Creative nonfiction

DSC_0288 Some bits and pieces about my family:

Knife’s Edge

Last modified on 2015-05-05 20:37:08 GMT. 5 comments. Top.

I talked with my sister’s ghost last night. We met in my grandparents’ kitchen as it stood before the house flippers renovated it into a room of stainless steel appliances and corian countertops. My grandfather was there too, disgruntled because the new gadgetry hadn’t migrated into the ghost house. He was annoyed with my sister and I, too, because, even with one of us dead, we couldn’t manage mutual civility.

“Sam’s nothing like you, really,” I told Amye.

She shrugged. She stared over my head, out the window behind the sink.

“For instance, he gives a shit about other people.”

Again the shrug.

“I used to only perceive you. When he kicked in the door, I saw your feet coming through the hole. When he blew the power and destroyed the ceiling fan, I smelled you in the burned out wires. When he screamed endlessly, I heard your voice louder than my own.”

Still she wouldn’t speak to me. Silence was always one of her favorite pissy tricks. I looked over my shoulder out the window, searching for the house next door. But, like the new appliances, it not transferred into the world of the dead. The light in the room was cast by a full moon hanging huge and low. Except for that moon, the world did not extend past my grandparents’ driveway.

I averted my gaze. “What happens when you go outside?”

She had come from somewhere, after all. I had arrived in a dream, but I didn’t know from which direction. I had walked in and seated myself at the incongruous picnic table that hulked in the middle of the room, making passage on either side impossible (Except other people, strangers, kept walking past anyway, brushing through me in cold bursts that blurred my vision.) . Amye had come not long after, easing in languidly from the back porch like she had always been there, though I knew she had not.

“Not much. You go somewhere else. We provide our own space here. Keeps things from getting crowded.”

Poppa glowered at the fridge and drummed his fingers. “I’m going to have to go out to the garage,” he grumbled. “I’ll come in again when I find the beer.” He stumped off and vanished behind a slamming door. The back porch went with him, replaced a moment later by my mother’s living room, as it had looked before she redid the floors. Like the shiny new things in the kitchen, the new wood had failed to convey.

I went to the doorway. The green chairs we had given away when I was twelve sat at their stations on either side of the buck stove. “Can I go in there?”

“Sure.”

I started forward but then looked back. Amye was watching me avidly. She wanted me to cross that threshold. “I’d better not.”

If she was dismayed, she didn’t show it.

Dad wandered in, transitioning from one dream to the next. “Did you know,” he asked us, “that in Maine, there used to be a competition for builders? They’d hold a wooden nail between the fingers of one hand and drive it into a board with the opposite fist. You ought to see them some time.”

He climbed up over the table on his way to the living room but shook his head at the boundary. “Nope, better use the other door,” he advised himself. When he returned, he passed straight through the table as the others had done.

“I guess he comes here a lot? He seems to know where to find things.”

Amy rolled her eyes and sneered. “He sleeps deeper. He didn’t even see you. He was talking to me.

“Whatever.” I felt I ought to be telling her something about Kaylee or Caroline, offering up some grain of friendship, but I had no words.

“Anyway, I have to go.” She brushed past me and into the living room.

“Wait! I miss you sometimes. I wonder who you’d have been. But all I see is imaginary. Every future you I create you is false.”

She shook her head, either because I’d said the wrong thing or because I’d stated the obvious. She walked around the corner and opened another door, one that ought to have led upstairs, but instead showed my grandparents’ furnace room, dingy with fifty year old coal soot, crowded with broken toys and yard sale junk.

“What are you doing? Why are you going in there?”

As she pulled the door shut behind her, she said, “I miss you, too.” But I knew it was a lie, a tease meant to make me come back again. She needn’t have bothered. I’ll be back.

We carry our own ghosts with us. It saves on the travel. But it means they’re always hovering, waiting to ease in past an unguarded periphery, one that was supposed to be an invitation to someone else.

The Tenth Circle

Last modified on 2014-06-05 03:18:04 GMT. 4 comments. Top.

Sock Hell

Sock Hell

 

Our house has several circles of hell Dante never thought of. Today, I’m thinking in particular of Sock Hell. This is the underworld of mismatched socks, where no two look quiiite close enough to each other to be worn together in public.

But it’s worse than that. Sock Hell is a crowded place. In fact, because there are so very many socks in it, redemption is nearly impossible. The socks are damned as much because mates can languish nearly side by side, unmatched when one, perhaps is faded more than the other, or one (but not the other) acquires a fine glaze of pink paint when I tromp through something fresh I am coating. But here’s the worst part of all, the reason Sock Hell is so particularly fiendish.

