Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Forcing the Hand of God: Chapter 3

The late morning air rumbled with incoming transports. Rodger stood beside LinChing, a wiry, intense Chinaman who happened to be the best mechanic around. Rodger loomed over him at least by a foot, yet the man’s quiet dignity and self-assurance erased the differences between them. Together they waved at a C‑47 as the pilot taxied in.

“LinChing, let’s see if any of our supplies made it on this one.”

The pilot handed Rodger an official letter, which Rodger tucked into his shirt pocket. The third man off was short, gray‑haired and very familiar. Sam, the man who had given Rodger his wings, not to mention his freedom from his mother, his studies, and the boredom of his childhood, strode towards him with an outstretched hand.

“Hey! Sam!”

Grinning like a fool, Rodger grabbed him in a one arm bear hug, pounding him the back, amazed by Sam’s iron‑grip on his right hand. Sam’s clothing had the worn look and smell of oil and planes, the essence of his life.

“I’ll be damned!” drawled Sam. “Had to come clear across the world to hook up with ya. I’ll be damned!”

“You probably are! And so am I!” Rodger laughed and Sam joined in. Rodger was thrown back to being twelve and training again in a Piper Cub. They had both come a long ways. Rodger pointed to a rickety jeep. “Hey! Come on! let’s go celebrate in style in downtown Dooma-Dooma!”

“Just let me stash my gear.” Sam stopped, trying in vain to light a cigarette in the stiff wind.

“Those things’ll kill you yet, Sam,” Rodger cupped his hands around the dangling Camel.

The incongruity of Sam’s presence suddenly hit Rodger. “Why the hell are you here, Sam?”

Rodger remembered the envelope that the transport pilot had given him. He pulled it from his pocket and ripped it open. It was orders to return stateside on the next departing plane. It meant only one thing: the Flying Tigers were about to be disbanded. Rodger, disgusted with yet another inanity, shredded the paper and let the pieces flutter like confetti in the breeze.

“Actually, I’m only here until the next transport. I’m on my way to Nanning. The US has some Martlets there that need lookin’ at. I’m your basic, over‑qualified instructor, pilot and mechanic. But this time, I really get to put my hands on ’em!” Sam’s face crinkled in unabashed delight.

Rodger led Sam into the newly erected wooden barracks and showed him a bunk next to his own.

“Sam, are we beefing up our forces over here?”

“Can’t say too much about it, son. Classified.”

“Let’s go in the mess hall before we leave. I want you to meet one hell of a mechanic.”

LinChing came into the room from the kitchen carrying two plates laden with rice and scrambled eggs, the silverware rattling against the underside of the plates. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee followed him.

“You shouldn’t be doing that!” Rodger scolded. LinChing set the food down before Rodger and shrugged.

“I help Mary Elizabeth, too.”

“The planes, LinChing?” Rodger sipped carefully from a chipped mug, staring back into the dark eyes.

LinChing nodded. “Good, very good. I very good mechanic.”

“How many are airworthy?”

LinChing held up two hands, fingers splayed.

“Ten?!” Rodger sat straight up in his chair.

Sam stopped eating to stare wide‑eyed. The Chinaman was smiling widely, his head bobbing up and down.

“Great! And parts came in today, too!” Rodger clapped his hands, yodeling.

LinChing offered him a cigarette, which Rodger could not refuse. Sam fumbled for matches, dropping them on the floor. As he came up from retrieving them, Mary Elizabeth stood in front of him. Rodger watched silently while the two assessed one another. With the look of a man bewitched, Sam, speechless, stared into the black, almond-shaped eyes set in a dirty, round face of an eleven-year-old girl.

Rodger laughed, breaking the spell. “Mary Elizabeth! Come here and meet Sam!” Rodger unfolded his arm to encircle her. Mary Elizabeth bowed slightly at Sam.

In a delicate voice, yet commanding of all their attention, she asked LinChing, “Father, are there to be any more to eat?”

“No,” he replied, “but make more coffee.”

“Yes, Father.” Mary Elizabeth eased from Rodger’s embrace and went back to the kitchen. Her brown, bare legs were layered in streaks of fine silt, patterned by water drops.

“She takes care of us,” Rodger answered Sam’s quizzical look. “Can you imagine this worthless bunch of die-hards having to say good-bye to that little urchin before take-offs?” Rodger jabbed his index finger at Mary Elizabeth’s back. “Believe me, no one dares not to.”

“Humph! And why the hell not?”

“She says they don’t come back.”

Sam sneered, shook his head in disgust and pushed away his plate. “This is no place for the likes of a snot-nosed kid.”

Rodger amused by Sam’s discomfort, leaned toward him. “We even have her one and only doll in the debriefing hangar that we must touch as we come home. Blessed twice, you might say.”

“And I thought I was superstitious!” Sam mumbled, flicking his ash on the floor.

Mary Elizabeth turned from the sink, her eyes narrowed fiercely. But before she could speak, there were sounds of incoming planes. All heads cocked to attention.

Mary Elizabeth looked heavenward, whispering, “Buck and Jimmy come home.” She sighed contentedly.

LinChing left to help with the tie-down and examination of the planes. Shortly, the two pilots sauntered inside. At the threshold, before any acknowledgments, both men bent down on one knee to enfold Mary Elizabeth in gentle embraces, whispering in each ear something that made her eyes twinkle. Then, sweat-drenched and ragged looking, Buck and Jimmy stood before Rodger without any formalities.

Mary Elizabeth offered each one a steaming mug of coffee before she disappeared into the kitchen.

“Thanks, sweetheart,” Jimmy called out, then inhaled the steam. “Ahh!”

Buck, a medium, olive-complexioned man with a scar across his face abruptly began, “We’ve got troubles comin’ in across the border. They’re gearin’ up. Them Japs is crawlin’ all over Pingxiang.”

All of the men followed Rodger to the debriefing room. He brought out maps, tracing the enemy route across the border of French-Indochina into China. As he and the crew pored over the maps, Sam wandered outside.

“Here and here.” Rodger tapped locations. “McGree and Steve are on line tonight. You’ll patrol between Burma and Jongnan. Any questions? ”

Rodger pushed aside the charts, the men dispersed, and Rodger walked to the opened door. The last of the midday sun blazed in the sky as he watched Sam cautiously approach LinChing in the hangar. Neither man spoke, but Sam picked up a part and examined it while LinChing continued to work. In a silly way, Rodger wanted them to be friends and share the plane. He returned to his bunk, but before packing gear for their trip, Rodger posted a letter home to Ada, telling her about Sam’s arrival. As he left, Mary Elizabeth stood at the threshold of the door, making the sign of the cross.

“I will pray for both your safe return.”

Rodger smiled at her, momentarily stayed by his love for this child, so sweet and open, much like his eleven- and nine-year old sisters, Rachel and Heather. Yet, he felt closer to Mary Elizabeth. Almost as if their conversations never quite ended, as if their last words were never spoken. With a half wave of his hand to her, Rodger climbed in the jeep.

As Rodger started the engine Sam jumped into the jeep. They bumped along the landmine-studded road. Rodger bellowed to be heard above the din.

“Tell me about Big Red and that night. It’s one of my unresolved mysteries of youth.”

Sam chuckled and took a cigarette from his pocket. “You meant more to him than anything—or anyone. It’s a shame about his being a nigger and all.”

Rodger flinched, but Sam took no notice. It seemed odd that he should have such two different friends that meant so much to him in his youth. He could remember sneaking into the hangar and watching Sam with his plane, Lucy. Huddled in the cold corner, Rodger had spied on them. In the moment of confrontation, Rodger had steeled himself against Sam’s curses and kept repeating over and over, “I wanna fly. I got to,” until Sam, reluctantly, had given in.

Sam was a lot like Big Red, only Big Red yelled less at him, but they both had made him go that extra, painful mile. Even when Rodger reached six feet, he always seemed to look up at Big Red. It was comforting when the man clapped him on the shoulder and said nothing, just nodded his head. He could still see Big Red kneeling on the floor of the ring in front of him, his large hands cradling Rodger’s bloodied and cut face, whispering harshly, “What are you backing up for? To admire your work? Get in there and keep your hands up.”

