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Early in the Mornin’

The kitchen is cold this January morning, but that doesn’t matter: Kay sits there in her chair bundled up in an ancient housecoat, layered over yesterday’s sweat suit, just like she would if it were the hottest morning in August. This is her uniform. Don calls it her ‘mantle,’ a kind of cloak of security.

“Is there any coffee?” she asks. I pour her a fresh cup, open the spout of the pint carton of half-and-half, set the sugar bowl next to her, and lay a teaspoon on a napkin.

“Did you sleep well?” I ask.   […]

 

The story appeared in Tulane Review, Issue 27, Fall 2012. ◾ Request full textSee all stories

Sound Advice

Never wear white shoes or carry a straw purse after Labor Day.

Moisturize daily. Find a face cream you like and stay with it no matter what. And whatever you do, don’t neglect your throat.

Two-dollar bills are lucky and silver dollars are magical. Keep them in the false floor of your jewelry box. Don’t forget they are there.

Put away glasses and cups upside down on shelf paper. Change that shelf paper every spring when you take the winter coats to the cleaners to be put in mothballs.

Make green beans in the pressure cooker with bacon, sliced onion, peeled potatoes, and carrots.   […]

 

The story appeared in Tulane Review, Issue 27, Fall 2012. ◾ Request full textSee all stories

All She Wanted

Maizie stood at the vanity in the women’s lounge at the Downtown Marriott staring at, but not really seeing, her reflection. She was thinking about how Bob was nothing like her soon-to-be-ex boyfriend, Sid.

Sid was a handsome man with well-proportioned features. He’d traveled widely and appreciated the finer things of life. He was charismatic, successful. People said he was sharp, in the know. It seemed he had everything on her list.

Since the age of 15, Maizie had been crafting the list—titled “The Ideal Mate,” tucked away in her top dresser drawer—with equal parts pencil and eraser. Through the years she had been misled by rebels and bad boys, outdone by workaholics and strivers, and exhausted by thrill-seekers and hedonists. On the day Sid parked his sleek black car in front of her shop, the time had come to lift up the quality of her life and settle down.   […]

 

The story appeared in Diverse Voices Quarterly, Volume 4, Issue 16, 2013. It was nominated for the “Best of the Web” award. ◾ Order chapbookRequest full textSee all stories

Wintering Bird

When she heard the loud thump and saw a dark thing hit her picture window, Faith thought someone had thrown a rock at her house. She put down her pen and the crossword puzzle, took off her reading glasses, and rose from her chair, ready to give the damned kids a piece of her mind.

“Damned kids!” was what Frank always said in response to the unexpected incident, the annoying accident, the blameworthy episode—even when whatever had happened was clearly her fault. It was an expression that stayed with her, comforting her, through the years since Frank had been gone.

She ran to the window and looked up and down the street, but there was no one there, no tracks in the snow, not in her front yard, nor the neighbors’. Then she looked down, and there it was on the hard frozen dirt of the neglected window box: a smallish blackish brownish bird, a wild bird, a wintering bird. Faith did not know its genus or species. To her it was a poor little dead thing, lying there perfectly still.

She felt tears welling up.

It was her fault. The window was too big. She’d wiped it too clean. The light inside was too inviting. The house was in its way—the house she picked out and urged Frank to buy. The house they’d bought for a song twenty-eight years ago. The house built decades before that—directly in the path of this fated bird.   […]

 

The story appeared in Paterson Literary Review, Issue 43, 2015. ◾ Video of author readingRequest full textSee all stories

Watching Guy and Lady

I’m no expert on canine behavior, but I do know a few things about dogs.

I make it a point to catch the Westminster Kennel Club finals each February on Animal Planet. I know my breeds and have my favorites: the spaniels, the poodles, the beagles, and the terriers. Each one carries its own singular message confidently around the ring—tail held high, a bounce in the step, a sly grin on soft black lips, as if to say, “Pick me. I’m the one.”

I say, “as if to say” because those dogs aren’t actually saying the words. They are putting ideas in our heads. Which is no small feat in itself.

