It's fiction dontcha know. If you've made it this far, you were probably invited. Enjoy the writing process with me and feel free to leave feedback.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Storm Door Bounced

closed behind me and I swiped the front door closed with my foot. I stood there in the entryway, hands on hips, surveying the living room’s cluttered terrain. A squashed, half roll of toilet paper peeked from under the loveseat only inches from where Stimey’s behind rested. Wads of the paper smeared with Byron’s dried, allergy snot littered the floor near his usual living room parking spot. The potted plant within arm’s reach now sported two popsicle sticks, one toilet paper wad, an unidentified cellophane wrapper, a fork—tines in the dirt, and a scattering of rejected popcorn seeds. I had now surpassed the two week mark. Two weeks I waited to see how long it would take before I started up with my broken record rant about using the potted plant as a convenient trash can segueing into ‘the floor is not for your snot rags’ tirade, and finally, grasping and stammering for an ‘or else’ to tag on the end. Two weeks was more than I could stomach. Before I knew it, I was in an angry cleaning fit. The back of my neck began to perspire more from elevated blood pressure than exertion. I flew around the room collecting two empty glasses, the fork, the popsicle sticks, the handful of popcorn seeds and five dirty socks, delivering them to their respective homes. I ran this relay with every stomping combination of profanity bursting through the membrane of my brain-to-mouth filter. It was like finally farting, loud and long after holding a belly full of gas through a wedding.

When I was satisfied that I’d rid the common areas of everything distastefully Byron, I plunged butt-first onto the loveseat and remoted the TV. I gathered up my sweaty hair and twisted it up into a wrap-around bun and held it there against the back of the sofa. Stimey eased into the living room from where she’d apparently been keeping a low-profile in the kitchen. The coast was clear. Mom was on the couch, the television was on, and the obscenities had subsided.

“Stimey, Girl, who can live in that kind of filth?” I asked her. Stimey trotted the rest of the way to the loveseat taking my tone as a signal that it must have been someone else who had been in trouble earlier. Stimey had good instincts that way.

I flipped through all five channels and on the second round, I fell prey. Pizza Hut had no consideration or mercy for me, the animal-hungry but flat-broke TV viewer. It had been nine hours since my last pancake and black coffee which made the hot pizza cheese I was watching stretch nine times further than it normally does before it snaps into greasy goodness. It made the pepperoni glisten to the ninth power. It made the thought of writing a bad check sound as good as cashing in prize-tickets at the toy counter of a carnival arcade.

“Stimey, we’re having pizza. Medium, deep-dish, pepperoni, extra-cheese.” I told the pug after I hung up with the delivery hotline. “Take it to the grave, Girl. We’ll pay the bank tomorrow and destroy the evidence later.” I said sealing the deal. Stimey rotated her wrinkly, velvet head inquisitively.

“You just eat the pizza, I’ll worry about the rest.” I told Stimey. She seemed satisfied that I had it all figured out, rolled her rump over to the side, and sat down. The man of the hour, the pizza guy, would be here in thirty minutes or less—or my next one would be free. I’d waited nine hours, I could wait thirty-one minutes.

Exactly twenty-eight minutes later, the pizza guy’s steed could be heard half-way down the block begging for a muffler. It was an AMC Gremlin the color of grape soda-pop cut with traditional white racing stripes. I was waiting at the door, hot-check already written and in hand when the Gremlin’s driver’s side door lamented with a squall of dry metal on metal. The pizza guy could have been Freddie Krueger and I would have paid the man as gladly. Once my eyes connected with the vinyl pizza carrier I knew nothing else until I landed on the couch and opened the promising box of on my lap. I tore the crust off my first piece and tossed it Stimey’s direction. Never before had Stimey snatched anything out of mid-air. She chewed it down like a buzz saw and her buggy eyes stared me down while I sunk my teeth into the first sloppy slice.

In fifteen minutes, I was slouched in bloated bliss. I looked down at the pizza box still flapped open on my lap. I’d eaten exactly half of the pizza.

“Stimey, Girl, I was sure I could’ve eaten five of these things.” I said. Stimey looked desperate and began squeaking a gravelly whine. I’d given her the pizza crust from each piece I’d eaten and she now sat at my feet accusing me of holding out on her. I knew better than to feed that dog anything with cheese on it. She was lactose intolerant, as most dogs are, and it generally came out the other end in the form of a clinging, green fog.

