Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sweet Vi

Sweet Vi was a peach. Not a real peach - she knew that - although her cousins' cousins had cousins who had grown up right next to the Freestones, a well-bred Georgia family with good roots.  Vi's parents told her she was a peach, and they meant it as a compliment, but she wanted more.  Her flesh was whiter than white, and Sweet Vi craved diversity.  

Sure, she had self-esteem.  Sure, she admired the Freestone girls with their peaches-and-cream complexion and fine, soft fuzz.  Their dimples.  Still, she knew there was more to a round, firm life than what she saw every day.  She'd heard stories.  Stories of families, each one redder than the next, their blood orange, not clear. They had good roots,too.  Their stock was strong.  They were folks people called "fruits," skins taut and warm in the sunshine, and she longed to know them up-close.  Her friends told her they were seedy. Warm-weather friends, they'd warned her, but it was always pretty warm in her part of Georgia.

There were others.  Those whose clove dared not speak its own name.  "They smell funny," Vi's sister had said, without irony.  Vi had heard that they were related, way, way back, and she yearned to make a connection with her pungent kin.

And ...those guys from across the border ... Sweet Vi tingled at the thought of them.  Her mother warned her - Vidalia, you will get burned! - but she was willing to take that risk.  She couldn't be sweet her whole life!  There was more to her than that!  She had layers that no one could see.  Sure, they might all look like the one before, but no one had really gotten beneath her thin, papery skin before.

Maybe it was fate,or maybe just serendipity.  With these thoughts of color and variety swirling and twirling in her head she saw The Sign.  It was meant to be!


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Emma in the boat

If they need me, they'll just have to come get me, even if I did take the only boat.  Virginia is too big to cry for milk when she can get it from the icehouse as well as I can.  Silly spoiled child.  Let her listen to the twins yowl while Mother rests.

Are there really Indians on this island?  Father always says so, but Father says Virginia is sweet as syrup, so his judgement is suspect.  I might go ashore, or I might not.  If there are Indians, I'll pay my toll in lemon drops - I brought enough for a tribe.  Another reason for Virginia to howl when she learns I didn't share them with her, for once.  The boys would already have stolen them, if they knew.

I'm goin to stay here until the quiet fills up my head and pushes out everything.  Virginia's whining, and the boys' yelling and fighting and calling out More Sweets!  More Sweets!  I will stay here until I hear ...

... absolutely nothing at all, all day long.

Looks lie, she told me, and pointed to the painting over the buffet.  My sister, Emma.  You're so responsible, Emma!  Such a big help to your mother, Emma!  So generous to the young ones, Emma!  Well, Emma never sat for that painting but she sat in that boat so much that IT could have painted it.  As soon as Mama lay down every morning just after breakfast, Emma hiked up her skirt and ran to the dock, a paper sack full of lemon drops from Kirk's General Store balled up in her fist.  If we were "lucky," she'd show up again just before Papa got home, and get busy finishing up the supper I'd made.  Papa thought Emma was a great cook, and she never told him otherwise until he needed to stay with one of us and she told him "it better be with Virginia, Papa - she's the cook amongst us."  Never mind those boys, who made themselves absent once they grew up and left home.

Emma wanted a headful of silence all the time, said she had important things to think and I wouldn't understand, having smaller thoughts that could be thought just fine while chasing the twins and taking care of Mama and keeping house.  And so, she gets that from me now, a present:  all the silence I can give her.

Emma in the little dinghy
thinks her family is too clingy.
Wants to sit out here and float,
drifting in the still waters just off the island.

Friday, January 28, 2011

What I wouldn't do, honey, is call him again.  He isn't worth it and you're too good for him.  What I would do is get a dog, because a dog already knows he's not worthy of you.

She attempts to tell the truth about true romance, but finds she can't because she doesn't know the first thing about it.

Five smooth stones and a miracle, you say, but first he was already a very good shot.

