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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dessert - 3/28

Jell-O was definitely not Scott's favorite dessert. He watched Sandy near the dining room table with the tray carrying the three white cups and forced a smile on his face.

"My favorite!" squealed Jamie from across the table. Her pig tails bobbed merrily as she clapped.

"Really?" Sandy beamed as she put the tray on the table and started handing out the dessert.

Scott's smile grew more genuine as he watched his little girl take the cup with glee. She fumbled with the grown up spoon and then dug out a mountain of dark pudding. It was topped with a little dollop of whip cream but she managed to squeeze it all into her wide open mouth.

"What do you say?" Scott dabbed at his own dessert as he took his daughter in a firm gaze.

Her teeth were coated with pudding as she smiled again. "Thank you Aunt Sandy.”

Sandy swallowed her own bite prudently before talking. "You’re welcome, Jamie. Just do me one favor?"

The little girl perked up instantly. Her attentiveness was no doubt from both the rush of sugar Scott was sure had already started to course into her veins but also from his sister's serious sounding request.

"Try not to eat it in one bite."

Jamie laughed. "OK."

Scott nodded at her as she took a smaller mouthful this time. For once, she seemed to savor the chocolate taste rather than inhaling it as thoughtlessly as air.

The dining room settled into a comfortable quiet, highlighted by the clink of spoons against the ceramic cups.

Scott created a ribbon of white through the dark brown and winced as he finally took a bite. He could feel the questions Sandy had been waiting to ask simmering just beneath the surface. She was tactful as well as prudent and knew better than to bring up the divorce in front of Jamie. It was coming though, as soon as dessert was over. His big sister wanted to look out for him as ever but before she could draw her proverbial blade and strike at the foe that had hurt him, she would need the whole story. And she wanted the whole story.

He swallowed down that thought with another painful mouthful of pudding. They both settled like concrete on the overdone steak and mash potatoes that were already filling his stomach.

From the kitchen Wally started barking.

"Does he want some pudding too?" Jamie looked down at her cup. Scott saw her realize she didn't have any to offer the small terrier and watched her face wrinkle with concern.

"I bet he just wants to play." Scott tried not to notice Sandy's glance in his direction as she placated his daughters worry.

He couldn't delay the inevitable any longer.

"Are you all done?" Scott asked.

Jamie nodded vigorously. The idea of playing with the dog appeared to be as appealing as pudding.

"Take your bowl to the sink then and take him out back."

Jamie jumped out of her seat as if she was on a spring. She gathered her cup and cleanly licked spoon and scurried through the swinging door. The hinges creaked as the door slowed. Jamie's feet pattered quickly across the linoleum. The excited barks of the dog were joined by the clatter of dishes finding the sink and then Jamie's coos as she led the dog out to Sandy's ample back yard.

Scott tossed down his spoon as the back door slammed closed and tried not to feel his sister's worried gaze. Out of his daughter's view, he could let his shoulders slump. The weight of the situation he tried to keep carefully hidden from his little girl fell back into place as she rushed off.

Instead of jumping into questions as quickly as Jamie had leapt from her chair, Sandy took a more delicate tact.

"She's doing well."

"Yeah...she's great."



"Ok. Meet you in the living room."

He nodded and stared down at his half eaten pudding as Sandy headed back into the kitchen. He listened to her run the tap, grind up some fresh beans and dig out a filter.

With a sigh he pushed himself away from the table and strode slowly into the living room as she had suggested. The modern furniture and mix of colors and styles blended into an elegant but comfortable arrangement. It was somewhere to entertain guests, but also where you could just sit and read without feeling like you were in a museum.

He slumped down into the warm chocolate colored arm chair. It was far more pleasing than the similarly toned pudding.

Instead of being bombarded by too much perfume, as he would have been back in his old living room, the only scent that came to him was of the coffee that was starting to brew.

Scott shook his head.

The perfume had been just the beginning. Angela had decorated like a mad woman out for vengeance against the world. There was that squishy, blue velvet couch, the fierce, red modern art that she hung on the walls and then those cat figurines that cluttered every shelf, staring at you like you had just eaten their favorite mouse. The whole arrangement had been jarring and uncomfortable to even look at, let alone live in. The smell hung on your clothes hours after you left and the residual image of the clashing colors and accusing eyes lingered as if you had stared at the sun too long.

Scott let out a sigh and sunk further into the cozy chair. Wearily he closed his eyes.

Decorating the house had been one of the warning signs he had missed. It was another symptom in the rapidly deteriorating relationship that had been his marriage.

He pushed the thoughts aside. He had dwelled on them for long enough.
Decisions had been made, paperwork was being signed. He was getting out while he still had the energy to try again. The last thing he wanted to do was live in those memories.

The aroma of coffee neared along with his sister's soft step. He sat up and took the mug from her. It already swirled with the bit of milk she knew he liked. He was sure it already had the two scoops of sugar too. It was a far better dessert.

Drawing the mug up to his nose, he closed his eyes once more. He blocked out everything but the smell rising with the steam. The soft hush that broke through meant Sandy was sitting on the nearby couch. The dull thud that followed was her cup finding the coaster.

He sighed and opened his eyes. The dark cream of his coffee stared back up at him silently.

"So," Sandy started slowly. He could feel her fixed her sharp brown eyes on his bowed head. He knew he wasn't going to escape explaining this time. "What happened?"

Suddenly, the Jell-O didn't seem so bad.

Friday, March 26, 2010

You Don't Say - 3/25

Karl was annoyed. He was annoyed at having to knock on the wooden door of his neighbor for the third time in the same month. He was annoyed at the gleaming trailer holding the sleek white boat that perpetually dripped over to block half of his driveway every time Charlie and Marie came back from shore. He was annoyed that his neighbors seemed to have no consideration for anyone else on the block.

The other man's tanned, lean face hovered at the stain glass window that filled up the upper half of the door. Moments later the brass latch clicked inside and the mammoth doorway swung open. A wave of stale air that smelt of cleaning products, potpourri and Parisian cologne rolled over the threshold.

"Hey Karl." Charlie smiled broadly and stepped to the side. Karl was motioned in with the wave of some tome Charlie wanted to appear to have been reading. It was thick, leather bound and looked expensive. "Come in, come in."

"Thanks, Charlie." Karl followed Charlie inside and was once again, instantly glad he wasn't claustrophobic.

Everything within the four walls of this house was meant to overwhelm the visitor with excess.

Two tables heavy with delicate vases and fresh flowers had lined the short hallway that took only a few strides to walk down. The passageway opened up into the living room decked with huge padded chairs and a long elbow shaped couch. The rich colors swooned together and blended into the angular shapes within the floor to floor carpet.

On the walls hung one bulky framed painting after another bulky framed painting. There were some smaller pieces that weren't rimmed with three inch gold just to add to the barrage of distorting angles.

Towering glass cases loomed at each corner, ladened with plates and statues and trinkets of every shape and size. Every other flat surface was covered with piles of academically titled magazines and books large enough to serve as tables on their own.

Karl wasn't sure if any of it was worth what it seemed, but his neighbors were adamant about making that impression. They liked to make sure you knew they had money and weren't afraid to spend it on anything that even remotely struck their fancy. Like the book in Charlie's hand, the fact that their newest toy was parked over Karl's driveway was not an accident.

Charlie dropped down into one of the cavernous arm chairs and pulled his foot and its smooth leather loafer on to his khaki covered knee. "Sit sit. Sorry Marie isn't here. She's out with her mother at The Club. Can I get you anything? A drink?"

Karl waved him off with both hands and strove to stay on the subject. He sat carefully on one of the couch cushions, only slightly worried about being sucked into the depths of the padding. He was more worried about a descent into a discussion of club activities or what the in-laws had their eye on buying next.

"No, thanks. I just wanted to talk to you about your boat."

"Beauty isn't she?"

"Yes. It's a lovely boat. But it's covering half my driveway again."

"No." On Charlie's brow appeared a deep frown but Karl couldn't help but notice the satisfied little smile that was creeping on to the other man's face. "I'm sorry about that. I'll grab my keys and move it right away." Charlie started to angle himself out of the chair, but again Karl held up a pair of halting hands.

"Take your time." For a few seconds, a debate rage in Karl's mind. He hadn't planned on bringing this up, but now, facing Charlie's little smile, he couldn't help himself. The lingering annoyance that had followed him to the door pushed him over the edge. "But if you could make sure it's moved by tomorrow morning that would be really great."

"What's tomorrow morning?" Charlie's frown seemed to become instantly more genuine.

