May 15 2014

an excerpt
{story a day}

I had lunch with Lettie last week. She called to say she had some news for me, and of course, all kinds of crazy things ran through my head: marriage, pregnancy, illness, moving away. Turns out, she’s writing a book. I never told her how much I always wanted to be a writer. Then again, she never told me she was one.

She and I have always had a rough time of it, right from the start. She was a colicky baby, she didn’t sleep for longer than two hours at a time for the first three months of her life. And she was Jase’s girl right from the start, which I have to admit, I encouraged. Part of me knew that I would never be able to give her, or Rob, what I gave to Sarah. Oh, I love them both just as much as I loved Sarah, but there has always been an empty place in my heart that couldn’t be filled, always a tiny piece I held back, a piece that just wasn’t strong enough to be broken again. Sarah’s place.

But I did my best with Lettie, I did all the things a mother is supposed to do. I read books to her from the day she was born, quit work for awhile to watch her grow, taught her how to plant seeds in spring and make snow angels in winter and what it means to be a woman. I taught her how to stand up for herself. Truth be told, she didn’t really need much help in that department, and I’m glad about that now. That’s how I know she’ll be okay.

From the outside looking in, I was a pretty good mom. From the inside looking out, I was terrified every step of the way, holding my breath in fear and fighting, every day, to keep myself from locking them both in their rooms, just to keep them safe. I did my best to hide my fear, but kids have a way of sensing things, you know? Lettie really took advantage of this when she was a teenager, always mocking me for being over-protective and trying to smother her. She fought hard to get loose from my grip, and she was right. Letting her go out with her friends, to parties, watching her learn to drive, the day she went off to college, these were all times I had to fight myself just as hard as she was fighting me.

I’m sure I drove Jase crazy when the kids were little with my constant checking and double-checking and safety this and safety that and never wanting to let them out of my sight. I didn’t leave them with anyone but my mom until Lettie started school. And I was a complete wreck that first day, waiting for her to get off that bus, I couldn’t wait for her to be back home where I could see her. I’m glad Jase wasn’t around to watch what a mess I was, so paralyzed with fear I sat in a chair the whole time, staring out the window, just waiting for it to be 2:30.

I was a little bit crazy and a lot overprotective, I know this. I knew it even when it was happening, but I just couldn’t help myself. Because I’ve lived the alternative, and I’m pretty sure that no one ever died from being over-protected.

So anyway, Lettie and I went to lunch, and over our big salads and glasses of wine, she tells me she’s writing this book, and she wants to know if I would read what she’s written so far. I thought my heart would burst right then and there, both with pride and honor and also with the secret knowledge that I won’t be around to see how it ends. I almost broke down right then and told her the truth. But I stopped myself just in time, I had to excuse myself and run to the ladies room so I could stuff the words back down my throat, quick. She looked at me funny when I came back to the table, but I told her it was the pills I’m taking, they give me stomach issues sometimes and I never know when it’s coming on.

A little white lie to cover over the black hole of truth. Sometimes, you just have to, and that was one of those times.

She gave me the first few chapters, and I took them home and read them right away. And they were good. Really, really good. So good I had to put them down and walk away a few times because I couldn’t see through my proud mama tears. I was amazed and appalled all at the same time, just knowing I was seeing a side of my tough little girl that I’d never seen before, and that I would never find out what happens to the girl, Jenny, in the story. I have a feeling there’s a lot of Lettie in her, and I wish I could stick around to see more of what’s inside her head and her heart.

But I’m so glad she’s writing. It will give her a distraction. She’s so strong and so smart and I just know that she’ll be the one to help Jase and Rob get through this. Rob’s the one who worries me the most. He’s always been just a tiny bit lost in the world, and I’m not yet sure where he’ll end up. He was the kind of little boy who could break your heart several times a day, just by smiling up at you and reaching for a hug. I saw a lot of Sarah in him from the moment he was born, and at first I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to love him because of it.

