Saturday, January 30, 2010

Making it Real

Mill Creek, originally uploaded by imustwrite.

Late January sunrise
Wolf moon makes way for shrouded sun
A moment frozen in time
The one I love sleeps close by
Music plays
Sleeping dogs chase birds that live only in their dreams
I write a few words
Now it’s true
Now it will always be true.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

When I Retire

DSCN2285, originally uploaded by imustwrite.

I'm still a few years from retirement but when it's time I'll open up a little bait and tackle shop. I want to sell something people enjoy buying. I've been selling insurance for years and no one has ever said "Gee - your're out of liability insurance. When are you gonna get some more?"

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Elephant Walk on DeSales Street

DSCN2370, originally uploaded by imustwrite.

It was just what everyone needed after a week of pandemnics and torture memos. For an hour yesterday afternoon were were all uninvited guests at a traditional Indian wedding. Drumming, laughter and cheers mingled with the honking of impatient commuters as the happy groom rode an elephant slowly down DeSales Street. As I rode the elevator back up to my office one woman summed up my reaction -- "I only watched for an hour, but those images will be with me for days."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Look Who Came to Dinner!

Can you imagine coming home from work to find this tiny creature napping on your couch with your dog?

It followed this beagle home, right through the doggy door.

This happened in Maryland recently.

The owner came home to find the visitor had made himself right at home.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Darcy and Me

The message on the ListServe caught my attention:

Eighteen month-old male beagle-- full of verve and joy--all shots. He is ready to move in with you right now! Be ready for active and playful! He is yours for the asking. His name is Snoopy

We piled in the car with Arlo (our spoiled Samoyed) to meet Snoopy at the Annandale Animal Hospital. “We’re here to meet Snoopy.” The Vet’s employees were perturbed because their lunch had been interrupted. Begrudgingly, Hazel (the least perturbed) brought out Snoopy so everyone could get acquainted.

It was not love at first sight. If Arlo could talk he would have said “Mama, get me out of here. This beagle is crazy.”

I would have agreed.

It was a sad trio that left Annandale Animal Hospital as Hazel led the wildly barking beagle back to his puppy jail.

We decided to make a stop at the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Open House on the way home where we made our way through a plethora of beagles. “Did I miss the news about the beagle population explosion?” I asked. I was about to give up when I saw a timid liver spotted Dalmatian. “Look, Honey! She’s not too large, not too small…she’s just right!!” Darcy the Dalmatian had a very sad story. Her owner had gone to jail and Darcy had missed being put to sleep by just a few hours. Since November 2nd she had been living in an animal shelter. Most people want puppies. Darcy was three years old.

John and Arlo looked skeptical. They hadn’t seen what I had seen. It wasn’t looking good. Sadly I followed John and Arlo back to the parking lot where John saw the sad, sad expression on my face.

“Oh, alright! Go get her.”

That’s how Darcy came to live with her new family where she will live happily ever after.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Life is a Long Road...and Fear is a Road Map

I don’t feel fear often. When I do I am usually on the Beltway just a couple of tailgaters shy of an all out panic attack. If I am alone I might roll up the windows and scream. I did that once. I was driving up from Florida and I hit Richmond at rush hour. I was so tired I was seeing double. The day had begun in Georgia where I’d driven for an hour in a fog so thick I couldn’t see the front of the Chrysler New Yorker. It had been my Uncle Paul’s car. Aunt Gladys had decided to give it to me – along with a backseat full of philodendrons, some Ann Murray eight tracks and a case of pear preserves. There might have been some vinyl records in the back seat too. The trunk was empty except the catalytic converter that Paul had removed from the Chrysler. I was afraid to drive from Jupiter, Florida to Washington, DC alone. But I wanted a car. I didn’t need a car, but I wanted one. Like I was saying, I got to Richmond at rush hour. 95 was full of homeward bound maniacs with some kind of a death wish – all going 80 miles an hour or so it seemed. I rolled up the windows and just screamed. I screamed until I was hoarse. If the other drivers noticed they probably just thought I was singing along with whatever the dj on WNOR was playing. I was surprised when I left Richmond behind and I was still alive. My next challenge was going to be navigating my way though DC traffic and snaking my way to 25th and Q Street. When our apartment building finally came into view I was so grateful I cried. Maybe that was why I misjudged the length of the Chrysler and “tapped” the VW behind me as I tried to parallel park on P Street. I pulled out and drive a few blocks east until I found a spot big enough to just glide into. I left philodendrons, eight tracks and preserves in the car and headed back to our apartment building. It was days before I retrieved the stuff from the backseat.

I felt fear the time a couple of kids pointed guns at me outside of RFK Stadium. I felt fear, but my external response was to laugh uncontrollably. I’ve never understood that. I felt a little fear the day I lowered the Boston Whaler into the water without replacing the bilge plug. Luckily I was standing close enough to the lift switch to raise the boat before it sank.

I felt fear in a plane once. We flew through an awful storm. Buffeted by wind. Lightning. Nuns praying. Babies crying. Flight Attendants strapped in. I was feeling fear. I was feeling helpless. Powerless. Which is what always accompanies my fear.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Writing Practice

This is how my writing is at times. Just a string of meaningless characters - illegible, indecipherable, scrawled and scribbled.


Point Lookout

We pulled in behind the old blue pickup truck and unloaded our fishing gear. Poles first, then bait board, then knife. The bait came out last. Spot and bunker. I scrambled down the rocks, glad that I had worn my old moccasins instead of my flip-flops. I settled down on the warm rocks and looked out at the Chesapeake Bay while John rigged his poles – two of them – and cut bait. While he was finishing up I walked up to the blue truck to say hello to its occupant.

We had talked a bit the day before. Just “How’s the fishing?” and “Where are you from?” kind of talk. He'd told us he lived in Stafford, Virginia. Neither John nor I mentioned we had two homes and that we were spending the weekend in our home in Solomon’s. That would have sounded like bragging even if it wasn’t.

“I brought that picture I told you about yesterday.” He followed me back to our truck. I opened the back door and pulled out the copy of the Bay Times open to page 24. John grinned up at us. He was holding a 43” rockfish, its weight evident in his face. This was bragging.

I realized we hadn’t introduced ourselves. I held out my hand. “I’m Brenda.”

He took my hand. “I’m Ed"

Ed pointed across the causeway to the spot where a young boy was fishing. “That’s my great grandson Trevor. He caught a couple with that Shakespeare I bought him and now he’s an expert.”

Ed and I walked around to the back of our truck where John was ready to fish. His first cast was awkward. Unaccustomed to fishing from rocks, his cast was off-balance. Ed took note. “I heard it hit behind you.” John nodded and began to reel in. The second cast was better. John stuck the rod in the pole holder he has wedged in the rocks and baited his second pole. Ed and I watched as he made a good cast on his first try.

When John had secured the second pole, I pointed to my kayak. “How about helping me get this down so I can go for a paddle.” Together we loosened the straps that held my orange and yellow “Pungo” to the roof of the pickup and lowered it to the ground. He helped me walk it across the causeway so I could launch it – right behind the sign that said “No Swimming – No Boat Launching”

“There’s chicken in the cooler” I called over my shoulder as I glided away from where he stood on the shore. “You’re coming back, aren’t you?” he shouted to my back. “Eventually” I replied as I pointed the nose of my kayak toward the pines on the other side of the cove.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Creek of Peace

“I’m here to take you bone fishing for free.”

We hadn’t expected him. I had called to cancel the trip. The night before an intruder had robbed us. We had no money, no passports. I'd spent the last three hours cancelling credit cards.

Now Ansil Saunders stood before us – a wiry brown man with white, white teeth and strong hands. He smiled showing all of his teeth and brushed the events away with a swish of his hand.

“I will take you for free.”

We followed him like children to his big American car that seemed out of place on an island where most people traveled by golf cart. The thief had made his escape in a golf cart. – putting up the narrow Queen’s Highway along the rocky beach.

We were quiet as Ansil drove us to the spot here his boat was tied. It was a beautiful boat – wooden – made with his own strong hands.

“Do you have any hardboiled eggs or bananas…those are very bad luck on a boat, you know” We had neither but his words reminded us how hungry we were. We hadn’t had breakfast. As if reading our thoughts, he pointed to the picnic basket beside the boat. It was filled with fruit, bread and water.

Ansil guided us through the mangroves. My mind fidgeted but my eyes found his hands and they focused there. I watched as his hands on the oars guided the wooden boat through the mangroves. Soon my mind joined my eyes and forgot to worry. I was present. For the rest of the day Ansil guided us through the shallow waters, through the mangroves as we tried to put the events of the previous night behind us and concentrate on spotting the nearly invisible bonefish. We quickly learned that the best approach was to stop trying to see the fish ourselves and to just cast where and when Ansil pointed. When we did that, we caught fish.