"We have a delivery coming in and I want to make sure the truck has room." Karl kept his tone off handed but the flicker of concern that filled Charlie's brown eyes made him want to push the point home. He managed to keep himself reigned in, waiting for the inevitable question to fill the pause in their conversation.

"What are you getting delivered?"

"We're getting a pool put in the back." Karl's level of satisfaction rose to a degree that exactly matched the enlargement of Charlie's widening eyes.

"You don't say?"

"Yeah, Lisa thought it'd be great for the kids and since things have been going so well for us we thought it was a good time."

"Really, you guys are doing that well?" Charlie's voice seemed to grow a bit hoarse. Perhaps he was the one in need of a drink.

Karl shrugged and tried to keep his voice light. "Yeah, we've been pretty lucky. Lisa just joined a larger practice and I had told you about my new position right?" Karl savored the other man’s slow nod. "I don't mean to brag," but he did anyway. "Director does pay a lot more than Assistant Director."

"I'm sure I'm sure." Charlie nodded. "Big investment though. A pool."

Karl nodded. "We debated it for a while. But this is something we can enjoy for a long time. It'll be in by the summer and then we're having it heated so we can use it even in the fall and winter."

"That sounds great," Charlie said. His slow nod and corresponding sag in his shoulders seemed to silently suggest otherwise.

"I hope so." Karl added a worried thread to his tone just to keep the conversation civil. "It should be great for asset. You'll never believe what that kind of addition can do to the price of a house." He felt the lopsided grin spread across his mouth but made sure it stayed neighborly.

"Well, that's just great." Charlie said, murmuring slightly and nodding once more.

Karl could see the thoughts racing through the other mans mind. He was weighing the numbers, considering the options and trying to figure out what he could buy to counter this new addition. Karl didn't even want to think about the conversation that would ensue once Marie got back from her Club and found out.

Karl didn't give Charlie time to come up with a countering bit of news to try and snatch away his moment.

"So you can move your boat?" Karl rose and Charlie did the same.

"Sure, sure. First thing in the morning."

"That'd be great." Karl stuck his hand out over a pile of the Economist. "Thanks, Charlie."

Charlie added his half to the handshake.

Karl gave him a friendly grin. "I should get going. Got a busy day tomorrow."

"Of course." Charlie motioned again with the heavy book and the two men walked back to the front door.

"My best to Marie."

"And mine to Lisa and the kids."

The brass knob creaked like it was made to do and the hinges worked as silently as ever. Fresh air and sunlight poured back through the open door.

"See you later," offered Karl as he crossed back onto the wide stone patio.

They exchanged a quick, manly pair of waves and then Karl headed back down the stone path that coiled artfully through clipped grass and towards home.

He went with a priceless bounce in his step.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Winner - 3/22

I was a winner.

I first suspected it when the printer finished with the last number in the six digit sequence. I really knew it when the clerk ripped me free from the machine along my perforated edge. I'm not sure how lottery tickets get that knowledge but trust me, we do. I was 200 million dollars in the bag.

The Clerk's fingers were oily and soaked into my papery edge but I didn't mind. I was bound for greater things. I carried that stain as I was handed over.

The hand that took me was calloused and trembled slightly. She gave me a quick kiss with chapped lips and then unceremoniously stuffed me into her coat pocket. I couldn't blame her for the inglorious treatment. She didn't know. Not yet.

I wanted to be able to tell her, but being 3 by 2, rectangular and made of newspaper quality materials, makes communication rather difficult. The reward for being so limited however, is tremendous.

You get to hear them cheer. You get to help change their lives. For a brief moment you are the most valuable thing in the whole world. Being slightly crumpled, folded into a wallet or riding around with bits of lint and old receipts is a fair price to pay.

After a while, her hand snuggled down into the pocket and gave me a few more wrinkles. Those hard fingers were now icy cold. I wished I could buy her a pair of mittens now, but they would have to wait. At least the internal lining of her jacket pocket seemed to be doing the job. Her hand slowly warmed up and then fate railed against us.

When she pulled out her hand, me and a bit of lint came with it. A gust billowed through the air and snagged me as I dropped towards the ground. The wind was as icy as her hand and I swirled helplessly in it as she walked on. A moment later I slammed into the hard concrete. There was a bit of dirt that globed onto my Clerk oiled edge and kept me pinned.

I stared up at the darkening sky and my little papery heart sank. I wasn't going to be able to get her those mittens.

A shadow rushed by and my hopes rose. Maybe she had noticed that she had lost me along the way.

But the figure jogged along the sidewalk in a bubble of music without glancing down.

My free edge fluttered as traffic raced along the road with a change of the street lights at the crosswalk. None of the drivers looked over.

A bus sagged to a sighing stop in front of the grocery store and sent another trample of feet by where I was laying. Not one of them noticed me down in the dirt.

The light faded even more. I found I was caught in the shadow that lay between the glowing street lamps that sputtered to life. Their florescent glow barely caught on my corners.

As it grew darker, the footsteps became fewer. The icy wind was tossed less and less by the cars flying by. Night settled in.

I could feel the lottery numbers being called. When each one was announced it warmed the corresponding digits on my soiled surface. But there were no cheers. No one was clutching me with growing hope and then fantastic exuberance. There was just a clump of dirt and a rough, dry leaf that had joined us in the icy night. I could feel my edges getting crisp in the cold.

When the light rose again, I watched on sadly as the sequence of the day before reversed itself.

The cars started gathering in the road again. Dejectedly, I watched them sit bumper to bumper as they waited for the lights to change. When it did, they all rushed by with a billow of exhaust.

More and more feet passed me by but no one stopped. The bus picked up one crowd of passengers. The long cab wobbled on its large wheels as they climbed aboard with their bags and bundles but no one took me.

More people lined up a while later. A few jogged along again. More simply drove on by.

Although it was cold, the sun was dazzling. I knew it wouldn't be long until it faded me completed. Either that or there would be rain or snow or something else that would obliterate my print. I'd be left a useless scrap of litter along the side of the road.

Then, another pair of feet neared. This one was slower than the pedestrians who had hurried by before. Those had been locked on some invisible objective and were not to be deterred from their path by something as insignificant as I seemed way down here. This new pair though was much slower. They moved as if less interested in the destination and more in the concrete beneath their feet.

Each pair of steps was followed by a long and lingering pause.

A pair of steps. A long pause.

A step. A pause.

Step. Pause.

And then they were right next to me. The dirty sneakers were loosely laced, as if their owner had thrown them on quickly just moments before. They shoved tiny pebbles aside as they shuffled, turning the rest of the body as a pair of eyes far above me searched the ground.

Another step and they were nearly on top of me. I wanted to shout out, to wave my iced edges, to flare my multicolored border and gain their attention. Of course, I couldn't do any of those things. I just closed my eyes and hoped.

When those near frozen, calloused fingers pulled me free from the dirt, I felt an amazing surge of joy. That hand had the same trembling. Those were the same lips kissing my soiled numbers that had done so for luck in the store. Her cloudy breath whispered a prayer. Then I was crushed to her chest while she did a little dance on the sidewalk.

All I knew was that I'd get to buy her those mittens.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Nuclear Threat - 3/20

I poured until the mug was brimming. The tea was already tainting the milk into a light brown that promised to be sweet and warm. As the spicy aroma reached my nose I could imagine it flowing down my throat and helping to relax the tense muscles in my back. It had been one hell of a week. All I really wanted to do was curl up and tune out. My hand wrapped around the handle of the cup and I carried it carefully to the couch. I managed to keep it from sloshing over as I pulled the quilt towards me.

The heavy blanket drooped off the top of the cushions and lay heavily on my lap. The cinnamon flavors were mixed with the floral scent that came as the blanket unfolded. It smelled of lilies. It reminded me of home, my first home and of my family. Of my dad who like to grow the white flowers and my mom who always told him they were her favorite even though she really liked roses. It reminded me of being little and carefree. Like the tea, it helped was away the hours spent annoyed and stressed, of worried and overwhelmed.

I let out a deep sigh and picked up the remote. There wouldn't be anything on, there never was. For now, the sounds and pictures would be distracting until I got the energy up to do something more productive than stare blankly at a moving screen.

The steady click of my finger switched the channels one after another. Commercials rolled by. A sports car raced over curving, wet roads at dangerous speeds. A morbidly obese hippopotamus lumbered out of a digital phone. A huge ball of rubber bands bounded after a screaming crowd that fled down a city street. I wasn't sure what any of them were advertising and I didn't wait long enough to find out.

The channels flashed by until one caught my eye. The screen was unusually dark but somehow the shadowy figure felt familiar. My hand around the remote dropped down into my lap. I took a sip on the steaming brew and tried to remember what movie this was.

