It’s been a long time since I’ve had time to add to this. There have been a number of family related troubles that have dominated my time since the last post. I won’t go into them, other than to say that as family ages, crises become more intense and heartbreaking. I hope to get on a regular, or semi-regular posts once again. We’ll get back to talking writing, ideas, and snippets from stories. Those of you who still visit, I can’t apologize enough for leaving you hanging. And I want to say thank you for sticking with this site.
The back window was actually a sliding glass door. It had stacks of paper all the way across the bottom that were as tall as my chin when I looked out. The curtains were a old brown color that reminded me of mom and dad’s linoleum floor back home. I could part the curtains and look out into a cement back yard with a strip of ground that was an amazing green color. All the grass in that strip was the same height, and a lush texture that didn’t look at all like the ground around mom and dad’s trailer.
The ground around the trailer was brown, mostly. Small single plants here and there poked up out of the dirt here and there, looking like grasping hands to me. I didn’t like the yard, and stayed inside when I could. Mom and dad would make me go outside when they want quiet time. Everything around the trailer, and the other broken down trailers made me think of animals crawling off to die. Which is what trailer parks remind me of whenever I drive by one. They’re not dead ends for broken dreams, there are many families that do well. It’s my own memories that create the image that I see whenever I pass by one.
The trailer park we lived in, the ‘Western Spur’, was truly the last refuge of broken dreams and wasted lives. I didn’t like it, but children can adapt, and I was able to make some friends, or make up others when the few other kids like me weren’t around. Being the youngest meant that I was always the last one to be able to do anything if I was in a group. That was, I think, what made me value time alone. I didn’t have to wait, and I didn’t have to do what the bigger kids wanted to.
I could go at my own pace, explore what interested me, and not what someone else decided was the thing to go do. It was kind of how mom and dad were after the scary man came by. They quit seeing friends, except for Uncle Soap, and kept the curtains pulled so there wasn’t any way to look outside. They still put me out to play, but it wasn’t the same. Most of the other kids had moved away, or were now in school, so there was no one to play with and I wasn’t enrolled in kindergarten. So that meant I spent most of my home time alone outdoors.
My days were of being pushed outside when my parents woke up, being given money to go to the little general store at the entrance of the park, buy a snack for lunch, and then stay outside until the afternoon, when mom and dad let me back in to play in the house, eat dinner, watch TV, and then go to sleep to do it all over again the next day.
This went on, until the day that next spring. Mom and dad dropped me off at Uncle Soap’s. I don’t know if it’s me looking back and trying to put some prescient thought into that day in my mind, or I did actually pick up that my parents were more excited than usual for a camping weekend.
Mom and Dad started going out camping together. Both came back happy. Both gave me attention that made me happy. It was exciting. Neither of them were fighting any more. The bad old days had disappeared with the visit by the scary man. I got things. Toys. Clothes. Not just new clothes, but new clothes so stiff they itched me. They had funny tags on them. The food was sweeter, and more of everything.
Mom and Dad would go out camping a lot over the next year, according to Uncle Soap. He would take care of me while they were away on the weekends. Uncle Soap was a short, round man with white wisps of hair making him look like the character from the back to the future cartoons, only not quite as tall or skinny. He was always talking to himself. All day long he would mutter about rain, about warming, about trash overload, and people overload. I think he was a researcher of some kind.
His apartment was more cluttered than mom and dad’s, only, it was paper. Paper was everywhere. News papers stacked nearest the door. Sometimes they would be a whole stack, other days almost nothing. In the small living room, there were so many stacks of paper that it was a maze. Uncle Soap had paths to the TV, to the kitchen, to his old yellow sofa he slept on, to the bathroom, to the faded blue easy chair with a brown stain where I threw up when I was sick once, and to a locked door at the very back of the house that he never opened while I was there with him.
Uncle Soap was a good man. I liked going to see him. He was never cross or angry at me, and he never hit me about anything. He answered any questions I had about anything. He always watched out for me. The attention was so much that it was smothering on some days. I’d go hide near the faded blue easy chair in a small square of empty space just behind it, and look at the papers, imagining tall white buildings that things went on in like a person making a stamp like mom did, and stamping out comics.
