Well, I woke up this morning [4:30A.M.] THIS was on my Mind.

My high school reunion has thinned
There aren’t quite as many as there were back then
My high school reunion has thinned

My high school reunion has thinned
Our paths to this moment littered with sins
My high school reunion has thinned

My classmates have grown quite old
So have I, if I believe what the mirror unfolds
We were young and now we are old

My high school reunion has thinned
We are and we aren’t who we were back then
My high school reunion has thinned

My classmates like I have experienced loss
Parents, spouses, children, health some of the cost
We are who we are because or in spite of this loss

My high school reunion has thinned
Paths diverged have merged, once again friends
My high school reunion has thinned

Our faces hold stories that beg to be told
Our faith has been tested, refined like gold
Memories compiled that long to be told

My high school reunion has thinned
We notice whose missing not like back then
My high school reunion has thinned

We are the survivors, torchbearers of then
Who remember most of it with a grin
My high school reunion has thinned

If you read this and you are still young
Don’t let a song in your heart go unsung
Believe me you won’t always be young.

My high school reunion has thinned.

Some times you just got to get up and write even if it makes no sense.

September Fiction 2016–A Darker Side

lifeinthesilverriver

Some stories have a darker side. This is one of them.

Rodney’s Last Stand

imageRodney Crick scanned the intersection, flipping the two sided sign that dangled from the door from OPEN to CLOSED. Through grimy Venetian blinds, his eyes searched the landscape, lighting first on the Missionary Baptist Church diagonal from his tiny grocery, his gaze falling next on the old high school with its gymnasium built with WPA funding and workers, following clockwise, seeing the police cruiser edging past the gym and the nursing home that stood adjacent to Rodney’s store on the right, watching as it traveled east to the intersection. Bobby Earl Frank lifted a hand out the window of the cruiser, waving toward Rodney’s store without even glancing that way. Rodney did not return the wave.

To a casual observer nothing appeared unusual, the light that controlled traffic at the intersection flashed yellow for east/west traffic…

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September Fiction: FOWL PLAY

When I was a kid, my Momma kept chickens. We got eggs and an occasional chicken dinner. Or in the case where the rooster jumped on my brother Terry, pinned him to the ground and pecked a good sized hole in his forehead—rooster dinner. Momma ended that bad birds life with a flick of her wrist. Nobody messed with Momma’s kids except Momma.

Somewhere in my sixties I started this novel as yet unfinished. Should I give it another shot? You be the judge; I will accept your decision. So here is more September Fiction.

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Fowl Play

Part One: Life Expectancy
Chapter One

A chicken is designed to live thirty years. Most chickens do not live that long because they succumb to a multitude of stresses, disease, and predation. But with a little common sense care and good nutrition, your birds can live a long, happy life. Poultryone.com

“Chickens!?” Mavis Purcell lifted one eyebrow and narrowed her eyes. She crossed her arms beneath her ample bosom rocked back in her chair so that she was gazing slightly upward at the foursome standing across the desk from her.

“Chickens.” The Reverend Henry Porter affirmed as the three who flanked him nodded in agreement.

Mavis tried to choose her words carefully since she had had run-ins with this band of marauders on previous occasions. She glanced from one to the next before speaking, keeping her voice level and non-committal.

“You do understand the idea of this experiment is to choose a pet, like a gold fish, or parakeet or a dog, why even a cat, but chickens? Where on earth or let’s get more specific, where in this facility could you keep chickens? A chicken is not a pet and—”

Thelma Louise standing to the left and back of the Reverend Henry Porter was waving both hands and bouncing in place. Mavis smiled, but her deep sigh threatened to reveal her growing exasperation. Thelma Louise looked like an octogenarian cheerleader with her plump white curls, her crisp white blouse and navy blue pleated skirt that hung longer in the front than the back. Everything about Thelma Louise bounced.

“AND, Oh for heaven’s sake, what is it, Thelma Louise”? An edge crept into her voice, just a hint of stridence that Mavis struggled to control as she waited for Thelma Louise’s response.

