Fire

 

You need me, though you fear me.

I start life small, but with each meal I become more fearsome.

I never bathe for fear of dying.

My smell overcomes passersby, choking the life from them.

The enemy of water is my friend;

I’ll admit our friendship can get quite heated.

I could be your warmest companion.

I could bring bright light to your life.

Spurn me and I could burn you or leave you cold.

Short Asides

My brain is turned to soft tallow.

Words drip through my pen

like the slow leak of a faucet.

But I am a writer,

and I must write.

My body is plagued by exhaustion.

My hand drags across the page

like snails moving across hot pavement.

But I am a writer,

and I must write.

Wrote a new stanza at work over 12 hours later. Updated the poem to reflect. This is what being tired does to my writing. Love you all. ~Amanda H.

(post moved from original wordpress website)

For a Moment, Be

can we,

for the briefest second,

forget the world?

let obligation and responsibility fade?

 

can we,

just,

be?

 

can we stand in a moment;

split into a thousand infinities,

and watch the fractured light

dance upon our dreams?

 

please,

for the briefest second,

can we,

just,

be?

So, My Cat Is A Ruthless Murderer, and other news

My husband and I were strapping my son in his car seat this morning, as we do, Chris (the devoted husband) was getting ready to leave for work. We were tired and bitchy and hadn’t had enough coffee yet, all was normal.

And then the screaming started. No, not my toddler, as is to be expected at 6 AM on a weekday, when he’d rather be asleep too (on the weekend he wakes up around 5 AM out of spite). My cat, Todd, tra-la-las onto the porch with the screaming thing dangling from his mouth. It takes us a minute to recognize what it is. Chris, confused and coffee deprived, calls out a few things he thinks it is

“It’s a rat! NO! Is that a squirrel!?” and then, “It’s a bunny!”

No, ladies and gentlemen, it wasn’t just a bunny. It was a tiny, helpless, screaming, baby bunny. An Eastern Cottontail to be exact. And we couldn’t let it become a tiny, helpless, dead baby bunny (that’s a day ruiner, and it wasn’t noon yet), so my frantic rescue attempt was on.

Because I am a superior, higher life form, after some flailing and chaos, I bested the cat and caught the then tiny, helpless, heavily breathing baby bunny and Chris and I preceded to exclaim that neither of us knew what to do with our new itty-bitty charge.

For an hour, I had a new baby, sort of.

So of course, after Chris leaves for work, I video chat my all-knowing mother, who turns to the internet. We research. I cuddle. Eventually I email the local wildlife rescue center. As it turns out, it’s illegal in the state of WA to keep wildlife as a pet, wild rabbits can carry diseases, and trying to care for a wild baby bunny almost certainly spells certain death (for the itty-bitty, this isn’t Monty Python, he was harmless).

Brilliant though I may be, I released the baby before receiving a reply, and then took a nap. I woke up to an email saying that my cat could have caused the bunny internal damage, and after feeling terrible for another hour, I went to check where I’d released him. Low and behold, he hasn’t moved. But then he bolted under the garage. JOY!

After some back and forward with the wildlife center lady, I went back outside, found the baby under the garage (he’d done a terrible job hiding, probably why Todd got him in the first place) and caught him again.

At this point, the rabbit has been captured out of the wild twice in one day. Let’s face it, people, he needed me.

So, I put him in a box with a comfy sheet we didn’t need anymore. I had a box of baby bunny to deal with at this point.

Now, the story has a happy-ish almost ending. I took the little darling to the local wildlife center. He’s being seen by veterinarians to assess how bad his little heart was damaged by his harrowing ordeal (as well as if he’s bleeding out internally).

I’ll check back tomorrow for the results, and to see if all my rescue attempts were for naught. If/when he’s good to be released, I will pick him up and let him go in the woods behind the house.

At which point I will be forced to cope with the fact that, even though I saved the damn thing, he will probably be eaten by the Giant Ass Owl that lives back there.

And that’s the story of how I fucked up the circle of life.

One Moment in Time

He ran his leathered hands like silk up my back, pausing to gently soothe the raised scars that defined my abusive past.

