Archive for June, 2014

Need a Good Cry?

Posted: June 16, 2014 in World On The Edge

crying-2The phrase “having a good cry” suggests that crying can actually make you feel physically and emotionally better. Many people believe this, and some scientists agree. They assert that chemicals build up in the body during times of elevated stress, and  so emotional crying is the body’s way of ridding itself of these toxins and waste products.

Some scientists also say that crying has a signaling function–a signal to others that we need their help in fighting off an aggressor.  When we cry we convey the impression that we are innocent and weak – like children – and need the protection of another. Crying is  a way to send a social message.

But what good do tears do? We could vocally cry for help without shedding any tears, and yet our tears are so unique to our species, a way to let others know that we are in distress precisely through showing them only the tears in our eyes.

Children, especially babies,  shed many more tears than adults do which is what you expect if crying is about wanting protection. Women also cry a lot more – about four times more – than men do, and this again is what you expect because women tend to be physically weaker and more defenseless.  Crying means we need understanding. We need empathy.

And what do we normally do when we see someone being tearful in our presence, signaling for our help? Our automatic response is  to offer our support,  because we feel empathetic toward them.

Empathy is a distinctively human characteristic, but it was first a characteristic of God, in whose image we are made.  Because of His merciful empathy  our Creator actually took on our human nature in the person of Jesus Christ,  and for our sake submitted to a horrible and shameful death.  Jesus Christ knows pain and sorrow!  He relates.

When we go through terrifically hard circumstances and turn to prayer, it is often with tears that we plead for Jesus to help us.

Can we picture Jesus crying for us as well?

Why wouldn’t He—God made Man—cry when we cry?  Why wouldn’t He care when we fall, or lose someone, or mess up so badly we think we can’t be fixed. And when we turn to Him, our faces streaked with tears, why wouldn’t He— out of empathy— rain even more Grace and Love upon us ?

the_dinner_partyHappy Friday the Thirteenth! A good day for a ghost story.

Plus,  I’m experiencing  the  old adage of mishaps happening on this day.  I just counted again and discovered that there are TEN stories in my collection–not nine!!

So, here is the tenth, “The Pleasure of Company: A Ghost Story,” set in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 1880,  when ghosts from the Civil War still roamed in the heads of some who served as soldiers.

And here is your last question, with multiple choice answers. Please comment below the video.

Do you believe in ghosts?
.yes
.no
.maybe

THE PLEASURE OF COMPANY: A Ghost Story

A year ago, when she could not bear to speak to a soul, when she did not comb her hair or wash her face or dab herself with lavender water, or wear her corset (because any underclothing cut off her breath), Julia began the night walks into the woods, taking off her gown and lying upon the ground beneath the ancient oak. But neither the cooling breeze upon her breasts nor the sparkle of stars kissing the leaves to silver against the dark sky lifted her melancholy. The night walks have become her futile attempt to make sense of meanness. Still Julia cannot fathom a reason for the death of her child; still she has no face for Hattie’s murderer.

Clara and I come.

We follow her home. The next morning, Clara and I watch as Joseph, Julia’s husband, instructs Esther to, “Restart the clocks, uncover the mirrors, and draw open the curtains in Miss Julia’s bedroom.”

Julia protests. “Joseph, it’s too soon.”

“It’s been a year, exactly,” Joseph says, motioning Esther to begin. He is a tall, thin man, with a once pleasant face, now pinched by sorrow and the worry of a much older man.

The old black woman, Julia’s childhood nurse, carefully lifts the customary black satin from the mirror on the dressing table. The light causes Julia to shut her eyes and lower her chin into the high-necked collar of her funeral dress, made from the same bolt of satin that covered the windows and mirrors. Every night, Esther washes and irons it for Julia because she’ll wear nothing else.

“What if Hattie’s spirit has been trapped behind the mirror?” Julia asks.

