Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Chapter

To me, he appeared magical in the radiance of the small town's streetlight display. I flicked at a smoldering cigarette in my fingers, glancing at him here and there when I was sure he was looking away. It wasn't the decade which lay quietly behind us that propelled me to stare in his direction. It was the way his gentle eyes told sad stories of the path which he had recently traveled to get here. The way his fancy shoes looked displaced and crunched the northern snow.

His hat and scarf and belt and gloves. His LA style was both foreign and familiar among the hippies that resided here in my town. He couldn’t have just one damn, peaceful afternoon of writing in the coffee shop without some unshaven, pixie-haired, patchouli- drenched swinger trying to get into his pants. That’s what his flask of whiskey was for I suppose- to stifle his good-natured urges to placate small talk. Because, here, you know, small talk will make you the next “new guy in town” victim for some desperately bored local. Not that one would need to be desperate or bored or sex- starved in order to find him both incredibly sexy and affable. He’s certainly the type that women (and men) gravitate towards in a bar or crowd. I, however, never met him in such circumstances. I knew him when we were young and awkward- a time when this now savvy city-trotter was intimidated by my edgy, pre-teen attitude.


The lesbian who lived in the apartment above mine was quite bitter. Well, when it came to matters concerning me anyway. I rarely ever saw or heard her before last October. She kept to herself and her toolbox and her large silver truck. But one night, just before Halloween, I had escaped to the bohemian- infested coffee shop to write. Ideally, I prefer to write at home with a glass of unadulterated whiskey or schnapps, sitting in a computer and candled glow. A little City and Colour. But by time late October rolled around, my unemployed husband and I were so sick of each other that I could not have even drowned my resentment with an entire liter of Jamison.

I primed my small corner table for my ritual of writing preparation. I ordered a mug of spiced chai and carefully doused it with some vanilla schnapps. I was a good two pages in when she approached me.

“Hey, uh, you live downstairs from me, It's Elsie, right?” I unplugged my ears and we both laughed a little as the excessively loud music poured from my headphones. “Whoa, you’re really rockin out” she smirked.

“Well, yeah,” I laughed “I suppose it’s the only way I can think” I said, glancing down at my screen and clicking “save” for the tenth time that minute.

“What are you working on?” She seemed genuinely interested. Normally, I would have just lied and said that I was paying bills, but she pressed on. “You look like you’re writing. Like really writing.”

I smiled and chose to respond truthfully. “Yeah, um, I am.” She gave me a simple, encouraging grin, so I continued despite my wrenching embarrassment. “I just write some things here and there. I was an English major, and my emphasis was in Creative Writing and so I guess I just like to…” I let myself trail off there, as to stop myself from the rambling I was prone to.
She was unmistakably excited. “Wow, I just finished up my MFA in Creative Writing…I had no idea that you were a writer too.”

“Well, I am definitely not” I smirked. Her comment had caught me off guard. “I just mess around with a little poetry sometimes.” She had already positioned herself closer to the extra chair near my small table. I was not really in the mood to offer it up, but she asked before I had a chance to make up an excuse as to why I had to leave. “Oh yeah, totally, sure have a seat,” I managed.

The next half hour’s conversation meandered around topics such as the quality of the coffee, the house we lived in, and of course, academia and writing. She was extremely well- versed and it made me feel young and inexperienced. I think that I should have just come out with it and admitted that I partied too much through college and barely even read half of my assigned books. Maybe it would have been just the turn-off I was looking for. But, I humored the topic and allowed myself to look respectable and educated. She invited me to meet weekly with a small group of writers in the area. It was an extremely temping offer- I had not even considered the possibility that there were more than two talented, let alone educated, people in this miserable hick town.

Hitting the limit of my knowledge of John Donne and Hemmingway, I changed the topic. “Just so you know, my husband is moving out.” The bizarre drink I had mixed and the gravity of my imminent divorce were both suddenly hitting me harder than I had anticipated- so I suppose it was a recipe for a word- vomit cocktail. “He’s leaving this weekend, so you know, like if you see someone moving out. It’s just him,” I laughed. She threw her head back and laughed with me.

“Seems like you’re doing okay with it,” She said, catching her breath.