Could this really be love, I thought. Could I finally love another without fear?

Almost in time with my thoughts, he deepened his kiss against my wary lips. I trembled, but soon relaxed into his embrace, the wild cacophony of my emotions stilled beneath his patient touch. Tonight, I would surrender; I could always second guess our passion in the morning. Tonight, I am his to love, and he is mine.

The Nightmare Time

Guest Post by: Lucille Moncrief

Inspired by Lovecraft’s Dagon and Fuseli’s The Nightmare

 

I am writing this under the sickly orange sky—the daylight fast fading, and my will along with it. My supply of The Dragon is exhausted, and I promised at its end I would drive this car into the nearest tree or telephone pole, abutment of a bridge, or even down a ravine—anything to end my life and the nightmare I’ve lived for months.

 

His name is Morpheus. He rides into my room on an anemic, ebony mare, her skin stretched over sharp ribs, maggots crawling in a stringy mane, eyes aglow with sinister intent. They smell like the dust of bones, the rot of corpses, the fear that swirls everlasting in Hell.

 

The first visit came with the last fall of the autumn leaves. I’d gone into my room in the garret that overlooked the cobblestone courtyard. I stretched out on the futon, the last smile of content against my lips, and began to drift into blessed sleep. I felt an immense weight on my chest at the base of my ribs and my heart exploded, my eyes flew open and were transfixed to the ceiling. I could not blink, I could not breathe, I could not clutch at my neck with futile panic—paralyzed, I heard the braying of death’s horse and the clomp of her determined hooves through the miasmal ether beyond the wall of unconsciousness.

 

My stomach flipped beneath hammering heart. I felt the demon straddle my frozen legs and he crawled up my prostrate form to the sit on my chest. He looked down into my terrorized face with eyes red as lava, skin the color of burlap. He inched, ever closer, until his visage eclipsed my limited sight of the room.

 

“Yes,” he said softly, like a hissing snake. His breath was a putrid sulfur that poured into my flaring nostrils. I heard the stomp of hooves on the floor as he withdrew his face, and caught the glimpse of the horse’s head in the corner of my frantic eye.

 

The pressure released with the braying of the mare and I dared not move. I began to cry softly. I didn’t sleep that afternoon or night, but after nearly two days without sleep, I gave in, and nodded off at my desk in that same garret room.

 

I don’t know how long I was out—three seconds, three hours or three days, but at last I heard the beat of hooves echoing and his putrid breath grazed the back of my neck. He hissed an eager “Yes,” and I sat upright and looked about me in the darkness. Nothing was there but my fear and confusion. I went to the futon and curled into the fetal position with my face to the wall and there I remained until the morning light awoke me.

 

Three days had passed since the demons’ last visit, and a vague sense of unease seemed to stalk me. I would put off sleeping until far too late into the night for it to be of any use. I began to take on that look of ribaldry and carousal. Little did anyone know at that time of my ordeal, I was too nervous to leave my house, instead opting for pot after pot of coffee in the tranquility of the garret room until my stomach turned to a roaring fire.

 

I can remember the still hours of the night when my desperation turned to a substance I’d been warned to abhor from my youth—the demon dragon, the red, the green and the black and furious dragon, forever chased by the gaunt-faced zombies of earthly ennui.

 

A month had passed into the week of Thanksgiving. I’d run out of coffee. The streets were noisy and crowded with the holiday revelry, and the swarm of it from my narrow window increased my anxiety. I’d waited an hour or two before venturing out. I pulled up a chair beneath the ledge and watched the crowd, eager for it to disperse. It did not. Time ticked on as my head swiveled, like I was drifting on a bobbing ocean wave. The spray of it kissed my face, clear as morning dew, and the salt of it seasoned the breath in my lungs as the gulls cried overhead. I stretched in the worn wooden skiff, sun warming my bare legs.

 

I closed my eyes and tilted my head back like the sunflower who worships Apollo. The waves of the sea gently knocked against the sides of the boat with no discernible rhythm, or…the knocking became louder, more percussive—more percussive like the clomp of hooves, and Apollo raced his chariot across the sky that soon blackened from his absence.

