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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Starts

Distant thunder reached into her dreams and she struggled to wake up wondering why it was so important that she did. She had been so comfortable, sunk deep in sleep for the first time in months. A breeze gusted over the divan on the back porch where she lay and her apron flipped up over her face and she woke with a start even before the next and more ominous rumble.
The sky was coming dark in the wrong direction for night and she struggled to her feet, the puffs of wind laden with ozone. Out in the yard, the clotheslines were lifting and straining, the sheets and pillowcases belling out and starting to crack. She’d save what she could, moving out across the yard at the best pace she could muster. The real problem would be carrying the basket inside. Her belly so much in the way now that she couldn’t get her arms around anything enough to lift it. She had carried the wet sheets from the porch two at a time, slung dripping over her shoulders, the cooling dampness had been welcome then; she was always hot. Now she was chilled and stiff with it.
The sheets shoved and slapped her as she fought to pull the wooden pins and keep the cloth from touching the ground at the same time. A second rinse in the rain was one thing, but she’d be damned if she was going to wash any of these over again. As she freed the third sheet and draped it doubled over her left shoulder, another gust of wind almost knocked her down and a bolt of lightning struck in the field across the road. She couldn’t even hear herself shriek the thunder was so deafening. Only three. Shit.
A fat bullet of rain struck her between her shoulder blades another on the nape of her neck as she reached the porch. Counting on the depth of the porch to keep her dry, she backed up to the divan and sat heavily. The starkly white sheets over both her shoulders and across her enormous stomach made her look like a Roman senator. “Did they wear white?” Hera wondered as she looked out across the wild laundry being subdued by the rain. A fresh but farther away peal of thunder startled her and a cramp in her leg brought her thoughts back to her body and it’s alien occupation.
She pointed her toes skyward to relieve the cramp and wrapped her arms around her belly for leverage before the tension and pain spread up to her thigh and butt. That’s when she realized that, for the first time in six or seven months, the plucking and churning inside of her had ceased. Complete and blessed stillness. Before she had time to be concerned, she leaned back on the divan, closed her eyes and waited for the internal assault to start back up and fell back into a sleep which fell off the edge into unconsciousness so profound that she was absent for the labor and delivery of the child. A soul vacation.

Well, well. Look who’s back from the dead,” Brownie said as he held a cup with a glass straw to her lips. Hera struggled to swallow a mouthful of stale water. She couldn’t speak to ask the question and tried unsuccessfully to sit up. The strange bed was too soft and she was tucked in like a tick. He made no move to help her and sat back in the chair beside the bed and said, “Looks like you screwed this up too, Hera.” He paused long enough to take a pull from a flask he'd hidden in his greasy jacket. “It’s a girl. Eight pounds of beaver. I'll never hear the end of it down at the bar.”
There was a stained and crumpled paper sack at her feet on the coverlet. In it, one of his old handkerchiefs over which he’d poured a healthy squirt of gas while he was filling up the bike. All during the pregnancy, she’d craved the smell of gasoline the way other women went for ice cream and pickles. The fumes reached her from the bag and she threw up what little there was loose inside her sending Brownie retching and scrambling for a nurse.


She didn’t see him again until they kicked her and the baby out a week later and he was slightly drunk when he got there. The orderly wheeled her through the last doors out into the parking lot where she saw the Indian with the borrowed sidecar parked in the NO PARKING zone, Brownie leaning against the sign casually, having a smoke like he was waiting for the bus. She looked down at the swaddled baby sleeping in her arms. 
Baby Brown looked like an oversize grub with a red face. Did babies know what kind of world they'd come into? What sort of people they were in the care of? She wanted to say to the orderly “Wait. Take her back inside with you,” but what kind of people did that? What kind of mother? As things turned out, no kind.

                                                                    ###

It was seven in the morning and already hotter than hell. How appropriate, Bridget thought, for surely, she was headed for hell. She was exhausted from the stress of concealing her condition. The only time when she might be able to have some relief was in the dark in her own bed at night, but the baby wouldn’t permit it. Not that it kicked and tumbled all night like she heard most did. This baby hid itself. Long periods, hours on end of stillness and she was in a panic that something was wrong, that it had died inside her. Died of her shame and fear of getting caught.