I think it had to do with some kind of nuclear threat. There was a hero that was going to stop it but there was an obvious villain that stood in the way. The shadow, which I figured was the hero, moved across the screen in near silence. The only noise coming out of my old speakers was his footsteps. The sound reminded me of walking across old popcorn, the kind that litters a movie theater floor. They probably meant the steps to sound like they were crossing the gravel or rocks that lay between the rows of huge metal cars. The camera panned out and revealed the expanse of the rail yard. The shadowy figure paced down one alley way and then the next.

The music rose to add some tension to his hunt.

The bad guy I remembered was in the refrigerated one at the end of the next row. He was going to jump out with a frozen leg of beef or lamb.

But then what?

I couldn't remember how it ended. There was going to be some math twist somewhere. A calculation done wrong, or a quotient misplaced that unraveled the villains evil plan. The images and plot points mixed together like the hot water and milk had done in my mug. They blended with other movies until I wasn't even sure the frozen leg was going to appear.

It did. With a swing like a baseball bat, the villain successfully bashed the hero in the head. That gave the bad guy a chance to run off once more to wherever it was he needed to be.

I curled further into the blanket and set my tea on the table beside the couch. The arm rest was soft under my head as I watched the scene transition to an office building. The hero was sneaking in for some reason.
I yawned and suspected the villain or the codes to the nuclear arsenal were inside. It seemed plausible.

Indeed he raced up the stair well, keen to keep himself from being caught on camera.

My eyes started to feel heavy as he snuck down a beige hallway that reminded me of work. It was dull, empty and devoid of any kind of human touch.

The next thing I knew the villain was base jumping out the window. I blinked and tried to bring the two scenes together but my brief moment of snoozing had disjointed them completely. The bad guy probably found the codes I reasoned with another yawn. That would leave the hero in quite the predicament. I hoped absently that he would have a better day than I had had.

I snuggled deeper into the warmth of the tea, the blanket and the movie's soundtrack. My body slumped into the softness of the couch and I gave in. Sleep washed over me like a wave, like it had probably done the first time I'd caught this film on TV. Like the hero chasing his villain, I'd have to try and catch the ending again some other time.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Stay. Go. - 3/17

He loved her but this was just too damn hard.

Jeremy looked down at the phone cupped in his hand that rested in his lap. It continued to glow warmly. Fog from his breath was quickly evaporating from the screen. Her voice and the static of 3,000 miles lingered on his ear.

Although their conversation had ended moments ago, he hadn't been able to put away his cell. The weight of the whole situation made him feel heavy and immobile, as if he was made of stone. It made it hard to move. It made it hard to do anything. He just sat, looking at the small device, wondering what to do next.

He could close the phone. He could put it back into his pocket and move on with the rest of his evening. It was what he always did. The hard grip on his heart would ebb in a few more minutes and gradually things would return to normal.

He could call her back. The thought of her laughter at the unexpected repeat call made him smile. Knowing that the next call, whenever it happened, would inevitably end with a tone of tired sadness made his shoulders sag and his mouth droop. It was how they all ended. Talking was hard enough the few times they managed to squeeze one another into their busy lives. He didn't think he wanted to endure it again, not so soon after the last.

He could stop all of this.

That knowledge rambled through his mind as it did each time he stewed over their relationship.

The choices were clear.

He could stay put and move on. It was really inevitable anyway. She couldn't leave LA which meant she would never be coming out here. If they kept going like this, then all they would ever have would be these furtive conversations and the occasional visit when he got the time and money to head west. He could end this futile effort and bring a dose of reality to the matter. It would be cold and harsh but for the best. He could cut them both free so that they could move on with their lives without this burden. He could do it with one call.

He sighed as the other half of the perpetual argument that always started with a break up, bounded forward to provide the alternative.

He could go there. It opened up another whole world of difficulties. He would be leaving his friends, his job, and his life here for an unknown future. Who knew what it would be like out there, with her? Would it just be worse than it was now?

Now, here, everything reminding him of her. When he woke up there was that poster he had bought on his last visit that hung on the wall of his bed room. When he went to work, he drank coffee out of the travel proof mug she had sent last Christmas. When he hung out with his friends they would ask about her. All of that only compounded the other hints of her that he endured throughout his day. It didn't cripple him or send him into depressive spirals, but it was like she was here but not.

Why not just go and get the real thing?

He shook his head as the circular argument returned back how risky such a move would be.

With a sigh he looked back down at the phone. The tiny device started at him blankly. It was dark now. Even the lights behind the key pad had dimmed. The smooth screen and shiny buttons provided no opinion on the matter.



Distilled like that it seemed so simple. And really, it was. He was just too damn chicken to make the choice.

So make one, he snapped at himself.

Fine, he snapped back.

When the answer came, he immediately knew it was right. The weight on his curved shoulders lifted and the pressure against his chest eased. He could breathe again and it felt good. Making that decision, will all its painful repercussions, felt good.

There was no reason to wait, he reasoned. This was what he needed to do.

With another glare at the quiet phone he drew in a breath and dialed her number.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Soccer game - 3/15

As the last few minutes ticked away, Jaime hovered anxiously on the sidelines. The brisk October wind tried to cut through the layers of her heavy coat but the adrenaline in her veins was keeping her warm. The score still left them down by one.

The breeze sent dried leaves onto the field. They were trampled almost instantly by the 22 pairs of small, cleats rushing down the grass.

"Look up! Look up!" she said through tight lips. She always tried not to make a scene. She didn't want to be one of those mothers screaming their heads off like this was the World Cup.

Erin's eyes were locked down at the black and white ball at her feet though.

Look up, Jaime thought once more as her daughter raced by.

The young girl missed another opportunity to pass up to the forward, Rachel who was charging the outside post of the net.

The seconds ticked by.

Jaime kept her feet planted as two defenders zeroed in on Erin's bobbing ponytail. They boxed her into the corner. The chaotic kicking that ensued sent the ball out of bounds. The referee’s whistle blew and pointed towards a goal kick.

"Hey!" The girl's coach, Charlotte shouted. Her plump face was red with fury and her arms were gesticulating wildly. The dark blue sports jacket that matched the girl’s uniforms flapped loudly against the woman’s thick sides. Jamie wasn't sure how her flailing limbs were supposed change the bad call but she, like the other parents filling the sidelines, appreciated the effort.

It had totally gone off the defenders leg.

But as the red uniformed defender placed the ball at the corner of the goal box and booted it out towards mid-field, the inevitable had arrived.

The referee blasted again on his whistle. A cry of glee erupted on the field. On the other sidelines a roar rumbled beneath a crowd of waving hands and happy faces.

Jamie sought out Erin. Her daughters head was down again, but this time dejectedly rather than with concentration. She and the rest of their team lumbered with exhausted limbs from the soccer field like wounded soldiers.

Jaime wanted to rush out and buffer Erin from the laughter from the other side. But again, she kept herself in place. Losing was its own lesson.

Charlotte was calling the girls in with her siren call. Their young faces looked up as she waved her arms to hurry them along. Slow trots had the 15 girls around the short coach in a clump of blue and white. Charlotte's voice had dropped so low within the gathering that Jaime couldn't hear what she might be saying. Her arms folded over her chest as she watched.

A ripple of laughter came out of the clutch. It was tinged with tired sadness but the sound still made Jamie smile. The wound that her daughter’s sad face had struck on her heart was soothed a bit.

Another shout erupted from the small coach and the girls all reached in for one last cheer, this one for their opponents. Then the line started to form out towards midfield where variants of "good game" were to be expressed in the most sports man like of gestures.

Jaime wandered a few steps towards the mid line to join in the gathering parents. Charlotte was standing a few steps in front of the bundled adults, watching the girls like a mother hen.

"They played well."

Charlotte nodded in agreement to Jaime’s softly spoken statement.

"They sure did." Charlotte's head shook with obvious frustration. "Next year we'll get them."

"There is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous." Scott, the forward Rachel's dad murmured darkly.

His wife knocked him on the shoulder in a swift reprimand. "Come on. They nearly had them today!"


"Sure did!"

"Next time!"

The crowd of adults buoyed itself on that hope. Jaime smiled as she saw their dejected faces shift just as Charlotte had managed to shift the sentiments of the young girls.

The players were coiling back now towards the sidelines and the adults quickly drifted to each of their charges. Coats were being offered as readily as hugs.

Erin's bounds were less hearty than usual and she shrugged as she accepted her coat from Jaime's outstretched hands.

"I should have passed..."

Jaime laughed and gave her a quick squeeze then stepped back as the sweaty girl sloughed on the winter coat.


Erin's narrow shoulders slumped.

