Unabridged Me

JUST ANOTHER WRITER

Long Uneventful Days

April 3, 2019

Somewhere a baby was crying.

Not a baby. Close to two years old. I watched this toddler in Dulles while we waited for Royal Air Maroc’s counter to open. Since the airline flies three times weekly from Dulles International, the counter opens only four hours before a scheduled flight. We designed time to relax in Virginia to give Vivian time to stretch her legs and run around before a seven hour flight.

We arrived at the airport 20 minutes before the counters opened: plenty of time to sit and watch everyone else waiting for the airline.

The small child was the youngest in a family of five people. I watched her scream and kick, throw a cell phone to the floor repeatedly, and in general make everyone else watching hope the family would not be sitting near them.

What felt like every hour during the flight, she screamed.

Vivian was sleeping, curled into a tight ball that only a 4 year-old can accomplish, with

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The chandelier Vivian wants for her bedroom (Hassan II Mosque)

her head on my lap. My mother was finally sleeping, her pillow propped against my right shoulder. And I was feeling the gentle rise and fall of the plane on air currents, my mind rocking in an ocean of a thousand thoughts as a shrieking toddler kept time.

Finally giving up on sleep, I opened my eyes as dark blue line appeared on the horizon. My unfocused eyes watched as the blue lightened and grew, stretching across the windows as our plane raced east towards the sun. The blue line began to separate and split, forming two blues and then adding a purple as I realized my time for sleep had officially ended.

Just about the time all seven colors of the rainbow had shown themselves and the sun had crested the curved line of the earth, the cabin lights came on beckoning everyone else to join me in the land of the awake for breakfast.

A little loaf a bread and a tiny cup of coffee officially started my day.

Luckily, the remainder of the day held the same slow pace for us as we moved our way through immigration and customs, being shuffled between lines and back again, and waiting for the 4th member of our travel party to arrive.

Then on to the hotel. I start brushing up on my French, with mixed results. Interesting phenomenon: When I am attempting to speak Spanish, I slip into French. Because of this, I thought my French recall would be easier, despite the 30 years since I’ve actively spoken the language. Nope. When I attempt to speak French, I slip into Spanish.

I might skip the Latin languages this trip and try my hand at Arabic.

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Hassan II Mosque: 5th largest in the world

After check-in, Vivian and I chose to take an optional tour of Hassan II Mosque. While it might have been smarter to take a nap, I knew Vivian needed to run after sitting and waiting for so long. A tour was not the best idea.

We abandoned the tour halfway through, and Vivian followed unicorn paths outside for a few minutes until our driver returned.

One of the tour guides saw Vivian playing and joined her for a moment, and then asked me what I thought of the tour. I was honest about seeing only half of it, and when we returned to where the tour began he allowed us back into a roped off section. He said samples of the wood carvings, ironwork, and placard information about the architecture was in there and to provide his name if anyone questioned our presence.

Without a large group of jostling people, Vivian could focus. The two of us rambled around and talked about the beautiful artwork for a few minutes before returning to the hotel. Vivian crashed before we got our food at supper, so getting her to eat will become a priority.

Between Vivian and my mom, food intake has become an unexpected focus of mine this trip.

So far, so good. The food has been amazing, the architecture breathtaking, the social dichotomies as expected, and Vivian’s strong headed nature is showing itself in odd and interesting ways.

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Looking at Casablanca from the mosque pier

Tomorrow is a long day in the car as we move farther into the country. I can’t say this trip is meeting my expectations because I had no expectations. Mostly I’m trying to write regularly (already failed at that) and mindfully soak in every moment.

Stay tuned…

 

 

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Ready, Set, Let’s… Wait, what?

April 3, 2019

“We have your test results.”

I sat on the visitor chair, frozen in my indecision whether or not I should go take my mom’s hand or stay where I was. The doctor glanced at me as she slid her rolling chair closer to the ER bed.

“It’s not good news.”

This was not what either my mom or I wanted to hear right now. We were set to start a trip to Morocco in two days. The trip was to be a celebration of my mom’s 70th birthday, my 40th birthday, and a time for three generations of women to explore another country.

Of all the potential options, the diagnosis that eased it’s way out of the doctor’s mouth was one I never considered. I’m not sure what most people do when they hear, whether rushing to their loved one was expected or not. I turned to stone. All sensation left my body as my face felt only the pull of gravity.

The doctor’s words and my mom’s questions came towards me through a telescopic lens while I looked between the two, expressionless. Once the doctor left, the chair released me from it’s hold and I lumbered toward my mom.

I set my hip up on the small bed, holding my mom’s hand that became twenty years more fragile in the space of ten minutes.

How am I going to tell Vivian we aren’t going to Morocco?

My mom and I sit and stare into each other’s eyes for forever in thirty seconds before either of us spoke. To anyone outside the curtain, our conversation might seem odd. Neither of us expressed tears or emotion. Instead, we talked about Morocco as we expressed our initial thoughts. Neither of us had emotion in our faces or our voices as we forced ourselves back from the edge of shock.

The other conversations would come as we left the ER, about phone calls and doctor visits, about what she wanted from me as her support, and what each of us was going to do the next day.

“Are we going?”

“I don’t know. I need to make some calls tomorrow.”

“Okay, I will call the company to find out cancellation policy and…”

“Oh, no. I assume you and Vivian are still going.”

For the second time in that witching hour, I turned to stone. I never considered taking this trip without my mom. And the thought of leaving her at home to deal with this by herself while I’m walking around Morocco was as foreign as trying to eat air. Which is what I was doing, swallowing nonstop as my mind moved at light speed.

“I want to go. Let me make my calls and decide.”

“Ok. Talk to you tomorrow. One step at a time, and no more than that.”

“One step at a time.”

*

Two days later, and we are stepping quickly through Denver International Airport as we grab fast food for Vivian and my mom and try to make our flight to Dulles. Neither my mom nor me really like being rushed to the gate, but today we all moved a little slower than usual.

Vivian is excited, asking a million questions in the space of a breath while I try to keep up. Part of my mind is focusing on measuring my mom, her energy, and how she’s feeling. I won’t tell her I’m doing it; my mom insists on being self-sufficient. But in the space of two days, everything has changed.

While we do not have an official diagnosis, nor do we know exactly what the future holds, both my mom and I feel the pressure of how important this trip is going to be.

The flight is on-time, and we are on our way. We planned a night over in Virginia to give Vivian time and space to stretch her legs, run out her energy, and orient herself before the longer flight across oceans and continents.

20190402_155903.jpgAirtime is usually uneventful, as each of us finds our comfort moments in between jostling our boundaries and hyper-awareness of the hundreds of other people in the contained space. Vivian sits in the window seat, and Mom always wants to aisle, so I am left in the middle by default.

