Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams

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

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


This post was written for Sandra's Workshop Writing Hop.   We were to write a piece in close first person.

Lavigna bustled about the diner.  I could see the gap between the top two buttons of her skirt; could see a hint of red lace above her ivory skin though that gap.  I could see the bump of raised skin on the back of her thigh where she’d had stitches from that dog bite back in ‘eighty.  Lavigna sure knew how to market a place; knew that the truckers came to her diner for more than a plate of pork chops and fried potatoes.  We came for hope.
I watched Lavigna touch the mole at the corner of her lips; watched her press those lips together and try to smile at Harvey Daniels like it was perfectly fine that he was taking ten minutes to decide between scrambled and overlight; whole wheat and white.  I could tell she wanted to snap that gum she kept tucked inside her cheek while she talked to the customers.

“Fried, Harv,” I shouted.
He looked at me.  “You think?”

“Yep.”  Harv was a new trucker, unaccustomed to life on the road.  Unaccustomed to loneliness.  He took what human contact he could from the CB radio and thirty minute stops every ten hours. 
I ran my fingers across the table—oak.  Lavigna never did spare a dime on anything.  Always the optimist.  Always thinking this was going to work out just fine, if she just spent enough money; if she just worked hard enough. 

I pulled a cigarette from my front pocket.  Plugged it in my mouth.
“You know there ain’t no smoking here, Earle.”

“I know it.”  I nodded.
“I got my eye on you,” she said.

“I got my eye on you, too, Lavigna.”
Harv perked up at this.  “Where’d you get a name like Lavigna, anyway?”  Harv considered himself the intelligent one of the bunch: He’d been to college, after all.  Had a career in the computing industry.  After he was laid off, he found out he weren’t so special after all.  “That’s an awfully unusual name.”

“Shut up, Professor,” I said.  Harv was parking himself on my own turf.
But Lavigna just smiled that little smile; that knowing smile; that smile that looked like she had a butterscotch candy nestled on her tongue, just melting there. 

Harv looked at me. 
“Her daddy was some Eye-talian.  Had a winery somewheres.”

Harv studied the ceiling for a moment, his mouth moved like he was chewing down real hard on his thoughts.  “Latin.  Vinum.  Wine.”  His face brightened. 
“Yeah, whatever, Harv.” 

“She doesn’t look Italian.  She’s real white.”
I frowned.  I could tell Harv had been studying in between them buttons. 

“Her daddy’s from the north, dipshit.  What’d you major in up at college, anyhow?”

“Well I see you’re taking a refresher course in women.  Your wife know about your studies?”
Harv had the decency to blush and drop his eyes as Lavigna slapped a plate of eggs before him and bustled over to my table.

I straightened up in my seat.  Balanced my smoke on my spoon.  Smiled.  Waited to study that gap between her buttons myself.
“Earle.”  She nodded.  I could see the chewing gum tucked behind her teeth.

“Marry me, Lavigna.”
“How’re things with Duane?”

“Shitty, like always.”  I spoke like I was giving the weather report.
“Fix it, then we’ll talk.”

“Me and Duane, we’re never going to be square, Lavigna.  Some people just aren’t meant to get along.”
She cracked her gum.  “He’s your son, Earle.”

I hated the way Lavigna always had to state the obvious to me.  Times like this I wondered why I was attracted to her.  “Men ain’t into that relationship thing all that much, like you women are, Lavigna.”  I ran my hand over the table.  “It’s like this here table.  You can see the grain beneath, but you can’t get to it.  You can’t feel it, Lavigna, even though you really want to.”
“Ain’t no varnish between you and Duane.  You ain’t tryin’ hard enough.”

I sighed.  I preferred the smooth, protected surface that acted as a barrier between me and Duane.  It was easier that way. Easier to pretend that we were irrevocably divided.
“Guess I’ll just have to find me another man, then,” she said, walking away.

I sighed.  Picked up my cell and punched in Duane’s number. 
“Duane?” I said, after he’d picked up.

“Yes.”  He was curt.  I wanted to hang up.  I looked at Lavigna, leaning against the counter by the coffee machines, arms crossed, chewing on that bottom lip again.  Lord, I wanted to touch that mole.
“I got a woodworking project I need your help with,” I said.  “You any good at sanding?”

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

This One Last Thing

I sit at the window; watch the city decay three floors below.  The lights in the restaurant across the street go out.  Nobody’s hungry anyway.  Buildings bulge and buckle.  The sidewalk seems to undulate.

A fist bangs at my bedroom door.  “Mr. Frake!” 