He’d always known something was different about Big Red, something not quite white. The sheer size of the man set him above the others; his laughter rumbled like summer thunder and his pink tongue against his yellow teeth made him seem a man of another race. A race of giants.

Rodger glanced over, looking down at the top of Sam’s head. Sam spat, hunched further down into his seat.

“Ya know, he almost made it in Wilmington. But no matter how far ya go, son, the past is always behind ya. It gets ya sooner or later.”

Rodger had to steer hard, tracking the ruts in the road. He remembered that awful day! He had only wanted to go to the hangar and see Lucy, just to run his hand along her contours, to be connected to such a magnificent plane. Rodger could be overwhelmed by his feelings for Lucy. And Sam. Rodger quickly looked at Sam, then back to the road. Sam wasn’t exactly a lovable guy, too moody, but he and Rodger were probably the closest either could get to another without being related, as long as Rodger let Sam call all the shots.

He had known before he stepped into the cavernous, emptied shed that the good part of his life was over. Gone. The tool chest. The stepladder. Sam’s overalls. Nothing. Nothing but a crumpled Camel cigarette pack ruffled by the wind.

He had backed out and started running towards the Simmons’ house. His school books weighed down his arm painfully, but he pushed against the wind and kept on until he came to the house. It had that feeling of having been stripped and left without a kind word or good‑bye. Rodger spied a trowel lying in the rose bush. He picked it up and put it on the doorstep beside the welcome mat. Katie was always looking around the yard for it. He went around back and peered through Dee’s bedroom window. The closet door gaped open, empty of clothes, with wire and wooden hangers strewn all about the room. The bureau drawers had not all been closed, and the vanity stool lay overturned.

He had gone home and holed up in his room waiting for his father. But his father had not come home for supper.

Rachel had scribbled a picture, and jamming it into his pocket, Rodger had walked down to the Longhorn Bank.

The street had been dark, eerie where the gaslight collected in orange pools. The windows reflected only shadowy images of desks, chairs, and teller bars. Where the hell could his father be? Walking rapidly, he had gone over to the gym, thinking that he would work out for a while, straighten out his hook. He began to jog, boxing at his shadow. He came to the steps and took them two at a time, and gaining the door, twisted the knob, then threw himself against it. Stunned, he had bounced back and landed on the ground. The club was closed up. When he had passed Ada’s house, it had had that same empty look with a single light on in the living room.

He needed someone to talk to, and the need became so great that he risked his mother’s anger and went to find Big Red.

Big Red’s house sat by itself atop Stormy Mountain, overlooking the Kankakee River. The worn roads of town curved into the country and became rocky and unevenly surfaced. Rodger moved to the center of the road so as not to fall into a ditch or trip on a boulder. A smell, like freshly cut timber burning, wafted faintly on the breeze. The moon was the brightest spot of light anywhere around for miles, casting ghostly shadows on the road. Rodger had kept his eyes trained on the road, marking the rocks and pitfalls. He felt something wispy land on his cheek and brushed it away. It felt grainy. The air was filling with blackened crispy shavings. Then Rodger saw a blazing bonfire on the distant hill.

‘Everyone must be there!’ Rodger strained forward, focusing his eyes sharper on the fire. He hurried, in sudden urgency to get there. Fear, like a tiny bird inside his chest, wakened. As he drew nearer, the fire took on the shape of a house.

The tiny bird grew wings that spread across his body, and grew, choking his breath off. Sweat ran down his face, arms, sides, dripping from his fingertips. His steps quickened, and he cursed the leather soles of his shoes. In desperation, he forced his feet to go faster, digging into the dusty, soft road. As he came up the sloping path toward the house, he tightened his shoulders, lowered his head and pushed off on his toes, swaying from side to side, taking short leaps. The acrid tinge of smoke filled his mouth as the great beast rose inside of his throat. He gasped. Still he ran on. He ran until he could run no longer.

Disembodied voices lingered in the air, but Rodger couldn’t see through the haze. As he reached the top of the knoll, he stopped. Like dervishes, images whirled inside his head. A towering oak tree seemed to sway. Rodger focused his eyes.

In slow pendulum movements, a body clothed in white swung from a branch. Behind him, the flaming timbers crashed into one another, setting free sparks like thousands of shooting stars into the black still night air. Rodger screamed. And screamed again, the mighty creature of anguish and pain released from inside of him.

The frame of the house collapsed into itself, and a rush of sound and heat jarred Rodger, sending him stumbling over to the tree. He reached up to grab a handful of sheet, to stay the bobbing figure that wasn’t a man. The effigy looked like a battered punching bag with a charcoal‑smeared face and pieces of straw poking out of the seams. Rodger jerked, tearing the sheet, but he could not bring it down. He let it go and leaned against the rough and scratchy bark. The tattered sheet flapped, snapping over his head, brushing against his cheeks. The smoldering wood radiated an intense heat that seared his flesh. Revolving round and round inside his head was one word: Father. Around and around it went, never settling, stinging him. Had he heard his father’s voice? Could he be a part of this? Rodger crumbled against the tree and began vomiting.

Drained, but curious, he drew closer to the smoldering house, at once eerie and fascinating; the colors blended and separated at one and the same time, ending in the gray‑black smoke that curled in lazy strings upward to heaven. He took the wadded picture from his pocket that Rachel had given to him and threw it into the ashes.

Sam coughed. Rodger yelled against the wind. “But how the hell did anyone find out about Big Red?”

“Ya know, it probably was him being so good at poker and all. Your daddy and him cleaned up one game after another. Made people suspicious, and all, where he came from. Rumors follow a body.”

“Big Red was the one who taught me how to play my aces. Never knew my dad to gamble, and I thought I knew him pretty well!”

“Kids never know their folks all that well, son. Big Red and your daddy bet heavily on the fights, too. Your mother didn’t take too kindly to that. Or Big Red. Or Katie Simmons.”

“Jesus, don’t I know that! She had fits about me and Dee. I wanted to marry that girl.”

“A boy don’t know the difference between love and ruttin’.”

“Maybe I was less of a boy than even you thought, Sam.”

“Humph! You were just a hot‑shot kid in them days.” Sam lit another cigarette. “Got to admit, you had the magic touch.” Sam looked to Rodger. “Did me some pretty fancy flyin’ the night we got ol’ Red outta town. Yeah, Miss Ada and your daddy did some fast maneuvering to hide that bear of man in the back of her old Chevy and get him to the field.”

Rodger listened intently, a strange mixture of emotions welling up. He had gone to Ada’s house that night, hiding in the bushes until she had come home. He had frightened her, and she had recoiled from him. “Thank God,” she had whispered, pinching his arm and propelling him into the room. Tears, uncontrolled and shameless, had streamed down his face. Ada had reached out to him and hugged him.

“This lousy, god‑forsaken town of bastards!” Rodger sobbed as Ada held him.

They had all known long before he did about all of this. Ada had so many secrets. They all had.

“It’s not like it seems.” Her voice had come through, parting the floods of anger and pain inside of him. “Big Red is alive. Sam and your father got them all out of here. All of them. Katie and Dee joined them.” She had held him until the wildness in him had subsided.

He had sat on her couch, and she had brought him hot tea in his favorite mug. She had sat in the overstuffed, worn chair. Rodger had listened to Ada’s breathing and begun to time his own to hers. Ada had watched him from her chair.

“‘I need a ride to Chicago. If nothing else, I want to show everyone what kind of trainer Big Red was—is. I’ll get me some clothes together and hitchhike up there. I’m gonna win. That’ll show ’em.”

She had stood when he’d gotten up. “You’d better collect your wits tonight and leave Thursday.” Her voice had had the hardness of reality. “I’ll see what I can do for you.”

Rodger had not understood. Not until he overheard her speaking with Vern Strater did he realize she was setting it up for him to leave on the pretext of taking her car to Chicago for repairs.

Once he had longed for a return to his former self, that time of certainty and purpose that he had had under Big Red’s wing. Yet, those times of fire and loss, those nights of longing and regrets, had all been swept into his days of flying and command. He had no more desire to return to the ring. As Sam droned on about the night of Big Red’s rescue, Rodger was relieved that it was over and done.

“Hey, Sam! I’d cut my eyeteeth out to fly that new Martlet with you!”

