Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams

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

Monday, October 31, 2011


Phenomenal,” Daddy Sheriff leapt to his feet and pumped his fist in the air.  “Didja see that pass, Lilly Jean?”
Lilly Jean smiled up at her husband.  “That was a pretty…”

He waved his hand at her.  “Hush yourself, now.”  He leaned towards the television, hands seemingly folded in prayer.  As the ball headed downfield, Daddy Sheriff leaned to the left so far, that eventually he was left standing on one leg, reminding Howard of a pelican.

 “Watch that drink on my new shag rug, Daddy Sheriff,” Lilly Jean said.  “Can’t get pop stain out of rug no matter how hard you scrub at it.”

“I said hush up, woman.”  Daddy Sheriff didn’t bother turning around.

Lilly Jean glanced at Howard before returning her attention to the rug she’d had installed two weeks after moving in.  For six weeks straight, Lilly Jean worked to make the place hers.  She scrubbed the ring from the bathtub; installed a new toilet paper holder.  She sewed curtains and painted walls and painstakingly scraped old wallpaper from the living room.  Lilly Jean had thought she could make this place her home.

Lilly Jean was wrong.
“Touchdown!”  Daddy Sheriff snatched the Terrible Towel from the top of the television set and began swinging it around his head.

“Trying to lasso up all that happiness and bring it on through the television set, Daddy Sheriff?”  Lilly Jean winked at Howard.

Howard knew the house couldn’t contain that much euphoria.

The kicker made the extra point and the game switched to a commercial break.  Daddy Sheriff arranged the Terrible Towel back on the television, smoothing it carefully and scooting it just back enough so that the edge just hung over the top of the screen. 

 “I got to see a man about a horse,” Daddy Sheriff said.

 “Mind my figurines.”  Lilly Jean said.

But Daddy Sheriff paid no mind to anyone but himself.  On his way out of the room his boot caught one and sent it skittering across the carpet.  She picked it up and held it close to her face, examining it carefully.  She held it out to him and shook her head.  “It’s my very best one and he’s gone and chipped its nose clean off.  Got it offa’ eBay two years ago when they was going cheap.”

There was a flush and the door opened.  “Man can’t even bother to put the lid down, let alone wash his hands when he’s done in there, I guess he can’t be expected to take care of other people’s fine decoratives.”

Daddy Sheriff took up his place again on the couch.  He grabbed a nacho and drove it around on the plate of Lilly Jean’s dip: picking up some lettuce here, some olives there, some ground beef over there.  He lifted it to his mouth.  A replay of the touchdown pass played on the television screen.  The television announcers, fickle men with their pretty white teeth and their perfect hair and their memories of glory days resurrected once a week during football season, suddenly set their sights on a Steelers win. 

“That coulda’ been you, Howard.”  Daddy Sheriff spoke with his mouth full.  Specks of nachos flew from his mouth as he spoke.  “Instead of watching these guys, I could have been watching my son.”  He shook his head.  “But you’re not phenomenal, are you.  Hell, you’re not even average.  No wonder your mother left me.”

“Ain’t nothing wrong with Howard, Daddy Sheriff.” 

“Oh, so you’re a doctor now, too?”

“Don’t take no medical degree to tell that Howard’s mind’s just fine.  Least he recollects to put down the toilet seat when he’s finished the job.  I’d reckon he washes his hands when he’s through, too.”


“No more than you, Theodore.”

Daddy Sheriff started.  His eyes grew wide.  “How did you…?”

“Don’t take a medical degree to figure out that one, neither.”  Lilly Jean giggled.  “Big bad Daddy Sheriff.  You think them cowboy boots you stomp about in constitutionalize manhood?  I seen you strap on that gun and stand sideways to admire yourself in the mirror.  But you ain’t no daddy, not in the real sense, anyway.  A real father wouldn’t mock his own flesh and blood the way you do Howard”

Daddy Sheriff pointed to the front door.  “Get out of my house.”

On the television screen, the Steelers scored another touchdown.

“Oh no you don’t.  This here’s my house too.  And Howard’s.”  Lilly Jean walked up to the television and switched it off before yanking the Terrible Towel from the top.  She threw it on her orange shag rug and ground it beneath her heel.  “You took your own dreams and tried to install them into your son when it didn’t work out for you.”

“I’m telling you to leave, Lilly Jean…”

“I ain’t going nowhere,Theodore.”  Lilly Jean picked up her figurines from the floor and set them back on her television set.    “I don’t care if you is the sheriff, you can’t just make me disappear.”   

Oh, but he can, Howard wanted to say, but as usual, his mouth refused to form the words.

