Friday, February 29, 2008


Today is the last installment of The Short but Sweet Story Month. I hope you have all enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

As usual, I learn a great deal when I’m doing one of these self challenges. I think I learned the most this time about my personal rhythms when writing. I think I write better in the mornings when I first get up. A few times, this story included, I’ve had to finish it in the morning and post date the upload. I guess this is just an obvious thing. People write better stories when they are well rested.

If you’ve been following this month’s story cycle, I’d be most interested in which stories you thought were the best--what, as a reader, worked best for you and which was your least favorite of the stories. If you have ideas as to why you think that, I’d be very interested in hearing those as well.

I’m thinking about doing this as a seasonal event on the blog, so I may attempt this again in May. I’d like to see what sort of changes occur with the change of seasons. This winter cycle seemed to produce many themes dealing with the end of life—I’m wondering what will happen in the spring?

Once again, it is time for me to turn to reviews, submissions and editing, but the blog will continue as usual. Oh--if you really loved the month long story cycle, you can buy me a corndog using the Support the Breakdown link on the right hand sidebar.

Today’s story is food oriented—it being Friday.

Frog Giggers


This story, in its final draft form, has been accepted and published. In keeping with the SMB's policy, the rough draft has been removed. Please check the sidebar for links.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Today I was waiting for the snow to melt, still stuck up here in the house. I was able to make it down to the mailbox using my 4-wheel drive, but I don’t like to do that too often since it ruts the road.

The dogs are going crazy and I look out to see a brand new pickup truck I don’t recognize stuck and spinning further impassible ruts in my road. It’s four teenagers come to tell me that that they have tried everything to catch the sheep and have failed. Well, of course, I say—they are sheep. I know how kids around here handle livestock and Mutton and Chops will not be caught using such roughness. In fact, anyone who knows sheep knows they won’t be caught by strangers. It’s just how sheep are.

I’m sort of pissed because I know that now they have been harassed, they are going to be hard for even me to catch when the snow clears enough for me to get down there.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure after a few veiled references that they are informing me that they are going to shoot the sheep.

Luckily, they harassed them so badly that they are now standing in the pasture looking at me and the teenagers, so this did not come to pass.

So—sheep are home and let’s hope they stay that way.

Today’s story is about a bit of folklore I came across. I haven’t gone into much detail about what it actually is in the story as I did in the madstone story. There is something called a “heavenly crown” or a “death crown”. It forms in the feather pillow of a sick person who is bedbound, making a circle of woven together feathers where the person’s head laid. Often, they will remove and save these. I think there are a few on display at the Museum of Appalachia. The significance of them is that if one forms, it means that the person’s sins were forgiven when they died.

The Heavenly Crown

He waited on the steps of the jail, his eyes looking down at the cracks in the pavement, wondering about the bits of grass that managed to crack the cement. Tiny seeds were able to make the stones break apart as they sprouted in the mortar. He didn't know how they got there, but he knew well enough how something tiny like a seed--or a baby --could grow, destroying the place it lived.

He didn't know how his boy got the way he was. He thought he brought him up right--never sparing the rod and making him fly right. He never let him use bad language and whipped him till his back bled every time he back talked his Ma. He had made sure he attended Sunday school and taught him to respect his elders. It was a great mystery to Clevon how his boy Amos grew up to be mean as a snake. No sir, it didn't make any sense how Clevon had managed to raise up a sinner.

That psychologist lady the state sent over when Amos was fourteen made is sound like it was all Clevon's fault. Said he should of got help after the puppy thing happened when Amos was ten. The boy killed a whole litter of the neighbor's puppies, bashing their heads against a tree.

Clevon told her, "It weren't like they had souls or nothing. He didn't kill human babies like a lot of doctors do ever day."

"You're missing the point," the psychologist lady told him.

That lady made it sound like they didn't beat him for the right things or maybe they shouldn't have beat him at all. Maybe they should have just let him run wild like city kids being all sass and no manners. One thing about Amos, he had beautiful manners. Always said "please", "thank you" and ma'amed and sirred his elders. That woman they said he forced himself on, they said he held the door for her before he threw her in the car. God's truth, you can look it up in the court transcripts.

Clevon heard the door open and looked up as they wheeled Amos out. The boy was gaunt and his eyes burned in his face. Yellow skin covered his bones, making it look like there was no flesh under them--like he was nothing but skin-upholstered bones. His lips were chapped and the red birthmark-looking rash he got while in jail covered his neck and part of his face.

He licked his lips with a white tongue and said, "Hey, Dad."

Clevon's eyes grew moist, seeing the state the prison let his boy get in. They said he had the AIDS and that he was dying. They said they were letting him go home to die--that he couldn't hurt anybody anymore but Clevon didn't believe that for one minute. He figured he'd get him eating good again and put some weight on him. No way, no how his boy had the AIDS.

Clevon drove Amos back to the house where he put him in his old bedroom where all his trophies from middle school gathered dust. The drive tired the boy out and he went right to sleep. Clevon had a big plate of biscuits and gravy ready for him when he woke up and brought them to him on a tray.

"I'm sorry couldn't be there for Ma's funeral," he said. He pushed the biscuits around on the plate, but didn't seem to be able to eat anything.

"As soon as we get you on your feet, we'll go visit her."

Amos laid back, looked out the window and pushed the biscuits away, "Yeah, Dad. We'll do that."

Clevon nursed Amos the best he could, but he just couldn't seem to get him to eat. He didn't think it possible for the boy to get any thinner, but as he lay on the bed over the next months, never being able to get up, he wasted away. The home health lady came by every day to bathe him and look at his medicines.

"You should move him to a hospice," she said.

Clevon said no, he just needed to gain some weight. Home was the best place for that. Clevon tended the boy, expecting the skeleton to flesh out--expecting him to eat--but he became hotter, thinner and more silent each day. Clevon worried for the boy's soul and sat next to him reading his Ma's bible aloud.

By the time Clevon finally asked Amos, "Son, have you turned to Jesus? Have you given it all up to Him?" Amos couldn't talk. His eyes darted around the room, but Clevon wasn't sure what he saw.

Amos died in the night, his young strong heart finally stopping, winding down to nothing. Clevon sat next to the bed all morning with him waiting for the funeral home to arrive. He couldn't get the idea out of his head--that maybe Amos hadn't turned his sins over to Jesus. And if he had, what if he had handed the wrong sins over? What if Amos didn't know which sins he needed to repent?

Clevon got up and rummaged through the boy's dresser until he found an old pocketknife. He pulled the boy's pillow from under his head and sliced the seam open. There, nestled where the boy's head had laid all these months was Clevon's proof and solace. He pulled the circle of interwoven goose feathers from the pillow.

The beautiful thing twined intricately together brown and white feathers in a starburst. Clevon held the death crown--the Heavenly Crown--in his hands and wept. It held the shape of Amos' soul and proof of his redemption.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Halloween-1969


Well, it started snowing about midnight or so and did not let up for over 24 hours. We got about a foot, but not all of it stuck because the temperatures have been so spring-like. Still, I had to clean off the jeep twice and dare not drive anywhere. This has curtailed the planned sheep hunt.

I bet they are sorry now. Sheeplies get extra shelter and food when it snows here, but they are on their own. Not that they care, they are Shetland sheep and used to weather like this.

Knoxville had footage of everyone sliding all over the interstates. It’s a big mess.


Today's story is :

Halloween-1969

My best friend for the entire year of 1969 was towheaded with curly hair--the sort I wanted. I wasn't exactly sure why my mom let me be friends with Katie. There wasn't anything specific; I just knew they weren't like us. Maybe that was the point, them not being like us.

The day before Halloween, we both went into the Mercantile, where Mrs. Rosenstein sat behind the candy counter with her swollen ankles sheathed in elastic support hose that never stayed up. I dragged my Mary Janes through the thin layer of sawdust and smiled shyly at Mrs. Rosenstein over the candy selection and the big jars of pickled eggs, hogs feet and dill pickles.

My Mom got a quart of milk and we picked out ice cream. I got an orange pushup and Katie got an ice cream sandwich. We stood on tiptoes to slide the door of the soda cooler open and got cokes, mine was a Ne-hi and Katie's a Crush. We put everything on the counter for Mrs. Rosenstein next to the quart of milk and dozen eggs.

