glass bottles; good deals on cubby storage; the 90s

What a terrible blog post title. I’m sorry. When you can’t think of a good blog post title, you come up with a lousy one and just apologize for it. (There’s a nice blogging tip for you. You’re welcome.) But all that stuff is indeed included in this one blog post, so at least the title is perfectly descriptive. Let me start things out by saying holy crap I got such a great deal the other day! Which doesn’t make up for the terrible blog post title, but nevertheless, it was such a great deal. None of this correlates, but no one said I had to make perfect sense all the time. glass_water_bottle

One of my glass bottle water bottles. They have silicone sleeves in an array of rainbow colors.
They're like heavy, breakable Skittles!

So, here’s how the great deal happened. A while back I bought a 6-pack of refillable glass water bottles for my kids. No worries about BPA or phthalates or any of that junk—glass is about as inert as it gets! Brilliant. I am, I know. But do you know what happens to glass water bottles when you give them to kids? Yes. You’re right. They get broken. As of the other day, we were down to 2. I have more kids than that. Had I only had the 2 kids I meant to have we’d still be in good shape. But the egg split and so 3 we got. Also, guess who gets to carry all the water bottles? Yes. You’re right. Me. And them suckers get heavy. So, the other night I set out on a quest to find some nice BPA and phthalates and any other junk-free plastic, lightweight, unbreakable water bottles. But them suckers get expensive and I am cheap. Not cheap—frugal. Which is a more nuanced word for cheap. Anyhow, I thought I might check our local Christmas Tree Shops for a deal on some. If you don’t have one of these around, it’s like a mish-mash of weird stuff all in one place at very cheapie prices. Some of it is even useful. Most of it is the kind of stuff people buy impulsively because although they never needed anything like it before—had never even conceived of its existence on this great planet—suddenly life without it is unimaginable. And at those prices, who can say no? This never happens to me, by the way. That's not how I know about it. At any rate, I did not find water bottles, but I wandered into the furniture area and found some great storage pieces for our art supplies. But they had none in stock. Then, I spied this:


It was originally $129 marked down to $59. Pretty good. As I am contemplating it, a lady with a walkie-talkie saunters over and says, “Those have been marked down further. Let me get you a price.” Into her walkie-talkie she says, “Cathy-Cathy, what’s the price on these cubby storage units?” So Cathy-Cathy comes on and says, “Sheila-Sheila, they’re $26.97.” Totally random price, and they say each other’s names twice for some reason, but that was too good a deal to pass up. So I bought 2! Also (you’re not going to believe this) I had a coupon for 20% off an entire purchase which brought them down to (you’re not going to believe this, either) $22 bucks a piece after sales tax!


Holy crap!

Please examine the following pics to understand why I wanted some new storage to go underneath the work tables. You will see that it is too messy under there. I don’t like messy. I like tidy.



Note how the light is totally different in these two pics. That's because when I went to load them onto my computer I realized this one was totally blurry and hours had passed since I'd taken them so I had to turn the lamp on and snap a new one. But it was totally intentional. Note that there's a kid up there. I asked her to go on top of the table so she wouldn't be in the shot. Also totally intentional.

But now I have to put these damn things together and my time is already limited, so I am thinking I might serialize some short fiction again. Free up some of my time to build this furniture. I could do a few excerpts over the next few weeks. Shall I?

I discovered on my hard drive (do we still call it that?) an old story I started writing in my 20s. I am debating picking up where I left off. I thought of (another) novel idea the other day—I have, like, 7 going in various drafts—set in the 90s and this piece might be a good jumping-off point. Is it too soon to write a novel about being in your 20s in the 1990s? I have a nice little 90s mix in my Spotify account. Think I’ll go turn that on right now for inspiration. I have entitled the playlist “the 90s.” Good, huh? Perfectly descriptive. I also have a title in mind for the novel. Better than the mix one, I think. Can’t tell you what it is just yet.

(Oh, I love this Matthew Sweet song that just popped up in my “the 90s” mix! The 90s were awesome.)

I ended up getting the kids some very reasonably priced nice BPA and phthalates and any other junk-free plastic, lightweight, unbreakable water bottles at Target. Also, since I was there, I got a Starbucks. It was a stellar night overall.

So, want me to post the story or what?

red step-stool—part 3


Here is Part 3 of my serialized short story, "Red Step-Stool." If you want to go back and read Part 1, here it is! And here is Part 2. Enjoy!

When they paid off their mortgage, she and her husband burned the mortgage papers in an old coffee can and drank bubbly wine. They invited their children and grandchildren. She suspected her children must have no idea or at least no more than an inkling of what this meant to her and her husband.

The house is a four-bedroom cottage. Sky blue aluminum siding and white trim. They bought it from a family who had come upon hard times. A sad story about a sick child. She was never sure what happened to the child and she is rather glad not to know. The house cost thirteen thousand dollars—a small fortune to them. It sits on an acre of land that butts up against a small expanse of woods and behind the woods, a rural highway.

When they moved in, the house was brashly decorated—bright colors and fussy wallpapers. Not exactly filthy but not reasonably clean by any means. She recalls weeping over all the work they had to do to straighten it out. She left the kitchen and went outside, her hands raw from the bleach and the scrubbing. It was late June and a nearly full moon was above and she sat in the dewy grass of her new backyard. Even with all that moonlight the stars still poured down. And she cried which was not her manner and her husband came, sat down next to her in the grass, put his arm around her shoulders and said, “Don’t cry, sweetheart. It’ll be alright.” Things were said in a simpler way then. And she did feel better. And it did turn out alright.


After 9/11, her granddaughter asked her if this was what Pearl Harbor felt like and she said, Exactly. It felt exactly like this.

When do you feel old? Her granddaughter asks her. She wonders this herself because she doesn’t know the answer. You would think by mid-eighty you might know the answer to this question. Maybe you only know right before you die or as you’re dying.

But there are differences—they are all physical. She gets tired more quickly but that’s okay because she’s not in a hurry. What is there to hurry about?

When she does her laundry she must be careful. Her best girlfriend has the washer and dryer on the main floor of her house in a big closet. Her daughters have looked into moving her washer and dryer upstairs but it won’t work in her house. So she must do her laundry as she has always done in her basement. She used to just scurry up and down those stairs with the basket in her arms. Now she uses a cloth laundry bag and she fills it with the dirty laundry she needs to wash and she tosses it down the stairs to the basement floor where it lands with a soft thump. This is when she must be careful—she places two feet on every step and holds the rail firmly. She wears shoes that don’t have slippery soles. She won’t end up in the nursing home with a broken hip. That could be the last thing she ever does and over dirty clothes? No, no. Not me, she thinks.

No doubt she has slowed down. She can’t go all day long like she used to. Used to be she could spring clean the house in a weekend. Now it takes her a week and a half. Everything done in bits and pieces. Even the weekly cleaning. Now, she washes the floor and at the end of the day feels like she built a house.

But her step-stool. Her daughters won’t let her climb up on it, yet she thinks she could still do it, if she were very careful. She won’t, but she just knows that she still could.

The main thing is that in her head she feels the same. In her head she is sixteen, she is twelve, she is thirty-eight, twenty-two, eighty. In her head, there is no difference.