 

I opened my eyes and tried to stand, but the creature, hard and cold as steel, had me straddled at the knees. His face held no expression, but he jumped with webbed wings to sit on my stomach and the breath left my lungs while all about me the cimmerian ocean filled with pairs of glowing eyes. The demon pinned my hands to the side of the boat and bit at my quivering breast. A scream stuck in my throat as the boat capsized into icy depths and I awoke with the sound of the chair clattering to the floor as I gasped for breath. I lay prone, wracked with sobs—a pathetic creature. I only wished for air, precious air and sleep!

 

The thought of anymore coffee repulsed me and sent my stomach into protesting flips. I must calm my nerves and my overactive brain filled with enmity for the body that housed it. I put on my coat and my scarf—how I wished for it to be a noose, and plodded down the stairs to the back alley in bleary-eyed fury. There was a woman, an old hag, really, who stood at the corner from the setting sun to the wee hours of morning. She had a rambling shack near the waterfront that the dogs would visit for scraps she’d throw in the gutter. I hastened my steps to the edge of the dim alley and, sure enough, she was there, a new gap in her smile this time.

 

“The Dragon?” I was breathless and my muscles screamed for rest. Every move felt like rubbing salt into the wound of my shattered existence. She smiled, took my hand, and led me to the water’s edge and into the smoky and dark interior of the shack. I sat on a tattered loveseat as she handed me the hose of a hookah and I inhaled. The cushions felt like cotton and a candied haze filled my mind as I sunk into the seat. Sweet sleep and blessed, euphoric warmth!

I awoke hours later to a gnarled hand on my shoulder, stringy, dank hair brushed my cheek. I was thirsty, so very thirsty, but well rested. I handed her the money from my pocket and went back to the garret.

 

This method by which I have staved off the demon has lasted through the hard winter. But, in my infirmity I have been unable to work, and so with the freshly melted snow of spring have lost any hope of gainful employment.

 

Now redundant, I cannot pay the old woman, and yesterday and all night I was reduced to drinking pots of coffee until my insides could not take it anymore. I sat in that same chair when I drifted off again to that black ocean filled with glowing eyes that reflected the stars above, chest crushed by the demon and his putrid mare. This time, he placed his hands on either side of my frozen face and bit my lip, every beat of my heart drowned in his squalid kiss. By some unknown mercy, he released me and I clattered to the floor.

 

Is this all there is? I do not wish to find out, and have chosen instead to end my life. I write to you now in the setting sun, in the reclined seat of my sedan. I swear I put the keys in my pocket before I left my room . . . oh god, the window! Those eyes!

 

 

Yes, you were right, I am crazy.

I was going to film a video for YouTube today, talking about the things I’m going to end up typing here, but it’s 10:04 and I’m in a bathrobe. So, here we are. Me writing, you reading. Life as it should be.

My performance at the whole blog thing seems to have sucked for about two weeks now. I’ve missed a few deadlines. I’m not apologizing. Statement of fact is statement of fact. I’ve missed a couple of my self-imposed deadlines (I know how disappointed you’ve been). But I did think it high time we had an honest sit down and discuss things, very one-sidedly.

December 23, 2016, I found myself in the Urgent Care Clinic twice, once midmorning, once in the very late evening. After a traumatic year of miscarriages, death, family illness and injury; a mental illness that I had been battling mostly on my own for over a decade came to a head. I broke. I broke hard.

The nervous breakdown built up over the course of a week. Depression and anxiety set in. And it was at this point that I really started to want to die; even to feel like I deserved to die. I begged my husband to take me to UC. He asked me what they could do. I answered that they could commit me. But in my head, I was telling myself that they should kill me. I didn’t deserve to live. I thought that many times through the night. I felt dangerous, crazy, evil, and was clearly unstable.

I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Just not in the way that Hollywood portrays it. I do not wash my hands compulsively, my house is a disaster most days, I do not have a visible compulsion that you would readily recognize and say, “That chick has OCD.” I battle my demons in my mind. The form of OCD I suffer from is called Pure O. Cracked.com actually has a really good article about it that I recommend. Mostly because the details are still very painful and anxiety inducing to share, and I don’t want to.

