Visitation (Fiction))

The following story appears in the fall/winter 2015 issue of Magnets and Ladders at http://www.magnetsandladders.org . To hear me read it, go to https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15213189/visitation.mp3 . Happy Halloween.

***

Carrie was fourteen years old and lived in an apartment with her mother in New York City. A year earlier, her father wandered into traffic one night while drunk and was killed by an oncoming bus.

He wasn’t always drunk. Carrie remembered many times as a child when he picked her up after school while between jobs and took her to the park where they flew homemade kites, and he pushed her on swings and waited for her at the bottom of the slide. When she joined a softball league at school, he bought her a used glove, ball, and bat and showed her how to pitch, catch and throw. He occasionally took her for ice cream.

As she grew older, his drinking bouts increased in frequency. He rarely took her places after school and was hardly ever home when she went to bed. She often found him sleeping on the couch in the morning.

Her mother, Dianna, constantly berated him. He kept saying he was sorry, that he would stop drinking and get a job and keep it. He never quit drinking, and he never kept a job for long.

Dianna worked as a secretary at a Baptist church. Carrie was used to getting by on the meager salary her mother received. Most of the time, it was their only source of income, barely enough to pay the rent on their small, shabby apartment, let alone buy food.

On the night Carrie’s father died, when he didn’t come home for supper, her mother packed his clothes and other items in a box that she left outside the apartment door with a note. He never claimed his belongings.

During the following year, Carrie and her mother were forced to move to an even smaller, shabbier one-room apartment, and Carrie had to switch schools. Dianna threw herself into the myriad of projects at the church to help those in need. These took up a lot of her time, and Carrie was left to fend for herself most of the time when she wasn’t in school. She didn’t attempt to make friends because the squalor where she lived embarrassed her, and she never kept in touch with former classmates.

One day after school, she boarded the bus, resigned to yet another evening alone with the cockroaches and leaking roof. She hated riding buses since her father was killed by one, but on this cold Halloween evening, it was getting dark, and she didn’t want to walk alone at night. As she did many times, she stayed after classes to study in the library where it was warm. Now, as the sky gradually darkened, she found a seat in the back of the crowded bus and stared out the window at people and buildings, as it bumped along, stopping every so often to pick up and drop off passengers.

Someone sat next to her. A hand fell on her knee, and a familiar voice said, “Hey sweet pea.”

She jumped and turned to see a man who looked just like her father, wearing baggy blue jeans and his favorite plaid shirt, the clothes he wore the day he died. She detected no acrid stench of booze but a whiff of the cologne he wore when he was sober. Thinking he was just another pervert who happened to look, smell, and sound like her father, she turned back toward the window. “I know you don’t believe it’s me, princess, but it is,” he said, taking her hand.

Princess, that was one of the many names he called her. “Leave me alone,” she said, jerking her hand away and moving closer to the window. People turned and stared, and she wondered why.

“Honey, nobody can see me. I’m a ghost.”

“You’re nuts,” she said, turning back to him.

“So are you,” said a man across the aisle.

This couldn’t be real, she thought, as her face grew hot, and she stared at the man sitting next to her. She shook her head and blinked several times. “Carrie, you’re not going to get rid of me that easily.”

She turned back toward the window. She was nowhere near her stop, but she had to get off this bus now. Without a word, she reached for the bell to signal the driver to stop. The man’s hand shot up and grabbed hers. “You’ll have a long walk home if you get off now, bug-a-boo.”

How did he know where her new home was? This was ridiculous. “Besides, sweet pea, you really don’t want to go back to that fucking apartment with those god damned roaches, do you?”

Carrie smiled in spite of herself. She always thought it funny when her father used such colorful language when talking about things she didn’t like. “Now that’s what I like,” he said. “a smile from my little girl.”

She looked around, wondering if she could move to another seat, but they were all taken. “Honey, I know I haven’t been the best of fathers lately, but I’m clean now. I haven’t touched a drop of liquor since last year, and I won’t ever again. I’m going to make it up to you. From now on, we’re going to have the best of times, just you and me.”

What did he mean? Was she going to die right here and now? She remembered something her mother said. The preacher at the Baptist church believed that people like her father went to Hell, a place which was always on fire, where there was wailing and gnashing of teeth. Was that where her father was taking her? She pictured herself being consumed by ugly, yellow flames.

