Featured

W is for Wish…

Turgid clouds grumbled above me, stuffing the September morning sky with angry threats of rain. Ugh. I trudged down a tree-lined street of a new town toward school and ‘tremendous possibilities’. At least that is what my parents kept telling me. As the storm built overhead, I held back the tempest in my mind dreaming of horses. I wanted one, but that possibility was not on the horizon. I walked toward the nebulous future of fifth grade in a new school, and fantasized about riding free on the back of a horse.

It wasn’t that imagining carried me into fantasy land, though one could say that the very act of living in one’s imagining was the definition of that. I was reasonable. I paid attention to my surroundings and fit my dream into them. My dreaming was modest. There was no magnificent destrier to carry me past the dragons of life and into the arms of Prince Charming. Instead, my wish was simple, a friendly, little horse that fit me perfectly, and was a good friend. He would stand in my yard gleaming in the sunlight, even when it was hard to imagine ever seeing the sun again. It didn’t matter. I was a sun child, so that was how I colored the pictures in my mind.

A couple of neighborhood kids who I’d hooked up with over the summer, caught up to me for the last leg of the short walk.

“Got a horse, yet?” said Alvin, in a mocking voice.

“Be quiet. You know I don’t.” He lived right next door.

“Leave her alone,” said Patsy, and added in the same mocking sing-song, “Are you a famous race car driver, yet?” She lived on the corner.

Alvin huffed at us and said, “I’ll see you there, slow pokes.” Then he ran ahead. I guess he wanted to get to school. More power to him.

The rain cancelled outside recesses. I needed to run and snort, to gallop free like a horse. Alvin and Patsy often joined me in the game, racing around the neighborhood, pretending to be herd of wild mustangs. Today I sat alone, in a corner with a book about the different breeds of horses. What would it be like to take care of and ride a horse in the rain? Did horses enjoy squishing their feet into the mud?

Another clap of thunder shook the room and a flash startled everybody. Would the horse be afraid? Did he run when lightning slashed the sky, or was he brave and wise? I hunkered down against the wall, and reread an entry that I’d read three times already, but hadn’t really seen any of the words. That kind of thing happened often. It annoyed me, but, what is there to do when your mind takes off into dreamland?

On the way home, I thought about my little horse. As I turned the final corner to my block, I held my breath hoping to see him in the yard, but then reality proved otherwise. I simply picked up the dream. There he was, grazing some grass. He looked at me sweetly as I approached and nickered, “Well, you’re finally home. Where have you been all day?”

I opened the gate, and walked to the side of the house facing the wide expanse of lawn that my father kept mowed to keep away the snakes. I sat on the side porch to finish my dream. “Oh, you need a brushing,” I said, out loud. Then I imagined brushing his coat, and actually sneezed as if dust flew into my nose. I combed his long tail and mane pulling tangles from the course hairs. When I was done, I ran my hands over the heated glow on his freshly burnished back and smiled.

“You’re so handsome,” I said.

“Ha, ha,” said one of my brothers, squealing to his twin. “She thinks Alvin is handsome.”

Alvin had just walked past.

“Leave me alone,” I said, reluctantly giving up the dream to chase after brothers.

Every day, without fail, I rehearsed the details of life with this horse. It didn’t consume every moment, but I spent enough time to alert my mother that I was dawdling. Finishing my chores, I dreamed. It wasn’t complicated, but real magic never is.

The autumn air began to chill. It would be nice to ride a horse to and from school instead of battling the cold on foot. In my mind, I put a foot in a stirrup while speaking calmly. I swung my leg over the saddle and settled down gently. I could hear the leather squeak, the bridle jingle. While walking home, the ripe leaves cascaded about us in crimson and gold. Interestingly, my imagining of riding ended as I came to the last corner and instead envisioned my horse flicking an errant leaf off his shoulder while munching hay.

Reality was always a harsh rebuff.

Winter came. I galloped home, sailing over puddles painted by the sky. What if my horse had arrived and needed a warm blanket and a bucket of oats?

Spring came, heralded by choruses of tree frogs chirping in the evening. Daffodils opened, reflecting promised sunshine. Birds twittered in the sun kissed trees. My horse loved Spring. The air was sweet and the grass was sweeter.

Summer passed with all its hoopla and star spangled madness. The horse was not really in the field next door, but I saw it there, startled by the loud raucous of summer.

School began again, and the wish faded for a moment until I understood what sixth grade wanted from me. After that, I let the imagining bloom. The air chilled, the trees began to shiver and drop their leaves to warm their roots. The wish warmed me as winter gusted in.

“Want do you want for Christmas,” asked my parents.

I thought, “Don’t you know by now?” However, preferring to be polite I said, “Anything is fine.” Surely, this Christmas, I would find a halter under the tree.

The evening before Christmas Eve, carolers on horseback jingled down the street. The clip clop of hooves sent their bells ringing. I sat on the porch watching them as they clattered past our house. When they stopped to sing, I sang with them. When they turned to go, I imagined my horse stamping his hoof. Did he want a cookie?

On Christmas morning, I threw on my coat and raced to the backyard. There was no horse. I ran into the house. My stocking held a tangerine and little girl cologne, but no promise of a horse. We exchanged gifts. I received a sweater set, which was lovely, two books, and a Barbie doll, which my younger sister immediately grabbed. For once, my mind could not dredge up any imaginings of a horse because my heart was too heavy.

There was one last package under the tree, a shoe-sized box. One of my brothers scrambled for it.

“It’s for her,” he said, and pointed to me.

“Santa must have left one more thing,” exclaimed Mama.

Was this it? The box was big enough for a halter, especially for a small, simple horse that would be a good friend. I held my breath, silently praying as my brother, acting as Santa’s helper, handed it to me. I slowly pulled off the ribbon. Carefully, I slipped open the tape on one end and opened the folds. I tugged the paper off the box.

Inside was a small, plastic, prancing gray with a removable saddle. I looked at my parents, still hoping it was a sign.

“We had to search everywhere for this model. Breyer horses are not easy to come by,” said Mama.

“Do you like it, Honey,” said Papa.

It was pretty, but it would never come to life. I knew how much it meant to them to make me happy. “I love it,” I said. “I can imagine what it might feel like to ride a horse like this.” Then I kissed them both on the cheek.

