Clock Dance #Thursday Book Feature

Clock DanceImage contains: Abbie, smiling.

by Ann Tyler

Copyright 2018

 

Willa has as normal a childhood as can be expected, growing up in Pennsylvania with a theatrical mother and  mild-mannered father. She graduates from high school, goes to college, and marries a boy she meets there. They move to California, where they have two sons. During the boys’ teen years, Willa’s husband is killed in a car accident. That’s the first part of this book.

The second part opens years later. The boys are grown and leading separate lives. Willa has married another man and moved to Arizona. After receiving a phone call from a stranger, for no fathomable reason, she finds herself flying across the country to Baltimore, Maryland, to care for a mother and child she doesn’t know. There, she enters a new world and is content for the first time in years.

I’ve enjoyed many of Ann Tyler’s books because of their mix of straight-laced and unpredictable characters and the humorous situations in which they find themselves. This book didn’t disappoint me. I liked the ending.

 

My Books

 

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

How to Build a better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

We Shall Overcome

My Other Links

Visit my website.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Thursday Book Feature: Our Souls At Night

Image contains: Abbie, smiling.

Our Souls At Night

by Kent Haruf

Copyright 2015.

 

In Kent Haruf’s last novel, published posthumously, Addie, a widow, is lonely after the death of her husband. In desperation, she asks her long-time neighbor, Louis, a widower, to spend nights in her bed, keeping her company. Their relationship blossoms from friendship to romance amid gossip from people in the small town where they live and despite their families’ objections.

From the beginning, this author takes us directly into the story with little description of the setting. As the story progresses, we learn about our main characters’ lives through dialog instead of paragraphs of narrative back story. All this make Our Souls at Night a sweet story about two people finding happiness in their older years. The ending, though, leaves a lot to be desired.

 

My Books

 

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

How to Build a better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

We Shall Overcome

My Other Links

Visit my website.

Like me on Facebook.

 

French Silk Pie (Fiction)

Image contains: Abbie, smiling.I glanced up from my dessert and saw him. He was sitting at the next table, also alone, also eating French silk pie. Our eyes met. He stood, picked up his plate, and carried it to my table. Sitting down across from me, he asked, “You like French silk pie too?”

“Yes,” I answered, surprised by his boldness.

“You come here often?”

“Yes,” I said.

We stared at each other for a moment. Then, I picked up my fork and started eating again. Being a happily married woman, the last thing I needed was to be distracted by another man. Couldn’t he see the wedding ring on my left hand?

Finally, he extended his hand. “I’m Jack Baker.”

With an inward sigh of resignation, I put down my fork and took his hand. “I’m Jill Tanner.”

“Jack and Jill, how about that? I was transferred here a couple of weeks ago. I work at the Veterans Administration Hospital.”

“My husband was at the VA for a few days after his stroke. We weren’t too impressed with his care. We thought he’d be better off in a nursing home.”

“Yeah, I don’t blame you. Our nursing department has been short-staffed. I’m the volunteer coordinator, and I’m trying to recruit more people to help, but there isn’t much they can do unless they’re certified. It would be nice to get people who could fill patients’ water pitchers and do other tasks that don’t require certification. I already have a woman who’s blind and plays the guitar and sings. Those old guys really like that.”
“Linda was one of the few things we liked about that place. She has such a sweet voice. She knows all those old songs the men like, and she’s so good with them. Fortunately, she also volunteers at Fernwood Manor, so my husband can still listen to her music.”

“How badly has he been effected by the stroke?”

I sighed. “He can’t use his left arm or leg, and his speech is somewhat affected. His mind is still pretty good, but he might have lost some short-term memory. The therapists at the nursing home have been great, but the neurologist says there’s no telling if or when he’ll walk again.”

Jack reached across the table and took my hand. “I’m sorry. How long ago did this happen?”

I dislodged my hand and picked up my fork again. “A few weeks ago,” I answered.

“You look awfully young. How old is your husband?”

“I’m forty-six, and my husband’s sixty-four.”

