Hokey Pokey (What this blog's all about)

A writing challenge I've given myself to write every day for six months. After some posts, I'll put in a comment with a brief explanation of the inspiration for the piece. Some posts will be practice for bigger projects: character sketches or settings. I don't really know what all will happen which is why I'm doing it.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Day 74

Martina paces in front of the club at the golf course waiting for her father to arrive, like she does every morning.  She fakes a smile and waves at a regular who heads over to the driving range before work.  She’s even more irritated than usual at her father’s tardiness.  She’s trying to help him damnit! The least he could do is bother to show up somewhere near on time.  It’s this kind of irresponsibility that got him into this mess.
Her father is the mess. Aging rapidly, his Alzheimer's has nearly run the golf course into the ground. For the past several years he'd forgotten to pay the taxes. Just forgotton. That was why she was now attempting to get him out of debt. He'd staunchly refused to walk away from the business. She had degrees in marketing and hospitality, not to mention the fact that she'd grown up on this small course. She knew all the regulars plus the ins and outs of running this particular course.  Still, it wasn’t enough to convince her father to turn it over to her and just enjoy retirement.
She'd come to help with the business a few months ago, after finding out that her father was facing jail time for failing to pay taxes. He must’ve received notice after notice but failed to act.  She didn’t hear a word about it until a week before the court date.  She’d ranted and raved with her brother over the phone about it, but he was out of the country most of the time on business so not able to intervene in any meaningful way.  They’d agreed to try to talk their father into turning business matters over to Martina, but he’d refused.  Still, she’d packed up and flown home immediately to see if she couldn’t do some amount of damage control. 
Dressed in a stiffly-starched pants suit with a pink button-down and serious shoes, she'd pled with the judge to consider her father's mental incapacitation from the Alzheimer's. She’d asked to the courts to grant her Power of Attorney to handle his estate.  Since it was against her father’s will, and he was still considered competent, she’d gotten nowhere. Apparently, in Wisconsin, all you need to be “competent,” is a pulse.  The courts could not force him to give up any control or accept any help that he would not voluntarily go along with.  He was ultimately responsible for the back taxes and could still spend some time in jail, the judge reminded him. It was likely the reminder that persuaded her father to accept her help.  While it was only a tiny step, barely noticeable to the naked eye, her father had agreed in court to accept his daughter’s help.  To her eyes, earth had shifted. 
In light of the help Martina would be offering and her father’s Alzheimer’s, the judge waived the jail time.  But he emphasized that they would have to come up with a repayment plan to present back to the court in six months.  The judge also made it clear that if no payments were made over that six month period, it would not mean good things at their next court date. 
“So, get cracking you two.” 
Martina set to work doing some “creative” book-keeping to gain them access to some cash for the courts.  She threw herself in and wrote marketing plans, tried to organize paperwork, staff, and tasks.  All while her father arrived late, chatted with customers, and generally thwarted her efforts.  Her work still managed to sneak a little more money into the business.  It was enough to keep him out for now. For now.
Her father had never been especially organized or business savvy. But he'd managed to start the business from scratch and keep it for all these years, even so.
Where was he anyway? She felt the fury rise in her, bubbling just below the surface.  She could feel herself ready to scream like when she was a kid and they’d stayed too long at one of her father’s friend’s houses.  She built a case of anger.  She could get up and get here on time, why couldn’t he?  She wasn’t the one facing courts and jail, he was.  She didn’t even stop to get coffee because being on time was important.  He should damn well be here by now!  She was moments away from stomping her feet in a literal tantrum.
When she was little, she and her brother spent their summers coming to the course. They’d hunt in the woods for who could find the most balls and race barefoot over the greens.  She loved the feel of well-nourished, perfectly-manicured grass on her bare feet.  Sometimes her dad would get a break and take her to walk a few holes.  They’d strut over patchwork hills, limes and emeralds cutting diamonds across the vista.  Other times she and her brother were left to entertain themselves and would spy through fences at the people whose homes neighbored the golf course.  They’d be making sun-tea on the deck while kids raced across a slip-and-slide falling in thuds of laughter.  Martina and her brother dreamt up elaborate plots to explain what they saw.  Obviously the children were fronts for what was really going on inside.  Martina and her brother would protect the golf course from the Russians or aliens, depending on who chose the enemy that day. 
One time they’d come in early on a Thursday morning.  Their father got the winning bid on holding the Milwaukee Amateur Open on his course and so he dragged them along to get the course ready at the last minute.  Martina was too small to help, so lazed about on Green Three while her brother and father worked.  She looked for lost golf balls at first but her father had been clear that she was not to wander away from Hole Three which had no water traps or woods.  Without woods or water, there weren’t many stray balls to locate, just grasses of various lengths depending on whether you were on the green or the fairway or not.  Bored, she caught as many grasshoppers as she could in the tall grass on the side of the fairway.  She’d capture a grasshopper, tear its back legs off so she’d be able to tell if she’d caught it before or not, then chuck it as far as she could back into the grass, making sure to rotate her hips like her brother had shown her so her throw would get good distance and no one would tell her she “threw like a girl.”  She lost count, attempted to count the legless grasshoppers, got frustrated, and gave up. 
She wandered over to the green and took her shoes off.  She curled her toes into the smooth grass, tried to grab some and pull, but it was too short.  She wanted to dig into it until her nails were muddy and her toes grass-stained.  It was short, yet so thick and soft it was like grass and moss had gotten together and agreed to make a perfect, green plant that lacked the slimy, creepiness of moss, while retaining its short, even, velvety surface.  They’d keep it in the family of grasses so it could claim all the pedigree due a find, upstanding-grass.  She lay back and watched the clouds, making animals out of them, rolled over, and fell asleep with the grass against her cheek and chest. 
“MARTINA KATHERINE LYNCH!  You cover yourself up this instant, young lady!”  Her father had seethed at her through gritted teeth. 
She jerked awake.  Shame flooded her and she grabbed her white t-shirt and held it against her bare chest.  She flushed and tried to pull her shirt on over her head as modestly as she could.  She’d probably been only five or six and had seen her brother take his shirt off hundreds of times.  He’d casually toss his shirt aside, later forgetting where he’d left it.  She’d just wanted to feel the mossy, even grass on her bare back.  She knew, of course, that she’d never done it before.  But this did not convince her that she wasn’t allowed to take her shirt off.  The humiliation she felt from her father taught her never to make that mistake again.   

