Wednesday, July 22, 2015

YNK (You Never Know): Chapter 4 - MIA (Missing in Action)

I have a routine with the dogs now that Mrs. W is spending her days at the hospital with Mr. W. I no longer take piano lessons, so I have an hour in the afternoon during the week to walk the dogs after school, but on the weekends, I take them in the mornings. On Saturday morning, I unlock the door, step aside as the Three Musketeers bolt out, Porthos running in circles, and the two others trotting around the yard sniffing and checking out the inventory. I have something for Mrs. W’s dinner made by my Mom that I put into the refrigerator. I find a note from Mrs. W with a smiley face at the end of the last sentence thanking me for the two sci-fi anthologies I’ve left for her to take to Mr. W.

I grab the leashes and round up the Jedi-wannabes. “You guys can be so tiresome!” I scold, but when they lick me, nuzzle me and do their little yip-yip-yip, I have to smile at them. Even Porthos, the little miscreant, is mellow today.

The one thing I notice is the yard. The grass is overgrown and the edges of the lawn are scraggly. I bet Mr. W., probably even Mrs. W, doesn’t like that. Maybe, I think about this for a minute, I could get my Dad to mow the lawn. I know he would.

My three charges are trotting along today like well-mannered dogs, which is not like them. It occurs to me maybe they are missing Mr. W., too.

Dean is beside me and I haven’t even a clue where he came from!



Oh, we are really conversant, aren’t we?

“I’m going to ask my Dad if he’ll cut,” I gesture behind me, “the Wessenfeld’s lawn. It shouldn’t take too long, huh?”

I bounce along ahead of Dean, being towed by the three turbo-charged dogs.

Dean pedals ahead, pointing at the park. In one great surge, we all converge at the entrance. I do an obligatory lap, while Dean parks his bike. We go through the same old routine of yip-yip-pat-pat, scratch-scratch, ahhh, and Three Musketeers settle down. Dean looks me straight in the eyes and says, “We could do the lawn.”

We? “Huh?” Sometimes I amaze myself how bright I am.

“Yeah, Fran. You…and m-me. We could mow, edge. All of it.”

Me? I’d like to point out that I’m somewhat challenged, but when I look at Dean, he’s got this funny little half-smile, all I can say is, “Yeah, okay.”

I look at the dogs, so contented as we both pet them and think, oh, geez, cleaning up after them will be so romantic.

Dean is staring at me full bore, making me a little uncomfortable. “Fra—an, I like you without makeup.”

I don’t say anything, just scrunch my face at him as I yank at the leashes to get the dogs up and going back along our route.

Well, Fran, I think, you’ve gotten yourself into a fine mess. What will Dean think about you when he sees that you haven’t a clue about how to run a lawn mower? Oh, and an edger, now that will be a good one!

Dean disappears. I look around but he is nowhere in sight as I unlatch the gate, carefully re-latch it, and let the dogs off leash. I refill water dishes at the outside faucet, then let myself into the house, and into the garage to scoop dry dog food into the plastic bucket to distribute into the dog dishes.

Suddenly, Dean is at the gate. Dean and a lawn mower. Dean with a lawn mower and an edger. Oh, boy this is gonna be good.

“Fr-ran! Get the dogs!”

“Hey! Come and get it!” Porthos, Aramis and Athos come running for the food, giving Dean his break. He scoots through the gate pushing the lawn mower with one hand and holding aloft the edger with his other hand.

I point at the outside electrical outlet as he plugs the long, orange cord into the edger and hands it to me.

“I’ll mow, you edge.”

I stand there holding the handle, wagging it back and forth, until he notices. “Never used one before.”

Without a word, he shows me how to turn it on and takes it to make a swift, clean line along edge of the lawn. I am dogging his footsteps until he turns and hands the buzzing thing to me, waving at the remaining edge. The edger vibrates and I think I might drop it, and it digs out a hole before I get a grip and get it to do what I want. Dean revs the lawn mower into high gear and makes neat, parallel lines across the green grass.

The Three Musketeers stay on the porch watching us. Their little heads turn right, left, right, left, as Dean and I go about our business. We break long enough collect all our gear, including the dogs, to go to the back yard and begin the whole process again. I’m pretty good at this, I’ve only left behind four divots in the grass. Dean is seriously busy with mowing and emptying the bag into the compost bin. When he is through with the mowing, he asks me if there is a broom he can use, and we search the garage until we find one obviously used for the outdoors, not the inside. Even I know that much.

I’m sweaty, but so is Dean. I wonder, though, do I smell like freshly mown grass, or just gross?

“Tha-that didn’t take as long as I thought,” Dean smacks the grass bag smartly spewing grass clippings into the compost bin. “Looks good.”

I nod and shrug. “Think anyone’ll notice the little potholes?”

He does his little half-smile and hooks the bag onto the mower.


He unplugs the orange cord and winds it around his forearm in a figure eight, until he is nose to nose with me still holding the edger. He just smiles and rubs noses. The dogs come alive and start barking, and dancing around us. Some much for another kiss.

I distract the three dogs as Dean wheels the mower out the gate. “I’ll be back in an hour to check on you guys. Be good!” I command them, latching the gate. As I turn around, I see Brian, Justin, and Collin across the street.

Dean sees them, too. I take two steps to be beside Dean.

