A branch falls, a snare drum pop
Birds chat, a scattering of piccolos
The wind breathes, a soft voice
Leaves rustle, a rolling cymbal
A girl in a lawn chair, the audience… delighted
A branch falls, a snare drum pop
Birds chat, a scattering of piccolos
The wind breathes, a soft voice
Leaves rustle, a rolling cymbal
A girl in a lawn chair, the audience… delighted
Miranda laughed, delighted with the butterflies. She’d never seen so many. The branches of the tree undulated in iridescent blue and violet. She waved her little hand near the lowest branch and a dozen butterflies sprang up, circling her head. She raised her arms and spun around slowly, dancing with them in her pink cotton dress. She breathed the fragrant air, tasting of pollens and earth and grass and nectar. This is what happiness looks like, smells like, tastes like.
A perfect moment. Clarity. Pure joy.
She imprinted the memory—the scent, the rustling sound of the leaves, the sun on her hair and the gentle breeze. A flood of love filled her soul. She bathed in it, in that moment, twirling with butterflies.
They flew back to the tree. It was time to go. But she would carry the memory with her, until the end, through the darkest of times.
A man in black read from his bible, and Miranda looked down at her chained hands and feet, the IV in her arm, the doctor with a sad duty to the law, her orange garment. She closed her eyes and imagined a pink cotton dress and whispered, “I’m ready.” She rested her head back against the pillow, and butterflies took her home.
Greg opened the car door. “Get out.”
Kiki stepped out with a head full of excuses, but he drove away before she could speak.
She watched the Mercedes disappear over a hill. No one had ever dumped her before. That had always been her job.
An icy wind blew her pink hair in her eyes. Great. I just got my hair done. She reached in her back pocket for her phone—the one that she’d left in the Mercedes. Along with her jacket. “Crap!” She stomped her feet and her green leather stilettos sank into slushy mud. She stepped back onto the asphalt, cursing the new scratches on her spiky metal heels.
She scanned the horizon and saw nothing but thick forest. Greg had said they were going to his cabin in the woods, with “No neighbors, boutiques or spas for a hundred miles.”
She hugged her bare arms for warmth, annoyed. Hurry up already, somebody. Damsel in distress here.
She figured she’d flag down the next car that came by. But… who to call next? She inventoried her Kiki worshippers, and came up with a dozen love sick boys with big houses and credit cards. Whatever. As long as they have heating, ‘cause its freaking cold!
A fox popped his head out of the brush, sniffing.
Kiki screamed, “Seriously? Wild animals too? Shoo!”
He inspected her face, then took a cautious step towards her green shoes with the shiny heels.
Burning mad, Kiki yelled, “You want my shoe? Stupid little creature! I’ll give you my shoe!” She pulled off a shoe and hurled it hard at the animal, who scampered into the forest.
“And… now my foot’s freezing.” She hopped towards her shoe at the edge of the forest, but sank into the slush. “Damn it!”
The fox stole back through the brush just long enough to nab the shoe and vanish into a thicket.
Kiki cursed and scowled, hopping on one heel.
A flake of snow settled on her bare shoulder. “Are you kidding? I’m wearing a halter top, for god’s sake!” She flicked it off and shouted to the sky at the top of her lungs, “Somebody get their sorry ass over here and rescue me!”
The sky responded with a dump of stinging snow.
Kiki’s blood boiled. “Oh no you don’t!” She pulled off her other shoe and flung it straight up at the sky through the blinding white.
Officer Lee shivered and shined a flashlight on the pink haired lady in the snow. “Cause of death?”
The coroner knelt over her. “Looks like the perpetrator used a dull thin object, maybe the width of a pencil, which penetrated the left eye and continued on into the brain. Wound approximately five inches deep. Have you found the weapon?”
Officer Lee shook his head. “No sir. But we have a suspect in custody. Her boyfriend, Greg Barnes. He called us from his cabin a few miles up the road. He said they were fighting in the car so he dropped her off here an hour ago, alive and well.”
“And barefoot—in the snow? Nice guy.”
“Greg claims she was wearing shoes when he left.”
“So we need to find her shoes and the murder weapon.”
“So far we’ve found neither.”