Now, a grown woman in her thirties, she showed up early to work neatly-dressed and freshly-showered, wearing polo shirts and tennis skirts with ankle socks.  Her hair was done and a touch of makeup added before the sun was up.  She resented that, even though she was on time, early morning golfers arrived before her, ready to tee off.  If she was early, they were earlier.  And if she was late, her father was later.  All she wanted was to arrive, have a few calm moments to unlock doors, read her email, and collect herself with a cup of coffee before facing customers.
Her emotions were set before she even arrived. She was angry. She knew he would be late.  She knew he would forget his prescription sunglasses or a license or a tool he'd brought home that they really needed to do work on the grounds that day. And she'd be disdainful of his condition and the results. Downright pissed at the thing he'd forgotten and the necessary trip back to his apartment to get it. He'd be the object of her anger over a condition neither of them could do anything about.
It’s chilly out this morning. The dew on the grass flirted with frosting overnight, but instead the dew is simply stickier than usual:  less condensed droplets, more evenly-glazed-over with liquid.  She sees puffs of condensation sprawl when she exhales. She’s wearing a cream colored v-neck sweater over her purple polo, but a sweater and bare legs aren't enough to protect against the chill. She stands next to The Barn.  The Barn is a giant aluminum-sided, utility building with a four-car-width, manual garage door where they keep the golf carts and the riding lawn mowers and ladders and all other manner of equipment. She squats down and rubs her fastly numbing calves, wishing she'd gone in earlier to get a cup of coffee for the wait, coveting its paper-cup warmth, when she notices the cat.
A haggard thing, its fur alternates between standing up in slick brown tufts, and lying in smooth, orange-tabby spots.  Puss and putrefaction waft toward her from the cat.  Its pathetic-ness is directly matched, if not surpassed, by her compassion and the flood of caretaking she feels. She reaches her hand out and kisses at the animal.
"Here, kitty. Here kitty, kitty. I'm not gonna hurt you. Come on over here." she coos, kiss kiss.
It slinks toward her.  Its nose meets her fingertips for a quick sniff test, and she sees that it is missing an eye and sections of its face. Upon closer examination, the brown tufts are really injuries slick with blood and cat saliva.  She cautiously strokes an uninjured patch and it purrs.  She is afraid to pick it up. And afraid not to.  She doesn't want blood on her clothes or grow attached to this scraggly mass. She doesn't want to deal with the three steps ahead her mind has already traveled to where she will incur veterinary bills and have a cat that pisses on her stuff.  But she feels compelled to help it.  Instinctually forced, even.
She picks the thing up as gently as she can and carries it into The Barn. Inside, there is a small office with unclaimed lost and found items. She digs around until she finds a beige cashmere shrug and some knitted golf booties. She makes up a cardboard box for it and adds a thermal wrap from the gift shop to keep the thing warm. Then she starts making contacts.
She emails friends and friends of friends to see what to do about the surely dying cat.  She would call but it’s only 6:15 am. In the process putting the cat in the snugly lined box, she notices a flap of skin slap open, then shut again.  It makes her stomach lurch, and she thinks maybe it’s a good thing she hasn’t had any coffee. 
She leaves the cat and peeks to see if her dad is here yet. He isn't. Jerk.
She compulsively checks her email for a quick-responder who will surely have a perfectly free, simple answer. She hits refresh a dozen times. Nothing. 6:31.
“The truth is, this is a barncat,” she reasons. Which means, you don't grow attached to it. It is part of the scenery like the gravel in the parking lot or the pansies hanging by the entrance. Only this barncat has been attacked by something. Maybe another cat, or a coyote (she’s not certain whether there actually are any coyotes around here or whether there would be anything left of a cat that was attacked by one.)  Maybe it was raccoon. There were often juicy trash bags left outside the kitchen that a raccoon would enjoy.  She really needed to talk to the kitchen staff about not leaving those bags out. They attract vermin. Another problem is the last thing they need.
She thinks about what to do about the cat. Her mind wanders over the possibilities. A scenario plays out in which one of the early birds is a kindhearted veterinarian who offers to take a look. He cleans the cat's wounds and gives Martina some ointment and some instructions. The cat gets better and moves in with her. It becomes her devoted companion that curls up in her lap while she reads books.  She knows this is only fantasy and that healing this cat would be more work and money than she can expend right now.  Still, she enjoys the comfort of the idea.
In reality, this is a barncat. And you don't get attached to such things. Plus, she has enough caretaking to do with her father and the golf course. She doesn't need another thing to need her. The expense is no small thing to consider either. She’s basically working for free right now.  She can barely afford her student loans and cell phone bill.  She certainly can't afford vet bills. Especially for a barncat isn't hers. Not really.
Still, she can't do nothing. It’s not right to let the thing suffer.
She remembers seeing her father hit a mouse over the head with a shovel when a barncat got hold of it when she was a little girl. She'd cried and cried. Her mother had tried to explain about suffering then. Shovel to the head. That's what people sometimes did. It was more humane than leaving things to suffer. She shudders, and disregards the idea. She doesn't have such a brutal, close act within her.
The cat has to be put down, though. It’s obviously suffering. And it trusted her to take care of its suffering. So her options are to incur a vet bill that she can’t pay, or to shoot it.
She thinks about shooting it. Shooting it is fast. It’s less close-range than the shovel. It’s quicker. With the shovel there’s the possibility she lacks the fortitude for the requisite amount of force which would not be putting either of them out of their suffering.  There is no such risk with shooting. She's only shot a gun once and visibly startled every time a shot went off around her.  But what other option is there?
She knows where the gun is. At 6:49 she goes and gets it.
She loads the clip.  She frets about the bullets jamming or missing the shot.  She can barely handle the idea of firing once, much less multiple times.  The suffering is already just too much.
She stalls another fifteen minutes by stroking the cat who gently purrs its thanks.  She offers it creamers from the mini fridge. It politely declines the offer.
She strokes it. It. She is about to kill an it. She doesn't know how to tell a male cat from female. She peeks at its butt and there is some sort of cottonball-looking lump but she doesn’t know how to interpret the cottonball. Somehow this makes it worse. Why would the universe entrust the suffering of something to her when she can't even determine its gender?
Purrrrrrrrr. It looks up at her and she feel its suffering, its plea for help. The cat is not purring because it is happy, it’s purring to calm itself.  She raises the gun.
"Tina?" calls her dad.
Her father takes the gun, tells her to wait outside.
Just like that, he is her big, powerful dad again and she is just a scared, little girl.  Relief releases her shoulders down and she clods outside.  She slumps down, crumpled in the gravel, no longer caring that her skirt is white.  She waits, ears straining not to hear.
A shot breaks through and she is bawling, bawling, bawling.
He comes out to her, leans over and kisses the top of her head.
“You don’t get attached to such things, T.” He reminds her.
She suddenly desperately needs him to explain why she shouldn’t get attached. Needs him to hold her while she bawls and he tells her it’ll all, all be ok.  Needs him to be her dad forever. 
The sun is warming the day.  The first golfers are a few holes in, swinging away, blissfully unaware of the suffering going on in the background.  Her anger is gone, evaporated with the dew.  Now, she is grateful. For once, her father got there right on time.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Day 73