That was when I saw them, the best edible wax horse teeth ever and I knew I had to have them. I convinced Mom, saying it could be part of my costume. I was going as a surfer. Katie picked out a candy necklace since I was getting the best horse teeth ever.

We piled in the back of the station wagon--seats covered with plastic slipcovers that stuck to our thighs--with our ice creams, drinks and new treasures for the ride home, flashing our orange and purple tongues at each other. Katie lived a block away from me and I was spending the night at her house so we could plot our trick-or-treat strategy.

Katie lived in a ramshackle rental house on the marsh. There wasn't a dock or anything and it looked onto stretch of mud crawling with fiddler crabs and waterlogged remnants of marshgrass. The house smelled of toasted pumpkin seeds, incense and what I later identified as bong water. Thrift store furniture slouched, covered in India print bedspreads. Katie didn't have a dad, but she had a gang of uncles who drove VW microbuses. They listened to The Dead all the time.

My family--well--we were Episcopalians.

Her mother met us at the door, stringy hair caught up in a beaded headband. She had made her skirt out of the same fabric she had draped the furniture. I think she was a Vista volunteer, but I never actually knew what she did for a living. Katie said they moved around a lot. We tore through the house to Katie's bedroom where I was going to borrow some of her peace sign jewelry. We took a running jump and dove onto her bed all squeals and giggles. Katie's mom brought us a big plate of toasted pumpkin seeds.

"So what are you going to be for Halloween?"

"I'm going to be a surfer!" I could tell from her face she wasn't too impressed--she had that polite smile adults give children. I thought it was a capitol idea and it was the first year I deviated from the standard gypsy, princess, scarecrow or cowgirl the other girls dressed up as.

Katie had been keeping her choice a secret and chose to reveal it then, "I'm going to be a flaming Buddhist monk!"

Katie's mom petted her head and said, "Of course, you are."

When we went trick or treating the next night, Katie wore a peach colored bed sheet, her candy beads and lots of sooty makeup and I wore my brother's swim trunks, the best horse teeth ever, a pair of flippers and carried a Styrofoam paddle board I'd painted "Hang Ten" on. Everyone laughed and said, "Aren't you cute," when they looked at me and would ask Kate what she was.

"I'm a flaming Buddhist monk!"

The doors slammed shut right after the candy went in our bags. I thought Katie's costume looked good, even though I didn't know what she was supposed to be.

Katie and her mom disappeared a week later. My mother broke the news to me that they had gone, her mother having finished "her tour". I was hurt I didn't get a chance to say goodbye. Katie was the coolest best friend ever and now she was gone.

I sat curled up next to my mom on the sofa, waiting for the news to finish when I looked up and saw Katie on TV. She wore her flaming Buddhist monk costume, and was perched on the shoulders of her Uncle Mark, laughing. Everyone at the peace rally in DC looked like they knew exactly what Katie's costume was.

I was surprised she had not eaten all her candy beads.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Omen

So, today I went on the sheep hunt. Drove up and down the creek looking for them and hollering “Mutton!!! Chops!!!” out the window of the jeep.

Gave up, stopped at the neighbor’s house and was about to leave when I glance out the bathroom window and there they were. Okay, so I go out there with a feed bag and a bucket of feed I’ve been carrying around for just such a purpose. The wind is blowing and it’s pissing rain, but I almost get them—when Roadblock Horse comes up. Yes, the very same overly friendly horse who stopped the jeep this past fall. Roadblock Horse thinks the feed should be rightfully his. He and Mutton face off and the horse turns. Mutton actually tries to sniff Roadblock Horse’s butt.

I back off at this point since I really don’t want to witness Mutton getting his head kicked by Roadblock Horse. Roadblock Horse being entirely in the rights since sheep are in his pasture. So, I try again tomorrow and will drive the jeep up to that spot. Scott has offered to go with me to hold the horses but I’m sort of afraid he will scare the sheep. Sheep are funny that way.

It’s been snowing. Some of it stuck.

Today’s story features a cameo of another member of my Appalachian hedge witch family, the Truholts.

The Omen

Some nights, the way things worked out--the way they happened--gets all mixed up and confused. There were strange things out there on the mountain and some nights, they creep inside like a gut shot polecat crawling under the house.

I remember Momma grabbing her stomach and her water breaking in the kitchen while she cooked supper. She dropped the skillet of cornbread on the floor and Lucy grabbed it without thinking and burnt her hand. Momma was real bad off but not so bad she couldn't tell Lucy she would get a switching for saying the bad word she did.

Lucy ran to her side and helped support Momma saying, "Oh yeah? I think you have some other business to attend to just now."

The girls got Momma back to the bedroom while my brother, Clue, rode off to bring Granny Truholt to attend to Momma. Us boys sat down with Poppa to wait out the screaming and groaning that was coming from the bedroom. Each sound she made cut through us like a scythe through tall grass. Daddy couldn't stand it so he went out to the barn.

I could hear him stomping through the mud outside and slamming the barn door behind him. My brothers and I all looked at each other and winced when Momma screamed again. Lucy charged out of the door to the bedroom to grab a pan of hot water, hissing at us, "Is she here yet? Is Granny Truholt here yet?"

Like she appeared out of nowhere, summoned by Lucy's question, Granny Truholt opened the door with Clue behind her. Never heard those Truholts when they walked, they were funny that way.

Then Daddy came in behind Clue saying, "Boys, Miss Cuddy's ready to have her calf, I need you outside."

We all jumped, happy to have something to do to get away from Momma's hollering. The Granny was there now and the womenfolk would take care of it.

Out in the barn, Miss Cuddy, our best milker lay on her side groaning. It was easier to hear than Momma's and it looked like she had gone down about an hour ago. It's better if the cow drops her calf standing--quicker too--and we all were afraid something was wrong. We took turns holding her head, speaking real soft to her and moved bales where she could use her legs to push with.

We stood back on the edge of the stall and watched, hoping she'd push that calf out soon. Her big ole eyes watered and looked up at us like she was begging us to do something. I heard Momma scream from inside the house, the sound carrying all the way out to the barn and tried to close my ears. Tried to pay attention to the cow going through the sort of agony Momma was going though.

Daddy washed his arms and hands then greased them down. He got down on the ground behind Miss Cuddy and reached his arm up in her. His eyes closed as they always did when he went inside like that, trying to feel what was wrong so he could turn the calf or push it back into position so the feet could come first. I watched him as he groped around, longer than he usually did. His face changed, his eyes flew open and he pulled out of the cow like she burnt him.

"Daddy, what's wrong?"

"Get the gun--go get the gun."

Clue ran off like he always did, never questioning, but I did, "What, Daddy--what you need the gun for?"

He shook his head, "We gotta put her down, no way in hell she can deliver that thing and it's too big to cut up. She'll die first."

We all just stood there looking at Daddy and Miss Cuddy lying there all glassy eyed. We heard the first cries of a baby from inside the house and the screen door slam as Clue came running with the gun.

"Granny Truholt says they's twins! Momma's having twins!" Clue handed the gun over to Daddy and grinned real wide at us all.

Daddy went around to Miss Cuddy's head, gave her a pet then shot her in the head. She twitched something fierce then stilled and we heard the sound of a second baby screaming from the house.

Daddy handed the gun back to Clue and ran to the house. It was like he was afraid of something, not just like he couldn't wait to see if the babies and Momma were okay. He grabbed Granny Truholt and pulled her outside. My brothers all crowded in to see the babies, but I followed Daddy outside. He took Granny into the barn over to where Miss Cuddy lay.

I listened as he said, "I need to know what it means. The calf--it had two heads."

"Mayhap mean nothing, Reg. Nothing at all. But to be on the safe side, you take that two-headed calf out of there and save its head. Don't let nothing happen to it. Ever."

Monday, February 25, 2008

Beholden

I’m backdating this post since I was too busy yesterday to write. Actually, I was in K-town most of the day. I’m always too wiped out to do anything after the doctor trips.

