Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams

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

Saturday, December 31, 2011


We head to the grocery store.  A man stands at the entrance next to a bowl of sliced clementines.  He wears glasses with black frames.  He has curly hair, verging on messy.  He’s thin and tall and has his hands jammed into the pockets of his jeans.  In a horrible monotone, he welcomes us to the store.  I barely nod and veer around him, because to approach his sample display; to take a piece of fruit would lock me into some invisible and unknown contract; it would oblige me to something greater than just groceries.

Near the produce, a man stands behind a glass device—a hot machine with a large lamp at the top.  The man tosses in a flattish brown disc and shuts the door.  Ten seconds later—WHOMP!—the disc pops and expands and the air fills with the odor of hot buttered popcorn.  No one, I notice, stops to investigate this device further. 
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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Yellow Balloon

Each time the memory tried to surface, Henry forced his brain to skirt it.  He wrapped it up tightly, sealed it in plastic and shoved it to the back of his mind.   

But his stupid, stubborn brain would circle the memory, seize it, shake it; deliver small unexpected packets of it the way the internet chops information into bits before sending it. 

Snippets came to him; sharp pinpricks that sent him reeling.

There was the monogrammed handkerchief.  Cotton.  Pink.  Flowers embroidered upon the edges.

There was the seven-digit sequence. 

There was the feel of peach skin; the scent of strawberries; his certainty of his hatred for chocolate.
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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Names of Things

Tall grasses dance and wave in the breeze.  From the trees, Peter hears birdsong that he cannot identify.  He regrets this.  Too busy with the day-to-day responsibilities of owning a newspaper, he forgot to learn the names of the things that surround him.  He will go to his grave with only a nodding acquaintance with the trees.  All the various types of clouds will be just clouds.  He doesn’t know what to call the weeds and the grasses and the insects.  And this thought saddens him.  It weighs heavily upon his mind and darkens the day. 

“What is that bird, do you think, Ellen?”

She scowls.  “Does it make a difference, Peter?”

The sun slants through the trees and, squinting furiously, he tries to determine the hour.  He gives up the endeavor easily enough and instead glances at the watch he wears upon his wrist.
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Monday, December 26, 2011

Day after Christmas

At this hour of the morning, the park is mainly empty except for die-hard joggers in spandex and power walkers out with their dogs.  There is evidence of recent Christmas gifts: a man and his son in matching camouflage outfits; another man with a new camera strapped about his neck; on the path a pretzel bag jammed with napkins and a plastic candy cane that formerly held Hersey kisses wrapped in red and green foil; a man with inline skates and ski poles.

At the highest point in the park, sixty-foot trees reach gloveless fingers into the sky and try to snag billowing clouds as they bluster past.  But clouds cannot be held back by the trees.
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Sunday, December 25, 2011


Well, I’m happy to report that I’m recovering nicely from my recent surgery. 

What’s that you say?  You didn’t know I had surgery?

That’s OK.

It came as a bit of a shock to me, too.

* * *

A couple of weeks ago, I willingly subjected myself to an eyebrow wax.  The technician led me to the back, plopped me in a chair, threw a dirty plastic gown around my shoulders and shoved my head into one of those horrible cutout sinks.  She painted hot honey above and below my eyebrows; smoothed industrial-strength tape on top and gave a mighty yank.

I couldn’t help it: I swallowed hard to hold back my yelp.

The technician laughed and smoothed more tape on my eyebrow.  “I’ve had seven tattoos, but I still can’t get used to having my eyebrows waxed.”
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Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Past

Yesterday, our recently-adopted kitten officially became an outdoor cat.  There were a number of factors leading us to this decision: The stash of pooh I found two nights ago beneath the basement stairs two feet from the litter box; the copious amounts of cat urine on V’s mattress; Squint’s allergy flare up; the stealth attacks on the other unsuspecting cat; the jumping on the counters; the stealing of food from dinner plates.  Sometimes I get the feeling that this cat is Destructo back from the dead. 

Squints took him outside and re-introduced him to the great outdoors: He was a wild cat, born in the wild likely to a feral mother.  He took to being outside immediately.  He ran here then there.  He sniffed. 