I just don't want to write all of a sudden. I'm too scattered and too tired.  I started tutoring three new people this week and understanding their minds is taking over my own.  I've been reading books which is also taking up some space.  I'm not even sure how I'll get my final assignment done for school because I just can't get myself to sit down and do anything but think about the things that will get these new students to form the connections they need to move to the next level. 

I could tell you about her doughy eyes and pigeon toes stacked on thick legs and a thicker torso.  Or about his eyes that marble greens with something not from this earth.  Or about a boy who confesses his garlic breath.  I could tell you that I'm curious about each of their IQs but sometimes it's better not knowing.  I can usually guess within a few points or so anyway with a bit of time.  Green eyes has the highest but it's probably just around a hundred, maybe a little below.  Hers might only be in the eighties.  I always find that hard.  Like, if I could move the couch cushions in her mind around, maybe I could muster up a few more points. 

It's usually best to be in the middle of the pack.  You're less likely to be picked off by predators there.  Too high or too low and you attract attention.  Things are designed for the middle groups.  Heights of door handles and sizes of seating.  If you're too short, wearing those crazy junglegym contraptions on your feet to make you taller becomes normal.  Which is fine in your twenties, thirties, even forties.  But who in their seventies wants five inch heels?  By then you've shrunk even shorter.  So imagine if your eyes have weathered that storm find themselves door-handle height? 

See?  I'm rambling.  I've totally lost the point of this.  The point of how this girl has these slightly flat face that makes a person wonder.  Planted right in the middle of it all is a smile that erupts. 