Ansil brought us to an open space in the mangrove. “They call this Bonefish Hole...” I looked around. I saw no hole and I saw no bonefish. He continued “…but I call this Dr. King’s Creek of Peace.” Ansil went on to tell us about the first time he brought Martin Luther King to Bonefish Hole. Dr. King had come to Bimini at the invitation of Adam Clayton Powell for a rest and to work on his acceptance speed for the Nobel Peace Prize. He had spent the day with Ansil not for bonefishing, but for relaxation. I wondered how long it had taken his mind to stop fidgeting and focus with his eyes on Ansil’s strong hands.

Ansil stood in the bow of his boat resting his chin on his oar. Then, with one arm, he gestured to the sky, the water, and the mangroves. “Dr. King asked me what I told people who came here and still doubted the existence of God. I told him I didn’t have an answer for him then, but I would when he returned to Bimini.”

Ansil kept his promise. He wrote a Psalm. The next time Dr. King visited Bimini Ansil had an answer for him. While John and I sat in the back of his boat in the middle of Dr. King’s Creek of Peace, Ansil recited for us the Psalm he had written for Dr. King. “…and God made the fish that swim in the ocean, the cows the graze on the hillside and the stars the shine in the sky…” As he spoke he gestured to the Ocean, the shore and the sky. I knew that no one could sit in that boat in that beautiful space and watch this beautiful brown man reciting this psalm that had sprung from his soul and doubt the existence of God.

That was Martin Luther King’s last trip to Bimini. A short time later he went to Memphis where he was shot to death.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

One question. Does it fly?

One question. Does it fly?, originally uploaded by imustwrite.

Nothing brings a group of strangers together faster than something they haven't seen before. On the way back from lunch I joined a crowd that had gathered around this odd looking contraption as we - very politely - tried to stay out of each other's way while snapping pictures with cellphones. My guess is it is owned by AIG Chief Executive Edward Liddy since he is in town testifying today.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I Always Thought I'd See You Again

Bertie lived with her mama Lilly Mae and six younger brothers and sisters. The youngest was an infant, which accounted for the smell of urine that hit you like a wall when you walked into Bertie’s apartment. I got used to it after a few breaths.

Bertie and I were the same – only she was prettier. Her hair was straight and Lilly Mae let her wear makeup. But Bertie smelled poor – just like me – and when we got on the school bus together, the “others” could smell the poverty on us. We sat together and talked about other places and other people – the ones we saw on television mostly. Our favorite shows were Dr. Kildare and Ben Casey. She loved Richard Chamberlain. I preferred Vince Edwards. We ignored the “others” and retreated into our own private space. Sometimes we sang together, ignoring the looks, the smirks, and the gestures from the “others”. We were a ragged army of two against the perfectly dressed villager army.

On weekends we rode the city bus down town where we shopped for clothes we couldn’t afford. Sometimes we put them on lay-away but we never took them home. In the summer we rode the bus to Ocean View Amusement Park. Bertie flirted with the boys on the boardwalk and they flirted with her. I watched. They ignored me.

I saw Bertie for the last time on a Saturday in the summer of 1963. We took the bus downtown to see a movie and Bertie insisted on seeing two.

“Let’s go see one more. I want to see Bye Bye Birdie.” It was playing just across the street.

“Bertie Mae, that will make us late getting home and besides, I’ve got just enough money left to get home.”

“Come on. I’ll pay for it. You can pay me back.”

We went to the second show. When we walked out of the theatre onto Granby Street it was dark.

“We should have been home hours ago,” I moaned. “I hope mama and daddy aren’t worried.” I couldn’t call them because we didn’t have a telephone.

“Hell. Lilly Mae won’t even know I’m gone,” she said as we boarded the bus.

When I got home all hell broke loose.

“Where have you been?” mama screamed. “We thought you had been murdered.” Daddy nodded. He was awake and sober. That was unusual, I thought. They must really have been worried.

They had called Aunt Gladys from the payphone at the rental office and she was there too.

"Don’t you know any better than to go traipsing around downtown Norfolk at night by yourself?”

“I wasn’t by myself. Bertie Mae was with me.”

Addie and Willis were sitting there quietly – but they had been crying. I knew I was in trouble but at the same time I was pleased that my absence had created such drama. I wondered how Bertie was making out.

Mama and Aunt Gladys took turns yelling at me for a while. They seemed to enjoy being on the same side of an argument for a change. Daddy went to bed without saying much. Willis and Addie fell asleep on the couch – both sucking their thumbs – ok for Willis – He was only two, but Addie was almost 11.

Aunt Gladys finally changed the subject. “Well, Frankie Mae, I’m going to go down to Belhaven tomorrow to check on Mama and Blanche.”

“Can I go, Aunt Gladys? I haven’t seen Grandmama in ages."

Before Mama could object, Aunt Gladys nodded.

“We’ll be back Monday or Tuesday.”

I ran to grab a few things from the room I shared with Addie, returned to the living room and sat quietly in daddy’s chair hoping Aunt Gladys would be ready to leave before Mama changed her mind or Addie woke up and insisted on coming along.

I don’t remember the trip to Belhaven but I remember the day I got back. As soon as I could I ran over to Bertie's to see it she had gotten into trouble for being late.

I knocked. When no one answered I pushed open the door and walked upstairs. The apartment was empty – only the smell of urine remained. The furniture was gone.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rainy Weekend

The constant drizzzle was getting to me so I went digging in my pictures for some reminders of the rewards we reap from March rains. It was not my most productive weekend. I spent most of it nursing my knee and twittering - or is it tweeting. I follow a varied array of people - from Shaq to Steve Case; from John McCain to Tony Robbins. McCain seems to have two topics - pork and the NCAA Tournament while Robbins' tweets have given me some deep thoughts like "If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way." ~Buddha. Twitter is a wonderful mish mash of haiku, fortune cookies, and Hardball.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Winter Legs

Winter Legs, originally uploaded by imustwrite.

It must be March. In a span of five days I scooped a foot of snow out of our Boston Whaler, stoked a fire all night to keep the pipes from freezing, picked my first daffodil of the season and kayaked to the mouth of the Patuxent River. My plan for the rest of the month is to do one more thing than I want to do - each day. Today it was going to the DC Friends of Ireland Festival. I would really have preferred to stay home and twitter -or is it tweet?


Saturday, March 07, 2009

Saturday Morning

Arlo in the morning, originally uploaded by imustwrite.

This morning I sipped coffee at the end of the pier while Arlo and Darcy frolicked and chased birds up and down. It was hard to believe that just four days ago the bench where I sat was covered in a foot of snow and the creek was frozen. When I came back inside there were two small birds in the kitchen. I restrained the dogs while the birds found their way out through the door I'd left open. The old folks said birds in a house is a bad sign. Maybe it's just a reminder that life intrudes when where we don't expect it


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Sudden Storm

No two are alike.
Snowflakes. They say.
That's one of the truths no one disputes.
There comes a time when it is easier
to swallow a truth whole than to bite into an argument.
No two are alike. Arguments.
Sometimes they end in silence. Sometimes in an avalanche of
Words that once said cannot be unsaid.
be forgotten.
There comes a time when it is impossible to make
peace one more
Better to leave the battle lines in place.
And feelings frozen.

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I can feel it in my bones. The onset of spring fever. Daylight savings time coming. It won't be dark when I drive home. 70 degrees this weekend. Here's an old poem I wrote about a spring day a lifetime ago.

Spring in the Yard with No Grass

I nap on a brown army blanket and I am content.
I breathe in the smoke from
Daddy’s Chesterfield cigarette and his Old Spice Cologne
I ignore the gumballs under the blanket.
I count the flowers in the linoleum on the kitchen floor.
I memorize my phone number and the pictures in my Little Golden Library Book.
I like the flowers best – the yellow ones that look like butter.
The flowers on the linoleum are red.
The television is always on
as The World Turns
If I open the cupboard under the sink will I still find your whiskey bottle there?
Does your ironing board still crowd the dining room where no one eats together?
Do you still have the ashtray I brought you from Luray Caverns?
Do you still catch your toe under our worn carpet and cuss at the dog?
Have you shot him yet?
Do you still write me everyday in your mind?
Can I come home again?
Where rabbits hutch in Aunt Irma’s backyard.
Where Bill Mackey’s motor scooter dives down a hill that seemed steeper then.
Where you are still young and you tie a perfect bow in my sash and send me off starched and ironed to conquer the first grade.
Where the houses on both sides are filled with people who love me.
Where you stand on the front porch and holler “It’s Howdy Doody Time” and I run home to you.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Boats on Ice

I spent a long, cold weekend at the creek house. I was there to keep an eye on the boats to make sure the weight of the snow didn't collapse the boat lifts. The first night the power went out. I quickly learned there were things I couldn't live without - hot coffee, my laptop, heat, noise. It was so quiet. The only sound was my own voice. The snow on the roof muffled everything. I found a couple of bundles of wood in the garage and sat in front of the fireplace reading my kindle. Then I walked to the top of the driveway and snapped a few photos. Then quickly back to the house to warm myself in front of the fire. When the power was finally restored the first thing I did was make a pot of coffee. Then I lowered the boat lifts and climbed aboard and scooped out the snow with the blade of a kayak paddle. So much for my grand adventure during the blizzard of '09.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Inside Barbara's Refrigerator

Okay. If chicken soup is so good for you, explain why I woke up with this rotten head cold.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inaugural Praise Poem

At first I was caught on the kitchen table line. Maybe because I associate kitchen tables with the International Women’s’ Writing Guild. The IWWG had its beginnings around kitchen tables. The expression “kitchen table” still applied to the frequent gatherings of IWWG members to read and listen to each other’s writing.