"Come on, let's get you something to eat."

Jaime slipped her arm around her daughter’s shoulders and gave her another quick squeeze. Erin's tired body leaned into Jaime's side and the long sleeve of her coat wrapped around her mother's waist. Jaime turned them towards the tables, strewn with box juices and cookies that buffered the parking lot.

"I'm not really hungry..." Erin droned. She kicked at a few loose pebbles in the grass with her cleats.

"Nonsense. An army marches on its stomach, and you my dear have miles to go before you sleep."


"Go on. Grab something and we're out of here. I promised Reggie we'd stop by this afternoon."

Erin's face brightened instantly. "Really?"

"Yeah. He was booked with Paul's game this morning but I thought we could all share some notes over dinner."

"Maybe he could help me with my passing!?" Erin bubbled with excitement. Her arm slipped free and she raced with a renewed burst of speed towards the juice and cookies. Jaime watched her run off and mingle with the other girls by the table. A smile spurred by her own memories slipped onto her lips.

A Fishing Tale - 3/11

The sharp tug on the fishing reel nearly ripped the rod out of Bob's hands. He sprang out of his doze as the metal handle slipped to his drooping fingertips.

"Woah..." he said as he jumped to his feet. The green galoshes thumped against his shins as he tried to keep his balance in the wavering canoe.

"What you go?" Joe, at the other end of the narrow boat stirred as well. He pulled the fishing cap off his face and resettled it on his bald head. As water threatened to lap over the sides, he dropped his own slack rod into the hull and placed one meat palm on each railing to steady the small craft.

"Not sure but it feels like a big one." Bobs sloping shoulders tensed as the line drew taunt.

"Well, pull it in man. Can't let a little fish get the best of you." Joe smiled warmly at his friend. His wrinkles deepened with the joke and the scowl it induced on Bobs face. Specks of sweat were blossoming at each ear and trickling down his jowl.

He braced his feet against the rim of the canoe and squatted back down into the hull. Readjusting his two handed grip, he leaned back so that his curved back was flush against the opposite side of the hull. The thin line stretched with the new angle but didn't give an inch. His large hand clamped down on the reeling rod. With a grunt he started turning it, pulling in the fishing line.

The canoe drifted towards where the line disappeared into the water.

"Come on..." Bob grunted. The small boat started to float in a small circle.

Joe leaned over the side. His face was reflected in the murky water that was so muddy it obscured everything underneath the surface.

"What is it?"

Joe shook his head. "I don't know. Can't see."


Bob reached out and grabbed hold of the end of his rod. He pulled on the line. He jiggled the line. He cursed at the line. He gave it one more final tug.

The line grew slack instantly. The release of tension had him tumbling onto the bottom of the boat. The rod fell into the canoe with a clatter. Out of the water sprang the rest of the thin fishing line and glinting hook. It bounded out and landing on Bob's stomach with a wet plop.

He sat up, looking at the small hook resting on his round stomach. The metal glinted against the dark red flannel of his button down shirt.

"Looks like you caught something!" Joe laughed in the stern, his hand slapping down on his denim covered knee.

"Guess so." Bob lifted the hook and brought it to his eyes. The chunk of wet wood with ripped edges spun before him as he turned the small metal object. It stank of muddy depths and had a scent that was annoyingly like the fish they had been out to catch.

Rollercoaster ride - 3/9

The long line moved forward so terribly slowly. One shuffled plunge of bodies was followed by a long, tense wait before we all surged ahead again another few feet. The lucky ones made it to the swiftly arriving car and zoomed off towards a destination desired by each pair of tired limbs left behind. Echoing off the metal balustrades that kept us in line came the heightened cries of those already on the ride. Underlying those voices was the steady clack of the roller coasters wheels as the rolled through the grooved tracks.

I craned my head over the tall shoulder of the man in front of me in order to count. 15 could fit in each car. There were 16 in front of me. That meant I still had a chance. I bounced on my toes, too anxious and filled with excitement to be trapped in the confines of the winding rows of people. I had almost made it.

Another surge and I was hovering right on the other side of the gate. I could see the cab with its straps and bright colors. Freed from our tortuous line the newest passengers hurried in and settled down moments before the first jolt came from the cart as it began moving forward. Nervous cheers filled the air and grew dim as they raced off behind the departing coaster.

Three minutes seemed to stretch on like an eternity. I could sense the others behind me. They wanted the front seat too, but I wasn't about to give up that prize. I hadn't stood in line for nearly an hour to be looking at the back of someone else’s head the whole time.

When the coaster glided back into the station there was a surge behind me but the gate at my waist stayed closed. It didn't unlock until the passengers with wobbly legs, frayed hair and stupefied grins had exited. I heard the click before it actually swung open. I stayed one step ahead of the herd.

With a dashing leap I clamored into the front leather seat and squirmed below the railings that were hovering, waiting to come down on my lap. My body was trembling so much I barely noticed the slightly sticky surface of the seats and the smell of old popcorn wafting up from where my bouncing feet were stowed. The cart rocked almost like a cradle as the other 13 people climbed on board. The chatter over who would have which seat dominated, but I didn't care. Stretching out before me was open track. It led up steeply, maybe 75 maybe 80 degrees. At the peak were a bright blue sun and the hint of the drop that was to follow.

My heart thumped against my chest as if it wanted to jump out and take a seat.
The metal bar shuddered and a hiss was released from beneath the cart. It sank down into the grooved track. The security bars shuddered down and lay stiffly against my legs, pinning me to the soda and grease coated leather.

My mouth hung open in a broad grin that nearly matched how wide my eyes were. Even when the first jolt nearly bent me over the bar, I couldn't take my eyes off of the assent.

There was no stutter of a chain pulling us up towards the peak. Not in this newest of designs. We glided forward with another soft hiss of released air and rumbled forward.

I imagined the gears straining as the coaster ladened with people clawed its way up the slope. As we neared the peak it slowed so much I thought it was going to stop. A pit of disappointment started to grow in my stomach. I wanted to reach out and pull us up and over that final curve.

But the coaster managed on its own.

For a brief second as it crested that first rise, I could only see sky. There were no tracks there was no descending slope. We were about to take flight.

Then gravity weighed in. My arms rose involuntarily over my head as we plunged down. The cart rattled through the first right hand bank that swooped into a u-turn that tried to throw my body out the side. By the time I realized I was still inside the coaster, we took a hard left and I felt as if I was going to fall through the floor. The sharp rise that followed spun us upside down and through a tight corkscrew that left me dizzy. Another bank to the right, up and left once more and a dozen other twists and turns followed. My arms thrashed with each twist. My stomach rose to my throat then dropped to my feet at each rise and fall.

The harnesses rattled around me as if about to shatter like glass. There were screams of glee and fear flowing like a train behind us. The bright colors of the carnival swirled in a muddy mix around the ride. The smell of stale and oily scents greeted each drop back down towards the ground and I was blinded by the bright sun and sky each time we spun away from the earth. The coasters ability to thumb its nose at vertigo had me spinning in my seat.

The gliding exit and slamming stop came all too soon. The momentum tossed me over the security bar like a wet rag. The bar stayed in place only long enough to let me catch my breath before it jolted upright. I stumbled from the cart like those passengers I had watched so enviously. I knew now why they were so wary of stable ground. It swam beneath my feet as if it too were a coaster ride. I exhilarated in the sensation and only hated the fact that I'd have to wait in line once more to claim the thrill again.

Those kids - 3/6

I sat in the corner chair of the library and tried to continue reading. It was three in the afternoon and I should have known better. The high school next door had freed their collection of teenagers for the day and they were swarming nosily through the double doors. With a sigh, I laid the book down in my lap. There would be at least ten minutes of them figuring out where to sit so that they could discuss the day’s rumors or events. Some might even want to find a quieter place to study or complete their homework.

The streams of awkward limbs were oblivious to the rest of the patrons in the building. They even seemed oblivious to common sense when it came to clothes. I could see attempts at trendy fashions on some of the more social ones. Others went the opposite direction. Instead of cute attire, they wore garish colors, monochrome blacks or wild assortments just to try and be different. With their friends garbed in similar ensembles, they all just blended together. Like zebras on the Serengeti Plain they melded into tight herds that left one nearly indistinguishable from the other. Not that they would realize such a thing. They were too absorbed in themselves to consider how they might look to the rest of the world.

It was clear they could see differences between one group and the next however. I watched them separate based on physical appearances.

A clutch of made up girls trying to look years older hovered near the doorway. They seemed more intent on being seen than actually using the facility they were disturbing.

Another clump lumbered into the back where they would be out of sight from the librarians whose gaze was watching, vulture like from the reference desk in the center of the room.