The smoke begins.  Sirens wail.  Hand on my shoulder.  “We must leave.”

I shake my head.  “I am an old man.”

“You can’t give up.”
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Monday, May 28, 2012


On Memorial Day, we would gather at the high school early in the morning and grab our instruments from the band room.  Likely we were indignant about having to rouse ourselves at such an early hour on our day off from school.  We groused.  We rubbed sleep from our eyes.  We fretted over final exams.  We filed into the waiting school busses.

 Every year we had three or four Memorial Day parades, but the one that always stood out for me was the one that took place in the village one mile from my home: The busses would drive down Ryder, known locally as Cemetery Road due to its proximity to the village cemetery.  We would disembark; brush off our uniforms; put on our horrible fuzzy white hats.  We arranged ourselves by instrument and casually walked down Main Street to the parade’s starting point.  We lined up behind the mayor and local dignitaries; behind our local veterans; behind the local Brownie troop.  And then, with a quiet tap of a drumstick against the rim of a snare drum, the parade would begin. 

Here and there, local kids would join the parade, streaming in from the sidewalk on bikes decorated in red, white and blue.  Villagers would line Main Street, standing and cheering and sometimes saluting or sitting in lawn chairs, holding babies in their laps, pointing.  The majorettes, dressed in red sequined bodysuits threw candy at hopeful kids who scampered after it.  Little girls marched along the parade route in imitation of the majorettes, broken sticks serving as batons.  There was a festive air, despite the solemnity of the occasion. 

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

I Jump

I jump
to conclusions
when I see you
with the lipstick-stained handkerchief.
Or is it blood?

You stand
at the bathroom sink,
water on low,
scrubbing the stain
with a bar of soap.

I pick
up the soap
and wash my hands.
Blood on your hands.
Blood on my hands, too.

This was linked up for this weekend's Trifecta Writing Challenge.  A poem in 33 words, three lines, or three stanzas.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Winter, 1978

Snow angled itself in the corners of each window.  Frost crept across the panes.  The driveway filled with drifts three or four feet high.  The doors were nearly frozen shut.

We dressed in layers and hurried to the barn.    

We rushed from stall to stall, using screwdrivers to chip away the layer of ice in the red water buckets hanging inside the cows’ stalls.  The horses stamped their feet and blew frosty breath through their noses.  The chickens huddled up close.  There was no time to scratch the back of the pigs; no time to pet the cats.  We were cold.  We hurried back inside.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pretty Lives

She buttoned the Maltese into a pink coat and grabbed the leash, studded with diamonds.  “Here, Nell.”  She handed the maid a roll of plastic bags.

He pulled the Lamborghini to the curb and disembarked.  “Get the bags, Jason.”  He pointed to the Maltese.  “Look at that,” he said.  “That woman is making a complete spectacle of herself.”
Nell and Jason locked eyes.   The two, she with a small plastic bag neatly tied, he with a month’s worth of luggage, smiled at one another before arranging their faces again so as not to disrupt the smooth surface of pretty lives.

This was written in response to this week's Velvet Verbosity prompt. The word was spectacle.

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Monday, May 21, 2012


 Hal took a pair of fingernail clippers from his pocket and snipped a hangnail.  “What’re we doing tonight, Billy?”

His cousin scratched his head.  “Well, there’s the chores…” 

“I don’t do chores.”  Hal stared ahead, fingering the clippers.  “We have the maid to do that.”
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Whisked Away

We had our first pickup at our local CSA the other day: Dandelion greens, lettuce, collards, arugula, bok choy.   And we got to pick a pint of strawberries which we ate—still warm—right in the field.

In my own garden, my peas are up; several varieties of beans and cucumbers, too.  The carrots are just starting to put in an appearance and yesterday, I planted an Egyptian Walking onion my friend brought me from her garden. 

My strawberries are ripening, but, despite the fence I’ve got around the garden, the rabbits have found a way to reach them, to steal the succulent red berries and leave the empty stem dangling from the vine.

It looks as though strawberries won’t be available—to my family at least—from our backyard garden this year.  
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Friday, May 18, 2012

Never Never Land

This is what loneliness looks like: I carry the possessions of strangers so they can walk unencumbered down pristine hallways to depart or arrive; to be welcomed by joyous relatives.

I’ve carried laundry bags and golf clubs.  I’ve hauled eighty-pound suitcases.  I’ve carried parrots in cages and bouquets of flowers and even once a stuffed crocodile. 
Janitors buff hallways and run rags down stainless steel banisters before slipping away unnoticed.

