Silence returned to the oaken circle as light beams moved across the trampled moss.

EMM 10/22/98

Rose Garden Cat

The cat slunk between the shrubs. Low to the ground and keeping his body small, his movements were calculated and precise. His ears pricked forward as the sound reached his new position. Pausing he listened intently. Not recognizing its source, he continued to move cautiously. By the rock stairs he stopped beneath the wooden bench. Tucked himself into the shadow and waited. Old enough to know not to run directly into the unknown especially at night, he sniffed the air. Licking a front paw, he brushed his face clean. Working over his ears to his whiskers, he froze as the sound washed over him again.

He knew his territory well which included the places to avoid at what time during the day. He especially knew to avoid the children before and after school. He had learned quickly through pain of thrown objects directed at him by the boys. It was always a temptation to visit the garbage dumpster for a quick bite after the children’s’ lunch. Sometimes the cook’s assistant left him a special treat. He was wary of most people and kept to himself most of the time. At least there was a leash law and he felt safe from the dogs in the area. As a matter of safety, he knew where climbable trees were just in case.

Time to decide whether to find the cause of the noise; he knew he was close to it but it didn’t seem to be coming as regularly as before. The night was moonless and provided him with plenty of cover so he wasn’t concerned with his own peril as long as he kept to the shadows. Thankful for his dark coat, he eased from under the bench through a whole in the shrub fence that sheltered this public park garden. This was the part of the garden with sharp thorns on the plants. The summer night was thick with the scent from the low hanging flowers. One section of earth was freshly disturbed. The dampness of the soil filled his nose as he skirted the rectangle of soft dirt; there was also another familiar odor. He retreated to the overhanging Hosta leaves at the end of the bed that wrapped around the trellis bench. Before he even settled on his haunches, the muffled sound arose from almost in front of his feet. Temporally backing further under the large oval leaves he watched the soil move. His nose discerned many fresh smells but among them stood out the smell of the cook’s assistant. He had smelt her scent on the food dish she smuggled to him at the school. Why did he smell it here among the rose beds?

The rose bushes in this recently turned plot were wilted and limp. The soft earth was easy to move aside. Although dogs were much better diggers, he knew he had to dig deeper than his normal toilet needs dictated. Working the freshly turned soil, he scattered the dirt from where the last movement had cracked the soil. Rapidly his white paws threw soft clumps into the air two feet behind him. His back feet sank into the garden with the effort of his front paws. Closing in on the sound, he was getting nearer to something hard; the woman’s scent was encompassed in the soil.

His paws exposed part of her face; she tried to move her head but the dirt collapsed into the small hole he had created. He shifted his position and began again. Between digging furiously he would sit and peer down. Slowly he exposed part of her face enough so that she could turn from side to side. The duct tape was not sticking to her skin. The rose garden’s moisture helped insure its release. The cat sat beside her the rest of the night.

The city park gardener’s frantic call to 911 on his cell phone momentarily confused the dispatch operator. The poor man kept yelling about finding a cat sitting next to a buried body in the rose garden. The cat backed under the Hosta plants to watch as the gardener wildly yanked the wilted rose bushes aside, pulled away dirt and mulch to reveal more of the woman’s bound body. Sirens wailed as police and medics arrived within minutes of his call; police yellow crime scene tape draped the scene. The crime investigation team began photographing, collecting evidence and making notes to solve the crime of who had attempted to bury the cook’s assistant alive in the city park rose bed.


Finance - Buget

I felt the shift a day before they called. However slight, I knew change was coming. So when offered the job, I took it but I need more money. Sticking the last check into the electric bill envelope, I licked the glue sealing it shut. Glancing at the checkbook balance, I repeated my statement this time aloud. I need more money. How much less could we go without? OK I could cancel cable but John watches TV all the time; he is totally hooked on it. The mind numbing rays sucked dry my ambition, left us lumps, immovable forms every evening until bedtime. That would free up about fifty dollars to stop cable but then the Internet was part of that; a combo deal with a supposed reduced rate. I needed to start paying more on the mortgage principle. It surely wasn’t going to go away by itself. Every month I saw nothing but interest being paid the principle remained static. Immovable, John and I after a long night of TV had become fixtures on the couch just blanking out our lives with an endless array of television pulp.

