Accused

 

image source:google images

image source:google images

 I turn the key in the back door lock and walk into the house through the laundry room and on into the brightly lit kitchen where I find Mother standing by the portable dishwasher.  On its butcher-block top, she is filling her 12 ounce insulated cup with ice and chilled water. 

Her look is piercing.  No hello or how are you or how was your writing class; no pleasantries.

“I thought you were going to buy sugar?”

“I did,” I say.  “Remember?  You stood right there when I filled the large canister.”  I’m not prepared for this attack so am irritated at myself for feeling defensive.

“Oh,” The piercing look changes to puzzled defiance because she’s sure of one thing and I’m sure of the opposite and because things that used to come easy for her now elude her grasp.

“Well,” she says, “I used the sugar in the small Sugar canister.  I had to ration how much I put in the apples I cooked to put up in the freezer.”

The apples arrived on the front porch yesterday morning in a plastic grocery bag.  From one of the neighbors across the street?  Probably, as we regularly trade fruit from all our trees.

Mother uses her cane to carefully move the short distance to the refrigerator to return the bag of ice to the freezer section, then back to the butcher-block top where she picks up the iced water jug, turns around and moves back to the refrigerator, her cane clunking with each slow step.

image source:athome.kimvallee

image source:athome.kimvallee

Hot apple aroma is making my stomach grumble so I take a clean spoon to the stove where the cooked apples are still in the pan.

“They’re perfect.  The ones you made last time were too sweet for me.”

Mother comes to taste the apples and we agree they are delicious and I tell her that it’s nice living with someone who cooks these tasty things.  She’s happy now and moves slowly out of the kitchen into the dining room where she settles herself and her iced water on the back side of the dining room table, so that she has a clear view of the TV.

I move around the house, rinsing dishes she left in the sink, collecting recycle trash and garbage to put in the outside bins, opening mail, starting a load of towels in the washer, checking my email and facebook.

Mother mutes the TV on the commercial.  I hear her groans of effort as she gets out of her chair and the clonk of her cane tells me she’s coming through the kitchen towards me in the office.

“What has happened to all my kitchen dish towels?”  She’s sounds upset and I know if I look I’ll see that defiance on her face again, “did you throw them all away?”

“Do you hear the washer, Mother?”  I don’t look up.  I continue to sift through mail, tossing empty envelopes and junk mail into the trash.

“And all the white towels from my bathroom,” She leans against the door frame, “where are they?”

image source:menslifestyles

image source:menslifestyles

God give me strength.  Apparently logical thinking has deserted her in her eighty-sixth year.  I sigh, swivel Daddy’s big old-fashioned desk chair towards her and begin again.

“I’m washing a load of white towels, Mother,” I take the look of frustration off my face and hope it is replaced with kindness, “bathroom and kitchen white towels, Mother.”

“Oh,” she turns and clonks back across the kitchen floor, “I just couldn’t understand why you would throw them all away.”

I can tell by the sounds that she’s back at the table, getting settled in her spot.

“They are all perfectly good towels with lots of use left in them,” she says just before the sound of the TV at full volume again fills the house.

“Especially the brand new ones I just bought for your bathroom.”  I grumble to myself and swivel back to the desk.  I don’t know what the next crisis will be.  I know there will be one, and no doubt, it will be my fault.  Not that it is her fault she’s eighty-six, wears out quickly and is easily confused.  One of us has to take the blame.  I guess that’s why I’m here.

[1st Place Winner – LinkedIn Themed Writing Contest, 11-20-2013]

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Life in Small Bursts

image sourge:itsanitsybitsyspider

image sourge:itsanitsybitsyspider

My nephew came for a few days with his wife and two daughters, the oldest two years, nine months and the youngest twelve months.  All of life was represented in the microcosm of the young.  It’s life in small bursts.  Hungry?  Fuss until you get the food you want.  Thirsty?  Point and make unintelligible sounds to communicate.  Some of Mommy’s Starbuck’s Iced Decaf Low-fat Mocha Latte looks really good, so I’ll let you know even if I can’t say the words, I must have that.  I will have that.

“It’s really mostly milk with just a little coffee,” Mommy reassures Great Grandma.

