You say ketchup and I say catsup. Whatever, let’s just catch up sometime.

The prompts are:

  1. I’ve got no further use for these
  2. writing is like sex
  3. courage is a weapon
  4. you can’t play
  5. we’ll both be surprised
  6. damn, no ketchup

Or, the provocations are:

  1. I’ve got the catsup.
  2. Damn, sex is like, ya know? We’ll both be surprised!
  3. You can’t play at writing.
  4. No further use for weapons.
  5. And, while I’m at it: Both courage and sex be damned. I’ve no further use of them, either.
  6. Catsup: the surprising weapon in your pantry.

There’s Got to Be a Morning After

Toby woke, per usual, sometime after 5AM. He swung his legs out of bed but sat a moment before rising. He didn’t need to look to the other side. It was empty. He glanced back anyway. It was not how he pictured this morning would begin. He took another moment to gather his thoughts before deciding to just get on with it by starting the day as he starts every day, with a trip to the bathroom, putting on his robe and slippers, and then to the kitchen for coffee.

As he passed the open guestroom door, he couldn’t help but glance in there as well. The bed was still made. She didn’t stay the night there, either. But he knew that.

As the coffee brewed, he watched the carafe fill to the point he knew was enough to fill a cup, which he did. He replaced the carafe to let the brewing finish, added his teaspoon of sugar and a bit of milk to his mug, and took the first sip of the morning. There is something calming but uplifting about the first drink of morning coffee. If his day did not begin with this small ritual, nothing would be right from there on out.

Depending on the day, Toby would either sit in his chair in the living room and watch the morning news, or shower, shave, and dress. This being a Sunday, he typically watched the news first. But this morning, he walked through the living room, past his chair and TV to the window, and drew back the drapes.

Ellen’s VW camper was still in the driveway.

Toby froze, staring intently at the vehicle while his mind raced. He now realized he never heard her VW’s engine start up last night. He assumed Elen left, headed back to Colorado, putting the whole thing behind her, and leaving Toby to his miserable self. Their evening ended so awkwardly; so awfully, Toby winced at the recollection.

But, now, what to do? Do I go out there, he wondered, cup of coffee in hand with a, Good morning, did you sleep well? He looked at the clock: 5:54AM. He might wake her from a deep sleep. More awkwardness. He should just wait.

A small bit of hope renewed, he thought she would certainly come to the house to at least say goodbye, giving both of them the chance to at least end things cordially. Then again, she might just go, without a word. There he’d be, hearing her drive away. The thought brought him down again. But, then again, why else would she stay?

Just in case, Toby decided to unlock the door. Better yet, leave it open. Let her know he was awake and….yeah. That’s the plan. He would sit in the living room and watch the news, as he does every weekend morning, but with the door ajar, and wait. He put down his coffee and made his way to the door, a little too quickly, he noted. No need to run, he admonished himself.

As he reached for the deadbolt, he had another thought: Robe and slippers were, perhaps, too casual, probably bordering on the too familiar, especially given last night. Shower, shave and dress first. Better plan.

Toby headed for his bathroom. He quickly stripped, turned on the water and stepped in the shower. Just as he finished lathering up, another thought flashed by that he couldn’t hear a knock at the door or doorbell ringing while he was in the shower. Fuck! He quickly rinsed, shut off the shower, and yanked his towel off the rack with such force, it nearly pulled off of the wall. He frantically debated his next steps. Jesus! Do I dress now, or go open the door and then dress?

The unmistakable sound of a VW engine turning over reverberated through the house.

No longer concerned about being too eager, Toby hurriedly wrapped the towel around his waist and ran down the hall. As he fumbled with the front door’s deadbolt and the handle, he heard Ellen’s camper drop into gear

“Stop! Ellen?!” he shouted as he flung open the door, way too urgently and definitely too loudly. “Ellen!? Hey! Wait!”