Memorial Day weekend I went on a trip with my family. I forgot to pack my medication, and as a result, did not take it for three days. I was fortunate enough that this did not make me unstable, but I did spike in my, up till then, very well managed by medication and therapy, OCD anxiety symptoms. I also started a new job this week, so there’s a big change in my life. I’m still not feeling 100% (Like, 99%) myself yet (To people that take medication for mental illness, I do not recommend forgetting to take it for any length of time).

That’s where we are. That’s why I’m not sorry I’ve missed deadlines. There are nights when I have to make the choice to go to sleep and recover, or the next day gets out of hand. And I gotta tell you, spiraling is the worst hell that I can imagine. It’s the thing I am most afraid of writing about and describing in an honest way.

I love writing. I love blogging. But if there’s a night where I can’t transfer the thoughts in my journal onto the internet, it’s just not happening.

That being said, I have written about half a dozen poems in the last few days, expanded on The Convention, and wrote a dirty little song that I won’t be posting up here. So, I haven’t stopped writing. And next week will be better, and so will the next week after that. I hope you’ll keep taking this journey with me. I’ve loved seeing the outpouring of support, I cannot adequately express my gratitude that you all take the time out of your day to read my words and interact with me. It is the sweet balm to my heart that I live for.

I love you all,

Amanda Heiser

 

Illuminating Love

You are the harsh light of the sun

broken by prisms,

cascading into a thousand fractured rainbows

across my soul.

You illuminate all that I am

in the soft glow of translucent color.

Could I stand to search the deepest

shadows of my heart without that loving glow?

No!

And so,

Alight on me with you dream like love.

Show me all that I am, in your eyes.

And, perhaps, I will see myself as you do,

and be happy.

Earth As It Is: An Excerpt

The following is a two chapter excerpt from Earth As It Is, a novel by Jan Maher, posted with the permission of the author. Ordering information is included at the end.

CHAPTER 1

HEAVEN, INDIANA, 1964

Helen Breck knew something was wrong. Just knew it. Charlene Bader never missed an appointment with a customer. Not in the nearly nineteen years her shop had been open. The women of Heaven counted on Charlene’s Beauty Shop like they counted on social hour at church. She was more dependable than their dependable husbands, more faithful than the US mail. But then, even the US mail had been delayed since Saturday by the awful wave of snow and ice storms that had hit. For six nights and five days Heaven had frozen over. It was beautiful in its way, like a crystal palace in a fairy tale, but treacherous.

Of course, Charlene would have canceled any appointments she had at the beginning of the week when no one could walk or drive safely. The ice and bitter cold made for a deadly combination that anyone with sense would surely know better than to challenge. But now the temperature was climbing, snow was melting, streets and sidewalks were passable, and phones were mostly back in service. No, something was definitely wrong.

Helen knocked once on the beauty shop door, twice, waited a minute, then a third time before picking her way back through the sidewalk ice patches to her car. She sat for a moment trying to take deep breaths, tapping her gloved fingers on the steering wheel. She had come to rely on her monthly visit to Charlene as the one time she could speak her mind more or less freely without fear of hearing her words boomerang back on her through the gossip mill. Today, she’d hoped to discuss a new investment opportunity with the hairdresser. No one else in Heaven, including Helen’s husband Lester, even knew she had investments. The strangeness of Charlene’s shop being locked up tight made her chest tighten. Settle down, she told herself. Maybe … but try as she might, she could not for the life of her think of a way to end that sentence positively. She put the car in gear and drove the two blocks to Clara’s Kitchen where she borrowed the phone. It was an effort to dial with numb shaky hands, but she managed. There was no answer either at Charlene’s home or at her shop. Helen’s next call was to Harry Hess down at the police station.

Harry tried at first to calm her fears with reason, then thought better of it. Helen was, as everyone knew, a little around the bend. Had been ever since the death of her daughter Melinda a decade earlier. No, it wouldn’t do to perturb Helen Breck. Harry swung by Clara’s Kitchen in his patrol car and, together, he and Helen drove back up the street to Charlene’s Beauty Shop. It remained closed. They drove on to Charlene’s house.