And if it looks like Mommy’s and has a little coffee flavor, then I’m happy, says the little one.  Well, she doesn’t say it, but the shine in her eyes and the look of satisfaction as she slurps through the sippy cup communicates she’s gotten what she wants.

The look of concern on Great Grandma’s face also communicates.  It’s saying she’s not entirely convinced it’s as harmless or as nurturing as milk.

“She’ll certainly grow up liking coffee, won’t she?” Aunt Vicky says.  “You have to cultivate a taste for it.  I don’t think either of my brothers did, but my sister did. I still can’t stand the flavor.”

The life microcosm doesn’t stop there; that milk-slash-coffee tasted so good that now the little ones are chasing each other through the house, in a circle through the dining room into the kitchen, through the office and back into the dining room and around and around they go, the older splatting her feet as hard as she can on the kitchen vinyl and on the hardwoods.  Just so she can hear the sounds her feet make.  The little one takes a step or two with help, but she must be after her sister and so she crawls as fast as those little hands and knees will take her.

That chase doesn’t satisfy for long.  The pint-sized engine driving these toddlers burns up fuel quickly and they collapse on the rug with dolls and coloring books and an ipad game.  Then someone starts to smell and Mommy is up and changing diapers.  There’s some fussing and struggling against interrupted play and autonomy, but once fresh and dry, the fussing stops and play resumes.

And so the cycle continues; rest, play, cry over a owie, eat, sleep, fuss, diaper change, run in circles, drink, play, cry, share a toy, want up, fuss, want down, snack, play, drink, run in circles, eat, cry, sleep, shyly hide face in Daddy’s shoulder, run in circles, want up, eat, want down, drink, play, cry, sleep and around and around and around it goes.  Frustration, joy, freedom, anger, desire, peace, control, submit, want, need, give, take, love.

The busyness building strength in hands and legs, teaching colors and sounds and language and letters, the meaning of NO and the consequence of ignoring NO; testing boundaries and limits; learning how much you’re loved even as you learn how to push buttons so that you get what you want.

We age and those cycles lengthen out as our engines propel us for longer periods of time, but has anything really changed?  The emotions may be masked or buried or ignored but they’re the same.  The need may look more sophisticated or sublimated, but it’s still need.  Those basic instincts survive in one form or another.

The aging continues, time passes and before the end, our engines have once again shortened so that we need food and drink and rest and play in shorter segments until finally the little-engine-that-could will stop, our journey in this world will end.

Mother’s engine is winding down.  Some days she wakes with plans to work in the garden, mend a torn shirt; redo the elastic on the pajama pants that keep falling down.  And when her day of eating and resting, watching TV and taking trips to the bathroom is finished and she’s slowly heading to bed, she says,

“I meant to put water in the bird bath today.  Tomorrow I’ll work on those pajamas.”

image: google images

image source: google images

And when we talk about the coming end, we don’t worry, we’re not very fearful of the stop to the engine.  Of course there’s some anxiety to the unknown but we talk about the transition to the new engine.  The engine of the soul that lives after the body’s engine has run out of fuel and its replaceable parts are no longer available.  The new engine that will take flight out into eternity, that will take us to our Maker.  The childlike anticipation and enthusiasm have not died, they live on.  There’s a new life coming!

Medusa

The moment I saw her I knew I would have to leave town, but only if she was smarter than me, which was not possible.

image source:net-cs

image source:net-cs

She was coming down C concourse in a crush of people whose flights just landed.  She looked good, casual clothes, hair tinted red, dark sunglasses, relaxed.  She saw my wave, threaded through the crowd and came to where I sat at a small table in the bar.

“Meghan,” I stood and hugged her; she slid her heavy carry-on bag off her shoulder as we sat.

“Danielle, I can’t believe how much you look like me!”  She pulled off her sunglasses and my eyes looked back at me.

“I haven’t been a strawberry blond for years, but it wouldn’t make sense for me to be a redhead while I’m here being Meghan, now would it?” I sipped my water.  It had been three months since we’d traded  keys, names and lives.

“No, it wouldn’t,” Meghan giggled and looked around.  “I hope we’re not seen.”

“We should be ok,” travelers moved around us, everyone with their own agendas, the guys behind the bar making drinks and taking money.  If anybody saw us at the airport, they would recognize strawberry blond ‘Meghan’, and hopefully just think the red-haired woman looked familiar.