“The covering of mirrors is just superstition,” Joseph says. “Hattie has not been trapped. She has not been kept from Heaven.”

Clara and I hear and understand his thinking; that the only trapped spirit is Julia’s, and he desperately wants to help it escape.

He motions Esther out of the room so he can be alone with his wife. In the uncovered glass, her unkempt brown hair hangs about her oval-shaped face. Her narrow shoulders slump forward and her opaque eyes, once buoyantly blue with the promise of a happy life, are as tarnished as neglected silver. He has to do something meaningful soon, before he loses her forever.

Yesterday, he suggested a dinner party. Once, she loved celebrations. “The dinner party is what you need, Julia,” he reminds her. “You’ve not had the pleasure of company for more than a year.” He bends to kiss her cheek, but she shies away from him as she has come to do, giving a bitter wince at the touch of his fingers on the nape of her neck.

Moon Dance: A Love Story

Posted: June 12, 2014 in World On The Edge

DSC_6597We know that a new moon is born every 27 days. During that period  the moon progresses through certain stages or phases. Each phase has its on set of unique viewing characteristics, so that we on Earth see each phase as being different from another. We have phases in our lives too–each with varying characteristics. If some of the characteristics we see in our lives today are bothering us, we are empowered through God’s grace to change them. But what if we don’t— or think we can’t— change ourselves?

Here’s the first page of “Moon Dance: A Love Story,” the eighth story in my collection, Birds of a Feather.

 

Here is the question, with the multiple choice answers.
What is the promise of return that Anna speaks of in the story?
1. a return to her youth
2. that the nurse will come back to give her a pain pill
3. God’s promise to his people.: Eternal life

Moon Dance: A Love Story

Every night, when she makes her rounds, she finds us watching the Georgia moon. We lay together in a single bed to catch the first inkling of its light and nightly mark its swell from miniscule to magnificent. We tell her of its essence, that it is something much bigger and brighter than itself. She gives us a condescending, “Uh huh, Shugah;” then leans over to tuck the white sheet around our thighs, and brush a dark hand across our foreheads. She smells of honey.

In the darkness, we point out to her the way the moon takes center stage to a sparkle of dancing stars, how it soon becomes distorted, fades and passes, leaving only a promise of return. We tell her that return is certain—our covenant between nothing and everything, between life and death. But she only wrinkles her sweet, black face and smiles, a tall silhouette against the silver light from the window.

“Night, night, Miz Anna,” she says.

I expect her to give us a kiss goodnight, but instead she gives us a pill for pain. On her way out, she does not close the window. She does not shut our door. We do not allow her to do that, because we will not be fastened here forever.

The artificial light from the hall draws a triangular shape on the linoleum, pierces the soft splash of moonlight that spreads downward from the foot of our bed. The illumination of the hall is soon extinguished by a human hand, but we lie in a radiance the human hand does not control. In the night, we speak of the covenant, the promise in death. I see its purpose. Death is passage. Death is close.

One hundred and six years old, both of us, we’ve held many who passed before us, held them in our arms as they took a last breath—parents, children, grandchildren, others we loved. I tell Will, my beloved husband,  that God’s desires are greater than our own. He accepts the truth in that. Then we speak of our daughter, our first child.

Jimmy’s Cat

Posted: June 11, 2014 in World On The Edge

file9851334522087A name–to give identity– is important. We even give identity to days of the week.  Today is Hump day? Or is it Winning Wednesday? Either way,  the meaning is that the cat is in the bag.

Here’s the first page in the seventh story in my collection, Birds of a Feather. One of my reviewers says he, “loves the heck out of Jimmy’s Cat.” But hey, so does Jimmy–and that might be a problem.

Which questions will be answered in this story? Answer in the comment section below the video.

