Letting Go

Ray sat at the bar flirting with the girls in the lone booth and throwing back one zombie after another like shots. He had been dead seventy two hours. Sooner or later, someone would find his body and he would be forced to shuffle off his mortal habits. Until then, he was having lascivious fun calling, “Give me your number gorgeous. Your boyfriend won’t mind.”

He signaled the bartender, who asked “Another?” This man didn’t know Ray was dead any more than the misses in the corner.

“Relax. I’m taking a cab.” And that was true, he suddenly realized. Someone was clonking up the stairs in his house now. And it would be a black and yellow calling when that person entered the bathroom. “Make it quick.”

Ray hoped the money he was piling up wouldn’t evaporate with him but had an idea it might.

He wondered who was about to find him. His ex wife? Impossible. She moved to Vegas more than a year ago. The incessantly chatty next door neighbor, then? Or someone else? Something else.

A memory pierced him. When he couldn’t still his hand on the knife, he hadn’t been alone in that bathroom. A woman had joined him, an insubstantial someone wrapping her arms around his shoulders placing her hands over his on the hilt. He had looked up when they made the cut together, caught her eye for the briefest instant in the mirror, and felt, rather than saw her extraordinary beauty.

It was her then creaking down his hall, hungry for him now like he had been for her in their brief moment of contact.

Ray stood too fast, tipping the stool in his hurry as he slammed another twenty on the bar. There was a cab outside waiting, right now, but he had to hurry or he’d miss it. “Night ladies.” He tipped a finger towards the booth. “Barkeep,” he called over his shoulder, “never mind about that drink.”


Corrections, corrections, corrections

This weekend, Trifecta has asked us to provide the 33 words that follow this illustration:



Typically, I don’t include other people’s pictures on my blog. It gives me the copyright heebie-jeebies. But Trifecta swears it’s OK as long as we give a link back to www.poisonedplayground.com and credit Poisoned Playground. Also, the whole entry makes no sense whatsoever without the context of the image. I have also taken wild liberties with the prompt. They said “Give us the 33 words that follow this illustration. What happens next?” They did not say that the following 33 words all had to be in the story’s TEXT.


“The mummy…”


“…rose and, Jared…”

“And Sophie!”

“… I’m getting there. Jared and Sophie…”

“Saw their monster!”

“For someone who can’t read, you know a lot of words in a brand new book.”


Lost in Translation


They spoke in their own languages, Matt’s English, Consuela’s Spanish, as they wound down the Pacific coast.

“I’m not going on some crazy-ass …”

“No estoy loco.”

“I didn’t say you were crazy. I said this… whatever we’re doing… it’s got to be nuts.”

“No loco.”

“Then why won’t you tell me what it is?”  He wished he spoke better Spanish or she better English. Throughout her son’s trial, they had communicated with a translator, a woman who whispered, “It’s not your fault. You did your best,” over Consuela’s sobs at the end.

But when, a week later, Consuela appeared at his office begging, “Vienes. Vienes, ahora, por favor!” Matt couldn’t fail to understand her. Though it meant cancelling a dozen appointments, he went. He only regretted his decision as she began to navigate the twisting narrows of highway 101. “Why won’t you tell me?” he repeated.

“Porque no le va a gustar.”

Matt had heard Consuela mutter, “No me gusta.” often enough during the trial.

“What won’t I like?”

Consuela pulled into a scenic overlook, currently deserted. She got out and hopped over the guard rail.

“Come back here!”

“No, tu. Vienes ver.” She flicked two fingers from her eyes over the cliff, indicating she wanted him to see something. “Confia en mi.” Trust me. How often he had said this to her in court? And how wrong had he been?

“OK,” he said. “I trust you,” though he did not. And he followed.

She lay on her stomach and scooted to the edge of the cliff. “Ya está. ¿Ven?

He finally lay down beside her and inched forward, waiting every second, for the shove that would catapult him into the rocks. At the lip, he squinted down.

“Ya está,” she repeated.