In first grade or so, I finally figured out how to ride a bike.  I don't remember my parents ever taking me outside to teach me.  I just remember being at my cousins and using her too-small bike to get the comfort and practice to get it down on my own.  I'd been lying for months if not years about not liking to ride a bike so that no one would find out that I really didn't know how.  Then, a few short years after that lie abated, I found myself actually not riding a bike anymore after fracturing my skull falling off of mine, then moving to the "city" (suburbs,) where my parents would no longer allow me to ride one.  This girl has no shame for her training wheels.  Maybe that's the norm now.  What do I know?  At least kids wear helmets now.

I also didn't know how to read a whole lot of words before first grade.  I could read some things but reading wasn't really pushed until you went to real school.  Then I was in the bluebird group or whatever the fasttrackers were.  Now it's noticeable when a kid doesn't get it with the hammering of reading skills they've received in all-day kindergarten.  It's concerning when, going into first grade, a kid can't read.  That seems a bit over the top.  That said, if you can't rhyme in first grade, that is concerning.  Can't hop, also strange.  Probably you are not in the middle of the pack.  Probably people will notice.  Hopefully the helpful sort gets to you before the predators try to pick you off.  Hopefully.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Day 72

The driveway is long with a slight curve that complicates the downhill slant.  Shannon twists and leans, peers over her left shoulder, then untwists and contorts herself the other direction as she reverses down the driveway.  She brakes a little too hard, and then starts down again.  She’s almost on the mulch that landscapes in the side of the driveway with small, wiry bushes huddled in the mulch, but she’s not sure how to right the car on its path.  She overcorrects, finds herself veering off the other edge of the driveway onto more mulch, tries again, and manages to make it to the bottom. 
She considers not stopping.  Looks and sees her path is clear to leave now.  But instead, she pushes the button, and the window whirs down.  She flips open the wooden door to the hand-crafted, log cabin mailbox, and pulls out the stack.  She rifles through:  bills, junk mail, January’s Better Homes and Gardens, and a letter.  It’s the letter she wants.  She pulls it out and shoves the rest back in.
The home had been a lucky find.  She’d been walking the suburban neighborhood with its wide, hilly, winding streets, and windmill subdivision signs marking “Shady Glenhaven” and “Lilac View,” when she’d seen the owner, a woman with long, dramatically white hair pulled back in a ponytail, struggling to get a large suitcase into the back of her car.  She rushed over, reached a hand under, and helped hoist the black, Samsonite bag into the trunk. 
“Wow!  This is heavy! I can’t imagine getting this into the car alone.  What’s in here, rocks?”
“Kind of, actually.  It’s lead crystal.  I’m bringing it to a trade show in New Haven.”
“Really?  No way!  Is that what you do?  Blow glass?”
“No, no, not at all.  I’m a collector and occasionally an agent.”
Shannon stayed a while, friendly and happy to help (and to listen.)  Jorja asked her to hold the door while she brought out the rest of her luggage and chattered on about her two week trip and all the hiking she had planned for when she wasn’t working.   It had been a stroke of pure luck and Shannon basked in it. 
Normally, she never stayed anywhere for more than a few hours.  Long enough to feel what it was to be in the space, take a nap and a shower, and wipe up after herself before letting herself out and finding her next pseudo-home.  But this time she’d been at the door, seen the inside of the house, and, between it and the glass, she could see herself inside.  She wanted to feel the soul of this place, try it on like a designer dress, allowing alterations major and minor alike to swirl around her.  Plus, she knew she would have two whole weeks to come and go as she pleased and sleep and eat and anything else she felt like.  She hadn’t really adequately surveyed the neighborhood yet, hadn’t gone through the usual routine of finishing a leisurely walk, then taking a jog, then a bike ride to check out the personality of the neighbors.  It didn’t appear to be full of retirees (home during the day, they make stealth coming and going difficult and always ask too many, too-friendly questions.)  She saw enough brightly colored Playco plastic gyms and trampolines to believe herself safe. 
Still, she’d waited a full twenty-four hours and until after dark before returning.  Just before arriving, she suddenly panicked.  She didn’t know how she’d get in.  What if there was no key under the mat?  No key in a pot by the front door?  She tried not to think about it, and went ahead and checked.  She flipped the aged, black rubber mat up and the spare was right there, leaving it’s dust imprint on the underside of the Welcome mat. 
When she got inside a house, the first place she always looked was the kitchen.  She’d go straight through, noticing nothing but turning right, left, straight down the hallway, left, and kitchen!  She opened the refrigerator first, then the cabinets.  It was the first feel you got for a house.  She’d seen it laying on the otherwise empty, grey marble counter looking isolated and tempting.  She ran her thumb over the thin, cream-colored, international paper, savoring the idea of who this son of Jorja’s might be, who Jorja herself might be.
Dear Mom,
El Salvador is wet.  Wetter than wet.  The rainy season’s just getting started but it’s already so wet that I have to wipe the floors off constantly.  The moisture in the air condenses on the tile and tries to mold in a matter of hours.  Sheets never dry and the thought of carpet is inconceivable.  Plant life flourishes as do insects and I wonder constantly about all the things in floorboards and ceiling tiles that I share my living space with.  I’m doing well with my classes but don’t quite know what to do about Pedro.  He comes to school early, leaves late, never has any food, is always dirty, and is disruptive.  He’s at least three grade levels behind the other kids despite spending more time at school than any of them.  I worry where he lives and who watches over him.  Pray for him, and for me.  The slime might claim me if I get too tired from Pedro’s antics and forget to wipe it clean often enough;)
The letter really clinched it.  She was addicted to this home now.  She searched drawers for more letters, scoured the house for them.  She’d been to beautiful, Bauhaus-style modern homes, and hundred-year-old places with overstuffed chairs that could almost get her to give up her vagrant lifestyle.  Places with whole rooms devoted to books and a mahogany, baby-grand piano with the lid propped at exactly forty-five degrees so it resonates to fill a concert hall.   She’d eaten pate and champagne out of dishes worth more than her rusty, ’89 Corolla and swam in luxurious, deep green, heated, lap pools with mosaics hand-laid into the floor.  She’d contemplated her life as a misunderstood artist, or flirted with the idea of sleeping with the next-door neighbor after years of boring sex with an architect.  She’d pick up a black and white photograph of a dark-lashed infant and feel the satisfying weariness of motherhood for a moment.  She loved trying on these peoples’ homes, their relationships and routines, but this house she had time with.  Time to search and think and sleep and smell.  Mint grew in the glass-covered foyer and bougainvilleas and orchids bloomed in the mist that came on automatically twice a day.  She wondered if Jorja read the letters from her son in that room.  Decided she must have put the misting system and the plants in so that she could drink a cup of tea and be with her son while she read his letters. 
She sat in her car now, at the bottom of the driveway with a new translucent envelop in her hand with the strange extra stamps and lettering.  She held the paper to her face, closed her eyes and breathed in the foreignness of it, could swear she smelled freshly-baked tortilla and red and yellow and green patterns flashed before her eyes.  She’d already dismissed her day, planned to go right back into the kitchen to make a pot of tea before sitting down to pore over the progress with Pedro and the slimy floors in the foyer when her reverie was interrupted with a knock at the window.
Startled, the letter flies from her hands as her heart leaps to her throat and she turns to see a man in his mid-fifties, salt and pepper (mostly salt,) hair leaning close to her window.  Her heart sinks low into her bowels, suddenly leaden.  And she knows, with the weight of the heaviest of disappointments, knows she is caught.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Day 71