The coroner saw a whirl of fur and jumped up, startled. “What was that?”
Officer Lee chuckled. “Scared of a little fox? I think he likes the smell of your feet!”
Unfazed, the fox scampered back to his hole under the briar to chew on his green prizes. He liked the feel of the leather on his sharp teeth, and licked a bloody heel clean.
Another contest, this time any subject, 1500 word count. Here’s what spontaneously combusted out of me:
Eleven pm. Deidre slipped out of bed. She picked up her stockings from the floor and washed them in the bathroom sink. They weren’t really dirty—she had no sweat glands or pores—but she liked the ritual. It made her feel human. She rinsed them and hung them on her shower bar. Twenty minutes before, she’d had company in that shower. A beautiful man, as perfect as if he’d been manufactured at the android plant like herself. His hair black and silky to the touch, his skin smooth. He had a smoldering smile. His pheromones were real enough. There was something about the smell of human males that gave her pleasure.
She lifted her arm and took a pointless sniff. Androids were still scentless, though there had been debates lately on whether or not to add a pleasant non-allergenic odor to them.
Deidre slid on a silk robe and walked back to bed. She smiled at the curious sight. John had a pillow over his face. Humans had the most peculiar sleeping habits.
She pulled the pillow away. “John?”
He didn’t stir.
She touched his cold face, concerned. “John?” She concentrated on sound. She heard the whooshing of a train on the metro rails twenty floors below. That was all. No heartbeat, no breathing, except her own.
She placed her fingers against his neck to feel for a pulse. “John?” she repeated, even though her logic program suggested it was pointless. He was obviously dead—the black haired man named John.
She sat beside him on the bed, greatly concerned. A dead man in an android’s apartment would have repercussions. And why was there a pillow on his face? Had he died of asphyxiation? There would be inquiries and she would surely be taken apart and examined. She did not like that thought at all.
“Logic chip, set to 100%.” Deidre felt her focus sharpen. She went over the facts.
John came to my door this evening at 9:13 pm. He appeared to be in peak physical condition. He visited my bedroom and I provided him with romantic services. He showed no signs of distress. He seemed content and healthy all evening.
Deidre said aloud, “Play memory record: March 12, 2050, 10:15 pm.”
Deidre’s memory of that time appeared on a holographic screen. She leaned forward, listening and watching.
John smiled, his head nestled into a pillow. “You are quite beautiful, Deidre.”
Deidre heard herself respond, “Thank you. So are you, John.”
She laid her head on his chest.
Deidre listened carefully to the recording. John’s heart rate was a steady 63 beats per minute. No tell-tale sign of a heart murmur, irregular breathing or any other anomaly. He didn’t appear to be in any pain.
“Memory record: advance 25 minutes.”
The projection showed a 10:40 pm time stamp, and John in the shower, washing his hair and laughing.
“Memory record: advance 15 minutes.”
The projection showed a 10:55 time stamp. John lay next to her in bed, smiling at her. He said, “I enjoy your company Deidre. I’d like for us to be friends.”
“I’d like that, too.” She turned out the lights and the screen went dark. John chatted about his favorite music, called Jazz.
Time stamp: 11:01 pm. And they were still chatting in bed.
But I was washing stockings at 11:01 pm.
Deidre’s eyes widened. Androids were programed to show an expression of surprise when they came upon a puzzling equation. But Deidre felt genuinely surprised. She realized there was an anomaly in her memory records. “Current time and date stamp on my mark. Mark.”
“11:43 pm and six seconds, March 13, 2050.”
March 13th? I’m missing a day. “Memory record: Last recording before missing data.”
In the dark she could hear them both breathing as if asleep. Time stamp: 12:00 am. The screen blipped off.
Deidre became acutely aware that she was in trouble. A missing day of memories meant it was very likely that she herself had caused John’s demise. Every subroutine in her neuro-circuitry told her to call the authorities and turn herself in. She imagined herself being pulled apart. They would start with her head, and they would undoubtedly keep her awake so they could ask her questions. They would shut down her motor functions so that she would lie there with no control, no ability to run, push them away, fight…
She noticed her heart racing. Androids did have a cardiovascular system which was programmed for rapid heartbeat given certain stimuli. Fear of death was not one of them. An android with a fear of death could potentially be dangerous to humans.
