glint on strewn linens,
no hospital corners.
that's what this is.
hope it bides.
She stood there, perspiring on an early fall day under the weight of the leather jacket and pants, the starched white shirt, the long wig and the cowboy hat, not to mention the stage makeup. But Sheila was used to all that. She was sweating it out this time because it was different, she was different. The stakes were so high now.
Okay, you can do this. Don't be like this, don't freeze up now, you're a pro, this is in your fucking blood. A couple hours of shooting here and you'll be back home to Macy. So buck up, missy, get yourself together.She wore a long blonde wig and padded leather, working as a stunt double for Mickey Rourke in his new film. Mickey was playing a gangster on the lam, and he had to make it across this track in a suped-up hemi a split second before the oncoming train. She'd done this stunt before, racing across the tracks at the last possible moment. Many times. This was basic stunt work, she could practically do it in her sleep.
Sheila lived the life she had always wanted, taking risks, finding challenges, greater and more dangerous each time. She knew she couldn't stop. Even meeting Tom, falling hard, loving him more than life itself had not stalled the daredevil in her. She had learned about taking risks from her father, who had been a champion rodeo cowboy and steer roper. Her earliest memories were in the ring, on a horse, roping calves.
But now, that life was starting to feel irresponsible, what with family, a new baby, her Macy and her Tom. They were worth living for, living safer for. It was confusing, the overwhelming urge to protect her child, all mixed up with who she was, who she always had been. Macy was only four months old, and already Sheila wondered if she'd inherit the urge to court danger. Could she bear it if she did? Should she even be doing this?
People would be surprised how many trucks are charged out in front of oncoming trains in Hollywood movies. For crying out loud, so predictable. I wonder if they'll still be making trucks fly out in front of trains when Macy's old enough to like movies. She'll love seeing her mama on the big screen.Sheila opened an extra shirt button so she could cup her palm above her heart, across her daredevil tattoo. It was her first gig after having Macy, and she had expected to feel a bit jumpy. Her hand on her breast calmed her racing heart a little. Of course, she had worn her lucky shoes. She never performed without them. The flames on her feet made her giggle and feel powerful at the same time. Those shoes pleased her. And calmed her. She searched in her pants pocket for the locket, the one Tom had given her when Macy was born, a lock of newborn baby girl hair and Tom's photo tucked inside.You got all your lucky charms, Sheila, of course you can do this. Do it for Tom and Macy. Let them know you really are all of it and more--a daredevil, a professional, an ace stunt performer, as well as a loving wife and an amazing mom. Women do it all the time, working mothers, that's all I am here, a working mother. Oh, I have to remember to pump in about two hours if this scene isn't wrapped."Okay, Sheila, you ready?" She nodded at the director and climbed up into the hemi. She turned the key and the engine roared to life.
"Yeah, I'm ready. Let's do this." She heard the distant rumbling of the train, then the train whistle. Everyone stayed still, listening, feeling the rumble, until just the right moment.
Do it for Tom and Macy."Okay! Four, three..." The train bore down on them. Sheila depressed the clutch, shifted into first."Two... one... ACTION!" She eased off the clutch and floored the gas pedal.
This week in the Indie Ink Writing Challenge, I received this prompt from Ilse: "You see a man walking on the train station, his hair is blonde (and long), he wears leather pants, a cowboy hat, a white shirt and black leather shoes with flames on them. He also has a tattoo on his arm. Who is he going to and why? (What are his fears? And his aspirations?)" Whew. I took a couple liberties with this here prompt.
I was lucky enough to prompt my comrade Pirate Grace this week, who wrote a heartwarming yet terrifying story called Care from my prompt: "Your heroine spends a night at the Dew Drop Inn." Read!
the girls sing deck the halls!
a vapid burlesque promenade
starring blintzes and bourbon balls,
pretty girls mouthing deck the halls
who came here to escape the malls,
glistening girls who think you're odd.
besotted girls stumble down the halls
in a spectacular holiday promenade.
It only took Karen a moment upon waking to remember her anger from the night before. That was all bullshit, anyway, the whole never go to bed angry adage; unrealistic, really. Whatever. She had gone to bed angry and awakened in a slow simmer.
The night before, she had wanted to leave. Not forever, just to get her bearings, but she had been trapped by booze and country living. Which was to say, she had drunk too much to drive, and walking around in the pitch black of a hilltown middle-of-the-night was out of the question. So she had slammed and locked the bedroom door and scribbled in her notebook until she passed out. Now, she thought she better have some coffee and clear her head before she read what she had written.