She looks like she could come up out of deep  water perfectly dry and standing extra tall with her waist-length hair and long skirts. Her figure is narrow and long and graceful.  Her curves lean, slight against her slender body.  And there is something so gentle and serene in the way she quietly drinks tea and listens; just listens.  She is earthen and motherly in a way that makes you suspect she could be mother earth herself.  It must have something to do with the way the soil mounds as though she whispered a secret to it and it rose up to listen.  Her secret worked because plants flourish in those maternal mounds of hers.  Lately, she has been considering ninja gardening.  If she did it, she would sneak out under moonlight and plant seeds and invigorate soil in prime locations where folks working too many jobs to plant things wouldn't notice for weeks.  Over time things would get greener, and plants would search for who had nurtured them, while property owners would tell the family story about the house on Pine Street that sprouted a garden overnight without the slightest help from them.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Day 70

I'm thinking a lot about labor and delivery on account of I'm pregnant.  Last time around I had the baby at home.  I planned and read and there was much convincing of the husband and in the end we did it exactly the way I wanted.  It fucking hurt.  But it was the best way for us and I have zero regrets about the decision.

So here I am, in the room where my son was born.  Where I have the most vivid and wonderful memory of my life of golden sheets and golden afternoon sunlight and mac n cheese and this golden child that we simply could not stop staring at.  And I'm in here with this memory and yet, I am afraid this time.  Yet I can't come to terms with a hospital birth either.

Most of the time, I think "I have time." And I don't worry about making a decision yet, but soon we need to decide.  And I just don't know.  I lean toward home birth but don't want to push the husband this time and he leans toward intervention and the hospital.  The statistics (somewhat debatably) support home birth as long as I continue to be low risk and use a certified midwife, which we would.  I don't think I can pull of a natural birth in a hospital.  It seriously hurt, ya'll.  I also think I'd be super fucking pissed at the nurses talking to me and touching me.  Having two midwives where you know exactly who they'll be and how they'll handle you is much easier to handle than a host of shift-changing nurses and who-knows-which OB.  Yet, I can't settle on this option either.  It hurt.  I kind of just want it to hurt less this time.  Could the OB's office promise me that it will be the OB that I like and that she'll just be the person who does all the work with me?  Or could the midwife just give me a lil shot of somethin and promise it won't hurt as bad.  Ok, good.  Cuz that would help.