For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Kensho G challenged me with "starting with the word 'phenomenal,' write whatever comes into your head without stopping.  I challenged Carrie with "they sat beside the ocean boiling water upon the beach hoping for a bit of salt to take home to their children."


Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Howard sat shivering in a lawn chair beneath the giant oak that grew in the yard.  The wind sent maple leaves cart-wheeling down the lonely dirt road that passed in front of the house he and Daddy Sheriff—and now Lilly Jean Jacobs—shared.  Yellow locust leaves clung to the patrol car and Lilly Jean’s rusted Chevette, both parked outside of the garage that each year leaned a little bit more to the left.

The rain had drawn the worms from the dirt.  They lay curled up and swollen upon the brick walk that led from the garage to the house.  Pearls of rain pooled in the cupped hands of the clovers and dotted the grass like crystals.

“Howie.”  Lilly Jean propped open the screen door and held it open with her foot.  “Game’s on.” 

He nodded.  No doubt Daddy Sheriff scared his new wife, what with his yelling at the TV.
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Monday, October 24, 2011

Halloween Costumes

“Mom,” I said, when I was in second grade, “I have a Halloween parade at school tomorrow.  I don’t know what to be.”
Mom looked at me.  She put a hand over her mouth and tilted her head, thinking.  She glanced at the bowl of plastic fruit on the dining room table: shiny red apples, perfect pears, and clusters of grapes, purple and green.   A smile crossed her lips.  “Hang on.”  She went to her sewing room and returned with a piece of green felt and her scissors.  “Here.”  She folded the felt in half, cut a V into its center, and threw it over my head.  She knelt and cut a line of similar V’s into the bottom of the fabric, giving it a jagged Fred-Flintstone look.  She grabbed the grapes from the bowl and began safety-pinning them to the felt, which sagged in response.  She found a pair of green tights and pinned a cluster of grapes in my hair.
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Friday, October 21, 2011


I cut out fabric to make pajamas for the kids this morning: flannels so soft I wished I’d bought a few yards for myself and two cotton prints Filibuster had conned me into buying.  One was bright red with the word Republican printed upon it in a variety of fonts.  Occasionally, a red and blue elephant bearing three white stars upon its rounded back walked across.  And there were several white circles with a red R stamped in the centers.  This fabric was to be the right leg. 
The other fabric, of course, was its opposite; the word Democrat written all over it; a donkey, also with three stars, a blue D stamped upon white circles.  The left leg. 
By the time I’d finished, the dining room floor was littered with balled-up tissue and thin strips of fabric.  I folded the big scraps and put them in a bag in the garage, intending to give them to a local thrift shop next time I was out that way.
I am not a saver.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hand in Hand

“Daddy Sheriff and me?  We knew the second we met that we were perfect for each other.”  Lilly Jean took a straw and tapped it against the counter until it burst through the paper like a  butterfly emerging from its cocoon; reminding Lilly Jean of the way she felt when she first met Daddy Sheriff.  She grabbed another straw and opened it the same way before putting both in her milkshake.
Bitsy raised her eyebrows.  “How do you think Connie felt about that?” 
“Connie shouda’ paid Daddy Sheriff more mind when they were together, ‘stead of hounding him now that she’s lost him.”
“Seems to me Daddy Sheriff shouldn’t have been going to the fair without his wife.  Connie loved the fair.”
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Monday, October 17, 2011

Fall's Promise

There’s a field of soybeans in the middle of the park where we walk.  The plants are yellowed and brown, with the seeds still attached.  In the middle of the field, there’s a patch of bright green grass where the soybeans refused to take hold.  The wind whips up and rustles the plants and their dried bones rattle in response.  Along the perimeter of the field, the wild plants are allowed to grow: goldenrod and pokeberry, its fruit bright purple and black.  I see white snakeroot and dense blazing star and green foxtail.
Tiny snakes cross our path; winding their bodies this way and that across the asphalt path, while wooly bears cross in a slower, steadier march.  A monarch butterfly rests upon a sprig of heath aster.  A white moth flits here then there, pausing only an instant at a plant before continuing on its way.
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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Seems I'm Bursting at the Seams

There’s nothing more shattering to one’s self-esteem than to get a new driver’s license.  You leave the house, hair combed, makeup on, wearing an unstained tee shirt for once in your life.  And then, in the twenty minutes it takes to get to the DMV, you find that your hair has acquired that windblown look despite the fact that you drove with the windows up, quite possibly because you dropped your reading glasses on the sidewalk.  You bend over to retrieve them, hoping all the while that you won’t split your pants open, and you can actually feel your hair shift upon your head: What was off to one side, now hangs straight down.  Those perfect bangs, well, they’re a mess now.
 Your lipstick has disappeared thanks to that apple you ate on the way over.  You suspect you have apple between your teeth.  But no matter.  You never smile at these things anyway. 
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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Lot of Treasure

