Sunday, December 27, 2009
Today's muse: Sunday Scribblings
* * *
Her auburn curls whirled around her freckled cheeks, teased by the breeze, as she stepped off the school bus. Adjusting her backpack over her right shoulder, she glanced around, searching. He knew she was looking for her friends, but he couldn’t deny that he hoped she was looking for him. Several deep conversations over tuna sandwiches in the cafeteria discussing school gossip surely must mean something.
Her eyes danced from face to face, then came to rest on his. His heart raced as his dark eyes locked with those enormous blue orbs. Her cheeks pinked and she glanced down, then looked back up at him, gave him a shy smile. He grinned back.
She made her way toward him, wading through the crowd. He waited, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, wondering if he looked cooler standing more on his left leg. He tried standing with one hand in his pocket, then out, finally opting to hold his books with both hands.
She stood in front of him, peering up through her thick lashes. She wore a light dusting of pale blue eye shadow today. Yesterday, it was brown.
“Hi.” She caught her bottom lip between her teeth; what he now recognized as a nervous habit.
The bell rang its five minute warning.
She shrugged. “I should get to class.” He nodded.
She stood up on her toes and pressed a quick kiss on his lips. “Bye!” And she was gone, swallowed by the swarm of students on their way to home room.
He ran his tongue across his top lip and tasted her cherry lip gloss. Delicious!
Friday, December 18, 2009
As mentioned previously, I was given the privilege of reading my stories on the Radio Show "Life Rattle". The third and final story I read was "Memère Rosa", written specifically for the show.
* * *
Our house sizzled with excitement whenever Memère and Pepère announced they were coming for a visit. When I was a child, Memère would bring two things with her from Sudbury: homemade date squares and money. The date squares were for me and my little brother; the money, for playing cards.
Every evening, once dinner was done, after the table was cleared and the dishes washed, the adults would regroup and play cards late into the night. The game of choice was usually pinochle or euchre, and sometimes both, but always played for money. Not a lot of money—only dimes and nickels—but money nonetheless.
“There’s no point in playing cards if you’re not playing for money.” Memère was firm on this.
Even Yahtzee was played for money. Mom and Memère spent the afternoons rolling dice, filling in the tiny squares on the score sheet and exchanging coins.
Approaching one hundred, my grandmother still plays cards. And wins. Regularly. We’re not quite sure how she cheats. We haven’t yet caught her in the act. She’s a sly old bird.
To celebrate Memère’s ninety-ninth birthday, the entire family gathers at her nursing home: her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild—five generations of rowdy French-Canadians in one room.
In the centre of it all sits Memère in her favourite rose-coloured wing chair. Her back straight and knees together, she sits with her hands folded primly in her lap. She wears a royal blue dress and pink nail polish. Earrings wink at her lobes and a broach sparkles below her left shoulder. She rests like a queen upon her throne, receiving her loyal subjects who bestow kisses on her paper-thin cheeks.
She hasn’t dressed up for the occasion, this is how she dresses all the time. She always looks ready for a party. Most often seen in a dress or a skirt, her hair and nails are always perfectly done. Even today—approaching one hundred—she is dressed for visitors, including her earrings and ever-present broach.
I watch Memère as she sits in her chair. In her gnarled hands, she clutches a small white leather pouch. I know immediately what it is, for I have one just like it. My own white leather pouch, embossed with a gold cross, sits in my dresser drawer at home. Inside it is the pink rosary Memère made for me for my First Holy Communion. It doesn’t surprise me that Memère holds it today. She attends Mass every Sunday without fail and still receives Communion each week from the visiting priest at the nursing home.
Alone for a moment, Memére’s sharp eyes wander over the group until they come to rest on me. Her mouth curves up in a serene smile and she winks. I excuse myself from a conversation with my dad and cousin Sue and wander over.
Kneeling in front of Memère, I lay my smooth hand over her wrinkled, crooked fingers. I glance down at the white leather pouch clutched reverently in her hands. “What’s in the pouch, Memère?” I gesture with my chin at her hands.
I know she says her rosary regularly. I imagine the string of beads in her white leather pouch are worn from years of use, and I want to see them again. I want to hold those ancient beads in my hand as she has done so many times before me.
Memère glances around the room at her family. She leans forward and whispers, “There’s a lot of people here today.”
I nod my head, prompting her to continue.
Her eyes sparkle with excitement. “We might play cards later. I’m ready.”
She gives the white leather pouch a little shake and, rather than hearing the expected tinkle of rosary beads, I hear the distinct jingle of coins.