I got some wonderful news from the nephrologist. My kidney values were normal and I'm only shedding a small bit of protein—way down from the gram I was shedding three months ago. So, I don’t have to go back for four whole months and he’s officially declaring my nephritis in remission for the time being. This is a huge relief since my doctors can stop squabbling about the whole kidney biopsy thing and I can stop being afraid of it. Thanks to everyone who kept me in their thoughts and prayers—Lupus is a dodgy thing and every bit helps. I really didn't need the kidney thing on top of the clotting thing.

In other news, the sheep ran away on Sunday. They were down at the neighboring farm cavorting in the pasture 300 feet down. I didn’t find out until too late in the day to go round them up and yesterday was not possible. So, today I go to see if I can find them and lure them into the back of the jeep. Last I saw them, they were headed away from that pasture into the woods.

The other news is three convicts overpowered the jailers at the local county jail on Sunday and are running amuck through the countryside. Of all the places I’ve lived, Cocke county suffers from more jailbreaks. It’s positively wild west-like. It seems to happen at least once a year. They always catch them, but it just seems odd that they get out with such frequency. I’m hoping the sheep are not running with the convicts—that would be a deadly combination.

Drop the gun or the sheep gets it.

equally likely:

Drop the gun or the convict gets it.


I’ve got a nice, chunky story for you today.

Beholden


Clyde Bybee drove by Elmer's shack every Thursday on the way to his Rotary meeting. He had been doing this for the past twenty years as part of the seamless fabric of his comfortable life.

In the winter, the shack's bare metal stovepipe leaked smoke. Sometimes Elmer would be out in the yard with his hound splitting wood. Elmer waved. Clyde waved back.

In the summer, Elmer tended his small garden behind the shack. The shack was at its best during summer. Elmer planted moon vines, gourds and scarlet runner beans around the small stoop. The plants covered the shack in a canopy of green and blooms making the dirt yard and worn wood look like pig in a party dress. Elmer waved. Clyde waved back.

In mid-winter that year, Clyde felt as though something was missing. He would get to his Rotary club meeting and check his pockets, then checked his car to see if it were locked. The feeling of unease continued for three weeks until Clyde realized he had not seen Elmer chopping wood outside his shack. He realized this a half mile down the road and turned around.

Barely any smoke came from the old stovepipe as Clyde climbed the steps and knocked on the door. He heard coughing from inside and a weak voice from inside, "Come in".

Clyde opened the shaky door, thinking in all the times he had passed and waved at Elmer, he had never actually met him face to face. The inside was dim and stank of unwashed old man and urine. He saw a small pile of wood next to the stove, but there was hardly any heat. Elmer lay on an old rope bed on a thin mattress covered in tattered quilts. His hound curled up next to him weakly, shivering, and raised its head for a moment before letting it thump down on the bed.

Clyde looked around the one room shack at the chinks filled with rags barely breaking the wind whistling through the breaches. He took off his hat and said, "Mr. Elmer, I'm Clyde Bybee and I was driving by your house and thought I'd drop by to check on you. Haven't seen you out in quite a while."

Elmer grinned, pulling himself up from a sitting position. "Why thank you. Please sit down."

Clyde looked around for a chair, seeing the remnants of one next to the stove. He perched on the edge of the bed. "Looks like you've been under the weather."

"Yes, well, I been sick and not able to get out much. My boy used to bring supplies by but he done got thrown in jail a month ago."

Clyde got up and put what was left of the wood in the stove, saying, "I'll bring you some firewood on my way back home tonight, and some groceries."

"Don't want to put you to no trouble, mister. I don't mean to be beholden to anyone."

"Don't worry. I' m just being neighborly and it looks like you could use a bit of that right now."

Clyde brought up the old man's sad state to his fellow Rotarians and soon Elmer became a club project. They began by making sure Elmer had plenty of firewood and food. The local doctor came by and gave Elmer medicine. The veterinarian came by and checked out the dog. A local roofer came by and fixed the roof. The men's wives brought by blankets, casseroles and clothes.

Each time they came by, Elmer would say, "I don't mean to be beholden to anyone," but his life was much more comfortable.

Each time Cldye drove by on Thursdays and saw the healthy stream of smoke from the chimney pipe and the newly patched roof, he felt warm and good inside.

The Rotarians discussed Elmer at each meeting and ways they could improve the old man's circumstances. The town built a new retirement home and the Rotarians secured Elmer a place there. The president and officers went to Elmer and proudly presented their gift to him with the offer to help him move. One of them offered to take the hound in since Elmer couldn't take the dog with him.

Elmer chased them out of the shack, hollering, "I told you I wouldn't be beholden to anyone."

He died the next winter, refusing any further help from Clyde or the others. Clyde looked sadly at the shack, passing each Thursday, and when no smoke leaked from the chimney, he stopped. He found Elmer and his hound dead, curled up in the rope bed, much as he had found them the previous winter.

The men's club paid for his burial and headstone. Chiseled into the stone was, "Beholden to No One".

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Yet another gray day up here on the mountain.

I’m off to K-town for another visit with the nephrologist this week. I’m hopeful my function is still holding up even if I’m still shedding protein.

I asked my rheumatologist, “What’s the worse than can happen—I mean, I’ve got years before this thing really whacks me, right?”

“You might have to go on dialysis.”

Urghh. Well. We don’t want that, now do we? I already decided to pull an Art Buchwald if it comes down to that. I just don’t have the sort of support I’d need to weather that. My independence is sacrosanct to me.

I have a little mystery drabble for you today. If you are just tuning in and are wondering what a drabble is—it’s a story with exactly 100 words.


Gracie's Mom


We rode insane Shetland ponies and petted rabbits at Gracie's house. Her dog bit me but it was my fault. Her mother, a dark-haired beauty, cleaned the punctures and kissed my forehead. I apologized to the dog and we went back to play, running on the dock over oyster shells.

Her father was big and scary, a crabber--rough and stinking of brine and shellfish.

I had not thought of Gracie in years, until her mother disappeared.

Missing Persons assumed she had run away. But the townfolk, they whispered Gracie's father cut her mother up and used her for crab bait.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

No Good Deed

I'm late getting this story up. I had it ready to download into the big computer but was just too tired yesterday. I had to break up a spat that arose over a piece of purloined salmon skin between Shadow and Max and ended up getting my hand bit. No biggie--Shadow nailed me but let go as soon as he realized he grabbed the wrong target. Shadow is well known for his love of salmon skin. When he was younger and it was just the two of us, he would raid the trash and hide the damn things in my bed.

Anyway...today's story is based on my one experience in wildlife rehabilitation.

No Good Deed

Her running shoes slapped on the pavement in a rhythm becoming steadily more uneven. Kate reached a hand back to pull her shorts down from where they had ridden into her crotch, looking first behind her to make sure no one was looking. She hopped and skipped in her pace as she tugged the fabric down. Damn, she thought, she wished her thighs didn't touch. The causeway stretched for another mile and she longed for the bridge where she could stop and catch her breath.

The marsh smelled richly of decay, but it was a good smell all salty and sulphury. The tide had risen, lapping against the rocks shoring up the narrow road stretching toward the small island. The sun glowed red, coming up over the gold tipped marsh grass. A few marsh hens fluttered up, disturbed by the heavy tread of her shoes. Kate stopped herself from thinking about her stuffed marsh hen recipe.

A form emerged on the side of the road and Kate identified it as a recent roadkill. The moon had been full last night, she thought--dead critter moon. As she drew closer, she thought she saw it move and slowed to a walk. Approaching cautiously, she saw it was a possum, silver fur with black tips and pointed snout. The muzzle dripped blood onto the pavement, tarry and black looking. Five babies gripped to back of the deader than a doornail mother, not realizing she had gone. Kate prodded the dead possum with the toe of her shoe. One of the babies hissed at her.

Kate squatted down on her haunches and considered the babies. She could have run on and left them there. They would die slowly, but that would have been their fate had she not found them. She could kill them, giving them a humane death--it would be as easy as crushing their tiny skulls under her heel.

She plucked little possums by their naked tails, tucked them in the front of her shirt, turned and ran back home. She felt guilty about cutting her run short, but she couldn't leave the babies there and she couldn't kill them. Better to try to bring them up until they could go off on their own.

