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.

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 He reached into the front pocket of his sharply pressed trousers, which were an outdated shade of chocolate brown, and produced a pair of drug store reading glasses.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?"

Saturday, June 17, 2006

"Well, there aren't any driveways

to shovel in May", I said to myself outloud, and even if there were, not this time. I took the stairs two at a time up to my bedroom. Chloe was snoozing in my bed and would be out for at least another hour and a half. I opened my sock drawer and lifted the sachet paper liner in the back corner and pulled out the the two-dollar bill I'd been hanging on to. I shut the drawer, made for the closet and pulled down the red velvet hat box from the top shelf. I rifled through everything--a pair of white evening gloves, a black beaded clutch, an atomizer, seamed stockings, my birth certificate, my prized (second-hand) fox fur muff, a nickle, two dirty pennies, and finally, the little blue suede, drawstring bag. I tugged it open and dumped it's contents into my hand. A pair of vintage screw-back, rhinestone earings, a thin, broken gold chain my mother had given me a couple of years before--it was broken when she offered it to me and I felt I should accept her generosity while she was in the mood. The last to tumble out were my grandma's emerald earrings my Aunt Grace had secretly pressed into my palm after my grandma died. I hated what I was going to do.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

I shook my head, clenched my teeth

and slammed the front door. Damn, him.

Chloe, the toe-headed cherub, had eaten exactly two moon-shaped bites from the pancake I'd given her two hours before. The pug was curious enough to snort at it--it was, afterall, in her territory now, flat cold on the linoleum in front of the kitchen sink.

Stimey's bugged-out baby browns were looked me straight in the eyes as if to say, "You gonna eat that?"

"Go on and eat it, Stime. It's all yours."

"Get it, Girl. Chloe doesn't want it. Eat it." Stimey looked down at the abandoned pancake one more time. "Got any cheese?"

There was a can of fruit cocktail still in the cabinet next to the can of Dark Red Kidney Beans, Creamed Style Corn, Pineapple Rings, and a curiously unlabeled can from who knows when. Sigh. I decided I'd break out the fruit cocktail when Chloe woke up. In the mean time, I had just about two hours of nap time to figure out what the hell I was going to do. I slouched down in a kitchen chair, propped my elbows on the table, face in palms.

Had it been the dead of winter and we were lucky enough to have just had a blizzard, I'd call my little buddy R.J. and see if he was up for a rerun of our emergency quick money making adventure. About seven years before, when Chloe's big sister Jess was but an infant herself, it had just snowed no less than a foot and a half in the wee hours of the night before. It was lunch time and reality suggested we would be out of baby food as of after dinner and had not 46 cents for a Gerber jar anywhere in the apartment. Tomorrow was coming and crying wasn't going to feed the baby any more than Byron's shoulder shrugging had so far. I stared out the window watching the wind whisk dry snow over the ice encrusted drifts that surrounded the car. Blink. I snatched the phone and speed dialed. I had a plan.

"Ssup-ssup?!" This was the greeting R.J. and I had established over the years. No need for further identification.


"Man, I'm in a jam. You wanna go see if we can earn some cash shoveling driveways?" I asked hoping he was game.

"Uh, yeah sure, I guess. Split the money?"

"Yup. No problem."

"I'll be there as soon as the 'ol Tercel can blaze the trail from here to there. You got a shovel?"

"No. You got an extra?"

"Yup. Later." Click.

"So, I'm going to shovel driveways with R.J. because we have to have baby food for tomorrow." I announce.

Here's where I expected him to rise from the dilapidated futon couch and say, in the voice of The Lone Ranger, "I'll have none of that! When the lad arrives, I shall spend the afternoon knocking on doors offering manual labor in exchange for the provisions we need. Step aside, Little Lady . . . and, by the way, good plan."

"Uh, K. What time will you be back?" he said aiming the remote.

I'd have said 'When hell freezes over' except that I wasn't sure it hadn't.

"Well, gosh when will you be hungry?"

"Whaaaat?" he whined in his Who Me voice.

"You know--forget it." I stomped to the bedroom to find a second pair of socks, a turtle neck and my pink pullover.

Six hours later I spent $40 at the grocery store. Two bucks of it spent on eight ounces, yes, that's right, a half o'pound box of miniature Reece's Peanut Butter Cups--all of which I consumed in the half-mile from the grocery store to the apartment parking lot.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

It didn't matter

that it was 9:20 on a Tuesday morning. Mr. Sunshine hadn't stirred since I'd left the room almost two hours before. He was still lying flat on his back, limbs sprawled in all directions as if he'd landed there from 50 feet above. Spittle had crusted at the corner of his mouth and a damp spot on the pillow case hadn't yet dried. He was a mouth breather.