“Hey! Look!” Brian stops mid-block and points at us. “Fanny and her Fag!”

I am frozen, I can’t speak or move. I do nothing. Nothing.

Dean straightens up, staring Brian down. No one makes a move.

“Hey, fag! Where’s your mother?” Brian shouts, then laughs like a hyena.

I can’t feel or think anything.

Then I look at them, over there, and see Justin. I want to put my hand on Dean’s arm, reach out, but I do nothing. Except stare at Justin. Then I take one, little, step away from Dean.

An eternity goes by. The sun shines still, the earth does not open up and swallow me. Dean slowly pushes the mower in a straight line down the driveway, makes a left turn and heads home.

Brian high fives Collin and their jeering laughter fills the air. Then, like it didn’t happen, I am alone. I look right over my shoulder and Dean is plodding down the sidewalk; I look left and the badgers are swaggering up the street. I suddenly hear the dogs barking, lunging against the fence, fierce voices echoing their judgment.

“Stop it!” I shout, but really not at them.

My feet feel like lead as I go home. God, I cry out, thoughts so jumbled I can’t get it straight, where are You?

I try reading for a while, but my thoughts are on Dean. Why didn’t I say something? Why didn’t I do something? And worst of all, I don’t know why I stepped away from Dean when I wanted so badly to grab him and hold onto to him.

My Mom pops her head into the door way. “Fran, would you like to go to the library for a half an hour?”

“No.” Leave me alone.

“Is anything wrong, honey?”

“No.” Nothing is right. Go away.

My celly rings, making me jump. I pick up, hoping it’s Dean. It isn’t. But it’s Dusty.

“Hi! Can you work on the project this afternoon?”

“Yeah, great! Let me ask my Mom. Call you right back.”

“Mom!” I’ve startled her into looking up from doing the crossword puzzle in the Saturday newspaper. “Can I go to Dusty’s house to work on our class project?”

“Be home by five.” She continues filling in the blanks as I call Dusty.

“Be there in fifteen.”

A beep tells me I have a text and it is from Annie.

“mt me @ nordys 1pm”

I am confused. I text her, “restrictions?”

“prts gone tday”

Oh, Annie, I wish you wouldn’t, is what I want to say. But instead, I text her, “cant. class prj”
“ok ttfn”

I have to look that up on my computer to find out she has said “ta-ta for now”.

I gather my laptop, backpack and head out the door. I am relieved beyond reason to be going over Dusty’s house for the afternoon. I get another text message from Annie just as I am about to ring the doorbell.

“justin here wnts to know whre ur”

Dusty answers the door before I can reply, so I don’t.

“C’mon in. We can sit in the TV room and work.”

She is taller than I am and is so much more graceful when she walks, as if she belongs on this earth. I feel like I’m always supposed to be somewhere else or someone else. I envy her confidence.

“Fran, that was such a great idea! No one else is going to do this travel brochure of ancient Rome. Gads, look at all the research you’ve done!”

She sorts and I gather the snippets into the Pages app on her Mac laptop. It looks good, but lacks something indefinable.

Dusty scowls at the computer screen. “My Mom is an artist. I’ll ask her what she thinks.”

“Mom!” Dusty bawls out over her shoulder. “Can you come see?”

Mrs. Conner is taller than my mother, and prettier. She glides when she walks, just like Dusty. Her long hair is piled in a messy twist on top of her head, but it looks good on her.

“Hmm.” She studies the outlay for a minute, then taps the screen. “Put headlines here and here. Maybe magenta?”

Dusty’s fingers fly over the keyboard making the changes. “Yes! That’s it!”

And it is. It is really good. We both sit back and laugh, giving each other a high five.

“Let’s have some snacks.”

We forage for crackers in the pantry and cheese in the fridge. “Want Coke™, Snapple™ or cranberry juice?”

I take the bottle of juice. We sit outside on the back deck and munch and talk. I am surprised to find out that she and I have lots in common. She likes sci-fi, ELO Nightrider and Queen Bohemian Rhapsody.

“Beatles, too.” Dusty flings crumbs over the rail.

I shake my head. “Way over done. Ya know, they’re too hyped.”

Dusty waggles an eyebrow. “Well, we agree we don’t like the Jonas Brothers.”

“Yeah, we agree.”

“Fran, you want to watch a video?”

We discard ‘Ever After’, one of my faves. “I own this one, too! Like a million and one viewings!”
Dusty tosses aside ‘Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood’ and we both say at the same time, “Too mother-y!”

“This is the one,” she plunks in ‘Save the Last Dance’ and we sit through it, not acknowledging our little tears during the poignant scenes.

“Ah, that was good,” Dusty hits the rewind button.

“Yeah, it was.” I gather up my stuff. “I’m going to walk the Wessenfeld’s dogs. My job and I actually get paid for it!”

“That’s cool. I’ll see you later.”

It had been such a wonderful afternoon that I almost forgot about this morning. I looked for Dean on the walk with the Three Musketeers, but I didn’t see him on our route.

Mrs. W was standing on the porch when I got back with the dogs. They are so much better behaved around her, trotting up to her and all three just sit, stare up at her and wag their tails until she addresses each one by name and gives them a treat.

“How’s Mr. Wessenfeld?” I ask as I put up the leashes and begin refilling water dishes.

“George will be fine, Dusty.” She swept her arm, indicating the lawn. “Did you have anything to do with this yard?”