He could tell from the look on her face that the sight of him in his driveway clutching the now fallen bath towel—which he hoped to goddamned hell at least covered all the essentials in front—was not what she expected to see. As he stood there, feeling every bit the idiot, and hoping he hadn’t also attracted the attention of his neighbors, Toby began to chuckle. How else could the morning after such a terrible night play out?

Ellen’s expression change to a soft, bemused smile. She cut the engine, and as she stepped out of the van, Toby wrestled his towel back around his waist as discreetly as he could manage.

“Can I…” he ventured, with an apologetic shrug, “…offer you a cup of coffee? Before you go?”

Ellen shyly approached him; her smile still spread across her face.  “Yes. I’d like that. Very much.”

Toby gestured her to take the lead. As she walked past him, she said, “Sorry, but I remember you said you are an early riser, so I thought, hey, by 6 o’clock, Toby’d be up, and it would be OK if I, knocked, or whatever.”

Ellen wandered into the middle of the living room and turned around. She gave him a big shrug with her arms held up. “Standing there, I … I thought, maybe, I don’t know, that, whatever, maybe, it was all too much and you were blowing me off, or too pissed off about last …”

Toby stopped her with a dismissive wave. “I was the shower.”

“I can see that. Now, of course. Totally didn’t even occur to me.”

The silence that followed was surprisingly reassuring to them both. The sting of the previous night began to fade.

“God, I feel so stupid!”, Ellen blurted. “Just … I’m so sorry! I mean, thinking I should just take off. I’m so…”

“No, please!” Toby interrupted. “The thing is, I assumed you had already taken off. So, anyway, then I saw you didn’t, and I thought, Christ man, be a gentleman and get dressed! An then, after I got in the shower, I thought, oh, shit! What if she knocks, or rings the bell? I won’t hear it, and just as I got out, I heard your van…”

They both laughed.

“So,” Toby continued, “I’m going to just…” he gestured down the hall to his bedroom, “but, please,” Toby gestured again, this time toward the kitchen, “help yourself to coffee. There’s milk in the fridge and sugar’s there on the counter. I’m going to just get dressed…”

As Toby started to go, Ellen called after him. “Toby? I’m so sorry. Seriously, I…”

“Ellen, it’s OK. Really. I’m glad I caught you! Just, hold that thought a moment. I’ll be right back.”

“Of course. Take your time!”

As Toby reached his bedroom he called out, “Ellen, I say we call a ‘mulligan’.”

Ellen smiled. “Yes! Agreed. Let’s.”

End of a good read ennui

My mostly loose take (and, believe it or not, a true tale) on the past 2 weeks of Un-OLWG prompts

I finished a good summer read recently, and now have that peculiar ennui that comes from wishing a wonderful group of characters didn’t have to take their story and go. The author of this particular book deftly revealed a pretty serious subject with such empathy and generosity, that I felt warm and comforted, regardless all the trials, tribulations and gritty circumstances. I even hated that the woman who created fake twenty dollar bills and who stole the last bit of cash the protagonist had in the world had to leave the story.

Coming to the end of a good book is like being out on a lovely drive through the countryside on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, only to come to a full stop in some sort of cul de sac. Do you re-read the book right away, or do you go looking for another by the same author? Maybe choose a similar story by someone else? Or, maybe go looking for a TV or movie adaption?

I can never start another book for at least a couple of weeks after I’ve finished one that swept me away. I have to first stop wondering what the next chapters of the story might be, and then let the characters I came to love, go. In the meantime, like some sad-sack jilted lover, I wish the story never had to end.

(long sigh)


Prompts are: counterfeit twenty dollar bills; soft and low; written in books; let me go; a cul de sac; the way things sometimes are.

Folgerphobia. Or…Turbidus incertumque sine capulus

In response to Un-OLWG #164


Oh, I think I get it: It’s like a game of Jeopardy, yes? “What word did Sir Kerr use from that list of ‘23 Emotions People Feel, But Can’t Explain’ to tell the story?”