The woman who wrote too much started out complex and kept a lot of thoughts inside, but gradually leaked them all into notebooks. Don't try to talk to her because what you see is only her shell.  Read the notebooks - they're all that's left.

She told us a movie changed her life and afterward she never lied again. I wondered if I could watch the movie backwards and stop telling the truth.

First, let me explain that I'm not usually like this it's just that I'm so surprised to see you here and I'm your biggest fan, in fact, I'm in love with you and I think we're destined to be together, did you get my letters?  You know me as well as I know you now and let me buy you a half-caff soy latte with agave like you like and we can talk and I know you'll feel the chemistry, but I'm not nearly as fit as you are so please slow down a little and I'll tell you about our plans for the evening PLEASE stop running I can't catch my breath and didn't you love the picture of us together that I 'shopped and posted on your website?  It kept getting deleted - I had to post it a hundred times and please stop shouting, you're making a scene.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

All wounds

My dearest Clara,

I have begun this letter at least a dozen times and each previous version has landed in the fire.  I yearn for your company, for the feel of your small, cool hand in my own, but I finally understand that this longing shall nevermore be satisfied.  Lovely Clara, I wish I could say that I have reconciled msyelf to this loss, but truly I remain bereft and lost.

You said that you were through with me, and of my sort, but I cannot bring myself to believe this.  I cannot, Clara!  Throughout the years we have been together I never sensed your restlessness, your discontent with our life together!  How, how could I have missed the signals?  My own eyes, ears and mind have fully betrayed me, and yet they remain as my constant traitorous companions, while you alone have gone.

Is it only the silence and desolation you crave?   I would rip out my own tongue to see you again in the dooryard, and my poor heart is more desolate than the plains that call to you.  Cattle, my dear - I shall cover our hillside with the creatures you adore.

Say I have not irretrievably lost you.  Describe for me your most outlandish wishes and I will build your dream.

Your miserable, loving M.

Dearest Clara,

Although I dare not hope for an Express junction in the Territories, I did foolishly wish for your response this past fortnight.  I am rather morose and lonely, but have begun cooking and cleaning again in the vain desire to see you riding up, dry and exhausted from the trail, wishing for a good meal and clean bed.  I know I am foolish.

Your sister, Chloe, kindly brought me a supper plate Sunday.  Naturally your mother came along, as well, as Chloe's reputation could only suffer from an unchaperoned visit.  I was touched, as I had always sensed Chloe's (and certainly your mother's) disapproval of me.  The wrong sort, I once heard her say quietly. 

I miss you dreadfully and I beg you to write, if only so I might hold the paper you have held, and imagine our hands touching without the intermediates of paper and distance.

I remain your loving M.

Dear Clara,

I imagined your ranch to be remote and wild, far from civilization.  Why else would you decline to answer my letters?  Any other reason would be cruel.  And yet, I was stunned to hear Chloe say, over the picnic lunch she brought, that the Lazy Bar J is barely five miles from the town where you go every two weeks to spend your pay.

Surely, Clara, you are not so hard-hearted that you would deny me the comfort of your correspondence!  Say I am mistaken!



Your siser, Chloe, surprised me greatly by agreeing to move into the storage room in my cottage.  She has been a great comfort to me in my sorrows, and I cannot deny she is a wonderful cook.  Buffalo has never been so delectable!

I hope that you are not upset by this, as I'm sure you would not wish a barren, still house for either of us.  This is, of course, an arrangement of convenience.   I do need help keeping the cottage, and I never was as good as you at maintaining your lovely garden.

Don't worry, my dear.  It appears that Chloe is also "the wrong sort," to my delight.  Your mother is not so delighted, and perhaps would appreciate a letter from you.

Best regards,


I hope you don't mind, dear, but we've had your dresses remade to fit Chloe.  She is quite a bit smaller than you, so the waists had to be greatly altered.  I assured her that you are happy to be rid of them, as they do not fit your life of hard work and solitude.

