Thursday, October 20, 2016

Apple of my Eye

     Lily asked for an apple party for her sixth birthday. I was giddy with excitement at the thought of crab apple garland and hollowed-out apple tea lights and homemade apple cider and gorgeous apple tarts. None of which ended up materializing. In fact, the party ended up kind of summing up my life in no uncertain terms. Plenty of good intentions, very little follow-through. I even went out and gathered a bag full of wild apples, made sure we had tea lights and all the mulling spices. Had a tart pan and everything.  Still, somehow, like every other party I've ever thrown in my entire life, it was a rush to the end just to make the place presentable and pretend like yeah, we always have our bookshelf dusted, are you kidding me? And no, I didn't just clean the gunk off the bottom of the windowsill, it's always like that. 
     The next day at church a friend asked how the party went and I told her my cake turned out poorly and Lily heard me. ''Mama, bola to vyborna,'' (Mama, it was excellent) she said, looking almost a little hurt. And just like that my world refocused. I had had a breakdown after the party due to feelings of failure and inadequacy, and Tomáš chastised me a little bit, ''Why-y-y-y do you try to please [people]? It's like trying to stay dry in the rain. It is impossible. You come in from the rain and you're upset that your shoes are wet.'' And of course he was right. Again. And the truth is, it was actually a really nice party. The girls had a ball. Lily ate enough cheese to keep her bound up for a week, but she was happy. Really happy. And this, this is going to be my focus. I have another chance in three weeks to get it right. Rosy's fourth birthday party. There is a phrase in slovak, kašli na to, which means literally ''cough on it.'' It means something like don't worry about it, or more closely don't care about it.  And this is going to be my goal. Not to not care, but to care about the right things. Because the price of caring about the wrong things is far too high. I recall again the great words of my friend Ad'a who once said of her mom, ''I would rather have a roll and a glass of wine in peace on Christmas than 100 kinds of cookies and a stressed-out mom.'' And it's so true. For as the balloon says (below) You are the apple of my eye. My love bug. 

Gotta love the two photographer shots. 

Friday, October 14, 2016


At 3:50 this morning, this little muffin turned six years old. It couldn't have come fast enough for her, but I could have done with some slow-down. Don't grow up too fast, little one. Keep dancing your way through life.

I made her leggings out of a sweater I liked but never wore. My elbow patches = her knee patches. It looks much better on her : ) 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Come, Fall: Pumpkin Cookies

In my extended family, pumpkin cookies have a long and glorious tradition. Perhaps this is true for many families. But I dare say no one does pumpkin cookies quite like us. I admit I was a little bit excited to go to the candy aisle and pick out bags and boxes of artificial colors and flavors with abandon, which is not (any longer) my habit. Excited, that is, until I saw the price tags. In Slovakia, unlike the U.S., brightly colored bags of HFCS goodies are still not the norm, people typically satisfy their sweet tooths with homemade koláče made with walnuts, poppy seed paste or fruit. I don't know if those M&Ms were shipped priority from the U.S. or what but I almost fell over when I saw the price, so I made due with one tiny box of the far-inferior Lentilky, and cheered myself up with two tiny bags of real Skittles.
Still, my family are novices when it comes to the art of pumpkin cookie decoration. I was reminded of this when we Skyped with my mom this last weekend and she showed us some pictures from pumpkin cookie past. Let's just say Obama made an appearance. In fact, with my brother and cousins it was usually an all-star lineup on our kitchen table. Yes, our girls have a long way to go before we see any Donald Trumps on their plates (who would eat that anyway?!), and I trust better candy will help with that, but they still had a ball. And it definitely scratched an autumn itch for me (ew).

Forget about making faces, Rosy just tried to fit as much candy as was humanly possible on hers. 

Even Tomáš got in on the fun with his...
...sad clown cookie. 

What are your autumn traditions?

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Story-a-day - Day Thirty Nine

This post is part of a series of short stories and poems.

Day Thirty Nine

Well, I did it. This morning, a day before my 40th birthday, I shipped off my book to be published. Ok, ok maybe that's embellishing a little. I just wrote a children's book and created it on a photo book website, but still! It's in the works and I am so excited! And how funny that this post came on day thirty nine of my story-a-day series! So, in lieu of a story (because allllll of my time has been poured into this) here is one more little taste. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Story-a-day - Day Thirty Eight

This post is part of a series of short stories and poems.

Day Thirty eight

A peek at my book...

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Story-a-day - Day Thirty Seven

This post is part of a series of short stories and poems.

Day Thirty Seven 

On Saturday we climbed a mountain with our close, dear friends
You’ll never guess just how this lovely fairytale ends
Now let me say the weather was the best it’s been in months
I did not turn down anything they offered me, not once
That means I ate black currant cake and beer and ice cream too
Fresh snap peas from the garden, bacon, what’s a girl to do?
And then the coffee, bread and veggies with my bacon lunch
Let’s not forget the wild strawberries on the hike I munched!
Now there were games and goats and sheep and a horse named Skarlet
But it was Balthazar who proved he was the worthy pet
A mouse and then a bird breathed their last breath on this dear earth
The bird he could have left, but with that mouse he proved his worth
Now I could have gone three more days without eating one thing
But when we got home I just had to have one more big fling
I downed a candy bar, and I just shoved it down the trap
And soon thereafter all I could think was why did I do that?
And with a bucket next to me, I went to bed, my friends
And that, dear ones, is how this lovely fairytale ends

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Story-a-day - Day Thirty Six

This post is part of a series of short stories and poems.

Day Thirty Six

Fathers Day Edition

Probably my favorite stories of my dad happened two summers ago when I went to Montana with our girls. The first time he met them, he gave them some clothes he had found in a to-give-away box and a stuffed Mickey Mouse who’s dressed like a diver. Whenever the girls wear the clothes we ask them, ‘’do you know who gave this to you?’’ And they know. Lily sleeps with the Mickey every night. My dad brought gluten-free cookies to our meeting, which just blessed me so much. I sat on a picnic table by the river and watched as the girls explored and my dad followed them and held their hands. Another time he met us at a school close to my mom’s house and brought lunch. Sandwiches and chips and strawberry and chocolate milk. Oh, the flavors I hadn’t tasted since childhood. Lily loved the sweet milks. He pushed them on the swings and followed them around the playground equipment. Then we went with him to WalMart and he tried on sunglasses with the girls and introduced them to the one thing that became the talk of our trip. Drinking fountains. They don’t exist in Slovakia and Lily was in awe. I mean, try to imagine when you used a drinking fountain for the first time. You were pretty excited, weren’t you? As it splashed your nose and spilled down your shirt a little. Anyhow, ever since then we have been skyping with my dad and younger brother, Cody, on the regular. Sometimes they play guitar for us. Sometimes Tomáš joins in. It makes me really happy when he does. It reminds me of another special memory, when Tomáš asked for my dad’s blessing to marry me. This is not tradition in Slovakia and he was nervous. My dad played guitar and sang  a song as Tomáš and I sat and listened at my grandma and grandpa’s table. Seeing my fiancée value my dad like that (the first time he met him) was so precious to me and I will never forget it. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Story-a-day - Day Thirty Five

This post is part of a series of short stories and poems.

Day Thirty Five

When I look at you, sometimes I feel as though my heart could burst from love for you, from pride. From your beauty and cuteness. You are the most confounding little bundle of mischief, a button-pusher extraordinaire. You smash through boundaries your sister tiptoes around. You break rules. You are a force to be reckoned with. A hurricane.  A great wind, with her possibility for damage and simultaneous quiet power. You will not be duped. You look straight through people. Perceptive to the core. Quiet. Watchful. Restrained. What will come of you, Little One? May your powers be used for good. May we lead and guide you and hone that raw steel into a beautiful sword. Not one that hurts, but one that divides soul and spirit. Your eyes hold secrets. You are loyal to the end. Great mysteries are wrapped up inside you, little Rosy. You have the fight in you. May I never strip that from you, but celebrate it. People love you from the outset. You possess a je ne sais quoi. You are captivating. I am lucky to know you. You delight in mischief. Your joy bubbles over in your laughter. Your skin is magic. You are quick as a whip, and funny. Really funny. Never lose your curiosity, it is a gift. What will come of you, Little One?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Story-a-day - Day Thirty Four

This post is part of a series of short stories and poems.

Day Thirty Four

When I look at you, you are already too far away from me for my liking. You grew so tall so fast, it made my already-too-short time with you feel like it was on fast-forward. Likewise with your abilities. So quick to learn everything, your life felt sped-up. But when I look at you now, tall and graceful like a ballerina, beautiful like a lily, every once in a while I catch a moment where it feels like life slows down and I get to just watch you. Dance across a room or sway gently in a soft slow breeze. A film in slow motion. And I hold my breath because I want to capture it all and hold it close and dear because I know in an instant it will be gone again. And you will ride away on your scooter and join all the big kids without so much as a glance over your shoulder because you are fearless. And I will try to grasp you by the back of your shirt and you will slip through my fingers like all good things in life because you are fleeting. A vapor. And I just love you so damn much I ache with the pain of it. But when you smile that one smile, the one just for me, when you hear something you know I think is funny, and your eyes are blazing sapphires, I could live in that look forever. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Story-a-day - Day Thirty Three

This post is part of a series of short stories and poems.

Day Thirty Three

May stepped carefully out of her car, trying to at least somewhat avoid the puddles that were everywhere. She popped open her red and white polka-dot umbrella and quickly locked her car. She clutched her purse to her chest and ran into work. She just needed to talk to her boss about something and it happened to be in the midst of a downpour. She ran as best she could, but there was no avoiding the puddles or the rain itself. In about 25 seconds’ time she got completely soaked. Well, the top of her head was dry. She knocked on her boss’ door and with a shocked look on her face, she stood up to come talk to her in the hallway. May smiled, ‘’yeah, I know.’’ Her boss smiled too. She asked her about switching some shifts so she could go visit some friends in a neighboring town. Her boss had no problem with that, so as quickly as she had come she was gone. She opened her umbrella and readied herself to get soaked to the skin, but when she stepped outside it was barely dripping and the sun was blaring through a break in the clouds. The air smelled strongly of roses and peonies and she just stood there. The hot sun on her wet clothes felt so amazing and that perfume was too beautiful to even believe. She breathed deeply. She closed her eyes and turned her face upward as she listened to the songbirds sing their sweet songs.  

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Story-a-day - Day Thirty Two

This post is part of a series of short stories and poems.

Day Thirty Two

Cauliflower, cauliflower
Lost my head with you
You caul-ed my name
I quickly came
Now what am I to do?
I should be steamed
At what you’ve done
My stomach is upset
You crucifer, it’s just no fun
To live with the floret

Monday, June 13, 2016

Story-a-day - Day Thirty One

This post is part of a series of short stories and poems.

Day Thirty One

A True Story

When I was eighteen I got into a car accident. A teenage boy didn’t give me the right-of-way and turned left right in front of me while I went through a green light and I smashed into the back rear side of his car. Thanks to my trusty 1966 Volvo station wagon I was mostly unharmed. A police officer told me later that if it wasn’t for my Volvo I could have died. It was a surreal moment, the traffic light was at the peak of a hill, and as I came up the hill and as the boy turned in front of me, I remember screaming ‘’No! No! No!’’ three times before impact. Then I remember my gum had hard chunks in it. I later realized they were my teeth. I took the gum out and put it on my steering wheel. My friend Josh just happened to drive by and saw my very recognizable car, so he stopped to make sure I was ok. My mom told me to go to the E.R. just to make sure I wasn’t injured. As the doctor did the exam he asked where I worked. ‘’I’m currently unemployed.’’ ‘’What’s your favorite animal?’’ ‘’Dog.’’ ‘’I’ve got seventy of them, do you want a job?’’
And that’s how my one-year career as a dog-musher-helper-slash-nanny-if-you-can-really-call-it-that-when-the-boys-did-their-own-laundry-and-usually-made-their-own-meals began. The truth is, I became a member of a family of mushers and had the privilege of helping them with the dogs and even travelling to Anchorage, Alaska to see their oldest son finish the Iditarod, one of many, many times the family would collectively compete in the longest dog sledding race in the world. And there are plenty of stories to be told about this alone. But that’s not the reason I’m writing today. Today I was reminded of a young man named Mike who was working for this family when I joined them. He was from New York and was a true adrenaline junkie. And at the end of a long day of mushing, he would come to the family kitchen and cook a meal and tell us stories of his adventures. Mushing was one of them for him. He had left New York to get away from it all and found happiness in the quiet little town of Seeley Lake, Montana. And it is one of his wild stories I want to share with you today.

Picture it. Pamplona, Spain. Early 90s. A young man, full of recklessness and a thirst for the ultimate rush decides to take part in the famous Running of the Bulls. He told the story something like this. They released the runners and released the bulls and he was doing pretty good for quite a while. Doing pretty good at not getting trampled or killed. And he rounded a corner and turned to look over one shoulder at one bull that had gotten close and in so doing didn’t notice the other one on the other side of him who put his head down and essentially scooped him up with his horns by the small of his back. He threw Mike, who was wiry and short, probably about 145 pounds, up and over the back of himself. He was gored. He went to the hospital and a nurse was working on stitching him up, but, as he told it, was working too slowly for him so he used what little Spanish he knew to basically say ‘’gimme that!’’ and stitched himself up. Sounds too fantastic to be true, right? I know. But you don’t know Mike. I wouldn’t have believed it either if I didn’t see the huge scar with my own eyes, and hear many other too-fantastic-not-to-be-true stories.   

Story-a-day - Day Thirty

This post is part of a series of short stories and poems.