Several bounded towards the rows of vacant computers. I watched the older users who had been working on job searches or more serious matters, glare and sigh. The youthful vigor disturbed the serenity of the quiet clicks and searches as they discussed the next level they wanted to achieve in their electronic worlds.

A pair, dully dressed and quieter, moved off towards the cubicles with backpacks bulging and heads close together in whispered conversation. The laughter and painful sneers thrown at them by the more popular girls by the door seemed to glide off of them like water and oil. The two made their own comments and laughed derisively as they rounded a ladened stack.

Each cluster moved about like satellites around one another. Never mixing but their orbits defined by the presence of the others. The rest of the occupants within the library were simply obstacles to be worked around rather than similar entities to be considered and accommodated.

I hoped briefly that these children, swirling in their own universe would open their eyes sooner rather than later. That they would become aware of the world around them that they impacted by their very presence. If they could see how their choices of where to stand, what to do, where to go, affected the small crowd within this small building, perhaps then they could extend that realization to the world beyond the library's thin walls. They could see the effect that they could have if they looked out, and not in.

I sighed as the reference librarian swayed out from behind the desk. Her face was set in a grim expression that I had seen too many times. She started off, bun bouncing, towards the clutch at the door. Quieted for a moment, the girls giggled readily as soon as the older woman was sauntering away to deal with the next disturbance. The librarian seemed undeterred by the jokes that were being made at her expense. She shot a look over her shoulder that silenced the girls for a moment and then simply redoubled their amusement once freed from her glare. I could see the older woman’s eyes roll. I doubted this was what she had in mind when she entered the profession.

The rumblings from the corner were her next target, but she detoured to deal with the hovering clusters by the computers. One computer per person was the rule clearly articulated on the sign by each monitor. Not that the adolescents had taken the time to read or recall that prohibition. They scattered quickly, like feathers disturbed by a gust, then fluttered back together once she had moved on.

I couldn't see what happened behind the rows of shelves, but voices were raised and moments later, she was leading a pair towards the front door. One of the two boys had a nose bleed already and the other hung his head dejectedly when he spotted the security guard lingering out the front windows.

I sighed and hoped they could settle their differences more peaceable somehow. Not just those that were scuffling, but the clutch of arrogance that lingered by the hall and those that were too quiet to raise their voices to express an opinion. The tension between them was palatable even more so as the quiet finally began to settle. Their discussions turned to whispers that seemed more malicious than pleasant. Heads bent more tightly together as fingers pointed and eyes flickered to the faces of the opposition.

And around them the library still danced in its usual manner. Their presence disrupted the quiet environment for a time but things began to settle once more. Sure the librarians kept watchful eyes out, but regardless of what the young people thought, they were not the center of the world here. They were merely a part of a whole, regardless if they had the wisdom to recognize that fact or not.

Old lessons - 3/5

The light tap on the thick front door caused Ethel's old heart to leap as if she was a teenager again. For the most part she was excited. She could feel it in the way her withered chest heaved with flustered breaths. A gloomier part loathed the sound. It meant she would have to rise from the plush living room chair. The reward would be worth the creak in her limbs and grinding pain of each joint. She heaved herself up to her fuzzy skippered feet. The hem of her dark blue dress swayed at her ankles as she traded the book she had been wallowing in for the dark brown cane resting at an angle while keeping her company. She shuffled forward, trying not to put too much weight on her feet or the cane. If only she could just float over the thick carpet on little wings or a tiny cloud. But each footstep followed the next and she tried not to hear the stiffness that rattled her bones.

She caught her breath at the door and worked the blood and lubricants in her hand. Her patience at her own body lasted only so long. With fingers warmed just enough, she turned the lock and her knobby hand reached for the knob.

The laughter that met her from behind the opening door soothed every ache. Like the sun on an icy road, the weight of her body's toils melted away.

"Hi Auntie Ethel!" Ivy's young voice filled the quiet house and she stepped quickly inside in order to wrap Ethel's bent legs in a hug. Ethel's wrinkled eyes looked out to the doorstop where Emma was smiling at the scene.

"I'll be back in an hour you two." Ivy's mother shouldered her purse and started back down the walkway where the car and an assortment of errands waited.

Ethel didn't bother to watch her go. She was too busy looking down at the youthful face smiling up at her. Ivy had had her long black hair cut since last month. It bounced at her shoulders now. The straight bangs across her smooth forehead made her look older and more sophisticated. But the excitement in her blue eyes and the eager spread of her lips were still childish. That youth seemed to waft off of the young girl in her plaid school uniform. It seeped into Ethel's hand that landed on her shoulder.

They turned as they always did. Both knew where they were going. Like with the cane, Ethel tried not to put too much weight on Ivy's small body but the girl knew her too well. Her thin arm wrapped around Ethel's plump waist and she offered what support she could to the older woman. The girl kept her steps short too even though Ethel could feel them wanting to dash forward towards their destination. She hated being the one to slow them down but they would get there in just a few more strides.

They passed the cluttered living room with its cooling chair and turned down the hallway strewn with photographs that charted family history in sepia and bright colors. Another turn had them into the music room.

Once they crossed the threshold, Ivy couldn't wait any longer. Her hand slipped from around Ethel's waist and she hurried forward. The first stop was the bench which she lifted up carefully. There had been too many times when eager hands had been clipped by the fall of the heavy cover. Ethel watched on as Ivy kept one hand on the lid while the other sifted through the piles of sheet music.

"How about this one?" Ivy held up a red and green covered booklet of holiday songs. It didn't matter that it was already spring.

"Looks fine to me."

With a bounce that swayed her new bangs, Ivy stepped back from the bench, closed it carefully and then moved to the piano. Ethel made the last few steps over to the bench and plopped herself down. Ivy was already pressing the pages flat and resting them in the stand. She squirreled down next to Ethel and then her small hands lifted the lid that hid the black and white keys. The mahogany slipped soundlessly into its resting place. The ebony and ivory glittered in the dappled sunlight that filtered through the valenced window.

Ivy rubbed her hands together as her eyes narrowed at the title and first few notes. Ethel waited with new found patience. She had already taught her little niece all that she had known about playing. The girl would begin when she was ready. Ethel's eyes closed as she waited. A lean smile came to her narrowed lips as the first tentative tones filled the air.

The wobbly bench - 3/3

My fingers brushed over the closed lid. The mahogany was dusty and I left streaks through the thin layer. I lay both hands on the lip and let out a deep, breath. It hadn't been played in years. I hadn't played in years. Notes started to fill my mind. My eyes closed and I drifted back to where my smaller fingers navigated the white and black keys. I could smell the new pages of the music book that was nestled in the small stand before my eyes. My hands felt the coolness of the keys and my skin warmed as the distant tempo rose and my fingers moved to meet it.

I could feel the presence of my tutor at my side, watching silently as I plodded through the notes and struggled through the hard combinations. As I got to the highest cord, the keys dulled and the note soured by a frayed line. I felt Mrs. Sanders gray framed brow frown, her wrinkles sinking into the heavy makeup she constantly had plastered to her face.

She shouted out to John, her husband who always came with her when she gave lessons. The sound of his paper folding rustled through my memories and the smell of his cologne filled my nose.

As we slid off of the bench it creaked and wobbled as the small bit of folded cardboard sagged. Mrs. Sanders motioned me over to the window as John started on the piano. She talked about rhythm and the scales but I looked around her curious to watch as the inside of the instrument was exposed. She could see my attention was far from her words and she guided me back over.

John started to explain what lay inside. He pointed at the hammers and cords and showed me what really happened when I pressed the keys to play each note. With his tools held comfortably in his calloused hands, he went to work, tuning and ensuring each note was crystal and clear. He offered once more to fix the wobbly bench but Mrs. Sanders shooed him on so that the lesson could continue. It had only taken a few moments to fix the single key and return my little self back into place.

The scents and sounds faded and my eyes opened once more. I looked down at the closed lid beneath my still hands. My fingers began to tingle with an old joy. I dusted off the feeling as I wiped the cover clear and lifted it open. The hinges groaned, arguing against being used after years of being abandoned. The keys seemed to glow as they enjoyed a bath in light once more. My fingertips brushed against the surface and finally still above the first cord I had ever learned. My chest filled with a nervous breath as I pressed down.

The sour sound that filled the air broke a barrier of nervous tension that had been hanging on my shoulders. Maybe I couldn't play like I used to, but neither could the piano. I could see Mrs. Sanders frown and the hallway behind me echoed with John’s slow step. I'd have to find someone to fix it if I was going to really use the instrument. I didn't think I could find anyone like John. I sagged down onto the bench. It took me a moment to realize what was missing. It didn't wobble.