A wide grin crosses my face and I think to myself…I want to be just like her when I grow up.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
As mentioned previously, I was given the privilege of reading my stories on the Radio Show "Life Rattle". The second story I read was "Grandma's Quilt", a slight re-write of the piece by the same name.
* * *
“You will put it on your marital bed.” It was a command, rather than a request, as Grandma lay the handmade quilt in my lap. She shrugged.
“Of course, not on the first night. You won’t need a blanket then.” She winked and I felt the heat blaze across my face. This was not the kind of conversation you had with your grandmother!
“What?” Her eyebrows shot up and disappeared beneath her grey fringe. “You think I’m too old to think of such things.” She wagged a finger at me. “Let me tell you something...”
I groaned. Please, I begged to whatever deity may be listening, don’t let her paint too vivid a picture.
She lowered herself beside me on the sofa and arranged the colourful quilt over our laps. Her hand, twisted with painful arthritis, caressed the bright starbursts. The tiny hand-sewn stitches were evenly spaced, despite Grandma’s failing eyesight and limited mobility.
“Each star is balanced. The points spread out, but they are anchored in the center.” She smiled at me. “Just like you and Philip,” and she covered my smooth hand with her wrinkled one. We were both keenly aware of the contrast, but said nothing.
“You complement each other. Where one is weak, the other is strong; you support one another when it is needed most. And when you argue…” My head snapped up. Grandma gave me a small tap on the hand. “Oh, you’ll argue, don’t kid yourself. You’ll want to leave…or he will.” She traced a finger along one of the points, from one end to the other.
“You’ll be as far away from each other as you can ever be.”
My stomached tightened. How could this woman speak so negatively? She and Grandpa had such a wonderful marriage. Why was she telling me this the day before I was getting married? My shock must have been obvious, because she took my hand and brought my finger to touch the middle of the starburst.
“But you will always come back here. To the center.” Grandma looked up at me and I knew what she was trying to tell me.
“To the heart,” I whispered. She nodded, pleased that I understood.
“When you’ve both said you’re sorry and you’re done with the lovemaking…” I rolled my eyes, but smiled when she gave me a pointed stare “…then you wrap yourselves up in this blanket and hold each other close. And remember why you fell in love in the first place.”
I nodded, swallowed down the lump in my throat and pressed a kiss to her cheek. “I promise, Grandma.”
I swiped at a tear. “Did you and Grandpa have a marriage quilt?”
She nodded, her clear blue eyes lost in memories. “We used it quite a bit that first year. We were so young,” she shook her head sadly, “we didn’t know what we were doing. But we figured it out soon enough and it made us stronger.”
Grandma let out a quiet laugh. “After a few years, whenever we argued, right in the middle of screaming at each other, one of us would storm out and come back carrying the quilt. We usually started laughing and forgot about fighting.”
I grinned. “I hope Philip and I have as good a marriage as you and Grandpa.”
Grandma cupped her hand to my cheek and winked. “Just try not to smother him with the quilt.”
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
As mentioned previously, I was given the privilege of reading my stories on the Radio Show "Life Rattle". The first story I read was "Saturday Morning Cartoons", a re-write of "Exceeding Expectations".
* * *
Saturday Morning Cartoons
“What are you doing?”
My question is obviously rhetorical, as it is crystal clear that my kid brother is doing absolutely nothing. This doing of nothing is further confirmed by his shrugged response and caveman grunt. He wears his usual tattered track pants paired with a sleeveless undershirt that bears stains from at least a week ago. I know this because we haven’t had spaghetti since last Tuesday, and there is a large red stain on his shirt. His socked feet rest on the coffee table. One ugly big toe pokes out.
“Mom’s gonna freak if she sees you like this,” I warn. Again, he shrugs.
I roll my eyes in defeat, but sit down on the opposite end of the sofa. If the Golden Child is going to get in trouble, I want to be a witness.
Don’t get me wrong. My 16-year-old brother, Donald, and I get along well enough, but there are times I wish I was an only child. Being the youngest, Donald is always doted on, cooed over and coddled. It drives me nuts! Why doesn’t anyone pay attention to me? I’m the one who brings home good grades. I’m the one who helps out around the house. I’m the oldest! Why is it, I wonder, that the youngest child always gets away with the proverbial murder? In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he was acquitted, should he actually commit such a crime. The boy can do no wrong.