“Yeah, I am glad to be rid of him,” I stated unsoberly and matter-of- factly.

We talked a little while longer before I decided to lie and leave. The next day I found a Post It stuck to my front door asking me if I wanted to meet up for dinner. She gave me her number, but also reminded me that I could always just “stop up.” That bastard “Dick Proenneke” was leaving the next day and I was dreading being around the apartment while he sulked and played video games. So, later on I went for a run, did a few shots, cleaned the kitchen and called her up.

She went out with me just this once on a chance that she was certainly hoping was a date. I ordered a beer and waited for her at the table (which occurred to me later was decidedly very much for couples). Had I not been a natural blonde and a lightweight drunk, I would have connected the dots. But, I was both of those things and also in a place where I was waiting for my mountain man of an almost "ex" husband get his goddamned yurt out of the livingroom.

When she ordered wine, I knew then that I was in way deeper than a fish sandwich.


We continued our walk down 3rd street. Alcohol always leaves me feeling unsettled and hollow. I had too much to drink that night and so I was restlessly waiting for his touch. I knelt in the snow. It soaked through my jeans and the cold pierced my knees. Bare-handed I grabbed a handful of snow from the curbside. “It’s beautiful, right?!” I said excitedly.

Gazing upward into the black winter sky, I saw delicate sparkles of snow swirling around the streetlights. “Why am I stripped of all my worth?” I asked.

"Well," He said "You aren’t.” He was articulate and soul-bearing like all great writers are. But, at all of the right and wrong times, and certainly at the write times.

He knelt next to me, cupping my chattering chin in his gloved hands and continued, “I can tell you something about the meaning of home, and your sense of worth. You are beautiful." he didn’t smile, but the look on his face was safe and tender. He picked me up from the sidewalk and kissed me slowly on my cold cheek. “I have been where you are now, and I can help carry you through it.”

I stood still, feeling flecks of snowflakes on my face and it glistened in my long hair. The way that he understood me was astounding. I was deeply in love with him. With all the of the ways he understood me, undressed me and then dressed me up again as his girl, I was smitten. Feeling worthy was never a feeling that I was accustomed to. In attempts to be the best and worst versions of myself, I was content to let him in to be both my savior and thief.

I let the weight of his words pound me. I had hung from gallows of adultery and regret, and yet I knew that his journey was not so different from mine. But what does a stubbornly independent woman do when she has discovered the person who not only appreciates but revels in her deep intricacies? Run. That’s was who I was and what I wanted to do, for no rational reason. But he could run with me maybe. He Loved my past and present and my mother and my father and my fantasies and my stinking reality....

Perhaps that was the time to come out with it. To tell him all of it. To shake up this small northern town and then choose to enter a large, startling city.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2007 in bottles

it was a year that did not age well
the summer sweat beads of tears
the wedding was white and dark
wavering flames in the barn fell
casting shadows on the coming years
but we clung to that faint spark

a restless girl, now aging well
red wine in a dusty bottle
i'll toast to the time we shared
i've shed that slow and angry shell
on a beach somewhere as i throttled
the necks of those who never cared

you hung me out to dry, but i aged well
in a wedding dress a size too big
i wore rings that slipped and never fit
i wore emotions on lips, you could't tell
you can't support the holes that i dig
you couldn't stay, I wouldn't commit

I could tell your age well on the phone
your voice was sentimental and pure
and i was hanging onto all of your words
not for my comfort, but because you were alone
you labeled me flighty and unsure
the drapes hung low and i lost my words

these broken bottles line my floor.

Key West Mess

He’s a mess. “A fucking mess most of the time.” Some inherit their father’s eyes or money or religion. I inherited his fucking mess. I say this with the utmost satisfaction. Not that I am necessarily pleased, not exactly that I am skirting my own role in my messiness- but I am certainly not resentful. It causes me to wrestle with predestination and free-will. Not in matters concerning my heavenly Father, but wholly concerning the matters of my unholy father. From the moment his sinning hands held me and gazed into my churning blue eyes, was I fated to mirror him? Like the creases in our thumbs? Faded Levis aren’t my style- hell, I am sure they aren’t his anymore- but I still sport his genes. I wear them like a scarlet letter now.