Day Thirty

A True Story

''Rosy, go get dressed, it's time for church.'' 
''I don't wanna wear that.'' 
''Why not?'' 
''I don't like it.'' 
''It's adorable.'' 
''Well what do you want to wear.''
''I want to wear tights.''
''It's hot out.''
''No it's not.''
''Yes it is.''
(Insert LOTS more arguing here)
''Fine, wear the tights, but you're going to be hot.''
''No I'm not.'' 
''But you're wearing this dress.''
''No, I wanna wear this one.'' (ugly {in my opinion} brown, worn-out, hand-me-down dress)
''Oh my word, FINE! But you're wearing your new sandals.''
''Why not?''
''They're too tiiiiight.''
''No, they're not. You've never worn them, how do you know? And besides, when they're too tight, you just loosen them. That's the whole point of having these kinds of sandals.''
(Tomáš steps in) ''Just let it go, it's not worth it.'' 

**** Later ****
''Rosy get dressed.''

(Here's all she refused):
She refused (and, no doubt will refuse all summer) to wear shorts. Even when I try to bargain with legging-shorts because she LIVES for leggings. No go.
She would not wear the adorable dress I picked out. She insisted on a t-shirt.
When I gave her a t-shirt, she cried that the shoulders were too tight going on.
Again she refused the sandals in favor of hopelessly beat-up tennis shoes and socks (remember, it's hot).

After going to their Babka and Dedko's house we went to a housewarming of our friends.
(Realizing it had been a long time since she'd peed)
''Rosy, come go piddle.''
''YES! You can't just not piddle.''
(Finally reluctantly goes with me)
(I realize she's wet her pants)
''Noooo, I'm not going in that toilet.''
''What? Why?''
''Because it's blue.''
(We've run into this before).
''Ok, look. I'll take the bowl cleaner out.''
(I flush the toilet)
''No, it's still blue.''
(She flushes again, I look in toilet and realize the minerals at the bottom of the bowl are stained blue).
(Insert copious numbers of explanations) No go.
(I Call Tomáš in for backup)
''Rosy, you have to go. You can't hold it. Do you want to go in the tub? I'll hold you and we'll dry you off just like at home.'' No go.
''Ok fine. Let her hold it.'' (Beyond frustrated and angry)
(I let her pee in the grass outside, she has zero problem with this).

(Lots and lots of tears and frustration at home while trying to get her into bed. I frustratedly shove her pajamas on while she criiiiiiiies that she doesn't want those pajama pants. I shove them on anyway. I go into Lily's room to calm down and lay with her a while. A short time later the door opens and Rosy comes in with different pajama pants on and she waves the other ones at me, ''where should I put theeeeeese?'' she asks. (my head almost explodes). You may believe that was an innocent gesture, but if you heard the way she asked it, she knew EXACTLY what she was doing. And with that I coined a new phrase. Not hard-headed but titanium-headed.

Our Rosy.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Story-a-day - Day Twenty Nine

This post is part of a series of short stories and poems.

Day Twenty Nine

My nose is a leaky old faucet
'Cause it lives on the verge of a drip
And if given the choice I would toss it
Put a new one above my top lip
And my eyes are a puddle just waiting
To spill down my cheeks on my shirt
Tell whoever is cutting their gosh-darn spring grass
That on them I'll be putting the hurt
But I must say the worst is the sneezing
'Cause it taunts and teases, it's true
And more often than not you are holding back snot
While you hope that the sneeze gods grant your ACHOO!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Story-a-day - Day Twenty Eight

This post is part of a series of short stories and poems.

Day Twenty Eight

I’m regretting that run
For I know it was one
That I should not have taken so far
And when given the choice
I will raise up my voice
And say thanks I am taking my car

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Story-a-day - Day Twenty Seven

This post is part of a series of short stories and poems.

Day Twenty Seven

There once was a young girl named Lily
She liked to wear things that were frilly
She danced and she drew
Preferred flip-flop to shoe
And objected when Mom called her silly

There once was a young girl named Rosy
Loved to snuggle up all warm and cozy
Her objective was fun
Her laugh second to none
But her sister would say that she’s nosy

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Story-a-day - Day Twenty Six

This post is part of a series of short stories and poems.

Day Twenty Six

Renata Billingston was going on her first cruise. She believed that true happiness lay behind the doors of that ship. She’d dreamed of going on one since she was a teenager and finally she was getting her chance. She’d worked double shifts at J-Mart for months to pay for this expenditure and cajoled her friend LeAnn (from J-Mart) into going with her. It was kind of a birthday present to herself, she told people, since she was turning 30 this month. She and LeAnn had shopped for cruise outfits together and were both hoping to catch the eye of some eligible suitors while aboard. They got their nails done ahead of time, LeAnn’s with dolphins, Renata’s with life preservers. LeAnn got a perm and Renata got her hair frosted. They packed a lot of perfume and a lot of hairspray and they were ready to party!
They stood in line at the bottom of the ramp and gazed up at the enormous vessel. It was impressive by anyone’s standards. Both girls were giddy with excitement. The line started to move. They dug out their tickets and turned toward the door. LeAnn looked around, ‘’aren’t there an awful lot of old folks here?’’ Renata turned and looked, ‘’of course there will be old folks, there are people of all ages.’’ ‘’Yeah, but I don’t see any other ages.’’ Both girls scoured the crowd. They were the youngest ones there by far. ‘’Ummm,’’ LeAnn said loudly. Renata got frantic. It was true. There couldn’t have been a single person there under 60. Or 70. ‘’Where on earth did you book this thing?’’ LeAnn asked. ‘’I just searched cheap cruises and this one came up.’’ ‘’Didn’t you read the fine print? No, wait. Didn’t you read the extra-large print? Surely it was written there somewhere.’’ ‘’Maybe we can still get our money back,’’ said Renata. ‘’No way. These things are always no-refund.’’ The girls shuffled up the ramp towards the door. When they reached the front, a chipper old man reached for their tickets. ‘’Welcome aboard The Old Grey Wave. Say, aren’t you two a bit young for this one?’’ ‘’Um. Yes,’’ LeAnn said curtly. ‘’Well, never mind. As long as you can cut a proper rug, we’ll keep ya.’’ LeAnn scoffed. ‘’Just don’t be surprised if ya can’t keep up with us,’’ he beamed. Full-on denture grin. Renata laughed nervously. ‘’Well come along now, lots of folks behind you.’’ The girls checked their room number and looked around for signs. ‘’This way,’’ Renata pointed. LeAnn grumbled behind her. They got on an elevator and LeAnn exhaled with great annoyance. ‘’Look, can we agree to just try and make the best of it?’’ Renata pleaded. ‘’Easy for you to say, it was your mistake.’’ ‘’Yes, I know, but…’’ she trailed off. The doors opened with a quiet ding and LeAnn rushed out and stormed down the long hall to their room. They started fiddling with the key and after several tries the door opened with a young man standing in the doorway. ‘’What the?’’ asked Renata. ‘’Wrong room,’’ he stated. Both girls got starry-eyed. ‘’Hello,’’ LeAnn said with a very sudden change of mood. He took her ticket. ‘’Let’s see, 32D is down the hall on the right. This is 32E.’’ ‘’Oh thank you,’’ Renata exaggerated. He just nodded and closed the door. They hurried inside their room, not even noticing how tiny it was. LeAnn flopped down on a bed. ‘’Someone’s mood has improved.’’ LeAnn smiled a devilish grin. ‘’Let’s go get something to eat,’’ she said. ‘’Ok,’’ said Renata, ’’let’s freshen up first.’’ ‘’Of course!’’ And just like that, the girls were back in their pre-party, dress-for-success, teased bangs and lungs-full of Aquanet giddy mood.
They headed down to the dining area, or to be more accurate, the feeding trough. Rows and rows and rows and rows of food. All for the taking. Fried everything. And a serve-yourself ice cream machine. Or twelve. The girls took a plate and piled it high. They both secretly scanned the room for the young man. ‘’May we sit here?’’ asked a smiley couple. LeAnn looked at Renata. ‘’Why sure you can,’’ said Renata. ‘’I’m Fred, and this is my wife Barbara.’’ ‘’Nice to meet you,’’ said Renata. ‘’Well, you girls are awfully young for this kind of get-up, are you not?’’ ‘’That’s what they keep telling us,’’ LeAnn said through gritted teeth. ‘’Nice to have a little youth around for a change, though. Gets a little depressing bein’ around all these old folks all the time.’’ ‘’Ohhh, I don’t know. Is it really that bad?’’ Renata asked, eyeing LeAnn. ‘’At least the food’s good,’’ Barbara smiled, with impossibly tiny portions spread out all over her plate. ‘’I don’t know who they think they’re feeding here, but we don’t eat much.’’ Renata looked down at her glut-fest. ‘’Yeah.’’ ‘’Do you ladies want to play some shuffleboard later?’’ Fred asked. ‘’Sounds tempting, Fred, but we’re gonna work on our tan,’’ LeAnn cut in. ‘’Well all right, then. We’ll be on the upper deck after dinner if you change your minds.’’ ‘’Thanks,’’ Renata smiled. LeAnn plowed through her plate. ‘’We’re gonna go get a drink, see ya,’’ she told Fred and Barbara. ‘’Oh. Ok,’’ Renata stood up. LeAnn pulled her arm.’’ ‘’See you around,’’ Renata told them. ‘’You girls enjoy yourselves,’’ Barbara called. ‘’That’s what it’s all about,’’ LeAnn sing-songed.

The girls sidled up to the bar. ‘’A rum and Diet Coke, please,’’ Renata told the bartender. ‘’And you, ma’am?’’ ‘’I’ll have a screwdriver.’’ LeAnn whispered to Renata, ‘’ma’am? How old does this guy think I am?’’ ‘’Never mind him,’’ Renata reassured. LeAnn swung around in her stool and faced outward. She crossed her legs. ‘’Ohhh,’’ she groaned disappointedly, again at the realization of the age bracket. Renata sipped from her tiny straw. ‘’Let’s go get some sun.’’ ‘’Already?’’ Renata asked, ‘’I just got my drink.’’ ‘’Well, hurry up!’’ The girls pounded their drinks and went back to their room. They changed into their bathing suits and headed to the upper deck. They found some free chairs and lay down their towels. ‘’Yoooo hooooo!’’ Both girls sat up and looked. It was Barbara. ‘’Girrrrls! Do you want to join us for shuffleboard?’’ ‘’Oh good night!’’ LeAnn grumbled, ‘’I’m going back to the room to sleep.’’ ‘’Ok,’’ Renata conceded, ‘’I’ll see you later.’’ She walked over to Fred and Barbara and asked them to teach her the rules. They played for a while and she was really enjoying herself. ‘’Do you guys go on cruises often?’’ she asked. ‘’Oh yes, quite often. Our son works on the ship as a plumber, so he gets us great deals!’’ She laughed. ‘’That’s great! So the job has its perks!’’ ‘’Yes!’’ they agreed. ‘’In fact,’’ Fred paused, looking in the distance, ‘’here he comes now!’’ Renata turned and peered down the deck. ‘’32D?’’ she asked, in disbelief. ‘’Why, yes! How did you know?’’ ‘’We ran into him earlier.’’ ‘’Tony, this is Renata, but I guess you’ve already met.’’ ‘’Oh, yes, haha, nice to meet you,’’ he shook her hand. ‘’Care to join us for some shuffleboard?’’ ‘’But I don’t  have a partner,’’ he protested. ‘’Renata, would you do him the honor?’’ She blushed. ‘’Why, sure.’’   

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Story-a-day - Day Twenty Five

This post is part of a series of short stories and poems.

Day Twenty Five

John and Bobby, Erik and Sherman stumbled their way to the entrance with a whole lot of you-go-first,-no-you-go-first finger pushes. They were a pale lot, which was only exaggerated by the fact that they all wore all black. All the time. Skinny, too. Except for Sherman who, beyond all explanation, was of average build, depending on who you’re averaging, of course. However, for all the body mass he had going for him, he more than evened the score with the lack of pigment in his skin. You guessed it, Sherman was a redhead. You thought John, Bobby and Erik were white until you stood them next to Sherman, who made their whiteness almost look khaki. So, these four friends decided one day to leave their video game lair and do something death-defying. I don’t know, maybe all their princess rescuing and end-boss defeating bolstered their courage, or maybe all those hours of games messed with their heads, but whatever the reason, they decided to go to the swimming pool. The outdoor swimming pool. When they finally made their way to the desk, they realized it was a pretty girl taking money. Really pretty. ‘’Four today?’’ she asked. ‘’Uh, four p.m.?’’ John squeaked. ‘’What?, I mean are there four of you?’’ ‘’Oh, yes,’’ he said self-consciously. ‘’Eight dollars.’’ The boys bumbled with their money a while, trying to make everyone’s come out even before Bobby finally just said ‘’here,’’ and handed her a ten. ‘’Here you are,’’ she said and pulled out a big stamp. She took each of their hands and stamped them with a big blue wave, definitely the closest any of them had ever been to a person of the female persuasion, at least a female of her caliber. She gave them directions about using the lockers and showering and sent them on their awkward little way. They must have been 25 minutes in the locker room before emerging out into the pool area, in all their glory. Erik, despite being the skinniest of the bunch, managed to look the most normal. Or the least abnormal, if you will. And despite the fact that they were cinched to the nines and hanging on for dear life, his swim trunks were well within the acceptable realm. Bobby, however, chose to swim in near-pants. I can’t even call them shorts. They were longs.  Long, black, short-pants with pockets. John actually swam in a t-shirt. And Sherman. Sherman inexplicably took the Speed-o route. The only piece in his wardrobe that was not black. And not only not black, but pink. The friends moved as one unit. Clutching their towels and trying not to be seen. It wasn’t working. They were seen. Oh, they were seen, all right. Dropped jaws, sunglasses pushed down noses, the whole bit. So, they lay their towels out in the far corner of the pool area. By the deep end. They cocooned themselves in sunscreen, SPF 80, and then made their way to the edge. Bobby sat down and slipped into the pool, now with a 40-pound weight hanging from his waist. John had a black cotton bubble billowing and suctioning to him. But it was Sherman who took the proverbial cake. In keeping with his theme of questionable choices, he decided to jump off the high-dive. But not just jump off the high-dive. Take a running leap off the high-dive. In a pink Speed-o. In blinding white skin. And in the last split-second before he jumped, he saw that the lifeguard now on duty was the pretty girl from the entrance and he just flailed, and landed as flat as a pancake, belly-flop style, on top of the water, creating the loudest skin clap you have ever heard. His head also smacked the water, leaving him disoriented, so the girl dove in immediately. With strength and grace she pulled him to the edge, where the other lifeguard helped her pull him out of the water. She asked him some questions to make sure he was all right, while his counterparts stood around him. Satisfied he was fine, she returned to her post, and they to their towels. There were jokes about CPR and the princess rescuing Luigi and after a couple of hours of uneventful swimming, the boys went home. On the doorstep of Erik’s house, he turned to them, ‘’Zelda?’’ he asked. ‘’Zelda,’’ they confirmed in unison.    