But as time went on, I came to adore the little glimpses of her I sometimes caught in a gesture or a smile. And I have to admit, that’s one of the reasons he has always been a little extra-special to me. I tried to never play favorites, but Rob got all the benefits, and I suppose all the drawbacks, of being one step closer to that hidden place in my heart. I didn’t have anything else to hold onto when it came to Sarah, so anything that even vaguely reminded me of her was a gift, one worth clinging to, for dear life.

And that’s exactly what I’ve done all these years. I held on tight to my two babies and my husband and the tiny resurrection their love offered. Somehow, they managed to keep me afloat. And not one of them ever knew how often I cried into my pillow at night.



I’ve signed up for A Story A Day’s May challenge, which is to write a short piece of fiction every day. I don’t think I’ll be posting every day, but I will be writing, and I’ll post whatever seems worthy.
Today’s prompt was “first person.” so I took this as an opportunity to work on my novel in progress, which is written in first person. Above is an excerpt.





May 12 2014

any other name

Janie ran to the phone to call her husband. “Fred, a baby robin fell out of its nest, and I don’t know what to do.”

She’d blurted this out before he’d even had time to say hello, and Fred knew this meant she was all worked up, and what he should do was try and talk her down before things got out of hand. But his boss was standing right behind him, her breathless call had interrupted a heated discussion about a screw-up on a big order for an already impossible to please customer, and he just didn’t have time for one of her episodes this morning.

“Janie, I don’t know the first thing about baby robins and I can’t talk right now. Why don’t you just go back inside, and I’ll see if I can rescue it when I come home for lunch.”

“But Mutt and Geoff are both outside, and I just know they’re going to get it as soon as I shut the door.”

Fred still couldn’t believe he’d let Janie talk him into naming that cat Mutt, and every time she said it, he felt himself wince. Except for when he was in a really good mood, then it made him chuckle a little. But today was definitely a wincing kind of day, and he could see his boss’s reflection in the window separating his office from the warehouse floor, his head cocked his head in Fred’s direction, listening.

“I have to go, honey, I’ll call you back when I get a chance.” And he shut his phone off, quick, before she had a chance to say another word.

“Sorry, Steve, I’m heading down to the floor right now to double-check the status of Paltmeyer’s order. I’ll make sure it’s right this time.”


Janie stared at the phone in her hand, still not believing that Fred had hung up on her like that. But she knew he wouldn’t answer if she called back, he had yelled at her enough times about bugging him at work, and she could tell when he left this morning that it was a grouchy kind of day. Fred had those a lot, and most of the time she just pretended not to notice. It never did any good to mention it anyway, every time she brought it up, he just got grouchier.

She’d left the back door wide open, and could hear the mother robin growing more and more agitated from her perch at the tip of the old white pine, and she looked out to see Geoff belly crawling through the grass, almost close enough to pounce.

“Geoff, no!!” She screamed and ran straight for him, hoping she could put herself between him and the little fledgling, who sat in the grass with his shoulders hunkered down, trying hard to hide himself, and failing.

Geoff turned his big orange head in her direction, and she wagged her finger at him. “Don’t you dare,” she hissed in her meanest kitten mama voice, and he stopped slinking just long enough for her to reach the baby bird, keeping one eye on the cat the whole time.

“Come here, you little monster.” She knew as soon as stepped towards Geoff he would take off running, that was the game he liked to play every night when it was time for the two brothers to come inside.

And she was right, the cat bolted as soon as she made her move, but before her foot even hit the ground, she heard an awful rustling, peeping, screeching sound behind her and turned to see Mutt looking up at her with the baby in his jaws. The mother robin started dive bombing both of them in a frantic attempt to save her baby, and Janie ducked and lunged for the tiger cat all in one motion.