Today I am invited into the poem by other words –

picked the cotton and the lettuce Why not cotton and tobacco or oranges or strawberries? I wonder why she chose lettuce.

praise song – I like those two words together. I like “praise” as an adjective – but is it a verb later in the poem?

We walk into that which we cannot yet see. Much better suited to this soon to be sixty body than “leap and the net will appear” and more pleasing phonetically. But later she invites us to praise song for walking forward in that light

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun. I do love the picture of her preparing to give us this poem on a particular day – yesterday. “In today’s sharp sparkle…:” because yesterday did sparkle…She was like a designer fashioning a dress to worn on one very special occasion…to walk down the aisle or dance at an inaugural ball.

It even has a bit of Natalie Goldberg …take out your fast writing pens and begin.

I can live with this poem for a long time so I think I will begin memorizing it now.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Open Wide, originally uploaded by imustwrite.

Dr. Rapasardi worked for the Palm Beach County Mental Health Department. His office was in a green-shingled WWII vintage bungalow adjacent to the airport. Our sessions were often interrupted by the sound of planes landing and taking off.

“I was in a plane crash once” he told me as a jet passed low over his office.

“Have you flown since?”


“Aren’t you afraid?” There was nothing to suggest fearlessness in his delicate five foot frame.

“No. What are my chances of being in two plane crashes?”

It was at that point I decided Dr. Rapasardi was either crazier than I was or too sane to help me.


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

I resolve to me more connected....

new year sunset, originally uploaded by imustwrite.

But it is hard to undo a lifetime of isolation. I am the child who at eleven years old wrote "alone I'll find true happiness, the price I'll pay is loneliness." I was the child who always had her "nose in a book" (as mama said) so I wouldn't have to talk to my family. In all the years that have followed I have forced myself into crowds, pretended to be an extrovert, feigned confidence, married,but I have always felt disconnected - preferring long walks with my dogs to noisy dinners with friends. But I am sick of my own silence. I resolve to be a part of the world again.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Winterfest 2008, originally uploaded by imustwrite.

It's Christmas Eve. I'm moist. I always get a bit depressed around the holidays. Maybe it's the caroles on the radio, or thoughts of family or childhood. Loved ones I've lost. Or maybe it's knowing that in 48 hours all the Christmas magic will be reduced to sale items and gift returns and leftover duck. In an attempt to get myself into a holiday mood I have been looking through pictures of times I felt joy. All the pictures had one thing in common. I was among friends. So my resolution for 2009 is to spend as much time with friends as I possibly can. You have all been warned.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Turning Point

Pearl Buck said that every great mistake has a halfway moment, a split second when it can be recalled and perhaps remedied. I suppose if I follow through with my plans there will be times when I wonder whether there was a split second, a halfway moment, when I could have averted the events that may proceed from my decision.

What was the moment? It might have been that phone call from Aunt Gladys. I admit I avoid talking to her because each time I do I feel a little older. Last night she told me she’d had Thanksgiving dinner with Joyce.

“Jessie has Parkinson’s. He’s eighty-one. I guess he’s doing as well as can be expected.”

I remember Joyce’s husband as the handsome young father of my cousin Cindy.

“Paula was there with her husband.”

Paula was Joyce’s daughter – born after Cindy committed suicide or was murdered by her husband. I always leaned toward the murder scenario. I’d met Paul once when Cindy and I were freshman at Radford and he was a killer if I’d ever met one. But Cindy had been dead for almost thirty years and now the sister she’d never met – the one that looked just like her – was a grown woman with a husband that apparently lacked murderous intent.

“Buddy was there. He looked terrible. He has diabetes you know. This has been a bad year for him. A heart attack and a stroke. He’s lost toes on both feet so he doesn’t walk so good. And he’s hard to understand because of the stroke. He looks as bad as Jessie”

Buddy was Cindy’s baby brother. How did he turn into a debilitated old man? I didn’t say any of this to Aunt Gladys. I just mewed appropriately sad responses and hoped that soon the conversation would shift to something more cheerful. Of course it didn’t.

“I’ll be eighty-two on December eighteenth. How old are you now?”

“I’m fifty-nine.”

I didn’t say almost sixty.


Monday, November 03, 2008

Election Eve

I am watching Monday Night Football and trying to work on my NaNoWriMo novel. And, okay, maybe I'm procrastinating just a little bit.

Here is the first paragraph of the novel in progress:

The Trinità dei Monti was empty. That’s not true. There were no other people in the church. Beginnings are difficult. Let me try to be more precise. I’ve waited a very long time to tell this story, my precious reader, and I hope you will be a little patient with me. When I was alive I fancied myself something of a storyteller but that faculty seems to have gone the way of flesh and bone and now I have a story but no tongue to tell it.

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Friday, October 31, 2008


Nothing much really changes, does it? Someone said – can’t remember who – that he measured his life with coffee spoons. I measure my life with Thursday night writes, dog walks, Friday night drives down to Mill Creek, PeaPod deliveries, orange scones and hazelnut coffee, episodes of Dirty Sexy Money and NCIS, paydays, mortgage payments, mammograms, garbage days, Morning Joe, June’s in Saratoga Spring and July’s in Taos, Brunch at Nordstrom’s before a day of Christmas Shopping.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

american horrific

In the morning there is a mist on the creek. The surface is completely undisturbed except for the bait fish that are feed on the morning hatch. Their first taste of the day. Gulls circle low over the water. The air is chilled. I stand, enshrouded in the cotton robe I bought last August in Porta Porquese. Thoughts of the campaign and the November 4th election creep in. On November 5th will it be American Horrific or a New Day in America?


Friday, October 24, 2008

Romanesque Arches

When was the last time I memorized a poem?

When was the last time I wrote a poem?

It's time.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

I'm Feeling Blue


I spent the last Friday afternoon of my vacation sitting in our rented Fiat Bravo in Molina, Italy with a sprained ankle – or at least a badly twisted ankle – while John went – at my insistence – to see the Molina Falls. And we were nearly out of gas. But the GPS said there was a gas station less than three miles away. It was hot in the car. I was sprained hot and blue.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

A Day in the Life

Canine Competition, originally uploaded by imustwrite.

Saturday – October 4th

I wake up in Falls Church, Virginia with two other creatures in my bed instead of three. John is on Assateague Island in pursuit of the elusive Red Drum (that’s a fish, not a percussion instrument) and my bed mates are a 60 pound Samoyed named Arlo and Darcy – a Dalmatian/Hound mix. It is 6:30 AM and they are hungry. Since we are down to one can of Science Diet I split that between them while I fry up burgers for the dogs and an egg for myself. I must get to PetSmart first thing. But it is a luxury to have the house to myself on a weekend morning so I do what I usually do when John is away….I clean. I keep a list of things I must do at the ready –in my head. First on the list – remove the moss from the brick walk before someone slips and sues us. While I’m attacking the walkway with bleach and determination I hear the phone. I let the machine get it. Next task – laundry. I begin by separating the items I will drop at the cleaners on my way to PetSmart and lugging them out to the Jeep which is already full of books that I have collected for the book sale at today’s annual Day in the Park. (Having done my stint as president of my neighborhood civic association, my duties are now limited to editor of "The Holmes Runner" and organizer of our annual book sale.) I groan. It’s already after 10:00and the book sale starts at 1:00 PM. I still haven’t brushed my teeth. I pour my third cup of coffee and carry it out to the hot tub. I leave my moss stained jeans and t shirt by the tub and climb into the relaxing 104 degree water. Ahhhhh! One of the luxuries of a privacy fence.

Ninety minutes later I am back home with five cases of dog food ($109) and a carload of things I just had to have from Target. Target is next door to PetSmart and it seemed like a good spot to pick up a birthday card for my assistant who turns 30 on Monday. Among the items I picked up were nifty hangers that hold four pair of trousers, a set of flannel sheets and more bleach.

I am feeding Arlo and Darcy lunch when the phone rings. “Where were you?” It’s John, of course. “I called twice.”

I smile. “How’s the fishing?” He had caught a skate, but Catskill John (my husband is Bunker John) had caught a 50 inch Drum. I listen for a few more minutes before telling him I have to hurry because I’m late for Day in the Park.

Even though I’m really late I can’t resist putting the new sheets on the bed and seeing how the new hangars work. Fifteen minutes later I am amused to learn John owns 32 pairs of trousers - not counting the ones I’d just dropped off at the cleaners and there is another trip to Target in my future – to buy more of those nifty hangers that hold four pair of trousers.