I smile. “Dean did most of the hard work. I just put the divots in, for artistic effect.”

“I’d like to pay you both for this. It was so thoughtful!”

I shake my head, hard, though it occurs to me I’d have an excuse to go see Dean. “No, we wanted to do it.”

“Well, I’d like to make arrangements to have it done weekly. Do you think Dean would do that?”

Perfect! “I’ll ask him and let you know. Bye!” I wave as I leave. All the way home, I think how perfect this is, a way to get back together with Dean. Tomorrow, I’ll go see him. I envision myself walking up to the door, a few awkward moments, but then this offer, this way of letting him know I’m sorry and yet we could get back to being like we were.

Perfect ending for a movie. But not in real life.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Forcing the Hand of God: Chapter 14

Ada stood by the kitchen counter, her back to the window. She might fade into a ghost, to haunt her own house. So weary, so very tired. It hadn’t seemed like John’s funeral at all. More like hers.

The mail plopped down through the slot onto the hardwood floor. Ada looked out her back door screen to the garden, then back to the scattered letters. Amidst the white ones lay an air mail envelope. She walked over and briskly scooped them all up.

She delayed the agonizing moment of finding the letter amongst the bills. When she picked it out, she ran her finger over the front of it, tracing the “A,” then the “d,” “a” slowly, methodically, of Kyle’s handwriting. The fat envelope felt light when she picked it up. She fanned herself with it, sniffing the air for his scent; but only itchy, feathery, tomato pollen tickled her nose. She turned the envelope over and ran a fingernail underneath the seal.

She read and reread the parts that spoke to her, telling her he missed her, wishing she would reconsider and join him in London.

Then he negated his words. “No, it is best you are not here. Parts of the city are devastated by the bombing, and it’s depressing to be here at night in a huge city without lights.”

Then as she read on, a line reached out to her, wrapping around her, pulling her into a memory of him. She shivered, folding the paper carefully along the creases and replacing it in the envelope. Ironing it down, she suddenly regretted making the letter less than it had been before she had read it. Tears splashed on the envelope, staining it grey. She vainly tried to wipe them off. Finally, she sought out her favorite chair in the living room and collapsed into it, pressing her body into the cushions so that they engulfed her.

She lay her head back and let the tears come. All of the words were right. He had made a promise he would come back for her, but she knew it was a lie. He was lost to her as surely as the rest of them. She hurt all the more when she thought of John.

She sat and cried until the tears came no more, then she closed her eyes and waited. Her heart ceased to pound violently and her breathing slowed. She inhaled deeply, held it, then exhaled until her ribs pushed out and she sucked in more air.

Something thwacked the screen door and stuck to the vibrating mesh. She shrieked. When she focused her eyes, she saw that it was a black kitten, its claws hooked through the screen. It mewed.
Ada stormed to the door, throwing off the latch. She grabbed the intruder by the neck with one hand and picked off each paw with the other.

“No!” she scolded. Still holding onto its neck, she looked at its open, pink mouth. It mewed softly. It still had the blue eyes of a baby. A white nose. Otherwise all black.

“I don’t need anything that needs taking care of. Go away.”

She put it down and clapped her hands. The kitten sat and meowed. Louder and louder. Ada scanned the neighborhood, feeling helpless against its pleas for care. She had noticed, earlier, unfamiliar children with a box running down the sidewalk. They had simply left the poor thing to fend for itself. She stared long at Madeline’s house. She might give it to Heather and Rachel.

Oh, no. Especially since Maddie’s sister was staying with them for a while. Carrie, demanding in different ways than Maddie, mentioned several times before and after the funeral how she could not tolerate animals. Allergic.

“Humph,” snorted Ada. “Wouldn’t share anybody’s attention, is all.”

Then she looked down into the unblinking blue eyes.

“Oh, all right!”

She jerked open the door, then held it until the kitten came all the way in. “I’ll get you some milk. Mind you, you take it as is. I’m not heating it.”

The milk sloshed against the sides the bowl as Ada set it before the kitten. The kitten nosed the dish, took a tentative sip and backed away from the bowl. It sat washing itself, paused, looked at Ada and meowed.

“I’ll feed you mush until I can get you cat food.” She slapped the box and pan down on the counter.
After the dish and pan were rinsed and put away, Ada sat on the couch. The kitten came beside her feet, rubbing and purring. She reached down and picked it up, placing it gently on her lap. “Well, what is your name? Most beings are born with a sense of themselves, so who are you?”

She scratched its ears. It nestled down, putting its head between its paws. She thought back over the years. The lost loves. The times.

She looked about the rooms. Her sewing machine in the other room. The fireplace, neat and sparkling. Rodger and Adele’s wedding picture on the mantle. With Kyle beside them. Rodger and Kyle in uniform. Adele, so pretty and slim in her mother’s wedding gown, her mother beside Adele, radiant, and her father looking off into the distance.

Her life wasn’t so bad. Not really. Then another wave of sadness crested, and she sat back into the cushions with arms dangling by her sides and let the tears flow anew. For John, for Sam, for herself. Spent, she rested, stroking the kitten absentmindedly.

Just as she welcomed the calmness, savoring the quiet, the telephone rang. She eased the sleeping kitten off her lap and on the fourth ring she answered.