I played with it that day, and the next, but then I put the gray on a shelf above my desk, to take its place with the other statues that pranced there. I stared out the window, watching my real horse, the one that lived in my imagination, snort at them and their plastic foolishness. His breath frosted the air while he pawed the ground with impatience. “Me too,” I said.

Winter passed, rainy and dreary. The imagination habit continued but sixth grade was demanding. I was becoming a woman.

One day, in early spring, as I scuffled home, a warm breeze sliced the chill with a promise that burst into my heart. I couldn’t say what it was, but something had changed since this morning. I stopped for a moment to catch my breath when another feeling sizzled through me like fireworks exploding in the sky on the Fourth of July. I had to get home. With each step, the peal of change rang louder. My heart pounded and that frightened me. I reached in my mind to look at everyone I loved. Who was hurt, who was sick?

I rounded the last corner. I clamped my hands over my ears as the universe screamed, and at the same time, stared in wonder at my backyard. Munching on a flake of golden hay was a real horse. The dun-colored animal was shaggy with an unloved coat that did not disguise prominent ribs and backbone. The scruffy little horse looked up and snorted. I almost believed she was real when she nickered, “Well, you’re finally home. Where have you been all day?”

I stood at my gate, staring.

“Well, are you just going to stand there?” said Papa from the front porch.

“There’s a horse.”

“Yes,” he said.

I slowly opened the gate, stepped through, and closed it gently.

“Can I touch it?”

He said, “Well, I guess you had better. She’s yours.”

I walked toward the small horse, and reached for it. It nosed my hand. It was like moist velvet, and it tickled my palm. I patted the matted hair on its neck and sneezed as a cloud of actual dust flew off the homely, but friendly, little horse waiting for love. My vision blurred as fat tears zigzagged down my face. “Ooh, you need a brushing,” I said, as she horse leaned against me and bent her head to munch the hay at our feet.

My dream was now reality.

(Author’s Note: Names were changed, but this is a true story.)

Featured

V is for Vagabond…

…which he preferred to the label of run-away. While it was true, he ran not out of malice or injustices done to him, but because he sought adventure, something new, something never tried before. He was his own man.

Jonathan Tyler had not planned to run away the first time he did. Rollo, his best and only true friend suggested his closet as a life raft, reacting to Jonathan’s anxiety over another activity forced upon him by his mother and hovering stepfather, Phillip. Jon jumped on, or rather in, never once considering the current of distress that would wash away the trusting love of his family. After four days of freedom, Rollo’s father caught him.

Phillip had no problem soundly paddling his fourteen-year-old stepson. Then he grounded him, piling on a mountain of chores and more extracurricular activities as a deterrent for wayward thinking.

Jon endured it with grim satisfaction, feeling like a vindicated Tom Sawyer.

That was six months ago.

He dumped his allowance onto his bedspread and counted it. A ticket to Sacramento would cost him the whole thing. He’d been to Sacramento twice, was pretty sure he could find his way around. Tomorrow he’d go to school, but by evening he would be on a bus. He stuffed the money into the backpack he’d hidden behind the clothes in his closet and leaped onto his bed. The mattress bounced twice. It was stupid to go without extra money, but he could not stand another day either cooped up like a trapped bird or toiling like a child laborer. He stared at the walls around him, seeing nothing, but soaking in every detail at the same time.

Most of the posters on his wall depicted mixed martial arts. On the top of his bookshelf were two trophies. One was for most improved fighter; the other was for first place as a team in a tournament. There were multiple pictures of him sparring in various events. One showed the gym in the garage that Phillip had set up. He and Phillip sparred there two or three times a week. Was he willing to give up on all of this?

He sighed. Mind made up, he went to bed.

The next evening, he stood on the corner across from the bus station in Sacramento. The view before him was nothing like he envisioned. Behind him was a parking lot. There were office buildings on the next block and a few shops across the street, all closed for the night. On the next corner was a restaurant, but he had no money for that. He could stay by the river, but there was a chilled breeze wafting off it. He could stay in the bus stop. He took a step to cross the avenue to do just that. Then he stopped. That would definitely scream run-away to anyone keeping eyes on a stray kid. He hadn’t thought this through long enough. What did he expect, arriving penniless, dumped into an urban wilderness? He walked west until he came across a police station. Then, he turned abruptly and walked the other way.

Night fell swiftly, and with it the temperature. He put his head down and paced, two blocks, three blocks, four…he lost count. It felt like he’d walked an eternity, but ahead of him a light signaled hope. A neon sign lit his way to a small apartment complex, like a green affirmation that he would be okay. A three-foot chain link fence surrounded the little group of buildings. Most were curtained and dark, but a soft night light shined in the larger building, which was, no doubt, the main lobby. He tried the doors.

Locked. Why did he expect anything else?

He explored until he found a sheltered wall between the lighted office building and a laundry facility. Hunkering between the two buildings, he spent the first night fitfully shivering in the cold.

As the sun rose and before traffic picked up, he hopped back over the fence and walked south, toward downtown where he hoped to find the Capital Mall. Along the way, he passed several restaurants before it dawned on him to check the back alleys for garbage bins. He might get lucky and find some fresh pickings. A small pub across the street was open. People entered and left with regularity. It seemed a likely place to scrounge for leftovers. He raced across the damp pavement and crept around to alley behind it.  Furtively, he looked over his shoulder. Was it illegal to steal garbage? He’d heard it was, but he didn’t know if that law applied here. However, he sure didn’t want someone turning him in because he looked young and truant.

To his delight, he found that the pub threw away their leftover food in a separate bin from the trash. Beyond the street behind the pub, across an expanse of public parking, there was a small park. Had he found his stomping grounds? Maybe. The park would be the perfect place to stake out a bench or at the very least the base of a tree. The back door latch jiggled. He grabbed a couple of rolls and ran. Heart pounding, he raced across the parking area and sprinted into the park. The he feigned calm, hoping he looked as if he was taking a morning stroll to school.

He spent the morning day dreaming and following the arc of the sun so he was always in the light. His bones started to warm up and it felt good to sit and observe, to have no responsibilities, no worries. He watched a couple, dressed as if they were homeless, raid the pub’s food dump. After observing that they came back a second time for the lunch hour, he surmised that perhaps the establishment put the food there on purpose.