“It’s too early to pick out pumpkins,” Filibuster groused.  “I’m busy.”
“Yeah,” V added.  “It’s hardly fall, anyway.”
“It’s a nice day,” my husband said.  “Besides, if we go early in the season, we’ll avoid all the crazies.  Let’s go.”
We piled in the car and drove to the patch we went to last year.  I remembered it as a modest patch; hidden away from the crowds with only a few touristy items here and there: a flyer advertising a haunted house somewhere nearby; a goat and a cow you could pet; owners who would talk with you; a field you could actually walk into.
“Form two lines,” I read aloud as my husband pulled into the patch.  “I don’t remember that.”  I continued reading.  “Two dollars to park.” 
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Sunday, October 9, 2011

One Day Was All That Stood

One day of work was all that stood between me and the truth.  The letter was coming that afternoon, I was certain of it.  I could feel it; feel it in my bones the way Bitsy Barns could sense a rainstorm three days off by the throbbing in her right wrist.  When the truck came in with that day’s mail to be sorted and wrapped in the circulars like a babe in a blanket; I would find the envelope I was looking for. 

Of course, I would open it.
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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Roses in December

“Roses for sale five dollars a bunch.”  The hand-lettered sign proclaims from his station across the street from the local train depot where weary travelers head to work in a blur of colors and odors.  He’s there still for the five o’clock rush, patient with his flowers, pacing off the cold, a steaming cup of coffee warming his hands.

Even on Sunday, he huddles beneath his beach umbrella as we cross the tracks late for church, cursing the signal lights and the candy cane arm that swings down before us.  A driver slows and waits by the side of the road for The Rose Man to dash up with a bouquet before speeding away at the last second.

I acknowledge The Rose Man with a nod of my head as the train blasts through.  He looks me in the eye; refuses my sympathy.  Thickened stems caress crumpled bills through fingerless gloves.  "Where can he find roses in December?" I ask as the candy cane arm lifts and we proceed to church, passing him again on the way after.  I put my hand to the glass, little fingerprints reaching out but not quite touching the lovely snowman as he sells his wares on a frosty December Sunday.

This was from a larger poem, written several years ago.  I edited it for this week's Write on Edge prompt.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011


My bank held a wellness fair last weekend.  A rock station broadcast live from the parking lot.  Employees milled around, pretending to direct traffic and generally appearing to be in a festive mood.  There were balloons.  There were a lot of plastic giveaways; the kind that break about five minutes after you get them home.  There was a huge prize wheel, too, beside which an employee grinned broadly as some guy gave the wheel a mighty spin, probably hoping to win better rates on his CD.  But I’m guessing he won the key ring with the bank’s name on it.
There was one booth demonstrating tai chi; another booth with yoga; a health food restaurant giving away invisible samples in little paper cups; and some workout company handing out plastic water bottles.
 “Come with us, Mom.”  Filibuster said, as she and V dug through their purses for their debit cards.
“No way.  I’m not going out there.”  I locked my door. 
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Monday, October 3, 2011

You're Not Taping This, Are You?

Maura’s mother sat hunched over the dining room table.  Before her were a stack of torn photographs, a roll of adhesive tape, and an army of cigarettes smoldering in the chipped orange ashtray. 
The table’s surface was scratched and nicked and dented; each scar a record of their lives: The spot where her sister banged her spoon nonstop, the only way she had of communicating in an uncommunicative world.  The place Maura’s mother had darkened with shoe polish after her husband had tried to remove a wax ring with a knife.  Maura’s eyes fell to the words I hate math; words written in anger on her algebra homework; words never meant to be engraved on the dining room table.  Maura would inherit the table, she knew.  Her mother’s idea of a joke—a permanent reminder of her hatred of numbers.
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Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Good House

There was a sign over the massive Halloween candy display at Target yesterday: “Be the good house this year.”  The message was clear: Buy the good candy.  Buy lots of it.  Be the trick-or-treaters’ favorite house on the block.  You won’t be the house that hands out dog biscuits as a trick.  You won’t be the one known for handing out glow sticks that invariably split and leak all over the kids’ costumes and into the washing machine.  You won’t be the one who hands out the toothbrushes.  You won’t even be the one known for handing out the crappy candy.  No.  This year you will be cool. 
You’ll be the good house.
I almost fell for it.
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