Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams

Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: April 2012

Monday, April 30, 2012

Waiting for Bull's Eye

The purpose of a door, I suppose is to keep things out.  Wayward strangers.  Bad weather.  Nosy investigators from Child Protection.  Critters, too, of course: Momma don’t want no skunks and coons trailing inside to bear their young behind the wood burning stove.  I guess a door is a barrier; a kind of plastic wrap designed to keep the inhabitants inside safe.

That’s the way it’s supposed to work, anyhow.
Our door is a painted soft green on the inside.  Momma painted it; says it recollects to her mind the first buds of spring.  Momma needs such reminders: She ain’t been outside in fifteen years.
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Sunday, April 29, 2012


The other day, someone decapitated my hosta plants with the weed eater.  My husband pointed the finger at Squints; Squints blamed my husband.  Today, in order to save what remained of the plants, I decide to expand the flowerbed in which they were planted, digging out six inches or so to allow the mower to pass by and leave my plants unscathed.  I go to my compost pile, full of worms and broken down fruits and vegetables, and incorporate a few gallons into the soil. 
Squints comes out and begins mowing the lawn.  I stand back and admire my work and move on to my tiny vegetable garden, sowing seeds into the soil: lettuce, cucumbers and Trail of Tears black beans, so-named because the seed line was carried on the trail by the Cherokee.  I pause for a moment thinking of the memories contained within those seeds.

The air cools.  I head inside.  I have another project.

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Saturday, April 28, 2012


I held up my camera, waiting for the right moment.  The swing moved gently, as if it were occupied by a ghost.  Black vinyl and rusted chain.  Perfect shot in black and white.

* * *

Her swing was empty.  “Olive?”  I turned.  Checked the slide and the sandbox and the jungle gym.  “Olive!”  I ran back to the swing.  I saw a woman.  I heard the shutter snap.

* * *

“Fantastic shot.  The terror is palatable.  Mother should have her kid taken away; losing a kid in a tire swing.  I’ll print it tonight.”

Ellen took the picture back.  “No.  I’m destroying it.”

This was written in response to this week's Trifecta Writing Challenge in which we were to write 3 points of view in 33 words each.  


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Miss Mabel

“Now Miss Mabel,” Henry said, pulling his rocker closer to the fire, “she was a talker.  Miss Mabel could talk the ear off the corn.”  He nodded to himself with the memory  of it.  “Oh, yeah.  Miss Mabel liked to talk.”

He settled himself into his story as easily as he settled himself into the rocker.  “Poor old Jebediah Green, he never had two nickels to rub together, what with all those kids.  How many, Eleanor?”  Henry stopped rocking and looked over his shoulder into the kitchen.

“Thirteen, dear.”  Eleanor called.  She added sugar to the peaches and began stirring.
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Monday, April 23, 2012


They say that everyone in a small town has some role to fill—an unofficial position that seems to suit their personality. Miss Mabel, the biggest gossip this side of the Mississippi River, served as town crier.  I, as mediator, was sent to diffuse Miss Mabel; to put an end to the words she scattered about like thistle seeds. 

“I’m leaving Eleanor.” I sat on the velvet loveseat.  “Tonight.  Here…”  I pressed a card into her hand.  “I want you to have my mother’s sweet roll recipe.  It’s the only copy.”
“Oh, Henry…” Miss Mabel clutched the card tightly.

“Miss Mabel, you understand I’ve come to you in confidence?”

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Sunday, April 22, 2012


 The dog put his paw on my knee.  He looked soulfully into my eyes.  Raised his ears a fraction. 

“You need a walk?” I asked.  I rose and grabbed his leash.

He jumped up.  He spun circles around me.  He gave a little bark of joy.

He dragged me through the door, nosing through the tall grass, reading the clues of the neighborhood happenings.  He watered here.  He watered there, marking his territory every couple of minutes before moving on, pausing now and again to sample a dandelion in seed.

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Thursday, April 19, 2012


The driver pulled to the curb.  “You want me to wait?”

 “No.”  I opened the door and stepped one foot out, as if testing the temperature of the water.  “Yeah, wait,” I amended.  “Please.  Fifteen minutes, tops.”

The driver nodded and shook open his newspaper to the sports page. 

I slammed the door and passed through the gates leading to the brownstone.  The lawn was well-tended, mowed precisely and evenly.  Not a single leaf dotted the grass, despite the wind.  Late-blooming flowers churned out their colors, while those whose summer work was done had been trimmed back neatly.  Here and there small statues decorated the garden.  Eugene often joked, in better days, that they were his family.  He once told me he liked them because they didn’t talk back.
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Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Momma went from bed to bed, gently shaking each of us awake.  “Rise and shine.” 

She wore her best outfit—a threadbare dress she’d cut from curtains discarded by the restaurant where she waitressed six days a week, Monday through Saturday.

But never on a Sunday.

We rose and washed our faces in the tin bucket of water Momma’d hauled in late last night after she finished work.  After we’d wiped the sleep from our eyes, we piled into the old Ford Fairmont and headed towards town.  Daddy parked right next to the preacher’s car and eyeballed each of us as we headed into church, “yes ma’aming” and “no ma’aming” and generally minding our manners as best we could.  We sat on hard wooden pews and Daddy passed out hymnals and if we didn’t sing loud enough for the angels to hear, Daddy would rap us on the head with the back of his book. 
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Monday, April 16, 2012


Harv Brewster rubbed at the grizzled whiskers dotting his withered chin.  He spat tobacco juice into the dry dirt at his feet.  A cloud of dust rose in response, like a miniature nuclear explosion.  He looked at the horizon, saw the setting sun.  Nodded to himself in confirmation of a fact that everyone in town knew without saying: The football game was due to start in about twenty minutes.  He may as well head down.  Nothing else to do, except sit here and spit in the dirt.