Please take this little ring you left behind as a token of my affection.  Even our talented goldsmith would not be able to reduce it to Chloe's size, and really she deserves to have some things that aren't second-hand.

Be happy for us.

Your pal,

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

One-Ton Rita

By February 2nd every year Rita weighs two thousand pounds.  You can't tell by looking at her.  Her red down coat looks a little salty and soiled, but no more so than anyone else's, and not so you'd guess she has reached an English ton.  Every morning she can still get her leaden feet into the same size 8 zip-up boots, always still white from yesterday's salty salvation.  She never complains about the salt, because when two thousand pounds slips on the ice, two thousand pounds gets its red coat even dirtier and calls her chiropractor. 

One-Ton Rita can still wrap her soft green plaid scarf around her tree-trunk neck the way she could when she was little Rita three months ago and a Halloween cold snap sneaked up on everyone.  You can only guess how much Rita weighs by the way she walks (if you can catch her walking) and by the look on her face (if she would meet your eye).  Bus drivers see that Rita weighs two thousand pounds before she reaches the door, and the bus kneels before her.  ALL HAIL 2000-POUND RITA!  Your Massive Majesty, please enter your carriage!  and she does, somehow, not because she is interested in going somewhere else, but because she remembers vaguely that somwhere else is expecting her.

Every February second, so reliably that we wonder why we still ask, a woodchuck in a sleepy Pennsylvania village becomes alarmed, not by his own shadow cast by a huge electric floodlamp, but by the flash of cameras suffering a slow news day.  Rita is not from Punxatawney, but subscribes to a weekly paper there.  She has recorded the wather there on 2/2 for as long as she has enjoyed her subscription, and twice was sunshine reported. She clipped out both reports and slid them under the glass of her coffee table.  They have never seen enough sunshine to yellow.

Rita is not the only two thousand pound woman in Ithaca.  One-ton women are common here.  They're the same women you notice at 120 pounds wearing Flax and Birkenstocks, gliding up Aurora Street deciding where to eat al fresco.  Ithaca's gravity is very strong in January, which is a good thing because it keeps people stuck to the ground here.  Rita wants to leave every winter, but weighs too much to stand up and pack.  She's too heavy to buy a plane ticket.  Too huge to get into a southbound car.  This morning she lost 1800 pounds, but before she could pull out her iPhone to book a flight the sun was gone again.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Silent haiku

Apart from that unfortunate incident in the garden, Winslow had never eaten a fruit softer than a mango - thought that anything easy to eat was a socialist plot. Unaware that her name came up at least once in every meeting of the Junior League, she wouldn't have cared anyway. She had almost no patience for soft things. Foolish, giggling, gossiping, soft-headed women were the worst, and bananas were nearly as bad.

The pillows on her mother's gray chintz sofa annoyed her, and Winslow hauled the pillow-top mattress away the day she got the dump permit for her old Ford pick-up. Soft-shelled clams, soft-boiled eggs, angora rabbits, candlelight, pudding: she wanted no part of these indulgences. She treated herself to unpopped corn on the weekend while watching documentaries on the buildings of England.

Still she wished for company now and then, so she had joined a book club that met once a month. She attended for a month. It had turned out to be a drinking club - not that she had anything against a nightly glass of sherry - but wine with a book makes one's comprehension soft. A neighbor talked her into a knitting group, bu the silky cashmere wool drove her nearly to distraction before she could wrap it back into a ball and drop it into the green steel trash can on her way out the door. She thought a church community might be a good thing, and she approved of the unpadded pews at the Mother of Perpetual Sadness Catholic Church, but soon learned that Father Robert was soft on sin. She decided to keep her cold, hard tithe in her pocket.