I pushed a water bottle towards her, “you’ll be in Paris for six months on this work-study, right?”   Plenty of time for me to finish what I’d started here.

“Yes.  I’m just so amazed I get to go and study art in Paris!”  She gulped the water, “Mother never encouraged me and always said I’d do something as foolish as art over her dead body.”

We laughed.  Well, she was almost dead; it wouldn’t be long now.

“How is Mother,” she capped the water bottle, “still bossy and angry?”

“Oh, you know Mother.”

“Really, Danielle,” her brows scrunched together, “are you sure you don’t mind being the dutiful daughter for a little longer?”

“No,” I smiled, “I finally get to have the family I never knew growing up in the child care system.”

I’d hit the jackpot; a rich mother, semi-comatose after a stroke, a nurse to care for her, a maid, a cook, a good-looking guy who’d been pining for Meghan for years, what was not to like?

“I still can’t believe I never knew I had a twin,” Meghan reached and squeezed my hand, “have you found out if Mother knew?”

“Yes, she knew.”  I sipped my water and watched the pain and anger on Meghan’s face.  It was our skinflint grandfather who bundled me off at birth without telling our Mother, but Meghan needed to stay angry at Mother, so what was one more lie?

A toddler at the next table cried while his harried parents tried to deal with him and his baby sister.  They made enough noise to cover our conversation.

“So, you’ve got everything with the name Danielle, like we agreed?”  I finished my water.

“Yes.  Passport, ID, home address, all of it is yours,” she patted her carry-on bag, “it’s been so great staying at your apartment.”

She looked at her watch, picked up her carry-on.  We stood and hugged again.

“Give Pearsey a hug for me, will you?”  She hiked the carry-on strap over her shoulder, “She was always so good to me; even let me help her in the kitchen.”

“Pearsey’s gone, Meghan.”

“Gone?  I thought she’d be there until they took her out in a coffin.”

“She decided to retire after a fall down the basement steps.”

“Oh, poor Pearsey,” Meghan was walking backwards, still talking, “I’ll go visit her after I’m back in town.”  She waved, turned around and walked briskly back up the concourse.

I’m sure Pearsey would appreciate a visit to her grave.  This life was wasted on Meghan.  I was doing her a favor, really.  She’d never learned to fight.  I’d survived by clawing my way up out of a nightmare.

It might be weird getting rid of a twin, an identical twin.  If she cooperated, I wouldn’t have to.  If not, I wouldn’t let sentiment get in the way; I never had.

I checked my watch; perfect timing to meet Kevin, the youngest of the family attorneys, at our favorite restaurant.  He’d been trying to date Meghan for years and now his dreams were coming true.

 

Shining Star

image source:uww.edu

image source:uww.edu

I read somewhere that scientists equate the universe to the ticking of a big clock whose mechanism is losing energy, winding down to a stop.  They give it complex explanations of thermodynamics, entropy and kinetic energy, but essentially, the universe began with a fixed amount of energy and in every second of the millennia, that energy is being used and will not be refueled.  So, the stars are burning out, giving off their heat as they become unavailable energy and the universe will go dark and cold and dead.

You and I, we’re finite, begun by the creative power of the sperm fertilizing the egg and once planted, all factors being correct, the little seed grows until it must burst forth from the womb, then nurtured and cared for, the little life grows into adulthood.  We’re refueled to some degree along the way by sleep and food but there is a point at which our life’s clock begins its winding down and the once smooth skin in its blush of youth and beauty ever moves on to a yellow/grayish pallor, deeply lined and creased, our bones and muscles achy and creaky, our organs losing their ability to function and in the end, we lie in the coffin inert, powerless, done, finished, gone.

Some things about the way we grow and then wind down seem a little bizarre, I mean really, why would a creator make your eyes at birth about 2/3rds their adult size and have them stop growing sometime in your late teens or early twenties, but make your ears and nose so that they just keep on and keep on growing?  Now that’s weird, right?  I mean you’ve seen those old people with really big noses and ears, haven’t you?  Like, how attractive is that?  And what about all that old people ear and nose hair that somebody should trim?  Creepy.  Maybe that’s just God’s sense of humor.