Harry noted that the short walkway from the street to the porch was still quite icy, though there was crusty snow piled on both sides, a sure sign that Charlene had at least tried to keep up with the weather that had dumped white stuff on the town and surrounding area for almost a week.

They made their way carefully. He held Helen’s elbow and could feel her nervous tension right through the sleeve of the heavy wool coat she wore. It made him nervous, too.

Having safely gained the porch, Harry rang the doorbell, then knocked. After waiting a respectable time for a response and hearing none, he tested the door. It opened easily, but this in itself was not a concern. No one in Heaven locked doors.

Seeing an empty living room and kitchen, he headed down the short hallway to check the bedroom.

Helen’s scream brought him back. Rushing to the sound, he found her pale, shaking, standing in the bathroom over the crumpled form of Charlene Bader, who lay face down on the floor by a full tub of water, clad in a baby-blue terrycloth bathrobe.

Harry dropped to his knees and rolled her over. He held a hand to her mouth and another to her neck, feeling for signs of life. Charlene’s skin was rough and cold. He felt no breath, no pulse.

Helen shrieked again, and her scream could have been his own. Charlene’s bathrobe had fallen open. Charlene was undeniably dead. And Charlene Bader was undeniably a man.

CHAPTER 2

DALLAS, TEXAS, 1933

Charlie Bader was alone in his house for the first time since his wedding night. He’d taken such great care these past five months to avoid just this circumstance, but now here he was.

At his office, surrounded by metal drills and enameled pans, sterile hard surfaces and sharp-tipped picks, he could suppress his urges; there was nothing to feed them. Today, though, his last patient had canceled so Charlie was free to lock up and leave early. He might have walked over to Sorgerstrom’s to accompany his wife Anne home when she was finished working for the day, but it was too early for that. He had a full hour and a half with nothing to do. So now he was alone, standing in their bedroom.

His mind went in two directions at once. Anne, beautiful Anne, the love of his life. After all these months, Charlie still couldn’t believe his luck: that she’d allowed him to court her, to propose, to marry her, to share her bed.

The halo of honey-blonde hair that framed her face was what he’d first noticed, that day a year ago when he’d accepted his landlady Mrs. Hesher’s invitation to attend Sunday services at Christ of Calvary Church. Next, it was her golden voice. Her sweet soprano lifting above the others to sing of laying one’s burdens at the feet of the Lord gladdened his heart. And when she’d made it a point to smile at his invalid sister Hannah, sat down to chat with the girl in the wheelchair, asked her questions and listened patiently as she struggled to push through her Parkinson’s to answer them, Charlie was entirely smitten. Anne was a righteous Christian, warm, caring, and beautiful. Quite simply, he adored her.

At this moment, however, as he stood in the bedroom of their small house, it was Anne’s nightgown that won the battle in his mind. This was the burden Charlie Bader was unable to lay down: his need for softness.

He’d discovered that, too, in church, as a child sandwiched in the pew between his father’s scratchy wool suit and his mother’s Sunday best. At five, he’d begun hiding in the closet where her dress and the faux fox fur she wore in cooler months spent the workweek. There, he could sit on the old steamer trunk, wrap the fox collar around his neck, rest against the cool fabric of the dress, and try to decide which he loved to feel the most. Was it the luxurious strip of fur, or the silkiness of the skirt? Or perhaps the satin lining on the belly of the fox collar?

He’d struggled with this desperately secret and damnable habit all through his childhood, through his move from Kirbyville to Dallas to attend dental school, right up to his honeymoon; but he’d sworn to stop it once he was married, and for five months, he’d succeeded. The scarves he’d bought for Hannah but borrowed while she slept stayed put in her dresser drawer unless she requested one. The cashmere sweater he’d gifted her with lay untouched unless she decided to wear it.

Anne, unwittingly, had made matters more difficult for Charlie by taking over care of Hannah’s hair. Before the marriage, it was Charlie who combed it, worked the tangles out, braided and twisted it into the latest styles for his sister to admire in the mirror. After the wedding, Charlie’s only opportunity to run his fingers through Hannah’s thick tresses was the one evening a week Anne attended the missionary study group at church and Charlie was the one who brushed the braids out and helped her into bed.