It is five minutes to one. I load Arlo and Darcy into the Jeep and head to the park. Before the book sale there is a “canine competition”. At home when I play harmonica, Arlo sings along….but not when we are in public. This is the 4th year he hasn’t sung along. Darcy obediently sits and gives me her paw on command. Neither wins. The prize goes to a huskie mix who dances on his hind legs. I take Arlo and Darcy home and return to take my place at the book sale table.

Four hours later I am on my way to the George Mason Library to drop off the unsold books. Back home, I am too tired to cook. I eat peanut butter out of a jar and watch a rerun of NCIS before tucking myself into my new flannel sheets – accompanied by Arlo and Darcy, of course.


Sunday, October 05, 2008

Please don't feed the swans, he said

Now I'm home again. Back from Italy. Back from not feeding the swans. Back from eating pasta twice a day. Back to the gym. Back to work. Laundry. Football. Back to my own bed. My dogs. Back to work. And blogging. Now if iI just had something to say.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Afternoon at Marichio's

DSCN1023, originally uploaded by imustwrite.

Italy -specifically Cerro Vernonese - is one of the few places I know where you can go into a butcher shop to buy steaks and salami and end up being invited to lunch.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Big Sur

And when you go, arrive with the sun.
Arrive from the east.
Arrive when your mind and body are numbed by travel,
and be surprised.
Be surprised that the mountains are alive.
Surprised that they breathe and surprised that you can believe again.

And when you go don’t wait for sunshine
Walk in the rain.
Walk in the fog.
Walk in the dark so you will know the power of eucalyptus.
The power of sulfur as you sit clothed only in embarrassment at the baths at Esalen listening to an ocean you cannot see crash on the rocks below.

When you go sleep late. Dream deep.
Enjoy the echoes that have been left behind at Deetjens
Make them your own. Leave some for the travelers
Who will come behind you.
Stretch. Make love. Be love.
Go to breakfast and taste the oatmeal.
All your life you will recall the way this oatmeal fills your mouth,
your belly, comforts you.

When you go remember when you drove up Highway One for the first time
in the dark, alone and unloved.
Remember how you envied the family in the travel trailer by the side of the road.
Remember how you wanted to step into a new ocean
but didn’t.


Thursday, July 03, 2008

Then and Then

Where were you the first time you looked at me
and saw yourself in my face?
You told me you were living your life over through me.
You told me I would be the death of you

I stand beside your bed waiting, waiting
for you to draw your last breath
Knowing I have come home too late. I am dead to you already.

We share consecrated Sundays
fishing in our secret spot near Toppins pier
No one found us there. No one looked.
I baited hooks. You smoked.

I force myself to bring my face to your mouth and inhale your breath
I watch you sleep. Your bloated flesh is the color of creek scum
Finally I speak the unsaid words.
I’m home, Mama. I’m sorry.

I wanted more from life than croakers and soft shelled crabs
I wasn’t your shadow or your savior
Mama, I ran away from you long before I left


Spring in the Yard with No Grass

I nap on a brown army blanket and I am content.

I breathe in the smoke from Daddy’s Chesterfield cigarette and his Old Spice cologne

I ignore the gumballs under the blanket.

I count the flowers in the linoleum on the kitchen floor.

I memorize my phone number and the pictures in my Little Golden Library Book.

I like the flowers best – the yellow ones that look like butter.

The flowers on the linoleum are red.

The television is always on as

The World Turns

If I open the cupboard under the sink will I still find your whiskey bottle there?

Does your ironing board still crowd the dining room where no one eats together?

Do you still have the ashtray I brought you from Luray Caverns?

Do you still catch your toe under our worn carpet and cuss at the dog?

Have you shot him yet?

Do you still write me everyday in your mind?

Can I come home again?

Where rabbits hutch in Aunt Irma’s backyard.

Where Bill Mackey’s motor scooter dives down a hill that seemed steeper then.

Where you are still young and you tie a perfect bow in my sash and send me off starched and ironed to conquer the first grade.

Where the houses on both sides are filled with people who love me.

Where you stand on the front porch and holler “It’s Howdy Doody Time” and I run home to you.



The world I saw through the cracked windshield of our VW bus was obscured by a Christmas Eve snow storm. Stephen drove confidently through Denver’s almost empty streets. I sat next to him, my eyes mutely focused on the expiration date on the inspection sticker that was glued to the windshield. April 1971. When I recall that night and the events that followed time would stand still. As frozen as the snow on the windshield. As frozen as Stephen’s emotions.

I stared through the windshield and wondered again why I had attached myself to a man I hardly knew. Stephen was running away from the draft. I was running away from my self when we ran into each other under a tree in a churchyard in Washington DC. He was skinny with long, thin, straight reddish blonde hair. He wore motorcycle boots, jeans and a sheepskin and leather vest without a shirt. A key-filled chain attached to his belt loop caused his jeans to sag in spite of the thick leather belt. His eyes burned inside his orbital bones. He had one facial expression – a scowl.

He had lost his student deferment when he dropped out of the Corcoran Art School. I had lost my mind – or that’s what everyone thought. Soon after I graduated from William and Mary, I ran away. I ran from my own expectations and the expectations of my family. I ran from student loans and other obligations.

We had left Washington DC in that hybrid bus/beetle. Stephen put the engine of a VW beetle into the body of a green VW bus. The beetle was an old junker he bought for parts. The bus belonged to a woman who had left it with Stephen for repairs. That bus became our home. Just enough owned to allow us to believe we weren’t really car thieves. Just enough stolen to make us feel like outlaws.

We headed west - running away together from a nowhere place we had both run to alone. We had stopped briefly in Hillsboro, Virginia where Stephen’s parents lived so he could pick up his motorcycles. Neither of the bikes ran, but he didn’t want to leave anything behind. We stayed there overnight but slept in the bus. The next morning Stephen strapped the bikes to the top of the VW and we were off again. At night we stopped in parking lots and warmed dinners of beans and bologna over a sterno heater then slept huddled together more for warmth than fondness. The bunk was narrow. We could lie together without touching. I usually work up first. I tried to lie perfectly still so I wouldn’t disturb Steve. The light was too dim in the bus to read so I would just lie there looking at the ceiling. After a few weeks on the road the bus reeked of dirty clothes, bologna and sterno.

The plan was to drive to California and make a life for ourselves among the artists and musicians that would befriend us there. We made it as far as Denver before we were brought to a standstill by a combination of bad weather and a shortage of funds. With no money for gas, we parked on a side street and spent our days walking around Denver. We ice skated at a downtown rink and panhandled and spent hours in the public library to stay warm. Once I even covered the uncontrollable blonde hair that encircled my head and floated down my back with a ratty brown wig and tried to get a job but I was unemployable. Homelessness cannot be hidden under a cheap wig.

We started going to the Zodiac Coffee House in the evenings to stay warm. Stephen and I sat there for hours drinking coffee supplied for free by the owner. Joe had taken pity on us. We played chess and listened to music. On really cold nights Joe let us sleep on the floor of the coffee house after he closed up. We used Stephen’s sheepskin vest as a pillow. We rewarded him by eating his whipped cream. We were always hungry

It was Joe who suggested we celebrate Christmas Eve by attending a midnight mass.

As I stood in the hot, airless church listening to the choir sing about the birth of the Christ child, I tasted the vomit that rose in my throat. I pressed my back against the wall of the crowded church, closed my eyes and swallowed hard. Tears filled my eyes. Some part of me knew then that there was a child growing inside of me as He had grown inside the Virgin Mary. The similarity stopped there. Or did it? I was a traveler far from home – far away in distance and in time.

I opened my eyes and I was still in Denver.

When we left the church it was snowing harder. The cold air revived me. I looked forward to returning to the coffee house, sipping free coffee next to the fire and allowing sleep to overtake me. But, when Steve tried to start the bus, it caught on fire. Even though the fire department got there quickly and extinguished the fire, there wasn’t much left. I spent Christmas day sitting in a cold, burned out VW bus, staring through a broken windshield, praying it was the whipped cream that was making me so sick.

We still had the motorcycles. Stephen put up ads in laundromats and carryouts:
For Sale
Ariel Square Four and Harley Davidson.
Leave message at the Zodiac Coffee House
We ended up trading both bikes and the burned out VW for a 1959 Triumph. We panhandled, sold our blood, borrowed a little money from Joe and resumed our trip to California.

The trip was silent and unremarkable except for a one terrifying moment in Arizona when the hood of the TR3 flew off, cracked our windshield and sailed over our heads before nearly killing a family of four that was driving behind us. Relieved to be alive, they helped us tie the hood back on with the same straps that had held the motorcycles down.

We drove across California until we reached the coast, then headed north up Highway 1. I saw Big Sur for the first time, but it was dark. We arrived in San Francisco in the middle of the night.

We parked near the Cliff House and waited for morning. We did not talk. Stephen was too tired and I was too scared. It seemed everything I said was wrong so I had learned to say nothing. I was afraid if I made him angry he would push me out of the car and drive away without me.

The next morning we headed straight for Haight-Asbury but we were too late. The summer of love had gone leaving nothing behind. Stephen sized up the situation quickly. After an hour or so of walking around San Francisco he announced there was no reason to stay there. His new plan was to use the last of our money to buy tools and then drive to New Mexico where we could become useful members of a commune with our own hatchet, saw and hammer.