Maybe it would be good to release cable from our nightly routine. We used to play games for hours although Monopoly and clue are so much better with four players not two. I refuse to play checkers. My cousins always beat me at checkers when I was growing up so I see no point in repeating that habit as an adult. No one likes to loose over and over again especially with the addition of taunts. Kismet is like fate; some games you roll all the dice you need. Other games nothing comes up and the scores are below a hundred. Roll the dice; roll the dice; roll the dice; three tries at achieving the wining combination. Roll the dice and fill in a square. Maybe on the days when the rolls of dice all come in high; combine to fill in all the different Kismet sets, I should rush out and buy a lottery ticket. The roll of the dice luck might run with the lottery too.

Who am I kidding; I don’t mind spending a dollar here or there but it would take a miracle to win at fate. I forgot what the odds are; staggering to say the least. So many people get hooked on the temptation of a lucky win. Would it het old having all that money? Would it cause more problems to have to deal with fortune instead of pinching every penny twice to try to make ends meet? My budget is so tight that a meal out throws off the grocery provision. Renting a movie or going out to an actual first run is nonexistent for us. My son and I are good at being non-consumers. Goodwill is a great place to check when in need of clothing or odd items. Rarely do I look at all those glossy flyers from the large chain stores. People have been so programmed to purchase new and current fads and everyone seems to have a long list of haves let alone impulse purchases. What was extra is now considered a need. What do I need? Do I really need more money? I hate owing the mortgage. If I had not been burdened with that, I would not feel the pressure for money. I could get by just fine on what I earn. I bet I could even save a couple hundred dollars each month but there is the “M” word. Setting me square on my back weighing me down causing me worry of how will make ends meet each month without touching my savings or stocks. Oh yes, I inherited stocks. Something at least for retirement… right. No plans for that at all. Not with the big “M” sitting on me; thirty years, well now 28. Two years will have passed since the purchase in August. Repair list is growing but it will have to wait. Thankful for the benefits, I will have to wait patiently for a position with higher salary. The health benefits were a serious need. Now swimming back upstream with health fairly intact, I think maybe its time to find a second job on the weekends. Do I really want a second job? Falls back on the cable bill doesn’t it; $80 more a month. $80 could pay fifty to the principle of mortgage. Could go to one movie every other week or at least rent four once in awhile. The eternal problem of making survival possible: to provide shelter, food, and creature comfort. All depends on one’s perspective. What is creature comfort to one is unacceptable to someone else. Thanks to the Universe then, thanks for what I have…. Besides getting rid of cable, I need to say – thanks for what I have; put it in perspective… basic creature comforts & shelter.


As I transcribe this eight years later, I did refinance but lost this head start job in May 02… a year and one half on unemployment and no job!!!! went through all my stocks partly because there were two big stock crashes and now in 09 it’s a big recession… we are barely paying bills, use the food bank, house is falling apart… and health – back on thyroid meds and had a hysterectomy.