“You little shit, put it down!” But Mutt took off like a shot, down the side yard and across the street into Old Man Waverly’s garden. Still in her slightly see-through nightgown, barefoot, and without even stopping to think, Janie ran right after him, screaming like a banshee and tearing up her legs on the carefully-tended rose bushes circling his house.

Mutt scooted underneath and behind them, and by the time she caught up to him, he was already devouring the tiny bird. She sank down onto the grass, red rose petals strewn all around her, sticking to her legs in the places where blood had started oozing from the scratches.

Dew from the grass soaked right through her nightgown, and she shivered as she sat there whispering, “I’m sorry, Mama, I’m sorry,” again and again and again.

She was still there an hour later when Old Man Waverly came around the corner of the house, pruners in hand.

He reached out and touched Janie’s shoulder, asked if she was alright.


“Fred, you have a call on line three.”

“Christ, Sheila, tell her I can’t come to the phone right now, would you?”

“It’s not Janie, it’s your neighbor, Mrs. Whitcomb. She says you need to get home right away, Mr. Waverly just called the cops on your wife for tearing out three of his rose bushes.”

He sat down at his desk and stared out the window.

“Fred? You still there?”

“Thanks, Sheila. Tell her I’m on my way, okay?”


I’ve signed up for A Story A Day’s May challenge, which is to write a short piece of fiction every day. I don’t think I’ll be posting every day, but I will be writing, and I’ll post whatever seems worthy.
This was a combo of a couple of prompts from the last few days, theme and dialogue.












May 1 2014

getting home
{story a day}

“Ninety-six, ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred.”

She counted out the last five steps she had in her. The gash on her arm was still oozing blood, despite the five layers of t-shirt she’d tied around the bone-deep wound. Just getting that done had taken forever, with only one hand and her teeth for assistance.

She’d been exhausted before she even started walking again, and who knows how much blood she had lost along the way.

Haley thought she was being smart when she drove up to the cabin the night before the storm. They were calling for serious flooding, and while it might be rusty, run down, and ramshackle, the tiny shack sat at the top of the hills ringing the lake of the town she lived in. She figured her chances were pretty good up there, not as good as the people’s who got in their cars and drove far away, but she couldn’t do that, she couldn’t bring herself to leave Billy lying in that hospital bed, even if he never did open his eyes again. They had a contingency plan for the patients in place for emergencies, so he would be safe until she could get back to see him.

The doctors told her two weeks ago that it was hopeless, all they could do was keep him breathing, day in and day out. Inhale, exhale, again and again, until the end of time. Or electricity, whichever came first. But she couldn’t just walk away. So she’d packed a backpack with a week’s worth of tuna and chocolate, and headed up the hills on her bike. It had taken her most of the day, given how out of shape she was, and how many times she had to stop and walk all the steep ones. But she got there before the storm hit, built herself a nice fire with the wood Billy had always kept stacked in the shed, filled every container she could find with fresh well water (calling that stuff fresh was a stretch if you asked her), and settled herself in for the long haul.

It started raining right around midnight, thunder crashing, lightning flashing, tree limbs dropping like matchsticks. And it kept going for two full days and two full nights that weren’t much good for sleeping. It was creepy being up there in the woods all alone, creepy wondering what was happening down in the valley. She had her cell phone with her, but in order to get reception she had to walk half a mile down the hill, and she wasn’t about to do that in this weather. So she read four books from the raggedy collection they kept on the shelf for overnight guests, even though she’d read all but one before. The distraction was better than nothing.

She also ended up wishing she hadn’t been so worried about extra weight in her backpack and packed herself a couple bottles of wine. But she survived, both the storm and the fear and the boredom, all of which were both worse than she’d expected and better than being dead. Or like Billy. So she tried not to complain, not that she had anyone to complain to, she tried to just wait things out until she could get back into town.

The rain began to let up in fits and starts on the second afternoon, but the sky stayed dark and the wind kept whipping, so she didn’t even bother going outside until the next morning.