This is unrelated to creative writing.  I'm just hoping emptying my mind about it a little will help me refocus on writing again.  I'm working on a story I like about a woman who hangs out in peoples' houses when they're not home.  If I get a good version, I'll post it here.  Hopefully I do because I like the story concept.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Day 69

She is a man's hankerchief, folded and stuffed into a jacket just so.
Her frills a shock of color that accent him just so.
With places in her fabric where her fingers have worried the weaving threadbare and worn straight through but that doesn't show.
The torn pain of her children is woven in to seal pieces together but that doesn't show.
And she wonders if she is just an accent and if it's worth keeping just that piece of herself beautiful, but she doesn't know.
She wonders if she'll feel whole before she's discarded but she doesn't know.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Day 68

Under moonlight and against floodlights, we sprint across the mottled browns and greens of trampled grass in a complicated game of tag.  Tag got older when I wasn’t looking.  Now, you want to be fast and win but also chased and maybe caught.  When chased, you don’t know whether your pounding heart or feet or fists win.  Winning isn’t measured in Skeeball tickets but pounding feet, or hearts, or others fists. 

I hide behind a large, red, industrial, metal piece of a mostly-disassembled, carnival ride.  The clunking of bolts, the whir of drills against metal, and generators running, surround me as my heaving breath slows and I scan the grounds.  I don’t see him and my heart sinks.  Until now, I didn’t know how much I wanted him to chase me.  I hold my position and see him zip into view as he catches Missy Arbuckle by the long, slender wrist, her delicate, silver charm bracelet falling to the ground in the process.  And just like, that the whole game, the whole world, stops to help Missy. 

I stop the world for Missy too.  She was the first person I thought to ask to come to the fair.  My mom told me I could pick whatever friend I wanted to bring and I immediately picked up the phone and called Missy.  I excitedly told her we’d stay in a hotel, and go to the parade first, and then the fair.  And do you know what that girl said?  She said, “Ok, but what do you do at the fair?”  What the hell kind of kid doesn’t know what happens at the fair?  I could see the haughty, blonde nose-in-the-air through the phone.  Like she could smell the livestock that, if judged by her, would be granted awards solely on the basis of stench and likelihood of dirtying her pristine pink-a-boo manicure.  Pink-a-boo is her signature color.  I swear you can see her in a commercial with her perfect hands playing peek-a-boo with the camera, free of any dirt under the nails that should need covering with say, a darker color of polish.   She said she’d have to ask her parents and call me back.  Then a further series of phone calls to find out more information for her overbearing parents.  Her parents always have to know everything. They want to know how much money she'll need, who else will be going, which hotel we'll be staying at, whether she should pack a bathing suit and on and on. 

My mom doesn’t care what I’m doing when I’m at Missy’s, not that she should.  She tells you something you’d best do and what time you’d best do it by and she means you’d best do it.  You do it and you’re fine.  You don’t and expect bruises somewhere.  One time I didn’t come home on time and lied and told her I had a blister so it took me longer to walk home.  I was only ten minutes late, but late was late so she used the belt on the bottoms of my feet right then and there.  Then she did it again the next day for lying about the blister.

Once all the anxiety of phone calls was relieved, I was thrilled about bringing Missy to the fair with us.  I couldn’t wait to drag her by her sweaty nervous hand to all the rides and eat fistfuls of funnel cakes and then get on more rides until we wished we hadn’t eaten so much powdered sugar and grease. 

The milky skin of Missy’s brow is crinkled with worry as she stands helpless while the team of kids creeps around on all fours patting the ground with their palms looking for her charm bracelet.  Tears well in her eyes and she tells us “I just got a new clock charm from my grandma for my birthday.  It really tells time too.  I just put it on today.”  As if this were the news that would determine whether we found her bracelet or not.  And it does.  He stands suddenly, fist high in the air clutching silver, catching moonlight, glinting relief. 

“Thank you,” she exhales dramatically.

Disaster averted, her face erupts into glee as she literally bounces.  The wet from her blue eyes sparkle their appreciation and I fear that a kiss is on his lips. 

Instead, his lips peel back in a sneer, “Time in!” he yells and takes off after me.  Adrenaline surges as I run like hot coals, (instead of flattened grass,) were under my feet. He is at least two years older, with longer, faster legs, but I’m agile and crafty.  I maneuver turns and twists to avoid capture just as his foot slips in wet grass, (probably domestic beer,) and I make it to base: a picnic table.   I stand triumphantly on the bench, fists pumping above my head.  “HA!” 

I want this fine looking guy to know I’m no spoiled little girl.  I don’t need his help and he can’t catch me that easily.  I’m worth chasing, and I know it.  I blow a strand of my unruly red hair out of my face, it falls right back and I cross my arms and stick my hip out.  “Don’t you have someone else to chase?”  My translucent, strawberry blonde eyebrow raised.

Mischievious, cocksure, his brown, perfectly-arced eyebrow raises in answer.  He looks me over, “Nope.” 

A straight, white-toothed, triumphant grin appears on his face and he says, “You have cotton candy in your hair.” And his winning again. 

“So?”  I say, about to sprint off, not sure I won’t be caught this time when Missy walks up.

“I’m tired.  Where’s your mom?” she whines.

I roll my eyes.  “I don’t know.  Don’t be such a baby.”

“What time is it?” she frowns.

“I don’t know, look at the charm on your bracelet.” My lip curls up.

