Heart

From The Hot Girl – Part One

For the sixth time Deanna watched her father pull another card from a vase of flowers, put it in a stack with others just like it, toss the flowers into a rolling trash can and dump the vase in the sink before he set it on a nurse’s cart.

“Daddy, why are you keeping the cards?”

Doc Collings turned toward her from the other side of what had been her Gramma Cora’s hospital bed. “So your mother can send them ‘thank you’ notes.”

“Mom hates cut flowers. What’s she going to say, ‘thanks so much for sending dying flowers to my dying mother’?” She didn’t see him wince.

“Flowers are okay at our house. Twice a year.”

“I know. Valentine’s and your anniversary. But you buy mom plants.”

“Sometimes what your mother says is okay, and what she really thinks is okay, are entirely different. She has tolerance for flowers on days where flowers are the norm. And tolerance for your brother or you giving her flowers or something fattening is different from her fully accepting it as okay across the board. Like with me. I don’t gamble with your mom. If I know where the strike zone is I don’t get fancy and try to throw curve balls.” He held his hand out perfectly flat. “I go straight down the middle. Plants in pots are in the strike zone every time.”

Doc Collings’ sports analogies always worked with his super jock son, but now he was in a situation where he always felt lost. Alone, with his daughter. Who, since she’d outgrown her Sting-Ray bike and Barbies, lived on an intellectual diet of poetry, art books, Medieval versions of fables and fairy tales, and top forty radio. And until his mother-in-law’s failing health had sent her to live with them a couple of years ago, there hadn’t been anyone in their house who “got” the post grade school version of Deanna except their black lab, Hayden.

“DeeDee, your grandmother knew you cared.” He tossed another handful of flowers, spun a guest chair around and sat in front of her. “She had all the pictures you copied out of the art books for her. All of your notes and poems and Polaroids were taped to the wall. She was so sick the last week or so she didn’t open anything.”

“I looked for this card forever.” She stared at the unopened envelope in her lap, a thumb and finger holding it on each side. “If she’d just opened it…Maybe…”

“There was no magic in that card that would have saved her.” He ran his hand through his hair, left it at the back of his head. “I know how it hurts when you lose someone you love. In ways you can’t explain to anyone. My parents are gone, my brother died in the war…If you live long enough you lose people…And unfortunately there’s nothing anyone can say or do to make it easier. I wish I could, but…” He reached out, put his hand on top of hers, took the card and gave it a long look before he handed it back. “Deanna, when things like this happen? The old saying about how ‘it’s the thought that counts’ is true. She knew how you felt, card or no card. Believe me.”

“It’s okay, Daddy. She told me before. About her heart and everything.” She glanced around at the stripped bed, dying flowers, empty vases and back to her lost father. “And how if I gave myself time I’d realize the heart that doctors understand isn’t the most important one I have.”

 

Thoughts and commentary on this one are requested, here or via email

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Mother Knows Best

My mom was an ex-model. And ambulance driver and dental assistant and she took no shit from anybody. Particularly men. Like Snow White, birds would fall out of trees for her, sit in her hair and sing. Rabbits would come when she called. She could throw my paper route when I had the flu and never meet a mean dog. Plants grew when she walked by. No matter who or what you were, you listened to my mom.

My mom had a thing for goats. She was from a part of the Ozarks that didn’t have power until the late Fifties when the Corp of Engineers built Table Rock Lake. Phone lines (whoa) didn’t make it until the Sixties. She could skip a rock, throw a baseball overhanded and knew which end of a funky old tractor was which. Milk a cow or a goat and tell a hen to lay an egg, or else. If it had fur or feathers it showed up when she whistled. She could bait a hook and fish and roll a cigarette for my Grampa with one hand. Something I wanted her to teach me in my teens but never got up the nerve to ask. But the goats? Mom loved her goats. When I would visit my grandparents in the summer for a couple of weeks, I learned about goats. Grampa would have to go and smoke and drink and sell bait around the lake, Gramma busted her ass doing everything else from the garden that fed them to cleaning fish and wringing a chicken’s neck for dinner. So me being six and in the Missouri hills and pretty much in the way, I got sent out to wander the hollers and cricks and hillsides. Tied to a goat. No shit. A rope around my waist and the head goat, off to explore the Ozarks. Why? Because the goat wouldn’t do anything near as stupid as I might, particularly around water. And it knew when it was time to eat and how to get home. Today I am sure that would be considered some kind of abuse, but I got along okay with the goat. Even after my Grampa made me a dead slow “go-kart” out of a upside down shopping cart and an old lawn mower, the goat went along. Mom would call, ask me what I did. “I went out with the goat.” “Oh good. I used to that. Goats are okay, as long as you leave their heads and tails alone.”