“I am malfunctioning.”
I am frightened.
She felt a hot drop of liquid on her cheek. At first she thought she had been injured and was leaking fluid. She stepped over to the mirror and saw tears. She was not programmed for tears. She had no tear ducts. She leaned close to the mirror and pulled down her lower eyelids. And she saw them. A little hole in each inside corner of her lower lids, that hadn’t been there before. Tear ducts.
Her pulmonary system abruptly processed excess air into oxygen.
I am hyperventilating. How is this possible? What is happening to me?
She studied her reflection, her contorted expression of panic.
“Self-diagnostic on my mark. Mark.”
A hologram appeared showing her vital signs.
Aside from the elevated heart rate and respiratory imbalance, she was running at peak efficiency. “Close diagnostic.”
She returned to John and examined his body. There was nothing in his mouth, no wounds on his body, nothing broken. No froth or spittle to indicate poison. The only conclusion she could come up with was that she had smothered him with a pillow.
And, in a strange act of self indulgence that was certainly not part of her program, she pulled his lower lids down and examined his tear ducts. They looked just like hers.
Am I human then?
In that fleeting moment, she almost believed she was. But humans didn’t have holographic diagnostic screens, nor projectors built into their eyes. What had happened in that lost day? Had she killed someone? Had she… evolved? The two questions combined like that made her realize something horrible. Unspeakable.
Unspeakable? I am an android. I am thinking like a human.
The unspeakable thought was that, in killing, she could not have evolved, but devolved into something that was not meant to be.
I am a monster.
Something had happened to her, physically. Something that could not be explained with logic. A gift? No. A curse. She was a bad android. Worse, she was a bad…person. She thought again about turning herself in, about lying on a table, unable to move as they poked and prodded. What if they never turned her off, but left her on that table in pieces? Or what if they turned her off and she stayed sentient? Able to think, unable to communicate?
The torturous thought caused a madness in her that she simply couldn’t bear. She placed the pillow back over John’s face and whispered, “Deidre program, off.”
“Diagnostics, erase Deidre program.”
Her face grew hot with tears. She felt her face tighten with sorrow. Her voice quavered. “Terminate Deidre android.”
Still no change.
She walked out to her balcony and closed the door behind her. She looked over the ledge. The railway was directly beneath her, twenty floors down. If she jumped, and aimed her cranium for the tracks, there would be no chance of her program surviving that. The trains came every two minutes. Her timing had to be just right. She calculated gravity and distance. “Time stamp, on my mark. Mark.”
“11:58 and 3 seconds.”
She stepped to the ledge.
Billy Johansen unlocked Deidre’s door and burst into the apartment. “We are so late, they wake up at midnight. Hurry.” He trotted into the bedroom.
Sam followed in his white lab coat, beaming. “If the John series passed the test, we’re rich. Do you think he fooled Deidre? Do you think she believed he was human?”
“Only one way to find out.” Billy reached into John’s mouth and pulled a tiny silver chip out of a back molar. “I got the data.”
Sam sniffed the air. “I wonder if Deidre noticed the new scent on the John unit.” He pointed, “Why was that pillow on his face?”
Billy chuckled. “Because that’s how I sleep, and I programmed him.”
“You’re a strange guy.” Sam searched the apartment. “I’m curious if Deidre noticed her upgrades. I’m especially proud of the tear ducts. And the emotion enhancement. Uh… Billy? Deidre’s gone.”
Billy frowned. “She’s not in the apartment?”
Sam shook his head, worried. “No.”
“You set her waking timer for midnight, right?”
Sammy shrugged. “Yeah. Well, for 24 hours.” His eyes widened. “Daylight savings time. I forgot.”
“So she’s already awake. Since eleven pm.”
“But where did she go?” asked Sam, raising his voice over the sound of the train.
At the end of every year I grow introspective and read through my journal from the past year. I’ve had bad years and good years. I lost my mother in May, but I would still say I’ve had an excellent year. Perhaps it was my mom’s gift to me, this year. I have learned so much, perhaps the most important lesson being, there is no expiration date on dreams.