She set the possum babies up on the back porch in an aquarium belonging to guinea pigs past. Every morning she fed them, watered them and cleaned their bedding. And every morning they hissed, rolled their eyes and bared their teeth. The hissing was less like feral housecats and more like hellish exhalations coming from deep within the bitty things. They slept through the day until it was time for Kate to feed them in the evening, when once again they hissed, rolled their eyes and occasionally, tried to bite her. She wondered about their lack of gratitude.

After about two weeks, they began to eat each other's tails. Not only did they menace her when she tried to help them, but they began menacing each other. Kate called a vet to ask about the behavior and to see if she might be able to release them. She was hopeful about the last part since, despite daily cage cleaning, the possums smelled of rotting meat and garbage.

The vet suggested catching some squid in the river for them. Said they needed something chewy, other than each other's tails. Kate got some squid off a shrimper and gave it to them, but they had already developed a taste for each other's tails. Three of them no longer had tails at all. She used a stick to push them apart when they did that, but she couldn't be with them all the time.

She wondered how they would fair in the wild tailless like that. Kate loaded them up in the car and took them to a spot on the island at the end of the causeway. They tried one last time to bite her and waddled off into the woods without a backwards glance. She watched as they hissed their way out of sight.

Kate got back in her car and drove off, feeling relieved. She guessed she'd just let them lie if she ever ran into such a situation again. Or maybe crush their bitty skulls to put them out of their misery.

Friday, February 22, 2008

I went back into town today to get Fat Buddy's prescriptions. And since I was feeling a little goat lonesome, I went to visit with Betsy and see all the wonderful babies. And Phoebe--who is growing like a weed. Betsy gave me a wonderful wide brimmed Amish straw hat--I'd been a bit covetous of hers--it's my favorite hat and now I have one of my very own. And since Lucky, the hat munching goat has been gone for a while--it is safe from being ripped off my head and carried around the pasture like a trophy.

I've been really into 70% cocao dark chocolate these days--the sort you just let warm up and melt slowly on your tongue. Honestly, milk chocolate is such a candy and you have to eat so much of it to get that good chocolate buzz. The dark is so much more satisfying. I tried an organic one today and was startled by its earthy tones. I think if I lived in Manhattan, I could get quite used to having access to real chocolate.

I've done a rewrite of The Scent of Peaches, correcting all my squirrelly tenses I used to write with.

The Scent of Peaches


I put up peaches in July—the early small ones, sweeter and more flavorful than the big Albertas that came in August. They were the best ones for eating, the Albertas, but the early peaches were best for pies. The summers of my life smelled of peaches, lazy sweetness lying wet on the tongue.

I remembered eavesdropping on my grandmother and her sisters. They crowded together in my grandmother's bedroom giggling like schoolgirls. My great aunt Emmy Jo drove from Florida with a box of mangos and oranges from her grove. Great aunt Baby Dear traveled from Tennessee stopping in Spartanburg for bushels of peaches. Aunt Nell lived across town, so four of the seven sisters, my personal Pleiades, would meet--their visits garnished with fruit.

They talked, sisterly, about mango peelings and rashes. One of the sisters broke out in a rash from mangoes. She said mangoes were related to poison ivy, so she peeled the peaches and left the mangoes to the other three. I thought this was odd since peach fuzz made me itch.

They washed their hands in the bathroom, always chattering. I was very small and sitting on my grandmother's rice bed with the nobbly white bedspread that left dimples on my skin. My chubby legs were still so short; I needed a step stool to climb on the bed. I wondered if she had any rock candy in her dresser--she always did. I thought about the peaches and wondered if my grandfather would whittle monkeys from the peach pits for me. I looked at my smooth little girl hands, chubby and ripe—too small to pare and cut.

My hands were no longer small and ripe, but when I inhaled the scent of peaches, for a moment, I was five.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I think I'm going to give you guys a reprint tomorrow so I can catch up. Also to move me away from the death story vibe I've been on.

I just can't help it--there is something about death and dying and mourning that transfixes me. I find it very fascinating. There is something about the experience that strips the masks we wear through our lives away, leaving us naked. And, as I've mentioned before, the culture I live in now is very preoccupied with death.

My sister asked me to write some stories about my experiences around the time of our mother's death. It has been a long time--half my life ago--and memory does have a tendency to flicker around such traumas. But today's story is one of those.

The Good Pastor


His movements jerked and his hands made the most peculiar gestures. The words, carefully crafted, spilled out of his mouth in a monotone, obscuring meaning as if he spoke into a tin can. I pinched myself to keep from dozing during Peter's sermons.

The Church of the Cross in those days had the reputation of being a tough crowd. A small tough crowd, but if you could play it there you could play it anywhere, liturgically speaking. Decades before, the diocese took note of how many bishops had paid dues circuit riding the parishes of Beaufort county and sent the best and brightest there as a cruel hazing ritual. We got them, but we didn't get to keep them long. Peter had been there longer than usual.

Mother adored him. He had been a Rhodes scholar and Mother, an educator, found this endearing.

"But he's so boring and he doesn't know what to do with his hands," I said, not understanding how a Rhodes scholar could be such a lousy public speaker.

She smiled and admitted that was an area Peter lacked proficiency. "You just need to listen to what he says and not how he says it."

I was young and did not understand. I needed to feel my pain and experience, drinking in sorrow like cold milk. Cancer provided many opportunities for this.

Mother had been dying by inches for years. Each time she had a surgery, we would naively believe it was over. It wasn't, of course, but we continued our lives until it was time again to face the monster.

Peter dropped by often during those last years. Such a nice man, I thought, too bad he can't preach his way out of a paper bag. He went in Mother's room and I remembered the soft sound of them talking. She felt better after those visits saying Peter was a good pastor, the best the church had ever had.

At the end, I understood.

I borrowed money to fly home from Atlanta for the last weeks. The cancer stole her from us before she died. Her skin became translucent and her veins were blue under the surface of her hands. I'm not sure she knew me by that time, she was going away and nothing any of us could do could hold her there. She had stayed months beyond her time for us, only for us, and she couldn't stay longer.

My memory flickered, dancing from here to there like I time traveled between the points. We kept her at home to the very end, only loading her into the ambulance down the ramp my father built for her last trip away from the place she called home.

She left in daylight, on the sort of softly shaped day in April where azaleas bloomed and the wind made the Spanish moss flutter. My brother and I held her, he on her right side and I on her left. When my mother exhaled for the last time, the wind stirred outside and the trees bent.

It was a good passing, but I could not feel that then. The door opened and there was Peter. Mysteriously, he came like the wind that rose, blown there on the breath of God.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Memento Mori

I’ve been really blocked up with a bit of research and it is all Kees’ fault. If you don’t know Kees’ blog, you should. Kees blogs from Africa and in between outrageous photoshops he tells Wilbur Smith-like tales of life in the bush punctuated by stunning wildlife photos.

So, Kees does a post on elephant executions. Quite possibly the most bizarre of which happened in east Tennessee about a century ago. They hung a 5-ton elephant from a railroad derrick in Erwin, TN in 1916. It was actually a lynching and a good study of mob behavior over a large geographical area. The elephant killed her hobo handler in front of a crowd. Crowd demands blood. 3000 show up to watch.

I find it very interesting that when elephants kill it is called murder. I mean, when dogs, horses, bulls and mules kill people, it’s called an accident or a mauling—but with an elephant, it’s murder. And when they put down an elephant, it’s called an execution.

The citizens of Erwin are understandably upset that the event, after almost 100 years, is not going away. People are still horrified by it. The cities of Kingsport, Rogersville and Johnson City all had a larger hand in the killing of the elephant, but because Mary the elephant was strung up in Erwin, Erwin ends up being blamed.

I don’t think the specter of a 5-ton pachyderm being hung by the neck until dead is possible to erase. If the picture hadn’t been taken, maybe—but the photo is out there and it’s not going away. Ever. Using my astounding powers for the obvious, let me offer this idea.

Tennessee has one of the most amazing animal sanctuaries in the country. The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN takes in old, needy and sick elephants and offers them a place to live out the rest of their days. No doubt, it would have been an option for an elephant like Mary had something like that existed then.

What if Erwin held a memorial festival every year to benefit the Elephant Sanctuary? It’s a win-win--Elephant Sanctuary gets much needed funds and Erwin gets a chance to exorcise of this horrific event while helping its local economy. And Mary's troubled spirit can finally rest.