Sam stuttered, “I…I don’t know. I can’t authorize it.”

Rodger shot him a quick glance. “Hell, I’ve never been one to ask for permission!”

“Hey, boy! It’d be like old times, us flying together!” Sam peeked over the windshield. “Rodger, what happened to you in Chicago, after the Golden Gloves? You kinda disappeared there for a couple of days. What in the hell were you doing?”

“Sam, I’ll tell you all about that, over a beer or two.”

Rodger drove into town honking his horn continuously to clear a path through the people and beggars milling about the streets. Never having seen a car, few paid any attention to the strange contraption making loud noises. Sam, impatient as always, leaned sideways and shouted, “Get outta the way, you idiots!”

Rodger skidded to a stop, causing a flurry of dust to rise about them. The sun poured mercilessly over them. “Well, here we are. Downtown Dooma‑Dooma.”

“Ugh. Get me to a bar.”

“In a few.” Rodger walked over to the center of town, where stalls of the open market crowded one another like nestlings. Sam trailed behind him, careful not to lose himself among the hundreds of browsing men in fatigues and scurrying Chinese women in colorful pants and brocade jackets. Flies swarmed over the displayed food and emaciated dogs lay around the stalls. Though sordid and destitute, the market had a carnival atmosphere. Rodger roamed up and down and through the sideways, poking his head into a stall to look closely at each item.

He spotted a doll in the corner of BenTang’s stall. With an ugly, ever‑present grin that exposed the blackening teeth, the known black-market racketeer bowed quickly, bobbing his head up to eye‑level with Rodger.

“Very nice. See more?”

“How much for the doll?”

“Very nice doll. American-made. See. Label say Seers.”

“It’s misspelled, BenTang. How much?”

BenTang shrugged. “Fifty dollars.”

Rodger held up two fingers. The crafty merchant puckered his thin lips and shook his head.

“No, no. Four.”

“Go to hell.” Rodger pulled away.


Rodger extracted a wad of thousand Chinese bills from his pocket. He peeled off two bills and tossed BenTang the money. Picking up the doll, he walked briskly away to where Sam waited.

He threw his arm around Sam. “Now old buddy, let’s you and me get serious.”

“Ya ain’t too smart about that kid, Rodger. She doesn’t belong here.”

Rodger gave him a playful shove. “None of us do.”

They drank and ate and drank some more, swapping war stories. Sam, crusty and hardened by his own experiences, still listened with real concern to Rodger as he told him of his time in the Citizen’s Military training in the cavalry; of his promotions and flight training; and coming to lead the volunteer Tigers. But in the telling, he left out the story of his stay in Chicago, promising Sam that one night, sober, he would fill in all of the glorious facts.

On the morning of the third day, Rodger left Sam sleeping at the make‑shift barracks and strolled around Dooma-Dooma. No one spoke or made eye contact. Irritated, Rodger mulled over his thoughts. ‘You take our money, we take your women. You give us war, we give you our lives.’ But deep inside the layers of thoughts, he admitted to another truth: the world did not hear the death cries of thousands, but politics listened to self-interest. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek had convinced Washington, D.C. that it would be in the best self-interest of America if China remained independent of Japanese domination. And that had been the reason for the Americans involvement here. So much right for the wrong reasons. The humid air pressed against his skin, and even his sweat caused him to ache all over. A rosy haze lay over the horizon. Rodger went back and woke Sam. The little man looked shriveled and miserable.

“What a great pair of drinking men we are!” Rodger roared.

Sam, running his hand through his thinning hair, grimaced. “Can we get some decent food around here?”

“Sure, I’ll take you to a French restaurant.”

Sam winced, then slowly stood up. “All right, let’s go.”

They ate without any conversation. With mechanical motions, they gathered gear and miserably set about returning to base. As they sighted the scorched, pocked-marked wasteland, encircled with brush that camouflaged the base, Sam glanced over to Rodger, and moaned, “I’ve missed the outgoing transport, haven’t I?”

Rodger shrugged, amused by Sam’s expectations. “Sometimes they show; sometimes they don’t. The boys over here are notorious for breaking dates.”

Rodger walked into the mess with Sam lagging behind. Mary Elizabeth waited for Rodger to hug her. Sam would not, although she had stepped directly into his path.

“I don’t like kids,” Sam snarled.

Mary Elizabeth frowned, staring at Sam. Rodger stroked her head, looking about the room for a distraction. “Hey, Bright Eyes, what are you doing?”

She walked back over to the table and sorted through the mail, making a bundle of the letters for each pilot who had mail, a space for those who didn’t. With a wary look from the corner of her eyes, she continued her task and replied, “I am doing my job.”

Rodger picked up his bundle, tapping it lightly on her head. “Hey! Got something for you Bright Eyes!”

She stopped and turned. Excitement made the light dance in her eyes. Sam slammed the door shut, stomping outside, muttering to himself on the way to the hangar. Buck and Jimmy, lounging in the bunks, chuckled. Rodger cocked his head to one side.

“What would you say to a new dish towel?”

Waving her hand toward the kitchen she replied, “All yours, GI.”

McGree roared with laughter, as Buck and Jimmy applauded.

In the lull, Rodger heard rumbling in the air. That would be the transport coming in. He gently nudged Mary Elizabeth aside and went to the door. Heat waves snaked up from the ground around him. Westward, the horizon glimmered red and black. Then he knew.

“Japs! Comin in!” He grabbed Mary Elizabeth and threw her into her room, yelling as he slammed the door, “Keep down!”

The men, on the run, yanked on their flight suits, shoving pistols inside holsters while pulling on gloves, helmets dangling from an arm. They scrambled for their planes. Rodger ran to the nearest P‑38 and tore away the blocks beneath the wheels, giving McGree a hand up to the cockpit.

Sam and LinChing came running, separating into a V to reach the other planes. Rodger quickly scanned the revetments. Then, looking back at the hangar, he saw his P‑40 with its gaping cowling and parts strewn beside it.

“God damn it!” he yelled.

Two planes taxied into position as the Japanese Nates came into sight. Rodger waved frantically to McGree. As the plane screeched off, Rodger bolted for the protection of the hangar. Two of the five Zeroes swooped low, spraying the ground with lead. Rodger zigzagged. Sam was beside him, wheezing.

Rodger looked over his shoulder and reached out to Sam. Bullet holes crisscrossed his chest. He halted mid-stride, bowing forward. Rodger thrust his arms out and caught him, pressing Sam’s frail, bloody body against his own. With an anguished groan, Sam crumbled into Rodger. Dragging him along, Rodger ceased to think or feel.

He laid Sam alongside the hangar and knelt by his head, smoothing shut his eyes, and then sat heavily on the ground, leaning against the splintering wooden building. The planes were off in the distance, like kites dancing in the evening breeze. Rodger fought the memories, the keen flashes of the times he had been the happiest, the times he had flown Lucy, and only Miss Ada and Sam knew.

Then he shivered. The only other person in the world that Sam had cared about was Ada. He’d have to ship the body back to her. He’d have to write her a letter and hope it got there before the casket.

“Oh, God,” he begged, “Oh, God!” as the tears flowed for his dead friend.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Bully Dogs Chapter 2: Countdown

Bully Dogs Chapter 2:

The good thing I can say about Friday was that the bully dogs stayed home. I made it to school at my usual time, just at first bell, when I could blend with the herd as we all walked through the halls to our rooms and sat at our desks. Like I said, the less I had to do with Marcy and Sue, the better my day went.


Today was the exception, as I knew it would be. The Big Day of Sixth Grade Volleyball Team Selection. During P.E. the teams got picked. The girls’ team leaders were, you might have guessed, Marcy and Sue. In front of the sixty-eight people, there seemed a 100-percent chance I would be the last and least-wanted player to be chosen.

I wasn’t disappointed. Annie was picked second by Sue, and I kept hoping against hope that Sue’s team would be one short at the end and have to take me.

That’s the way it worked, but Sue stalled so long in doing the obvious that Mrs. Aster, the principal, finally waved me over.

“Well, now,” she clapped her hands, like she always does, “that’s settled, and we can draw for the serve.”

