In the purple and gray morning, I release the small leather ball from my
slingshot into the brisk breeze above my head. Fine hairs waft around my eyelashes as I watch it climb to almost disappear from view, trailing its cargo of sewn-on feathers and tiny little bell.
A bullet of black and white and brown streaks from the sky above and grabs the ball, makes a wide circle and settles, fluffed and agitated, on my wrist. I stroke the feathers beneath her dark amber eye with the knuckle of my index finger, crooning words of praise and beauty. I bend my face to the crown of her head and inhale her wild, dusty smell. She is fierce, she is hungry, she is Peregrine, and she is mine.

On these exercise mornings I think about how, long ago, I came across her path and saved her life. She came into
Wind Over Wings damaged and emaciated, wounded by some collision or perhaps a projectile, a carelessly thrown rock. I doubt that, she is too fast … perhaps in pursuit of a smaller bird, she did not see the approaching car? I'll never know. On the long days of healing, her wing splinted and her feathers dirty with her own filth, I would peer into her eyes and will her to speak. Tell me, tell me what it was.
As she mended and we began our rehabilitation work together, a trust grew that has us in its tethers now, bound to one another inextricably. She cannot be released to the wild; this would surely be a death sentence, as she is hobbled on the one side and too accustomed to people to keep herself safe from them and their ignorant impulses. Besides, I could not bear to let a day pass without the guidance of her bird wisdom. She is self-reliant, noble, wild at heart, unapologetic. She is everything that I would like to be.

I prepare the lure for another flight, reflecting upon the illness that courses through my own bloodstream, threatening to consume my body from the inside out. Two treatments left and then maybe a clean bill of health? There’s no way of knowing. I cling to the hope that these outings of fresh air and exercise will imbue my body with just enough positivity to tip the scales in my favor. Maybe if I hang my soul from the talons of this little beast, she can carry my hopes towards the heavens and release them, there to diffuse and to shower life down upon me.

I chuckle at my sad attempts to bring poetic meaning to this ritual, the morning flight-runs that keep my bird strong and allow me to breathe the cold, new air. Still, perhaps there is just a little magic in this bond and in these moments. Enough to keep me happy, surely, and perhaps enough to heal me.

The target prepared and my falcon circling above my head, I pull the band of my slingshot back once more, aiming for the rising sun. I stretch the band to its limit, holding the ball in its leather cup as I glance at the bird, climbing in her anticipation. Pulling the band just a bit further I release, and watch as she pursues her quarry. Ah, beautiful, beautiful. Beautiful, beautiful bird, my mind whispers.

The light in the east fills out the horizon just as she dives, a feathered arrow of hope, into the blue and silent sunrise.

In this
Flash Fiction Friday, the task was to write a story beginning with "In the purple and gray morning..."


If only I had been able to retrieve the third water bottle from the truck! Before that awful trek to the bottom of the canyon, Neil and I had filled our existing bottles and shouldered our backpacks. We had five Golden Eagle nests to locate, and three hours of daylight left in which to do it. I was dusty and sticky, my eyes tired from peering at birds through my binoculars. Neil was vigorous as ever, bounding from boulder to boulder, with his camera in one hand and a clipboard in the other. I can’t believe he does this every day. I wish I could do this every day … but first, I wish I could breathe in this scarce high-desert air.

Neil gives up on me keeping up with him and springs away. I wave him off, telling him that I’ll catch up slowly; I’m still not used to the altitude. I watch him go. His hair, brown at the root, has been scorched to the color and consistency of old wheat; tied back with a strip of leather, it bounces on his back as he runs off to search for the first nest. He is doing just what he loves to do, and he doesn’t need anybody. I envy him. I pity him. By the time this three-week field study is over, I will have to force myself to forget him.

As Neil disappears into the sagebrush I wonder just how I am going to get out of this canyon; we’ve walked several miles to get here, and slid halfway down loose rock on the way down. As I was half-falling, I didn’t think about climbing back up and out. With Neil around, I felt safe. He knows every contour of these lands, sees them in his mind the way they appear on the map. But I see only the two-dimensional squiggles, the big ink X’s where the nests have been marked. I wish I loved this job.

I can see the truck from where I stand, so I head off in that direction. Tor stays with me a little while, obediently keeping pace and sniffing at the occasional antelope jaw. He’s panting heavily, so I give him a little bit of water from my bottle. I’d better conserve, although I don’t have that far to go. Yet I can’t seem to walk any faster than this; I’m gaining about 30 feet with each minute that passes. It’s dreadfully hot, and the air down here just doesn’t move. My hat affords me the tiniest circle of shade, and I can feel the skin on my arms crackling. After a while, even Tor can’t bear my slow pace and trots off to look for rabbits or interesting smells. He’ll probably find Neil and the two of them will meet me back at the truck. I’m starting not to care about how they get back.

Isn’t it kind of selfish of him just to run off like that? Yeah, I know I told him to go. But shouldn’t he stay and make sure I’m doing all right out here? I can’t believe that anybody can be so free. He hardly even owns anything. He lives in a teepee most of the time, for crying out loud! Why I think he would ever let me tame him, I don’t know. Ohhhhh, I don’t even care anymore. My head hurts so much. It feels like I have a balloon in the middle of my skull that is being slowly inflated with hot air. It’s pressing my brain out to all edges and clouding my vision, closing my nasal passages. I soothe my throat with the last of the water and plod on.