Wishing it away hadn’t worked. She had no plan for months, only the driving need to keep it all a secret. She had long given up hope that the child's father would make good on his promise to come for her on his next leave and, now that she thought the baby was coming, she made the irrational decision that it would be a good idea to go to confession before going to the hospital.

Why were those friggin’ dago boys so damned attractive? she wondered bitterly, and this one hardly speaking English. He was Angie's cousin, here on leave from the Italian navy, of all damned things. Who knew they had a navy?
“My name is Joey,” was about the longest string of English words he could put together, but what she clung to was the memory of how he had bent down from his six-foot and kissed her and touched her body so boldly. His black hair, wide brown eyes, and full lips made her weak-kneed and soft, but with that memory came a pain in her belly that expanded like the fireworks at Orchard Beach forcing her to lean against the brick wall with her hands spread and her knees locked or she would crumple to the dirty pavement. 

They all went dancing and he had said “Ti amerĂ² per sempre.” Angie laughed and said, “He says that to all the girls.” Still, she let him have his way and, even as another pain took hold of her body right on the heels of the last one, she didn't regret a minute of it.

Joey was long gone. There had been one postcard in hen-scratched Italian that Angie read aloud, doing her best to interpret. “Wish you were here with me and your pink titties?” Bridget had snatched the postcard from her fingers and ran.

A passing shower floated back off the pavement as steam and she was soaked through as she pulled the door of Holy Spirit open wide enough to allow her and her belly inside for some shelter, rest and confession where no one knew her. Her plan was to go to the hospital, have the baby, play the idiot and slip away when no one was looking, leaving the baby behind. Girls did it all the time.

Her water broke as she closed the massive wooden door of the church with her body weight and the pain that came with the action brought her to her knees. She crawled to an inner door and pulled herself up by the wrought iron door handle, and crouched in the darkness of the coat closet. Under a row of old wooden hangers, she slumped on the floor with the corner of an abandoned wool overcoat clenched in her teeth as she pushed the baby out onto the cool slate. He didn't cry and it was all she could do to scoop the slimy, bloody body into the hem of her dress and pass out.

Sister Ag arrived to see to preparations for early mass. She slipped in the puddle of fluid on the floor and fell flat on her back, cracking her head on the slate floor. Father Morelli found her minutes later and helped her to her feet. Together they followed the trail of liquid to the closet and made the discovery. The boy child quietly alive, still linked to his young mother who was still warm, barely. 

The priest cut the cord with his pocket knife while he murmured the last rites. The nun wrapped the baby in a worn alter cloth and took him through the sanctuary to the convent kitchen next door while the priest finished the ritual and then called the police. The girl was gone long before they got there.
“Father Morelli, the EMT tells me that she had recently given birth. 
"Where’s the baby, Father?” The officer was a parishioner at St.Ignatius. He was well aware that Holy Spirit had a long-standing reputation with hookers and street people as a safe haven for unwanted infants.
“Now Michael, you know very well that the child is safe and in good hands.”
The officer shrugged. “Just doing my paperwork Father, you know how it is.”

