The Deal

 

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Through my office window slipped a warm breeze, adding a gift of more oxygen to the light. But the young woman sat before me with hands clenched, deep-set hazel eyes averted and brimming with unshed tears.

I had asked her a simple enough question: “What are your dreams?”

I knew the answer already but waited for her to speak.

“I don’t know! I don’t have dreams. What are those? Fantasies! All I ever had was a crazy need to survive.” She looked at me, eyes empty of tears as suddenly as they had filled, the hurt pushed back to the tender places she guarded so well. “I guess I’ve done that so far, anyway. Gotten by, day by day.”

It was an assignment: come up with three things you want, such as wishes you had as a child that were put aside, hopes you let yourself dare to long for, situation imagined that would make you happy. But Marta wasn’t accustomed to thinking in terms of what she would love for herself. For her daughter, yes: a better life, which currently meant shelter in a safe place, enough healthy food, health and friends. But for herself? Just getting by in the most basic sense was enough; she had eaten from dumpsters outside of restaurants and slept under highway overpasses and shot meth. None of it had killed her so far.

Marta’s mental health and addiction treatment had spanned three months so far. It had begun with a DUII, her first, and developed into something more far-reaching than she had expected. She had presented herself as amenable, even friendly, but it had been a veneer, a shield, as behind that was a tough woman who was paying attention, keeping tally. Deep beyond that was a soft core that floated in pain. I saw flashes of her soul when she thought I wasn’t looking. There was a radiance but it felt to her like a weakness. She drank to keep it in one spot, in the dark, under wraps. It was better, she informed me, than the methamphetamine she had used for eight years and finally quit at twenty-three after too much, too fast. As far as she had been concerned, she had to “do the time” in treatment. It was easier than what her spouse was doing: time in prison for violent crimes. Some against her.

For the first month or so she thought little of me and my tools for life and yet she had come to every individual session and two groups. I had reserved any judgment. I knew for a fact that a counselor–or anyone else–cannot predict who will make real headway and who will give up. Marta caught my attention, though, with her strong will and quick mind. She just couldn’t see the potential she had. Yet.

Years living the gang life and finally out, at least as much as she could be then. Multi-generational domestic violence. A child born right after she had gotten clean whom she adored and worried about every minute.

“Maybe Trina will have a good life, maybe she will be kept enough from harm, find a way to something good. I’m working on it. I changed jobs like you suggested.”

The corners of her mouth dipped, then changed into the barest crescent of a smile. She had left a fast food job for a factory worker job, working swing shift as her erratic mother kept her child. But it was better pay and she had done well enough that she was shift leader already. It didn’t surprise me. Marta knew how to problem solve on her feet, learned quickly and wasn’t afraid of hard physical work. She had inner endurance and stamina. I’d want her on my team as long–as she stayed sober and crime-free.

“So maybe you could look into moving in a few months, you think?”

“Maybe. Have to finish this first. This costs me! But, yeah, maybe by Christmas I can look around.” She shifted, put one foot underneath her. “That would be good for Trina. Some present!”

“So, one dream–one wish–is having better housing for yourself and Trina.”

“I guess.” She paused as if checking to make sure. “Really want to know? A small place outside the city, maybe. But I’d start with an apartment just outside of my block.”

“Outside the city…?”

Marta blinked at me, shook her head. “You’ll think this is weird, but I’ve always wanted to be in the country. My grandfather was poor but he lived on an acre of land in Texas and sometimes we’d visit him a couple of weeks. One year–I was eight–we lived with him. He was hard to get along with–you had to dodge dishes and worse–when he drank tequila. But he cared about us kids. He had three dogs. A huge cat, great mouse killer. I always thought it something that I’d wake up and see the horizon. The air was different, you know? Like there was more of it, smelled good, sorta shone in the daylight.” She gazed out the window.

Her jaw relaxed, her lips softened as they slackened. The vision in her head pierced thick inner walls, roused a gentleness I had sensed but rarely glimpsed.

“A garden, maybe, tomatoes and pumpkins and crap all like that.”

She flushed, wriggled in embarrassment despite the effort to stay in that other zone, the one where she lived only to survive, worked to keep her daughter safe, alive, first and last. Marta knew about guns. She knew about running through deep of night from feet right behind her, sometimes many, who pursued her for no good end. She knew about weapons and trades. She knew what it was to have her husband tape her mouth and beat her because she was too pretty and smart. Because her nature was to be dauntless. Or he just felt like it.

Marta knew sacrifice, fear, exhaustion, numbness. But not much more.

“Who all would live there?”

“Trina and me.”

She looked up at me suddenly, shock widening her eyes.

“I heard that, Cynthia….not him…not Tito…”

Silence filled the room, a divided presence, half-doomsday and half-epiphany. My heart thudded a bit. I had waited a long time for her wants to change, for her world view to separate itself from his. He stayed alive for her so he could dominate and brainwash, put her to work dealing drugs with him, give her whatever he thought she had coming. The last time he made a mistake he had no way out. And he was up for parole again in four months.

“Marta, you do have a dream. More than one. Close your eyes a minute, will you?”

She hesitated, closed then opened them, sat back and let her eyelids fall over tired eyes.

“Do you see it? “

“No.” She took a deep breath. “Okay, okay, I’m getting there. It’s…a nice, safe place in the country, with my daughter. Small and…bgray? Somewhere to breathe and have a dog and a cat. My daughter running barefoot, real clover everywhere. Tito? His chair has a pit bull in it. He’s a good dog, maybe.” Her laughter rattled the room. “The house is nothing much but it’s mine, it’s good.”

Marta opened her eyes and squinted at me. “But the problem is, Cynthia, having a dream is dangerous. It can make you crazier. It takes a piece of you–because, dreams? Come on! They don’t come true.”

There it was, the slip back into the habitual self-talk of loathing and bitterness, the fall into a stream of fast current that wouldn’t let go. She would need to climb out of this, shut down thoughts that took her to dangerous places. She had to keep her mind open to something finer, healthier. Prepare for a battle but plan for victory.