Soon I begin to realize that I might be in danger. Neil is no longer anywhere to be seen; a little while ago, I saw him far away on a cliff, a tiny speck of grey moving among the rocks, the blackish shadow of Tor climbing to meet him. I hear a hawk cry once above, but there is no other sound. Not a whistle, bark, drip of water, nor any rustle of breeze … only the rushing flow of blood inside my eyeballs, and the hitching rasp of my own breath. This is how people die, I think. Those fools who set off to cross Death Valley unprepared, laughing at the warning signs. Their bodies now lie mummified in nature’s relentless thirst.

I hope I don’t mummify.

But god damn, I’m thirsty. To comfort myself I pretend I am Frodo, crossing Gorgoroth on that last terrible day in his quest. He did it, so can I. I would laugh at my own silliness, if I wasn’t so scared and so dry.

I’ve finally reached the bottom of the hill that we slid down so long ago, and I begin to climb up. I can’t believe how slowly I am moving. Through a haze before my eyes I see that man and dog are already back at the truck. They are drinking water. Oh, water. Oh, life. I try to lick my lips as I struggle for a foothold on the sliding pebbles, but there is no moisture in my tongue. I wonder if I will ever have saliva again. How will I eat? I don’t care if I ever eat again, as long as I can have just a little sip of water.

Miraculously, I reach the top of the hill and walk to the truck. I take the water bottle from Neil and tilt it to my mouth. It is cool liquid silver pouring into my mouth, down my throat, into my veins. I would weep if I had tears. Oh, Heavenly Sweetness, I will never take you for granted again, I whisper inside my head. I drink and drink and drink and drink until the bottle is dry.

Neil tells me that he saw me taking small steps; that was really smart, he says. He asks me how I am.

I think about how alone I felt down there; how abandoned, thirsty, thin-blooded, out of shape, ordinary; how ill-equipped to survive in this harsh environment. How afraid to ask him for help and to show him my weakness. I think about how knowing this man is changing me in a way I’m only beginning to understand.

I tell him I am fine.

The assignment in this Flash Fiction Friday was to begin a story with "If only I had been able to retrieve the ___ before that awful ..." I took some liberties with punctuation, and this story grew like a wildfire. It is one of my favorites.


The thing about the compulsion is that you see it all happening, you know it’s happening, but there’s absolutely nothing in the world that you can do to stop it.

I’ve been teaching for over 35 years. Throughout my indentured servitude all manner of people have passed before my afflicted eyes: Kids with pulsating red birthmarks and extra rows of teeth; mothers with alluringly taut breasts; teachers with lunch in their beards; fathers covered with bumps like those on a pickle. I’ve stared at them all. Stared, transfixed, behind the sunglasses I wear to shield humanity from the knowledge that its bodily quirks awaken a demon in me.

I finally learned that the demon has a name, but I just used to call it My Eyetis. I suppose if you had to pick a way for it to manifest, staring ain’t so bad. At least my hands aren’t raw from hand-washing, and I can actually get from here to there, stepping on every crack along the way. Oh sure, I’m all read-up on my disease, if that’s what you want to call it. I don’t think I’m really sick, though. I just look at things … a little too long.

Luckily, I’ve managed to hide behind a pair of blue-blockers for most of my life. I don’t think anyone but my wife and my kids have ever seen my eyes. Every person I have contact with thinks that my eyes are just sensitive. Ha! They're sensitive all right, sensitive to the fascinatingly bulbous shape of your nose, from which I cannot tear my gaze. But you will never know. My head has been turned towards the window, while my eyes have been fixated on that tuber for a good fifteen minutes. Thanks to my trusty shades, I am a functioning member of polite society. My Eyetis is safely tucked away behind an impenetrable black veil.

It all cracked into pieces (literally) thirty seconds ago. An early-morning parent conference was called by the Xiang family. I was early as always, sitting at the table with my hands folded and my gradebook open. But Mr. and Mrs. Xiang were running a few minutes behind (of course), so I went to the staff room for a second cup of coffee. Pulling the carafe out from under the spout unleashed some sort of blockage, and coffee sludge splattered all over the burner. My face, my shades, my tie, everything was plastered with tiny brown flecks. I removed the sunglasses and began to clean them in the sink, glancing at the clock as I did so. Mustn’t be late for meeting … very, very unprofessional to be late for meeting! In my rush to do at least a half-adequate cleanup job, I pressed too hard and cracked the uni-lens clear down the middle.

Now what?!? I search desperately for something I could use instead. The sunglasses have been reduced to a hair-band; I suppose I could wear them anyhow, and drape a coffee filter or a paper towel over my eyes. I could shield my eyes with a hand. I could go home sick. I could feign death.

The principal fetches me from the staff room, and I have no time left to think. Maybe for this short period of time, I can resist the urge to stare; I’ll just avert my gaze from people in general. If I’m not aware of anything unusual on their bodies, my eyes wander freely and don’t fixate. It’s the knowing that compels me. It’s the knowing that traps me. If I don’t look, I will not know. If I don’t know, I will not stare.

So here I sit, waiting for the opportunity to overcome My Eyetis by sheer force of will. The Xiangs and their lawyer are signing in at the office, and will enter at any moment. The guidance counselor turns to me and, in hushed tones, says: “Have you met Mr. Xiang yet?”

“No,” I say.

“Well,” she whispers, “you know he has a thumbthumb.”

a … a what? ... thumthum?

I say, “He has a what?”

She says, “You know, a thumbthumb. Two thumbs. A little baby thumb, attached to his real thumb. I saw it last year; it’s on his right hand. You’ll feel it when you shake his hand. Try not to look at it, though. It’s pretty freaky.”