I am in charge of folding the socks.

Our division of household labor is more than somewhat inequitable. Scott picks up most of the day to day shit that drives me to distraction (laundry, dishes, etc.), and that I would only cope with once a week, given my druthers.

I do deep cleaning on grime he doesn’t ever see. (Guess which one needs to happen less frequently. Hint: it’s the one I do.)  But I do try to pitch in on the regular household chores. When I remember.

I pick shit up. I put away dishes. Working as a team, we fold the clothes. And when we’re dead out of socks, even the ones we steal from the “out of season” bin, I delve into Sock Hell for some matches. The pile shrinks. But only a little. Mostly, I’m left with a collection of sad foot coverings screaming out for a salvation I can’t offer.

A friend has a policy of tossing any sock she’s seen for more than three washings. I’d like to do that. Only I’m so ADHD that I can’t remember which socks I’ve been looking at for three washings. I’m not talking about the ones that are almost identical anyway, or the ones that, if only they had necks of similar lengths, could be paired off and called good enough. No, I mean the adorable patterned ones, the pinks, the purples, the puppies and kitties. They all run together and look alike, so that I cannot possibly recall which have been in my basket for three consecutive wash cycles.

I tried a rubber band system. After all, we have a fuck-ton of the things sitting around thanks to the non-weaving-loom people. A clump banded in green had been around for one washing. Then, yellow was two, and red was three. But what counted as a washing? We do laundry daily! Do I seriously trash a sock after three days? Or by wash cycle, do I mean “wash week”, in which case, I’m back to square screwed, because I cannot remember when a “wash week” starts or ends, and my calendar-keeping skills are untrustworthy in this area.

Also, I share socks with both kids. I have to factor in the reality that we only scour their rooms about once a month. So am I planning to sit on those socks for three months? Hardly an improvement over the original system of hoping for the best and watching the fucking mountain grow.

When I die, I expect to be buried in socks. They will line my casket with those unmatched remains to travel with me to the underworld. And we’ll search there, forever spiraling outward, rowing round in the patchwork remains of a cotton tide.

All the fish

Last modified on 2014-06-05 03:44:48 GMT. 8 comments. Top.

MummumandPoppa

When I eat Ritz crackers with cream cheese, I think of my grandparents, of childhood winters in Florida, of the briny ocean stink as we put in the boat at Wiggins’ pass. Mummum stocked the cooler with the three necessities for any fishing excursion: water for me, beer for the adults, and sandy cracker sandwiches for everyone.

But we didn’t use Ritz, God no. They were expensive, and the generic was good enough. We didn’t shop at the chain groceries, either, where prices were higher. We went to Benson’s corner market or the scratch-and-dent food store. The very fact that they had a winter condo and a boat nearly overwhelmed my grandmother, so she made sure the condo was part of a cheap complex at the end of Wilson Street.

Nights, she and my mom sat smacking mosquitoes and talking seashells, while I swam, and my grandfather and some companion played pool in the rec room.

It was years before I understood that my grandparents weren’t paupers, that Mummum’s inherently frugal nature was fixed in childhood. She watched her father rise through the ranks of the L&N railroad while their neighbors struggled to supply their basic needs during the Great Depression. Bonita Springs was a luxury, and she appreciated every second of it.

I skipped weeks of school for those south Florida winters, and I yearn for them now, for the Sheepshead and drawbridges. When I’m old, I shall go back and live forever, make my children plan their vacations around me while I beachcomb and soak in the surf.  I’ll try to re-create my grandparents’ lifestyle by catching my own fish, eating generic foods and wasting dollars in gas to save pennies on vegetables. I’ll smear thin cream cheese on round buttery crackers, and when I simply have to splurge, I’ll go out and buy the name brand.

_______________

I wrote this last week for Trifecta, but I never got it posted (go me! I’m to busy to update my own blog!) Although I don’t particularly like, much less participate in “thankful” memes – they are alllll about hypocrisy for too many people – this fits the thankful theme over at Write on Edge, where I don’t participate nearly often enough.

The picture is of my grandparents as I remember them best. It was taken at our house in Ohio by my Auntie Em (not her real name; yes that’s what I called her though).