. How do you keep a cat out of a heat fight?
. Does Jimmy’s Cat need to know its name?
. Will a redneck do ‘God-knows what’ to Jimmy’s Grandmamma?
. Everyone has an identity

JIMMY’S CAT

Jimmy’s cat wasn’t born one-eyed. I heard he lost it one night in a heat fight with a big, orange-striped tom when Jimmy was twelve years old. Jimmy’s twenty-seven, now, and the vet who sewed up the cat’s eye, sewed it so tight it looks like it was never meant to see in the first place.
Jimmy’s cat didn’t have a real name. Everybody just called it Jimmy’s Cat. Jimmy’s mama called it Jimmy’s Cat. Jimmy’s grandmamma called it Jimmy’s Cat. And Jimmy’s wife, when he got married, called it Jimmy’s Cat, too.

Jimmy’s mama and grandmamma never cared too much for Jimmy’s Cat. Jimmy’s mama didn’t like when it would creep out of Jimmy’s bed in the mornings and into the kitchen, rubbing itself up against her leg while she was pouring the beat eggs into the frying pan. She’d get a scrunched-up look on her face whenever it would butt the blind side of its head to her calf like it was trying to push her out. The little, brown mole on the side of her cheek would quiver whenever Jimmy’s cat did that. And when it slid around her ankle, like a fuzzy rope trying to snag her, she’d clinch her front teeth, and curl up her lips, and just about have a hissy fit. Because Jimmy’s mama didn’t allow herself to be tied to nobody, at least nobody but Jimmy. So, if Jimmy wasn’t in the kitchen, she’d take the broom to Jimmy’s Cat and swat it outside.

Jimmy’s grandmamma didn’t find Jimmy’s Cat tolerable, either, because it liked to sleep between the tire and the fender of her car—only her car, nobody else’s— not even Jimmy’s wife’s old jalopy. So Jimmy’s grandmamma always checked under the fender before she got in to drive it. Then she checked the inside of the car, because there was no doubt some redneck maniac might be hiding in the back seat waiting to do Godknows-what to her. Finally, she’d check the tires, because one time she had a flat one smack dab in the middle of the Interstate, and had to catch a ride to the nearest filling station with a sweaty, fat man who almost talked her ear off. She said she never in her life wanted to go through an ordeal like that again, so she made it a habit to inspect the car, inside and out, before each errand and departure. And sometimes she had to scoot off Jimmy’s Cat, curled up on top of the right front wheel under the fender where nobody could have seen it, not even somebody with good eyes.

file0001465861740What are the biggest things in our lives, those that seem most important to us?  Are they truthfully the most important?

On this Tuesday,  I’m posting the seventh story in Birds of a Feather, with question and multiple choice answers. Comment below the video.

When something BIG  goes wrong in your life, how do you try to fix it?
.You don’t try to fix it.
.You go after the person who caused the problem with a hammer in your hand.
.You remove that canvas and paint a different picture

 

LITTLE THINGS, BIG THINGS

Late at night after the children are in bed and she’s certain Aaron is sleeping, Amelia takes her flashlight and climbs the back stairs into the attic of the century-old house, to paint. She climbs the wooden steps carefully, barely putting any weight at all on the top step, the one that creaks. In the corner of the attic where the support beam to the rafters makes a perfect right angle with the floor, is a square table with small brass lamp. When she pulls the lamp switch, the table and everything on it– canvas, tubes of oil paint, dry brushes in a glass jar—all come to light in a nearly perfect sphere. She clicks off the flashlight then. A lot of light is neither necessary nor wanted.

Tonight she is working on a portrait of Aaron, an eight-by-ten canvas, as all of them are. Portraits of the children are finished, for now anyway; she will come back to them later when she finds a flaw, or when some new characteristic needs to be added. The children’s faces, four of them, hang from nails hammered into the pine walls like pictures in a beloved, private gallery. Below, stacked against the wall, are more canvases of each of the children from years past, babyhood onward. But this is the first time she’s painted Aaron. Aaron’s unfinished face sits on an easel, looking back at her through deep brown eyes. The eyes are still flat. No highlights yet. Amelia hasn’t determined whether the light in his eyes will come from the right, or the left.