“Yes, Mrs. Steele, I do have a garden.” Ada’s curiosity piqued. “What a lovely idea! Yes, I’d love to contribute vegetables out of my garden.”

She imagined all of the women baking and putting together sandwiches for the train loads of soldiers coming through Chicago.

“Why, no! The pick‑up spot is only a few miles from my house. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. All right.”

She paused after hanging up the receiver. A Victory garden, Mrs. Steele had called it. Oh! The irony of a day of bereavement and contributions. Relief swept over her that she hadn’t been asked to bake cookies and cakes. That would have been too much. Too much.

She started outside. “Oh, my! Forgetful woman!” she chided herself. “I must change my clothes.” Then she stopped and slowly shook her head. “No,” she whispered, “I’ll pick in my finery.”

She charged outside, slamming the door behind her. But when she heard the plaintive cries of the kitten, she returned and held the door open. The kitten pranced outside as if it already owned the entire backyard.

Ada grabbed up an old, metal washtub, pushing it against her hip. She plucked ears of corn, ruffling the long, green leaves as she marched down the rows. She pinched off green beans and tossed them in. The kitten followed her, darting in and out of the corn stalks, batting at a dangling tomato that drooped from the vine onto the path. Ada put the washtub down and shooed away the cat. She yanked out rutabagas and carrots and rhubarb, tossing them into the tub. She plucked several ripe tomatoes and nested them carefully on top.

The kitten came up behind her and bit her above her heel. “Ooh, you little monster,” she growled, picking it up and giving it a shake. Then she cradled it, stroking its downy fur.

“I’m tired. Let’s go rest a spell.”

She sat down at the patio table. The sun poured over the entire yard, so intense the light on the green grass, it hurt her eyes. Reluctantly, she rose, and nestling the kitten in the crook of her arm, she wearily padded back inside to the living room and sat where she could see outside the front window.
Ada watched Adele leave Madeline’s house and come to hers. She closed her eyes, wishing that Adele would go on home.

“Ada?” Adele pushed the front door open a crack. “I won’t come in if you don’t want company.”

“Come on in, dear.” Ada continued to stroke the kitten.

“Oh, isn’t she cute?” cooed Adele. She stood awkwardly beside the chair. “Where did she come from?”

“I don’t know. But I think she’s a he.” Ada motioned for Adele to sit. “For the life of me, I can’t think of a name.”

The kitten woke, yawning, its teeth exposed. It looked sleepily over to Adele.

“Are you going to keep him?” Adele winced at a sudden jab in the ribs. Ada looked at her expectantly. “No, Ada, don’t even think of asking me! I couldn’t cope with a kitten.”

“Then I guess he’s my guest until he decides to go.” Ada suddenly choked. She swallowed. “How’s Maddie?”
Adele stared at the kitten. “Doing well. It hasn’t hit her yet.” Adele relaxed into the seat. “Madeline’s one tough lady. She could have been Rodger’s boxing trainer.”

Ada had no reply. She nodded.

“Look at the way that cat stares without blinking. Like Rodger.” Adele chuckled. “Maybe he’s ‘The Kid.’ ”

Ada smiled, rubbing the kitten’s head. “ ‘The Kid.’ Cute. ‘Kitten the Kid.’ ”

Adele got herself a glass of water from the kitchen and brought it out to the living room. She sipped, then dipped her finger into the glass. Dripping across her dress, she placed the tip of her finger on top of the kitten’s head. He tried to shake her loose.

“I baptize thee ‘The Kid.’ ”

“You didn’t tell me what the doctor said.” Ada smoothed down the wet fur.

“I’m as healthy as a horse. I feel like one too. Probably going to be a boy the way I’m carrying him so low. That’s what the nurse said. She delivered a hundred babies during World War One.”

For the first time, Ada noticed that Adele looked stressed. The baby must be carrying all of the extra weight, she thought, because Adele’s face still had the hollow cheeks evident in her wedding picture.

Ada wagged a finger at Adele. “Don’t you believe every old wives’ tale you hear.”

“I don’t. I’m too smart for that.” Adele chuckled. Suddenly, her voice thickened. “How many more funerals, Ada?” Her face pinched, then relaxed a bit. “Don’t think me ill‑mannered, but I can’t help but feel funerals are a waste of time. I can’t understand why we do it.”

“For the living, my dear. So we can atone for our sins against the dead.”

Adele played with a wad of her dress between her index finger and thumb. Wisps of hair framed her heart‑shaped face. “Do you think Madeline loved John?”

Ada waited before answering. “Yes, yes, I do. And I think John loved her. In his way.”

Adele contemplated Ada. “I hope so.” She stared into Ada’s eyes. “I think he deserved to be loved. He was a good man. Kind.”

“He was a strong man, Adele,” Ada kept her eyes from wavering. “He took on moral responsibilities and did right by himself and others. It’s something, I’m afraid, Rodger has little understanding of.”

Adele shook her head. “Rodger’s a very moralistic man. Very duty‑bound.”

“I didn’t mean it that way. I meant he doesn’t…didn’t understand John.”

Adele ran her tongue along her teeth, making little sucking noises. “I don’t know. It’s all too much for me today. I’m going to walk home now and take a nap.”

“It’s a long walk. Would you like a ride?” Ada started to rise, quickly cupping her hand around the kitten.

“No. Need the exercise.” Adele pushed herself up. “Ada, thanks for letting me lean on you. Having one person to talk honestly with makes this small town bearable.”