Monica was still asleep on the couch, but Karen ran the coffee grinder anyway. She figured, correctly as it turned out, that Monica was still giving her the cold shoulder and would keep her distance. And fuck her, anyway. Karen fed the cats while her coffee brewed, pulled on her boots and her fleece overshirt, and knotted her hair into a messy ponytail. Coffee decanted into a travel mug, Karen set out into the morning air.
It was a beautiful walk, and ordinarily Karen would have paid attention, would have attuned herself to her surroundings. Today, she was too pissed to notice. She stomped down the main road and turned right on Old South Road, trying unsuccessfully to slow her pace. She blasted past the farmhouse with the huge trampoline, the house that she and Monica had dubbed "John-John's Hilltown Getaway," and the house with the purple door without observing any of the details that usually made her smile. By the time she reached the "Trustees of Reservations" sign, she was full-on enraged again.
When she reached the cliff's edge, Karen finally took stock of her surroundings. On other days, being in this place made her happy. Today, the natural beauty of the gorge made her catch her breath. The rushing water, the glacier-hewn rock, the creeping yellow-flowered sage, all far below. As usual, she stood back from the rail in an attempt to avoid that sucking vertigo feeling in her abdomen, but she leaned against a rock and let the scene and the sounds rush over her.
After a few moments of listening to water crashing like the angry thoughts in her head, Karen crept along the path and carefully down the rough steps toward the dirt road. Following along the river, the road was more like a path, where at this time on a weekday morning, she was all alone. After about a mile's walk, she reached her favorite bend in the river. She tossed down her mug, shedded her fleece and boots, and tiptoed out to the furthest rock. She spread her arms wide open, as if to embrace the sun, pulled all the way back to feel the stretch across her ribs, then bent all the way down to touch her toes, stretching her spine.
She spotted the rock and picked it up, standing tall again, rolling it around in her hands, smooth and round. She held it to her mouth for a heartbeat and then hurled it into the river. "That's for making me cry!" Karen grabbed another rock and threw it. "I HATE CRYING!" Another. "That's for not loving me!"
Another. "That's for not touching me!"
Another. "That's because I need you to want me!"
Another. "AND YOU FUCKING DON'T!"
She spied a huge rock, as big as a football, oblong and smooth from years of wear. If she was going to throw rocks, she was glad for the smooth, round ones, the ones that belonged there, that had been forged there. She hoisted up the heavy one and stayed bent over, cradling it there like a baby, aware of her spine again, the pressure of the pull of the weight, keeping it there.
"This is for me being in it with you forever, this is what I signed up for, this is for my destiny." Karen choked, then coughed.
She had not yet thrown the rock. Another splash registered just beyond her, toward the opposite bank. Karen slowly raised her head, blowing wayward hair from her eyes.
There she was, five hundred pounds of mama black bear, eyes like coal looking right back at her.
Karen dropped the rock.
This week in the Indie Ink Writing Challenge, The Drama Mama challenged me with a prompt I might have written for myself: "If you must throw stones, make sure they are smooth and round from the river." I challenged Stefan with "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt." (He lives on another continent, so probably can't actually show up here to kick my ass. Whew.)
dear children, i'd love you to know
how santa comes by all that dough
to bring you treats, but i'm not so
needy as to ruin
your kind, benevolent fellow.
you'll figure it out soon.
when that day comes i'll be bereft
of bright wonder, then we'll be left
with one another and a mess
of adult apathy.
so children, i'll still line your nest
with rosy fantasies.
there was a light, and i moved toward it,
but then there was this audible sigh,
as though all the universe had imploded
upon the mention of your name out loud.
afraid, i took cover under a great conifer,
waiting, watching for any threat at all,
but noting only squirrels and sparrows,
i grabbed a nearby sled to fly away.
it was more like a ski with a seat,
just like the one john denver fashioned
and shuttled in a rocky mountain high
christmas special, maybe starring muppets.
dismounting at the bottom, casual-like,
i kept checking behind me for followers
but there were none. i found my car and left,
excoriating myself for my grand paranoia,
wondering where you are and whether i'd sleep.
Friends, I have a special treat for you today! Please allow me to introduce you to Joy S Grape, my favorite entomologist poet. I have been enamored of Joy's writing and art for quite some time and feel compelled to spread the word. Here are two of my favorites of her poems for your enjoyment.
July 10, 2011
April 23, 2011
July 10, 2011
My dear, you think I wear asterisks
Like cotton underwear.
But these virgin symbols are barbed wire.
My anger, my hurt, my lust
Have few enough weapons
Without gunrunning to my apathy.
I want the words of my feelings to be fresh open fields
I want the only truck tires rutting through my language to be mine.