I took the hint and leaned silently against the door with him. I barely came to his waist as I pushed to hold the door closed. Dad grinned lopsidedly at me. Mom would pound on the door until she got tired, then go into their room and lock the door. Then dad would open my door, and go back to watching TV, or make some crummy sandwich from whatever was in the fridge.
Other times it was mom who ran into the room. She’d lock the door like dad, then push my bed against the door. My bed being the futon mom and dad got for me to lay on. One side smelled like smoke and vomit, making me want to throw up too. If I turned it over, then it smelled moldy. I snuck a blanket into my room and put that on top of the moldy side. I wasn’t moldy then, just damp and moldy smelling.
Mom, toward that last day I saw them, began taking medicine earlier and more often. She needed it, she said, because the management said that the dancers (entertainers, mom said) had to show customers a real good time if they got asked. Mom said she didn’t like it because it made her feel icky all over, and the medicine made the icky not bother her so much.
In crude adult language, mom was supposed to go have sex with men who paid the manager for the privilege. That’s what I found out later. I knew mom felt bad whenever she had to be ‘friendly’. She’d come home, throw her purse and dancer’s bag on the floor, then run into the bathroom and throw up in the toilet.
Dad would get upset that mom was sick. He’d yell that she should stop working that ‘shirthole’ of a place. Mom said he couldn’t get a job, so she had to work there. They would start arguing about everything. I would go to bed, falling asleep to the shouts. I would wake up in the morning and hold my tummy because I knew they were unhappy. It was like the moldy spot on the futon. Mom and dad felt moldy. Dad started taking medicine a lot more too. He would drink until he giggled, then get the needle medicine and stick it in his toe. He bit down on a sock or a pencil because that hurt more.
It was then that the scary man came to the house. Mom and dad looked scared when he showed up. They sent me into my room. He watched me walk all the way to the door. I knew this because I watched him. I looked back over my shoulder all the way. He scared me that I didn’t want to turn my back to him. His eyes reminded me of the monsters dad giggled at when he was drinking. The red eyes scared me more than anything. I kept waking up thinking he was in the room with me. Mom and dad didn’t like that and I had to stand outside until they let me back in after the sun came up.
But, despite all the troubles, I felt loved. My parents paid attention to me. Not always kind and friendly, they sometimes punished me for things I didn’t understand, but they gave me attention all the time. At the age I was, attention was always welcome, even if pain was part of it. Mom and Dad were gods. They fed me, housed me, and, on occasion, actually loved me. It was a place I knew I belonged. The troubles went away after the scary man came.
Everlast – ‘What it’s like’
Kid Rock – ‘Only God Knows’
Uncle Kracker/Dobie Gray – ‘Drift Away’
Do you know how you’re going to say goodbye to someone? Is it going to be a loving embrace and a soft caress of their cheek before they go to the great beyond? Or, is it going to be heated words and a pistol stuck in their belly as they try to argue, or to plead with you, not to pull the trigger? Or is it simply a call in the night? A quick stop at the mortuary to look at a lump of flesh bloated with formaldehyde, because that’s the law? Or, will you, like me, wonder what happened when they just disappear? Here one day, and gone the next, and no clue where.
I remember, or think I do, the last time I saw Mom and Dad. They’d dropped me off at Uncle Soap’s apartment after packing the beat-up gold Ford Taurus for a camping trip. They often went camping alone at least twice a month, down in the Big Bend National Park. I remember him having on his red and black shirt he’d pulled the sleeves off. Mom always told him that was her favorite shirt of his. She’d wear it around the house sometimes to tease Dad. Not that they were all sweetness and love. More than once I heard them screaming back and forth about all sorts of things. Always it was mostly about drugs.
I didn’t understand then, but I think I do now. They argued the most just before they went camping, and were best together after they got back. As a child, I saw the change, and knew it had something to do with them going camping, but it really didn’t matter. Mom and Dad were happy. They paid attention to me, and bought me things like a new set of shoes, or a cool shirt. It’s funny that I remember the clothes but not their faces. I remember Dad always being skinny, and he had fuzz on his face. I don’t remember if it was a beard or mustache, both, or if he just didn’t shave every day. Mom was like Dad, skinny.