Every couple years, he shows me a letter that he writes to his siblings. In past cases, I have read these letters the sort of way one might read an instruction manual for a television. Hm, he is saying x. Interesting. Now moving on. There’s a definite sarcasm, and a slight undertone of loathing for those that he writes to. More than skimming, less than analytical, I fuddle through his words. This morning while sipping black coffee and checking my email I saw one such letter in my inbox. It’s been a couple years, it was time I suppose. I’m pretty sure I don’t even like black coffee.

I usually read the middle of a letter, or book, first. Then the ending. Then the beginning. Well, then I read it through the right way. I found myself nodding and thinking, “I don’t go to church, either, Dad.” I imagine him there, seated at the foot of his dinner table, the surface still a little sticky from when his two boys decorated Christmas cookies. It’s one o’clock in the morning, and he’s sipping whiskey. No, I am sipping whiskey. He’s a vodka drinker, I suspect. But, alcohol choices are completely arbitrary- well maybe not. His headphones are in, and he is bent towards the page. He’s always loved a healthy piece of heavy parchment and a Cross pen. Perhaps an onlooker would imagine that this sophisticated attorney is listening to Vivaldi or Hayden. I, of course, know better. Freak folk and metal. Once I had sufficiently conjured up an image of what he probably did not even look like while writing, I was still content to sip my black breakfast and continue reading.

The uncomfortable words that he penned were like potholes on the page. They were real and disheveled. I could see his eyes, ragged and tired. The weary way they used to look in the 80’s. This time, however, they are heavy from the burden of mini vans and nightly dinners, not cocaine. But, I wonder what the exact difference is. Addiction and obligation and fixation and rejection (and an unhealthy fear of all these things). This is what drives the sad and wondering soul. This is what drives him to come clean. What drives me to flee. The things that drive into us like nails, the things that drive us together. There is a sinister irony creeping into the cracks of this dichotomy. Abrasive scriptures and broken philosophy texts have cornered me and forced me to seek out this pairing of right and completely wrong. To seek out where I came from, and subsequently be reminded of whose daughter I am.

I think that I would like to stumble across him at the Green Parrot. The Floridian breezes calming his arthritic aches. I’d smirk, watching him flirt casually with the tanned bartender only two inches taller than me, five years my senior, and a skirt three inches shorter than I would ever wear. He’s not sleazy about it, he’s classy. Maybe he wouldn’t even recognize me as I observe him, as I am nineteen pounds lighter and my hair is seven shades darker than it was last he saw me six years ago. I would be four drinks and one cigarette into my story, ignoring texts from a forty-something, hummer- driving stock broker who is certain he is in love with me.

I was suffocating when I was married. Now that I have escaped, I still can’t really breathe. But, I believe that maybe a few too many drinks and some soul-searching in Key West with the man who passed his messes on to me would be just the sort of breathing I could possibly do.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Holidays & Honeymoons- Chapter

fragments of chapters

When the holidays began to feel like prison sentences, I began to feel like my insides were freezing over. One year and then another. That November, when the Midwestern ice sheets began to layer quickly, one on top of another, I could sense it in my fingers. I could also sense that it was the year that I would decide to never have another cup of lukewarm tea in the farmer’s house.

My father- in- law was a quiet and cranky man. A man whose livelihood defined his entire being. Had he planned life more carefully, he would have chosen a small, self-constructed cabin in the seclusion of the north country. However, he found himself more southly in the middle of cow pastures, waking at 4:30am each day to be an udder-wrangler. It’s not that he was looking for anything glamorous, that fictional cabin would not have even possessed running water. Yet, he did find something sad and lowly about being a dairy farmer. It was this dusty cloud of unhappiness that rolled into the forefront of his mind each morning at the buzz of 4:30. The side effects of this cloud are what brought me yearly to his weary, white farmhouse.


That year, I spent Thanksgiving with a bottle of Jameson and a pack of specialty cigarettes. I suppose it was not the most delicate of ways to spend such a lovely sort of holiday. Though my glossy lips and meticulously powdered face suggested otherwise, I was not feeling lovely. I told each circle of family and friends separate stories as to avoid any scrutiny. And when it was all said and done, I was alone with some Jameson and my cat. Feeling thankful, at least, that I did not have to be the main float in their parades this year. I knew Christmas would be a different story, but I reveled in the temporary solitude.