As a child, my mom taught me that it was okay to follow my heart and my artist’s path. I never got rich, but I have a treasure trove of “Diamonds.” The technical word is “Intellectual Property,” meaning I wrote a bunch of books, songs, albums, poems… you get the picture. But I like “Diamonds” better. They mean something, these unpublished tunes and stories. They mean “I did it.” Not “I tried and failed.” I have an audience that matters. Me. I can sleep at night knowing I forged ahead and made my dreams come true.
I was responsible—I have always worked as a performer, and have made a decent living. I raised four kids on a musician’s paycheck and they were always housed, clothed and fed. They grew into wonderful, productive adults. And most importantly, they grew up kind. That makes me very proud.
My mom’s disease, Alzheimer’s, taught me the importance of balance. Unconditional love and care-taking doesn’t mean losing one’s self, if means rearranging boundaries and schedules that work for everyone. It means being selfless one moment and selfish another, so that everyone stays cared for and healthy and loved. I wrote more poignantly this past year than I had in ages, because my mother’s struggles opened my heart wider than I thought possible. I loved my mom deeper than I thought I was capable. I learned her songs from an era long gone, I learned how to make her smile and I lived to do just that. It brought me deep joy. I had to snatch at moments to write in my journal, but the passages came from a new level of my soul. I had to write music sporadically, but they were my most honest work.
Ages ago, on my 29th birthday I remember crying, thinking “It’s over! I’ll never get a record deal now that I’m over the hill!”
If I could go back in time and talk to the old (young) me, I’d have a hard time keeping a straight face. But I would be nice and simply say, “Just wait. You will never believe the adventure that’s just around the corner. You will travel the world, your mind will open, and you will know a new level of love. You will truly become an artist. Your metamorphosis will enlighten your children and help them find self-dignity and the right kind of love—-a balanced love.”
The 29 year old me would certainly ask, “But will I make it? As an artist, I mean. Will I find success?”
And I would smile enigmatically and say… “Yes.”
That is the gift my mom left me with—that I truly believe I have achieved success. I am an artist. I embrace that artist and nurture her because she deserves nurturing. I have learned to draw boundaries and make time for creation. I have learned the importance of silence, and the importance of noise. The world needs both. I need both. The introvert in me has learned to make time for life. For it is in life’s interruptions, pain, and boisterous bombastic chaos, that stories and songs unfold.
And the people-pleaser in me has learned to protect the introvert and allow her a quiet corner to put dreams to paper.
I am an artist. And I shall be until I die. And that makes me feel like the luckiest woman on earth.
As any writer knows, the creative process can be a peculiar thing, sometimes bordering on the ridiculous, to those watching from the outside. Speaking for myself, I have my frumpy pilled camel color sweater that’s kept me just the right amount of cozy, through many a book writing endeavor. I would have been lost without it.
As I get older my process has shifted. I find it’s no longer just about the cozy. It’s more about the crowbar prying me away from the television or the “to-do list” or kids in need or the husband that I swear, uses me for the carpool lane when he takes me on a business trip. Gone are the glory days of writing for an entire summer under a tree, on one of those old fashioned wooden swings, where my biggest problem was, “Time to charge my laptop. Guess I’ll just have to write inside my charming rented cabin in the woods.” Ah, sweet memories, when my books pretty much wrote themselves.
Now I’m more like a dog spinning around three times before sitting down. There’s so much to do, I’m whirling and twirling and running until I plunk down, exhausted. I cannot write after having “plunked.” Even a dog would agree. When a dog spins around three times, is it instinct? I think not. The dog has simply found its process for a really great nap. “If I spin around, I’ll get a little woozy and tired, plus I’ll shoo away any bugs and snakes that I’d rather not sleep on. I’ve cleared all the worry away and I’m feeling a little loopy now so I’m ready for sleep.” See? Even animals need a process. Writers need a creative process. It takes a bit of experimenting sometimes to find it. A dog’s goal may be to have a nice snooze. Mine is to find the time, place and most importantly, the mindset to write.
I get tired, and I mean really zonked. Life is busy and distractions bombard me like confetti at a parade. I think about the dog spinning around and around until its dog universe aligns perfectly. It’s canine Zen. Then, and only then, is the dog content to rest.