When they didn’t go camping, Dad stayed home nights with me while Mom went to work. She’d always dress up in baggy pants and a shirt, and carry lots of bright, flashy clothes that fit in a little carry bag to work. Dad would stay awake with me until I got tired, then I’d get tucked into bed on the couch at the far end of the trailer. I’d fall asleep listening to Dad watch television. Every so often, before I passed out, I’d watch him give himself a shot of ‘medicine’ in between his toes. I know he was shooting up now, but then I knew he was always more happy afterwards, so it seemed a good thing to me. I knew something was off, most four-year-olds can sense things. We’re not yet aware enough of how to lie to ourselves and avoid uncomfortable truths. Denial and delusion aren’t something that’s learned right away.
Mom dressed all the time in old clothes and dark colors. When we went out to the store, it was usually in the very early morning. Mom always told me that it was best, because there weren’t many people around and it made shopping easier. Looking back, I think it was because at those hours, hardly anyone she had met at her ‘job’ would be around. She table-danced, or stripped, whichever describes it best for you. Mom hated it, and came home crying a lot.
That would make Dad unhappy and those were when the biggest fights happened. About her job. About the money she brought home because dad couldn’t work. About him not working. They always fought. They didn’t pay much attention to me then. I learned to hide in my room when their voices started to get an edge. It meant that things were going to get broken, and a lot of slapping and throwing. It was better in my bedroom.
As I look at the memory of it, that room was my refuge. The one place I had some little privacy of my own. It wasn’t sacrosanct. Both mom and dad would come in to wake me up, or yell at some accident, or even hide from one another, either in play, or, you know. The not-fun-not-play stuff like fighting or yelling or crying. Dad did it a little more than mom. He’d charge in and slam the door, then lean against it. Mom would pound a few times, then go quiet. Dad watched me as he leaned on the door. He’d hold his first finger to his lips and go ‘shhhh’.
A rumpled green t-shirt was next. he pulled it over his head, then stuck his arms through the sleeves. He looked down at the car-toon on the front. It was a coffin with a raised back, with two large tires on the rear and two small ones up front. The cab was black except for two yellow eyes and a toothy smile from inside the cab. A cigar clamped between the teeth, and the words ‘Coughin’ Coffin’ were spelled out in smoke behind it. Standing up, he clumped awkardly to the small storage drawers that served as his dresser. Next to it were his ankle-high sneakers.
The black Converse were made of canvas, so they wore a little better around the fake foot, with just enough cushion to make walking feel like semi-natural. He laced up the sneakers, grabbed the belt off the top of the left stack of drawers, then finished sliding it through the loops. He finished up by grabbing the pack of cigarillos off the top right set, and sliding one out of the top. He grabbed the lighter, and lit the brown tube of tobacco. That first inhale centered him, and got him ready to face the day. He slid the pack in his back pocket, the lighter in the front left, and plucked his wallet off the drawer and shoved it into the left rear pocket. Another long inhale and exhale soothed the nicotine jitters and he was ready for breakfast.
Archie clumped into the cramped kitchen, and threw a pair of toaster strudels in the toaster. He grabbed them when they popped up, juggling them from hand to hand as he grabbed his keys, hat, and cane before walking out the door. He locked it, then carefully trundled down the steps to the security door, and out onto the sidewalk bounding Bleeker street.
There was a crisp taste of Autumn in the air, one that penetrated the exhaust fumes and damp, musty smog of the city. It spoke of the wilds, open meadows and dense old growth trees that blotted out the sun even on a cloudless day. Baton Rouge was hardly ever this pleasant. Usually it was a sweaty, muggy day that bred mosquitoes. Their constant whine near his ears had him waving his hands from the first moment out the door, to the last moment in line to get a bowl of soup or stew at the local homeless kitchen. He often stayed after hours to help clean up, just to avoid those ravenous bloodsuckers before heading back to his small rathole apartment.
The days melted together like overheated plastic. All the stimuli were depressingly, and comfortingly, unchanging. He could set a watch to them. This sense of familiarity gave him comfort in his meaningless life. He could stumble through the day, without surprises, without changes that so upset his sense of stability.