Normally, abandoned infants were placed in foster homes and the authorities contacted. This time was different. The church and city networks of foster homes were stretched to breaking. There was no one else to take on an infant at a moment’s notice. The baby could languish for weeks in a hospital nursery. The child appeared healthy. Silent, but alert. He was born in sanctuary and in sanctuary he would stay. Father Morelli and Sister Ag made an unspoken pact when they took the baby from the dead girl’s lap and the nun tied off the cord with a bit yarn pulled from the girl’s sweater. He belonged to the church. The convent’s cook had four at home, one still nursing. What was one more here?
He was kept in the motherhouse, everyone's pet. A utility closet just off the kitchen had room for a crib. In a house full of holy women, he was their dreamed of child. Passed from arm to arm to the housekeeper’s breast and back to another waiting nun. Their beautiful bastard boy. He was put into a playpen in the corner of the kitchen. Over his head, a little clock radio played softly, the station and music changing depending upon which nun was working in the kitchen that day. The novices and young sisters became his sisters, his first loves.
When all arms were busy he was tied in a sling across the lap of Mother Briganda. A stroke years before had taken her speech, but she could rock herself and her charge, her good right hand cupping his head. His round, bright eyes held hers as she crooned French lullabies from her own childhood as he fell asleep.
A few months passed and one day, she knew she was nearly out of time. The old nun stopped rocking, a bright beam of sunlight filtered down through a row of filthy glass panes set high in the front wall of the tiny library. The light flowed over the old woman and the baby in her lap. He opened his eyes and regarded her a moment and then went back to sleep.
I know you can hear me, Jack, and I know you’ll remember and understand. Never tell Jack. Never let them know what we can do. They won't hurt you. They'll hurt the people you love. Never tell. And if you can help it, never love.
Briganda hung on until Jack was taking his first steps. A novice went to get him from his crib one morning and found him in bed with the old nun, her arm around him securely, the covers clutched tight in her hand, his head tucked under her chin, thumb in his mouth. 
They both needed a diaper change. St. Briganda’s soul had slipped away sometime before dawn. They were worried that Jack would be inconsolable. Instead, he would go into the front room, climb into her rocking chair and get it going at a gentle pace. There, he would hum to himself and be content as if she was still there beneath him.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Till then...

The last hurricane left the great fountain in Audubon Park filled with brackish water and, unaccountably, a dead three-foot long sand shark. The fish had putrefied in the heat and when the power came back on and the fountain started up, the whole east end was bathed in the gag-worthy perfume of rotting magnolias and liquefied fish.

Tilla had left all the window to her apartment open to help dry the floors. She had been lucky. Home at the time of the tide-driven surge, only mere inches of dirty sewer and seawater had made its way over the top step into her place. She'd had time to get things up off the carpet. Pulled all the books from the bottom shelves to the top. Picked up all her shoes and Kip's bedding, piling everything on the dining room table. The carpet, which was shitty in the first place, was doomed, as was the couch and love seat. The frilly plaid skirts carrying the rank water up into the padding. She was sick of that old shit anyway.

Kip whined behind her on the stairs where she sat and smoked her last Kool. "You can sleep on my bed tonight. I'll be up a minute." There was nothing else to do until daylight.

The stench woke her. Kip would roll in dead fish any chance he got so she rarely let him run off leash, at least in the park. Kids would catch catfish or bream and leave them dead in the grass. The mutt acted like the corruption was manna from heaven and would drop his body on the oozing carcasses and roll, gumming up his white fur with fish scales and rotted flesh. Then he'd rush her and jump into her arms as if he was bestowing heaven's blessings.

Now he was jumping around on the bed, his leash in his mouth. "Relax, relax. I'm coming. Lemme pee first or we'll be fighting over the first hydrant we come to. She threw on shorts - it was already hot out - and a tank top. "What is that fucking smell?" she yelled as if she expected Kip to confess to something gross.

At the top of the stairs, she remembered the mess waiting for her down in the living room and kitchen. The filthy carpet had lifted off the floor and appeared to be floating a few inches below the last step. The cheap, vinyl kitchen tiles were all curled up on the corners, the points sticking out of the muck. She dug her rubber boots out of the closet, shook them out for scorpions and crammed her bare feet in. Kip was dancing from one foot to another by this time.

He nearly knocked her down the stairs and she gave up any hope of leashing him as he dashed out the open front door, dog-knee deep in filthy water. "Fuck me!" Tilla cried. She'd forgotten her briefcase on the floor beside the couch.
It was floating in the middle of the living room, barely breaking the water, the bloated leather shiny and dark. Her cell phone and charger were in there.Two mice rode calmly on the leather island but abandoned ship as she splashed across the room to see if she could salvage any of the contents. She could barely lift it onto the couch it was so sodden and didn't even bother opening it. She sighed and headed for the door. Kip could be on his way to the next county by now.