The phone rang and I picked up. It was Mr. Sunshine.

“Hey, we just got done eating and I was—my Dad was going to let the girls go swimming here in awhile so, if it gets kinda late I thought we could just let them sleep over here so I could get some work done before I came home.”

“It’s a school night, you know. I think--” He cut me off.

“Well, Jess has some clothes over here and they said they would take her to school in the morning.” He argued. “At least they can have something besides pancakes in the morning, right?” He said laughing.

“Yeah. At least.” I said grinding my teeth.

“Okay, well I’ll be home later.” He said. I hung up the phone and threw the receiver into the couch pillows. Stimey hadn’t moved a muscle and standing at full attention.

What the hell. I sure as hell won’t have him eating it tomorrow.

I slid the entire box onto the floor. Stimey stood on all fours frozen in momentary disbelief.

“Go. Eat it. It’s okay, Stimer, get after it.” I said, egging her on. Our girl Stimey went face down into the rest of the pizza. She had devoured all but the last piece when she dragged her pooched belly from the crime scene. She sat on her behind and carefully lowered her front end to the floor before flopping over onto her side where she laid—legs outstretched, followed shortly by a slow snore.

“Girl, you shouldn’t have.” I said to Stimey. I picked up the pizza box and Stimey opened her eyes half-way.

“Forget it, Girl! It’s going in the neighbor’s trash.” I said to the glutton. I took the box into the kitchen, stripped off the delivery sticker, and slipped out the back patio door. It was dark enough to cross the street that ran along the side of the duplex without being noticed. I did a quick run to the neighbor’s mini-dumpster, hiked the lid and deposited the evidence. I slipped back across the street and through the doorway, slid the thing closed and locked it up with a swipe of my thumb. I wedged a sawed-off broomstick into the track for good measure and made for the living room where the couch and remote were calling my name.

“Jammies first.” I said out-loud to myself. Although I was reluctant to climb the stairs to the bedroom, pajamas were what my over-stuffed belly needed right then and I though I might as well do the face washing, teeth brushing, and potty routine while I was at it, then we’d call it a night.

I changed into my pajamas and shuffled from the bedroom to the bathroom. I was home alone and took pleasure shutting the bathroom door without the threat of the world coming to an end because Mommy closed the door to pee. I dropped my drawers, sat on the pot, and became incensed all over again. Staring at me from the corner of the bathroom was The Pile. His dirty underwear could pile nine-high behind the bathroom door before he’d notice. After nine, he’d either have to buy more or wash what was there. As much as I hated The Pile, I wouldn’t touch it. It was the principle of the thing.

Stimey was snoring like a lumberjack, lips flapping on the exhale by the time I made it back downstairs. I scrunched myself cozy on the loveseat, drifting off somewhere in the middle of Leno’s monologue.

I woke to the sound of a skillet meeting the stove burner in the next room. The living room was dark except for the bluish hue from early morning news yammering on the TV. I thought I smelled coffee. I was sure I was having a lucid dream. Why would anyone be in my kitchen during the 5:30 news, and who was cooking?

I rubbed into my eyelids with the pads of my fingers working out the sleepy crust while deciding to investigate the kitchen. I leaned my elbow into the arm of the loveseat and put one foot in front of the other toward the kitchen. My eyes burned when they met the light blaring from under the stove hood and I shielded with my forearm. My face melted into a cranky grimace.

“Rise and shine workin’ girl! I thought you might want to get an early start on the day of your big job interview. I brought a banana and an orange from my Dad’s and I made you some coffee. Brought a couple of eggs too.” Byron said standing at the stove glowing-white and naked by the light of the bald sixty-watt bulb. He was casually stirring and turning a pair of his underwear in the skillet.

“What--” I stammered trying to start. I could not be awake. I closed my eyes and shook my head trying to escape the scene. When I blinked them open again, he was still standing there poking at his underwear in the Teflon skillet.

“Are those your fucking underwear?” I said having not yet flipped on the profanity filter for the day.