In Full Bloom

Last modified on 2013-10-31 14:05:14 GMT. 10 comments. Top.

pimlicoroses.jpgThe young fighter knelt before the sacred rosebush in the sanctuary. “Tomorrow, I rip it out of the ground, Adi.”

“Don’t be so sure, Maximus.” The old fighter creaked into a more comfortable position on his bench.

“These are your people. They will boo and cry out when I slice your flesh.” Maximus drew out the ‘boo’, as if he already heard that throng. “But make no mistake: tomorrow, I root my own flower.”

“Maybe defile it with the blood of a virgin or two,” Adi suggested.

“Or two. I like that. You’re a cocksure old mosquito, squeaking in my ear.”

“In seven decades, I have been defeated only once, and she was a merciful creature.”

“You let her win so you could double your kingdom.”

“Were she still living, Batari would cut you down for such remarks. As it is, I’ll have to do it for her.”

“In the morning, old man. Go away and let me speak to your bush.”

“I’m going,” said Adi. “But I have a few words of my own first.” He stood beside the kneeling Maximus and patted the younger man’s shoulder, at the place where his skin met his neck.

Maximus’s blood welled up under Adi’s fingers. “What did you do to me?” Maximus scrambled to cover the wound with his own hand.

“Listen to me,” Adi snarled. He spat on the ground at Maximus’s feet. “If I learned one thing from my wife in fifty years of marriage, it was this: never go unarmed into your enemy’s temple. When you write your last letter home tonight, tell your God-King to stop sending unworthy opponents to the Warriors of the Rose.”

Adi shoved lightly, and Maximus fell onto his side. “That’s poison!” Maximus’ shoulder spasmed.

Adi walked away. “Make peace with that rose. Tomorrow, your body nourishes its roots.”

“But…” now Maximus’s whole arm jerked and strained.

Adi did not turn around. “Boo,” he said, an unsympathetic crowd of one. “Booo.”

Trifecta

Mornings With Merrimans

Last modified on 2013-09-16 14:28:39 GMT. 16 comments. Top.

Silly SamFriday was one of those mornings at our house. Caroline couldn’t find shorts, Sam wanted me to play balloon-bounce with him, the dog was in the kitchen stealing bagels every time I left the room, and Scott and I just wanted caffeine. But school needed notes about the field trip (yes, we could drive; we were both coming; we could carry three including our own; and we would buy popcorn for all seventy five or so would-be bowlers so Sam would have a snack), we had to put a cooler out for the co-op, and Caroline snacked on half the things we meant to send in her lunch.  Murder!

“Don’t you have a skort? Check the closet.”

“I did.”

“Do it again. Sam, I’m coming! I have to get your sister ready, first!”

Never!” His favorite interjection. “Dad can do that.”

“Yes, I can.”

“OK, Sam, Quick round of balloon …. Chewie get out of the kitchen. Honey would you put him out and close that door.”

Next door’s dog was barking incessantly. Normally, it doesn’t bother me, but Friday, each yap penetrated to …. That wasn’t next door’s dog, that was my dog, “Chewie get in here and shut up! Jesus, what was that all about?”

Scott failed in the laundry quest, too. “Caroline, you’re going to have to wear a dirty pair.” Typically, he can produce clean clothes from the dryer as if by magic. “The skort still looks OK.”

“It won’t help today, but see if she’s got any in my backseat. She had to change at ballet a couple of times.”

Mom come back.”

“We’re all done, Sam. I need to get Sis ready, and you have to wear shorts over the underwear. Come on, baby doll! Hair!

Somebody needs to play with me!”

Scott had achieved coffee. “Five minutes, Sam. We’ll do five minutes of Legos, then you need pants.”

“Caroline, hair! Now!”

“I need goo first.” Eczema, sweat, and awkward washing habits have rendered her left ear bloody in back.

“After hair! Take a shower tonight. Put on some deodorant for right now. Put on a LOT of deodorant. Holy God it’s 7:30 already. How did it get to be 7:30? Hair! Come on, hair! You can put on deodorant in the car.”

“Here’s your Coke, Jessie.” Blessed caffeine.

Frazzled and amped up, the kids and I piled into the car for the morning’s low flight through rush hour traffic. “Great take-off,” Scott said, waving from the door.

And it was. Nobody got bitten; there were no sobbing meltdowns; and, while one of them was a little smelly, the kids’ personal hygiene was at least on par with the other children in their classes. All of the stressors were manageable. I won’t look back fondly to this; I know myself too well. But compared to the mornings with time-outs, misunderstandings, and four way battles, Friday was awesome.