I have one moment where my physical location is a metaphor for my role in life as of two days ago. Now I understand when sociologists talk about the sandwich generation, stuck in the middle of taking care of children and parents.

I’ve never had to think about taking care of my independent and self-sufficient mother.

Stepping off the train from the concourse, I am struck by the distinct difference between Dulles International and DIA. Similarities are they are both international airports and have train systems. And that’s where the similarities end.

While DIA is filled with colors and textures, exhibiting art and paintings on every flat surface and flooded with light, Dulles is all glass and cement. The airport is military and utilitarian, a bunker set into the countryside of Virginia.

At baggage I make a mistake. I grab my mom’s bag and start walking.

“I can grab it.”

“But why don’t I just do it if I am able?”

The moment is sidestepped by a 5 year old. Due to Vivian’s waning energy, I take her bag and Mom ends up with her suitcase.

We planned the trip to Morocco with a certain function in mind: celebrate keystone birthdays while exploring the world. I have a feeling this trip will have more significance to our relationship as my mom and I adapt and navigate through an inevitable yet unexpected life change.

One step, and one day, at a time.

***Contest time again. This short story was written for NYC Midnight’s Short Story Contest. Assigned genre was Rom-Com, assigned subject was a doctor’s office visit, and assigned character was a graffiti artist. I put forth this creation for your feedback. Thank you!***

7:29 a.m. Unlock the door and lock it behind me.

I push my way into a cold and dark waiting room. Muscle memory keeps me from bumping into chairs as I reach for the switch on the wall, washing the gray interior with fluorescent light.

I think the room would benefit from warm colors and wall art other than CDC warnings and HIPPA notices. My previous boss scoffed, believing patients want a sterile place to wait. Warm reminded him of dirt.

Five years, a new boss, and nothing’s changed. Except I don’t notice the pooling grayness on dingy Berber carpet anymore. I daydream while running through opening the office. Computer: on. Coffee: brewing. Calendar: open and review.

7:50 a.m. I unlock the door

7:58 a.m. Dr. Michaels’ coffee is ready, and I’ve checked myself. Makeup: still decent.

8:01 a.m. There he is.

I look up as the bell tinkles his arrival, allowing myself one moment of worship as he steps through the door. The sun streaming through the windows catches the natural highlights in his light brown hair, making me feel like I’m going blind while looking at Apollo.

Normally Dr. Jackson Michaels steps towards reception, giving me a small but relaxed smile before asking me how I am. Today he doesn’t look at me as he breezes past while talking on the phone, grabbing the coffee I set out with thoughtful precision on the gray flecked laminate desk. Not even a nod hello. I absorb the shock in my stomach, pushing down neural pains of rejection.

“Lacey?” he hollers, making me jump a little in my chair.

He never yells for me. Dr. Michaels believes in calling on the phone, despite my desk sitting right outside his office. He’s big on professional image. I step towards his office doorway and stop, my body stuttering from the unfamiliar summons.

“Um, yes?”

“That was John. He insists on having that person paint our alley wall.” John Michaels is Jackson’s, I mean Dr. Michaels’, brother and silent financier of the practice. John’s Wallstreet money meant Dr. Michaels could buy Dr. Aaronson’s full practice and property without having to put in leg work to gain patients.

“That person?” I ask, confused by his agitated voice.

“The graffiti artist who has been painting up all the buildings around here. John’s decided to hire him, feels we need to capture the urban renewal that’s going on,” Dr. Michaels waves his hand, expressing distaste for said ‘urban renewal.’

Over the past few weeks I’ve watched as paint has appeared, welcoming the break in my grey world. The street art is well done and colorful, combining the neighborhood’s history with what it is becoming. Every morning my eyes seek new lines and splashes of color with artistic envy while shoving down sadness for my own dusty art.

“He’s really talented,” I breathe out my words, hoping I don’t offend him.

“No, it’s ridiculous, allowing ruffians to deface historical buildings. It will offend our patients. But John has put his foot down, so I want you to handle it. Keep him away from me,” he says as he looks out his window, dismissing me.

*

“Hi?”

“Excuse me?” I look up at the rude intrusion into my daydreaming about Dr. Michaels proposing marriage in the file room.

“I’m here to paint.”

My eyes take in the fume mask pushed up on his forehead, resting on a black bandana covered in specks of paint. He leans forward on the high desktop, giving me a front row seat to tan forearms dusted with hair. His nails are trim and clean, despite paint covering most of his clothes. Why am I noticing his nails? Hazel eyes with golden flecks stare into my soul, making my stomach nauseous and my heart speed up. Confused and unable to speak, I stare at the man in front of me.

“So. Which wall am I supposed to paint? The design is complicated. I need to get started.” His narrow focus on his art pushes a blush from my chest into my face.

Donning my best haughty persona, I stand up. Feeling him behind me, I walk outside and point to the wall. Turning on my heel, I come back to my desk and sit down with a thud. What is wrong with me?

*

After a few hours of pretending, I can’t resist peeking at the artwork any longer. Peering around the corner, I don’t see the artist. He must be on lunch break or something, so I take a moment to stare open mouthed at the wall. The man has painted only for a morning, and it’s breathtaking.

“Can I help you?”

I jump, spinning around on my heel and losing my balance. I catch myself against the wall. A wall of paint. I stare in shock at my handprint on the wall while I hear him ask, “You okay?”

“Just looking at your work. It’s great. Sorry ‘bout the handprint,” I mumble over my shoulder as I bolt into the office.

*

“So, who’s Lindsey’s new guy?” I toss out the question as I pop an olive into my mouth. Though always wanting the dirt on my little sister’s life, I rarely call her and ask. Me digging into her life brings shovels into mine, and my bland existence does not need exposing.

The largest rebellion of my life was getting an art degree. One talk with my father after graduation, and I returned to the fold of expectations. Expectations meaning a job as a receptionist for one of his golf buddies. The title of Office Manager followed in the expected amount of time. Next step: marriage to a stable, upright guy. A guy like Dr. Michaels.

My sister, on the other hand, is immune to our father’s expectations. She bends and twists wherever the wind blows. She doesn’t ask him for money and is self-sufficient despite snubbing college. He has nothing to blackmail her into expectations. I adore my sister and watch with amusement as she blows through life, changing as clouds change against the sky.

“You can ask me, ya know,” she says, wrapping me from behind and putting her chin on my shoulder, “but then you would need to answer some questions of your own, wouldn’t ya.”