I hate to tell you, but if you don’t do something like this—the great grandchildren of current Erwinites are still going to be making excuses. Wouldn’t it be much nicer to be known as the town who helps finance The Elephant Sanctuary?

Today’s story is:

Memento Mori


This story, in its final draft form, has been accepted and will be published June 15, 2008. In keeping with the SMB's policy, the rough draft has been removed and you will need to go to the publishing website to read it. Please watch the sidebar for details.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I really appreciate everyone coming to read the stories. Bonnie over at Frogma very kindly "Roared" me. It has something to do with The Shameless Lions Writing Group and I promise as soon as we are into March, I’ll go and look into setting up some roars of my own. For right now, I’m just trying to get through this month of stories. It does take a good bit of concentration and research to come up with new plots or to rewrite old pieces on a daily basis, so bear with me. This is sort of a marathon and all I do every day is get up and work on that day’s story.

I actually do have a good piece based off a bit of research I gathered along with the madstone research, planned. I’m going to save that one, sort of like a piece of chocolate. I spent most of today working on research for a story that didn't gel in time so I'm giving you a rewrite today.

I expanded this one for October's stories, but I really prefer the plain and simple flash version of it.

Stir with a Knife


The child huddled closer to his mother when she threw open the doors of Timman's store, letting the rain blow in. He'd been a good child and his momma had bought him a Payday candy bar. He grasped like he was afraid she would come and take it when the woman appeared in the threshold.

The child's mother picked up a knife and stirred her cup of coffee, averting her eyes from the newcomer. No one said hello.

The woman's one good eye took in the farmers and folk in the store while her bad eye rolled around at nothing in particular. She did something that might have been a smile or a grimace. There was dreadful scarring visible above the knitted scarf hiding part of her face.

No one said a word.

She moved around the store, her left foot dragging. One of her shoes had a heel two inches taller to account for the shorter leg. The rain still blew in the front door, but no one said anything or moved to close it.

She brought her purchases to the counter--a packet of no. 7 sharps, several spools of Coats white cotton thread and a thimble. Timman rang her up and took her money. Her bad eye wandered around looking at no one and a few people made surreptitious hand signs.

She wrapped her purchases, put them in her tapestry bag and hobbled to the door. She turned and looked back, focusing her good eye on the young mother. She twisted her face again. Could have been a smile--could have been a grimace. She giggled, making a sound like a crow eating poisoned corn.

"Stir with a knife--trouble and strife," her voice croaked out with the sound of a rusty barn latch.

The young mother startled and pulled the child to her. The woman left, leaving the door flapping behind her.

Timman walked from behind the counter, wiping his hands on his apron. He shut the door behind the woman and looked at his customers.

"Well, that were right interestin'," he said.

The young mother whispered, "What do you suppose she meant?"

"Don't you worry none, Lucille," said one of the farmers. "All that stuff you hear 'bout that crazy old bat cain't be true. She's just a sad, sad old woman."

A teenager said, "My momma said she got like that when the rats tried to eat her face whilst she were sleepin'."

Timman snorted. "Nah, she got caught in a barn fire. Ain't been right since."

Lester, whose farm was just up the road, said, "She sure do sew purty, though. Heard she sold one of them baby quilts for 50 dollar to some outsiders."

The teen said, "My momma said them people, their baby died after they got that quilt. She says she sews hate into them blankets. Says she wouldn't have one of them in the house for love or money."

The young mother said again, "But what did she mean--trouble an' strife? She was looking right at me."

Lester laughed, "How can you tell? I sure can't tell what she's lookin' at!"

"The evil eye...that's what she's got,” said another.

"Pshaw!" Timmon said, wiping down the counter. "Ain't no such thing. It's just something she's always a'muttering."

A boy scuffed his boot in the sawdust covering the floor. "Well, I heared that she keeps a big ole quilt that she never finishes. Every square got a hex on somebody on it. She sews a body's name on it and then you die."

"My Mamaw said she drownded her own baby in the creek and then ate it!” said the boy's companion, in a fit of one-upmanship. The boy looked peeved, since he would have liked to reveal this detail.

Some of the patrons nodded grimly, having heard this before.

"Awright, now! That's enough!” Timmon said. "She's just a hateful old woman. Don't you boys got chores to do? Get on out of here, you're takin' up air!"

The boys filed out into the rain, unhappy to leave the gossip in the warm store.

Later that night, the woman stitched another square onto an impossibly huge quilt stretching over the frame and spilling onto the floor. Her deft needlework embroidered "Lucille" into the details of a hand-sewn block. Each had the name of someone destined to die prematurely. She collected these names with malice and pieced them together with hatred.

"Yes, indeedy. Stir with a knife, trouble and strife."

Monday, February 18, 2008

I realized I haven't picked on my favorite monster recently--I speak, of course, of Our Imperial Sith Overlords AT & T, who recently deposed the tyrant Bellsouth. I pick on them because they are firmly committed to keeping us under the thumb of their circa 1972 phone wires--especially since they have satellite service we should be wealthy enough to afford. If not, we have no business being on the internet--or having a phone for that matter. Yay, verily, we should be using our tin cans and string--or shotgun blasts.

So, yesterday I'm visiting a friend who doesn't get out much. We are having a very nice chat in her parlour when there is a knock on the door. She hollers, "Come in!" as she always does. When they don't, I get up and go open the door. It's the cops and they want to know who dialed 911.

We assure them no one did. I invite them in so they can check out the phones and presumably make sure I'm not cutting my friend into tiny pieces that fit in the trunk of my car.

So--this is the deal. The phone lines are so bad that when water gets in the lines--which is quite often--it dials 911. I just hope the sheriff's office bills Our Imperial Sith Overlords AT & T.

Todays story deals with a piece of Appalachian folklore that actually goes back to ancient times. I'm sort of loving the idea of this family of characters and will probably expand this into something much longer and larger.


The Truholt Madstone


It nestled in the back of Papa's hi-boy dresser behind his socks, rolled together like dinner rolls. Mamma taught me to fix those socks just so, laying them toe to cuff, making them eat themselves like snakes. We kept it in a box carved by great great grandfather. The box was black and oily, rubbed by generations of Truholts with bear grease and walnut hulls, and inlaid with bits of antler from the deer the treasure came from. We went for months without thinking about our legacy--our curse--and as long as nobody got dog or snakebit, the madstone never left that box. When it did leave the box, my aunt, Clarice, was the one who wielded it.

A madstone was a covetous thing, desired by many and held by few. It came from the belly of a fourteen-point buck felled by my ancestor with a flintlock. The size of the palm of a woman's hand, the Truholt madstone was chalky blue and flat like a skipping pebble. Boiled in milk and laid on a wound, it drew the poison from flesh, drinking it into itself like a baby at the breast.

I was snapping beans the summer day six-year old Davy Valentine got bit up by a coonhound, gone mad in the heat of August. His brother, Jeb, came riding into our yard hellbent for leather hollering, "Truholt! Truholt, we need the stone!"

Papa ran from the garden, going right up to Jeb's horse and grabbing it by the reins. Jeb was in a state, all shaky, pale and tearful.

"Slow down, Jeb, what happened?"

"Davy done got all bit up. It's bad, Truholt, real bad. That dog done gone mad and you gotta come Truholt. We need the stone."

Papa nodded and I ran into the house, dug through his drawer and pulled out the dark box. It felt warm and slick in my hands and I felt the stone's power calling me. I carried the stone that day, proud my family could help. Papa hitched the pony up to the cart for the trip.

We drove to my aunt's house. Truholt women handled the stone, but I never had. Aunt Clarice joined us, hobbling from her house using her cane.

When she saw me sitting there holding the box, she said, "Lo, Child, this might be the day you handle the stone. Does it call to you? Can you feel it?"

I nodded, gripping the box, both hopeful and afraid.

We jounced into the Valentine's holler and up to their house, where the dirt yard needed sweeping and the dead hound laid, lung shot in the dirt. White froth pooled around the muzzle of the bluetick, its eyes still open, staring into whatever eternity mad dogs faced.

The family huddled in the house, despite the heat. I heard Davy crying from the porch while Papa talked in low tones to Davy's father. The price was set at a grown hog and we went inside.