I have experimented a thousand ways, up, down and sideways, to find my perfect creative process—the steps that I can take to ensure a positive writing experience where the world is my oyster and imagination spills onto the pages. Oh, that delicious writing frenzy, where my hands are barely keeping up with my mind—what a rush! If I could bottle that feeling and sell it, I could pay off the national deficit and bring world peace in one fell swoop.
Alas, more often than not, I’m busy with errands and the dirty dishes are screaming at me. I’m wearing yesterday’s socks but if I skip the laundry I have an hour to write something…anything.
Pressure doesn’t mix with creativity. I’d love to be a Hemingway or a J.K. Rowling where I can actually write for a living, undisturbed, and hire a maid to boot. I could say to everyone, “I’m going to work now, see you in eight hours or so,” and walk outside onto that swing set under the tree, and no one would tell me to go back to school or consider a career in real estate or wonder if I had a screw loose.
The reality is, I’m not Steven King or Milton or Shakespeare, so I have to be a mayfly. A mayfly is an insect with the unfortunate distinction of having the shortest lifespan of the entire animal kingdom—anywhere from a half hour to twenty-four hours. Mayflies do not eat, they live only to create. Literally. They reproduce and that’s it. And they do so in a teensy weensy window of time. That’s how I feel. I am forced sometimes, under great pressure, to create in a nano-second. It’s either that, or give up writing.
Mayflies are born with one thing on their minds. They don’t come out of their egg and say, “First I’ll balance my checkbook, then grocery shop, mop the floor, go to work and…oh yeah, see if I can squeeze in a date with that hot little morsel fluttering her wings at me.” Nope. It’s the hot chick or nothing. I bet they don’t even care about dirty socks.
And so, I need to prioritize. Catch myself at my most undistracted, my freshest, my most alert, my most positive. And I’ve found it. I’ve found my mayfly. My maximum creativity. It takes work to get hatched out of an egg. That little mayfly comes out pumped up and raring to go! Exercise. That’s the key. So first thing in the morning, I wrestle my blankets until I’ve found the corner of the sheet, and emerge, fresh and alive—a brand new day with brand new opportunities.
I force myself to put on, not my cozy fluffy robe that has a homing beacon for the couch. Instead, I put on my exercise clothes that say, “Energize, Mr. Scott!”
I pour my coffee and a glass of water—coffee for my pleasure, water for my health—and get on my exercise bike. Then, and only then, do I get to pick my favorite show and watch it. I have to be disciplined and never watch my favs unless I’m on the bike. Now I associate the pleasure of a kick-ass chick flick with exercise. I’ve tricked myself into being… healthy! Sneaky me.
Just like the mayfly, emerging with energy to do only one thing, I get off that bike, pumped up and glistening, grab my laptop and step outside to my patio. If I listen to the rustling leaves and the birds singing, I can transport myself to that swing in the woods, and… I write.
The phone rings, invariably. But this is my time. Like the creative span of the mayfly, I can indeed live a lifetime on paper in this precious moment or two. I feel not shame, but pride, when I send a quick text message to my phone friends, “Can I call you in a couple hours? I just sat down to write.” I am validated. My creative lifespan for the day has been honored.
When I finish—when my little window of existence as a writer has been spent for the day—I am left with a few paragraphs in my journal, or the beginning of a novel, or a little story about dogs spinning and insects reproducing, which to the normal human may seem curious at best, but just may make sense to a few other mayflies like me.
As any artist can attest to, there are bound to be dry spells. This can be very disheartening. I find that even when I feel foggy and blah, if I just push through it and put my fingers on a piano or a laptop, my heart is rekindled and something is born; a song, a story, or a fresh “harebrained scheme.” So here I am, pushing through.
There’s a nip in the air and a rustle in the leaves. It’s time for a cozy sweater, a steaming cup of coffee, and writing songs and stories about home and hearth. My home and hearth are different this fall—I no longer have my mother’s sparkling eyes, a happy sigh and a clap of her hands, her “Pinch me, I can’t believe it’s you!” every time I’d come into view.