Passages and Secrets

Last modified on 2013-09-11 18:21:12 GMT. 14 comments. Top.

SamHappyIt was a Paul Simon kind of morning, a rhythmic kind of morning, and everything built around a peculiar beat. The Alabama sky was dazzling blue, and Sam put on clothes without a fight for the first time in a week. Caroline lost her belt, and she nearly forgot to wear shoes, but nobody shouted getting out the door, and the Darth Maul mask didn’t have to go into time out like it has so many mornings lately.

Sam read to me last night, each word precious and halting, a hard won battle of chosen sounds. I didn’t learn like this. I was five, and I grasped it in a day. I guess I’d been working my way there for a long time, but the kindergarten teacher said, “ ‘Sun’ S-U-N. ‘Up’. U-P.”, and suddenly, the world of Buffy, Mack, and the whole crew of Sun Up was completely open to me. Caroline was a little older, but the experience was the same. One day, those collections of letters meant nothing, then the next, she came out with “context”.  Scott learned from street signs, when he was three.

Scott stayed awake until the early hours of this morning, reading in the middle of his office. When was the last time a book seized you that hard? When did you crack the cover and somehow emerge at two a.m., with a kink in your neck, and sore legs, because you’d completely forgotten to sit down? When did you travel so far?

Nobody ever told me love could mean arm-black bite-bruises delivered by a little boy who hurts that hard inside. Nobody told me it meant trying to tell him the blue sky, when all he sees are thunderheads. Nobody told me that love is standing still with your child until you don’t notice the passage of time, that it’s like learning to read a little each day, every word precious and hard won.

trifectacycle

 

The Tenth Circle

Last modified on 2014-03-27 21:02:48 GMT. 0 comments. Top.

Sock Hell

Sock Hell

 

Our house has several circles of hell Dante never thought of. Today, I’m thinking in particular of Sock Hell. This is the underworld of mismatched socks, where no two look quiiite close enough to each other to be worn together in public.

But it’s worse than that. Sock Hell is a crowded place. In fact, because there are so very many socks in it, redemption is nearly impossible. The socks are damned as much because mates can languish nearly side by side, unmatched when one, perhaps is faded more than the other, or one (but not the other) acquires a fine glaze of pink paint when I tromp through something fresh I am coating. But here’s the worst part of all, the reason Sock Hell is so particularly fiendish.

I am in charge of folding the socks.

Our division of household labor is more than somewhat inequitable. Scott picks up most of the day to day shit that drives me to distraction (laundry, dishes, etc.), and that I would only cope with once a week, given my druthers.

I do deep cleaning on grime he doesn’t ever see. (Guess which one needs to happen less frequently. Hint: it’s the one I do.)  But I do try to pitch in on the regular household chores. When I remember.

I pick shit up. I put away dishes. Working as a team, we fold the clothes. And when we’re dead out of socks, even the ones we steal from the “out of season” bin, I delve into Sock Hell for some matches. The pile shrinks. But only a little. Mostly, I’m left with a collection of sad foot coverings screaming out for a salvation I can’t offer.

A friend has a policy of tossing any sock she’s seen for more than three washings. I’d like to do that. Only I’m so ADHD that I can’t remember which socks I’ve been looking at for three washings. I’m not talking about the ones that are almost identical anyway, or the ones that, if only they had necks of similar lengths, could be paired off and called good enough. No, I mean the adorable patterned ones, the pinks, the purples, the puppies and kitties. They all run together and look alike, so that I cannot possibly recall which have been in my basket for three consecutive wash cycles.

I tried a rubber band system. After all, we have a fuck-ton of the things sitting around thanks to the non-weaving-loom people. A clump banded in green had been around for one washing. Then, yellow was two, and red was three. But what counted as a washing? We do laundry daily! Do I seriously trash a sock after three days? Or by wash cycle, do I mean “wash week”, in which case, I’m back to square screwed, because I cannot remember when a “wash week” starts or ends, and my calendar-keeping skills are untrustworthy in this area.

Also, I share socks with both kids. I have to factor in the reality that we only scour their rooms about once a month. So am I planning to sit on those socks for three months? Hardly an improvement over the original system of hoping for the best and watching the fucking mountain grow.

When I die, I expect to be buried in socks. They will line my casket with those unmatched remains to travel with me to the underworld. And we’ll search there, forever spiraling outward, rowing round in the patchwork remains of a cotton tide.


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