“You’ll meet other young mothers, Adele, and you won’t feel so lonesome. Don’t let Maddie take you over. Keep yourself as yourself.”

Ada stood, leaning into Adele as the young woman kissed her cheek. Ada squeezed her arm. “Take care and rest. You’re going to need it more these next few weeks.”

“I will, Mama Ada.” Adele winked. “I’d like to help you weed the garden tomorrow, if that’s okay with you.”

“I would like that.” She waved back as Adele eased down the porch steps. “Come in the morning when it’s cool.”

She had the day back to herself. She paced the house. She straightened the books on the shelf. She picked up the empty teakettle, and then spied the washtub of vegetables outside the door by the patio table.

“I’ll take them over right now,” she said aloud. The Kid meowed when Ada left him behind inside the house. Ada hefted the washtub onto her hip and walked around front to her car. She set the warm metal tub on the driveway at the back of the car and went into the house to get her purse and keys.

The Kid followed her through the house. She eased herself out the front door, quickly closing it behind her so The Kid could not follow. As she put the vegetables in her trunk, she could hear him howling.

“Oh, all right!” she snarled. She dashed back into the house, dashed to her bedroom to find a shoebox of letters on the top closet shelf. She spilled out the contents onto the bed, corralled the letters into a pile, and swept them into a drawer. Then she hurried into her sewing room, with The Kid at her heels, and seized a flannel remnant, stuffing it into the shoebox.

“Come along, then if you must,” she said, swooping down on him. She planted him in the box. “But I’m warning you, no nonsense.” She tucked the box beneath her arm and scooped up her purse and keys, marching to the car. She scooted the box with the kitten over to the passenger’s side as she seated herself.

The Kid nested in the flannel and promptly fell asleep. Ada drove cautiously the fifteen minutes to Minnie Steele’s house, reminding herself to be careful of gas and wear on the tires.

Minnie had seven women organized and working at packing boxes. Ada stayed for a few minutes, chatting with the ladies about their home‑cooked meals for the soldiers in transit. She marveled at the women’s humanity. On the way home, her kitten stirred, then fell back to sleep.

Ada carried the box into the house, careful not disturb the sleeping kitten. The evening softened with the twilight. As the teakettle whistled, The Kid appeared in the kitchen, his vociferous cries unnerving Ada. As the tea steeped, Ada made mush for her kitten. He ate while she drank tea. She had fixed a cardboard box with sand in it for him and put it by the back door. It wouldn’t be long until he’d be going outside.

Ada blinked back the tears. She’d enjoy him now, as he was, a kitten. And not worry about what was yet to be.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

YNK (You Never Know): Chapter 3 - Cd9 (Parent Watching)

The two big dogs, Aramis and Athos, sit patiently with their tandem leashes clipped on, panting and all but rolling their eyes as Porthos runs in circles until I snatch his halter and leash him, too. We’re off and running as Mr. W comes to the front door. I wave but have no time or breath to say anything more than, “See ya!”

At the end of the block, as I turn the corner, I can see Dean pedaling along, tossing newspapers. He’s wearing a navy and black plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up and dark blue jeans.

I pull hard at the leashes, making the dogs slow down, somewhat. I take a deep breath, smile, as Dean rolls along side of us.

“Fr..Fran!” he blurts out. I just smile at him and wait as the dogs check out some scented bush. “You, um, got your hair cut.”

“Yeah,” Athos lunges forward and I stumble along behind the dogs as Dean follows. We go another block without saying anything, and all I can think about is how to have a conversation with Dean.

There is a park up ahead and all of us sail through the entrance. I trot a lap around the joggers’ path as Dean parks his bike next to a tree. Porthos veers sharply, right to Dean, with Aramis and Athos, yipping and scrambling to get at him. Amid all the chaos, Dean roughs ears, pats heads and scratches dogs’ bellies. After a few minutes of this, the leashes are tangled and the dogs are one lumpy mess. Dean looks at me, I look at him. For a moment, the dogs are quiet.

Dean leans over and kisses me on the lips. Softly. I take a deep breath and smell him, clean, like shampoo, and a faint sweaty odor that isn’t unpleasant at all. My lips tingle. I want to reach over and touch his cheek, but of course, I can’t, I have three leashes in my hands.

The dogs and leashes are tangled up into one big, squirming mess. Dean picks up Porthos and weaves him under and over and through the leashes, until we have them all straightened out.

“Thanks.” I’m not sure if I mean for the help or the kiss. I can still feel the impression of his lips on mine, and I smile, looking into his eyes. The dogs bolt, and I manage to stay on my feet behind them. Dean catches up to us on his bike and we zip along until we reach the hedges at the intersection when the dogs must read and post messages.

Breathless, I just shrug at Dean when the dogs take off again. Dean waves at me as I turn into the Wessenfeld’s driveway.

“Bye!” I can’t wave but toss my head, in what I hope is a sexy way.

Fortunately, my head did not fly off my shoulders and I remember to latch the gate before letting the dogs off their leashes. Porthos, of course, runs amok, but Aramis, the ever-lasting optimist, who always checks the dog dish for food, stops abruptly and cocks his head to one side. Athos has also perked his ears and stares at the front door.