I sit next to him on the sofa—fuming—my arms folded tightly across my chest, my foot tapping an angry beat. My jaw begins to ache from clenching and unclenching my teeth. Donald—conversely—is slouched in the sofa and mindlessly flips through the channels on the television, pausing occasionally to snigger at some childish cartoon. He finally settles on Sesame Street. I can hear the crisp march of my mother’s footsteps perfectly timed with The Count’s numbering. Eight, Nine, Ten … ten footsteps. Bwa ha ha!
It is Saturday morning, and Mom is in full cleaning mode—Dad was already enlisted to tidy the basement and I had just washed the windows and cleaned the bathrooms. Woe to anyone who was found loitering on a Saturday morning!
Mom strides into the living room with purpose. A laundry basket, brimming with freshly folded clothes, is securely tucked under one arm. Her hair is pulled off her face beneath a kerchief. She is wearing a white t-shirt paired with black polyester pants. Mom never wears jeans. She is June Cleaver incarnate—sans the pearls. Pearls, apparently, don’t go with polyester.
Mom glances over at us as she crosses the room, never breaking her stride. I smirk as I envision the scenario that I know is about to unfold. She stops abruptly when she reaches the threshold to the kitchen; turns with military precision and gapes at my brother.
“Well!” she exclaims. “This is a surprise.”
I do my best to squelch the smile that threatens to spread across my face. It occurs to me that I am far too excited about this.
“I really didn’t expect you to be up until after noon.” She assesses Donald, looking him over with an analytical eye. I imagine that she is deciding how to punish him; flipping through a mental Rolodex of chores with which to humiliate him.
“Let me make you something to eat,” she chirps with a bright smile and off she goes, expertly swinging the laundry hamper under the other arm, humming a quiet tune.
My mouth falls open. I lift a limp hand, point a useless finger at the empty doorway. Wait! What just happened?
I turn and gawk at my brother, my mouth still hanging open. He grins back at me and shrugs.
“You see,” he begins, folding his hands in his lap, a sombre expression on his face; looking much like our father when he’s about to pontificate on the meaning of life. “If you keep your standards low, it really takes no effort to exceed expectations. Take Mom, for instance.” As though cued, we glance at the doorway in unison to be sure she isn’t listening.
“She likes things done a certain way; her way, if you will.” He waves his hand in the air—a dismissive gesture. “Me sleeping in on Saturday throws off her routine. When her routine is re-established…” he gestures with a sweeping motion along his body “…her automatic response is to reward what she thinks is good behaviour. Never mind that I should have been up hours ago; the fact that I’m up at all sends her into convulsive fits of ecstasy.”
He presses the forward button on the channel selector. Grover and Cookie Monster are replaced by Casey and Finnegan. Donald sets down the remote and slouches back into the sofa as Mr. Dressup walks over to his Tickle Trunk.
I nod—a slow bob of my head—as comprehension washes over me. I am no longer angry at my kid brother, I decide. No…I am awed.
It appears that I have much to learn from the Golden Child.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Today's muse: The One-Minute Writer
* * *
Mason dragged his pillow case to the front door; a mutinous expression fixed on his five year-old face. The pillow case held everything he would need while living on his own: two yellow Tonka trucks, three pairs of underwear, one box of Cheerios and his teddy bear.
Marie watched as her son lumbered by her. He stared straight ahead, his eyes avoiding hers. She caught her lip between her teeth and clamped down to keep from smiling.
“Mason, honey.” Mason’s pace hesitated just a fraction, but he continued toward the door.
“Did you remember to bring a pillow?” Mason’s footsteps stopped. He hadn’t thought to bring a pillow. The case was filled with more important things. His mother came around the corner and looked down at him. “What about a sleeping bag?”
Running away was becoming more difficult than he imagined. But he didn’t think he had a choice. It was bad enough his parents had brought home a new baby; what made it worse was that it was a girl! Ever since his baby sister had come along, his parents weren’t paying as much attention to him. They were constantly fussing over her and dressing her in frilly things. It was disgusting!
Marie crouched down and searched the hazel eyes that were so much like his father’s.
“Mason,” she waited until he met her gaze, “if you leave, who will teach Sarah to ride a bicycle when she grows up?” He contemplated this new twist. Not only could he teach her to ride a bicycle, but maybe he could teach her to throw a football, too. After all, his friend, Jason had a sister who played hockey. Not yet ready to give in, Mason simply jerked his shoulders.
“Sarah will also need someone to look out for her,” said Marie, hoping to sweeten the deal. “It’s a huge responsibility being a big brother. I thought you would be really good at it, but if you’re not ready yet…” Her voice trailed off as she stood up and turned to walk away.