Everyone knew you don’t draw for the serve, but we pretty much tolerated ditzy Mrs. Aster, if only because she’s the principal. So we waited, without a sigh or snicker, until our P.E. teacher, Miss Ford, finally spoke.

“Perhaps we should flip a coin for first serve.” We all smiled at Miss Ford and nodded.

“Oh!” Mrs. Aster smacked her hands together again. “Then, team captains come forward!” Marcy and Sue were already standing in front of her, but they each took another step closer. “Call it, girls!”

The quarter pinged onto the floor and rolled, almost getting to the bleachers before Miss Ford stepped on it. “Heads. Marcy’s serve. Line up!”

I was third to serve and got two balls over the net, but only one point. I may not be liked by the team captains, but I know I’m a good player. We’re all pretty good, but Marcy and Sue are terrific at this game, fast and right there under the ball all the time, it seems.

Maybe a lot has to do with the fact they both belong to the YWCA and play on other teams after school. Ursala and Annie serve well and can return net balls. The rest of us are okay by comparison, usually botching the fab-four’s serves one way or the other. But occasionally someone else saves the game with a lucky move. The teams were pretty evenly matched, and our tournament ended in a draw.

“Nice game!” Marcy slapped Sue’s extended hands.

“Yeah,” Sue replied, “wish we could play a real game, like against St. John’s.”

We all agreed. We were the only school that didn’t have a girls’ volleyball team in the Catholic Youth Organization. To get into the CYO league, we needed a coach, uniforms, and permission from the principal.

“Why don’t we ask Miss Ford to coach us?” I suggested.

“Yeah, why don’t you do that, Fran?” Marcy quipped with a toss of her long, blonde hair.

So I went over and asked Miss Ford. “Well,” she hedged and then smiled, “why not? I’m sure Mrs. Aster will give us permission. You’ll need money for uniforms, though. And each girl will have to pay a league fee. I’ll get the necessary paperwork turned into the CYO and set up the practices at Sandalwood Junior High if you can get money for the uniforms and league fees.”

Two down and one to go. Annie came up with a brilliant idea. “Let’s have a car wash! The eighth grade earned enough money to go to camp, and they only had one car wash on a Saturday!”

“My dad might let us use three of his extra-long, heavy-duty hoses!” volunteered Tina, and then someone else added, “I’ll bring rags and soap.”

“But where are we going to have this car wash?” asked Sue. She’s not only smart, but practical. “Ritchie’s dad let them use his car lot on Main Street.”

“That’s why they got so many cars, too,” grumped Ursala. “They were right on the busiest street in
the city.”

Marcy turned to me with a sneer. “Well, Fran, where are we going to have it? Maybe you can just go up to Ritchie and ask him if his dad will let us use his lot, too.”

“I don’t even know Ritchie,” I shot back, trying hard not to let that too-familiar hot flush transform to tears. “But we can think of something!”

“Sure we can,” Marcy rolled her eyes and then tapped Sue on the shoulder. “Let’s go.”

Annie and I walked back to class together. “Gee, Fran, it seemed like a good idea. Too bad, huh?”

I didn’t reply, though I wished I had. It still seemed like a good idea.

Mrs. Hammershaw handed out a printed list of words as we filed through the classroom door.

“Study this list,” she announced, “for the spelling bee next week.”

I looked down the rows of words. Nothing I couldn’t handle. Maybe I could beat Steve this year, although he had taken the regionals last year. But I had been making my own lists from the books I’d been reading, and I planned on giving it my best shot this year. Even if I wasn’t a straight-A student like Steve, Marcy, Sue, Annie, and Ursala, I did better on the weekly spelling tests than anyone in class.

The dismissal bell caught us in the middle of the Spelling Round Game, just before I would have had to tackle “conceive.” I guess you could say I was saved by the bell.

When I got home, my grandmother was having coffee with my mom. “How’s Granny’s Franny?” She grabbed me as she always did in a bear hug and squeezed me for all she was worth.

“Oh, all right, I guess.” I wiggled out of her arms, which was easy because she’s shorter than I am. Mom gave me the look that said “Be nice to your grandmother.” As far as grandparents go, Granny’s okay; she spoils me, but sometimes she treats me like I’m still six years old.

“You don’t look too happy. What’s wrong?” Granny slipped two pieces of caramel candies into my hand.

After unwrapping them, I popped both in my mouth and shrugged. Mom started to say something, but I remembered to add, “Thanks, Granny,” only I had a big wad of candy in my mouth, and my teeth sort of stuck together, and the words came out muffled.

“Frances,” my mom objected, but Granny cut in, putting her hand back around me.

“That’s all right. Finish chewing it, and tell your granny what’s wrong.”

I’m taller than Granny, and when she drapes her arm around my shoulder, she reminds me of a puppet dancing on tiptoes.

I finally swallowed the huge caramel lump in one gulp. “You know, we could make the deadline for CYO if we could just find a place to hold the car wash, but Marcy said why don’t I ask Ritchie, and I don’t even know him!”

“What?!” both Mom and Granny said at the same time.

I explained the whole thing, sitting between them on the couch. I couldn’t help the tears that came, even though I tried not to cry after I had said the part about not having a place to wash cars like Ritchie’s dad’s lot.

Granny searched in her purse for a tissue, then dabbed my face. I took the tissue from her and blew my nose. She tapped my knee. “Say, I’ve got an idea!”

And when Granny gets an idea, it’s usually a beaut! “Why don’t you ask Uncle Ryan if he’d let you have your car wash at his gas station?”

“Perfect!” I whooped, jumping to my feet. “Do you really think he’d let us?”

“Call him and find out,” replied Mom. “I’ll look up his phone number.”

“Couldn’t you call him for me?” I hated the telephone, except for special calls to my best friends, Carol and Annie. Worse than answering the loud-mouthed thing when it interrupted the middle of a television program, was calling someone and going through the whole rigmarole of ”Hi, how are you? I’m fine” and then trying to come up with something to say without sounding lame. But Mom, being a mother, shook her head.

“It’s your project, dear. Just be done with it.” She gave me a slip of paper with Uncle Ryan’s number on it. “Remember to say who you are when he answers the phone.”

I had to do it right then because both of them were going to sit there staring at me until I did. Luckily, Uncle Ryan answered the phone himself.

“Um.” I was at my best on the opening line. “Uncle Ryan.” I speeded up, and the words kind of tumbled out, “This is Fran, your sister’s daughter.” He sounds like he’s laughing whenever I talk to him, but he’s nice enough. “Granny said to call you and ask if I, I mean, my class, well, it’s our volleyball team, really, can have a car wash.”

“You need a clean car to play a game with volleyballs?” he joked.

“Oh, yeah, we do. I mean, we need to raise money for our uniforms, and I thought maybe you would let us use the gas station to have a car wash. We’d bring hoses, soap, rags, and buckets. There’d be about six or eight of us there.”

“Do I get a percentage of the profits?” he asked all serious.

I hadn’t planned on anything this complicated. “Uh, I don’t know.”

He burst out laughing. “I was kidding you, Fran. Sure. You want to do it on Saturday or Sunday?”

“You mean it?” I squealed, hating the way I do that when I get an answer I don’t expect. “Oh, I don’t know. I’ll have to ask the others what day.”

“Well, call me when you find out. Either day. We’ll make arrangements, okay?”

“Yeah, okay!” Then I hung up, only to see that same old look of my mom’s that reminded me too late that I hadn’t said thank you.

“I have to call him back; then I’ll thank him, okay?”

Mom didn’t say anything because Granny piped up. “You’d better call your teammates and get the ball rolling,” then laughed at her own joke. I laughed, too, but stopped when I thought about all those phone calls I had to make.

“Um, Granny,” I began, but Mom headed me off before I could finish my sentence.

“Wouldn’t it seem silly, Frances, if anyone but you called your teammates?”

“Yeah, I know.”

I saw Mom taking out the list of addresses and telephone numbers from the directory. She handed me the blue sheets. “Go to it.”

“Couldn’t I read for just an hour? It’s been a rough day, Mom.” But nothing doing, not until I had done what she wanted me to do.

Because I figured it would save me a hassle, I made the decision that Saturday, noon, would be a good time for the car wash. I called Annie first, and she got all excited about our big project. She told me not to worry about telling Marcy and Sue; she would take care of it. Boy, that was a relief!