Her neighbors across the way had fared no better. Thier basement apartment was mostly underwater, but they had rented a U-haul the day before and moved just about everything they owned into the 24-foot box. The water in the street was to the wheel rims. Rupp and Martin were sitting on their kitchen chairs in at the back of the open box, tuning up. Rupp played the cello and Martin the viola.

"Humidity will be raising hell with your instruments, boys!" Tilla snarked. Crazy assholes played at all hours of the night with little regard for the neighbors. She didn't care if it was fuckin' Chopin or Mozart, they woke her up whenever they got a craving to saw and she suffered for it the next day. At least, now, it looked like they would be moving out and taking the noise with them.

"Rentals!" Rupp crowed. We put the real ones in dry storage at Marty's mom's place last week. Already got an insurance claim in on the poor darlings, lost in the storm they were." He rolled his eyes and bowed a few out of tune bars of the funeral march on the much-abused instrument, his gift still shining through, and Marty took up the dirge.
Tilla didn't bring up their impending move, just in case her mentioning it might encourage them to feats of heroics about saving their place. They were committed, the truck packed full. All that shit and no place to go.
"Have you seen Kip? He took off a few minutes ago."
Marty pointed down the block with his bow. "White dog on the full-tilt boogie for points east."
"Thanks". Kip was headed to higher ground, straight for dead-fish heaven in Audobon Park.

As she trudged through the water, Tilla was intrigued by the detritus that had made its way out of homes and cars in the hours since the flooding peaked. Unopened bottles of beer, a clear plastic bag with what might be a pound of weed inside, A plastic tube filled with sneakers. Trash and treasure. Discerning pickers with trash bags were already making their way down the block taking the best and leaving the rest.
She thought about the open door to her place and decided that the presence of Ruff and Martin would be enough of a deterrent to anyone bound on thievery. Besides, they'd take one look around at her place and pass. She didn't have shit worth taking anymore. She'd gotten rid of most everything in anticipation of her move uptown. Now, she'd have a truly fresh start even if meant sitting on the bare floor in the new place until she could afford some furniture. Tilla always found a way to make lemonade out of whatever shit fell from life's tree.

That awful smell was getting stronger and she recognized death as a base note. She picked up her pace and made her way through the arched gates. In the distance, she could hear Kip barking. It was his "Hosannah on the Highest! here's a roast beef sandwich with nobody looking" bark and she smiled. He wasn't one to go looking for trouble and was never aggressive with strangers. A good dog. The fountain was going, arcs of yellow-green water blowing out across the stone plaza unevenly, as if the jets were clogged with something. There was Kip running in circles around the fountain. He had something in his mouth, a rubbery-looking log or something. He stopped to shake it like an old sneaker and chunks flew off.

"Kip!" she shouted "c'mere boy. What you got? Gimme, gimme!" Her enthusiasm fired his and Kip chased his tail in circles for a minute then headed her way at a lope, dragging the item now. It was bigger than she first thought. Heavier.
The big dog rushed her, his fur greenish with the tainted water that still sprayed through the air all around them. He dropped the log across her feet, a true honorarium. The hand was missing a few fingers. They had flown off with Kip's last vigorous shake, but there was no mistaking it. It was a big powerful, male arm, hacked off below the should by something brutal, the grayish flesh marked with a series of strange tattoos, all in blue, not colors. Symbols and ciphers Tilla had never seen, dead or alive. A hairy sonovabitch too. The wristwatch was a bad Rolex knockoff stopped at 130 am. She didn't want to touch it. It was evidence, after all, but Kip made like he was going to take it back and run. Till stepped on the fleshy palm and it squished under her boot. "Christ on a crutch, Kip. Thanks a bunch."

