houseSitting in the car, looking at the friend’s front door, a man’s voice yelled out over the kids’ greetings. Luckily her son was running back to the car, unknowing the friend was still putting on his shoes in the doorway. He must have been looking for his other shoe. A flash of a man’s arm above the boy’s head quickly swatted the air. The disembodied hand matched the man’s voice with its intention. “Go on Wyatt, get out of here!” The friend tumbled out onto the porch and dashed for the car with one shoe in his hand, the other covering his toes and laces dragging as he one-foot sprinted as only an 11-year-old could manage. Inside the car the boys locked immediately into their friendly smiles, oblivious to anything else.

It would be wrong not to ask. “Are you ok?”

Stuffing his shoes on. “Yeah.”

“You have one shoe in your hand.”

“Yeah, it’s just more,” he looked up and thought for a moment, “efficient.”

The shoes were on. “Hey Wyatt, do you want to play cards at my house?” Their decks were out, the conversation blurred into connected friend chatter as she put the car in reverse. She took a moment and looked at the doorway. The door was still open, no shape of a head in the window, no wave, no face to match the hand. She hoped to get a glance of the ghoul who couldn’t hide his frustration to be rid of the child another moment, his girlfriend’s son. The mother was at work in a nursing home, didn’t know he was leaving the house, didn’t care. The friend has no phone, no one had asked for a number to reach him if they wanted him home for dinner. The boyfriend didn’t show his face, though she could picture it from the voice and the flashing hand in the air. Snarling mouth and vacant adrenaline filled eyes. He would be tall, large to a child.

She would normally have gone to the door, but the man’s urgency for the boy to make plans had told her everything. There was no need to see more.

via Daily Prompt: Ghoulish



Ask her to save a dance

Pete called me at my apartment, looking for my mom. We share the same name, unusual for a mother and daughter, and typically I would say annoying as well. In this instance, however, and forever after, I’m glad for all the screw-ups with social security, banks, credit reports, hospitals. Because of the name, I got to talk to Pete.

“Cathy?” a gentle voice inquired, filled with something beyond concern. I said yes, but I knew I didn’t know the voice. I waited, not knowing the question to ask. “I’m an old friend of your mother’s,” he added. “Oh, yeah, that happens to us all the time. Don’t ever name your child with the same name,” I joked. It was an old line I routinely gave because I really do feel you should give your child their own name, from experience. When I think back on this day, however, I appreciate it. I would ultimately have the chance to step into my mom’s world, her self, the real person you don’t get to meet inside your mother.

“I can give you her number, she’d love to hear from you. She doesn’t have much contact with old friends.” When I thought about it, she had no contact with old friends. Around prom time each year, she would fondly remember her own prom and talk about her childhood friend Carol Sue who she went on a double date with. Her own date was her first boyfriend, but my siblings and I never got any juicy details. I think we all just assumed there were no juicy details, it was Mom, after all. The guy she went with ended up being a friend, he never married and in the early 1950s, in my mom’s world, that meant he must have been interested in men, and nothing came of it. My Dad was the next guy she dated, and it’s obvious how that turned out.

“Oh no, please don’t call her, I don’t want to bother her.” I assured him it’d be no bother, but I sensed something else in the tone of the conversation. “You are the youngest aren’t you? I’ve kept up with your mom and your family through the years.” My curiosity was peaked. “What did you say your name was?” ”Pete Golden.” It was him, talking to me, wondering how my Mom was doing, and not wanting her to know. Suddenly, I got it. “I’ve heard about you. My mom has always talked about you through the years.” This older man with the kind voice was suddenly 17-years-old, and very, very sweet. “She has? I’ve tried to keep in touch, but sometimes it was hard. There were times it was hard to hear what was going on, with your father and all. I wanted her to leave.” I knew I was really going to like Pete, with the kind voice. I asked him to tell me all about him. He was a retired professor from Juilliard, a playwright whose plays had been shown on Broadway. He asked about me. I told him I was an editor at a weekly newspaper, I had been a reporter since college, only four years earlier. “We’re both writers,” he said. “I could have been your father.” I was hooked.

