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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

zipper

On my blog, I brainstormed a list of ten ideas having to do (some more than others) with zippers.  This one was the second on my list, and the one I will elaborate on for this prompt:



The giggles and squeals had died down to hushed whispers after the third time that Tracey's dad had come out and barked at us to be quiet.  Girls were starting to drift off to sleep.  I wasn't sleepy, and my legs itched.  I had flea bites all over my shins and ankles and no matter how many times my mom had warned me to not scratch at them lest they break open, bleed, and become infected I still scratched.  I tore at them with my fingernails, shuddering at the relief that came with each scraping of my nails while trying simultaneously to not dig too hard.  It was a fine balance, an art, and one I had a lot of practice with.

Lots of my new friends had pets, I'm sure, but for some reason their homes didn't seem to be overrun with fleas as ours was.  We'd only lived in this house for a few months but already our two dogs and two cats had taken over the place.  The cats took their meals on a countertop in the kitchen, which was something that had seemed perfectly normal to me until I started visiting the homes of my new friends.  These sparkling suburban tract homes came straight from the screen where I watched sitcoms every night.  These were Brady Bunch homes, Bewitched homes, Partridge Family homes.  None of these TV homes were places where cats would jump up on the kitchen counter to eat from their bowls, nor were Tracey's or Colleen's or Caryn's homes.  And if any of my friends' cats had caused a chronic flea infestation such as existed in my house, it would not have been tolerated, I realized at some level.  Indoor cats would have become outdoor cats overnight but in our house, the kids would have been thrown outside as soon as the cats.

I scratched and scratched and suddenly I felt something warm and sticky on my legs.  I felt sick.  My mom had many times warned me ominously that if I were to break open the bites with my scratching they would become infected.  That's as far as she ever went with this scenario.  It seemed obvious that infection was not only guaranteed but also pretty much the end of the line. 

As I felt the blood on my legs I tried to stifle my wails of panic.  I had to go check out the damage in the light, in the bathroom.  With shaking hands I grasped the zipper pull of my sleeping bag from the inside.  It tended to stick.  I didn't have a fluffy pink or floral sleeping bag that was meant especially for indoor sleeping, for slumber parties and sleepovers with girlfriends.  I had my grandfather's old WWII sleeping bag.  Khaki-colored, heavy-duty, and musty-smelling.  I had always compensated for my embarrassment of it by reminding myself that my grandfather had slept out in the trenches in it!  At war!  But many years later I did the math and realized that he couldn't possibly have, a fact that was corroborated by my mother.  "Your grandfather bought that sleeping bag in an Army-Navy store when I was a kid!  I don't think he used it much..."

But the zipper was tricky and I was emotional and the panic was rising in my throat so when the thing finally gave a little bit the sound of the zipper tore out into the room of softly snuffling girls and if that didn't wake them, my whimpers from the hallway bathroom soon brought them running to my side.  They clustered around me, peering intently at my bloodied and bumpy, swollen legs.  "What is it?" someone asked, wide-eyed.  The shocked silence affirmed for me that no, none of my friends thought it was normal to have so many flea bites.  I waved off this unimportant fact.  What did it matter about that when I'd likely lose a leg - maybe both! - to a ravaging infection that was so clearly inevitable?

Renee, the most practical and clear-sighted among us, was quiet at first.  Then she shrugged.  "Why don't you wash the blood off?  It doesn't even look like that much."

I pouted a little, took the washcloth she procured for me from a cabinet and started to do just that.  She was right.  It didn't seem that bloody.  But...  what about infection?  Shouldn't we call my parents?  Or at least Tracey's mom?

The girls had started yawning and filing back to their sleeping bags.  No one seemed too concerned about the possible, no, probable, loss of my legs to infection so I dabbed at the bites with my washcloth and eventually groped my way back in the dark to my musty old sleeping bag.  This time the zipper was quieter as I tucked myself in.

Sky

He sat cross-legged in the dirt, his back leaning against the wooden frame of a part-built barn off Main Street. His head was bowed, his sharp eyes staring at the guns he held in his hands.

The big six-shooters had well-worn sandalwood grips, bright sunlight glinted off the ammunition cylinder making him squint and the long, steely barrels pointed to the floor, forming an 'X' between his legs.

For quite a while he examined the weapons which had been with him for so many years. They had spilt blood, helped him dispense justice, committed crime, taken lives and saved lives. They had travelled many miles with him and he considered them to be part of him, as extensions of his hands almost.

His rugged face was shaded by the hat he wore, three days worth of growth adorned his cheeks and his lips moved soundlessly as he read the inscription on the barrels; "To my son. Keep safe".

He stood, head still bowed, placing the guns in the holsters that hung from belts slung around his waist. He brushed dust from the legs and seat of his jeans, kicked it off his worn leather boots and adjusted the heavy cotton shirt he wore. The badge pinned to the lapel of the long overcoat he picked up shone brightly. He put the coat on and walked out into the street.

For seven years he'd been sheriff of this town. For seven years he'd broken up bar fights, captured bank robbers, fought off gangs of rustlers and not once had he felt it was his time. Today was different. Today he felt could be his day. It was almost noon and he had an appointment. He walked to the centre of the street and finally lifted his head.

In the distance a cloud of dust signalled the arrival of the latest gang to try and take this town. He looked up at the sky, burnt almost white by the incessant midday sun. No cloud obscured it, only a flock of birds out in the desert - probably vultures, he surmised - circled lazily.

"Is this it," he thought. "Is this the sky I will die under?"

He rested his hands on the grips of his pistols and waited. The sky waited with him.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The first time I wore my purple hat I felt beautiful, naughty, sassy and smart. I found it in a vintage store. One of those stores in Kensington Market. It was in a basket of other hats all jumbled about. It didn't look spectacular. It had purple velvet cloth over a pillbox like top and a brim. "Put this on," my friend ordered as she handed the hat to me.
"Well, I don't know. I don't really need a hat. What do I need a hat for?" I was very practical then.
"Just put it on. I think it would look pretty on you."
"OK." I put it on. The shock of seeing me in a purple hat startled me. I don't wear hats.
"Your'e right. It doesn't look that good on you," my friend said. She walked away to the jewellery at the glass counter. I saw her point to one of the rings in the glass display case.
Hmm. As I stared at my face I played with the hat placing it in different ways on my head. Then one angle made me stop. I didn't look myself anymore. I was a woman I saw walking down Queen Street. She wasn't particularly beautiful but she held herself in a way that showed she liked herself. When I looked in the mirror at that moment I was that woman.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Grey skies

Lydia peered out the kitchen window, trying to get a glimpse of the sky and see what it might portend. Only the usual grey clouds – no sky to speak of. The same grey clouds for the last month. No, that's not exactly true. They were clouds alright and they were grey – but they were always different variations of grey. The light grey of a cool, maybe misty day; the darker grey of impending rain; the clumpy, lumpy grey of possible snow. Today, it looked like rain. Heavy rain.

She didn't mind the rain. Other people complained about it all the time. But she found comfort in it. She loved torrential rains best. She loved the sound of the rapid, staccato on the roof and the sound of overflowing gutters plop, plop, plopping outside her bedroom window. Bundled and warm inside, there wasn't a more secure feeling.

As a child, she loved walking in the rain. She'd have on her red rubber slicker, a pair of black knee-high gumboots and carry her favourite floral umbrella. She'd methodically walk through every puddle she could find. The deeper, the better. She liked playing a little game where she'd wade into a deep puddle and see how far she could get without the water coming up over the edge of her boots.

It was a wonderful feeling – the cold water on the outside of her boots, the pressure pushing the rubber against her bare legs. So wet and mucky outside, but dry and clean inside. That's what she liked. The contrast. A few times, the water did get inside her boots, but the game was still worth it.

Sometimes, she'd stop and stand very still, listening to the rain pelting on her umbrella. If it was raining hard enough she could feel the slight spray that managed to get through the umbrella and onto her upturned face. A cool mist.

Lydia doesn't walk through puddles or stop, face-upturned under her umbrella anymore. It would be unseemly for a woman her age. But she still looks forward to the grey skies that predict rain.

The other day, while sitting at her front window, she watched a young girl walk home from school in the rain. She was wearing a yellow slicker with matching gumboots and a floral umbrella. She stopped at every puddle and slowly waded through. When she thought no one was looking she tipped her face upwards under her umbrella and grinned a big Cheshire cat grin.

Lydia grinned too.


Friday, January 27, 2006

Imagination - a real pain

I signed up for the writing prompts a few days ago and have been following along on my own blog. I wasn't sure if I was quite up to posting here, but I'm taking a deep breath and making the plunge. So here goes my first post:

Nursing 101

In nursing school, a large number of my classmates, myself included, became closet-hypochondriacs. It's almost a prerequisite to graduating.

As a nursing student, you're immersed in learning about the body and how it works. You're required to learn signs and symptoms; develop an inquiring, analytical mind; and most of all for a nurse, learn to be observant.

Now, the body is a wonderful and complex thing. It's amazing how it goes about looking after itself - most of the time, with little thought on our part. The digestive system keeps digesting, the heart keeps beating, blood flows, the brain synapses keep firing (well, usually), and all is well. Except when things go WRONG.

I went to nursing school quite a while ago, but certain things remain the same. You go through various rotations in different areas: medical, surgical, paediatrics, etc., and the instructors try to give you a good cross-section of experiences that you can apply to future patients. Each patient you get tends to be analyzed to death (figuratively speaking). You look up signs and symptoms and all the complications that could possibly occur; you hear case presentations from your classmates; you analyze and discuss those; you do a lot of reading about what's normal and abnormal. All of this is a good and necessary part of your training.

The problem arises when your imagination gets the better of you. You start thinking maybe the indigestion and twinge you felt in the right upper quadrant is a sign of cholecystitis. You suspect that the headaches you get aren't tension headaches – but a BRAIN Tumour! Every mole looks like SKIN Cancer; every chest and shoulder pain is an impending HEART Attack. But of course, you don't tell anybody of these suspicions because what if they're PSYCHOsomatic - everyone will think you're a nut case ready for the psych ward!

The weird thing is that the symptoms you think you have, coincide with whatever rotation and cases you're learning about. It's amazing how fast those symptoms disappear and change when you move from a medical rotation to obstetrics and gynecology.

In most cases, I'd say imagination is a good thing. It's necessary for problem-solving and creativity. Great inventions are borne of imaginative and creative minds. Where would we be without imagination? But in the case of hypochondriacal nursing students, imagination can be a real pain!


Imagination can be a pain...

Hi guys! This is my first post. I just joined about 2 weeks ago and finally wrote something. It's a bit weird and was written during my lunch break so it definitely qualifies as a FIRST DRFAT. This isn't my typical writing style (in fact I can't remember the last time I wrote in first person) but here it is...

They were crawling up my arm and there wasn't anything I could do about it. My arms and legs were chained to the bed and about all I could manage was a little wiggle back and forth. It wasn't doing me much good. They just kept crawling, slowly inching closer. One of them slipped and their hairy legs grabbed into me. I could feel the hair scrapping along my skin, tearing tiny slashes through it. I decided right then and there to stop moving. I started screaming. No one came running. They were getting closer to my month. I knew where they were heading.

I screamed once more trying not to open my mouth wide, into this big black hole I was falling fast. I flung my hands out wildly trying to find something, anything to grab hold of. The further I fell the faster my heart beat. I was going to hit the ground any minute now and that would be the end of me. I could see the ground, I could almost reach out and touch it, yet I wasn't hitting it.

Suddenly there was a 'ker-splat'. I jumped back from the window and stared at the disgusting, globby mess dripping down the window. Not much was left of the abnormally sized bug, but what was still intact was moving, jerking haphazardly, the nerves still reacting to the pain of slamming into my window. A window that I'd now have to clean. I grabbed a cloth and some window cleaner and ventured out into the porch roof, just below my window.

I balanced on toes, swaying back and forth. The wind howled around me. The rain beat against me, stinging the skin like a hive of attacking bees. I was losing my balance. I couldn't fight the wind. I couldn't fight the rain. I jumped.

I landed on my bed, confused and disoriented. My heart was pattering faster than the rain pounding on the roof. My arms tingled with the strange sensation of spiders crawling up it. And I had this sudden urge to clean. That's when it hit me: some times it was a real pain having an imagination.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Imagination - what a pain

(Continuation of yesterday's story - I'm blatantly using the prompts to get me back into writing this thing...)


She casually moved her head back to face in his direction and allowed her eyes to sweep over his face.  He was looking elsewhere, absorbed in thought.  Had he really been watching her?  Was he doing like she had just been doing, pretending to not be watching? Well, whatever he was doing, she was going to go get a cup of coffee and warm up. 

She entered the confusing maze of the self-serve cafeteria-style food service area.  This was another annoyance.  She was never quite sure that she was doing this right.  It always seemd as if the clusters of noisy, laughing people all knew exactly what they were doing but she still wasn't completely sure how to negotiate anything beyond a drink from the coffee and cocoa bar. People seemed to be able to stride right up to the counters and give food orders but it looked like chaos to her.  Is there a line?  A pecking order?  It just looks like a mob and she is never able to muster the courage to dive in and place an order.  When it's time to eat lunch with the family she always volunteers to grab a table in exchange for Carlos tackling the disorder and crowds around the food counters.

She dispensed coffee into the paper cup and managed to find the right-sized lid.  She could feel the presence of a someone just behind her, standing almost too closely.  She focused her attention on her cup and lid, willing herself to not look up.  Was this the man who'd been looking at her before?  Maybe he was going to offer to buy her coffee.  What would she do if he did?  Is it wrong to accept a coffee from a stranger just because you're married?  It's not like she doesn't wear a ring.

She finally looked up and it wasn't him at all.  It was a large, unhappy-looking woman who seemed to be waiting for Marianne to get out of the way.  And when Marianne had finished paying for her coffee and gone back out into the general seating area she noticed that he wasn't sitting where he had been.  She slowly cast her eyes around the room and then she saw him, headed towards the door with a tall, slim brunette who decidedly did not have hat-hair, and following them were three grinning children.  She could see now that this was a family who skiied regularly.  They had expensive and attractive ski clothes on, not all-purpose winter clothes and jeans as she did, and even the children had an air of feeling completely at ease in this element. A lovely family.

How stupid could she be?  Marianne chided herself angrily at having entertained a fantasy that the man had even for a moment been interested in her.  Her, with her plain and sturdy body and her hat-hair and glasses.  She'd envisioned him as a fellow soul on the fringes, someone who would recognize her discomfort and share in it, but he was probably only noticing her to feel sorry for her.  If he'd noticed her at all.

She was always doing this, building up simple interactions in her head until there was a story, complete with intrigue, drama, longing and always a sense that someone had seen through her unassuming and sometimes awkward exterior to recognize someone beautiful and extraordinary.  When she was really nothing but ordinary.  "God, I should write romance novels," she thought to herself as she drained the last of her coffee.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Broken

This is long! I needed a jumpstart for the story I was writing for nanowrimo which didn't have a beginning. Now it does...


"Stupid, stupid, stupid!" Marianne muttered to herself. She was sitting in a wheelchair in a hallway at the emergency room of the town's only hospital. She'd fractured her tibia while skiing and was waiting to have a cast put on the lower half of her leg. Her husband and children were in the waiting room, hungry and tired, and probably cold and somewhat wet after their long day of skiiing.

Too long. As a beginning skiier, and one who was indifferent to the sport, Marianne knew better than to push past her limits. It's just that her limits were so low, who'd have believed her if she'd said that she needed to rest yet again? She spent these skiiing days with Carlos's family doing as little skiing as she could get away with. Most of the time she watched the kids, Mireya and Tony, as they barreled down the hills happily. When Carlos would glare at her in exasperation she'd airily wave the camera in his direction, reminding him that someone had to record these fun family times for posterity.

Carlos's family - his two brothers, his sister, and his parents - were all of them active and outdoorsy and assumed that she was the same. Even after 15 years of her being married to Carlos they had little to no understanding of how different she was from them. Carlos's father was a lawyer with a large firm and so his children had grown up with ski trips and tennis club memberships. All three boys had grown up athletic and competitive and while Marianne had hoped for an ally in Janet, the sole sister, she has as little in common with her as she did with Carlos's brothers.

And her mother-in-law? They were kind and cordial to one another but had very little to talk about. It got a little better with the arrival of Mireya and Tony, or Antonio (Carlos's family refused to use the Anglicised version of his name) but as the kids grow older and display some of Marianne's own introverted, daydreamy ways there is often tension about whether Marianne is encouraging traits in them which would be better stamped out.

She'd tried gamely to appear to enjoy skiing. Actually, she didn't hate it so much as lack stamina for it. It's fun enough to go down a small slope a few times but she lacks the confidence to advance to the bigger mountain and she can only handle a few hours on the smaller hill before she's bored. She'd go to the lodge for hot cocoa and a rest, but often the crowds in there were dense and there was nowhere to sit. After struggling with her skis and her coat, her gloves, her boots and her hat and then struggling to wipe the fog from her glasses and fumbling for a tissue to wipe her suddenly very runny nose - and then seeing wall-to-wall laughing, energetic skiiers and no place to sit down and enjoy a quiet moment - she'd become irritable and even unhappier. Marianne was not a person who liked crowds, either.

Actually, as she leaned miserably against the back of her wheelchair in the hallway of the hospital emergency room, she remembered her last trip to the lodge that afternoon. She'd unpeeled her wet, cold outerwear while trying to look casual and nonchalant, as if she did this sort of thing all the time and wasn't, in fact, nervous and awkward about where to put her coat and how to spread out her gloves so that they wouldn't be cold and clammy when she next put her hands in them. It seemed like everything about skiing took so much work, that's all, and she wasn't convinced that sliding down an icy slope was actually worth it. She was thinking these thoughts as she arranged her gloves on top of her coat and her hat on another corner of the little pile she'd made. She rose up, running her fingers through her hair to offset the dreaded hat-head effect and as she glanced around to try to find a place to sit down she noticed someone else who looked as self-conscious and miserable as she did, a man squeezed up against the wall with his coat and gloves still on. She smiled in noting his fogged glasses just as her own began to cloud. She snatched hers off and wiped them and when she put them back on she noticed that he was watching her. He must have seen her amused smile and, what? Thought she was smiling at him? Maybe flirting with him? Her face flushed and she immediately looked off into the distance across the crowded lodge, as if she saw someone she knew.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Sheets

I sit and stare at you.

Your crisp whiteness stares right back at me.

I search your features, your subtle imperfections, trying to uncover the secrets you hold.

Your crisp whiteness stares right back at me.

I threaten to defile your perfect cleanliness in hope of forcing your revelation.

Your crisp whiteness stares right back at me.

I carve a black line across your skin, sure you will divulge what lies within.

Your crisp, dissected, whiteness stares right back at me.

I rip you from your base, crush you down and discard you. Turning back I see you remain.

Your crisp whiteness stares right back at me.

And I realise, it is not you that holds the secrets, not you that holds the answers, not you in which the words reside.

It is within myself I must look. You are but a sheet of paper.

I sit and stare at you.

Your crisp whiteness stares right back at me.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Bed

"Take a picture of the bed," she said.  Her voice was saucy but her eyes soft and dreamy.

"What?! You're kidding, right?" We'd only been married a few days and granted, the bed in question was our "honeymoon bed," but a picture?  Of a pile of twisted sheets lying in a heap at the foot of the bed, half on the floor?  "Anyway, the camera's in the car." 

She sighed, and there was a hint of a pout on her lips, which I kissed.  "There will be plenty of beds," I whispered, before gently sucking her lower lip into my mouth and then pulling away regretfully.  The front desk had already given us a "courtesy call" once.  We were supposed to have checked out ten minutes ago.

We gathered the last of our luggage and as I pulled the door closed behind me I glanced one last time at the messy bed.  She was right, of course.  It was a beautiful sight.  And one I would hold in my mind ten years later when it seemed that all we did was fight in bed.  Two kids running around all day doesn't bode well for privacy, and by the time they're all tucked in for the night I turn around and she is, too.  Me, I'm alone for the first time all day and I relish the quiet house.  I eat a little snack, maybe read a bit, sometimes watch TV.  When I finally come to bed I end up waking her up, no matter how hard I try to be quiet and to not move the mattress much. 

The angry sigh is what I hear first.  "You know how tired I am after being home with the kids all day!" She has a point, I know.  But I work hard, too, and I need to wind down a bit before coming to bed.  We have this fight almost every night and it sometimes stops there with her rolling over in exasperation and turning her back to me, at which point I hardly dare to breathe until I hear her breathing become slow and regular and sense her body relaxing into sleep.

How can two people be so intimate and yet so far apart?  In the dark I can tell the exact moment that she is officially asleep.  She can tell even in her sleep that I am not in bed yet; her first sleep, the period before I come in and accidentally wake her, is tense and watchful.  Like how a cat sleeps, one ear always alert for sound.

The nights that the fight doesn't end there are the nights when the entire bed, or even the bedroom, seem poisoned with anger and resentment.  You never, I always, you always - all those phrases the therapists say to never use, they all come tumbling out upon that bed.

But not always.  Sometimes I come to bed and remember that first bed, hold its image in my mind, and I calmly listen to her reproaches and hear only how tired she really is and how differently life has turned out from what she'd expected, and I listen and pull her into my arms and sometimes I think she can read my mind and see that sweaty and touseled bed, too, and she lets me finish that kiss from long ago.




Wednesday, January 11, 2006

More

Unrelated to any prompts, but wanted to get it written...

Of course, they shouldn’t have more kids. Their housing situation had been downsized three times in five years, their two children now sleeping in one, albeit large, bedroom. They did not own a home, another consequence of their decision to have her stay at home while the kids were growing up. They were, in fact, living paycheck to paycheck; their checking account depleted at the end of every second week. They had no savings other than the meager amount that he was able to stash away throughout the year to defray his Christmas expenses. But they had love. And the object of that love was their children. The sole reason for his existence, his children were the motivating factor in everything that he did. And he wanted more of them.

They had agreed early on in the relationship that she would stay at home and raise the children. It was what they had both wanted. They knew that they would have to make sacrifices, but neither of them wanted to have somebody else raising their children while the two of them worked. They had both wanted children for a long time; in fact, they had written it into their wedding vows. “…And the father of my children.” And now he wanted more of them.

He was being selfish; he knew that. Selfish because he wasn’t able to spend enough time with the children as it was. He worked sixty to seventy hours a week so that she didn’t have to work, and it still wasn’t enough. He saw his children for two hours a day; a half hour before he went to work and an hour and a half before they went to bed. He tried to cram as much love and fun into those brief periods, but it didn’t feel like it was enough. It could never be enough, for those two wonderful children gave him a new lease on life every time that he looked at their smiling faces. He knew that it wouldn’t be fair to the two children that he had now to have another. The little time that he had available for them now would have to be divided into even smaller morsels of his attention for each of them. He knew that, and he still wanted more.

He looked at it objectively, logically, and pragmatically. His first child had made him feel like he could do no wrong. When he was with his baby he felt as though nothing else mattered but whatever was happening between the two of them. When they had the second, the feeling was multiplied. In a terrible funk for a year, he was hoping that another would change his life once again. But he also realized that his loyalties should not be to himself. Rather, he already owed a debt of time to the two children that he had, a debt that would take a lifetime of weekends to repay. He knew that there was only one way to do right by his children and that did not involve adding another. But he couldn’t help but want more.

And now he was feeling guilty. Guilty because he was starting to resent her for the time that she was able to spend with the children. Guilty because he had told her time and time again that she was a wonderful mother and he was willing to sacrifice his time at home so that she could be there for them when they needed a parent. And he was now wishing that he had made a different decision. It was, in part, her ability to stay at home with the children that enabled her to become the wonderful mother that she had become. He was beginning to wonder if marrying a woman whose life’s desire was to be a mother was the right decision. Maybe if he hadn’t married such a good mother, he would have had the chance to be a better father.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

weather

My husband's face looks like weather.  I responded to that the first night I met him.  Although he was no older than the other boys I'd been dating up until then - he was 20 - he had a weathered face that revealed his childhood spent outdoors. 

In a journal I kept in high school I prophetically wrote about the man I would one day marry:

My ideal man has muscles, but not from vainly "working out" in the weight room in front of a mirror, obsessing over "symmetry" and "balancing opposing muscle groups."  This man's muscles will be side effects of his active, busy life.  He'll do things.

Bill came from a family of (unsuccessful) farmers and loggers.  He grew up watching the sky and tasting the air for the slightest hint of change, and he always could tell when a storm was coming on.  When we met he was a sailor in San Diego (I was a college student) and the consistently fair weather alternately amazed, thrilled, and bored him.  It was lovely to be able to do whatever you wanted most days but there was nothing to track and monitor, either.  He was restless.

My family, we didn't put much stock in the weather.  Why go out of your way to watch the TV weatherman say that once again, it would be "70 degrees and sunny"?  And if there was an occasional rainy or cloudy day, you could tell that by looking out the window.  Out the window, yes, because inside was where life was lived.  Inside was where the televisions were.  And books and magazines, too, but most of the time we were in front of one of the several televisions we owned. 

My childhood is peppered with television memories: Remember when Roots was on?  Not the first time, because my mother thought I might be too young to see it and so she watched it after I'd gone to bed.  But the second time.  My mother had decided that it was all right for me to watch it and just as it was starting our TV blew out.  That was before we had two TVs, or maybe we had two TVs but the main one was broken, too.  Yeah, come to think of it - the TV I was trying to watch Roots on was the secondary TV, the backup one Mom usually watched in the bedroom, so when it blew out we had no working TV.  I was brokenhearted.  I had really, really wanted to watch Roots.  I listened to it for the first few days, as if by radio, until Mom and Dad were able to get the TV fixed.  So I suddenly jumped into the story visually midstream and had to close my eyes and listen to the voices to make out who was who.

Bill is baffled by these stories.  He has no memories like this of his childhood.  Instead he has stories about falling into creeks and wandering in the woods and hunting and fishing with his older brothers.  His older brothers are the kind of men who wear long johns year-round, as well as long-sleeved flannel shirts.  It can be 90 degrees on a summer afternoon and they'll be wearing black jeans (I've never seen any of them wear shorts, ever, in 20 years) and a black T-shirt with a flannel shirt.  In deference to the heat they'll roll up their sleeves but that's as much skin as you'll ever see.  If you go back to their homes on this same sweltering afternoon you'll find glowing embers in their woodstoves from that morning's fire.  Building a fire in the woodstove is just something you do every morning, regardless of the season, because if you've ever been really, really cold you take pains to not risk that again.

I'd never been really, really cold.  There was one stretch of colder-than-normal temperatures in L.A. one December when I was in high school.  My feet were so cold I actually had a few toes go numb and I couldn't figure out why.  I didn't have any "winter shoes" and boots weren't in style during those years so it made no sense to me why all of a sudden my toes were going numb.  I didn't even recognize that as being cold.  Bill wonders why I didn't glean from the weather report that it was probably twenty degrees colder than I was used to and I laugh to think of a childhood spent checking weather reports. 

When we moved to Idaho early in our marriage we were both woefully unprepared for winters after having spent four years in San Diego.  We didn't have much money, either, because Bill was in college and I was working for $7 an hour.  That Christmas we didn't splurge on luxury items but instead showered each other with winter provisions.  Hats and scarves and gloves, all given from the heart because we each hated to see the other one shivering with cold. 

My most cherished Christmas gift ever came that year.  Bill had wanted to buy me Sorel snow boots.  "They're the best kind; no other brand will keep the snow out as well," but they were just too pricey.  When I opened my box of Sorels that morning I was speechless.  How could we have afforded them?  Bill confided shyly that as he stood there looking at them, wishing and wishing they weren't so expensive, he happened to notice that the children's Sorels were less than half the price of the adults'.  He also happened to spy a pair of children's boots that looked to be the same size as he adult size I wear.  He took the adult size and held it up to the children's size and realized that a women's size 7 is the same as a child's size 5.  Exactly the same.  He proudly watched me try them on - a perfect fit - and I never felt more loved or cared for.

Monday, January 09, 2006

A Typewriter

That's right... I've made it! My first post here!"

I was probably in middle school when we dragged the old manual typewriter out of the back bedroom at my grandmother's house. I kept it in my bedroom for the longest time. I imagined my fingers flying over the keys and creating those click-clacking sounds just like my mother and the women at her office could do.

Of course, they were typing letters, reports, official documents. I wanted to write a book, but my fingers flying over the keys resulted in an incomprehensible gibberish. Then the metal prongs tangled together like Christmas lights, and I had to gingerly push each letter one at a time back into its place.

I used the manual typewriter to practice being a writer. I can't even begin to count on how many pages I typed "Chapter One." I waited for stories to come to me. I tried to think of clever dialogue, but all of it was a bad imitation of what was said on Days of Our Lives. I should have been sitting on top of a dog house, banging out "It was a dark and stormy night."

I finally took a typing class during my sophomore year in high school, and I excelled in not looking at the keys while I typed — a trait that I'm proud to say I still have today. For Christmas that year, my parents gave me a brand-new typewriter. The ribbon was a cartridge that glided along the paper like a blade on ice. It had a one-line screen and could store 500 words in its memory and then print them out. (Hey, it was 1987 ok?) I use larger sizes, and I could make that "Chapter One" larger and darker than the rest of the text.

After high school graduation, I upgraded to a Brother word processor. It didn't have a silent cartridge, though. Printing documents from this contraption sounded louder than a regular typewriter, and the whole device shimmied, making the kitchen table shake as I printed out page after page of my poems that I had entered from my spiral bound notebook.

It never dawned on me to imagine what equipment I'd be working on in the future. My Apple iBook, my Epson printer, my Word software, my blog — all of that seems so otherworldly when compared to that clunky manual typewriter. Yet when I'm sitting in front of the screen and staring at "Chapter One," the excitement from my childhood returns. I'm closed up in that tiny bedroom, sitting under the window on a Saturday afternoon, wondering where my story will take me.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

locksmith

I tend to be absent-minded.  Forgetful.  The kind of person who forgets her keys often, only I don't.  I am so afraid of this tendency I have to not be entirely aware of my surroundings that I have developed little habits that keep disaster away.  My purse, for example, is always in contact with my body in one way or another.  If I have to sit down, instead of simply putting my purse on the floor and possibly forgetting to pick it up again I wrap the handle of the purse around one knee.  The physical contact of it comforts me, actually soothes me, because I know that as long as I can feel the pressure of that purse strap around my knee all is right.

If I don't take my purse with me somewhere, I'll put my keys in my pocket.  Sometimes I forget which pocket, though - pants pocket, jacket pocket, right or left pocket, inner or outer pocket of my heaviest winter coat - there are so many pocket options that sometimes I spend a frantic twenty seconds patting at myself in desperation, afraid that this is the time I have locked us out of our car or our house.

Twelve years ago Bill and I were living in Idaho.  I grew up in southern California so these Idaho winters were a challenge for me.  But this was my third one and I was starting to get the hang of things.  I'd get up early every Sunday morning for my volunteer job at the food co-op.  I worked in the bakery.  Three hours each Sunday morning spent kneading bread dough and running freshly-baked loaves of whole wheat bread down to the shop and lining them up in the bakery cases, being careful to leave the doors ajar so that the warm bread wouldn't steam up the cases too much.  Even washing the dishes seemed more life-affirming there.  Ken always kept a big empty yogurt container filled with honey which he plunged into the sink of hot water, to soften the crystallized honey.  I'd be washing the knives, bowls, measuring cups and spoons and the honeypot would be bobbing away in the dishwater.  I was always a bit wary that the sudsy water would leak inside the honey container and ruin it but it never did.  It always bobbed just above the water line and I was the only one who ever seemed to worry about it.

Ken was exactly the kind of guy you'd expect to be making whole wheat bread in a food co-op.  He wore his long blond hair in a ponytail.  He was quiet and thoughtful.  He had been hard to get to know at first because he took every comment and question to heart and treated it as if upon his answer rested the fate of something very important and very fragile.  I had been going for at least two months before he started laughing at my jokes, albeit warily and cautiously.  His wife Rachel was a doula.  I'd only met her once but she wrote a column for the co-op newsletter wherein she prescribed varius herbal teas for whatever ailed a person.  I'd been trying raspberry leaf tea for a few months.  It was suppsoed to help ease menstrual cramps, along with increasing a woman's fertility.  We were about to start trying to get me pregnant, so it was with great interest that I asked Ken questions about Rachel's doula work and her theories on homebirth.

This one winter Sunday there had been a terrible storm predicted.  When our alarm had gone off at 6:00 am Bill had looked out the window and seen it, seen the stormcloud in the sky, and suggested that I skip the bakery that morning.  But I couldn't do it.  I would have stayed home from my paying job, an office job at the nearby university, without a second thought but my three hours in the bakery each week were like therapy.  I loved the way I felt alive the moment I stepped through the doors.  The bins of dried beans and grains all in a line, the earthy colors of peas and lentils and beans black and white and brown and mottled, they represented the kind of sustenance that the sickly fluorescent-lit aisles of the grocery store did not.  There was no excess and garish packaging here, little packaging at all.  It was no-frills food and that was calming to me.  I needed my weekly bakery work more than Ken needed me, I'm sure. 

I assured Bill that I would be fine and headed into town.  By the end of my shift the snow had started to fall.  I did my weekly shopping, having just earned with my work a 30% discount, and as my groceries were being bagged the phone by the cashier rang.  It was Bill, telling me that the snow was coming down hard and that I should stay put.  "But I just bought groceries!" I answered.  "I have milk! Cheese!  I can't just... not come home!"  Bill was uncharacteristically insistent that I not risk driving in this snow (he himself will drive under any conditions), so I agreed to wait a bit.

I wandered the co-op.  I read the current newsletter.  I bought a muffin, one that I had made an hour previously and carried down on a big tray with dozens of others.  Whole-wheat lemon.  I leafed hrough the holistic magazines.  I started to fret about my perishable items.  Outside I could see that the snow was definitely falling, but it didn't look any worse than other snowstorms I had driven in.  I decided to do it.

It really wasn't any worse than any other storm.  There was no traffic on the highway.  It was calm and peaceful and the swirling snowflakes always just ahead of me were mezmerizing, like driving into a snowy tunnel.  At times it almost seemed that I wasn't moving at all but that the snowy tunnel was what was moving.  At other times I couldn't see the lines on the road all that well, but I had driven this highway so many hundreds of times that I knew it by feel.

As I turned off the highway and into the little unincorporated little hamlet where we lived, the snow got deeper.  No one had driven on these gravel roads, nor had the plow been through yet.  I applied a bit more pressure to the gas pedal and forged on ahead.  I was within walking distance of our house now; if I were to get stuck the worst-case scenario was that we'd have to walk a ways with our groceries, and then wait for the plow to unstick the car.

I approached the even smaller gravel road that our house lay on and turned right.  The snow was really deep here.  My little Ford Escort would have to really work to get through this, but I decided that every foot closer I got before getting stuck was one foot less to carry the groceries.  I applied even more pressure to the gas pedal - it was almost to the floor - and gripped the steering wheel tightly and held on while my little car burrowed its way through.  As I approached our house I could see Bill standing at the front window, his face agape with astonishment.  I'd never seen him direct that expression at me before.  It was part shock, part admiration, and a lot of, "You're crazy, woman!"  Even as I swung the wheel jerkily to bring the Escort to a rest in our drive, I was smiling giddily, proud that I'd shown Bill that I was worthy of Idaho winters and didn't need to be coddled or babied.  I felt I'd arrived, literally.  I'd proved my mettle.

I lowered my head as I got out of the car, slammed the door shut behind me and ran into the house.  Laughing, I announced, "I brought home the (veggie) bacon, now you can bring it in from the car!"  Bill shook his head in surprise, still wearing that look of slight shock.  "I can't believe you drove in this!" he laughed.  "My GOD, but you're stubborn!"

"Yep.  I can be."  I feigned nonchalance, shruggung.  "I've got stuff to do.  I couldn't hang out in town all day."

"Ok, ok.  I'll bring in the groceries.  You're right; you earned it."  He smiled at me and held out his hand.  "Where are the keys?"

That was when I realized that I'd locked them in the car.  I'd been in such a hurry to get in from the snow that I'd slammed the door behind me before going through my pocket-patting routine and the keys had been left on the passenger seat, right where I'd tossed them after shutting off the engine so that I could grab the muffin I'd brought home for Bill.





Thursday, January 05, 2006

Locksmith

"So how did it happen?" asked one of the men as he strolled round the pool table, lining up his next shot.

"How did she do it, you mean?" replied the other man, leaning against the wall, pool cue held idly between his hands.

"Exactly." The man took his shot, missed.

"I'll tell you. This is exactly how she did it." He took aim at the 9-ball and began to speak.

She crouched in the darkness, examining the complex lock before her. Her fingers reached out and traced the numbers on the dial, getting a feel for the job at hand. She knew just by looking that no dynamite or heavy handed tactics were going to get through this door. It was too solid, too well prepared, too strongly defended. No, to get at the contents would require finesse.

Carefully, she pulled the black roll-bag from her pack and laid it flat on the floor. Unhooking the small penlight, she turned it on and placed it between her teeth, allowing her to see more clearly. Once more she caressed the door with her fingers, outlining the dial, stroking the handle. She loved this part. She loved what was inside more, but she loved the defences as well. Getting through them was almost as good as the reward.

She removed the stethoscope from its holding place and put it in her ears. Placing the round metal disc to the safe, just to the right of the spindle she spun the dial. Good. She could hear the clicks as the right numbers passed. Slowly and gently, she turned the dial. At each click she reversed the turn. After an hour or so of hard listening and trial and error she heard a louder click and knew the lock was finished. Excitedly, she yanked the handle on the door. Nothing. She knew it wouldn't have been that easy, she didn't know why she was surprised.

Standing and stretching her stiff legs, she walked around the sturdy safe, examining it from every angle. There didn't seem to be a chink in its armour but she KNEW it must exist. Using the penlight she looked closer at its edges. There! A small raised panel. She was sure it hadn't been there before.

She pulled away the cover with a small hook from the roll-bag and was faced with a series of complex tumblers. She sighed. This was going to take some time. She unpacked her picks and tension tools and set about unlocking each of the nine locks.

For hours she sat cross-legged in front of the panel. Sweat dripped from her long hair, her shoulders ached and her eyes became weary but she would not give up. She blew a stray lock of hair from her eyes, rolled her shoulders to loosen them and went back to work.

After what seemed like days she made it to the last lock. Her hands were trembling with tension and effort and she took a moment to calm herself. She was so close now. She feared discovery, feared that she would be locked out for good but she pushed the thought to the back of her mind. Placing the penlight between her lips once more she leaned in and pushed the tension bar into the lock. She felt every edge of the lock through her fingers, knew just what was required. Selecting the right pick, she worked it in beside the bar and began to unpick the lock.

More than once she nearly slipped and reset the whole thing. Eventually though, the last lever gave way and she heard a louder click. She exhaled heavily, excitement coursing through her. She crawled round to the door and placed her hand on the handle. Holding her breath she turned it.

The door opened and she was bathed in light. Lookng into the safe, her eyes sparkling, the most beautiful smile spread across her face.

"That's how she did it," the man said, sinking the 9-ball and turning to face the woman who had just entered. She was 5' 1", long dark hair, olive skinned. The most desirable woman he had ever seen.

"That's how she unlocked my heart and won it for herself. Isn't it, darling."

Monday, January 02, 2006

I Lived on this Street.......

from the time I was born to age eighteen when I left home for college. I really lived here. Amazing........everything looks shabby, not at all as I remember. My grandma's house seems terribly small & yet the kitchen's been remodeled & is by all accounts larger. There's a big picture window looking out onto a large back yard that was once a huge vegetable garden with a chicken coop off the the right. Behind the chicken coop was an outhouse with only one huge seat. Now it's just one green yard with a nice shade tree. These days Uncle Mario has a picnic table under the tree where he sits to have his lunch.

I lived in this house until I was 5 years old when my parents bought a house 6 doors away, up the street toward the center of town. The house was old, run down from years of neglect. The prevailing story was that the old woman who lived there had closed off all rooms except for the 2 she lived in. The kitchen & sitting-bedroom were the only ones that had electricity. Rumor had it that she had closed off the rest of the house to save on coal that she burned to heat the house. She must have not been able to get to the cellar to fire up the furnace those last few days. Someone found her dead in bed one cold winter morning. It seems that neither she nor the house had temperatures compatible with life.

What was left of her house was good enough for my folks. It was dirt cheap! Twenty-five hundred dollars. They put down $500 borrowed from someone & my mom says she didn't sleep until the mortgage was paid for about a year later. I remember my dad actually using a huge scythe to cut the very tall weeds around the house while my mom removed all sorts of junk from the indoors. And I see her belly, huge with a baby soon to be my brother Frank. They worked long days to get the place ready for our family. No one took notice of the time & energy it took to make the place into our home. But I noticed & remember my beautiful mother, her face glistening with sweat as she scraped the floors clean & washed layers of dirt from the windows.

The neighbors on the south side seemed old to me, but as I think back they must have been only in their forties. They were quiet neighbors & kept mostly to themselves. I remember being very curious about them because unlike my family, their faces seemed without expression & I can't recall them ever laughing. Beulah was a very large woman, not fat but as mom liked to say, built like a "farm girl". She had very broad shoulders, narrow hips& long slender legs. Her flowered house dresses were always neatly pressed & on Sunday she added a strarched lacy collar to the neckline. Her pewter colored hair, she fingerwaved to her head emphasizing the flat face with round eyes & small prim lips. To me she looked like Stuart's portrait of Washington. Completing the picture in my mind's eye, is Henry her husband, the image of Abraham Lincoln!

As I got older, I realized that I was probably their only visitor. Occasionally my folks would talk to them about the weather & ask about their garden, but they never visited to chat or have a glass of tea. When Beulah hung her clothes on the line in the side yard next to ours, I'd often wander over to spend some time with her. She listened to the incessant chatter that was my trademark & once she asked me to "recite" a poem for her. She seemed to enjoy my company & when I admired the small basket that held her wooden clothes pins, she told me about getting the basket for a doll she had as a small child. She told me the basket was very old & precious to her. I truly believed she hinted that someday it could become mine.

When I sat with them on their small porch in the late day heat, I 'd notice that Beulah continually wiped beads of sweat from her very red face. She'd use a huge cotton man's handkerchief which she'd carefully refold & replace in her dress pocket. Henry always dry as a bone, was never to be seen, no matter the temperature, in anything but a long sleeved blue denim shirt. It was always buttoned precisely under his huge adam's apple. I found that mysterious & intriguing. At age 8, I often pondered his appearance & lack of sweat! I can plainly see them both sitting with straight backs in their wooden rockers on that small porch. Somehow I knew that I was never to ask what they drank from the huge white mugs they kept at their sides. A few times, dad asked me if I had met the boarder living with our neighbors. He said his name was Jim Beam!

On the other side of us there was a very small house. It was quite literally a doll's house. The interior was totally white with splashes of color from needlepoint & embroidered scarves that covered all surfaces. We were not allowed to wear shoes or touch anything. The family only slept there, they lived in the basement where it really was quite cozy. According to my mom, Mrs. Kay "ruled the roost" in that house. Opinions in our huge family about the Kay's ran the gamut. Some of my older aunts considered it the ultimate home. Everything cleaned daily. Everything exactly placed as Mrs. Kay wanted. In the other camp was mom. "No allowances made for living", she would mumble to my Grandma. "Her kids eat in the cellar! Terrible!" she'd say to her sisters. But I always had fun there. There were 3 Kay kids, 2 boys & a girl my age. We were classmates & walked to school together. All 3 were beautiful blondes with splarking blue eyes, except for Pauline. She had a one eye that was blue, the other was a greenish color with a brown dot. She was considered very special by all the other girls in the fourth grade because of her unusual eyes. If you were nice to her, she'd let you have a good long close look at the brown spot.

Mrs. Kay was not only fussy about her house, she was a stickler about good grades. She would have me over sometimes in the evening after supper to do homework with Pauline. Mrs. Kay said that Pauline had trouble "with the numbers." Even at that young age, I loved "numbers" so I agreed to help her whenever asked. It seemed perfectly natural to sit around that huge old oak table quietly doing homework while while Mrs. Kay cleaned a chicken for one of her customers. She kept a large coop of chickens behind the house & sold eggs too. She seemed to me a very smart woman because she carried a leather pouch heavy with coins & bills in her pocket. Most of the kids at school & in the neighborhood were scared of her. I suppose she looked stern wearing her rimless spectacles & I remember an occasional remark about her "thin lips."

There was a chow-mix dog tied outdoors in the Kay's backyard to keep "nosy kids out of my garage." Well, nosy me wandered too close to the garage & that dog sure did keep me out. My mom sent someone for Doc Stevens. He came by the house a short time later to have a look at the bite on my thigh. Doc Stevens pinched the bite edges together with small metal clamps. I thought my dad was every bit as good as Doc because 5 days later he removed the clamps & I never felt a thing. My dad said I was "very brave."

The days I spent living on that street always seemed to exciting to me. I remember days being such fun & so full of great things to do. All the women were home during the day so that there was always someone out & about who knew where every other child or person was. I knew that whatever I did or however I behaved would get back to either my mom or my Grandma. Grandma knew that every Thursday I visited Mrs. Sorvino to ask if she was making spaghetti for supper. "Sure, I'm making spaghetti tonight for Tom & the boys. You come back later & I'll give you some." Sure enough, she'd save me a small bowl every Thursday.