Mom had fashion sense. She’d been a model, right? Well, she was loud, anyway. She took flying lessons in the early Sixties. Soloed, got her license, never went up much after that. What our parents were really up to is a mystery still. Like the moose. What the hell, Mom? Dad?

 

 

 

My mom had my brother almost nine years behind me. And it screwed her all up. Not my brother, but the hormonal thing. Well, maybe my brother is in that somewhere. It is difficult to realize now that in the second half of the Twentieth Century women’s health care was non-existent beyond the OB-GYN basics. Mom was a victim. They messed with her hyper-active thyroid as best they could back then. The stuff that made her mad, depressed, borderline bi-polar wasn’t even on the research agenda. No shit really she went in for several hours every Saturday for a couple of months to get wrapped in cold sheets. So she’d feel better. She was “hysterical.” Come on. America in the Sixties. We put a man on the moon and my mom was wrapped in cold sheets like a freaked out, misbehaving Victorian? The alternative was Valium. Which by rights should have calmed her down. It lit her up like a Roman Candle. By the late Sixties and early Seventies there were birth control pills, but in my research I found that very little was done in that regard as far as hormone therapy. Birth control was the answer to rampant teenage promiscuity leading to pregnancy, not getting women on an even keel and helping ease the familial burden of “the menopause.” So she self medicated with alcohol in ever increasing doses until she killed herself with a Vodka bottle in her early sixties.

Mom had her moments. But she could tape an ankle for football practice and games better than the trainers and coaches. Lance a boil and pop a shoulder back into socket. Stop a dog’s ear from bleeding in a snap after a fight. She helped me build a Masonite and 2×4 “club house” in the back yard under her big mimosa tree. It rained one of those Oklahoma rains about two weeks later, and the Masonite dissolved. I was bummed. I’d taken my naughty library books with medical sketches of lady parts out there to read them, and my hideout had disintegrated. I got upset. Mom said “Look how much fun we had building it.” She winked, messed up my hair. “And you can read those books in the hammock.” She planted pussy willows where the club house had been since the grass was gone. They got as tall as me in a season.

No one is perfect, not even our moms. After you’ve been around a while, you understand that Mom was who she was, and we were just in the mix of her life. The goat, the hormones, even the instability and unpredictability of the nightly dinner table drama (Philip! Where did these pills come from? Who was that girl driving your car? Mr. Stinson said you had your bike on top of the school! For God’s sake, Philip!), none of it was mean spirited or intentional. It just was.

I was the only one in the room when she died, and like William Blake and his brother, I saw her leave. Call me crazy, but there it is. When my dad and brother showed up everyone said a prayer. I said I hoped she was somewhere peaceful, and free at last from her demons. My dad cried about that, and reminded me of it often. What he called the short and perfect eulogy for my mom.

Mom was pretty, smart in that rare common sense way, did her best and kicked some ass. She was more than a little whacked on some days, smoked like a chimney, swore like a sailor, had an opinion about everything and everyone and wore pants better than a lot of men. But out of all of that, good and bad and crazy and caring and over-protective and insecure and voraciously curious and more than occasionally angry, she was Mom. And we should all thank them for that, our mothers, no matter what we’ll never understand about them.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Romantics

She reached out with her first two fingers, touched the painted plate at 17 Molton St, London, and  left them there as big, silent tears rolled down her cheeks. People stared, she didn’t care. Deanna had ridden the train, by herself, from Cambridge to London for this visit to the last of William Blake’s original residences, only to discover it was another commercial address, not a shrine. She finally dropped her fingers, lowered her head in disheartened resolution.

“‘I wander thro’ each charter’d street, Near where the charter’d Thames does flow. And mark in every face I meet, Marks of weakness, marks of woe.’” A black wool coat covered arm ending in a manicured hand reached out, touched the plaque where Deanna’s fingers had been. She looked up and an elegant man, easily her father’s age or older, had taken up residence on the sidewalk beside her.