Sadly, this would be the last stable day in his new life. Causality, and chance had rolled boxcars for Archie, and he was going to start a whole new life in a whole new world that he never imagined. One of magic, of terror, of hope. The last he would find most upsetting. There is a comfort not having hope. It’s not ever going to get better, and won’t ever change. Hope makes a person believe in the future, in a world that actually cared about what happened to people. Archie didn’t want hope.
He grimaced as he took his first shot of cheap gin, just to wake up, he told himself not very convincingly.
When I’m writing, I like it quiet generally. however, this is not always the case. While I was working on ‘Beguiling Words’, I found that instrumental music really helped me focus. Oddly enough, or perhaps, in keeping with my desire for quiet while I imagine and write, instrumental jam tracks really gave me enough background noise that I could shout out the noise of street repair and traffic. Regular music doesn’t work very well for me, as I think it’s that I pay more attention to the singers. I hear a voice and want to answer back, even if it is just a song. Instrumentals don’t affect me in that manner. They’re mood-setters. The music conveys the emotion, so I don’t just listen, I have to ‘feel’ with my ears. This makes a lot of difference in focus.
here a few tracks that helped create Beguiling Words by setting mood with sound.
I like the longer ones simply because they last longer when I get in a groove with writing, but they all help me concentrate.
Archer ‘Archie’ Gunnison woke that morning to the strident buzzing of his watch. The cicada-like screech jolted him from sleep and his hands flailed about, seeking the offending noisemaker. His right hand finally caught up with his left and pressed the delay button, giving him a ten minute window to wake up and turn the alarm off for the day. Archie sat up in bed, letting the beige comforter droop into a pile on his lap. The dark blue curtains over the small bedroom window were closed, but the sharp, crisp air of autumn swirled through the open window, ruffling the cloth, and letting peeks of gray morning flit across the bed. He yawned, then stretched his arms and good leg for a moment, enjoying the sensation of muscles waking up. He turned in place, dropping the right leg over the edge, then leaned down and picked up his prosthetic left leg.
The leg was a marvel of engineering, fitted with self adjusting spring tensioners that adjusted to the weight he put on it. The covering for the prosthesis was something else again. Bright, fire-engine red painted scales covered it, like some monstrous creature from the Red Lagoon. There was no way to ignore it, which was the reason Archie had it decorated. No one would mistake it, or him, for anyone else. Archie gazed at the leg as he rubbed the stump of his left thigh. He’d been a marine. Hoooah, boy, all the way. He was proud of his service, proud of his buddies, and proud, maybe a little envious of the ones who made it home in one piece. He left part of himself in a Hummer after an IED had blown it ten feet up, and eighteen feet to the right through three and a half revolutions before crunching back to earth. He didn’t remember any of it. The medications he took kept him from screaming in his sleep and stopped the sudden flashbacks that occurred when he got stressed.
Others kept the red-hot phantom pains at bay. There was no telling when they’d strike. The pain seemed to happen most when he tried to do something like dodging an obstacle without thinking. His leg would seize up and drop him screaming to the ground. He’d learned to think about the prosthesis before trying to do anything sudden. But the pain still caught him unawares. Finishing pulling the leg on, he strapped it in place, then bent over again to pull the blue jeans from the floor. He slid them over his prosthesis first, then his real leg.
The manuscript for ‘Beguiling Words’ is now on its electronic way to Paper Angel Press. I’m excited to have it done, and am waiting already for the edits and suggestions to come back from the editor. Paper Angel Press has three really good ones; Steve, Kim, and Laureen. If you’ve got a story you want to submit, send on to them. Their link is to your right on the page. Try it, new stories are always welcome.
Audio books are very good at showing you your strengths and weaknesses. Listening to the narrator read the words I’ve written shows me where I got on rolls, and everything flowed. It also shows where I thought I had been on a roll, and how discordant the words sound versus when I wrote them.
Another feature is how much you learn how to LISTEN. Listening is a nearly lost art I feel. With the absolute flood of immediate information, people get used to ‘immediate and now’. Nuances tend to be missed. In an audio book, you have to listen for those shifts, pay close attention to how the words are spoken as much as why.
Description becomes important here as the setting, the where is as important as the other pieces. A verbal description that is good can help pull the listener into the story and experience, rather than simply hear someone reading the words.
All that feedback is there in the narrator, and it is, to me, so valuable to understand how it sounds, compared to just reading it myself.