April 23, 2011
The children always ask for names.Joy S Grape self-publishes poetry at her blog, Coffee With Leonard Cohen. She likes to dance badly. Her favorite movie is Cool Hand Luke. For some reason, people pay her to play in dirt all day.
The tarantula is Rosie.
The scorpion is young, writhing, piss and vinegar.
I will name her Li (a good cornfed Chinese Minnesota Swede name).
If I name her, maybe I will love her, and cradle her in my hand without flinching.
She will scuttle my questions to my mother
Who sits smoking on a porch
My cellphone can't reach.
She will offer my scorpion coffee.
She will say it looks like someone cares about it a lot
As she said to the spiky hairdyed strays that she found on her couch some Saturday mornings.
She once raised a scorpion
That her uncle brought home (thinking she would like it)
(I never met her uncle, but apparently
He worked at the sort of place that would have an extra scorpion lying around
And he was the sort of man
Who would sum up a little girl and declare her lacking in scorpions.)
For all my mother's flatchested Boys Life bravado
She could not love a scorpion.
Though as an older woman, her heart would interrupt nature,
Chasing parasitoid wasps from their paralyzed spider prey
And in turn cutting insects from webs with nail scissors.
But my little mother with her boy's bicycle
Fed the scorpion with recipes from her hated Home Ec cards,
Took care of her,
Let her curl her tail and stalk,
Let her come home smelling of things that happen on streets,
Until she ran away to Japan
And still answered when she called to ask how to get stains out of things.
Li will find my mother in the netherworld, and maybe they will be friends.
The children can name the walkingsticks, hissers, beetles.
I can't tell them apart, and
They don't live long enough for it to matter.
with your carbon-copy progeny,
you look like you stepped out
of a jeans commercial, still.
freckling for all you are worth,
your dazzling close-up smile
hides the ills of twenty years.
my memory of you, wine-soaked,
out-of-bounds. that you were.
you are perfect for the beach.
but, you know, i guess if mine
was a furniture-catalog family,
i would put us on display, too.
there on the porch rail, gourds
sporting happy painted
faces, left over from hallowe'en
with autumn as winter draws near,
sleigh bells jingling, awhirl
snowflakes lighting everywhere.
now, the gourds feed our squirrels.
Ruth's dinner had been delicious, even outstanding, although she questioned her judgment about such things at this point. Even though she considered the whole thing ludicrous, she had decided to ask for a healthy vegetarian meal, heavy on local, organic, seasonal vegetables. To her surprise, it seemed that someone who knew how to cook had prepared it for her, a braised tempeh stir-fry with sweet potatoes, red bell peppers, carrots, and cashews.
It was difficult for her to remember enjoying the taste of cabernet sauvignon, or the flush it brought to her cheeks, but she drank it anyway. And she savored her plain cheesecake, the real indulgence. She ate it in tiny bites, letting each melt on her tongue, rolling it around in her mouth like a lover's kiss, every last morsel. How long had it been since she tasted this?
Now Ruth sat in a tattered leather desk chair, savoring her view of farmland out the plate-glass window, and the trees and mountain beyond, far more than her meal. As dusk approached, the late October sky seared pink above the autumn calico of the trees. She scribbled in her journal, describing the scene, the rising moon, the taste of cheesecake, the worn chair cradling her back. She noted the stretch in her legs as she leaned back and crossed one over the other.
"Ruth, hey, someone's here to see you. It's Kayla." Mark Maxwell poked his head in and spoke gently, almost lovingly. "Are you ready for her, Ruth?"
Ruth closed her notebook and stood, smoothing the front of her pants. "Yes, thank you, Mark." She became aware of her heart battering her ribcage, like it was trying to escape.
"Okay, Ruth. About twenty minutes, then, okay?" Maxwell's eyes glistened.
Ruth steeled herself against falling, her hand on the desk, as Kayla walked in. Maxwell closed the door behind her, and Kayla came forward, dropping a purse and sweater on the desk.
"Hi, Mom." Kayla's voice, clear and unobstructed, right there in the room with Ruth, rang like a bell on still air. She appeared radiant, though serious, in black trousers and a pressed oxford. As she moved closer to her mother, Ruth could see that Kayla's eyes were puffy under her eyeliner, that her lips were swollen and her nose a bit pink.
"Oh, Kayla, I love you." The words brought forth tears for mother and daughter both. Ruth caught herself, breathed deeply, reached for a tissue to blow her nose. "You look beautiful. You are beautiful."
"Thank you. I--" Kayla looked down, but then raised her eyes again to meet her mother's with obvious intention. "I love you, too, Mom. I always have, and I always will." It sounded rehearsed, but not insincere, as though Kayla knew she'd have trouble speaking so she'd practiced.