Davy stretched back on the settee, his face all red and scrunched up, tears tracking through coal dust. The dog mauled his right thigh, grabbing him and shaking him like a kitten. It was a dreadful wound, but the likelihood of the madness with the awful thirst and shaking was worse.

"Get the milk boiling," Aunt Clarice said.

Davy's ma brought out the saucepan of boiling milk and Aunt Clarice nodded at me. I opened the box, revealing the dusty blue stone. My hands trembled when I lifted it from its nest of chamois and put it in the hot milk. We waited until the stone soaked up the milk, then I reached into the pan and took the hot stone. The burning was part of it, but it was the first time I had felt it.

I placed the stone on the raw meat of Davy's leg and held it there until it stuck. I repeated this until the stone slid from the wound, indicating it had sucked the poison out.

We left them to wrap up Davy's leg. On the way home, the sickness came. I held the stone tight in my fist as I had seen Aunt do. I knew the sickness was part of it.

She stroked my hair while I threw up and flushed with the fever. "Shhhh--shhhh. It will be fine, Child. You did good."

Truholt women wielded the madstone, purifying it with their bodies and casting the demons into the void.

It was our gift. It was our curse.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

It strikes me today how much I rely on experience and conversation for my writing. This is how I was trained, and perhaps ties into my background in theater. The writers coming out of MFA programs seem to rely on what they read. It is not that I don’t read—I’m constantly reading. I’m sure that all of that leaks through to my writing on a subconscious level, but it is life that compels me and informs me. It’s where my ideas come from, not from some other headspace.

I suppose writing is like learning and like art. I’m a visual learner and so it makes sense that I’m also a visual writer. It is the images spoken by everyday people that inform me—that move me.

And, that ties in with my interest in folklore. An image was given to me today that I just can’t get out of my head. Cats eating the faces of the dead. They start with the ears first. I can’t get inspiration like that from books—though it is surely the books I’ve read that make the image so compelling.

I have another drabble for you today. Happy Sunday.

A Foreign Beach


She didn’t make it to Omaha Beach, the purpose of the trip being more about eating apricot flans and cheeses so pungent they made eyes water.

Children cried, “Regardez la voiture,” when she drove a Morris Minor through villages, stopping only to drink calvados-laced au lait with grizzled fishermen in early morning.

On the beach at Arromanches, she broke down, weeping into the wind. Her father, one of that greatest generation, had a part in this history.

Ghost blood stained the sand stretching from Mulberry ruins to cliffs thrusting from the Channel. Boys bleeding long ago still sang the requiem.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Another foggy brain day for me today. I tell you what, this story a day thing is starting to get hard.

The weather has been strangely warm. It does seem to be the same pattern we went through last year. There is already more green now than usual, though it is early for things to start greening up. I did go out and gather more gourds. I did have a nice bunch of gourds this year and they all seem to have developed nice thick skins. The mold on them has made pretty patterns like I like for the gourds I use for my art. I think I'll stop off at the leather shop in K-town when I go in for my next doctor's appointment and get some leather dye to use on them. But they are pretty much cured with all the dry weather we had, co I can probably start working on some of them soon. I gave Pastor Jimmy some when he came by to visit recently and I'll be really interested to see what he does with them.

Today I have--

Small Sacrifices

The polished, final draft of this story has been accepted for publication. In keeping with the SMB's policy, this rough has been removed.

I will provide linkage where you may purchase the magazine or read the story in its final draft form on publication.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Today I'm nursing a banged up knee. Mutton got really excited yesterday when I pulled the feed sack out and went into his happy, happy, joy, joy dance--punctuating it with a playful--and very forceful--head butt with his big ole sheep horns. He's really pushing it. He doesn't realize how very much I want to experiment with western Kentucky barbecue techniques featuring the meat he is named after. His buddy, Chops, totally gets it and maintains a respectful distance.

Today's story is based on an actual cake lady in Atlanta. I'm not sure if she is still there or not. But she really did this. And I never went to see her, precisely because I expected the scenario in the story to play out. It's much nicer just imagining it happened.

Holiness Cake Lady



OOPs!

This rough draft has been taken down because...

The final was submitted and will be appearing in the April issue of Cautionary Tale.

I'll give you a link so you can read it as soon as it goes up on their site in all of its polished final draft glory.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day everyone.

I'm running a reprint today of one of my favorite pieces that deals with love. This was originally published on Dew On the Kudzu in their January 2007 issue.

Of course, I see the errors in the piece that I wrote over a year ago, and I know the writing could be tightened. But it's been published and honestly, I still like the piece, just as it is--squirrely tenses and all. It is creative non-fiction with some licenses taken.

There is a follow-up story titled "Requiem for a Sweetheart" from this past September.


Whose Sweetheart Are You?

It was like finally finding a precious rare book that I had searched for half my life. But when I finally had it in my hands and turned the pages, the words had been wiped out by some disaster. It was like losing my sight and only being able to see shadowy fragments of figures that I couldn't quite make out. It was like watching history fade before my eyes and finding myself powerless to stop it.

Her hands were gnarled like ancient tree roots spreading sideways on rocky ground. Her left hand in particular was frozen in a grimace.

"I used to climb all the ways up in them apple trees to pick 'em. Some said I was the fastest apple picker round these parts." She said in a moment of clarity.

She looked sadly at that frozen left hand.

"Don't reckon I could even hold an apple anymore."

I can easily see in the bone structure of her face the ghost of a ravishingly beautiful mountain woman in her prime. Her eyes, now watery, must have been a cornflower blue in her day. Now in her late 80's, she sits in her chair, close to the television so those eyes can make out what is on the screen. Mizz Kay-reen can't hear so good either any more.

She says when she speaks, she hears her speech inside the bones of her face. She doesn't exactly say that, but I know that's what she means. Her good hand reaches up to stroke the bony part of her cheekbone next to her ear.

She has chosen the memories and thoughts she lives with very carefully. You can tell that other things are lurking just under the surface. She alternates between thanking God for letting her be on this earth so long and then looking impossibly sad. She is the only one of her sixteen siblings still living. She chooses to forget they are dead.

Scott is with me and when she asks, he tells her who is gone. I want to pinch him and tell him not to. I want her to hang onto her fragile fantasy because it keeps that impossible sadness from her eyes. It is painful for me to see.

She starts to tell me how she and her husband, Otis, met. Somehow, a story that must have begun with a ride in a horse-drawn wagon ends up being about the day Otis died. The two tales are now entwined in her mind. And that seems to be a metaphor for their relationship. For Mizz Kay-reen, the fifty years of marriage passed in a moment. One second, she is a fourteen year old girl meeting the love of her life, and the next, she is taking that final car ride to the hospital with him clinging to life.

She tells me not to waste time. She seems to think that Scott and I are engaged. She has projected her own love for Otis onto Scott's and my friendship.

Her eyes twinkle at me for a moment and I glimpse the wry humor she once possessed.

"Well, you ain't no spring chicken!" she says to me. "But you look like you might be a nice fat fryer!"

I laugh. I know I'm fat and I'm okay with that. We all laugh.

"What was your name again?" She asks for the third time.

Scott coaxes her to sing a few bars of "Beulah Land". Her voice is the high fluting voice of a young girl, untouched by her age. Words, she cannot remember in speech, come effortlessly to her while singing.

I listen, entranced, and silently curse my lack of a usb digital recorder. Such a voice really should be archived before it is gone. I want other people to hear her. I desperately want this.

She talks again about how God has been so good to her to let her live so long. Then she almost tears up. Then stops. Then she smiles and says God was so good to give her Otis. He never hit her and was always kind to her. Otis has been gone 20 years.

Scott told me she sometimes sees Otis in the room and speaks to him.

She comes back time and time again to the same story fragment. It is where she seems to spend most of her time.

"Otis, he would come up to me and ask...like he didn't know me...'Whose Sweetheart are you?!'"

She self-consciously strokes the age spots on her left cheek, and I realize they are in the shape of a kiss.

She smiles shyly and coyly, like a young girl.

"Why I'm your Sweetheart! I'm yours!"



Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Applewhite

Well, I'm way late getting my story up tonight. We had snowfall all day long. The power went out--of course--not for very long, but enough to wipe out the story I was working on. So--started from square one.