Pete and I talked several times after that first conversation. We became old friends. I always enjoyed his stories about my mom. Suddenly she wasn’t my mom, she was a real life young girl, just like me. She had a friend, out there, who cared about her enough to call up her daughter 40 years later and ask questions. He asked about all of my siblings by name. He wanted to know if my mom was happy. He still didn’t want to call her himself, but he did ask me to pass on a message. He wanted her to attend their 40-year school reunion which was approaching in the upcoming months. I called her, she was delighted. It took a few approaches to get her to say she would attend the reunion, she wasn’t normally the type. He asked me to tell her if she would just save one dance for him he’d leave her alone after that. She said ok. “He has always been supportive. He sent flowers when my parents died. Your father never knew, he didn’t pay attention to things like that.”

I kept checking in with my mother, to make sure she was still planning on going to her reunion. She had never returned to Manhattan after moving to New England when she was 30. She had grown up rollerskating the streets near the college where her father, an Irish immigrant, worked as a janitor. He had pointed out a man on a bench at the college one day and said his name was Einstein and he was the smartest man in the world. Her city, where a girl could wander around and see interesting people and take the train out to Coney Island on her own was gone. She had lived in a building of mixed nationalities and the adults looked after her. The couple who owned the Chinese laundry, her Jewish friend’s family. Her many aunts and uncles spoiled her. They were all gone, and she didn’t recognize her own neighborhood anymore.

Her small family of three had moved to upstate NY when she was a senior in high school. Her father had missed the farm life he knew as a boy in Ireland, and they left everything and everyone she knew behind so that he could leave the city. Did Pete leave the city and travel to Port Jervis to attend her prom, or was it her junior prom before she had to move? The only old photos of her before she was married were of this prom. She was always sure to tell me the dress was red because the photo was black and white. She was lovely. Did she hope that she would marry this boy with the nice voice? Her stories of that time were so carefree. Those carefree stories were done in 1953 when “they moved her out of the city,” as she puts it, and “ended her life.” My mother knew how to talk about her feelings, some stories you heard over and over again. However, some you never heard, I’m beginning to realize. “Can you imagine it, leaving the city for that small town?” just might have been code for, ‘I had fallen love, and no one could explain to me why he didn’t love me back, why I left everything I knew and understood.’

After one lonely year of being a new student, of which there are no stories, my mom went to nursing school at a state college and learned to care for babies until she had her own. She met my father her final year and was married before she graduated on New Year’s Eve.  My father got along great with my grandfather, who had opened an Irish pub. My grandfather would die within a year from liver failure, with her first child on the way. She would often recount to me how she felt having a baby, that she would never be alone again. Of course Pete sent flowers. Their lives went in very different directions, but neither had the marriage that she had thought was an entitlement of being young and alive in 1958.

She was never consistent with any friends. She occupied herself with her growing family. So when he called me and pressed for her to make the trip and dance with him once at their reunion, I begged her to go and see her old friends, including Carol Sue who she thought might still be alive. She said she would go. I relayed their questions back and forth. When the phone rang and my mother said “Pete died, cancer,” it all made sense. She couldn’t say anymore and hung up. Some things are so obvious after they’re done. He never told me. I was proud of my mom for having a friend and promising to be there. I wished I’d known when we were talking but, didn’t he tell me? He had asked for one more dance and promised he’d finally leave her alone if she would just say she’d come to the reunion. This man was a playwright who had never had a family. He said he could have been my father. In a different reality, I would have grown up knowing this man who studied and taught at Julliard and had plays on Broadway. In another reality, I could explain where my writing came from, from my father the play wright.

Passport to Living

Daily Prompt: A classic question, revisited: what are the five items you must have on a deserted island?

Foolish me, to think anything I possess would be of value to me on a desert island. Tarzan had no need for his father’s suit or photos of his parents holding him in a loving embrace. Would I want to bring photos, or would the images of loved ones be more vivid without a flat, static, reproduction of them? My mind would conjure the scents and feel of them, but the paper would wither and fade. Perhaps I would be called to use it in the fire, desperate. I would burn whatever was handy, and realize once the darkness closed in again that I was more utterly alone.

Would I bring a favorite book, to escape my own mind’s delusions? Would I read and remember the comfort of my childhood bedroom and laugh at the irony of man’s imagination, being sucked up into the belly of a whale. Surely, surrounded by marine life, I would come to see them personified. Would I have a need for such imaginings? Without the trappings of civilization, wouldn’t I notice the life all around me, rather than trampling and ignoring it? Uninterrupted by the sights of cars and buildings, the threat of unnatural violence would fade. I would see life.