Testing his theory, he crept to the bin and found half of a roast beef sandwich and some carrot sticks. He laughed when he got back to the park. He crept under the bush he’d staked out. He was eating a better lunch on the street than he was at school any day, hands down.

The pub closed at midnight, and he salivated as a final dumping of leftovers was put into the bin. Jon ran to get his share, as other homeless people were bound to take advantage of it. He skidded to a stop because a stooped older man, with very long, very gray hair and beard, wearing multiple layers of soiled clothes, stepped in front of him. The man used a walking stick and wore athletic socks over his hands. He hit the pavement with the end of the stick.

Jon yelped and backed up.

The man glared at him.

“No, of course, you first,” said Jon, bowing slightly.

The man didn’t smile, nor did he stop glaring, but he nodded and reached into the bin. He pulled out a loaf of bread, some browned apple slices, and a couple of thick pieces of ham. These he handed to Jon. Then he reached into the bin again and pulled out a half bottle of white wine. “Sometimes they leave it, sometimes they don’t,” he said. His voice was whispery, but underneath the breathiness was a lilt. “Remember to be thankful.” He winked at Jon. “Now, where are you staying? Let’s go there to eat.”

Jon said, “Uh, sure. Over there in the park. I made a nest under some bushes.”

“Sounds like a picnic to me,” said the man.

They walked across the parking lot to the little park. Jon led the man to his shelter of sorts.

They sat down. The man took the food, and divided it between them.

Jon said, “Are you sure?” The man had given him a sizable portion of the bread.

“I have all I need,” said the man.

They ate in silence. Jon furtively watched the man as he ate. He seemed thoughtful. He seemed happy. Jon was struggling with his decision to leave a warm home, a loving family. What kind of person did that?

“Why did you run?” said the man, as if he could read Jon’s mind.

“Who says I’m running?”

“What are you, fourteen, fifteen? You’re runnin’ from somethin’.”

“Maybe I am running toward something.”

The man laughed, a deep belly roar that shook his whole body. “Yeah. Well, I hope you find it. My name’s Tim. Folks call me Sailboat Tim.”

“That’s an odd name.”

“And yours is better?”

“I didn’t say that. It’s Jon, spelled J-O-N.”

“For Jonathan, like the Bible, gift of God. And so it is more important.”

“I-I-I only meant that I was curious about why they added the Sailboat to Tim,” said Jon.

“Guess folks like to tease. I’ve always wanted a sailboat, talked about it a lot in the early days of…,” he swept his arm wide as if gathering the expanse of the park in his sweep, “…this.”

Jon asked, “How long have you been doing this?”

“Long enough to know this isn’t a good place to stay the night. Vigilantes come through and run people out of the parks. We’re a safety hazard to the good folks that live in those houses and apartment buildings right over there.” He pointed to a beautifully landscaped two story building with multiple terraces. Then he pointed to a block of well-appointed office buildings. “We might break in. One never knows about vagrant folks.”

“You’re just being facetious now, right?”

“No.” Tim grimaced. “Come on. Finish eating. I know where we can sleep safely.”

They huddled together on the porch of an empty Victorian in the Oak Park region. Tim shared the only blanket he carried with him, a ratty, flea-filled wool of tatters and holes. He told Jon heartbreaking stories. Some gang banger knifed a crippled army vet while he slept under a tree in the park. The cops didn’t even investigate. A crazy old coot froze to death just a winter ago on the steps of the library downtown. Word was, he shouldn’t have been sleeping there. Tim, himself, had ended up in jail twice for raiding the garbage behind a Safeway for scraps of food. Who knew it was illegal to take food from a garbage bin behind a Safeway? Sailboat Tim had fond memories of the food he ate while he stayed in jail, though. And, he appreciated the nice blankets on the sturdy cots and the warm cells. At least while he was in the slammer, he didn’t have to worry about getting knifed or “froze to death.”

Jon smiled.

Tim’s toothless grin was kind, and his eyes were gentle.

Before dawn, a clatter of footsteps on the porch of the house awakened them.

A helmeted policeman with a bat, grabbed him by the arm. Another grabbed Tim. Together, the policemen hauled them down the steps and hoisted them into the back of a waiting van, where several other homeless people cowered on the benches. A young girl at the end was silently sobbing, the rest sat stoically, eyes averted, awaiting the trip to jail.

Jon whispered to Tim. “What now?”

“Now we sit in a cage until a lawyer secures our freedom. It will be okay. The food is great, the cots are firm and the blankets are clean and warm. Oh, and the commode is clean. That’s a big plus. They give us coffee if we want it.”

Jon must have looked horrified because Tim bumped his shoulder and said, “It’ll be okay. You’re lucky. They will call your parents. Then, you can go home where it’s safe and warm.”

Jon curled up on himself after that and hid his face.

As Tim said, the police sent Jon home to Stockton. Jail would have been preferable to his parents’ house of strict rules, scheduled time, and proper attitude. Jon had acquired a yen for freedom that no amount of discomfort could alter. Third time’s a charm, he’d always heard.

It was time to plan his next adventure.

Featured

Rest in Peace, Sweet Jack.

(Author’s Note: This is a personal story.)

November 21, 2019 – 6:27 pm PST

“Blog finished, Jackie.” I hit the enter button to send the notice to my newsletter recipients. “Jackie?”

He stretched out and chuffed. I turned to look at him as he chuffed a second time.

“Hey, buddy. Are you alright?”

There was no response. He’d been sleeping a lot lately, but his eyes were open. Were they unfocused?

“Jackie?” I said, suddenly fearing and realizing the worst. “Jack?”

I called my neighbor. “I think my dog just died.”

He told me to cover him with a blanket, since no one was available in the vet community to help.

I did, but I didn’t cover his nose, because I kept imagining that he was still breathing. After a few minutes of feeling for movement, checking for breath sounds or puffs of air, and imagining that damned blanket moving up and down with a breath, I called my son.

“I think Jack died.”

“What? You think?”

“He’s not moving or responding. I even shook him. Nothing. I can’t tell if he’s breathing or not. I don’t think he is.”

There was shuffling and murmuring in the background and then my son was back on the phone. “I’ll be there in thirty-five minutes, forty tops.”

I watched Jack not breathe for a while. I now know what “deathly quiet” means. I opened the front door to wait for my son. Children were laughing and playing around the corner. Across the street, men discussed man things in gruff, mirthful tones. I stepped out. Behind me, the house was a sudden tomb.