“Yeah-p. I was out of panties so I threw a load in when I got home and just wanted a dry pair real quick. Thought I’d fry me up a pair.” He said with his hands on his inner-tube hips. The image burned. His concave chest sprouted as much hair as a fifteen year-old boy. His legs bowed backward at the knees and his butt cheeks were dimpled like golf balls. Thankfully, his unmentionables were hiding in the shadow of his fish-belly paunch.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

"You Girls Wanna Go To Grandpa's House?

Grandma’s making chicken, and potatoes, and macaroni and cheese!” He sing-songed.

“Yay!” Jess cheered. Chloe rubbed her baby fist in her eyes having just come out of the nap, hair ruffled into a blonde puff.

“Jess is ready to go,” I said. “and I’ll change Chloe and brush her hair. They’re ready for dinner.”

“Well, I just got here. Can I sit down or is that against some new house rule?” Byron poked.

I was tired of boxing with him. If I could have just clicked my heels together three times and he would turn into a nice wingback chair, it would be a better day. Instead of wasting another mouthful of words, I gave him an exaggerated, “Oh, won’t you sit down?” gesture with a sweep of my right arm and scooped Chloe up on the finish.

Twenty minutes later, the kids were fresh and ready to go. I rounded the past the entryway and found Prince Charming draped across the loveseat in a slack-jawed, sleeping heap. The remote was still in his flacid hand as the local newscaster predicted rain for tomorrow afternoon. I snatched the remote from him and clicked the TV off. He pushed both arms over his head and groaned through a sleeping dog stretch.

“Man, what time is it? I must’ve fallen asleep.” He said squinting into the kitchen at the microwave’s digital clock.

“The kids are waiting on you, I’m getting them into the car.” I said.

I tucked the girls into the back seat of the car, buckled them in, and faked my way through a happy send-off to Grandpa’s house. I’ve never been a fan of his parents for reasons greatly numbered and just the sight of his father triggered a bad taste in my mouth. His lack of common discretion was near the top of the list. Speedo’s on a fifty-six year old man with the body shape of a slovenly, Silverback Gorilla is something no person should be subject to view unless they suffer from some sort of obscure fetish. Even then, I think it should be federally regulated.

I waved to the girls as he sped away down the street and thought about how much better things would have to be tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I Covered The Mouthpiece

on the phone and cleared my throat of the thick, angry spit.

“Jess, Hon, could you sit next to Chloe and watch Sesame Street with her while I get your fruit cocktail?” I needed her out of earshot in case I couldn’t contain the f-word, in case I ground my teeth into a mouthful of grit, or in case I busted a blood vessel in my right eye. Jess bounced butt first onto the couch next to the baby. Thankfully, she could still get engrossed in Elmo’s World if it’s all she had in front of her.

I yanked open the refrigerator and pointed my voice toward the chilled light bulb.

“I’m gonna say this one time.” I said slinging a Dirty Harry drift. “In one hour, I want you to pick up these girls, make sure they get a decent dinner over there, and then bring them home. I don’t care what you do the rest of the night but I’ve got a job interview in the morning at eight-thirty and I’m going to be on time. And no, you’re not dropping me off and you are getting up early to take care of these kids.” I clicked the phone off, shut the refrigerator, door and with all my might, I resisted throwing the handset across the room. I walked the ten feet to the phone’s cradle hanging on the opposite kitchen wall and snapped it in place. My grip lingered on the phone and I leaned into the wall forehead first. The rest of me drooped. I realized I was holding my breath and l let the air out. Three fat tears fell straight down and spatted on the dingy linoleum next to Stimey’s front paws. Our eyes met and Stimey’s were bulging with empathy. I could always count on that pug for moral support.

“It’s okay, Stime.” I laughed through a sniffle. I swiped the melted mascara mess with index fingers under either eye and did a once-over the eyelids with the ring fingers for good measure. The girls didn’t need to know and he sure as hell wouldn’t be given the pleasure. I pulled two ceramic bowls down from the cabinet and went back to the fridge for the fruit cocktail. I divided what was left in the can between the two bowls, inserted spoons, and called to Chloe and Jess.

“Shhhh, Mommy!” Jess whispered a little authoritatively. “Chloe’s sleeping.”

“Ohhh, okay.” I whispered back. “Come have some fruit, it’s on the table.”

Jess always ate the lone half-cherry first, then the green grapes, followed by the peaches. She usually left the pears. By the time I’d slid Chloe’s bowl into the fridge, Jess was tipping the bowl back to drink the syrup.