“I had a pet chicken when I was a little girl. Daddy bought her for me at Easter. I called her Sadie. She was soft and yellow”

“And, exactly where did you keep Sadie?” Mavis asked.

“In a box, in the kitchen, near Mama’s stove.”

“And when she got bigger, did she stay in the kitchen?” Mavis cocked her head to one side, her smile gone and her tone bordering on sarcastic. This would be a tale to share with Earl over supper at the Cracker Barrel, should she ever get an evening free for such luxuries. Graduating with honors from the University of Kentucky with a degree in hospital administration failed to prepare her for the nuances of her position at Heritage Village. Chickens! What next?

Thelma Louise furrowed her brow; the bouncing stopped. Mavis watched as a large tear—made even larger due to the magnification of Thelma Louise’s coke bottom lenses—formed in Thelma Louise’s eyes. Her lowered lip trembled, but with an exaggerated intake of air, Thelma Louise found her voice.

“Sadie lived her whole life in the kitchen. I would take her out of her box to play and well, Daddy accidentally stepped on her, left her flat as a pancake.”
“How long did Sadie last?” Mavis inquired, struggling mightily not to laugh.

“Two days.” Thelma Louise admitted, then with renewed purpose and strength of voice asserted, “But the point is Sadie was a chicken and my pet.”

The Reverend Henry Porter put his arm around Thelma Louise’s shoulder patting her arm. His facial expression as he looked at Mavis bordered on the kinder side of reproach. Removing his arm from Thelma Louise’s shoulder and glancing sideways at Agnes and Ruth, he eased forward, leaned over Mavis’s desk and leveled his eyes with hers.

“You said we, the residents, could choose a pet. We, Ruth, Agnes, Thelma Louise, and myself, want a rooster and three hens. We’ll build a little chicken coop. Agnes downloaded the plans from the internet. They eat bugs, you know. They lay eggs for up to 18 years. Why! They’ll likely out live all of us.” The Reverend Henry Porter’s voice crested. Mavis could tell he was getting into full preaching momentum.

Mavis unclasped her arms and rising from her chair pressed her hands flat on her desk leaning forward till her face was inches from the Reverend Henry Porter’s. Their eyes locked, then with a sigh, she smiled and stood back.

“You say they lay eggs for 18 years? Just how long do they live after that?”

“The good Lord designed them for up to 30 years with good food, low stress and protection from predators.” He added weight to the word “predators” narrowing his gaze. Mavis propped her right elbow on her left hand and tapped her teeth with her forefinger. The Reverend with his three accomplices flanking, waited for her decision.

Mavis had spent weeks researching the “Residents with Pets” project; research that included visits to two sister facilities. The in-state establishment’s program was only six months old but the out-of-state program had recently celebrated their residents and pets program’s fourth anniversary. From all Mavis could gather both programs were successful with the residents, the staff and even the administration. Just like the journal articles inferred elderly people stayed healthier, mentally and physically if they had animal companions.

The plan Mavis presented to the Board of Directors took days to prepare, because she knew it would be a hard sell. If she hadn’t presented a detailed workable plan, the pilot project would have died at that meeting. Even with all the preparations, the Board was divided. Some of the Board of Directors stood with her. An equal number strongly opposed the concept. Two of the undecided voted for it so it had passed by a narrow margin, with Mr. Frank Askew, Mr. Milk-Toast himself, declining to vote.

Even so, Chickens had never entered her mind. The policy and procedure did not specify which pets and the exclusions prohibited reptiles and wild animals, but there was no mention of chickens. Mavis cringed realizing suddenly that not only were chickens not excluded, neither was any barnyard beast. The way this day was going the Colonel would be lumbering in her office next demanding a horse. She sighed; the bottom line decided. The guidelines did not exclude chickens.

But, Thirty years! Who would think birds could live that long. The Reverend hit the nail when he said the birds would likely outlive their owners. Then what? They’d be too tough to fry or roast. With her luck, they’d leave them to her in their wills. Exhaling audibly, she bit her bottom lip then spoke.

“Okay, we’ll give it a try, but you have to have the coop built first and it has to look decent and be far away enough so that the odor doesn’t offend.”