“No, I don’t want to go to Hell,” she screamed, trying to stand and pull herself away from him.

He gripped her hand. “It’s gonna be okay, honey. Daddy’s right here.”

He said those exact words the night her appendix nearly ruptured when she was seven, as she lay in the emergency room, tears streaming down her face, gripped by pain. He told her everything would be all right, and it eventually was. It was one of few kept promises.

A squeal of breaks brought her back to the present. She felt a jarring crash, then nothing.

***

Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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Order That’s Life from Finishing Line Press.

Vote for my new book idea.

The Day My Husband Passed

At six thirty in the morning,

the nurse’s call wakes me.

Relieved but unable to drive,

I call my father—he agrees to take me.

 

This is it—I’m a widow–why so soon?

He just turned seventy.

We were married only seven years.

I took care of him for six.

He wanted to make it ten.

 

Driving through the streets,

I see, hear, feel nothing.

When we arrive, I hurry to his room,

to his bedside where he lies,

swathed from head to toe.

 

I uncover his face,

eyes, mouth closed,

body at peace,

kiss his brow,

bury my face in his hair,

hold him, tell him I love him,

pack his belongings, leave,

my life having turned another corner.

 

**

 

To hear me read this poem, go to https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15213189/the%20day%20my%20husband%20passed.mp3 .

 

***

 

Three years ago today, my husband Bill died after a month in a nursing home when I could no longer care for him. We would have been married ten years last month. Happy Death Day, sweetheart.

 

***

Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

Order from Amazon

Order That’s Life from Finishing Line Press.

Vote for my new book idea.

October 2015 Reviews

Talking with Kids: Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know about Blindness by Brian K. Nash. Copyright 2011.

In this short memoir, the author describes his experiences as a public speaker during the 1980’s to kids in a Kansas City elementary school during an entire day, starting with the first grade class and moving up to the sixth grade by the end of the day. He starts the book by relating how silly questions asked of blind people like “How do you brush your teeth?” made him want to educate others on blindness. He describes how he touched on different topics in each class including Braille, guide dogs, and adaptive devices. He relates anecdotes from his childhood he told the kids like the time when he was about six and tried cooking bacon on the stove and got distracted by a phone call from a classmate and burned the bacon like any sighted kid would do. He describes the kids’ fascination with his Braille watch and talking calculator and how they enjoyed playing with his guide dog when he allowed them to do so.

He also describes eating lunch in the cafeteria with several teachers and the school social worker. During the meal, he related more anecdotes like the time when he, as an adult, was barbecuing outdoors and got distracted by the antics of neighborhood dogs like anyone with good eyes might do. This amused everyone except the social worker who told him that his blindness wasn’t funny, that he acted irresponsibly, and that she hoped he would be a better role model for the children. At the end of the book, like any sighted guy, he expresses regret that he neglected to get a particular female teacher’s phone number.

My late husband and I have each given presentations on blindness to children of all ages but never for an entire day as Brian Nash did. However, I gleamed some ideas I might use the next time I’m asked to give such a presentation. For example, when Nash was asked how he could tell the difference between candy bars when he ran a vending stand, he gave the teacher a $5.00 bill and asked her to buy a bunch of candy bars from a nearby machine. He then demonstrated to the children how he could tell one bar from another by its shape and size. He gave the candy to the teacher to be handed out later. I wish I had the forethought to do something similar years ago when a kid asked me how I could tell the difference between a bag of potato chips and a can of pop.

I recommend this book to anyone curious about blindness, especially people like that social worker who have such blatant, negative attitudes about disabilities. Brian Nash has written several children’s books and one other adult nonfiction book. To learn more about him and order his books, go to http://www.dvorkin.com/brianknash/ .

***

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. Copyright 1945.

This modern classic novel gives us a glimpse into the lives of an English Catholic family during the earlier part of the 20th century between the two world wars. The family lives in a country estate called Brideshead, and the older son’s name is also Brideshead. There’s also a younger son, Sebastian, and two daughters, Julia and Cordelia.

The story is told from the viewpoint of an outsider, Charles, who befriends Sebastian at Oxford. Sebastian turns out to be an alcoholic, and when the family tries to confine him for treatment, he disappears. Charles leaves the university and becomes an artist, traveling all over the world, marrying, and having a couple of kids.