I expect Mr. W to open it and come out, but he doesn’t, and there is a strange silence about the house. I refill the water dishes and hang the leashes on the nails on the fence. I guess Mr. and Mrs. W went somewhere, and there’s nothing wrong with that, except, like the dogs, I feel something isn’t right. I mean, it’s unusual, but I don’t have time to think about it as I hurry home. I want to have a few minutes to myself to think about Dean.

“I’m back!” I scoot through the door, hoping to make it to my room without being trapped into a chore by my mother.

“Sweetheart, come here!” Granny’s voice comes from the kitchen. “I have something special for you!”

Oh, Grandma. Shoot. It’ll be a forever chit chat about my new hairdo, make-up and what’s happening in my life. As if I could tell her.

“Hey! Granny! Whatsup?” I give my little grandmother a big bear hug.

She pulls away and with a dramatic gesture that would get her an Oscar, she flings her arms wide and then slaps her hands on her cheeks. “My goodness! Aren’t you a hot item!”

I spin full circle, strike a pose and fluff my hair. “Ya like the look?”

“Yes, I do indeed! Except,” she pouts, “you don’t look like a little girl any more. Promise me, you’ll always be Granny’s girl?”

“Oh, yeah, Gran, I’ll always be your favorite.” We laugh at this, our little secret joke; Gran is absolutely fair about gifts and everything among all of us cousins, but when I was very young, four or five, I made her tell me I was her favorite. Of course, she probably said that to all of us at one time or another.

“What did your Mother say about your hair,” and with a wink, like it wasn’t obvious, “your make-up?”

“Oh, she likes it, and I can’t wear make-up to school. Annie got highlights—-dark hair with super light streaks—looks good on her, but I don’t know what she’ll do about school.”

Granny has made me chocolate chip cookies. I take two, then reconsider and put one back. Granny looks at me funny.

“Um, del-ic-ous, Gran. Where’s Mom?”

Granny suddenly gets all serious. “She took Mrs. Wessenfeld to the hospital. George had another heart attack and had to go to the hospital in an ambulance.”

The sugary aftertaste of the cookie went sour in my mouth and my stomach clinched. Please, God, I prayed, let him be okay.

Granny comes beside me and gives me a hug. “Don’t you worry about it, Fran. I have a feeling that Mr. Wessenfeld will be all right.”

Granny can make me feel that it is all right just by the way she says it’s so. “I hope so, Gram, really I do.”

The phone rings and Granny lets me go as she answers it. I’m pretty sure it’s my mother and by Gram’s smile, I think maybe it’s good news, after all.

She hangs up and turns to me. “Mr. Wessenfeld will be in the hospital for a while, but he’s going to be all right. Your mother will be home in a little bit.”

“Oh, great! Gram, I have a few things to do on the computer.” I snatch a cookie on my way to my room.

In my room, I dial Annie on my new celly. “Annie, hi! I’ve got so much to tell you!”

“Fran, tell me about Justin! Isn’t he so cute!”

“Annie, I am talking to you on my new celly!”

She squeals with delight. “Oh, this is the best day of our lives! Fran, you text me!”

Before I can reply, the line is dead, and the phone beeps that I have a text message. The number ‘9’ pops up. I search on line for a list of text message shorthand and find that ‘9’ means ‘parent is watching’.

I go on line to my Facebook (and on Annie’s site) there is a picture posted of me holding a smoking can, and in the background is the bratty bunch laughing, with the porker sneering at me. My whole body chills. Great, just great! Now I’ll have to figure out how to delete it.

The garage door whirrs, my Mom is home. I quickly close the window and go out to the kitchen where she is talking with Gram.

Mom turns to me. “I’m going to make a casserole tonight, Fran. I want you to take some over to the Wessenfeld’s house. I’ve got a key so that you can take care of feeding the dogs and letting them inside for the night.”

I want to stop the world from spinning for just a few minutes and catch my breath, think about things, think about Dean, not think about the bad things. I don’t think it would be in my best interest to tell my mother about the Facebook, so I just nod.

“Can I help with anything?”

Both Mom and Gram give me a look that says, Surprise!’

Really, does she have to act like I never do anything nice? And Gram. Can she, like, be on my side?

“Yes, please, put away the dishes and set the table. Dinner will be ready in an hour.”

Gram has already emptied the dishwasher and she pulls knives, forks and spoons from a drawer and hands them to me. “Here, Fran, you do that and I’ll put the glasses on.”

When we are done, Gram goes into the kitchen, pours a freshly brewed cup of coffee and sits at the island to chat with Mom. I slip away to my room and sit at my desk, cupping my chin in my hands, inhaling the memory of Dean’s kiss. It’s like his lips left the kiss on my lips and if I press my lips just slightly, I can feel the kiss again. And the warmth of his skin on mine. And his smell, the Dean-ness of him.

My phone beeps, and Annie has texted me. “Hve u seen?”

Slow, tip, tap, I’m not as fast as Annie. “yes”

“Cd9” Parents.

I am left wondering what is happening with Annie, and her parents. Do they know about the day at the park? How much do they know? About the cigarettes and the booze?

My mother is looming in the doorway, obviously not happy. “Fran, we need to talk.”

Annie’s last text message appears. “zomg, im so busted!”

So am I.

“Is Mr. Wessenfeld going to be okay?” I ask, trying to sound casual, yet concerned, hopefully deflecting her for a minute so I can think.