We panhandled a little to add to our dwindling funds. We stowed the tools in the back of the car and headed for New Mexico. As we traveled north on highway 68 the cliffs crowded me on the right and the Rio Grande Valley opened up on the left. Through the cracked windshield, beyond the river I saw a group of small cabins gathered around a larger building. I didn’t know it then, but I was looking at the place I would live – and nearly die – over the next months.

When stopped at the free clinic in Taos – not for medical treatment, but to find out where the hippies were. We learned that the hippies were everywhere.

We were directed to a small group living in what could only generously be called a commune next to the Rio Grande just south of Taos in Embudo. This wasn’t the kind of commune that is made up of idealistic hippies in geodesic domes, raising their own food and having mudding parties. There were communes like that - New Buffalo and Morning Star – but this was really a collection of cabins inhabited by a bunch of strangers with nothing more in common than empty pockets and a distrust of authority. There were ten of us. Most of the men all carried guns and they were kinder to their dogs than they were to their old ladies. Alan and Frank were the leaders. It took me a few days to get accustomed to the sight of Frank roaming around the grounds with a pistol in his hand. He was tall and wiry with long curly black hair and a beard. Alan was shorter but solid with close cropped blonde hair. He looked like he had just gotten out of prison or the army. Alan assigned us one of the small cabins behind the main house. There were 6 cabins connected to the main house by a wooden walkway. Our cabin had a narrow bed, a table with one chair and a stove made from an oil drum. The cabin was freezing in the morning. Since I woke up first I would get up and start the fire using brush and pinion wood. There was one window. It looked out on the rocky hills behind the commune. I passed the days wandering along the trails that ran behind the commune. On warm days when the sun warmed the rocks I would lie down on them and watch the clouds.

While Stephen struggled to get the Triumph running again I tried to keep busy reading, writing letters home that I would never mail. I washed our clothes in the Rio Grande and laid them out to dry on the rocks. I decorated our cabin with wildflowers that I collected on walks by the river. But my pregnancy and meager diet took their toll. I slept a great deal – sometimes in our cabin, sometimes on the sun warmed rocks behind the commune.

Stephen accused me of being lazy. He didn’t know I was pregnant. “Instead of lounging around all the time, why don’t you do something to help me?”

I was baffled. “What can I do to help you? Just tell me and I’ll do it.”
He threw a wrench against the already broken windshield. “For one thing you could figure out what we are going to do for a windshield.”

I wrote to Aunt Gladys telling her that we needed a windshield for a 1959 Triumph TR3. I walked to the Embudo Post Office and mailed the letter. In a few weeks she wrote back that she had found a windshield in a junkyard in Greensboro and that she was shipping it to me by bus. I could pick up the windshield at the Trailways depot in Espanola. I hitchhiked to Espanola alone. The windshield was there just as she promised. The only problem was going to be getting it back to Embudo. I stood by the highway for hours waiting for a ride. Finally a semi pulled over. The truck driver helped me lift the windshield into the compartment behind his cab and drove me to Embudo. It was dark when I got there.


The First 15 Years

The longing to tell one’s story and the process of telling is symbolically a gesture of longing to recover the past in such a way that one experiences both a sense of reunion and a sense of release.

-Bell Hooks

I’ve never been truthful. But now, as honestly as I can, I will tell you about a time so long ago that it’s cloaked in myths of my own making. Those days were dense and compact like the clumps of earth left behind by the road scraper that smoothed the clay on the nameless road that led to our house on Pungo Creek. The road has a name now. I found it on Google Earth. It’s named after my grandfather – Grover Cleveland Forman.

If there’d been cameras on Sputnik they might have recorded an awkward, barefooted girl with blonde hair and crooked teeth walking down that road, stomping on those clump of clay. Her neatly trimmed bangs barely touch her eyebrows covering a forehead already creased with worry.

I was only nine. I would have been walking alone. The orbiting camera couldn’t record the questions that marched behind my clear blue eyes. Questions about the plastic case in Mama’s dresser drawer or the gun in the pantry.

I’d only seen the gun fired twice. Once when Daddy got drunk and shot holes in the bottom of Uncle Roswell’s skiff and once when Mama threatened to kill my dog Waggles if he didn’t “stop that damned infernal barking.”


Wednesday, January 16, 2008


I’m the daughter who was born first, talked first and left first before the poverty that stuck to the rest of them could seep into my skin, below my fingernails and trap me permanently in that circle of snuff dipping, onion peeling, bible reading, egg collecting, tobacco tying, crab picking, whiskey drinking, hard fighting, varicose veined women that were my aunts and cousins and grandmamas back to the time when the first Foreman woman squeezed out the first squalling baby girl onto the muddy banks of Pungo Creek and the first Foreman husband said “Okay, woman, now that’s done, get up and fix my dinner and while you are at it check on that stove” and she got up an put her squalling baby in the bottom drawer of the dresser she had lined with quilting pieces and flour sacks and let her howl while she put the fat back in the cast iron spider and put it on the stove that was going just fine and put her hands on her hips that were holding up the stained blue checked apron and wondered to herself how in the hell she had ended up a wife and mother at 15 years old and how in the hell she was going to stand living with that man until death released her and they put her in the dirt behind Sidney Cross Roads Free Will Baptist Church.

Chapter One -Letting Go

Clara pulled in the oars, scrambled up to the front of the boat and threw the anchor over the side. It made a loud splash and probably scared away all the fish within a half acre. But they’d left their fishing poles behind so it didn’t matter.

“She’d be sorry if I was dead. If I was drowned she’d be sorry she hit me all the time.”

“If you were dead it wouldn’t matter because you wouldn’t be around to watch her be sorry.”

“It would if I was a ghost. I would come back and haunt her to the end of her days. I’d tap-tap-tap on her window at night and push the back porch swing….” Clara frowned and wiped her eyes.

“Come on, Clara. Do you really think there’s any such thing as a ghost? I mean, what if there isn't and you go and drown yourself and that’s it? You’re just drowned.”

“The way I’m feeling right now, Ivy, I’d be willing to take a chance. I don’t see how being dead can be any worse than…” She stopped.

“Worse than what?”

Instead of answering Clara stood up and brought her hands up in front of her like she was praying. “Remember when I got baptized and Reverend Linton said I died and was born again – that I came back to life? He dipped me down in this very creek.” She closed her eyes and just stood there in the front of the skiff.

Ivy studied her sister... She thought Clara looked a little like the angels in her Bible stories. Her curly blond hair framed her face. She was even dressed like an angel. Like always, Clara was wearing one of her good dresses instead of the worn out shorts that Ivy always wore.

“Clara, I don’t know why you insist on wearing your good clothes to go fishing in. You’re just going to mess that dress up and Mama is going to fuss about having to wash and iron it.” Ivy squirmed in her seat. This had gone on long enough. She eyed the bag that held their lunch. “Quit kidding around, Clara. Sit down before you fall overboard I’m hungry. Let’s eat.”

“I’m not kidding around. I’m praying. Be quiet.”

Ivy watched as sister raised her arms up to the sky and began to speak in a passable impersonation of Reverend Linton. “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”

“Amen. Brother Ben. Shot at a rooster and killed a hen.” Ivy countered. “You’re nutty, Clara. I am going to eat my sandwich.”

Ivy opened the brown paper bag that held their lunch - two banana sandwiches on Sunbeam bread. She wiped her hands on her shorts, unwrapped her sandwich and placed it on the waxed paper that she had spread carefully on her lap. She was just about to bite into it when she heard the splash.

Clara let go of the side of the skiff and allowed herself to sink into the brackish water of Pungo Creek. Her hair floated around her head catching the light that still streamed through the Carolina pines. Her eyes were open. Little bubbles escaped from her nose and gurgled to the surface.

Clara caught hold of the anchor rope and pulled herself to the bottom. Then she set the anchor on her stomach so she wouldn’t float to the surface and she waited. When she couldn’t hold her breath any longer she breathed in the creek water. For a second she almost gave in and pushed off the anchor, but she just kept remembering Reverend Linton dipping her in the water. It was just like being baptized. She felt Pungo Creek just flowing into her body and then all the fear left her.

Chapter Two - Pungo Creek - 1957

It had been Clara’s idea to take the skiff out.

“I’ll make us some banana sandwiches and you dig up some worms.”

“Okay but we better clean up this mess first or Mama will have a conniption.”

Together they had dismantled their playhouse, careful to put everything back where it belonged. Rose watched them silently from the porch swing. Her eyes followed them but she didn’t say a word until Clara came out with the banana sandwiches and a jar of lemonade.

Ivy was crouching near the creek, digging worms in the soft earth. The worms wriggled in her small, chubby hands as she deposited them in an old Luzianne Coffee can. She heard shouting from the back porch and she saw her sister stop dead in her tracks.