 

November 24, 2019 – 10:46 am PST

As I sit here, contemplating memories of a life shared with an extra-large cream-colored standard poodle, I see my two house cats, a brother and a sister, curled up on the bed in a previously forbidden room. My bedroom was Jack’s sanctuary, no cats allowed. But, there’s a hole in the house, a poodle-sized hole that none of us can fill, so I let them stay there. Somehow it fills my heart a little.

God, I need to be writing “U is for…” today. I don’t think I can. I wonder how everyone will feel if I skip another week?

 

November 27, 8:01 am PST

I stare at the binder paper, covered front and back, with a collection of thoughts that I could use for a blog, but my eyes are swimming in tears and I can’t focus. This is a good idea though – to write down all the random thoughts about eleven years and five months with a witty character who was a best friend when I became a single mom empty nester. Even if I never use it for a blog, it’s helping me cope. Yeah, it’s helping.

I need some more coffee. I need to put ice on my foot. A cat wants in. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I feel empty rather than thankful, and I’m worried my daughter will face her grief here when she comes. So much for writing….

 

December 3, 2019 8:14 pm PST

I received a card from Dr. Matt, Jack’s vet. I made the mistake of opening it at work. Inside was a note about how well I had taken care of Jack, and three cards, one for each of us who loved him. On each, someone had taken the time to make a print of a paw. That means they took him out of the shroud my son so lovingly wrapped him in. I shouldn’t have opened this at work.

When I arrived home, there was a message on my phone machine. “ Jack’s ashes came in today. You can pick them up anytime.” I am not driving yet!

My daughter says, “Don’t worry. We’ll figure it out.”

I am probably too emotional to write well tonight, but a blog is due tomorrow. This dog lived through so much change in this family. Eleven years, five months is a long time for a dog. Even with all the familial upheavals it was not long enough for the owner.

Five stages of grief do not follow in a specific order. Sometimes all the stages hit me at once, and I dissolve into a puddle of tears until there’s nothing left of me. Like tonight. Again. Surely he’s not gone, yet, here is the card from the vet, and the saved message on the answering machine. Dammit. He didn’t even finish chuffing, before he left. Gone, just gone. Really? Was it something I said? “Jack, do you have to go now?” This house is so empty. Cats are small and so very quiet. Acceptance? Brief glimpses that look more like denial. You were supposed to stay for eighteen years. That was our plan. You didn’t even make it for twelve. Was it something I said? Something I did? Something I didn’t do? There should be six stages. Someone should add guilt to the list.

 

One of my notes says, “I don’t want to remember just the “good things.” I want to remember all the things…good, bad, silly, ridiculous, infuriating, beautiful, ugly…all of it. Jack was arrogant, bossy, and intuitive. He was born to police, a mix of hunters and gatherers. Poodles are a working breed. One side of his pedigree was a line of herding dogs, the other hunting dogs. He was intelligent and curious. he nipped people’s heels when he first met them, trying to teach them where to go. He beat up the male partner of the brother and sister house cat team. He was an alpha dog, which required me to be a boss dog. I am not good at being a boss dog, so our relationship had to be well balanced. My children got the fun dog, the dog that liked to play…and prance…and hike and dance, the dog that jumped in puddles and piles of leaves.

He was a dog that was afraid of things with wheels, a dog that walked ahead, though he learned to match the walker’s speed. He changed directions as if reading the mind of the person handling him. I often thought he’d make a good cart pony. He was big enough. I wonder if he would have found that demeaning?

He wore a red collar. The red warned people with other dogs, “Hey, this dog is an alpha, approach with caution or better yet, don’t approach.” That was true for strangers as well. Poodles are the fiercest of protectors. Even law officers don’t want to enter a house with a standard poodle inside. He wasn’t a mean dog, but he was tall and this intimidated everyone. Taking him places was an ordeal because of it. I hated leaving him at home.

He was sensitive. He didn’t respond to harsh voices or loud noises. He learned hand signals. He was controlling, but when it was imperative that we work as a team, he was quiet, attentive and immediately responsive. He was amazing.

I miss him. I will miss his exuberant, tail high and wagging prance into the house after a jaunt outdoors. I will not miss the muddy trail of paw prints on my blonde floor.

There are a few other things I won’t miss. I won’t miss having to place a brick and a flower pot in front of the gate because we taught him how to do obstacles, which included knowing how to crawl under things. I won’t miss cleaning the yard daily, although he and I worked it into our empty nester routine after the kids moved out. We cleaned every morning before I went off to work. He liked to be clean, though with a white coat he was clean only a few days after his grooming sessions. He hated his nails being touched, and had to be restrained for that chore.

I won’t miss the guilt I felt over leaving him home alone all day in the house, because if I left him outside he barked at other dogs, or people, or leaves, or birds or strange cats, or whatever, and we received a noise ticket. Well, only a warning…it was enough. I don’t have to keep my couch covered with a blanket because he jumped onto it after I left for work. I knew he did it, though he was always off by the time I opened the door. The blanket allowed us to keep our little secret. It kept the peace between us.

I started to worry about him dying in March sometime and asked the vet what I would do. I’m older, he’s a big dog. What are the steps? Where can I get help? I think I was noticing changes even then. He slept more, he didn’t want to play with his toys. He struggled with health after contracting Leptospirosis, but this was different. He was restless at night, his routines became irregular, he ignored commands, and refused to eat. Oh my god, that bothered me the most. How could he expect to stay alive and healthy if he refused to eat? Dr. Matt said I was a pushover. I should just wait him out. It worked for about two weeks, but then he really just wasn’t hungry. It pushed all my buttons. We fought about it daily. “I can’t take this anymore,” I exclaimed, as he walked from the food I had lovingly prepared. He could tell I was at my wit’s end. He turned and ate a few bites, maybe a half cup. An hour later, he was gone. Was it easier for both of us to end the fight this way?

 

Christmas is coming. Jack loved Christmas and always looked for his gift under the tree as soon as we put it up. If it wasn’t there, he hunted for it. We would hurry to wrap up gifts. Once he saw his under the tree, he relaxed. Once he opened his gifts, he’d help the rest of us open ours. He loved his pretties. He needed a new collar. He would have found it under the tree this year with a new yellow rain jacket.