She pours varnish into a small metal cup, and turpentine into the glass jar, then swishes the brushes around to be sure they are clean, wiping each of them with a stained cotton cloth, pouring out the old, dirtied turpentine, and refilling the jar with the new. On a glass plate, she squeezes out the oil paint, beginning with cadmium yellow light and titanium white. Highlights for Aaron’s eyes. The light will come from the right, she thinks, wondering why she hesitated last night when she began his portrait; the light in each of her portraits always comes from the right, from the only natural light possible in the attic–through one round window that looks like the porthole of a ship. Through that window, occasional moonbeams compete with the lamp, and if the beams are bright enough, as they sometimes are, Amelia turns off the lamp, and paints by moonlight.

Tonight there is no moon, so the lamp stays on. She paints for an hour or so, until Aaron’s face is just like she wants it, charged with an expression of love and faithfulness accented by the meticulous highlights in his eyes. Then she takes the canvas and hangs it on a waiting nail, beside the portrait of their last child, Aaron Junior.

 

Blue Bird of Happiness

Posted: June 9, 2014 in World On The Edge

post_display_cropped_open-uri20130628-18510-1xmmjkbMerry Monday!

Here is the first page of the sixth story in Birds of a Feather, the question of the day, and the multiple choice answers for the comment box below.

Guess the story theme. Is it…..?

1. A day at the beach
2. Bluebird calls
3. Resurrection

Blue Bird of Happiness

Halloween. Old Florida Highway 98. Right turn toward the Gulf, a procedural deviation from integrity. Procedure is programmed into the mind of a physician. Even some deaths are scheduled.

The sun roof is open and the windows down. I turn the Lexus into the parking lot of The Boat Dock Bar, crushing primeval oyster shells beneath Michelin Energy tires while triangular flags slap plastic, carrot-colored polka dots against a hallowed, sapphire sky, and an incongruent blast of music shuts out the pious breath of waves.

There are lots of bars in Destin, but this one is set apart. The Boat Dock Bar claimed her Gulf-front spot when the town was just another Florida fishing hole, and then held to it, regenerating like the tail of a lizard after Hurricane Dennis. When the hurricane hit, my wife, Felicia, heard about The Boat Dock’s fate and called from her law office to tell me. Four people in plastic masks, drunk enough to think they could ride out the hurricane on a walkway with weak railings, were swallowed by the sea.

The walkway was the bar’s first renovation. Crossing the wood planks, I pass a memorial sign that reads: ‘To the Flawed and Fallen,’ and I’m envious of the bar’s resurrection.An outside voice enters in. Envy is normal  and shouldn’t be suppressed. It simply needs to be properly channeled. A lesson I learned in Group Therapy. Never mind the maternal negation in my head —that envy is a cardinal sin opening the soul to greater vices.

I didn’t have time for a change of clothes, so I’m still dressed in a pair of new khaki shorts I paid eighty-five dollars for at the outlet two weekends ago, the last time I was down here. I wear no socks with my loafers, no underwear for easy disrobing, and no shave since I left Birmingham. A wealthy woman I met here once—a woman with hungry eyes, but too old for me—summed me up by saying I had a neat, charmingly passive, appearance. I doubt she would say the same today; there’s a salsa splatter on my expensive Polo shirt from a drive-in lunch on the way down, and then a swerve of the Lexus to avoid the unavoidable.

The Mercy Seat

Posted: June 6, 2014 in World On The Edge

file000848537366TGIF!  And I mean that sincerely. Besides, Friday is appropriate for this first page of the fifth story in Birds of a Feather. The story is entitled ” The Mercy Seat,”  after an old Protestant hymn some of you may know, or remember. And here is your question and multiple choice answers, after you’ve read the first page.