Her parents emigrated from Madeira. A beautiful Portuguese archipelago. Flowered and warm. She never visited until her retirement when she went there on vacation with her husband. Then she saw the village where her parents were born and raised and met some cousins. It touched her deeply, this connection, and it made her think of her mother, of whom she had not in years in a way that felt like her mother’s own warm hands upon her. That made her think of her mother’s hands on her childish body. Her mother’s hands in the family garden, cooking their food, washing their clothes and bedding in a washtub with a washing board. Imagine women had to do that once! Of course, her daughters can’t believe they ever lived in a house without running water. But when she was living it, it never seemed like such a burden. It just was what it was and they did what must be done and never really thought about it. Maybe because they never conceived of it being a different way. Maybe because it wasn’t so bad, especially when you were used to it. Maybe life is only as hard as you think it is.

Her mother gave birth to ten children, nine of whom lived. The first one was a boy, but he died. She then gave birth to seven girls before she had her two boys. She sometimes wonders how often her mother thought of the boy who died at birth—the stillborn baby. She has always hated that word, stillborn. It sounds too much like what it is and it has always horrified her. Her oldest sister’s first baby, also a boy, was stillborn. She carried a secret fear that her first would also be stillborn, as if this fate were inevitable. She was neither in her youth nor in her old age one to think like this. She is not and never was superstitious. Except about this. She wonders if her mother nursed a deep and enduring wound; carried it until the day she died. She doesn’t know. She imagines she would have but, like her mother, privately held it close. She was never the type inclined to hysterics or showy displays of emotion. It’s one thing to watch it on television and another to be like that.

That’s not how she was raised.


On Saturday nights her husband liked a hot bath and every Saturday night she drew the bath.

She told both of her daughters on the eves of their weddings, “Don’t start anything you don’t want to be doing for the rest of your life.” She was thinking of the baths. He was a good man, but somehow she came to bear a grudge about the baths.

Sometimes he came to her in the evening while she sat in her easy chair, knelt in front of her and placed his head in her lap. She scratched his head and the top of his back as far down as she could reach from where she sat.

This she would do willing for as long as he chose to be there with his head resting in her lap.


One of her daughters called her and said she might have some time in the next weekend to help change the curtains. “I’ll see what I can do, Mom,” she told her.

Yes, there are people who keep the same curtains up year ‘round—she knows. But she is not one of them.

She thanked her daughter then moved the step-stool into the parlor adjacent to her front room where she spends much of her time, her television remote and cordless telephone, the daily newspaper near to her hands.

That was Monday when her daughter called. Now it is Thursday and still no definite answer about the curtains. How can she plan?

She eyes her step-stool, chipped and faded red paint, dented metal. No—she won’t step up on it. She’s no fool. Even though she really believes she could do it.

She moves aside the lap quilt draped over her legs and walks slowly toward the step-stool. She lifts it carefully and carries it to the small utility closet off the back of her kitchen. It takes her a little while—she stops to catch her breath, stretch her back.

She returns to the living room and settles herself back in her chair.

Used to be time was her foe—it flew right by and she had to rush, rush, rush. Now what she does is wait. Time is loopy and streams slowly around her and the television marks the hours. She does not feel sorry for herself—that is not what her noting of time means to her. It is simply different and sometimes she envies her busy daughters just a little—their hours stack the way hers once did. There was too much to think about then but now it is difficult to conjure things to occupy her mind.

The dust gathers in the folds of the curtains. No matter, she thinks, and tries her best to believe it.

red step-stool—part 2


Here is Part 2 of my serialized short story, "Red Step-Stool." Come back next week for Part 3. If you want to go back and read Part 1, here it is! Enjoy!

On Sundays, her best girlfriend comes over for dinner then coffee and pie. Her friend still drives but she herself gave it up some months ago. She had a near accident about which she told no one. Instead she said the mechanic told her that the catalytic converter on her car was No good anymore and will cost more than a thousand dollars to replace. I don’t have that kind of money! No, that’s it. A swipe of her hand. Her children said they would help her get a new car but she refused, waved them away saying they couldn’t afford it any better than she, even though she knows this is not true. She thinks she has fooled them. She thinks she has convinced them.

Who knows what anyone else is really thinking?

Her friend comes over and brings a pie or a sweet of some kind and as it is her own house, she makes the dinner. It is always typical Sunday Dinner faire. The kinds of dinners she used to cook when her children were still at home and then, when they were gone, the kinds she continued to cook for her husband when he was still alive. Every food separate on the plate and meat at the center of the meal. The food always very hot. Not too much salt.

No cold drinks—the food turns to paste in your stomach if you drink cold drinks with hot food. The doctor told her that years ago.


When her her children were small, she lived on the third floor of a tenement. There was no running hot water. On Saturday nights when she and her husband wanted to bathe the children, she boiled an enormous pot of water on the stove. Her husband called out, “All kids on the couch!” when it was time to carry the pot of boiling water to the tub already filled partway with cold water from the tap. And the children sat obediently on the couch, legs dangling. The cleanest kid went first, then those whose filth was of a greater level and the dirtiest kid last.

She worked first shift and her husband worked second. This way there was always one of them available to look after the children. She arrived home just in time to say goodbye to him. She tried to stay awake and wait up for him. Often, she sat up in bed and prayed the rosary. When he got home to find her asleep, he would gently remove the rosary beads from her hand and pick up where she left off before he got into bed himself.

She never knew this until he told her many years later.


When she needs to go to the department store or the pharmacy, she has to ask one of her daughters. She has two daughters. She tries to break it up: one daughter to take her here, another to take her there. Her sons don’t live locally anymore, but she would not be inclined to ask them even if they did. At least that would not be her preference. She finds her sons to be a puzzle. She recalls their infancy and it doesn’t feel as long ago as it is and somehow it feels longer ago than it actually was. She can still summon with great clarity specific particularities of their small and fresh bodies: the indentation in the skin of their inner thighs, the exact shape of their hairless heads, the exquisite softness of their bare skin. And the way they smelled! There is nothing like the scent of a new baby. She recalls a time when they belonged more to her than they did to themselves. She also remembers when she thought she might scream if she heard someone calling Mommy yet again. Four children. Four!

Her husband had a cousin who was barren. That is what they called it in those days, although she knows there are nicer words for it now and things they can do to fix the problem. But her husband had a cousin who was barren who wanted a child desperately, enough so that it made her a little imbalanced. A little loony, although she thinks this is another word that must be improper to say now. In those days, adoption was a rare thing. You didn’t ever know anyone personally who had adopted a child and if they did it was probably a secret. So much used to be secret. Now, she knows, you can get an Oriental baby pretty easy, but not then.

This loony cousin, who was called Mabel, once said to her, “Your little girls are so beautiful.” To which she said simply, “Thank you.” She was accustomed to being told her children were beautiful, but modesty and humility are qualities she has always held close. The cousin then said, “You could give one of them to me. You have others. You could have more.” As if children are too many zucchini that cropped up in the kitchen garden and must be handed out to the neighbors! Here—make a quick-bread! Imagine someone thinking they could just have one of your children. Like giving away a cat! She told the cousin, “You’re crazy!”

On the ride home, her husband told her that Mabel wanted to visit them at their house sometime. They still lived in that third floor apartment in those days and she told him, “If she comes, I’m going to push her down the stairs!” Mabel never did come to visit and she was never sure if that was Mabel’s lack of follow-through or her husband’s doing, and she never asked.


She sewed most of her children's clothes. She especially loved making the really elaborate outfits for holidays. Her children always looked just so. She doesn’t completely understand why mothers of young children now seem so scattered. She always got everything done and more. She doesn’t remember how. She just did. Mothers now think about everything so much; worry about everything so much. They didn’t know what to worry about back then so she supposes they just didn’t. There were things but they were everyday cares and life was more difficult overall. Well, certainly less convenient. But there was no global warming or organic food and non-organic food and these new diseases kids get, child molestation and abuse. Many of their troubles didn’t have names and not as much was known and people didn’t talk about everything on television at four o’clock in the afternoon.