I laugh, turning into my sister’s arms to give her a bear hug. A quick kiss on the cheek, then I lean back to look her. Beautiful as always. Though we both have bright hazel eyes and decent bone structure, genetics gave me carrot red hair, pale skin, and freckles mapped out like the earth’s light pollution. My sister is blessed with auburn hair and skin that would make dairymaids jealous. Genetics are a weird thing.

Something over her shoulder catches my eyes, and I stare. Right now genetics and the universe have the worst sense of humor. Looking at me over my sister’s shoulder is the graffiti artist.

“Supper’s ready, we can chat at the table,” Mom breezes past while air kissing my sister.

At the table, Lindsey makes introductions and awkward handshakes follow as we sit down. My brain doesn’t make it to the table, having turned on its heel and walked out the door, so I think I mumble, “nice to meet you, Lennon,” before I melt into my chair. An alien is forming in my stomach and climbing up my throat while I swallow half a glass of wine like a shot of cheap tequila.

“Lacey, how is work?” my mom asks me, laying her slow-it-down hand on my wine wrist.

“Huh?” the fog settles as I focus on my mom, “Oh, work. It’s fine.”

I feel my traitorous freckles trying to step into the spotlight as I blush under Lennon’s gaze. His hair is dirty blond. Just long enough for me to push my hands through it and pull. What the hell is wrong with me?

“How’d you guys meet?” I manage to squeak around the sudden image of hot, sweaty sex with Lennon.

“Oh, yeah. Lennon is Mark’s roommate, the guy I’m seeing. I told Mom I was bringing Mark, but he had a last-minute gig. Lennon said he was hungry, and I thought why not. At least you two have something in common,” she replies, looking at me with an evil grin.

“We do?” Lennon asks with a kind smile across the table. I wonder if it’s possible to slide from my chair and out of the room like a Looney Tunes’ character.

“Totally. Lacey here is an artist, mostly oils. Could probably earn money,” Lindsey pauses, then shakes her head, “no, not probably, definitely could.”

“You’re biased,” I mumble past the wine glass now attached to my mouth.

“Instead, Lacey made a rational decision after graduation and now has a bright future in business administration,” our father states to no one and everyone.

“How do you like Dr. Michaels, Lace?” my mom tosses her innocent question while looking down the table at our father with a not-now grimace.

I choke on meatloaf, sure they all know about my marriage fantasies. I hack and heave, trying to catch a tiny bit of air into my lungs while they stare on sympathetically. With extreme effort, I answer, “um, good. He’s a great boss.”

“I talked to him. He seems like a cool guy,” Lennon adds, looking at my mom.

“No,” I cough out.

“No, he’s not a cool guy?” Lennon tilts his head as his brows furrow.

While I answer, “I meant you talked to his brother,” my sister mutters, “he’s a douchebag.”

“Linds!” my mom admonishes my sister.

“It’s true, Mom. Lace’d never say anything bad ‘cause she’s got a thing for him, and why not after being around an old guy and old patients, but he’s a complete ass,” Lindsey accentuates her last word by stabbing her salad and pushing it into her mouth.

Lennon’s expression makes me decide slinking is not enough. No, I need an Acme black hole to open below my chair.

*

“Hey,” a familiar voice pulls me from my intimate relationship with an Excel spreadsheet.

“Hi,” I smile, looking up at Lennon.

It’s been several weeks since he completed the art installation, which is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Suddenly I am my sister’s preferred companion for outings, and she cannot do anything without me. Since he’s Mark’s friend, Lennon is usually with us. I catch looks of glee from my sister, but she’s faster than my brain. I can say I don’t panic now when Lennon looks at me. The man still reeks of sex, but I’m starting to enjoy my reaction to him. In fact, Lennon now plays lead star in my fantasies, completely different visions than my daydreams of Dr. Michaels.

“Want to get some coffee?” he smiles down at me, tapping a rhythm with his fingertips against my desk that now seems so much warmer.

“Like, a coffee date?” I quip before becoming aware of what I said. My face begins its slow transition to tomato, but Lennon laughs.

“Yeah, like a date. During your lunch in 15 minutes?” he raps the manufactured wood with his knuckles as I nod acceptance, “cool, see you then.”

“Lacey?” Dr. Michaels’ hollers from his office as Lennon raises one eyebrow and turns towards the door with a quirk of his lips.

Second time in a month. The pit of my stomach is not prepared for whatever this break in routine means.

“Yeah?” I stand in his doorway, unsure of what to do with my hands.

“Please sit down.”

In the seven months I have worked for Dr. Michaels, I have never sat down in his office. Am I being fired? Familiar nausea is saying hello to the back of my mouth.

“I heard you talking to that guy just a few minutes ago,” he states, pushing files around his desk until they line up with the desk edges.

“You mean Lennon? Yeah, he’s a friend. He’s gone now,” I respond, my brow creasing in my confusion while I put my fidgety hands in my lap.

“You know, Lacey. I consider you a good worker. You keep my office organized. I’m sure one day you will make someone a great wife, organizing a man’s life as well as you organize my day,” his measured tone is at odds with my flash of irritation, “As your boss, it’s my responsibility to take care of you. Spending time with a street thug is beneath you.”

“Excuse me?” I sit up straighter in my chair, unable to keep the fleeting scorn from my face, “he’s an artist, not a thug…”

Dr. Michaels waves off my words, “Lacey, please. You deserve more than that. A professional who can give you the house and life you need.”

I feel my temper rising, a thermometer of rage boiling up my neck and close to exploding from the top of my head. Dr. Michaels becomes superimposed with Dr. Aaronson and his aversion to color and my father with his aversion to creative risks, and I stand up. Dr. Michaels looks up in shock.

“Lacey, sit down. There is nothing to get agitated about,” he says using his best bedside manner.

“I quit.”

“Lacey, what? Did I say something offensive? Really, this is just a small conversation between friends,” he leans forward on his desk, lowering his voice and widening his eyes.

I turn on my heel, stopping only to get my purse. There is nothing else of mine in my holding pen of five years.

*

“You what?” Lennon looks in my eyes while trying to hide a smile.

“Yeah, walked right out,” I choke down a giggle, my body humming with adrenaline and weird bubbly emotions rising from my solar plexus.

“That’s amazing,” Lennon says, smiling into my eyes as we stand outside the coffee shop, “what will you do now?”

“I don’t know. I have some money saved, so maybe paint for a little bit. Ask a friend of mine if he needs a helper with his street,” I smile up at Lennon, my eyes briefly settling on his soft lips.

“I’m sure he would oblige. Maybe you should start seeing someone, like seriously,” he whispers, moving closer to my mouth.

“Maybe,” I breathe towards him, unsure if he can hear any of my words.