"Are you going to get up?" I asked, imagining being able to spit venom. Nothing.

"I said, are you getting up?"He snuffed his allergic sinuses and wollered over onto his side. The middle of the bed must be much more comfortable. The baby scampered in on all fours and picked up a dirty tube-sock .

"N-no, Sugarbaby. Dirty." I nabbed it from her little cherub hand and threw it at the lump on the bed. Neither of them were phased, she made an about-face and scuttled across the hall for the girls' bedroom and he didn't flinch.

"You know you two clients have called this morning and I am tired of lying. Get UP!"

"Uhnnn, I'm gettin' up, damn! Cut me some slack! Gahhhd!" and he snatched the sheet up over his head.

"Fine. Rot." I said and yanked the door closed on my way out. Twenty minutes later, the shower ran for the usual 30 minutes. Thudding down the stairs, there he is, Mister America.

"Pancakes. On the table." I left the plate-full, turned on my heel for the laundry closet.

"I can't believe that's all we have left to eat. I'm not eating freaking pancakes again. Let's just go to my dad's house and eat over there."

"You know, we're 28 years old. We're not doing this again. We can't just go over there and hope they're getting ready to have lunch or, if they're not, just casually rifle through their fridge looking for food. You go, we're fine. If you'd get these contracts finished, we'd have plenty of money$5,000 for Newman, $12,000 for Sawyer that’s all there is to it. You work, we eat." Another tragic genius. The guy painted Biblical scenes like Michelangelo incarnate. He had a client waiting list as long as Moses' beard and a personal portfolio of pornographic renderings he could have sold for more than the commissioned pictures of Jesus. Tragic indeed.

It was my job to market his talent, his work, and run PR relay when his anti-depressants ran out or he'd decided he didn't need them anymore. Here and there I'd taken odd clerical jobs through the local Kelly office to help make ends meet until he got his foothold in the niche industry of ecclesiastical art. In the mean time, there were two girls to clothe and feed. I had dreams of my own--a law degree that had been calling my name for many years.

"As soon as I start really getting going here we should be cool to get you into school," he'd say when I'd turn up the heat about my own dreams. "now's just not a good time, y'know?"


Byron was off to his dad's house five miles across town to "the studio" to paint. It was already just about time naptime for the baby before he finally shuffled his sandals on and made it out the door. He slid into the family car, the one that ran, and floored the four-cylinder leaving the street row of duplexes in his wake.

Sometimes it takes a nudge,

and sometimes it takes a good shove before I get the message from the Universe. It was after eleven, the lights were out and I'd just pulled the sheet up under my chin. My elbows and knees were flush with the edge of the bed leaving as much space between Byron and I as possible. It had been almost three months since the last time I'd given in and I knew it was only a matter of time before I'd exhausted all my excuses. He knew I couldn't be asleep yet and that was always risky because chances were, he was getting ideas.

The sheet was tugging around from his side of the bed and I could tell he was trying to be stealthy about shedding his Fruit of the Loom's.

"Ugkhh!" I thought. My eyes rolled as the corners of my mouth sunk in disgust. After almost ten years of being married to Byron H. Frazier, the kindness in me was still being wasted on his ego. For reasons I still don't fully understand, I worried I'd hurt his feelings by continuing to reject him even though I knew how many hours of every day I plotted the end of this tourist-trap of a marriage.

"Hey," he said, breaking the silence. "Hey, I wanted to try something." I squeezed my eyes shut trying to will a response into my head. My chin wrinkled up the way it does when I smell something rancid.

"Huh? Whaddju say?" I answered with a hint of sleepy voice, careful to not give away that I knew he might be up to something. I could tell the top end of him was leaning out of the bed and was rummaging around underneath. I felt the bed give when he made it back to the pillow. I didn't hear anything for a minute, then I felt the bed start to jostle like a quarter-fed motel model set on "low".

My mouth was a straight line across my face and my eyes were wide like a bush baby. The rhythm was interrupted and he half-whispered, "CeCe, look."

"Whuh? Oh! What are you doing?" I said with a little nervous laugh.

"Well, the other day I tried this and it felt really good--and it's just the right size. See, it presses down right here and really takes it to another level n' I wondered how it would be with both of us." he said sporting the red ring of our ten month old's Fisher Price stackable toy set.

I simply did not know what to say--or do. Everything inside me wanted to banshee. Was nothing off-limits? How do you get there?

"So let's do it. Look, it's all ready." He said with a peculiar sort of pride.

"Um, seems like that would probably really hurt you if . . . you know."

"Well, I'm just gonna go ahead." And he did. He and the red ring went to town while I pretended not to cinch up into a fetal roll on my end of the smallest queen sized bed in the universe.