By some miracle, everyone else was home, and I got eleven girls to promise they would be there. After making three return calls and getting only busy signals, I finally got Uncle Ryan. Then I had to wait one horrible minute while I thought he’d say no, but he must have had to check his calendar or something.

“All set, Fran. You’ve got the time and place. Now, hope for the sun and cars.”

I hung up and looked out the window. The sky was clouding up, and the wind was blowing.

“No one will want to come to the car wash if it’s raining!” I felt like howling, stamping my feet, and beating up the weatherman. “I hate Seattle!”

“Oh, Frances, calm down; it’s not the end of the world.”

“It might as well be! The car wash is my idea.” Those darn old tears came again, and my mom gave me that look that meant, “Must you cry?” but I couldn’t help it. “Just once, can’t things turn out right?” On top of it, I had the hiccups.

“Look, Franny, at the way the wind’s blowing those old clouds. Maybe it’ll just blow them away.” Granny was trying her best to cheer me up.

“It could rain tonight and clear up for tomorrow,” added my mom.

Granny pulled me down onto the couch next to her and began to rub my back. “Now, don’t cry. Granny just knows it’ll be a good day for you.” When Granny says it that way, I always have hope.


“You know what they say, don’t you, Franny?” Granny paused, shook her finger, and took a big breath to answer with “Granny’s words of wisdom.”

Before she could say it, Mom and I sang out in unison, “Tomorrow’s always another day.”

Ready for more Bully DogsAll available chapters to read online are listed here>> or buy the printed book on Amazon>>

Bully Dogs is the first in a series of middle-grade fiction stories about bullying and growing up by Jacquie Ream. Illustrations by Phyllis Emmert. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Forcing the Hand of God: Chapter 2

Words will take us back
To that night I looked into your eyes
And fell in love with you

The refrain to Adele’s newly penned song played over and over in Ada’s mind, obliterating any of her own thoughts. She wrapped damp newspaper around a bouquet of lilacs and secured it with twine, then swept a loose tendril of hair away from her face and secured it with a bobby pin before slipping her arms into her cardigan, leaving it unbuttoned. The screen door whispered shut as she stepped outside. Today the new morning sun shone warmly on her, and she inhaled the sweet smells of spring as she began the two-mile trek along the familiar route to Wilmington cemetery. She unhooked the latch on the gate and proceeded along the well-tended path to the grave site of her son and husband.

She knelt in front of the grave markers, sinking into the warm grass. Plucking the twine loose, she unwrapped the soggy newspaper and separated the lilacs into two bunches, placing the larger one in the vase beside the headstone marked “Daniel Steven Carson, Jr. April 20, 1915-May 21, 1924.” She rested her hand on top of her little boy’s grave, oddly at peace for the first time in eighteen years.

She heard a car off in the distance, a bird chirp and rustle through the pine trees, and the skirring of a squirrel. Sunlight poured through the boughs and patterned the graves. Tears trickled down her cheeks, but the pain subsided quickly and she sighed, pushing herself to her feet, brushing her hands along her hem. She leaned down and picked up the newspaper, wringing it out as best she could before stuffing it along with the twine into her bag.

Scooping up the smaller bundle of lilacs, she bent and placed it in the vase next to her husband’s marked gravestone that read “Dr. Daniel Steven Carson.” Beneath the date, at his sister’s insistence, had been added “beloved husband, father, son and brother.”

Which was a lie. The love she had felt for Dan the first year dissipated with every sarcastic comment he made, implying with a small sneer that, whatever she did, it was never enough. On their first wedding anniversary party, in the midst of friends and relatives, his friend David had toasted her with “To the nurse who got her doctor,” and Dan had smiled in acknowledgement. As if she had pursued him! She had tried, Lord knows, to discuss issues with him, but he would dismiss her concerns with a comment about “monthly hormonal surges.” He would have nothing to do with family outings with her relatives—“They bore me”—only holidays with his sister, Stella, her husband and children.

What difficult times those were! Ada had tried to please, to make herself fit into the Carson structure, but she seemed always one step out off. But when Stella was diagnosed with brain cancer the year after she lost Stevie and Dan, it was Ada that had gone and tended to her those last months of illness. Out of sorrow though comes blessings; she had gotten to know and love her niece and nephew in those years before their father remarried and moved to Salina, California, with his new wife. Ada had been happy for Nick, but she missed Wyona and Gregory terribly. They still wrote to her, although less often now that both had their careers and family.

“Enough!” Ada reprimanded herself aloud. She had quite a nice life now, and why tango with those ghosts?

She lingered, shielding her eyes from the glare with a hand as she glanced from one side to the other, deciding which route to take back home. Again drifting along with the words to Adele’s song, Ada retraced her way home. Once inside her house, she threw away the sodden newspaper and rewound the twine onto its ball before she began the busy work of mending clothing to be given to the poor. The grandfather clock tolled noon when Adele tapped on the door.

“Come in!” Ada pulled the door wider for Adele and her five-string guitar. “I hope you have a melody for me today, Miss Songbird!”

“Oh, Ada,” Adele grumped, dropping into her favorite plump, green chair opposite Ada at the sewing machine. “It’s easier to think about how wonderful to have written this song as to have actually done it!”

Ada chuckled. “Like all my projects! Let me hear what you’ve got.” She flipped a shirt inside out and began to re-stitch the seam.

Adele’s mellifluous voice crooned the refrain,

When I look into your eyes,
I see my world anew,
When I look into your eyes
I fall in love with you.

Strumming the last notes on her guitar, she smiled shyly as Ada clapped.

“Oh, that is nice, Adele! It’s coming along perfectly. What did you title it?” She picked up a needle and threaded it.

“ ‘Baby Blues,’ ” she quipped, setting aside her guitar. “Heather and Rachel make me sing it to them every night at bedtime. I let them think it is about this one,” she patted her belly, “not Rodger.”

“Which reminds me, here’s the latest letter from him.” She took the three pages from the top sewing drawer and walked over to hand them to Adele.

“Rodger describes so well the paradox! On one hand he talks about how much he admires the Chinese people for their industry and courage, then how so many of the workers are hooked on opium and are starving to death.”

Adele slipped off her sensible pumps and wiggled her toes. “From his last letter he told me a lot about the country and customs of the Chinese people. I cannot image how awful it would be to hobble about on four inch feet like those poor Chinese women! I may never wear shoes that hurt my feet again.”

Adele took the letter. Ada returned to sit again at the machine and worked the material beneath the presser foot. Adele’s song played in her thoughts as the machine hummed along.

Ada felt Adele’s penetrating gaze. From the corner of her eye she saw Adele refold the blue airmail letter and set it atop her guitar.

“So, who the hell is this Dee?”

Ada, chafed by Adele’s questions, pushed aside the half‑sewn tweed jacket, turned off the machine’s light, and faced the pretty, very pregnant young woman. “She was Rodger’s first love.”

“And? Is there a tragic ending to this lover’s tale?”

“Has Rodger ever mentioned Big Red?”

Adele shifted uncomfortably in the chair. “The man who taught Rodger how to fight?”

“Box. He taught Rodger to box well enough to win the 1938 Golden Gloves in Chicago.” Ada held Adele’s probing gaze. “Katie Simmons, Dee’s mother, married Big Red and wanted to settle here—until someone in town found out he was a quarter black.”

“What happened?”

“Rodger’s father, and Sam, the man who taught Rodger to fly, got Big Red out of town the night the KKK burned his house down. Katie and Dee had already left that morning.”

Adele tapped her front teeth with her index finger. “That explains some of the nightmares Rodger has. Voices…and fire.”

“I’m ashamed to admit it, but I don’t think any one of us ever took the time to explain it all to him.” Ada looked away from Adele, pulling down her eyeglasses and pinching the bridge of her nose. “Anyway, not enough to make it clear who did what to whom.”

“But Big Red got away safely? And Rodger still went on fighting.” Adele pursed her lips, sighing. “It just seems odd that Rodger ever started fighting.”

“He boxed.” Ada emphasized the word, knowing that only a whole explanation would satisfy Adele. “He was badly beaten by the two town bullies, so his father took him to see Big Red.”