He chased. 

He meowed. 

He ran away.

“Mom!”  Squints said.

“He’ll be back.”
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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gold Stars and Wooly Bears

I see there’s a moth clinging to the screen, on this, the first day of winter.  And it’s a gloomy day; a rainy day.  Squints and I set out to run our errands.

A man jogs.  In his left hand, he holds a newspaper folded back, which he reads as he runs down the sidewalk, right hand pumping furiously.  Another man walks, face tilted towards the sky, his blue and white golf umbrella serving as a walking stick. 

The clouds press in dark and thick and at the corner the crossing guard waits.  She wears a bright yellow vest with an orange belt and her stop sign lies upside down against a gnarled tree.  She picks it up suddenly, steps into the street and holds it aloft while the high school students roll their eyes and meander across the street in great bunches, enjoying the first day of their holiday break. 
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Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Rain drips down plate glass like the tears she sees on the face of the child standing before her.

Words cling to the roof of her mouth like holiday decals stuck to every window: The solemn Holy Family alternated with pictures of Santa grinning inanely and waving his gloved hand at the classroom—nearly empty, save the child.

Save herself.

She tries to chink the words from her mouth; tries to pry them away like too much peanut butter taken from a spoon.  But she cannot force them out through gritted teeth.  The words stick there, burning like hot pizza, scarring, hurting, until she swallows them whole.

She turns.  Packs up her things: spelling tests to be graded; her yellow umbrella; the gifts from the students—homemade cookies, spice-scented candles, a few crumpled ten dollar bills.   She glances at Mrs. Claus: Her arm has come unstuck from the window.  She appears to be waving.  “I’m sorry,” she says, pushing the wayward arm back into place.

But it’s too late: The child is gone.

She goes to confession; absolves herself, the only evidence of her sin the small flap of skin dangling from the roof of her mouth and a sore spot where the purity of the words seared her bitterness.  With her tongue, she works away the burned flap of skin.  Spits it out into the palm of her hand.

At the end of the season, the window clings will be peeled away and set back into the box for next year.

And the child will pack up her resentments, too, lovingly layering each between fine sheets of tissue paper.

Perhaps one day she’ll become a teacher.

This post was written in response to Trifecta's Weekly Writing Challenge.  This week's word was roof, as in the roof of the mouth.

Monday, December 19, 2011

House of Straw

“You make a list of your must-haves,” I said to my husband the other day, referring to what each of us wanted to have in our future house. “And I’ll make mine.”

An hour later, he sent me an email. Number one on his list: Plenty of land to contemplate life.

* * * 

The doorbell rang in the middle of the day last week. It was my neighbor. “Do you want some grapefruit?” She held up a bulging plastic grocery bag. My aunt sent it to us for Christmas and we don’t eat it.”

We chatted for a bit and she made to leave. Then she turned back. “Hey, are you having trouble with…”

She looked behind her. She leaned in towards me. She lowered her voice. “…dog doo on your lawn?”
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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Somewhere Between Here and There

She pauses in her buffing to glance out the window.  The snow is falling heavier now, thicker.  Maybe he’ll let her go early tonight.  Not because he’s concerned about her getting home to her family on Christmas Eve, but because he wants to make sure she gets back to him tomorrow:  If she gets stuck somewhere between here and there, she won’t be able to serve Christmas dinner to his relatives.  And without her serving, how will he impress his family?

She studies her work.  The bathroom faucet gleams.  He won’t find water spots on it tonight.  This time, he won’t find a reason to dock her pay.  Twenty cents for each water spot on stainless steel.  A dollar for a missing button.  Every perceived grievance is fined: too much salt; bread that didn’t rise properly; towels misfolded; bed made up with incorrect sheets; a book placed upon the wrong shelf.  Every mistake costs her dearly: an immunization foregone; her mother’s pills cut in half; an empty space where the Christmas tree ought to be.  Over fifteen years, he has docked her pay by over nine hundred dollars. 
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Saturday, December 17, 2011


Well I went to the dentist again the other day.  And I had the same hygienist  who told me six months ago that I needed to get braces to keep up my appearances.  She’s a gabby woman and—maybe it was the cold temperatures and the accompanying dry skin—the talk quickly turned to lotion.  “The first thing I reach for when I step out of the shower is my lotion,” she said.