He paid his admission: three bucks and a dented can of baked beans for the local food pantry.  He’d bought the entire inventory of the scratch and dent cans from the Shop-N-Save last winter.  Hadn’t opened a single can of them beans.  Delia didn’t care for him all that much when he ate baked beans.

And he cared for Delia a whole lot, he sure did.
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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Growing Up

I’m courtside, watching kids tentatively size up one another.  In his left hand, Squints has what he calls a girly racquet—likely a hand-me-down from one of his sisters.  In his right hand he carries the one tennis ball we own, dug out from the bushes.  He wears his baseball cap and his dingy grey jacket with the cuff nearly torn off.  He’s got the wrong shoes.  He’s got the wrong pants.  I notice I’ve forgotten water and sunscreen.

The coach takes one look at Squints and hands him a racquet—why don’t you try this one, buddy?  

I wish for a chair, something else I’ve forgotten.  Specifically, I wish for my husband’s rocking chair.  We just picked it up yesterday.  Maple.  Amish made.  Six weeks to complete.  It would be nice just below that oak tree. 

But I have no chair.
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Friday, April 13, 2012


I’m sorry, Rose. 

Your silky skin; crimson dripping.  Tender neck, thin and bent. 

Water will not revive.

Your future gone.

I hang my head in shame. 

You were more beautiful in my garden.

This post was written in response to this week's Trifexta Challenge: A letter of apology in 33 words.



Once a week, Squints takes an enrichment class some distance from the house.  Usually, I drop him off and hang out at the local library for a couple of hours to pass the time.  Yesterday, just before heading to pick him up, I hit the bathroom. 

The center stall was occupied. 
It was occupied by a very productive little girl.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012


The week my husband and I decided to cancel our gym membership, I lost five pounds.

* * *
I’ve been reading a book of agricultural essays by Wendell Berry.  Despite having written over fifty books, Berry is not a well-known author.  I suspect it’s because he tells the truth where we prefer fiction.  In this book, Berry writes a lot about limits: Despite what the advertisers tell us, he says, we cannot have it all. 

To me this means I need to start limiting in two ways: what I choose to own (and purchase) and what advertisements I choose to listen to (and believe).  I’ve decided, then, in the interest of our upcoming move and in the pursuit of limits, to rid myself of one thing each day. 

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012


I slip into the black dress; smooth it over my hips. 

“What Mommy doing?”

I glance in the mirror.  “Getting ready for work.”

“Why Mommy work now?”

Because my friends tell me I’m wasting my life, I think, applying eyeliner.  “To help Daddy pay for college.”

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Saturday, April 7, 2012


At four o’clock in the morning, we rouse ourselves and pack the car with last-minute things—computers, lunches, cell phones, toiletries—before heading south.  Thinking about the eleven or so hours this trip will take is daunting.  At sixty-five miles per hour, we watch the moon set and the sun rise as one by one the kids drop off to sleep in the back seat.  Nine hours in, we grow tired of the radio—the stations are either too loud or too classical; serious voices of preachers occasionally cutting through static.  Everyone is irritated.  The landscape has become routine.  I find myself thinking can’t we just be there already?

And then I’m reminded of the time over twenty years ago, when I packed up my car and headed to school in Arizona, my twelve-year-old brother my companion.  I was thrilled to get away from home, to begin a life for myself.  Occasionally, my brother would ask to stop.  He wanted to see the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert.  But I pressed on, eager to get on with my new life, as if by stopping, my future would escape me somehow.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012


The houses where I walk are built up on a hill that starts out steep, so that, as I head down the sidewalk, the front lawns perch at shoulder height.  Roots of young trees tentatively grasp the soil; while ancient oaks plunge thick arms deep into the earth, tree and soil inextricably linked.

As I walk towards the railroad tracks, the hill grows less steep.  Hip-level, there’s a bed made of old railroad ties.  Phlox, purple and pink, cascade over the tie, spilling towards the sidewalk like bright frosting dripping down the side of a cake that you swipe up with the back of your index finger when the kids aren’t watching and scoop into your mouth because everybody knows that frosting served without cake doesn’t count.  Tucked among the rocks are small patches of white phlox and pachysandra, delicate purple flowers among shiny waxen leaves.
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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Gray Matter

Janus extracted a circular device from the box on the table.

“But it’s so small,” Ellen said. 

“Marvelous, isn’t it?” Janus held the device to the light, admiring the network of wires and pathways etched upon it.  “Every year, we cram more onto it.  With this one chip, there will be no more need of school.  No child will be left behind, because everyone will be the same.”  He laughed lightly.  “Hell, a three day old baby may very well be better educated than you.”

“But, Doctor…Surely you can’t be thinking…A child isn’t capable of…”
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Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Place Where Memories Began

The fires lasted for fourteen months.  For fourteen months, we watched flames engulf and devour the houses while their owners looked on, screaming.   

It seemed as though we were always running.

We started, each of us, with our most favored possessions: Carrie, the child from next door, lugged a gigantic teddy bear.  Had it had a skeleton, solid bones to support the weight of stuffing and fake fur and a flopping head and those plastic staring eyes, it would’ve easily stood five feet tall. 

My father carried his box of tools—screwdrivers and a measuring tape; awls and hammers and the chalk line which he used to mark a neat border along the flowerbeds every spring, my brother holding one end, my father the other, arranging it just so before snapping it against the ground to leave a purple guide. I carried the stacks of scrapbooks my mother’d pressed into my hands.  She carried my sister—too young to walk far on her own.

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