“Jess, Hon, use your spoon, okay?” I said only momentarily wondering who in the hell taught her to slurp from a bowl.

“Is there any more?” She said handing up her bowl. Damn eighth-grade English Literature. I wish I’d never heard of Oliver Twist.

“Sure, Honey.” I said producing Chloe’s bowl. “But only if you’re going to eat the pears in this one too.”

“Uhhh, no, I think I’m full. I just wanted more grapes.” She admitted. I was relieved because I really didn’t want to offer her Chloe’s fruit, but more than that, I didn’t want her to notice the food shortage. If I had to, I could feed the baby with the two-dollar bill I still had in my purse. I could make it to tomorrow morning and neither of them would feel so much as a growl in their tummies. I’d already swallowed bitter pride when I applied, and financially qualified for, the “Free Lunch” program at Jess’s school last month. At least she didn’t know the difference in the lunch line and the cafeteria served both breakfast and lunch each day.

I fished the two grapes from Chloe’s bowl and poked them into Jess’s mouth.

“Mmmmm!” She squeaked and scampered back to the living room for more TV.

Mr. Sunshine casually strode through the front door like Barney Fife after a hard day in Mayberry. The girls were happy to see him as they usually were and he was lapping up the attention. Oh, the bliss of childhood's innocent ignorance.

“Daddy’s home, Ladies!” He announced. I swallowed back hard against my gag reflex and my thumb restrained the tight spring on my middle finger.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

I Rounded The Driveway

just as Jess’s bus groaned its brakes and flapped its doors open. My little Jess bounced down the big bus stairs, backpack in one hand, a partially rumpled school paper in the other. She made for the front door, pig-tails bouncing.

“Hi Mommy! Did you and Chloe go for a walk?”

“Yes, we sure did! How was your day?” I said unlocking the front door.

“Pretty fine. I made you something, and we had the fire truck at school, and Miss Bernstein showed us a lizard, Sam Bellows throwed up on the playground, and I ate chicken nuggets, and I got two stars, and—I’m hungry! What can I have to eat? Is there any apples?” she said incindentally poking the two-starred school paper into my hand as she made for the door.

“Sorry, Sweet-ums. Mommy’s out of apples. I’ll get you a whole bag at the grocery store tomorrow morning, ok? I have some fruit cocktail in the fridge if you want that!” I said with as much mommy-enthusiasm as I could feign.

“Yummy!” she said dropping her school luggage. She was hopping around like a top, holding both hands tight to her zipper area. “I have to go potty now!” she announced galloping off into the house through the living room toward the bathroom.

I unbuckled Chloe from the stroller and clicked PBS on again. I picked up the phone and dialed The Genius.


“Hey, it’s me. You need to come back over here in an hour and pick up the kids. I think you should manage to get them some dinner over there.” I said hating to concede to his earlier dinner plans.

“Are you coming over too because I have so much work to do I can’t watch them you know.”

“Just get over here in an hour so they don’t have to notice we’re--” the phone squealed in my ear and then went quiet. I closed my eyes in a counting-to-ten-Serenity-Now kind of way. The phone rang in my hand.

“What was that?” I snarked.

“Whell, I dunno, Little Lady.” It was either Tom Newman or Foghorn Leghorn answering back and I was only dodging calls from the former.

“Mr. Newman! I’m sorry! I thought you were Byron calling right back.”

“Whell, ain’t that a co-incidence. I’ve been tryin’ to get aholda that boy all week. Tell you what, why don’tcha just give me that number he’s at and I’ll ring his dinger myself and save you the trouble of passin’ on the message.”

“Uhm, well, alright, give me just ooone moment and--” he cut me off.

“Now don’t you go tellin’ me you have to fish around for that number, Darlin’. I just need to give that ol’boy a holler because I have Father Schmidling crawlin’ up my derrière about his project and parishioners threatenin’ me with everything short of a torch carryin’ lynch mob. The Catholics ain’t like the Baptists y’know.”

The call-waiting beeped.

“Mr. Newman, I think that’s Byron calling me on the other line. Just give me one moment.” I said without giving him an opportunity to protest.


“The fucking phone fell in the hot tub. My dad is going to be so pissed. So, what was the plan?”