“There’s a metal box,” he said.


“What do you want…?”

In halting English, she said, “My Ramón is no murderer. That box proves it. You make the police get it, OK? Then, maybe he won’t get the needle.”


Mornings With Merrimans

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

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.



Under the Veil

Tamekia had no grace. None of them did. Yet even the most awkward dancers moved with an unstable kind of beauty. “No Barbie toes!” Shari, the instructor, called out. “Use the balls of your feet, Tami.” Tamekia rocked down, so her heels weren’t so high in the air.

TamekiaStoryThe class was working on the taqsim, with its gentle vertical motion. “I think I got this figure eight thing.” A woman at the end of the line herked her hips up and down.

“You’re getting there! I can tell you’ve been working on it. You’re all getting better. At the end of six weeks, you’re going to be amazing.”

Without meaning to, Tamikia let her thoughts wander away from belly dancing. She wondered what her daughter was doing right now. Had Beth gotten home from school? Did Grandma Jean remember to give her fruit instead of cookies for an afternoon snack. Would they be around this evening, if Tamikia was allowed to call?

Her psychologist told her not to worry about these things, to let the outside world take care of itself and focus inward, to take things one day at a time. She all but forced Tami to sign up for the dance class. Tami didn’t think her counselor had ever handed her only child into the custody of her ex’s mother.

“I’ll take good care of her,” Grandma Jean had said. “And when you get out, I’ll take good care of you, too, honey. But you can’t go messing around with that son of mine. He’s dangerous, unpredictable.”

Tami and her cellmate counted down to freedom every morning. Every night, Tami went to sleep with Beth’s image in her mind. “I’ll do better by you baby. For both of us,” she swore.

Shari put one hand on Tamekia’s stomach and another on her rear end, then pushed, drawing the younger woman out of her reverie. “Remember to tuck in. You want that…”

“… right. Stable core.”

Shari smiled. “Exactly.”


Where you’ll also find me

I swear I didn't pose him. He insists on sleeping shirtless, and he's always cutest at bedtime. The rabbit is called "Nobunny"

I swear I didn’t pose him. He insists on sleeping shirtless, and he’s always cutest at bedtime. The rabbit is called “Nobunny”

And this is the place

In the soul shaken darkness

Where I find my son


I went to my favorite writer’s conference last weekend. Killer Nashville was incredible, as always, and I came away with new insights, new friends, and a few things that I completely didn’t expect. I’m sure I’ll talk about those things at some point.

The day before that, I took Sam to one of the myriad of doctor’s appointments that dot his schedule and left so soul-shaken that I thought I wouldn’t be able to drive to Nashville. Again, I’m sure I’ll talk about it here at some point, but I’m not ready yet. I left that appointment at once validated and furious, certain that the evaluating team was both exactly right and exactly wrong about Sam, and that the things they had right are the ones that scare me. It’s time to face another of the hydra’s seven heads, one I’ve expected, but one I’m not ready for, not this soon.

More importantly, he’s not ready for it. No psychological therapy will be useful until we get the meds stabilized, and our efforts to implement such always end in utter travesty. I want to wait a few more months, weeks even, to see if the newest medication will put him on firm enough ground to start behavior therapy.

But I don’t think I have that kind of time any longer. The hydra wants for slaying now, so Scott and I will strap on our battle armor and get family therapy underway so we can learn some new tactics and buy Sam the time he needs.

I’ll let you know how that works out for us, but don’t hold your breath.


A Letter To The Editor

panonthestoveI wish to lodge several complaints, and I hope you can be of help to me To begin with, I hate the way you fancify recipes. Perhaps, on a TV show, there is something inherently more satisfying about the texture of meatballs made with Panko, rather than average breadcrumbs, but frankly, I think not. Similarly, I believe sea salt, cremini mushrooms, lacinato kale, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and freshly ground anything are all included to make foods sound less plebian, more worthy of Pinterest or Emeril. There is nothing wrong with my iodized salt, ordinary mushrooms, normal kale, low-fat Parmesan Cheese, and dried spices.

