Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams

Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: June 2011

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hard Labor

So on Tuesday, my husband and I lassoed Squints and V into helping us with our yearly service at our community garden.  For the second year in a row, Filibuster escaped the event, as she had to go to work. 
We pulled in and parked.  In the distance, we heard the tractor in one of the fields.  D, one-half of the farm partnership, met us at the barn, wearing sandals and a floppy hat.  She was deeply tanned and, I could tell, deeply happy with her circumstance, despite the long hours and the backbreaking work her job required.
We heard a car on the gravel drive.  D nodded.  “There’s the rest of the work party.”  A man walked up eagerly, jabbing a thumb over his shoulder.  “They’re coming.”  His wife and daughters approached at a more leisurely pace, as if not so sure about the whole thing.  The daughters had long, thin, tanned legs and were carefully made up for the occasion.
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Monday, June 27, 2011

School Trip

This post was written in response to a prompt from the red dress club:

School trips. We all go on them. What trip do you remember the most? Where did you go? Who was with you? How did you get there? Have you ever been back?

* * *

At the end of every year, the elementary kids would walk out the front door of our school and turn right.  When we reached the Variety Store at the corner of Prospect and Main, we’d head left—towards the village park.  There, we would ride the swings and scoot gingerly down hot slides.  We’d play kickball and baseball and red rover until we were hot and sweaty.  The teachers would call us to the shade of the pavilion where we’d sit at wooden picnic tables with green paint flaking from them.  We’d eat our lunch: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Wonder bread.  Ruffled chips.  The obligatory apple.  A couple of chocolate chip cookies and, best of all, a Coke wrapped in foil to keep it cold.
And it’s this Coke wrapped in foil that reminds me suddenly of another class trip of sorts: The annual Memorial Day band parade.  As a member of the marching band, I would don a woolen uniform and board a bus with my baritone and—with the rest of the band and the cheerleaders, the flag girls and the majorettes—would march in four parades. 
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Saturday, June 25, 2011


My family never used the front door, preferring the easy informality of the back of the house.  A visitor would turn in and drive along the fence, tires crunching over gravel, as the horses and cows kicked up their heels in the pasture.  There would be a slight bend in the drive—in the fence, too—and the visitor would find herself at the brick sidewalk we put in one year under my father’s supervision.  I say herself here because chances are, if the car was parked at the house, the visitor was a woman, come to see my mother.  If the visitor was a man, he would continue around the next bend and follow the driveway to the barn, where he would most certainly find my father making repairs to the farm equipment, occasionally grumbling beneath his breath.  The men visitors would pull in quick.  Leap from their trucks.  Get right down to business.  The women visitors, however would leisure their way up that brick sidewalk, pausing to admire my mother’s lush perennial gardens, before finally walking up the back stairs and entering the coolness of the house. 
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Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Life in Their Eyes

This post was written in response to a prompt from the red dress club:
Flash Fiction can be fun and a real challenge. This week focus on the words and the strength of each to contribute to your story. Write a 300 word piece using the following word for inspiration: LIFE.
* * *

There’s a sign at the entrance to Bitsy’s Diner.
“She’s selling out.” Spank waves his spatula in the air. 
“This diner is your future, El.  The money I got invested in this place will get you out of Medford.”
“You got your whole life ahead of you, child.  This is your opportunity to go and live it.”
“You know how she’s always going on about the city,” Spank says.
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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Please, God, Let Her Choose Archery

Well, V will be belatedly celebrating her Sweet Sixteen at a local fast food restaurant.  And her father and I won’t be spending a dime.  No, this shindig is courtesy of her employer, who likes that sort of thing.
We laughed, looking at the invitation.  This has got to be the oddest Sweet Sixteen birthday party in history.
Sure, V is sweet.  Sure, she’s sixteen.  But spending exorbitant amounts of money on a fancy-pants party with semi-formal dress; a hall; updos and I-pods for door prizes is a real quick way to turn that sweet into surly.  V’s birthday celebration, in fact, was downright subdued this year: Quick bite for lunch and a homemade cheesecake for dessert.
“Should I go?” She gestured to the invitation.
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Monday, June 20, 2011