Holy mother of god. A thumbthumb? A goddam thumbthumb?!?!? Don’t they have surgeries in China or wherever to deal with this type of thing? Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god. OK, whatever I do, I must not look at the thumbthumb. I must not, under any circumstances, look at the thumbthumb. I begin to chant inside my head, as the door opens and the family enters.

Do noooot looook at the thumbthumb.
Do noooot looook at the thumbthumb.
Do noooot looook at the thumbthumb.
Do noooot looook at the thumbthumb.
Do noooot looook at the thumbthumb.

  • This story is the sole intellectual property of Spinning Girl and has been submitted for publication. Use of any part of this story without express written permission from Spinning Girl will be pursued to the fullest extent of the law. So there!
  • The assignment in this Flash Fiction Friday was to write a story beginning with the words "The most embarrassing thing ..." I later removed the "embarrassing."


There’s a small boy in my school, a sixth grader, who rides around in a tiny little wheelchair and has a one-on-one aide to help him. Every day I see him leaving school; he wheels cheerfully outside with his aide and his mother picks him up in her van. He can walk; I’m not sure exactly why he’s in the wheelchair; it has something to do with his bones breaking easily.

Yesterday, I left right at dismissal time and I passed the mother’s van just in time to see her lifting her small boy in through the side door. In a split-second interval I watched a choreography that the two of them have rehearsed every day -- how many times, how many days, of this? -- The boy, standing straight and stiff in front of his mother, so that she could wrap her arms around him and, a small person herself, gently hoist him up into the van. There was so much poetry in his simple, patient, expectant pose; in her sure and steady balance. The routine fluidity of the movement told a story; In that fraction of a moment I secretly witnessed the simple dance of love between a mother and her beautiful, bright-eyed, breakable boy.


A single wasp wanders idly from one peach to the next, sucking out the juices that seep from beneath the cracked skins. On impact, these half-rotten fruits burst open like little water balloons of syrupy summer sweetness; the insects feast without their usual urgency; they know we’ve left these for them.

I lie on my stomach with my face just inches above the nearest one, breathing in its fermented aroma and waving a lazy hand at bees that buzz too close. I watch a millipede work its way in and out of the holes at either end, and ants in a parade tapping their antennae as they sniff out a morsel or two to filch under the watch of the larger bugs. The grass is alive with movement.

I flip over onto my back and stretch in the heat of the sun on my naked chest. I’ve been out in the orchard all day, tossing the dropped fruit into heaps for my grandfather to shovel onto the wagon later and haul off to the compost heap. The buckets of moldy fruit make me dizzy with their putrid, too-sweet aroma and the little clouds of spores that erupt from the mold growing on them. I’ve been licking my fingers of juice as I’ve been piling the peaches, and now little blades of grass stick to my chin. I think I might fall asleep as I watch the clouds drifting overhead, making their swirls of mountains and oceans and castles I'll never visit.

The orchard is my grandfather’s greatest delight. Any guests who make the trek to this 100-acre jewel in the middle of New York state are invited (treated, in my opinion) to a tour of the assorted fruit trees, each ripening in sequence: plums, apricots, peaches, cherries, pears, apples. Down in the lower forty, strawberries, tomatoes, and corn compete for attention. All of them coaxed from seed to fruit by his firm and patient hand, tended and nourished and culled as needed.

At dinner, my grandfather’s eyes gleam at me with pride and with anticipation. Tomorrow, we will pick all of the peaches. They are just ripe, yielding only the slightest bit to the touch. A gentle pull on the stem releases a ball of perfect velvet into my palm. I picked one, and ate it secretly behind the sauna, because we’re not supposed to have them yet; we are only to eat the drops. It was a moment of bliss and guilt so maddening that I had to run into the garden and weed two extra rows of beans to atone for it. But tomorrow, we will be allowed to pull them from the tree, and not wait for the windfalls, nature’s cast-offs, the almost-good-enough. Tomorrow my grandmother will make a pie from the best of the best, and we will enjoy these few perfect gifts before we take the rest to market.

I fall asleep in the small featherbed, smelling peach on my face despite my grandmother’s swipes with the washcloth. The breeze outside picks up and lulls me to sleep with it sibilant hushing. In a dream, I hear its whispers grow into a snarl and then a howl, and I wake up, trembling from the nightmare I must be having. Outside, there is a terrible noise. It’s a skittering, clawlike sound on the roof and walls. Branches, blowing? Leaves? I’m confused; there aren’t any trees this close to the house. The tapping escalates, becomes a pounding; a clamorous, insistent drumming that can mean only one thing to those of us who live our lives by nature’s whims.

It is the sound of hail.

I run downstairs, my eyes manic, anguish roiling acutely in my belly. I see the silhouettes of my grandparents at the window, my grandfather encircling my grandmother’s shoulder with his arm. My breath catches in my throat and I make a small, mewling sound. I run to him and bury my face in his jacket, and sob out all of my grief into that rough and smoky embrace. I cry and cry, as I listen to the roaring, clattering monster subside and finally retreat.

My grandfather lifts my chin and smiles into my eyes. I can’t bear to look at him, but I must, because you don’t turn away from a face like that. Silently, he leads me to the lean-to and opens the door. I look past him, past the tractor, to the crates standing stacked for tomorrow’s harvest. Then I see them. They are crates piled high with peaches, picked at the last moments of the day after young children went to bed. Peaches saved by a timely warning and a few neighborly hands. Peaches, glorious velveteen orbs of summer sunset, piled into wooden boxes and lighting up my grandfather’s eyes for me.