Next, I think some of you use a food chart to determine what to write up. “Let’s see. I’ll throw one dart at “fruits and vegetables”, and another at “preparation method” and…. yes! Avocado Popsicles!”

Additionally, be warned that you will brand me with a brand name. You seem to be under the impression that simply because you include a company’s vitals in a recipe, I will feel compelled to cook it. How much are you getting paid for this advertising?

Finally (Cooking Light, I’m looking especially hard at you), if a recipe is intended to be healthy, why don’t you cut calories wherever possible? Why does your light version include 2% milk, which has tons of fat and more calories in comparison to skim, when the skim makes no discernible difference to the ultimate product’s taste? Or sour cream. Why does your “light” recipe include regular sour cream, which has sixty calories and 3 grams of fat in two tablespoons when fat free sour cream has 30 calories and, well no fat? Or better yet why not tell folks to use fat free Greek Yogurt, which has still fewer calories and a better texture.

All in all, your confusing practices baffle me, and I believe it is time to found my own line based on common sense and realistic dietary planning.


A peeved diner





Caroline, Devon, Mike, and Scott

Caroline, Devon, Mike, and Scott

The first day I met Scott’s cousin Mike and his wife Michelle, I had no idea how much we would develop in common. How we would each name our youngest sons Sam. How we would laugh about this every Thanksgiving at Michelle’s parents’ dinners. Who spends the holidays with her husband’s cousin’s wife’s family? Me. That’s who.

Ketchup With Us
About damned time! I’m FINALLY Ketching Up! You can, too. It only takes fifty seven words about a first day.



I don’t wear them at night

newshadesI bought my first set of prescription sunglasses this year. They cost more than I want to put in print. Initially, I justified my purchase with the bullshit line handed to me by the sales woman. “Even with featherweights, you’re going to have a hard time getting clip-ons over those thick edges.”  To her credit, this is true. I’m so myopic that she had already refused to sell me drilled rimless glasses like my old ones, because thick lenses crack under the drill. And the clip-ons have been sliding around on my face for at least three pairs now.

But I knew she was angling for a sale when she delivered her words so smoothly. She was choosing from a carefully narrowed script, tailored for my occasion. Yet I bought the sunglasses.

Guilty-souled, and knowing the real expense was in my lenses, I chose the cheapest frames, as if this balanced my frivolity. At home, I repeated her lies, and my stomach tightened every time I spoke or typed the words.

I knew what made me so squeamish. If I have to buy something expensive, it’s out of necessity or desperation. And I’ve never had the kind of disposable income that would make my regular glasses affordable, let alone a pair of sunglasses.

And I did not need new sunglasses. The doctor, another smooth dealer, had observed latticing in the back of my eye. It can be a precursor to retinal detachment but typically isn’t. It’s common in extremely nearsighted patients. He suggested I “take good care of my vision” like this was new advice. I chose to interpret it to mean I needed to protect myself from the southern sun’s glare. But it didn’t make me need a pair of four hundred dollar shades. (There. I wrote it.)

Still, I a m trying to shed some emotional detritus along with my excess weight. Part of that involves keeping only those things which I have chosen in my life. I’m tired of carrying around behaviors I acquired by accident, inherited from relatives, or developed as knee-jerk responses to a single situation. And that attitude, the one screeching, “You can’t afford it. It’s impractical. And you don’t need it,” was handed down from my depression era grandmother, to my hippie mother, to myself.

It’s a useful position. I largely keep to it. I’m a practical shopper, and I don’t spend money unnecessarily. But I don’t have to live in a state of martyred self-abnegation. And I wanted those sunglasses. That’s the real reason I bought them instead of bashing the sales woman with her tray of frames and taking my business someplace more honest. I bought the fucking glasses because I wanted them.

Now, every time I get in the car, I pop my case out of the crevice in the ceiling and swap out dark lenses for light, light for dark. It’s a small maneuver representative of a much larger shift. And it feels good. Damned good.