In response, he grins as his hand slides around my jaw to the back of my neck, pulling me towards his mouth. All my daydreams evaporate. Instead, I lean into his burning kiss, losing myself in the colors and textures exploding in my head as I breathe in Lennon’s scent.

An ending here would be the like a story from a fairy tale, with everyone living happily ever after. The truth is I moved back in with my parents while I apply to art galleries and museums. I started painting again, and I’m sending portfolios to every dealer and gallery I can. Lennon and me? Yeah, we’re good.

 

I step outside, avoiding the water puddle on the concrete breezeway as I move my way out into the cloudy day. I should sweep that for my dad when I come back. The rain has stopped for now, and inches of water are either rushing downhill or coming to rest in low spots. I gain the road and turn right, beginning my walk. I always turn right, unless I’m thinking about it and change directions.

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Humidity causing lichen to grow on every surface

The warm moist blanket of air settles around my head and on my shoulders. Maybe I shouldn’t have brought my jacket. Instead of going back, I take off my hood and keep walking. Wet wood and decaying leaves invade my nose, scents heavy with moisture and rot. My eyes search past the houses on my right, seeking the ranch across the valley that has a red barn and white picket fence. The clouds still hang low, and my eyes don’t reach the bottom of the hill.

The asphalt bends to the left, beginning my circle, and my cheeks are slapped with misty fingers of the South’s winter hand. I zip my coat up to the top, huddling my chin a little lower. A neighbor’s steel lawn ornament windmill creaks in a steady rhythm of a paused rain storm.

I hesitate then turn to my left. I will take the long route today. My father and stepmom live in a development on top of a hill; the road is designed in a sideways digital eight sitting on three legs. My father’s house sits on the far right of the eight, with a left turn out of his driveway taking a traveler along the lower right bend and past one leg. The center leg is a switchback road driving off the hill. Walking the eight including the center cross section is one mile. Today I will walk the full eight and two of the three legs. One and a half miles.

The red birds that chirp a nonstop chatter by my dad’s house are missing as I cross the eight. The deep silence pushes my ear drums, wrapping me deep in thoughts as my indifferent eyes mark red brick houses they’ve seen several times over during this vacation.

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Fishing pier of Lake Dardanelle

Yesterday we went into town for lunch and a movie. Designing our day based on Denver time, we ended up with a lot of time to waste. So we took a small drive to Lake Dardanelle, walking around the visitor center and out to the fishing dock. The ecological study of the lake does not interest me much, especially as the visitor center hasn’t changed in the 6 years since my last visit, so I wandered around looking for photo opportunities.

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Leaden day

Maybe I should take more interest in intellectual studies. I love learning about new things, but I’m easily bored. I count the chairs on a front porch I pass, all of them aimed across the road. Chairs for watching, not conversation.

The conversation during our meandering around town and towards the lake was about architecture and old houses. “I really like that house,” I said, trying to peer at a green Queen Anne Victorian with a full wrap around porch while focusing on the car in front of me.

“We could buy it for what we paid for our tiny house, and probably have some left over,” he quipped. “But then, we would have to live in Arkansas.”

My measured steps drive this thought between my ears. We could buy 4 times the house here, in this beautiful housing development on top of a hill. I pass a For Sale sign before bending to the right onto the lower line of the main eight. Vivian could live just down the street from her grandparents, and living in a small town isn’t so bad.

“But then we would have to live in Arkansas.” I shudder.

I mock myself for my elitism, but I acknowledge the reality of his statement. I turn left down the third leg. The South moves at a different pace, at a leisurely jaunt through the week and church on Sundays. Urban hurry is my standard pace.

Bored with houses, my eyes wander beyond to the breathtaking views of valleys and trees. The houses sitting on the inside of the eight are the only ones without a view.

Brown wetness surrounds me. The earth, unable to drink any more water, forces swamps to develop. I fill my lungs to the bottom with damp molecules as I reach the end of the leg, turn around, and head back to the main road. Pausing, I watch water rush from under the road and down an aqueduct made of lichen covered stones to pool in another pond. Ugh, mosquitoes in waiting.

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A bend to the left. Sundays in a secular city are more likely to involve mimosas and brunch than church. I don’t really participate in those, either. Following the road past a low portion filled with water, my ears differentiate the freeway hum and a helicopter. Water pushes through a drainage pipe under me, letting out on the downhill side of the road. I follow the water in its trenched path, past a sodden white farmhouse. No views but water drains away, flooding their neighbors.

Vapor is settling on my hair and cold cheeks, my lungs pulling in film it’s unaccustomed to. I should have brought my inhaler. Wait, no. There’s so much oxygen here, my lungs are doing half the work. Dampness makes my lungs feel like I’m being smothered.

My legs move faster as I cross the eight again, horses who sense the barn is close. I ponder if I should skip the leg closest to my dad’s house and just head home when my brain realizes my feet made that decision 10 steps ago. I continue down the leg, looking at the houses with wide front porches and four car garages.

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Lake Dardanelle, always in view of Arkansas Nuclear One

Summer here would be unbearable. My internal heat pushes against the clamminess of the air, creating a sheen on my exposed skin. The slow pace is a matter of survival for those who live here. The current speed of my legs would not be possible in condensed mugginess.

I would not survive the humidity. My mental health would not survive the banality. There is not enough healthy activity to burn off mania nor urge me out of depression.

I stop before heading down my dad’s jagged, root filled asphalt driveway, sweat meeting dew to create fog on the inside of my glasses. Idyllic for visiting in the winter, this is not the place for us.

I do this every time I travel, wonder if I might want to live where we are visiting.

I saunter down the driveway, my eyes noting the moss and mildew bleeding from mortar between bricks on my dad’ house. I squeegee standing water on the breezeway concrete into the decomposing leaves rotting on a flower garden before stepping into a kitchen warm from holiday cooking.

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”
Leon C. Megginson

Regardless of where I might travel, adaptability is key to enjoying a trip. Even the best laid plans can go awry, and enjoyable experiences mean going with the flow in the moment. Even if the travel is a short family vacation to Russellville, AR.

Located near the Ozark National Forest, a trip to Russellville usually means

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Mt. Nebo entrance

day hiking trips. Rather than taking a full day to drive and hike in the national forest, we decided on a quick hike at Mount Nebo.

Mount Nebo is located just off Lake Dardanelle and is one of the state parks in Arkansas’ system. At a total elevation of 1,345′, hiking around Mount Nebo does not offer challenges (like how to breathe) faced in other regions with higher elevations. However, the state and federal parks around Russellville offer a large amount of history that cannot be found by hiking a 14,000′ mountain.

