Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams

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

Friday, July 29, 2011

Crooked River

We put in at Route 422 near the old Riverside Restaurant.  Squints, my husband and I were in one canoe.  V and Filibuster rode in another.  My sister, my niece and nephew were in a third.  Another nephew rode solo in a kayak.
Our journey was a seven mile ride down the Cuyahoga River—the Crooked River—south towards Akron.  But our boat was put into the water backwards and as we shoved off, we accidentally headed north. 
We couldn’t turn the boat around.  We paddled on one side.  We paddled on the other side.  We paddled on both sides, one left, one right, Squints eagerly and haphazardly slapping the water with his paddle from the center of the boat.  “Hey, I’m good, Mom.  Haven’t I gotten better?” 
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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Universe Isn't Evil...

This post was written as a part of the Indie Ink challenge.  I challenged Jason with "the bitterness of coffee and the subtlety of..."  Check out his blog here.  Stefan (here) challenged me with "the universe isn't evil, it's just indifferent."
This is a continuation of a piece of fiction I'm working on.
* * *
“What’s that boy a’ yours doin’, Daddy Sheriff?” 
I look out the windows. Ransom O’Neill tips back in his chair and scratches at his elbow. 
“Playing with his dollies, I ‘spect.” 
One of the men laughs, tickled with the image.  The five of them sit outside on folding lawn chairs, chewing and spitting directly into the vegetable garden that my mother had taken such pains to plant all those years ago. 
The first thing she done, when Daddy Sheriff brought her home as his wife, was surround the little parched plot of land with squat garden fencing; decorative more than anything, because, believe you me, a one foot fence ain’t gonna’ keep out the deer and the rabbits.  Now all the plants—the peas and the tomatoes; the green beans and the lettuces—are gone.  All gone; the short white fence corralling nothing.
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Monday, July 25, 2011

Lesson Learned

This post was written in response to a prompt from The Red Dress Club: Write a post that either starts or ends with the words "Lesson learned." Word limit: 400 words. 

“Pig’s out!” Someone hollered and we all jumped into action.
Now, escaped animals weren’t a routine occurrence in my family’s history of farming, but it happened often enough to lend a bit of suspense to our daily lives.  Once or twice, my mother looked up from the kitchen sink to see cows in the back field, lazily grazing on the rich alfalfa crop intended to feed them through winter.  Another time, there came a midnight knock upon the front door.  Two men stood on the porch, inquiring whether the cows in the middle of the state highway belonged to us.
But a loose pig?  This was new.
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Friday, July 22, 2011

The Permanence of Elephants--The End

The bathroom was at the top of the stairs and, of course, each week, I would have to use it—if only to break up the monotony of waiting for my piano lesson.  I would climb the wooden staircase, stepping lightly, hoping to have a peek into the room to the right.
This room belonged to the piano teacher’s mother, Mrs. T and, invariably, the door would be open.  The room was dominated by a massive bed—a bed so high, a stepping stool stood sentry at its side.  The bedspread was white as snow.  The bed itself was of a dark ancient wood. It looked so inviting in its size and softness, it was all I could do to keep myself from entering the room; from climbing that stool and sitting upon the bed.
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Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Permanence of Elephants--III

Our first piano was a basement piano: an ugly old upright painted thick with orange.  Many of its teeth were chipped; some were missing their enamel altogether, and on these keys, someone had penciled in their names: C..D…E
Once a day, I’d go down the basement steps, gray with black stick-on treads and cross the orange tiled floor and seat myself at that old piano, fully intending to practice.  But instead, I’d find myself pretending I was the piano player at the Silver Dollar Saloon in Bonanza—banging the keys on that upright mercilessly without regard for sound or rhythm.  I’d end my performance in a magnificent glissando covering the entire span of white keys before spinning around on my bench to face my invisible audience—the ping pong table, too—for the thunderous applause that only I could hear. 
And then my mother’s voice would float down the stairs.  “Is that your lesson?”
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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Permanence of Elephants--II