(BTW…Never mind the fact it’s right there in your post title. Yet another chapter and verse lesson from the book of “Never Before Morning Coffee.” So, just play along, OK?)

How about, “What is a word similar to ‘vellichor’ for a T&A dive bar?”  After all, the setting is a frequent “character” in your narratives, usually encased in some sort of melancholia. Definitely some sort of meanness or gritty-ness. Then, I thought perhaps the reverse of ‘énouement’ would be another close fit. Also, ‘opia’. ‘Chrysalism’ could be a very good fit for your bar settings.

After pondering over all that, I wondered if the Jeopardy question might be, “What is the backstory to, ‘C U Then’?” As in, your story is the backstory to mine? Thinking at the time you had linked to my last post, specifically, and not to my blog, in general, but more curiously — again, pre-coffee as the only excuse — not concerning myself with the fact that none of your characters’ names are the same as the ones in my story.

Whatever. It was fun to consider: Maybe ‘lachesism’? I thought some more on it. I can see how Chris could be struck with ‘exulansis’. I know I am, having started the story in the first place. Readers will certainly succumb to ‘andronitis’, or worse, ‘liberosis’ if the story can’t figure out the characters, or more importantly, a plot.

Anyway, while Chris probably also suffers from ‘nodus tollens’ and ‘altschmerz’, you will just have to live with your ‘ellipsism’ regarding “C U Then.”


And, just what is this all about, you ask? I shared a list of obscure words with TNKerr a couple of weeks ago, challenging him to use one in his weekly list of 3 prompts. He used ‘sonder’ to inspire his preamble story this week. Have a go yourself! See what inspires: https://lrosedotblog.files.wordpress.com/2020/07/23-obsure-emotions.pdf .
If none of those suits, check out the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, from which the list probably was gleaned. My favorite, for our “Zoomed” times, is this one:

midding
v. intr. feeling the tranquil pleasure of being near a gathering but not quite in it…feeling blissfully invisible yet still fully included, safe in the knowledge that everyone is together and everyone is okay, with all the thrill of being there without the burden of having to be. From Middle English “midden” a refuse heap that sits near a dwelling.

C U Then

Chris Morriston sat in his car, head in his hands. A gentle knock on the passenger side window jerked him back into the present.

“Just checking…” the older man standing outside his car began, with a wave. Chris quickly looked him over and decided to turn the ignition to roll down the window.

“…you OK, there?”

Chris nodded. “Sorry. Just…rough day.”

“OK, well, s’long as you’re OK. I’m just coming in to work. Got the night shift at check-in,” the man pointed to his name badge, “Roger. So, if you need anything, dial zero, OK? What room you in?”

Chris understood the man was just helping his employer out by making sure Chris was not some guy using the parking lot to sleep it off, or whatever was best done somewhere other than hotel property.

“Yeah, thanks, um…My name’s Chris. Christopher. Morriston. I’m in 408.”

Roger the clerk gave him a thumbs up and walked away.

**********]

As Chris slid the keycard into the reader for Room 408, he gave the door a gentle knock. “Hello?” he called out. The lights were on, but the room was quiet. Chris’s pulse shot up with the sudden hope that maybe she had split while he was sitting in his car, trying to sort things out. He walked in, slowly, and called out again.

Mandy was face down in the first bed. The lower half of her body was uncovered, exposing lacy purple underwear that rode up one cheek. Chris stared, longer than he should; out of surprise, or the terror of sudden attraction, he could not tell which. He grabbed the edge of the blanket and yanked it over her legs, not caring if it woke her. She did not budge. His pulse raced again. He checked for signs of breathing. A muffled, gentle snore emanated from the corner of her open mouth. Relieved, Chris sighed. Death would have been one complication too many.