“I just use olive oil,” I said.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

To Be Honest

To be honest, I never really loved you.  To be honest, I never really cared.  I needed a warm bed to sleep in.  Arms to embrace me.  Food to fill my belly.  But love is so much more than a bed and arms and food.  Love is trust.  To be honest, I never fully trusted you.  To be honest, I never trusted myself in choosing you.
This was written in response to today's One-Minute Writer prompt.  Today's prompt: To be honest.  The rules are simple.  Read the prompt.  Set the timer.  Write for one minute.  Stop and post.


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Thursday, December 15, 2011


The basement of the church smelled of natural gas and mildew.  It smelled of dust and grease and the memories of thick perfume.  The air dripped with sadness.  Thick poles propped up the ceiling where it sagged and Opal wondered who propped up those left behind when somebody died.  Before her, neat rows of tables were covered with white plastic cloths and grimy gold salt and pepper shakers. 
Della the stalwart bustled across the floor, soundless sensible shoes betraying nothing, her flowered dress bunching up about her middle.  “I’ll take that for you,” she said, matter-of-factly grabbing the hem of her dress and yanking it down before taking the platter —a memory of her time in San Francisco—from her hands.
Della lifted the foil and sniffed suspiciously.  “What is it?”
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011


October was a fitting time to die, Bitsy thought, smoothing a gold tablecloth over a table.  October leached the color out of everything.  October brought the cold and stole the leaves from the trees.  October preceded the time of reckoning; when the people of Medford gathered themselves in and began to take stock of their lives.  Next to her, Ellie spread another table with a rust cloth.  Wheezy would have liked the alternating colors that Ellie had suggested.  “Feels strange,” Bitsy said, “having you in here on a Friday before dinner.”
“Feels strange being here.”  Ellie glanced at the clock hanging behind the breakfast bar.  “I’d be in English now.”
By nature, the girl was quiet.  But today, she was quieter still.  Bitsy set the table carefully, placing each piece of silverware neatly and quietly in its place; a fitting testimony to a meal eaten in the memory of lonely old Mr. Hart.  “Shame about Mr. Hart.”
Ellie nodded.
“You miss him, don’t you?”  Bitsy buffed a spoon on a napkin and watched the child.
“He was a good teacher.”
“He loved you.  You were the apple of his eye.”
“Why?” Ellie set the wineglasses on the table harder than was necessary.
“You’re going to crack my stemware.”
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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Coming out of Retirement

“What’s wrong, Daddy Sheriff?”  Lilly Jean sat on the edge of the bed and watched her husband even out the straps of his Bolo tie.  The stone was green turquoise and, truth be told, was what had initially attracted Lilly Jean to her future husband.  She liked a man with an interesting past and Daddy Sheriff claimed he could trace his family back to the Navaho.  Naturally, she’d believed him.  She sighed.  She’d always been a sucker for a good tale.
Daddy Sheriff glanced at her.  “I could ask you the same question.  You’ve been setting there sighing for ten minutes.  You didn’t even know Wheezy Hart all that well.  What are you so sad-faced for?”  He shook his head. 
Those first months with Daddy Sheriff, before he’d brought out that diamond solitaire and ruined it all, those had been the best months of her life.  She looked at that ring on her finger, now joined for eternity by a thin elegant band.  The rings were beautiful.  But she found them too tight upon her hand. 
She found they strangled the life out of her.
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Friday, December 9, 2011


The crow lay upon her neighbor’s frosty lawn, a frozen bundle of feathers and bones.  Its legs were curled up beneath its body.  Its dark eyes stared at nothing.  She briefly wondered whether the bird was dead when it fell from the sky, landing with a thump among the bright Christmas decorations littering the lawn. 
She shook her head.  A dead bird falling from the sky portended nothing.  No, she reassured herself, she didn’t believe in omens.  She refused to extract meaning from the random events of life. 
She really ought to have looked both ways before crossing the street. 
This was written in response to Velvet Verbosity's 100 word challenge.  This week's word was "bundle."