Story-a-day - Day Twenty Four

This post is part of a series of short stories and poems.

Day Twenty Four

When life gets you down and you’re feeling
As blue as the ink on your shirt
Just look at the carrot you’re peeling
That just had his face in the dirt
You don’t hear him whining, now do you?
Not even when losing his skin
He lays in a pile and asks with a smile
Which soup you are putting him in
I know it’s a little unnerving
That’s absurd, I hear some of you say
But if you will follow my point to the end
It might change your blue-feeling day
So why is it carrots? You ask me
I am not a vegetable, right?
Just repeat that aloud
When you’re in your dark cloud
And everything will look more bright.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Story-a-day - Day Twenty Three

This post is part of a series of short stories.

Day Twenty Three

And I lay down in the field of daisies and looked up at the sky and it was not lost on me that the moment was magical. The clouds were scoops of whipped cream, but the real stuff, not the kind that comes in a plastic carton, that is to say they were a little sharp and jagged on the edges, not smooth and cloud-y like the whipped cream that comes in a carton. And they moved fast. My favorite pace for clouds to move across the sky. The air was a little cool but the sun was warm, like cocoa in a cold metal thermos. I was in love. In love with the world. I could not conjure up a thought of a better place on this earth at that moment. A hawk flew across my viewfinder and bees buzzed in the daisies all around me. Trees swayed and perfume wafted. Mother nature’s perfume. I turned my head to one side and squinted, peering into the micro world of bugs under the flowers. And I wondered. I wondered at the bigness of it all. The bigness of the smallness. And I thought about that mysterious world at the bottom of the ocean that we have only just begun to discover. And who can know the mysteries of these insects, these bees, those clouds above me? And I closed my eyes and fell asleep. Just for a moment. And in my mind was a dance, a royal ball of old, with ladies and suitors and dresses and wigs. What a strange thing to dream in this moment. And I stood up and brushed myself off and walked back to my car and returned to work. 

Story-a-day - Day Twenty Two

This post is part of a series of short stories.

Day Twenty Two

There once was a shirt who lay on a stack
He wished he was green or yellow or black
But he lay there just waiting, he knew that he knew
That his boy liked orange 'bout as much as the flu
Still, he straightened himself and he stuck out his chest
Hoping somehow to stand out among all the rest
But his boy came and went, after taking a green
Even though it was stained, and he was all clean.
So what could he think? When day after day
His boy would choose others to go out and play
So the next day he said I am not going to hope
I am not going to look like a fool or a dope
So he lay back and put his sleeves under his collar
(If you guess what happens I’ll give you a dollar)
And he took a deep breath, exhaled, closed his eyes
Then his boy grabbed him out, much to his great surprise
And he held him out straight, and what did he say?
With a smile in his eyes, he said It’s picture day!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Story-a-day - Day Twenty One

This post is part of a series of short stories.

Day Twenty One

He was a smooth creature, that one. All black muscle shirts and oily ringlets. He never moved quickly, but kind of glided, or glid, whichever. Like a panther. Smooth and slow, like time didn’t touch him. He wasn’t gonna hurry. Not for anyone. His body was a temple. An orange-ish, spray-tanned temple. And around that temple hung a large, gold chain. And on that temple hung clothes borrowed from his teenage son’s closet. And he was coooool. He drove muscle cars with the tops down. Plural. He parked where he pleased. Whether it tore up large patches of grass or not. And when there wasn’t an immediately convenient place for him to park, no matter. He just stopped in the middle of the road and threw the flashers on. E-e-e-e-asy. He left for work long about 9:30. If he felt like it. If not, then ten. And he was the boss. He told other guys what to do. And they did it. And he was rolling in dough. You could tell by all the cars he owned. All the cars parked on the grass. He smoked like he was on-screen. In fact, he did everything like he was on-screen. His life was a movie. He had this living thing down. All the chicks dug him. Of that he was sure. All the guys wanted to be him. Rules? What rules? Rules did not apply to him. Not even the law of gravity. No sir. He had that thing beat. And he was an Adonis. A looker. An eyeful. So hot his shirt buttons could not contain him. And he just sauntered. Just moseyed. He glided and strolled. From one coffee date to the next. It was allll business. Aviators and scruff. Why should he shave every day? He was the boss. He said what’s up. Period. Not question mark. You don’t know him? You don’t worship him? You don’t kiss the ground he walks on? Or perhaps parks on? No matter. He doesn’t have time for you.  He has time but not for you.  Let’s be clear on that point. So the next time you find yourself eating dust, choking on lingering cologne, or perhaps wiping residual orange from a door handle just know, you were almost in the presence of greatness. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Story-a-day - Day Twenty

This post is part of a series of short stories.

Day Twenty

Leggy James, they called her. But not for the reason you might imagine. You probably had pictures in your mind of Lana Turner and Betty Grable and her ''million dollar legs.'' And you were probably wrong. Fabienne Brigitte James looked less like a leggy pinup girl and more like a, well, an egg. Somehow, almost beyond explanation, she had the roundest body you'd ever seen. Undeniably egg-shaped, with tiny, stick-pin legs. And with her name about as French as they come, one boy started calling her Le egg. With the other boys in town being about as cultured as a fence post (in other words, they didn't get the French reference), it morphed into Leggy, as the sarcasm, at least, was not lost on them. Now you might imagine a sad, broken girl, crushed by the weight of her name-callers, but again you would be wrong. I can say that Leggy owned her nickname. She wore it proud. When she walked downtown she was Lana Turner. When she sat in the ice cream shop she had million dollar legs. And to be honest, I think this irked the name-callers a little bit. They began to grow restless, and their name calling just didn't seem to be enough anymore. One day when they were tossing a baseball around, they spotted her down the street, walking into the post office. ''Come on!'' the biggest boy whisper-yelled. And the pack of geniuses followed him. They leaned against the fence outside and waited. Before long Leggy came walking out with a package in hand. ''Leggy Jaaaaaames,'' the leader taunted. ''What's up, fellas?'' she swung her hips. ''We was just talkin' and Dewey here was askin' if you've ever been caught poachin'. '' ''Nope, never have,'' she answered. ''Or if you ever get the feelin' that your brain is scrambled.'' She stopped. ''Not particularly. I do have a question for you, though, Mitchell,'' she put up her finger. ''What's that?'' ''When ya bring home your report card, does your old man crack your head on the counter or beatcha sunny side up?'' The whole lot of boys burst into laughter. Mitchell was so taken aback, Leggy just walked away, basking in her comeback glory. Hips swingin' and skirt swishin'.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Story-a-day - Day Nineteen

This post is part of a series of short stories.

Day Nineteen, a poem for a child

You’ll know it when you see it and you’ll see it if you look
If you reach up way, way high and you pull down that big book
It’s been sitting there just for you, years and years and days and days
Sit right down on that soft sofa, crack it open, fix your gaze
Miles and miles of words and words, those are not what you are after
Those will come in time or mom will read them to you if you ask her
It’s the pictures in the book, it’s the drawings and the paintings
That will take you on a trip right into your imagination
You just find a picture, choose one, that is funny, wild or bright
If it makes you laugh or makes you look, it’s probably just right
Now, you look at it! You study it. You see what you can see!
Take your time, now. Don’t you hurry. Spending time there is the key.
Is the squirrel in pajamas? Is the hedgehog brown or black?
Does the dino or the rhino have a monkey on its back?
Is the lion warm and friendly? Does his roar melt off your face?
You might want to turn a page or two or THREE if that’s the case.
Are there kangaroos or kittens? Maybe grannies on their bikes
Do they have a basket filled with flowers that your mama likes?
Take a look now at the houses, at the mountains, at the trees
Do they look like ones where you live? Are there deserts? Are there seas?
Are the deserts filled with sand or pink and purple sugar dunes?
Are the seas full of salt water or of planets, suns and moons?
When your head is full of pictures, get as many as you can
Then’s the time to close your eyes, and then’s the time to hatch your plan
Where will you go? When will it be, this journey in your mind?
It’s as open as that open book, decide what you will find
And if you ever find yourself with lion or with clown
You simply open up your eyes, and poof! You’re safe and sound.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Story-a-day - Day Eighteen

This post is part of a series of short stories.

Day Eighteen

‘’Pssssst,’’ Louise pointed with her head. A pretty, dark-skinned girl walked by the girls without paying attention to them. Jessica followed her with her eyes, making sure to glare a little so that Louise would see. ‘’Have you ever seen where she lives?’’ ‘’I heard she lives in a dumpster.’’ Louise laughed. ‘’She lives in that part by the bus station with all the broken fences and old cars and garbage everywhere.  Jessica shook her head in condemnation. ‘’Do you know why she was gone last week?’’ ‘’Because she had lice.’’ ‘’Yes!’’ ‘’She always has lice,’’ both girls laughed. ‘’Poor Natasha, she has to share a desk with her.’’ ‘’I know! I think I would die.’’ ‘’Me too.’’ ‘’I think she must not be potty-trained or something because she always stinks.’’ ‘’I know!’’ ‘’Have you ever seen her little brother?’’ ‘’Yes! The one who walks funny?’’ ‘’Yes!’’ ‘’I think her mom took drugs when she was pregnant.’’ ‘’Really?’’ Jessica said, wide-eyed. ‘’That’s what I heard.’’ ‘’She always wears that same pink sweatshirt with the cat on it.’’ ‘’I know! I think I had a sweatshirt like that when I was five!’’ They both laughed.
The next day at lunch they watched her from afar. Their same stream of comments continued like a broken record, as they had day after day, all school year long. But this day something was different. Michael was sitting with her at the lunch table. Michael! They watched closely, and it was clear to any observer that they were having a great time, talking, laughing, telling funny stories. ‘’Oh my gosh, gross!’’ Louise said. ‘’What is he doing?’’ Jessica asked, with emphasized disgust. The girl stood up and took her milk carton and pretended to throw it and Michael burst out laughing. They watched them til they finished with their lunch and stood up to turn in their lunch trays near them. Michael was telling her about a funny show she should watch, and just then Jessica slipped on some spilled ketchup, dropped her entire lunch tray and landed directly in it, getting ketchup all over her light blue pants. Time stood still. The busy cafeteria went completely silent and the whole room turned and stared. Some kids started to laugh and she was holding back tears. The pretty girl and Michael crouched down and took her tray, picked up all the silverware and food and gave her a hand up. ‘’Here,’’ said the pretty girl, handing her a stack of napkins. She grabbed them from her without saying a word. She stood up and tried in vain to wipe the ketchup from her pants. After the lunchroom resumed its lunchtime clatter, Jessica turned around to look for Louise. She was nowhere to be found. She dumped the wad of napkins in the garbage and walked out quickly.

She went back to their classroom and grabbed her gym shorts from her backpack and headed to the nearest bathroom. The pretty girl was washing her hands. ‘’Hey,’’ she said to Jessica. She didn’t respond, just headed into the stall to change. The pretty girl waited for her to come out. ‘’Don’t worry,’’ she told her, ‘’people will forget about it by tomorrow,’’ she smiled kindly. Jessica just looked at her for a second. ‘’Like when I had lice.’’ This took her aback. ‘’Thanks.’’      

Friday, May 27, 2016

Story-a-day - Day Seventeen

This post is part of a series of short stories.