Then Hannah’s disease worsened, and they’d had to put her in a nursing home. Now, the only softness he had access to was Anne’s nightgown and matching robe. When he embraced her, he embraced her robe as well. When they were intimate with one another, he was glad her sense of propriety prompted her to keep the nightgown on. He made love to them both: Anne and her gown.

Every day except Sunday, his angel wife worked for Mr. Sorgerstrom at the five and dime. And every day she worked, she got off when the store closed at six o’clock, then walked twenty minutes to get home. Charlie checked the clock. He had just over an hour. He opened the closet door and reached in to run his fingers along the cool, satiny folds of his wife’s robe.

How could he have known that this afternoon, as he stood caressing the sateen, Mr. Sorgerstrom had told Anne to go early? That she’d done a bit of shopping, and would soon be home? She’d have been there already except that, on an impulse, she’d stopped on the way to say hello to her husband’s old landlady, Mrs. Hesher.

Mrs. Hesher, the weathered widow who had first introduced them in church, had taken a special interest in them as two orphans of the great influenza epidemic, and considered herself personally responsible for their happiness. While Charlie was stripping off his shirt and pants, Mrs. Hesher was plying Anne with tea and cookies. While Charlie was slipping into the silky gown, Anne was updating Mrs. Hesher on Hannah’s move to the nursing home (the doctors say most folks who get the Parkinson’s after having sleepy sickness are a lot older; it’s so sad, but she needs a level of care we just can’t provide any longer) and Charlie’s dental practice (doing better than most, thanks to a patient with simply dreadful teeth but excellent luck who struck oil on his land). While Charlie was regarding himself in the mirror, pushing his pectorals into small breast shapes, his wife was inquiring about Mrs. Hesher’s son, who, shell-shocked and fragile, had finally come out of two decades of hiding in his room and gotten on with the WPA to help a muralist. While Anne was asking Mrs. Hesher the secret to making a hearty, lump-free sauce so she could surprise Charlie with biscuits and gravy for supper that night, Charlie was sitting at Anne’s dressing table, reminiscing about his mother’s dress and fox fur. He couldn’t know that Mrs. Hesher was dabbing a bit of cologne behind Anne’s ears, counseling her with a wink and a twinkle in her eye to woo her husband with the scent. He couldn’t know she was sending Anne on her way home at that very moment.

Because it was still well before six o’clock, he allowed himself to tend to his nails. It was one thing he’d found he could do that no one seemed to notice.

* * *

“What …” Anne stood in the bedroom doorway, unable to comprehend the scene she’d stumbled onto. All the happy thoughts of how to delight her husband with sweet smells and favorite dishes vanished in the split second it took her to register what she saw there. Her Charlie Bader, the handsome, up-and-coming dentist, her husband wearing the peach-colored sateen dressing gown that had been the centerpiece of her bridal trousseau.

Charlie jumped up, frantic, from the dressing table, whirled away from her, stripped the robe off, yanked his pants on, and only then dared turn to face her.

“I’m sorry … I …”

Anne stared, stammering. Her Charlie? “What are you … why … what does … how could …?”

“I’m sorry.” Charlie’s hands fluttered, trying to give him something to hide behind. “I wanted to tell you. I was afraid you’d … you wouldn’t understand.”

Anne found her voice. It erupted, burned her throat, poured out of her. “Wouldn’t understand what? You in my … Charlie, how could you? How could you court me and marry me and … and … and touch me when all along you knew you were …”

“But I’m not …”

“I am not blind, Charlie Bader! I just saw you. I saw you …” She couldn’t bear to give name to the spectacle. Her gown. Him wearing her gown. “You have lied to me. You have lied your way into my life, into my heart, into my bed. I was pure for you, but you have touched my body with your perverted hands and … and …” She flew into frenetic action, grabbing her clothes, her suitcase from the back of the closet, wrenching open the drawers of her bureau and feeding the clothes into the open maw of the luggage.

“Please, Anne, please don’t. What are you doing? Where are you going?”