The Reverend and his little flock smiled in unison and Thelma Louise commenced what might have been a dance step if she could have lifted her feet. As it was, she resembled one of those bobbing hula dolls. The Reverend reached across the desk grasping Mavis’s hand in his and shaking it like she’d just come forward to be baptized.

“Thank you, Thank you, Sister Mavis. We’ve cleared it with Otto. He’s picking up supplies right now and his brother’s going to build it. Agnes ordered the brooder—”

“Whoa! Hold up! What if I had said no? And a….what brooder? Where will that go?”

Ruth spoke for the first time. “We knew you wouldn’t say no. We’d already prayed those little chicks here.”

Agnes supplied the next answer, “The brooder will go into the boiler room. The chicks will be about three days old when we get them. The hatchery will have already vaccinated them for Marek’s disease. They will be in the brooder for a couple of weeks.”

In spite of herself, Mavis laughed. “Ok, chickens it is. Now you four had better get on down to lunch, before Miss Margaret comes searching for you.”

The four exited with The Reverend Henry Porter holding the door. Agnes with her walker, Ruth in her wheelchair, Thelma Louise shuffling, and the Reverend Henry Porter strutting, the foursome departed in single file. At the door, the Reverend Henry Porter turned and said,

“One more thing.”

“Yes.” Suspicion laced the word like arsenic in a drink.

“We have a name for our business, “The Early Birds Hatchery.” He saluted, pulling the door closed behind him.

“What!? Business!?!” Mavis sputtered then plopped into her chair. The office emptied and the door closed, Mavis closed her eyes and took slow even breaths. The old rooster and his hens had worn her out and it wasn’t even 11 AM.

September Fiction–From the question, What if?

What if…in my experience stories begin from these two words. So it is with this one. What if at the breaking point in a relationship, the crash of waves on the ship threatening to break it apart—and trust me, most couples have had at least one—what if, one partner experienced an epiphany so profound that the ship survived the storm and became stronger. What happens then when the ‘death do us part’ becomes reality for that couple.

From this the following short short story emerged:

imageEpiphany Revisited

Mary Ellen paused, pulled on to the shoulder of the road, and surveyed the landscape. Cars whizzed by her. Obviously, she had been holding up some of them, because one arm shot up from the driver’s side window. She squinted. She sighed. Yes, indeed, the one finger salute was aimed right for her.

She squinted out the window. How could thirty years change so much? How? Well, look at her. She chuckled, the same thirty years had done a number on her. Her changes, the wrinkles, the extra pounds, the myriad of old age signs, the recent loss of Marvin had somehow diminished her further. The landscape around her had expanded. Housing developments filled land that had once been ranch land. The road she had pulled off was four lanes now when back then it had been mostly two lanes.. Another sigh.

Why did it seem so important to find the exact spot? Of course, it wasn’t. Silly, really. But the place was symbolic. What happened changed everything. Before that night she had spent two years on a crumbling precipice. Here, that September evening Mary Ellen found footing. Deciding the exact spot where she had veered off the road, awash in tears, angry, hurt, despairing did not matter, she swung the door open, reaching as she did to pop the trunk. Again, a sigh.

Reaching in among her suitcase and make up case, she retrieved the object wrapped in one of her scarfs. Squeezing it to her chest, her daughters’ faces came into her consciousness. Marisa, Paige, and Beth, so different, and yet all equally appalled. The day before she set out on this journey she had presented them with lockets on chains, pretty things really, 14K gold, each containing some of Marvin’s ashes.

–What the devil are we supposed to do with these, Mother? You can be so macabre!–Marisa

–EWWW! Mom, how disgusting! Isn’t it enough of an embarrassment that you had Daddy cremated rather than burying his whole body in a nice coffin. People are still talking about that.–Paige

–BUT, BUT I thought we would all decide where to take Daddy’s ashes…I thought we would all go together and spread them…I cannot wear Daddy around my neck!–Beth

There had been other appeals, tears, demands. Still here she stood. Alone. Just as she and Marvin had planned on the morning before he slipped into a coma, she had come full circle to this place. Spreading a blanket on the far side of her car, she sat with her arms around the man she had been married to for fifty years.