Day Seventeen

I sat down in my sunny yellow kitchen and poured myself a steaming cup of strong coffee. I had to use a pot holder because the handle had long since melted off in the heat of the gas flame. I poured just a touch of milk into it and watched it cloud around and become milky. It was my late morning coffee break time and I was so ready for it. Not that I have any other coffee break times. It was late morning I’m trying to say. It had been a long morning of laundry and vacuuming and bed making and decision making. I hate decision making. What to keep, what to throw out, where to put this, what to cook, what to eat, whites or colors, Vivaldi or Ella. I was just plain worn out. Our kitchen window perfectly frames the sidewalk out front. I finally washed it yesterday and was enjoying the new-found clarity it provided. ‘’You missed a spot,’’ I said aloud. I smiled. Two young ladies walked by. They were dressed to the nines. Maybe 14 or so. One wore a short black skirt and nylons. She had high heels and struggled to walk in them. Her tummy, although covered, was spilling over the waist of her skirt in a too-tight tank top. A T.T.T.T. ‘’Oh, honey,’’ I said aloud. Her friend was as skinny as a rail but equally awkward. She also wore heels for what looked like the first time. Her hair was frizzy and her makeup was visible from the street. ‘’Bless their hearts,’’ I said. I took a sip, but my coffee was still too hot. I like it lukewarm. A pigeon flew a few times near my window, which is not typical. ‘’Don’t you dare,’’ I said. I got up and checked the outside corner and sure enough, there were the first few strands of a nest. ‘’You filthy rat,’’ I said while I used a broom to destroy its work. An older man turned when I said it. ‘’Oops. Good morning!’’ I called. He looked at his watch. ‘’It’s almost lunch time!’’ ‘’Oh, haha (I actually said the word haha), good DAY.’’ He tipped his head.
I sat back down at my table and straightened the table cloth. I matched up the lines to the edges of the table and reached for a cookie. You can’t have coffee without cookies, am I right? One bite and crumbs were everywhere. I stood up and got a saucer out of the cupboard. It was the last remnant from my grandma’s dishes and I treasured its every use. No flowers or decorations, no gold plating, nothing special really, just pink, but it was my grandma’s. And that was special. A boy rode by on a scooter. His hair was too long. ‘’Darn kids these days,’’ I said, like I was 80 years old. I chuckled a little. I tried my coffee. ‘’Ah, that’s better.’’ I reached over and flipped on the radio. Every hour on the hour they have a little blurb about health or science or some little bit of interest. They were talking about sleep. They said people who get up early and get the most early-morning sunlight are slimmer than those who sleep in. ‘’Or maybe it’s ‘cause they don’t eat too many cookies,’’ I bit into another. I saw our mailman on the sidewalk. I jumped up and threw open the window, ‘’anything for me, Harry?’’ I asked cheerfully. ‘’Yeah. Bills.’’ ‘’Ohhhhh,’’ I whined. You can keep those.’’ ‘’No thanks, got enough of my own,’’ he smiled. He walked up to the window and passed them to me. ‘’Hank at work?’’ ‘’Ye-e-e-es. How else do you think we pay for these nasty things?’’ I waved the stack in the air.  ‘’Don’t say I never gave you anything,’’ he called, walking away. ‘’Thanks a heap!’’ I yelled.

I gulped down the last of my coffee and shoved the rest of the cookie into my mouth. I gently set the saucer in the sink and brushed the crumbs from the table into my hand and tossed them into the garbage. I rinsed my hands and dried them on my apron. It was blue with white pockets with lilacs painted on them. ‘’That’s that,’’ I said, and went to the closet and pulled out a dust rag and a bottle of lemon oil. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Story-a-Day - Day Sixteen

This post is part of a series of short stories.

Day Sixteen

‘’Can I borrow your shovel?’’ asked the tall skinny boy in the sandbox. ‘’Sure!’’ said the curly-headed blonde. ‘’I’m gonna build a whoooole city,’’ said the boy. ‘’Can I help?’’ ‘’Yes, but only what I tell you to build.’’ ‘’Ok.’’ ‘’Here, you make a row of houses using this little cup.’’ ‘’Ok.’’ ‘’I’m gonna build the store and the park and the mountains and the school.’’ ‘’What about a post office?’’ asked the little girl. ‘’We don’t really need a post office.’’ ‘’But my mama works in the post office.’’ ‘’Ok, I guess I can build one…here, you go get some sticks and leaves and we’ll make trees and a river.’’ ‘’Ok.’’ The girl jumped out of the sandbox and ran over to a tree and started collecting her treasures. ‘’Carolina, don’t pull the leaves off the tree,’’ called her grandma. ‘’But I need them for our city!’’ ‘’Just use things you find on the ground.’’ ‘’Ohhkayyy,’’ she groaned. ‘’And come and take a drink of water.’’ She ran to her grandma and guzzled half a bottle, it was so hot out. ‘’And let’s put your cap back on.’’ ‘’Nooooo,’’ she groaned again. ‘’It’ll protect your head.’’ ‘’Ohkayyy.’’ She ran back to the sandbox and unloaded her leaves. ‘’We need more sticks,’’ the boy directed. ‘’But I can’t take them off the tree.’’ ‘’Why not?’’ ‘’Grandmaaaa! Why can’t I take the sticks off the tree?’’ ‘’Because it hurts it,’’ she called. ‘’Because it hurts it,’’ she told the little boy. ‘’How old are you?’’ he asked. ‘’This many,’’ she held up three pudgy fingers. ‘’Three?! I’m already four.’’ The girl just watched him. ‘’This sand is too dry, do you have any water?’’ ‘’Grandmaaa, can we use my water?’’ ‘’Noooo,’’ she chuckled, we need that for drinkin’. Dig a little deeper.’’ The boy looked up at her. ‘’Do you wanna teeter-totter?’’ Carolina asked hopefully. ‘’Nope. Got work to do.’’ ‘’Awww, but the sand’s too dryyy.’’ He just wrinkled up his nose. She saw a big girl come into the park and ran over to her. ‘’Wanna teeter-totter?’’ The girl was probably four times her weight. She just shook her head. She ran and jumped on a swing. ‘’Look what I can do,’’ Carolina called to the girl. ‘’Uh huh.’’ ‘’What’s your name?’’ ‘’Annie.’’ ‘’I’m Carolina and I’m this many,’’ she declared, holding up her three fingers again. ‘’Uh huh.’’ Annie surveyed the scene. ‘’Is that your grandma?’’ ‘’Yes,’’ Carolina said without looking up. ‘’Is that your brother?’’ ‘’No. That’s just a boy.’’ Annie walked over to the sandbox and stood above him. He squinted up at her, ‘’do you have any water?’’ ‘’No.’’ ‘’Shoooot. I need some waaater to build my cityyy,’’ he whined. Annie looked over at Carolina’s grandma. ‘’Maybe you could pee on it,’’ she said quietly. ‘’Ewww,’’ the boy said loudly. He looked at Carolina’s grandma. ‘’What?’’ she called. ‘’What are you all looking at?’’ ‘’Annie said that he should…’’ Annie covered Carolina’s mouth. ‘’No-o-o-othing,’’ she called. She went and started climbing the jungle gym. Carolina followed her. ‘’You’re too little for this,’’ she shooed her away. ‘’No I’m not, I’m this many.’’ ‘’I KNOW, I KNOW,’’ Annie said, exasperated. Why don’t you go play with that boy? What’s his name?’’ ‘’I don’t know, I didn’t ask him. But I want to play with you. Where’s your mama?’’ ‘’At work,’’ she said as she picked up a stick. ‘’And your daddy?’’ ‘’At work too.’’ ‘’So who’s taking care of you?’’ ‘’I take care of myself,’’ the girl boasted. ‘’Reeeally?’’ Carolina asked, wide-eyed. ‘’Aaaannie!’’ an older man called from down the sidewalk. ‘’Who’s that?’’ ‘’That’s my grandpa,’’ she admitted. ‘’Let’s go!’’ he called. ‘’I’ve gotta go.’’  ‘’Awww,’’ Carolina pursed her lips. Annie dropped the stick and ran away. She watched her all the way down the sidewalk and then turned back to the sandbox. ‘’What’s YER name?’’ she asked the boy. ‘’Ben.’’ ‘’Are you done with your city?’’ ‘’Nope.’’ ‘’Do you wanna teeter-totter now?’’         

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Story-a-day - Day Fifteen

This post is part of a series of short stories. 

Day Fifteen

‘’Hey! Hey, Maggie, wake up!’’ Jill whispered loudly, poking her roommate in the ribs. ‘’Whaaaaat?’’ Maggie asked, annoyed. ‘’Hey! Get up, let’s go!’’ ‘’Go whe-e-e-e-ere?’’ ‘’Somewhere!’’ ‘’Nooooo!’’ ‘’Come on, let’s leave town.’’ ‘’Noooo, let me sleep.’’ ‘’No. I cannot do that.’’ ‘’Yes you can, just walk out of this room.’’ ‘’I’m sorry. No can do.’’ Then Jill stood up and yanked Maggie’s blanket, hard. An expletive or two may have flown around the room before Maggie was on her feet. She stood there with her eyes closed. ‘’Well, come on, get moving! Throw some clothes into a bag and let’s go.’’ ‘’Why on earth do your wild hair adventures always have to involve early mornings?’’ ‘’It’s the best time to go, come on!’’ Jill emptied the contents of Maggie’s laundry basket into her backpack, grabbed some money, her camera and a bottle of water and they were out the door. They piled into Jill’s car and were off.
Maggie, still in her PJs, settled in and snoozed a while longer while Jill drove, road trip adrenaline pumping through her veins. An hour or so in, Jill got really hungry. She pulled into a gas station and Maggie woke up. ‘’Let’s just get some snacks here and we can get lunch after a while.’’ ‘’Ok,’’ Maggie said, yawning. She looked around the parking lot and quickly changed into some jean shorts. She slipped on her flip-flops and headed inside. ‘’What did you pack for me?’’ she asked. ‘’All part of the adventure,’’ Jill smiled. ‘’Great,’’ she said sarcastically. Jill went directly to the beef jerky sticks, grabbed a granny smith and an iced tea. Maggie wandered around aimlessly for a while until her friend came to prod her along. ‘’Here. You like these and these and here! Take some of these…and you can wash it all down with one of these.’’ ‘’What would I ever do without you?’’ ‘’You’re welcome. Now, you pay for this and I’m gonna take a pee,’’ she said, piling everything into Maggie’s arms. ‘’Why you little…’’ Jill laughed, walking away. A few minutes later Maggie came into the bathroom, ‘’you owe me four hundred dollars.’’ ‘’Haha, I know! Jerky’s expensive!’’ She snatched it out of her friend’s hand and ran out to the car. She jumped inside and locked the doors. ‘’Yee-ou yellow-bellied coward.’’ ‘’Yellow-bellied coward?’’ she laughed, ‘’what is this, 1864?’’ ‘’Open up, you rat-faced varmint!’’ Jill lost it with that comment, laughing hard as she rolled down the windows. ‘’Get in, Yosemite Sam.’’ They cranked up the music and hit the open road. They made sure to stop at every possible photo op. And by photo op I mean scarecrow, fruit stand, virgin Mary statue, mile marker, ammo store, biker bar and outhouse. About 4pm Maggie declared, ‘’the next town we see we are stopping to see what there is to see.’’ ‘’Sounds specific.’’

As luck would have it, it was one of those all-American one-street towns with one post office, one bar, a hair salon, a grocery store and a diner. Still full from lunch, the girls opted, instead, to go into the hair salon. Pretty Patty’s. ‘’Do you take walk-ins?’’ Jill asked as they stepped inside. ‘’We sure do,’’ a jolly, permed woman took her by the arm. ‘’Are you Patty?’’ ‘’Oh no,’’ she chuckled, ‘’Patty only writes the checks,’’ she winked. ‘’What can we do for ya today?’’ ‘’Oh, just a wash ‘n dry,’’ she answered in an animated voice. ‘’You too, sweetheart?’’ she asked Maggie. ‘’Her too!’’ yelled Jill. ‘’Paula, you got a customer!’’ a tall, skinny, bleached-to-the-nines lady appeared from the back room through a curtain. ‘’This one’s yours,’’ the first lady slapped Maggie on the back. ‘’Come with me, hon.’’ She sat her down in her squishy chair and snapped a pink plastic apron with poodles on it around her neck. ‘’Juuuust a wash ‘n dry,’’ Maggie wanted to confirm. ‘’You both got beautiful hair.’’ ‘’Well, thank you, Paula,’’ Jill called from across the room. Paula chuckled that she called her by name. They both tipped them back and washed and rinsed and wrapped them up in tall white towels. ‘’Where’re ya from? I haven’t seen you around here before.’’ ‘’I’m from Waterloo, but we both go to school in Madison.’’ ‘’Yeah, I thought ya might be big-city gals. Ya don’t look like you belong around these parts.’’ ‘’Maggie laughed politely.’’ She plugged in her blow dryer and grabbed a big round brush from her desk and went to work. Ten minutes, lotsa talkin’ and half a can of Aquanet later and the girls looked like they belonged around those parts. They walked to the counter to pay, barely able to contain their laughter, and tipped the ladies handsomely. ‘’What’s your name?’’ Jill asked. ‘’I’m June.’’ ‘’Nice to meet you June. You too, Paula. You two have a really nice day.’’ ‘’Toodaloo,’’ June waved. And the girls sashayed to their car and drove away.      

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Story-a-day - Day One

My Story-a-day project has been transferred here, so for simplicity's sake I'll put the stories I've already written in one post and then continue daily from there. 

 Inspired by this guy, who did a drawing a day for a year, I’ve decided to attempt to write a story a day for a year. For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be a writer. Well, a teacher too, but a teacher who writes books. I had hoped to write a book this year, before I turn 40, and as my big day approaches, I’m thinking more critically about achieving that goal. I have one book in the works, but I have a love for short stories and I’m hoping it will help me focus on my writing and achieve a goal. Here’s the one I wrote today. Feedback is welcomed with open arms. 