He stared at me in amazement. “You don’t look a day over twenty.”

“I know,” I said, and I smiled in spite of myself. “but when I’m sixty-six, it’ll be a blessing.”

“There’s quite an age difference between you and your husband.”

“Yeah, when Don’s mother saw a picture of me, she accused him of robbing the cradle.”

He laughed. “How did you two meet?”

“I met him at a writers’ conference. I write romances, and he writes science fiction mysteries. I don’t like mysteries of any kind, and he doesn’t care for romances, but somehow, we hit it off. We both like to write, and that’s what matters.”

He looked thoughtful. “Wait a minute. Your husband is Don Tanner?”

“Yes,” I said.

“I love his stuff! I bought a copy of his latest yesterday and started it last night. He just had a stroke?”

“I’m afraid so. Before it happened, he signed a contract for another book. I talked to his agent, and he said he would see if he could get an extension, but I don’t know…”

As the stress of the past few weeks settled over me, I found myself looking deep into his blue eyes. After a moment of silence, he said, “Maybe I could be his ghost writer.”

“Have you done any writing?”

“I’ve had a few stories and poems published, but with a forty-hour-a-week job, it’s hard to find the time. This could be a big break. I’ve read most of your husband’s books, and I know his style. If I could meet him and get some idea of the direction he wants to go with his next book, I could write it for him.”

“I’m not sure how the ghost writing business works. Besides, Don has always been very independent. I’m not sure he’d like the idea of someone else writing his work, even though he may not be able to write it himself.”

“Are you finished here?” asked the waitress, as she started to remove our plates.

“Yes,” I answered, anxious to end this conversation. “Could you please bring us our checks?”

“Actually, we’re both on one check,” he said.

The waitress hurried away before I could protest. “You don’t have to do this.”

“Yes I do. I’m one of Don Tanner’s biggest fans. I’m not going to let a stroke interfere with his career. I’ve made up my mind. I want to help him.”

The waitress returned, and after she left with his credit card, he said, “Why don’t you come over to my place, and we’ll talk about it some more? We could even go online and do some research on ghost writing.”

I looked at my watch. “It’s late. I really should see Don. He goes to sleep early, and I like to talk to him while he’s awake.”

“I understand, but this is important. If we could work something out tonight, we could both see Don tomorrow, and I could give him a proposal.”

The waitress appeared. As Jack signed the slip, I considered making a run for it, but I happened to glance into his eyes. He looked so sincere. “Okay,” I said with a sigh. “I’ll follow you to your place.”

He lived in a red brick building with four apartments, two upstairs and two on the ground floor. His was on the second floor and had a balcony plus a living room, two bedrooms, and a kitchen. After giving me the grand tour, he asked, “Can I get you a drink?”

“No thanks,” I answered. I wandered into one of the bedrooms which had been converted into an office. The shelves were lined with books, and I was reassured to see some of Don’s titles. I sat in an armchair next to Jack’s computer, hoping he would take the hint when he appeared with his drink.

My heart sank when he said, “It’s more comfortable in the living room.”

“I thought you wanted to research ghost writers.”

“We can do that later,” he said, as he approached me, extended his hand, and pulled me to my feet. “Come on. The night is still young.”

With trepidation, I allowed him to guide me into the living room where we sat side by side on the couch. We talked about this and that, as he drank glass after glass from a bottle of Scotch on a nearby coffee table. I tried several times to steer the conversation in the direction of our project and suggested we get started on the research, but he kept putting me off.

After the third drink, he set the glass down and put his arm around me. I shouldn’t have been surprised, I thought. “Excuse me, but I’m a happily married woman,” I said, trying to pull away.

He tightened his arm around me. ”I find that hard to believe. Your husband is partially paralyzed. He may never be able to walk, let alone write, and he’ll never be able to make love to you like I can.” He pulled me into an embrace.

With my free hand, I slapped him hard on the cheek. Startled, he released me, and I jumped to my feet. “You bastard! My husband may never be able to walk or write or have sex, but I still love him, and he loves me, and that’s all that matters.” I snatched my purse from a nearby chair and hurried through the kitchen and out the back door, slamming it behind me.