Ten years later, he meets Julia on a ship returning to England. She’s also married, but they have an affair that lasts a couple of years until they decide to divorce their spouses and marry. Then Julia’s father dies after a long illness, and she tells Charles she no longer wants to marry him because he’s not of her faith. In the prolog and epilog, the military has commandeered Brideshead during World War II, and Charles, now an officer, returns with his company.

I found this story intriguing and sad. Since this is a classic, I hate to say anything negative, but the narrative is often bogged down by too much description and back story and not enough conflict. I must admit that because of this, I dozed off once or twice while listening to this excellent recording of the book produced by Hachette Audio and narrated by actor Jeremy Irons. If I wasn’t curious to see why the Brideshead estate held such significance for Charles, I probably wouldn’t have finished the book.

***

Lost and Found in Cedar Cove by Debbie Macomber. Copyright 2013.

This is actually a short story that is part of the Rose Harbor Inn series. I downloaded it from Audible, but it’s also available on Kindle. Several months after widow Jo Marie opens her bed and breakfast in the fictional town of Cedar Cove, Washington, she makes plans with her handyman Mark to build a rose garden.

While they’re outside looking for the perfect spot for it on her property, her dog Rover wanders off. Jo Marie is devastated. She lost her husband in Afghanistan, and now her dog is gone. The ending is predictable, yet happy.

Some might argue that this tale doesn’t have enough conflict. This may be true, but who says you have to have a lot of conflict in fiction? There’s enough in the world as it is, and I think it’s nice to escape to a place where lost dogs are found in a timely manner.

***

Come Home, My Heart by Phyllis Campbell. Copyright 1988.

Susan, an obstetrician, loses her vision after a brain tumor is removed. She is left to cope with sight and career loss plus reactions of her fiancé Eric who thinks she should let him and his mother take care of her. She refuses to do this, and after going through a rehabilitation program, she moves to a poor rural community in Virginia where she works as a social worker at a medical clinic. The remarkable ending nearly moved me to tears.

This is a sweet story. However, although the author is blind and did a great job portraying Susan’s feelings after she loses her vision, I found her portrayal of sight loss and adjustment to be unrealistic. Take for example a scene in the hospital. After Susan’s surgery to remove the tumor, she receives a visit from Ann, a counselor from a local agency that serves the blind. The reader learns that Ann is also totally blind, but she doesn’t appear to use a cane or dog. It seems to me that Susan would hear the cane tapping or rolling on the floor or the jingle of the dog’s harness as Ann walks into the room. She would also hear the cane bumping against things as Ann tries to find a place to sit or Ann telling the dog to find a chair. However, Ann just walks into the room and sits down as if she were fully sighted.

I was also disappointed in the way the author skims over Susan’s rehabilitation which takes approximately six months. It’s bad enough to lose vision you once had, and it takes a lot of courage to leave familiar surroundings and travel to a place unfamiliar to you when you can’t see. I would like for the author to have shown more of Susan’s struggles with adapting to the rehabilitation center’s way of life, learning to walk with a cane, read Braille, and prepare a meal. She could have created more conflict by having Eric continually badger Susan to leave the facility and marry him. I realize this would have made the book longer, but it might have created a better story. As it is, Susan appears to breeze through the program with flying colors and little contact with Eric, and the social worker position at the rural health clinic seems to fall right in her lap.

I also have a hard time believing Susan’s acceptance by virtually everyone in the small community where she works after her rehabilitation. It’s probably true that some people may wish to unveil their problems to a blind social worker, but there should have been a few nay sayers. Granted, one man, not realizing she’s blind, asks her what kind of doctor she is when she trips over a patient on the floor during an emergency, but he’s the only one. When I worked in a nursing home, one of my many bosses couldn’t work with my disability. Something like that would create more conflict and make the story more interesting. It also would have been nice to show Susan interacting with others in the community besides the patient involved in the emergency and her family, the staff at the clinic, and the nearby handyman and his family.