“So you think you're so smart? You're not! I’m your Mama, damn it. You're only a nine-year-old snot nose who doesn't know anything but how to be a tramp. You’re just like your aunt. Wagging your little ass, acting all surprised when some boy jumps on it. You don’t fool me for a minute you little whore”

It looked like Clara was about to say something when Rose hauled off and just slapped her across the face. “You ain’t getting nothing you didn’t ask for.”

The bag holding the sandwiches fell from her hand but Clara held onto the lemonade. Then Rose hit her again knocking the jar to the ground. Clara picked up the bag of sandwiches and ran toward the skiff. “Hurry up, Ivy, or I’m going without you.”

Ivy grabbed her can of worms and scurried to the boat.

Rose shouted after them “I am going to murder you both. I swear and be dammed you little brats are going to regret the day you were born.”
Ivy scrambled into the skiff just as Clara was propelling the little boat away from the shore. She could still see Rose on the porch shaking her fist in the air but her words were lost.

“What set her off?” Ivy asked when they had put some distance between themselves and their Mama.

“It’s got nothing to do with you. It’s me she’s mad at. It’s always me she’s mad at.” Clara rowed hard. She stared at a point just over Ivy’s left shoulder. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Her breath came in gulps and she just kept rowing. There was an angry splotch on her cheek. It matched the fading marks on her arms and legs.

After a long time she finally she stopped rowing. The skiff moved forward on its own momentum for a few moments and then everything was still and quiet. Ivy looked around. They were all the way down to Voliva’s Neck. She recognized the old Stokesberry House. She’d only seen it once from the dirt road the day that she and Clara borrowed Uncle Benjamin’s old burro Lucinda and taken her for a ride without asking permission. Mama had spanked them both hard with the Davy Crockett paddle. The old house looked even spookier from the water. It was supposed to be haunted.

“Want to go check it out?” Ivy said pointing to the ramshackle old house. She didn’t really want to. She was just uncomfortable and wanted to distract her big sister from whatever had happened back at the house.
Clara acted like she didn’t hear her. She just stood at the front of the skiff with her hands folded in front of her like she was praying. Then she was gone.

Ivy watched until she lost sight of her older sister’s hair and there were no more bubbles. She sat there for a long time just staring at the water. It was getting dark.

The sun sank lower and lower and finally disappeared. At last she moved. Slowly, as if in a trance, she made her way to the front of the skiff and pulled up the anchor that had been resting on Clara’s stomach. She set the oars in the oarlocks and headed for home. She waited until the sun disappeared behind the pines and only when darkness descended did she pick up the oars and row – back down the creek – past Toppins Point, past the stakes where granddaddy tied up his crab pots. When she passed the old graveyard she lifted the oars from the water. She almost turned around. She almost went back to look for her sister, but it was too late for that and maybe her sister was better off anyway. She kept rowing.
It wasn’t easy. She was only six. Her arms were short and her feet barely reached the bottom of the boat. She struggled to make the little boat move along the creek. When she got back to the house, Ivy pulled the skiff onto the bank and wrapped the anchor rope around the base of the mimosa tree. She remembered that just that morning she and her sister had been playing house under that tree. They had spread old rugs on the ground and hauled chairs out from the kitchen and pretended that the boughs were their ceilings. They had served each other tea from imaginary cups. Their Mama had watched them from the back porch swing, tolerating, for once, their pointless make believe and letting them be children for a few short hours.

Ivy ran into the house where she found Rose half drunk but not too drunk to rouse herself when Ivy came running in crying about how her sister had jumped into the creek and drowned herself.

“If this is one of your pranks I am going to beat the two of you within an inch of your life.”

“It isn’t a prank, Mama, honest. She was praying and the next thing I knew she was under the water and she didn’t come back up.”

“Don’t lie to me.”

“I’m not lying, Mama. I think maybe she’s drowned. I waited there a long time and …..” Ivy began to sob.

She grabbed Ivy’s shoulders and shook her making her cry harder.
“Mama, we have to go get her,” she gasped between sobs. “Maybe she was just hiding in the weeds.”

“Why the hell did you leave her?”

“I waited and waited, Mama. I got scared. It was dark and we were way down by the ghost house.”

“Run over to Benjamin’s and tell him to bring his boat around. Tell him to hurry.”

When Ivy hesitated she hurried her along with a swat across her bottom.

Rose went to the front bedroom where her aunt lay sleeping on top of the chenille bedspread. Her Bible was open beside her as usual. “Sarah! Sarah! Wake up. I’m going to have to go out for a while and I need you to get up and look after the baby.”

By the time she had put on her shoes and jacket she heard her brother Benjamin’s boat out front.

“What’s wrong, Rose?” Sarah came out of the bedroom smoothing her apron and touching her grey hair that was held tight by her hairnet. “What’s Benjamin doing here?”

“Ivy and Clara took the skiff out and Ivy came back alone. Benjamin and I are going to find her.” Rose tried to keep her voice even so she wouldn’t frighten the old woman. She needn’t have bothered. At the moment, Ivy came bursting in, still crying. “Mama, Uncle Benjamin’s here. You’re going to find her, aren’t you, Mama.”

“Come here, child.” Sarah bent over and put her arms around the terrified child.

Rose left them there and ran down the steps to the dock where Benjamin was waiting with a puzzled look on his face. “Ivy said she saw Clara drown down in front of the old Stokesberry place. That girl can swim like a fish, Rose. What happened?”

“You know as much as I know, Benjamin,” she said, lighting a Chesterfield. “All I know is Ivy came in bawling about her drowning herself.” Rose was close to tears herself. She remembered the harsh words just before Clara had run down to the skiff – away from her. She just got so mad sometime. God knows she had thought more than once about killing herself. She wouldn’t drown herself though. She would blow her head off like Marilyn Satterwhite had.

Rose folded her arms and stared straight ahead as Benjamin pointed his runabout up the creek toward the spot where she already knew her daughter had died. She was beyond hope and beyond tears. She just sat there numbly waiting for the inevitable. The moon cast a wide beam of light across Pungo Creek. Benjamin’s boat moved across the water quickly. In just ten minutes they arrived at the spot it had taken Clara more than an hour to reach that afternoon. When the got to the place Ivy had described, Benjamin cut the engine back to idle and reached for his flashlight.

“Benjamin – there…Oh my God. Oh no.”

Benjamin cast his light over the shoreline where Rose had pointed and there, washed up in the reeds and cattails his light came to rest on Clara’s lifeless body.

Before he could stop her, Rose jumped into the creek and swam toward her daughter. She pulled her Clara’s lifeless body from the reed, held her daughter in her arms and wailed.

The sound reminded Benjamin of an afternoon thirty years before - the day that Rose and Pearl were born. That was the first time Rose’s cries had echoed across Pungo Creek. He sat silently watching his sister clutch her dead daughter to her breast. What had his family done to deserve so much heartache?

Chapter Three - Pungo Creek - 1927

Benjamin waited with his stepfather on the front porch. From inside the house came his mother' cries as she struggled with what his Aunt Sarah had warned them would be a difficult childbirth.

“It’s twins,” she had said. “Your Mama had a hard time pushing you out and she wasn’t a young woman then. She’s forty-four now and she ain’t strong. Wouldn’t hurt if you two did a little praying.”

There was no talking on the porch that day. Not to God. Not to each other. Benjamin sat in the porch swing. Grover sat on the steps, his eyes fixed on the creek. Each time his wife cried out he flinched and cursed under his breath.

Irene had been in labor since before dawn. It was past four now. The sun was sinking below the pine trees on the other side of the creek. “That woman can’t take much more of this and neither can I.” He got up from the steps and went into the house. The screen door slammed behind him.
“Stay out of here, Grover. I’m tending to your wife the best I can.”

“I’m just getting a drink, Sarah. Can’t a man get a drink in his own house?”

Grover opened the cabinet under the kitchen sink. Benjamin didn’t have to look to know that his stepfather had taken out his bottle of Jim Beam and was standing in front of the sink; his head dropped back, the whiskey pouring straight from the bottle down his throat. He had watched him do it many times. His Adam’s apple would bob up and down as he swallowed. Then he would lower the bottle, wipe his mouth on the back of his hand, let out a satisfied little sound from his throat, check the bottle and put it back under the sink.

“Shit” said Benjamin under his breath. “It ain’t his house. Can’t the bastard even stay sober today of all days when my mother is in there probably dying, giving life to his brats?”

Sarah came out to the porch wiping her hands on one of his mother’s dishtowels. The towel was bloody. So was Sarah’s apron. “Where’s your father, Benjamin?”

“He ain’t my father” Benjamin growled. “How's my mama? Is it over?”

“The poor thing passed out from the pain. It’s a blessing. I’ll get the babies cleaned up and you can come in and see your sisters.”

“I don’t want to see them. I hate them. I hate that bastard for what he did to my Mama.”

“Now, Benjamin. You need to calm down and get a hold of yourself. Your Mama needs you, son. She is not a strong woman and that man she married is just about worthless. But she's your Mama and those little babies in there are your flesh and blood.”