This post is part of a series of short stories.
Day One
Willa sat down on the curb and rested her cheeks between her palms. She kicked the dirt beneath her shoes. She heard the sound of bike tires coming toward her but she kept her head facing downward. The bike braked hard. ‘’Waitin’ for a bus?’’ a familiar voice taunted. ‘’Nope,’’ said Willa, with a loud pop on the p. ‘’Whatcha doin’?’’ ‘’Just sittin’.’’ The boy on the bike thought about that for a second. ‘’Why would you ever wanna do that?’’ ‘’Gives me time to think,’’ Willa answered. ‘’’Bout what?’’ ‘’Whatever I want.’’ ‘’What were ya thinkin’ about?’’ ‘’I keep that to myself.’’ ‘’Pshhh.’’ The boy rolled his eyes.’’ ‘’This is private property,’’ Willa knocked on her head, ‘’no trespassing.’’ The boy scoffed. ‘’You’re a strange bird, Willa Van nuys. ‘’See ya later,’’ she called as he sped away.
She peered across the street at a cluster of flowers. ‘’Bellis perennis,’’ she said quietly. ‘’The common daisy.’’ She scratched her arm. ‘’My oh my,’’ she sing-songed, while she scanned to her left. An old man came shuffling toward her. She watched as he made his way down the street, so incredibly slowly. He was carrying a mesh bag. He wore wool pants, even though it was very warm out. They bounced as he walked, held up only by suspenders, his stripey tennis shirt nearly swallowed up by the oversized pants. Willa looked to her right. A group of boys had started a street hockey game at the end of the street. They used a tennis ball and some old foam rubber from the inside of couch cushions for padding. The shuffling got closer. ‘’Well, that looks like a mighty good seat. Mind if I take a breather with you for a while?’’ the old man asked. ‘’Not at all,’’ Willa answered. ‘’Mind if I ask what’s in the bag?’’ she asked, interested. ‘’Not at all.’’ The man carefully reached in and pulled out each item, one by one: ‘’ One can of sardines. I tried the tomato sauce this time. Two lemons. Those are for my morning tea. Ya can’t grow lemons here. A loaf of bread. My wife used to bake that, but now I get it in the shop. ‘’What happened to your wife?’’ Willa asked quietly. ‘’Ohh, she went on to meet our Lord. Coupla years ago now. Her heart couldn’t keep up with her, and it gave out one day,’’ he said with a loving smile. A package of butter, because butter makes everything better. A roll of twine, to tie up my tomatoes, aaand last but not least a couple pieces of black licorice.’’ Willa gasped. ‘’I love black licorice!’’ ‘’Well then, I suppose it’s only right we share a piece, don’t you think?’’ ‘’I sure do.’’ ‘’The name’s Branson. Henry Branson,’’ he said as he tore a piece in half and handed it to her. ‘’I’m Willa. Willa Van nuys.’’ ‘’Nice to meet you, Willa Van nuys.’’ ‘’Nice to meet you too, Mr.Branson.’’ Willa thought for a second. ‘’How old are you?’’ ‘’Why, I’m 92.’’ ‘’NINETY TWO??? You’re the oldest person I’ve ever met.’’ Mr.Branson chuckled. ‘’And how old are you, now?’’ ‘’I’m eight.’’ ‘’Eight? You don’t look a day over seven.’’ ‘’I’ll be nine next month!’’ she bragged. ‘’Well, that issomething.’’
‘’Do you live far, Mr.Branson?’’ ‘’Oh no, not far at all. Only about ten more minutes by foot. I found you at my halfway mark, so I decided to have a sit-me-down.’’ ‘’I’m glad you did.’’ ‘’Me too. Say, what were you doing, just sitting there on the curb by yourself?’’ ‘’I was thinkin’.’’ ‘’Well now, that is a nice thing to do. I do plenty of thinkin’ myself.’’ ‘’What do you think about?’’ ‘’Oh, I think about my garden and my grandkids and the little fawn who comes to visit me in the early morning. But mostly I think about heaven.’’ ‘’What do you think heaven will be like?’’ Willa asked, with a faraway look in her eye. ‘’I think it will be something like this here. You and me. Sittin’ and talkin’.’’ ‘’So how will it be different from earth?’’ ‘’Well, hopefully my joints won’t hurt and my Gracie will be sittin’ beside me.’’  ‘’Are you gonna grow tomatoes in heaven?’’ ‘’Well I just might. And maybe lemons too.’’ Willa stood up and dusted off her jeans. ‘’Thanks for the licorice.’’ ‘’My pleasure.’’ ‘’Can you wait here just a second?’’ ‘’Sure.’’ She dashed across the street and returned with a fistful of daisies. ‘’These are for your fawn. I really hope I see you again, Mr.Branson.’’ ‘’Goodbye, my lovely girl.’’
Day Two
 ‘’Go ahead, miss,’’ a man tapped her from behind. She startled back to the present and stepped up onto the big white bus. ‘’Where ya headed?’’ the bus driver asked sharply. ‘’Uh, Butte,’’ she said as she handed him some money. ‘’It’ll be about three hours,’’ he said, while motioning her to the back. ‘’Thank you.’’ She scanned the bus, looking for a seat and saw only a few. All window seats. ‘’Oh, sorry. Excuse me. Pardon me. Sorry,’’ she said as she made her way down the aisle. She stopped next to an older woman with a flower hat, ‘’May I sit here?’’ she asked.
‘’Squeeze on in,’’ said the woman. ‘’My name’s Jennie,’’ said the young woman as she plopped down in the seat. ‘’Glad to know you, I’m Marin Hauson.’’ ‘’Hello,’’ she said with a smile. ‘’Got far to go?’’ ‘’About three hours. I’m goin’ to Butte looking for work.’’ ‘’You got family there?’’ ‘’No, no. I’m…I’m on my own.’’ She caught on the words as she said them out loud. ‘’You got a place to stay?’’ ‘’Well, I have the name of a boarding house.’’ ‘’Boarding house?! Isn’t that a little dangerous for a young girl like you?’’ ‘’I’ll be all right,’’ she said softly, looking down. ‘’I’m sorry,’’ she said, patting Jennie’s knee, ‘’I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m just concerned about ya is all.’’ ‘’Oh, that’s all right,’’ she forced a smile.  ‘’What is it you’re hopin’ to do there?’’ ‘’I’m a teacher. I’d like to teach the miners’ kids. There’s a public school on the east side…’’ ‘’Grant!’’  ‘’Why, yes!’’ ‘’My grandson went there. It’s a fine school. Most of those kids are immigrant kids, though. Tough work, that is.’’ ‘’Kids are kids.’’ ‘’Nooooo, no. You might think so, but those kids are scrappers. Thieves and liars.’’ ‘’Mrs.Hauson, with all due respect you can’t lump people into a group like that.’’ ‘’Oh, Ican. My grandson had his shoes stolen by one of ‘em.’’ ‘’Well, ok but that doesn’t mean that…’’ ‘’They’re no good!’’ ‘’Well, times are tough right now, it’s hard to say we wouldn’t do the same.’’ ‘’I wouldn’t! I would go barefoot in the Butte winter before I’d take another’s hard-earned shoes.’’ ‘’Well, I guess maybe that’s why I’d like to teach them. Maybe play a part in helping out, while times are so hard. With their daddies dyin’ in mines and all.’’  ‘’Daddies dyin’! You don’t think we’ve all had it hard?’’ ‘’I didn’t say…’’ ‘’Sometimes we don’t even have enough to eat!’’ ‘’Yes, I know, we’re all…’’ The bus pulled into a tiny town and out on the sidewalk were two young men in the midst of a fistfight. The whole bus stood up and craned their necks to see. Mothers were hiding their children’s eyes, women were turning away. Jennie’s eyes were glued. ‘’I want to help this,’’ she said quietly. ‘’What?’’ asked Marin. ‘’People beating the daylights out of each other.’’ ‘’How do you hope to do that?’’ ‘’By showing them a better way. By being there. By stepping between them when times get hard. By being a soft place to fall.’’  ‘’There’s too many of them. There’s not enough of you. Too much pain. Too much heartache. Too much fighting and hunger and poverty.’’ ‘’Yes, you’re right. But if I can stop one fight. Feed one mouth. Make a difference to somebody…’’ ‘’Well, I wish the best to ya.’’ Jennie searched Marin’s face. ‘’I really do. You’re a sweet girl with a big heart and I just hope Butte doesn’t chew you up and spit you out.’’ ‘’Well,’’ Jennie paused, ‘’I appreciate that. I’m sorry about your grandson’s shoes.’’  ‘’Oh, that’s not your fault.’’ ‘’I’m sorry it happened, I mean…Maybe it would help to think of them as a gift.’’ ‘’A gift? They already tookthem.’’ ‘’I know. But I mean in your head. In your heart.’’ Marin looked at her for several seconds. ‘’You’re gettin’ through,’’ she smiled. ‘’You know, I think you’ll do just fine with those Micks…Juuust fine.’’
Day Three
 ‘’Here are your eggs.’’ ‘’Thanks, hon.’’ The sun poured in through the large kitchen window and spilled all over the red and green plaid table cloth. The room was tiny and the round table took up most of the space. The rest of the space was taken up by dusty knick-knacks. Karen squeezed into the chair, which had been a little tighter of a squeeze in recent months. ‘’Did Ralph go in early today?’’ ‘’Yeah, he had a meeting.’’ ‘’ ’s he still pallin’ around with that Thompson?’’ ‘’Who, Eddie? Oh yeah, they play pool together Wednesday nights.’’ ‘’I never liked him.’’ ‘’Eddie? What you got against Eddie?’’ Karen said, rescuing a piece of crust about to fall out of her mouth. ‘’I don’t know, he always seemed so full of himself.’’ ‘’Really? I never got that impression.’’ ‘’He still got that girlfriend? Tonnnya?’’ she said with emphasis. Karen paused. ‘’Wait. You like him, don’t you?’’ she said with a grin. ‘’No.’’ ‘’Or ya don’t like Tonya.’’ ‘’I don’t care about either one of them.’’ “Then why ya diggin’?’’ ‘’Diggin’? I’m just makin’ conversation.’’ Karen smiled. ‘’Ya got any more of that jam I like?’’ asked her friend. ‘’No, ya ate it all.’’ ‘’Shoot.’’ ‘’How do ya do it, Darlene?’’ ‘’What’s that?’’ ‘’You eat like a horse and you’re as skinny as a stick.’’ ‘’I smoke.’’ They both laughed. ‘’Yeah, like a chimney.’’ Darlene snorted her coffee. ‘’Hey, we’re all gonna die, right? At least I’ll be skinny.’’ Karen thought about that. ‘’Maybe you’re right.’’ ‘’Nooo, you don’t wanna smoke. Your clothes stink and your teeth turn yellow.’’ ‘’But at least you’re skinny.’’ ‘’And you get a real sexy cough, and your voice gets raspy like this,’’ she exaggerated. ‘’But you’re skinny.’’ ‘’But you’re skinny,’’ Darlene chuckled. ‘’Why you worried about your weight, anyway, you’re all set.’’ ‘’All set?’’ she said, surprised. ‘’Yeah! Loving husband, nice apartment,’’ she listed, ‘’although it might be time to change out the Christmas gear for St.Patrick’s Day gear. She looked around, “Let’s see. Ya got this energetic, devoted, gorgeous little canine here, come ‘ere Scruffy.’’ ‘’Hah! And you’ve got freedom and looks and suitors knocking at your door. And lots and lots of money.’’ They both laughed out loud. ‘’Yeah, I got a wad o’ ones every night I leave the diner.’’ ‘’All right, all right, all right.’’ Darlene poured some more coffee. ‘’You wanna go to the library?’’ Karen asked. ‘’The library? We haven’t been to the library since our school days.’’ “I wanna find a book on flower arrangin’.’’ ‘’Oh yeah, what gave you that idea?’’ ‘’I don’t know, just thought I’d pretty up the place, you know.’’ ‘’Well that sounds like a darn right nice idea. And I can find some of them fashion magazines. Learn how to coordinate my outfits. And take one of them quizzes that tell you what color eyeshadow to wear.’’ ‘’Ooh, I wanna take one of them too,’’ she downed her coffee. ‘’Let’s walk. I wanna try out my new runnin’ tennies.’’ ‘’Ok. And on the way we can swing by the vending machine at the diner and pick up a packet of smokes.’’
Day Four
‘’Come here, you,’’ Daniel hoisted the tiny blonde into his arms, and then began trying to unlock the door, ‘’oops. Probably shoulda done this first.’’ She laughed as he fumbled and bumbled and set her on his knee. The door swung open. He lifted her again with such gusto, he threw her a little into the air. She squealed. He hugged her tight. ‘’Aw, look at this, honey. Our first home.’’ They scanned the room in silence for a second. Dirty floral carpets. A couple of boxes. A bare lightbulb. Nails in the wall. ‘’Isn’t it wonderful?’’ he asked. ‘’Yeah,’’ she said sincerely. They looked for another second more. ‘’Ok, put me down.’’ ‘’Wha?’’ he feigned. ‘’Oh, this,’’ he bounced her gently to the ground and gathered her into a bear hug. ‘’I just wanna remember this moment forever.’’ She turned her face upward and smiled. ‘’Come on. Let’s go get the things out of the car.’’  They carried in everything they owned in this world: Two suitcases of clothes, a couple of pairs of shoes, two chairs, a box of kitchen things they’d gotten for their wedding, a large box of books, a small box of records, a record player, two towels, a bicycle, a stack of photographs, a box of toiletries, some blankets, two pillows and a box of food, mostly from their parents’ pantries. ‘’Turn that box over, we can use it as a table,’’ she said. ‘’Good idea.’’ She set the food on the kitchen counter. He plugged in the record player and pulled out a Ted Lewis record. It’s Only a Shanty in Old Shanty Town began to play as he walked into the kitchen. ‘’Very funny,’’ she said, looking over her shoulder. He spun her around. ‘’Hear this now, Charlotte Marion Olson.’’ ‘’Millsberg,’’ she corrected. He held up one finger, ‘’Millsberg. I will love you with bare walls and with bare cupboards. ‘In this tumbled down shack by an old railroad track’,’’ he quoted. ‘’There’s no railroad here,’’ she smiled. He put his finger up again, ‘’shhht. ‘’In a millionaire’s mansion, with my queen, (that’s you),’’ ‘’Ohhh.’’ ‘’…and her silvery crown, I will love you, come what may. Come what might, thick and thin, night after night,’’ ‘’You’re just rhyming now.’’ ‘’Let there be much more thick than thin, but even so,’’ he held out his arms in grand operatic gesture, ‘’I will love youuuuu,’’ he sang in his best vibrato. ‘’Ok,’’ she shrugged. They both laughed. ‘’Now what’s for dinner?’’ ‘’Hungry after all that?’’ she asked. ‘’Haha! I am!’’ ‘’Well, you have a choice between minced ham sandwiches, potatoes…just…potatoes, your mom’s canned plums, some flour, a pickle, an apple aaand a rutabaga.’’ ‘’Sounds delicious!’’ ‘’And the pièce de ré·sis·tance,‘‘ he drumrolled on his knees,‘‘a warm bottle of root beer!‘‘ ‘‘Ta da! Here, I’ll plug in the refrigerator and make the sandwiches. You go and spiffy us up a place to eat.‘‘ She went into the living room and spread a head scarf over the box. She leaned a couple of photographs across the mantle. She set up the chairs and put a pillow on each. Then she gave her lips a splash of color and spritzed the air with her best perfume.  ‘‘There,‘‘ she said to herself. ‘‘You want plums?‘‘ he called ‘‘Sure!‘‘  Another minute of clinking and clanking and he appeared in the doorway. ‘‘Here you are,‘‘ he handed her a plate, bowing.  ‘‘Why, thank you.‘‘ ‘‘And one more thing,‘‘ he placed a ring made of tinfoil on her head, ‘‘my silvery crowned queen.‘‘ She stood up and curtsied. ‘‘My Lord,‘‘ she said, pulling out his chair.    