This story was inspired by
JJ's task of the week, Flash Fiction Friday. This week's assignment is to write about a storm. Want to play along? Go see JJ at Purgatorian; he'll tell you how.

& Away

This image belongs to Edem Tours

The awakening at dawn
the unfurling in morning’s chill
the hushing rustle of grasses
and the braying of zebras
the creak of the basket
the fiery exhale
the lurch
the lift
the rise
the lofty climb
to this
to this
oh finally
at last
at last
at last
I waited so long for this.

the soaring glide over African plains
the herds of wildebeest
and running antelope
the regal grace of giraffes
the majesty of elephants

my crayon scribbles
hung on the cabinets at home
did not know
could never have known
the rapid whirr of my heart
the wide elation of my eyes
the grip of my hand on my own hair
and the hitching intake of my breath

a ribbon of water below spreads to a delta
and into a muddy lake
I had no idea that’s where that goes.
hippos bump and laze
startled cranes move aside
making room
I cannot ask for what, we soar away
& away

my naked feet on the basket’s edge
my arms spread wide
I smell the savanna
And the acrid heat rising now
I lean
I tilt
I fall
Heated air grabs me beneath my arms turned wings
I am lifted
And I fly
At last
At last
I waited so long
so long
so long
so long
so long
to fly.

The assignment in this Flash Fiction Friday was to incorporate a balloon, a crayon, and the words "I had no idea that's where that goes!" into a story.


It is just a bad feeling that makes me look back. A warning in the back of my brain; like a voice, like a buzzing, a wasp, a bee, a shout, a whisper. I stop walking and look at my reflection in a shop window, pretending to check my hair but really peering past my shoulder.

He is there. Walking slowly, purposefully towards me, and tap-tap-tapping with his cane. The taps echo like drumbeats in my ribcage, like the strokes of a giant clock that booms out the final hours of the souls on the Last Mile. I know that I cannot hide much longer, that my time of indecision is coming to an end.

Then he is gone; I catch the smallest movement of a slim shape that fades into shadow as I watch it in the glass. A barely-there darkness, a gathering of grays, lurks behind the plantings of the next shop. He has paused, perhaps to listen for my breathing, perhaps to catch my perfume on the wind. I pick up my pace and flit from storefront to storefront, knowing I can’t evade my promise for long. I slip into a boutique and loiter a while, fingering faux fur and rhinestone, counting minutes. When I come out, I find a sheet of music paper taped to the door with one word scrawled in pencil: Please.

A panicked bird flutters up from my heart into my throat and lingers there as I hurry out of the shop and flee past the last few shops to the post office that marks the end of Main Street. I hear his footfalls behind me; I freeze my every muscle in the hopes that he won’t know I am here. He is so close that I can hear his inhale and then, in a quiet voice, he says my name.

No, I can’t! I can’t! This isn’t what I wanted, my mind screams as I seek escape. I can go no further; the safe little street ends here, merges and expands into a four-lane road littered with strip malls. It cannot be crossed. Maybe by me, but certainly not by him. Reluctantly, I turn around and face his percussive approach.

He must sense that I am near, for he pauses in step and reaches a hand towards me. The cane hovers just above the sidewalk, its red tip ready to warn his fingers of the slightest imperfection in the sidewalk. The hand hangs in the air between us; I look at it as if it were a thing new to me and not a hand I’ve memorized over the last year. Every Thursday, I have sat beside him on the piano bench to watch these hands study a new piece. First the left hand plays as the right hand reads the music; then they exchange places. Finally, both hands reunite on the keyboard to hammer out their individual songs in harmony. His face, serene and still, belies the rapture that must rise in his heart at such a beautiful pairing.

He cannot see the delight in my own face; the way my teeth bite my lip as I watch the fine bones of his hands moving under the muscles. Does he see the elated tears that spring to my eyes as those strong fingers coax newborn notes from the ivory? No, he does not see, and he does not understand the suddenness of my decision when I decide to end the lessons. A week has passed, and our conversations since then have led to this inevitable moment.

The hand still hangs in the air; it asks a silent question. Sighing, I lightly touch his sleeve and say, All right.

A smile plays with the edges of his mouth as he steps closer and holds out the cane. I take it from him and stand still. His hands come up and hover near my shoulders, my neck; they hesitate, as if they know that this moment marks an end of things as they were. It is the end of anonymity; the end of the teacher and pupil.

His places his hands on my shoulders and moves them slowly upwards. His fingers reach my neck and slide upwards to ponder the curve of my jawline; one thumb on each hand traces the edge where jawbone meets softer flesh beneath it; the hollow that forms there. His fingers spread to two V-shapes that search the upper curve of my jaw, cheekbone, and ear. I close my eyes and just let it happen, this slow unearthing, this surrender of my veil. Inching across my cheeks and the bridge of my nose, his fingers discover the shapes of my face. Gently, they touch like the lightest breath upon my eyelids, my eyelashes, and then my temples, learning them. A firmer touch carries him up over my forehead and then onto my hair, a tress of which he caresses between two fingers and then slides through the fork of the entire hand.

Thank you, he whispers, and returns his hands to my shoulders. I surrender into his embrace and rest my head on his shoulder, and in that moment I decide.

The assignment in this Flash Fiction Friday was to begin a story with "It was just a bad feeling ..." I changed verb tense, and ran with it.

Ode to BOBI

Readers of this blog and that of Rex Tremendae know that he is a special member of Spinning Girl's inner circle; I would like to honor him now with this, my first-ever (and possibly last) attempt at writing an Ode. What better way to sing someone's praises? Happy birthday, dear one.