You just carried on.

As best you could.

And some days were better than others.

You did the best you could.

Sometimes when she goes to bingo or a Teamsters meeting, she and the other women talk about how they did it all when their children were small. “How did we do it?” they ask each other and they really don’t know. They truly do not have any inkling of how they did it. It makes them laugh that they can’t recall. They can’t imagine ever having had that kind of energy.

Then the children grow. And sometimes she knows she aggravates her daughters and gets the sense that they tolerate her but don’t always enjoy her. And her sons, who never forget her birthday or Mother’s Day and always get her something thoughtful on Christmas, and call fairly regularly, have in truth drifted away. Floated away like a leaf on a big deep lake. And she knows she doesn’t really know them at all. Sometimes when this knowledge gets her down, she wonders if any mother knows her child once they have grown, once they have done that necessary separation. What mother does? And why does no one tell you that this detachment is inevitable and might hurt you more than anything you ever felt? Worse than birthing them in the first place.

The funniest thing of all is that children think they know their mother. They are unfalteringly convinced they possess this knowledge. Of this she is certain. But nothing could be less true. She tries not to get angry when they treat her as if she is an infant; as if they have her pegged. They try to placate her. At times, they make her second-guess herself. She is being reduced.

Maybe it was better when people died at earlier ages—when folks died in their prime or at least closer to it.

Now if she needs to go get a prescription or a few groceries, she must ask one of her daughters.

The winter curtains still hang. She tries not to think of the dust that she knows is accumulating. She hopes it does not permanently discolor the fabric. That’s the kind of thing that happens in homes where things are not well-cared for—in homes where cleaning is haphazard.

All that dust that she knows is up there.

red step-stool—part 1


Here is Part 1 of my serialized short story, "Red Step-Stool." Come back next week for Part 2 and the following week for Part 3. And enjoy!

The last year to bake Christmas cookies will come. It will be just like the last day of summery weather each year; with enough warmth and light remaining in the day to go to the beach. You don’t really ever know it will be the last beach day until October when the season has firmly changed and you recall, oh yes, that was the last beach day. Maybe greater note might have been taken of that moment if you’d known it was the last. She will get to next Christmas and decide that she is done making cookies even though she has made them for decades and last Christmas she would not have known it was the last time. (Decades, she will reflect.) The buttery ones she fashions into snowflakes, the ones with dates and maraschino cherries, the kind with the chocolate kiss pressed into the center of the pale sugared dough. The cookies she has baked every year since her children were small.


From another vantage point, it seems a simple falling off of things. But nothing is quite so plain or smooth; nothing is so unadorned.

Who wants to think themselves as unfussy or light—effortlessly understood. Wouldn’t that be a humiliation?


Cleaning is near and dear to her. Cleanliness is a pronouncement on morality. Recently, she has been barred from climbing up on her old red step-stool to change the curtains. Her doctor and her children are the ones who decided this. They worry she might fall. She wonders how she will change her curtains when she does the spring cleaning. Her daughter says she will help and she tells her daughter that the she doesn’t want to put her out but the real problem is that she cannot plan this way and do things in her own manner. She cannot follow her timetable.

During the Depression, she was a young girl. When they changed the sheets, they alternated them every week so that one would be the top sheet one week and the bottom the next. This way the sheets wore evenly and lasted longer. All sheets were flat then—none of these fitted bottom sheets that wore out sooner than the flat top sheets. What are you supposed to do with a worn-out fitted sheet and perfectly good flat sheet? Used to be they thought about things such as this.

She says at Christmas, she and her sisters and brothers got oranges and cheap little toys that fell apart almost right away. Her father, who died in his fifties, an age they thought of as old then, grew a family garden to help feed his large family. Money was not abundant. He grew many things, among them pumpkins. They ate the pumpkins. And not just pie. Roasted and boiled. And pumpkin soup—a thing she despised. But she ate it because it was expected of her. Because it would have been unacceptable not to eat it. Because she would have gone hungry if she had not eaten it.

That terrible steaming bowl of pumpkin soup.


Choice is a new idea. This is what she thinks. Alternatives, she thinks—that is a new sentiment.


She worked as a seamstress in a clothing shop. When she was seventeen she started working in the shop to help support her family. The work conditions were good and they got regular breaks—she didn’t complain.

She lied and told the manager she knew how to operate power machines so he’d hire her. She got fired when he found out she didn’t know—it became obvious right away. She thought she would figure it out quickly, but it was more difficult than she’d expected. So she went in and worked for free to learn the machines with the help of her older sisters who also worked in the shop. This is what women did—they came of a certain age and worked in the shops. Women worked the machines and men supervised.

At first, it was standard hourly pay. Then piecework came in—a system for which she was perfectly suited. She made more money with piecework because her work was accurate and she was blisteringly efficient. The girls who griped were the ones who were too lazy to make the money. They wanted the hourly pay back. But not her; she thrived on the challenge of it. It bestowed an entirely new slant on the work. It made it less tedious. She sewed collars and shirt fronts for more than thirty years. She made the same thing, five days a week, all day for those thirty-something years. Once they began promoting women she became a supervisor and watched the girls sewing the same things, five days a week, all day.

The girls in the shop took their coffee break at nine-thirty but she did not engage in their theatrics. As if their lives were like the movies, they made much of nothing to see what they could come up with. Not much, she often noticed, even when they didn’t. But overall, it was pleasant working with the girls. Coffee and sandwich breaks steeped in the baked goods they made and shared with each other. They thought about each other in a very unconscious way—it just was the girls in the shop. And on a Saturday afternoon if you had some peace from the children, you’d bake a batch of blondies or a quick-bread to share at work next week. They did think of each other, even if it was just as a piece of everyday life. That is something—more than something. To be thought of in a way that is easy and graceful. An unrippled, but steady stream through the mind.


She eyes the step-stool. It is old and made of metal; has three steps. It used to be red and shiny but now most of the paint has worn off and it is dulled and dinged-up, but sturdy and still works fine. Everything today is made from plastic. It is late May. The winter curtains are still hanging in the windows. She eyes the red step-stool. She needs to wash the windows, too. She is a widow on a fixed income and she can’t hire anyone to do this. Her daughter says she will help.

She eyes the red step-stool.

mem’s red step-stool

Today I saw a commercial for a new cat litter in which they articulate the kinds of odors their product eliminates: urine AND ... well, you know the other. She said the actual biologically correct word! Thanks cat litter company! I know I could never have deduced to which odors you might be alluding if you had been a bit more cryptic. No need for nice, pleasant euphemisms anymore! I am no delicate flower who requires smelling salts regularly, but come on. The cat litter lady said it like 3 or 4 times! It's like the commercial with the British lady running around asking people to talk about their bums and toting adult baby wipes to be used along with toilet paper as if that is some kind of dream team. Or those animated bears with the animated pieces of toilet paper lingering on their animated bear butts. Seriously. Enough. I think there are just some problems that can be solved quietly and discreetly without the aid of commercials spelling it out so succinctly.

When I was 20 I worked at a CVS and all these old folks would come in for their creams and ointments and powders and salts and what-not. Until then I had been blissfully unaware of the necessity of the human body for such products. I could have lived happily ever after never knowing these ailments could erupt. These elders would detail the afflictions to me and I would have to listen in polite horror. I did not want or need to know that [insert horrific ailment] could happen to that [insert what up until that very moment had been an entirely innocent] body part. There I was with my perfectly functioning 20 year old body not needing to know any of this.