My legs were shaking, as I descended the steep wooden staircase to the parking lot. I expected to hear the door open and his running footsteps behind me, but the only sound was the faint chirping of crickets. When I reached the car, I climbed in and locked all doors and windows. I took several deep breaths. When I felt calm, I started the engine and glanced at my watch. It was late, but I had to see Don.

When I reached the nursing home, I was surprised to find the main entrance still unlocked. “Hi Jill, you’re a little late, aren’t you?” said Beverley, Don’s nurse, as I passed the desk.

“Yes, I got held up.”

“I’m sure Don’s still awake. In fact, Bernadette might still be with him, although I doubt it.”

I’d forgotten about Bernadette, Don’s speech therapist, but would she be here this late? Because she worked somewhere else during the day, she came early in the evening to work with Don and other residents. In her mid-twenties with long blonde hair and blue eyes, she was also a fan of Don’s books.

The door to his room was closed. Thinking Bernadette was gone and Don was asleep, I inched it open and stepped into the darkness, stopping short at the sounds of kissing and voices. “Oh Don, even though you only have one good arm and leg, you’re such a lover,” said Bernadette.

“Ummm, you’re so soft, so silky, so delicious, my French silk pie,” said Don in the same seductive voice he’d used with me. “If I could write with the same part of me I use for loving, my troubles would be over.”

“Don’t think about that now. Just love me some more,” said Bernadette, and I heard more kissing. In shock, I cried out and flung the door open wide, flooding the room with light from the hall that illuminated the naked bodies on the bed.

***

The above story was published in this year’s spring/summer issue of Magnets and Ladders, an online journal featuring work by authors with disabilities. It won an honorable mention in the magazine’s fiction contest. It also appeared last year on Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo.

 

My Books

 

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

How to Build a better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

We Shall Overcome

My Other Links

Visit my website.

Like me on Facebook.

Abandoned (Fiction)

Image contains: Abbie, smiling.

As she trudged down the alley, Vanessa glimpsed what looked like a small blanket. The night was dark, and no moon lit her way. She was tempted to walk past, but a whimpering from within the blanket stopped her.

She knelt, and bit by bit, she pulled back the cover to reveal first a head, then a torso, then arms and legs. The body was naked from head to toe. Exposed to the elements, the baby cried in earnest.

“Oh my God,” she said, re-wrapping, then scooping the infant into her arms. “Where’s your mommy? Who could have just dumped you out here like this?”

In the eerie silence, she wished now she hadn’t taken this shortcut home. She’d been in a hurry. Unable to afford a baby-sitter, she’d left her two children, ages eight and ten, home alone. She’d told them to do their homework, then go to bed at nine o’clock if she wasn’t back. She’d only planned to be gone until then, but now, it was nearly ten. Her writing group meeting had run later than usual.

Feeling a sense of impending doom, she decided to retrace her steps and take the long way home. Once in the safety of her apartment, she would call the police about the baby. She hoped someone from the department of family services could pick up the child right away. She couldn’t feed another hungry mouth.

The baby continued to wail. “Shhhh,” said Vanessa, as she turned in the direction from which she’d come. A dark figure appeared ahead of her. Vanessa froze. “It’s okay. Everything’s going to be all right,” she said, more to calm herself than the baby.

A woman’s voice said, “Hey, bitch, what are you doing with my baby?”

Another figure appeared, and a second woman’s voice said, “Bobbi, this is the pick-up I told you about. They’re going to pay us a lot of money, and they’ll find her a good home, a better home than we can give her. Remember? The woman on the phone said to leave the baby in the alley behind the building, and she would pick her up. That’s her.”

“But that’s my baby. You can’t take her away. She’s my flesh and blood. Please…” She burst into tears.