My mom had Alzheimer’s, but I was truly blessed to have her in my life, throughout it all. She sparkled until the end. Her optimism, even in the midst of a ravaging disease, still leaves me humbled. When her memory faded and then left her completely, she still loved me. The love wasn’t taken. And that was enough. That was so much. There were times when she would look at me with kind, warm eyes, trying to place me. I would kiss her soft velvety cheek and say, “It’s your little girl Rosalyn!” and rock her in my arms. She always hugged me back. I would say, with a fake English accent, “Me Mum…”
And she’d answer with an exaggerated accent, “Me dough-tah!”
Love transcends. It was okay if she didn’t remember my name. The little “Mum and Dough-tah” dialogue was an old memory, and somehow stayed with her.
The last day before she was hospitalized, we celebrated my Dad’s birthday at a park. The sun glistened upon the lake, the sky was a vibrant blue and the emerald grass seemed to glow. Everyone was there—her children, grandchildren, and her beloved husband who sat by her side holding her hand. Throughout the afternoon she watched with delight as her grandchildren blew wand bubbles for her and played. We brought her favorite music; old songs from her childhood. Music is the magic formula for Alzheimer’s, for those who don’t know; it is the last memory to fade. Mom remembered music till the end. She could barely talk, but she could sing.
Music was always a part of Mom. My earliest memories are of Mom washing the dishes and singing. Walking on the beach and singing. Driving and singing. Singing to us, singing to no one, but always, always singing, with her soft gentle English accent and her sweet pretty voice. No wonder I became a musician.
And here she was at a park all these years later, still singing, or nodding her head to the music, or smiling at a familiar tune, perhaps triggering a flash of an old memory. It was, by all accounts, a perfect day. The most alert we’d seen Mom in a long time.
Strangely, fifteen minutes after we left the park, she was rushed to the hospital, and then brought home with hospice care. Her last words were to her youngest daughter Cathy, her precious baby who traveled from Washington to be by her side. Mom was unresponsive, as Cathy said with a broken heart over and over, “You are my beautiful Momma.”
And then, Mom’s eyes opened one last time. Clear eyed and clear minded for a fleeting moment, Mom answered, “You are my beautiful.”
And then she was quiet and still. It was our turn, our loving duty, to sing to her.
We played Joan Baez’ “Diamonds and Rust.” Cathy had to leave the room to cry—that was Mom’s and Cathy’s favorite.
We played “Over the Sea to Skye” and I sang along, as Mom would have done. I remember as a young girl, Mom pushing me on our swing set, singing that song to me. I remember the sunny day, the contentment in my heart, being with my mom like that. I remember Mom saying it was written for “Bonnie Prince Charles” of old, and I visualized “The lad who’s born to be king” sailing in a great ship with sails unfurled, exhilarated.
My daughter Shannon sang songs from movies she used to watch with her dear grandma.
And, in case mom’s spirit had already left her unresponsive body, we played “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog,” so she could dance to it like she used to. It’s strange how you can laugh and grieve at the same time. It is a very cathartic thing to do.
When Mom passed, we held each other and cried. I remember saying, through my tears, “I know she had Alzheimer’s. But it was enough. It was enough for me.” There was a remnant of Mom till the end. In her smile, in her sparkle. In her music. She…was my music.
A month before Mom died, she started fidgeting with her hands. It is a natural progression of the disease. I bought her a little stuffed bear, and I’d place it in her hands so she’d have something to fidget with. Dad asked once, “What’s the name of the bear?”
I didn’t have a name, so Dad said, “How about Comfy?”
We laughed, and Comfy Bear was christened.
After Mom’s funeral we all gathered at my sister Charlotte’s house. She brought out some knickknacks and costume jewelry of Mom’s. Strangely, it was the medical alert bracelet that caught my eye. I lost the old mom years ago. But the “Loopy Mom…” the one I could hold in my arms and rock, the one that said, “Pinch me, is it really you?” just because I walked to the kitchen and back…oh how I miss her.
I took that medical alert bracelet and placed it around Comfy Bear’s neck. It sits right by my bedside, and I ache every time I look at it. It is a good ache.
Now when I look up at the sky, I see mom in the birds, I feel mom in the wind. I feel her love. Perhaps, after a long hard road, she is at last free to sail “Over the Sea to Skye.”