Like a wash that cleared a canvas, thirty years dropped away.

Her eyes swept landscape, wiping clean the current place until so she saw open space before her, slight hills across the prairie land. The wind tossed her short brown, graying hair…her eyes welled with tears. She clutched the urn closer.

Tears had altered her sight that night, too. All hope of mending her damaged marriage had evaporated. She knew she was at the end of a fraying rope, barely clinging to the shreds with broken fingernails. Still even as her grip loosened, she clung to the shreds.

Instinctively, she turned her face upward as she had then and out loud repeated the words, her last appeal.

“If you care, help me.”

The wind calmed, her racing heart slowed and she felt, no, she heard, ‘Be Still.’ Looking around she wondered at her imagination. How impertinent to entertain such thoughts. How likely was it that God, a higher power who she had been ignoring, would jump to her aid? And yet the urn in her hands testified to the transformation of that distant moment.

She walked mystically through several difficult months as she forgave and was forgiven. Mary Ellen walked through the ruins, retrieved the treasures, leaving the trash behind. Marvin and she found their footing again. The thirty years since brought greater love and friendship than she could have imagined.

Lid off, Mary Ellen emptied the urn, watching as the wind picked up his ashes. A whirlwind caught them, spinning out across the ground. The wind calmed. She had released him. She folded the blanket, returned it to the trunk. Behind the wheel, she wondered. Where would she go now? Who would she lean on? She pulled onto the highway.

She whispered, “I know, Be Still.”  And a peace fell over her like a warm blanket.

September Fiction–Excerpt from Porch Story Chapter 16

 

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Last entry in Eleanor Brown’s Journal: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (‭1 John‬ ‭2‬:‭15-17‬ NIV)

I opened my Bible to this text this morning. Sitting here before dawn on the patio, the heat already like a living being wrapping its insidious arms around me in a strangle hold. The wind is blowing, imagine that, this is after all Oklahoma, “where the wind comes sweeping down the plains”, but it only reinforces the smothering effect. Of course, it is the tumor, not the wind, sucking life out of me. Still reading this scripture, I know that I have experienced everything in the world offers, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” and not a single one of them filled me up like they so enticingly promised.

I feel it in my bones or maybe in my head a need to pry my fingers from the world and all its fake offerings, the old grudges and even all the good and precious gifts I have here. Turn loose of the world so I can really live these last hours, days, weeks, whatever and then FOREVER! Last entry in Eleanor Brown’s Journal

James Adams slammed the door of the house. Rose who had preceded him through the entry jumped slightly but didn’t turn, instead she bore down on Jessie whose sneakiness had brought on this latest burst of temper from James. Swinging the girl around, mouth agape, scathing words tripped and ready, she froze at the sight of her daughter’s face.

She expected some smart mouthed retort but instead Jessie’s large brown eyes were tear filled, spilling over down her face. Her summer tan appeared like a transparent watercolor over a face drained of color. Rose crumbled the girl into her arms, letting her own anger fade as her tears flowed into her daughter’s hair. She could hear James shouting, stomping about behind her, but she ignored him holding tightly to Jessie for dear life. As her husband retreated still swearing, she lifted her daughter away from her.

“Why don’t we give your daddy some room. Let’s go in the kitchen and talk.”

Jessie nodded, but hesitated. “I need to go check on Megan and Cindy. They get real scared when Daddy’s …when Daddy’s mad.” Without waiting for a response from her mother she scurried down the hall to her sisters. Rose exhaled unaware that she had been holding her breath. When had Jessie become mother to her sisters? Had all this trouble closed her off from her children. James drinking and her own reliance on those pain killers Doc Noble had given her after her back surgery a year ago obviously had impacted their family more than she knew. She thought about the note she had written to herself this morning to call Doc’s office for another prescription as she stood listening to Jessie’s soft voice comforting her sisters.

***
Clara found herself reluctant to leave the viewing room at the conclusion of the visitation, exhausting as that had been. She had asked for a few moments alone with her mother. Settling into a chair on the front row, eyes fixed on the casket, rubbing her temples in small circles, her thoughts always random ran amuck. She felt like she needed to concentrate, but could not.