Now then, without further introduction, the Ode to

Ode to B.O.B.I.

on the occasion of his birthday two and twenty

this sixteenth day of Tenmonth

in 2005 the Year of our Lord.

Song I

Beyond the lakes and the wide, wide river
in the North, in the cold
of the snowy, frozen plains
within the walls of a
spacious abode
together there live three Men.

Dane is the second
the third is Another
but then there is the One,
and that One is BOBI
he is the One of whom we sing.

Gather now, and still your noises
Silence your iPods, turn off your toyses
and listen to the tale of this One.

Song II

We speak the name of Bee-Oh-Bee-Aye
with reverence, with love of a kind
for he has chosen us as the vessels
for the magic that he pours
from his brightly blazing mind.

He speaks to us of the world of wizards and of
and of drunken nightly mirth
Alan Rickman and Target
of the Universe and its rebirth.

His brilliant blue eyes alight
at the mention of Lord Vader
His hands and feet point directly
at a shapely, promising bubble-invader
... who primly nods and prances by
obliviously passing up
a chance at bliss unequalled
at the hands of this young suitor.

Song III

For BOBI's single quest
condoned by Gods above
is to be finally dealt a hand
that wins the game of Love.

He throws his net and hopes, and longs
and it catches, time to time
on a likely find
then comes loose and drifts again.

Night after night, day after day
he casts far and wide.
Ever the net turns up empty
ever the cupboard is bare
ever the cold desert of BOBI's bed
calls out for a soft pink soul
to warm it, and the bountiful heart that lives there.

Song IV

A Spinning Girl sits at her wheel
spinning away her days
and weaving a wondrous web on her loom
of storied threads and nostalgic ways.

One day her web catches and holds
this wandering Lancelot, this BOBI lad
tickles her fancy
and pokes at her mind
and awakens the sleeping Muse.

spar and they duel
on Middle Earth's fields
sharing fireside secrets by email
A battle of wits
and of hearts has begun
In his company, she finds
respite and sustenance for life's long travail.

In dreams he mounts his shaggy steed
A g
uanaco? Alpaca? No indeed!
No less than mighty Llama-kind
for the russet
when he courts his maiden fair.

(an ominous low chord sounds, and holds for entire last stanza)

But in night's dark hour
her fears and doubts
denounce his affections
she tosses her web to the wind
and BOBI flies free of her charms
to wander the world once more
heavy-hearted, yet happier, somehow.

Song V

(A chorus of soft girls' voices)


: O sweet wanderer
never fear, never doubt
for love will come to you. :

Song VI

What now for this knight, this knower of souls

this delver, this digger, this miner of the unkown?

This speaker of languages both real and imagined

This master of sword and of bow?

This coaxer of melodies from cello's strings

And singer of harmonies low?

BOBI will rant, and wax philosophical

about fecal bullets, and domos, and jelly

miniskirts, afros, and schooldays bygone

no topic too sacred, no topic immune.

He finds solace in a soul who lives close to his heart,

awaiting the day when One comes to his side

and climbs on Life's coaster with him

together to laugh on the dips in the ride.

Song VII: Finale

(a great and rousing chorus erupts)

Let those who are worthy and those who are strong

who've come from afar and traveled long

gather now, to BOBI and all flock about

to sing his praises in a glorious shout:

"No other so mighty, No other so true!
BOBI’s tremendous, through and through.
BOBI Majestic, we really love you!"

(thunderous applause)

Feral Fruits

When my grandfather was alive, his fruit trees and gardens were the family's pride and joy. The happiest memories of my childhood stem from those fragrant trees, which I climbed and then stayed in for hours. When the cherries were ripe, we literally ate ourselves sick. Apple season found us picking all the windfalls into barrels and then cutting out all the apples' bad spots before throwing them into the cider press. No bad apples ever went into that cider, and its frothy freshness was the best thing I have tasted, before or since.

The variety of fruits and vegetables kept my grandfather busy for the entire growing season. Between pruning, spraying, and picking, there was more work than a single man should be able to handle. He handled it, though, with love. We enjoyed the fruits of his labor (literally) all year long: Cherries, peaches, plums, apricots, apples, pears, kiwi, grapes, blueberries, raspberries, gooseberries, currants, strawberries, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, melons, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins ... and I only name the best of the harvest; there was much more. Since my grandfather passed away, the orchards and vineyard have slowly gone wild; it is simply too much work for those of us who remain.

Recently, on a visit to upstate New York, I meandered the old plantings to look at the fruit. Pears, apples, and concord grapes are ripe now. I ate some, though I had to eat around the wormy parts. I thought it would make me sad to see the gardens gone wild, but instead it made me feel a fierce nostalgic pride that I can hardly begin to put into words. Here, eight years after his death, I see my grandfather's spirit. In these growing things, propagating on their own and insisting upon living, I see his legacy. I know that if anyone ever wanted to start fighting the bugs and weeds again, they could, and they would reap unparalleled rewards.

These untamed, blemished fruits are somehow beautiful to me. They bear life's scars and survive proudly without anyone's help. A few months of tender loving care and no one would ever suspect that they were feral fruits for several years.

A Goose Lane Morning

The children are gone for the morning, and it’s just as well … I don’t know what to do to keep them all out of my hair! The moment Jack’s cock crowed in the morn I sent them off with Piggy and that Horner boy, to buy broth, bread, pork, plums, and whatever else looks fresh at the Farmer’s Market.