Vanessa ran, leaving Bobbi to grieve and the other woman to comfort her. What sort of adoption agency required a person to abandon a baby in an alley, she wondered, as she reached the street. She remembered there was a police station on the next corner. She would leave the baby there, tell her story, and be done with it. As she ran toward the next intersection though, reassured by the distant whoosh of traffic, she heard running footsteps behind her.

The baby kept crying. As Vanessa ran, the darkened buildings and deserted street dissolved into the darkness of her squalid bedroom. The baby crying in the basinet next to the bed was her own. She reached for her daughter and held her close, wondering why she’d dreamed she had two children.

“Oh Danielle, it’s okay.” The crying ceased, as hungry lips found a full breast.

The next afternoon, as Vanessa was walking through the park with the baby in a cheap stroller she’d recently purchased at a thrift store, a woman approached her and said, “Oh, what a beautiful baby.”

Vanessa almost gasped. The voice was similar to that of the woman in her dream of the night before, the one who’d pleaded with her not to take her baby. It couldn’t be, she realized.

“I’m sorry,” the other woman said. “I didn’t mean to startle you. It’s just that… Well… I gave a baby up for adoption several years ago, so whenever I see a baby, I always feel this twinge… I mean… You’re so lucky to have this baby.”

Vanesa smiled. Then after gazing into the woman’s face that registered only compassion, she found herself saying, “Yeah, I feel lucky, and I wouldn’t give her up for anything in the world, but it’s not easy. I’m trying to make it as a writer, and I’m learning the hard way that writing isn’t always that lucrative. I need a job, but in order for me to work, I need day care for my daughter, and I can’t afford that.”

The woman gave Vanesa a knowing smile. “I understand. My parents convinced me to give up my baby for those same reasons.”

Vanessa remembered the scene from her dream, Bobbi, begging her not to take her baby, and the other woman, maybe her mother or sister, reminding her about the promised cash they would receive in exchange for the baby. Surely this woman hadn’t been forced to give her baby up in this way.

As if reading her mind, the other woman said, “It was a private adoption. My parents arranged it. What about your folks?”

“Actually, mine have been supportive so far. They love having a granddaughter, even if she is out of wedlock. They send me an allowance every month, but I can’t depend on them forever. They think I should go back to school and major in journalism or something like that, but I don’t know.”

“What do you write?”

“Oh, a little bit of this and a little bit of that,” Vanessa answered. “I’ve sent some poems and short stories to some journals, but I’ve only gotten rejections.”

“Well, I might be able to help, at least with the writing.”

She fished a card out of her purse and handed it to Vanessa, who stared in amazement at its bold black lettering. “Bobbi Douglas, Author.” As she scanned the contact information below the name, she realized the woman didn’t live too far from her run-down apartment building. She put the card in her pocket and asked, “What kind of books do you write?”

“I just self-published a fantasy novel called The Shadow of Darkness, and I’m working on another. I also do some writing for Medford Media.”

“Oh yeah, I like that rock station you guys own.”

“Well, I actually write human interest and history pieces for the talk station, AM 950.”

In the stroller, Danielle stirred and whimpered. Vanessa glanced at her daughter, then turned to Bobbi with an apologetic smile. “She doesn’t like to be still very long. She always wants to keep moving, so she can see how things change around her.”

Bobbi gave Vanessa a reassuring smile. “I understand.”

On impulse, Vanessa asked, “Would you like to hold her?”

Bobbi’s eyes lit up. “I’d like that.”

Vanessa bent, lifted the baby, and handed her to Bobbi. “I named her after Danielle Steel, one of my favorites.” Her face grew hot, as it occurred to her that Bobbi probably didn’t care for Danielle steel, an author who didn’t write fantasy novels.

The other woman surprised her by saying, “Oh, I like Daniele Steel. I often read her books for pleasure.”

Bobbi then smiled at the infant in her arms. “Oh, look at you. Aren’t you a pretty one? I’m so sorry I’ve kept your mommy talking so long. You’ll get going here in a minute, I promise.” Danielle cooed and smiled back.

“She likes you,” said Vanessa, as Bobbi placed the baby back in the stroller and turned to her.