What struck her first was the silence. No birds, no traffic, no wind. Just the occasional drip of water, and as she walked down the driveway, the sound of water rushing through what used to be ditch. When she got to the road, she saw how bad it was. Trees were down everywhere, blocking the road in both directions, and she knew that when she got closer to town, wires would be down along with them. She also knew that riding her bike would be next to impossible.

So she closed up the cabin, packed her bag with more water than tuna this time (and more chocolate than both), and headed down the road into town. Already, the road was steaming from the heat of the sun, worms and tiny frogs littering the surface, and she started sweating before she hit the first bend in the road, the exact place where Billy’s motorcycle had slid out from under him. What she saw there brought her up short. A huge old willow tree was down, blocking the road, right where the shoulder broke off into gully. She was going to have to climb her way through it.


She’d been carrying her cell phone, waiting to get to the spot that had reception, but she shoved it back in her bag for dryness sake, and started threading her way though the branches. She had to hoist herself up and over the slippery moss covered trunk, and by the time she came out of the tangle she was both soaked down to her underwear, and filthy. Of course, a change of clothes hadn’t been part of the essentials she’d tossed in her pack, it hadn’t even occurred to her that she’d need them.

“Some survivalist you are,” slipped out from under her breath, but at least the road looked clear for a ways now, and she figured it wouldn’t be too long before the sun dried her halfway back to comfortable. That’s when she saw the dog.

The Beast, which is how she would later think of him, had come from the woods to her right, silently, with that menacing kind of walk she knew signaled danger. He was big, part Rottweiler and who knows what else, filthy, and looking at her like she was food. At first she just kept walking, calling out friendly Good Doggy’s and inching her way slowly around the turf he’d claimed, hoping she could slide past his territory and therefore, his anger. It was when she decided to reach into her backpack for a candy bar to offer as toll that he lunged, clamping down on her forearm as she dangled the bag in mid-air, trying desperately to find what he wanted. Too late, her hand landed on the slick wrapper of a Hershey bar, but before she could pull it out, the dog grabbed the whole bag and went running.

“My phone!” she screamed, and almost took off after him, but then she looked down at her arm. It had all happened so fast, she hadn’t realized how good the damn dog got her, she could see white bone glistening up through a five-inch gash, pulsing blood as fast as she was breathing. At least the dog never came back while she patched herself up, he must have been too busy trying to break into those three cans of tuna. “I hope all that chocolate kills you!” she yelled into the woods as she finally stood up to start walking, scared now of every movement, of the blood seeping through her makeshift bandage, of all the unknowns ahead on the road still before her.

After about a mile, she started feeling dizzy. That’s when she started counting her steps, in sets of one hundred, to give her mind something to do besides thinking about pain and the possibility that she might not make it into town. She was thirsty, her feet hurt, her arm throbbed and she thought, several times, about lying down, right there in the middle of the road and giving up.

But, Billy.

So she forced herself to keep moving, counting the same set of numbers again and again, until finally, she knew she was close to that spot two miles from town where you got that great view of the valley. It was right on the crest of a hill, and she thought she was going to collapse before she made it to the top.

“Ninety-six, ninety-seven, ninety-eight, nine-nine, one hundred.”

And then she was there and she stopped in her tracks, destroyed by what she saw. Water, everywhere, a lake five times the size of the one that usually nestled so pretty between the hills. From this spot you could see the whole town. She could see her house down on Johnson Ave., three-quarters of the way under water. One yellow peak and the old tired chimney sticking up through a rug made of liquid.

She sank to her knees.

And she howled to a sun that still burned in the sky, blind to the depths of destruction.

In the distance she heard a dog, howling back in her direction. She had no idea which way she should run.



A little something different today, I’ve signed up for A Story A Day’s May challenge, which is to write a short piece of fiction every day. I don’t think I’ll be posting every day, but I will be writing, and I’ll post whatever seems worthy.
Today’s prompt was “Getting Home.”  A rough draft to get things started, I’d love to know what you think.