I know I will find his collar adorned with jingle bells and I will fall apart again. It’s probably with the Christmas decorations. I also know I will save it. It will go with the string of bells my childhood friend wore when he was alive, a prancing, arrogant, dancing horse, who also thought he was boss of everything.

This house is too quiet. There is a poodle-sized hole in my heart.

Rest in peace, sweet Jack.

Baker’s Frosted Jack Roddy

b.3/13/2008 d.11/21/2019

Some news: My novel, Blood On His Hands, is live on Amazon. Here is the link: https://www.amazon.com/Blood-His-Hands-AV-Singer-ebook/dp/B081ZK1DGK/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=AV+Singer+BLood+On+His+Hands&qid=1575471844&sr=8-1

 

 

 

 

Featured

T is for Thunderstruck…

(Author’s Note: Excerpt from The Shaman’s Mirror, a novel in progress.)

Jason yelled, “It has to be here.”

Sarah had followed him over boulders, under boulders, and around boulders. They had balanced on precarious dead wood, crunched eons of desert scree, and scattered whistling round-tailed ground squirrels while looking for the opening to the cave, home of the Shaman’s Mirror.

He slapped the monolith next to them, the one he called Red Woman. “We’ve been all over this hill.” A bead of sweat dripped off his nose into his mouth. He sputtered and wiped it away with his sleeve. “It has to be here.”

Sarah didn’t know what to say. Heat rose from the desert floor. Amplified by the megalithic rock, it slowly roasted every brain cell she had. It was hard to breathe, her body dripped with sweat in all the places a woman should never drip, and she felt like slapping her partner upside the head for bringing them to this godforsaken place. She didn’t care if there was a Shaman’s Mirror, she just wanted to be someplace other than here, someplace cool.

A sudden blast of heat ruffled her hair. Behind her Jason groaned and sat at the base of Red Woman. Sarah looked across the impossible expanse of the Sonoran Desert in Southern Arizona before she joined him, sitting near with enough space between them to avoid the feel of his sweaty clothes.

To the east, long bony-fingered cactuses with bright red, flagged flowers waved as the forced air of the desert forge rushed against them. She’d dreamed these bony looking apparitions with their flaming fingernails. Ocotillo was the name of this cactus. In her dream, they frightened her, but as part of the wonder of the desert, she saw them as gloriously beautiful.

Jason was the first to notice the massive towers of thunderheads surging toward them. “Let’s get off this old rock and fast! Look what’s coming.” He pointed to the south. They were in the very worst place they could be, the top of the highest hill on the plateau. Sarah was at once thunderstruck by the ferocious beauty of the black clouds and terrified at the same time. “Oh my heavens!” She scrambled across the rocks following Jason who grabbed their packs and jumped to the desert floor.

He led her to an overhang on the west side of the hill where they crouched, waiting for the squall to pass over them.

He was calm, but Sarah wasn’t. Jason’s quiet stillness comforted her. A meditative symbiosis with the Earth settled over him, and consequently over her. As they nestled in their shelter, the desert tensed beyond it. Colors faded to a dusky blue. Birds, animals, and in fact all sound…disappeared, as if the Earth held her breath. Suddenly, lightning arched to the heavens, leaping from the ground to the sky. Her senses lasered to a point in time – Now – and, as if she saw a dream, the ancient dance of foreplay between Earth and Sky began.

Earth screamed lust, using her electric fingers to implore Sky’s motives.

Sky roared His answer, a deafening BOOM of thunder that rumbled and echoed across the desert.

The Earth sucked up energy as She prepared for another lightning strike.

Sarah’s womb tightened in response. Jason moved closer and took her hand, a silent reminder that she wasn’t the only human witnessing this dance of power. She pressed deeper under the overhang, back against rock, warmth against cool. Child against Mother.

Again, Earth shot Her hot fingers into Sky’s belly and screeched Her intent.

Sky rumbled and groaned with the strain of excitement.

Earth, not amused, struck Him again, and again, demanding satisfaction.

Again, and again Sky roared at her.

Earth, not placated, drew in a final whistling gasp and poked passionately at Sky once more with a display of electricity more frightening and dazzling than Sarah had ever seen in her life.

Sky bellowed twice, then, granted Earth the release She so greedily sought. Earth and Sky shuddered together, the torrential rain fell, fusing them, bringing life with one magnificent deluge.

With a crack and a flash, Earth screeched “More!”

Sky gifted Her with contented grumbles as He squirted Her fully with His life giving waters. Sky rumbled His finish and Earth moaned an answer.

A cool wind brushed Sarah’s face as Sky heaved away in a northerly direction. He chuckled as Earth’s lightning fingers tickled Him again, and again, begging for another coupling.

Jason stirred next to Sarah. She felt a jolt of energy as he touched her. Frisson built between them, and she gazed at him but he carefully ignored her. What spell would be broken here, if they shared a glance? A scent rose with the refreshing breeze, a spicy pungency that filled her heart, loosened her joints, and made her full. She sighed.

Jason squeezed her hand and said quietly, “It’s a gift from Mother Earth after a summer’s rain. The creosote bush sends tendrils of its scent to every woman within its range.” Jason then caught her eye. “It’s said that it fills the empty space in a woman’s heart and reminds her of her womanhood.” He lowered his eyes and whispered, “And her sexuality.”

Sarah, suddenly drunk with creosote perfume thought, “He is so beautiful.” She longed to reach out and touch his soft, cinnamon colored hair. The energy she felt before crackled between them. A wave of tenderness flooded her. He smiled. His eyes reflected the dramatic love affair they had just witnessed. Perhaps they would be heading for one of their own.

Featured

S is for Skip and Go Naked…

(Author’s note: I apologize for the two-week lapse. As you know, it is my intention to post weekly on Wednesday mornings, but where I live in California, Pacific Gas and Electric created a pre-emptive blackout to avoid firestorms. However disgruntled I am, I am also grateful. As the blackout was progressing, I also had surgery to reconstruct my right foot, and then had adverse reactions to the pain medications. Writing was the last thing on my mind.

For those of you who personally know me and recognize the names of these characters, this story is absolute fiction. Because I cannot remember the real story, I made one up. It could have happened this way….) 

 

Night shadows comforted Margie, unlike so many of her sorority sisters who played a girly game of foolish fears. She enjoyed the walk from the Alpha Phi house to the fraternity across the commons. The air was warm, the walk was straight, and she felt like a million bucks. She looked like it too, and she knew it.