Bottom line: please stop saying biologically correct words while I am trying to eat my lunch and watch The Chew. Thanks. Also no weird and disturbing bum issues. Also don't say “bum.” Even if you are British. That fact makes it no more charming and no less gross. Please stop.

These cats are British and they ARE cute and charming. Additionally, they are hilarious!

Wow, where am I going with this rant? Nowhere, actually. I just needed to rant. Thank you.

(And sorry. Unless you enjoy a good rant, in which case you’re welcome.)

What I really wanted to talk about today is my Mem’s red step-stool.


Here it is!

It has always been a fixture in this house. It was painted red when I was a kid. I remember the paint being chipped, bare metal peeking out from beneath. When I found it here, it had been painted a dark gray that looked a little worse for the wear. I went out to Lowe’s and got me a nice can of Sunrise Red spray paint and cleaned this baby right up! I keep it right against the wall in the kitchen. It really reminds me of the days when I was a kid and Mem and Pep lived here. Mem kept it in the pantry closet, but I like it right out in the kitchen. It is so bright and cheerful and of course useful.


OOOH, look! The little step pivots out and then pivots in!
And not just the one time—you can do it over and over again!

A couple of years ago, my Mem had to stop using the step-stool. She had become a little too unsteady on her feet and the additional height did not help the situation one bit. She has always been a super-cleaner—I would bet few people hold cleaning as near and dear as she does. Every spring and every fall she cleaned all her windows and she changed all her curtains. And the red step-stool was a necessity—at her tallest, Mem was 4’ 11”. Just yesterday she told me she has shrunk to 4’ 8.5” and my 12 year old niece is now as tall as she is.

When she had to slow down her cleaning, it got me thinking about aging and how it might feel and it inspired a story I call “Red Step-Stool.” It is a fictionalized account of Mem and some of her life. Some of the details are stories she has shared with me and some is made-up and I am really imagining what it might feel like to be in your 80s when your body takes a turn away from what it could always do.

I split the story up into parts and will serialize it over the next few weeks. I broke it into nice little bite-sized peiece. I hope you enjoy it. Expect the first installment on Friday. And enjoy!

"A Cool Dry Place"—part 6

read part 1read part 2 read part 3 read part 4 read part 5

“Hi,” Mandy says softly. The tight smile she forces to her face gets stuck there. Her muscles work on their own, she needs to retain no consciousness of them.

“Hi, Nicole,” Mandy’s Mom says. “How are you?”

“Good, Mrs. Logan. Out for dinner with the family?” She is very sweet.

The food in Mandy’s mouth grinds to paste. She sips her orange soda, but everything inside her is thick and gluey.

“Yes. Every Friday unless there’s a game Mandy wants to go to.” Mom smiles. The things that are harmless for adults to say always astound Mandy. Something curls up inside her. The last thing she needs is for Nicole to know more than she already does.

“That’s nice.” She turns on Mandy. “Mandy, me and the other girls are over in the corner. You should come over to our table and say hi.”

“Go ahead, honey,” Mom says. “Not too long, though—your food will get cold.”

window_frost From the corner of her eye, Mandy sees Nicole smirk. Her mother would dismiss it as a simple smile if Mandy were to mention it later (not that she will). Mandy knows Nicole better. She slides out of the booth and follows Nicole. She is amazed she is able. Her body is so heavy.

She would rather stay with her family. She looks back; just a small glance. Lara looks into her eyes, watches as she walks away with Nicole. Lara knows. And that does not require words.

“Hey, guys! Look—Mandy’s here. With her family!”

Giggles. “Cool,” says Tara. Mandy knows it is not cool. But it’s not the validity of her family on the line here. It is uncool that she would rather be with them than with the girls. Not that she was invited. And she doesn’t want to be with them, so it’s a relief she wasn’t invited. But it’s not okay not to be chosen. There is a longing, mournful feeling that she is missing something. At the same time she knows she is missing nothing of which she wants to be a part. She has been included enough times to know.

But still.

“So, what’re your plans after this?” one of them asks Mandy.

“Um. Nothing really,” she shrugs. She’s going home and Dad will start a fire in the wood stove and she and Lara will have bowls of ice cream and Mom will make herself a cup of hot tea and they will watch Friday night TV. This is the kind of thing she likes. She knows it’s not the right thing. Liking your sister best of anyone, wanting to be with your Mom and Dad at Friendly’s and in front of the TV on a Friday night. None of this is right and she knows it. She also has a vague and undefined idea that she should not, at her age, be expected to have “plans.” It is an unnamed feeling I am too young, I am not ready for plans.

“Oh. We’re going to the Mall.” The Mall is adjacent to the restaurant. She says Mall with a weightiness she attempts to temper with nonchalance.

This is all new as far as Mandy knows. She knows they would have talked about it at school if they had done this before. She knows it will be the Big Topic on Monday.

“Cool,” Mandy says. All she can think of is getting away, back to her table. “Well, I should finish my food before it gets cold. And I’m really hungry. See you guys.” She turns back and adds, “Have fun at the Mall!” She hopes this comes off as breezy and I don’t care what you guys are doing! I’m really busy myself! But she hears a pinched tone in her voice and knows they, too, with their preternatural ability to hear things like that, to know what others are thinking, hear it. She knows they will talk about it later, as they paw through racks of clothes, through top-ten audio cassettes, through the latest teen magazine photos of heartthrobs over whom they will loudly exclaim. Ever eager to call attention to themselves, ever hungry for eyes to be upon them, ever needing to soak in all the available energy around them.

She won’t look back at them, even though her skin burns for a quick look. As she rounds the corner she risks a glimpse. Their heads are close together, they laugh loudly. Mandy walks faster to her table. She sees her family talking and smiling and Lara sips her root beer.

And she feels better.

crescent_moon_over_pines She slides in next to Lara. The girls start to disappear a little, they start to fade around the edges. And they float on the air. Float off on the french fry and chocolate ice cream smelling air of Friendly’s. She watches as the faded color pieces of the girls float away. She looks out the smooth cool glass into the night. Watches the air clear of it until all that is in front of her is the black black sky with its sliver moon and pinpoint stars. The blackness stretches out and out.

She wonders where it all settles.

"A Cool Dry Place"—part 5

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Mandy goes to the back door to shake out the dust mop.

It is winter.

sunset_in_black_and_white_ The sky is already mostly dark although it is not quite four-thirty yet. It is Friday night.

Tonight they will go to Friendly’s for supper, once the house is clean, once Dad comes home.

There is no CYO basketball game tonight and Mandy is glad. She would not admit it, but it’s better to go to Friendly’s. She wouldn’t say that aloud, especially to the girls. Never never to the girls. Oh my God, never. But it’s so much better not to have to go to a basketball game. No one says she has to go to the basketball games. But she does have to go. The girls would notice. Mandy doesn’t suspect they’d miss her. Doesn’t think their fun would be in any way diminished by her absence. No. She goes to the games for the same reason she goes to the parties and sleepovers. She goes in order to keep up. Stay a part of things. This compulsion of hers, when she examines it closely and honestly, makes her angry with herself. That she needs—with such desperation—their approval, their attention, their inclusion. It leaves her feeling naked and breathless. But she can never say no. She begs for them while at the same time she is terrified of what they will give her. While she almost hates them, every now and then one of them tosses her something she can hold onto. Some kindness, a shared giggle, a party invitation, an afternoon together after school and she forgets the hard parts or it softens them enough so that the sharp edges don’t penetrate quite so deeply. She dismisses the worry, the fear, the humiliation. The unnameable longing.

But tonight there is no game. Only Friendly’s.

She shakes the dust from the dust mop. Her room is clean.

“Lara!” she calls down the hall.