“The hot tub?! What the hell are you talking about? Hot tub? Are you freakin’ out of your ever-loving tree?! I have Tom Newman on the other line asking for this phone number and--”

“For your information, I was testing the chemicals in the pool and the hot tub for my dad. He called and asked me if I could go out there and take care of it real quick. You know, it’s the least I can do, this is his house you know. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have a place to work and our kids wouldn’t be eating dinner tonight so you can just knock it off with the smart-assed attitude.”

“Byron, you little bastard! This here’s Tom Newman, pardon my French. Your Little Woman was kind enough to patch me through.”

Ohp! I’d hit “3-way” instead of “flash”.

“W-what?” Byron scrambled.

“Glad to hear you’re alive but it ain’t gonna be for long if we can’t get this project finished. If these people don’t get their windows scheduled to install by June 15th that Father Schmidling is calling his diocese to black ball my ass. So, look’a here Boy, if I don’t have Jesus feedin’ the multitudes on my workbench by this time next week, I’m sendin’ you down the river, y’hear? Them sonsabitches ain’t playing around. I thought I hired a painter and I got a pool boy. I gotta business to run here and the train ain’t waitin’, pardon my French.”

“Mr. Newman, I am just putting the finishing touches on the Jesus’ robe. It’s absolutely gorgeous and I just can’t wait for you to see it. I’ve just been so buried in this project I’ve been a little out of touch with everyone. Don’t worry about a thing. Would you like me to give Father Schmidling a call personally?” Byron said swimming in bullshit.

“Well, now I don’t know if that’s all necessary, I think we’ll just call it on time. Listen, Son, we got to keep some communication flowin’ back’n forth. You’re about to drive me to drinkin’, Son.” Newman said sounding like he was exhaling a belly full of cigar smoke.

“No problem. Thank you, Sir!” Byron quipped.

Newman hung up, but I wanted to make double sure.

“Mr. Newman?” no answer.

“Are you happy now? I got my ass chewed off by Boss Hog. That was really shitty CeCe. Now I’ve got three weeks of work to do in 7 days. Thanks a lot.” Byron scolded.

I was tongue tied with fury. I just could not believe his nerve. It must be his only survival instinct. Audacious nerve and indignant inconsideration. He was a walking blaspheme. I must have been turning red starting from my feet moving straight up my body. My soul became possessed by Yosemite Sam. I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t have a brain aneurism right there in the kitchen.

The toilet flushed and Jess came bounding out of the bathroom. The door bounced when it hit the springy door stop and Jess’s hands were still dripping water from washing her hands.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Slurping A Bottle of Two-Percent,

Chloe reclined for the ride.

I figured the walk would be good. I do some of my best thinking when I’m walking, or when I’m in the shower, and thinking is what I needed to do. I had one hour to get to the jewelry store and back before Jess stepped off the school bus and I could swing by the little grocery market on the way back to pick up at least something for dinner. Mac n’ Cheese was always an option, but then I’d have to buy margerine. I had milk. Okay, one step at a time. Let’s see what these guys are willing to give me for these earrings.

By the time we made it to the jewelry store, I beads of sweat were building up across my forehead threatening to cause major makeup streaking. I came up the sidewalk from the back hoping they wouldn’t notice that I hadn’t driven there. I dabbed at the sweat trying to preserve my face--anything to avoid the desperate crack-mother look. Okay, so I was exaggerating but I needed every dignified dollar I could get today.

“May we help you, Ma’m?” The man inside the circle of glass display cases seemed pleasant enough. He was at least as old as Abe Lincoln's granddad. His Larry King suspenders matched a yellow and brown hound’s tooth bow-tie that went well over the long-sleeved, blue dress shirt. The shirt would have accommodated him even if he’d been twenty-five pounds heavier.

“Yes, actually. I’m interested in having you take a look at a pair of earrings.” I said.

“Oh, very good. Let’s have a look see.” He reached into the front pocket of his sharply pressed trousers, which were an outdated shade of chocolate brown, and produced a pair of drug store reading glasses.

I plucked the velvet bag from my purse and fished the earrings out laying them on the black velvet display pad in front of him.

“They’re vintage emerald.” I said.

“Just one moment, Dear.” He said furrowing his untamed, wiry brows. “If you’ll excuse me for just a moment, I’ll be right back with you. Do you mind if I bring one of these little pretties to the back? I’d like to check this under the jeweler’s eye.”