“That is not one bit of your business!” She yanked her blouses and skirts off the closet rod and folded them, yes folded them. She would have order. She would make something fit. She would make. Things. Fit.

“Please don’t leave.” He choked on the words. “I can’t live without you. Anne, I’ll move out till you’ll have me back. I’ll sleep at the office. Just stay, please stay.” Even as he offered this desperate bargain, he felt a pit-of-stomach despair knowing it was hopeless.

She slammed the case shut. “I’ll need a day to arrange travel. I will not stay under the same roof with you. I’m going into the kitchen till you leave. Let me know when you’re on the way out,” she hissed at him, then burst into sobs and ran from the room.

Charlie found her there, hands on the edge of the stove, holding herself up. “I’m going now,” he spoke to the back of her head. “I know I have no right to ask you anything, but please, don’t tell anyone. It will ruin me.”

She refused to turn, to look at him. “Don’t worry,” she said bitterly. “What do you think people would say about me if they knew I didn’t have the sense to recognize a pansy boy? I don’t need anyone feeling sorry for me.”

“It’s not what you think. It really isn’t. I’m not one of those … I don’t … It’s you I love.”

“Just go.”

“Will you let me explain?”

“Go.”

“I do love you. With all my heart. It’s not what you think. It’s …”

“Get out, please. Now.” Though he could not see her face he knew her chin jutted out and he knew from her voice she was crying through her harsh words. That was the last he saw of her. The points of her shoulder blades, the stiffness of her neck, the rigid way she held her arms against the stovetop edge.

Charlie hoped against hope that she’d reconsider. His heart leapt, when he awakened the next morning in his dental chair, at the sight of a note slid under his office door. He rushed to read it, but it only said that he could come back to the house now because she was gone, and not to come after her. She was headed to New Boston, where there was a missionary group that trained people for service in French West Africa. If her husband’s soul was irretrievably lost, at least maybe she could save a few savages. He stood for a few moments holding the note, staring at it. Yes, his soul was lost. Gone forever with his beautiful bride. In its place, a hollowing and hopeless thing growing. He tore the note into tiny pieces, took them home to the backyard, and buried them.

* * *

Hannah spoke so softly it was difficult to hear what she asked. Charlie knelt by his sister’s wheelchair and cupped his hand to his ear.

“What did you say?”

“Where is Anne?”

“She’s gone away for a while.”

Hannah’s eyes looked like they wanted to say something, but her mouth refused to push any more sound out.

“She asked me to tell you hello for her.”

Charlie could feel Hannah staring at him, even as he looked away, avoiding direct eye contact. Oh, he hated this dissembling. He’d never lied to his sister before. She was so fond of Anne, what could he tell her? That he was sorry, but she’d found him wearing her lingerie and left him? That now that she’d found out about this unnatural thing he felt compelled to do, they’d never, neither one of them, see her again?

Maybe someday he could figure out a way to explain. Tell Hannah how it had always been this way, even before she was born. That he’d just get urges and have to do something about it. Maybe she could understand. It was never something he intended to do, not really. More like an itch that would start as a tickle and grow until — every now and then — it just had to be scratched.

Maybe someday Hannah would forgive him for causing the only person in her life she loved besides him to vanish from her pitifully limited world. She asked for so little. As her disease closed in on her, she bore it with stubborn grace. But everyone could tell she was delighted beyond measure when Anne and Charlie visited her. And though Charlie was the one she performed somersaults for when she was three and splashed in the creek with when she was seven, the one who nursed her through her long illnesses and indulged her insistence that he move them to Dallas to become one of Texas’s first certified dentists, Anne was the person who brought the world of womanhood to her. The one who made her feel fashionable. The one who shared sisterly secrets with her. The one who could make her feel almost normal. It was Anne who could bring a smile to her face that cut through the disease-imposed mask.

Hannah was trying to talk again. Again, Charlie cupped his hand to his ear and leaned in to hear. “Charlie.”

“Yes, Hannah?”

“Will she come to see me next week?”

“I don’t know, Hannah. I don’t think so. But it’s not your fault. It’s my fault.”

“What did you do?”

“I disappointed her.”

“How?”

“I’ll tell you someday. I promise. Don’t blame Anne.”