He walked over to her bag and opened the top, looking for anything that might further explain things. He was not worried about a weapon. She would have used it from the first if she had something on her. He lifted out a wallet and looked through it. Three dollars, four credit cards, a gym, grocery, and Starbucks card, a few coins, a receipt for LED bulbs and plumbing pipe from an ACE Hardware, and her license: Amanda Anne Andersen from Bend, Oregon. At least that checked out.

He looked at the ACE receipt again. Dated two years prior. He unfolded it and discovered his office phone number and his name scrolled on the back. He flipped it over again. Apple Valley. California? Minnesota? No phone, just a web address. There were at least a couple Apple Valleys in the country. The receipt might not have been hers. Whomever gave her his contact info might be the original owner.

Chris put all the contents of the wallet back and peered one last time into the purse before returning the wallet. Another pair of underwear, plain white cotton, and a pill bottle poking out of the fold of the bag’s lining: Ambien. She must have planned on at least one overnight somewhere, Chris thought. No wonder she was sleeping like the dead. Curious she wasn’t concerned about staying somewhat alert, he mused. He wondered at the difference between the underwear she was wearing and the plain cotton pair. Did she think a seduction might be necessary? If so, why? That didn’t make sense. Maybe not his seduction, but someone else?

Chris glanced at the hotel room door and then looked back at Mandy. He could just leave. Not that that would solve anything.  She’d just come looking for him again. No, he’d just have to see the damn thing through, though to what end, he was not at all sure. It was all too much, and too out of sync.

He walked to the far side of the other bed and sat, his back turned to the room. He stared out the window for what must have been the better part of a couple of hours, trying to grab hold of his thoughts as they flashed through his continued fits of anxiety. He had little to go on, and, at the moment, no way to check out any of it. Situations like these, you make a choice with only a hope in hell it’s not the wrong one.

His cell phone’s screen turned on every 20 or so minutes. He did not need to see who was trying to reach him. Only his wife Bella would be calling. Obviously, his text of several hours before did not do the trick.

He thought about Roger the night clerk and decided to head down to the lobby.

*************]

Roger the night clerk waved when he saw Chris. “Everything better now, sir?”

Chris shrugged. “ ‘bout the same, I guess.”

Roger bobbed his head in an understanding nod. “The restaurant’s open 24/7. Late night menu until six, then breakfast. The bar’s closed, of course, but you can still get a beer. They keep the Olympics’ channel on all night. You can catch up with whatever you missed so far.”

“Olympics?” Chris asked with a raised brow. “They got a channel?”

“Yup. Go figure. A channel for everything, these days, I suppose. That opening ceremony was something, huh? Oh, and, today’s paper’ll be here in about an hour.”

Roger the night clerk genuinely belonged in the hospitality industry, Chris thought with an inward smile. “Thanks. I’ll head in.”

He took a seat in a booth around the corner with his back to the entrance. That way, if Mandy did come looking for him, he had the advantage of seeing her first and ducking for cover. Since the thought that she might have taken off popped in his brain, he could not stop wishing she would. Maybe if he stayed away, she might freak out when she woke, give up in a panic, and just get gone.

A young waiter brought a single sheet menu. Chris quickly perused the late-night offerings and ordered barbeque pork sliders, whatever was on tap, and a shot.

“I am so sorry, sir,” the young man said in a curious lilt that made Chris wonder what sort of affectation the young man was trying to emulate, “but the bar is closed. No spirits after one A.M. So, just the brew OK?”

Chris nodded, handing back the menu. As the young man walked away, Chris found himself watching him go. Force of habit, he tried consoling himself, but truth was, since Mandy showed up, he had been on high alert; “show mode”, as he called it. Everyone was a potential threat or suspect, even the unassuming types, like friendly Roger the night clerk and the young waiter.

