Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams

Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: October 2013

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


"What about these mugos?" I gestured to one of the pines framing our front stairs. Well, blocking the stairs, actually. Any time visitors come to the front door, they have to practically vault over the greenery.

"That's not mugo," the arborist said. "It's dwarf scotch. Softer needles."

I nodded and cast a glance at my husband. This was the third plant we'd misidentified so far.

"Look at the size of that trunk. That pine is forty years old at least." He studied it, scratching his chin. "Never been pruned, either."

Exactly. I wanted the shrubs trimmed back, to open up the house's entrance and to give it a more balanced look. As it was now, the shrub on the left was easily twice the size of its partner to the right.

"Do you know the best way to prune?" The arborist asked.

I grinned. "Close my eyes and hack away." I think he thought I was joking.
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Don't Boo...

"You don't boo the stripper." Jensen frowned into his drink, regretting his partner's choice of venue for fleshing the truth from Carl DeAngelo. DeAngelo's wife's version of the truth, that is; the version that would guarantee a favorable divorce settlement and seal a nice commission for Jensen and Jensen, Private Detectives. It'll be perfect, Louise had said. Get him to a strip club. Buy him a few rounds. He'll spill his guts. Louise was probably at home right now, tucked into her favorite armchair, cracking the spine of a new mystery. Why had he chosen to go into business with Louise? Why, indeed, had he asked her to marry him?

"You lecturing me on local etiquette, Jensen? I guess you don't want my business that bad."

His cover was that of a hardware salesmen. Jensen didn't know a doorknob from a doorbell, but Louise seemed to think he could pull it off. "Nothing local about it. You just don't do it."
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Monday, October 28, 2013

Signs of Snow

I do not know how long my daughter has been driving around on a flattish tire.

Neither does she.

Neither, in fact, does my husband, who, in denial of the sad, sagging evidence before him, declared the tire gauge to be broken.

Today is the day: Monday, mother of all get things done days, the day of fresh to-do lists, lists full of intention and promise and hope. Today, I get my daughter's tire fixed.

I step outside and work the ice from the windshield, glancing nervously at the tire, wondering if it will be able to limp the half mile into town. I drive slowly, holding up traffic and occasionally driving down the center of the road to avoid the potholes that gather at the street's edges. At the repair shop, I hand the keys over to the woman behind the desk and head home on foot.

My breath comes in thick puffs as I walk, gloved hands jammed into my coat pockets. Everywhere I look, fallen autumn leaves are edged in frost.
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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Promise of Spring

"The soldiers stare at Annika when we go for rations."

"Let them look." Liam snatched a biscuit from the plate. "Her beauty will save us. As long as there is something to dangle in front of them, they will leave us alone."

"She is your daughter, not an enticement. When will they be no longer satisfied with...?"

"We all need to survive, Bekka." Liam looked out the window. "It will be a cold winter. We must find more wood."

"The hickory shells..."

"...mere phantom of warmth. You and Annika go to the forest tomorrow. Bring back what you can in the sled."

"I won't take her, not with the soldiers."

"The New Decree forbids your disobedience."
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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Oh, Darn

When my mother found something particularly funny or helpful in the newspaper, she would clip it out and post it to the refrigerator where it would remain for family and visitors to read until the paper yellowed and the edges curled and, eventually, the piece's significance would be forgotten. Mom would put up Erma Bombeck columns. Recipes she wanted to try. Comic strips.

One Hi and Lois strip has remained in my memory for thirty-six years: In the first frame, Hi hands his wife a sock and tells her that it needs to be darned. Lois takes the sock in the second frame, and studies it intently. In the final frame, Lois throws the sock into the trash can with the words, "Oh, darn."

My mom laughed out loud when she read the strip. Of course, I didn't understand.
* * *
A thirteen-mile bike trail cuts diagonally through my village, running along an old Conrail track behind houses, between farms and swampland, and through a wooded section, dark and inviting. I can buy eggs on the trail. Organic produce. Local wine.

Deer occasionally pause on the trail, standing stock still and staring. Cardinals flit between branches of the trees. I pass other bikers, dog walkers, joggers, and a man on a recumbent bike who is missing one leg. I pass the pawpaw tree from which I have picked pear-sized fruits. I pass hickory trees, walnut trees, wild apple and crabapple trees, and, yes, I confess to having harvested the fruits from each of these as well.
On the trail, I smell wild grapes as they ripen and fade into autumn. I see the magnificent bald-hornets' nest, all whorls and arches, strength and industry.