“You done yet?” She wants to start the bathroom, but wants to make sure Lara will join her soon from cleaning her own room. Otherwise Mandy will end up doing most of it herself.


Mandy walks down the hall to Lara’s room, plunks down the dust mop.

“Come on. You’re going slow on purpose.”

“No I’m not!”

“Yeah, right. Just hurry.” She pauses in Lara’s doorway, watches her dust. She could not be moving more slowly. “How much more?”

“Just this,” she waves the dust rag around, “and dust mop.”

“Ok, I’ll go start the bathroom. But hurry.”

Mandy sprinkles powder cleanser in the tub, the toilet, the sink. She starts scrubbing. Soon, Lara joins her and they get the room done quickly. They move into the kitchen. Lara plugs the sink, runs water, squirts soap. Mandy turns the chairs upside-down on the table, gets the broom from the pantry. They move efficiently, old pros. They must be quick—Mom is running errands so they need to clean the living room, too.

Even though Mandy complains, there is something comforting about the Friday cleaning ritual. Partly because it starts with disorder and dirt and ends with an organized and perfected thing. But mostly it is comforting because they do it every week. One of those things on which she can depend.

crescent_moon_over_pines When the work is all done, they bundle up and step outside. It is very dark. Black dark, milky stars sprinkled. A thin crescent of a moon.

Mandy and Lara run to the car. Laughing, they dive into the backseat. They huddle near each other, wait for the heater to kick in.

“How was your day, girls?” their Dad asks.

“Fine,” Mandy says right away.

“Mine was terrible!” Lara says, drawing out the word. “First of all, Mrs. Brown gave us a pop quiz in spelling. We didn’t even know she was going to give a quiz!”

“Well, duh. That’s why they call it ‘pop,’” says Mandy.

“Still. It was totally unfair. And then she gave us a ton of homework and it’s the weekend! Totally unfair. Plus I found out that Jenny Price is having a birthday party and she’s inviting boys. I am totally not going. They will ruin everything.”

Mandy feels envious of Lara’s problems. Her own life seems so much harder. So much more troubling and worrisome.

“What’s wrong with boys? I’m a boy,” Dad says.

“You’re a grown-up, Dad. Real boys are loud, they throw things, they tease all the girls. Forget it.”

“Fifth grade is a little young for a boy-girl party. What is Margie Price thinking?” Mom says.

“Oh, what’s the harm?” Dad says. “I’ll be more worried for eighth grade and ninth and tenth and until they’re thirty-five.”

“Thirty-five!” Lara says. “I’ll be old and married with kids by then, Dad!”

“Yeah. We’ll totally be married.”

“I’m not even going to let you start dating until you’re at least thirty-two!” he says.

“Dad!” both girls yell. Although neither is interested in dating boys yet, they are intrigued by the dark idea of them. A shadow that hovers in what they think of as their far, far future.

“Can we get sundaes?” Lara asks.

“We’ll see,” Mom says. Which usually means no, but I don’t want to deal with it right now.

It is six-thirty on a Friday and the restaurant is crowded. People in heavy coats cram the foyer. While they wait, shifting from foot to foot, Mandy and Lara debate what they will order, even though in the end they always get the same thing week after week. Mandy is caught up being happy, so giddy and pleased with the food they will eat soon and goofing around with Lara and in the aura of her parents quiet talking and smiling as they do with each other. She is caught up in contentment and a languid softness in her limbs, her easy breath, easy smile. She is so caught up in comfort, and ease in her own being, that when she sees the girls, their presence here—so out of place—confounds her. They sit at one of the big booths in a corner. Five of them. The core group of girls.

She looks away quickly. She hopes they have not seen her. Everything easy and soft has drained from inside her and she is now filled with a fluttering yet heavy feeling. She feels as though she might float away. She feels as though she will never be able to move because of her cinder block feet.

Her family’s table is ready. The hostess grabs four menus and leads them across the restaurant into the back. Far from the girls.

french_fries She relaxes. She orders grilled cheese, french fries and orange soda.

“You always get that,” Lara rolls her eyes but then orders the same thing she always orders.

And there in the back room of the restaurant, everything is good again. The drinks arrive and they talk about the day and wait for their supper—patiently, there is no rush—and Lara asks again about sundaes.

The food comes and Mandy is caught up in eating and talking and forgetting. When Nicole stands in front of their table, she wonders if she is a phantom.

“Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Logan. Hi, Mandy.” She says this so evenly and her small white teeth line up perfectly in her mouth.

"A Cool Dry Place"—part 4

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She never has to see any of the girls during summer.

It is only Mandy, Lara and Mom on summer days. Mandy knows the other girls see each other during summer vacation. They have sleepovers and spend days together. Mandy is never upset when they don’t include her during the summer, even though she is during the school year. When it is summer it is as though they do not exist.

Because there is nothing better than summer at the beach as it has always been—Mandy, Lara and Mom. Nothing is missing.

At the beach, they follow the boardwalk over the rise of the dunes and as they descend, the ocean comes into view.

The first moment of a day on the beach is a good, hope-filled one.

She becomes unaware of time and unconscious of herself in a way that frees her.

And this day becomes some variation of all the days they have ever spent at the beach. Hours pass until the best part of the day arrives—the time when the light begins to slant.

ocean_sun The sun on the other side of its arc, angled across the surface of the water. Bright beads of light ride on top of the waves up to the shore. Fingers taste of salt.

Now they will walk down the shore in all that liminal light. This walk is like all the other walks of every summer day. And better, because it is this time.

It is summer, and summer is light.

The summer after seventh grade. In two weeks, Mandy will be back in school. In three, she will be thirteen.


It is winter.

frosty_patterns During winter, the family goes out for supper every Friday night. Friendly's or pizza at one of the Italian places. Sometimes Chinese—fried butterfly shrimp dipped in sweet sauce.

In winter, Mandy, Lara and Mom clean the house when they get home from school on Friday afternoons. Friday cleaning is one of Mom's things.

"This way we can all just relax for the weekend," Mom says.

This has never made much sense to Mandy. For one thing, she herself would relax just fine if the house were dirty or not. And for the other thing, Mom never really seems to relax all that much ever.

Every Friday, the girls have a snack right after school, then they dawdle as much as possible to avoid cleaning. They poke around the idea of cleaning until Mom begins to lose her patience.

“Let’s get going, girls. The sooner we do it, the sooner it’ll be done. Then when Dad gets home, we can go out to eat.”

First, they each clean their own room. Tidy the clutter, dust the furniture, dust-mop the hardwood floor. Then they’re both supposed to clean either the kitchen or the bathroom, alternating weeks. But instead, they do the rooms together. Mom says it’s okay; she doesn’t care as long as it gets done.

As they clean, the winter sun lowers and the sky darkens. They finish just before Dad’s headlights turn into the driveway. Then they bundle up and go out to eat.


In the summer, they clean the house on Friday mornings.

“Before we can go to the beach, we’ve got to get this house cleaned,” Mom pronounces first thing every Friday morning. She folds clothes at the kitchen counter. Her back to the girls.

Lara rolls her eyes at Mandy across their French toast.

“Duh,” Mandy mouths.

They giggle.

“After breakfast, you girls get going on the cleaning. I have to run a couple errands. Then when we’re done, we’ll pack up and head to the beach.”

After Mom is gone, Lara begins to complain about cleaning.

“I am so sick of cleaning cleaning cleaning,” she says and flops onto Mandy’s bed.