This is a sort of odd story--autobiographical. I've written about the coma before, but I think it was how strange the world was when I did come out of it that struck me. I've got some work to do on this one still. I think this may be the closest I have come to playing with magical realism, but it's actually an example of magical realism in practice. I really did awaken from a coma to to a world obsessed with Hale-Bopp and the Heaven's Gate mass suicide. Of all the stories I have to tell, this one, with a good bit more work, has possibilities of entering into the realm of magical realism.

Applewhite


They shut my brain down for the Apocalypse but woke me too soon. Outside, the night sky burned, while I lay in a room with no windows listening to the ventilator, acquiring a new vocabulary without awareness.

My eyes opened with sight, sliding out of a two-month coma like the tube from my throat, and the two things I wanted most in life were a bathroom and a cheeseburger. But, it's not like a soap opera where perfect hair curled on a pillow or Kill Bill where Uma Thurman cuts hamstrings before killing.

I forgot how to move or speak, while swimming in the dark reaches, but did not know that, so I uttered noises. I asked for things in words making perfect sense to only me. Nurses smiled and nodded, but needed to be told I was a thinking person, not a slab of breathing meat.

The man capable of saying that arrived with my brother later. He stood in front of a calendar and asked me what day it was--what year was it.

I clearly said, "It's St. Patrick's Day, 1997."

They looked at me confused and I repeated myself. I didn't realize the voice bleeding from my mouth sounded like rocks scraping against asphalt, tarry and thick. I lived inside my head, no longer distinguishing my thoughts from reality.

My brother confirmed it was me, not some stranger who inhabited my failing body during the dark sleep. He asked if he could get me anything, something to eat perhaps.

I mouthed as series of tongueless vowels he correctly interpreted as "I want a cheeseburger."

Fading in and out, listening to the wet music my lungs played, sloshing air in and out of my body, I watched television, learning of Hale-Bopp--how the skies of the world were afire with twin comet tails. Alan Hale spotted the comet from his driveway in New Mexico and Thomas Bopp happened to look through a borrowed telescope in Arizona in 1995, about the time I started getting sick. As the comet became more visible, I faded. When it finally blazed onto the canvas of the night, visible to the naked eye in January of 1997, they shut my brain off.

After they woke me, Hale-Bopp was on every television station, streaking across the sky like some monstrous shooting star. I watched pictures of it and eavesdropped on conversations. I felt connected to it, as if it meant something to me.

My brother said, "You have to see this thing. If you can, get somebody to wheel you up to the roof."

The colors of the comet melted into the surreal morphine haze of my life. The sounds of voices were distant during those days and my eyes made everything glow like Monet's vision. The comet was a benign presence I brought back with me from the coma world I left behind, a place where dreams played in an endless loop, firing synapses like oil dripping on a machine.

But there were dark dreams in the coma world, dreams I wanted to leave there. Nine days after they brought me back, I thought one of those dreams had pierced through, exploding into the world.

Applewhite.

I never saw the comet.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Momma Said

I've been feeling sort of blocked today. Just sort of fuzzy around the head and not feeling much like writing. But, I've decided that not writing is not an option and part of why I throw these challenges at myself is so that I can write through those times. Creativity is grand, but I want to be the sort of writer who can write museless.

I'm always telling others who complain about writer's block that there should not be such a thing. That the only way to get over such an indulgence is to write through it. Actually I borrowed this attitude from Laurence Olivier. He said to Dustin Hoffman, after Hoffman went without sleep for three days to get into his character, "My dear boy, why don't you try acting?"

Anyway, I did drive over to Martha and Lizie's and walked around the ruins of their farm to clear my head a bit. It was near sunset and I disturbed two gorgeous white tail does who were grazing around the old cabin. They were so lovely and clean looking bounding across the creek with white tails blazing in the air. And I thought for a moment, isn't it neat that two does would be grazing there, and if reincarnation were true, wouldn't it be neat if Martha and Lizie came back to their old home as deer sisters, to haunt the place they loved so well.

Anyway, today's offering is:

Momma Said


Tonya stepped out onto the makeshift stage in her pink satin evening gown, splattered with green sequins with a mermaid theme. The ensemble included elbow length gloves in pastel green that picked up the pink and green of her outfit. Momma paid two thousand dollars for Tonya's dress for the Little Miss Baby Girl Beauty Pageant.

She cocked a hip, satin straining, and waited for her music to start. She tried not to wiggle too much--Momma said her baby fat rolls stretched the seams when she did that.

The announcer, a lady with crunchy silver hair in a purple velour jogging suit, said, "This is Tonya Smedley. Tonya is nine years old. She likes horseback riding, ballet and collecting Precious Memories figurines. Her favorite TV show is American Idol and she wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up. Her favorite food is spaghetti and she loves Jesus." Momma said it never hurt to say you loved Jesus.

Mrs. Blatz, the lady who made the dress said it would clash with Tonya's red hair. Momma said, just make it, it will make her stand out. Tonya overheard Gracie Ledbedder's mother saying she looked like a cartoon--that she looked like tutti-frutti ice cream. Tonya told Momma the netting was too much, but Daddy said you couldn't tell Momma anything.

"I'm a model--you know what I mean…" Right Said Fred began and Tonya flipped her ginger hair over her shoulder and began her routine. She caught Momma's eye as she sashayed back and forth on the platform. Momma pointed two index fingers to the side of her mouth reminding Tonya to smile wider, revealing the perfect fake teeth she had to wear for the pageants.

Tonya peeled one glove off and swung it around her head while pumping her hip forward. She batted fake eyelashes at the judges and threw the glove into the audience. Momma said you always had to play to the judges.

Tonya hoped she could win this one. This would be the last year she could compete at Little Miss Baby Girl and Momma said she could have a pony and stop going to the pageants if she took the title this time. It was her last chance at Little Miss Baby Girl.

Right Said Fred rumbled, "…as I shake my tush on the catwalk--yeah…" Tonya looked over her shoulder with her lips pursed while she shook her tush as Right Said Fred indicated.

Out of the corner of her eye, Tonya saw Gracie Ledbedder, sitting on her mother's lap. Momma smiled at Gracie's mother, baring her teeth like a fountain statue, cold and formal. Gracie had been up before Tonya. Gracie beat out Tonya in the Miss Adorable Girl Pageant last month. Momma said she saw Gracie's mother coming out one of the judge's hotel rooms.

"So sexy--it--hurts." Tonya held both arms out, palms up to do the shimmy move her dance teacher showed her. Momma clapped louder than anyone as Tonya finished her number and Right Said Fred faded out.

Tonya left the stage and went over to Momma. She pulled her teeth out and Momma said, "Don't do that, you have to go back up there in a minute. You forgot to Vaseline them again--I saw your lip catch on them once. I swear, I don't know what I'm going to do with you. Don't you want to be Little Miss Baby Girl?"

Momma bent over to get a hairbrush out of her bag, so she didn't hear Tonya whisper, "No, Momma, not really."

Not that it would have mattered. You can't tell Momma anything.

Monday, February 11, 2008


I get up this morning, let the dogs out and who should be standing there, looking confused, but the presumed dead Rose. She's confused because the rest of the goats were "raptured" to Fayetteville, NC to Peggy's. She most definitely had a place on that trip, but Pearlie came back without her and Rose has been gone a long, long time. Goats are not solitary animals. They have strong herd instincts and do not wander around by themselves. She came back just to be with the sheep--who she despises--from where she was being detained.

I gave her some sweet feed and told her things could be worse. At least she didn't find the other goat's collars sitting on their airplane seats. So now--there is a goat again.

Today I have a leaner, meaner rewrite of an old favorite...

Lilly of the Holler

The polished, final draft of this story has been accepted for publication. In keeping with the SMB's policy, this rough has been removed.

I will provide linkage where you may purchase the magazine or read the story in its final draft form on publication.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Well, I've been pretty useless today. Max spent the night outside. He was driving me crazy. He became obsessed with the items on the kitchen table. He does that now and again. Just goes nuts and decides to bark and jump at some imaginary thing. I gave him an amitryptyline to calm him down. Didn't work at all. Will use benadryl next time. Sometimes you just have to give him drugs to make him shut up. He's the Adrian Monk of dogs. I've known people like that too. Anyway. I finally made him sleep on the porch. Pulled the crate in the house this morning. That works sometimes.