 “Holy cow!  It’s twelve thirty!”  She looks at her clock then up at the moon directly overhead.  “My parents are gonna kill me.” She frets, her voice a whine of blue-ribbon honesty. 

“Who cares?” I shrug turning my body toward her.  “How would they even find out anyway?”  He’s behind me now as I glare at her not to ruin my moment with him.  He slides an athletic, lanky arm around my underfed middle and it somehow grabs my heart and stops it.  My eyes go wide with the message and Missy shrugs, nods, and runs off to restart the game with the few remaining kids who haven’t wandered home yet.   She’s a good athlete: strong, fast, but lacking the scrappiness of street kids.  Her sneakers will get some more use tonight. 

            He steers me away and we’re walking I-don’t-care-where, his arm tightly in place the whole time.  I concentrate on matching the rhythm of his steps, not wanting him to let go, but then it starts to feel like a three-legged race.  I’m about to loose myself from his grip but then we arrive at the baseball field bleachers.  Earlier, the bleachers viewed a tented-arena with dirt floors, now back to be the baseball diamond but scuffed with foot and hoof-prints.  I twirl out of his embrace but he does not let go.  Instead, his hand slides down my arm and catches my hand at the end.  I look him right in the eye, daring him to do something as my heart pounds.  He pulls me down on the bench and right away kisses me hard.  His teeth click against mine and I taste a bit of my blood.  I pull back, stand up and he pulls me back down.

            “Where do you think you’re going?”  He asks. 

            “Maybe to find someone who can kiss right.”  I say, thinking of going back to Missy and tag.

            He pulls me back down, “Oh yeah?” and he does it again only this time our teeth don’t clink and I’m running out of bravado and melting into anxious lust.  I want it to never stop and I want to run back to the game of tag and I want Missy to come whining about going home and I want to keep kissing, keep kissing, kissing, kissing, when a loud crash interrupts every thought for as far as I can imagine and a man growls.  Howls, really.  And that escalates to a yell, then a scream.  And we’re up and running to see and his feet pound further and further ahead of me.

            Then I’m standing, straining my eyes not to see him bent over the piece of Tilt-the-World that I hid behind watching a glinting bracelet and his father under that thick, heavy metal with bolts as thick as my waist.  The floodlights announce the abrupt silence of the drills and it seems later, so much later than it did a moment ago.  And I try not to notice him crying or the screaming or the kids and me and Missy standing there wide-eyed.  And the men appear and they all heave and pick up the thick piece of metal with the red and blue lights still attached but his father’s hurt, really hurt and I don’t know what to say or do and Missy’s wide eyes look down at her clock charm and I want to hit her, punch her hard.  But I just stand there the same as they all do and stare.  We stare until red flashing lights, and blue police lights and pen lights arrive.  And we’re flooded with questions:  Did we see it? And what did we see?  And why were we still there? 

And the police want to call someone’s parents so honest, lily-white Missy Arbuckle tells them her parents’ number and they call.  But my mom told me to wait here and she’d be back to take us to the hotel so two hours later when Missy’s parents want to take me home with them, I don’t know what to do.  What best I do? 

I refuse to go with Missy and her parents.  I wait at the police station hoping that will help when my mom finds me somewhere other than where she left me.  And I’m angry at Missy for telling the police and putting me in this position and for how her life is and how I know we won’t be friends anymore, not the same anyway.  And I clench my fists and hold my scrawny, mighty, scrappy muscles in place that hold down weakness and think “good riddance.”

When I wake up in the hotel the next evening, cotton candy still in my hair, my teeth with a fuzzy layer, my feet hurt, my fists hurt, and still I want to play tag and eat cotton candy.  And I wonder what’s wrong with me.  And I wonder about winning at tag.  And I almost forget to wonder what his name was.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Day 67

Ivan imagines himself bright and bold.  If you peel back the layers of him that are putty and pasty and would do well to fill nail holes in drywall, like toothpaste, behind all that, his core would be bright orange contrasting shapes against a bright blue background.  In this reality, people would call him Ivo as he strolled confidently up to them, a manhattan held leisurely, a hearty laugh at the ready. 

But he is Ivan.  Ivan who is pale, pasty white.  Ivan who has never managed to so much as gain the story of a scar he got as a kid.  Ivan, who checks his messages and never finds anything beyond a reminder for a doctor's appointment or a reminder from his mother that they're having tea for her birthday on Sunday afternoon and don't be late.  He's never late.  It should make him angry that she says to be on time when he's never late.  It should make him angry that he has no where else to be so will not forget about their plans.  It should make him angry that he doesn't have anyone besides his cat to greet him when he gets home at forty.  But he's too resigned to get angry.

He unlocks the door to the same one bedroom apartment he's rented the last 15 years and Anne Bancroft, his pristing white cat, rubbing her face against his leg as he walks in.  She delicately walks toward the cupboard with the class of someone who knows she's about to get her due.  Anne with her private ways of slinking off when she tipped something over, never letting something crass taint her.  Absently, he reaches down and slinks a hand along her sleak, trim side and opens the refrigerator.  Empty except for a half can of tuna, a three week old half bottle of white wine, a carton of eggs, and a door full of condiments, he pulls out the tuna and gets a half cup of dry food from the cupboard to mix for her.  He sets it down, and she saunters over to eat.  He fries an egg, gets out the last of the saltines, mixes up a concoction of mustard, ketchup, mayonaise, and the fried egg, then uses the saltines to scoop it up and eat it. 