“What in the world would have possessed him to take on two men?”

“He was only eleven and they were twelve. His mother had made him wear a diaper and play outside the day before.”

“Madeline wouldn’t have done that!” Adele sat straight up, her bulging stomach stretching taut the fabric of maternity dress. Her honey‑brown, bobbed hair swayed back and forth punctuating her disbelief. “The way she dotes on Heather and Rachel, you’d think she was the perfect mother.”

“Perhaps she understands them better than she did Rodger.” Ada stood up, tugging her housedress at the belt, as she stepped into the kitchen. “Want some tea?”

“Yes, please. With milk, no sugar. English habit I got from flying so long with the Women’s Transport Auxiliary. I can’t drink it black anymore.”

“Do you miss it the excitement of being in action?”

Ada’s question hung in the silence between them. She listened with all of her senses, relaxing only a little as Adele’s soft, modulated voice filled the space.

”I guess I miss the intensity of it all.” Adele entwined a strand of hair around a finger. “But being an American woman, I was so different from the English. Now,” her voice caught on a choked‑down sob as she crushed the letter tighter in her hand, “being pregnant is so different from anything else. A month’s honeymoon with Rodger was...was….” Her hand dangled, then dropped in her lap. She began to smooth out the crinkles in the envelope.

They had fallen into the habit of being without Rodger so easily that it embarrassed Ada to hear Adele speak of her longing. She brought her tea.

“It’s so unfair to have only lived together for a month. Didn’t you know each other for a year? But it’s not the same is it?”

She put the cup in Adele’s outstretched hands.

“This crazy war we’re not supposed to be fighting, well, it’s like time got all stirred up in a big pot and you just don’t know how the stew’s going to turn out.”

“Oh, yes, Ada. Waiting—it’s like a hundred razor nicks, just painful enough not to let you forget.”

Ada nodded and patted her on the knee as she spoke.

Adele slowly inhaled the fragrance of the mint tea. “Loving, too, has an edge to it.”

“Are you getting along all right with your in‑laws? It isn’t an easy situation for you, I imagine.”

“Oh, yes, we get along quite well. But thank God you’re next door!” Adele smiled at her confidentially. “John is so sweet, so mild‑tempered. I can’t figure out who Rodger takes after the most—Madeline or John.”

Ada smiled quickly. “Maybe he’s the blend of their hidden sides.”

“You don’t like Madeline very much, do you?”

“Maddie and I go way back to high school. We were never friends, so to speak, just speaking acquaintances.”

“And John? Did you know him in school?”

“No. Maddie met him while she was away in college. John was an engineer for Burlington, taking a few night courses in accounting. Madeline persuaded him to go on for a degree, instead of staying in college herself. She took a part‑time job as a secretary, and John gave up the railroad. It so upset her father that she didn’t go on for a teaching degree—even her brother Kyle thought she should have gone on for a degree, then married John.”

Adele brightened. “I fell in love with Uncle Kyle! But I’ll tell you this: I wouldn’t want to be married to him. Unugh.” Adele brushed away her bangs, smiling. “He’s a charmer, though. When I was in London with Rodger, Uncle Kyle spent hours with me. He even tried to talk Rodger out of going back to the Flying Tigers.”

Ada smiled back, though not too deeply. She searched vainly in her mind for a way to ask more questions about Rodger’s uncle Kyle whom she had never met, suddenly jealous of this snip of a girl who had so much more intimate knowledge of Rodger and his family than she.

“I should warn you that Kyle is a sore subject to broach with Madeline. She and her brother don’t get along.”

“Really?” Adele’s voice rose in surprised agitation. “John always speaks so highly of him.”

“Kyle and John are very good friends.”

Ada could see that family politics confounded Adele, and she was a woman who had to know. And know she would by constantly digging into a statement. But then she would give openly of herself, as if to barter a personal insight for an answer. The past few months had been filled with Adele and the baby. Grudgingly Ada began to love Adele, although the constant nagging for information wearied her.

“Ada, tell me what Rodger was like as a little boy.”

Ada looked into her hands. Kaleidoscopic images of Rodger as a small boy, with his electric blue‑green eyes, flitted through her thoughts. She longed to see him again, too. An ache of loving throbbed in her heart. He had been such a part of her life these last nine years, and his absence left a deep void within her.

“Rodger was quiet, yet watchful. I never knew him to run with the gang. He always held back or directed everyone to do what he wanted. He was a sweet kid, always looking after his two little sisters.” Ada shrugged, pained by the memories so real, so elusive. “He was good at whatever he wanted to do.”

Adele gave a little breathless laugh. “I believe that.” She shifted her knees to one side, leaning against the chair’s arm. “He’s so sure of himself in an odd way. So commanding. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t ever seem to blink.”

Ada looked away from Adele, noting the smudged front window pane. “I would be so exasperated with him when he gave me all the neighborhood gossip.” She flipped her hand in the air. “So‑and‑so did this. Saw him with her, her with him. Argued with this one. His big ears took it all in and he spat it all out.”

Shocked by her vehement statement, Ada jumped up from the footstool and scurried into the kitchen. She didn’t know who she was annoyed with: Adele or Rodger. Or herself. She had to admit finally that she felt displaced by Adele.

“I think sometimes I know him so well. But I really don’t know him at all,” she called out loudly from the sink as she dipped the tea ball several more times.

Adele got up from the chair and padded into the kitchen. “God, I hope this kid’s a boy. All the energy that went into making him ought to have a masculine form.”

Ada giggled. “You’ll rue the day you first thought that.”

The phone rang. Ada reached over Adele’s shoulder to answer it.

“Hello?” A second passed. “What can I do for you, Maddie?”

Ada smiled to see Adele waggle an eyebrow as Maddie’s words pealed out of the telephone receiver she held away from her ear.

“John just got a big promotion and there’s a dinner Saturday night at the lodge in his honor. I have a navy coat and dress ensemble, but a few spots need to be taken in.”

“Why don’t you bring it over? I could mark it right now.”

“Oh, Ada! That would work out perfectly. John’s going to be late for supper, and the girls are busy with homework.”

“Fine, Madeline.” Before she could say anything more, the other end went dead. Slowly, Ada replaced the receiver and shook her hands free of imaginary strings.

Adele watched her from the doorway with an amused smile. “We three women, the ‘Sweet Graces.’”

Ada looked at her quizzically. Adele had one hand across her belly, the other, resting against the doorjamb as she recited, “Around the child bend all the three Sweet Graces; Faith, Hope, Charity.”

Ada, intrigued, searched her memory. “I seem to recall that the other part of Landor’s poem was about men.”

“Yes. Let’s see if I remember it.” Adele sucked on a finger. “Ah! ‘Around the man bend other faces: Pride, Envy, Malice, are his Graces.’ ”

Ada and Adele stood in one another’s quietude until jarred back to the moment by a firm knock on the front door. Ada rushed past Adele, whipping open the door.

“Come in, Maddie. Come into the sewing room.”

As Madeline passed a large, foul‑smelling pile of strewn rags by the sewing basket, she involuntarily wrinkled her nose in disgust. Softening her face, she asked sweetly, “Are you still involved with that charity project in colored town?”

“Yes, I take care of the family I always have.”

With a brisk sigh, Madeline dismissed the pile. “They don’t change much, do they Ada?”

“Things change and stay the same, like all people and times, Maddie.”

Madeline shook the dress and matching coat on the hanger. “Just a simple matter of hemming, isn’t it? With a few alterations here and there.” Shoving the material into Ada’s hands, Madeline took a step back. “I’ve marked it all for you.”

“Why don’t you try it on again so I see for myself? I’ll put on a pot of tea for us.” Ada flung the dress and coat back into Madeline’s unprepared hands. The two garments separated, draping awkwardly over Madeline’s arms.

Speechless, Madeline turned and marched to the back of the house. Ada and Adele avoided one another’s eyes, waiting for Madeline to return in a few minutes in the ill-fitting clothes.

As Madeline stood in front of her, Ada readjusted the markings. With pins between her teeth, she could only mumble as Madeline chattered about the townspeople. Adele padded softly by them and reseated herself in the green brocade armchair in the living room.