“Not at all.” I said.

The jeweler shuffled through to the back office door and sat down at what looked like a microscope. He was visible through the plate glass window that partitioned the desk from the showroom. He looked down his nose through the machine’s goggles while he turned the earring over, around, and over again with over sized tweezers. He pushed his chair back, gave his bowtie a tug then angled his top end around the door jamb.

“I assume you’re asking for an insurance appraisal, Young Lady?” He asked with his eyebrows almost meeting in the middle.

Now, I hadn't thought of that.

“Uh, well, yes. Yes, that’s right.” I answered.

“Very good.” He heel-toed it to the telephone at least as fast as a turtle.

It seemed like he was on the phone for a long time. The longer he stood there with the receiver wrapped up tight in his boney grip, the more my armpits stung with prickly heat. Please God, don’t let Grandma’s stuff be the last missing piece from some 1945 museum heist. I should have gone to one of those pawn shops. I looked over the top of the stroller and Chloe was mellowed out cruising on a good thumb-sucking.

He finally hung up the phone and began his journey back to the counter. I pasted a serene portrait smile across my face as he made his way.

“Well, Young Lady, these are very nice pieces. We can have the appraisal certificate for you in the morning if you’re in a hurry, and that will be a $25 charge.” He said.

“Well, I certainly appreciate it.” I said. “Were you able to determine a replacement value?”

He cleared his throat and went for the other trouser pocket for a rumpled hankerchief and pinched his W.C. Fields honker with it.

“Well, let’s see here, in today’s market,” He began, “they can’t rightly be replaced but we would call it at a firm eighteen-hundred for insurance. A collector might pay more but the insurance company doesn’t give a dingy about what some of those crazy collectors would dish over.”

I was thinking grocery money. Now I knew what people on Antiques Roadshow felt like when they found out they had a Ming Dynasty vase they thought had been a flea market hand-me-down from Aunt Trudy.

“Oh, well, yes, of course.” I said trying to maintain a nonchalant composure.

“Let us know if you’re ever interested in turnin’ loose of these girls.” He said ringing the magic bell.

“Well, I don’t think I could, you know, they’re family.” I said demurring. Grandma, pleeease understand. Dizziness washed over me and I did my best to keep my eyes from crossing.

“We’d be willing to offer you the insurance value plus ten percent if you’re ever interested.” He said probing.

I did a quick mental cipher--he was willing to fix me up with just shy of two-thousand dollars. I was blinded.

“You know, that does sound very generous. I might be interested in talking about that sometime.” I said.

“I could have a check for you in the morning. I think we could make it an even two.” He said flashing his upper dentures.

The hair on the back of my neck stood at attention and I felt a dribble of sweat race down the middle of my back.

“Sold.” I said and shot him a flirty wink.

“Very good! I’ll write you up a jewelry receipt contract and a promisory. You’ll sign, I’ll sign and we’ll trade it for a certified check in the morning.” He said not missing a beat.

Thanks, Grandma. You know I normally wouldn’t do this.

“That sounds just fine, Mr. . . .?”

“Friedman, Mr. Friedman,” he said extending a boney paw. The contract was a pre-printed form with lots of fine print and blanks for writing in names, dates, and amounts. He filled it out as if he were late for an appointment. I didn’t figure his fingers to be so nimble.

“Initial here, here, here, and right here. Sign here at the bottom and the date is May 20th.” He directed.

I signed off quickly and folded my copy tucking it away in the secret zipper pocket of my purse.

“See you in the morning, Mr. Friedman.” I said.

“I certainly hope this helps you out, Young Lady. We all need a little help sometimes.” He said as I was pushing the stroller toward the door.

Daahhk!! How did he know? I closed my eyes and inhaled all the air I could hold. I swiveled the stroller around to push the door open with my behind and smiled inquisitively.

“Come again?”

“Have a good day, Young Lady.”

We bee-lined around the sidewalk corner and I didn’t slow my pace the entire mile home.

Monday, June 26, 2006

I Clicked On PBS For Chloe

and plopped her onto the loveseat with a rascally kiss on her cheek chub. Okay, fruit cocktail. I opened the can and spooned half of it into her purple Barney bowl and slid the spoon in the side. She seemed transfixed enough on Sesame Street that I figured I had time to make a call to the temp agency without interruption. I looked up the number and dialed. The woman on the phone looked up my work history on the computer and invited me to come in the next morning for “some clerical testing”.