When I was single, I had a cocker spaniel-poodle mix. Like most clever dogs, Jorge could tell me when he needed to go out, when there was a stranger in the yard, or when it was 5 p.m. and time to stop working. But he could also say, “this water is funky; please change it,” and “yes, I’d like some of that steak but a smaller piece,” and “let’s walk on the other side of the street where it’s shady,” all without speaking a word. Projecting mental pictures with those wide set brown eyes, using cockapoo telepathy alone, he commanded a remarkably precise vocabulary.

What’s more, he was such a good listener! As evolved and self-contained as any Bodhisattva, that suave little guy would proudly squire me around the park—an attentive witness to my innermost thoughts and a quiet, constant advocate in spite of all my failings. Adoring my every iota.   […]

 

The story appeared in Poetic Diversity, April 2014. ◾ Order chapbookRequest full textSee all stories

Tightrope

Things might have worked out between us if I didn’t like you. Or better yet, if I were indifferent. In either of those happier conditions, my heartwould not be aflutter. I would not be primping in my car, nervously waiting for the rain to stop.

If I were indifferent, I would be cool and confident. This blood-red lipstick would require no touch-ups. You and I would meet for our date in the restaurant lobby. I would let you take my coat from my shoulders, let you lay your hand on the small of my back, and let you guide me to a quiet booth. We would look over the menu and give our order to the waiter. Then there would be an awkward time during which we would take turns looking at each other, then away.

At last, you would break the silence. “Well, some rain…”

If I were indifferent, I’d flirt. I’d touch your hand, perhaps blow a kiss across the table. It would float through the air like a diplomat with a peace plan. In no time, you would want to know everything about me. I would pull you into the labyrinth of my charms and leave you to wander until you finally found the place where only tigers lurk.

I can tell you no lady lives there. I’ve rigged the age-old riddle to my advantage. Before you surmised your fate, you would be devoured.

But now I like you.

Some quaint and little-used part of myself feels it only fair to warn you. When the hot flush of attraction spreads through your belly and up your neck, take a drink of ice water and walk away.   […]

 

The story appeared in Sandhill Review, Volume XIV, 2013. It was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. ◾ Request full textSee all stories

The Devil’s Radio

Carol Kaczmarek was a screamer.

Back when we all played War in the connected backyards behind the houses that lined School Street and Willow Street, we made forts in the lilac bushes and used sticks like swords and flung mud balls and dog turds at our enemies from the basket of Dad’s old lacrosse stick; we took our prisoners to the shed behind the Larsons’ horse trailer, and we’d threaten to torture them with the snaffle bits and the other riding gear that hung on hooks on the walls, though mostly we never followed through—the worst we ever did was make them take their pants down. But nevertheless, whenever things got the least bit interesting or dangerous, it was Carol’s piercing scream that summoned the authorities—a parental dictatorship that would shut down the whole business.

So naturally, it was Carol who screamed the loudest and was the first to run to the nearest adult to tell on Big David and Annie when they tossed Tim Lenfers too hard and too far playing Statues. That was in the Lenfers’ backyard after supper on the last day of school.

Tim’s collarbone got broken, and it looked like he’d have to skip swimming at Miller Park Pool that whole summer. His mother, Cheri, made Big David and Annie’s mother, Joan, pay the emergency room bill. Joan didn’t really have the money, being the only single mother on the block so far. That was why there wasn’t money for the pool for Big David and Annie either. They’d have to miss out on swimming just like Tim, and it looked like they, too, would be stuck, staying home, bored to death, while their mother went off to work. It was a raw deal, but no one could say it wasn’t fair.   […]

 

This story from 2013 has been accepted for publication in the 2020 edition of Sanskrit Literary-Arts Magazine. ◾ Order chapbookRequest full textSee all stories

Out in the Ranchitos

“That secretary of yours is a real pistol! Sharp. Sassy. And that walk of hers has stopped more than one board meeting dead in its tracks,” said Frederick Ramsey, the senior partner of Ramsey, Sandman & Meyer.