Sitting in traffic - 3/2

Traffic moved forward sluggishly. My car groaned as I tapped on the brakes and slumped in the hot leather chair. Through the opened window I was drowned in a sea of exhaust and a myriad of other aromas from the sweltering restaurants that lined the side streets. Hamburgers, fried fish, teriyaki and other savory scents drifted on the thick air and made my stomach grumble. The traffic had gone on forever and I was starting to get hungry.

Slamming my hands on the warm wheel, the miniature bobble head cat on my dashboard bounced with more energy than the road or other commuters around me. I glared at it enviously until it slowed and finally settled to as still a stop as I was being forced to endure. My eyes were drawn away as horns started to beep farther ahead. Brake lights began to flicker out and once more, we all fought to inch forward another foot or two.

As my car sagged to a stop again, I watched the pedestrians I had seen a few blocks earlier finally pass by on the sidewalk. A runner came down the other side of the street, adjusting her Velcro arm strap and the pips that dangled up to her ears. I glared at them all as they avoided the line of heated vehicles, the clouds of carbon monoxide and actually got somewhere.

The line of metal, rubber and irritated drivers pushed forward once more. I craned my head out of the window and tried to see what was keeping us confined in the canyons of apartments and office buildings. A few cars ahead started to turn to the right, and I caught the glimpse of orange traffic cones guiding their passage through the streets. Darker smoke was drifting in heavier waves from a clump of bashed blue and red metal that I assumed used to be a pair of cars.

My irritation quickly waned as I slowly moved forward. An ambulance was busily being filled while it's red and blue lights whirled silently. Medics hassled with rolled sleeves and sweat stained backs as they treated one of the victims. My eyes were drawn to a small black and white polka dot bag on the ground, covered in glass and glittering shrapnel. How it had gotten through the crunched accident, I couldn't say.

A cop was moved us all along the line of cones and flares, but though the road was narrowed down to one lane, we were all slowing to take in the scene. We were all hoping we wouldn't end up like that. By the time the street opened up and I was navigating the roundabout that circled the familiar statue of Teddy Roosevelt, mounted and pointing west, the images were already fading. As I changed lanes, a black Mustang sped up behind me, cut me off, and I blared my horn.

Therapy - 2/28

Tina shook her head and pushed away from her desk. Her bank account lay in front of the screen, hovering like a vulture. She sighed and felt Anna's attention swivel from her own cubicle.

"What's wrong?"

"Therapists, what they charge…" She signed again and double clicked the window closed.

"Horrible, that's why I quit." Anna rose and filled up her coffee cup from the office station just outside their small, walled off area.

"So terrible." Tina turned in her chair and looked up at the other woman. She had been fortunate to have someone she could lean on outside of home. The divorce had been hard enough to handle and Tina had managed to keep her chin up at home, but like her kids, she needed someone to lean on. At least Anna didn't charge as much as the therapists that had been recommended for her son and daughter. The two teenagers hadn't been able to handle it well, but neither was Tina's pocketbook.

"So awful." Anna tried to smile.

Tina knew she had been through it before and knew the path that Tina was trying to walk. That too was comforting. The fact that Anna had once been the doctor at the other end of the couch presumably let her provide even better support. She hated to admit it but Tina knew she was getting the counseling that she was paying for her kids, for free here at work. Without Anna around, she probably would have gone off the deep end when she found out about the papers. When she found out about the affair. When Jeffrey had finally walked out.

"Thanks for all of your help," she offered, but even that gratitude, however genuine sounded hollow.

"Don't worry about it." Anna smiled warmly and once more, Tina felt a little stronger. A little more like she could handle the rest of her day and the stack of papers that were waiting to be processed.

What's left behind - 2/27

"Bulb's dead," he said.

Rebecca sighed. "Of course it's dead," she murmured under her breath. She tried to hold back the irritation but the stressful past few days had her nerves raw. "There's another light at the bottom."

"Careful," Brian added as she started down the stairs.

Rebecca didn't pay any attention to her older brother. Her fingers traced down the wooden banister while her other hand brushed along the concrete that enclosed the stairwell. She knew the steps as well as he did. Since they had been children, they had raced each other through the corridors of their parent’s house.

It was different today though. Now the house was filled with ghosts.

Her foot falls on the wooden steps echoed down into the basement. They creaked once more as Brian followed her. She took each step steadily, counting down the 12 she knew were there. She could feel the cold concrete as her foot hit the floor.

With her hand still on the banister, her opposite fingers reached out into the dark. They batted the frayed string that dangled from the other light. With a sharp pull it clicked on. The dull yellow light sputtered admirably. To Rebecca the bulb seemed about as tired as she felt. As old as the house that stretched on three floors about her head.

The crowded basement that the light illuminated seemed to sag heavily, as if under the same weight that had fallen upon her shoulders, and that of her quietly descending brother.

"Wow..." he murmured as he came to the last step.


Rebecca's eyes passed over the collection of odds and ends. From the tricycle she remembered using when she was a girl, and then Anna using when her daughter was still of an age interested in such things, to the new washer and dryer Brian had bought when the last one broke down, the basement was cluttered with a lifetimes worth of objects. In one corner were other toys that she and Brian had used when they were kids. There was piled furniture from when they had outgrown their small bedrooms. The old kitchen fridge still rumbled along one wall, struggling to keep what would probably be enough frozen food to last into the next century, cold and ready. Boxes with rows of scratched out labels towered along the right hand wall. Some had gone from holding clothing, to ornaments, to clothes and then dishes. What they held now, who knew.

But that was their task. The house needed to be sold now that mom had gone. At least, like dad she had been able to stay here until the very end. It was clear to Rebecca though, that their parents hadn't wanted to get rid of anything. On the upper floors, their lives had flowed along with changing styles and economic circumstances. But down below, it all gathered together. It was like a time capsule, except without the capsule. The history of their family, of this home, lay in cluttered groups scattered based on some kind of order known only to the house's longest occupants.

Now their children had to make sense of it. She and Brian would be sorting through the debris left in the parents wake. They'd have to determine what should stay, what should get sold, what they wanted to keep. For a moment, Rebecca stood beneath that flickering light and wished that the second bulb had decided remain unlit like the first. Then the stretch of history that lay before her, waiting to be delved into, would have stayed safely in the dark. It wouldn’t be facing her with expectation and a haunting array of memories she would have gladly kept from her tired and wounded heart.

Snowy arrival - 2/26

I thought I was still asleep. My body was still stiff from the plane and my eyes were bleary with the long hours of being thirty thousand feet in the air. But it was the expanse of white and the bit of the cold that seemed to be part of a dream. I had seen pictures of such sights before, but when it spread before me and touched my skin, it was still hard to believe.

The sliding doors hushed open and the wind embraced me with its chilly tendrils. I tried to huddle in my thin coat. I was thankful then for weight of the large duffle on my back. It provided some protection against the frost and cold.

That chill seeped through my worn boots as I padded across the sidewalk with Sandra. She was bundled more effectively against the weather, but our shoes made the same crunch on the white snow. Breath came from our mouths like smoke. The air that entered my lungs was icy and seemed to soak into my body from the inside out. She indulged me with a quick pace and we hurried to the parking lot.

Her small car was already dusted with another layer of white. She couldn't have been parked long but the flakes coming down around us seemed unending. They decorated my hair and shoulders in tiny dots by the time I slipped into the passenger seat.

I rubbed my hands and gave Sandra a wide but shaky grin as she turned on the heat. She knew how long that flight was so she thoughtfully let me slump into the chair and simply appreciate the view as she swerved into traffic.

On the outskirts of the city, the land was flat and rolling. Clusters of buildings shot up here and there, interrupting the gentle sway of the land covered in an unending white blanket. On the roads though, white turned to gray and then to black as snow melted. Towering banks rose up on either side where the layers had been pushed aside to make way for rush hour. By the time the highway arched towards downtown, the snow and concrete seemed to have come to an arrangement. Each took half of the surfaces available and melded together into a white and stony-scape.

I watched carefully shoveled sidewalks pass us by. People walked down the still slick paths with a lumbering confidence of those who had endured such a climate before. Their heads were bowed and shoulders leant into the wind as if prepared to fight against the inevitable perils of nature.

Through the towering canyon with its shower of new falling flakes came a sight that was significantly lusher. Its dense green and clustered vegetation was a more familiar sight to me, even though the needle covered branches were new and covered in white sheets. It seemed even then, like an oasis amidst the sharp, icy corners of glass and buildings that soared up towards the clouds. I imagined my footsteps sounding on that white blanket of snow. My skin felt of flakes falling onto my upturned forehead as I tried to count each one that fell. Although warmer now, my cheeks still burned with the cold that came with a gust of wind that toppled the frosty mounds of more vulnerable branches.