That is, that was what I wanted for her.

“Can’t dreams make you powerful, too? Can’t they inspire you, teach you, help you hope?”

“In your world, maybe. In mine…” Her hands grabbed the chair arms and she leaned forward. “Big difference. But, hey, I’m in this treatment and the insurance is paying good money so why not? Why not think about things? You’ll tell me the truth, I know that. I can tell you things I haven’t said to anyone before. really bad things. Some good things. I’m not stupid. I can learn. So I’m willing.”

“Willing. That’s a concept to love.”

“So you say. Well, I’ll make you a deal, Cynthia, that’s how I do things. One, I’ll stay and complete this. It’s not so bad as I thought. Two, I’ll start a list of one thing a week I wish for. One small thing. Maybe I’ll get it better that way. Like today. I didn’t see Tito in that picture. That was…well, it scared me. I don’t even know what to think. But it makes sense, too. It might be right even though I barely can imagine.”

She sat back, released the arms of the chair, smiled just a little.

“But you got to stay my counselor. Got it? You can’t pull out when I’m going in for the long haul. I won’t do this with anybody else.”

Her words created a lurch in my stomach. I knew I was leaving the agency in less than 6 weeks. I wasn’t certain she would be completed by then.

“Marta, I appreciate your appreciation….but I can’t promise I will always be here. The good thing is, you’ve already changed your path by staying sober and envisioning something better for you and Trina. You’re so persistent. You’ll go forward if that’s what you desire.”

While she considered this, I restrained myself from throwing my arms around her, giving her an award, celebrating triumph with her. Still, I knew better. Changes would be stormy well as illuminating.

And I had my own secret. I knew it wasn’t me she counted as an ally as much as God. That the deep beauty within her was revealed to me by my soul’s ever-seeking eyes. Every session was preceded by a prayer, that I would see the true person struggling to get free. That I would be a conduit for God’s mercy.

The session presented a small beginning. Potent. But tentative nonetheless. I was always calm, knew to sit just enough, contained. I leaned back, too. To say less, not more. To not overwhelm this person with great joy when she was only learning what joy could be. And barely believed in it. Still…

“Marta, you’ve made my day, no, at least my week! Now time’s up.”

“Really?” She stood, her height commanding, shoulders squared and readied for the world. “I mean, the first thing?”

“Yes, really.”

“Nice.”

She spontaneous her smile filled the room.

Out the door she strode, down the stairs. I could see her from my office window. Her long dark hair gleamed in the light, her fancy tennis shoes made a fast path to her car. She turned around as she opened the door, put a flattened hand to her forehead so she could see up to my window. I think I expected her to salute in mock respect or to give a perfunctory wave or maybe do nothing at all. Marta was not an easy one to predict even though she had such potential. But she lay her hand to heart, then raised it up to me, a testimony, a promise, the sealing of the deal.

 

(Note: Identifying details and name have been changed.)

 

 

 

 

Posted in creative nonfiction, memoir, prose, Uncategorized, WPLongform | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Graffiti

 

Photo by Rennie Ellis

Photo by Rennie Ellis

Sure, it bothered him but he wasn’t sure what to do. Pops Haverson could repaint it, of course, but how long would it stay fresh and clean? It wasn’t like it had dirty words or racist drivel or threats, was it? That’s what his wife reminded him as he left their house and also: “It’s not the Ritz, not the best we own, you know.” No, but the painted words spoiled the half-wall, behind which were stairs to a locksmith. The small business owner on the west end of the building hadn’t said a thing. Pops decided to find out who’d made the art work. It’d probably take him weeks or he could call the police–fat chance of anything coming of that–but he didn’t want to do that. He didn’t want retaliation. He had fair relationships overall. And Pops wasn’t a fighting man. For the most part his tenants were decent, hard-working folks; they reminded Pops of himself before he invested in real estate. That is, they were a bit worn thin but full of grit.

His twelve tenants liked him enough. No one went out of their way to be real friendly and he didn’t encourage it. Pops believed that you get chummy and before you know it, trouble rolls in. They might want an extra week to pay rent or skip out of their lease, try to get more for their money and then take it personally when you deny them.

No, vandalism wasn’t a problem for him before. But inoffensive or not, why that? Why paint “No standing, only dancing”? A weird thing to say. What did they mean by that? He’d rarely seen anyone dance in front of his apartments. There were a dozen kids around there (four teens in the building) but they liked to smoke, gossip, watch other kids go by. They sat on that wall a lot. He found busted beer bottles sometimes, end bits of joints, and sometimes a dirty sock or a tennis shoe, a trashed motorcycle magazine. Someone had a thing for Harleys, as the magazines got left behind every few months. So he repeated, Keep the doorway clear, stay off the wall, move on down the street. He even put a hefty trash receptacle by the entrance.

He came by once a month to collect rents. Sometimes he’d yell at the group to stop hanging around the door. They’d refused to quit congregating   and he’d had enough, so posted a No Loitering sign. That lasted a week. When he came by last week-end the graffiti was there. Some nerve these kids had, he thought as he mounted each step slowly.

The tenents had the option of putting their rent check in the mail or waiting until he came first of the month. Usually they didn’t answer their door bells, just slid their envelopes under the door or handed it through a half-inch crack. A few chatted, at times complained more than he wanted.

He rapped hard when nobody answered the doorbell of apartment one, floor one.

“Della. Come on, I don’t have all day. Here for the rent in case you don’t have your calendar open.”

He could hear shuffling, then silence as Della peered out the peephole, as usual. He could almost feel her significant body weight from the other side as she leaned in. It finally opened three inches and one rheumy eye stared at him. Her hand clutched the envelope and he grabbed hold. She held fast. It was her way of resisting, of telling him she was boss. She used to be a high school principal. At eighty-four, she still could have been.

“Della, please. And I have a question, so could you open up a little more?”

She put her white cap of curls against the opening and her raspy voice asked, “What is it now?”

“The writing on the outside wall. Who did that, you know?”

