In Memory of Jimmy McShane: An excerpt from my Journal, June 2006

Jimmy McShaneThe world lost an amazing man, whom I am honored to call friend. Jimmy McShane was a rock star of a manager and entrepreneur, and lived life like an explosion of joy and positive energy. He filled a room with his presence, and if you were lucky enough to be his friend, he made you feel like the most important person in the world. He worked with me at Scalini back in 2006, and I pulled up a journal entry that makes me smile. I wanted to share it– a great night, with Jimmy being Jimmy!

 

Thursday night, the band Hall and Oates were playing down the street at the fairgrounds.

Jimmy McShane, my friend and effervescent manager, said with exuberance, “Hall and Oates is coming here after the show! Maybe they’ll discover you!”

I laughed it off, and Jimmy kept teasing me.

Jimmy is very eccentric, and everyone always likes him—he gets away with so much because he’s just so gregarious and fun!

Anyway, after the band came in, (the dining room—I was in the bar) he dragged me over to meet the band. I met Darryl Hall, the big star, and T-Bone, his really nice bass player, and a handsome P.R. guy named Justin. I politely greeted them, and was very surprised to hear them really, sincerely complimenting me, one musician to another. They treated me as a peer and really made me feel good. They loved my bluesy style and Darryl said I played piano just like him.

Jimmy was over the top, and started shouting playfully, “You can’t steal her—please don’t steal her away from Scalini!”

So funny!

Anyway, I walked back to the piano, and the room was empty of all customers by now, except the three musicians in the dining room and Jimmy. It was time for me to pack up and go home, but just then they finished their dinner and sat at my piano bar.

To make a long story short, we had a blast, and I played an extra two hours, just for them. T Bone was the first to join me, by hanging over the piano sideways and kicking bass on my Korg keyboard. I laughed and relinquished my “axe,” moving my left hand down to double the bass on the piano, and soon Darryl came running to the other side of me, vamping solos on my Korg as I played piano with my right hand. Jimmy was pumping his fists, so happy to get such a crazy personal concert! They wanted to hear my originals, so I just played and played, and we were laughing and they were singing along. Finally, Darryl sat at the piano and played for me, with T Bone kicking bass and Jimmy just about passing out with exuberance shouting,  “You can’t have her! She’s ours! No stealing Rose!” What an awesome night!

 

If I Were a Spider

If I were a spider, said sheweb
I would spin beautiful silk patterns morning to night
I would dance and sail on my thread and laugh at the thrill of it

Children would stop by with wide eyes to admire my work
And I would feel grateful and proud
To make a quick busy pattern just for them, to their oohs and ahhs

I would fill their curious minds with a love for nature
And teach by demonstration
The value of even such a small creature as I

At the end of my busy day I could look back at my work
and know the world was somehow the better for it

If I were a spider, said he, I would spin an intricate fortress
Stronger than steel, mightier than a blade

A noble sentinel with a code
I would wage no war against those who passed by
But only capture those who trespassed my kingdom

I would acknowledge the innocence of the unwitting travelers
Yet obey the rules of nature
And sacrifice them for my sustenance
With due honor and reverence
Wrapping them first, in my finest silk

If attacked—if my fortress were beaten down
By careless humankind
Only then would I attack
To avenge my realm’s ruin
And though it be my death, I would bite without mercy
For my fortress be my progeny, my legacy, my sustenance, my soul

If I were a spider, said I…
But I am not

Next time, perhaps, I will take the time to notice
The wonder of a spider

The F-Bomb: Friend or Foe?

I am searching for an answer. bomb

Not to the “Why are we here?” type of question. I just want to know if a writer like me should use the F-bomb. The F@*# word. That frigging, fragging, flipping, flurping notorious expletive that either disgusts or delights us.

When I was a kid, raised in a rural town in Oregon, the word was a big fat naughty no-no. Little old ladies would faint at the sound, and the word on the street was, “The F word is eeeee‑vil!” I never once said it, fearing a lightning-bolt might take me out.

As a teenager, I heard some of the really tough kids use that word, as they threw knives at each other’s feet playing chicken. (What else is there to do when it rains for nine months straight?) Anyway, once again the conclusion was, only a knife-yielding delinquent would use that word.

I went to college, and soon found a correlation between drinking too much Schlitz malt liquor and people dropping that F-Bomb. Still, I held out, my virgin lips sticking to phrases like “Gosh darn it, who moved the keg?”