Every day in her job at the city morgue she saw death in all its guises. This was her damned day off and she was sure she'd be seeing the rest of this guy before many more days passed and so far, it wasn't looking like natural causes. She only hoped the power was on at the city office and that she's backed up her laptop at some point before quitting time on Friday. The boss was not going to be happy about all that wet paperwork and she was looking at a lifetime of overtime. Why not, she had no life.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

the pitch remains the same.

(I wrote this back in January, 2016.  It still stands and the story stands closer to it.)


"A drug dealing ladies man and part-time assassin with psychic skills meets the woman he'll mend most of his ways for. A new age con artist herself, she's got her own brand of psychic ability and a troubling history of being on hand for untimely deaths. 

When they meet, he’s on the lam from the life and she's married to a gangster wannabe who's blackmailing her to keep her in line. Cosmic lust comes before trust, but they must learn to work together if they hope to thwart her husband's plans to sell her and her secrets to settle a deadly debt."

       
         “So, just how do we turn this darkness into light?" she said and shuffled the cards. The deck was old and soft and made a purring sound in her hands. He picked up her thick braid, squeezed it gently and whispered in her ear,  
         "One well-deserving motherfucker at a time.” Then he wrapped the braid around her neck, tilted her head back and kissed her between the eyes.

Monday, January 15, 2018

learning to change

Like a mangy beast, the manuscript shifts and growls as I comb the knots out of its fur, careful around the wounds.
Pick fleas and crush them with my teeth.
Soothe.
 Smooth, but leave it wild and living, uncivilized, uncultured.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Blood on the pages


Sometime in the night, this happened.

Yes. Those are my first five pages he's chewing on. It doesn't hurt.


When was the last time you read a book that kept you up too late, made you laugh, made you sweat and made you say "NOW WHAT?" and made you sad when the ride was finally over?

Me neither. That's what I'm writing.



Saturday, December 16, 2017

ten of swords

Alone the next morning with her coffee and tarot cards, Anna was adrift in the ocean of sensations and emotions she’d been steeping in since the shooting and imagined that she glowed in the dark. Anyone who looked at her could see it.
She pulled one card from the deck - the ten of Swords. Her soul pinched her hard on the heart.

The dead man lay prone under a black sky, ten swords staking him to the ground, his cloak and the earth under him bloodied. She remembered the day Tam caught her trying to duck the same card back into the deck. She was eight or nine and it had frightened her. Tam pinned the card to the kitchen table with a strong finger.
No, no, little girl. There can’t be no light without darkness.”
Her aunt bent down beside her at the table and put an arm around her.
See this card? All them swords? All that blood? This is bad as it gets. Yes, that body is dead, but the spirit goes on, you know that. See his hand? Even dead, he blesses his killers, jes like Jesus. Freed him from trouble and pain, they did.”
Tam knocked hard on the table with her knuckles, like when they played poker.
A good job.Ten swords. Took a gang to bring this fellow down. And alla his blood? It’s blessing the soil. And that sunrise! I see a new day for his big spirit and a new body waiting somewhere on the horizon.”
She stood up and sat in a chair across the round, scarred table from Anna.
I see this card as a birthday. Them swords might as well be candles. Don’t try to duck death, sweetheart. Charm him. Ask him to dance. You’ll best him that way every time.”

Friday, December 15, 2017

from June 2013

 "The Killing" did not disappoint but there may just be a KILLING over the commercials!

 Yesterday I put off reading an article in the NY Times about the resurrection of the show -I didn't want to run into any spoilers and I won't print any here.  The article had tasty bits about the actual writing of the story. Much to think about for my own writing.

I've self-identified as what's called a "spontaneous" writer. A scene here, a character sketch there adding up to a whole pile of (very) loosely related fragments. Picture a cow shitting it's way across a broad pasture, wandering, circling and stepping in its old crap. It's become frustrating, pointless and messy.

I won't call it a plot but I need to make a map for myself with the things I like about a good story, well told.  A Start, a Middle and a Resolution - with plenty of wandering, woolgathering and time shifts and character exploration worked in along the way - just respecting those time-honored markers in the long run.