“Yes, he will have to have surgery and have a pacemaker put in. But I am not here to talk about Mr. Wessenfeld. I am here to talk about you. And Annie. And a matter of lying.”

She walks into my room and sits down on my bed, facing me. “Tell me what went on today. Tell me the truth.”

My stomach cramps and I can’t breathe. My Mom can stare holes through concrete and my head begins to ache. “We went to the Tukwila Park and met up with a few friends from school.” I want to add they are not my friends, but then, why would I?

“Annie’s mother called me. I saw the picture,” my Mom lets her little tidbit dangle in the air.

“Well, I didn’t exactly want to be there. I went with Annie to meet up with Marcy.”

“And the boys?”

“Yeah, they were there, too.”

“And the cigarettes?” My Mom leans closer to me. “Look at me, Fran, and tell me why you lied to me about Annie going to the movies.”

Come on! I want to scream. Just what was I supposed to tell her? Ah, by the way, Annie is smokin’ hot and has this thing for Timothy and wants to spend all her time with them.

I pick at a nub on my jeans, working it back and forth. My Mom takes my arm, holding it gently, but looks intently at the bruise. “Who did this?”

I brush her away. Like I’m going to say, ‘Brian the porker’. “No one. I smacked it on the trash can when I threw away the Coke™ can.” I’m knee deep in the muddy half-truths and sinking.

I can at least look her straight in the eye and say, “I wasn’t smoking, Mom. Honest.”

After a pause, a significant pause, she says, “I believe you.” Another pause. “I want you think about this: what kind of friend would ask you to lie for her?”

I shoot her a mean look. Annie and I are friends. Friends don’t betray each other.

“Who posted the picture on the web, Fran?”

I shrug. “Dunno.” I don’t know, but I think Marcy or even Justin might have. Could have been anyone else but me or porker.

“Fran, listen to me. I can understand how you might have gotten into a situation that you didn’t know how to handle, but lying about it, and omitting facts is lying, too. I’m your mother, I love you and I will protect you. Even if you hate me for it.”

I wonder if she’s going to take away my celly and computer. Which is so unfair! I didn’t do anything wrong, really!

“You can’t hang out with Annie anymore.”

“Mom! Annie’s my best friend!”

“Annie can come over here, you’ll see her at school, but you will not be allowed to go to the mall or movies or any unsupervised activity with her.” She stands up but doesn’t go away.

“You’re not a child, but a young woman and you will have to make some hard choices, about friends, boys, booze, alcohol and drugs. Now that you have a cell phone, you can call me if you ever find yourself some place, somewhere, you shouldn’t be. I promise I will come and get you, no questions asked.” She adds with a little twisted smile, “You might want to think about how it would feel to call me from the police station, though.”

She sweeps her hands across my forehead and kisses me. “I trust you, Fran.” She starts to leave, pivots at the doorway. “You’ll find true friends are the ones who stand by you, but stand up for the truth and what is right. Don’t confuse loyalty with friendship, Fran. They are not the same thing.”

Aesop-mother. Always the moralist.

I should feel relieved, I mean I’ve still got my celly, computer and no restriction.

But I’ve lost my best friend. And I don’t know how I’m going to tell her.

I have to practice a solo trumpet piece for my final. I gave up the piano when my teacher retired, and this I have never admitted to my mother, I am glad I had had piano lessons. It has made it a lot easier to read music, and I think, has made it easier for me to master the trumpet. I have to choose between Black Horse and Cherry Tree or Call Me When You’re Sober.

My Dad pokes his head into the door. “Nice, Fran. What’s the tune?”

“Thanks, Dad. It’s getting there. Call Me When You’re Sober.”

“I hope I don’t have to,” he says and ducks out.

I get no text messages or email from Annie and I haven’t sent any to her. I dread Monday morning when I have to face her at school and tell her what my Mom has mandated. And Monday comes a little to soon.

I don’t recognize her at first, even though it has to be her, the brown-haired girl, sans the dark hair with platinum streaks, with Marcy and Sue. She waves me over.

“Your celly is not on, Fran.”

“I know, I’m sorry,” I stop and take another breath, “but can I talk to you?”

We walk a ways toward the classroom. “I don’t know exactly how to tell you, but…”

She grabs my arm. “I got busted, good! I can’t do anything for the rest of the term. God, can you believe it? I can’t go to the mall, I can’t go anywhere after school, I mean, like for what? Smoking? My parents are such hypocrites! And look at my hair!” her voice pitches an octave. “My Mom made me dye it!” Annie rolls her eyes. “Oh, like that’ll make a big diff to me and change my ways!”

I want to tell her that maybe it was a warning, that maybe we should consider ourselves lucky we weren’t really busted by the police, but the first bell rang and Annie broke away to join Marcy and Sue. Dusty came down the hall and waved at me.

“I like your hair! Nice!”

“Dusty! Look!” I hold up my celly and laugh. “The real deal.”

She took out hers from her backpack and waggled it. “Yeah, we’re good to go, huh?”

“Hey, Fran! Are you hooked up with anyone for the last class project due next week?” Dusty slid her celly into her cubby as I had just done.

“No, I’m not with any group. You?”

“Want to do a something on ancient Rome?”

Before the class bell sounded, I nodded and whispered, “We could do, like, a travel brochure!”

“Wow! I like it! Yeah!”

