It’s A Job

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My job was to walk the perimeter of Professor Dembowski’s property late every evening and spray down a foot-wide swath of bluish-green foam to contain It when he let It out to feed at night. As far as jobs went, this was an easy one, taking little of my time. And it paid well. A lot more than cashiering at Walmart or waiting tables.

I had no idea what “It” was and didn’t care. All that concerned me was the crisp, hundred-dollar bills the professor counted out onto my palm every Friday after I returned the emptied sprayer to the shed in back of his sprawling, log home in the country.

“Thank you, Tessa,” he invariably said in that funny accent I couldn’t quite place. “You are such a good girl.”

We engaged in a bit of small talk, then I was on my way.

Seated on his motorized scooter at the bottom of a wooden ramp leading up to the head-high back porch, he watched me walk away. I always turned and gave him a little wave when I reached the side of the house, then picked my way along an overgrown rock path that meandered through wild grasses, weeds, and trees, to my dusty, red Thunderbird parked out front.

That was the way it had always gone, and that was the way it went this evening.

After pulling off my muddy boots and wet socks and pitching them in the trunk, I slid behind the wheel and twisted the key. The engine whined but didn’t catch. I turned it off, waited a bit, tried again, got the same result. And again. “Start, you ole sumbitch…” I muttered, falling back into the hill-country dialect that was always on the tip of my tongue, stuck there like glue, just waiting for an unguarded moment to slip out.

Mama’s pride-and-joy that she had given me to make the long trip north finally caught, sputtered, then came to life with an oily roar. Guess hearing Daddy’s words coming out of my mouth scared it like they had everyone else back home. Even me. Until I had gotten bigger and tougher and could take the beatings, both verbal and physical, without making a sound.

I steered the Thunderbird around the circle drive, then along a lengthy straightaway before the concrete gave way to packed dirt. I took a sharp left, following a set of tracks plowing through knee-high grass. A few hundred yards more and the road ended at the highway. I stopped, glanced into the rearview mirror at the encroaching darkness. Nothing but trees and vines and brush. No sign at all that a million-dollar-plus house lurked behind the gnarled thicket. Why, even his mailbox was a rusty, listing thing.

And not for the first time, I wondered: why the camouflage?

But it was just a passing thought. The thousands of dollars growing in my bank account earmarked for a decent car rested in the forefront of my mind. Soon, there would be enough. And after the car, I would be able to send money home to Mama. I just had to come up with a way to keep it out of Daddy’s hands.

I flipped on the headlights, rolled through the strip of aquamarine foam, and pulled onto the highway. Continue reading

Editing Angst

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I’m in the final stage of editing my manuscript for publication, which means I’ve been residing for a while in that special place in hell reserved for writers. See me over there? I’m tucked away behind the third brimstone pit on your left, smoldering notes scattered about me, and laptop clutched in my sweaty hands.

I need a break. I need inspiration. So it’s time to pause for a moment and remember why, of my own free will, I chose to be in Writers Hell.

 

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No truer words have ever been spoken. Any writer who thinks her/his first draft is ready to make its grand appearance before the reading public is delusional. Maybe the twentieth draft. Maybe.

 

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I butchered my story, cutting out description, exposition, dialogue, and backstory until I stripped its skeleton of all flesh. Lord, it looks so damned bare now. Does anyone have a spare jacket?

 

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I argued with myself–did I take out too much? Did I leave enough to give the reader a sense of time and place? Did I adequately reach inside the minds’ of my characters, and lay on the table for all to see their thoughts, emotions, and internal conflicts? Should I include this paragraph? Should I throw out that one? On and on.

 

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I ruthlessly “killed my babies” (more commonly referred to as killing your darlings), and the more I killed, the easier it became to spill red ink. I learned to derive a perverse kind of joy as I dispatched words, sentences, and paragraphs without regard to their beauty and innocence. Mary Cathleen Clark became a monster, an unabashed killer of words.

 

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Through editing, I know I have become a stronger writer, one who won’t shy away from doing what is necessary to turn out a good story, even if it involves what feels close to self-mutilation at times.

 

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When all is said and done, if we don’t edit, the smoke hides the flames we’re hoping to kindle with our words. And if we fail to do that, if we fail to set fire to our readers’ imaginations, we have failed as writers.

 

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I can do this.

 

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Now, I’ll take my glass of sweet tea and go back to work.

A House is Not a Home

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Bessie wanted to leave. More than anything she wanted to walk right out the front door and never come back. But she knew He would kill her if she tried. Why, He didn’t even like it when she so much as looked out a window. He’d jerk the heavy drapes shut, bellowing that there was nothing outside for her, that everything she needed was within these walls. She didn’t know why He got so excited. Nothing out there, anyway. Smack-dab in the middle of nowhere, they were.