I moved to California as a musician, started a family, and even got involved in a church for a time. Not very conducive to swearing. I wanted to be a good person, be a good example, I wanted to look back on my life and say I never hurt anybody. People called me “Sweet” and “So nice!” and “Such an angel!” They even called me Saint Rose, I kid you not.

Yeah. I was nice. But where was my backbone? When did I take a stand and ruffle a feather or two? I had political opinions but kept them to myself because I had both very conservative religious friends and far left liberal atheist friends. I was a mamby-pamby milktoast girl with a strong sense of self on the inside, and a weenie on the outside. I walked my career as a musician without stepping on any cracks. I tiptoed through my song choices with caution and frosting. Mick Jagger swaggered and sang deliciously naughty things that most of society played to their children. Me? I changed words around to make them G rated, deflating the fun balloon till it was a limp piece of rubber that was no longer interesting.

One day I woke up and decided I was going to be me. Just me, without all the frosting and rose-colored glasses. I made an effort to express my true opinions and feelings, and wondered if I’d still have friends at the end of the day. You know what? I got a great big “Bravo, it’s about time!” from pretty much everyone!

I work hard every day to lose old habits, and try to never repress. Now I sing what I want to sing. I rarely mess with lyrics. I write stories too, and try to stretch my characters beyond my own limitations. And now… I swear at my computer sometimes. Okay, lots of times. And yes, now and then, alone at home, I’ll drop that F bomb, because it releases anger and somehow makes me feel better in the moment. And then I go put a quarter in the jar. (Okay, just kidding about the jar.)

Last week I sat down to write a story. I had a blank slate, no idea or outline, I just put my hands on the keyboard and started typing. What came out surprised me, in a very wonderful way. It was a story called Cali’s Mojo. The story was me, if I hadn’t been such a conventional people-pleaser. Unlike me, she lost her parents when she was twelve and became a runaway. Unlike me, she spoke her mind—all of it. Unlike me, she did exactly what she needed to do without compromise.

And unlike me, she used the F-bomb in public.

I finished the story, and remembered my younger self who was so shocked by that word. I thought, do I owe it to others to be considerate? Should I remove the word? I have a whole arsenal of lovely cuss words to choose from that aren’t as repugnant to some.

Then I thought, “Hell no!” Sorry. I meant “Heck no! I will not slide back into that person who has to weigh everybody else’s opinion and lose myself in the process.”

Still, I’m a mother. A mother who told my own children it was a bad word. But I am a different me now. And Cali—the protagonist in my story—she’s different too. All my characters are different.

My instinct and promise to myself, was to be absolutely true to the character. She’s an edgy street-smart runaway who doesn’t give a flying… fig what people think. I want to be more like her. Who am I if I am just me, without wringing my hands and wondering what everyone else thinks of me? That’s the person I am desperately trying to be true to, so she can come out of the closet, so to speak.

I got so wrapped up in the question, “To swear, or not to swear,” that I decided to ask three people:

I asked my husband, who read Cali’s Mojo. I got a bowl me over, adamant, “Absolutely you cannot take the F word out. It’s who she is. You can’t sugar coat your writing.”

I asked my fourth grade teacher, whom I greatly respect and who is a published writer herself. She wrote me a very balanced letter saying she is old-school and one of those who finds the word boring and unnecessary. She also respected very much, the fact that I even asked her opinion.

I asked my sister, a High School English teacher who also helps me edit sometimes. She said, “It’s okay to skip the F-bomb, but don’t take away from her authenticity—she’s no priss! She is tough and strong.”

Cali would never have asked the question at all. She’d probably give me an earful just for writing this piece and questioning my unfiltered expression. I believe, after much thinking, that I will not filter. I endeavor to be the writer that does not censor herself. I write what flows from me, authentic and true. I may offend those who, like the old me, are weary of that word. I may offend people who don’t like my subject matter. I may offend people just for being me. But that’s okay. I know I am loved for who I am, too. And at the end of the day, I need to honor the artist.

 

What Comes After

hands (2)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.

WHAT GOES UP…

stilettos1Greg 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.

Evolution of an Innocent

Empty messy unmade bed with white bed linen and crumpled sheets, close up view in front of a bright window

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.”

Nothing happened.

“Diagnostics, erase Deidre program.”

Nothing happened.

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.

Songs For Mum

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.”

Like A Rug

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.”

“Hey…”

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.”