As she approached the house, a man stood in the shadows under the front window, finishing a cigarette. He stamped it into the dirt at his feet and smiled as she breezed past. Though he was short, he was not bad looking, but this was the first party of the season and she had no plans to talk to the very first man she saw. There was a multitude of handsome fish in this sea and she planned to get to know as many as she could.

The party was hopping. Men and women filled the middle of the great room, dancing with no one and everyone. There was an earnest crowd against the back wall engaged in deep conversation, though how they could hear each other was anyone’s guess. The bar was in the kitchen. She headed there for a something she could nurse for a while.

The bartender was an eyeful, tall, muscular, maybe a swimmer. His curly hair was sexy and his eyes flashed with mischief. “What can I do you for?” he said, suggestively. His bedroom eyed “come hither” didn’t go unnoticed, but she had no intention of letting him know that.

A couple stood at the kitchen island sipping from tall glass mugs filled with a strange, slushy green liquid. “What is that?” she said, nodding toward them.

“Oh, that. Old house recipe – we call it a “Skip and Go Naked.” He leaned toward her and winked.

“That’s a strange name. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were leading me astray.”

“I would never do such a thing,” he said, patting his heart as if she had pricked him, but then he winked again.

“Is it as refreshing as it looks?” she said.

“I could make you one.”

She patted the butcher-block counter on the island. “Okay, now you’re talkin’. I’ll try one.”

“Coming up.” He chuckled.

He grabbed a beer stein and scooped crushed ice into it. He dumped it into his hand mixer. He opened the refrigerator and grabbed a small can of frozen lime juice. He popped it open and poured it slowly, letting it sensually ooze over the ice, all the while making goo goo eyes at her. He filled the lime can with vodka and poured that in. Margie was proud of her ability to drink men under the table but that was a lot of vodka.

He added to the vodka the same amount of beer.

Oh, dear.

He tightened the lid on the mixer, then, performed a jiggy little dance just for her, winking from time to time, suggestively.

What a flirt. Margie smiled as he danced, quite enjoying his display. She hoped the drink was worth all the effort he was putting into it. He stopped dancing and looked her squarely in the eye.

“You sure about this?” he said.

“Damn sure,” she exclaimed.

“You could skip it,” he said.

She laughed. “And go naked. I know. I’ll take the drink, please.” She smiled as he handed her the heavy, icy mug.

Margie curtsied, dropped three bucks into his donation jar, and left the kitchen to cruise the party.

He whistled at her.

She canted one hip as she exited, swinging her flirty skirt around her knees. She nodded at people as she cruised the party, danced as she slipped through the crowd, and smiled at every man that glanced her way.

The mug grew heavy in her hand. As she sipped the green drink, she realized how so very thirsty she was. My, oh my, it was certainly a quencher. Many of her fellow partiers also enjoyed the darn thing. As she strolled around the great room watching the antics of men trying to impress women, her sips turned into gulps until she inhaled the last of the slushy delight. It was so smooth going down, and tantalizingly delicious. She wondered who, on earth, named it Skip and Go Naked? Its mouth feel was reminiscent of skinny-dipping in the cold lake back home. Her joints loosened as happiness flooded her body. Whew. So happy. The oozing euphoria loosened her brain, which plopped onto her toes. Oh dear, the room spun and a warm, muzzy flush warmed her cheeks. She wanted another mug of green happiness. She had a few dollars left. She could get another.

Someone grabbed her elbow and in a deep voice, said, “Steady there. Let me help you.”

Her head slowly swiveled, as she followed his voice in her left ear. It was the young man in front of the House smoking a cigarette when she arrived. His eyes were kind and filled with intelligent humor. Damn, he smelled good. What was it, Old Spice?

“Oh, dear,” she said, forgetting about wanting another drink. “I think I should have skipped and gone naked after all.”

He laughed. “I think you need some fresh air. Would you accompany me to the porch? It’s relatively quiet. You could sit and get your bearings.”

“It would be terribly nice of you to accompany me.”

“It would be my pleasure.”

He led her to a bench on the porch that overlooked the commons. There were a few people wandering, taking a break from the party, but it was indeed, quiet.

“Thank you,” she said, as she sat down.

“You’re Alpha Phi, right,” he said.

“Right,” she drawled.

He sat next to her. ”I’ll walk you home in a few minutes. I am sure when we get there, we can find a sister or two to help you into the door.”

“You are so kind,” she said, leaning into him. The Old Spice comforted her. “My name’s Margie,” she said. Then, she hiccoughed. “Oops. Sorry.” She covered her mouth.

He smiled and draped his letter jacket over her shoulders. “Donald. I live here.” He nodded toward the front door.

It was nice to know he was college man.

They sat in companionable silence soaking up the sounds of the party and appreciating the cool of the night. Two couples left, one immediately, another twenty minutes later, reeling from what Margie assumed were healthy doses of the lethal Skip and Go Naked concoction. Donald stood and held out his hand. “Milady,” he said. “Would you accompany me across the commons?”

“Thank you kind sir,” she replied.

At the Alpha Phi House, Donald shook her hand, bowed, and said, “It was very nice meeting you. May I call on you soon?”

“I would like that very much,” said Margie.

Donald called on Margie; they dated, and eventually married. Skip and Go Naked was a favorite party drink in their house. They lived happily ever after.

Featured

R is for Recipe…

(Author’s Note: This story is based on a real event. Names were changed to protect those embarrassed by excessive wine consumption.)

Mid-October twilight dropped a chill over her sister’s backyard after a balmy day of swimming, eating, and enjoying the company of friends and family. Anna’s head was hazy, but her heart was full. “This has been has been a lovely day,” she said to her sister Jean.

“The last pool party of the year,” said Jean. “Glad you could come. You plan to stay the night, right?”

“Well, I hadn’t.”

“You’re going to though. If you feel anything like I do, you shouldn’t be driving.” Jean held up a bottle. “Last Obsession of the year.”

“OMG. You are incorrigible,” said Anna.

“I’m your sissie. You love me.”

“Let’s clean up while we enjoy that.”