A three-mile, washboard of a lane snaked down the wooded hillside, its end the overgrown front yard of the house where’s she’d been born–and would most likely die. It’d been months since anyone had ventured down the rocky slope, and even longer since she’d made the trip up it.

Reckon the whole world has forgotten about me.

She moved listlessly around the dark-paneled living room, straightening the doilies on the sofa arms, smoothing the crocheted table runner on the sideboard, fluffing the embroidered throw pillows. She fussed with the tiny family of pink ceramic elephants that lumbered across the top of the Bombay chest, moving each piece a fraction of an inch, then moving it back.

She wandered to the cold fireplace. On top of the mantle, her mother smiled out of an ornate silver frame. The picture had been taken a few years before Mother had gone crazy, when she had still been able to smile.

That sweet smile had disappeared a few weeks after Father passed away. Mother’s face had become pinched, her eyes fearful, and she’d started talking about “Him”, telling Bessie that He wouldn’t let her leave the house. Continue reading

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are

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“There’s something in Mrs. Treadway’s root cellar,” I said to Mama’s back. “Something gruntin’ and groanin’ like an old hog.”

The paring knife stopped circling the tater in Mama’s hand. She turned around and stared at me, frown lines gouging furrows between her eyes. “April May Lollis, didn’t I tell you to stay away from there and not be bothering that poor woman?” She waved the shiny blade in my direction. “She’s got enough on her shoulders without you snooping around, asking silly questions. What with her husband up and dying and Jesse joining the Army right after, I don’t know how she runs that place by herself. Course, truth be told, Jesse wasn’t much help to begin with.”

“I ain’t said nothing to her.” I bit into the pear I’d picked from the scrawny tree out behind Mrs. Treadway’s outhouse. Juice ran down my chin, and I wiped it off with the back of my hand. “She didn’t even see me.”

Mama pointed the knife at the half-eaten pear in my hand. “Where’d you get that then?”

I sighed great big. “Off her tree, but she didn’t see me. I didn’t go nowhere near her house. But you know that old root cellar way out behind her garden . . . something’s in there. I heard it. And there’s a new lock on the door and—”

“April May, how many times have I got to tell you to quit making stuff up?”

“I ain’t making it up, Mama.” Continue reading

Black Is

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black is…
the color of the ocean floor
the color of the deepest well
the color of a witch’s cat
the color of a lover’s spell

black is…
the color of infinity
the color of a new-moon night
the color of secrecy
the color of a dream that never takes flight

black is…
the color of a broken heart
the color of a demented mind
the color of an empty life
the color left behind

black is…
the color I breathe
the color I see
the color I taste
the color that owns me

for black is…
me

Photo from Morguefile

One

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Many thanks to JW at JW’s Creative World for collaborating with me on “One”. Together, we are better.

He is the Yang; masculine and positive, the light to guide her way

when her past or present threatens or hinders her…

or their future together.

She is the Yin; feminine and negative,

the dark that creates a harmonious balance in him

so that he does not surge to an emotional blackout.

 

He is the Sun that ignites her passions, lights her way,

guides her from a place of aphotic mindlessness

and initiates her growth.

She is the Moon that reflects his love, eclipses his heart,

emits an emotional gravity that pulls him close to her

and prevents him from burning out like a supernova.

 

He is the Sky; both spirit and wind,

made for protection and procreation…

the closest thing to salvation from her sin.

She is the Earth; both nature and nurture,

and the mother of passions

that spews forth with orgasmic volcanic eruptions.

 

He is real; genuine, authentic, true-to-life; a problem solver,

the one who provides an anchor to prevent or draw her back

from tendencies to detach, disconnect, withdraw, and become isolated.

She is abstract; conceptual, hypothetical, idealistic; non-concrete,

the one who elevates him from a life of stagnant one-dimensionality

where methodical repetition transforms the living into automatons.

 

He is simple; straight-forward, singularly-focused, transparent, absolute,

a provider of boundaries and rules to tether her unfathomable and convoluted character

so she does not completely lose touch with reality.

She is complex; intricately circuitous, elaborate, multi-faceted, cryptic,

a constant and perplexing challenge to keep him pushing beyond the familiar,

inspiring personal growth in an effort to be a better man.

 

He is Fire; the true flame that tests and tempers all that is precious,

pops the pods and spreads the seeds for love’s new growth,

is the blaze of glory and the heat of passion that melts her.

She is Water; the giver and sustainer of life,

a mover of mountains, she erodes, washes, and cleans away

the filth that would seek to bury him.