Would I wish I had brought some medicine, some fishing line, a few vials of fresh water?How long would these items help me to survive? The castaway learns to survive and eventually perishes, just like the rest of us will do who are surrounded by objects of need and longing. Our desires keep us in the past or longing for the future, but not in the here and now.  So, nah, I wouldn’t bring anything. Everything I can use is already there.

Daily Prompt: Five Items

Ask Me, I know

Every year we do something strange.
We cut down a tree, and our living room we rearrange.

It will not grow, it leaves a mess,
so why do we look forward to this?

‘Why DO we do this?’ you wonder out loud.
“For the presents!” says the child unbowed.

‘Why are there presents?’ you wonder some more.
“It’s a birthday party!” shouts he, coming into a roar.

‘Then why don’t we sing Happy Birthday?’ Ha! You’ve got him this time.
“Because it’s Christmas!” he says with the most determined look in his eye.

You’re right, so true.
I just needed a little reminder, called you.

Beloved Author, 101, Dies in Avalanche

Daily Prompt: Six of One, Half Dozen of Another

“Beloved Author, 101, Dies in Avalanche”

It’s more of a news title than the actual story. Here’s an excerpt from the article, which will of course be printed in the New York Times:

“The beloved children’s author amused many generations with her frolicking prose and insightful wit. Her works are still enjoyed to this day by all ages who grew up reading her bestsellers, “One Small World” and “How To Survive School, The Woods and Your Parents.” She guided readers to see the humor in everyday situations and inspired a movement among young people to be active outdoors and treasure nature. Befitting her active lifestyle, the author died on tour in Austria while attempting to outrun an avalanche on a monoski. The video can be seen of the amazing event at the Guinness World Records site. It is believed she had a medical event which led to the avalanche catching up with her, as she was a fast alpiner. At 101, she broke several world records for mountaineering. Her son is the retired founder of Global Solar, the well-known expedition company providing global adventures in hybrid land/amphibian cycling vehicles. At the site, he commented, “My mom had a wonderful, full life. She left this world exactly the way she would have wanted to.”

Honestly, it could happen.

Virtual Kids Part 1: Into the Action

“Let go! We’ve got to drop!” yelled Dylan. He was hanging onto his best friend Rocky, who was hanging onto the top edge of a volcano, staring into its fiery core. They had just climbed to its top, hoping to find some safety along its slippery, craggy edge. At the base of the volcano were two big uglies they had narrowly avoided. Dylan had thought the best way to get past them was to go up. Rocky had thought it was a good time for them to give up and go hide out in exile for a little while, until the big uglies weren’t so hot on their trail.

It was hot. At least if they had given up they could have gone into exile, which was the game developers name for recovery mode. They would have lived. Now, he wasn’t so sure. If they fell, they might lose everything they’d gained.

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“I’m too ired”

“I’m too ired” said the child,
using the day’s last bit of energy.
“I can barely crawl to my bed tho’ it’s in sight
and prop one eye open for my story.”

“I’m too ired for bathing and bubbles
I’d rather go to bed grubby.
Skip the scrubbing, go right to snuggling
I’m too ired to even say the T.”

Not Cool Rolling Stone: A Teacher’s Response

(Note: If I I had the opportunity to convey a message to the world, it would be about social responsibility of the media, in the wake of countless shootings and violence.)

Rolling Stone Senior Editor Christian Hoard needs to go back to class, and get some class.

The picture used for the cover of the July 17, 2013 Rolling Stone Magazine was an unashamed bit of poor marketing. It showed the best side of a young man who terrorized Boston, and points well beyond. I’m not one for censorship, at all. The use of the alluring photo of the alleged bomber was a questionable choice, however.  I feel for everyone affected by the bombing, which is everyone, but particularly those still in rehabilitation and mourning, who have to endure Rolling Stone’s miscalculation. Sergeant Sean Murphy, a Massachusetts State Police tactical photographer, must have felt the same and released the not-so-glamorous photo of the alleged bomber we have now. It’s quite a contrast to the Rolling Stone cover.

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