It’s barely past nine and already I’ve been ‘round the mulberry bush a hundred times; washing, ironing, scrubbing, mending, sweeping and baking. Now if I can just ferret out whatever has taken up residence under the heel, I can say I’ve accomplished something.

I lean my face into the wash as it hangs drying on the line. Closing my eyes, I inhale deeply. For a moment, I forget that I gave it all up for this. The castle, the ladies in waiting, the cotillions, the hand-blown footwear… all for this. Who could have known that Solomon would pass away, leaving me here living his dream, in his shoe, raising his children, my own dreams far behind?

The solitude is overwhelming, sometimes. Old Maid Grundy, just living out her days in this beat-up shoe. Sure, the Pieman comes through and keeps me company for an hour or two, but it’s not like having a helpmate. I am so tired. But this is the life I chose, so I’ll just carry on, lonely as it is.

Somebody in the neighborhood must have a ladder. Those top laces need repair. Hmmm … Jack Nimble has one, but he’s in the hospital with that burn. I don’t want to bother his family at this difficult time. Mr. Dumpty for sure never climbs higher than a foot or so off the ground, with his fears. The Muffin Man?

Yes. I’ll go ask him, I decide, as I resolutely head up the path. Maybe if I’m lucky, he’ll even give me a muffin. They are reputedly the best to be had! Even if he can't help me out with the ladder, I do love a good muffin in the morning.


Today marks a most special day here in Blogland; it is the birthday of one of my most special Pig-Pilers, Fritz. To know her is to hold a rare gem in the hand, if only for a moment.

Michael helps her realize how beautiful she is; we knew all along.

Fritz first caught my attention in this comment thread. It was a debate of sorts, something about vaginas ... BOBI really stepped in it when he tore apart (figuratively) the twat. Fritz came at him with both barrels blazing, and won my respect from that day forward. She helped me to see that expressing your opinion (and vehemently) doesn't cost friendships, it galvanizes them. I wish I had her bravery and her conviction.

Then she wrote me this ode. To this day I have received few gifts so touching. I keep a printed copy by my bed and often read it before sleep, to remind me that, hardly knowing me, she saw the best in me. I wish I had her love for humanity and her depth of feeling.

Then we had a fight, in which we called a draw. It wasn't a real fight; it was an imaginary wrestling match. I loved that she drew me as a svelte fighter-girl. I love that she thinks I am some skinny willow-wisp of a blondeen, when in truth I am a pleasure liner of gigantic womanly proportions. I wish I had her ability to see the best in everyone.

Fritz's avatar has undergone numerous permutations; here are two of my favorites:


The first one, and my favorite.

Fritz wrote a story once, that continues to be one of my favorite things EVER. It is called Symphony for Life and here is just one tiny excerpt: "I was born in the rumble of the city, beneath the elevated rail, beside the gassy bus, above the bright yellow taxi cab, shrink-wrapped in checkerboard. I was born in the spring of Chicago, a crumpling between cold and hot, a defrosting of the grimy streets at dawn. I was born in a nondescript hospital room, cinder-blocked walls, a cross over the bed, a doctor, a nurse, a wailing woman. The room had a window; the woman insisted on a window. Through the grimy panes came the faded city sunlight that morn, and as Barber's Adagio for Strings grows with strength, so did the sunlight as I emerged from the cave of fertility. I was born unto light, in the simple white linens of sanitary bedding, between the gristle bone and blood of my mother."

Writing like that makes me want to stand under naked trees and wail in ecstacy. I wish I had her talent.

But at least I take comfort in knowing that Fritz and I are two card-carrying members of the Mutual Admiration Society. She has, alternately, dubbed me both Athena and Arachnae, nicknames I embrace as my own and cherish. And she thought my real name was Muthana, after she took my quiz! How adorable is that?!?! In seeking the perfect name for her, I did a little research, and settled at last upon a choice.

So then ... My dearest Fritz, in honor of your birthday I name you Eleos, Greek Goddess of Mercy, Pity and Compassion (Roman counterpart: Clementia, or Misericordia). You extend an arm of comfort and solace to those who most need it, the weakest and most pained members of society. You stand up for your beliefs, even in the face of termination. You see the ills and flaws of those around you, and love all the more fully. Happy happy birthday to you, with sincerest gratitude for helping me to be a better person. I love you!


aka Fritz
aka Elizabeth
you have more names than a Tolkien character!

Miss Shelly

I used to babysit for a dog named Shelly. Shelly was half Border Collie and half tumor, and she was terribly old. Her owners would go off on one-month excursions in the summers, leaving me to take care of Shelly and their plants. Many plants died under my watchful care, but luckily, Shelly never died … until once. But that comes later in the tale.

The first time I babysat Shelly, her owners went to Australia. Within three days of my arrival, she developed a hot spot on her cheek that she kept scratching and scratching. She would scratch for hours. I finally took her to the vet, and he gave her some ointments for her cheek, and fitted her with the dreaded Cone.

Shelly was very ashamed of her new bonnet, and walked around with her head hung low for two days. When she discovered that the cone doubled as a megaphone, however, she held her head high, munching her kibble for all in the world to hear.

In addition to her cheek ointments, Shelly had lots of medical needs. She had some sort of growth on her eye, which looked like the pink end of a pencil eraser. I would have to put ointment on this growth twice a day, and also swab her eyes in between, because her tear ducts weren’t working properly. I think it might have been because they were clogged by 2.5 pounds of extra eyelid flesh? Just guessing.