Della pulled back, raised her eyebrows and smiled a tight little smile at him, then let go of the rent. He tried to wedge his foot in but she was too fast and slammed it shut.

“Sorry, Pops, you’re on your own,” she called through the door. “And my bathroom faucet still drips, keeps me up at night. Fix that and we might talk.”

Pops took out his notebook and made a note of it, then rapidly walked to number two. He saw the rent envelope from Jarrod Tuttle held fast in a clothes pin he’d affixed to the door. This was usual. Pops saw all sorts of things dangling from that clothes pin–poetry (if that was what Jarrod wrote), ribbons glued to prayers for ailing strangers he’d read of, seasonal decorations, notes to others in the building. Pops had met with Jarrod twice, when he applied for the place and then paid and moved in. He was up front about having a severe anxiety disorder, couldn’t leave his place much at all. He was on disability. The man was in his forties and hadn’t worked for over ten years. But he kept his place up from what he heard from Della and repair people, and paid on time.

Pops took the envelope down, unsealed it, pocketed the check and then wrote in his notebook: Jarrod, if you know who vandalized the building, please get in touch. Much appreciated, Pops.  He  tore the page out, put it in the envelope and clipped it with the clothes pin.

Number three. He rapped on the door hard four times because Thomas Johns never answered door bells. He’d told Pops that he didn’t need to feel like a trained dog. Besides, he knew who was at the door by the knock, usually, and that was interesting to him. That is, if he wasn’t working on web design with his headphones on. Thomas loved classical music, primarily Bach but sometimes Dvorak. Pops liked classic country but why would he care? He never had complaints about Thomas.

The door opened. Thomas still had ear phones on and held a bowl of salad in one hand. The other held out the rent check. He was very tall, pale-faced, long-haired. Pops was a rotund five foot six. It sometimes felt as if Pops was reaching up to the lowest branch of a birch tree to snag the check. Thomas laughed, lowered the check, then slid the headphones to his neck.

“How are things? Collecting all that is your due and then some?”

Thomas could be sarcastic but Pops didn’t always know when. He was in his late twenties, he guessed, and was trying to make headway in his field. Self-employed. Della had mentioned that Thomas was about to launch himself “into the stratosphere” as he was getting good offers from companies now.

Pops looked behind Thomas. “I see Anton hasn’t moved.” The tabby cat sat on the window ledge in front of Thomas’ desk.

“Right, Anton likes me and sunshine. Plus he catches the mice twice a day.”

Pops laughed. “I need to get a few more cats in here.” But there weren’t mice in this building as far as he knew; he saw to all that.

“Say, Thomas, could you tell me who painted the graffiti on the front?”

Thomas looked amused, then shrugged. “Not a clue. I’m too busy to pay attention to people here, really. Pretty soon I’ll be moving on. But you might try the second floor. Wally and Darcy always seem to know things no one else does, even if you aren’t interested. Or get Della some brandy.”

He put his headphones back on and turned away. Pops stepped out and closed the door.

“Hey, you’re looking fine today!”

That voice zinged him like a shreik. He stumbled up the steps. He was hoping he’d miss Darcy. She was happily tripping down the stairs, a dark red lacy shawl lifting from her shoulders, a rather too-short blue skirt impeding her progress, coppery red hair flying out of a loose bun. She had bright earrings that swung back and forth. Pops instantly thought of the chandelier in his office building downtown.

She stopped him with her hand, rings winking in the stairwell light.

“I finally got a call from my agent. I may have a decent part, Pops! Of course, it’s not the lead but it is a widow who is accused of murdering her husband, very black comedy. I have to go, dearest, but the check is stuck in the door jamb. If it rips, call me and I’ll mail one.”

With a flourish of her shawl– she looked a little like a toreador, he thought–she waved and ran off. He watched her high-heeled boots as they clicked on the tile. Saved, he thought, by an audition. He wondered how much longer she was going to pursue this dream when he knew for a fact that her father gave her the money for rent half the time. Darcy was forty-five if she was a day, funny at times, and excelled at talking his ears off when she wasn’t auditioning or rehearsing.

When he reached number five, he saw the door open very slowly, the hinges squeaking and making his neck shiver. He had some WD40 in his car so would get it later. Pops hesitated, then looked in.  Mrs. Lansing worked and her door was always locked; she mailed her rent.

“Mrs. Lansing?” He called out in a loud voice, alerting whoever it might be.

“No, she’s gone but just a minute.”

The voice was not known to him. A cleaning person? It was light and soft. He tried to think if Mrs. Lansing had anyone who she was close to but couldn’t recall; it was likely she never said anything about her life beyond her job. She was an RN, and she was often working extra shifts at the hospital so she could buy a condo, she informed him, before she hit retirement age. Ten more years to go before the deadline was up.

Pops waited a minute and when there was nothing more forthcoming, he put his head into the living room. A woman had her back turned. She looked like she was getting ready to go somewhere. She had a dark skirt on with a white blouse and somehow Pops thought she looked professional. But different. He cleared his throat.

When she turned round, he caught his breath. He recovered as she nodded at him, a warm smile wreathing her face.

“Mother just left for work. You must be Pops? I have it if you want it now.” She held a check in her left hand and a leather satchel in her right. “Oh, excuse me, I’m Francine Nording.” She dropped the satchel and shook his hand. “I decided to visit mother for a week after my tour in Europe.”

“Yes? That right?” he asked stupidly. “Uh, hello, Francine. I didn’t know she had children. Not that I should. But nice, thank you for the check. She’s always good about getting it in the mail.”

The truth was, Francine Nording was breathtaking. Not Hollywood pretty, not beautiful like his wife admitted she’d wanted to be as a kid. This woman deeply glowed. Her skin was ivory, her hair a white-gold and she was tallish and slender and held herself as if she was royalty. Maybe she was, he thought with a stab of panic and then felt foolish for everything he felt. Get a grip, he told himself. She held out the rent.