It was nothing new. The snow fell down, inch after inch and he said nothing. Nothing at all. It really was nothing new. He always had the hood of his sweatshirt pulled closely around his face and it was always snowing.

It started as a fine mist, just dusting the top our tent, but now the trees around us were thickly coated with about four inches of white death. I had been watching in silence for hours. I felt as though I was slowly freezing, losing all interest in everything. I closed my eyes and let the dark of my eyelids consume me. It felt nice to see black after all that blazing white. My eyelids blinked as though they were 50 lbs each and I could no longer stay awake. By time he was standing over me, I was already asleep. It was a cold and lonely honeymoon.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

lows and loves

bare hearts of three cinquains

your coat. your hands. your heart.
i've loved you since you were small.
caverns in your eyes, onyx worlds apart
so deeply enamored, i missed your fall
i got whiskey hammered and built a wall.

streetlights. empty bottles. alleyways.
(all those ways dirty cities used you)
through the miles, i felt you some days.
like arrows, your tears falling sideways
did you ever feel me? did i come through?

in my soul. in my shower. in my pen.
burrowing through drifts of snow,
we are dusted and white here.
smile, you are losing your fear.
was it hope in your eyes? let it show.

Monday, December 20, 2010

bitter wave (and then breathe)

i wanted to write you off-
or write a nasty letter
erase your chapters
from my story.
but the anger only came
in shaky waves today
receding white foam
(you're so boring)
i'm seeing the light now
as it blinks on, off
on the front porch
(you were mean)
i'm ebbing and flowing,
crying over cat puke
dying to leave now
i'll pack now.
i'll throw your stuff
into the lake tide
watch it freezing
you are fading.

Oh, Otter

streaming upstream, you’re flowing
diamonds in the ripples, waterdrops
silver fishflesh in your mouth, glimmering
smiling through slime of crayfish
we web our feet through the current.
I’ll find you by the river bank
In your eyes, there’s a glowing
Sparking the hope of summertime
nearer to my heart, I cradle you
as curious innocence in your eyes
melts my waxy despair.
I am swept away
Away in your honeyed stare
Your endearing heartbeats
Underneath your wet winter coat
in the icy torrent, we tread
sandy on the river bed.

Friday, December 10, 2010

wicked terza rima

The Result of too much Dead Weather

she sees the horizon quickly nearing
dragging slowly on her cigarette
red clouds & smoke in her eyes smearing
her vision and her silhouette

twisting and jerking like a marionette
she's rotten wood wrapped in a musty cloak
a killer draped in sexy strands of brunette
she clenches his rings to make him choke

death tolls on midnight's sudden stroke
wraith- like hovering over his face
her lips are burning in plumes of smoke
and she buries him in the darkest space

a box for his soul and sinking skin
a box for her eyes and stinking sin

Bedside Escape

Waiting for the Wire, 2009

before, all i needed was a drink
and i would sink into the cracks
of the cushions of complacency,
forgetting you.

like a writer on the verge
of thoughts accumulating...
in dense urges of the deep pit
covered in paralyzing sleep,
without a pencil.
you erased me.

I took that breath as
air curled into my ears,
breaking through walls and
the buzz of radio stations.
i took my first step
out onto the wire
wavering, smiling, knowing
that i would likely plummet.

always something to hide
i can see it scribbled
on top of an oak desk.
sticky notes of loathing
from the days i saw you often.
the stale safety of this bed
is shadowed by the thrill
i feel as i wait for my wire,
as i wait to tiptoe further...

it is a beautiful step
focusing on everything
and nothing.
the skyline is suspended below now
and soon i will fall away from you.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Italian Sonnet for a Traveler