“You know about Blake? Really? That was him, the opening to London. I’ve always read it as bleak, but it was beautiful, how you quoted it. Sorry…I never…” She looked down again, the cloud over her returned.

“One needs to stand in a man’s shadow to understand his journey, and his poetry.” He handed Deanna a clean, folded, white handkerchief. “Dry your eyes. That was his story, his London. Commerce and need ruled the day in Old London Town, then as now. Blake knew that, as should you.” He took in all of Deanna, from the savage scissor attack of her hair to her ill fitting jeans and bulky sweater, the ski jacket tied around her waist and well worn running shoes, her pale complexion and sad eyes. “Student, or…” He wondered how a man his age should address a possible street girl or one of the thousands of foreign kids “finding themselves” by riding trains, smoking hash and sleeping in the growing number of hostels.

“Student. Newnham, Cambridge.” She turned, grabbed his coat behind his elbow, and glared at him. “It’s a bar, mister whoever you are. Blake’s house is a fucking bar! How can they do that?”

“It’s not him in Westminster Abbey, nor St. Mary’s. Nor any other place where they’ve hung a plaque with his name. Blake lives here,” he touched his chest over his heart. “Which I daresay is where he’d much prefer to reside with you.”

“Really?”

“Yes. As much as we can know a dead man’s wishes. Step inside. It’s a landmark, not a grave. My treat?”

“NO. It’s a —”

“Fucking bar. Yes, you’ve said. And I said one should trod the path of the man and salute his memory. Sandwiches and expensive drinks with a French flair make it no less Blake’s. I’m on my own today and it has been an age, several ages I might be obliged, since I’ve enjoyed a lively discussion of Blake with an overly serious young woman.”

“Are you a professor or something?”

“Or something. If it will put you at ease, I ask only for conversation. I am not, as is commonly observed when men my age seek to engage with young women, ‘a dirty old man.’”

Deanna could tell by the long wool coat, open scarf, creases, shiny shoes and hair cut he wasn’t dirty, or too old. Too old for that, but not too old to eat lunch with like a professor. And he had quoted Blake.

They followed the hostess to a small table at the back wall where he held her chair with one hand while he draped his coat over his own, sat down across from her.

“Okay.” Deanna felt trapped against the wall. “No funny business. I don’t do that.” She watched as he settled his napkin on his thigh and pushed his menu aside and she allowed herself to absorb some of his relaxed demeanor.

“A tired girl a long way from home, who has so obviously spent her food allowance on a train ticket to London only to arrive and discover desecration of what she thought Holy, then proceed to carry on crying about it, I wouldn’t think a ‘funny business’ type.”

“How do you know? Do you look for ‘funny business’ types?”

“No. I have daughters. One of them a hopeless romantic. I cried here myself when I was seventeen. Not so anyone would know, but there I was, just as you were. Would you prefer to sit on this side, and I on yours?”

“No. No that’s…I’m okay. Now.”

“Good. Blake and a double ham croissant are on order, I believe? Swiss or?”

“Yes. Yes, Swiss. Please. Did you know…”

***

Evan Drucker stood in the entryway of his Dawson Place home, handed his wife his coat and scarf, kissed her longer than the usual peck.

“So is it takeaway or some other mischief you fancy?”

“Takeaway? I might do. I took a walk and ate out once today.”

She dropped his coat over one arm and reached for a hanger in the closet she’d opened. “You’ll have me ask again?”

“No. Have you had a call from either of the girls?”

“Not midweek. I wouldn’t, would I? They have school and lives of their own.” She hung the scarf over the coat and closed the closet door. “Now I’ll have that ask, if you don’t mind.”

“I ate lunch with our Avey today.”

“Avianna? Where?”

“Having a quiet cry at Blake’s on Molton.”

“You took her there often enough. The two of you banging on like a pair of Romantic rabblers.” She picked up the faraway look in his eyes. “Our Avey’s away at school in the States, Evan. So who was it you saw shed tears for your Blake?”

“Her name was Deanna Collings, or so she said. An American girl studying in Cambridge, come to mourn at Blake’s. Seemed quite bright and deeply informed. She was a mess of a pretty young girl, though, and scared to death. Called what’s behind Blake’s plaque ‘a fucking bar.’”