“Mother is so organized. Not like me. I get by well enough, though. As a member of a company that travels all the time I just follow someone else’s directives!” She laughed lightly and picked up keys from the entrance table. “Was that all you needed? Good. I have plans.”

They stepped into the hallway and she locked the door. He had the urge to take her elbow, guide her gently.

“No, just the rent. Good to meet you. Tell your mother hello.” He flushed. He barely knew Mrs. Lansing after three years.

He stifled the urge to watch her go down the stairs, then moved to the next door.

He rang the bell but it didn’t make a sound. He knocked four times and it swung open.

“Pops, my man, good to see you and here’s your cash.”

Waldo Zuma handed him a wad of bills which Pops shoved into his pocket.

“Thanks, Wally. Electrical in kitchen working now, right?”

“Fine, man, no problem. Now the bell doesn’t work but I don’t mind.” He looked past Pop’s head. “You talk to that gal, daughter of Mrs. Lansing? A beauty! She’s a professional dancer, travels the world, amazing stories. Very classy, like her mom. Out of my reach, but she’s moving on soon, anyway. To Sweden, she said.” He rubbed his bald head, mouth agape. “Scandanavia, man!”

Pops frowned. “Yeah, I just met her but I didn’t get she was a dancer. Like ballet stuff or…?”

“I don’t know, she said something about it but I didn’t really understand, didn’t ask. It was just a hallway conversation with her mother there. Early this week. Haven’t seen her since.”

“You didn’t talk to her or see her again? How about the others? You know if they met her? Really, now.”

Wally shook his head, mouth a tight line.

“Come on, Wally, what’s she up to here?”

Wally held up his hands. “What you worrying over? Nothing. She’s visiting her mama, then travelling more. Ask Mrs. Lansing. Now I gotta go.” He started to shut the door, then added, “Pops, nice to have a door bell that works, right?”

Pops ran down the stairs, passed Thomas in the front hall, then was out the entrance. He looked up and down the street. He studied the words painted on the cement half-wall. In the distance he could hear music and people calling out. He felt pulled to the park, wanted to see what the commotion was about. All the while he scanned passersby to see if she was among them. Yes, that Francine.

When he got there, he was winded, sweaty, so he sat on a bench and mopped his face. The music was something spacey-jazzy, maybe it was all the rage, and a radio was turned up loud as could be. There was a circle of people near the fountain.

Pops made his way to the edge of the crowd, then wormed his way through.

It was Francine Nording. And she was dancing in that slim skirt and white shirt, her arms and legs moving in ways he had never seen before. She was lithe and elegant, lively and joyful and sparks were coming off her. She was like liquid energy as people watched and clapped. A clot of teenagers were dancing near her, free-form he guessed, whatever that fancy stuff was but even though they did amazing contortions they didn’t hold a candle to Francine. Not one bit. Everyone was mesmerized. It was one of the most moving things he had ever seen. Like seeing someone share being in love. A woman in street clothes, moving to sweetly crazy music, her body a ribbon of light, hands speaking, feet mixing up patterns in soft shadows on the sidewalk, the fountain rising into sunshine that was cheering her on.

Did Francine paint those words on his property? Did the kids tell her  what he said and then ask to meet them because she was a conduit of the dance, all wonderful with lively ways and an exotic existence? Pops didn’t care how it all came to be. He just let himself surrender to her wiles, felt himself lift off to another world, another way of being and called it all very, very good.

Image from Frances Ha

Image from Frances Ha

Posted in fiction, prose, short fiction, short stories, Uncategorized, WPLongform | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dream Events, Ltd. (Very Limited)

 

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It is five-twenty in the morning, and I’m gripped by a sudden need to write. I see poorly without contacts or glasses but it is dusky grey, anyway, and I know exactly where my notebook and pen are. Often there is an urge to write a phrase, a title that wants a story, a dream image that sticks, an insight that tugs me from sleep side of life to wakeful side. I sit up and scribble things as quickly as they come:

ice bought (how much) taken over at 11
small tent? (Josh?)
plum (if no teal tablecloths)?
deliveries at 2:30 to either rain/shine sites
alterations still due on gown…
mend reception dress
bridesmaid dress for one, still
mine…can I just do simple? old stuff?
extra car(s) for more family
research wildflowers!and others:cheap, please
troll Michael’s, etc. with K. tomorrow
haircut? A.says pixie, haha

These are clearly not notes for a short story. They’re so inelegant that no poem would have them. These fevered thoughts demanded yet another list. It’s still all about Wedding Planning. Every day.

Concerns on the cusp of delirious often awaken me prematurely, sleep yet exercising its gravity on body and mind. But it is no use. Even though I spent over six hours yesterday developing several neat, detailed Word documents to put in a new Wedding folder, I am not done. Not anywhere near it. Why did I imagine it would feel easier? That we could wrap this up like an online gift order, signed, sealed, ready to be useful and enjoyed?

I wrote another post (“The Duet of Marriage”) about the bride-to-be, A. and her fiance, D., who have moved to another state. A. is beginning an excellent position within the field for which she actually received her Masters degree. Thrilling! So now the MOB (mother of the bride) has taken the reins to guide this event all the way to successful denouement. From the start, I’ve been determined to get it right. I bought two books on weddings (barely cracked), developed multiple lists, added a notebook to keep it all in one place. Then had a tearful breakdown whereupon I determined I was absolutely incompetent as a planner of weddings, as well as being a human being. The feeling was dismal, as if my strength had been usurped, my brain’s circuitry dimmed. Clarity is what I crave!

Still I, the limping, sniffling mother-planner that I appear to be, have persevered, ignorance and all. Even am making some decent progress. This wedding will happen in a month–the bride- and groom-to-be will be flying in, ready to marry.  And the intricate threads are connecting day by day.

Since much of the family lives elsewhere, there are not a lot of ready-made helpers now. I look forward to their arrival so I can utilize assistance and absorb moral support. This moment they are living their daily lives, working and/or raising children or travelling for work or pleasure. I call out an SOS once a week like clockwork. But at least I have the time to devote to this endeavor–if not always the abundant financial reserves needed. I should be truthful and note the second is one of the things that awakens me in the night like a gong sounded in my ear. Do all parents of the bride feel this way?