Mount Nebo was one of thousands of development sites established and worked on by the men in the Civilian Conservation Corp. Passed by congress in 1933, the CCC was a program developed by Franklin D. Roosevelt and was the most successful part of the president’s New Deal. Putting thousands of young men to work each year, with a total of 3 million participating by the program’s end in 1942, the CCC focused on developing and preserving U.S. natural resources while housing and employing the country’s young men.

Almost 90 years later, the state and federal forests around Russellville have buildings, parks, and trails distinguished by the CCC’s trademark masonry capabilities. Every year I see these monuments of an innovative Great Depression recovery program, and every year I am astounded by the artistry and lasting nature of the work.

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View from the CCC pavilion

After eating a quick picnic lunch at the pavilion, we headed over to the visitor center where we picked up the trail head for the Rim Trail. As suggested by the name, the Rim Trail wanders around the edge of Mount Nebo, providing hikers with a 360* view of the surrounding landscape. After a steep decline from the visitor center, the trail turns to either the left or the right, with left as an easy route to another trail head and right a strenuous route to another trail head.

After a quick discussion, we decided we will head to the left. The hiking party included me, my sister, my husband, and Vivian. The plan included my father and stepmother picking up the hiking party at the trail head where easy became moderate, about 45 minutes along the rim from the visitor center.

With Vivian in the lead, we started off. Although the property belongs to Arkansas,

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CCC mason work

private residencies still exist along the top. The houses cannot be expanded, and no new development can occur, which means all the houses are 1920’s and earlier remodeled construction. The beginning of the Rim Trail takes hikers along the front of the houses, providing an amazing view of the valley and beautifully restored homes.

My sister and I were discussing the ideal location, as long as there were no ice storms, when we came to a fork in the path. Without a pause, my husband starts walking downwards, following a path marked Bench Road Trail. After a beat, I stopped and commented taking a right seemed to take us away from the rim. As is normal with our family, we followed the one most convinced he was right.

We descended down the mountain and into the trees as my sister and I kicked 2″ gray cobblestone that seemed to make a roadbed. Slowly our party of four was separating into two parties of 2 with Vivian walking fast in the lead. I realized as the two in front picked up speed that we were the worst prepared hikers considering our obvious deviation from the plan. Not only did we not bring a snack, I left my water bottle in the car. I mentioned this to my sister. She replied after a thoughtful moment, “we won’t be out here long, and this is an easy walk.”

Vivian and my husband reached a four way sign before my sister and me, and they waited for us to catch up. We were informed we did take a wrong turn, and now we have

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CCC lasting legacy

a choice of four roads. Instead of taking the left road in an effort to cut back up to the original trail, and knowing all three adults were averse to going back the way we came, we decided a right turn towards Observational Point. We remembered driving past the point, so we knew where we would come out.

Lately Vivian has been in a phase where she wants everyone to hold hands “because we are a family, and families hold hands,” so we continued our walk four across down a dirt road marked by blue tree tags. Although we talked about what the blue might signify, we didn’t get our answer until the next divergent path.

Suddenly rising off to our right were moss covered stone slabs. At first, Vivian was just curious to walk up one or two. I was drawn to the stairs but they looked very steep, and my sister is a researcher and needed to know where we would end up. After a quick Google search, we learned Nebo Steps would take us back to the visitor center, were considered strenuous, but the entire hike was only 3/4 mile and we were on a small portion of it.

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Trailblazing

Up the stairs we went. Vivian scampered with energy fueled by excitement as the adults grumbled and made various cryptic remarks about our decision. I kept thinking how history changes perception. We were complaining about the steepness of the steps, but at some point each stone was placed by a worker while standing on a steep hill.

We reached the top successfully and called to alert our ride that we were back where we started. Although we deviated from our intended plan, we saw an amazing aspect of Mount Nebo’s charm. The whole adventure reminded me that wandering can afford us more growth and experience.

Today I enjoyed sleeping in until the late hour of 7 in the morning, accomplished only because there is now a house full of adults who can tag team one hyper 4-year-old.

Yesterday we finished our route from Denver to Russellville, AR, by way of Dallas Love airport. While a direct flight is available, it is needlessly expensive and requires flying on a carrier I refuse to do business with. Despite the 12 hour journey from house to house, the pace of travel was relaxed.

Russellville is a small town located northwest of Little Rock, Arkansas’ state capital.

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Arkansas Nuclear One, the state’s only nuclear plant

Although the town has a local airport, we choose to fly into Little Rock due to availability of flights and carriers. Also located in Russellville is Arkansas Tech University, Arkansas Nuclear One, Tyson Foods, and ConAgra. The town is heavily reliant on manufacturing as the main employer, with half the population earning wages via manufacturing.

Originally the area belonged to the Cherokee tribes as part of their original agreement with the U.S. government. However, in 1828 the Cherokee located in this area were moved to Oklahoma and the region became available for white settlers. In 1834, a settler by the name of P.C. Holledger built the first house of what was to become Russellville.

As a Colorado native, all I  knew of Arkansas during my childhood was it is a state somewhere in the South and where my stepmother grew up. About 10 years ago my father sold his business in Steamboat Springs, and 9 years ago he and my stepmother relocated here to assist her aging mother. Although we visited once before Vivian’s birth, we now come once a year so she can spend time with her grandmother and papa.

Sitting over a dinner of cheesy chicken enchiladas, we discussed what activities we can do. We decided, with our stomachs full of casserole, roller skating was a needed activity.

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Kudzu: smothering the South

I haven’t roller skated since I was 12, and barely once a year then. Yet I am game to try and do almost anything when I’m traveling. According to my stepmom, the roller rink is a small, family owned establishment that is open maybe 2 hours a day and for private birthdays. As she said, “we aren’t really sure the hours, but I know it’s open on Saturday mornings from 10 to 12.”

Holiday house parties for our family usually means people get up when they want, fix themselves coffee and serve themselves whatever casserole was thrown in the oven by the first riser, and in general be ready by the agreed upon departure time. Since we keep different hours, the shower schedule seems to work out well.

A few minutes before 10 a.m., all but my father are in the car and ready to go. My dad recently had a hip replacement, so his activity is still restricted.

We arrive at the skating rink, and my low expectations are met by the exterior of a cinder block building with signage missing and poorly replaced letters. Entering the building, I almost walk past the ticket booth where we pay for entrance. Standing on the other side of a Plexiglas window with a circle for speaking and handing money through, I look into what appears to be the office. A row of 10 pairs of scissors hang to the right above the ticket seller’s head along a wall, and file cabinets overflow with paperwork and cardboard boxes.

