Finishing Up the New Story

It's taking a bit longer than I'd hoped, but I'm nearly done with the new story I first mentioned two weeks ago. My patrons on Patreon got a chunk of it in their inboxes just now, but I love to share with everyone, so here's a smaller snippet just for you:

“Boston at mid-winter,” she says. “Can you picture it? The drifts high upon the common, a blanket of snow curled around the gilded dome of the state house sitting high atop Beacon Hill. And at the foot of that gentle rise where sits the hub of the universe, down there in the shadows cast revolutionaries and men of stature most high, there stands a simple church. Simple, but most grand in its lack of audacity. And in that church,” she says, “in that church stands a soldier, on leave from a war between brothers.”

In your mind’s eye, you can see him in his uniform, both the boy who left and the man who returned. And you wonder which it is that stands there. You wonder whether he has slipped into his chrysalis yet, or whether that moment has yet to come. And then you wonder if perhaps this is the moment, if it was not the war at all that changed him.

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The Lonely Turkey

"The Lonely Turkey" was written three years ago because I had nothing age-appropriate to share with an elementary school I was visiting to talk about writing. In honor of Thanksgiving, and in light of the doom and gloom dominating the news these days, I shared it with my Patreon patrons this week. Here's a snippet:

Lights up on TURKEY, who is sitting on a park bench. PUMPKIN, a scarecrow with a pumpkin for a head, wanders by. He has a hand on his belly. He is about to leave when he spots Turkey.

PUMPKIN: Hey, why so glum? Did you eat too much candy, too?

TURKEY (confused and sad): Too much candy?

PUMPKIN: Yes. Too much candy. I certainly ate too much. If it hadn’t rained last night, maybe there wouldn’t have been so much left over.

TURKEY: It rained?

PUMPKIN: Yes! It was a downpour! We got half the kids that we usually do.

TURKEY: Wait, was last night… was last night your night?

PUMPKIN: You didn’t know it was Halloween?

TURKEY: Last night was Halloween and they’ve started already.

PUMPKIN: Who? Who started what?

TURKEY: Everyone! They wandered right past me, just like you almost did.

PUMPKIN: Well, I was distracted by my tummy ache. I ate too much candy, you see.

TURKEY: Everybody has an excuse.

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New Story Coming Along…

I've been working on what I hope will be the final (or else the penultimate) installment in my Wives of Silas Silver series, which I began back in May with "The Patience for Taming." I shared a few paragraphs with my Patreon patrons today, but you know me: I like to share. So, here are a couple of paragraphs for everyone to read:

You sit at your brother’s breakfast table for the first time in thirty summers and you listen to his latest wife spin the yarn of how they were woven together. It was his stories, she tells you as you sip the too-strong tea she has conjured for you. It was his tales of woe that won her weary heart.

You try not to wince at each bitter swallow that crosses your lips, and you try not to covet the sugar bowl she has kept from you by folding her arms in front of it, nor to covet the goodly bosom making itself known beneath her bodice as she leans toward you to whisper conspiratorially the tale that topped all the others.

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The Day After

It is a restless sleep, the sleep the professor sleeps once all hope seems lost. It was past midnight when he closed the three windows on his computer and made his final visit to the bathroom. Sitting, in order to minimize the sound and not wake his daughters in the room next door, he pulled his phone out of the pocket of his pajama pants, then thought better of it. He didn’t want to get sucked back in. Instead, he stared at the door, thought of what he’d tell the girls the next morning. Then he got up and skirted out of the bathroom through the darkness, headed for bed.

The next morning, he gets up to do his wind sprints as he always does, trying to find some path back to normal. Before he straps the phone to his arm to count his steps, he checks to see if some sort of miracle has happened while he was sleeping. No, he finds, his worst fears have come true. The misogynist has painted the map red.

After the workout, after an English muffin and half a chapter of an old friend’s novel about a suffragette archaeologist, he wakes his daughter to pour her breakfast and get her ready for school. When he tells her what’s happened, who has won, she sighs and says, “And we have to live with him for 4 years.” Then, after a bite of her frosted mini wheat, trying to find the sweet side of this turd in the cereal bowl that is now their life, she says, “At least 4 years is shorter than a war.”