We have all this wound up energy in the beginning and we take in sustenance and the growth is fueled into muscles and strength and we’re taught to harness that power.  People once believed one should harness their resources to create beauty, build great buildings or expansion bridges or city infrastructures or rockets that fly out into space or develop the technology to live on the bottom of the ocean; and all these great advances took energy and creativity and hard work and had to be funded at great expense by someone who had worked hard to create immense wealth.

At least at one time that was the goal.  Now, I’m not so sure.  We seem more takers than givers these days.  The wound up energy that believed we could dominate nature and could create great societies, could build a tower of babble, could reach the moon, could triumph over all disease and inequality and oppression; is that energy gone?  Expended to never return?

You might not think so when you look around.  I mean, nearly everyone you see has the latest technology in their ear bud, at their fingertips with ipads, ipods, iphones.  We’ve all got cell phone chargers and microwaves and cars that could go fast were it not for traffic.  We’ve got what we need to thrive in a modern world, right?  To make that world better, agreed?  I wonder.

image source:WilliamWilberforce.the marginalized.com

image source:WilliamWilberforce.the marginalized.com

And what did William Wilberforce have in the late 1780’s until his death in 1832 to use to fight against human slavery?  Consider this, packaged toilet paper wasn’t even available until about twenty-five years after he died.  I’m not sure I could conquer the world without toilet paper.  How about you?  That didn’t stop Wilberforce.  He had that life force, the wound up energy we’re all born with and he harnessed it until his force ran out at age 74.  Perhaps more to the point was not when he lived and what advantages or disadvantages he lived with, but that he had a purpose, a goal, a great driving force that told him it was wrong for one person to own another person as a slave.  Not that his convictions were easy.  He came up against a huge money-making machine that fought long and hard to keep its power and control, but eventually, the rightness of his cause won out and on his death-bed, his bill to end slavery in the British Empire was passed.  It became effective throughout the empire about a year after he died.  Talk about energy living on, the purpose of Wilberforce’s beliefs lives on today.

image source:scienceblogs

image source:scienceblogs

Without a great purpose, what’s the point of my life’s energy?  I will go dark at some point.  You will go dark.  Maybe the burning out stars are a clue.  They light up the sky; their very existence means at one point their energy began and they fulfilled their purpose.  Are we not the same?  Created with a life force?  The challenge is to find my purpose, do my creating, change my world as I go along.  Take the risk to search for meaning, for reason to be.  Become the Wilberforce in my part of the universe.  Be that shining star.

Escaping From Hell to Heaven

image source:findingdulcinea

image source:findingdulcinea

She blew in a day early, just before the fifteen-story-high, rolling black dirt clouds hit.  I’d seen a dress as pretty as hers once.  The Mayor’s wife brought one back from a Kansas City trip.  The beauty of this purple fabric with tiny blue roses that crawled over it as if on a trellis was more than I could absorb.

Mama had a trellis.  She loved those red blooms, watered them and put cow manure at the roots.  To make them strong, she said.  Nothing was strong enough to stand against the rolling black dirt clouds.  Not the roses, not the trellis, not even Daddy and Mama and Baby Henry.  They were gone.  Lucille and I were left.

It seemed strange to find color in this black and drab world.  The dirt was everywhere.  Aunt Gert wiped, cleaned and washed, but nothing kept it away.  Her once blue cotton dress was so faded it was a pale gray against the dust covered walls.  I fingered my thin, faded dress and tried to remember what it looked like the day Mama finished the last stitch on the hem.

“Carrie,” Aunt Gert said to the woman in color, “close the door.  The dirt storm’s almost here.”

“Shirley,” Aunt Gert said to me, “wet the cloths for the girls.”

I got up from the floor where I sat with my arm around Lucille.  She was only seven and cried when the black hit.  I could almost remember her laughter from before Mama and Daddy and Baby Henry were buried trying to walk in a dirt storm back to the farm from town.

At ten, I was the oldest and Aunt Gert needed my help with my younger cousins, Nellie, Janie and Bertha.  Usually Walter too, but he and Uncle Henry were at the barn trying to keep the animals calm.

I took pieces of stiff cloth to the washstand, wet them, rung each tightly so that no water was wasted and took them to the girls.  I folded them in half and tied them around their faces, covering their noses and mouths.  I tied mine and sat down next to Lucille.  The rolling dirt cloud was nearly on us.

“Everyone hold hands now,” Aunt Gert yelled over the roar.  “Close your eyes.”