These winter nights can heal your mind
Soothe your bones now brittle and cold
Returning each year until you fold
Away your worries and leave them behind
You can find me in the folds of a scribbled sheet
Where we can ease December’s bite
touching our noses in the candlelight
it is here that our pasts both melt and meet
I’ll stay awake in my wintery gown
Draped in dreams of your endless path
Can you find your way to me when you’re alone?
I’ll stay awake in this sleepy town
While you calculate our star-crossed math
Can you believe that you’re almost home?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

narnia and other thoughts- Chapter segment

The snow fell relentlessly. It was the sort of blizzard when the muffled hum of snowplows was the sole sound and the streetlights looked like a scene from a CS Lewis story. I didn’t want to admit it, but on snowy nights like these, he was all I could think of. Did he dislike the cold? Was he living somewhere warmer? The last time I saw him, he was wearing a scarf. This solitary fact led me to conclusions such as: he did in fact enjoy the icy weather, choosing appropriate attire was something of value to him, and, of course, that green scarves made his eyes glow like emeralds.
I was astounded at all of the musings I could conjure based one just one small detail, but it made me feel weak in more ways than I wanted to admit.

Weakness. The lengths I went to to avoid it. Writing to escape it emotionally. Running to guard my body from it. Leaving people and places to plug up the cracks in my soul.

Friday, December 3, 2010


possibly a chapter in short story

I wanted to run through Grandpa’s garden again that Tuesday morning. I wanted to go on an adventure and wear wings made from Rosie’s clothes. Mostly, I wanted to run. I imagined my thighs gaining 2 millimeters per minute. I had applied extra mascara that morning before heading to the office. Sometimes a little extra makeup can attempt to make up for a relentless, expanding ass. But only sometimes. Sadly, this was not one of those days, so I skipped lunch and swallowed a diet pill.

I listened to the late afternoon chatter of my co-workers and quietly observed them. That’s what we writers do- at least that’s what I do, and I also happen to write. Carolyn was selling her couch on Saturday and making her husband pot roast for dinner tonight. Janet was easily 50 pounds overweight, and yet insisted on keeping a candy bowl on her desk and bags of chips in her drawer. Tyler, metrosexual and moody, was gasping while on the phone with his mother. A few temps sat in a corner cubicle discussing Jocelyn’s new sweater, and probably the fact that I had just left my husband. It was inevitable and so I decided from the start that I wouldn’t give it a second thought once the gossip gears set into motion. I was sure by that point I was most likely in the process of running off with a Jamaican from a cruise ship or had just been diagnosed with something awful. Because that’s why wives leave husbands; they are either horny or insane. That’s a fact. Right?

I looked at my bare ring finger and smiled. I suppressed my laughter as I imagined what would happen if I “accidentally” dropped a condom by the copier or “haphazardly” sent an explicit, extra marital email to “all staff.” The truth of my situation would remain my dirty little secret- which was that, in fact, there was no dirty little secret at all. I chuckled again and although I do not smoke, I went and asked Leon for a cigarette. This turned a few heads, momentarily satisfying my desire to fuck with everyone.

Chapter 1

There’s a more beautiful place to start. Somewhere between where his lips part, where my past and future open wide to meet my mouth. But I will start inside the ugly gaps, inside the crevices of my hardships, because that is where you will see the purpose of my journey. Perhaps if you see the spinning rudder that has propelled me, you will not hate or love me too much for what I have chosen. Possibly, you might come to value the intricacy of love’s fingerprint as I have.

I wanted to run. I ran. Through the rows of trees and over the dusty pebbles, I could feel my feet and pulse pounding in time. I knew I would not be able to find him no matter how fast or far I pushed myself, but it seemed worth a try. Why would he be in these woods? He wouldn’t. I disguised this cardiac circus of mine as something healthy. I also disguised my reality but leaving my wedding band on the bathroom sink.

Here and there when I would stop to wipe the sweat from my hairline, I turned around quickly, stomach lurching- hoping that I would see him behind me. Maybe just this once. But the leaves rustled and the clouds drifted and I was alone. This forest and this path used to comfort me. I stood soaked in sweat, miles from home. It would be miles to get back again. I pictured what I believed his smile looked like now, hypothetically how my hand would fit inside of his. I inhaled and began the tiresome trek back.

The mountains of Tennessee are more depressing than they are beautiful. Of course, when I was a little girl they seemed to glow with the magic of possibility. Undying creatures of Faerie and Middle Earth flitted about in my imagination and also in those smoky, mysterious mountains. I painted my small arms with finger paints and markers; I wore wings made of grandma’s skirts. Large hazel eyes gleamed as I sang my songs of pink horses and frosted cupcakes. In my six year old imagination, I believed that the orange lines on the trees in our backyard were landing sites for small alien ships. Momma told me that they were markers for the tree cutters. I did not conclude that soon our entire wooded yard would be littered with piles of slain fir trees. I supposed that this was something for grownups to consider and continued about my adventures.