First: An explanation. Everyone tells me the way to begin the agent/publisher search is to start with contests. So I researched and Writer’s Digest is a well reputed source. I found a contest where I had to write a story in 700 words, starting with “The difference is, I lie for a reason.” I came up with the following fiction. Its not Hemingway, but I’m getting my feet wet with my first contest. Okay, I lied, its my second.
LIKE A RUG
The difference is, I lie for a reason. Susan lies compulsively and James lies because he’s an ass. It all started with a mailbox—the one that Dad made, with the words Air Mail painted on the side. It sat on a clear glass pole that was supposed to look invisible. Dad thought it was really funny. Until he found it broken on the lawn.
Dad came stomping in. “James, if you broke my mailbox, it’s off to boarding school for you!”
James was always running over things with the car. First a bicycle, then Dad’s favorite lawn chair. Each time Dad threatened to send him off to boarding school. This time he looked like he meant it.
Susan, our little sister, compulsively blurted out to Dad, “Irene did it.”
Of course I didn’t do it, but I didn’t want James to get kicked out. So I decided to take the blame. I shrugged and nodded unconvincingly.
James looked surprised.
Dad was sure it was James, and Susan always lied—she couldn’t help it, so Dad turned to me with eyes that could drill an oil well. “Irene?”
I was cornered. I took the high road. I lied.
The high road left me feeling a little guilty, and Dad wasn’t buying it. Dad planted his hands on his waist. “Outside, all of you. When you want to tell me the truth, you can come back in.”
We sat on the front porch in silence, six legs dangling over the edge.
Finally Susan said, “Did you see the three-legged dog this morning?”
James smirked. “The one chasing the two legged cat?”
I glared at him. “The doctor said no teasing her, James.”
James pointed to the broken mailbox. “Maybe we could fix it… do you have any money?”
Susan said, “I have fifty dollars.”
James tugged her blond braid. “We need real money.”
I shook my head. “I’m broke. What do we do now?”
James shrugged. “We go back inside.”
I frowned uncomfortably. “So we stick to our story.”
James raised an eyebrow. “What story?”
What an ass. “The story where I save your butt, by taking the blame for your sucky driving.”
Susan hopped up and skipped across the porch. “Irene did it. Irene did it.”
James shrugged. “See?”
Okay, now I was pissed off. “Or I just tell the truth and you get shipped off to boarding school.”
“What the hell are you talking about? You already confessed!”
“Irene did it, Irene did it!” Susan hopscotched in a circle.
James turned towards the door mimicking, “Irene did it, Irene did it.”
Burning mad, I grabbed James by the shoulder. “Fine then, I’ll just let you get shipped off to boarding school!”
A car pulled up. Mom! She had a way of calming Dad down. Maybe Dad was exaggerating. Perhaps it was time to tell the truth.
But…what if they did send James to boarding school? As much as he made me mad, he was still my brother. I slunk down onto the porch to think. I knew James wouldn’t confess. And Susan…well, no one was going to listen to Susan. It was up to me. My brother’s fate rested in my hands. I took a deep breath and stepped into the house. “Dad…I’m sorry. I broke the mailbox.”
He didn’t hear me. He was talking to Mom. He said to her, “Did you have a nice day, Reney?”
She laughed. “I had an absurd day. First, I was late for work. I backed out of the driveway and Susan came running out, right in front of the car! She was chasing some dog. To avoid her I had to drive across the lawn. I’m sorry dear, I hit your mailbox.”
Dad squeezed her shoulder. “That’s alright Irene, it’s just a mailbox.”
“But that’s not all. Susan kept right on chasing that dog. What a sight, I was running after Susan and she was running after a three-legged dog! When she caught it, the owner was so grateful he rewarded her with a fifty dollar bill!”
“It was a million dollars,” said Susan, jumping across the living room.
“Now, Susan…” said Mom, frowning, “No more lying; Doctor’s orders.”
Leaves clink sometimes. I notice that, as I sit outside with my laptop. I close my eyes and explore the sound of the maple tree above my head. It sends crisp glove-shaped presents drifting down into my enclosed patio. On a different day I might roll my eyes and get out my little rake, but today I just want to listen to the tree on this blustery day.