Sandra turned down a side street towards her apartment, but my eyes lingered. That small bit of home, covered in snow and ice, was one place, in this new and unfamiliar setting, where I wanted to linger.

Unexpected elegance - 2/25

I guess I should be more imaginative when interpreting notions provided by cookies. It had said elegant surroundings will soon be yours. Isn't that what the fortune said?

I didn't think it would turn out quite like this. Not that I gave fate as related by sweets much credence.

My initial guess had been some kind of beautiful house that I'd inherit from some mysterious relative. I'd be their only kin and they'd leave all their wealth and opulence to me.

Not quite.

Maybe I'd find some amazing deal on some shirt or dress. I could buy it for a steal and then walk away with it for mere pennies when it would be worth so much more.

Yeah, that wasn't what the cookie meant either.

Maybe it meant that Brian was going to take me somewhere I could finally wear that little black dress that had been hanging in my closet for months. There could be candles, waiters that heated your food if you left the table, real musicians playing in the background and lighting that highlighted rich decor but left you feeling like you were the only table in the place.

No such luck. None of that was in my future, but I mused enough on it to get into a wreck.

It had been dark when I was driving home and my stomach was full. That meant I was drowsy and prone to drifted off into my own little world where I was surrounded by the very best. But I guess, here, I was.

The doctors all wore those crisp white lab coats that you think only exist in the daily soaps. Everything around me was clean and a sweet scent of disinfection wafted in the air. The glass walls of my room were spotless and soft greens of my blanket and blue of my gown both broke the harshness of the quietly beeping medical equipment. There were tubes running into my arms and a pint of red blood dangled over my head.

A smiling nurse came in and took my temperature and gave me some pain killers. I don't remember there being any pain but I wasn't about to turn the woman away. She seemed too happy to be doing her job and I didn't want to throw her day off by being difficult.

So I lay there, snuggled in warm blankets, my body hovering in a haze of medical induced relaxation and watched the busy figures outside the pristine walls. They walked down the corridors as if they were doing some strange dance that everyone in the hospital knew. They weaved in and out, talking, exchanging files, moving in new patients, as if they had practiced it all before. They just needed a sound track to make it really complete.

The idea made me laugh. I closed my eyes, sank into the pillows and stretched out, surrounded by the highest quality of medical equipment and personnel that my health care could provide.

Just a visit - 2/23

Helen scooped up the empty dishes and headed into the kitchen. Before her the two large windows looked out onto a gray and dreary sky.

"Just think of the view, Hank," she said dreamily. The bare branches and brown grass shifted in her mind to a sloping white beach and surging blue surf.

"Think of the insurance premiums." Hank lent over the table and fetched out the daily newspaper.

"We could find somewhere buffered. Somewhere safe from the weather. And really, how many storms really hit the tropics?"

Hank fluffed the pages. "Enough do."

"Well, it would just be a tremendous place for the kids. You know how much Mary's kids like the water."

"I've already shoveled out enough money for that girl. We don't need to be buying her beach front property."

"No, no," mused Helen as she started the tap. "She wouldn’t think about it like that. It would just be somewhere all the kids would enjoy visiting."

"Helen..." Hank dropped the newspapers on to his lap.

She glanced over at him with an innocent expression on her face. "Yes, dear."

"You know how expensive it would be."

"But this place is expensive and way too big for us now." Her soapy hand waved over the faded walls and bulky furniture. "If we found some place with room for us and maybe a guest room, I bet it would be even cheaper. Think of all the money we'd save on heat!"

"Think of how much we'd spend on air conditioning."

"Oh pooh." She clucked and her gray hair bobbed as she turned back to the sink. "We could open the windows and the breezes would come through and cool the place right down."

Hank grunted and pulled the newspaper up again like a barrier between them.

"There'd be bugs," he grumbled.

"Actually, Sara says they hardly have any."


"Sara Guterman. Arnold's wife." Helen squeezed out the sponge and started scrubbing. "They have a timeshare down on the Texas Gulf coast. Sounds lovely."

With a flick of his wrist, Hank rustled the paper again.

"Didn't you see the beautiful postcard they sent?"

Hank firmly kept his lips shut. They both knew the brightly colored card was dangling from a magnet on the refridgerator. It's blue sky, white sand and greenery was nestled at eye height above the grandkids crayon drawings that were still creased from being folded in the mail.

Helen shook her hands out, speckling the silver sink with soapy suds. She wiped off her damp fingers on a dish towel and turned towards the adorned refridgerator. With her calloused fingers she plucked the card free and shuffled back to her seat by Hank’s side.

A sigh came out of her chest.

"Did you get to read it?" She adjusted her wire frames as she sent her slightly cloudy eyes down the flowing script. "They invited us to visit anytime."

Hank grunted in a way that carefully avoided any actual comment.

"Be a great chance to check out the area." She read through the card once more then laid it gently on the table, picture side up. It rested on the other side of the newspapers hard center crease. She rose again and headed back towards the dishes.

Hank flipped down one corner of the paper and glanced at the card. With a frown he turned back to the pages. "Can't travel in this weather."

"No, of course not." Helen stood for a moment, her hand lingering over the faucet. "That's why I told them we'd be down in the spring."

With a flick of her own wrist she started a rush of water that drowned out Hank's frown and filled the silence made by his gaping mouth. Helen's tendrils bobbed merrily and she turned victoriously back to the sink.

Fifteen minutes - 2/21

I remember the day that they first came to the door. It was about a month after my first novel had come out. My agent had seemed pretty excited about its prospects, but me, being me, I wasn't so sure. I was just happy to get paid.

Then all of the sudden the phone started to ring. Reporters from the local press were asking to interview me.

My mail box started to get letters from across the country. I didn't open them right away, not until the pile really started to grow suspicious. I discovered it was fan mail.

The letters kept pouring in, the calls kept coming and then there was the knock on the door.

Not satisfied with writing or calling or waiting for my Agent to set up an appointment, the reporter had just decided to stop by.

I was just glad I had already showered.

The microphone was shoved into my face along with the bobbing of the huge video camera as it tried to get the best angle on my damp hair and drooping face that hadn't yet been woken up by the coffee percolating away in the kitchen. I had smile dumbly and eventually convinced them I would be a whole lot more interesting in an hour or so.

In that hour, I had my Agent on the phone and a hair dryer in hand.

The first interview actually went pretty well. They were local, and aggressive and just looking for a scoop. I was happy to oblige once their eager beaver attitude simmered. It was the next week of similar interviews that became more startling.

Flying from coast to coast, up at dawn for the morning program, up till mid-night to endure 5 minutes of a comedian who hadn't actually read the piece but wanted to joke about it anyway. The attention provided by the various staff who chose my clothes, made up my face and made sure my hair was bundled artfully was actually fun for the most part.

It was my fifteen minutes of fame and I savored it for all it was worth. What I didn't expect was the hovering anticipation of those who had already made it through the 300 pages I had spent months crafting. They were already drooling for more. The questions about the sequel, the next novel, the continuation of the story started to get more pressing.

I had it in my head of course. There were notes already sketching out a plot and new twists to employ on the protagonists, but it was hard to get that going when you're on a plane at 2am and waiting to have cameras shoved in your face.

Off camera the reporters and writers seemed to understand. On the record though they started prodding into that gaping hole with more pressure.
I called my Agent again. I wasn't going to get anything done with all of them staring at me, calling me, asking to talk with me. I needed space. I needed time. These fifteen minutes, I told her, were up.

I wanted to get back to what I was good at doing. If I was lucky, it would turn into another fifteen.

Gee, Thanks - 2/19

As I slipped the long, flimsy tickets out of the narrow envelope, my heart sank. They were small, rectangular and devastating. I tried not to let it show on my face since Shelly was still looking at me.

Her wide eyes were full of excitement. She hardly seemed able to sit still.

The set of four tickets fanned out and I stared at them intently.

I didn't want to look up. I was afraid she would see the horror in my eyes as easily as I could see her anticipation.

The bright, primary colors swirled along the edges of the tickets. In large, bold letters they spoke of the clowns that would be there, performing on the date scrawled upon the left hand margin. The penmanship tried to be whimsical but it looked more like a child had gotten hold of the tickets with a dull crayon.

I flipped them over, and tried to look enthralled, as if some other hidden wonder was on the other side. I hope frantically that maybe it would say "Gottcha" or "Just Kidding" in Sherry's more meticulous hand writing. But what I found were little caricatures of the performers silhouetted against a barrage of red, yellow and blue colored balloons.