Dust motes float across my vision.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Agnes shuffled across Main Street to visit her husband.  “Brought you some flowers, dear.  I’m afraid these are from the IGA.  The tulips won’t come out and the daffodils popped up early and died in the frost, fragile things.” She set her offering, a small bouquet of yellow roses, against the headstone which bore the unremarkable inscription: Nicholas Mansfield: 1924-2001. Agnes had always regretted not putting more onto the headstone. But a smooth piece of granite couldn’t contain all the details that made up her husband’s life. And so, she’d left them out, much to the chagrin of her children.

For more on Agnes, Click here.

This post was written in response to Velvet Verbosity's weekly prompt: Fragile in 100 words.  This is a bit more of an old novel that I've put away for awhile.

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Monday, May 14, 2012


“Morning, Agnes.”  Frank leaned against the porch railing.  “Paper wake you up?” Behind the grin, his face wore fatigue.  Every day, Frank seemed to look a little more tired.

“It did, thank you. Come up for your coffee.”

Frank accepted his mug and settled into a chair before taking a sip of his coffee.  He nodded across the street.  “What’s it like living across from the cemetery?”
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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dirty Laundry

Millie sat on the back porch unzipping pods and thumbing the peas inside into the metal pot she held between her feet.  She smiled: The peas made a satisfying thunk in the bottom of the pot. 

“Afternoon, Miss Millie.”  Etta Mae stood on her own porch, a wicker basket of laundry held against her hip.  “Hot enough for you?”

Miss Millie nodded.  “I got some lemonade in the icebox, if you want to set a spell.”

“I don’t got to shell no peas, do I?”
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Friday, May 11, 2012


We drain her veins; shoot her up with unknown cocktails.

We hide our poisons deep within. 

No one will know the truth.

Daily demands on mother earth.

She’s got nothing left to give.
* * *
Gas companies involved with fracking in Pennsylvania, the state that has served as my home for the past eight years, are trucking millions of gallons of wastewater to Ohio, the state I consider my true home.

How can we afford to ever consider water waste?
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Thursday, May 10, 2012


“Your sentences meander.”  He withdrew a red pen and slashed out a paragraph.


“You are thriftless with your words.”  He looked at her from over his reading glasses.  “You must learn to be precise.”


He raised his eyebrows.  “For one so verbose on paper, you seem to have little to say now.”

“You’re fired.”  She snatched the manuscript from his desk; fled from his office.

Later, she picked up the phone; called her editor.  “Look, I’m sorry.”  She paused to light her cigarette.

“Concise,” he said.  “I like that.  May I assume I’ve been rehired?”

“Yes,” she replied.   

I'm glad to see Velvet Verbosity's back! This week's 100 word challenge was: Thriftless.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012


“Look at that sky, Lilly.”  Ross pointed.  “All those stars…”

“How did they get there, Grandpa?” 

“Well, let’s see.  Maybe there’s this great big blanket covering the sky.  And every time we do something good, God sticks a shiny star on that blanket.”

Lilly smiled.  “Like my spelling tests?”

“Yep.  Or maybe…”  Ross thought a moment.  “Maybe God gathered up a big bunch of diamonds and tossed them in the sky.”  He made a throwing motion.
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Monday, May 7, 2012

The Fullness of the Moon

 “Wheel me outside, Eleanor.”

“No, David.  It’s too warm.  You’ll…”

His smile was wry.  Ironic.  “I’ll what?  Catch my death in that heat?  Too late to think about that, I’m afraid.” 

I turned towards the window.  “The lightning bugs have arrived.”
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Saturday, May 5, 2012


“What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is three truths and a lie.”  The prosecutor turned to me; narrowed his eyes.  “Ain’t that right, Cassidy Jane?”  He placed a hand across the witness stand.  His fingernails were polished and buffed.  “Cassidy Jane?”

I bit my lip.  “My daddy always said, sir, that two wrongs don’t make a right.”

He nodded.  “Go on.”

“But two negatives do make a positive.”  I smiled.  “I learned that in school.” 

“We ain’t talking school, are we Cassidy Jane?”
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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Everlasting Love

His crossed arms answered her question before he spoke.  Of course it was no.  It would always be no.  He opened his mouth.  Spoke the one word. 
“Why?”  She felt her face redden.  “You make me feel like a child.”

“I don’t make you feel anything.”
She met his eye.  Crossed her own arms.  “About time you figured that out.”

“Oh, I figured that out years ago, Deb.  You make it obvious enough.”
“I do nothing of the sort.”