“Ah, with the mess of a look and the language then it was our Avey.” She smiled, tugged on his tie. “I hope you’re both the better, having had Blake on for lunch. The kitchen’s cold and I fancy a curry. You?”

“I fancy a prayer for all our faraway romantic daughters, and a drink.” He reached one arm around her, leaned and kissed her on the forehead, checked her expression when he let her go. “Right. And a curry.”

Leftovers

She cringed when everything disappeared for a second while we passed the truck. The windshield wipers brought the wet freeway back into shiny night time soft-focus and she opened her eyes.

“At least we don’t have to think about dinner when we get home. That’s the nice thing about Chipotle leftovers.” The only nice thing about Chipotle leftovers is that, like red beans and rice, it’s better on day two and she was trying to distract herself from the rain and the freeway and my driving by talking. And distracting me. “We have cheese, too. Leftover from Thanksgiving, but it’s probably still good.”

“Is it possible for Velveeta to go bad? I mean it’s yellow candle wax.”

“It was kind of stiff. You need to get over a lane sometime.”

“Thank you. I’m trapped till the white Caddy gets off my ass. Our daughter liked it. She nuked it until it screamed and put it all over her broccoli.”

“She did? I didn’t notice. Well, I like it better when it has Rotel or something in it. We should have done that.”

“Yeah. Velveeta on its own is pretty disgusting. It’s too thick unless you cut it with something. Probably why we don’t ever buy it.”

“Maybe. There might be another reason.” She was smiling now, a twinkle in her eye, the exit in sight.

“Yeah, maybe?”

“Yeah.” She put her hand on my arm. “Maybe we don’t buy it because all we need around the house is another excuse for you to cut the cheese.”

Skin Deep

The Nutcracker – Dress Rehearsal 2016

“You looked great up there.”

“For someone more than twice as old as the principals from New York City Ballet.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“I did. We’ve been married ten years longer than they’ve been alive.”

“So, it’s good that you looked great up there on the same stage with them.”

“Mmm. I’m not so sure how great I looked.”

“I have pictures.”

“You weren’t supposed to take pictures.”

“No flash. How long have I been doing this?”

“We just had that discussion.” She flipped the visor down, opened the mirror. “Anyway, my costume is a blue velvet corset I’m cinched into. And I have my extra nylon hair.” She put the ringlets in a large zip lock, stuffed them in the dance bag then dumped fifteen bobby pins that would stay in the cup holder on her side of the console until the next trip to the free vacuums at the car wash. Or we bought drive-thru coffee in her car. Or she ran out of bobby pins.

“You still looked great.”

“The secret is old lady ballerina make up.” She peeled off one eyelash that would have made Dolly Parton envious, blinked in the mirror.

“I didn’t know they made that.”

“Oh, they make it, alright.” The other eyelash came off, got stuck to a small piece of white cardboard with the first one, wrapped in wax paper, dropped in a make up bag. She blinked again. Her own lipstick had come out and she did that thing women do with lipstick and a car vanity mirror.

“What’s in it that makes it so special?”

“Spackling.”  She rubbed her lips together, checked the mirror, smiled. “And formaldehyde.”

The Nutcracker

Go see The Nutcracker, wherever you are, whoever is doing it. It’s good for you. Trust me, I’ve seen it more than a couple of times and it hasn’t killed me. Yet.

Nuts

She waved her hand in a wide but unobtrusive arc, more wrist than arm. “Every time I see these things I think about John’s nuts.”

Here we go. “Yeah? What things?”

“All these big green egg things. They remind me of John’s nuts, that’s all.”

Big green egg shaped things and John somebody’s nuts.

“He’s dead, now.” She let that hang a moment. “He was at work one day, all chirpy, saying he was okay, and he was gone the next day. It was all kind of sad.”

Okay, maybe this John guy had big green nuts and that’s what killed him. Big green nuts would do that, kill a guy if he didn’t get them checked out. If I woke up with big green nuts I would sure as hell beat it to the Doc’s.

“We all ate his nuts for like three months.”

Hold on. “You all ate John’s nuts?”

“So did we, you and I. You remember, from the Christmas party a few years ago? Taller, kind of poinky. Gray hair. He was gay and a really nice man. We saw him that time at the store and I introduced you?”