His phone lit up again. This time a hard-edged angst knotted his gut. He had never given Bella any reason to fear for his safety, nor question him when he said he would be away for a while but could not discuss why. While the job may put him at some risk from time to time, it was not as though he was actually an operative. That stuff was a young, single man’s game, and the older he got, the less interested he was in taking those sorts of gigs, anyway. These days, he was what they call in the movies, for lack of a more accurate title, an analyst.

He desperately wanted to answer Bella’s call, reassure her he was safe and that all would be OK. She knew well enough not to press for details, but his unannounced disappearance would be the red flag she always feared. He knew Bella would have long since contacted his boss. Fortunately, all Chris was required to say when he abruptly left the office earlier that day was that he had to see to a situation and that he’d report back in a few days. Bella knowing his boss knew Chris was away could go some distance with her, but, not answering any of her calls was counteracting that fail-safe. And, Chris knew absolutely nothing he could say in this moment would reassure her.

Nevertheless, he waited for the call to end before sending her another text: I’m ok but can’t talk. I’m safe. Shit went down today. Will have to see this thru 1st before calling. Promise to call as soon as it’s ok. I.LOVE.YOU. Hang tight sweets. Breathe. Home in a few.

Seconds later a text came in. Thinking it was Bella’s reply, Chris was surprised to see a coded message from his boss: Just fyi all set for Fri. C U then

“Ah, shit,” Chris muttered.

The Road Home

Burt chuckled when he realized that, for the past hour, he’d been wearing a smile. He couldn’t remember the last time he had anything to smile about.

The sky was clear and the valley stretched for miles in front of him. Burt hadn’t passed another vehicle since Garrettsville. The only sound was the singing of his tires as he sped along the highway that would take him back home. He checked the time again. In just about an hour he’d see Jilly and Micky.

The last time he saw his kids was a blur. He could not remember if there were tears, but there must have been. There was a lot of yelling, that much he definitely recalled. But, the memories he preferred to recollect were the ones of Micky telling himself long, shaggy-dog stories, using his toys as props and characters. And Jilly’s dance recitals. “My little Jilly ‘Sandman’ Jones,” he used to call her. She made Sammy Davis Jr. look like an amateur, as far as Burt was concerned.

Jilly and Micky would not be children anymore, of course. Burt wouldn’t need to scold them for putting their elbows on the table during the dinner to which they invited him, in order to get reacquainted. He tried to imagine what they look like now. Jilly must be tall, like her mother, and a dancer, maybe a Rockette, or even a professional ballerina. Micky maybe grew up to be a writer or journalist, what with all those stories he used to tell himself. Or an engineer, or maybe a scientist of some kind. He was always such a serious little kid.

What Burt knew for certain is that, in spite of his excitement, he needed to give both of them a wide berth. Let them ease into the reunion with him. Twenty-eight years is a long time.


UnOLWG Prompts are: keep the margins wide; throwing sand on the floor; tires singing; put your elbows on the table; this will take you there

Say Goodbye to Old Malcolm

“Been away so long, I hardly knew the place…”
I’ve not participated in weeks, but I must acknowledge three years of OLWG prompts! I pulled prompts from this post and the subsequent one, plus added one other. Can you guess what it is? Here’s a clue: What gift do you give for a third anniversary?


Along the old Lincoln highway in the heart of the industrial district, the Harvey Tannery and Shoes factory stretched all the way between Gower and Terracotta Avenues. The giant brick facility had been there practically since the day the city was a city. Its tannery days were long over, of course, and the manufacturing of shoes moved out about 60 years after that to wherever cheap labor could be found. What was behind the dirty shop windows was anybody’s guess. For the last several decades, people only knew it as “that giant brick building”, a relic of bygone days.

Dilapidated as it appeared, it was built to be a fortress. A century and a half of epic winter storms, floods (before the dam was built), a couple earthquakes and decades of Halloween pranksters who swore it was haunted, or drunk college boys on a Saturday night throwing rocks at the windows had not degraded its stalwartness, nor penetrated its walls.