The day that my Dad visited my house in the woods, it was mild and breezy. The first rows of the firs had been butchered and I was nestled beside the root cellar. Hugging my knees closely to my chest, rested my head on them, letting my mouth unhinge slightly. I saw Grandma, whom I affectionately referred to as “Rosie”, through the kitchen window, dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief. Maybe she had been very good friends with that patch of trees I thought. The rumble of tires on gravel and plumes of dust signaled the approach of his black truck. Looking back, it see now that this day held all of the signs of change. But little girls do not understand the gravity of change as it is happening…only much later.

My dad was lean and muscular. He wore a blue bandanna nestled in his long hair, and I found him to be both striking and frightening. I saw him flick the butt of his cigarette into the gravel. When he saw me, tiny and wild, he paused and went to one knee. He winked and gestured for me to come to him. I only knew of his hugs through a handful of other similar experiences. “They are taking our trees away” I said boldly, still beside the root cellar, bare toes planted as little roots. A small patch of prickly grass scratched at my foot, but I overlooked it for the moment. “Did you tell them that they could?”

He smiled in his charming way and laughed genuinely, “No, Els. You’ll have to ask your Grandma why they are cutting down the trees.” I took his laughter as an insult and squeezed my knees closer yet. Admitting his defeat, he got up and came next to me. “You’re a tough one” he said with adoration and pulled my head next to his. My long, unruly hair twisted around in his beard and I could smell the unfamiliar scent of marijuana in his tee shirt. “I’m not going to see you again, little one.”

I closed my eyes and let a solitary tear escape through my eyelashes. “I will wait for you to come back” I said firmly. “You will have to forget about me, Elsie” he said through his pursed lips as they kissed my forehead. He looked away suddenly. “They’re going to find me if I come back here for you.”

“Will they come to look for me too?” I wondered aloud. “Are they the ones stealing our trees?” He cupped my small face in his strong hands. “You will be just fine. Someday someone will take care of you. And I will owe them one hundred thank- yous” he said, his voice wavering. I certainly knew that I would rather take my bag of books and candies to live with the fairies the trees before I would need someone to care for me. But, I solemnly nodded my head to console him.
Before he got back into his truck, he stopped and reached into his pocket. I was still at my post beside the cellar, now standing stiffly. “Can you hold onto this for me?” he asked nearly playfully. It was a silver cigarette case. Seeing the look on my face, he knelt once more and put it into my hands. “Don’t open it until later, Els. I love you” And before I could remark, he was gone in a cloud of dust just as he had appeared.

The window had been left open all night, and my throat was stiff and dry in the cold morning air. I searched for my shirt, but could only find one sock. Quietly as possible I grabbed a nearby sweatshirt and slid it on. “Awe, come on “the boy’s voice sighed. I turned sharply and rolled my eyes. “Get over it” I said mildly annoyed. “Fine. Go. But just for the record, I know how old you are. Not bad for fifteen” I decided that this was worth even less of my time that I had even calculated originally. “Yeah, and for the same record, I know that you’re all talk” I said, throwing his stupid boxers at his face.

On my way to school I opened up my silver cigarette case and pulled out a piece of gum. As the raspberry flavor stung my tongue, I let a solitary tear slip through my eyelashes.

Two summers after they cleared away our trees entirely, I spent my time in the garden. My dainty curls bobbed far below the tops of the corn stalks, while I was shrieking at beetles. Although Grandpa John wished that I was a boy, he would still pick me up with one arm and plop me on his lap for a ride on his John Deere tractor. In my mind, I would stare at the small, shiny icon of a jumping deer and think how wonderful it was that my Grandpa had his own tractor named after him.
I would return to the red house, soil- stained, and my grandma Rosie would nearly shed a tear as she saw my long hair knotted and my small pink shoes full of mud. And of course, she was routinely dismayed at the sight of the Crayola graffiti across my face.