It’s nice once in a while to escape to a world where everything’s easy. Unfortunately, the harsh reality is otherwise. It’s hard to get back on your feet after losing sight you once had, and even in the 1980’s, it was hard for blind people to find work. However, despite the book’s downfalls, Come Home, My Heart is a heartwarming tale to be read during the holiday season since it ends with a Christmas miracle. For more information about Phyllis Campbell and her books, go to http://www.phylliscampbellbooks.com/ .

***

Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

Order from Amazon

Order That’s Life from Finishing Line Press.

Vote for my new book idea.

What Do you See When You See Me?

I was once a caregiver so can relate.

MS Caregiver Sharing

What do you see when you see me?

Do you see what I’ve come to be?

Do you see the mask I wear

That hides the truth of all I bear?

Do you see my strength, my skill

My constant running all uphill?

Do you see my desperate hope

That with each change I still can cope?

continue reading at: http://multiplesclerosis.net/caregiver/what-do-you-see-when-you-see-me/

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What is Red?

During our last third Thursday poets meeting, we studied the poem, “Color Me Red” by Starr Williams, which you will find at http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/color-me-red/ . We then each wrote our own poem about red. I came up with the following. Click on the link below the poem to hear me read it.

***

WHAT IS RED?

the heart of the one I still love,

his face when he was mad or embarrassed,

the shirt he sometimes wore

with a breast pocket for his red kerchief,

hat that adorned his head,

sweat pants that warmed his legs,

beets I once gave him,

thinking they were cranberry sauce,

cherry tomatoes he liked,

his blood that no longer pumps through his veins

now that he lies underground

where it’s dark, damp, cold,

where red no longer brings cheer.

***

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15213189/what%20is%20red.mp3

Now, it’s your turn. What do you associate with red? You don’t have to write a poem, but you can share your thoughts below.

***

Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

Order from Amazon

Order That’s Life from Finishing Line Press.

Vote for my new book idea.

Birthday

Gray hair against white pillow,

lips caress my cheek,

his good arm encircles my shoulder.

Odor of peanut butter

scent of his shampoo comfort me.

Seventy years old today, he says he loves me,

kiss soft against my cheek,

as we hold each other,

for who knows how long.

***

Today would have been my husband Bill’s 73rd birthday. We would have been married 10 years. Happy birthday, honey, wherever you are.

***

Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

Order from Amazon

Order That’s Life from Finishing Line Press.

Vote for my new book idea.

An Exercise in Creativity

A. Rose Hill, our state poet laureate, conducted a fun activity at our last Range Writers meeting. I urge all my readers to try it. I don’t think it’s just for writers. For those of you who are teachers, this might be something fun to try with your kids.

***

First of all, write down the following list of words.

Anthropomorphize

Basilisk

Propinquity

Djellabia

Jejune Banjax Furlong Benison Glottis Acanthus

***_

Now, use each word in a sentence. If you don’t know a word’s meaning, make it up. Be funny if you want. Whatever you do, don’t scroll down past the three asterisks below until you’ve completed this task.

***

Now, here are the actual definitions of these words. If you didn’t know their meanings, you can compare what you thought they meant with what they really mean and maybe have a good laugh.

Anthropomorphize—attribute human qualities to

Basilisk—legendary reptile; lizard like iguana

Propinquity—nearness

Djellabia or galabia—long, loose hooded garment

Jejune—not mature or childish

Banjax—smash or ruin

Furlong-220 yards

Benison—blessing or benediction

Glottis—space between vocal cords or surrounding structures

Acanthus—any of several prickly herbs of the Mediterranean region

***

Now, here are my sentences. As you’ll note, I didn’t know the meaning of any of these words until now. Please feel free to share your sentences in the comments field.

Anthropomorphize: Dinosaurs anthropomized into humans.

Basilisk: I added basilisk to my spaghetti sauce.

Propinquity: I was disgusted by his propinquity.

Djellabia: For dessert, I fixed djellabia.

Jejune: I didn’t have a jejune wedding.

Banjax: After the hootenanny, he cleaned his instrument with Banjax.

Furlong: How long is a furlong?

Benison: To prevent my sinuses from clogging at night, I take Benison before going to bed.

Glottis: I supplement my meals with glottis.

Acanthus: He was diagnosed with cancer of the acanthus.

***

Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

Order from Amazon

Order That’s Life from Finishing Line Press.

Vote for my new book idea.