Malcolm Dixon, a sixth generation Harvey on his mother’s side, depended on the building’s fortitude. It had been his home for some forty years. The original arrangement with the members of the Harvey family that still owned the property—-rent free residence in the apartment on the top floor that once was the factory foreman’s overlook, in exchange for turning the place into an event hall—-proved a pipe dream. Every effort to rid the place of the smell of curing leather and shoe polish did not work. The stuff perpetually emanated from the old brick walls. Not wanting to have to find another place to live, Malcolm suggested opening a shoe repair. He set up shop in what once was the entry lobby and administrative offices. He hand painted a marquee across the lobby windows in Robin’s egg blue that read, “Harvey Factory Shoe Repair”. In the decades since, the lettering faded to near white, but it still proudly announced that a shoe repair service was alive and well.

Not that Malcolm was not a cobbler. Never had been, and never wanted to be one. He just figured a shoe repair an obvious choice for an old shoe factory. Malcolm took the shoes and boots dropped off for repair out to the son of an old friend who actually was a cobbler. Once a week, Malcolm hopped a bus to the man’s shop in the suburbs with whatever had come in and returned the next week to pick up the repaired shoes. No one was ever the wiser. The warehouse shift workers, truckers and sometimes police officers who came in were just grateful to have a place where they could leave their expensive work boots to be resoled or patched for far less than the price of a new pair.

Primarily, Malcolm was a barroom fixture at The Factory Floor Bar & Grill. Part biker bar, part happy hour joint for shift workers, the place had been in the industrial district possibly as long as the Harvey factory. There was always a small crowd of bikers and drifters from opening to closing, but each weekday around 4:00pm, the place filled with tuneless rock-n-roll from the old juke box and guys and gals taking a load off of a long day before heading home. Malcolm would be in his spot at the end of bar closest to the door, greeting all the regulars as they came and went, sometimes collecting shoes for repair and payment for work completed, like some sort of side hustle.

On this day, when Malcolm came in at his usual time, the bartender, a tattooed toughy named Angel, uncharacteristically greeted him with a smile as she handed him his usual.

“So. Word’s goin’ ‘round,” Angel began, “and hey, that’s tough news. I’m really sorry to hear. You OK? I mean, where will ya go?”

Malcom took his boilermaker from Angel but hesitated a moment before he downed the whiskey and took a draw off his beer.

“Hmm?” he questioned, a bit confused.

“Um, we were just wondering…”

“Wait, wait … what’a ya mean, where will I go?”

Angel refilled Malcolm’s shot glass, “On the house.” Malcolm tossed the second shot back but kept his eye on Angel, who continued to give him a sheepish smile. As he set the glass down, he glanced around the room. A couple of the regulars quickly looked away.

“Angel? Why’s everyone’s lookin’ at me? What do you mean, ‘where will I go’?” Malcolm asked with some force this time.

Angel chose her words carefully. “OK. So, we heard…the old factory? Your building? Sold. Everyone’s talkin’ about it. People been askin’. I…we…just…are concerned, ya know? Anyway, I’m just sayin’. If you need a place, Bob said, if you want, you could stay in the studio back of the kitchen while you look for another place…”

Malcolm had been alone for so many years, with nobody to talk to but the crowd at the bar, that he had long been in the habit of not answering his phone in the shop. It suddenly occurred to him that lately, the phone had been ringing off the hook. He assumed it was robocalls. He never checked voicemail.

His mind was running like a gush of water down a gully. “What’a mean, you heard it sold?!”


Prompts are:

  1. run like water
  2. barroom fixture
  3. that song needs a chorus
  4. Gowers Avenue
  5.  dirty windows
  6.  robin’s egg blue
  7. leather

PNW Coronavirus Chronicle #4: A Silver Lining Between Two Angry Clouds

Since March 10th, the myriad of emotions and states of mind I’ve experienced exceed anything I’ve been through in a year. Maybe more. At first, I adapted fairly well to the stay at home order. But now, I’m stir crazy. I’m bored. I miss… so much. Variety. I miss variety in my days. While it’s hard to believe it’s been almost two months, I realize, because one day is exactly like the next, that that kind of monotony and solitude have the unreal ability of making time stand still.