“Me, too,” Mandy says as she clears clutter into its right places. She sprays furniture polish on a rag—one of Dad’s old undershirts. It’s the lemony kind of furniture polish, which is what the linen closet where they store it smells like. She runs the cloth over her furniture, moves items, lifts them and replaces them, runs the cloth over the dust. There’s not much dust to wipe up since Mom makes them do this every week. Sometimes Mandy thinks it’s kind of pointless, but suspects Mom would know if they skimped.

“I don’t want to clean!” Lara’s muffled voice comes from under the pillow.

Mandy swipes the pillow off Lara’s head. “Get up. I have to make my bed.”

“Fine.” Lara slaps her feet onto the floor, stands up heavily.

“Lara. Just get your room done so we can do the other rooms and get it over with. You know we have to.”

“I know.” She shuffles to her room. Her head hangs back, her mouth gaping, her shoulders pulled to her ears. Mandy sighs noisily.

Mandy makes her bed. She runs the dust mop over the floor quickly—under the bed, over the open areas around the bureau, nightstand, bookshelf—then goes to the back door to shake it out.

She watches big dust balls fly off the mop first then finer and finer particles float away on the breeze. She watches as they go floating away on the same air in which the sunbeams sit. Watches it all float away. Watches the air clear it until all that is in front of her, all that is left, is the blue blue blueness of the sky. The green lushness of the big old trees that line the back of the yard and stretch into woods up against the highway.

sunbeams She is still and wonders where all that dust settles.


"A Cool Dry Place"—part 3

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All week she thinks about the necklace.

When she lies in bed before falling asleep, she imagines wearing it to the game and what the girls would say and how surprised they’d be. And jealous. She crafts spectacular scenarios in which she wears the necklace. In class, at basketball games and the ice cream parlor after, on field trips to places the school would never actually go. Places that have no educational or Catholic value, but lend themselves perfectly to daydreams.

The days pass. She thinks of the necklace day after day. She is afraid to ask her mother if she can wear it. Not because she is afraid of her mother—because she is afraid of the answer, has an idea what it will be, and as long as she doesn’t ask, she can maintain the hope for it. When she finally musters the courage, of course the answer is no.

gold_heart “But, Mom!”

“To a basketball game? Mandy.” Mom shakes her head. She is ironing her dress for work tomorrow.

“But I need to look extra nice.”

“You always look nice.” Why do parents say things like this? It is not even true. Mandy vows to never say things like this to her own kids someday.

“Mom, please!” There is a frantic quality to her voice.

Her mother places the iron down and looks at Mandy. “Mandy, I don’t know when I’d ever let you, or anyone else for that matter, borrow it. But certainly not for a CYO basketball game.” She returns to her ironing. “It’s special to me. And it was expensive.”

This is Thursday.

Mandy goes to her room, flops down onto her belly on her bed.

After a minute, Lara flops down beside her.

“She said no?” Lara asks.

“Yeah.” Mandy’s hands are under her chin. Lara lies there with her in silence until their Mom calls down the hall, “Girls, supper!”

At the game, neck bare—glaring—feeling as if she sits in a spotlight highlighting her embarrassment and the stupidity for her lie, which she will now have to lie over thickly with more lies, she prays the evening will go by quickly.

All of the girls to whom she does not want to talk are part of the cheering squad. They line up facing the court, white and navy kick-pleat skirts, black and white saddle shoes, snowy white sweaters, large SMS embroidered in navy blue over their budding breasts. They jump around in synch, they bark out matching words goading the boys to victory. Mandy thinks cheering itself is stupid, but still feels she is missing something sitting way up in the chipped bleachers with the other girls who are not on the squad and the boys who are not athletic.

bananna_split The game is over and they all board the bus to go to Dot's, the ice cream place. There she will eat ice cream from a paper cup which will stick thickly inside her mouth and throat and she will wait endlessly for nine-thirty when her Mom will pick her up.

She needs only to get through his.

The lights in Dot's are bright white. Mandy stands in line and talks with the kids near her. The cheerleaders burst through the door, cheering for the basketball players who follow. They won the game. The girls break into one of their cheers. They laugh uproariously as if no one else in the place matters more than they do. (Which Mandy knows is exactly what they think.) The cheerleaders are loud, they smile largely, they seem to Mandy carefree and they fit in their bodies easily. The basketball players amble in behind them, some sheepish, some with arms upraised. The girls chant each boy's name. It is easy to tell who relishes it and who is embarrassed.

Mandy gets her ice cream and sits with some of the less popular girls. The nice girls. She avoids the popular girls, but they sit at a table close-by. She shrinks and thinks herself very small, but she is still there, still solid. They can see her. Of course. They sit with their big dishes of ice cream or paper cups of frappes. One or two drink diet soda. They don't make a big deal of it—they pretend it's normal, an everyday thing, for them to drink diet soda instead of eat ice cream. "I have to watch my figure. I'll get so fat." As if they're not making a big deal, Mandy thinks. As if no one knows they're making a big deal of something like that. Mandy sees right through it. Everyone plays along and some of the girls really buy it. Mandy plays along, too. What else can she do? But inside she thinks, you don’t fool me. None of them do. Nothing they do. But all she can do is think these things. At least she has that. This private knowledge—this safe space of her own thought.

soda But then one of them swoops in.

"Mandy." It is Nicole. She is the worst one of all. She eyes the other girls, a brief darting motion. Dart dart one girl two three girls four girls five back to Mandy.

Nicole eyes Mandy's collarbone showily. "Thought you were going to wear your new necklace."

Nicole sits at the corner of the overcrowded table. The table full all around with the right girls. Nicole sits, one leg crossed over the other, and wags her saddle shoe up and down—her folded-down white socks, her kick pleats fanned over her thigh almost touch her knee. She sips her diet soda and watches Mandy's face. The other girls watch, too.

"Um. My mom said it's too nice to wear out to just a basketball game."

"Oh," says Nicole. She turns to the other girls, ghost of a smirk on her mouth. Heads come together. One of them laughs loudly.

"Shhh," Nicole says, glances at Mandy quickly.

Mandy can't finish her ice cream.

Then it's nine-thirty and Mom is waiting outside.

Mandy pulls her coat close around her. It's absolutely freezing out. She gets into the warm car.

Her mother kisses her. "Did you have fun, honey?"

Mandy nods. "Uh-huh," she says.


"A Cool Dry Place"—part 2

read part 1 It is not winter Mandy dislikes. She doesn’t mind the cold. She actually prefers it to the feverish humidity of July and August. She likes the feel of the cold on her skin, the red nose, icy toes and fingers. Likes the scarves and hats and boots and snow. Likes to warm the backs of her legs at the wood stove her father keeps cranking hot.

It is winter. Mandy is twelve. Seventh grade.

“What’re you gonna ask for for Christmas?” Lara asks her.

christmas_decoration The house is decked-out. They have boxes and boxes of Christmas stuff to decorate the tree, the walls, every surface, every room. Mom has the touch to pull it all together and it is so nice and homey.

They listen to Mom’s vinyl LPs—Perry Como and Andy Williams. The Carpenters. Every year, unpacking the decorations, they forget about much of it, so the things in the boxes feel like Christmas presents themselves.

“Oh! The crescent moon Santa!”

“I love that one.”

“Where did we get this one?” Mom says every year about one or another.

Now the lights twinkle on the tree as Mandy and Lara discuss their Christmas wishes. It is dark by four-thirty in the afternoon and they turn on the tree lights as soon as the sun drops below the horizon. Every day one of them says, “Can we turn on the tree, Mom?”

“When it’s dark,” she calls from wherever she is in the house.

“Is it dark now?”

A pause. “I guess it’s close enough.”

christmas_lights The girls have discussed many times what they each want for Christmas, but never tire of the conversation. So when Lara asks Mandy what she wants for Christmas, Mandy doesn’t acknowledge she has told Lara many times already, she simply answers.