We pay, and we funnel through to the small desk to order our skates. We step around a

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The magic begins in the dark

family sitting directly in front of the counter and give our sizes to the same man who sold us tickets. Picking up skates that look two decades too old, Vivian and I walk towards a bench that sits along a gray cinder block wall surrounding the dingy cement roller rink. The two side walls and back wall are straight, forming a rectangle, while the front is curved, a pony wall separating booths and benches from the rink itself. In the bright mercury light, the rink belongs in a county jail.

Despite the well worn and lackluster appearance, we put on our skates and are excited to begin our adventure. My stepmom sits at a booth while I join my sister in an awkward dance of balance and orientation as we acclimate to wheels.

Having jumped at the chance to skate off with her daddy, Vivian returns to get a walker made of 7 PVC pipes joined into two sides of a cube in a 45* angle. Three wheels allow the pipe to become a support system for brand new skaters.

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An easy ride

Then the lights dim, the music starts, and I remember the magic of skating rinks. There is only so much a business can do with concrete floors and gray walls, but when the black-lights shine on neon wall paintings and the music is blaring, no one cares about the near dilapidated building’s reality.

For two hours we skate in various ways, my husband moving quickly around the outside circle while Vivian shuffles back and forth in the center. I regain my wheel legs, though images of fractured wrists and concussions make unwelcome friends with my consciousness.

Then it is over. Lights come back on, neon magic is broken, and Vivian is left wondering why she can’t keep skating now that she conned us into pushing her and her walker in a faster circle around the edge. The adults of the group are each mentally thanking the restricted hours of the skating rink, as our thighs burn and strain.

The afternoon is spent wasting away, as tomorrow is hiking in one of the many natural parks around Russellville. First solid day is done. Though we are still early into this holiday, I sense how time will slide through my fingers.

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Beep. Beep. Beep.

5 a.m. comes too early. Without opening my eyes, I reach over and press the snooze button.

I play this game for 25 minutes, knowing how much time I can waste before I must face the pre-dawn morning. Since quitting my job, I rarely set an alarm for myself. After all, waking me up is what a 4-year-old does best.

Today is a different situation. We are flying to my father’s house in Arkansas to celebrate

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Lunchtime entertainment

the holidays. Instead of wandering in a hazy, slow morning routine of feeding Vivian and sipping coffee, toiletries need to be packed, puppy needs to be walked and packed for the dog sitter, and a list of last-minute cleaning items that can’t wait seven days sits on the counter.

My normal M.O. is to wait until the last minute on almost every to-do item, then run around in a frantic whirlwind trying to accomplish everything while I ooze anxiety and frustration.

Today I understand the ease and relaxation that not procrastinating provides. Initially the dog sitter was going to be a house sitter as well, so I spent the last week cleaning my house hotel spotless with the fear of a stranger living in my house. Things change, and now the puppy is going on his own vacation.

And I wake to a clean house. Small things like changing cat litter and taking out the trash are finished as I meander about the house enjoying my coffee. Two cups, which is historically unheard of on a travel morning.

With plenty of time and a near spotless house, we walk out the door and head to the airport.

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Greetings from Dallas

After over a decade of planning and arguing, Denver is beginning construction work on the central I-70 corridor. The freeway is the quickest and most direct route to the airport, so we planned on construction delays as well as standard rush hour traffic we’ve come to expect.

We experience neither, as my mom and current airport chauffeur keeps a 75-mph pace most of the way. A pace that continues through the entire airport process, putting us on the concourse with 3 hours to kill before our flight.

Plenty of time for a relaxed breakfast at a trendy Denver restaurant, shopping at a remote location of a local bookstore, and enough time to do a little client writing at the gate.

More time is better when vacation traveling through DIA. The airport is a city. Denver International Airport finished construction in 1995, 16 months behind schedule and $2 billion over budget. In total, the airport cost the Denver metro area $4.8 billion dollars. The first year was riddled with issues including baggage claim malfunctions and debates regarding public art choices. All this aside, the airport is the 5th busiest in the U.S. generating $26 billion dollars with 61.4 million travelers annually. The terminal and 3 concourses are filled with art, culture, and constant renovations including addition of a hotel at one end of the terminal and running a lightrail from downtown.

If you ever visit Denver, make sure to look for our famed demon horse. Despite schedule

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“Blucifer” – Denver’s Blue Mustang

and budget issues, the demon horse continues to receive the most media attention. Not only are the eyes red, but the horse’s head fell on the artist, killing him, while he was working on the commissioned art piece.

At 11:10 we are boarding the plan, and at the schedule departure time we push away from the gates and are on our way. Vivian is self-sufficient regarding entertainment, for the most part, so she plays with her toys as I listen to music.

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Dallas Love decor

We land at Dallas Love airport for a two-hour layover, during which we eat lunch and run body checks and wander through their small play area. Then back into the air for a quick 40-minute jaunt to Little Rock, AR, to start our week-long vacation.

The other day I was driving to my mom’s house. My daughter was in the backseat, as usual, and she was playing an imaginary keyboard on her door. Suddenly, she says to me, “Mom, I’m going to tell you a joke, okay?”

My daughter delivers this statement for two reasons. First, she is putting me on guard that she expects me to laugh. Second, she is telling me I need to focus on what she is saying to time my responses accurately.

My mind focused, I was prepared to laugh at her attempts at joke telling. Which, up to this point, came up a little short in humor as she’s been playing with knock knock templates but failing in delivery and point.

“Red light means go.” After a second delay, I genuinely chuckle.

“Penguins fly around the world.” My laugh gets stronger as my amusement grows.

She delivered a few more, some successful and some not, but overall the experience was better than earlier attempts. We arrived at my mom’s house, and joking was set aside as we immersed ourselves into shortbread cookie baking.

This five minute experience had me thinking about humor, development of humor, and how we gauge and communicate our humor to other people. Because, let’s be honest, most people would not have considered her jokes funny. If I had taken the time to tell my mom the jokes, my mom would have responded with her “oookkaaayyyy,” which translates into I’m not understanding what you are saying, but I don’t want to come out and ask for clarification so I will imply my doubt and confusion without admitting to either.

I’m going to put it out there. In general, I present a very serious and reserved persona. Most people who meet me think I have zero sense of humor. In fact, my husband and I regularly debate the nature of humor. However, I do have a sense of humor.

Unfortunately, it does not suit my environment. Which means I have to observe you, watch your facial expressions and tone of voice, and get a reading on your humor before I begin delivering my own.

Unless you are a personality I find far too tempting, at which point I will begin deadpan assaults. I don’t care if you get it or not, you getting my joke is not the point. If I feel you are high handed and aggressive, you will likely get rapid fire snark from me.

