Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams

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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Back-to-School Weather

The night of Irene, under the threat of tornadoes and ninety mile an hour winds, the kids and I slept in the basement.   We awoke in the dark.  We climbed up the basement stairs and guessed at how long the power had been out and made coffee with boiling water poured over a sieve of coffee grinds. 
In the evening, my husband and I went out to assess neighborhood damage and to bring home ice cream in celebration of power restored.  Irene had hurled walnuts and sweet gum pods to the street.  There were branches and leaves: ginkgo and maple and oak.  Beneath the footbridge, the water, smelling faintly of the ocean, gurgled past.  Someone had moved the feral cats’ food bowl from the woods to higher, dryer ground.   
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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Sad Man...

This week, Sir challenged me with: ...it's a sad man, my friend, who's livin' in his own skin and can't stand the company  -- Bruce Springsteen.  I challenged Supermaren with "The sun glinted off the surface of the ocean.  It was a dreary day."
“You’re ruining them rolls, Bitsy.”  Lilly Jean Jacobs blew on her coffee before taking a sip.
Bitsy Barnes continued kneading the dough on the stainless steel counter.  “I’ve been standing at this counter every morning making sweet rolls for over thirty years, Lilly Jean; been working in this diner since I was practically a baby.  How much time you got invested in a kitchen?”
Lilly Jean laughed and lit a cigarette.  “I’m here every day, ain’t I?”
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Friday, August 26, 2011

Twenty Minutes More

“How many more minutes to the bottom?”  A woman gripped her daughter’s hand.  The girl’s knee was mildly bloodied, the result, I was certain of a fall against rock.
I looked at my husband.  “Twenty minutes?”
He nodded.  “Yeah, about that.”
By all rights, we, too, should’ve been heading down the mountain at that hour.  At three o’clock in the afternoon, we were pointed in the wrong direction.
People climb Cadillac Mountain for a variety of reasons: Some attack the mountain, seemingly wanting to prove something to themselves or the other climbers, running up as fast as they can, stabbing feet and cleats and ski poles into the face of the mountain.  Others leisure their way up; stopping here and there to snap pictures of Bar Harbor posing prettily amid colorful boats in Frenchman’s Bay.  Some people, clearly ill, stagger and huff and crawl up the mountain, refusing the hand of a sister or a son waiting patiently a few steps ahead, and it’s these people who I hope make it to the top. 
But this day, we hurried up the mountain.
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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Two Miles and Twenty Cents a Gallon

I saw him behind plate glass as I exited the bank: one-third of the way up the window, a four-inch long praying mantis.  Perhaps he was checking on interest rates.  Or maybe he was just grasping on for dear life, still in shock from the earthquake or in preparation for the upcoming hurricane. 
He must’ve been reading the papers or listening to the radio: Everywhere, people are being cautioned to ready themselves; to have food and water and travel plans worked out.  I have made no such preparations, although I did fill up the gas tank at the local—expensive—BP yesterday.   My usual trick is to just put a couple of dollars into the tank at the pricier place then limp as quickly as I can into the station two miles and twenty cents a gallon away.  I told myself, watching the dials spin wildly behind the glass, that I ought to fill the tank now, just in case.  But the truth of the matter is I’m too lazy to stop for gas again so soon.
* * *
Thanks to the library book sale, Squints is the proud owner of thirteen cookbooks.  He’s got one on desserts featuring Cool Whip in every recipe; a casserole book that employs Campbell’s Soup on each page.  And, although we have no pot, he picked up a book on fondue.  But there are a couple of promising books: Street Foods shows how to make food popularized on the city’s streets: Philadelphia cheese steaks, corn dogs, pad Thai.  And the sandwich book looks interesting: For lunch yesterday, Squints made me a double-layer banana peanut butter sandwich with cream cheese and an interesting concoction of brown sugar and cinnamon topping.   While I proclaimed it delicious, I decided to split it with V.  Filibuster eschewed it entirely, claiming to be full, despite the fact that she hadn’t yet eaten.
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Monday, August 22, 2011

The Great Brain Robbery

Growing up, one of my all-time favorite books was The Great Brain.  The book’s cover featured the novel’s protagonist, The Great Brain, a smug-looking boy of about eleven, arms crossed one over the other, assuming the expression of one well-familiar with his uncanny intelligence.
Though the book was written by John D. Fitzgerald, I was under the impression that the author was F. Scott Fitzgerald; that I was reading a book by the author of The Great Gatsby.  Soon enough, I knew, I would graduate to bigger, thicker tomes while my classmates were left behind with Nancy Drew and the Trixie Belden Mysteries.
In The Great Brain, I thought I had found myself.
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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Book Sale

At nine o’clock this morning, the library book sale began.  This was the big sale; the hardback sale; the sale around which we had planned our vacation to Maine.  My husband even came along even though he was certain that he wouldn’t find a thing.
Last year, the kids and I just happened upon the sale, in one of its final days.  There were a few people here and there in the community room; balancing a stack in one arm while considering another book.  A man glanced at my arms. 
“That’s why I bring this.”  He pointed to his backpack, bursting with books.  “Holds more and keeps my arms free.” 
I smiled and picked up Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.  I studied the back.  Would I really read it?
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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Eyes in the Clams

Six years ago, on our first trip to Maine, we went to a restaurant that came recommended by the locals.  We like these sorts of places: You know the food and the service will be good.  Plus, we like to act as if we belong; as if we’re in the know; as if we’re, above all, not tourists. 

This restaurant was really more of a shack than a restaurant and it specialized in fried clams.  It was a dive, but sometimes the worst-looking places turn out to be the best, so we remained stalwartly hopeful. 