The professor does not stop himself from saying, “Not necessarily.” Then, fearing he’s scared her, he wraps an arm around her shoulders and gives her a squeeze.

After that daughter is on the bus, it’s time to get the other one ready, but she’s not ready. Not dressed, not listening, her eyes glued to the tablet that’s playing cartoons as she sits before her own now-empty bowl of cereal. Not ready. There is a vacant smile on her face that makes her father think that maybe ignorance is bliss. He doesn’t tell her anything about what’s happened. He figures there will be time for that later, plenty of time.

He hopes.

At the bus stop, she stands on the rock she always stands on and begs him to spin her around. Which he does. And for a moment, he feels like maybe they’ll all be okay. His wife smiles at the scene playing out before her, happy to see (he thinks) that he’s still managing to hold back the tears. Later, before she goes to work, she will hold him in her arms and tell him to focus on what he can control, to let everything else go right now. If he can.

But he doesn’t feel in control of anything as he sits in his car, in the parking lot across the street from the school, wondering if he has the strength to face what he knows will be a classroom full of panicked faces. Panicked, at best. Probably distraught. Probably ten times more scared than he is. And with ten times more right to be. He pulls at his beard, a nervous tic he keeps meaning to quit. He catches sight of his pale skin. And then he is suddenly ashamed of his own weakness, fears he is laying claim to a terror that does not belong to him. So he gets out of the car and gets to business.

In the class, they are crying. They are holding each other, these strong young people who feel powerless this morning, who probably feel powerless more often than he realizes in this country that has just told them that they don’t matter. They slog their way through class, those who have chosen to come. And all the while, the professor cannot help but think of the others, those who he hopes are taking care of themselves somewhere else. He keeps one eye on the door, hoping the rest will at least peek through the window, the flash of each tear-stained face letting him know another of his charges is okay.

Once the business of the class is done, he tells them that he is there for them, if they need him. It feels like a pathetic gesture, but he parks his ass in the hard plastic chair and some of them stay. Some of them ask him questions. He tries his best to chase his candor with something sweeter, something as close to hope as he can muster.

“You’ve lived through more presidents than we have,” one of them says. “Has it ever been this bad before?”

He struggles for an answer to this one, then thinks of the old man who couldn’t name the disease that was killing his people. Who wouldn’t name it, wouldn’t say it out loud until it was too late. The professor thinks of the bombs he feared might come raining down from the sky at any moment when he was a child. Then he thinks of men with slicked back hair and fancy suits and wads of greenbacks pulled from back pockets. He thinks of these men with gray hair now, or none, with bellies spilling over the belts they used to cinch so tight around their washboard stomachs that all the ladies swooned. He seems them in red baseball caps, drunk on nostalgia to keep themselves warm under the shadow of the bending sickle’s compass coming to fetch them.

The students look at him expectantly, hopefully. “Never?” they say, tears welling up in their eyes again.

“No,” he says, “it’s been worse” and he hopes that he’s not lying to them. He hopes that the darkest days are long since gone. For their sake and for his daughters, and maybe even for his own.

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Running, Dying, and Reunions

I've spent the month working on stories for publication, and today I have another excerpt to share with you. Check out these first paragraphs:

The halfway point was where she’d found her brother in the ditch, his body twisted, his chest caved in where the truck had hit him. Only half of him was mangled, but it was the wrong half, so their mother kept the casket closed anyway.

When she turns here for the jog home, she doesn’t stop moving, but she can’t resist a moment to stare. Some mornings, she shifts her weight back and forth from one leg to the other. Other days, she stretches, standing on one foot then the other, bending the free leg at the knee and holding it behind her by the ankle. She might even run in place a few seconds, but she never lets herself go still.

When she looks at the leaves gathered there this morning, at the frost weighing them down, she imagines his cheek pressed against them: his warm flesh driving out the cold, gifting what life he had left in him to something that was already dead. Her mother called her morbid for thinking such things, but her mother had never had to see them. It had been Lauren who found Sammy there by the side of the road; Mom hadn’t looked upon the corpse until the moment at the funeral home when there were decisions to be made. And at that point, after not much more than a fleeting glance, she left the room and left the rest to her daughter.

Lauren turns and starts back toward home.

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