Then too, there is the landfill, first detected by the smell, a smell so different and out of place in this arena of flowing water, blooming flowers and fields. The smell is overpowering. I pedal faster just to get past.

I hear the landfill next: the sound of gigantic dump trucks driving in and up a path flattened by too much use while turkey vultures and seagulls perch from cell phone towers surveying the scene below. 

Finally, just as I prepare to cross the street, the landfill comes into view.

It's a massive mountain, made up in part of what I've discarded. Every day as I pass, it reminds me of what I've thrown away; of how much I willingly waste.

I have oh, darned my way through too many things, discarding the worn for something shiny and new, pretending to have regrets when actually feeling relief and pleasure at the anticipation of a replacement. But the sheen wears off and eventually what is new becomes old and I am left to decide: Shall I repair it or shall I throw it away?
* * *
My mother had a darning egg. It was smooth and wooden and full of mystery and purpose. I darn with a rock tucked into the heel of the sock I'm repairing.

People would think I'm crazy if they knew I darned socks: It's simple enough to run to Target to pick up new ones, easy enough to throw away the old socks, mainly in good condition, save the one small hole worn through at the heel.

But every day as I bike, I'm confronted by my wastefulness.

And so I darn.

I darn badly, making mistakes as I go, frustrated with myself because girls as young as six once knew how to handle needle and thread.

But still, I darn.
* * *
Today, I understand that comic strip clipped and posted to the refrigerator. Every year, my mother made wardrobes for four children. Every year still, she makes jelly and jam, puts up peaches and pears, green beans and carrots and corn. My mom refinishes furniture. Braids rugs. Strips wallpaper. Makes quilts and, yes, even dishes. In making a home, my mom is industrious, doing for herself and her family what is too easily outsourced today. There's quite an honor in that, an honor that, for far too long, we've overlooked.

And so I darn.

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Monday, October 14, 2013


Yellow locust leaves criss-cross the sky, hither-and-yoning like a girl I once knew who couldn't decide what to do with her life so she hurried into one thing after another until finally she had to stop and rest like the locust tree which will take its repose before emerging in white glory, announcing spring.

The lost girl will find her way into the clearing.

The view is better there.

But every so often, the girl will come back to the woods and immerse herself in nature's orderliness which we humans read as wild confusion because we do not understand.

This was written for this week's Trifecta Writing Challenge.

"This week we are giving you a page from the Oxford English Dictionary.  The ninety-ninth page, to be exact.  (Click to enlarge.)  From this page, you can choose any word, any definition, to use in your post.  (Please type your chosen word in bold, so we know.)  And instead of our typical 33-333 word limit, we are asking for 99 words exactly."


Tuesday, October 8, 2013


The neighbors have been great about stopping by and introducing themselves since we moved to our hundred-year-old house three months ago. There's Earl. Darwin. Pickles. And this timid male who comes frequently but as of yet hasn't introduced himself. Oh, and Patches, of course.

Evil Patches.

These cats come at regular times throughout the day to visit our cat Alex and to partake of the bountiful bowl of cheap kibble my son fills every morning. The bowl of food (and usually a bowl of milk as well) sits on a plastic Rubbermaid cube, three by three by three, that houses summer flip flops, old work shoes, and other smelly footwear from which my children refuse to part.

Earl, a beautiful grey male, comes in the morning, eats daintily, then settles in for a nap beside Alex, both cats' tails gently moving in the misty morning light.

Sometime around noon, Darwin, the new cat from overseas, leaps onto the front porch, walks along a piece of white trim past the dining room, around the corner to the kitchen windows and on to the back porch.

The dogs are indignant at the cats' visitations. Tails up, ears up, they stand at the window, barking, turning around at me, wondering why I don't intervene with these freeloaders who, unlike Alex, don't bring me presents of chipmunks and mice, setting them at my feet with a proud and gentle mew.

But I let them eat.

All except Evil Patches who beat up Alex on his first night in the neighborhood.

Evil Patches is not welcome here.
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