Thank goodness I’m not obligated to work a paying job every day ten to twelve hours a day now. How did I get anything done in my personal life before retirement? On the other hand, after this I may need to look for work again. (Worrisome tangent here–no, I have never worked in hospitality services or in retail. I wonder where I could I could hang around and offer good will and solace.) But not for just financial replenishment. It is good to be immersed in activities that are new and challenging, sparking the mind, exacting rapid problem solving from my dumbfounded self.

I believed I was an organized employee, but as a mental health counselor much of my time was scheduled for me, whether or not I agreed with a day’s line-up. The real work was based on experience and education. Helping people help themselves is largely intuitive, requiring discernment and careful excavation of problems that create a lack of health. It is useful to employ tactful honesty and compassion, also patience when no one else can find it. I often spent hours locating and coordinating resources, and creating curriculum for groups I oversaw. And another skill was staying calm and clear-headed when there were alarming crises.

And so, I muse, it is with all this planning and coordinating and making decisions. On one hand I need and want to honor A. and D., their preferences and vision. On the other, they are not here and I have to meet with vendors, put in orders and pay. Well, they’re here–via that miracle of electronic communication, texting. I never expected to appreciate it so much. But have you tried to consult about an array of diverse, colorful items via camera photos while you are in a store or warehouse? It’s just not the same as being here in the flesh. We can’t compare together, debate our differences, settle–via discussions in real time–on the best and final choice. But we do talk on the phone often, even for a couple of hours. Nothing like the human voice to elucidate ideas.

But, wait. Seventy-five dollars for delivery of a few corsages? Another one hundred for set-up of chairs? And I need to track down moss and heather, ferns and tea lights. And mini sage sticks. And what about the vintage tablecloth I want to find for the guest book table? I need purple flowers most of all.

It takes skills to do this sort of thing. I have gained solid respect for events planners. They must have to be diplomatic, efficient, expert in many areas, resourceful, patient, empathetic and as hearty and energetic as marathon runners. A little like a mental health practitioner but on a very different stage. Maybe that’s what professional wedding planners are: stage directors who are secretly therapists, with a cast of characters who need their dearest dreams to come to fruition. They make it happen, so cheers to them.

I had no idea how many diagrams, possibilities, mistakes and inspired moments could occur. I hadn’t much thought of professional planners–or any of this–before. I’ve  executed lots of parties over the years; we have a good-sized family when we can gather. I felt in control then. Those events didn’t try to outwit or flummox me. Or become so ravenous for cash.

But this is something else: a daughter getting married. I know, it happens all the time. There have been other weddings in my family, but I didn’t have to do much. I wasn’t responsible for outcomes. That’s the source of moments of fears or tears. I want this to go so beautifully. For people to be happy. The day to flush with well-being. Family and friends to feel excited for bride and groom, pleased to witness and celebrate.

Joy in the moment. And contentment. What I would like for all people. Good grief, it really is starting to sound like the work I was paid for so long. In the end, it’s all about being human beings, working with and for others.

And, too, this is about myself. I may not be able to pull the whole thing off perfectly. There are things that will help or hinder along the way. Like: it could rain like only Oregon loves to rain–spontaneously, with gusts of wind, right into the forest meadow where the ceremony is to be held. (It’s more or less okay–we have a covered area rented, too!) But I can begin to see their vision. And it’s brimming with love. Yes, that’s the core of this.

So, if my posts are a little late over the next four weeks, please bear with me. I’ll be immersed in details, and looking forward to sharing with family and friends. I’m just a MOB who, coincidentally, is trying her hand at the role of wedding planner. After it’s over, I’m taking a vacation even if it’s on the couch. Or back at the computer with more stories, relaxation and my real work melded. Until then…the mad fun is just beginning, so please excuse me. I need to work on one last item before resting up for tomorrow. I  have a dream to make come (as much as possible) true.

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Posted in memoir, non-fiction, Personal essay, prose, Uncategorized, WPLongform | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Intersection

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There have been so many life-altering events at this corner that some people are becoming afraid to get too close to it. Ten in six years. There’s such a thing as bad energy, they say, juju that might follow them back to their homes. I think that’s crap. Only strays–cats, dogs, some humans–follow you and, still, only so far. I think energy has to be invited to be taken with you. But who would believe that? I’m just fourteen and so skinny and quick they hardly see me in broad daylight. Well, that has started to change, but I am still mainly just a watcher. And I do know a few things.

I remember when it all started. It was spring; I can still hear robins making a racket. Clive had to try crossing Parman Street without his mother’s hand holding his. He didn’t want to use the real corner but go kitty corner, full speed ahead to Song’s Ice Cream. I was eight coming up to nine, and he was five. I was sitting on our little third floor balcony so could see how it was going to play out. His mother yanked on him, he yanked the other way and despite her anger and best intentions he slipped away, right into the path of the rickety BMW motorcycle driven by Hank the Hooligan (that’s mom’s description). Anyone could hear that machine coming from two blocks away so I don’t know why Clive didn’t. His mother did, and screamed at him to get back on the curb but by then Hank and Clive crashed. I sat with my jaw dangling then I yelled for my mom, who called 911.

Clive lived. He had a broken leg, squashed ribs, a bad concussion. He seemed foggy for a while and had a cast on for months. Hank had a busted ankle but was not at fault, as he reminded everyone for a month. Everyone was grateful I’d had mom call for help. It wasn’t anything. But it was nice to be thanked for paying attention for once.

In the fall Danny O., the delivery guy for Park and Pay Market, was getting home late. Parman and Reiser have four standard stop signs and there’s a big street lamp on the southwest side but still. The rain pummelled everything in its way. I know because I’d opened my bedroom window and put my fingers through the tear in the screen to feel it. It stung but I liked it, it was a break from the heat at last. I saw Danny peddling nice and leisurely, not his usual speed. I watched him with interest. He was almost skeletal, sort of like me but much older, with powerful, popping leg muscles. He got good tips for being fast. I imagined I could do that some day if I got a better bike. He began to decrease speed more and more, as if he had switched to slow motion, wobbled along barely peddling. I got a bad feeling and hollered at him through the screen but Danny didn’t hear because of the roaring rain.