Mason’s hand shot out and hooked around her arm. “I can stay,” he mumbled to the floor. Marie smiled down at the top of her son’s fair head, remembered all too well how it felt when her little brother had come along.
“I know this is a big sacrifice you’re making, Mason.” He nodded, but didn’t look up. “Would you like me to make you some chocolate chip cookies?”
Mason peered up at his mother and nodded again. As they walked to the kitchen together, he slipped a small hand in hers and said, with a note of defiance, “Maybe next time you can bring home a baby brother.”
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Today's muse: A big announcement!
* * *
I suppose this is the next best thing to being published. I like to think of it as a stepping stone.
A friend and fellow writer was browsing through my blog and came across a couple of stories she liked. She forwarded them to her friend with whom she co-hosts Life Rattle, a radio show heard Sunday evenings. They contacted me and asked if I would record my stories to be played on air.
I am excited to announce that my stories will be played this
Sunday, December 13, 2009 at 9:00 p.m. EST.
If you live in the Toronto area, set your radio dial to FM 88.1 or listen at ckln.fm to hear me read “Saturday Morning Cartoons”, “Grandma’s Quilt” and “Memère Rosa”.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Today's muse: Daily Writing Practice
* * *
A Night at the Movies
“Butter on your popcorn, sir?” Frank shook his head at the pimple-faced teen behind the concession counter.
“Don’t be ridiculous, you can’t have popcorn without butter.” His wife’s nasal voice attacked him.
“I don’t want butter,” he murmured.
“Fine!” Barbara snapped. “I do. I’ll have a large popcorn with butter. No…make it extra butter.” She sneered at Frank, knowing that paying for the extra butter would anger him.
He pulled a worn leather wallet from his coat pocket and, with great care, removed the bills to pay for their movie snacks. The smile that played on Frank’s lips went unnoticed by his wife as she walked away with her popcorn and soda.
As they walked down the hall toward the theatre, Barbara continued to berate him, preaching about popcorn etiquette. The woman just never let up; her harping was a constant assault. Nothing satisfied her, least of all Frank. Five short years of marriage felt like fifty. From the moment they were married, Frank knew it was a mistake. Even at the wedding reception, she had lectured him on how he held his fork. She was happiest when she was humiliating him. Frank sat in silence and ate his dry popcorn while his wife badgered him. Her tirade ended only when the lights dimmed and the film began to play.
Barbara’s choice of movie was an art film, which he was certain she selected simply to annoy him. With little dialogue in the picture, the stillness of the movie theatre was punctuated by the crunching of popcorn as moviegoers shovelled handfuls of fluffy kernels into their cavernous mouths. Frank sat motionless in his seat, staring blindly at the screen throughout the entire film, listening to the deafening sound of snapping corn echo off the walls.
The movie had barely finished when he gathered his empty popcorn bucket and drink cup. Without looking at Barbara, he muttered, “I’ll meet you at the car.”
Frank took his time walking along the corridor, gazing at the colourful posters of movies that played in other theatres—movies he would have preferred to see. From the corner of his eye, he watched the staff open the doors to the theatre in preparation for the exodus.
Several minutes passed before one of the gangly teens entered the dark theatre. Frank heard shouting, then turned back to scrutinize a bright poster as several staff members ran into the theatre. A high pitched scream carried down the hall and a few people turned to look with mild interest. The manager came running and spoke in hushed tones with a uniformed boy who was quite agitated by the sight in the room.
“Everyone is just sitting in their seats, sir.” The lad’s breath came in short bursts as he recalled the scene. “They’re in their seats, all staring at the screen, with half-empty buckets of buttered popcorn in their laps.”
The manager squeezed the boy’s shoulder. “Thank you, Craig,” and he walked into the theatre.
“I think they’re all dead, sir,” Craig called after his supervisor.
A faint smile played across Frank’s face. He thrust his hands in his pockets and walked out of the theatre alone.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Today's muse: At our resort, many people gathered along the shore at sundown to watch the sun set for the day.
* * *
A row of worshippers stand sentry along the shore, watching and waiting for the change of the guard.
The fiery ball has completed its daily journey across the sky and begins to make a slow descent. The heavens explode in layers of crimson and gold; a bittersweet farewell as the globe touches the horizon. While the Lord Sun lays to rest for one more day, the Lady Moon takes her place to watch over her children.
All arms raise in welcome to embrace the white sphere. Believers send a heartfelt thanks to the protective Father and welcome the warm glow of the loving Mother.
Another day in paradise.