“Well,” she says, “the new Barbie is nice, but maybe one of the dolls.” She means Cabbage Patch. They are the craze of this Christmas season.

“Yeah,” Lara breathes. “Me, too.”

Lara is in fifth grade. Most of the girls in her class are asking for the doll. Mandy knows what the girls in her class will be getting. Or at least she has an idea. (And it’s not a doll.) Things like sweaters, curling irons, records, the right jacket. She knows the girls would laugh about the doll. She even knows a doll is babyish. But she still wants to play with Barbies and baby dolls. She and Lara play every day after school, after homework. This is nothing she would ever tell the girls at school. She has learned the hard way to go along with them and keep her own secrets.

But she can’t help but want one of the dolls.

“Renee and Sherry know exactly which ones they want,” Lara says. The thing about the dolls is they are all different with their own unique names.

“They showed their mothers and everything. I bet their parents went back to the store and got them,” Lara says. “I don’t even care which one I get. I’d be happy with any one of them. They’re all so cute.”

“I know,” says Mandy. She wishes she could want this doll with the same abandon Lara does. The want sticks inside her—coats the inside of her chest and throat thickly. She wants to be excited and careless. But the want weighs on her.

Still, she requests the doll when their mother asks them what they want for Christmas.

They are in the car. It hasn’t been running long enough yet and coolish air pours from the vents. Yet it feels warmer than the frigid air outside. Christmas songs play on the radio. They’re on their way to the Mall to do some shopping. Mandy feels happy. She loves Christmastime.

“What do you want for Christmas?” says their mother.

“Cabbage Patch!” Lara says. “Cabbage Patch, Cabbage Patch, Cabbage Patch!” She tosses her head back. Mom watches her in the rearview mirror and laughs.

“Are you sure?” Mom asks.

Lara squeezes her eyes shut and turns her head back up at the ceiling. “Yes, yes, yes!” She smiles broadly. They all laugh.

When Mom turns to Mandy and asks, “What about you, honey?” Mandy hesitates. “Do you like the dolls, too?”

Mandy nods. “Yeah.” Some knotted thing sits in her stomach. “I do like them.” In the end, her desire for the doll eclipses the worry.

Too soon it is the first day back at school after Christmas vacation. The girls in Mandy’s class show off their presents in the schoolyard. The air is raw and stinging. Their breath puffs out in fluffy plumes around them. Nicole got a pink and navy jacket, the most popular kind. The one with the hood. The pink is a deep raspberry. It’s not warm enough to wear it, but she begged her mom. (This is something to which Mandy knows her own mother would never give in.)

“She said I’d have to wait ‘til Spring to wear it again. But isn’t it so cool?” Nicole says. Everyone agrees.

Tara got a real angora sweater, powder blue. “Shows off my you-know-whats. I’m totally wearing it to boys basketball on Friday night. Plus, I got some awesome jeans—designer. I think they were really expensive.” Her eyes widen, her voice drops.

Mandy listens, keeps her eyes slightly averted, her exclamations subdued—enough so they won’t notice, enough so they will. She blends. It is one of her cultivated skills. A necessity in her arsenal. Sometimes it works. Other times she forgets to use it. And sometimes it’s not enough.

Then it is her turn.

“So,” Nicole says, turning on Mandy. “Mandy, what did you get?”

A look passes between some of the girls, their smiles suppress giggles.

She is not prepared. This is shocking because she has been unprepared so many times before she’d think it impossible to find herself in this very position again.

“Um, some good stuff. Some clothes. A new sweater. It’s pretty.” Comes out in a great rush.

The eyes.

“But what was your big gift?” Tara says.

“I don’t know. I got lots of things.” She stops, her minding whirling. Then! “But I guess the necklace.” She feels triumphant. And relieved. And large yet light.

Nicole’s eyes narrow. Through Mandy’s coat, she eyes the top of Mandy's chest where a necklace would be. “What necklace? Show us.”

gold_heart “Oh,” Mandy touches her collarbone with her mitten-covered hand. She is protected by her coat and scarf now, but knows she’ll have to take her winter stuff off as soon as the bell rings and they all line up, file inside, stand in the coat closet and hang their things on the designated hooks. The coat closet will smell of wet heated wool, hot air from the registers, bananas and lunch boxes from now and all the years past, the gloom and heaviness of a long new day. Mandy can smell it now, here. She can call the scent to mind at any time. Home in her own safe bed. She doesn’t like to recall it. Sometimes it comes on its own.

But right now she is still outside with her hand at her throat.

“It’s too nice to wear to school,” she says quickly.

“Can you wear it to the basketball game?”

“I don’t know. I’ll have to ask my mom. It’s really nice,” she says. “And really expensive,” she adds.

“I can’t wait to see it on Friday,” says Tara. She sneaks a look at Nicole. Not sneaky enough that Mandy misses it. (Of course not.) They walk away together, arms locked, heads close. They giggle. Mandy thinks it could be anything at which they laugh.

“What kind of necklace is it, Mandy?” Sara asks. She is one of the nice girls. But she’s fringe, like Mandy. Even more so than Mandy.

Mandy thinks. She remembers the one Dad gave Mom for their anniversary. It is a solid gold heart, the size of a quarter. Fat and gleaming.

“It’s a heart,” she says. “Solid gold.”

“It sounds pretty.”

“Thanks.” She feels a little badly lying to Sara who is always nice to her. “What did you get?”

She shrugs. “A few things. Nothing like the other girls got. Or you,” she says.

“Yeah, well, it’s nice and everything, but I’ll bet your stuff is nice, too,” says Mandy.

The bell rings.

It is Monday.

All week she thinks about the necklace.

"A Cool Dry Place"—part 1

It is winter.

She wakes too late to shower. Someone forgot to set the alarm and the entire family oversleeps.

“Please!” she begs.

“We just don’t have time, honey,” Dad says. He holds his hands out to her—a kind of offering. His smooth smooth hands, skin softened by raw fat. The suet that rubs against his hands as he slices through flesh—carves steaks, fillets, grinds the tougher cuts into hamburger.

He tells her that he and Mom must get to work and Mandy and her sister, Lara, must be dropped off at school. Mandy requires neither his explanations—the details of which is she aware—nor his sympathy. She only wants a shower. Her mother doesn’t allow her to wash her hair every day. She insists daily shampoos will damage it. But Mandy’s hair is oily. Sleek and shiny. Almost pretty, on the days she shampoos. Flat from bed and greasy on the days she doesn’t. (The girls have made note of it, obliquely. But it is only a matter of time.)

This day, the day the alarm clock does not go off, is a shampoo day. But there is not enough time. It has been two days now since her hair was washed. She is panicked.

“But my hair is dirty, Mom!”

It is winter.

She is twelve. Seventh grade.

“Mandy, you look fine. It’ll be okay.” Her mother touches her shoulder gently.

She does not look fine, though. Mom is just saying that.

“You can wash it tonight,” her mother adds.

Tonight is another lifetime altogether.

Mandy dresses quickly. She jams a knit hat over her hair and dreads the unavoidable moment when she will have to remove it. She pictures her hair vividly dirty and matted. Some of the boys might laugh and say some stupid things she will almost be able to ignore, or at the least successfully pretend to brush off. But the girls, who might say nothing at all, will look at her sharply and shrewdly and efficiently, with cool nonchalance and cooler blue eyes or brown or some other color. And with no words at all, they will say more.