“Are you available tomorrow morning?” Her Royal Perkiness said.

“Sure, I can be there tomorrow morning at 9:00 if you have an opening.”

“We are wiiide open. We’ll see you tomorrow, CeCe, at our office at 9:00 a.m., okay?” HRP said confirming. The pitch of her voice rose and fell in exactly the same place as it had in every sentence before, always ending in something close to a squeak.

“Yes,” I said oh-so-professionally. “but could you tell me if you have any jobs available that are temp to permanent starting this week?” Man, that didn’t sound desperate.

“Uhh, well, um. Well, not as of today; however, we receive job queries daily and after you have re-entered our system, we will be notifying you just as soon as we receive a query that matches your skills and abilities.” She answered as if she were reading from the Kelly Services handbook.


“That sounds great. Thank you so much for your time and I will see you tomorrow at 9:00 a.m.” I said hoping to have disguised my exasperation.

“Oh, um, yes and please remember to dress as if you were attending a job interview.” She quickly interjected.

“Thank you, I will.” I said. She bid me a great day and we hung up.

I slouched on the loveseat next to Chloe with the bowl of fruit cocktail and coaxed her into a few bites. When the credits began to roll on the screen I scooped her up and made for the laundry closet. I slung my clothes off and traded cut off sweats for the ankle length cotton skirt and the pit-stained white t-shirt for the creamy pink, knit top. I tossed a yellow cotton sundress over Chloe’s top end, ran upstairs, and grabbed the jewelry bag. I caught a glimpse of my reflection passing the dressing table. I looked like a blonde Alice Cooper in drag. I smeared the stale mascara smudges away with some foundation, freshened up my lashes, dusted with some powder, and pouted up my lips in a petal pink gloss. I sat Chloe on the floor next to me as I did the closet dive for a matching pair of appropriate shoes. Appropriate for this mission was something a little sassy. It didn’t’ matter that the walk was at least a mile, each way. As my makeup artist friend Andrew always preached,

“It’s far better to look good, Dahling. It’s the unspoken commodity.” He would say gesturing off to the side with his ivory cigarette holder, exhaling streams of clove cigarette smoke from his nostrils. Andrew was the most hateful queen in the Bible Belt, the grande-dame. He'd earned every crown in his china cabinet, hands down.

She Bit, And I Spilled The Whole Story

“Is that weird, or is it just me?” I asked.



“How long are you going to live like this?”

“I don’t know.” I said, “I’m just scared that I wouldn’t make it on my own.”

“Exactly how much worse could it get? What would you not have without him that you have and want right now?”

I nibbled the skin on the inside of my mouth. It’s a nervous habit I’ve had since I was a kid.

“I’ve never thought of it that way, I guess. I’m always hoping he’ll make good, you know?”

“I know, Kiddo, but one of these days you’re going to have to invest in CeCe. It’s like watching you swim around in flood water—it’s not so bad in some places but if you don’t get to higher ground soon, you could be caught off-guard and swept away.”

Madge always had a way of saying things out loud that I had whispering in my head. I chomped the corner of my mouth and squinted back a tear that was threatening to swell up.

“Yeah. Exactly. You know, as soon as he gets this Newman job done I’m going to--“ She cut me off.

“I know you will.” She said as if I’d finished my sentence.

I’d said it all before. I’d planned it all before. Each time I had it all figured out, I started feeling like a jerk. I’d start feeling guilty thinking about what he would do if I didn’t take care of things, if I didn’t find a way to help him finagle his career. What if I didn’t have him to blame for the life I wasn’t living?

“Thanks. You’re always picking me back up by the scruff.” I said.

“That’s what girlfriends are for, now point your chin a little higher and put on your ass kickin’ boots. If you can’t find yours you know you can always borrow mine.” Madge rousted.

“Lacin’ ‘em up right now.” I said re-gathering my moxy. I heard playful babbling from upstairs.
“Ohp! The baby’s up, gotta go!”

“Alright, Girl. Hang in there. Give me a call anytime.” Madge said and we clicked off.

“I’m coming, Chloe! Mommy’s coming!” I sing-songed. I took the stairs at the usual two-at-a-time stride up to my bedroom. I pushed the door open, all smiles. Suddenly, my knees went soft and I felt my eyes go wide. I heard my voice morph into recorded slow-motion sound.