Driving Lessons

This post was written in response to a prompt from The Red Dress Club:
The first time I ________-ed after _________-ing
Unfortunately, I was able to fill in the blanks with crashed and buying a car

“Here’s a nice one.” The salesman pointed to a red Dodge Charger hatchback.  “Bucket seats.  AM/FM.  Reliable.  Practical.” 
Practical wasn’t an image I was shooting for.
“It has a sunroof.  Wanna’ take it for a test drive?”  He held up his hands and mimed driving. 
I nodded, feeling the hot vinyl of the steering wheel beneath my fingers.  I got in the car and bucked my seatbelt.  I reached for the keys dangling alluringly from the ignition.  And there, in the center of the vehicle was...  “But I don’t drive stick…”
“Oh, well…I’ll just drive it for you then.” 
We exchanged seats.  The salesman cranked up the radio and popped open the sunroof.  He pulled onto the street and changed gears, all the while extolling the virtues of the car over Madonna’s “Material Girl.” 
We returned to the dealership.  The salesman casually draped his arm across the steering wheel.  “Whaddya’ think?”
* * *
My father insisted that my sister give me lessons.  Kathy went over the basics: clutch, brake, shifting, and we were off, the car rocking violently every time we arrived at a stop light, my sister shouting, “the clutch! Hit the clutch!” while other drivers and pedestrians, too, pointed and laughed with open mouths.  
Brake.  Clutch.  It was too confusing.  Fifteen minutes into the lesson, I pulled over.  I shut off the stupid car and let my sister drive home.  I could practice there.  It would be safer that way.
* * *
A circular driveway surrounded our house, separating the lush lawn from the woods that secreted our home from the busy state highway.  Lining the driveway was an army of massive boulders my father had culled from the back field.  Fifty-foot pine trees kept watch over those majestic stones, shading them and allowing thick moss and ivy to grow up along them.  Perfect.  Test.  Track.
That evening after dinner, I went to my car, popped the sunroof and switched on the radio.  I turned the key.  The engine sputtered…and caught!  At a rate of no more than three miles per hour, I pulled towards the front of the house.  So far, so good.  I sat up confidently and tapped my fingers on the steering wheel to the beat of Queen’s “Bicycle Race.” Ahead, there was a slight grade: I had to accelerate a bit to make it up.  Too fast.  I was going to crash into the fence and let the cows escape from the pasture.  I was…
Quickly, I steered to the right and hit the brakes.  The car lurched.  Again, the brakes.  Another lurch.  I slammed the brakes tight against the floor of the car, pressing so hard I lifted myself from the red bucket seat with faux leather trim. 
But the brakes had failed.  The car began rolling down the driveway.  Faster and faster, I rolled backwards, the pine trees passing outside my window at what must have been a hundred miles an hour.  There was a terrific scraping and then, suddenly, I stopped, my practical little car caught up on the mountain range lining the driveway.
I had the sense to cut the engine before opening the door.  I jumped from the car as it teetered precariously on its undercarriage and ran, sobbing, to get my father.  An hour later, from an upstairs window, I watched my dad laughing with the tow truck driver as his assistant wound the winch before leaving to get a different—larger—truck to drag my car from the rocks. 
When the car was finally free, my dad got in to drive it to the back of the house.  “You can’t drive it, Dad.  The brakes don’t work.”  I wanted him to go right to the dealership; to demand my money back; to punish that salesman for having taken advantage of me. 
“These brakes are fine,” he said, his foot depressing the pedal I’d sworn was the clutch.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Lesson of The Apricots

Parents wait in the high school parking lot.  Their faces are joyful, expectant, relieved.  A couple of women stand outside their cars, shading their eyes and talking.  A man reads his newspaper.  A father and his son toss a baseball back and forth while a toddler runs between them, giggling.  Squints jogs across the soccer field. 
My cell phone rings.  “Hello?”
Filibuster.  Her voice is weary.  The roar of the bus radio covers her words.
 “I can’t hear you,” I shout.  From the bus radio, I get the score of the baseball game and the weather report.  She says something about traffic before she breaks the connection.
And so, we settle in to wait. 
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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Howard Snickered

This posting was written in response to a prompt from the red dress club:
"Physical beauty.