Sarah returned to her sister’s bedside. Her eyes were closed and she was breathing shallowly. Sarah talked softly to Irene as she picked up one of the babies and sponged her carefully with warm water. “Irene, this one looks just like you did when you were born. She already has a full head of hair. Bless her heart. And she sure has the Foreman chin. Goodness gracious.” She wrapped the infant in a clean white cloth and placed her in the basket next to Irene’s bed.

Irene opened her eyes. “Let me see my babies, Sister.”

Sarah put the second baby next to her twin and brought the basket closer so Irene could see. “You’re right, Sarah. Maybe I should name her Titania.”

“Hold on honey. Let’s not get carried away. Remember how you wanted to name Benjamin “Orlando” because you were reading “As You Like It” when you were carrying him?” Sarah put the basket down and wiped her sister’s face. “Honey, there’s time enough to worry about names when you get your strength back. You just rest now and let me get you cleaned up so your boy can come in. He’s hardly moved from that porch since dawn. He’s worried sick about you.”

* * *

The twins were asleep in a basket beside the bed. They were no bigger than kittens, red and wrinkled. One of the babies had a full head of dark hair. The other one had some light colored fuzz on her head. “Where’s Grover? Isn’t he here?”

“He had something to tend to. He’ll be back directly. Now just you rest.”
Benjamin was still sitting on the porch an hour later when Sarah came to the door. Reluctantly, he followed her inside and back to the bedroom where his mother lay sleeping, her face grey as though all the life had been bled out of her, but she seemed to be resting peacefully
Sarah put her hand on Benjamin’s shoulder. “Meet your new baby sisters, Benjamin. What do you think?”

He didn’t say what he was thinking. He didn’t say he wanted nothing more than to take a pillow and smother the life out of them. Instead he shook his head, “They sure are scrawny.”

Grover stayed away all night. He came back around noon the next day. Benjamin met him at the back door. The two of them stood, glaring at each other. Neither of them said a word.

The standoff between the thirty-six-year old man and his twelve-year-old stepson continued until Sarah stepped between them. “Where in creation have you been, Grover? You should be ashamed of yourself running away and leaving my sister like that. She nearly died.” Sarah had not slept for two days. She had delivered two babies and watched her beloved sister nearly die. Any civility she possessed vanished when she smelled the whiskey and cheap perfume that emanated from her brother-in-law. “My sister and her children deserve better than the likes of you, but since it was me that pushed her to marry you I'll keep my peace.”

“That’s the first intelligent thing you said today, Sarah. You do that. You hold your tongue. I’m going to see my wife.”

“Not like that you’re not. You clean yourself up before you go in there.”
Grover pushed Sarah roughly out of the way and walked unsteadily to the bedroom where Irene lay with a baby in each arm. She smiled weakly for a moment, but when her husband failed to return her smile, it faded. The man that glared down at her and her babies was nothing like her first husband.

Irene’s mind reached back to the day Caleb had died. It was March 8, 1924 - Benjamin’s ninth birthday. Caleb had been in the kitchen making coffee when Benjamin came in. “Good morning, son. It’s early for a boy to be up on a Saturday – especially on his birthday. I was planning to take care of your chores this morning.”

“I don’t mind. Really.” Benjamin grabbed a biscuit and hurried out.
Caleb took a sip of his coffee. “Our son’s is a natural with those animals. You know he was telling me last night he wanted to be an animal doctor when he grows up. Don’t that beat all, Irene? He could do it too. That boy is smart as they come. He don’t get it from me. That’s for sure.”
Irene tied on her apron, poured herself a cup of coffee and joined her husband at the table. “He takes after you, Caleb. He’s kind and gentle and hardworking. The boy doesn’t even rest on his birthday.” She reached out and touched his cheek. He still had the boyish face she had fallen in love with in thirty years before.

“Nine years old today. Looks like it’s going to be a pretty day. I think maybe Benjamin and I will take a ride into Belhaven. Let the boy have a little fun. I’ve got a few things to attend to and then we’ll be on our way.”

When Benjamin came back inside Irene was busy mixing up the batter for his birthday cake. He walked over and ran his finger along the edge of the bowl.

“Get your dirty hands out of my bowl.” She laughed and pretended to swat her son with her spoon.

Benjamin grinned, licking his finger.

“Your father said something about taking you into town for your birthday, Benjamin. Good thing, too. It’ll keep y’all out of my hair while I get your birthday supper ready. You go get yourself cleaned up now. I don’t want you riding into town looking like a field hand.”

Benjamin gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and ran off to get ready. She marveled that at nine he was nearly as tall as she was. He really did take after his father in every way. “I’m a lucky woman,” she said to herself. Her husband coaxed their livelihood out of the earth that surrounded their small clapboard house on Pungo Creek. Her son was good with the animals and never complained about getting up early to tend to them before heading off to school. He was a good student – never gave them a minute of trouble. Irene worried sometimes that he might be lonely – that he should have a brother or sister to keep him company – but he seemed satisfied being an only child.

She watched from her kitchen window as Caleb led the horses down from the barn. One of the horses was Salvo. She didn’t trust that horse. He didn’t like to be ridden. She walked out to meet Caleb at the back steps.
Caleb cut her off before she could speak her disapproval. “Don’t worry so much, Irene. I can handle this horse. We can’t just keep him corralled up eating our oats. Salvo has to work for his keep - like the rest of us.” He laughed. Irene didn’t.

Irene was still frowning when she stood on the back porch watching Caleb and Benjamin ride away a few minutes later. “You be careful, Caleb.” She called after him. Her husband turned around, grinned, waved good-bye. That was the last time Irene saw him alive.
It had been a freak accident. He and his father had been riding back from town when Benjamin challenged his father to a race. “I’ll wager you that I can beat you to the crossroads. If I win, you have to do my chores for a week.”

Benjamin didn’t wait for his father’s response. He dug his heels into his horse’s sides and took off.

“Hold on, Benjamin,” his father called after him. “Your Mama will have my hide if you get hurt.”

Salvo pawed the ground impatiently. She was agitated, straining against her bit. When Caleb loosened the reins she raced uncontrollably after the other horse. Benjamin turned around in time to see his father's horse rear back on his hind legs. Caleb had a startled look on his face as he fell backward. Benjamin had raced back to his father but it was too late. His neck was broken.

That night Benjamin took down his father’s rifle, walked into the barn and shot Salvo. He blamed the horse for his father’s death, but he blamed himself more. He never told his mother that he had challenged his father to a race. He bore his guilt silently. Irene’s grief had been so enormous, she was only dimly aware of her son.

Benjamin continued getting up at dawn and taking care of the animals before school but he couldn’t tend to the crops. Neighbors helped the best they could, but they had their own fields to plant. When a drifter had shown up and offered to take care of the farm in exchange for room and board, Irene had reluctantly allowed him into their home.

Irene had loved only one man in her life. She and Caleb had been devoted to each other since they were children. It had been a foregone conclusion that they would marry, but Caleb insisted on waiting until was able to care for Irene properly. It was Sarah that finally convinced him not to wait any longer.

“Sarah, I love your sister but I won’t live with her under her father’s roof. I will ask her to marry me when I can afford to build her a house of her own."

“You are more of a fool than I thought you were, Caleb. Irene wants a baby. How long are you going to make her wait?”

The next Sunday after preaching Caleb had swallowed his pride, collected all his courage and asked Andrew Foreman for the hand of his daughter. “I love your daughter. It dishonors me that I cannot give Irene a home of her own, but I don’t want to live without her any longer.”
Irene and Caleb had been happy together. When she buried him she swore she would never love another man. But who could blame Irene for allowing herself to become infatuated with Grover? She was a lonely, middle-aged woman left with a young boy and a farm to tend to. Grover was handsome - movie star handsome. He had dark curly hair and blue eyes. But it wasn’t just his looks that captured her. It was his self-assurance and his brashness. Within a year he was sharing her bed.

When Irene’s belly started to swell, her sister persuaded her to marry Grover for the sake of the baby. “It don’t matter whether you love him or not” she said when Irene said she had no feelings for him. “Your children need a father.”

Irene and Grover were married quietly in a somber service at Sidney Church. There was no celebration. Irene soon discovered that her handsome husband had a dark side. While no one would ever accuse Grover of being lazy, when he got home from the fields at night he expected his wife to cater to his every need. He had his own ideas about how things should be done and constantly found fault with Benjamin. But it was his drinking that disturbed Irene most. When he drank Grover’s was unpredictable. A violent rage would erupt at the least provocation or he might become amorous and force himself on Irene, ignoring both her delicate condition and the presence of her young son.

* * *

The babies wriggled in her arms bringing her back to the present. She looked down at the dark-haired one. “I would like to name this one Rose, and this one Pearl” she said dipping her chin to the smaller twin.”

“Don’t matter to me. They’re yours to do with as you please. But that boy out there is another matter. He’s going to learn to show me some respect, starting right now. You've coddled him long enough, Irene.”

“Grover, don’t you touch my son. He's a good boy. You leave him alone.”
Grover smiled for the first time since entering the room. “There ain’t a hell of a lot you can do to stop me now, is there?”