Winters, we took refuge on the red velvet loveseat that was pressed against the windows of the front room of the piano teacher’s house.   I would run my thumbnail against the grain of the fabric, drawing pictures in velvet, listening to the warm-up scales of my sister.  On the table to the right there was a wooden box, which I felt entitled to open.  Inside there were dried rose petals—yellow—that must have held some great significance for the piano teacher.  But I considered them only for their entertainment value as I opened the box, inhaled the memory of scent and thoughtlessly poked a tiny index finger into fragile recollections.
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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Permanence of Elephants

Like everything else of importance, the piano teacher’s home was on Main Street.  The house was small and painted a light gray and full of mystery and contradiction.  A huge magnolia tree shaded the path from the sidewalk to the three concrete steps leading to the porch.  Formed into the risers of the first step and the third were identical images of a fat elephant in profile.  I never knew how those elephants got there and never thought to ask.  My six year old self imagined that the elephants had been chiseled out by some former teenaged occupant of the house.  But my older self—my adult self—eventually realized that was unlikely: The images were too perfect; too uniform; too deep.  Perhaps a form was pressed into the concrete before it dried.  Perhaps the images were carved into wet cement the way my children would—years later—use a nail to carve their initials into the new concrete floor in my father’s equipment barn.  I will never know the story of how they got there, but those elephants were as much a part of the piano teacher’s house as the piano teacher’s house was a part of Main Street.
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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Wild Roses Along the Shoreline

I am an ornament upon their pristine lawn.  They gather in my honor.  Dutiful lips offer dry kisses.  They come bearing gifts: large boxes with colorful ribbons which they set at my bunioned feet.
A little boy in a cowboy hat is placed before me.   “Help Great-Grandma,” a woman says.
“I don’t want to.”  The boy frowns.  Perhaps he fears me.
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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Manufacturers Rule

When I was very young, our milk was delivered.  Once a week, the milkman would drive up in his truck and put the milk in the metal box on our front porch.  My sisters and I looked forward to these deliveries: You never knew when the milkman would deliver a quart of ice cream, too.  We’d walk through the front room and open the screen door leading to the porch.  We’d open the metal lid and take the milk into the house and put it into the refrigerator.  We didn’t want it to spoil.
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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Simple Treasures

We lived at the top of a small hill in our second house, the first house I can remember without benefit of photographs.   Our drive was concrete—perfect for hopscotch and biking and jumping rope—and sloped down over a ditch that occasionally filled with rainwater and snowmelt.  A galvanized steel pipe ran beneath the drive and drained into that ditch.  And when it wasn’t too wet, that pipe was the perfect place to hide treasures.  My sisters and I could lie on our sides and stretch an arm about a foot in and our treasures—generally the few Matchbox cars we owned—would be safe.  Eventually we moved, leaving behind forgotten treasures.  I’ve often wondered what I would find there, were I to go back. 
Growing up, I remember a bank that belonged to my mother.  It was an iron treasure chest—brown—with an image of a pirate on one side and a skull and cross bones on the other and a slot in the lid for coins.  The chest was hinged and I loved to fold back the curved lid to run my fingers through the pennies contained within, pretending that it was real treasure; real gold.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Sleeping with Darth Vader

Years ago, my mother had one of those old hair dryers that came in a hard plastic case with three golden buckles along the sides.  On the days Mom set her hair, she’d call for one of us to get that case and open it up.  She’d remove the plastic cap which she’d fit over her curlers before drawing it tightly around her head until only the thick pink curler pins pressing against her forehead showed beneath the elastic.  Curled around the motor of the dryer was a clear flexible hose; really just a piece of soft plastic supported by a long wire that curled along the inside.  Mom would plug the hose into the cap and sit there beneath the blast of hot air while her hair dried.  My sisters and I would gather round, our curiosity piqued by this regimen of beauty, holding our unpolished fingernails above the piece labeled nail dryer—the circular disk on top of the motor through which cool air shot out.  One winter day, we used that dryer to encourage the flames in the fireplace, thus melting a hole into the hose.  The plastic hardened and turned black and the air from the dryer would no longer make it all the way to the plastic cap.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

With Peaches...