As the swirling, biting, deafening, choking, suffocating dirt blew in around windows, door frames, down the chimney, up through floor boards and made cracks in the wall chinking, I held hands with Lucille and Bertha.  I took one last look at the women at the table; Aunt Gert had her eyes closed, my godmother Carrie’s eyes were wide and frightened.

The total blackness, so alien four years ago when the dirt storms began, were now nearly a rest time.  I didn’t have to worry if a storm was coming or make sure the animals were in the barn, or watch the girls to keep them safe, or see the pain in Lucille’s eyes, or the lines grow deeper in Uncle Henry’s face and how thin cousin Walter had gotten.  All I had to do was sit and try to breathe through the wet cloth as it dried.  And pray I wouldn’t start coughing.

I couldn’t imagine a world with no black storms or swirled up dirt mounds against fences, barns and houses.  Was it possible Lucille and I could escape?  Mama had talked of her bosom friend, Carrie, but we’d never met her.  Was there really a world not covered in grime?  There must be, if a pretty woman in a purple dress with blue roses had come to this place where we fought to live.  Would it be fair to the others if we were freed?  Fair to Mama and to Daddy and to Baby Henry to go away from the place they died?  It would be like being Snow White woken up by Prince Charming’s kiss, or like the thief on the cross being told by Jesus that today that thief would be with him in paradise.  It would be like escaping from hell to heaven.

The black went on and on.  Lucille coughed and coughed.  Had I dreamed a pretty lady in a purple dress with blue roses?  As the storm  lightened, I saw Carrie’s closed eyes, her face cloth nearly black, dust all over her, but the purple with tiny blue flowers was still there.  In that instant I knew what to do.  I put my arm around my sister’s shoulder and pulled her close.  “Hold on, Lucille,” I whispered, “hold on, we’re leaving here.  We’re going to live.”

Adventure

image source:jalopyaustin

image source:jalopyaustin

Tried a new eye doctor this week.  Not sure why as I decided to make a change from one discount store doctor to another discount store doctor; just had one of those itches to do something different.  Turns out it was a good change as the new doctor thinks my astigmatism has corrected and she knows of a lens that should perform better than the one my last doctor prescribed.

That’s not the only change.  One of my nieces is changing cities, states and jobs because her old position has been phased out.  It will mean leaving the city and state where she’s lived for at least a couple of decades which includes leaving her daughter and son-in-law as well as two of her sisters, one of whom will have to find a new place to live, since they shared an apartment.

I remember those days of feeling footloose enough that if I wanted, I could change jobs, change cities, change friends, leave extended family in one city and fully believe that I could do whatever it took to make sure the distance would not erode the bond between us.

To borrow a phrase, it felt like the call of the wild.  The lure of the unknown, the new experience, new town, new apartment, new roads to drive, new shopping centers to find, new churches, new libraries and new museums, new friends to make and of course, a new job to finance all this newness.  The possibilities were bright and shiny, the road trip adventurous and stimulating, every curve along the winding highway a glimpse closer to an elusive dream that I was sure was not a mirage; the pull palpable, the satisfaction rich on the tongue.  New.  New and different drew me on.

You get what I mean, right?  It’s like an adventure around every bend, a way to try new possibilities, to hope there is a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow, to believe that glow that shimmers in the desert when you’re flying through the night towards Las Vegas will turn out to be nothing but good luck.  You just have to go and find out, am I right?

Before one of my moves across the country, Mother asked, “When are you going to settle down and stay in one place?”

I could see worry, concern and disbelief on her face while she moved around the kitchen making the salad and brewing loose tea leaves for sweet tea.

Daddy just smiled and looked proud and I knew he was confident that I was in God’s hands so wherever I went, it would be ok.  I pulled open the silverware drawer and took knives, forks and spoons to set the table for dinner.

“Where’s the fun in that?” I asked back, “Besides, it’s your fault for moving us so much that I went to six different grade schools.”  That did nothing to lessen Mother’s stress but Daddy smiled again.

I was excited by my decision to move, to be independent, to try my wings at this new job and this new place to live, yet there was always some underlying tug that said part of my job in life was to make Mother comfortable and secure.  I always had to find a way to alleviate her anxiety.  I was torn between the need to be me, free and strong, and the need to take care of Mother.