Winslow had had a lover once, a man whose flinty jaw and sharp wit had attracted her until she noticed his thought processes becoming flabby and his abs muddled. Distraught, rolling his American Tourister through her living room toward the door, he appealed to the tenderness of her heart, which just showed that he had never known her at all.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


It used to be that an old friend could stay lost forever so that we always know her with braces and acne but then she got them off and went on tetracycline and was a slut all through her sophomore year.  We used to think How great it would be to catch up and see if we can pick up our friendship! but no.  She must have married after I left and I'll never find her.  Heaps of poign and wist later, some jackass invents Facebook and fast-forwards your easy, pimply friend into your life with pictures of her and her 37 grandchildren all gathered at Bible Study and "click if you like Jesus Christ our Lord and Personal Savior."  Awkward.  You quietly defriended Jesus fifteen years ago and now he's going to see that you really didn't quit Facebook like you told him in your break-up instant message.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


I lost an enemy today.  I didn't plan it.  I didn't see it coming.  It was an idle, thoughtful word - I should never have said it! - but there it was and I couldn't take it back.  I saw the grateful look cross her face and I could have kicked myself.   You dolt!  I thought.  This cannot be undone!  The healing is out there between us and I would give the world to go back in time and ungive that heartfelt compliment.  Years of contempt and mutual animosity thrown carelessly away, and I can only blame myself and the hormone replacement therapy.  We each walked away, arm in arm, and we knew nothing would be the same again.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Possible and Probable.

Between the probable and the possible I watch the Possible because it's everything.  The Probable fits into a lunch bag of the expected and the Possible is huge, as big as everything.  The Possible needs a big bag, a box, a room.  You need to move the Possible outdoors, into a meadow big enough to not hold it.  Possible says it could happen, and I'm left to try.  What would I try if I couldn't fail?  Bring it to the Possible meadow.  You won't find everyone there.  Your mom will remind you to take a sweater - it gets cold in the meadow at night - and she will suggest you carry a bag of Probable with you, just in case.  Just in case things don't work out with the Possible, and you need cab fare home.  You never know, Mom says, hoping the meadow grass will feed your heart but suspecting you'll need the bag.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Since Jessie's layoff (she called it "semi-retirement") she spent part of every day scanning old photos and adding them to her online family tree. It was a solitary task that suited her down to her socks, but what she missed was being able to talk about it. If Hank cared one whit about this project she could talk to him about it, but whenever she tried he changed the subject. He wanted the real family, not the idea of family. Finally he was blunt about it and she got the point, but she pouted and refused for a week to answer his calls.

"I know you're screening, Jessie. C'mon, get over it and pick up." She did, and he apologized, but she didn't try again to interest him. He did like to get pictures of Edgar, though, and there were plenty. Edgar never met a camera he didn't like, and even as an older man they liked him back. Today, drinking her second cup of coffee from her favorite mug with the Emerson quote, or maybe it was Thoreau - she had to check every time - she stared at the last picture of him she had taken. He and Louise were still living in the mountains near Ashville. Louise had gone back to Lloyd County with Hank (still Henry then) to see her mama, and Jessie had come without Rob or Bobby. If she had realized Louise would be gone she would have waited and come later. Visits without Louise got too honest, more raw than she was comfortable with. She remembered thinking that someday she'd want to know all this stuff about Edgar, but not right now, and probably not even this stuff. Definitely not that story about his mama.

On the day she had snapped this shot, he had been wearing a red Nike sweatshirt and Jessie had thought he must have picked it out because he looked so good in red. It wasn't true; Louise would have picked it out and even gotten it on sale. Jessie wished again that Louise was there. she preferred Louise to Edgar, preferred Louise to her own mother. Louise had forgiven her for that horrible time when Jessie was twelve, that unspeakable betrayal that Jessie hadn't forgiven herself for. It still made her wince to remember. It hadn't occurred to her to explain, to put the blame where it belonged. She had kept the guilt all to herself and marinated in it. One of her therapists twenty years later had used that word, and Jessie had to admit it worked. Her wife still reminded her that guilt is a useless emotion and mostly, almost always, she believed it.