He and David McCloud—his protégé, a junior at the firm—were sitting in lounge chairs drinking lemonade on the veranda at the back of Ramsey’s sprawling ranch house on the first warm Saturday of the year. Their daughters—Dahlia and Keely—were already out on the lake, floating in inner tubes, splashing and shrieking. Their wives were who knows where. In the house, doing what wives do.

“Hot stuff, that one—what’s her name? Shannon? And you know what they say about redheads,” continued Frederick, chuckling to himself.

Yes, David knew what Frederick meant. And he knew that most of the men and even some of the women lusted after Shannon Miller, but he did not add to that line of inquiry. Instead he said, “Yeah. Ms. Miller is the best paralegal I’ve ever had—she’s as smart as all three partners put together, when it comes to litigation prep.”

Then no one said anything for long time. The two men watched their daughters horseplay in the distance. Morning turned to afternoon during the pause that stretched out between them, begging for a subject.

Attempting to supply one, David said, “I wonder what kind of women our daughters will become.”   […]

 

The story appeared in Bluestem Magazine, Spring 2014. ◾ Request full textSee all stories

Survival Skills

You rarely see a corpse in the woods, but it happens now and then.

One evening, a couple of months after I’d come to live in the canyon, I was hurrying along an unfamiliar path at dusk. As I rounded a bend in the trail, my eyes on my shoes, a voice in my head said, “look up,” and when I did, I was just one step short of plummeting headfirst into a steep, rocky ravine.

I gripped onto a nearby sapling to catch my breath and my balance, and then peered over the edge to see just how far the fall would have been. There, some twenty feet below, lay the broken body of a young buck, his rack of antlers half-grown and velvety, his dead eye open and dull. How was it this creature—the very symbol of effortless grace—would come to take such a clumsy misstep and plunge to his death? How terrified he must have been to forget himself like that.

In those days my knowledge of predators was limited. At the time I asked myself, if it had been a pack of coyotes that chased it, why was the carcass left uneaten, intact in a wild place where nothing is wasted? But now, having lived in the wild for the last couple of years, I suspect it was a mountain lion that scared the poor thing off the cliff and that I had stumbled onto the scene moments before a feast. No doubt, the cougar had heard me a mile away—hidden in plain sight nearby, maybe draped on the branch of a live oak. I was lucky to be so unskilled, to announce myself so noisily. It gave the great cat time to grant me some grace, as I, the interloper, cut an inelegant path through the chaparral.   […]

 

The story appeared in The Alembic, Spring 2014 and was featured during the 2016 Los Angeles Lit Crawl. ◾ Order chapbookRequest full textSee all stories

Sunday Best

Today, you will find my body, wedged between an uprooted tree and a boulder half-buried in the mud of the wash. It is evidence of His grace the Lord that has kept my limbs intact—that I am not battered and unrecognizable like the rest of the flood’s flotsam tangled in the rushes. That I am still wearing my glasses, my gloves, my Sunday best will be oddly comforting for you.

Before you find my body, you will spot my purse lying on the banks and you will allow yourself a moment of false hope. “Maybe Mother dropped it here when she climbed up out of the water. Maybe she escaped and cut across the cornfield to that house over there.” But you will know in your heart that if I had survived the flood and found refuge, I would have sent word to your father at the parsonage. We would have already had a happy reunion where I would have chided you, saying how foolish it was to be worried.

You and your father and the other men will be on horseback when you find me, because what roads there were in this backwoods part of Ohio have been destroyed by the flood, and to canoe along the Little Muskingum has always been a journey interrupted by portage after portage—now made all the worse by the slide and debris: hunks of hen houses, tangled rain gutters, whole roofs off tool sheds. And animal carcasses, poor things — the last thing I saw on earth was a pair of cows draped in the branches of the hickory trees above me. Of course they were dead but they looked so innocent in that cow way, as if they were waiting for someone to give them wings.   […]

 

The story appeared in Stickman Review, Volume 13, Number 1, 2014. ◾ Read onlineRequest full textSee all stories