Who can be a saint? Choose one to put in the comment section

. only the goody goodies

. member of the New Orleans football team

. an innocent child

. everyone

The Mercy Seat

Today is Good Friday. It is my turn with Grandmother. Her gray hair is spread out upon the pillow like roots from an old tree. She lies sleeping in her hospital bed, in a room of clinically accurate monitors, IV poles, and bed rails. To someone looking in, she might seem insignificant, barely separable from the sheets drawn tightly around her like swaddling. Yet she is the most consequential person in my unworthy life. She is church to me, salve for a sinner.

From her window on the second floor, across Bell Street, is a view of the crumbled parking lot where the church used to be; Saint Mary Magdalene,Grandmother’s church, the church of my Catholic family. It was built of white brick on the corner of Main Street back when Main was lined with huge oaks hovering like protective parents over everything below.

In our small town Catholic children were armed with the sacraments and the Catechism, raised to defend the Pope, Confession, and Natural Family Planning. “Defend your church with courage,” Grandmother instructed us, “because the Lord wants you to be a saint.”

Our footfalls behind hers, on the sidewalk after morning Mass, became as one melodic phrase, tapping out yeses for our conductor. Because of her, I kept in line. I didn’t lie, or cheat, or deceive. But that was then. I am not a child anymore.

 

file0001958765609

Already Thursday! Time for the first page of the fourth story in Birds of a Feather, entitled The Psalm of David Fowler.  Here is the multiple choice question: What is the theme of the story going to be?  Note your answer in the comment box.

. Georgia weather in December

. Every act has a consequence

. Fires can be dangerous

And here’s the first page of the story:

The Psalm of David Fowler

One afternoon before ‘it’ happened—he was in the back yard, poking the rake into a pile of burning leaves. Laura called to him from the porch, “Don’t let that fire get out of hand and burn the house down!”

A stream of smoke spread across the yard—not in his direction; it advanced toward her. She covered her eyes.

“You shouldn’t be burning leaves in the first place, David. They protect the grass from a freeze.”

“What freeze? We may never have one.” It was the middle of December and South Georgia weather was characteristically kind with a temperature in the low seventies.

“We always have at least one freeze. And remember last year? It was so cold the pipes burst, and we were without water for a week!”

He gave her a condescending shake of his head. “I’ve got it under control, baby.” Then he remounted the riding mower.

“Don’t go off and leave that fire burning!”

Even over the sound of the mower, he could hear her warning. He advanced up the yard anyway. All around him dry leaves fluttered and fell rain-like over the yard, while flames from the unattended pile began to lick up, higher and higher.

“Don’t you ever think about the consequences?” she shouted as he turned the corner of the house. He knew she’d run for the hose.

The day “it” happened, she asked him the same question about consequences, then she ran into the bedroom, locked the door, and cried. One year later, he, David Fowler, entered the gates of a federal prison, a consequence far beyond his imagining.

He was immediately strip-searched, a procedure that scooped from him the last adhering particle of dignity he’d been able to hold on to since his sentencing, and generated in his mind words he’d heard decades before, as an altar boy serving Mass: I am a worm, not a man; the scorn of men, despised by the people. All who see me scoff at me; they mock me with parted lips, they wag their heads.

As a twelve year-old boy, dressed in his floor-length black cassock and white surplice, the words meant nothing to him then. Not until today when he was ordered by a female guard to remove his clothes, his T-shirt, his underwear; when he was ordered to bend over for her coarse, gloved intrusion of his body; did he genuinely absorb them.

 

 

5725162596_16d4326a80_zA wonderful Wednesday to everyone!

The first page of the third  story in Birds of a Feather is coming up.  But here’s a little behind the scenes info on the story.  It takes place in a fictional town in Alabama called Bethel,  which in the Bible refers to the Gate of Heaven and the site of Jacob’s Ladder.

The name Bethel comes from the Hebrew beth, meaning house, and el, meaning God. Bethel means House of God. Numerous events of Bible History occurred there, including God’s appearance to Abraham and Jacob, and for some time it was the place where the Ark of The Covenant, containing The Ten Commandments, was housed.