Today I have a drabble for you. A drabble is a very short form of fiction that is exactly 100 words. Lest you think I'm slacking off on you--they are very hard to write. Go ahead and try it. This one is based on a true story from my days wandering around the state of Georgia as a movie hobo.


Hoodoo Drabble



I stumbled into a spell shop in a small Georgia town, tucked on a side street.

Wooden beads hung from the threshold and gris-gris, voodoo dolls and feathered masks from the walls. The air smelled of Genuine Nine Indian Million-Dollar Money House Blessing Spray—the sort that made your nose close up. The woman behind the counter watched Days of Our Lives on a TV with tinfoil streamers.

I took a vial up to the front, asking--What is this for?

“That’s Bend-Over Oil,” she said.

“What do I do with it?”

“Depends on who you want to bend over.”



If you enjoyed this tiny story, I highly recommend Elisson's blog. He is a master at what he calls "Hundred Word Stories".

I hope you are having a very happy Sunday.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

I've been pondering deep things today. Primarily my fascination with Pants-Off, Dance-Off. Is it wrong for me to like that show so much? I don't know. I think it is sort of like why I only watch the audition sections of American Idol. I loose all interest in it once I know the people can actually sing. I mean, who wants to watch that? I can watch people who can sing any old time. People who think they can sing--now that's something special.

I've been backing up my blogrolls today. Blogrolling has been going on and off line more than the power in Grassy Fork recently and I take that to mean that Blogrolling is about to die. So, I may soon be doing a complete revamp of my links on the blog.

I have a thoughtful sad story for you today. I'll try to have something happy tomorrow. I just sort of go with whatever hits me.



Winter and the Doe


The doe's eyes glowed with a glassy sheen like she saw a pasture far away. Her head stretched out in front of her, chin resting on the ground. This wasn't what I signed on for, the woman thought.

There was a moment when a person, an animal, a being--asked for death--welcomed it. This happened on a level different from the urges of the reptile brain, coiled like an asp where skull met vertebrae. Even that part offered token resistance when the overwhelming pain of existence crashed home. At that point the creature, human or animal, looked pale. That was the word describing it but really, there was no word. It was not just pallor, but a fading, like the stuff of existence disappeared, became transparent and flickered between this world and the next.

The doe was there now. She was an old goat and a sick one, but she was loving and soulful. Always ready for a scratch or a cookie, she spent the summer eating sweet grass and resting her poor bones in the sun. But the sun was gone, leaving mud and cold. Gaunt and weakened, she couldn't rise from her nest of straw. The wind sailed through the cracks in the shelter. She looked at the woman, asking, can I go now?

Yes, the woman said, you can go. I will help.

Helping was part of the contract. The woman's ancestors made the doe as she was, fragile and dependent, and an oath drafted in antiquity promised she would not suffer as a result.

The woman stepped outside, squinting into the icy wind, tears turning cold, stopping in their tracks. Again she thought, this is not what I signed on for. She took off her gloves, grasped gunmetal and faced the task.

Mercy sped down the barrel to a point just behind the doe's ear. It did not feel like compassion, it did not feel like love, the woman thought. It felt like the winter wind whistling through stone, skipping across water.

The woman took the doe's body out to the wildwood, far from all, so she could return to the earth, bit by bit. She vanished in a week, the meals of raccoons, possums and bobcats roaming the winter forest.

When spring came and the mountains dressed themselves in green, tender and sweet, wildflowers grew on that spot. A creeping vine twined around the only remaining sign of that winter day, a lone rib bone. A passionflower bloomed.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Well, since I don't have any really good FP's at this time, it being the long shanks of the month and ramen noodle time--I decided to write stories about food this month--or at least stories that have to do with eating, attitudes about food and such.

Anyway, in other news, the little cocker spaniel I was helping to place did indeed get adopted today. I'm just thrilled, especially since he was so adorable that had he had come here, it would have broken my heart to adopt him out. So, Mr. Rocky is going to a fine home. I appreciate Dr. Hood and the wonderful volunteers at the Newport Animal Shelter giving me a crack at finding a placement for him.

There was a most impressive police report story I wanted to share with you concerning an attack using a vacuum cleaner as a weapon. The victim used a piece of statuary to fend it off. The Newport Plaintalk is evidently moving to their own domain and I can't find the story. Hopefully once they get settled we can all get back into reading Caleb Abramson's excellent sheriff and police report coverage.

Today there was a headline titled: Busty move by alleged light thief. Yet another vicious brassiere and flashlight robbery. One funny thing is they now refer to the Walmart in the paper as "a supercenter off the Cosby Highway". Like we don't know the Walmart is the supercenter off the Cosby Highway where all the teenagers hang out in the parking lot across from where the TBI torches the pot plants. What's up with that? They name every other private civilian victimized by crime and gives their address. Why does Walmart get a pass?

I'm just sayin'--if you are going to name the victims of crimes and include their home addresses (including certain local bloggers with stolen goats who are the target of death threats)--then giving Walmart anonymity seems journalisticallyexpialidocious
--and not in a good way.

Today's story is about:

Alice's Table


Before she took me home to meet her family, I was a stray. All her friends were strays. All of us walked wounded through our lives, looking for a place of belonging. A place called home, or something like it. Some of us had homes, perfectly good ones, but were greedy. I was the greedy one.

I looked normal, at least. One friend's leg dragged behind her like a dog rebelling against a leash. Every once in a while, she reached back to haul the damn thing level with the rest of her body, like a piece of luggage caught on an escalator. Another wore coke bottle glasses behind which, one eye--magnified to the size of a tennis ball--wandered around aimlessly. I never knew which eye to look at, so I looked at her nose. The third friend, looked normalish, except for the cut off dungarees she wore, revealing ass cheeks determined to escape into the world. When she spoke, a man's voice emerged like bad dubbing on a Japanese horror movie.

She took the oddball friends home to meet her mother, Alice, and her sisters once--all three at the same time.

Never, ever bring those three home again, they said, at least at the same time. Sweet Jesus, Mary and Joseph--we aren't auditioning Macbeth here.

She sensed my woundedness.

My day started at six-thirty with two hundred crunches. After a breakfast of popcorn moistened with a half cup of skim milk, I rode my bike five miles to the gym where I took one of my five times weekly ballet classes. I drank Diet Pepsi, the good kind before they took the saccharine out, throughout the day. After attending the rest of my classes, I swam for a mile before riding my bike home. I ate half a cabbage, stir-fried in water for dinner and as much popcorn as I wished.

Sometimes, I got hungry. So hungry, I had to eat something, and that was okay if I threw it back up. Ice cream was good, coming back cool and soothing. It was my favorite food to throw up.

She prepared her family for my visit, telling them I did not eat. A large ethnic family of twelve souls, they marched as an army on their stomachs. They owned a deli, celebrating birth, death, sorrow and joy with food. Alice's kitchen pulsed with life--TV blaring the news, the easy chair she dozed in simmering sauces through the night, meat slicers, spice racks--it smelled of sustenance, both physical and spiritual. Her ankles were thick in the way of women who not only bore their children, but carried them and the world for miles on broad patient shoulders.

Sitting at Alice's table without eating was not an option.

She offered me a drink as I walked in the door.

Can I get you a coke or some iced tea, she asked.

No, thank you, I told her, some water would be fine.

I sat at Alice's table and a bubbling fountain coke appeared before me. I stared at it in horror, knowing it had sugar.

Alice watched me, sharp black eyes daring me to refuse.

I drank, feeling the sharp bubbles, iced in sweetness fill my throat.

She offered me food, saying, can I get you a salad? Some cheese? I think we have some kibi, or a sandwich.

No, thank you, I said, I couldn't possibly eat anything.

My friend, the collector of weird sisters, piped up saying, I told you she doesn't eat, Mom.

The gauntlet was well and truly thrown.

Alice piled salads, dripping with olive oil and feta, kibi with pine nuts, stuffed squash with rice and cinnamon beef, pastrami sandwiches smeared with mayonnaise, baklava and pistachios in front of me, daring me to refuse.

I ate more than Alice's food at her table. I ate acceptance. I tasted love. It would be years before I left the hinterlands of starvation, but I took the first steps of that journey at Alice's table.

It was delicious.