Which brings me back to Vivian’s jokes. While very simple in structure and nature, my daughter has started showing a rudimentary understanding of verbal irony. Which is one of my favorite forms of humor, as well as a favorite literary device.

Unfortunately, irony and it’s sibling satire are not often found in American mainstream humor. We have developed a penchant for slap-stick comedy (one of my least favorite forms of humor), humiliation comedy (I don’t get this one at all. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m referring to Jackass et. al), and observational comedy, which combined with parody, is about as close as we get to irony, satire, and deadpan.

So, how did I develop irony and deadpan as my personal humor when surrounding environment suggested otherwise? Watching Vivian, I think some of it is innate to personality and how we view the world. As far as reinforcement, most of my entertainment was by way of books. When I did watch television, I preferred British and some Canadian shows. Also, I had a fair amount of exposure to Mel Brooks parody.

Both exposure and literary preferences has strengthened my sense of humor.

I watch Vivian test her humor, including what works and what doesn’t depending on audience. She found a gold mine with me when she tested her abilities with irony. However, those didn’t go over as well with her father. So she added a character (Mr. Pickle), told a longer story, and finally hit upon his funny bone with “and then the pickle crossed the road and we ran over it.” Yeah, I don’t get it.

As writers, though, we don’t get to test our audience. And if we do, the results are haphazard at best because we are communicating through words alone.

One of the funniest books I’ve read is 13 1/5 Lives of Captain Bluebearby Walter Moers. If you haven’t read it, you should read it.Though, I won’t vouch for you finding it funny. The reason is the book is layered with wit, satire, irony, and word play. Part of the reason I found the novel hilarious is because the narrator deftly handles irony while naming specific characters, traits, and events after literary terms.

Yet I acknowledge not everyone will be as amused by this series of novels like I was, though I challenge anyone not to be entertained. The novel’s humor depends heavily on the reader’s pre-existing knowledge. Which is the fun, and detriment, of using irony and deadpan.

Luckily, I am not a humor writer. I’m not exactly sure what my genre is, but humor rarely finds a place in what I’ve written so far. If I’m in the right mood, my humor will find a place in my tweets. Not always to the best of responses. I’ve been blocked due to someone misunderstanding my satire.

Even if I chuckle at something, I rarely respond with my own wit. Why? Because I never know if people intended the humor, or if I just find the situation humorous. Without the facial expressions, tone, and body cues I rely on heavily, it’s hard for me to gauge. So instead I play it straight.

Ultimately, humor is something I tend to keep to myself. Instead, I enjoy laughing inside and will watch with anticipation as Vivian tests the waters of humor.

When writing gets in the way

December 3, 2018

So, I’ve done it. Kind of.

What did I do? I finished a novella, which is lengthier than I ever thought I could write. Now I’m done with the first draft, it’s time to edit and shine it up into a precious gemstone, readying it for cover art and marketing, to have an amazing debut into the world.

At least, that’s what is supposed to happen. The poor file has been sitting in a folder, calling out to me as I go about other things.

Unfortunately, the reality of writing tends to get in the way of, well, writing. Let’s take this blog, for example. I started with the best intentions. Wrote diligently, and I saw progress in my writing style, voice, and other people having interest in what I have to say.

And then I stopped. Why? For several reasons. The most pressing is the need for money. Let’s be realistic. Unless independently wealthy, working while writing is a requirement. I am fortunate with my situation, both in not being the sole earner in the household and in being paid to write.

But this is where writing gets in the way of writing. I write marketing content, blog material, and social media for clients. The work provides some income, and I’m closer to what I like doing than in my previous career. However, writing for clients takes time away from writing on personal projects.

So, client writing comes first. Because it’s money. Second in the priority list, at least for me, is writing for contests. Why contests? I prefer a specific contest by NYC Midnight because of the challenge and feedback provided by the judges. Due to my innate tendency for procrastination, the timed and assigned aspect instigate my perfectionist anxiety, bringing about the best in me.

Or the worst. Depends on who you ask.

Plus, along with Twitter, contests have given me a shallow end to step my virgin writer’s toe in and compare myself to the writers of the world. I know, we hear all the time to not compare ourselves to other writers. On one hand, this is true. I would never compare myself to Dickens or Atwood or King. And different writers have different voices, different audiences, and ultimately different goals for their art.

I have accepted my style of writing is not likely to have a large, commercial demand.

However, despite our tendency as writers to support and praise each other, there are amazing writers, great writers, okay writers, and then stubborn writers who struggle because their audience is nowhere to be found. I am prone to stubbornness as a general personality trait. So contests and Twitter give me a true perspective of how I rate in the overall world of wordsmithing.

Yes, I include Twitter in my priority list, just under contests. Contests occur once a quarter, at most, while Twitter has become my daily writing exercise. Not only do I write to prompts, sometimes pushing myself, but I watch and read writers and wordsmiths who I admire. I take apart their flash fiction. I try to understand what works about it. Also, I understand what I would do differently or how I would have written the piece. All in attempts to push myself to be a better writer.

On a side note, this can be a dangerous endeavor if a writer’s voice is not fixed. My voice is not fixed. In fact, I can mimic most writing styles pretty well if given enough exposure. While this is a great trait for client writing, it’s a horrible trait for a creative writer. There have been times when I’ve lost myself, and I see it in my stories.

Also, there is the unfortunate marketing aspect as a writer. A lot of new writers are in love with being discovered by a traditional agent or publishing house and making it big with their first book. Why? Well, the prestige, of course. Whose ego doesn’t need that? But aside from that, self and other forms of publishing require a large amount of marketing by a writer.

In fact, I would argue traditional publishing requires a large amount of marketing by a writer. And marketing does not mean blasting your published book in regular timed frequencies on social media. Traditional marketing meant book signings, traveling the country, making yourself available to the public.

Social media has made that a bit easier, in that there is more public readily available. But to be successful, a writer has to interact and engage. Which is a huge weakness of mine. My strong introverted nature, combined with social anxiety and a private nature, puts me at a disadvantage. So yes, Twitter is a priority.

As a quick recap, I have client writing, contest writing, and Twitter writing, all which seem to come ahead of my short story and novella writing. While some might say Twitter should come after my own writing, I disagree for the two above stated reasons.

Which brings us back to my novella. In an ideal world, I would set the piece aside. I would come back to it and begin my editing, putting on lipstick for it’s debut. And then I would begin querying or submitting it to literary journals.

Instead, my priority list takes, well, priority. So I reverted back to my innate flowchart. In my attempt to be more business-like in my approach to submissions and creative writing, I found a contest in a literary journal that accepts excerpts of longer pieces. Waiting until the last minute, and knowing my first draft needs a lot more than red lipstick to be acceptable by literary standards, I focused on one part of my novella as a submission.