All of these are things I would willingly do for someone I loved; I did not love Shelly, so I was loath to do them, but I am a compassionate person.

Also, I got a cold grand every time I babysat this dog.

Shelly also had a very demanding vitamin routine. With her morning and evening meals (canned duck), I would have to give her no less than 9 different capsules, including fish oils, thistle seed, and flax seed oil. I don’t know why.

Shelly never did learn where the edges of her cone were. She would walk around the house, crashing into walls and lamps with the edges of her new hat. I would wake up in the night to the relentless scraaape, scraaaape, scraaaaaaaaaaaaaape of her insomnia.

When she got older, she didn’t have the cone anymore, but she did fall down the stairs once and scared the crap out of me. Luckily, what it scared out of her was just a little urine, easily picked up with 16-17 sheets of paper towel at 2 AM.

As Shelly got older and deafer, shaking the can of pennies wouldn’t still her incessant barking.

One day, the growth on her eyelid was gone. What a relief! Later, I found it on the kitchen floor.

Another time, I found what I thought was a large, juicy grape on the floor. As I bent to pick it up, I saw its little legs waving and realized it was a tick.

After I cleaned up my vomit, I went out and got a tick collar for Shelly.

Each summer my friends would ask me to dog-sit again, and I would grudgingly agree, because they were my friends, and they were desperate, and poor little Shel knew me already.

Oh! There were also two finches in a cage, one of which was blind. But I’ll leave those out of the story.

And I didn’t kill the orchid, I swear. I didn’t even touch it. It just dropped all its blossoms because it missed you guys. I missed you too, and that’s why the orchid and I shared a bottle of Southern Comfort in your honor.

The last time I babysat Shelly, she had had a few strokes and couldn’t hear, and was fairly blind in one eye. Since she couldn’t manage stairs anymore, we let her crap all over the deck. Luckily, it was winter. On that last stay I swore it would be the last time. Money or no, I couldn’t handle it.

But they asked me again, and I said yes. When I got to the house, I couldn’t find Shelly anywhere. I searched all her favorite hiding spots … the crawl space behind the dryer, under the deck, in the garage … nowhere. After half an hour, I found a note from her owners: Dear Spinning Girl, Shelly is not at home. Please call for details …

I called my friends in Martha’s Vineyard, and they told me Shelly was buried under the hemlock tree in the back yard. She had died that very day. I could stay the weekend anyhow, since we had agreed on it and they’d still like the house watched. I spent the next day planting flowers and mourning my little old friend, shaking the can of pennies and wearing her old cone. I still wear it, when I have an unbearable itch somewhere and I don't want to bite it.

How I miss that old girl.

Some of the Morals of the story:
  • I will care for you tenderly, tumors and all.
  • Ticks make me vomit.
  • Plants do not like alcohol.
  • The cone shape is a deterrent to tearing up one's own flesh.
  • I will do just about anything for a cold grand in cash.

A Very (Much) Long Trip

I’ve always hesitated to tell this tale, I should tell my readership … it may seem that I’m unsympathetic towards the mentally challenged, which I am not. When I tell you the story of the drive from hell, please keep in mind that I have great empathy towards Tina and her family, and wish them well. Even so, I was subjected to four hours of extreme suffering. I must tell my tale now, and after several years of therapeutic journal-writing I am finally able to do so. A small measure of thanks goes also to Used Hack for instilling in me, by his example, the courage to write about this.

Here’s how it all went down.

When I taught environmental science, I ran a club for kids who were interested in forestry and animal science careers. Once a year we would travel to a state-level competition for the enviro-geeks to show their stuff. It was great fun, and we even brought home the trophy once or twice; my kids were the scat experts for the entire state of Connecticut. And that is something to brag about!

In my club, I had a girl who had the great misfortune of being born with
Trisomy 21. While not really a strong candidate in the competition, Tina did enjoy the club for the animals and trees that we learned about.

One year, Tina really wanted to go on one of the Enviro field trips. Being the inclusion-oriented person that I purport to be, I invited her, but insisted her mother accompany her because we were going to be involved in heavy competition prep and I could not be a behavior chaperone. Tina was also getting rather hard to manage at this point, because she was a senior and outweighed me by about 50 pounds, and was virtually unstoppable when she went on one of her a stubborn tirades (a weekly event). She was very hard to reason with, but her parents had a way with her that was to be envied.

We took two vans, and I traveled shotgun with Tina’s mom. Tina and two other students sat in the back.

[We were not even out of the school driveway when I smelled pickle. Tina was eating her bag lunch. By the middle of the two-hour drive she had eaten her mother’s lunch as well. I kept a death-grip on my lunch as Tina’s mom and I chit-chatted in the front. This part of the story isn't important, but may explain why, when I hear someone say "very much", I instantly smell pickle. "Very much" and pickle-smell and inextricably bound together in my memory, forever.]

About 15 minutes into the drive, Tina said, “I love you, mom.”

Tina’s mom: “I love you too, Tina.”

Tina: “Very much.”

Oh, that is so sweet! thought I. As Tina said “very much,” she would close her eyes and furrow her brow emphatically, emphasizing the “ch” of the “much”. It was touching.

A minute passed, and then Tina said, “Mom? I love you.”

Wow, that is, again, so very cute and so very sweet.

“I love you too, Tina.”

“Very much.”

Same emphatic “much”, with a little heavier accent on the “very.” Wow, it’s nice that they express their love so freely in Tina’s household.

“Mom, I love you.”

“I love you too, Tina.”

“Very much.”
“I love you, mom!”

“I love you too”


“Mom, I love you.”