Perhaps if the visitation had been an orderly affair, which decidedly it was anything but. What with the tumbling of flowers, the children’s evaluation of her mother’s body, the Colonel’s–what would you call it?–outburst, the endless people sharing story after story about her mother. Clara was way beyond overwhelmed.

The children, Les Burton and Jessie Adams, obviously were there without parental permission. After the flowers were uprighted, Nancy had kept them with her for a few minutes, before whispering to both of them and leaving the room. Clara supposed she had left to call their parents, but while she was gone, both of them approached the open casket. In spite of the setting, her raw emotions, the reality that the wide eyed white faced children gawking at her mother’s body, Clara found herself fighting back a bit of a giggle. It was so obvious that neither of them had ever been to a funeral visitation.

Clara watched even as she greeted the folks who had come to express their sympathy as they leaned cautiously over the edge of the casket. The little girl, Jessie seemed to be waving her hand over Ellie’s body. What on earth was she doing? Les seemed to be looking around, his faced scrunched into a grimace as he tugged at Jessie’s arm, sputtering a whispered warning. Clara several steps away and too far forward to see what Jessie was doing took a half step back to try to get a better look.

Jessie’s hand fluttered near Ellie’s face…it was then Clara saw it..a fly had settled on her mother’s face. Seeing it Clara instinctively brushed at her own face as if the fly had lighted there. The child’s hand did not seem to distract the fly a bit, as it continued to explore the nooks and crannies along the heavily applied make-up of the upper lip. Jessie’s feet lifted off the floor as she strained to reach the insect. Les tugged at her pulling her back toward the floor, but she was determined. Just as her hand almost reached the fly, Les’s tugging, her own precarious positioning and gravity caused her to slip backwards. She landed awkwardly, but managed to keep her balance, just as the fly crawled inside Ellie’s nares. Clara gasped slightly, causing her grandfather to rise a bit too quickly, almost toppling into her.

They caught each other grasping at each others elbows both of them upright. It was the closest Clara had been physically to the Colonel since the stiff, forced hugs of her childhood. For all those children who had close relationships with their grandparents, including her mother, Brian, Mandy, and many others, Clara held a deep seated envy.

As a child she had silently pretended that Ann and Paul Stewart were her grandparents as she considered herself a cousin to Brian and Mandy. Her grief when Paul died had mirrored Brian and Mandy’s. It was something her mother noticed, something they both knew, but never spoke of, Ellie, letting her daughter grieve. Clara realized at that moment that Ellie had seen the Stewarts more as parents than merely a friend’s parents, that her mother’s grief plunged the same waters her own did.

In the awkward grasping for balance, Clara realized her grandfather was shaking and as she stepped back, he tightened his hold on her. The still formidable frame of the Colonel heaved with emotion, first silent, but breaking into loud choking sobs. Clara’s reacted first with an unexpected repulsion, an unexplained desire to distance herself from the grasping weeping hulk, who clawed at her enveloping her into his embrace. Never could Clara have prepared for this, she knew how to be polite and restrained in his presence, she did not have a clue as to how to comfort him. As he clung though she relaxed in his embrace.

It was Delia who stepped forward, putting her arm around the Colonel, her face composed, kindly patting Clara’s arm and steering her grandfather back to his seat, calming him as they moved away. Clara followed them with her damp eyes. His behavior confused her while tripping her own raw grief, threatening her composure.

The children’s parents had arrived but Clara paid little attention to the turmoil over that leaving Nancy to manage. The remainder of the visitation was a blur, so intent was she on restraining her emotions. Now sitting in the semi darkness, she stared straight ahead at the still face and frame of her mother. For a woman who hardly ever was still, death did not become her.

“Who were you, Mom?”

After several minutes she rose. Brian and Amanda waited for her in the entry area, but they stood quietly allowing her the silence she craved.

“Hey”

“You ok?”

“I am. Know what, I really want to go home” a gulp then, “I think it is time I got to know the woman who birthed me.”

First Published February 18, 2015 on Braking Points