Day Five
‘’Dadblastit, Justin! Get yer bloomin’ toys off my coffee table, my story’s comin’ on.’’ ‘’They’re not toys,’’ the boy said to himself. ‘’When are you gonna stop playing with those things anyway? You’re almost 18!’’ ‘’ I’m not playing with them,’’ he gently exerted, ‘’I’m sculpting.’’ ‘’Pshhh. Sculpting. You’re playing with Play-Doh is what you’re doing.’’ ‘’It’s clay.’’ ‘’It’s all the same.’’ The boy knelt down on one knee and carefully placed a forest-full of creatures onto a cutting board. His massive stomach spilled over the front of his jeans and he hiked them up in the back and tried to pull his t-shirt down to cover his backside. ‘’Next time I find ‘em out here they’re goin’ to the trash.’’ ‘’Yes ma’am,’’ he said to his grandma. He shoved a pile of junk mail aside and set them on the kitchen counter. ‘’Do you want anything from the store?’’ he asked. ‘’Yeah, pick me up a Snickers,’’ she told him, King size.’’ ‘’All right. Be back in a bit.’’ He walked out and the squeaky screen door slammed shut. He ducked under the overhanging weeping willow branches and headed out into the sunshine. Up the street he saw a pretty woman pushing a stroller. As she got closer to him, he began to get fidgety and looking any which way but at her. ‘’hello,’’ she smiled. He startled, ‘’hi,’’ he said, almost inaudibly. As he passed her, he turned around to look. She turned too and ‘’hello’’ jarred out of him as he tripped on some uneven sidewalk. She laughed. ‘’You big oaf,’’ he said to himself quietly. A couple of blocks later he swung into Dale Avenue Foods. There was one lone guy behind the counter in the tiny corner store. ‘’Hi big guy,’’ he called. ‘’Heya.’’ ‘’Here for your chips?’’ ‘’Yeahhh, well, I thought I might try out one of these here bananas.’’ ‘’You don’t say.’’ ‘’And maybe one of these delicious-looking apples.’’ ‘’Will wonders never cease? Turnin’ over a new leaf?’’ ‘’I dunno, just tired of where I’m at.’’ ‘’I hear ya. Well, good for you, brother. We’ll keep ‘em stocked for ya.’’ ‘’Haha, thanks. Oh, and a Snickers for my grandma.’’ ‘’Ol’ Dee isn’t turnin’ over any new leaves?’’ ‘’Not just yet, he smiled.’’ ‘’Alright, then. See ya tomorrow.’’ ‘’Have a good one, Tony.’’
As he rounded the corner into the trailer court, he saw a woman standing at their front door. She was talking animatedly with her hands and after a second disappeared inside. Half a minute or so later he did the same. The woman turned and looked at him. ‘’Hello,’’ she said, surprised. ‘’This is my grandson, Justin. Justin, this is…I’m sorry, what was your name again?’’ ‘’I’m Marie,’’ she said and held out her hand.’’ ‘’Nice to meet you.’’ ‘’Likewise.’’ He stood there, waiting to find out why she was there. ‘’Aha, oh yes. I’ve just been goin’ door to door askin’ people if they want to talk about Jesus.’’ ‘’Jesus?’’ grandma raised her voice. ‘’I, for one, have heard enough about him already.’’ Marie turned to Justin with a smile and her eye was drawn to the cutting board on the counter. She walked closer, ‘’sorry,’’ and she leaned in very, very close. ‘’Whose are these?’’ she asked in utter shock. ‘’Oh, those are just his Play-Doh creations.’’ ‘’They’re ab. solute. ly beautiful.’’ She could not stop looking at them. ‘’You think so?’’ Justin asked, sincerely surprised. ‘’They are stunning. Almost mesmerizing. Look at all that detail, how on earth did you get the fur to look like that?’’ ‘’I just used a little wire.’’ ‘’And what did you model them from? Photographs?’’ ‘’No, no. Just from my mind.’’ ‘’You have got to be kidding me. You have all that in your mind?’’ ‘’Yes,’’ he said shyly. ‘’I am a grade school art teacher, actually, but never in my wildest dreams could I create something like this.’’ ‘’Thank you.’’ ‘’Do you have any more?’’ ‘’Oh yeah! Grandma jumped in, ‘’go look in his room!’’ ‘’May I?’’ She asked. ‘’If you want.’’ “I want, I want.’’ He led her down the short hallway and pointed into the left-side door. She peered in. She gasped and scrambled to catch herself on the door frame. Her eyes grew wide and her jaw fell open as she scanned the room, the sheer number of them too many even to take in. There must have been upwards of a thousand. They lined shelves and dressers, windowsills and floors. In fact, every single space was inhabited by them. She walked in slowly and leaned in close, being transported into a magical, beautiful world of make-believe and wonder. Jungle animals and farm animals and woodland creatures and house pets. ‘’Do you have any people?’’ she asked. ‘’Just one,’’ he said. And lifted his large arm to point to a place of honor in the middle of his bedboard. ‘’It’s my mom,’’ he said, and looked Marie in the face. ‘’She died when I was 11. She’s the one who taught me to sculpt.’’ She stood there motionless, just looking for a good while longer. ‘’You have a true gift. I hope you  know that.’’ ‘’Thank you, Marie. I’m glad I met you.’’   
Day Six
Sandy smoothed out the long grey pant leg on the ironing board in her living room. She straightened the hem and made a perfect seam in the front. She set the iron over it and hit the steam button, pressing back and forth. Her eye got stuck on the zipper, figuratively of course, and her vision began to focus in and out as it sometimes does when we stare at something, and her mind wandered elsewhere. It was a strange memory to return to. College. 25 years previous. And she thought of someone she’d not thought of in probably two decades. A boy she’d befriended. A handsome boy by all accounts, but one she’d never been interested in romantically. She had gone to a protest on campus and he was there. She couldn’t even remember what they were protesting, but it seemed important at the time. They were in a history class together, so when he saw her there he invited her to go hiking. She wasn’t much of a hiker, in fact she was kind of a fraud. She went to protests mostly to fit in. She didn’t love the earth the way Ellis did. That was his last name but everyone called him that. But this is all backstory. The memory she returned to was in his dorm room. They were studying together but he kept making jokes so they were getting nothing done. He told her that if they weren’t married by the time they were 30 they should marry each other. They had laughed about it and it wasn’t until just then, there in her living room, that she wondered if maybe there hadn’t been some sincerity in that proposal. If maybe he hadn’t loved her too. She felt a coolness move slowly through her body. Not a chill, but something of a foreboding. A postboding. Like a physical manifestation of regret. She looked down at her work pants and asked out loud, ‘’are you unhappy, Sandy Wheeler?’’ and she stood there, almost as if she expected someone outside her body to answer her. She was coming up on the tenth anniversary of her divorce. ‘’I’m not happy being a divorcée, but I’m not unhappy being single,’’ she said aloud. She glanced up at a picture on the wall. Glen when he was in Little League. Sandy’s only child, who was now 18. ‘’This is ridiculous,’’ she shook her head, ‘’now you’re talking to yourself,’’ she added. She slipped the pants onto a hanger and unplugged the iron. Sandy wondered for a moment if her life, like those protests, hadn’t been something she did to fit in. If she wasn’t a fraud in all of it. Then she walked into the kitchen, flipped on the coffee pot and opened the fridge.   

Day Seven
‘’Meat is murder,’’ she sneered, with her eyes staring firmly forward. ‘’Oh kayyyy, do you see anything on the menu that carries a lesser charge, perhaps a misdemeanor?’’ ‘’Just get me some fries.’’ ‘’Do you want a strawberry shake? You used to love those.’’ ‘’Yeah, when I was seven.’’ ‘’Ok I get it, you’re too cool for shakes. Is there anything else on the menu cool enough for you, or is it gonna be just the fries?’’ ‘’You can get me a Coke.’’ ‘’Oh, can I now? Have I earned that privilege?’’ ‘’Whatever.’’ He pulled forward. ‘’Welcome to Dave’s can I take your order?’’ ‘’Well you can certainly take mine, but you might want to ask my daughter if she’s willing to give you hers.’’ ‘’Is that so?’’ The young man raised his voice, ‘’can I take your order, miss?’’ She rolled her eyes and looked out her passenger window. ‘’Miss? …Miss?’’ the man played along, to the great amusement of Miss’ dad. ‘’I’ll have a double cheeseburger, a small fry and a large chocolate shake.’’ ‘’Excellent, and your daughter, sir?’’ ‘’She would like to ask if there’s anything available in your restaurant that wasn’t murdered in cold blood.’’ The girl crossed her arms demonstratively. The young man laughed out loud. ‘’Welllllll,’’ he thought for a second, ‘’I think the potato was treated pretty humanely, albeit sliced and diced.’’ ‘’Very good, we’ll take a large order of fries.’’ ‘’Hmmm, I imagine the cow escaped more or less unscathed after the milking.’’ ‘’Do you have anything cooler?’’ ‘’Cooler than milk?’’ he murmered something unintelligible to his coworker, ‘’are we talking temperature here?’’ ‘’No, no. Hip. You know, happening… groovy.’’ More laughter burst out of the speakers. The girl pulled her hood up over her head and pressed her face against the window. ‘’What about Coke, is Coke pretty cool?’’ ‘’We’re talking the carbonated beverage, right?’’ ‘’Yes, yes. I’m a father, sir, give me a little credit.’’ ‘’Oh, your credit couldn’t be higher in my book.’’ ‘’Ya hear that, Simone?’’ ‘’Oh my gah…’’ the girl rubbed her eyebrows hard. ‘’About that Coke…’’ ‘’Well I’ve always thought 7-up was the cool kid in town, but...’’ ‘’Is that right? Cooler than Coke? Simone, do you want a 7-up?’’ ‘’I will take whatever you get me if we can get out of this line.’’ ‘’Reeeeally?’’ he smiled, ‘’my, my how things have changed.’’ HONK HO-O-O-ONK! ‘’What the heck is the holdup?’’ yelled a red-faced man behind them. Simone’s dad stuck his head out and mouthed sorry, sorry. ‘’And a large Coke.’’ ‘’Six seventy at the next window, please.’’ ‘’Thank you kindly.’’
They pulled forward and a red-headed teenager with terrible acne stuck his head out the window and craned his neck to see inside the car. ‘’Six seventy please,’’ he smiled. ‘’Keep the change,’’ Simone’s dad said, handing him a ten. ‘’Thank you very much!’’ Red said enthusiastically. ‘’Here’s the coolest Coke I could manage.’’ ‘’Thank you…thank you…thank you,’’ Simone’s dad said as he handed him each item. ‘’Have a nice day!’’ Red leaned in. Simone almost crawled under the seat. ‘’You too!’’ her dad said as they drove away.      