It can open doors - and can also shut them.

Write a scene in which a physically beautiful character is somehow impacted by that trait."
Of course, I probably broke the rules again. 
I also rushed it a bit: Filibuster is home and I'm off to pick her up.
Howard Snickered

Lilly Jean Jacobs plopped herself down right next to Howard Heacock and flipped open her menu.  “I’m not even going to say good morning to you, Dumbass.”
Howard swiveled slightly upon his stool to acknowledge his stepmother, a woman three years his junior, and was accosted by her bosom.  He turned away quickly and added three packets of sugar to his coffee.
“Lilly Jean, must you store your drink there?”  Bitsy nodded towards the plastic sports bottle tucked neatly in Lilly Jean’s ample cleavage.  “You’re nauseating my customers here.”
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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Not All That It's Fracked Up To Be...

My esteemed Lieutenant Governor recently announced that our drinking water will not be affected by fracking.  A toast to Lieutenant Governor Cawley.  Drink up.  And if your tap should catch fire, just think of it as having your water already boiled for tea without the unnecessary middlemen of a stove and tea pot.  Now that I’ve been reassured, I can put my brain back upon the shelf and forget all this controversy about fracking.  If the Lieutenant Governor says it’s safe, well, then, it must be.
* * *
Squints, V, Destructo and I went to the used bookstore the other day.  The owner stood at the register, sorting out recent acquisitions.  Near the front windows, a barrel-chested man with a beard and ponytail laced with gray stood puzzling over a massive book with a yellow cover. 
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Monday, June 13, 2011


This essay was written in response to a prompt from the red dress club:
“This week we would like you to write about how the show of affection has played a part in your memory.

Choose a time when either the abundance or lack of affection (either by you or someone else) stands out, and show us.  Bring us to that time.  Help us feel what you felt.”
Of course, being a word nerd, I turned to my beat-up college dictionary (Webster’s New World) before starting:
1.    A mental or emotional state or tendency; disposition or feeling
2.    Fond or tender feelings, warm liking
3.    A disease; ailment
4.    An attribute or property of a thing
5.    An affecting or being affected
 I think I’ve got definition two covered.  Possibly number five.  Maybe a tinge of three if you look up the word on line.
Anyway, I was really going for a kid’s POV here, as something else I’m writing is written from the perspective of a youngster.
I was in the third grade.  I wore new baby blue corduroy pants with an elastic waistband and a matching jacket sewn by my mother at the dining room table.  One by one, the teacher called the students to her desk to retrieve their math tests.  Perhaps the tests were in order by grade.  Or alphabetically.  Or maybe they were arranged by row because he passed me on his way to get his paper.
He looked at his test.

His face crumbled in upon itself like a half-eaten apple left to dry in the sun.  He was close to tears.  But in a split second, anger replaced despair.  He snatched the paper from the teacher’s hand and stormed back down the row.  His paper was in his right hand, his pencil in his left.
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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Raspberry Season

We got a call from Filibuster on the answering machine this morning: She can’t retrieve voice mails from her cell phone.  Worse, the ATM refuses to dispense any money to her.  Apparently her PIN is too long.  Filibuster is a great believer in strong passwords.
I call the bank and they ask me how long PINs are supposed to be in Europe and I tell them I really don’t know: the last time I was in Europe there were no debit cards.  They place me on hold.  They transfer me twice.  They tell me to go to a branch after the weekend is over.  They tell me there’s no way they can change her PIN for me.  They give me a number for Filibuster to call, but I cannot reach her and if I leave her a voice mail with the number she won’t be able to get to it. 
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Friday, June 10, 2011

The Fair

Schools were dismissed at noon today, due to an excessive heat warning.  At the corner, the bus discharges a group of sweaty students, too hot to celebrate their unexpected good fortune.   They trudge down the sidewalk, beat-up backpacks dangling from listless shoulders, and head home to the shade.
The dogs lie on their sides, panting.  The cat sprawls on the cool wooden floor beneath the ceiling fan and refuses to budge.   The curtains at the front of the house are pulled closed to keep out the sun’s warmth; a warmth only three months ago we so desperately wished for.   My glass of ice water weeps condensation.  The couch is too hot to sit on, so we gather at the kitchen table and start a card game.  I toss the dog an ice cube and promise the kids that I’ll flip on the AC if it reaches 100 degrees.
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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Yoga Lessons

This post was written in response to a prompt from the red dress club: in which we were supposed to write about happy endings.