He made a loopy stop, lost balance, then toppled. He didn’t get up. Mom was playing cards with Bernie, my step dad, so I threw on my hoodie. Sneaked through the hallway, slid into the hall, leapt down the stairs. By then I was nine. The corner was lit up so I thought, no harm checking him. He usually rode so hard; this didn’t fit at all.

He was lying there, half-on and half-off his bike. His eyes were barely open. He didn’t answer me when I jostled him a little and spoke his name. The rain was pelting us, felt like little spikes. His eyelids rolled down. I wondered if he was drunk–he looked a little like Uncle Louis when he’d had too much beer. It didn’t make sense. I felt panic swirl inside as if the air was too thick. Danny’s mouth was gaping. I saw his phone peeking out of his pocket, so grabbed it and called 911. They knew the corner and when they came they searched and found a necklace that said he was diabetic.

“Very sick man,” a burly guy said, “so good thing you called us right away.”

My mom had come downstairs looking for me. She clamped her hand on her mouth; her hair was flattened with streaming water. I thought she looked scared. We went inside, water dripping with each step.

“Wade, that’s twice you’ve seen a lot of goings on. Do you watch the street every spare minute? Well, it paid off for poor Danny O.”

She spoke quietly as she ushered me into my room, then made me change my clothes. It annoyed me, how she stood in the doorway. I ducked into my closet to strip and pull on dry sweatpants and t-shirt.

“He fancies himself a guardian or something,” Bernie called from the kitchen. He always had to get in a word edgewise. “He’s seen all those shows, these kids believe they’re super heroes!”

I jumped into bed. I felt cold. She studied me, then came over to give me a quick hug. At the door she turned around, waiting. She had the ability to wait a long time.

“I just see things. Feel ‘em,” I said, and pulled the blanket up to my neck, then turned on the lamp above the bed and pulled my book from under the pillow. Bernie would be surprised it was The Hardy Boys I’d found in dad’s box of stuff mom had hidden. She saw it but made no comment.

Bernie stood in the doorway behind her. “He sees things but we just don’t know what things, luckily!”

He haw-hawed like the foolish guy he was, half the time. The other half he could be okay. Mom shot him a look.

After they left I thought rather than read. I did notice things that were about to happen with a capital “H” in our neighborhood. Like when Gin almost got chased by the Keller twins–I saw them, then her, so whistled a warning. She came upstairs awhile. Or take the time Maya and Tim were headed for a break up: I saw how she backed away from him the last two weeks whenever he reached for her. Not a big deal. Then, two months later, I saw Tim whistling and thought, He has a ring for her, and he did, a really good one that she liked.

People told me stories without even knowing it. I just looked and listened.

But the corner was another thing. I started to wonder about it before anyone else. It seemed a place that surprised people or caused them trouble. That intersection showed me more things.

In the next six years there would be so many incidents–that’s what a cop called them–that it was hard to avoid adding it all up. The area wasn’t remarkable. There are lots of  maples that are old. We don’t have the worst block, and it certainly doesn’t blind us with its beauty. There are four big apartment (or condo, depending on what you can pay) buildings taking up most of two streets. So it’s true there are more people jammed together than some spots but this is a city. They’re brick, kept up fine. Our home is good, three bedrooms, space for a decent party. No one is afraid to go out, not even in the evening. Well, they used to feel okay about it but now…now it had a different vibe, they said.

After Danny, who recovered, there was Jeanne with her early delivery of a baby girl just after being tucked into the cab (that made me look away); half-blind Terrance whose glasses were dropped and lost three times (stepped on twice) at those corners before he sprang for contacts; Yasif’s beat up Toyota truck and its rapid connection with a visiting SUV–fourteen stitches to his chin and forehead, not a scratch on the other driver. Yasif got a new truck out of it, though.

And there was Megan last year. She’d been a good student, chummy with many kids and great to look at, I thought. Then she hurt her back and knee, cheerleading. We all knew she had pain pills prescribed because she told everybody she had them to cope with the injuries. But after a couple of months went by she was still limping around and helping herself to more Oxys. I thought she was in trouble, but everyone said no, I was being weird about it, a doc gave them to her.

One afternoon when the rain had stopped and sunshine started blaring I sat on the balcony with a piece of cherry pie, a glass of iced coffee and my math book. She was leaning against her current boyfriend as moved along. He chortled with his pasty, shaved head thrown back, as if the funniest thing in the world had been said. He lit a cigarette while Megan began to crumple, rain coat rippling as if a breeze had grabbed it, her feet fumbling and arms all wavey. I wanted to say something but my mouth was full of pie. The guy caught her just in time but went right down with her. On that corner, my side of the street. Two kids stopped, curious, then walked off. But that guy shook her, repeated her name frantically. Megan’s left foot was bare, a black flat having fallen off, and her toenail polish was blood red. I felt as if someone pressed an ice cube on my spine and slipped it up my neck. I ran through the living room where Bernie was snoring and down the stairs.

I didn’t use that junk, not even weed but I’d seen plenty who did. I knew how she used to look, bright eyes and smile but she hadn’t looked that good for a long time. Everyone knew about Oxys, they were  like nothing so they thought. But I’d felt her going down and when I got to her, she was worse than loaded. She didn’t hear us. I put my hands on her chest and pushed hard. I should know CPR, I thought but I didn’t. She stirred but the boyfriend told me to back off. I put my hands on her shoulders and squeezed them a little and then, I don’t know why, whispered up close: “Let us keep you alive.” The guy grabbed, pushed me away, and finally called for help.

I kneeled by her and watched her. It seemed the best thing to do. A small crowd was knotting about us. She was barely breathing, more like long pauses of nothing, then little sips of air.