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Myopic Eyes

Teardrop diamond earrings glitter and blind and remind her of used-to-be’s. 
She allows her thoughts to travel all the way to the edges of her mind—to that little-used place that feels dark and dangerous; sluggish and ponderous.  There in that no-man’s-land, her mind will flirt with the truth—a truth that tries to sharpen and come into focus the way her eyes will strain after she plucks out her contact lenses in the morning and sits alone on the couch staring dumbly, numbly at the unformed shapes on the television set.
But it’s hard, holding onto the truth.  It takes a strength she does not possess.  Truth slips away.  Deception is gentler.
She grabs the earrings from the dresser and leaves her apartment.  She trips down three flights of metal stairs, slips her wedding ring from her finger, and steps onto the busy city streets. 
She feels as shapeless—as effervescent—as television images seen by myopic eyes.
It takes the anonymity of the city to fill out her form.

This week's Trifecta Writing Challenge: The third definition of flirt in 33 to 333 words.

FLIRT   verb \ˈflərt\
 intransitive verb   

: to move erratically : flit
a : to behave amorously without serious intentb : to show superficial or casual interest or liking <flirtedwith the idea>also : experiment  <a novelist flirting with poetry>


Tuesday, December 6, 2011


The barn was warm and filled with the gentle sounds of the animals awakening.  This was the time of the day Jonathan loved best.  It was a peaceful time.  A quiet time.  A time when the animals he knew and loved and trusted greeted him.  The plow horses nickered their hellos from their stalls.  Jonathan rubbed their velvet muzzles and pulled a couple of sugar cubes from his pocket.  He held his hand flat and waited for each horse to take a cube before moving on to the cows.  They nagged at him, mooing intently, reminding them that their bags were full.  The cats rubbed up against his ankles, eager not to see Jonathan, but for the milk that they knew was forthcoming.  Howard was there, already lifting the basket of eggs to the counter.  Jonathan smiled.  Of all the animals, Jonathan found he could never warm up to the chickens. He couldn’t stand their wild eyes and their cockscombs flopping about; the way they all ganged up on the weak ones.  The way they high-stepped on those dinosaur legs and then sat upon the shells of their own offspring and cracked them.  “Those hens like that wind, Howard?”
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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Lucky Orange Sock

“You bin driving my Chevette again, Daddy Sheriff.”  Lilly Jean stood before her husband, hands on hips.
Howard settled back on the couch.  This ought to make for an interesting argument.
“I wouldn’t be caught dead in that thing, woman.  Now move aside, you’re blocking the TV.”
“Daddy Sheriff…”
“Town Sheriff don’t drive no Chevette.  It ain’t dignified.”
“How do you explain this, then?”  She held up a sock—an orange sock.  Howard immediately recognized it as his father’s.  Score one Lilly Jean.  “I bin looking for this sock for three weeks, Daddy Sheriff.  I finally throwed its partner away.”
“You trashed my lucky sock?”
“Can’t get lucky when you’re all alone, Daddy Sheriff.”
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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Wheezy Hart

The thin red second hand of the clock swept along without pause, discarded moments urging it forward, forward, forward as if time itself couldn’t wait to get along to the future.  But everyone knew there was no future in Medford, Ohio.  There was only the weight of the past holding everything down; a past that was heavy and dull and oppressive.  And yet the clock pressed on: The minute hand waited for the right instant before leaping and landing squarely on the center of the nine. 
The bell rang.
Nine o’clock English and Wheezy Hart was late.
I imagined him in the empty hallway, brittle bones hunched over his worn cane, one hand pressed up against the cool bank of gray lockers, sucking hard on his inhaler before gimping down the hall to the dusty classroom he’s presided over for forty years.  Some would call it dedication, I suppose.
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Thursday, December 1, 2011


I headed out to the fabric store the other day to pick up some candy boxes my sister had recommended.  The curb in front of every house was filled with piles of post-Thanksgiving and Black Friday stuff; stuff no longer needed; stuff to be discarded in the landfill: flat screen TVs; a sofa; a stuffed Shrek sitting in the lap of a giant stuffed bear. 
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