Do you have any of your writing that you could show me?” Bobbi asked.

Flabbergasted, Vanessa said, “Um, not with me, but I could print something up at home and bring it to you. You don’t live too far away from me.”

“Actually, I was thinking I could meet you and Danielle tomorrow afternoon at Starbucks on Grant Avenue, and I could buy you a cup of coffee or something. Would four o’clock work for you?”

“Sure,” answered Vanessa. Self-conscious, she added, “I don’t really have anything that you’d call a fantasy novel, but I’ll check out your website tonight, and maybe I’ll get inspired.”

Bobbi laughed. “It doesn’t matter if it’s fantasy or not. I just want to read something you’ve written. Then maybe I can give you some direction.”

“That would be great. Thanks so much. Will see you tomorrow.”

The next afternoon, as Vanessa pushed Danielle’s stroller through the coffee shop’s entrance, she felt a sense of hope. She found Bobbi in a corner booth. After parking the stroller next to the table, Vanessa sat down across from her new friend and said, “You know, I had the craziest dream about you the other night, and so I wrote this short story about it.”

***

Note: the above story is my entry in blogger
Stevie Turner’s April short story contest. It was published last year in Magnets and Ladders and can also be read on my website.

 

My Books

 

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

How to Build a better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

We Shall Overcome

My Other Links

Visit my website.

Like me on Facebook.

Thursday Book Feature: The Cold Dish

Image contains: Abbie, smiling.

The Cold Dish: A Walt Longmire Novel

By Craig Johnson

Copyright 2005

 

In Absaroka County, Wyoming, four teen-aged boys gang-rape a Cheyenne girl who is developmentally disabled as a result of fetal alcohol syndrome. They are convicted but only given suspended prison sentences. Two years later, one of the boys is found dead, and Sheriff Walter Longmire must investigate. As developments arise, and a second of the four boys is found murdered, Walt wonders if he should suspect his friend Henry Standing Bear, who is related to the rape victim. The murderer turns out to be a most unlikely suspect.

I normally don’t read this type of book, but Craig Johnson was a surprise guest at a recent writing group meeting. He lives in Ucross, about twenty miles east of Sheridan, Wyoming, where I live. Absaroka County is actually Johnson County, about 30 miles south of here. Intrigued by his discussion of the setting and characters, I decided to try The Cold Dish.

This book is not your run-of-the-mill mystery. It offers humorous glimpses of small-town life, friendship, and Native American history and folklore. Walt Longmire and Henry Standing Bear, working together, reminded me, somewhat, of The Lone Ranger and Tanto, whose adventures I enjoyed following on the radio as a teen-ager.

I found the setting a bit disorienting. In the book, the Cheyenne reservation is in Absaroka County. In reality, the nearest Indian reservation is about thirty miles in the opposite direction from Sheridan. This probably wouldn’t bother anyone not living in the area, but I think it might have made more sense to set the story in Montana near Crow Agency or perhaps at the other end of Wyoming, close to the Wind River Reservation.

Also, I found the end shocking and depressing. I don’t know what I expected but it wasn’t that. What’s so upsetting is the stark reality of sexual predators getting off scot free, especially if they’re white and their victims are not. On the other hand, the book offers an underlying message. Revenge is a dish best served cold but better never served at all.

 

My Books

 

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

How to Build a better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

We Shall Overcome

My Other Links

Visit my website.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Website Updates

Image contains: Abbie, smiling.I’ve updated the fiction, nonfiction, and poetry sample pages on my website. I’ve already posted these pieces here, but if you missed them or want to read them again, you can check them out at the above links. Enjoy!

 

My Books

 

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

How to Build a better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

We Shall Overcome

My Other Links

Visit my website.

Like me on Facebook.

Gloves (Fiction)

Image contains: Abbie, smiling.Note: a writing exercise inspired the following story, which was published several years ago in Emerging Voices. Please be warned that it contains some strong language and violence. You can also read this story on my website.