I put my mouth to her ear. “Stay alive, Megan. I’ll help.”

My mom was coming home from her office job and stood stick-still when she saw the crowd. She said later she knew I was at the center of it. “You can’t stay away from things, you’re like a magnet that draws emergencies to you! Or the other way around. Maybe you’re supposed to be in the medical field.”

But that wasn’t it. All around Megan’s head was a soft heat that gave off a faint shimmer, fading fast. Her eyes moved a little beneath pale lids. She wanted to go and wanted to stay. I imagined her at eighteen ready for college or off to Italy for the summer.

“Why not stay?” I said.

She could do anything if she hung on. I then saw her get up and walk away, smiling. I wanted to catch up, wave. But she really was lying there, breathless. The ambulance arrived, EMTs performed CPR and put something in her veins. Megan’s body spasmed and her eyes flew open. I felt like crying. The walk up the stairway was crowded with people who kept asking me questions. I covered my ears, went in the apartment. Locked the door.

Megan went to rehab. Afterwards she came by to thank me but I couldn’t make myself come out and talk, no matter mom begging me. Yet that time was a kind of beginning for me, too. I stayed on my perch when nothing else was going on because mom was right: things happened that others often didn’t or couldn’t see. But I could, so I looked, same as usual.

I tried to tell mom after Megan. It was dark out and the air was sweet. Bernie was at work. She and I were sitting together on the balcony at the little green table. She enjoyed a glass of wine as I searched a deepening blackness for constellations.

“Mom.”

“Hmm?”

“You know about Megan?”

“Yes, thank God she was saved.”

I cleared my throat because it felt like it was going to close. She glanced over.

“I knew she was dying. I saw light around her head fade. Felt a little bit of heat and then saw her get up and walk away. I felt she should stay longer, not leave yet.”

Mom took the glass from her lips and they parted, her breath escaped and a word started to form, then stopped.

“I know it seems nuts but Bernie is right. I sort of see things. Feel them.”

“Just like your grandmother, Wade.”

“Really?”

Mom said smiled at me but she looked a little sad.”Yes, she had that going on all her life. She lived partway in the spiritual world and some here. Spoke of angels as if they were her buddies. I guess they were, too. She was good. You are, too.” She sighed. It was so quiet I could hear the stars get into their places. “Well, let me know if you need help. That corner is way too busy. But maybe that’s why.”

“Huh?”

She moved her chair close to mine and put her arm around my shoulders. “Because you’re here, paying attention. Watching over people.”

I didn’t say anything. We found the Dippers and saw city lights nip into the darkness. Then she got up and went inside.

Things kept on happening. You’d be surprised by some of it, all the troubles and solutions and rescues. I was around, sure, but I was also trying to grow up.

One night after I’d met up with a girl from English class I was on my way home. Three guys were blowing off steam, tossing a bottle of something back and forth as they approached the intersection. I knew them from school and instinctively stepped under the market’s awning.

“What about this place? They say it’s marked. Bad luck.”

The second guy leaned back against the apartment building. “Not what I heard. It’s got some sort of power, lives been saved even. See those ribbons on the lamp-post? A girl recently left an totaled car unhurt. No one has died here even though there’s been tons of bad stuff.”

“Not true!” A third guy stood with feet splayed and pointed at the corner. “Right. Here. Megan Barnes. Overdosed, and that kid brought her back to life. I mean, he talked her right out of dying. Now she’s in Italy, studying something.”

“What? You mean Wade-o Weirdo?”

“Seriously, that’s what they say.”

The first guy took off his cap and repositioned it just so. “Man, it’s a kind of resurrection road. That’s it–Resurrection Road. Just saying. Deep, man. That Wade’s gotta know something. Respect earned, you gotta say it.”

I hung back as they shuffled off, turned around and headed toward a coffee shop. In truth, I was looking forward to getting out of here one day, blending in somewhere. Sure, I’ll do my part, watch over whatever is needed. But I have other pieces to put together, just for myself. Still, I like the new name for the intersection. Much better than “Crash Corner”, “Four-way Bad Luck”, “Dark Reiser”, “Punked at Parman”. Yes, Resurrection Road could be the name it deserves, or needs.

Photo by Herzog

Photo by Herzog

Posted in fiction, prose, short fiction, short stories, Uncategorized, WPLongform | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

My Labor Day Dalliance

While I was power walking during Labor Day week-end I got a quick call about a sort of inside job. I readjusted my route and headed west. Soon I stood before rows of high hedges. Wiping the sweat from my neck and brow, I boldly strode up a flower-lined walkway and entered a large, attractive neighborhood house built in 1841 for the sole purpose of ogling its contents.

Lest you imagine I harbor hidden criminal tendencies, let me assure you it was legitimate; there was an estate sale being held. My sister was the caller and when I arrived she was already scoping out the best goods. It was the last day, which meant everything under one hundred dollars was fifty percent off. In other words, a possible bonanza awaited her, and maybe myself.

Since my older sister is one of my best friends and has an enduring interest in estate sales, I have gone to a couple dozen of these over the past years. She buys things she considers investment-worthy. My sibling is a small-scale entrepreneur, someone who invests wisely, has bought and sold a lot of goods including real estate–unlike myself.  She also just buys for the odd reason. Given her experience and decent results, I like to observe what she deems worth her cash and why. And estate sales are interesting to me, a recreational experience. I have a fascination with houses: their architectural details, nooks and crannies, decorative touches and interior design, yards and gardens. Most of all, with the stories that resonate within the rooms. Objects can speak volumes about people. Perhaps even more, the ones they leave behind.

Most estate sales seem to take place after the homeowner has died. In this case, the owners had sold their home and moved, leaving behind what they didn’t value. I gathered it was a way to make a little more money. It was certainly tidier than leaving furniture, mirrors, baby equipment or a box of odds and ends at the curb. Most people, of course, donate items to charitable organizations or give things to friends and family.