“Charlie?”

“Yes?”

“You didn’t … break your vows?”

“No, Hannah. I love Anne too much. I kept the commandents.” He attempted a grin, hoping this deliberate use of her childhood mispronunciation would amuse and distract her, but instead he had to swallow hard to stifle grief.

“Charlie?”

“Yes?”

He waited a long time, but Hannah’s energy for speaking was gone. She lapsed into silence. Only her hands moved, rhythmically rolling against her thighs. Her face was impassive, save a tear that trickled down her left cheek. Finally, Charlie spoke again.

“Hannah, there’s something else I need to tell you. I’m going to move on up to Chicago. Dallas would be too far away for me to visit you more than a couple of times a year, so I’ve found a place for you to stay in Indianapolis. They have other folks there like you, with the Parkinson’s, so they’ll know how to care for you better. I’ll take you up next week, and I’ll come to see you just as often as I can. I’ll come every weekend if I can.” He paused again, wrestling emotion to maintain his composure.

Hannah stared at the wall.

“I need a fresh start. I need to start over again. I need to go where no one knows me. No one.”

“Charlie…”

“What?”

“Do braids for me. The kind you used to do right after Mama died.”

“Of course.” Charlie moved behind her chair and pulled his fingers through her thick blonde hair. He could feel his sister relax as he worked the tangles out, and fashioned two French braids. It comforted him, too.

They sat for another twenty minutes or so, Charlie watching Hannah, Hannah watching the wall. Then the nurse came to get her ready for an afternoon nap.

From Earth As It Is, by Jan Maher, published by Break Away Books

Ordering information on author’s website, janmaher.com It’s also available on through Amazon.com on Kindle and in print.

 

Someone Dies at the End

It was the Ultimate Box: 152 crayons in a dazzling array of every color you could imagine; even the glittery and metallic ones. Stacy was thrilled, it was just what she had asked for. When she opened the mega coloring book wrapped beside it, her birthday was complete. Coloring was Stacy’s favorite.

She even ate a piece of the gluten free, dye free, birthday cake her mother had made with all the quickness and smiles her five-year-old self could manage. Saying thank you, she grabbed her presents and ran to her room. She leapt onto her unmade bed, cuddled into the rufflely purple covers, and opened her box of new, shiny crayons.

Picking a picture in the middle of her new coloring book, Stacy grabbed the metallic green from her box and furiously colored in a kitten. She followed it with red, for the kitten’s eyes; the kitten sat on a blue chair, in a pink room, with yellow carpets. There was also a fireplace in the room, and Stacy colored that with purple, with an orange fire. When she was done, Stacy colored five more pictures in the same fashion, and then it was time for bed.

That night, the Neutral colors started to get, only a little, upset at not being used much. Stacy mostly liked the Vibrants. As the week progressed, and Stacy colored more and more pictures in her imaginative way, the Neutrals became more noticeably upset during the night, they found their lack of use disturbing, they feared getting thrown out.

The Vibrants couldn’t understand what the others went on about; they felt so over used, with their papers peeled back while they were worn away to nubs. Some colors had even been used all the way up. Instead of trying to understand the Neutrals, the Vibrants were mad at being so put upon.

Neither side could understand the other. Each was angry. Stacy just kept coloring.

One day, Mauve, not being quite purple enough for Stacy’s taste, and having never been used, had enough of the bickering. Neutrals may not be used much, but they did still get used, when Stacy was more realistic. But Not Mauve. And Vibrants should feel so lucky to be colored with, they were crayons, that was their purpose!

In the night, Mauve, knowing she wouldn’t be listened to, jumped from the box and landed on the wood floor of Stacy’s room right as Mom checked on the girl. Mauve was stepped on, and all the colors were shocked to see the color broken into pieces. Mom looked down, noticed the broken crayon and threw Mauve into Stacy’s waste basket.

And so, united by horror and sadness, the Crayon box mourned their lost friend and felt the hole where Mauve was missing. The crayons around the hole couldn’t stand like before, and missed Mauve even more.

Until Saturday morning, when Stacy woke up to color a giant poster, all-day-long. And again, the box was divided.