 

GLOVES

 

 

The snow fell in a wall of white that obscured her view of the road and the darkening sky. “Why didn’t I stay where I was?” she asked herself as she drove at a snail’s pace along the Shirley Basin Road that wound its way from Medicine Bow to Casper, Wyoming.

As the car’s interior grew colder, she fiddled with the heater knob, but nothing happened. Dammit! No heat!”

She pulled to the side of the road, ignoring the sliding noise the tires made. She searched for her gloves, but they weren’t in her coat pockets or her purse. “I must have left them at the convenience store in Medicine Bow.”

After taking several deep breaths and warming her hands in her pockets, she said, “I should go back. There are people in Medicine Bow. There is warmth in Medicine Bow.”

The engine whined, and the tires skidded on the ice under the newly fallen snow. In a frantic effort to free herself, she gunned the engine and rocked the car back and forth. The motor continued to whine as the tires slipped deeper into the drift. After a few more minutes of struggling, she switched off the engine and stuffed her cold hands in her pockets.

The night was silent except for the wind and the sound of snow pelting the car. Shivering, she zipped her winter coat as high as it would go. After tightening the hood around her face, she wriggled her toes inside her boots. With a sigh of resignation, she buried her hands deeper in her coat pockets and settled herself more comfortably.

“It doesn’t matter,” she told herself. What do I have to live for? If God exists, and this is his way of punishing me for running away, so be it.” She closed her eyes and let herself drift, though she knew this was dangerous.

A few minutes later, she opened her eyes with a sense of impending doom. Hearing a car engine behind her, she turned and gasped in horror when she recognized the angry face outside her window. It couldn’t be, she thought. He couldn’t have known where she was going. Since she had no relatives in Wyoming, the chances of him finding her were slim, but there he was, the exhaust from his idling car making an eerie specter in the freezing air.

His knuckles rapped against the pane with several sharp thuds. Her panic rising, she turned the key in the ignition and pushed the button to automatically lock all doors. Her heart sank when he removed the spare key from his pocket and unlocked the driver’s side door. Yanking her out into the freezing cold, he slammed the door and pinned her against it, delivering a hard blow to her cheek.

“How did you find me?” she asked, holding up her hands to protect herself.

“I followed your tracks,” he said, as he struck her a second time. “I found these on the counter at the Super America in Medicine Bow.” He removed her gloves from his pocket and tossed them into the snow.

“You never did have much sense,” he said, as he hit her a third time, “so I figured you’d be stranded out here somewhere.”

When she bent to retrieve the gloves, he delivered a sharp kick to her backside, sending her sprawling in the snow. As anger rose within her, she bent her knee and kicked as hard as she could. Her effort was rewarded when her foot struck something solid, and he yelped in pain.

She jumped to her feet. Putting on her gloves, she glared at him, as he lay writhing in the snow and clutching his crotch. She flung herself on top of him.

With her gloved fists, she pummeled his face. “Now, you’re getting a taste of your own medicine!” she yelled, striking his eyes, nose and mouth.

The blows sounded harsh. “Ma’am, are you okay?” a voice called from somewhere.

She opened her eyes to find herself still sitting behind the wheel of her car. It had stopped snowing, and a bright moon shone overhead. The lights of a snowplow blinked behind her. A man, apparently its driver, was pounding on her window.

Shivering, she opened the door a crack and said, “I’m stuck, and my heat doesn’t work.”

“You don’t have any heat at all?”

“No,” she answered, shaking in earnest.

“How long have you been sitting there?”

“I don’t know,” she answered through chattering teeth.

He pulled the door open and extended his hand. “Come get in my vehicle where it’s warm, and I’ll call a wrecker.”

She stiffened and shrank away from him. “It’s okay,” he said. “I’m here to help you.”

His tone was soft, his words not judgmental or condescending. She looked into his face and saw nothing but concern. “Thank you,” she said, as she allowed him to help her out of her car. With him, she walked away, not looking back, only looking forward.

 

THE END

 

My Books

 

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

How to Build a better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

We Shall Overcome

My Other Links

Visit my website.

Like me on Facebook.