Day Eight
‘’I need to make some copies, I’ll be right back,’’ said Mr.Cooper, and shut the door behind him. Front-row Farrah turned around in her seat. She was just itching to pick a fight. She leaned over to what’s-her-name and whispered something and they both giggled demonstratively. Neurosurgeon Nathan piped up, ‘’hey! Whatchoo two laughin’ about?’’ ‘’I’ll tell you at lunch,’’ she teased. ‘’We all know you don’t eat lunch, Farrah,’’ came an unexpected jab from the quiet girl in the back. After a short stunned second, she shot back with, ‘’yeah because you get there first.’’ Nathan laughed and Farrah smiled proudly at the attention. She couldn’t stand the silence so she took another dig, ‘’how much do you eat a day, anyway? I mean…’’ ‘’We get it. Farrah. We get that you think she’s fat…Sorry, Susie.’’ ‘’No harm done.’’ ‘’And we all probably think some pretty awful things about you as well.’’ Farrah gasped. ‘’…but we don’t feel the need to articulate them every time Mr.Cooper leaves the room.’’ Six or eight people laughed this time. She looked me up and down, gathering ammunition. ‘’What’s it gonna be? My glasses? My non-existent chest?’’ Nathan guffawed. ‘’My dad’s a janitor if you wanna take aim at him. Or maybe my clothes?’’ Farrah was silent. ‘’Smart is the new black, Farrah.’’ She grimaced, ‘’what does that even mean?’’ looking at what’s-her-name to divert some attention, ‘’It means you owe Susie an apology.’’ ‘’For what?! For eating all my lunches?’’ ‘’Ohhhkay, I’m sorry. I forgot whom I was dealing with,’’ I said, ‘’you deal in a different currency.’’ ‘’ExCUSE me,’’ she said, confused but indignant. ‘’Your currency is boobs and legs and clothes and snide comments. Common courtesy is a debit for you. Human decency is a weakness in your world.’’ ‘’Tsss.’’ She shook her head. To her great relief Mr.Cooper came back into the room. ‘’Ok, take one and pass them around, please,’’ he said. Today we’re gonna talk about Napoleon.
After class I headed toward my locker. Susie ran to catch up with me. ‘’That was amazing, Stella,’’ her eyes shining. I stopped. ‘’She shouldn’t be allowed to do that, you know. She shouldn’t be allowed to treat people that way.’’ ‘’I guess I allow it,’’ Susie said wistfully. ‘’It’s tough, though. When she hits you where it hurts.’’ ‘’How come it doesn’t hurt you?’’ she asked. ‘’I put on a tough face. Or I beat them to the punch and make fun of myself before they can.’’ ‘’I mean, I do eat too much, it’s just…’’ ‘’No, Susie!’’ I paused. ‘’Look, she is an ugly person on the inside, and that ugliness must leak out. It cannot remain contained. And we are ugly people on the outside…I mean…’’ ‘’No, go on.’’ ‘’Our ugliness is already revealed so we are free to be good. She has to go on for who knows how long playing this charade of perfection until she is ultimately outed for who she really is  and by then her looks will have faded so she’ll be ugly on the inside as well as the outside.’’ ‘’But does it really work like that? I don’t think life’s that fair.’’ ‘’Oh, there is justice. Maybe not fully now, but we get little tastes of it.’’ I slammed my locker. And as I hoisted my backpack onto my shoulder, my eye caught a glimpse of Farrah from behind down the hall, skirt tucked into her fully visible undies.     
Day Nine
Minnie yanked on the large metal cart, her small frame no contest for this well-stuck monster. ‘’Help ya, ma’am?’’ She looked over at the smiling box boy. She stepped aside. ‘’There ya go. They can be real boogers.’’ ‘’Thank you.’’ She set her oversized purse into the child seat and wheeled into Pep-mart. ‘’Let’s see, what do I need? Oh! Stain remover, that’s right. I’m glad I remembered. I’d never be able to get Luci’s butterscotch pudding out without it. Hmm, for colors…for whites…here we go,’’ she tossed it into the cart. ‘’ The rainbow of fabric softener caught her eye and she just stood there, staring. ‘’Coconut mango, tropical breeze, lavender dream…what about ‘freshly made copies?’ or ‘the smell of money?’’’ she chuckled to herself. ‘’Ooh, candles!’’ She stood there and sniffed vanillas and roses until she was lightheaded. ‘’Yuch. Pass,’’ she said aloud. She tooled around the small store for far longer than was reasonable, going home with: lunchmeat, apricot nectar, lemon sandwich cookies, grape soda, tomato soup, a thimble, some pantyhose, a small plastic tea set for Lulu, five cans of Thumbelina’s soft food, a bag of frozen peas and some Juicy Fruit. Plus the stain remover.
At home she shoved the non-perishables into the jam-packed food closet and scooped up Thumbelina, who had been slip-sliding her way across the kitchen linoleum in a clawsy, skittery, underbite-y, asthmatic waltz. ‘’Come here, you gorgeous doll, you.’’ Her heart beat like a hummingbird. ‘’Hey, heyyyy, calm down,’’ Minnie soothed, ‘’I wanna have you around for a while.’’ She unpacked the rest of the bag and pulled out the stain remover last. Her shoulders slumped. ‘’Ugh. The pudding.’’ She padded across the small cozy house into the laundry room. She reached into the hamper and pulled out the small white-and-yellow dress with the offending stain. She held it up to the light, ‘’Youuu big ugly beast,’’ she said with exaggerated disgust as she popped the top off of the magical tube. ‘’Hasta luego,’’ she said in an Australian accent while she slathered the stain. She piled the remaining whites into the large olive green machine and hit the start button. ‘’Done and done.’’ She stuck her head into the bathroom and checked her ‘do, making a cringe face into the mirror. She fluffed her bouffant and checked her teeth, then swatted at the mirror in an ‘’oh, never mind’’ motion. She checked the mail, right outside the back door and plopped down at the kitchen table. She glanced at the clock and stood up and flipped on the tv. Applause roared from the small set as a contestant spun the wheel. Minnie dutifully opened each piece of junk mail and stacked them according to coupons she might use and those she certainly wouldn’t. She looked up from her pile, ‘’The Grand Canyon,’’ she advised the woman on the television. She breathed in sharply through rounded lips, ‘’shoot.’’ Paper cut. ‘’That hurts like a son-of-a-gun,’’ she gritted her teeth. She went to the kitchen sink and rinsed it. Back to the bathroom for a band-aid. After she wrapped her left pointer with the rubbery beige bandage, she stood there looking at herself. She looked at the greys coming in at her hairline, the tired eyes, the spreading middle. ‘’It’s ok,’’ she said out loud, ‘’your husband loves you dearly and your daughter too.’’ She reached up and grabbed a bottle of perfume and spritzed her neck. She checked the clock and flipped off the tv. She walked down to the end of their street to wait for Lulu’s school bus. ‘’Hi Nancy,’’ she said. ‘’Oh, hi Min. Say, you look really nice today.’’ ‘’Really? Thanks!’’ And the cheerful yellow bus rounded the corner.   

Day Ten
Today’s story is non-fiction. Just a small collection of stories about my grandpa.
The earliest memory I have of my grandpa was in the kitchen of the house I grew up in. My dad designed the house and he and his brothers and friends and my grandpa built it. I was about four when they were building the house and this memory took place when we had just hooked up our water. I had a small navy blue Tupperware cup in my hand and I asked my grandpa if I could have a drink of water. He replied, ‘’well if I can, I guess you can,’’ to which I replied the first of a thousand, ‘’Graaaaandpaaaaaa’’s, presuming he had misunderstood the thrust of my question. Turns out that’s just what grandpas do. It is his trademark. He puts a spin on your question or comment, a dry little joke that never fails to get a ‘’Graaaandpaaaaa!’’ from any one of his many, many grandkids, and at the last second he goes ‘’ope!’’ like he just caught on to what you were really asking or getting at. I love it dearly.
I also remember him holding me in his arms next to my Grandma’s spoon collection by the bar stools in their kitchen, and squirming from his scratchy stubble as he hugged me. I remember him always whistling. I coined the phrase curly whistle to try and describe the way he did it. Maybe you can imagine it. And I decided at an early age that I wanted to marry a whistler because his made me so happy.  I remember his rust-colored cardigan with plaid underneath, his trucker hats and his work pants. I remember him at birthday parties, Christmas eves, playing nine hole golf and king on the corner with him. I don’t know if he ever in my life turned down any of my (too-many) cookie requests from their mushrooms-on-a-treestump cookie jar. It was somewhere long about high school (for me) when he received a prophetic coffee mug that read nothing could be finer than me in my recliner. And around the same time he began dozing off after meals, which always got a good snicker from the grandkids. And from about as early as I can remember, whenever we would come over he would talk about the book he was writing about our family’s history. In 1995 he took a trip to Germany to do some more research firsthand and meet some family members face to face. Based on how often he references this trip, it’s safe to say it was one of the best things he ever did. In 2006 he completed the book. It took him 27 years to write. Full of genealogies, pictures and anecdotes from the Schliebe family, it is a priceless treasure.
Yesterday was his 90th birthday. He was on his computer in the basement when I called him. The morning of his 90th year and he had just finished naming all the people in a photograph someone in the family had asked for, and then he went on to write some details or stories about each one. Remarkable. He said he hadn’t turned on his computer for three weeks and when he did he found 35 birthday greetings. I know there are scores of people coming to celebrate with him tomorrow. And here’s where I start to tear up writing this. In a month and five days I turn 40. I had secretly dreamed of making it to Montana to celebrate my 40th and his 90th together. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen, but I just want to put into writing one thing (more) I love about him and my grandma. No matter what they were doing, no matter when we stopped by, without fail, all growing up and continuing today, they dropped it all and had a visit with us. We became their priority. Nothing was more important or urgent than sitting around their round kitchen table, most likely with ice cream, and catching up. When I left for Slovakia after our wedding, I remember him standing in their driveway, seeing me off, and the look in his eyes. There was a sadness in them and a deep look of love. Happy 90th, Grandpa. I can only aspire to love half as well as you have loved in your life. You are precious to me.  

Day Eleven
Dandelion Jones stood atop a mountain top, her arms spread wide above her head, posing like she’d just conquered Everest. ‘’Get down from there!’’ her boss barked. She startled. ‘’You’ve got seven, eight, nine more boxes to stock. Get to work!’’ She jumped down from the back of the Kodak Swiss Alps display and grabbed a utility knife, slicing the tape across a box of film. She followed her boss with her eyes as he walked away, making sure to look busy until he was at a safe distance, chatting up a checker. A young family walked timidly up to the counter, ‘’can I help you?’’ Dandy asked. ‘’Do you guys do portraits?’’ ‘’We sure do!’’ ‘’Do you have any openings today?’’ ‘’I’m free right now,’’ she said cheerfully. ‘’Ok,’’ the mom said quietly, ‘’um…how much do they cost?’’ She pulled out a glossy flier and laid it on the counter in front of them. ‘’Here ya go, here’s the price list.’’ The parents scanned the flier as Dandy stacked the film into an impressive mountain-like shape. A skinny, pale little boy hid behind his mom’s knee, peeking out at her occasionally. She put a pretend camera in front of her eye and winked at him, making a shutter sound with her cheek. ‘’We…’’ ‘’Yes,’’ she stood up and took the flier. ‘’We’ll take one of these.’’ They pointed at the bottom of the list. The smallest and the cheapest price. ‘’Oh, those are just doubles. You can’t buy them individually, you have to buy a package first.’’ ‘’Oh,’’ the mom said, disappointedly. Dandy took a closer look at them out of the corner of her eye. It was clear they didn’t have much money. ‘’Tell ya what,’’ she said, ‘’we’ll see what we can do.’’ ‘’But…’’ ‘’Naaaah, come on!’’ she urged, and corralled them into the studio.    
‘’What are you guys thinkin’?’’ ‘’Huh?’’ ‘’I mean, do you have any ideas of what you’d like?’’ ‘’Well…’’ the mom started and trailed off. ‘’We’d like a family portrait,’’ her husband stepped in. ‘’Very good,’’ Dandy encouraged, ‘’do you want something serious or something fun?’’ ‘’Well, how much is it gonna’’  ‘’Ne-e-e-evermind that,’’ she interrupted, ‘’here. What’s your name?’’ she asked the little boy, crouching down. He nuzzled into his mom’s neck. ‘’This is Isaac,’’ his mom answered. ‘’Nice to meet you Isaac, my name is Dandelion.’’ He squealed with laughter. The parents brightened. ‘’I’m not kidding. My mom named me after a weed.’’ ‘’It fits you,’’ the mom said, ‘’I mean…bright and sunny.’’ ‘’Well, thanks,’’ she smiled. ‘’Here. Come with me, Isaac,’’ she took him by the hand, ‘’is there anything in this box that strikes your fancy?’’ He gingerly picked up a stuffed bear. She jumped to her feet and grabbed a cowboy hat, ‘’what about this?’’ she put it on her head and started shooting wildly. ‘’Or this?’’ she stuck a red clown nose on his and juggled some bean bags. ‘’No?’’ He smiled. ‘’Oh! I know! A pirate! Ahoj, matey,’’ she cawed as she looked through a telescope while wildly slashing at the air with a plastic sword. ‘’I just want a picture,’’ Isaac said politely. Dandelion stopped. ‘’All right, then. A picture it is.’’ They picked out a nice background. A field of wildflowers as far as the eye could see. ‘’Here, you sit here,’’ she directed, ‘’and mom, you sit right next to him, aaand let’s see, Isaac you go sit on this box behind them.’’ She stepped back. ‘’No, no, no. Isaac you come sit on your mom’s lap, and dad, you lean in. Thaaat’s it. There. She turned off the overhead light and switched on a lamp and hopped behind the camera. ‘’Hooold it!’’ ‘’Click!’’ She clicked and clicked and clicked so much they began to laugh. ‘’That’s it! Wonderful.’’ They smiled. ‘’Okey dokey,’’ she said, finally. If you folks wanna do some shopping or get a pop from the machine or, I don’t know, take a walk around the outside of the store with its magnificent, breathtaking views of the parking lot, I’ll have these done for you in about an hour.
As she printed the photos, she noticed that Isaac had some dark bruises on his legs. His hair also looked a bit patchy at some angles. She chose several of the very best shots, printed some large, some medium and a whole bunch of wallet-size, and packaged them up in a large envelope. At one hour on the button, Isaac’s dad came walking in alone. ‘’They’re in the car,’’ he motioned without her asking. ‘’Two fifty,’’ she replied, placing the envelope in front of him. ‘’Two fifty?! He asked in shock.’’ ‘’Yes, sir.’’ He pulled out three crinkled ones from his pocket and handed them to her. ‘’We tried ten years for him,’’ he said to her plainly. ‘’What’s that?’’ she looked up at him. ‘’And now we’re losing him,’’ he said with tears in his eyes. ‘’Thank you for what you’ve given us,’’ she looked at him, ‘’Dandelion.’’ ‘’It was an honor, sir,’’ and he turned and walked away.         