They stood, looking at each other across three feet of stale institutional air, no words coming, none necessary or even possible. The time for words had passed. Ruth reached out to touch Kayla's hand, nodding toward the big window. Together they walked right up to the glass and stood, shoulder to shoulder, watching the sun and the moon jockeying for space in the sky, the concomitant streaks of pink and red, puffs in shades of gray crossing paths above the woods. Ruth was aware of Kayla's scent, her long curly hair redolent of a stick of Juicy Fruit, or maybe a melon daiquiri.
They watched the sky shift like a kaleidoscope, and then, as though he were sent just for them in this moment, a hawk lazing back and forth across the pink. Ruth turned to look at Kayla.
"Can I hug you, Kayla?" It had been so long since she touched anyone.
"Yes, Mom." Kayla turned to her mother, her eyes floating.
Ruth moved closer and raised her hand to her daughter's face, tucking a wayward curl behind her ear, then setting her open palms on Kayla's cheeks, holding her there, searching her overflowing eyes. She pulled Kayla's face closer and raised her lips to kiss her daughter's warm cheek, then the other cheek, then her forehead, careful to include smacky kissing sounds each time. She moved her head back just slightly to look her daughter in the eye again, and then leaned in, her right cheek to Kayla's, eyelashes fluttering against hers, then switching sides for another butterfly kiss. She pulled back again, just briefly, and then they were nose to nose, back and forth, girlish Eskimo kisses, just like sixteen years before, but sodden with grown-up tears.
When Ruth embraced Kayla, it was like she became superhuman, not of this world or any other world. Her arms wrapped around her daughter, squeezing her tight, their bodies tight together, so that Ruth could feel all of Kayla, could inhale her, could feel her breath in time with her own, the blood rushing from Kayla's baby heart through her limbs and back again. Like Kayla was a part of her, like Kayla was her. Kayla came from her, Kayla was hers, her baby, always, and this, right here, was all she wanted. All she would ever need. Kayla heaved with sobs and Ruth pulled her closer, enveloped her like a little girl, temporarily broken and needing her mother's love. Just like that.
Her hand on Kayla's back, bony spine jutting through her cotton shirt into her mother's palm, Ruth gripped her like there was no tomorrow. The click of the door slammed through her heart, Ruth dug her nails into Kayla's back and buried her face in her neck, her collarbone, her Juicy Fruit hair.
"Ruth? I'm so sorry, Ruth." Maxwell's soft voice shot through her like electricity. "I had to. It's--" He choked, cleared his throat. "Just another minute, I'm so sorry." He left the door open but stepped back.
Ruth pulled back to look at her daughter again, Kayla's puffy face, tears flowing, nose running, breathing through her mouth, eyeliner smeared face. Dark eyes peered back at Ruth through all of that, like she was gazing into her own. She kissed her daughter hard on the lips, pulled back again, drinking her in, her eyes, her eyes.
"I love you, Kayla. I will always love you, I will always be with you. Know that and be strong, and good, be good. You're my good girl." She kissed Kayla on the cheek again as Maxwell's voice pierced the space between them.
"It's time, Ruth."
They broke apart and Kayla gathered her things, wiping her eyes on her sweater. Maxwell guided Kayla through the door by her elbow. She stopped and turned around to look at Ruth one last time.
"I love you, Mama, up to the sky and back again."
Kayla ducked under Maxwell's arm and out the door. Exchanging a look with Maxwell, Ruth stepped forward and allowed him to take her arm. Together they walked into the hallway, into a crowd of onlookers. Kayla was there, behind some others.
"Stand clear, now, people. Dead woman walking."
I am back in the Indie Ink writing challenge this week! Thank goodness, I've missed 'em. This week, Francis challenged me: "An old chair, a dead woman, and a stick of Juicy Fruit." I challenged Brad MacDonald with "antagonistic mystic." Go read!
the story of your departing
is a slow turning, a roiling
that became an undermining.
it started with silence,
at first unnoticed. then,
there was that day of shame
followed by averted eyes
like hiding behind a locker
after gym class to escape
teenaged clique scrutiny.
by the time you were gone,
my version of us together
rendered you unrecognizable.
the narrative could be written
in one chapter. but still now,
the story of your leaving is
catalogued in the tragic canon.
like passing by
on a snowy evening
or treading on dreams,
you floated my way,
itinerant and free.
the earth at your ear,
you presented your gifts.
pajama-clad, i mirrored you
and received your bounty:
a torrent of words to follow.
(Hat tip, of course, to gifts from Robert Frost and William Butler Yeats.)