 

He is the Hunter; the predator; masculine and primal; attuned to all his senses

he sniffs out his prey, pounces on her, plays with her, captures her body, heart, mind, soul,

ravishes her with wild abandon and unadulterated lust.

She is the Hunted; the prey; feminine, sensual, and sexual; equally attuned to her senses

and the pleasures ready to be experienced through them

she willingly abandons herself to his lustful ravishing.

 

He is the Alpha; the dominant; the leader, mentor, protector, the purveyor of pleasure and pain

whose strength and power begins and ends with her freely given love

in their chosen relationship dynamic.

She is the Omega; the submissive; the life-long mate and receiver of his love and protection,

cherished and adored, the passion-partner, radiating sexuality,

the sole object of her Alpha’s affection, and his deepest and eternal desires.

 

Together, they are the Storm; joined in a seething mass of need

they tumble through the heavens colliding, entwining,

the magnitude of their passion sparks lightning that pierces the clouds,

elicits moans of rolling thunder,

the fierceness of their shared obsession lays waste to everything

that dares stand in the path of two being one.

 

Together, they are the Ocean; ebbing and flowing,

drawing apart, and crashing together,

aquamarine touch, smooth, salty taste,

a blending of essences, a liquid saturation,

no beginning, no end…

they are one.

[If you like “One”, please drop by JW’s Creative World and give my Partner in Poetry a like also.]

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The War

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Damned ants! Now they’re in my mailbox of all places.

I’ve been fighting them little buggers for ten years now. Looks like they would have a little mercy, seeing as how I’d turned ninety a few months back—no spring chicken no more, not by a long shot.

I reckon I ought to feel lucky I’d come home from rehab none the worse for wear except for the pins holding my bones together and the cane I used to steady myself. That was what John Lee’d told me a’fore he up and died on me last month. But he weren’t the one that had tripped over the mound of hard dirt those dad-blasted ants had pushed up on the sidewalk, and got his hip busted. Continue reading

Barbie Dolls And Ribs

This is a really, really old story of mine I shared at the request of my good friend, Sarah, at Secret Art Expedition. This one’s for you..

Lucas Jackson eased the rust-splotched black Escort off the shoulder of the road and rolled into a pool of moon-shade beneath the drooping branches of an oak. He turned off the key and settled back onto the seat. And he waited, his fingers nervously tracing the outline of the snub-nosed .38 special in his coat pocket.

He had parked in the squat oak’s inky shadow every night for a week straight, sat there from ten pm until two in the morning. He had watched the sparse traffic crawl up Blessing Hills Drive, watched the Caddies and Mercedes and big obscene Hummers amble by, turn right and pass through the electronically controlled gates guarding Blessing Hills Estates. He had watched, invisible, as a black-and-white had climbed the hill every two hours or so and cruised through the gates that swung open in welcome. A quick circle and back out. Two hours later, another pass. Two hours. Plenty of time to get in, get the job done, and get out. Piece of cake. Continue reading

Maggie’s Treasure

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Maggie’s belly gnawed on her backbone. The half-eaten Big Mac and soggy fries the fat man had tossed out his car window into the gutter yesterday afternoon had long since been digested by her scrawny frame. Now, here it was almost midnight a day later and no meal in sight. But she was used to being hungry. Since they’d put her out of the hospital a few years back, her belly had been empty a whole lot more than it’d been full.

“Steak sounds good,” she said to the empty streets. “Think I’ll go by Delmonaco’s.” If she was lucky, maybe she could fish one out of the dumpster in back.

Pushed by a frigid north wind, crackly brown leaves skittered along the sidewalk, danced around Maggie’s feet, then disappeared into the blackness of the alleyway behind her. Ice pellets freckled her face. Beneath four layers of clothing, she shivered. Pausing, she pulled the ratty knit cap firmly down over her ears, then grabbed a threadbare blanket out of the chaos of dingy rags wadded in her shopping cart, and draped it over her shoulders.

Maggie wondered if she would survive the winter. Her arthritic joints griped constantly, and their combined voices were getting harder to ignore with each passing year. Even her brain had grown stiff. Continue reading

Legion

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it starts
and it ends
takes flight on dark wings
and soars from my pen

hell rises up
heaven falls
demons rush in
and pass through the walls
of the human psyche shored up
by gossamer gods and magic pills
tromp through mephitic mires of disbelief
brandishing swords, counting kills

nothing can protect you
not pleas, not prayers, nor unholy deals
from the metaphysical monsters I’ve set free
to nip and bite, sink razor teeth into your heels
and drag your bloody carcass down
into the tenebrous pits below
to rip apart your flesh
and feast upon your soul

it starts
and it ends
takes flight on dark wings
and soars from my pen

An old poem from a previous blog.

Photo from Pixabay