The entire school day she lightly runs her hand over her hair. She imagines it slippery and wet-looking. Dripping onto the collar of her white oxford shirt. Trips to the girls’ room prove it not quite as bad as her imagination conjures, but her thoughts continually slide back to the greasy image of herself. She thinks it and thinks it until it becomes her. Not the hair, not the oiliness but some bigger, more horrible thing. It overtakes her to the point that she forgets the day is about come to an end. She almost forgets that she is not the unnameable thing, heavy and slow and slunk down in the wooden chair with the desk part attached like a big flat arm. She almost forgets there will be other days, other moments.

Then the bell rings. Relief more like joy floods her.

She gathers her things. Shoves her hat on her head before she puts on her coat.

She moves quietly away out of the classroom, meets up with her sister in the schoolyard.


It is bitterly cold, like ice on teeth.

It is winter and Mandy is in seventh grade.

As she walks away from the school on her way home, she and Lara talk; they giggle; they belly laugh. Distance between her and the school lengthens. The space starts out thick and heavy, wide and dark, growing thin and transparent until enough has uncoiled and the space, now thin as spaghetti and light as organdy ribbon, turns to white smoke and is gone, absorbed into the blue of the sky.

There are times when she is heavy and times when she is light.

The day is cold and brittle. It hurts to smile. Yet they do. Bring forth the hot insides of mouth and tongue and exhale warmth where it needs to be.


Summer is light.

She wakes to the sound of the shade snapping against the frame of the window—pulled in and blown out by the cool morning breeze. The shade snaps this way only during summer. Mandy doesn’t open her eyes. The sheets and pillows smell of fresh air. During summer, they dry their clothes outside in the sun. The clothesline pulley is stuck into the house outside Mandy’s bedroom window—the line runs in a white loop to a tall wooden pole where the other pulley is secured. Both pulleys squeak crazily as the line is run towards or away from the window.

“I’ve got to get Daddy to spray those with WD-40,” Mom says. Mandy’s dad always gets those little jobs. Mom has plenty of her own—she teaches all year and is almost never still when she is home.


They drop clothespins to the ground sometimes as they hang clothes on the line. When enough have gathered beneath the window, sunk in the soft moss and the tender green of the grass, Mom calls to Mandy and Lara as they play outside.

From the window she calls out, “Girls! Can you get the clothespins, please?” They run to the window, stoop to pick up the clothespins and stand on tippy-toes to hand them up to her as she reaches down from the window. The girls gather them up in little bunches. The ones that fell first, weeks ago, are damp and weathered. They laugh as some fall again from Mom’s hands.


Summer is light.

Mandy nestles under the sweet grass-smelling sheets and with her eyes closed, listens to the shade snapping. Maybe right now she needs only to slide the soles of her feet and the palms of her hands slowly across the smooth sheets—the green and yellow flowers, sun-faded, washed many times, rubbed to thin softness.

It is summer after seventh grade. She is twelve but not for long. She turns thirteen at the end of the summer. Not that she’s in a hurry to be thirteen as the other girls are, whose favorite topics include: boys, teen magazines, periods, boobs, high school boys. To all of their talk she smiles enough to show interest, not enough to be called out.

But all of that is far away and now she can press her face into the softness and scent of the sheets.

The summer morning is a cool sweet-smelling hushed thing with its own weight pressing into the new day. She opens her eyes. As air pushes the shade away from the window, bright white sunlight erupts into the room, then, as quickly, rushes away like the ocean, as the shade is sucked back into the window frame.

Mandy listens and hears her sister talking with their Mom in the kitchen. She throws off the covers, tosses her thin tan legs over the side of the bed. Her feet touch the wood floor and slap lightly to her bedroom door, are silenced on the pile-carpet of the hallway.

It will be a sunny hot day—they will go to the beach.

And she steeps herself in the comfort of slipping on a day like a best-loved sweater. Soft, cottony, fat loopy weave, loved, unraveling. Some pretty, faded color.

This morning Mom has sliced some strawberries for the corn flakes. Sprinkled with sugar, floating in the creamy white.


For the following several Thursdays the story will be continued through the ending. Hope to see you back here for more!

"nests"—a flash fiction story

A very short story based on the things left behind in one of my kitchen cabinets.

His wife left behind a mini-muffin tin, an aluminum cookie sheet and a tacky, scratched green metal tray decorated with an artist’s renderings of New Hampshire tourist traps. The Old Man in the Mountain, Clark’s Trading Post, the Kancamagus Highway—all etched in white. The scratches were etched in rust. In the kitchen of their old house, two tall and narrow cabinets flanked the stove, one of which she had forgotten to empty. They intentionally left behind an old upright piano. It was too expensive to move and they had no room for it in their new, small apartment. He had painted that old piano with a creamy white semi-gloss paint. A long time ago. He wondered if the new family kept it. It was very out of tune.

His wife was deeply distraught about the things she left behind. She lamented them and repeatedly expressed her distress to him, to their children, to friends over the phone. It embarrassed him—her bald and passionate grief over a muffin tin, a cookie sheet, a scratched old metal tray. And he couldn’t recall the last time—or any time—she ever made bite-sized muffins.

“You never even used that pan,” he said to her.

She looked at him hard. “Yes. I did.”

“When?” He was sincere, not combative.

“That’s not the point,” she said.

What was the point? In the face of what had been lost, what could these things mean to her. When he considered the missteps that had led to this end, they each seemed small when examined one at a time. But the accumulation was calamitous. A muffin pan? He thought this but had been married long enough not to say more. Who cares about a muffin pan? he wanted to say, but didn’t.


window Sometimes, on his way home from work, he drove by his old house.

The new family had removed the big juniper bushes and rhododendron from the front of the house. It could not be denied that the plants had been terribly overgrown, but now the house held a naked, vulnerable look.

There were small children in this new family. Once when he drove by, he saw the new woman corralling them, one after the other, faces like bright new buttons, into a minivan parked in his old driveway.

For years, his sons played in the fort they’d built in the backyard. The fort still stood, the weathered wood dulled to a muted gray. His wife spent years worrying that one of them would fall to the ground.

“It’s too high,” she always said, peering out the kitchen window to the backyard.

“They’ll be fine,” he always said.

He was right—no one ever fell. But it was possible they kept the near misses to themselves.

He was no voyeur. Neither was it a kind of intimacy he was seeking. What then?

He gazed through the passenger side window as he drove slowly.

The feeling of what once was—the recovery of a precise sentiment—settling in his deepest tissue. Right down deep in his belly, seeping into his rib bones.

That was what it was.


forsythia Spring came.

The forsythia bushes that encircled the backyard were in bloom. From the street out front he could see the outer edges—they peeked from around the sides of the house. Pretty and cheerful every year, they made the backyard seem nicer than it really was. The dense foliage hid all the overgrown stuff he never managed to remove from beneath them. The accumulated fallen leaves of many autumns, the vines that had sprung up on their own. Also the discarded and forgotten toys that once belonged to his children with a fierce possessiveness, thought of as lost or forgotten altogether.

Blue jays nested in the forsythia. Not the same birds year after year but seemingly so. Although he knew this could not be true.

Blue jays are ferociously territorial. They have been known to chase cats, dogs and humans away. They mob owls who get too close. They are large, they are noisy. They are smart. And while those qualities could not be denied, his blue jays shared those same forsythia with cardinals. A spill of colors amongst the yellow and green. Bright and bold in the nakedness of winter over the setting of white snow.


nest He began to drive away. He looked at the weathered gray siding of his old house. The new family had painted the shutters a different color since the last time he drove past.

It was just a muffin pan.

All that yellow in bloom now.

Just a pan.

He would not say such a thing.

Who was he to say.