Day Twelve
‘’Come on in, Pat,’’ the man motioned to the old man waiting in the car. The door to the old white Buick creaked open while Pat crawled out slowly and carefully. He grabbed his cane from between the seats and slid his ochre houndstooth Ben Hogan onto his head. ‘’Mornin’, Jerry.’’ ‘’Mornin’.’’ ‘’Mornin’, Pat,’’ the cook called through the little window as they walked into the diner. ‘’Mornin’, Edie, what’s the word?’’ ‘’Oh you know, just gettin’ the hashbrowns brownin’.’’ ‘’Good plan,’’ Pat chuckled. SanDee’s Diner opened at 6 a.m., but Jerry didn’t see any sense in Pat sittin’ out in his car for ten minutes on a technicality. ‘’What’s it been now, fourteen, fifteen years you been comin’ here?’’ Edie asked. ‘’Seventeen and a quarter,’’ he replied immediately. Edie laughed, ‘’seventeen and a quarter, huh?’’ ‘’Ever since my Myrna passed. She nodded her head slowly. ‘’Yeah, ‘cause I know I’ll have been here fourteen years this November.’’ ‘’Has it really been that long?’’ Jerry asked. ‘’That means you started working at ten years old!’’ Pat joked. ‘’Ohhhhh, you are a charmer,’’ Edie pointed at him with her spatula. Everyone chuckled. The front door swung open with a jangle. A brawny teenager with a chip on his shoulder came storming in. No one greeted him and he didn’t greet them either. He slammed through the swinging doors, grabbing an apron on the way in. Edie poked her head out and raised her eyebrows and they all laughed. ‘’Sunshine in a muscle shirt,’’ she whispered. Jerry grabbed a coffee pot and turned over Pat’s mug. ‘’May I?’’ he asked as he did every morning. ‘’If you please,’’ he said and he scooted the mug closer to the edge of the table. Jerry reached in his apron and grabbed out a handful of creamers and filled the bowl on Pat’s table. ‘’The usual?’’ he asked. ‘’You know what, let’s switch it up and go for toast instead of pancakes. Whole wheat.’’ ‘’Well, well, well. You just never can tell about a person,’’ he tapped Pat’s table twice quickly and walked away. A short, well-rounded waitress hurried through the door, four minutes after six. ‘’Sorry, sorry she said, out of breath.’’ ‘’No biggie,’’ Jerry answered, ‘’Pat’s havin’ toast, though. I thought you ought to know.’’ ‘’You don’t say!’’ She said with a smile. Muscle shirt walked into the dining room and grabbed a bus tub. ‘’Hi Jared,’’ the waitress said. ‘’Yeah,’’ he answered. She laughed out loud, so surprised by his answer. He stopped and glared at her. ‘’Hey, hey, hey now, she didn’t do anything to you,’’ Jerry warned. He just turned around and walked back into the dishwashing area. ‘’Sorry, Penny,’’ Jerry offered. ‘’No biggie,’’ she winked. A tall, skinny cowboy moseyed through the door and slipped easily into Pat’s booth. ‘’Hey old timer,’’ he said. ‘’Who you callin’ old?’’ Pat joked. ‘’You!’’ he said. ‘’Fair enough.’’ The cowboy Marlboro-laughed. He took off his ten gallon and halfway to the seat he caught Jerry’s eye, ‘’just the coffee this mornin’.’’ ‘’You got it, Earl.’’ He turned over his mug. ‘’Ajajaaaaaj,’’ he breathed out. Penny came over and filled up his cup. ‘’You boys haven’t got any better place to be than this old dump?’’ ‘’I can’t think of a better place to be,’’ Earl charmed. ‘’I can,’’ she laughed. ‘’Do tell,’’ Pat said. ‘’Like a beach in Tahiti!’’ ‘’Oh, no, no, no, I hear the coffee’s terrible.’’ ‘’Yeah but the Tahitian sunrises are to die for.’’ ‘’Nothin’ beats a Lincoln sunrise,’’ Pat said, pointing out the window. ‘’Oh, you are far too easily pleased,’’ Penny chuckled. ‘’Order up!’’ Edie called, dinging the bell for effect. ‘’Here we go,’’ Pat said as Penny slid the plate in front of him. ‘’Thanks, honey.’’ She filled up their cups and went to seat a large group of coiffed ladies. Jared brought a large stack of plates out to the counter. ‘’That one’s as pleasant as a black cloud,’’ Pat said to Jerry as he passed by. ‘’Nah,’’ said Earl, ‘’at least black clouds bring rain.’’ ‘’I guess washing dishes isn’t his bag,’’ said Jerry. ‘’I’m sure slingin’ hashbrowns isn’t Edie’s bag either, but I never seen her without a smile,’’ said Pat. ‘’Yeah, but she’s a saint,’’ said Jerry. ‘’I heard that,’’ she yelled. ‘’Good!’’ said Jerry, ‘’’cause it’s true!’’ Pat scraped butter across his toast and opened a small packet of strawberry jam. He gently sprinkled some black pepper on his eggs and squirted far too much ketchup on his hashbrowns. He ate slowly, reminiscing with Earl about their time in the military and cracking jokes here and there. Earl stared out the window and coughed occasionally. About quarter to eight Pat stood up and walked over to the cash register. He paid his bill and asked Penny to give a dollar to Jared. ‘’See ya tomorrow, Pat.’’ ‘’See ya tomorrow, Pen.’’ 
Day Thirteen
Kellogg, Idaho was not known for its nightlife. In fact, if the topic ever came up, most people’s response would probably be, ‘’what nightlife?’’ But if you were a young person and it was a Friday or Saturday night, those merrymaker urges didn’t just go away because you lived in a town of 2,000 people. Sure, there were plenty of house parties, lots of underage drinking, but if an out-of-towner were to ask what there was to do in Kellogg, the local kids would probably point him to the laundromat. ‘’The laundromat?’’ he might ask, surprised. ‘’The only place in Kellogg open 24 hours,’’ they’d reply. 
And really, you couldn’t miss it. In Kellogg you couldn’t miss much of anything, actually. But the Klean ‘n Krisp had a large neon sign out front with a busty woman holding a bucket of suds on it. The girl who worked the feeble snack bar inside (and theoretically kept an eye on the goings-on) took a lot of flak from smart-mouthed boys, asking where the lady from the sign was and complaining of false advertising. She had grown a sharp tongue working there, though, and had plenty of bullets to fire back at these punks with. I don’t mean punks literally. Any of those within a 20-mile-radius would have been chased out of town by the redneck majority. Given what some know to be true about Idaho, it might be assumed that this business had ties with the KKK, but actually it was just an unfortunate name choice by an unassuming couple who had started it years before, thinking it would be cute to use Ks instead of Cs because it was in Kellogg. Then again, the usual clientele (and I use that word loosely, since none of them ever did any laundry, and never purchased any more than a Kit-Kat [irony noted]) might have easily been mistaken for members of the Klan, based on their racist mouths. The snack bar girl (Lindsay was her name), however, was decidedly non-racist. And if she was not racist or even neutral before getting this job, dealing with these yahoos night after night almost certainly pushed her firmly into the opposite camp from them. So she did what any girl with a brain in her head would do, she sharpened her debating skills on their thick, ugly skulls. Figuratively, of course. Sometimes they were so dumb it didn’t even amuse her to argue with them, but occasionally one of the less-dumb ones would find his way in and she would find herself in a sparring mood and could go a couple of good rounds before calling the owner, who lived in an apartment in the back, to kick them out.
But it wasn’t all as bad as I’ve made it sound, either (anyone who would stick around in a job like that probably shouldn’t be described as a girl with a brain in her head), there were plenty of nights when the young crowd who amassed in the laundromat just wanted to play cards and laugh and listen to music. This was one of those nights. First in was a guy they called Telly. He did a decent British accent and somewhere along the line the nickname stuck. He came in with his girlfriend, Mindy, a pairing which baffled Lindsay because Telly seemed like a pretty good guy and Mindy seemed like, well, like she fit more with last night’s crowd. No matter, she had never done anything to her so she decided to give her a chance. Almost immediately after them walked in the redhead twins, Mike and Matt, but Lindsay still didn’t know which was which. ‘’Hey guys,’’ she welcomed them. ‘’Linds,’’ they said in unison and nodded their heads. Lindsay’s best friend, Tina, came in. she actually brought a load of whites for her mom, which just made Lindsay laugh. ‘’What do ya think this is, a laundromat?’’ she called. ‘’Haha,’’ Tina said with half-closed eyelids, ‘’our machine is on the fritz.’’ ‘’You coulda just gone to my house and not had to deal with the likes of these clowns.’’ ‘’What’s wrong with clowns?’’ Redhead on the right asked. ‘’If you have to ask…’’ she trailed off. ‘’You gonna buy something, Telly, this romantic atmosphere ain’t for free.’’ ‘’Uh, yeeeahhhh, doesn’t my winning personality count for somethin’?’’ he hoped. ‘’Well, Mindy’s here, but as for the rest of us, we take cold, hard American cash. ‘’Two foot-longs, then.’’ ‘’Big spender,’’ Redhead on the left poked. ‘’Can it, Freckles,’’ Telly snapped. Mindy laughed. Then a sizeable group of teenagers filed in, and one by one, ordered junk food and found a seat at the ‘mat’s very limited booths. And one by one they teased Tina for doing laundry. ‘’Ok. Ok,’’ she said good-naturedly, ‘’I’ll just wait for you all’s machines to go out, because it will happen. It’s not a question of if but when. And I’ll just be here, waiting, as each of you comes in with basket in hand, head hung in shame, and I’ll laugh.’’ ‘’Now that is a beautiful picture,’’ Telly said. ‘’You too, Telly,’’ Tina added, ‘’and yours will be a large load of undies.’’ Everyone burst into laughter. ‘’Anyone wanna play cards?’’ he loudly tried to change the subject, which just made them laugh even more.           

Day Fourteen
My dearest Marcos,                                                                                                      
 May 23
I know it has been far too long since I’ve written, but I assure you you are never more than a blink’s distance from my mind. My days have been long and hard. It is terribly hot here, and dusty. When I see the other girls at the end of the night I don’t even recognize them, their skin black with dirt and sweat, and their hair blown into a dust-filled frenzy. I can only guess I look the same, but we are provided with no mirrors. We have no soap, so we never fully get clean, but depending on where we’re picking, we sometimes jump into a river in the middle of the day which is like heaven on earth. My closest friend’s name is Mary. She is quiet but funny. And the hardest worker here. I am continually surprised that she is able to make light of such a difficult situation, but I am so thankful for it. We pick from about 5 a.m. until 10 p.m. We get some bread and a tomato on our walk out to the field. Lunch is the only decent meal, where we actually get something warm. Usually it’s a broth soup and some potatoes with butter and a small piece of meat. I have lost so much weight you would not recognize me. My skin is very tan, as you might imagine, and my hair is the longest it’s ever been.  I dream of our bath. And ham dinners with baked potatoes and sour cream and blackberry pie for dessert. But mostly I dream of you. I dream about walking down Main Street in our Sunday best with you and a bag of popcorn. I dream about laying on a blanket with you in the shade of our oak tree. Yes, shaaade. With two bottles of cold beer and tunafish sandwiches and hardboiled eggs and your mom’s blueberry muffins. Do you dream of me too?
A couple of days ago we learned that one of the girls had lost her baby. None of us knew she was pregnant, but the stress was just too much on her body. She started bleeding right out in the middle of the field, so then she told us what was happening. Mary ran all the way back to the farm for help, but of course it was too late. I broke down and wept in the field. It’s just all too horrible. I didn’t know it would be like this. I know we need the money and I’m thankful I found work, but I don’t know how much more I can take. Most nights I’m asleep before I can say ‘’Thank You, Jesus,’’ but some nights…some nights I lay awake and think about what might happen. How I might lose a limb in one of the threshing machines, or get so dehydrated that I get seriously ill, or how you might find another girl. One who’s close to home. And it’s just all too terrible. I love you, Marcos. I need you to know that. If I didn’t say it enough back home, I’m saying it now. I want to marry you, if you’ll have me. And I want to have your babies. Lots of them. And I’ll get fat and you’ll go bald and we’ll have huge picnics in our backyard with all 75 grandkids, and you’ll tell stories about when I went away to California and how you missed me so much.
Marcos set the letter down before finishing it and wiped away some tears under his glasses. He leaned back in his chair and he looked out the window of his office that overlooked the backyard at the masses of family, standing in quiet circles, all dressed in black, celebrating a life now gone. A quiet knock at the door, ‘’you alright dad?’’ asked one of his sons. He looked up at him, ‘’did I ever tell you about the time mom went to California?’’ ‘’California? I don’t think so.’’ ‘’Go get Jeff and your sisters.’’