Its leaves are dry from the Indian summer, and they playfully collide and bounce off each other like wooden chimes. I close my eyes again and hear them mimicking a crackling fire. And now, the distinct sound of rain. The wind picks up and I hear rushing water. The gust of wind settles down and I hear sizzling bacon. Bubbling water in a pan.
The wind silences and everything is mute. Then I hear one leaf—only one, tip tapping its neighbor. Shh.
The silence is a teaser, and a violent wallop of wind pounds at the branches! I am blasted with a swirl of leaves, bark and dust. My hair is mangled, whipping every which way. I grab my laptop and run inside, laughing!
Tomorrow the leaves will get an indignant burial in my green recycling bin, but today… today I watch them through the window as they dance with triumph, celebrating their victory. They have won the day and the child in me is glad they did.
My dad is pretty amazing. He’s 86. He’s a cancer survivor, he’s had a double bypass and last Spring he lost his beloved wife, my beautiful mother, after a ten year bout with Alzheimer’s. And yet Dad signs up for creative writing classes, joins in world event discussion meetings, he always looks nice and keeps a sense of humor. He is passionate about animals and the environment, and I have been happily designated his travel buddy.
Still, he gets restless and blue when he stays put too long. He says the heartbreaking phrase, “I feel like I’m just sitting around waiting to die.”
That’s my cue. “Okay Dad, it’s time for another adventure.” And whether it’s a car, plane or boat, off we go.
We make great travel buddies. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from both my parents, is that everything is an adventure if you treat it as such. Whether you’re walking in a nearby park or sailing the seven seas, it’s all about the “Can Do” spirit, and finding joy in the little things.
During one of my engagements as a cruise ship entertainer, I brought my Dad, and we sailed together from Florida to Peru. We signed up for every excursion we could squeeze in!
One of my fondest memories was in Guatemala, where a Panama hat caught my dad’s eye. He placed it on his head with a chuckle and boy did he look handsome! Though well into his 80’s, all the ladies young and old commented on the dapper man on my arm.
Each night on the ship we would have a fine dinner, sitting with new friends from around the globe. Everyone enjoyed Dad’s company—as a matter of fact, he truly became somewhat of a celebrity while aboard! I would have to excuse myself at dessert and go to the piano bar to begin my three hour shift of taking requests. I would always say, “Dad, Will you be okay by yourself for a bit?” And everyone at the table would promise he’d be in good hands.
After his table-mates left, Dad would come to my show, order one snifter of brandy, and listen to every song until I had played my last note. Not a night would go by that someone wouldn’t come shake his hand, pat his shoulder or stop for a delightful chat.
Dad would request all the songs I grew up with—Impossible Dream being my favorite. That song will always and forever remind me of my dad, whose every “Impossible Dream” was made a reality by his hard work, an iron will and a “Just keep walking forward” mentality.
Sometimes Dad and I just go to the lake park a few miles away, and look at the whimsical variety of water birds and turtles. Animals always put a smile on Dad’s face. Sometimes it’s as simple as lunch overlooking the harbor, seeing the glory of the sea and the antics of the seagulls. Sometimes we pack a suitcase and take a road trip. Our last one was to Mission Bay for the night. Before that, Monterey, where Dad wanted to visit the old Cannery Row of Steinbeck fame.
One of my favorite traveling moments was in Cambria, sitting on a hotel balcony looking out into a forest and listening to frogs, who were putting on quite a show. My Dad tried to imitate them and we laughed so hard! Being silly is one of the main ingredients in the fountain of youth, I’m quite convinced.
Today though, we did something we’ve never done before. I brought Dad over for dinner and he told me that his hands had been shaking and he was feeling forgetful and uncreative. He said he’d stopped writing. I could see the great disappointment in his eyes. So I said, “Perhaps you just need a muse. I need one too. How about we write together?”
And that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Dad just looked up, happy, and said, “I’m writing. I haven’t been able to write for a long time.” It is nice to have a muse, and it is perhaps even better, to be one.
Dinner’s ready. Our writing adventure is over for today, but our hearts are full. Now for our bellies—hopefully dinner will be a good adventure too!