I live near Seattle, and I work in the county to the north where the first COVID19 case in the U.S. was confirmed. It was a strange feeling to know I was living in the country’s first hotspot. At the time, everything was business as usual, which made it seem all the more strange, given the stories from China, Italy, South Korea and Spain. Then came our turn to shut down.

A really weird circumstance, but, honestly? It is not that dreadful. At the time, we thought it would only be a couple of weeks, three at most. To have two weeks to play at being the sought-after professional who makes their own rules and works from a home office? How fun! So, sure. Whatever. Let’s hunker down. Lets shop for groceries as if the snow storm of the decade is forecast. Make all our favorite meals and desserts. Step outside and take a deep breath and marvel at the empty streets. Anyone can make the best of things for a couple of weeks, especially if they aren’t actually homebound by 3-foot drifts of snow. Or, confronted with homeschooling. Or cooped up with a partner, spouse and restless children. Or laid off or furloughed. It’s the best of all worlds.

Then the mandates are extended and two weeks turns into a month, and then another month, and now, the end of May. Parks are closed. Events are cancelled. Shopping centers are shuttered. Businesses permanently close and jobs are lost so suddenly, it is as if all businesses were hit by a massive nuclear bomb. Masks go from being declared of no use to mandatory. Tempers rise. The conflict between life versus livelihood takes on a mythical, almost epic gravitas. Healthcare workers break corporate rules and speak out about the horror show they are living. The need is yesterday, but our bureaucracies are not built for crisis management. By the time the relief fund or the medical supplies are finally in someone’s hands, it is too little, and way too late.

Even a walk in your neighborhood is a stresser. Mine in the park across the street has become an irritating cross between a game of wack-a-mo and an obstacle course, as I weave and bob around people and dogs and blissfully unconscious children running this way and that. I dread a trip to the store and have taken up curbside pick up and home delivery.

So, the frightened and defiant stage protests. Leaders devolve into pissing matches. Politicians duke it out with scientists. Normally, this would be considered more of the same infuriating postering, but with what is actually at stake, these days it plays out as a clear and present danger. The stress of it all begins to dull and crack the gloss of your initial child’s play fantasy. It’s no longer a fun snow day.

All this came into play just after one of my family groups was bowled over by their own crisis. A relative, diagnosed in January with an aggressive cancer, was transported in an emergency air lift to an ICU unit the next state over just as all of this hit. For various non-covid, but legitimate reasons, their spouse could not leave home to be with them. Then all family is forced to stay away because of travel shutdown and fear of bringing the virus with them and infecting the others. The pressure and panic of it all proved too much. A very real, truly frightening meltdown took place. The whole thing a horrible and gut wrenching drama to have to witness, helplessly, from afar.

I appreciate the stories of people helping people during this universal crisis, pitching in where they can. But, to me, after all the emotions I’ve cycled through these past weeks, seeing people standing in doorways each night to applaud first responders, or leaving messages of encouragement with teddy bears in windows, or putting Christmas lights back up, or flying banners that read “We Got This!” seem naive and trite.

So, I take a deep breath and turn inward. I have to “fake it until I make it” in order to accept the audacity of hope that all will be fine, some day. I have to make myself smile: At that banner with words of encouragement, waving in the warm breeze. At the sign in the window made by a cheerful child’s hand in colorful crayon. At the odd sight in May of a lighted snowman and Santa Claus in the front lawn.

As I write this, I sit on my couch, gazing out the window, grateful that Mother Nature has awakened from her winter’s nap. A bright yellow daffodil, brilliant purple tulip and a sunny afternoon go a long way to lift a spirit.