We went into the dining room and discovered that all eight of the tables were full of the memories of previous diners: stacked plates, empty corncobs, piles of clamshells, a forlorn-looking exoskeleton of a lobster that an hour before had been swimming in a tank labeled: Caution.  Keep hands out. 
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Wednesday, August 17, 2011


“Do you want some chicken feet for the dog?”  The owner of the farm where we’d rented our cabin nodded at Destructo.  “We’re slaughtering Thursday.” 

“Do you do the butchering yourself?”

He gave a satisfied nod.  “We used to pluck by hand until we were able to make a plucker.” 

Although the farm was hundreds of miles from home, we found we shared a connection: The owner sold wool to a highbrow place near our home; a sterile place whose shoppers, I was sure, wouldn’t give a moment’s thought to the farm and the people and the animals that had produced that wool.  Thus connected, we were invited to gather the eggs from the chickens just outside our cabin; to visit the turkeys and the pigs and the sheep.  We could pet the goats and the horses used to plow the fields.  We were free to milk the cow, provided we got up early enough.  And, of course, the hundred acres were ours to explore.

And we explored with abandon: We passed a hundred-year-old farmhouse and went on to the pigpen where baby durocs no bigger than our—admittedly fat—cat ran round the pen en masse while their mother looked on wearily.  A pasture down, there was another pig, sequestered from a lamb and a couple of horses by a wire fence.  Drying on a wooden fencepost was the horned scalp of a goat.  Here and there, where the rocks would allow, were patches of garden: Scallions and tomatoes and lettuces to the right; Further down the path a bed of peas and green beans, still in season in August.
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Monday, August 15, 2011


Last time we attended this church, six years ago, we were late.  Noisily we crept up the narrow, creaky stairs that lead to the balcony.  We sat upon the red vinyl cushions.  My husband’s cushion sighed heavily in response, sounding as if he’d broken long and slow and terrible wind; and I felt the eyes of other church goers upon us.
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Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Beginning...

At eleven o’clock at night, Filibuster discovered we were out of cat litter.  My husband sighed and changed out of his pajamas and he and Filibuster headed to the grocery store, which was open until midnight.  At four-thirty in the morning, my husband discovered the dog cage was too large to fit in the trunk and that the garbage can had leaked all over the garage floor.  Worse, his car emitted a strong odor that filled up the garage with the smell of gasoline.   
Vacations always seem to start this way.
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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Deal with the Devil

This post, part of the fiction I’m working on, was written in response to an Indie Ink prompt.  Lance challenged me with: The devil makes you an offer you can’t refuse.  I challenged Rachel with Terms and conditions may apply. 
* * *
Bitsy Barnes put on a pot of coffee and contemplated the fragility of sound.  The sound of a midnight darkness was plush and inviting and as lovely as dark chocolate.  As night turned softly towards day and the rooster crowed, the town would begin to rouse itself, stretching and rolling over to stay in bed for just five minutes more.  Medford gentled into the day that way.  But now, the silence stretched thin—taut and quiet and beautiful as daybreak—made even the more precious because at any moment, once the first rays of sunlight kissed the ground of Medford, the silence would be shattered into a thousand pieces.
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Monday, August 8, 2011

Traveling to Ohio

On the Pennsylvania turnpike, I see a woman riding on a motorcycle behind her husband.  She passes through mountains and never looks up from the Kindle in her hands.  I am intrigued by this woman.  I’d like to keep watching, but…”Dad, I have to go.
My husband pulls in at the next rest stop and we lose her.
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Friday, August 5, 2011

Darla's Back

I see that Darla is back at the Clip Joint.  And that’s good.
That’s real good.
Now, I have no idea who Darla is or where she’s been, but I can imagine that little thrill she gets when she sees her name on the marquee outside the Joint: Darla’s Back!  For a few weeks, I’d wager, people will talk:  “Oh! She’s back! Darla is back!”
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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Things You Need

To get to the creek at my parents’ farm, leave the house by the back door.  Stop to admire my mother’s giant pots of herbs and other plants on the wooden deck before heading down the stairs and onto the brick walk.  To your left, you’ll see a perennial bed of, if I remember correctly, white and purple flowers.  And to your right, another smaller bed with shrubs and hosta and a gas lamp permanently lit to welcome visitors.
The gravel driveway will crunch beneath your shoes—and cut bare feet if you’re not careful.  Walk past the garage towards the barn.  To the right, another long and narrow perennial bed.  To the left, the remains of the pasture fence: a small length of wooden sections of posts and rails representing years of farm labor and lessons.  Tall pines on either side of the drive will escort you past the barn to your left.  And to your right, you’ll see the syrup shed, where my father spends late winters turning gallons of sap into the maple syrup that I use to sweeten peaches and strawberries and be reminded of home.  Know that into the concrete floor of that very shed, my children carved their initials with a thick nail. 
But we must go on.
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Monday, August 1, 2011

Moving On

This post was written in respone to an Indie Ink challenge from Jules: My challenge was Moving On.  I challenged Tara Roberts with The College Tour from Hell.
* * *

We gather to celebrate ninety years.  Family members from coast to coast arrive, each bearing a contribution: sandwiches and fruit trays; potato chips and pretzels and pop; even fifty pounds of tomatoes from Marietta, Ohio.
This is my husband’s family.  There are people I haven’t seen in years; people I recognize but whose names I cannot remember. 
We hug one another, how are you-ing down the line of people, reintroducing our children.  We admire the new babies; everyone trying to forge some connection; to claim those children as their own: He reminds me so much of Grandpa.  She’s got her father’s hair.
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