While they cleaned, they chatted about childhood memories and made plans for the holidays. When Anna and Jean were children, the holidays were special, but especially exciting was when a large box arrived right after every Thanksgiving that rivaled any Amazon mailer. Grandmother’s Christmas cookies, hand decorated, lovingly packed, and individually preserved in Saran wrap before she placed them into the box. They lasted for weeks. The family favorite was the pillowcase of Pfefferneuse at the bottom, tiny button sized rounds of goodness that had been baked in the early fall, and dried in a dark closet until Thanksgiving. It was tradition to enjoy them floating atop early Christmas morning coffee, hot chocolate or eggnog. They seldom lasted through New Year’s Day.

Jean pulled a folded piece of paper off her refrigerator door, a photocopy of a recipe card, front and back. “The Pfefferneuse recipe you sent me several years ago. I have all the ingredients for it.”

“Really?” said Anna. She had wanted to bake Christmas cookies with her sister for a long time, but life got in the way. When Grandmother had taught her how to make Pfefferneuse, she talked about baking with her own sisters, a bee of women laughing and sharing with dough on their hands while they waited for the wood stove to heat.

Handed down by word of mouth, Grandmother shared the Pfefferneuse recipe with Anna and indulged her need to record every bit of life that happened to her. Step-by-step they built the recipe, and step-by-step Anna scribbled directions. Ingredients went together like a chemistry experiment, ending with the painstaking and muscle wracking effort of kneading eight or more cups of flour into a scant amount of batter, until the dough was stiff and felt like silk. Grandmother demonstrated how to roll marble-sized dollops of it into hundreds of balls that lined the cookie trays. After baking and cooling, they stored the tiny cookies in a pillowcase in a closet. The cookies cured for two months before they were ready. One did not eat them without soaking them in a hot liquid, because only then did the spicy cookie melt in the mouth delighting the palate. Otherwise, they were as hard as rocks.

“Let’s do it tonight,” said Jean. She poured each of them another glass of Obsession.

Anna and Jean faithfully followed the recipe for the batter. Ignoring the fact that Jean had a machine for kneading, they worked the dough by hand, just as Grandmother had, and sipped Obsession, laughing about the silliness of their lives and bragging about their kids.

“So what do you make of this direction?” said Jean. The facsimile of Anna’s wildly scrawled and dough stained recipe card was hard to read, especially with the amount of wine both women had consumed.

“Let me see,” said Anna, peering at her scrawl. “Bake at thirty degrees for…for three-hundred minutes.”

“That doesn’t sound like a thing.”

“A thing?” said Anna.

“I thought you’d made this with Grandmother.”

“I did,” said Anna, but that was a long time ago, before she had kids who were now college age and older.

“Three-hundred minutes,” said Jean. She fiddled with her fingers, counting. “That’s like…five hours!”

“Well, they are supposed to feel like little rocks when they are done,” said Anna, casually forgetting that they were supposed to dry the Pfefferneuse in a warm closet for two months after baking.

Jean frowned and turned on the oven to pre-heat it. “The directions say to hold your hand inside the oven for a slow count of three. I can’t believe you wrote this.”

“I wrote down everything Grandmother said.”

“Did you hold your hand in the oven?”

Anna shrugged. “I might have. I don’t remember. Probably.”

Jean huffed. “I guess it’s one count for every ten degrees?”

“Yeah, I guess.” Anna shrugged again.

“There’s nothing on this dial remotely close to thirty degrees,” said Jean.

“Oh, yeah,” said Anna, sort of remembering how an oven dial looked. “Well, this is an old recipe. We probably turned it to warm.”

“Do we do a fast count or a slow count?”

Anna quit rolling balls and looked at her sister. “I don’t know. A slow count, I guess. It has to be thirty degrees.”

“Geez,” said Jean, but she turned on the oven. “Five hours seems like a long time to bake cookies,” she said, when she came back to the table. She held out her empty wine glass for a refill, which Anna graciously provided.

“I don’t think so. An oven on warm would take at least five hours for them to dry out,” said Anna, wishing she could remember everything she and Grandmother did that day. “Besides, you bake a pot roast on low for hours. Dad used to bake a turkey from dawn to noon.”

“Yeah, that makes sense, I guess,” said Jean.

They rolled out more marble-sized balls of cookie dough as they waited for the oven to warm.

“The oven should be ready any second,” said Jean.

“Go stick your hand into it and count to three.”

“I’m not sticking my hand in there.”

“Grandmother lived a long time, and her hands looked just fine,” said Anna.

“But she cooked with wood,” said Jean.

“So?”

“So, it’s a different kind of heat or something.”

“Pfft,” said Anna.

Jean’s son walked into the kitchen, and looked over his mother’s shoulder at the card. “Whatcha doin’?”

Jean said, “Making Pfefferneuse.”

“I’ve always wanted to try those. Can I help?”

“You can check the temperature of the oven. It should be thirty degrees. Just hold your hand in there for a slow count of three.”

He cocked his head, but wandered over to the oven.

Then, he turned back and said to his mother, “You want your beautiful son to stick his hand in the oven?”

“For a slow count of three.”

“Mom.”

“It has to be thirty degrees, so we can bake them for three-hundred minutes.”

He walked back to the table and grabbed the card. “Mom. Are you sure it isn’t thirty minutes at three-hundred degrees?”

Jean looked at Anna.

Anna stared back.

There was nothing to say. They burst out laughing, and then clinked together their wine glasses.

“Good thing he walked by,” said Anna. “Five hours is a long time. We would have had to go out for more Obsession.”

“Yeah, he’s a good boy,” said Jean.

Jean’s son muttered as he walked away. “I can’t believe you asked me to put my hand in the oven.”

Jean and Anna laughed again.

It took longer than thirty minutes to cook multiple trays, but hundreds of little balls of Pfefferneuse were poured into a pillowcase to cure until Christmas Day when the family would come together to enjoy a beloved childhood tradition. Jean and Anna held their empty glasses high and saluted each other before passing out on the couch.

Featured

Q is for Quidnunc…

and her husband, Jeff, was not the first to sling that word at her. Yes, she was inquisitive, but a gossip? People needed to know what was what, especially if it was important. She wasn’t sure if this was important, not yet anyway. Her husband, Jeff, didn’t think so, and told her to mind her own business. This was her business. She lived here. What went on in her neighborhood affected her. It affected the whole block. What did he know? He was at work all day.