Wednesday, November 28, 2007


One Month Later

It was warm for late October. Fanny stood on the deck watching Peter and Harold cavort with Arlo on the pier. A couple of times Arlo got too close to the edge but each time he stopped just in time. Arlo had so much energy. Maybe it was time to get a second dog so he would have a playmate. She waved and Harold waved back. “Hey, Fanny. Pete and I are going to take the Whaler out. Call Arlo.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to take him with you?” She knew there was no way Arlo would get in the boat. He was afraid of the water. It was only his adoration of Harold and Peter that enticed him to venture onto the pier. She clapped her hands three time. “Arlo! Come here.” Arlo turned and ran toward her. He didn’t stop until she had reached the top of the wooden stairs that led to the second floor deck. She opened the gate and he rushed in. “Good Doggy. What do good dogs get?” Arlo immediately sat and extended his paw and Fanny took a sausage stick from her pocket. “I don’t know how Harold can say that you’re undisciplined. You’re perfect Arlo.”

She turned in time to see her husband and son set off up the creek. She smiled and went inside to continue dinner preparations.

It had been a month since the ordeal. That’s what they had begun calling it. A month – and it was time to celebrate. They had invited Detective Jacoby down for the weekend and he had asked if he could bring a friend. She had guessed that the friend was Bonnie Jaffe. Jack hadn’t gone into specifics he did say that they had been seeing quite a bit of each other. Fanny was happy for them. She certainly deserved a good man after putting up with Stuart Jaffe all those years. When she’d said as much to Harold he had reminded her gently what happened the last time she gave marital advice.

It was Harold who suggested they call Mosby Ellis and have him come down too. “That way we can make it a real celebration.”

The weather was certainly cooperating. It looked like it would be warm enough to have dinner out on the deck later. Just to be sure, Fanny pushed the heater closer to the table and made sure there was plenty of propane. When she was satisfied everything was ready she stretched out on the chaise to relax before her guests arrived. A pair of swans glided past serenely. Arlo sat down next to her, putting his head against her knee to the scratched. She closed her eyes and said a silent prayer of gratitude.

The tranquility was abruptly shattered when Arlo jumped up and ran around to the side deck signaling the arrival of their guests. She hurried after him to open the gate. “Hope nobody is afraid of dogs. I neglected to mention we had a watch-wolf.”

She held Arlo by his collar so her friends could come inside without being licked and pawed.

“Come on in. Harold and Peter just took the boat out. Drop your things anywhere – preferably out of the reach of Arlo - and come on out on the back deck. We’ll sort out the room assignments later. It’s a perfect afternoon.”

It was a perfect afternoon. Arlo settled down quickly so the four of them were able to enjoy the calm of the quiet afternoon. “What would y’all like to drink. I’m afraid I don’t have any liquor here, but I have iced tea, juice, mineral water….”

“I’d love an iced tea. Let me help you.” Bonnie got up and followed Fanny into the kitchen. “Jack mentioned that you were in AA. I hope that was okay.”

“Sure. I wasn’t a very anonymous drunk. I’ve never seen any reason to keep my sobriety a big secret.” Fanny could sense that Bonnie had more to say. “There are glasses in the cabinet next to the fridge. I’ll get the ice.”

“I’ve decided to try to give it up myself. I miss it every minute. It has been like I’ve lost my best friend. But it’s time. I haven’t had a drink since that night. I’ve thought a few times that if I knew that glass of whiskey was going to be my last drink I might have drunk it instead of slinging it in Stone’s face.”

Fanny laughed and put her arm around Bonnie’s shoulder.
“Congratulations on thirty days of sobriety. Maybe you and I can sneak out to a meeting later so you can pick up a chip. That is if Jack will let you out of his sight.”

They carried a try of iced tea and snacks outside and the four of them spent the next hour letting Jack catch them up on the latest news. Carl Stone had confessed to the murders of Lillian Petulengro and Dennis Doggett. “Of course, he did that in the back of my car on his way to jail. The really good news is that when Reno confronted Jaffe with the evidence against him he confessed to the murder of Victoria Sherwood.” He looked apologetically at Bonnie who just smiled at him.

“It’s okay, honey. I’m a big girl. I knew the bastard was cheating on me.” She grew more serious. “The best part is the girls won’t have to go through the anguish of seeing their father tried for murder.”

“No. The best part is Jaffe agreed to an uncontested divorce.” An unmistakable message passed between Jack and Bonnie.” Fanny decided she should get the little guest house ready for them.

Jack took a sip of his iced tea. “Hey, Mosby. What was in that strange looking container you were holding in your lap all the way down?”

“That’s Lilly. She didn’t have any family so she’s be kind of staying with me. I had this idea that maybe she might like it down here. You made it sound so beautiful here, Fanny, and you didn’t exaggerate.”

Fanny gave Mosby a kiss on the cheek. “Why don’t you bring her out here, Mosby? She should be with us.”

He went inside and came back with the container Jack had mentioned and paced it solemnly on the railing. Fanny thought she saw Jack brush away a team. Bonnie was crying openly. It occurred to Fanny that she knew the perfect place to spread Lilly’s ashes and she decided she would talk to Mosby later.

The somberness was dispelled when a Whaler came roaring up the creek. Fanny smiled when she saw Peter standing in the front of the boat holding a large rockfish. “I’d planned to feed you folks some of my world famous pasta, but it looks like there might be a change in the menu. How does grilled rockfish sound to you guys?”

That night they sat on the deck enjoying the fish that Harold and Pete had caught. They took turns feeding small bites to Arlo. Dinner lasted for hours. No one seemed to want the evening to end. It was such a welcomed respite after the horrors they had all been through. In those hours around the dinner table bonds of friendship were formed and strengthened.

“Fanny, do you remember the night of the Leonide meteor shower.”

Pete groaned. “Oh no, here we go. Pop is going to bring out his repertoire of dinner time stories.”

“Peter! Show a little respect for your father. Just for that, you can go make the coffee.” She turned to Harold. “Continue, my dear.”

“It was so cold that night. We watched it here on the deck. That tree wasn’t so tall then.” He pointed to the crepe myrtle tree that was hanging over the edge of the deck. “That was before we had finished the renovations on this house. We’ll have to show you the before pictures sometime.”

Fanny continued the story. “The basement was flooded. The front wall was caving in. But that night none of that mattered. The sky just lit up. It looked like something out of a Steven Spielberg movie.”

Pete came out with the coffee pot. “They let me sleep through it. I’ve never forgiven them.”

Then it was Jack’s turn to tell a story. He told about the time he played the lead in his high school’s production of Oliver.

“You must have been so cute as the little orphan boy” Bonnie laughed.

“No, honey. I was the romantic lead – Bill Sikes.”

She pretended to examine his fact. “Wow. You do look a little bit like Oliver Reed.”

Fanny and Harold exchanged glances and smiled. The hard boiled policeman and the soon to be divorced Mrs. Jaffe were in the cute stage of their relationship.

Bonnie and Jack excused themselves and retreated shyly to the little guest house where the lights went out fairly quickly. Fanny and Harold turned in soon after but Pete and Mosby stayed up to talk and clear the dishes.

Arlo stayed on the deck – just watching.

Very early the next morning while everyone else was still sleeping, Mosby met Fanny at the bulkhead just as she was lowering the second kayak into the water. He was holding the container holding Lilly’s ashes. Neither of them spoke. He placed the container on the pier and expertly lowered himself into the kayak. Fanny handed him the container, which he placed between his knees. Then she got into her own kayak and paddled silently down the creek, past the little marina with Mosby following her.

Just beyond the marina the creek widened into a large basin and then appeared to end but Fanny kept paddling. Mosby saw that there was a narrow opening with rocks visible just below the surface and just past the opening the creek widened again into a still pond.

When their kayaks had cleared the rocks, Fanny spoke for the first time. “It is only possible to get back here on a high tide and then only by kayak. This is my special place. I always come here when I have important thinking to do or when I am troubled. This is where I came after 9/11. You can’t imagine how comforting it was. And then the weekend after they released me from the hospital. I came here and sat for hours until Harold came to get me. He knew exactly where I would be.”

They sat there silently for a long time. The sun rose over the pine trees that bordered the pond. A pair of swans glided past them. “This is where they make their nests. There are osprey, red-winged blackbirds, egret, green heron – even bald eagles.”

“You’re right, Fanny. It is amazing. This is the perfect place.”

“Just a little further. Follow me.”

She paddled for a while and then she stopped and pointed to an area that was encircled by cattails where the surface was covered with lily pads. “How’s this?”

Mosby was too overwhelmed with emotion to respond. He steered the nose of the kayak though the cattails and opened the container. As he lovingly poured his friend’s ashes over the surface of the water he sang the song she had taught him.

Gelem Gelem lungone dromenca,
Maladilem chorore romenca.
Gelem Gelem
lungone dromenca,
Maladilem baxtale romenca.

Ala voliv lake kale
Kaj si gugle sar duj kale drakha.
Ala voliv lake kale jakha,
Kaj si gugle sar duj kale drakha.

The End