With peaches, it’s easy to get carried away.
Noon and it’s already ninety degrees.  The exhausted air seems unable to support itself.  Here and there, it will appear to wrinkle under the weight of all that heat.  A tree will ripple and I’ll catch myself blinking, staring, testing my vision, or perhaps my sanity.
Across the street, the neighbors' Yorkshire terrier is wearing a tiny red jacket with black straps and silver buckles, languishing beneath the shade of a sweet gum tree. 

And if that dog dreams, surely he is dreaming of growing—growing so big, he bursts out of his little red jacket with black straps and silver buckles—growing so huge, he can exact revenge, rounding up his owners, dressing them in red woolen coats with black and silver buttons and setting them upon the front stoop.

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Friday, July 8, 2011

'Fessing Up

Well, Filibuster and V are at work.  Squints is in the kitchen making chocolate chip cookies, fiddling with the recipe—adding a little of this and a little of that—experimenting to see if he can improve it or, perhaps, make the recipe his own. 
I’m OK with this tinkering. My only requirement is that he run the new ingredients past me first.  Sorry, but I cannot tolerate cilantro in my chocolate chip cookies, even if it is organic. 
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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fifteen Dollar Mistakes

“What do you want me to get, Mom?”  Squints grabbed a cart and wheeled it to the produce section.
“A couple of pounds of cheese for sandwiches.”  My kids live on grilled cheese during the summer.  For each sandwich she makes, V puts on four slices of cheese.  And she’ll eat two sandwiches for lunch.
“Snacks?” He waggled his eyebrows at me and grinned.   
They also live on snacks.  Unhealthy, expensive snacks that disappear minutes after they enter the house.  “A bag or two.  We’re on a budget.”
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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Competition Over Blueberries

As soon as we hit the blueberry patch, the kids disperse:  Filibuster stealthily cases the entire patch until she finds the best row from which she picks only the choicest berries.  V disappears, watching people between branches, planning film scenes in her head, disdaining the people around her for their very humanity in the same way she so often distains herself.  And Squints?  When he finds a really good bush, he’ll shout out for the entire world to hear, “Mom! Dad! Come look at these berries! They’re amazing!”  But I won’t respond to his summons, not immediately.  Because I feel it’s my duty to pick a bush clean.  Even if there are other berries down the row that are perhaps a bit plumper, I can’t move on until I’ve gotten  all possible berries from the bush.  My husband stays beside me.  He claims it’s because I’m an expert, that he needs my guidance, but I think that he just wants to protect me from those dangerous blueberry-throwing men sometimes seen at this particular patch.  He picks slowly (he calls it deliberately), enjoying the nature that surrounds him.  We’ll pick in silence, listening to the birds and the conversations that float by as people head out to stake their own claims.
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Monday, July 4, 2011

Curb on Trust

There’s a bookstore close by my house.  It’s a huge bookstore, with a separate section just for movies and music, and when you go in, you’re immediately accosted by the sole employee who never appears to have anything to do.
 “May I help you?”
“No thanks.  Just looking.”
But this employee won’t leave you to look.  Instead, she—most often it’s a young woman—will lean on the counter, staring at you, occasionally walking behind you, hands clasped nonchalantly behind her back, as she watches to ensure you aren’t stuffing videos down your shirt.
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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Flirting Over Blueberries

When the first blueberry hit me, I assumed it had fallen from the branches.  It was a good crop that year.  The berries were as big as my thumb and so blue they were nearly black; all I had to do was run a hand along the branch and the berries would practically leap into my container with a rain of satisfactory little thumps that grew fainter as the container became full.  The branches were heavy with berries. The ground was littered with berries.  It was no wonder that one would land upon my head. 
The second berry hit me squarely in the back with uncommon velocity, as if the berry hadn’t fallen off the bush, but rather been shot from it. 
Or…had it been thrown?
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Friday, July 1, 2011

Hidden Message

The following post was written in response to a prompt from the red dress club:  You or your character find a forgotten letter or card from someone important in your life--whether good or bad.  What does it say?  How does it affect you or your character?  What is done with it?

* * *
He was following me.
I ran. 
I ran up the hill and behind the house that Jonathan had told me years and years ago never to go into.  It was too dangerous, he told me.  I could get hurt.
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