And here is your multiple choice question: Who do you think will be the antagonist in this story?

Choose one and type it in the comment box below:

Edmund,  Mal,  The dead grandfather,  Edmund’s wife,  or None of the above 

SHOOTING AT HEAVEN’S GATE

Satin is crouching at your door. You ain’t seen him coming, boy. Nobody seen him coming but the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, he’s after you. Don’t wait for his spear. Conquer him!

On the last day of the Spring term, Edmund had to leave the teacher’s podium during a Sociology class because his grandfather’s fanatical voice would not depart from his head. Standing in front of his class, he couldn’t remember the point he was making and his teacher voice began to tremble; so he lifted the sheet of notes he’d made as a reminder, but the notes seemed to will themselves into a crumpled ball then fly from his hand toward the back of the room. His students looked stunned. Several dodged the paper ball, and the rest turned their eyes downward, as if they were embarrassed for him, as if he didn’t measure up to their expectations, and never would.

He felt nauseous, mumbled some excuse, left the class room and headed down the hall to the men’s room, just as the squatty shadow of Mal Hawkins emerged from its fluorescent glare. And therein lies your ruin, Edmund. I’ve told you to nip him in the bud. But will you listen? No!

“You all right?” Mal asked, holding open the door for Edmund to enter. “

“Fine!” he snapped at the psychology professor, while in his mind his grandfather went on and on about the fact that Edmund was not fine. Not fine at all.

“See you tonight then.” Mal said. “We’ll get you feeling better—that is, if your wife will let you out.”

“Oh, she’ll let me out alright,” Edmund said. “She doesn’t tell me what to do.”

Mal grinned as he left, and the door to the men’s room swung closed behind him.

 

 

Dragon

Posted: June 3, 2014 in World On The Edge

SDRandCo (6)Today is Terrific Tuesday. Whether it’s terrifically good, or terrifically bad, will probably depend on us. So let’s try the best we can to make it the former, not the latter.

Thank you for your response on my Monday Blog!

Here’s the first page of the second story in my soon to be published collection, Birds of a Feather. It’s called “Dragon.”

Can you guess where the Dragon will be found in this story?

Pick an answer, and leave it in the comment section below.

On the beach
In a mirror
In Richard’s medicine bottle

DRAGON

I keep my head down when I sign for a Gulf front room, not wanting to face the night clerk. She directs me to the fifth floor: shell-shaped pillows on a king-sized bed, gauzy drapery mimicking crystal green water, and double-paned windows, framing a fire-breathing, dragon-like sunset.

At home, in Highlow, they’d quoted St. Cyril.
“Beware of the dragon,” they’d said about Richard.

I stretch out on the king-sized bed and turn on the massage. The pulsing reminds me of his fingers and the expensive bottle of sun block he bought, all of which he used on me. Richard liked manipulation, the slip-sliding feel of possession. Maybe he was born that way and couldn’t help it. Maybe I could have changed him. Then maybe he wouldn’t have died.

For months, I was Richard’s only nurse; the one he’d been having an affair with was afraid to touch him after she learned he had AIDS. He didn’t cheat anymore, and he didn’t lie, except in the bed he’d made for himself.

At home I was taught compassion, so I timed out medication every four hours, kept watch that the oxygen hose stayed in his nostrils, that the battery worked in case of a storm surge; but I resented the stench of his bed pan, the ooze of his lesions, the diapers wrapped around hips so thin that bones showed through tissue paper skin. The man betrayed me after all.

“Don’t trust him,” they’d said.

Before I left Mobile, I telephoned Anthony, Richard’s best friend, to say I was leaving. Again, Anthony said, “I love you.” He wanted to know if I loved him. I gave no answer.

An empty pause and then, “Richard’s death was an accident, Liz. You didn’t create the storm. I’ll call your cell tomorrow.”