I’ve moved enough to know how all this goes. From age twenty through forty-five, I moved about fifteen times. I’m not completely clear about that number because it’s possible I may have forgotten –or blocked out– a couple short ones. I became well-versed in sorting, tossing and packing. My children might argue otherwise. I’ve been in the same place for eighteen years and there are a fair number of items stored I barely remember. When I last moved, I cleaned out things deemed irrelevant, and left a good-sized two-story, three bedroom house for a much smaller apartment. You can never take everything with you. Nonetheless, I stuffed two desks, for example, trying to do so. I can’t get some of the drawers open. In my defense, I’m a writer. I still am attached to paper (and peculiar items like old glasses and rubber bands which I’ve written about in other posts).

But this place was a different scene altogether. It was an imposing structure, a toney historical residence. The majority of fine objects had been purchased. In the expansive, bright living room, I spotted a flawless white leather loveseat for five hundred, as well as a creased, worn brown leather couch for seven hundred. Three bookcases were displayed side-by-side, each about ninety dollars.  I paused. I own many books which have a habit of stacking up in various spots. But the more bookcases, the more volumes would have to be bought to fill them. A conundrum. I waited on those.

In the red-walled dining room–how can one concentrate on appreciating food flavors when color blares at you?– there were landscape paintings and photos that were ignored by shoppers. For good reason. A couple better dining chairs remained, two of which seemed like possible buys until I examined them better. I am unfortunately not a “DIY” person; I like what can be used immediately.

In the cramped kitchen (the house was built in the nineteenth century, after all, I reminded my sister)  there was dinner and glass ware, the lovely and simply useable. Silver and china serving bowls, scratched platters and worn cooking tools sat side by side like aristocrats and the help, all waiting to be wanted. A small countertop model microwave, for some reason, was marked “Not for Sale.” Three graceful Lladro porcelain figurines were wedged in between random glasses. They always seem to have a spot at these sales.

Once in the shadowy, comfortable study I had to back out: there were too many books. Most of them were common airplane reads, not my usual choice, but also lining the built-in bookcase were a few mysteries and therapeutic manuals, travel books, special edition National Geographic tomes, political biographies. I winced and lowered my eyes. I just didn’t need to add to my own book collection that day.

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I confronted a door not to be opened and wondered if it was a bathroom, pantry or just a closet. It was a very old house; it seemed a few things had been altered over time, more than I’d see.

The basement was smaller than expected, two rooms with sad carpet. A door with a sign stating “Do Not Enter” led to the other half. Is there anything that makes you want to enter a room more than such a sign? There might have been extraordinary things in there, or something better left unknown. In any case, I saw a lot more bedding than I had in years. There were nicely folded mattress pads (I passed), many sets of king and queen-sized sheets of various colors and conditions, extra pillow cases and shams, towels and bedspreads and comforters jumbled on the floor. Along one side of a wall languished twenty decorative pillows. I kept picking them up and studying them at arm’s length until my sister got impatient. She had chosen a few sets of sheets, a favorite find for her to give to a daughter or those in need. I admit I felt a sudden lust for pillows. They are an item I often am drawn to but seldom buy. These, as well as most of the bedding, were in bold colors, which informed me further of the previous owners’ aesthetic sense: fuchsia, reds, some purples and blues. A group of outdoor pillows with festive designs caught my eye but, frankly, my balcony affords two plastic green chairs and tables only. I don’t lounge there often; neighbors are a stone’s toss away. These luscious pillows were made for the large redwood deck on the east side of the house, a place one might have coffee while admiring birds and watching roses grow. Sounded dreamy to me as I climbed the stairs to the main floor.

I was not getting much sense of who lived here. Urbane, yes, with some sophisticated taste. Perhaps a bit cultured, but hard to tell. It didn’t seem as if children had romped about, or a loping dog had torn up carpets or scratched wooden floors. The second floor was as much a blank canvass with four bedrooms and one and a half bathrooms. Bed frames remained in two; no chest or lamp tables were seen, no mirrors or knickknacks. It was as empty as if no one had lived their lives there at all.

Then I entered the main bathroom with classic black and white octagonal-shaped tiles. There on the counter were trays and bags of perfumes and lotions, make up and nail polish, all of it expensive, much of it partially used, then cast off. The most intriguing thing to me were groupings of travel-sized items brought home from many trips. I related to keeping somethings “just in case” and I don’t like paying a few dollars for “trial-sized” items. But these homeowners certainly had enough money for incidentals. I counted about seventy such items. Half of those had come from other countries, as the product names were not English. I picked up a few bottles and sniffed, wondering if they’d be handy. The prices were too high, some even more than I’d pay in a store. I left them behind except for one small soap by Aveda which I’ve enjoyed in the past.

Downstairs I met up with my sister. She tried to talk me into the good bookcases but I resisted. I tried to talk her out of four turquoise rings that were exactly alike, to no avail–she collects turquoise and silver. I paid for two purple floral pillows shams to give to a daughter, my little soap and a fancy wooden picture frame. Cost: four dollars. We were satisfied. The best part, for me, was catching up on our own news as we headed home, as we’re busy and live twenty minutes apart.

I often come away from an estate sale with a picture of the people who lived there, its history. Often, lingering secrets seem to reach out to me. But this time the place felt scoured of life’s residual energies, as if the previous family had been good and ready to clear out. They had moved, not died, and their lives were going on elsewhere. The grand historical essence may return after the rooms stand emptied of ownership a couple of weeks. I walked away pondering ponder who first built and loved this lovely home. But for the time being it was devoid of its deep roots. The property was resonant only of the business of buying and selling. Soon it would be cleaning and preparations for new owners. Different possessions will take the places of those departed, be a unique reflection of the people who enjoy them. Still, things don’t make or break us, but our truest being and doing. Housing is our small oasis, a place of repose and privacy. I hope the future folks living there will be extravagant of heart and soul, create a fully inhabited home. I may stroll on by and take a quick peek through the back fence by winter. Meantime, I await my sister’s next call. I might find one great book.

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Posted in creative nonfiction, non-fiction, Personal essay, prose, Uncategorized, WPLongform | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment