I reclaimed my body by leaving pieces of it all over town.
The piercing parlor here, a doctor's office there. Pieces of "me" left in my wake. But instead of disappearing at the end of it, I sought to emerge whole, to discard the excess and strip myself down to the essentials.
It started long before I transformed it into a journey-on-purpose.
All four wisdom teeth, extracted the summer I was nineteen. The surgery offered assurances of feeling better, being better. I suffered through the painful, swollen healing process and recovered. The pain in my jaw, the headaches - all gone. Better.
Dozens of haircuts, tiny bits of my previous identity discarded to the floor. I wonder how many pieces of me are still out there in a landfill. Did any escape from a torn garbage bag and blow away to fertilize a patch of grass? Are they part of a bird's nest somewhere? Where did I go?
My dentist and his impossibly gorgeous assistants delve into my mouth to repair deep cavities. The drill buzzes and whines, removing layer after layer of enamel, creating larger and larger holes before they are backfilled with specialized cement. Organic teeth, diseased and decayed, replaced by artificial crowns that will never rot from plaque. Better.
I ask the dermatologist to remove a mole that constantly rubs against my bra strap. I find myself wondering where that little piece of me ended up. A waste bin decorated with biohazard stickers? A sterile landfill? An incinerator? But even incinerated, reduced to its primal elements of carbon and waste molecules, it's still out there.
Blood lost during a root canal while the endodontist and his young male assistant drawl about golf. I fall asleep out of boredom. When I jerk awake, my jaw is sore from being propped open, and they tell me that I snore. The doctor says that perhaps I should get that fixed. One "fix" reveals the need for another. This mission will never be over, I think.
Blood donations. Altruism in the form of literally donating a part of my body. The vital fluid will be renewed when my marrow produces fresh cells. The loss will not be permanent. But the sense of having done a good deed lingers.
I'm a better person now that part of me is missing, sucked out through a sterile needle and refrigerated until it is needed. I eat a cookie in the fluorescent-lit kitchen at the blood donation center. I go home and take a too-hot shower and almost faint. Stupid. I should have known better.
I feel like I am not a better person after all, I'm still my regular dumb self. Part of me is missing for a good cause and I almost died by fainting in the shower. I donate more blood as soon as I am eligible, paying careful attention to my shower's water temperature after each visit. If I do this correctly, again and again, I will become a better person.
A tattoo at twenty-seven after nearly a decade of indecision, unable to select a design that I will still love when I'm eighty. I finally choose my astrological symbol, reasoning that the only thing that will not change between here and the retirement home is my birthday. I am electric with anxiety, unsure of what to expect. The artist is a dude, about my age, and seemingly not all there. It hurts differently than I thought it would, but not too much, and it takes ages longer than I anticipated.
The itch lingers in my mind for weeks. I chase the buzzing and the pain of it four more times. Four more sessions with an artist. Four more healing periods of swelling and seeping, followed by scabbing and peeling. Pieces of me falling away, getting better. Closer to the new me.
At twenty-eight I have a child. The water breaking reminds me that I was carrying a whole world within my body, now drained and soaking into the absorbent pads on the gurney underneath my hips. The induction does not produce the desired outcome. My doctor leans over me with her warm, kind eyes and says that she needs to operate. An emergency C-section.
This time an entire human being is removed from me. I grew her myself, and now she can safely be detached to start her own life. Another piece of me - although not a selfish one, not one that was mine alone - is now gone. Pounds and inches fall away from my body while breastfeeding. I cut my hair short and chase the promise of a better me.
It does not work.
I am broken that entire spring and summer. I cry when I drop my keys. I cry when the toilet overflows. I cry when I think of how tiny my daughter is, and how everything that is wrong with her must be my fault. I want to disappear. I want to release everyone from the burden of caring for me. I do not wish to die, I simply wish to cease existing.
Postpartum depression. A medication from my doctor promises to fix the wonky brain chemicals, to make me better. It works. Pieces of my essential self start coming back to me.
More surgeries, age thirty. Severe sinus problems, and I think that my surgeon is soap-opera handsome and entirely too nice of a person to have the disgusting job of digging around in my skull. But the surgery works. Better.
Three months later I visit the ER with severe abdominal pain. My gallbladder needs to come out, but I get to keep a series of gnarly, full-color photos of it. One shows it laying on a blue surgical drape, in the next it is cut open to reveal the pearls that were hiding within. Another piece of me gone. Am I getting better?
I have an empty, inadequate, lifelong need inside. I try to fill it. Drinking. Drugs. Food. Nothing works.
I am forever hoping that I'll fit somewhere, but I'm not a puzzle piece looking for a spot to land, I'm a hungry hole rolling around and swallowing everything I can in order to fill myself. And holes don't fit anywhere.
I realize that the more I consume, the less of “me” there is to give to anyone. I quit the drugs. I quit drinking. I feel terrible. I fight the urge to shave my head, to make a mass statement of discarding "the old me."
Finally, slowly, deep down I start to feel better, and my husband and I decide we’re ready to have a second child. More blood spilled, another C-section cut into me by my excellent surgeon.
Despite the fact that I have “accomplished” things like having my name on a mortgage and birthing two children, I feel as if nothing about me is good enough. I have a career that others tell me I am good at… and sometimes I actually believe them. But even that does not last.
I change jobs and it is a mistake. I make more mistakes. I make one huge mistake and get fired. Twelve years of a "good" career, gone in an afternoon.
I cry about it, but deep down I am relieved.
I throw myself into being a housewife. I stay sober. I learn to cook. I turn forty. My son is about to enter kindergarten, my daughter will go to middle school. This is a good time for a new me, I think.
I go back to school to pursue a long-buried dream, a course of study that has haunted me since I gave it up twenty years before.
I hate that I am finally finding myself long after I “should have” done so. Despite the fact that I am pursuing my dream, I think that it is embarrassing to be back in school at my age, not exemplary. I am uncomfortable when people express admiration for my choices. But I stuff the discomfort down and chatter excitedly about my studies and my plans to go to grad school.
Being an undergraduate student makes me feel competent and smart, as if the promise of who I am “supposed to be” is finally within reach. I throw myself into my studies that first fall semester. I lean hard into the new me. I take extra classes and push myself harder the next spring.
Pandemic hits. COVID. Unprecedented times. Schools shut down, and suddenly my husband and two children are home with me all day, every day. But I can do this, right? I can keep going, study harder, do better.
I continue my studies full-time over the spring that first year of quarantine, losing patience with my children when they interrupt me.
I sign up for three online classes that summer, and study in between continuous interruptions. I make a low grade in one class. I berate myself for it.
August. Everything is still virtual. I sign up for a full course load and oversee my children during their Zoom schooling, even when it interrupts my own Zoom meetings. I stay up until midnight or past it, completing my own work.
Despite my best efforts, we all struggle.
I drop two of my four classes, expecting a sense of relief. Instead I feel worse.
The incessant conflict between my family’s needs and my desires makes me feel as if I am wedged between two boulders, being ground into a fine paste. Soon there will not be anything left of me to scoop up.
I drop another class, down to only one.
I do not like giving up parts of my dream, but my dream is the only part of our family machine that can be cut to keep us whole. My husband must work, my children must attend school, but my dream is optional. It’s better for everyone if I sacrifice.
I try to keep my dream alive. I interview for an exhilarating internship for the coming spring semester. They offer it to me. My husband buys me flowers in congratulations.
A week later I realize how little of me there is to go around. I write a polite email and regretfully decline the internship. I finish my lone fall semester class with a B. I feel like a failure.
I realize that I cannot spread myself any thinner than I already have. Something will have to give, and it turns out to be the remainder of my dream.
I do what is necessary to hold my family together.
I do not re-enroll for what would be the final, graduating semester of my shiny new Bachelors degree. I do not get the opportunity to apply for grad school. I will not become the person who I desperately want to be. The dream I have been chasing for the past twenty months and the twenty years before that is gone.
The new year arrives. There is nothing of “me” left, just blunt shards wet with tears.
I tell people that I am taking a “pandemic pause” so that I do not have to say “I dropped out.” I begrudgingly accept their sympathy and reassurances that someday I will go back and finish. But deep down I know that I am no longer good or smart enough to pursue that dream.
I look at my shelf full of textbooks and I feel ashamed. How stupid of me to think that I ever had a chance. My shame is mixed with the metallic tinge of fear that I will never get another chance like this. The path to my dream career has closed, overgrown with obstacles, and I am now so thoroughly broken that I cannot take any more steps.
I fight the urge to sink into depression, the familiar pull of giving up. But I have no choice except to keep going, to take care of my family and to keep them alive, even if I feel dead inside.
I go through the motions of my routines and my duties.
I read in order to keep my brain occupied. If I am not using that organ for school it may as well be put to good use on fiction and non-fiction, current affairs and ancient history.
I begin to feel skittishly curious about things, and ideas ferment in my brain.
I start to write, another long-dormant habit from more than twenty years before. I write every day, in and around the interruptions of children and housework. A chance meeting online introduces me to a new friend, who introduces me to a writing community. I stay up late into the night writing. I produce pieces that I am proud of, and that other people seem to enjoy reading.
I read more. I write more.
I enroll in a summer creative writing class at the community college. I produce more work, more pieces of me that take shape and go out into the world.
I leave more pieces of myself around town.
Another autumn. I schedule a surgery to remove a part of me that has been causing problems for thirty years. I decide to have my nose pierced, a desire from twenty years before that I denied because of my first career. The surgical center and the piercing shop both accept me for who I am and take away the pieces of me that are hurting.
I am starting to feel whole, more like myself. I have reclaimed some pieces of myself, although there is much more to do.
I spill my brain out onto paper, I refill my fountain pens directly from my jugular.
I start to dream again.
Medicated and Motivated
It's not enough. I am - what? For some reason I think of Virginia Woolf, who had a room of her own, and also stones in her pockets. Do we die for art, or does art die with us?
I'm not actually that retrospective. I'm just a girl. An administrative assistant who writes poems under her desk on post-it notes, hoping to god today isn't the day someone empties the trash and finds out about my existential crisis.
I have forgiven my enemies. My mother is sincere now, and I am fond of her absolute disdain for everyone. When I was a child, she would throw things and chase me and call me unspeakable names, and I learned to internalize it as one does. Therefore, I am convinced everyone hates me. But her vocabulary is utterly fantastic and I laugh heartily at her mockery of others, her ability to laugh at what is utterly ridiculous.
I am a psycho. I count out the number of times I read sentences because I am anxious I will get the meaning of them wrong. I am convinced cameras are watching my every move at work. When I write those aforementioned poems under my desk, I make sure the person reading them will be entertained, so there's always some comedy to my madness. I daydream about writing topics. I see an email come in and do not forward it because won't the sender know? They won't. That's the point.
In a panic, I text people back whom I haven't responded to in days because I was writing and submitting to contests. I refresh my personal email twice a minute. I apply to new jobs, eager and desperate to not have an old crow of an office administrator tell me to file the paperwork for a third time in one day. I'm done. And I am over it.
In 2018, I spent New Years Day at McLean, a mental hospital where Sylvia Plath and other illustrious poets slept and ate while overly medicated. I saw the ball drop at midnight in the sterile hospital rec room and heard a song sung, one I hated at the time but now relish. It reminds me of sickness and being utterly out of control. Nostalgia, if you will. And something for the post-it notes.
I don't reminisce often, I am far too tired and still hopelessly medicated into sedation. But one thing I know for sure is: I'm still figuring out who this body is. I breathe. But do I think? For myself, about anyone else at all?
It is hard being mentally ill, harder to fight it, easiest to write about it.
Seconds pass between the thump thump of wheels hitting each joint in a concrete highway.
Above her, there's a rhythm and sway to a plastic bag floating in the air. It fuzzes in and out of the now and the here; clear plastic becomes moss and oak and tubing is a vine snaking down to wrap around her arm.
There is no panic.
She blinks, and the tree is a stainless steel rod bolted to the ceiling and the darker patch of bark becomes a smaller, thicker bag slowly leaking burgundy into her veins.
There is only calm.
While she floats, a man she can't see drives them towards a place she likely never will.
She stirs when nimble fingers pinch and pull where fingers were never meant to be. There is uncomfortable pressure in places she can't look; gauze and ruby-red leaves have fallen from the tree overhead. She's on the forest floor, covered.
There is no pain.
She never realizes the constant wail isn't a gale in the grove until it stops completely; there's no wind, and hasn't been.
There are no trees.
Her perspective changes.
It's odd, sitting in a folding jump seat, watching everyone working so diligently. They're frozen in place, the thump thump of wheels on Interstate aren't thumping anymore. She stares at herself, strapped to a gurney with open eyes, knowing they still see fading lights through falling leaves.
"Autumn is the prettiest time of year, I think."
She turns, shocked at the sound of a man's voice.
Her visitor sits next to a crimson-stained paramedic. The medic's face is stony with concentration and determined focus; her hands are slippery and sliding but sure in their work.
Nodding a hello, the impossible newcomer reaches into the inner pocket of his suitcoat. He is fastidious, wiry, cocky and sure as he lights a cigarette removed from a sterling case.
"I find it fascinating what people think in these moments. People never cease to amaze me, truly. Care for one, dear?" He offers her the already lit smoke, but she declines wordlessly with a barely perceptible shake of her head. "Can't blame you. Most people refuse, unless they've been lifetime smokers. Some people take one to be able to sit here a little longer. The thing is, we aren't going anywhere until I'm done anyway. No need to put on airs about it. Either you're a smoker, a non-smoker, or a reformed smoker. I suppose if you're reformed, though, no one wants relapse here at the very end, would you think?"
She thought he was rambling, but his words flowed in the most interesting way. Each syllable, every breath, was clipped and timed in perfect neutrality. His accent was a study in accentlessness. It reminded her of old black and white movies that used to play on tv late at night when she was a kid.
"Do you ever miss the days of three or four channels?"
The question floats her way in a haze, carried by North Carolina tobacco and an otherwise utter stillness.
She doesn't answer, instead turning her gaze from sightless eyes on the gurney to glare at the unwelcome visitor.
Silence holds along with their stares.
Finally, she speaks.
"Malach ha-maweth. You're early."
He grins, leaning back in his uncomfortable chair. Primly, one leg crosses the other at the knee. "I do so love the old Names. Taxes and I, my dear. You know the rules." He draws on his cigarette, nearly reaching its end.
A rueful chuckle from her chases his inhale, and it's a rare thing indeed for him to be caught by surprise. He cocks his head in fascination.
She addresses him politely. "This isn't my day. There were promises made and bargains struck."
"You're in the ledger."
"Someone made a mistake."
He frowns. "Mistakes are uncommon."
She grins. "But not impossible."
"I don't bargain."
This time, she laughs in absolute joy. "Different division, same company, I think. You're in the mailroom, delivery boy. I deal with the top floor."
"Basement, more likely."
It's her turn to tilt her head, nodding at his point. "Maybe. But what's up and what's down when you're drowning?"
"To stick with your metaphor, how long do you expect to stay afloat, my dear?"
"That doesn't matter. All that matters for you is 'not today,' and stop calling me dear. Check your ledger again."
He takes a final puff, drops his butt and grinds it into the diamondplate of the steel floor. Reaching into his other suitcoat pocket, he pulls out a small leather-bound journal. Thumbing through it, he turns to a page. Frowning, he flips to several more pages.
"This is most irregular."
"I'm sure it is."
"Well," he snaps closed his book, tucking it back into his pocket. "I offer my apologies. I'll see myself out."
She gasps, startling the woman covered in her blood. Blinking dried eyes into focus, the patient stares where the visitor had been mere seconds before.
The paramedic is surrounded by the smell of cigarette smoke and feels a shiver run down her spine. While that is odd enough, it's the sound of laughter from a woman she knew to be near dead that stains dreams for weeks to come.
In a country where marriage
is a commodity being sold,
like exported goods
and appraised gold.
When all of the men you have ever bared yourself to have succumbed to pawning feelings.
In exchange of convenience and familial approval.
The sadness hangs like unpulled church bells. The desert heat seemed unfelt by your clammy skin.
(The leaves outside the window rustled as if whispering back your unrealised dreams.)
You sighed and went on saying
between the distance of you and him,
in the silence and detachment.
you found your ticket back to your comfort place in prescribed pills.
For a moment, I am convinced
that this world was designed to favor Joseph and not Mary.
I wanted to blanket you
from this scythe wind
to shield your purple heart
to armor you from this men-molded mortar
to tell you to never fit
our rebellious bones
into the norms of patriarchs.
(You reached out for the rays of the sun like they were raindrops falling on your palms.)
if I tell you, the fortress
of our fathers has fallen,
will you laugh again, love?
Let these men wonder
about the joy of being a woman —
that even if they try
and make us cry
our once hushed lips would ne——ver shape their names.
There is a small hole dug through and beneath the cold foundation of my blue room. I crawl into the opal space and into a fetal bind. I am a feral cat. Moving through my darkness cautiously, suspicious of every sound and shadow and of every ache beat relentlessly against my tired soul. Wool and coal wash over me. I try to meditate on the familiarity of grief. Grief for what was lost and what was never found. I am safe under the suffocation of regret. But the fabric of sadness itches at me. I am uncomfortable in my own skin. And with my thumping pulse. The walls lean closer. The air is stagnant. I try to brush away the grey matter settling across my eyes but my arm is too heavy to lift. I succumb to my old friend loneliness. She never disappoints. Beside me my younger self dances, and she smiles. She writes stories and loves animals. But hope was exorcised from her body in velvet time and I fall deeper into my hurt.. The voices from beyond this sunken life make me wonder what it is like to be normal. To have friends. To fall in love. To feel purpose. To not feel everything all at once. But my abyss is Judas and I am seduced deeper into its vast solitude of vacancy. Doing time in life’s cell of despair. It is hard to breathe here but not hard enough.
The Scarecrow’s Face
Someone invariably drives past Ted Warren’s farm on Route 61, ever since the detour signs were put up due to construction on Interstate 80 West. Eighty-something miles, but state highway officials failed to put up mile markers to indicate the actual distance to reconnect with the Interstate, other than signs that read: I-80 (with an arrow overhead meaning straight ahead).
When you drive past the Warren farm, you might get lucky and catch a glimpse of his daughter, Allie, standing alongside the road entrance to the Warren home. She walks up and back the one-mile dirt road, six times a week to get the mail.
Today wasn’t any different.
Driving along Route 61, a two-lane highway (not in the best of shape), that now served as a temporary Interstate to all weary travel bound souls. A road that serves its purpose from the last stopping point, eighty miles back, that will take you where you want to go, but don’t look for a gas station or a Burger King anywhere close by. When you left out of Shinto, about six miles from the Warren farm, that’s it until you’ve driven that eighty-something miles. So, if you didn’t gas up first, good luck pal.
Driving along the beat-up two-lane blacktop, Route 61 and Lenny Mills were already good friends. He gassed up when he was supposed to in Badger and took off down the road. He had the top down on his ’57 Classic T-Bird, radio blaring Oldies but Goodies, and he was singing along word for word with whatever was playing, singing terribly. Lenny knew all the old tunes. Lenny could tell you practically anything about anything.
Trivia is his specialty.
Be it magic, world history, politics, it didn’t matter. Movies, songs, actors and actresses, presidents; didn’t matter. Lenny has a computer for a brain. His friends sometimes describe his brain as a mental rolodex. Lenny could tell you about little-known origins such as: how Dr. Pepper, the soft drink was invented, that there never was a real Betty Crocker, and other than Gerald Ford never elected president, America had a president pro-temp for one day March 4, 1849. His name was David Rice Atchison. Zachary Taylor refused to take the oath on the Sabbath, so Atchison, who was a Senator for sixteen terms, from no place less than Frogtown, Kentucky, sat in the White House for one day as the Commander-in-Chief. How about them apples!
If Lenny didn’t know something, he made it a point to know what it was. “One never knows when one may be on Jeopardy,” he would say and then laugh.
Lenny wasn’t driving fast, about fifty, and it was a lucky thing, or he would have missed a passing glance at Allie. Instead, he applied the brakes and slowed to a stop a few feet from her, turned down the radio and watched her as she turned down a dirt road next to a gate opening, facing away from Route 61.
Lenny yelled out and Allie stopped and turned, holding her right hand over her eyes to shield them from the sun, giving her a better view of who yelled at her from the car.
“Hello, pretty lady. Could you tell me how much further I have before I connect with the interstate again?”
Pretty was an understatement. Yellow-gold spun hair (natural), the bluest of eyes, country tanned skin giving her tight body that wholesome appeal. Lenny figured she couldn’t be any more than twenty, tops.
“Not rightly sure, mister. Maybe ninety or a hundred miles. Never been that far up 61 to know for sure.”
She stared at the plates of his car.
“What state’s the beehive state, mister?”
“Utah. I’m on my way back to teach at the University in Salt Lake.”
“What do you teach?”
“History. All the things most students will swear doesn’t help them in the real world to land that multi-million dollar a year career.” Lenny flashed his winning smile.
Allie smiled back.
“You been on the road long?”
“I started out last night around six,” Lenny looked at his watch. “I’d say about twenty hours. I gassed up in your little town back there, Shinto. When I’m not teaching, I live about forty miles east of Chicago. Living in Utah can be such a pain. More for me to do in Chicago than I ever could, especially in Salt Lake.”
“You must see some interesting things while driving. So tell me, mister, what do you think of our Nebraska flatlands?”
You’re the best thing I’ve seen so far, he wanted to say.
“Please, call me Lenny.
“Compared to the mountains in Utah, it’s flatter than a pancake. When you compare it to Chicago, a city where the fun never ends, Nebraska seemed dull. Don’t get me wrong; in some respects, it’s refreshing. Quiet. Let me say it’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to stay long.”
Unless it was you, I’d be staying for, he thought, smiling at Allie the whole time.
An older Dodge DeSoto pickup came bellowing up the road and stopped short a few feet away from Allie and Lenny’s car. A man, about eight inches taller than Lenny, who stood six-foot even, stepped from his dusty and battered truck that Lenny realized it was 1949, clutch on the column with a Botham engine. But for the moment, Lenny thought he might be in trouble for talking to the man’s wife, or daughter. He had to be her father. He looked too old to be anything more.
“Allie, who’s your friend?”
Lenny liked the sound of her name. Allie.
“He said his name is Lenny, daddy. We just met. He was asking how far down 61 he’d have to drive before he’d get back on the interstate again.
Her father walked up alongside Lenny’s car.
“My name’s Ted Warren.”
He stuck out a long fingered tanned and gnarled hand. Lenny stretched his own as they shook, He thought it rather odd, almost queer-like, that a man the size of Ted Warren would have such a weak handshake. He had to be close to two-fifty if not more. Lenny himself topped in at one-seventy.
“I’m Lenny Mills. Like I was telling your daughter, I’m on my way to Utah to teach at the univerity in Salt Lake.”
“A teacher, huh? How long you been teaching?”
“This will be my sixth year.”
“Daddy, he said he’s been driving almost a whole day straight. I think it would be proper if we invite him up to the house for supper. Show him some real Nebraska hospitality.”
“No, really, I couldn’t impose.”
“Nonsense, Mr. Mills. After all the driving you’ve been doing, I can see a tired look in your eyes. You need a break. Besides, you wouldn’t want to miss out on Allie’s home cooking. She’ll have your belly full, and a smile on your face.”
Lenny shifted his eyes from Ted to Allie, lingering his eyes more on her and said, “What the heck. It’s Friday anyway. School doesn’t start for another week. I guess a few hours wouldn’t hurt.”
“Settled then. Allie, get in the truck. Mr. Mills, you just follow us on up the road to the house.”
“Call me Lenny, please. Sounds less formal.”
“Good enough for me, Lenny,” said Ted Warren with a thin-lipped smile.
Ted Warren strode back to the driver's side and under his bib-overalls and shirt, Lenny could almost see the massive muscle weight rippling underneath.
Getting back in his T-Bird, he thought, How can such a man his size and the way he’s built, have such a puny grip is beyond me. He waited for Ted Warren to gun the trucks engine, then followed them through a cloud of dust the DeSoto left in its wake.
In the back of his mind, Lenny wondered about all those salesmen jokes about the farmer’s daughter.
“Get that out of your head, Lenny, my boy. Last thing you need to have happen is a shotgun stuck up your ass because you got caught boffing his daughter behind the woodshed.”
Still, the thought and vision of doing Allie did give him an erection.
What was only supposed to be a quick supper and then out of there, ended up to be three hours later than Lenny anticipated.
After he pulled in alongside Ted Warren’s truck, he ended up on the front porch with the man, and they started talking about the country and what is and isn’t right with the world.
Next thing: Lenny fell asleep for nearly an hour.
Now it was just past eighty-thirty, Lenny and Ted Warren were again sitting on the front porch after dinner, neither man saying a word. Each were admiring the sun as it reached its boundries to relinquish light to darkness, leaving behind the last vestiges of colors perfectly blended in soft purples, faded reds, rustic oranges, jasmine greens, and homespun yellows.
Summer nights like this had always appealed to Lenny. It always fascinated him how nature could change without man’s involvement.
“I have to admit you didn’t lie, Ted. Your daughter is an excellent cook. I haven’t had fried chicken like that since I was a little kid visiting my grandmother on summer vacations in North Carolina.
“The view from here is beautiful. You know, peaceful.”
“Yep, I know all right. I’m right proud of Allie, too. After her mother died, it was rough, you know; raising a girl on your own and all that, but we managed. Allie was seven when the cancer took her mother.
“One day, when I’m gone, all you see around you for two miles will be hers. If she finds the right man who ain’t afraid of farming, it’ll be his as well. Ever do any farming, Lenny?”
“Not really. Well, sort of. When I was a kid, I used to work in the tobacco fields and drove a tractor sometimes. There isn’t much call for that these days in North Carolina. Corn and tomatoes are still a big call, and so are blueberries, but raising hogs down where I used to visit is where the money is now. Tobacco just doesn’t sell like it used to since all the stink about health hazzards, ingredients, and second-hand smoke and so on and so on.
“Now, teaching is my thing.”
“Yep. Seems like nothing stays the same or lasts forever these days. Hell, you could write a letter and have it sent and read in a few days. Make a phone call and be done with it in a few minutes. Nowadays, the internet speeds things up so quick a fellow just can’t keep up. Now you can talk and see who you’re talking to at the same time! Some people call that progress. Me, I call it being lazy. You forget how to write by typing all the time. That just ain’t right. Talking on the phone is good, but if you want to see me, or me you, then it’s time to drop by for a visit. Yep, just plain lazy.”
Crows could be seen landing on a scarecrow in the distance, picking at and around a straw face or so it appeared to Lenny.
“Do those things really work?”
“They surely do. It’s just that now and then, I go out there and work on the face some. When I do, then crows hardly ever come around.”
Ted Warren smiled at Lenny, and his eyes lit up with a glaze from the late evening colors. Just then, Allie stepped out onto the porch.
“Dishes are finished, daddy. What have you two been talking about?”
“Scarecrows, Allie,” Ted said flatly.
Lenny thought he heard sorrow in that one syllable.
“I want to thank you both for a very delicios dinner and,”
“Around here, Lenny, dinner is at noon. We call this supper," Allie said with a wide smile.
“Okay, then thanks for a tasty supper, but I do have to be going. I have a lot to do when I get to Salt Lake. I have to get my apartment livable, and furniture moved in that’s been in storage, class assignments prepared, things like that. I’d love to stay longer, but if I don’t keep my priorities online, and right as rain, as my grandfather used to say; it’ll put me days behind schedule.”
“Lenny,” waved Ted Warren with his left hand, “we’ve got a spare bedroom upstairs. You can spend the night, get a good breakfast in the morning and be on your way then. It’s getting kind of late to be driving, wouldn’t you think?”
“Yes, but you folks have been kind enough as it is.”
“Don’t be silly,” quipped Allie. “One night isn’t going to make that big a difference anyway. You did say you have a whole week before school started, and besides, 61 isn’t really the best of roads to travel in the dark. You never know what might cross the road. Deer and sometimes wolves cross as well as smaller animals. No sense you getting into an accident. Just say you’ll stay, at least for the night.” Allie smiled her smile that just reeled Lenny in.
“Yes, I did say classes were a week away and well; okay, I’ll stay the night. You’re both right. One night won’t make a difference. I really do appreciate this.”
“Taint no trouble, Lenny,” smiled Ted Warren. “No trouble at all.”
Getting up from his chair on the porch, Lenny went to his T-Bird, opened the trunk and pulled out one of his suitcases. He thought about putting the top up in case of rain but the color-filled sky that was deepening now to dark-dark, held only twinkling stars. Turning back to the house, he followed Allie upstairs to the bedroom.
Lenny couldn’t help himself with the view before him as Allie slowly walked each step in a relaxed way. But, my God, he thought, what a way she has. If daddy weren’t home right now, he would put on his charm and have her in bed before you could say, “yeah baby!”
But daddy is home, and Lenny likes his balls attached just the way they are thank-you-very-much.
Walking into the room, Lenny set his suitcase on the bed, now feeling confidant the last of his erection finally deflated and walked over to the front window and peered into the now graying darkness. Lenny spotted Ted Warren walking in the direction of the scarecrow.
“What’s he going to do?”
Allie walked to the window standing close to Lenny, bent low and watched her father. Lenny could smell her freshness, like spring lilacs, and had an impulse to grab her, twist her into his arms and kiss her deeply, then make love to her.
In his mind he said, Down boy, Count to ten. One broken arm, two broken legs, three car wrecks, four housefires, five hurricanes, six tornados, seven bullets to the head, eight broken ribs, nine inches of steel in my heart, ten seconds to live.
It wasn’t working.
The heat between his legs refused to go away this time. At least his mind controlled his actions—barely. He moved away from her and returned to his suitcase.
“Oh, daddy’s just checking on the scarecrow is all. He does it every night before he goes to bed. If anything needs fixing or straightening, daddy does it. He says as long as the scarecrow looks scary, the crows won’t ruin the crops. As long as I can remember, daddy’s never been wrong.”
She turned, stood straight, and smiled at Lenny. “What’s the matter with you? You’re flustered in the face something awful.”
“I, uh, guess it must have been because I was bent over. Maybe all that driving finally caught up to me. I do feel tired now. After I get some sleep, I’ll be a new man.”
“Okay,” she said, still smiling. “The bathroom’s the last door at the end of the hall to the right. If you need anything, just holler, all right? And I do mean anything.”
She traced her right index finger straight down between her pert breasts and stopped just short of her stomach. Walking past Lenny, she grazed his arm, and smiled that country smile of hers, quickly looked down where Lenny hoped she wouldn’t, and she giggled softly.
Opening the door, she looked at him and said, “Daddy’s room is the one straight across from this one, and I’m next to yours on the left.” She winked, then closed the door behind her, leaving Lenny standing in the middle of the room.
He started unpacking.
Lenny, my boy, I do believe that was an invitation. Yeah, an invitation to trouble.
But Lenny, it’s a free offer you don’t have to run after; it’s here for the taking. She’s as much said so.
Yeah, I know. So is a handful of buckshot and a marriage license. No thanks.
Shaking his head, Lenny grabbed his toilet articles, a towel and headed for the shower, and took a long cold one.
It didn’t help.
Outside in the field next to the scarecrow, Ted Warren looked back at the house to the upstairs window where Lenny had looked out of earlier. Rearranging the face once more, he grimmaced at the thought of what had to be done. But there was no other way to save the crops.
Lenny tossed and turned all night.
When it appeared, he was finally going to go to sleep, he heard the knob on the bedroom door twist open, and a faint light from the hallway crept in along the floor, then the wall, then disappeared as the door closed.
He held his breath when he felt the bed give in to the extra weight. When he rolled over on his back, he let out a small gasp of air when he stared into Allie’s eyes and then her completely naked body.
Looking back at the bedroom door, he envisioned her father storming in with a shotgun bigger than life, but Ted Warren made no such appearance.
“Allie,” he whispered frantically, “what the hell are you doing? If your father finds you here, he’ll kill me and who knows what he’ll do to you!”
“You want me, don’t you, Lenny?” Allie reached under the covers and grabbed Lenny’s maleness. “This ... tells me you do. Don’t worry about daddy. He sleeps like a log until the sun comes up. We have almost three hours before that happens.”
Lenny’s an educated man and part of him said no, get dressed and leave right now. Then there was the other part that is strictly male, and said to himself, what the hell.
“Three hours,” he murmured.
Lenny let his hormones be his guide.
Just before the sun came up, Lenny and Allie finished making love for the third time. Lenney had never had such an experience with a woman before as he did with Allie. She was a sexual dynamo. He almost didn’t want to stop but he also remembered: daddy—shotgun—wedding.
He forced himself away from her and decided it was time to get dressed and leave while he still had the chance.
“Allie, you were terrific. But I think I had better leave before your father gets up. I think it would be better for both of us.”
“What about us, Lenny? You just made love to me, and now your just going to leave me like this? What kind of man are you?”
“Hold on, Allie. I don’t remember either one of us saying we loved each other or made any commitments. Hey, it was great, don’t get me wrong. I like you. I like you a lot, but I have responsibilities I have to meet. If I don’t, then I won’t have a job, and I love what I do.”
“Why do you have to be like all the rest of the men who have stayed here? Why couldn’t you be different from them?”
Allie’s arm reached under the bed while Lenny was dressing.
“What do you mean, all the rest?” Lenny was just zippering up his pants when he turned to face her.
“What other men?”
He saw it coming. His movement was too slow. It was if a movie was being played in slow motion. He couldn’t believe she would do this, not after the best sex imaginable.
Allie’s arm came in a wide sweeping arc.
The short-armed ax came whistling through the air and struck Lenny in the left side of his throat. Blood spurted through his fingers as he tried choking off the outpouring of blood.
Lenny couldn’t scream even if he wanted. The pain was deep rooted but not to the point he would have ever imagined. It was more like a dull burn that throbbed madly.
Allie came back with another slashing strike that ripped through the other side of his neck, sending Lenny tottering back against a dresser, his eyes transfixed in deathly disbelief; trying a last-ditch effort to keep his head from falling off his shoulders. Blood was everywhere.
Soaking his shirt, spraying across the dresser, the walls behind him and onto the floor, pooling underneath his shoes.
His head, filled with facts and figures, would be of no more use to him, or to anyone else.
Allie came down on Lenny’s neck one last time, sending his head along with a few fingers, dropping to the floor. His head rolled to a dead stop against the bedroom door, and lifeless eyes stared as blood oozed from the opening in Lenny’s shoulders.
Allie was covered from head to feet with Lenny’s blood. Taking the handle of the ax, she pushed Lenny’s still standing and quivering body, watching it fall to the floor next to the bed, shaking still as if very cold. She stared until the body finally became motionless.
Gripping the ax tighter, she walked to the door, stared down at the remorseless eyes of Lenny, and walked down the hall to take a shower and wash Lenny Mills from her flesh and cleaned the ax.
Returning to the bedroom, now dressed in a pink robe, she placed the ax back underneath the bed. She was careful not to walk where the blood stained the floor, she stared at the open, empty glare of Lenny’s dead eyes and whispered, “If you said you loved me, if you had said you would have stayed, it would have been different, Lenny.
After breakfast, in the shed behind the house, Ted Warren came out with a canvas bag and walked the length of the field to the scarecrow with Allie walk next to him.
When they reached the scarecrow, Ted Warren removed the beaten, battered and now chewed away faced ruined by the scarecrows.
Reaching inside the canvas bag, he replaced it with a new face.
Ted Warren spent most of the morning after burying Lenny’s body a mile away from the house, by removing the skull, brain and broken bone fragments along with dead muscle tissue; all that is, but for the eyes. Ted was careful not to damage the facial texture too much. But it was the eyes that would frighten the crows away for a good long while.
Mounting Lenny’s face onto the scarecrow’s shoulders and wrapping it tightly with two thin strands of wire pierced near where the ears would have been, Ted Warren tied it securely in place. He spent another two minutes straightening out the hair before placing a hat over Lenny’s dead scalp. Taking one thinner strand of wire, he tied off the neck to the post to make certain the wind wouldn’t blow it off or away.
Stepping back to inspect and admire the scarecrow’s face, he put his arm over Allie’s shoulder and hugged her to his massive frame.
“Don’t worry too much, Allie. One of these days, a man’s going to come around here and love you back. Until then, we’ve got to make sure these darned crows don’t eat all our crops.”
“I understand, daddy. It’s just so darn frustrating. Lenny’s the tenth man this year. You’d think one of them would have wanted to stay.”
“Allie, when the right man comes along, he’ll want to stay, and you’ll be happy. You’ll see.”
“I know and you’re right, daddy. You’re always right.”
They turned away from the scarecrow, Lenny’s eyes staring vacantly for all time. Ted Warren and Allie headed back to the house to clean up the mess in the guest bedroom.
Later in the day, Allie would head up the road to see if she might find her one true love.
I will run with you again
Wrestle arm to arm
Sweat and sting in my side
The air is getting warm
Next door neighbor moved away
And I had to leave home
In pursue of a new career
But you know that I’ll come home
My brother, you are what is me
In that smile, in your teeth
Every movement of our time growing older
Every glance brings us back together
Once a month, I’ll find myself
Crying about the time I moved out
Our family is older than they ever seemed
We’ve become so much older than we’ve ever dreamed
I’ll see a picture posted from mom online
And by looks of it, the doctors were right
You’re taller now than I’ll ever be
But I still can take you out, take you out, you’ll see
My brother, you are what is me
In that smile, in your teeth
Every movement of our time growing older
Every glance brings us back together
You love your grandpa, I love our grandpa
You love the outdoors, I love the outdoors
You love going back to where we came from
I love going back to where we grew up
And even if you don’t remember everything
You are still the same
And if you ever change they way you are
Something in me will change as well
Then suddenly, I awoke from that dream
And I remembered you’re not as old as I had seen
You’re still quite young and shorter than me
And our beds lay right where they’ve always been
We’ve some time to spend together
And if I ever waste it, please bother me
I want you to spend as much time with me
As you possibly can, before I have to leave
My brother, you are what is me
In that smile, in your teeth
Every movement of our time growing older
Every glance brings us back together
The girl I used to be
If the me that I was five years ago could see me now, she would be amazed.
She would realize that all the feelings she felt inside weren't just a phase.
She would look at me and smile, so proud of the woman that we've become,
and she would feel confident that she would someday find the one.
Or rather, the ones. Because there's more than one person that's helped us along this road.
Who showed us the way when we didn't know which way to go.
She would be happy that she found those people, and proud of herself for not pushing them away.
Because at the time, that seemed like the only way to protect herself, not knowing that they'd still be around, there for her everyday.
If little thirteen year old me would have known all the joy that would come even from the darkest times of her life,
she'd wake up everyday and smile,
ans she'd laugh a little harder, hold on to friends a little tighter, and she would love herself a little more.
She'd be able to sleep at night knowing that the people she loves aren't all like the sister who left her, that they aren't going to just walk out the door.
She would be happy that we're finally opening up to someone we love, that I'm letting him in.
And she would laugh about the fact that we always joke about who wins.
She would look at our life and think about the bad in all of the things she sees,
But then she'd look at me, and she'd be proud that I'm no longer the girl I used to be.
Search of mine
through bipeds histery railing
the consul to be
the politician sole
the only one with equine-related mind
a horse sense
Dark Edge of The Mirror
In life, we truly walk a fine line
Like a Mobius loop we cannot define
Finite from infinite, sane from insane
And sometimes, darkness from light.
A reflection of innocence, long since gone
Hope into hopelessness, it seems
As I face the world in a reality
Gone mad, turned upside-down.
I waken slowly from my dreams
Only to find nothing has changed
Who is that person in the mirror?
I see the image of someone deranged.
The light edge of reason quickly fades
Shadows advance, closing swiftly in
With anguished cries I strike out
In denial, against a tortured reflection.
Shards of shattered trust betrayed
Splinter within my soul
Falling into the empty void there now
Which once was a heart that was whole.
Tears, stinging like acid rain
Blur visions of a future now gone.
Looking down, I see a blossoming stain
It's color, blood red, running strong.
For every face of light I show
I hide a face of darkness
A facade of normalcy? I don't know
Turning inward, I embrace the cold.
Reveling in it, not always revealing
To others who would then know my pain
That when the shadows rule my mind
All light is banished, at least, for a time.