I love you too, Tina!”
(long pause)
(perhaps she will stop now)
“Very muccccccccccchhhhhhhhh”
“I love you mom!”

“I love you too, Tina.”

Very very much.”

Oh. My. God. This went on, and on, and on, and on.

For two. Hours.

Every half-minute or so, the re-affirmation of familial love. Every half minute, the reassurance that the love is not only present, but very muchly present. After the 20th iteration of this endless cycle, I had to suppress the impulse to jump screaming from the van.

Once in a while Tina’s mom would chuckle and look over at me, rolling her eyes at how sweet and cute it all was. I was trapped in a mental hell of my own making, in which I loathed myself for wanting to slam my left foot on the brakes and sent both Tina and her mom through the windshield. I clenched my teeth and smiled, squeezing in some inane small talk between love declarations.

When we arrived at our destination, I went into the ladies’ room and stared at myself in the mirror. What type of person am I, to be so annoyed by a person who is mentally retarded? There, I thought, but for the grace of God, go I. Still … equal treatment for all, right? And that torment should not be inflicted by, or endured by, any person!!!

I envisioned a van switch for the ride home, but since I was the one who insisted Tina’s mom come along, I felt responsible, and so I settled into the passenger seat at the end of the day. I had all but forgotten the misery of the morning ride, and surely Tina wouldn’t remember after all the animals we saw today. I sat in blessed silence for the first twenty minutes of the drive, reflecting upon the day and upon what a wonderful, tolerant person I was learning to be.

Then it happened.

“Mom? I love you!”

Shepherd Boy

My heart broke forever in May of 1997, the last time I ever talked to Shepherd Boy.

I fell in love with Shepherd Boy in July of 1993. He came to my door with a shy little smile and a note he’d written me on a bus ride home from Boston; I’d been on his mind. On the fourth of July, he kissed me and changed me forever. We celebrated that summer on the tennis court, in the Rhododendron forest, in the pottery studio, and in the crisp linens of my one-room flat.

For a year before that and for twelve years after, he has inhabited my dreams. In the dreams, he comes to me and asks me questions, like whether the person I am currently with really makes me happy. The answer is always no, never quite as happy. I leave them and go with Shepherd Boy, always, always, in the dream. I am elated that he has come for me. Once, I decided to stay with someone new, but then the second time I had the dream I went back with Shepherd Boy. In real life, two weeks later, I broke up with the new guy. In the dreams when we meet I am so perfectly happy. I just want to sleep forever, because that is where I see him.

In 1993 Shepherd Boy made me a mixed tape (that’s what you did when you were nineteen and in love) that had a song on it called Dreamland by the B-52’s. Meet me tonight … in Dreamland … I wonder whether he knew we’d be meeting up this way and set it up for me just so we could. I wonder whether he dreams the same dream. I have no way of asking him this; too much time and too much of life has passed by us, through us.

Shepherd Boy told me once about a Chinese legend about two star-crossed lovers who put their love above all else, and their work suffered. As punishment, they were separated in the sky and could only meet on the seventh day of the seventh month, when the mynah birds formed a bridge across the sky. They can still be seen today as the stars Vega (Spinning Girl) and Altair (Shepherd Boy). Every year, in the beginning of July, I look skyward and search for him.

I wonder if he stares at my photo and tries to recapture how it felt. Rereading the old letters over, and over, and over, trying to glean some evidence that the whole thing would crumble and fall in shreds over time. A death from neglect, lack of sunlight, lack of contact and shared air. Shepherd Boy and I used to breathe into each other’s mouths. He would inhale, and I would exhale, and we would breathe back and forth like that for several minutes. It was the only way I could get inside of him.

Lucy Kaplansky sings on the little radio next to me: Tear me out of you…come on, try!.. I never want the pieces of him to disappear from me. Maybe I caught some little virus from his semen or saliva, that has become part of my DNA and it can never be torn out. There are big enough holes torn in the places in my body that will never know him again. My belly. My hand. My eyebrow that he used to trace his finger along. I am waiting for the day when those little spaces will be filled and content in his absence but I hope that they never are. Once I lose him completely I won’t have any of it, and I won’t even care. Maybe that is how he feels, and it’s easy for him to live without me. I am just a distant and warm memory. How can that be, when my life is fucking depleted?

I’ve been with so many people since then, even loved a few of them, but it’s always Shepherd Boy my mind returns to and yearns for. Did we make a promise of some sort? I don’t remember. I think we vowed to always love each other, no matter what happened, no matter who we ended up with. I told him that my only wish was for his happiness. That is bullshit! I can’t believe I gave it all away so easily…I gave away the most amazing thing ever. As if this happened every day! If I knew then what I knew now, I would have held on to him and fought bruised & bloody anyone and anything that tried to separate us. This little, dead box inside of me is locked away and contains within it a golden orb of light. I hope it lives in him as well, and that he finds it there someday.

This has been a submission for Flash Fiction Friday at
Purgatorian. The assignment in this Flash Fiction Friday was to begin a story with the words "My heart broke ... "


The day was hot, but there was ice in my veins. In a mere moment, I had gone from well to ill. Two metallic, clinical words scribbled in a chart. Never again would I be fine; I would forever divide my life into the Before and the After.
  • [This has been a submission for Flash Fiction Friday at Purgatorian, in which JJ supplies the first few words for a writing piece to be posted on your blog. Try it!]
  • This week's assignment was to begin a story with the words "The day was hot, but there was ice in my veins." I didn't feel like writing a whole story, this was enough for me.