4 o'clock rituals

Gurgles. Chugs and gurgles in rhythmic patterns announced the afternoon ritual. At precisely quarter to four, the coffee pot began to beat out the time in splunks and glugs. The car door slamming at four o’clock and measured footfalls on the pea stone driveway coincided with the coffeepots final burst. The kitchen scene was set with The Hartford Courant in place, the grey Formica table cleared, and the coffee poured into a mug. Year in year out with few variations, the lunch pail was placed on the sink counter, thermos rinsed, milk added to the steaming mug and with a quick peck on Mom’s cheek Dad would turn to sit down. Silence - Newspaper pages turned, coffee swallowed, and supper prepared quietly through this wind down time.
Caffeine released into a tired body soon brought him back from his work experience. Complaints would spill out, filling the air with punctuations until the available sounding boards had absorbed the trials of his day. Maniacal supervisor, Murphy’s Law in action, or the unbelievable routines of the goof-off crew which included the waste of expensive material tumbled out until the stream ran dry.
Supper was served with small talk about day’s events or idle chatter about friends and family while the television droned out the news from its corner in the living room. A monotone with splashes of commercial volume, neither conversation nor television background was too heavy. Indigestion was to be avoided. Once the meal was eaten, the table was cleared. A shared chore as each of us piled the remains onto the drain board. Unlike other households where the dish washing fell to our friend’s chore list, my brother and I were free to begin homework or catch a TV program.
Gazing out the kitchen window over the double enamel sink, Mom and Dad did the dishes. Every night, side by side with elbows bumping, Dad sloshed the sudsy hot water in the deep white sink washing more than the dishes. Periodically he stopped to spray soap residue away, while Mom dried and put everything away. The quiet murmur of conversation drifted into the living room during lulls in the programming. Summer breezes through winter sleet, they washed and gazed together.
The pendulum electric clock buzzed from its perch on the wall. Black metal hands moving time forward as daily rituals began and ended. Late night cups of dark tea consumed while forearms supported weary bodies that leaned into the grey table surface. The table’s chromed legs dulled by wear met glossy polished green linoleum. A few perfect triangles marred the surface from the iron leaping from the rickety ironing board during morning ironing sessions. The tea bag toss with Mom’s load protest splattered gravity defying droplets of tea upward toward the sink window. Midnight found Mom sitting at the table with a warm cup of milk and a Sear’s catalog to slow down her revved up mind. Endless games of solitaire or twenty-one illuminated by the domed ceiling light whiled away winter nights.
In summer with shades pulled to create the illusion of coolness in the half light, sweat ran in rivulets as Mom and I peeled blanched tomatoes before cramming them into sterilized mason jars. The cellar door was left ajar to omit its cooling dampness. The aroma of Bread & Butter Pickles clung to us, the cheap perfume of summer pickling. Dad, Mom and I chopped, sliced and diced bushels of our gardens riches, corn, green and yellow beans, eggplant and peppers. Canning shelves were weighed down by summer’s end with jellies, jams, pickles, canned tomatoes and relish. The freezer full to capacity with summer’s frozen produce.
Life revolved around this 15 by 15 foot space. Our kitchen, unimaginative and under equipped by today’s standards, functioned as an all purpose room for ironing, meal preparation and consuming, bill paying, homework center and more throughout each day and night. The sunny yellow walls, stenciled cabinets, gingham curtains, chrome coffee pot, white enamel electric stove and refrigerator were witness to our families ups and downs. Emotions bounced off the semi-gloss walls and echoed up the stairway. Listening from my bedroom door through the years, the fights my parents had over and with my brother crawled up the stairs to greet me.
My brother, older by five years, preceded me through school. I looked up to him when I was really little despite the “big boy” tricks that were played on me by him and his friends. Their two favorites were running off to leave me alone in the woods or making me test their skill at bridge construction. Crying, I’d stumble home let down by my big brother again. In winter, bloody noses from ice covered snowballs with rocks inside were my bane.
Trouble attracted my brother like a magnet. Whatever his friends or even our cousins suggested to him, he would do. Blame or a guilty sentence was not a burden to either group. All fingers pointed unwavering to my brother, the scapegoat. Escalated from his youth through his teens and beyond, his crimes were not drastic by today’s standards. His petty offenses and misbehavior plagued my parents. I grew more aware during my elementary school years especially with comments from teachers in September of “Oh, your Albert’s sister”. It was the tone of their voice that hurt me; they expected the worst from the onset. More writing on the walls or drawing on the playground with discarded stolen chalk from a waste basket. The weight of remarks as well as my brother’s behavior was too much for my little frame to move out of the way or sidestep around. This shadow loomed over me constantly. My unspoken goal was not to cause my parents or teachers any problems. This no problem and good behavior strategy made me almost invisible as I minced my way through each year but his troubles increased.Information on my brother’s activities came through my friends. Scrubbing away at the dishes, my parents tried to clean up the problem. Active in the Masonic Lodge and Eastern Star, their thorn was visible to everyone. Their problem solving discussions did not include me. Tears, frustration and anger exploded around and at my brother. Unscathed his journey continued. My burden increased.
I became a comedian; a ready quip or a bit of wit to carry me over the rough spots. Hiding behind a smile, I could make my parents or others laugh. This clown just might get them to forget who I was related to.