I wasn’t torn enough to stay in town, though, because I’d learned that wherever I followed that lure of a new adventure, I always took me with me and that me could be just as concerned about Mother’s well-being in a new place as I could when living in the old place.  So, I would be upbeat and confident and hope that my positive emotions would rub off on Mother.

These days Mother is content with being table surrounded by familiar things and her everyday routine.  These days I’m the one watching other people glasses take the risk to go someplace new.  I’m settled now.  Settled into Mother’s spot, Mother’s house, Mother’s routine.  It chaffed at first and I struggled against the tethers but the choice for me to settle dance had to be made since there’s no money to pay for a retirement community for Mother.  I couldn’t do that to fence her nor could my siblings, even if there was money for that type of care.  I began to feel my age.  The age it said on my driver’s license instead of the age I felt inside.  Was this it?  The end of the road to things new and unknown?

image source:cathyday

image source:cathyday

Not the end of the road as it turns out.  Oh, I’m settled here but I find myself straining less against the confines as instead I explore a whole new, magical and breathtaking world of letters and words and lines and pages that fly across my mind, swirl in the wind and coalesce into journal entries and flash fiction and short stories and novels.  This adventure just might be one of the best.

Wrenched

image:theonion

image:theonion

I spent the first part of the day playing plumber.  Or trying to.  Collected tools and gloves in hand, I tried to turn off the water at the hot water heater by the back porch, but that did nothing for the cold water, so in the front yard I lifted the concrete lid off the house water main in the median between the sidewalk and the street.  I always feel like an exhibitionist when in the front of the house.  It’s like the whole street is watching.

Down on my knees, I leaned into the hole and cleaned off all the mud so that I could see the pipe that brings water from the city, the gauge in the middle that measures outflow and the pipe that takes the water on into the house.  The lever on the house pipe side was substantial.  I was in luck, I thought, but pulling then pushing then pulling again did nothing to change the position of the value.  I am not horse enough to turn it off or on.  And the only thing my exhibition did was to put grass and dirt on my pants and make my knee ache.

Ok, then.  On to Plan B.  Off to Home Depot with the bathroom hot water faucet stem that needs replacing.  That’s always a crap shoot.  Either I find a real plumber or I get the kid whose parents are no doubt thrilled he has a job, but he has no real world experience.  At least he can point me to the right aisle for bathroom fixture parts.  Once there I find a real plumber and it didn’t take him long to determine they did not carry the part I needed.

“So who does, do you think?”

The sixty something, fuzzy, white haired guy in his orange apron scratches his head, thinks, then says, “Ferguson’s across the street.”

“There’s a retail store at that large warehouse complex?”

“They do all sorts of plumbing so they should have it.”

Sure enough, I follow directions to drive beyond all the loading docks and turn the corner to find what appears to be a side entrance marked, “Ferguson Express.”

This huge one room shop appears to be the real deal.  Working guys sitting at the counters ordering parts while guys behind the counter look in catalogs and head to the back for parts, then ring up the sale.  I’m the only woman in the place.

Thirty minutes later and help from four guys leaves me where I started.  They don’t carry the part that looks like a Delta but is marked a Price Pfister.

“Four more exits down the 60 is PartsMaster,” says the clean-cut young guy, who readily admitted he had no hands on experience in replacing faucet stems and washers but who tried his best and now gives me printed driving directions, “they do nothing but parts so they should have it.”

Fine.  Except I’m hungry, I need to check on Mother and before I go on another wild goose chase I’ll call first.

I’m getting no satisfaction.  Where is it?  I could take satisfaction is knowing I tried to be frugally responsible, I suppose.  Seems like faking it if the three leaking faucets are still leaking after all this effort that ate up hours of time, when I could have been writing or reading or whatever.

Does satisfaction arrive only if the end results are a repaired bathroom faucet; a back yard lawn spigot that no longer keeps the ground around it well watered, and an ancient u-shaped kitchen sink faucet that no longer drips water from the center where there is no nut or screw to loosen so that a strategic washer could be inserted?

Somewhere out there in plumbing land is a guy who does get satisfaction turning water levers, matching up parts, carries the right tools and is horse enough to get the job done.  I just hope he’s clean and good looking.  If I have to pay for satisfaction, it better be worth it.