My mother was in constant motion.  In the evenings, she would make our clothes at the dining room table, the sewing machine whirring until late into the night.  The following morning, all evidence of my mother’s nighttime sewing would have disappeared except for the new pair of pajamas waiting on the table.  Every day, Mom would do laundry; wash dishes; wipe countertops; vacuum.  At least once a month, she would run a cloth doused in Liquid Gold over the faux wood of the kitchen cabinets—brown with a decorative inset of black where food would invariably get stuck.  She would go grocery shopping.  Take us to doctors' appointments.  Make us lunch.  And then, in the afternoons, before she made dinner, she’d get her book.  My sisters and I would sit on the couch.  Mom would lie down, stretching her legs across our laps, and the contest would be on: The three of us would begin rubbing my mother’s leg, each trying to win the coveted best leg-rubber award.  Mom would read a few pages before her book fell against her chest.
 “Who’s best, Mommy?”
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Monday, June 6, 2011

By Heart

This post was written in response to a prompt from the red dress club: asking us what we learned by heart in childhood.
To know something by heart is to love it so much that you hold it within your heart forever.  Growing up, I knew by heart our community bookmobile.  Every two weeks the bookmobile would round the bend in the road and toot the horn a couple of times before parking at the side of the road in front of my neighbors’ house.  I would go to my jewelry box and grab my library card; thick salmon cardboard with a piece of metal affixed to it.  I loved everything about this card: the raised letters of my card number; my shaky yet solemn signature; the little plastic sleeve it lived in between bookmobile visits.  My library card was my license to travel. 
Mom would give us the go-ahead, and my sisters and I would race out the door and down the hill.  There were three bushes—small, medium and large—separating our property from the neighbors’ place.  I ignored them, running between them and on to the lawn next door. 
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Sunday, June 5, 2011

When Ricky Sneezed

I attended elementary school with this boy named Ricky.  I remember that Ricky had black hair and black eyes and, if memory serves, he was fond of wearing tee shirts printed with race cars.  But what I most remember about Ricky is that he had a dangerous sneeze. 
Ricky’s sneeze was always sudden and unexpected.  It shot from out of nowhere and made his classmates jump in surprise and caused the teacher to roll her eyes and pause in her struggle to teach her disinterested third graders long division.
“Ricky” she would sigh, setting down her chalk and rubbing at her temples.
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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

To Speak Again

This post was written in response to a prompt from the red dress club: "This week's prompt is all about character development. We'd like you to write about what your character wants most."  Posting my fiction online is not easy for me!

Daddy Sheriff told me I had to hold my tongue; told me that he’d kill me if I ever breathed a word about that night to anyone.  He told me he was just trying to help me to get ahead; to get me the hell out of Medford before the town rolled over and died.  Said he didn’t mean to kill Duke Ellis anyhow, just wanted to roughen him up a bit, and shouldn’t that count for something?
Daddy Sherriff told me to hold my tongue.  I guess I been holding it ever since.
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Well, after looking at too many colleges, Filibuster has finally whittled her list down to about six schools.  But this afternoon, oh, around three o’clock, once the mailman pulls to the curb, that list’ll be shot to hell.  Because as soon as she hears the mail truck pulling up to the curb, her ears will perk up.  And as soon as the mailbox is shut with a little clink, she’ll be out the door. 
Oh those college brochures.  Those colorful brochures that promise success and internships and glory to their graduates.  Those brochures that make kids—parents too—feel so important and special.  They mention famous people with pretty smiles who’ve made Much of their lives.  Honors colleges and double majors and study abroad programs so exciting.
And all of this, of course, goes back to the strawberry patch where I am most at home.
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