She’d let out a long sigh, “I see that you’ve been out adventuring…”
With a thin- lipped smirk, I would give her a very slow, exaggerated wink because, really, I was not very good at winking.

Her kitchen was filled with aromas that made you feel both sleepy and ravenous at once. I would take small licks and tastes of everything she was making, which would always result in being too full for dinner, which would in turn produce another light- hearted scold from my robust grandmother. I hugged her legs as she briskly stirred her sauces and so gently kneaded breads. Her threadbare, patterned aprons smelled of laundry soap and flour. I wish that I could take that smell with me everywhere.

With the dedication of a tiny soldier, I would mechanically set the table. Just perfectly. Two forks, a spoon, two knives, and triangled cloth napkins (which also smelled like Rosie’s aprons). She used her “good china” every day. She would say, “Who is a more honored guest than your family?” Every meal was prepared and served as though we were entertaining Martha Stewart.
Before meals Grandpa would sit at the head of the table and produce his soft, leather Bible. He was so incredibly stern that I would press my thumb into my throat so I would. Not. Even. Cough. He would then pray a long, sad prayer about the elderly, sick people from church; also listing off several frightening things from which we needed God’s “sovereignty and protection.” Finally, we would eat. Many evenings I would imagine droves of hellish devils and sparkling angels as I pushed around peas with my fork or picked at a roll. I always cleared off the dishes alone, contemplating the quandaries of humanity.

I wasn’t even that drunk the night I broke my ankle. My best friend Sam, however, was tripping heavily while braiding my hair. “You should never change, Els! You should always be…beautiful!” she laughed hysterically through her words and yanked with an unknowing force at my hair. I didn’t mind at all. She was all I really had, it seemed.

“So….was he mind- blowing, lovie?” her question was accompanied by a wet kiss on my cheek. I made a sarcastic gagging noise and wiped my face with my sleeve, giggling.

“I didn’t even kiss him!” I squealed with a fabricated tone of insult. Knowing the ridiculous nature of my comment, we looked at each other and laughed until our eyes brimmed with tears. Then, with a sudden tone, so grave I could have intimidated the Pope himself, I put up my hand. “He was all talk. All.” We blurted out again, and she was shaking more than she should have been. I thought she was just laughing.

The hours meandered along like they would on any other of our teenage Saturday nights. Vodka shots, cookie baking, cigarette smoking, doing hair and makeup. All while screaming along to the Pixies or Nada Surf. Fifteen fit us perfectly. Sam’s parents were never home, so it felt as though we had our own house. But, at two o’clock, when the rest of the neighborhood snored evenly, Sam stopped breathing.

I was on the roof smoking an orange- flavored cigarette, feeling sophisticated. I saw her turn her head and her eyes roll to white. She was motionless on the carpet. As I scrambled to get back through the window to her side, I lost my balance and tumbled inside. I couldn’t move, so I just cried.


I breathed the cold city air in so deeply that I could feel it swirling down my throat and dropping into my stomach. This was a frightening place. Expressionless faces passed me. Sometimes taxi headlights illuminated their eyes and still I could see no trace of feeling. I knew nothing of this demanding metropolis. New York. Why had I come here? It was too late to leave and I didn’t trust myself to answer that question honestly anway, so I took a long sip of whiskey and kept walking, continuing the quest for the best lamp lit bench. The spot that I had felt drawn to hours earlier had since been occupied by heavyset man. His beard was massive and rumpled, and I imagined that it was the home to any number of small creatures. Perhaps a tiny hermit crab or an infinitesimal owl. He hacked and coughed to what I thought would surely be his death. I rolled my eyes and cradled my laptop slightly closer to my side.

I wandered the same sidewalks for another hour. Breathing, reflecting. I knew that the words would come to me; that the story’s ending would somehow tie itself together into a perfect bow. I sighed heavily and stopped to look around. Though it was not a bench, not at all what I had been looking for, I knew that this was where I was suppose to finish the book. In the dim, flickering light of a streetlight, there was a small set of wooden stairs. Making my way to them, I crossed the now quiet street and sat down. These steps appeared to lead nowhere. Rickety and cold, they continued up wards to a door. But I remained on the second step, feeling convinced and energized in the blush of the flickering light.