N-N-N-NnnnnnnnnnnnOH-Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh!” I dove onto the bed both arms outstretched lunging for the baby’s face. She was chewing on the Red Ring.

When my hand connected with it, full-life speed returned to the scene and within a moment of snatching the toy from her little hand, she gave out a startled wail. My brain twisted. I threw the damned thing in my dressing table drawer, scooped Chloe up and held her head to my shoulder. I stared at the scuffed up apartment-white wall. My mind felt like it had busted a few gears as it clicked over reviewing the bad scene I was hoping I hadn’t just really been a part of. I felt the “flood water” rise up to my neck.

I heard the jingle of dog tags and a lumbering up the stairs. Stimey rounded to the doorway but stopped short, her black, velvet ears hung forward, and you could see what neck she had. Stimey stood at full attention and didn’t blink her bulging eyes until I made a move for the staircase.

“Stime, Momma needs a plan. You know what they say, Girl? The CIA ain’t got nothin’ on a woman with a plan. Isn’t that right, Chlo?” I said to the two of them on the way downstairs. In the time it took to descend twenty-six steps, I had at least the first two steps in what would end up being the off-road detour of what had become my life. A phone call to the good ‘ol temp agency and a stroller walk to the jewelry store a mile down the road sporting the vinyl sign that reads, “We Buy Estate Jewelry”. This was going to be like driving in the fog.

Monday, June 19, 2006

I heard the garage door go up.

What the hell is he doing back here?

I tossed everything back into the hat box and slid it back up onto the shelf and closed the closet door. I pulled the bedroom door almost closed on my way out. Chloe was still asleep.

I ambled down the stairs to the front door and walked out onto the front porch. The car was in the driveway, still running, driver's door hanging open. Byron appeared from the garage carrying our toilet plunger.

"What are you doing?"

"I stopped up the toilet over at my dad's and I couldn't find the plunger." he said tossing the foul tool on the passenger floorboard.

"Why didn't you ask somebody over there where they keep their plunger?"

"Nobody's home."

"Nice. You know, one of these days your parents are going to get really tired of having their basement monopolozied with your 'studio'." It drives me crazy when people use air-quotes but I couldn't resist the jab.

"Well, I'll just move it into the garage then. Look, I don't have time to stand here and argue with you about the freakin' toilet plunger or my dad's basement. I have work to do, remember?"

This guy never fails to astound me with his audacity. "Oh! Riiiight." I said winking over a finger gun at him. He flipped me off with one hand while he cranked the wheel with the other open palm. He cornered out of the driveway and left me standing on the porch waiting for the tail-end of the car to disappear.

I heard the phone ring from inside. I shot through the front doorway and scanned the living room trying to find the receiver. By the fifth ring, I snatched it from under the couch. It was Madge.

"Heyyy, how're you, Lady?"

"Oh, good, good. Just needed a little break and thought I'd give you call. Quarterlies are coming up and I just can't take anymore this afternoon. My brain's jellied." Madge was the business manager for a local floral franchise. The guy she worked for was Archie Bunker in a three-piece suit. Madge liked him well enough but she still thought he was a bastard.

"Well, I'm glad you called. I was thinking about you yesterday and meant to give you a jingle and just hadn't yet. I've had a full day of trying to get The Genius to go earn a living. Can you believe it? He's just now on his way to work."

"Ceese, it's freakin' two-o'clock."

"Yep. Welcome to the world of lollipop trees and magic bill paying fairies. Jealous, aren't ya?"

"Girl." Madge said with condolences.

"I know. Don't get me started. Seriously. I thought he was at work over an hour ago but he just came back from his mid-day crap and needed the plunger from our house because he couldn't find the one that lives over there."

"What?" Madge said having heard every word. "What is wrong with that guy? I swear to God, Ceese, how you contend with him is beyond my mortal understanding. He is a strange bird."

"You have no idea." I said. Madge and I didn't have many secrets but there was no way I was going to tell her that we'd been eating pancakes for the past three days. I had my diginity--somewhere.

"What does that mean? I know that tone. What happened." Madge poked.

"You wanna hear something weird?" I baited, "You know those stackable ring toys, Fisher Price?"