So, two problems solved: I didn’t have to tell Annie I couldn’t hang with her after school, possibly losing my best friend, and I had not only a partner for the year-end school project, but it was someone I liked, and Dusty had asked me.

So I sent a little mental thank you to God. I still wanted to tell Annie all about Dean kissing me, but I figured that could wait for another time and another place when everything had gone back to being normal for us. At least, I thought our friendship could get back to being normal. But funny thing about changes, even small ones: nothing ever is what it seems.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Books Review: The Gravedigger's Daughter

While on a recent vacation, I had the opportunity to revisit one of my favorite authors, Joyce Carol Oates while reading her 2007 novel The Gravedigger's Daughter.

A lot of readers do not like the intensity of her writing, but I find that quality to be the most engaging. I cannot leave the story while I am in it. I am anchored in the character, actions and scenery.

The Gravedigger's Daughter was not an easy read and definitely as disturbing as her writing can be. But definitely a good read.

Book Review: Time Enough for Love

Another older work of fiction that I finally got around to reading on vacation is Time Enough for Love, a multi-nominated award science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein, first published in 1973.

I was thoroughly fascinated throughout by the research and knowledge of genetics that propel the theme of the book comprised of novellas, still quite shocking in this day and age. Heinlein presents a compelling argument in that if there is no genetic jeopardy, incest is not immoral.

Sometimes, the situations and dialogue seemed a bit silly, but a momentary distraction. Overall, a good, thought-provoking read.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Mind Your Manners

Shane Licht: His Story
One fateful day in 1994, one bad decision changed a twelve year old’s life forever. Initially home from school for a snow day, Shane invited his best friend over to his house, ignoring the message that the school bus would be on a later schedule. Both boys knew about gun safety, knew better than to pick up a gun, whether it was loaded or not. Tragically, the gun discharged in his friend’s hand and the bullet struck Shane, paralyzing him from the neck down.

That means Shane is totally dependent on someone to help him to do the most basic things in his daily life. But that does not mean he is not independent; he graduated from high school, went on for a degree from the University of Alaska/Anchorage, thankful for the encouragement and support of one “awesome man, Sean Murphy.”

He requires assistance, but let me tell you, he can text with his knuckles on a smartphone faster than I can talk! And he knows how to use accounting programs on the computer, which will enable him to get a job, get housing. To own his own space, both physically and psychologically.

We discussed “issues”, and while he disclaims being a spokesperson for all people in wheelchairs, he had a lot to say about his life in a wheelchair. During the interview, Shane emphasized that he took full responsibility for the bad and good decisions he has made, and the consequences that he has to live with. In his words, “It is what is is.”

As much as I poked and prodded with my questions, I could not get a bitter response from him, and I agree with the assessment of friends and family that he is laid-back. In fact, he is the most laid-back, positive person I have had the good fortune to meet.

Find out what it means to me
 R-E-S-P-E-C-T (Otis Redding) 

Some statistics calculate that 1 out of every 100 people uses a wheelchair; sometime, somewhere you and I will likely meet someone in a wheelchair. Does that unnerve you?

Upon meeting an extra-abled, adaptabled, person, I want to be of help; I can open a door, reach for an out of the way item, turn on a light, get a beverage for the person, need a sweater or jacket? Oh, here, let me!! Let me do that for you.

Let me not, unless I ask first. Otherwise, my overeagerness can come off as patronizing or worse, predatory. I presume you need assistance, when I should ask you if you would like me to help.

I have had a wonderful opportunity to interview, and through my blog, introduce my readers to Shane Licht (see above) and Jennifer Adams, two young adults who are wheelchair enabled. While both Jennifer and Shane are articulate, Jennifer is a strong, outspoken advocate for the extra-abled, and Shane is more mellow; but both raised pertinent and viable issues about the etiquette upon meeting those who are extra-abled and have “adaptabilities”. Jennifer is particularly adamant about changing the negative connotations of words, such as ‘disabled’, and ‘challenged’.

The power of words. Think about it. Dis- as a prefix is negative, and dis has established itself in our modern day vocabulary to mean to be disrespectful. While I hate to sound like a political correction officer, I agree that all of us need to be more aware of our speech and attitude.

Let me also put aside some other presumptions. As Shane said, “because I’m in a wheelchair does not mean that I am…” and here I will revise Shane’s usage of ‘retarded’ with mentally challenged. Jennifer states in ever so eloquent terms, “I have the same worth as a person, no less value than an able-bodied person.” Yes, they know they are in a wheelchair and have restrictions, but a physical limitation does not automatically mean there is brain damage.

Remember that you are probably not the only person to challenge Jennifer or Shane to a race; and it was not funny the first time. Nor is the presumption that a wheelchair is a closet to hang one’s clothes. Most extra-abled people have specifically designed wheelchairs that become a part of their physicality, and to randomly touch or use that extension is rude and uncomfortable for the person in the wheelchair.

Which brings up the last issue: touch. Unless you are familiar with the person and know he or she wants a hug, kiss or a friendly squeeze, do not presume that person needs human contact. As both Shane and Jennifer have to be ‘handled’ several times a day, others, especially strangers, touching them can be inappropriate, even ‘painful’, because of supersensitivity.

It comes down to this: R-E-S-P-E-C-T, respect of personal space. Just like you would anyone else you know or meet for the first time. So, please mind your manners.