When he was a child, the smells of perogies, cabbage, and bacon wafted into his bedroom.  His mother was always cooking or baking something for them.  Now, she lives in a bedroom at an assisted living facility and hasn't baked in years. 

Ivan's not quite sure whether he's more embarassed about putting his mother in a home, or that he is more attached to Anne Bancroft, a cat than his own mother.  But his own mother has never touched his cheek, kissed him sweetly, and helped him fall asleep.  Not that he'd want her to now.  But he would want the real Anne Bancroft in his bed.  He'd want to hold her and spoon against her smooth back, run his finger along her satin covered hip and make her laugh.  What he wouldn't give to make a classy woman laugh with him on a Saturday night. 

This is what he thinks of as he flips through the channels, waiting for Great Expectations to come on.  Tomorrow he can visit his mother, but today he kicks back in his recliner with Anne in his lap, and Anne on his TV.  He looks at his feet ahead of him, and thinks "they're perfectly good feet."  They have no caluses, his nails are well cared for, there are no blisters, they have a slight arch, his toes have no hair.  He's modeled the after picture for a nail fungus remedy.  His feet have been in photos with loafers and slippers, but never atheletic wear.  Those jobs are reserved for models whose bodies are less, sinewy, faces more chiseled.  He's more of the gaunt, scientist looking type.  Just with smooth, slender feet.  Sometimes he has nightmares that his toes are hairy and when he tries to shave the hair off, he peels back layers upon layers of skin instead of hair and underneath each layer is more hair and more skin.  He shivers awake, and goes back to snuggling Anne, watching Anne.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Day 66

What's in a carnival past the cotton candy and the funnel cakes?  The jenky rides you just don't worry about and the lightning you hope won't ruin your night?  What's beyond the bands past their primes and local girls in blue ribbons parading themselves in convertibles?  After tallboys have been drunk and the rides are disassembled, what happens then?

I invited Missy to come to the fair with us.  We were going back to Debuque where I'd lived before moving to Des Moines and becoming friends with Missy.  My mom told me I could invite a friend so I called her up.  She'd never been, wanted to know what you do there and then had to ask her parents.  What the hell kind of kid doesn't know what happens at the fair?  Then a further series of phone calls to find out more information for her snotty parents.

Missy's cool but her parents always have to know everything.  They want to know how much money she'll need, who else will be going, which hotel we'll be staying at, whether she should pack a bathing suit and on and on.  Like I said, she's cool, but she's going to have to learn to stand up to them.  It's weird because they won't do anything anyway.  They'll just say "I'm disappointed in you."  Who gives a shit?

My mom leaves me lists on summer days and I best get all the things on that list done.  When she gets home, my clothes are put away, the dishes are done/dried/put away, there's nothing out of place.  Missy's mom tries to leave her lists but Missy forgets and then they fight and Missy does the things on the list because her mom guilts her into it.  If my list isn't done, it's hard to know how bad it'll be.  Depends on my mom's mood.  Sometimes she passes out and doesn't notice or messes up the parts of the list I did do.  Other times I'll avoid seeing anyone for days because I'll be sore from a whooping.

After many calls back and forth, Missy is packed and ready to go.  She walks her backpack over to my house and get in the car to drive the three hours to Debuque.  Missy clicks her seatbelt into place and winces at the country music.  She knows better than to ask for a change though.  In her parent's car, they listen to what she wants, but she's got a good idea how things work around here and suffers in silence.

As we get closer the sun begins to set in the broad, flat skyline and we hunker down and talk strategy for meeting boys: what we've brought to wear, how she'll do our makeup and I'll do our hair.  We get to the hotel and prepare for a whole new scene of boys. 

The fair is a flop and we're back at the hotel in no time.  My mom drops us off then goes wherever she goes and Missy and I stay up half the night talking.  We laugh forever about the out of date stone washed jeans and the drunks.  She asks about a boy and I tell her his story.  I make it up on the spot but Missy's no lie detector so she doesn't notice when I tell her how I lost my virginity to him.  I tell her about how I walked into his room and he was naked and PING his dick popped up and I fucked him right then and there.  Her mouth gapes.  She says she hopes it's special when she does it and can't believe I did that.  She's so freakin pure all the time.  So I take it a little further.

Tell her about how his dad was there too except how I didn't know it.  How he cornered me later and how I almost had sex with him.  I can tell she's uncomfortable so I zing her right then with how that's who my mom's out with right now.  She wants to call her parents but I won't let her.  She falls asleep in the bed next to me, stiff and afraid, and I roll over satisfied with the way I've educated her.

After that, I'm allowed at Missy's but she's not allowed at my house.  I don't even bother to shame her for telling her parents.  I just go back to my usual friends whose parents don't notice what we do after school.