I flipped them back over and tried to keep my hands from trembling.

There were four which could only mean one thing. Shelly didn't have to voice the idea. I knew what the gift intended and it didn't end with just watching the clowns at work. Four tickets meant me, my husband and Shelly's two children.

My sister wanted us to get to know them. She had been voicing that since we moved out west. The fact that we didn't have to listen to their shrieks, their temper tantrums, or be forced to endure their center of the world attitudes, had been a bonus.

But now, these tickets meant an evening of enduring just that. It would mean a tent full of screaming youngsters. Attempting to rein in Shelly's darlings would only be half the battle. I'd have to keep myself smiling while watching the painted faces of the "Tumbling Trio".

Their tickets suggested an evening of physical humor that appealed to the younger crowd. Most likely that meant a barrage of fart jokes, tripping over their own feet or running into ever conceivable obstacle with a tumble towards the floor. I'm sure they did good work but really, it wasn't for me.

If any of this had been, I would have suggested the outing. I probably would have bought the tickets too. Instead, I was facing the whole package as a present I couldn't find a way to decline. My sister was sinister that way.

Falling snow - 2/16

Although there was no one for miles, an expectant hush fell over the bare fields. Above the brown grasses hung heavy gray clouds. That weight in the sky seemed to smother any thought of movement. Nothing stirred through the rough brush. The wind failed to stir the earthy aroma that clung to the bare stalks. Everything upon the plains was waiting for the same small indication of winter that was close enough to taste in the air that tasted crisp and raw and full of a cold promise

The first sign of its arrival came with a single drifting flake that descended from the silvery sky in a languid tumble. The flake swayed from side to side, unhurried. Its tiny edges caught on the thick air that stretched the distance between its cold form and the waiting, hungry ground. The rough stalks strained up towards the encroaching flake. It landed softly on the tallest of limbs, like a feather or misty breath. It clung for only a moment before the dry grass drank in into its parched surface.

That one tiny flake though would not be enough to quench the lingering thirst on the earth. Far above in the blanket of clouds, more were waiting.

They slipped free slowly at first, following in the wavering wake of the first tiny explorer. The trickle soon became a shower that left the spindles of grass dusted with a layer as fine as sugar. As they fell each flake hushed through the air and landed with the slightest of crinkles upon the chilled ground. Their entrance further quieted the plain and as their numbers increased they absorbed any other lingering sound.

The weight of the clouds only seemed to grow as more snow tumbled out of the sky. The release of one, then many, seemed to draw the dark mass closer to the earth. Each tiny fleck from the clouds that landed on the earth seemed to urge the clouds to join them upon the ground.

As the shower became even heavier, the thin coat began to thicken into layers that began to soften the sharper edges of the stalks. Whiteness began to coat every surface, smoothing it out into one long and uninterrupted plain. Before long curves bulged, creating an undulating landscape where there had been a sea of individual spindles. The jagged tips that had stretched to the horizon were muted and quieted under the rhythmic landing of one flake that fell upon the next.

The white of the land extended out towards that once visible horizon. Now it was obscured as white blended to lighter gray and then into the darker hues of the heavy clouds. In that smooth transition of chilly sights there was no longer a ground, no longer a sky, no longer up, no longer down. The crisp landing of one flake upon the other that echoed in the indistinguishable landscape was the only evidence of any movement in the blinding whiteness that had been released. It smoothed imperfections and swallowed everything in its path equally in its bottomless maw.

Coffee shop romance - 2/15

As Shelly walked through the glass door and into the small cafe with its overwhelming coffee scent, she spotted Kyle. He was already standing in line.

The bubbly blonde barista was trying to smile sweetly as she took the order from the rotund woman in front of him. The customer was listing a barrage of components that were to accompany her super sized, def-caf, non-fat latte. Vanilla syrup, two extra shots and whip cream were punched into the register and the price rung up. The barista then slipped to the side and started the espresso shots and pulled out the gallon of milk for steaming.

Shelly glared at the younger woman's immaculate hair. It was just in a pony tail but it bobbed cheerily in a way Shelly was sure helped draw some eyes. Eye's like Kyle's.

With a deep breath, Shelly swapped her leather purse onto her other shoulder. Her free hand stroked down the non-existent wrinkles on her blouse and she tucked imagined ebony tendrils behind her ear. As she walked across the terracotta tiles, she was silently thankful she had matched her bag, belt and ruby red flats. It wasn't as if she always ran into Kyle but it was always a nice coincidence.

With Jerry now firmly out of the picture and having gotten through the first weekend that hadn't drowned in Ben and Jerry's, she felt the nerve to finally say hi.

But the customer at the counter slid by and the blonde barista did it for her.

"Hi, Mr. Johnson. The usual?"

Shelly's blue eyes narrowed at the customer service. She took some heart in the fact that they weren't on a first name basis. The fact that the barista knew his usual, a medium black with two pumps of chocolate, was more annoying.

"Yup, thanks."

Kyle's reply was smooth and he was already digging his wallet out of the back pocket of his sand washed jeans.

The bell on the front door that chimed when someone entered, spurred Shelly out of her lingering gaze. She hurried into line before someone could jump in before her. Her swift steps nearly ran her into him before she could stop herself.

"Careful there," Kyle said with that charming grin as he stuck out a hand as if to catch her.

"Sorry..." Shelly could feel the blush coming to her cheeks. Her eyes wandered nervously from his face to the floor. She wanted to kick herself for the stumbling entrance. She glared at the size 15 sneakers that came up in line behind her.

"Small cappuccino right?" Kyle's voice was light and warm, like the sun falling on a playground. While Shelly kept her jaw from joining her eyes on the floor, she had a sudden flash of their children running along on the cedar chip mulch.

She swallowed a tittering laugh as her hands found a death grip on her purse's straps. With a sharp inhale she prayed was more quiet than it sounded, she turned what she hoped was an equally charming grin towards his broad face.

"Yeah, that's me." She pointed towards the medium black with two pumps that the barista was capping on the counter. "Mocha without the milk?"

It was his turn to seem a bit embarrassed. "Yeah. Milk and I..." His words trailed off, she guessed due to the fact that their conversation had taken a biological bent.

"You could always try soy," interrupted the barista.

Shelly tried not to glare as the younger woman broke in on her conversation.

The barista had it easy. She had a counter that people came up to and always had an opening for a conversation. Didn't she realize how hard this was? She needed to go back to her steamer and mind her damn business.

"I heard it tastes...well...different." Kyle ran a hand into his hair as again. He seemed to be looking for a way out of a conversation based on his digestive system.

The barista was about to jump in, but as she had done to the size 15's that were starting to tap impatiently behind her, Shelly slid in first.

"It can take some getting used to."

Her heart fluttered as Kyle turned his warm eyes back onto her. He was so close and hovered over her so that he filled up her entire gaze. "You've tried it?"

"Yeah. A couple times."

"Well," his smile broadened. "Maybe I'll give it a shot then."

Before she realized it, Shelly's mouth kept talking. It was as if she was watching herself plow on without her brain. "How about I spot you one next time."

His smile broadened further than she had ever seen it, even when that distracted couple had poured their half and half into his drink by mistake. Her knees wavered nervously as she basked in that moment. Thanks to her mouth, it might be the last moment she would ever have to talk to the striking man standing next to her.

"Sounds great."

Her ears heard the words and her mouth drooped into a floppy smile. It took a few more moments for the meaning to reach her brain. Kyle though didn't seem to be having such difficulties.

"How about next Saturday?"

"Okay..." She felt her chest heave a bit as she remembered how to breathe.

"'Round the same time?"

"Okay..." Shelly knew she had a bigger vocabulary but her internal dictionary was being embarrassingly elusive.

Kyle turned back to the counter, handed over the cash for his drink along with a nice tip and scooped up the cup in his broad hand.

"It's a date." He stepped to the side and Shelly could feel the barista's tempered gaze falling on her. A surge of victory coursed through Shelly's entire body and made her knees waver but this time with excitement. Her hand lay on the counter and she leaned on it as if she owned the place. She felt her hips swing out and was suddenly confidently aware of all of her body's curves.

"I'll look forward to it."

"Me, too."

He tipped up his cup towards her and his mouth broke into another broad grin. Shelly thought she noticed a bit of relief in their dark depths and a more relaxed slope to his broad shoulders. That might have just been her renewed breathing allowing oxygen back into her brain and countering the tunnel vision that had been encroaching over her eyes. It didn't matter, all she could see, and ever really wanted to, was his smiling face.

"See you then, Shelly."