“Oh yeah, right. Him. You worked with him for a while?” The only person I remembered from the Christmas parties was a black dude trumpet player who taught music and was fun, and a sparkly older lady whose daddy had been a senator or governor or something from Louisiana. She held the patent on the old school Southern Belle thing and was sharper than a barber’s razor. Otherwise, like most work Christmas parties, there was never a lack of shortish or tallish, poinky-ish, gray haired, maybe gay people around.

“Yes. He’s dead now.”

“You said that.” Okay. Deep breath. “He didn’t die of giant green egg shaped nuts, did he?”

“No…” She was off somewhere remembering poinky gray gay John, missing his presence at work. Hopefully not his nuts. “It was cancer. They told him he had five or six years after his first round with it, and like clockwork, in four and a half years it was back with a vengeance. He was gone in six months. Anyway, he gave us all a big bag of his roasted nuts for Christmas that year and we ate them for a couple of months.”

“He didn’t like give us chunks of his big green egg shaped nuts that he roasted, right?”

“No. Listen, and don’t be goofy. He roasted his own nuts in one of these green egg griller-roaster things. And gave them to us in a big bag with a ribbon around the top. When I see all these green egg things it reminds me of him and his nuts. Like when I see those beat up cooking pots, you know, the big ones? I think of my grandpa’s boiled peanuts.”

“Boiled what?”

“Peanuts. Big ol’ green egg things and big ol’ beat up cook pots making me think about John’s and grampa’s nuts. I guess I’m weird, huh?”

I raised my eyebrows.

“Oh, you. Stop it. Talk about weird, Mister Weird-o. Did you get those screw-on nipple things you wanted so we can leave?”

nipples

My Little Stiff Tool

Why DIY with your wife is more fun than doing it by yourself.

I felt the second tug on the bottom of my painting sweats, couldn’t look down from the ladder. “Yeah?”

“I need your little ‘stiff’ thingy for a minute.”

All of them ran through my mind. I landed on the most offensive, to me. “Little?”

“Yes. You know, your little ‘stiff’ tool?”

“Yeah, I know my not-so-little stiff tool. Just for a minute?”

She was oblivious. “Yes. Where is it?”

“I try to keep it with me. Hate to lose it.”

“Don’t be silly. You don’t have enough pockets for all this junk.” She was shuffling through the tools that shouldn’t have been on the end table. “I don’t see it down here.”

I got to a place where I could put the paint brush down and look at her. Jesus. The girl always got more paint on herself than anything she ever painted. I can still find thirty-year-old pink all over an aluminum step ladder from the time she and our daughter decided the steamer trunk for all nine thousand Barbies needed to be pink.

“I’m not sure what ‘stiff tool thingy’ you mean.”

“You know, the one I used to get caulk off the fireplace the other day.”

“You got ‘caulk’ off the fireplace with my ‘little stiff tool thingy?’” Still nothing. Oh well. “You mean the painter’s tool?”

“I guess. Only men would have a tool called ‘stiff’ that scraped up after their ‘caulk’ mess and had another name, too.” I wished I could have seen her face for that one.

It was killing me, but wisdom said leave it. “Painter’s tool. Just remember that. My little stiff tool thingy is a Painter’s tool. ‘Stiff’ is just how hard it is.” Still nothing. I eyed the tool bag on the floor next to the ladder. “There it is. Yellow tool bag, on the floor. Right next to my Big Johnson.” How could that have been  more perfect?

“Well, it says ‘stiff’ on the handle. And ‘stiff’ I can remember.” She gave me that devil girl look. “Barely.”

“I’ll be happy to fix that for you.”

“That’s what you said about this fireplace. Two weeks ago.”

“I didn’t know what I was getting into, or how much work it would be.” That was just stupid. Wide, wide open.

“So that’s what you’ll tell me? You didn’t know how much work I’d be? And I’ll have to wait two weeks?”

I wanted to say, “You could consider it foreplay,” but I don’t have a death wish. “I’m a part-time handyman, except on weekends.” I put on my best Barry White. “But you know, baby, I’m a full-time lur-uv machine.”

She walked away toward the kitchen, hair streaked with paint, my “little stiff tool thingy” in hand. “No you’re not.” She turned, looked back up the ladder and smiled. “But I knew there was a way to get you to finish this before Sunday afternoon.”