I take another deep breath.

The phone rings with the call that my family member succumbed to their cancer, peacefully passing Sunday morning. There cannot be any gathering to honor their life, acknowledge their passing, nor bring comfort to the grieving.

(sigh).

Open Mic Night at Nadine’s Cafe

“Then, let’s do it!” Judy smiled at the rest of the group, waiting for an affirmation. Wendy and Meredith nodded and shrugged. Karen seemed to not care. Jack always wore a grin, so it was hard to tell with him. Larry hadn’t paid any attention to the discussion to begin with.

Nadine stood and walked back behind the café counter. “Absolutely,” she said. “Nothing fills the place up more than a bad poet with a top-of-the-line sound system.”

“That’s not fair,” Judy scolded.

Nadine’s remark made the others chuckle.

“Look, I’m all for an open mic night, you know I am,” Nadine said, “I’m just sayin’. It’s a lot of money.”

Having spoken her mind, Nadine returned to her duties. Judy looked around the circle at the rest of the writers’ group. “Anybody else have an objection?”

The group muttered ‘no.’ Jack reached for his wallet and took out 2 twenties, handing them to Judy as he stood to leave. “To get the ball rolling.”

The others followed suit with whatever they had on hand or promised to send her a check later in the week. As they left, Judy went up to the café counter to confront Nadine.

“That was not necessary.”

“What wasn’t?”

“Your snark.”

“Oh, c’mon, Judy. It is a lot of money! For what you guys are talking about, you don’t need a set up like that.”

“We’re trying to help you, too, you know. You opened this place with the hopes people would think of it as a hangout. We could just as well meet in one of our homes, or at the Katty Korner, for that matter.”

Nadine ignored Judy’s idle threat while she finished making a mocha with extra whipped cream and nutmeg sprinkle on top. She handed it to her sister with an apologetic smile. Judy reluctantly took it. “I’m just sayin’, as well, you know.”

“And, I definitely appreciate it. I really do. It is a good idea. It’ll get the evening crowd in, especially now that I have my beer and wine license. I mean, at least your friends and their friends will come. Just…I mean, why not consider just getting one of those inexpensive karaoke setups?”

“You can’t hold a microphone and hold pages or a book and read. Makes people look like a clumsy twerp when they turn a page or adjust the microphone height. A headset just sits there, on your head, and you don’t have to think about it.”

“Yeah, OK, but a mix deck and two big speakers? You really don’t need all that.”

“You could use it for music groups, or something. We’d keep it here.”

“I’m not…anyway, if I do have music in here, it’ll be unplugged. Or they can bring their own stuff.”

Judy took a long sip of her mocha. “Well,” she began, as she licked the excess whipped cream from her lips, “I’m not going to give the money back.”

“Jude! What the hell! Of course, you will.”

“Here,” Judy pealed off a twenty and handed it to Nadine. “Here’s your return now.”

“Not now. You haven’t bought anything yet. Anyway, I don’t want it.”

“What do you want me to do with it?!”

“Put it in the urn with your cat’s cremains, for all I care.”

Judy drank the last of her mocha and handed back the mug. “How come you never liked my cat?”

“I liked your cat just fine. That’s not what I meant.”

“I don’t get you. You can be such a snark. Anyway, thanks for the mocha.”

“You bet. Now, forget about the expensive set up.”

“Yeah, OK,” Judy replied. She took in a deep breath and lifted her posture. “It’ll be fun. An open mic night will be a lot of fun. And, if people really like it, we’ll do it, like, every week! I’m excited!”

“Me, too. I’m sure everyone will have a good time. Only, never let Larry read first. Save his to the end, after everyone’s had a least a couple of beers in them.”

Judy laughed. “Agreed!”


Prompts from Un-OLWG this week are: Put them in the urn with the cremains; a bad poet with a good microphone; a rather clumsy girl