"You oughta come down sometime when you can meet Henry. He's not a bad kid. My favorite son, you know!" Jessie had nodded agreement. It didn't need to be said that Hank was the favorite, without a qualifier. She had felt vaguely disappointing for eighteen years and had been frankly relieved when the baby had been a boy. Relieved that she hadn't had to be named Henry after her grandfather and relieved not to have been named after anyone at all. Her mother had picked up a baby name book and chosen something she liked, and Jessie had always been happy enough with it. Girls don't have the heavy lifting of carrying names and passing them off like batons to their own children.

Hank loved the picture and responded almost as soon as she hit SEND. He remembered the sweatshirt and confirmed that his mom had found it at a thrift shop the same day he had picked out a red Schwinn at Myer's General. He'd had to wait a while to get the bike. Louise put it on layaway and he'd started X-ing off the days on his oversized wall calendar. He had drawn a bicycle in the square for the day the layaway would be paid off. There was a photo attached, Hank on the bike grinning at the camera and Edgar standing turned slightly away, looking off into the distance.

Hank had sent other pictures, too, and still sent one from time to time. Jessie saw other people's lives in those shots, lives she could almost touch but not quite. Hank was there, she was not, and she gazed into the faces wondering if, behind the smiles, anyone was thinking about her.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Returned to sender

Jessie worried off and on that she hadn't done quite enough to end the estrangement with Edgar, so every few years she sent a letter of towards Texas and hoped for the best. She liked the romance of addressing an envelope with only "Edgar Markey, Texas," sending it out into the universe, but instead always looked him up on the internet. If that old SOB wants to stay lost, he's met his match with Anywho.com, she thought, but he won this round and the letter came back with the rubber-stamped pointing finger of failure. It didn't matter as much as she thought it might, since Aunt Mary Ann had sent the information she needed. Rena, the cousin of a cousin, had gathered more family facts than Edgar ever could have remembered. Plus, Edgar had a way of being coy with facts and memories, stretching them out like he'd be around forever to give you the next installment. Jessie didn't have the patience. Facts would die with his generation and eighty-seven is no age to be an information coquette.

Aunt Mary Ann disapproved of the way Edgar slipped through people's fingers. She felt uneasy never knowing if she could pick up the phone and expect him to answer. She knew why he avoided Jessie, and she didn't like that, either. Hadn't she had a son, that child of her heart? Hadn't she loved him no matter what, right through his last breath, and still? She loved Edgar fiercely, but didn't see how he could feel so righteous. Jessie suspected he didn't feel righteous at all, that there was something else keeping him gone.

Jessie had pieced together a lot, and the more she worked, the more it felt like a picture. It was a puzzle, with sections living and dead, and she was finally a piece that fit somewhere. Edgar was there, too, like Hank, but it didn't matter so much anymore whether either of them cared or not.

By the time the letter had come back she couldn't remember what she had written. Probably a quick question about his well-being first. It would have been sincere. Jessie wanted to know about hereditary problems like the high cholesterol and blood pressure. Next, probably a question about his grandfather - his name or profession - that Mary Ann or Violet answered weeks ago. Not even relevant. Probably a line or two about Edgar's grandson, but without details about too much weed or a lost driver's license. Jessie could say enough true things without all that. Then a simple "Love, Jessica." She almost tossed it into the recycling bin before she remembered she had enclosed a stamped envelope. No point in wasting that.

Her computer beeped and it was a new email from Hank. His oldest daughter, Ella, was in some sort of a thing at school, a play or a concert, and Jessie was glad they lived a thousand miles apart. She couldn't imagine the kind of family time Hank would require. He didn't care about the tree, about their lineage. He wanted the real family, and he wanted his father. He was relentless. She wanted to stun it out of him. You don't always get to have your daddy. Man up, for chrissake! but she kept it to herself. Susan got exasperated sometimes, too, but she knew where her own father was, and knew where he had been all his life, too. She wouldn't get it, so Jessie had to.