“Oh yeah?”  He gave her that lazy smile, revealing the tiny chip on his front tooth.  “You think I don’t see you looking around when you walk down the sidewalk, always three steps ahead of me?”
“You walk too slowly.”

“You would too, with one of these.”  He uncrossed his arm and jabbed a thumb at his cane hooked on the back of his chair.  He leaned forward.  “You have no idea, Deb.  None.  What it’s like to be old.”
She grinned.  “I don’t have to.  And neither do you.”  She looked out the window.  “They say Malibu is nice.” 

“I’m tired of moving.”
She whirled around.  “Moving’s an adventure!”

“We don’t move.  We run away.  As soon as someone starts to question, we pack up.  We can’t even see our own children, for God’s sake.”
“It upsets them.”

“It upsets me.”
 “Mrs. Dubinski asked me the other day why I married someone twice my age.”

“Did you tell her you’re my elder?”
She giggled.  “Didn’t want to give her a heart attack.”

He allowed himself a smile.  “This wasn’t the way I envisioned our marriage to be.  You were supposed to heal the sick.”
“Aging is a completely preventable disease.”

“What happens if someone gets hold of these pills?”
“I only made two.”  She held out her hand.  “One is all it takes.  I don’t want to be alone.”

The dog came up and nosed her in the crotch. 
She swatted at him.  “I hate your damn dog.”

He held out a hand. 
Her eyes widened.  “You mean it?”

He nodded.  He tucked the pill into his cheek and made a show of swallowing. 
She beamed.  “Tomorrow, you’ll be good as new.”

He smiled back.  “Malibu?”
She clapped her hands.  “Malibu.  Oh, I’ve got so much to do!”  She ran from the room, humming softly.

He extracted the pill from his cheek.  Fed it to the dog.
* * *

He woke to her screams.  “You fed the pill to the damn dog, Frederick?”

He grinned.  “Now you’ll never be alone.”  He eased himself up, reached for his cane.  “I want a divorce, Deb.”  He rose and shuffled into the kitchen and picked up the telephone to call his children.

This post was written in response to Write on Edge's prompt.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012


It’s a rainy day today.  As I walk to the library, people pass beneath bright umbrellas.  A little boy splashes in a puddle and giggles.  Inside the library I tuck myself into a corner and set down my computer and my bag of crocheting.  A woman punches numbers into her calculator and frowns, pencil poised over her workbook.  She’s got an open can of Red Bull with a yellow straw poking out of the top.  She takes a long drink and stares out the window before returning to her work; jamming her left hand into her hair and resting her head there. 
I pull out my book: Becoming Native to this Place by Wes Jackson.  In his essay “Nature as Measure,” Jackson says that we cannot just save the remaining wilderness we have, but must work to save all the other places in our lives—the places where we live and work and go to school.  “Either,” Jackson says, “all the earth is holy or none is.”
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Tuesday, May 1, 2012


All is quiet in his pristine house.  He sits at the kitchen table listening as Cat approaches, her gimpy leg dragging on gray tiles, orange tail curled in a question mark.  Cat rubs against his leg and he wonders which of them enjoys this brief moment of touch more.

He lifts his teacup from its saucer and takes a small, tentative sip before setting it back onto the saucer with a satisfactory clink.

The refrigerator buzzes. 

The heat kicks in.

The clock marks time from its post above the stove.

But time no longer matters.

He sighs and unfolds the newspaper.  He pulls out the style section and studies the pictures.  He likes the close-ups.  He likes to see everyone smiling. 

He runs a brittle thumb over the image of a couple recently-engaged.  “Listen to your hearts,” he tells them.  “Don’t get caught up in careers and money and silly concerns.”

The couple continues to smile.  Not a care in the world.  He studies the backs of his weathered hands; hands untouched, uncaressed, unheld by grandchildren.  “Listen to your children,” he says.  He hopes that they can hear. 

Cat meows, demanding to be fed. 

He rises and goes to the pantry, selects a can without looking.  He opens it and sets it on the floor.  Cat begins to eat.

He returns to his newspaper.  “We share time and space, you and I,” he says, staring at all the smiling faces.  “We have not met and yet, I know you.  You are full of goals and ambitions and wants.”

Years ago, he told his wife that all he wanted was a bit of peace and quiet; to somehow dull the constant thunder of children’s screams and feet thumping up and down stairs.  All he’d wanted was a bit of order; a sliver of silence inserted into his day.

“I shall go to the cemetery today, Cat,” he says, looking up from his paper.  “To visit my family.”

The cat sits and licks a paw. 

This was written in response to this week's Trifecta Writing Challenge.  The word was thunder.