Which I completed three days ago.

Will I get back to the other parts of my novella, editing and preparing them for a reunion with the submitted piece? Yes. The resting time is nearing completion, and my mind is ready and willing to make the necessary changes.

In fact, I’m looking into various options for publication. One option I came across is serial publication online, with authors receiving portions of the membership price if individuals subscribe to their writing. I’m hesitant about taking this approach with my debut, but on the other hand it will be a great learning experience.

And it’s time for this project to get bumped up the priority list.

 

… continued…

I look at the three workers, each one lost in their thoughts of what I am implying, as my mind quickly reviews all the things that happened before the primary smudging.

The first night was sleepless, as usual when in a new environment. I rarely sleep in general, and new environments heighten my senses to a restless awareness, and I was prepared for the unknown. The master bedroom had previously been an unused attic, free from human contact, and now filled with more electrical wiring and fancy lights than I knew existed.

Despite anticipating some discomforts and interactions, mostly due to the horrors I had just left in our previous house, I did not foresee the white mist slamming into me, leaving me gasping and cold on the bed, aware of how exposed I was to the yawning wide staircase. 

No need to tell the workers that. Nor do I need to tell them about the interaction in the kitchen while I was standing at the sink washing dishes. Feeling something behind me, I expected my daughter to grab me around my legs and hug me. Instead, she was playing in the mudroom converted into a TV room. Focusing back on the dishes, a slight breeze brushed my left ear as a woman’s tired, mournful sigh caressed my mind. I spun on my toes, to find a modern fridge and re-purposed kitchen turned pantry door staring back at me. I knew this was not my kitchen, not yet. Despite all the design decisions I’ve made, and all the moving and living I was doing, the kitchen belonged to another. 

“Yeah, I have. Voices and things, mostly at the beginning.” I am regretting mentioning anything, as I see unwanted signs in their faces.

“That would explain the dirt,” Jose whispers to the second worker. 

“What’s that?” the foreman asks, fidgeting his back against the brick foundation, causing red dust to paint his uniform. 

“Well, um, we found dirt in holes we had finished cleaning,” the second worker whispers, scratching a grayscale, tattered American flag. 

“Seriously, we would be finished with a hole, come back, and there is dirt in it. We thought maybe the plumbing guy was messin’ with us, putting dirt back in the hole,” Jose confirms as his hands form shapes of the unwanted dirt, “man, if something touches me I’m calling a stop-job.”

For a moment my mind drifts to the man made box, lined with plastic, and covered with a heavy iron slab sitting in the yard. The plumber found it while excavating the sewer line. Nope, keeping my mouth shut on that one. And these guys don’t need to hear about the bones he is finding with each square foot he digs up.

“You wouldn’t be the first, I guess,” I sigh as I stand up, putting my hands on the header to stop my forward progress, “the sellers had a hard time keeping contractors. Crews would show up for a day, work, then never come back.”

I turn from the basement, tiring of this game. I regret saying anything. Watching them come up the stairs, joking and laughing with each other about the creepy space, hazardous stairs, and even the spooky door hidden by a pony wall in our family room, my mind drifts over all my experiences.

We smudged, my daughter and me, after hearing the sigh in my ear. Really, I wasn’t worried about who sighed. But I was worried about things I sensed coming from the rickety exterior door that rested on the other side of a pony wall in the TV room. Both cats refused to go in the room, though it was where most family time was spent. And the master bedroom continued to buzz, forcing me awake and fearful of my dreams. Swallowing my fear, we began our ritual in the basement. Moving through the house and finally out the front door, Vivian and I chanted, asserted, and owned the house. 

Sometimes I regret that first smudging. Afterwards, the house was dead. Like the power had gone off during a storm. There was complete silence, and an off putting sense of nothingness. Even the crows stopped cawing. Sleep refused to return to me. 

Slowly movement came back, the crows returned, and life felt a little more balanced. I had drawn my line in the sand and claimed my house.

It hadn’t lasted maybe 6 months before things became a lot worse for us. My daughter started having imaginary friends, which was normal for her age. Though there was one friend I took an interest in, named Bossy Boy. She would walk around the house with him, telling me they were witch hunting. Until one day she stopped talking about Bossy Boy, naming her imaginary friends after Disney characters. I asked if he was around, and she said no, he’s upstairs sick.

Which is when they came, her new imaginary people. The imaginary people she only referred to as them, who tormented and caused her pain. Making her cry in the car as they told her she couldn’t love her mommy and daddy anymore. Saying horrible things to her as she tried to ignore them. One day while eating lunch I heard my daughter say, “why won’t she talk to us? She needs to talk to us, why won’t she talk to us?”

Confused, I responded, “baby, what are you saying?”

Her cherub face smiled up at me as she said, “nothing, mommy.” Only for her voice to continue in a low hush,”so she does talk. She talks to her, why isn’t she talking to us?”

After hearing my daughter speak in a creaky, hoarse whisper, channeling something that was not her, I called my grandmother-in-law. A Coloradan mix of Spanish and Navajo, my daughter’s namesake has one foot in this world and one foot somewhere else. She said it was time to smudge again, that my daughter had picked up someone… or something. Harmless sighs were no longer on the board, as these ones would make me go crazy in order to have her. A fight for her soul, as my daughter’s abuelita stated in her superstitious yet Catholic sermon way. Unlike our last house, I would take offensive action. I would not sit by as my daughter became a target, and me a victim.

Once again, we started in the basement as I stared down the full length of the crawl space, blowing sage and taking back my house and my daughter. My waking nightmares became worse until we smudged again, she and I making sure to get down vents and into every corner of the crawl space.  

The final time didn’t get rid of everything, but it forced a treaty. The house is still breathing in its own space, separate from us. Bossy Boy plays in the upstairs bedroom, as my daughter factually states, “he likes you. He feels safe.” On the very few random nights she asks me to perform a “monster get out” routine in her bedroom, I am rushed by freezing air escaping her closet. One cat still refuses to move beyond the doorway into the family room, but my black cat now occupies the space with me, moving halfway towards the cellar door before her eyes go wild. We are no longer in open warfare, though the peace agreement for shared living is tenuous. 

No, no need to share this with the workers as they hurry out of my home. After all, I need them to come back tomorrow and finish the job. I brought it up, hoping they would laugh it off and think me silly, unconsciously supporting my desire that nothing is being stirred up with the cellar ground.

Instead, these three construction workers from a town far to the South have substantiated what I sense but want to ignore: something is riled up by our remodeling. I have fought for my home and my daughter, and I’m afraid I will need to fight again.