“And Hettie— you remember her, Ada, a junior at Garland High? Well, she ran off with the minister of Rossville. Why, Vern and Abbie are heartsick about it! They always talked about sending her on to college.”

Ada removed the pins from her mouth in a bunch. “Maddie, Hettie did nothing but talk about eloping with that man. How could it be a surprise to anyone?”

“Why, I suspect she had to, that’s the heartbreak. If these young girls only knew there is more to life than all this nonsense of babies and housekeeping.” She looked to Adele. “You had the good sense to get a college education and my, goodness,” she exclaimed with pinched smile, “fly transports! Won’t that be something to tell your children? What kind of security will Hettie have if that man runs off again without her?”

“I suppose she grabbed her chance at the perfect home and family, the very thing she didn’t have in her own life. We may be only capable of repeating our mothers’ and fathers’ lives.”

“Oh, heavens! Ada, no! I’m in no way implying that! If that were the case, then we’d never evolve and humankind would be the same as it was in biblical times.”


“I’d say we differ greatly from our folks, each and every generation. We get more tolerant and compassionate. We—”


“Ada, I declare, are you redoing all my handiwork?”

“Turn.” Ada punched in the last of the pins. “No, just evening up the sides. When you make any adjustments in the bodice, you have to readjust the hemline.” She stood up, her ankle bones cracking. “Let’s have some tea.”

“I’ll change and have a quick cup.” Madeline whirled around to face the living room. “You’re as quiet as a mouse in there, Adele. I hardly know you’re around! I do hope that you’ll join me tonight with the ladies. We’re going to discuss the Romantic poets and how they predicted all this world upheaval.” She paused. “And the reverend’s wife will there. Jane so wants to meet you and perhaps,” Madeline cajoled, “persuade you to join the choir. It’s a shame not to share that beautiful voice of yours.”

“Hmm,” Adele murmured as she continued reading Ladies’ Home Journal.

As the steam wafted gently from the teapot, Ada inhaled the sweet, fragrant jasmine. Madeline sat at the kitchen table, ironing the edge of the tablecloth with her long fingertips, smiling too brightly, her voice edged with a trace of shrillness.

“Have you heard from Rodger?”

Ada dipped her head in quick assent. She had shared parts of her letter with Adele; and Adele had shown her two pages of her three-page letter. She prepared herself mentally for an angry onslaught from Madeline. She could understand how slighted Madeline must feel.

There was a long pause, a frozen pond in the conversation.

“Well, I suppose we’ll get a letter, too, this week. John gets dreadfully worried if he doesn’t hear from Rodger for a while. I just tell him that the boy is too busy to keep up his correspondence with everyone at home.”

Adele straightened up, speaking in a loud, yet oddly soft voice, “He’s flying two missions a day now.”

“He’ll certainly have some interesting stories to tell us then, won’t he?” Madeline finished her tea. “Ada, I can’t thank you enough for doing this for me on such short notice. I suppose I take you for granted, like all the rest of my family.”

Surprised, Ada shot back, “Oh, no! I don’t think that!”

“Oh, sweet Ada, always doing things for us! Why, just the time you spent with Rodger!” Madeline turned to look squarely at Ada. “And encouraging him in everything he wanted to do. Why, John just thinks the world of you, too!”

Adele, guitar in one hand and looking rather comical, had come to stand beside Madeline. “Perhaps there’s a medal for good people, like the Victoria Cross for bravery.” Ada saw her wink. “Madeline, we best be getting ourselves home if there’s to be entertaining tonight.”

“Oh, yes, dear! You’re so right!” Before she stepped into the living room, she called back, “Ada, do join us if you like. The ladies love to have you. You always say the most thought‑provoking things!”

Ada just nodded. As Madeline and Adele left through the front door, she remained seated, stirring her tea with the small, silver spoon, listening to the click‑tap, click‑tap of her anger.

Then, as the quiet of her house enveloped her, she reached inside her dress pocket and took out Rodger’s letter. Replacing her glasses, she reread the part where he talked about Sam’s arrival as the new mechanic.

Want to read more? Read online for free: available chapters listed here. Get your own copy of Forcing the Hand of Godpaperback or hardcover on or ebook (multiple formats available) on

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Bully Dogs Chapter 1: Dog Days for Frances Reed

Bully Dogs by Jacquie Ream:
Faced with her neighbor’s three ferocious dogs, and a group of girls at school determined to put her down, Fran isn’t sure whether to stand up for herself or sit the tough times out. Fran’s chore-centric mother is no help! And one of her best friends, Annie, has begun hanging out with the bullies. When Fran sees that her school’s volleyball team won’t succeed unless the bullying ends, she realizes she’ll have to stand up for herself. But who should she face first: the vicious-looking dogs who chase her to school, or the girls who try to make her feel bad about being herself?
As Fran begins to discover her own strength and find her self-confidence, she sees bullies are like growling dogs who just won’t go away. And Bully Dogs proves that when it comes to bullies, their bark can be worse than their bite! Read for FREE on my blog>>

Bully Dogs Chapter 1:
Dog Days for Frances Reed

My mom’s wrong. These are not my best years, and I seriously doubt I’ll look back upon my childhood as the happiest days of my life.

One way or the other, I wished I’d be dead by Friday, the morning of the girls’ sixth-grade volleyball team selection (that is, the Longest Hour in the Life of Frances Reed), or I knew I’d be suffering horribly after getting attacked by the bully dogs.

Maybe it would be better just to let the bully dogs eat me alive tomorrow morning. I’m getting plenty tired of running from the black Labrador, cocker spaniel, and golden retriever. Really, should I have to deal with three, big, dumb dogs that have taken a dislike to me, for what reason I have no idea? Old crotchety Mr. Wessenfeld used to walk them himself, but now he just lets them run loose.

I can’t help but wonder why things are the way they are, especially about adults and what they say or do or don’t bother to do at all. What gets me the most is all the preaching adults do about responsibility, and yet, no one has done anything about Mr. Wessenfeld, who lives four houses down across the street, letting his vicious mutts out every morning to do their number.

And boy, did they do a number on me! Snarling and yapping, they’d chase me down the end of the street, across Main Avenue, all the way to Saint Mary’s schoolyard. Some days, I just about didn’t make it to the chain-link gate that would separate me from them. And then didn’t I look just great, huffing and puffing, red-faced, and sweat running down my cheeks for the start of classes? I don’t have a lot in the looks department, not like some of the other girls in my class, and it really helped when I knew my scraggly brown bangs were plastered against my forehead. I’m sure I looked like a drowned mouse.

Annie, one of my best friends since second grade, told me I’m not ugly at all and understood how I felt, but I make her promise not to tell anyone, particularly Marcy, Sue, and Ursala. They would have had a field day if they’d known I’d run away from the bully dogs.

Not that “The Three Amigos” didn’t already give me a bad enough time and always had since kindergarten. Especially Marcy. We’d always been together in a small class. The biggest I remember was the combined fourth and fifth grades with twenty-one students, eleven boys and ten girls. Marcy and I were a bad combo, like a hyper cat and a snarling dog stuck together in the vet’s waiting room. We just didn’t mix well with each other, and the less she knew about me, the less she could telegraph all over Saint Mary’s barnyard with her mega-mouth. She was real quick with the nasty names that stuck, like calling me “Franny Fanny.” Most people, except my mom, call me Fran.


“Yeah, Mom?” A quick glance at the clock and I knew that it was time to practice the piano and then the trumpet.

“Time to practice!”

“Just another five minutes, okay?”

“No!” Suddenly she was looming in my doorway. “That’s what you said at four-thirty after being on the phone twenty minutes giggling with Carol. Fifteen minutes on the trumpet, and thirty on the piano.”

“But I’m doing my math!” I pointed out reasonably enough. “And I only spoke with Carol for fifteen minutes.” I knew, because her mom has a timer by the phone. Carol is my very best friend, but she lives on the other end of town and goes to Saint Thomas, so we have to talk everyday so we know what’s happening with each other. She’s the only one that I don’t mind calling or talking to on the telephone. “I’m almost done, then I’ll go downstairs and practice. Okay?”

“No, now. You’ll have time to finish your homework before dinner. Go.” She dramatically threw her arm out, jabbing in the general direction of the stairs.