Millie pulled her threadbare, velour housecoat around her while she sat at her dining room table nursing her morning coffee. She watched the house across the street as she had every morning since the young couple moved in last week. In fact, she watched the house all day long as a regular stream of people came and went. People just didn’t have that many visitors unless they were up to no good. She decided two days ago that they were running some kind of “sales operation.”

She couldn’t wait another day. She had to get over there to meet these people. A homemade welcoming gift was the perfect door opener. She leaned back in her chair and peered into her oven. A meatloaf nestled on a bed of seasoned potatoes and carrots was beginning to brown on top. Who could resist that?

The first customer of the day pulled into her new neighbors’ driveway. A well-dressed older man popped out of his shiny black sports car, strode up to the porch and knocked. The door opened, he disappeared inside, and three minutes later, he exited. His tires squealed as he backed onto the street and made a quick get-away.

Oh, she hoped a drug operation hadn’t moved in. It was her biggest worry with all the news about cracking down on drugs in the city. This had always been a quiet, safe as can be, doors always open, friendly neighborhood. If a bad element had moved in…well, she would call the police the minute she knew what was going on. First, she had to confirm her suspicions.

Her lovely meatloaf had another nineteen minutes. She went to the bedroom and put on a dress she hadn’t worn in years. The bodice still fit her, though she struggled with the back zipper. The blue field of flowers set off her eyes and pulled a lovely silver sheen from her mousy brown curls. She found her light blue pumps in a box on the top shelf of her closet. She couldn’t remember the last time she wore them, but surely they hadn’t pinched her toes like this. The pain was worth the picture. The skirt flared around her calves just as she remembered.

As she stroked the last coat of mascara on her top eyelashes, the timer on the oven buzzed.

The meatloaf pan was hot. She put it in a serving basket and covered it with a cheerfully checkered cloth napkin. Satisfied with the presentation, she waltzed out the front door, down her walk and across the street. At her new neighbors’ driveway, she hesitated a moment as a sudden chill of fear paralyzed her. She was an unexpected guest. What would she do if one of them came to the door with a weapon?

She would throw the meatloaf. The weight would catch them off guard giving her time to run around the corner.

What was she thinking? She should turn around right now and abort the mission. No, no. All she had to do was act neighborly. She walked straight to the door, and knocked. From inside, she heard a female voice sing, “Just a minute.”

Footsteps clattered on hardwood flooring. Millie’s heart pounded what if, what if, what if.

The door opened and a very pregnant young woman dressed in a flowery sundress answered the door. “Hello. Can I help you?” she said.

“Welcome to the neighborhood,” said Millie. She lifted the basket toward the young woman. “Do you like meatloaf?” As an afterthought she said, “I live across the street. Matilda Whoosits, folks call me Millie.”

The young woman said, “Millie, how lovely. My husband will really appreciate a home cooked meal. I haven’t had the stomach for cooking in so long.” She rolled her eyes and hugged her belly. “My name is Susan.” She held out her hands for the basket. “Would you like to come in?”

“Yes,” said Millie, handing it to her. A feeling of dread fluttered under a wave of giddiness. “You have a lovely home.” Dozens of unopened packing boxes cluttered the middle of the room. There was no furniture except three fold out chairs and a bistro table cluttered with paperwork squashed by an opened, over-sized box on top of it.

Millie looked down the hallway to her left wondering if Susan was unpacking rooms at the back of the house first. She said, “It will be glorious when you are unpacked.”

Susan sighed. “Yes. My husband’s new job keeps him busy, and I am desperate to establish a new client base before the baby comes.”

Millie was shocked at her openness. “Oh?” she said. “A client base?”

“I sell essential oils. Do you use them?”

“No,” said Millie, never having heard of such a thing. Was it a catchword for marijuana or some other drug?

“Let me show you,” said Susan.

Dear god, what had she stepped into. She backed up a few steps toward the door, pretending to look around.

Susan grabbed a brown vial from the box on the table. She said, “This is Wild Orange. Here, hold out your palm. I’ll put a drop on your hand. Rub it in and smell. It’s delightful.”

“Uh…,” said Millie.

“It’s okay. It’s completely natural,” said Susan.

Timidly, Millie held out her hand. The drop didn’t cause any weird tingling. The light in the room didn’t fill with strange lights or colors. She sniffed. Nothing happened. She rubbed her palms together and sniffed again. The heady scent of Wild Orange filled her nose. “You’re right. It is lovely.”

“It’s great for cleaning. I put a few drops in a spray bottle of water and clean counters, the stove top, the refrigerator. It works like a charm and everything smells fresh. Because it’s natural it won’t hurt the baby. Or anyone else. Here.” She grabbed a small mesh bag out of the box and handed it Millie. There was a tiny brown vial inside it, a smaller version of the one in Susan’s hand. “Take that sample home and try it. If you like it, it’s only $13.99 for one this size.” She held up her vial. “And it will last you for months.”

“Thank you,” said Millie, not at all prepared for the charm of Susan’s cheerful delight in her product. Surely there was more going on than this.

There was a knock on the door.

“Oh, my distributor is here.”

A distributor? Millie timidly followed. Susan ushered in a young woman with a baby in her arms. She had a large bag slung over her back, but she was very clean, well dressed and didn’t look at all like Millie imagined a drug dealer would.

Susan introduced them.

Millie was too nervous to catch her name so she muttered, “Well, enjoy your meatloaf, dear. I will leave now and let you attend to business.”

Susan held the door for her, but placed a warm hand on her forearm as Millie stepped onto the porch. “Thank you very much for the meatloaf. It was so nice to meet you. Please come again. Oh, and enjoy the oil.”

She handed Millie a business card. Then she and her distributor disappeared behind the door as she closed it.

Millie stood on the porch, a little stunned. She pulled out the minuscule bottle of essential oil and opened it. She sniffed. Was this the cause of all the comings and goings? It really did smell refreshing.

She stepped off the porch, and wandered down the short sidewalk to the driveway. She drifted across the street, sniffing the Wild Orange in the small sample bottle. This was such a lovely neighborhood. The trees sang with birdsong, flowers waved in the soft breeze. She walked to her front door. The red paint she and Jeff had decided upon was very pretty. She sniffed the Wild Orange again. If she started right away, she had time to vacuum the house, polish the windows, change the sheets, clean the bathroom, and make a second meatloaf. Jeff would love that.