“All right, all right!” I put down my pencil and got up.

“Look,” her voice erupted like a volcano, “why don’t you just quit band and piano altogether? I hate these constant hassles with you.”

Actually, I like playing the trumpet and don’t really mind piano, though I’d been at it for five l-o-n-g years, practically half my life. Going over and over the same stuff bores me.

“So who’s hassling? I’m going right now.”

Her face was all pinched like she was mad. I didn’t know what made her so touchy, but I wished she’d relax. As she stood there glaring at me, I picked up the pencil that had bounced off the desk and rolled onto the floor and slid it in between pages of chapter six of The Sword in the Stone I’d been reading.

I always practiced the trumpet first, which I liked better, I suppose, because I was good for a first-year student. Miss Kray, our school bandmaster, said that if I kept improving as I had, I’d be first chair that year.

I was careful not to spend a lot of time cleaning my trumpet, or Mom would go nuts on me, reminding me it didn’t count for practice time. But I had to maintain my instrument, and I did what I had to do, then warmed up before “reviewing and renewing” band pieces for the week. After that I started the scales and triads on the piano.

Sometimes my dad would come downstairs to read the newspaper, and it’d make the time go faster. He thought he was giving me silent encouragement, but I knew he was only making sure I did my assignments. He’d always ask about my lessons, and I’d tell him Mrs. Nieman had given me another march or sonata that week.

“Good,” he’d say, “let me hear you play it like Sam Spade,” then laugh as he’d punch the front page in half and read on.

Sometimes I wish my older brother and sister were still at home, but most times I like being by myself with Mom and Dad. Mostly Dad. Mom and I get on each other’s nerves when we spend too much time together.

“Are you going to check my math tonight, Dad?” I asked as he settled into his chair.

He snapped the paper open and replied, “After dinner, okay?”

“Mom wouldn’t let me finish my math, and I’ve only got a couple of more problems to do. She made me come down here.”

“Play it again, Fran.” He waved his hand at me and buried his head into the financial section, but I saw him smiling when I started “When the Saints Come Marching In.”

“Can I read the comics before dinner?” I shouted above the crescendo finish.

“When you’re done!” he ended up roaring after the music had faded.

“All right, Dad, all right.”

By the time he was through with the paper, I was all done with practice and got a good start on the comics.

“What about your homework?” bellowed my mom from the top of the stairs.

“In a minute; almost done.” I had half a page to go, but it was no good telling her that it’d take me only another two minutes, max.

“Now, Frances.” With her hands on her hips and a mean scowl, she looked just like Henry the VIII, the old head-chopper.

“Just do it,” my father sighed, and I got up, finished with the last strip. My dad rattled the newspapers real loud as he collected the comics, loud enough so that I’d know he was the one picking them up, not me.

“Where’s the mail?” I heard Dad ask Mom.

“Frances brought it in for me,” Mom replied, then had to add, “If she put it down somewhere in her room, it’ll be lost in the black hole.”

I looked around my room. I knew where everything was. My shoes were beneath my uniform skirt and shirt, my science book was under my lunch sack in the corner where my stuffed animals kept watch over the defeated Redcoats, all lying dead from the last battle with the United States Army. Everything in its place, and a place for everything. Honestly, I can’t figure out why Mom kept on and on about what a mess the place was. Did it really matter? After all, I could find whatever I needed.

Dad walked in, making a big show of stepping over some books I had to return to the library, and frowned. “Franny, couldn’t you just throw out some of these papers?”

“Dad! Not that one. That’s my English, and it’s due tomorrow.” I snatched it away from him and handed him three letters and the junk mail with flyers that left a trail on my desk, across my bed, and on the floor. “I’ll pick those up later.”

But he’d already swooped down to gather them up. “No, it’s the least I can do for the cause,” he said then tweaked my nose before he left.

“Dinner! Wash up!” Mom’s voice echoed throughout the house. Just another three minutes and I’d be done with the last of the forty-two multiplication problems.

“Frances, please!”I finished the last sentence of the seventh chapter of The Sword in the Stone, dropped a book marker in it, and quickly did the last set . “Just one more minute,” I said. “One more and I’m done.”

As I sat down to the dinner table, Mom looked at me and said, “You didn’t wash up.”

“Oops, sorry. I didn’t have time.” I smiled at her, but she didn’t smile back.

“So how did school go today?” Dad asked as I mashed butter into the baked potato, the only good thing on my plate.

“It was okay,” I replied with a shrug, just to let them know that there is nothing worth telling about the sixth grade.

“No trouble with the gruesome-twosome?” He meant Marcy and Sue, who always gave me grief. Ursala just sort of hung out with them without ever really saying or doing much.

“Nah.” I looked up, and Mom was shooting daggers at me, so I took a bite of fish. “What’s for dessert?”

“Spinach soufflé.”

Sometimes I think my mom’s serious when she’s not. “Yuck!” That made her laugh, so I knew she was kidding. “That’s as bad as halibut.”

Wrong thing to say to her. “Eat it,” she snapped.

When I grow up, I don’t think Mom will ever come to my house and have dinner because I am not going to cook anything I don’t like to eat and that doesn’t leave much that she’ll want to eat.

“Bring me your math, and I’ll look it over while I’m having my strawberry shortcake.” Dad winked at me.

I choked down the last bit of fish and broccoli, washed the bad taste away with milk, then ran, and got my homework. All that exercise made me hungry. “Can I have lots of strawberries and whipping cream?”

“No, Frances,” of course, my mom said, “but I do have some more broccoli and fish if you want.”

“No, thanks, Mom.” But she brought in the beaters and bowl that she whipped the cream in and gave them to me. “All right! I’ll lick ‘em clean!”

“Franny.” Only my dad says Franny, and I knew he wasn’t pleased. “How is it you get the right answers on the hard ones and miss the easy problems?”

That’s how I am, I guess. “How many, Dad?” I hoped I could call it a day and get back to my book.
“Seven silly mistakes, my girl.” He handed me a pencil, eraser, and the paper. “I’ll recheck them after you’re done.”

I worked while Mom cleared the table and started the dishes. She was almost done loading the dishwasher when Dad went over the last set.

“Could you try being a littler neater, Fran?” he asked me for the umpteenth time.“I thought it looked pretty good.” And I looked again at the seven rows of six problems.

“You might erase instead of crossing out,” is all he said as he gave me back my paper.

“Sure, Dad.” I kissed him on the cheek and headed for my room.

“Frances!” Mothers have fantastic timing. I put down my book and waited. “Take out the garbage.”

“Right.” My mother the chore-master. I slid the empty wastebasket next to her as she swept the floor. I was almost out of there when she nabbed me again.

“Honey,” she leaned on the broom, “please put a liner in it for me.”

“Then can I read for a while?” I inquired sweetly.

“No, dear, it’s bath time.” She waited with exaggerated patience for me to punch down the plastic bag into the garbage can. “And please, no books in the bath tub.”

“Ah, Mom!” But I could see she wasn’t going to give an inch. Shower people do not understand the necessity of relaxing in the tub with a good book after a long day. I am not going to have even one shower in my house when I grow up.

“And wash your hair.”

“Anything else?”

“Brush and floss your teeth,” she said with a smile the Devil would have appreciated.

Well, she sure made short work of my favorite pastime. If I was lucky, she’d be doing the crossword puzzle and forget to watch the clock, and I’d get another chapter in before lights out.

I heard her footsteps coming down the hall, nine-o-five. Just this last half of a page and…

“Mark it, Frances.” Mom stood beside my bed, waiting.

But I was done before she plucked the book away from me and laid it on my desk. “Good night,” she said, shaking her head and rolling her eyes up in a look of mock despair as she brushed the drippy hair from my eyes. “Sweet dreams and don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

I gave her a kiss for a kiss, a hug for a hug. “Love you,” she whispered as she turned out the lights. “Aren’t you glad tomorrow’s Friday?” She closed the door, probably smiling to herself.

My heart sank.


Ready for more Bully DogsAll available chapters to read online are listed here>> or buy the printed book on Amazon>>

Bully Dogs is the first in a series of middle-grade fiction stories about bullying and growing up by Jacquie Ream. Illustrations by Phyllis Emmert.